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April 22nd 2011
Published: April 25th 2011
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Unbelievable as it may seem, 3 days after returning home from Paraguay, Jan and I left for China. I got home from Paraguay on Wednesday, did laundry and slept in my own bed for one night , then went to Victoria for a conference returning home Friday evening. Packed up Saturday morning and caught the ferry to Vancouver so we could be on the 3.00 AM Sunday morning flight to Beijing.

After the 11 hour flight it was off the plane for a quick tour of Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. The population of China is 1.6 billion and many of them were on the same tour. After the first of many LSDs (Lazy Susan Dinners) we headed off to the hotel for a well earned but short rest before our evening LSD. A low point of the day was that one of the tour participants had a fatal heart attack at the lunch place and died-very sad
The next day we experienced true Chinese chaos at the breakfast place at the Pullman Hotel - everyone trying to eat at once and a lack of human resources to meet the demand-reminded me of the Zimbabwe border crossing but with food.
We then headed out for the first tour stop aka shopping opportunity at the Jade Museum. The typical program is (a) describe how the product is made and what life/health benefits it has etc. (b) The group is turned loose to shop for the product.
A number of people cynically felt the guides get a cut from the sales............. There were a few buyers but there was also universal condemnation of the length of time spent at this site.
We then went to a Ming dynasty site (Emperors Tomb) Our guide's picture is not beside brevity or quick summary in the dictionary so I bailed and did my own tour. On closer examination this was an interesting place as it was the burial place of the emperor who commissioned the treasure ship in 1421 (see the book "1421") The authors premise is that the Chinese beat Columbus to the Americas by 70 plus years. There was a model of the treasure ship.
We also got to meet a lot of Chinese business people specializing in souvenir sales on the site. We were worried they might be selling Chinese knockoffs - no wait this is China. I bought a Mao statue to go with my collection of other loony communist leader icons.
Then it was off to a combined LSD and cloisonne factory. You get part (a) on the way in and then eat lunch upstairs.
After lunch you get to shop (part (b))on the way back to the bus. We actually bought a Chinese print, a christmas decoration and 2 Mao era poster replicas. Oops
We then went to experience the best part of the day (and maybe the trip) which was a trip to the Great Wall. A number of us did the big climb to the north side and then a circuit down and back by another route-about 5 k and lots of elevation -excellent. We did a few wrong turns at the bottom and barely made it to the right parking lot.
I am starting to think the vendors here could possibly be as aggressive as the Cancun people- their main disadvantage with North American customers is a lack of English skills but they make up for it in enthusiasm and volume.
Then back to Beijing for a driveby shooting (photos) at the Olympic site. We had another LSD plus vast quantities of beer ( water is off in China) People are starting to get major league sore throats from the unique characteristics of the air. It was a long day and people were fairly pleased (ecstatic) to arrive back at the hotel - some did massage and some ordered instant tailor items.
The next day got off to a wonderful start - the wakeup call lady apparently fell asleep , woke up , panicked and immediately started calling everyone in the hotel- unfortunately she didn't check her watch and it was actually 3.30-nice
After a less chaotic breakfast we went the the Chinese Pearl Education and Guide Benefit Centre. After part (a) a number of people went for the pearl purchase program - I taught the bargaining course to a few people. The sales ability of the staff here is excellent-all the usual tricks-great fun especially when someone else is paying.

The real fun was had later out in the parking lot with the knock-off watch vendors. One of our group bought an entire case of 21 watches for 300 yuen (about $40) Some of the watches were still working 24 hours later...

Then it was off to the Summer Palace which is on a lake in Beijing-nice place (a view shared by all of Beijing as most of them were there) We got to experience the "stare at the strange tourists phenomenon".

A highlight for me was the sighting of a pair of Mandarin Ducks along the edge of the lake. Beautiful birds but I am a bit concerned for them as the dinner tonight is Peking Duck.
We learned a lot about the Dragon Lady who inhabited the Summer Palace. Her name was Tzu Hsi and she apparently made Machiavelli look like Mr Rogers.
After the SP we roared off through major league traffic to an old style Chinese tenement area for a rickshaw tour and lunch. Best food of the trip and very interesting to see how people live in the old style - about a 300 sf 3 room place - no w/c on the premises. (all for $1.2 million USF-what real estate bubble?) The lady's niece than showed us traditional craft-painting inside a small bottle ( she wasn't in the bottle-just the paintbrush) This was (a) and everyone did (b) with extreme enthusiasm.She probably sold $500 worth of bottles in 30 minutes-it was like Eaton's basement for a while.
After the lunch/bottle sale (it really is a unique and high quality item) we went to the local Food Market-really interesting and a wide array of produce and meat.

Our next stop was the Temple of Heaven ( a lot of us were sure we would never get to heaven so this was a bonus) It turned out to be a temple surrounded by a nice park. Many of the people we met at the Summer Palace came and joined us here. The most interesting part was observing all the locals playing cards, checkers and other unknown board games. We got to watch the locals for a change.

Next stop was the Peking Duck extravaganza. It started out with a few LSD dishes (and beer-water is off) The duck was quite good-thin carvings off a barbecued whole bird- perhaps a tad greasy but duck is not listed in the lean cuisine book
We then raced back to the hotel to pack and sleep-turned out wake call lady was right all along- she was just on the wrong day. Our flight to Shanghai leaves at 7.30 so we had to be on the bus at 5.00.

Guide got us through check in process quickly and we arrived in Shanghai at 9.30 - interesting breakfast note -rice porridge, 1000 year old egg and bun with a piece of sausage in it. Truly magical when done by an airline catering service.

At the Shanghai Airport we met Jack who will be our new guide. After a brief wait we got on to our new bus and headed out for Suzhou City ( a relative village in Chinese terms-only 6 million people) We are now in the Yangtse delta and things appear to be greener and the air is better (in relative terms) The trip was on a Chinese freeway and took about 3 hours or so including a stop at a great and chaotic truck/rest stop. Lots of different merchandise and a few people got tea jars. Jack, reading the mood of the crowd, remained silent for part of the trip. Upon arrival at Suzhou, we had a good quality LSD ( complete with beer-water is off)

We then headed off to the Tiger Hill Pagoda Park which was a pretty scenic place with lots of flowers and live entertainment. It was a bit of a climb to the top and then some rock steps down the other side to the return path to the bus and the happy rooms (Chinese term for toilet- some are happy places for the users and some are not)

After the THPP we went on a Grand Canal Boat tour of a traditional Yangtse Delta community. The canal is a narrow waterway through the tenements which presumably links up to the river. We saw lots of interesting sights along the cruise as most people's houses open on to the canal (as well as to the front street) We saw 2 weddings, several people doing their laundry in the canal, some open air bars, lots of unique boats, 2 rats and some pretty interesting electrical hookups.I suspect the water could be walked on but Jack assures us there is plan to clean it up.

After cruising to a major junction we headed back and stopped at a small wharf ,where we exited the boat to
visit an outdoor market. This was quite the scene with lots of yelling, scooter traffic and people shopping. There was an opportunity to buy live eels, fish,ducks,chickens quail etc but our group didn't seem to see the benefits of fresh food shopping-probably worried about luggage space.
We then returned to the bus and headed for our next fleabag hotel which was the 5 star Grand Metro Park. Very nice and the bar had gin and tonic. A number of us took the opportunity to top up with quinine. After check-in we went to another LSD and it was generally voted to be the worst food experience of the trip.(even worse than the airline breakfast)
The next day was devoted to two factory tours-silk and embroidery - a number of people went for the life changing silk comforters-Jan and I had already seen this movie in Winnipeg. I bought a silk shirt for future tropical travel.

We also went to the Lingering Garden and got much more detail than many of us needed. However we did see the most impressive display of Bonsai ever ( who knew the Chinese invented Bonsai?) We had lunch (including beer-water is off) at the silk factory restaurant - a buffet which offered a bit more interesting food-there is little chance of starvation on this trip.
Then it was off on the bus again ( now loaded with ever increasing amounts of merchandise) to go to Hangshou. A number of people did naps on the bus. We did another rest stop experience- lots of great chaos and a chance to experience real contemporary Chinese life. On the freeway there are lots of interesting sights- a highlight being an open air load of large live pigs, presumably heading for their final destination (on their way to various LSDs)

We arrived at the days destination at about 5.30 and did an all person mutiny to thwart the plan for another LSD. Instead we went straight to the hotel (another 5 star whose name escapes me but it was really good) For dinner a number of us hit the streets and walked to a nearby restaurant street. We had several criteria for selection but after a while we basically went for the one that had food pictures.

With the aid of a patient waitress we ordered a selection of food by pointing at the menu. We ended up with enough edible food for 7 (plus beers-water is off) all for about $30 cdn. We also had live entertainment at the next table.Several locals were quite enjoying the dining out experience and celebrated by helping the restaurant accelerate their dish and glass replacement program. Another quaint local custom is the on-floor saliva deposit. I feel they had been drinking...

When we finished we left a small tip ($4.00) and our waitress chased us out into the street to try to return it.

The next day breakfast was absolutely the best. We then headed off to a tea place for the now familiar (a) and (b) program. The tea lady made the Sham Wow guy look like one of the Mount Rushmore statues. Very good salesperson. I tried a glass of green tea and can attest to its cleansing power- happy room 4 times in an hour. Jan and her sister filled in to the tune of $106 each for the special of the day. It was interesting to see the harvest from the terraced tea bushes. Unbelievable as it might seem, the tea place had a gift shop and I assisted another member of the group to bargain for a Mahjong set. Bargaining discount can be as much as 50%

We then went to a Buddha Temple which was a plan shared by many locals. Interesting to see the incense program -sell and burn etc. We then bolted for lunch before boarding an electric barge on West Lake. This was another idea which many other residents also had at the same time as there were huge lineups for the numerous tour boats. Apparently this lake was the location of the residences of various historic Chinese figures including Mao, Chiang Kai Chek, Sun Yat Sen etc. When R Nixon visited (he is still remembered with fondness) they took him on a lake cruise. This was not the most thrilling experience of the trip but it was interesting. We saw 2 Black Crowned Night Herons.
After the cruise it was off to Shanghai on the bus for our final 2 nights in China.

The freeway experience was lost to many due to sleep projects. We did stop at another rest area and enjoyed some ice cream.We stopped at another LSD on the way and there was universal condemnation of what was served. The beer was good. We then headed off to the Renaissance Hotel which appears to be a 6 star labelled as a 5 star-most opulent yet - makes Lombard Inn look Motel 6. we think the view was pretty good but as with all the hotels , you cant see very far due to the smog (guides refer to smog as mist)

The next day we enjoyed another opulent breakfast and then headed for a waterfront area called the Bund-Skyscrapers R Us. The whole city is full of new buildings. They can wack these up quickly because they do 24/7 construction with 2 crews living on site etc. I plan to write the steelworkers when I get home and tell them to get with the program.

After the Bund today's a/b program was a silk carpet factory. One taker on our bus but the carpets were about the price of a small house in rural Manitoba. A number of people having examined their credit card receipt files are now on acute protracted restraint programs. This appeared to last until we got to the Chinatown Market after the Mongolian BBQ.

We had 3 hours of free time at the market. Our busload of people did Canada proud- I got a hamburger (a small compressible Ipod speaker) Other people got extra luggage to hold all their new stuff.

We then went for another LSD which was so memorable that I don't remember it.

Our evening activity was the ERA show which is sort of a Chinese Circ d Soleil. Adjectives to describe it include various well used cliches such as awesome, unbelievable, spectacular, mind boggling, really good etc. It was the best live show I have ever seen.

In the morning it was time to pack up and blow town. Before doing so 3 of us took a fast cab ride to the market - I got a Mahjong set and my two fellow shoppers rounded out their baggage collections. Then back to the hotel for final checkout -next stop being the Maglev train- we did 30 km in about 8 minutes.-341 mph top speed. We then bid farewell to our guide and checked in for the start of our long journey home to clean air - most people have some type of throat/breathing issue and/or a cold.

This was quite a trip and was our first escorted tour. China is a country of huge contrasts and well worth seeing. However I think we all feel lucky to live in such an uncrowded and clean place such as Canada. The flight home was uneventful and Air China does a great job.


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