by Brent Gill
September 7, 2006
Today chronicles the first full day of touring in China. Tianenmen Square, The Forbidden City, lunch in a private home, The Summer Palace, and The Pearl Factory are all on schedule for today.
The author and wife, Sharon, standing in Tianenmen Square, with the Tianenmen Gate to The Forbidden City in the background.
The North Gate into The Forbidden City. It is indeed a good walk back to Tianenmen Square from here.
One of many peaceful garden spots in The Forbidden City.
Our waiting bicycle rickshaws, which we rode through Old Beijing to our lunch in a private home.
Mr. and Mrs. Wong in front of their home.
The Dragon Boat we rode across the huge lake at The Summer Palace.
One of many ornate, brightly painted gates from the lake into the grounds of The Summer Palace.
The string of pink pearls for Sharon's bracelet. At this instant they are still part of a longer string. She is just holding the string around her wrist.
(These are the text from a series of e-mails sent to friends and family while we were on a trip to China)
Wednesday July 19 – 7:28 AM
There is so much to tell, and very little time. It is 7:28 AM. I have returned from breakfast, which was buffet style with all sorts of dishes. There was watermelon plus a white-colored melon in profusion.
They also presented a variety of what we might call "traditional steam-table Chinese" and vegetables and rice, which I am told is wonderful. Having invested time and effort into 71 pounds of recent weight loss, I am trying to stay away from some of the starchy things.
Sharon laughed when she brought back to our table, "A cup of Coffee, please" It was served in a demitasse cup, and only filled half full. And it wasn’t Espresso either. We were told that if we asked for a cup of tea on the other hand ... we got a big smile ... and a large cup filled full with tea. Live and learn.
Flying toward Beijing last night, I could see some huge thunderheads built up to the north. As we got in the air, the lightning display out the right windows was really something! We climbed very high (not sure how high, but we climbed a long time) to get over them. There was a little turbulence a few times, but nothing serious. There was never enough to spill the coffee we had been served.
At Shanghai, we were to go to "Transfer" where we were to catch another flight on a different aircraft, but referenced under the same flight number (MU586). We were ushered up to the third floor where we went through yet another bag screening. The signs pointed back down three escalators to a VERY crowded waiting room with 5 gates, 51 - 55. 51 was on the far RIGHT (rather than left). But this was really a crowded, in-country transfer point. There were probably 250 people around the room.
When we loaded ... we got into busses not an aircraft. We were carried out onto the tarmac at least half a mile. Our bus pulled up to the front of a jet parked there.
There were big yellow signs, marking "out on the tarmac gates" or parking spaces. On the bottom of each yellow parking sign was printed the precise latitude and longitude so that the planes could reset their GPS to that specific spot for accuracy. Signs of the times.
Well it is nearly time to get moving. We have to meet our guide, Jason, at 7:55. The group that left Porterville Sunday morning were all at breakfast when we got there. They had to be moving by 7:30 this morning, so suspect we will be doing the same thing tomorrow. (Note: there were three departures from Porterville: Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Each had about 75 travelers. We all followed approximately the same itinerary)
We are going to go have a "special lunch" where we take a Rickshaw ride through the back alleys of Old Beijing, then on to a home-cooked meal that is supposed to be "typical". Just HOW typical I am not sure. But ... we will find out.
Still and all, it is reported by the Sunday group, to be excellent and well-worth the additional $35 PER PERSON. Oh yeah! Travel always finds a way to get into your pocket!
We heard that the school kids are out of school and that there are literally HUNDREDS in the big square. We were warned that it is easy enough to lose your guide!
Oh, one thing: we drove by the big building directly across the boulevard from Tianenmen Square which has Chairman Mao's picture, and got a glimpse of that in the dark last night.
Man, I could write for hours about all this stuff and we haven't seen anything either! More later.
Brent and Sharon heading of for Day 1 in Beijing.
Wednesday July 19 – 7:25 PM
Wow, what a day.
First of all, you have to realize that I was still sending e-mails this morning at 2:20 AM and we had a wake-up call at 5:30. The night was way too short!
The bed is like sleeping on a "lightly padded table" but once you get settled ... it is super! These folks may have something here! I could literally stand on the edge of the bed as if I were standing on the curb. I doubt if it would sink down more than an inch! Once you shift around and get the hip-bone, knee, or shoulder settled and are not laying on bone it really IS comfortable! So, what sleep we DID get was great.
Today has been a huge one, based on simple reality! Add that to a much-too-short night, and it was a very long day.
First thing was Tianenmen Square. This is a huge place, over 108 acres, and at first it appeared to be absolutely LOADED with people. Our guide, Jason, estimated there were ONLY 20,000 in the square. After walking all around one end we decided it could have easily held five times that many people and has in the past. There was a huge line leading to Mao's Mausoleum. The picture of Chairman Mao dominated the end of the Square.
I am just about to fall out of my chair. I'm going to quit writing for now. It is just too painful to try to think and sit quietly. My body is screaming "Go lay down you idiot!" I think I'm going to listen.
Sharon has opted for a 90-minute massage, including foot reflexology. The gal is to be here at 8:30. I am going to be soundly asleep by then.
Well, off to the land of nod. SO much to tell, but there will be time enough for that tomorrow.
Before I crawl in bed, I am going to fire off a huge batch of pictures. There will be no titles or descriptions. Remember that we went to Tianenmen Square, then the Forbidden City, then took a rickshaw-ride to get to lunch in a home. Then the Summer Palace.
Finally, Sharon got a lovely pearl bracelet at the Pearl Market, then a good dinner and back here.
Man, I am having one heck of a time staying vertical.
Brent and Sharon in Beijing
Thursday, July 20 – 5:10 AM
Life is amazingly better after a really good night's sleep!
Sharon had invested in a massage last night. When the little gal came at 8:30 PM I had already finished my brief note to you folks and crawled in bed. I was completely exhausted though I heard her come in but didn't bother to even look.
I woke up once to see Sharon's right foot wrapped in a towel, and the little gal working on the left one, ... and never heard her leave. Man, I was whipped.
But ... this morning life is good. We are up a little earlier than yesterday. We are both early risers anyway, so 5:00 AM is entirely normal to us. We have a Wakeup Call set for 5:30 but I can hear the shower running, as Sharon is already washing her hair. And, obviously, you know what I am doing.
Lets see, what to tell.
I was totally amazed at the number of people in Tianenmen Square. There were hundreds and hundreds of school kids, many all in the same colors, which ran strongly to reds and yellows. Shirts, all with the same school name (I suppose, as it was in Chinese lettering) or hats with something on the hat, were worn to identify the group and help the teacher to keep up with them. Many of the tour guides have the flag-on-a-stick so that you can follow that red, yellow, or blue pennant through the crowd.
We have 24 of us on our bus. I have been asked to serve as Bus Captain. Part of my responsibility is to be sure that our count continues to hold at 24 and that nobody wanders away. We have a few adventurous souls, some more than others, who tend to ".. go over here for a picture ..." and get away from us. But they are pretty experienced travelers. Even if we left them somewhere, they would take a taxi back to the hotel in no time. But I want to prevent that if possible.
The Street Vendors are amazingly persistent. A good loud "Bu Yao" (boo yow’)... "Shay shay" (I don't want it ... thank you) will sometimes fend them away. But occasionally one gets really persistent.
We left The Forbidden City and were wending our way down a side street toward our bus while "running the gauntlet" of vendors.
Sharon had looked at a fan and had been asked for $1 for one fan. That was too much so she walked on. I had overheard her talking.
A vendor approached me with fans. She said "$1".
I shook my head.
"OK, then 2 for $1!"
As much as anything, in an effort to get rid of her, I said, "No 4 fans" holding up my four fingers.
That did it! She backed off. For about 5 seconds that did it.
Finally, she said, "OK, OK, 4 fans for $1."
I just kept walking and said over my shoulder, "Too late ... Bu Yau Shay Shay."
She followed me the final 20 feet, rather plaintively repeating her offer. At the door to the bus I turned, handed her the dollar and took the fans.
BUT ... I learned a lesson in bargaining. I didn't spread the fans until I handed them to Sharon who was amazed at my price.
One of the fans had a little torn spot down near the center. Certainly not enough that it was unusable, or couldn't be given to a granddaughter. She had gotten rid of her junk on me, The Great American Haggler. Ah well, next time I will check.
Whatever. It was still a good deal. And it was fun. And we are on vacation.
We had walked probably 3.5 miles by this time, and sitting down on the bus was nice. Now we were off to the rickshaw ride in the old part of the city.
There are pictures of the rickshaw lineup. The streets were VERY narrow, with shops selling fruits and vegetables along the way. But it was twisty-turny all through this area.
We arrived at Mr. Wong's home for lunch. There is a picture of Mr. & Mrs. Wong on their front step. She cooks for them, and they do a great job presenting it. Eight of us sat at each table in their living room. The food was good. VERY good in fact.
Back on the bus, and off to The Summer Palace. What a huge place. A big lake, all kinds of people all over it, again kids by the thousands, many in groups, but many families on holiday too.
We rode in "a dragon boat" across the lake, then walked back around the shore through various buildings and walk ways.
When we finished with The Summer Palace, it was onto the bus again for a short ride to The Pearl Market.
This was really set up to get the tourist to buy. There were good pearls there and good jewelry. Prices were not cheap according to my "Shopping Expert" Sharon. But, there were good quality pearls, and you could be assured of the quality. She felt that it was safe to buy there.
She got a nice bracelet of pink pearls, hand-tied with good fasteners, for $110. It was not a bargain but a wonderful memory, none-the-less.
Our day ended after dinner in a restaurant next door to The Pearl Market, followed by a 30-minute ride back to the hotel.
One of the products that many of the Street Vendors tried to sell was a "Chairman Mao Watch." The price was something in the range of $1 - $5, depending on how persistent you were in haggling with them.
One of our men bought one. Jason was teasing that "Chairman Mao waves like this when you buy it." He vigorously waved his arm.
"Then in a day ..." and he dropped his arm and slowed it.
"And in another day ..." and his arm was barely moving at all.
"And in 4 days ..." and he put his arm down by his side tightly, grinning broadly.
Of course we all got a big laugh, and the man who bought it was laughing right along with us. He had figured something like that, but it is still unique. It’ll be a great memory, even if Chairman Mao doesn’t wave.
So here we are facing a day of The Great Wall, a Jade Carving place that will get a little more of our money and a dinner tonight with acrobats. It's going to be another busy day.
Take care and will tell more later.
Brent and Sharon in Beijing, China
(If you have questions about anything you read today, contact me through the web site. Click on Advertising, and in the middle of the page is a direct link to my e-mail.)