by Brent Gill
BEIJING AND SOUZHOU, CHINA
September 11, 2006
Today we made one final stop with Jason in Beijing, then flew to Shanghai to meet Arthur, then bussed on to Suzhou.
The morning traffic in Beijing. Notice the separate lanes for the bicycles.
The beautiful Ming Temple where the Emperor would come on the Winter Solstice to pray for a successful crop for the next year.
The passageways were packed with elderly Chinese enjoying this wonderful park. Notice the intricate painting on the suppports.
A friendly board game being played on the wide railings.
Traditional Chinese music being played on stringed instruments.
A little better look at a traditional stringed instrument.
Honest! A Four-Star Toilet. This was at the Ming Temple, and it really was just that clean, too.
On top of Tiger Hill was the Leaning Tower of Pisa in China. At least, that is what Arthur called it.
Friday, July 21 – 1:30 PM in Shanghai (waiting on the bus for the rest of our group to arrive)
We met Jason at our bus at 7:30 AM and were quickly on our way ... just in time to get stuck in a morning traffic jam in Beijing. Morning drive time was at least as bad as Los Angeles or San Francisco. At least!
The traffic included many cars, but every city street had a bicycle lane on both sides of the traffic lanes. The number of people riding bikes, both powered and pedal-powered was impressive.
Our last stop in Beijing was at the Ming Temple. The Emperor would come here to pray for a successful following year's harvest. He would come to this location at the Winter Solstice with an entourage (seems they NEVER went anywhere without one) and pray. The round building in which he would pray is just something else. This building and several others sit on 870 hectares. This is nearly 2,150 acres, or a square 1.8 miles on a side. Just a small little cozy place!
It was abandoned by the government as a place of worship many years ago. They made it a public park. What a wonderful place. There was huge expanses of green lawn dotted with hundreds trees. It was just beautiful. Plus, it had these wonderful buildings.
The people are what were positively amazing, though. Throughout the park were thousands of older people. They had beautiful, wizened old faces, some not so much, but almost all of them were at least 45 or older. Many of them were well into their 60's and up.
The pictures show a wide variety of activities going on. Dance lessons were being given in one area. Group singing was being conducted in the Long Corridor. Games were being played by old men on the wide side rails. Typical Chinese string instruments accompanied a singer in another area. This is truly an amazing place.
Then it was time to get on the bus, go to the airport, and bid farewell to Jason.
There is an interesting little quirk here. Last night, Jason told us that eleven of us would be going on a flight at 11:00 AM to Shanghai, and the remaining thirteen would be going at 12:00 Noon. He read off the names, and all was set. We all sort of assumed that the eleven were filling out a set of seats on the 11:00 flight that one of the other busses could not fill out.
I guess I need to explain what I mean by Busses. The Porterville group had three different departure days. Sunday July 16, Monday 17, and Tuesday 18. Each followed the same approximate schedule but just did it a day later. Our group departed on Monday. This is a group of nearly 75 folks, so it takes three busses, 24 in ours, to move everybody from one place to another. Each of the three busses does things in a slightly different order so as to not interfere too much with the other groups. We are on Bus P-1. (Porterville 1? - not sure) P-2 has another group, and P-3 another, all from the Monday departure from California. We assumed that the eleven from P-1 were filling out P-2 and P-3 up to a certain number of reservations on the 11:00 plane. We figured the remaining thirteen would be pretty much by themselves.
We arrived at the airport at Beijing, and sure enough there was the P-3 bus. That made sense. But, here we are in Shanghai, eleven of us waiting to be caught up with by the remaining thirteen from bus P-1. Right across the parking lot is the P-3 also waiting for some of THEIR folks. So ... again, we are not entirely sure WHAT is going on. Or why.
That is a very common thing. They tend to keep us in the dark a bunch around this tour.
Well, here comes the rest of our group. Better get the heck out of the way, as I am sitting on one side of the aisle, with the computer sitting on the opposite side.
OK, so here it is, almost 8:00 PM here, which is 5:00 AM there. I have tried and tried to get e-mail to SEND. It will not go out for some reason. And, the young man of about 20 who came to try to help me get online ... spoke almost as much English as I speak Chinese. So the result was totally unsatisfactory for both of us.
As most of you saw, I "shared" pictures again, just so that I could write a very brief note on there and at least get a note out. With no explanation of the pictures, it is difficult to know just what the heck is going on. But .... hang in there.
When we landed in Shanghai we were met by Arthur, our new Chinese Tour Guide. Or maybe it might even be more accurate to call him the Official Chinese Government Keeper and Tourist Herder. These folks have very specific places that they must take us, very specific things they must show us, and very specific places they have to take us that are designed to subsidize the amazing price we paid to take this trip. And, make absolutely no mistake about it ... they ARE set up to do just that.
When we went to the Jade Factory, if you looked through the pictures, you saw our group standing in front of a counter with the Greeter from the Jade Factory. Standing behind the counter were 8-10 young Chinese, all in blue smocks. Should you even look at something on a shelf, or in a case, one of these kids would appear at your shoulder, "You like?" Window shopping is very difficult, for you simply cannot stand and look at things too long, or somebody will be there right with you. I finally would just shake my head, and say “No,” and move on. But, as you saw I did get some pictures.
When we got to Suzhou, we first stopped at a place where there is a big hill, with a tower not at all unlike the Leaning Tower of Pisa up on the top, leaning a bit. In fact the Guide called it The Leaning Tower of Pisa in China. But, it is only 800-some feet tall, and the surrounding countryside is flat ... and wet.
The Grand Canal carries product from Suzhou to Hangzhou (if I was awake enough to get that straight on the bus). This is a big ditch, dug into the earth (not built up like the Friant-Kern Canal) which in many places is also concrete on the sides. But this is 2-3 times as wide, and it is hard to tell, but probably about half as deep. I could not see any current in it at all however. But on the back of this water an amazing amount of product is moved. We passed a little inlet, which at first look seemed to be a very junky looking bunch of barges all tied together side-by-side. Then you noticed the small living quarters at about 2/3 the way back. Arthur said that this was a "Transportation Company" and that each boat captain and his family live on the barge. The front part of the barge is a flat section that carries coal, or trash or dirt, or ... whatever. They were very grubby little barges, maybe 100 feet long, and 15 feet wide. The back 30-35 feet of the barge was house.
Walking along the various banks and bridges, as there is water EVERYWHERE, we saw several people carrying things in the old traditional manner of a basket or bucket or container of some sort, with a long pole balancing the weight. They were also wearing very "traditional" garb, usually including the little straw round pointed hats.
When we arrived at the Embroidery Factory, we could not take pictures at all, so I was unable to record any of that. But it is an amazing place. The women who do the work cannot see to work after about 50 years of age, because they have to get SO close, SO intense, that they simply wear out. The embroidered pictures are amazing. A photograph of Chairman Mao, and another of Princess Di, turned out to not be photographs at all, but embroidery! The skin colors, shading, shadows, eyes ... all perfectly reproduced in thread. And the size of the thread is unbelievable. Our Greeter held up a thread and asked us how many times we THOUGHT one might split the thread. Various guesses were given from 12 to around 36. She told us that they could split this one silk thread 48 times and proceeded to show us the one single thread. It was nearly invisible even in good light! It is with these tiny threads that the Master Embroiders put the fine detail in these pictures. But, the prices are steep. Some of the two-sided panels, done only by Masters, in the 18 x 14 inch range, were in the $250 - 300 price range. And the really beautiful things were well into the thousands. Several large panels, were in excess of $10,000. A picture of a beautiful Tiger was 380,000 Yuan ( the Chinese currency) At 8:1 that would be $47,500! A few buys were made by our group, but not many.
After dinner in a restaurant in the same building, it was back on the bus and off to the hotel.
Now it is time for me to get hot on shaving and getting around. SO, even though I cannot send, I have recorded a little. Will try to do more later if there is time.
Brent and Sharon in Suzhou
(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.)