2001- China

 

31st July

A full BA flight took us the 11½ hour journey to arrive at the new Hong Kong Airport at 12.30 p.m. on Wednesday. 

1st August

Our tour guide would not arrive till 6 pm but a Chinese Hong Kong representative from Tour East met us at the airport, and also joined us the following day.  Shuman is about  35 and speaks very good English.  Mrs Noa Harley turned out to be a Hungarian living in London and in love with China to which she has been many times in the last 5 years.

The hotel is fairly comfortable but no great space or facilities.

We were left to our own devices and, together with Lynn & Christian, made a poor choice for our evening meal as we mis-remembered Noa's instructions and ended up at  the wrong local eating place.  We were a great source of amusement to the young "managers" and clientele and were first given a menu solely in Chinese before we asked for an English translation.  We were all four served at different times and Adrian had to ask before his dinner came and then it was not what he'd ordered!

2nd August

A whistle stop introduction to HK including walking, and tram to a cable car to Victoria Peak where we could look over the harbour and city,  Definitely a high rise city!  Many new buildings and the old slums  gone.  Some of the new housing looks basic and scruffy and is certainly small - 200 sq. ft for some families.

We then had a practical lesson in climatology for sub tropical areas.  It simply cascaded down as we walked to the Tea Museum.  Jill was quick on the draw with her umbrella while Adrian struggled with his jacket only to find the umbrella later in the day.  The Tea Museum did not interest much but that may have been because we were so wet and the building seemed very cold with its air conditioning.

We then went for the prebooked meal at a large restaurant: Dim Sum - about 9 courses and very good.

After lunch a ride in a Sampan.  Very crowded harbour with many Sampans which formed homes. They were lined up like cars in a car park.

We then visited a jewellery factory where "there will be no hard sell" - not much!!  20 assistants for our group of 12.  Jill wanted a ring and we were shadowed by an assistant who assisted us until we bought!!  We then found she had 2 sons in Britain - one still at Repton and the other at university!

We went on to Stanley Market which is very much a tourist market with fixed little shops selling clothes, watches, paintings etc.  Jill bought a jacket, 2 silk tops (one proved to be faulty) and a white top and shirt.

A short journey took us back.  We were not hungry  and so set to  walking up to and along Nathan Road to enable Jill to buy a watch as she had set her heart on this - finally she settled on a Raymond Weil one for about £250.  She would have liked a real gold one but the only ones seen were over a thousand pounds.  We bought a mushroom tart each from the Tart & Pie Shop and ate that back at our room with a tiramasu.

Friday 3rd August

We had chosen to go on a trip to "The Land Between" - together with Lynn & Christian.  Indeed 9 members of our total group of 11 had done so.  The other 2: Peter and Yvonne, went to Macau.  Of the total group only 3 have nothing to do with education!

Peter & Yvonne come from Wales - he is a Deputy Head and she a Year 1 teacher.

Mary, a widow from Gloucestershire, is a Year 4 teacher.

Tom & Janice come from Yorkshire.  He is a soon to retire Head and she is a Maths Co-ordinator.

Val and John come from near Newcastle.  She is head of a small village school and he is in I.T. support for the LEA.

Noa escorted us on the underground system to the YMCA where we were to be picked up.  Noa always leaves masses of time for things and so we had ages to wait although, to be fair, the bus was late arriving.  Our tour guide was called Irene who looked very young but told us she was 46!  She knew vast numbers of proverbs and quoted these liberally as she gave her commentary.  We visited the border area and met an 86 year old lady who was very pleased to be filmed.  We also went to a local market and to a temple  but not in that order.  We ended up at the Hong Kong Jockey Club for a meal before being taken back to the YMCA at about 3.30.  Noa was there to meet us and took the others back to our hotel but Adrian and I walked all along Nathan Road having been helped by a friendly Chinese girl who saw us looking at the map and said it would only take us about 30 minutes.  When we got back we collected my ring from Reception and then met up with Lynn and Christian and went out looking for DVDs.  We were unsuccessful as there are none for British players but we did buy another pie and a mango pudding.

Saturday 4th August

Noa had booked an alarm call for 6.00 a.m. but I changed ours to 6.15!  We put our cases outside our door for collection and were ready to leave at 7.45 a.m.  Shuman came to escort us by coach to the railway station.  We then had to change money there into Chinese yuang and waited some long while to be able to board the train.  When we arrived at Guangzhou (Canton) we were met by a 29 year old guide called Anna Chen who took us first to a meal and then to her family temple.  Following that we went to a Buddhist Temple, a porcelain factory (where we bought a vase) and a tea emporium where we were shown teapots and took place in a tea tasting ceremony as a result of which they hoped we would buy some.  Anna translated for the Chinese girl who made the tea and extolled its virtue.  We all lapsed into giggles during the proceedings having got to know each other quite well.  Our demonstrator proved to know more English than she let on and ended up selling us some Ginseng tea.  After this we went to the airport to catch our flight for Guilin.  The airport sports an enormous supermarket prior to a seething mass of people waiting for their flights.  We had quite a long wait (down to Noa's keenness to be early) and then a long ride on a bus with aircraft taxiing towards us down the runway.  The 45 minute flight was accompanied by a noisy video of Chinese pop music about which Noa complained.  Mr. Way met us, together with a trainee guide who is a qualified teacher but who is afraid she will not be able to control the 13 year olds and therefore is considering becoming a tour guide.  After a fascinating journey of about an hour where we could see the silhouetted mountains, we arrived at the first class Guilin Plaza Hotel in time for a shared Chinese meal which finished at about 10.15.  It was getting on for midnight before we settled down for sleep.

Sunday 5th August

Early start for river Li trip.  We started in a real flotilla of ships each carrying about 120 people.  Beautiful and unusual limestone scenery that goes on for miles.  Conical bush covered mountains and high cliff escarpments.

Adrian took Noa's advice and skipped lunch to enjoy the top deck with just one other person for 20-30 minutes.  Then the trip became idyllic.  The scenery had been spectacular throughout but the number of people and boats made it less so.   Lunch met with a mixed reaction but included snake wine - literally wine with snakes in it.

After the cruise are numerous market stalls in the "Hello" market. I do not know  whether people  took the name from traders constantly hailing passers by with "Hello.  Postcards" "Hello." and then showing what they have for sale or whether the traders just do so as a gimmick.  Either way they are very persistent and effectively drove us away by pestering so much.  They then gathered around the bus doorway trying to sell things.

Then after an interesting but blisteringly hot hour's ride home we were given 3 hours off for good behaviour.  Noa says the easy time is now behind us and we face really busy days!!

Following a reasonable meal we set off for the centre of Guilin for a cormorant fishing trip.  What a contrast to the people, buildings and life that we have seen today.  This was much smarter, newer buildings, lights, and a greater sense of prosperity.  Off the mini bus to the boat which we had to ourselves.  Alongside was the small bamboo punt style of boat of which we have seen so many.  The fisherman was accompanied by about 6 cormorants who swam beside the punt diving into the shallow water for fish, at first unsuccessfully.  Then one flapped its wings and was called onto the boat by the fisherman.  The bird stood neck extended until the man came and stroked the birds neck and pulled at the tail of a large fish of perhaps 18 inches in length which gradually was coaxed out of the bird's gullet and put in a container.  This was repeated perhaps a dozen times before we returned to shore.  Apparently the birds neck is tied to prevent it swallowing the fish.

After 30 minutes at another "Hello" market we returned home and after coffee and cakes in the hotel went to bed.   

Monday 6th  August

Left hotel at about 8.00 a.m. and travelled to the caves near Guilin.  Much the biggest and most spectacular of any that we have seen.  Way (which also means "Hello" in Chinese, accompanied us and lit up each cavern or formation for us as we arrived.  Different colours enhanced what was already breathtaking.  Whether the video captured it properly remains to be seen.  Small children were desperately trying to sell reed whistles and postcards but the police presence ensured they did not cross to our side of the road.  When we crossed over to get onto our bus they swarmed everywhere.  We were then taken to the modern centre of Guilin and to a departmental store.  We had about an hour to look around - certainly nothing like any preconception of a communist store.  This was  joint venture and financed by Japanese investment.  Some things were very expensive compared to the UK but books were, to us, very cheap.  I bought 2 books and 2 posters for only £2.50.  However Way told us later that the many children we saw sitting reading were doing so because it was their holiday and they wanted to read but the books were too expensive to buy!  Lynn bought a new suitcase as hers had suffered in the previous flight.  We noted that our Samsonite cases had actually been cheaper in England.

At about 11.00 a.m. we set off in our waiting bus to Guilin Airport where we first had lunch in the airport restaurant.  Our flight to Xian was at 1.20 and took about an hour.

We were met by our Xian Guide, Helen, who looked characteristically young but told us (when Noa asked!!) that she was over 40. The journey from the airport showed differences in that fields were very large, the road (almost empty) a proper motorway on a toll basis. Earlier toll roads had still been poor.  There are huge advertisements on US style billboards.

Before we went to our hotel, we visited the city wall at Xian - constructed in the 14th century with towers and double entrances.  We then went to Le Garden Hotel and settled into our room on the 7th floor.  We arrived at about 4.30 p.m.  At 6.45 we left for our evening meal at a restaurant on the other side of the city.  I did not think it was a particularly good one.  We arrived back at the hotel fairly early and so decided to go out for coffee - 10 of us went; only Mary and Noa going back to their rooms.  We took our lives in our hands to cross the road; made even more exciting by all the street lights going off momentarily just as we were about to cross.  We found a restaurant and were welcomed into a separate room upstairs but requested to be with the people so they put two tables together specially for us.  A really nice waitress spoke English and was particularly helpful.  We had different sorts of coffee - coconut, mandaling etc.  When we left we gave a collective tip to the waitress of 350 yuang - about £3.50.  She was totally overwhelmed and came with us out of the restaurant saying "I am never forget you!"

When we arrived back at our restaurant there were many local artists - students and teachers - who were selling their work.  We stopped to look and got  talking to one particular artist who showed us photos of him working in his studio and of his family: parents and wife.  He was extremely pleasant and we eventually bought one for 30 yuan on silk - about £3.00!  Lynn asked whether any of them wanted her suitcase which she had replaced at the Guilin department store.  One guy was delighted and insisted that she took a free painting of a panda for it.

We went back into the hotel and Christian and I went to email for 30 yuan a half hour.  Adrian and Lynn spoke to some Italian guests who admired the paintings - Adrian took them out to buy some and everyone was happy.

Tuesday 7th August

We left the hotel at about 7.30 a.m. to go to the terracotta warriors.

We visited the 3 different pits containing the terracotta figures and also saw the  cinema production with a 360 degree presentation.  This showed a reconstruction of how the tombs and figures were created and then burned down. We bought a book giving all the details about the figures and had it signed by the farmer who actually found the clay figures.

We then met everyone at 12.00 noon and walked back to the coach.  We were accosted by some street vendors who were not supposed to be on the road and who were reprimanded by passing police in a police car.  This all meant that we could not see the rest of our group and for a brief moment thought that we were lost.  Adie was sure we should have gone through a shop and he turned out to be right.  We even found that we were not absolutely last as Peter had stopped to buy some things in the shop. 

We then went by coach to our approved tourist restaurant.  The food was good and Christian helped me afterwards to get some chopsticks.  I ended up with 10 for 840 yuang (all I had in my pockets) and the impression that I had robbed the girl selling them to me.  Perhaps she was just a good actress!  Someone came running after me to ask what country I came from - perhaps they thought I was American!

After our meal we reboarded the bus to go to a prehistoric village called Banpo. 

This was a covered over prehistoric village with hut circles, grain pits and burial grounds.  So hot and not really our favourite period.  Interesting as a non family society where men and women (plus children) live separately.  Just before we came we saw a documentary on a minority group in SE China that still live that way.

We had about four hours after our return before we were due to go to the evening meal and show.  We checked the email before going back to our room and it was lovely to get one from Nath who said the house has been razed to the ground by a band of marauding Vikings but he is working on building a bivouac!

In the evening we went to the Tang Dynasty extravaganza having first had a meal there.  The building was extremely modern and particularly the cloakrooms which made a nice change!  The show was very good and I videoed parts of it.  Adrian was not feeling too good so we went straight to our room when we got back at about 10.20 p.m.

Impressions so far:

1      Far more independent and westernised than I expected

2.     Strange mixture of old and new as ancient hand carts and yokes are used by a myriad of manual workers where a bit of modern machinery would do the job far quicker.

3.     Chaotic traffic with many bikes, trikes and motorcycle rickshaws mingling amongst many taxis lorries and buses.

4.     Wonder if we are getting the whole picture.  Private cars are relatively few.  Some homeless people but not seen that many.  Poor looking shops and workshops stretch for miles on both sides of the roads.  Behind them courtyards with flats or small houses.  Adverts for smart new flats and large houses.

5      On the whole people friendly but extremely keen to sell us something or anything.  They could teach us something about capitalism - every attraction or other place where tourists may pass is packed with traders.  They do not leave you alone and usually prevent you looking at their goods as the slightest interest makes them even more persistent.  Generally seem very friendly and keen to please but often I feel they are keener to sell.  Never feel threatened however.  Cannot really gauge wealth but impression is that the majority work hard for a very modest lifestyle.

6      Endless construction.

7.     Exceedingly hot at this time of year.

8.     One airport very busy (Canton) but Guilin nearly exclusively white people. Not certain what to make of this.    

Wednesday 8th August

We had little for breakfast but eventually got some green tea which is evidently good for upset stomachs.  Breakfasted with some New Zealanders who are on a two month holiday and will finish in Manchester, UK.

We left at 8.30 a.m and went to the Wild Goose Pagoda.  We saw various people doing tichee and met large numbers of Europeans also on tours.  After that we visited a jade factory with carpets (but Adrian was unwell at the time) and then a calligraphy and art museum.  We then had lunch at the Tang Dynasty Centre again before leaving for the airport.  Our lunch was a self-service one for the first time.  There were again large numbers of other tourists lunching there.  We caught the 3.00 p.m. plane to Shanghai which arrived a bit late at 5.00 p.m. 

First stop was for a meal and then we went to see the Acrobatic Show which began at 7.30 p.m. This proved to be excellent with quite young boys and girls involved - all of whom performed to a high standard.  Unfortunately the theatre was not full and the applause was not what we felt they warranted.

We then went to our hotel and went straight to bed.  There was talk of hiring taxis to go to the waterfront and see Shanghai by night but in the event even Peter (who had instigated the idea) felt too tired.

Thursday 9th August

By mistake everyone was given a wakeup call at 6.00 a.m. instead of 6.30 so we had plenty of time before our 8.15 a.m. departure!

We went first of all to the Children's Palace in Shanghai arriving almost with the children at 8.30 a.m.  We saw the smallest children and a little girl aged 6 played the piano.  She had been learning for 2 years.  We also saw an 11 and 12 year old perform a minority dance and then, joined by two others, some ballet routines.  After seeing an older boy play the pipa, we were shown to the inevitable shop.  Many of the pictures had been painted by the children themselves but they were quite expensive and so we did not buy although they were extremely impressive.

After the Children's Palace we went to a Silk Carpet Factory and Show Room.  We had the almost undivided attention of Caesar who was trying to sell us a carpet. Eventually he succeeded, having asked us whether we had come deliberately in this season when there are less tourists and the carpets are cheaper. We feel we got a genuinely good deal.

Next we went to the Shanghai Museum where there were all sorts of exhibition rooms including furniture, coins and calligraphy.  There was also one about Tibet which told us how kind the Chinese were to peacefully liberate Tibet fifty years ago.  I bought a good book about the development of Chinese script for the equivalent of £2.50 from the Museum Bookshop.

We next went on a boat on the river in the pouring rain.  We had the whole boat to ourselves and the crew didn't seem particularly delighted to have to take the vessel out.  Those playing Military Chess were determined not to stop and carried on regardless.

After the boat trip we went for a quick lunch at a hotel restaurant.  The view from the restaurant must have been one of the best from anywhere.

Having finished lunch, we went to the tunnel that Peter had been telling us about ever since our arrival.  It is in fact a fast way to get from one side of the river to the other but has been enhanced as a tourist attraction with fibre optic lights of all different colours and themes.

We had been going to walk along the river bank but it was raining and we didn't feel we would see much more than we had seen from the boat so we walked straight to our next venue which was the old Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank opened 1923.  It was then the City Hall with a false ceiling obscuring its grandeur and now is the Shanghai Bank.  Our guide, Mr. Chui, said it was alright to video but the official very quickly indicated that it was not.  However I have a souvenir!

We then walked through the rain to our waiting coach and were driven in heavy traffic to Shanghai Railway Station where we caught our train to Souzhou at about 5.00 p.m.  We travelled first class in "soft seats" and waited in the Soft Seat Waiting Room where I bought some postcards of Shanghai.

We arrived at Souzhou Railway Station and were met by Mr. Gu.  On the way to our coach we were accosted by the usual street vendor but this time she had a fold up bag/haversack for 30 yuan which we got for 20.  This meant that we were able to offload all of our bags etc. into it. 

We arrived at our hotel which turned out to be a Ramada and was extremely good.  After a meal at the restaurant, we looked around the many shops inside it and bought a present for Zoe's birthday.  We also managed to email extremely cheaply. We then sat and had coffee together and listened to the cabaret.  We went to bed at about 11.00 p.m.

Friday 10th August

We left after breakfast at about 8.30 a.m. and went first of all to the Garden of the Master of the nets.  We were shown the various rooms of the house and also had the formation of the gardens explained.

We then all went on rickshaws around the old part of Souzhou where we saw people living in extremely poor conditions. Noa was however adamant that they were not poor.  We went to the vegetable market and then the bird and animal market where there were all sorts of creatures including crickets, tortoises, terrapins etc. and an adorable little puppy.  I bought some chopstick stands there.

After this we went back on the rickshaws to the hotel to use the bathrooms and then went to the Silk Factory.  The whole process of making silk was explained.  There were duvets and covers there but we resisted those as they have to be ironed.  However we succumbed to a shirt for Adie and a Chinese top for me.  As it was over 100 US dollars we had a free fan. 

We then went to the CITS restaurant for lunch.  A little lighter, and no bones!  All told very good.

During the afternoon trips our guide spoke of the Cultural Revolution.  He was a student at the time (1966).  Intellectuals were sent to the rural areas for one to three or more years to be "re-educated" by the army.  On their return they often found that they could not get jobs other than as factory workers. Our guide said that Mao was not willing to admit to mistakes.  He was difficult to understand but seemed to be open and felt that great progress had been made since proper diplomatic relations had been established with the USA in 1979 and since the open doors policy of 1989.  We subsequently learned that he had gone to the U.S. for 10 days as the official interpreter in a 4 man delegation re creating a Chinese garden.  He also was part of a delegation to London on another occasion when he stayed at a hotel near Hyde Park.

The afternoon excursions were to the "Lingering Garden" which covered about 4 acres and to the Suzhou Embroidery Institute where they are famous for the quality of their work.  50 rolls of silk were ordered for the Royal Wedding.  There was an impressive double-sided work with Charles on one side and Diana on the other.  There were some amazing pieces of embroidery that took years to complete.  We bought a fairly small one that was mounted in a wooden frame.

We then went to the city wall and a bridge that was 150 years old.  Lynn very kindly bought me The Thoughts of Chairman Mao for 20 yuan. 

We drove back to our hotel after this and had coffee before packing most of our things. Dinner was in another hotel across Souzhou and we returned at about 8.45 to complete our packing and put our cases outside our door.  We only just made it because they came at 8.50 instead of 9.00.

After this we went down to the bar and had coffee all together whilst listening to the Filipino singers. We went to bed again at about 11.00 p.m.

Saturday 11th August

Our early morning call was at 7.45 although I had already got up to wash my hair by then.  We left the hotel at 8.00 a.m. enroute for the Grand Canal.  Mr. Gu told us about it on the way to our boat and told us 3 jokes:

What did the pig say when the butcher caught hold of its tail?  it's the end of me.

Which goes faster heat or cold? Heat because people can catch cold!

Why does a Chinese bicycle not stand up without a bike stand? Because it is too tired!

When we arrived at our boat we had some difficulty getting on it as the rain had caused the water level to rise so much that the pavement normally used for boarding was under water.  The Grand Canal, along which we travelled, was started in the seventh century A.D.  It runs North/South and crosses the 5 principal West/East rivers.  It is 1800 kilometres long (about 1100 miles)

We were on the boat for about 3½ hours with the rain well and truly set in.  We passed a number of flotillas with many craft tied together and each one the home of the crew.  There were entire families on board - sometimes with several members asleep - and often the children would wave to us.  The "road signs" were very interesting in themselves.  The scenery was largely industrial and not so much beautiful as fascinating.

We arrived at Wuxi (pronounced Wooshi) before 12.00 noon and found the C.I.T.S. coach and guide (Mr. Lu)waiting for us.  We were taken just a few yards to the C.I.T.S. restaurant where we were given a private room.  We particularly liked the banana fritters and were given an extra plateful.  There were also rather good fried onions.

After our meal we were driven through Wuxi to a bridge and through the shopping and housing areas.  We saw a man who sells the only boiling water in Wuxi and then were taken to the home of Mr. & Mrs. Wu. They have three rooms downstairs - one only large enough for a bed. They cook by bottled gas but do have electricity and had a television in their back room.  As we returned over the bridge, a local man came to talk with us as we walked and told us that he was an engineer and that they had imported a number of JCBs from England in the past.

We rejoined the coach and were taken to a porcelain factory where we saw the different processes and then the inevitable factory shop.  Only Val bought anything although the work was beautiful.

We drove to Wuxi Railway Station and waited in the Soft Seat Waiting Room where lace curtains kept others from looking in on us.  A few of our party went for a very short walk and apparently were much more of a novelty than had been the case elsewhere.  A crowd formed around them when they stopped to buy anything.

The train journey was about 2 hours and we arrived in Nanjing at about 5.00 p.m. to be met by a lovely Chinese lady called Ci Ci (English name) and Chinese name Yung.  We drove to the old part of town and were dropped off to spend three quarters of an hour visiting the area of Confucius's Temple. We went around by ourselves but Ci Ci came with Lynn, Christian and us and accompanied us into the Temple area.  She explained things to us and took us to the integral Concert Hall.  She said that it would be good for us to be able to hear the ancient Chinese instruments played at a concert but that we don't have the time.  We would, though, be welcome to go to her home to hear her play the zheng which is somewhat like a horizontal and elongated harp. 

After visiting the temple, we looked around the main square and Adrian and Christian went to buy a hamburger from MacDonald's - they brought me back a cheeseburger.

We then walked back to the coach and drove to our hotel: The Grand.  This was very pleasant and the meal that we had there was good.  Ci Ci and the driver also ate there at Noa's insistence and then 8 of us, plus Noa, went to Ci Ci's home. She lives in an amazing apartment with every modern convenience.  There are 4 bedrooms (one used as a study) and 2 bathrooms.  Everything was very well designed and fantastically tidy.  There were 2 32" televisions.  Ci Ci played for us and we then got 3 taxis back to our hotel battling through the traffic which was intense because of the football match that had just finished.

We then met up with Yvonne and Peter who had been to the shops (John was unwell and in his room) and had a complementary drink in the bar.  We then went to our rooms at about 10.30 p.m.

Sunday 12th August

(Christian's birthday & our Wedding Anniversary)

A good night's sleep and then up at 7.00.  The first visit of the day was Nanjing museum at 9.00 am.  It is a new and very spacious museum with exhibitions on jade, bronze, embroidery etc. Highly impressive. There was also a well-preserved mummy. It is interesting that the communists have entry fees for museums. We finished our visit at the Museum Restaurant where we had a strawberry and honey drink.  We had bought a thank you card for Ci Ci at the bookshop there and gave it to her with our email and home address.  I wonder if we will ever hear from her.

We joined the coach for a visit to a large wooded hill that contained a number of different attractions but in particular the mausoleum of Dr.Sun Yat Sen, the founding father of the Chinese state.  He lived from about 1868 to 1925. His mausoleum was started in 1926 and completed in 1929. There is a flight of more than 300 steps up the hillside to the building.  There were many hundreds of people there but we saw very few westerners.

After returning to the coach, we went first to a pearl farm (simulation) and workshop where we bought some pearl cream, some earrings and a necklace.  We then went for lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Following this, we drove to see the immense Yangtse bridge which takes both trains and car traffic.  We looked at a model whilst Ci Ci told us of the bridge's history and then went in a high speed lift to a vantage point at the top.  We looked in a bookstore there but did not purchase anything.

Following this we went on a boat for a river trip down the Yangtse - this took about an hour.  Then a further hour and a half drive to Nangjing Airport.  We all said goodbye to Ci Ci who said she would never forget us.  Our flight to Beijing was at 5.50 p.m. and took about 1½ hours.  We had to wait a little while for our local guide to arrive because we had arrived 20 minutes early. Noa was getting a little worried and went to phone but Michael arrived whilst she had gone.

We had been worried about our Beijing hotel since Noa had described it as "alright" but it turned out to be fine and after waiting for our cases to be delivered to our rooms (and unpacking for the first time) we went to the bar and had a drink for Christian's birthday.  We met Peter and Yvonne there.  Again went to bed at about 11.00 p.m.

Monday 13th August

Had contrived a 6.30 a.m. wakeup call with the help of Michael (Noa had wanted 6.00) After breakfast, I emailed the children and then we left the hotel at 8.00 a.m. and drove to Tiannamen Square.  We were dropped a little way off and the group waited whilst we went into a shop to purchase an extra film for the video camera.  They had an electronic machine for detecting counterfeit notes but, at the other extreme, used an abacus to work out the change due when 150 yuan was tendered for a film costing 148!  We walked on to the Square and, once there, were given half an hour to wander around which was really too long.  The rules for the Square were being broadcast in Chinese and English over a loudspeaker and emphasis was placed on the fact that this was the "people's square".  Girls of about 11 or 12 were providing a guard of honour at the Memorial to the Martyrs of the Liberation.  The sun was quite hot and they stand motionless for one hour before they are relieved by the next "shift".  Apparently they consider it a real honour to be chosen to do this. We met up again  at 9.30 a.m. to then go together to the Forbidden City which is vast.  Walked to where we could meet our bus which had some difficulty getting to meet us because of the extremely heavy traffic.  We then drove to have lunch at a restaurant in the Zoo. The restaurant is totally owned by the Government but the food was actually very good.

We walked from the restaurant past the brown pandas' enclosure and saw some in a tree.  We also went into the Panda House and took photos of a panda climbing down from his tree stump after he had dropped his bamboo.

We walked back to meet our coach and had to wait for some while for the driver to negotiate his way back through the traffic. Then we were driven to the Summer Palace and had about three hours there.  We walked along the Long Corridor which is about half a mile in length and has four pavilions named after the seasons.  We also sampled a pea lolly which I quite liked but Adrian was less keen on.

We left the Summer Palace at about 4.30 p.m. to walk to a rendezvous with our coach and then drove to where we were to have our evening meal before seeing the Beijing Opera. 

We were booked in for 6.00 p.m. but arrived before 5.30 p.m. and so Michael took us for a walking tour of the Huton area.  This is a "grey" area where all the brickwork and cement are grey and where people live around a central courtyard reached through a communal doorway.  There are narrow alleyways and people sit out in the street.  They cook outside also.  Mary mentioned to Michael that we liked spicy Chinese food and wondered whether we had been given toned down dishes designed for westerners.  He arranged that we had something hotter amongst our evening meal and the food was excellent.  We sat and talked for some while after we had eaten as the opera was not due to start until 7.30 p.m.  Noa explained that she had no choice but to take us into all the shops as this was a condition of C.I.T.S.

We took a short cut to the Prince Gong Mansion once it was time to go.  This was where the Chinese Opera was to take place.  Before the performance we went backstage to see some of the cast making up.  We sat around tables for six and had a plate of petit fours (Chinese style) and some tea.  My cup looked as though it was full of spinach - there were so many leaves - so I did not drink mine.  There were three productions and they did not adhere to the order in the programme.  There were more gymnastics than there was singing and it was not quite what we expected but was very impressive. The colours of the make up have special significance:

White = bad
Red = Royal family or their supporters
Blue, silver and gold are all spirits.
Dark colours = outspoken

We arrived back at our hotel at about 9.30 p.m. and then went to have a drink in the bar with Tom, Janice, Peter and Yvonne.  Lynn and Christian had an early night.

Tuesday 14th August

We had our wakeup call at 6.00 a.m. and left the hotel at 7.30. a.m.

On the way to our first stop at a Cloisonné Factory we encountered a bridge with a sign declaring it to be 1.8m high.  We drove up to it slowly and our driver got out to check whether we would fit beneath it - we wouldn't!  Therefore we had to reverse and go the wrong way down a one way street to continue on our journey.

Apparently Beijing has 13m people, 8m bicycles and 1.3m cars (presumably including taxis).

Having left the Cloisonné Factory with 2 bracelets and a pill box, we drove on to the Great Wall at Mutianyu.  We parked at the bus and car park and then had an extremely steep walk to the cable car - walking the gauntlet of hawkers who called out "Come back, I remember you." One asked Tom his name and he replied "Joe".  Adrian said his surname must be "King". (When we returned after some 2½ hours actually on the wall, the same hawker greeted him with "Hello Joe, I remember you - buy now!"

Adrian walked for some distance on the wall whilst Lynn, Christian and I covered somewhat less.  It was hot but not as bad as it might have been and, other than at the beginning, there were not too many people. I had a medal engraved on top of the wall for 50 yuan but found we could have got it for 20 elsewhere!  I also bought a book about the Great Wall from the same vendor and got that down to 30 yuan.

After our descent we went amidst the hawkers again and I videoed them as I walked down without them knowing.  We went to the café and bought a drink and some crisps and then all returned to the bus.  On the way there are bought a carved walnut for 25 yuan.  It was of "a hundred children".

We set off by 1.30 p.m. and went back a different way along a windy mountainous road passing through quite remote villages.  Apparently these get very affected by snow and cold wind and so the farmers' houses have no north facing windows.

Michael told us that we were going for a light lunch after all but on the way we got caught up in an enormous traffic jam and did not arrive at the Government Friendship Shop and Restaurant until shortly after 3.00 p.m.  The driver had apparently been working since 4.00 a.m. and was hungry.  Michael was getting very unhappy and worried that he would be reported (by us or the driver was not clear).  We were told that the driver must have a 1 hour rest and that we could not leave the restaurant for the Ming tombs before 4.00 p.m.  In the event we left shortly before that.

The Ming tombs were built (1409) in an area constructed on Feng Tsai principles.  They are close to the Great Wall so the soldiers on guard at the tombs could also be called upon to defend the wall if necessary.  We spent until 5.05 there (and managed to buy another carved walnut as well) and then went to the Sacred Way.

We passed the Ming Reservoir on the way

In the Sacred Way (built in the 15th Century) the various stone animals depict different attributes that the royal family held dear:

The camel & elephant are symbols of peace.
The monster with a single horn is a symbol of judgement.
Lions are the symbol of protection - they are found in front of Chinese Restaurants.

We walked along from one gate to another and noted the enormous turtle in the gate.  To touch the turtle's tail is to bring longevity and to touch its head is to bring happiness.

Turtle represents longevity.

The coach was waiting for us at the gate and we set off at about 5.55.  The traffic had thinned considerably and we made far better time than anticipated - getting back to our hotel (the Grand view Garden Hotel) at about 7.15.  We were able to wash and change before dinner an hour later - a luxury!

After dinner we all (without Noa) went 10 pin bowling at the alley in the hotel basement.  It was a really impressive one and great fun. Adrian got top score in the men's team and I did similarly in the ladies'.

When we had finished our game, we went to the bar for a drink and a cake and went back to our rooms quite late at 11.15 p.m.

Eccentricities:

·       Weeding grass verges by hand with no tools.

·       Sweeping the side lane of major roads with a birch broom.

·       Obtaining purchase order, paying at cash desk and returning to original sale point to collect goods.

·       Dual carriageway approach ramps where you meet bikes and motor bikes and pedestrians coming the other way.

·       Toll roads and paying museums in communist country.

·       Hooting when passing anything including pedestrians, bikes and even vehicles on motorways.

·       Entering roads in priority to traffic on it.

·       No lights on bikes.

Pedestrians crossing six lane roads where the traffic does not give way.

Wednesday 15th August

We were permitted a later wakeup call than usual: 7.30 a.m. - but in the event no-one got one!  We still managed to get into breakfast at 8.15 and left the hotel an hour later.

We went first to the Temple of Heaven where we saw all the activities of the elderly and middle aged folk - based around the Long Corridor and ranging from knitting to ballroom dancing.

We went to the Temple Museum where we saw historical Chinese musical instruments and music.

After this we were driven to the embassy area of Beijing where we were dropped near the Silk Market.  Noa and Michael left us just inside the Market and gave us instructions as to how to get to the Friendship Store where we were to meet two hours later.  We had some difficulty finding it despite the directions and encountered Val and John having similar problems.  We doubled back and asked the first person we heard speaking English.  They didn't know but a passing Chinese American overheard and came to our rescue.

Once at the Friendship Store we managed to buy several presents and finished off with coffee at Starbucks!  We then all met up and were driven to our lunchtime restaurant.  Here we had seaweed and sponge cake for dessert.

Tom and Janice wanted to go into the downtown area and not go back to the hotel before our Peking Duck Supper. Noa went with them in a taxi to take them to a central point.  Everyone else went back with Michael in the bus and then left the hotel again at 5.00 p.m. after packing and getting ready for the evening.

We arrived in the downtown area in time to give us 1½ hours before we were to meet at the Beijing Duck Restaurant.  First of all we went with Lynn and Christian to hunt for a bookstore.  We walked to the area behind Tianamen Square by the Railway Station but had no success.  Then two very kind Chinese girls directed us back to the old area on the opposite side of the road to our restaurant.  I found some boxed language cards in a bookstore there and then. after a while, we split into two couples and spent about three quarters of an hour looking around before going to the restaurant.

The meal was excellent and we all thoroughly enjoyed it before returning to our hotel by 9.00 p.m.  We then arranged to meet in the bar half an hour later.