CHINA and TIBET
November 7, 2007: SFO to Beijing.
This trip was 22-days away from home, but it felt shorter. I'll make every effort to keep it short, but be forewarned that there were much to see and experience even though this was my third trip to China. My primary reason for visiting China again was to cruise the Yangtze River (before the flooding is completed in 2009) and to visit Tibet, but I have come to realize that I have missed many things during my first two visits to Beijing and Xian. The other cities in the Sichuan and Shaanxi Provinces made me realize that China's economy is growing very fast indeed, and that the Three Gorges Dam project is much more than what we read in our newspapers. However, not all is as good as it looks to the outsider. Many internal problems are getting worse, and the economy is playing havoc for the poor in China.
What made this trip different from the others were the free times provided in each major city to let us pursue our own interests or go in smaller groups to go shopping, walking, or to go to a massage parlor.
Our first stop was Beijing for four nights:
Our hotel, Ning Xia, is located in the Hutong (the old city), and a visit to this metropolitan city from this hotel is about as good as it gets to really engage oneself in the smells and sounds of "old" China. I was here in 2000, and Beijing today looks nothing like it did seven years ago. The new tall, buildings, apartments and condos, and shopping malls with new freeways give a whole new meaning to urban sprawl.
Our tour director, Grace Wang (33 years old), from Beijing is one of the best, and she baby-sat us old fogies (I was the oldest in our group of 15) from start to finish. She provided us with the old and new information about China, and supplemented the local city guides who were also excellent. It didn't hurt to hear some things more than once.
The included activities during our four days in Beijing featured Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, the Great Wall (the old section of Bandaling where most tourists do not visit), a cloisonné factory, a carpet factory, Children's Beijing Opera Training School, and a drive by of the new Olympic City (the swimming pool building that looks like water droplets and the bird's nest where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held).
During our free time, I visited the National Art Gallery and the Capital Museum (went solo); and both were excellent. You'll learn later why from the pictures I'll include in this first section. Some of us also took advantage of getting massages not far from our hotel; a one hour body massage cost us 100 yuan ($13.50). Several of us went there more than once. We learned from our local guide that the Chinese Premier also goes to this massage parlor regularly.
Taxis in China are very economical to use, costing no more than 20 yuan (less than US$3.00) on most trips.
During one free period, I walked around the Hutong when most of the others walked to the Lhama Temple (my son and I visited there in 2000). While on one of the main streets, I came across the subway station, so I walked down the steps, purchased a ticket (in English), and took the #5 train to the station where we can transfer to the #1 train to Tiananmen Square. I met a lady from Tennessee in the train station who now works for a local English publication, so I asked her how she handles the censorship issue. She told me they just "accommodate" it. She started teaching English about ten years ago, but feels ready to return to the US in the next year or two. She informed me that the #5 train is new, and has been in service for only a couple of months.
The weather in Beijing was quite nice with some sunshine compared to what happened after the day we left; it was snowing.
A sign on Tiananmen Square showing the countdown to the Olympics.
Tiananmen Gate. We were informed that the painting of Mao is replaced on October 1st every year.
The room behind the main palace (under renovation).
The Great Wall at Bandaling; most tourists do not come here.
Olympic swim center.
The bird's nest.
The Capital Museum.
More photos to come.