This time to China and Tibet for 22-days

cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 07:47 am
November 12, 2007: Overnight train from Beijing to Xian.

Most of the members in our group feared that the overnight train to Xian would be on an uncomfortable, old, cold, train, but we were surprised. The sleeper train was in excellent condition, and the bed comfortable enough for a good night's sleep. Even the train station in Beijing is very impressive with it's marble and large waiting rooms. We took the 9:25 PM train to Xian, and it took 11 hours. Our tour director brought some snacks and strong Chinese wine to ease our anxiety about the "accommodations" on the train - which we all praised as "much better than anticipated."

Xian (once called Chang'an during the Tang Dynasty), it is one of the most important cities in China's history. It is one of the four great ancient capitals of China, and has been the capital of 13 dynasties. Xian was also the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, and even today 50,000 Muslims call home.

We spent three nights in Xian that included a one night home-hosted stay in a village outside of the city.

Our early arrival in Xian gave us time to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda which was constructed to store the Buddhist sutras obtained from India and translated to Chinese by Xuan Zang (c 652) and only one block away from our hotel, the Xian Garden Hotel, a joint venture between the Japanese and Chinese. I stayed here in 1992, my first visit to China and Xian.

On the first day, we visited a lacquer furniture factory in the morning followed by the famous and much visited 2,000 year old Terra Cotta Soldiers housed in a huge auditorium. They were discovered by accident in 1974 by farmers digging a well. The 6,000 plus life-size figures, all with different facial features, are arranged at the entrance to the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first Qin emperor.

During lunch, the master noodle maker at the restaurant demonstrated noodle making to our group in the dining room. Some in our group even tried their hand at it that resulted in much laughter. In the afternoon, we visited the local herb market; some of the interesting herbs are snakes, animal penis, starfish, and animal brains. Anyone?

In the evening, we were treated to dinner and a Tang show at the hotel. It was excellent.

The following morning before breakfast, Mr Kang, a tai-chi master, demonstrated how to practice tai-chi at home. Our first stop was at the Xian city wall constructed during the Ming Dynasty which is also one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world, and one of the most complete structures of its kind in China.

After our visit to the local jade factory, we coached to Hu Xian, a farmers' village to visit the local school (3rd and 4th grades), a visit to the oldest part of the village and also the newer part of the city divided by one street. At the school, the children sang to us, and we later joined them in art class. Grand Circle Travel contributed $7,500 last year and $5,000 this year to the school. After saying goodbye to the children, we walked through the old part of the village and visited one home. Many who could afford to move have already moved to their new home in the new section of the village. Their beds are made of stone, and is heated by charcoal. Yes, their beds are hard. Our hosts for the remainder of the day was in the new section of the village, but most homes in China are still unheated; it was damn cold for most of us. However, the warmth of our hosts made up for the cold, and our blankets were heated. After dinner, we all congregated in one home and played mah-jong. After breakfast in our host homes, we visited the local artist's home and gallery where some purchased his art works. The following morning, we took the flight from Xian to Wuhan, then a five hour coach ride to Yichang where we boarded our Yangtze river boat, the Victoria Anna. We spent four blessful nights on the river boat - with comfortable beds.

The Xian fortress wall that surrounds the city - on our way to our hotel.

The garden at our hotel.

This picture was taken from the top of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda (will post a picture later).

A skull older than the Peking Man at the Shaanxi Museum.
0 Replies
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 07:58 am
Another fine travelogue.
Thanks c.i.
0 Replies
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 08:07 am
Do you remember the information behind the skull?

where was it found... female? male?
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 08:11 am
shewolfnm wrote:
Do you remember the information behind the skull?

where was it found... female? male?

It's the Lantian Man
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cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 08:53 am
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

At night.

Shaanxi Museum.

A mask (probably a funeral mask).

Artist at the lacquer factory.

Muslim section; chestnuts in an open fire.

Typical shop in the Muslim section.

The bell tower.

How the shops look at night.

Bell tower.

Some of us went to the water fountain show that evening behind the Big Wild Goose Pagoda square.

The Terra Cotta Soldier auditorium.

Front and center.

A view from the back.

A UNICEF World Heritage Site museum on the grounds.

The sign.

Inside the museum.
0 Replies
cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 09:02 am
Walter, Thank you for posting the link to the Lantian Man. I can usually
remember the most important significance of something, but details are lost by the second day of taking the photo.
0 Replies
cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 09:49 am
More from the Terra Cotta Soldier museum.

Cranes represents long life in Chinese and Japanese culture.


A sitting Terra Cotta Soldier.

The emperor's chariot.

Noodle-making demonstration.

This is how it's supposed to be done.

Lee from St Louis trying his hand.

The herb market.

The Tang show.

One thousand arms.

Gymnastic dance.

Mr Kang, tai-chi master.

Steps at the west gate of the city wall.

Our group on the wall.

What three of us saw by walking along the wall.

Our visit to the village school.

The old village. Most of the homes in the old village have been vacated, and most have already moved to the new section.

Our host and Linda (her husband was also taking a picture) from Indiana. Three of us stayed over night with this family. We later met the husband and teenage daughter with her friend.

The village artist with Larry and Eileen from WN.
0 Replies
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 10:05 am
Wonderful pictures. Thanks, c.i.! I am enjoying this so much!
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cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 10:27 am
November 16, 2007: Yangtze River

The Victoria Anna, we were told, was only a year old, but the exterior of the boat looked much older. The nice part of this cruise was that we had 105 passengers and 150 staff, because it's now low season. I must extend my praise to the Victoria Cruise Line for it's excellent service and entertainment; one of the best I have personally experienced - even better than Crystal or Oceania cruises (the luxury lines). Inside the boat is very nice; the main lobby is three stories high with glass elevators on both side, but the large circular stairways were the preferred way for most passengers. The first floor is the reception and dining room, with the second, third, and forth floors with staterooms - all with balconies - and on the forth floor the Yangtze Club room where they have early morning coffee and pastries, a bar, and their entertainment and lectures. Oak wood abounds with shops on the second and third floors, the internet, card room, library and spa on the forth floor.

The service staff is the best I've seen; most are friendly, speak English, and provide service with a smile. When leaving the boat at port, they all line up the gangplank to tell us to "have a good time," and on our return tell us "welcome back." Passengers are free to stop and chat with them, and many do so. What is exceptional is the show the staff puts on after they put in a full-days work to entertain us with dance and songs - even magic.

When one looks back at this experience, and what we came to see, the Three Gorges Dam Project, I still think in wonderment at the great time we had on that river boat.

The Yangtze is the third longest river in the world, but our cruise covered only 115 miles upstream from Yichang to Chungqing (the largest city in China with 30 million).

Early the following morning at 7AM, we cruised through the first dock.

November 17, 2007: Three Gorges Dam site.

The cruise boat docked at San Dou Ping Village to disembark for our tour of the Three Gorges Dam project. The dam was proposed by Sun Yat-Sen in 1919k, and the present site was proposed by an American team of engineers in the 1940s. The cofferdam was completed in 1997 and the main structure was begun. When completed in 2009, it will be the world's largest water project. Unfortunately, the project will submerge known 35 notable historic sites, 13 cities, 140 towns, 1352 villages, 657 factories, and 66,000 acres of cultivated land, and displace over 1.3 million people.

The Chinese government claims there are three major benefits to building the dam: 1) flood control, 2) transportation, and 3) energy production. I wonder about the cost/benefit equation of this project.

We passed through the 40-mile long Xiling Gorge, the longest of the Three Gorges today. Most were outside taking pictures as we cruised past; the landscape is still spectacular!

On the following day, we boarded smaller river crafts to explore the Lesser Three Gorges; Gate Gorge, Misty Gorge, and Emerald Gorge. The sheer cliffs, sandy shoals, and quiet lagoons with some monkeys, birds, and caves with coffins makes for interesting viewing. At one section of the lesser gorge, some women on shore sang to us a we cruised by. There were several casket boats parked by the shoreline. The water is green, and there are signs showing "175" where the water level will be when the dam project is completed in 2009. Many more homes and islands will disappear.

After our return to the Victoria Anna, we continued our cruise through the Wu Gorge, renowned for their quiet beauty (the Twelve Peaks) and forested mountains. We cruised through the last of the three gorges at Qutang Gorge with its sheer cliffs, and past Daxi Village, the site of western China's earliest known civilization.

The following day, we disembarked at Fengdu to visit a displaced family followed by a visit to the village marketplace. We were provided the opportunity to ask questions to the family matriarch about her feelings about the relocation. She informed us that before the relocation, her four generation family lived in three rooms. They now live in a new building on the corner with six rooms and a basement where they stock seven pigs. They have a small market on the first floor, and their living quarters are on the second and third floors.

The Fengdu marketplace still operates as they have centuries ago. Most of the produce and products are carried to market by two baskets hanging on a pole. Other than the familiar fruits and vegetables, we have seen goat heads and other animal parts not familiar in our home butcher shops. We saw a medicine man using a lighted stick to apply on a woman's forehead, place some salve on her upper back, and offer her some herbs to drink; not common in the big cities of China.

That evening, the boat crew put on a show that was far better than many professional ones I've seen on bigger, sea-going ships.

We disembarked the boat in Chongqing at 8AM, then coached for five hours to Chengdu (the City of Hibiscus), the capital of Sichuan Province, for one night before our flight to Lhasa, Tibet. Our tour director took us on a walking tour of Chengdu, and a shopping mall to purchase some snacks before dinner. Some of us went to the massage parlor for another full-body massage after our included dinner that evening. Our hotel was a five star hotel, the Jin Jiang. We'll be staying here one more night when we return from Lhasa.

Pictures later today.
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cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 12:42 pm
Artwork made from straw.

The village where we docked to visit the Three Gorges Dam.

The Three Gorges Dam. Those cranes are there to lift the generators for repair when needed.

A poster showing an aerial view. We were standing on the upper-center part of this picture.

Five locks at the dam.

One of the locks.

A water fountain near the dam.

A post office at the park,.

The tower at the park. It has 75 steps to the top.

The Yangtze Club bar.

Xiling Gorge, the longest of the three gorges.

Our boat ride through the Lesser Gorges.


Containerl boat on the Yangtze. There are many coal mines on the banks of the Yangtze River.
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cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 03:34 pm
Displaced family business/home in Fengdu.
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cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 03:46 pm
Matriarch of displaced family in Fengdu.

A pig in their basement.

A man with infant in Fengdu.

The market in Fengdu.

A practitioner of eastern medicine.

The last show on the boat.


Like Broadway.

Alice and Amy.

Our hotel in Chengdu.

Old town in Chengdu.

Our host in Lhasa.

Potala Palace (Red Palace). This is where the Dalai Lama lived before he escaped to India.

Many Tibetans prostrate themselves when praying. They're facing the Potala Palace.

The most important temple in Tibet.
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cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 04:35 pm
November 21, 2007: Flight to Lhasa, Tibet.

After our early morning flight to Lhasa, we were given the afternoon to relax and acclimate our body to the 12,000 feet elevation. Our welcome drink, the yak butter tea, I believe, was the beginning of my stomach problem. My stomach never really settled properly until our return to Chengdu three days later; and it was immediate recovery.

In the late afternoon, a lecturer from Tibet University spoke to us about Tibetan history and folk customs.

The geography of Tibet sits on a plateau that ranges from 12,000 feet to over 25,000 feet, and is known to many as the "top of the world." One-third of the land is mountainous that includes the Himalayas, one-third the central area that includes Lhasa and 90 percent of Tibet's population, and produces barley and wheat, and the eastern section that has the greatest abundance of vegetation of trees, bamboo, and furniture factories.

Lamaism is a form of Tantric Indian Buddhism coupled with Tibetan shamanism. Feudal Lamas had complete control of internal affairs with some benevolent and others ruthless. Torture was common punishment for both high and low crimes - even imagined slight to a Lamanist monk could end up in torture. Currently, 95 percent of Tibetans believe in Sakamuni Buddhism.

The politics of Tibet is fraught with a long history between China, the Mongols, and Buddhism. The military action by China in 1951 established Tibet as a province of China.

The following morning, we visited a "typical" middle-class family home. Their sitting room with sofa-beds converts to their bedroom. They have a prayer room with all the accouterments of Buddhism with pictures of both lamas and Buddha, and a prayer wheel that continues to spin on its own from the heat of a yak oil lamp. Their devotion to their religion is obvious when once considers that their sacrifice of one large room to their prayer room is enormous. The host had snack treats on two large coffee tables, and also provided yak butter tea and some wheat wine. I just indulged myself to the nuts, candy, and other snacks on the table. We learned that most of their family members are tailors, and they make a good living at it.

After the visit to the family home, we visited Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama. To visit the Red Palace, one must climb over 300-steps, something I refused to do in my physical condition and upset stomach. Another couple from Indiana had visited the palace on their previous trip, so they skipped the climb with me. We walked across the street to the large court in front of the palace where we saw some monks and other visitors sitting or walking around in small groups. It was a good place to take a picture of the palace.

The following morning was a short walk to the old town square with shops and restaurants, but our main interest was a visit to the most important temple in Tibet. The temple, Jokhang Temple, was founded by Sakamuni Buddha over 1,300 years ago, and as with Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists are bound to visit this temple at least once in their lifetime. Many walk to Lhasa from near and far, and some come to Lhasa by prostrating themselves on the ground every few steps of the way. We were told that some who travel to Lhasa can take up to two years. There are two important treasures here; the Sakamuni Buddha figure of pure gold encrusted with jewels, and also made of gold, the Buddha of the Future. Their burning of fermented yak butter permeates the entire temple; a smell that nauseates me.

Following the temple visit, we walked clockwise around the temple (a religious practice) in the bazaar to visit a carpet factory and shop where they sold local crafts and artworks. One painting that our tour director coveted was of many Buddhas in gold on a black background. I talked to some members of our group if we could chip in to buy it for her, but we learned that the painting costs over US$3,000.

Since many Tibetans to Lhasa have never seen people with white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes, many of them stared at our group members. Many Tibetans in Lhasa have never left their farms or villages before their pilgrimage, and foreigners look strange to them.

After lunch, our group was offered an optional tour to a monastery and village outside of Lhasa, but I didn't feel up to it, so I declined. When I asked them about the optional tour at dinner time, they told me it was a big disappointment. The local guide was rude, didn't answer questions, and nobody was seen in public in the village as they walked around several blocks. I saved $65, and got a good rest in my hotel room.
0 Replies
cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 05:39 pm
Tibetan women dancing and singing in the temple.

Artist at the carpet factory store.

This painting worth three thousand dollars.

Prayer wheels.

Pilgrims waiting in line to get into the temple.

A yak to bid us farewell.

Back in Chingdu.

A pagoda in Chengdo.

The following pictures were taken at the Sichuan University Museum.
A warrior of times past.

A bow made from bamboo.

A Buddha.

More Buddhas.

One of the highlights of our trip.

No explanation needed.





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cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 05:43 pm
November 24, 2007: Early flight from Lhasa to Chengdu.

It was one of the best two hour flights of my life: getting back to an elevation where one can breathe, and our skin gets some natural moisture from the air. Whatever ailed my stomach at 12,000 feet was immediately gone when we landed in Chengdu.

After a quick shower, another couple from St Louis and I took a taxi to the Sichuan University Museum founded by an American anthropologist, DS Dye. It's an excellent museum with many artifacts, both ancient and modern, that includes the early Qin and Tang Dynasties, clothes, weapons, chinaware, porcelain, calligraphy, furniture, and burial treasures.

When a taxi stopped for us, I gave the driver the hotel business card written in both English and Chinese, but after about 20-minutes, the area he was driving in wasn't familiar, so I motioned to him that this was the wrong direction. He drove us to the Wang Jiang Hotel instead of the Jin Jiang Hotel. He stopped and asked somebody for directions, and after a few blocks, he cancelled the meter, and drove another 20-minutes before activating the meter.

When we arrived at our hotel, I gave him 20 yuan which included the first meter reading plus the current reading, because he had provided us with a tour of Chengdu we would not have seen otherwise, and 20 yuan is equivalent to less than US$3. He wouldn't accept the 20 yuan no matter how much I insisted, and took only the last reading of 8 yuan. Not many places on this planet where one can get a taxi ride for about 45 minutes, and pay less than $3. That was actually $1.08.
0 Replies
cicerone imposter
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 05:55 pm
November 25, 2007: The Panda Sanctuary and flight to Hong Kong.

Today was a very special day; our visit to the Giant Panda Sanctuary about six miles out of downtown Chengdu.

We learned that pandas live about 25 years. The first dead panda was observed by a Frenchman, David, in 1859. The first American to observe a panda was Ruth Harkness in 1939. Since then, the panda has become very popular for both young and old all over the world. However, pandas have four major problems that impedes their survival; 1) poaching by both animals and humans (in China, human poaching is a high crime that imposes a death penalty, but poachers can fetch $10,000 for a panda hide in Japan and Hong Kong), 2) mating problem (female pandas have only one day in heat), 3) habitat problem; human encroachment into their habitat that destroys their major food source (the Panda Sanctuary has plans to expand their park), the arrow bamboo that takes from 40 to 50 years to grow, and 4) pandas require moderate weather at 4,000 to 10,000 feet elevation with high levels of humidity.

It is believed there are 1,000 pandas living in the wilds in all of China. China still has 85 percent of the pandas, and the US has the second largest number of pandas in the world with four at the San Diego Zoo and others scattered throughout the country.

We saw an albino panda in the nursery; instead of black, it was grey.

After lunch at a nice second floor restaurant in Chengdu, we flew to Hong Kong.

We spent the last three nights at the L'Hotel on Hong Kong Island near Causeway Bay. The travel company offered several optinal tours, but I declined them because this was my fifth trip to Hong Kong. The included tour the following morning was to ManPo Temple, a jewelry factory, and a short ride on one of the longest motorized walkways in the world/Hong Kong.

While here two years ago during Chinese New Years, I missed the Hong Kong Art Museum because of the huge crowds, so I made it a point to spend it there the following day. I was the first one at the ticket office which opens at 10AM. It was three hours well spent.

After the museum, I walked west towards the New World Center, because this is where I stayed on my first visit to Hong Kong in 1992. Not much has changed, except I noticed a furniture store where I bought some jewelry box was gone.

I walked back to Nathan Road to look for a place to have lunch, and ended up at Outback to have a steak and beer. I complained to the manager that the medium-rare steak I ordered came back well done. He discounted my lunch by 30 percent.
That evening was our farewell dinner at the hotel restaurant. It was by far the best farewell dinner; they had crab, three different kinds of prawns, several kinds of sushi, sashimi, rack of lamb, chicken, pork, and a dessert table with fruits, cakes, ice cream, and crepes with fruits and several different sauces including chocolate and strawberry.

Most of us pigged out.

We departed for the airport at 8:30AM for our 11:50AM flight. Was at home the same day by 10:30AM; the miracle of jet travel.

I didn't suffer any jet-lag.

Another great trip with an excellent trip leader and 14 new friends.

This is the art work the fourth-grader gave me after we both "worked" on it.
0 Replies
Reply Sat 1 Dec, 2007 09:53 pm
Wow, C.I. That was amazing. I only saw the one picture of you towards the end. You are still looking good for an old guy.
Thanks for the pictures and the narrative.
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cicerone imposter
Reply Sun 2 Dec, 2007 02:36 pm
Pictures of Hong Kong:

In flight between Chengdu and Hong Kong - sunset.

On the bus between Lantau Island and Kawloon.

Randy, our local guide in Hong Kong.

Manpo Temple.

Two gods of Manpo Temple. The circular incense hanging from the ceiling are adherents favorite form of making a wish. The larger ones can last one month.

Mechanical walkway.

We were informed that these plants are mesquito traps.

A busy street on Hong Kong Island.

A metro station in Hong Kong. Seniors can buy concessionary tickets at half price.

JUMBO, the famous floating restaurant in Aberdeen.

Unusuall sight in Aberdeen. The boat people of Aberdeen are few today, and the population continues to decrease as the younger generation no longer wish to live as their ancestors did.

Star ferry. Seniors ride free.

Double-decker busses are abundant.

The Hong Kong Museum of Art; where I spent my last day.

One of my favorite artwork at the art museum. This artist went to Japan to learn about painting tigers.

I enjoyed one of these for dinner one night.

The red light district.

A final salute to the trip.
0 Replies
Reply Mon 3 Dec, 2007 12:38 am
Sigh. SIGH.

The plant that traps mosquitoes is a pitcher plant.
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cicerone imposter
Reply Mon 3 Dec, 2007 01:19 pm
Found this on the net, http://www.virtualsciencefair.org/2006/rosk6e2/pg.htm
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