Saturday, November 10, 2007

Nov 10, 2007

After 30 days away in CHINA, TIBET & CAMBODIA , I'm back in Hawaii and it is very nice. The skies are so clear and you know you are breathing non-polluted air. I'm going to discuss my trip because many people have asked me about it. I'll add a few photos, but I don't have enough room here to really show off the whole trip.

I think I will try to add a link to this blog to see if it works. Hmmmm... I'll try by providing a link to Lisa Cook who has a website, blog and podcast. Her website is the gateway to wonderful things at Wow, the link worked! - it's the first link I've ever made...Not that hard once you figure out how to do it!

OK, little by little I will be adding to this post and describe my days in China (including Shanghai, Beijing, Xi'an, Wuhan, Yangtzi River, 3-Gorges Dam, Chongqing, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Macau, and if you go along with the Chinese belief, Tibet is a part of China too). Also I spent 4 days in Cambodia in Siem Reap near Akgkor Wat.

I signed on with a tour company called Overseas Adventure Travel which promotes groups of 16 or less and visits to local schools, farms, homes, etc., besides the regular tourist attractions. It sounded promising and I went with Lucille, from Hawaii, as my roommate. I was especially interested in seeing the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors, the Panda Bears, the Yangtzi River and Dam, and learning about the Chinese culture and people. I did so many things and saw so many amazing places that I have a new idea of what "China" is.

Sep 23, 2007 Sunday & Sep 24th Monday - Hawaii to Shanghai -- We flew out of Honolulu to Narita, Japan, and on to Shanghai, China via Japan Airlines. It was a nice plane crossing the Pacific, with little TV screens at each seat. The flight attendants bowed at the beginning of each flight and were very polite and accommodating. We crossed the international date line so arrived in Shanghai on Sep 24th. An OAT representative found us at the airport and got us into our rooms at the somewhat historic Park Hotel. I would discover that Shanghai is considered a "new" city because it only evolved from a fishing village since the French colonial period. Lately it's growth is exploding and is considered the New York of China, with skyscrapers going up as fast as they can build them. Shanghai was hot and humid for the most part, but the hotel air conditioning worked well.

Sep 25, 2007 Tuesday - Shanghai -- As luck would have it, our stay coincided with the full moon and on this day the Chinese have a big time called the Mid-Autumn Festival, or the "Moon Festival." We had seen very large crowds of people last night standing in long lines to purchase special moon cakes for the day. It was nice that on our first day in Shanghai we visited the Yuyuan Gardens (see picture) on the northeastern side of the Old City. It was created beginning in 1557 by one family, and survived the destruction of private estates during Mao's time (I think) because it was turned into a government compound. Now it is a beautiful park of pavilions, goldfish ponds, and teahouses. Very popular with the locals for a step back in time. It just so happened that while gathering outside the Yu Gardens in the market place a television station was interviewing people about the "Moon Festival." The reporter first interviewed our guide, then one of our tour group. The next thing I knew Jeanie was singing "Moon River" and we were all trying to sing along with her to help out. I knew a lot of the words so ended up being filmed. We were surprised to find little round moon cakes in our hotel room that afternoon in honor of the festival, and later that evening we watched ourselves on the local television. In China only one day - and already we were singing idols!

Getting back to the afternoon, the group went to a neighborhood in Shanghai that is some kind of a show place. We assembled in the community center for a discussion on the neighborhood, then walked to two different homes, where the wives had prepared lunch for us. This was the first of our many Chinese meals that would have a big "lazy susan" revolving around a big table for us. I was amazed to see what a variety of food one woman could make with just two woks. The home was in an apartment type building and she had two bedrooms for her husband, daughter and grandchild, and seemed happy.

I would be finding out, in the next month, that there would be a lot of meals to eat over the course of the next month. Our Park Hotel had a wonderful breakfast buffet, and tonight we returned there for a typical Chinese dinner.

Sep 26, 2007 Wednesday - Shanghai -- more to follow....At this point I'll summarize to what I wrote for my annual Christmas Letter!
A unexpected highlight of Shanghai was my trip to the Guangci Hospital to see if I had a detached retina. Luckily I didn’t, my eye was fine, but the process was very interesting – and cost only $63. I missed part of the Shanghai Museum but, think I saw more of Shanghai for the hospital experience. Some of the things we did in Shanghai were to see the Bund district along the Huangpu River, and ride the fast MagLev, German built, magnetic levitation bullet train to the airport (7 minutes-268mph) and back. There are plans for the maglev extension to Hangzhou for the World Expo in 2010. . A favorite spot visited was the Oriental Pearl TV Tower at 1,535 ft high, it is the tallest tower in Asia, and the third tallest in the world. The views of Shanghai and the wonderful history museum at the bottom were the best. We visited a local family for lunch, took a train to the Grand Canal town of Suzhou for a boat ride in the ancient waterways. Also explored ZhuJiaJiao an historic water village, with a boat ride to the 400 yr old “Setting-Free Bridge” over the Cao Gang River, on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, where animals are released to freedom. Strolling through the KeZhi Garden was enough to want everyone to build a similar garden at home.

After four nights in Shanghai we flew to Beijing to begin the regular China tour. Sixteen of us made up our tour group with Chinese guide “Key.” Each city we visited seemed to house all of China’s total 1.6 billion people! Beijing, the capitol has 15 million people. China is a country of lots of cities the size or bigger than New York City’s 8 million people and has the pollution to match the numbers. Sight seeing in Beijing was especially crowded due to it being the “National Week” holiday where nearly everyone in China is on vacation. All of the sights and experiences of the next days of wonder could fill a volume. I took over 4000 digital pictures and 5 hours of video. To be brief, I’ll list the places we saw, which will probably be very familiar to many who have taken tours of China. BEIJING: Tiananmen Square (see photo of girl with Chinese flags), Forbidden City, Peking Opera, Cloisonné Factory, Summer Palace and Kumming Lake, Lunch in a Hutong neighhood home, Kong Fu School of martial arts, Beijing Carpet factory, and climbed the Great Wall of China (see photo at left). We went to a remote section of the Great Wall for our own climbing experience. That part of the Wall had not been restored and the feeling of stepping back into history was powerful. We also stopped at the popular Badaling portion of the Great Wall where most people visit and photograph. Then we took a fun overnight train to XI’AN and saw: Big Wild Goose Pagoda, ShanXi History Museum, Muslim quarter, Xi’an City Wall, lacquer furniture factory, herbal market, Terra Cotta Warriors (see photo at right), Tang Dynasty dance show; Jin Jiang Jade shop, Huxian Farmer Village for overnight stay with local family; local painters, paper cutting, and village dance, visit the kids at the Guang Ming Primary School and took a tai chi class at our beautiful hotel.

From Xi’an we took a flight on Xiamen Airlines to the city of WUHAN, then a 5 hour bus ride (my day for the front seat- yippee!!) to YICHANG on the Yangtze River to board our Victoria Cruise ship “Victoria Rose.” Four nights on the YANGTZE RIVER were fun and awesome. We took a bus tour of the huge and controversial 3 Gorges Dam and locks then the boat went up the river and through the locks and into Xiling Gorge. The most scenic was the excursion up Daning River to Lesser Gorges and Mini Gorges on smaller boats and sampans. Back on the Yangtze and through Wu Gorge and Qutang Gorge, with a stop and excursion at Fengdu to visit the home of a family displaced by the rising Yangtze River after the dam was built. Finally we left the boat at CHONGQING where we made a point of seeing the Flying Tiger gallery and home of General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, Chief of Staff of the China-Burma-India Theater during WWII. American volunteers flew supplies and weapons into Chongqing from India after the loss of the Burma Road. The US “Flying Tiger” P-40’s shot down 300 Japanese planes during the Japanese invasion of China. The Chinese seem to gratefully remember this American aid, and they have not forgotten the Japanese invasion.

We drove on to CHENGDU and walked around the city. I nearly was “lost” but used my “help me back to my hotel” card and got back in time for dinner. We left all but our carry-on luggage at our Chengdu hotel and took a flight on Xiamen Airlines to TIBET. We landed in welcoming clear sunlight at the airport, on the Brahmaputra River, (which eventually flows into the Ganges River in India) and took a long bus ride into LHASA, to the ShamBala Hotel in the heart of the old city. I took my Diamox prescription to guard against altitude sickness, and it was successful for me during our four day stay. Not everyone was so lucky. One day I asked where the post office was so I could buy some nice Tibet stamps - and was reminded that Tibet is part of China and uses Chinese stamps and Chinese money! In a way it came as a shock to see that in probably most ways, except spiritual, that this is so today. This land is now called the Tibet Autonomous Region of the Peoples Republic of China, and has a population of over 2.7 million (it’s twice the area of Texas which has a population over 20 million). Compared to 20 years ago, I guess the restrictions for tourists have improved; for example, we were able to have a tour guide who was Tibetan. Monks can be seen walking in the streets of Lhasa, however Chinese military can also be seen. It is illegal to promote “splintering” from China or to display a picture of the Dalai Lama. Watch the Brad Pitt movie “Seven Years in Tibet” for an easy history lesson.

The day after arrival we had a reservation to tour the Buddhist Potala Palace (see photo). Passports were required along with a one hour restriction at the top of the palace. It was a very difficult walk up the steps at over 12,000 ft elevation, but taking it slowly, we all made it. The view and experience was amazing. Tombs of some prior Dalai Lamas are there, and the monks wait for the return of the present Dalai Lama from exile in India. Back down by our hotel, the Jakhong Temple, heart of Tibetan Buddhism, still stands as a “Mecca” to Tibetan Buddhists; we were able to tour it and the surrounding Barkhor Bazaar. I should have made more purchases at the bazaar, but carrying things was getting to be a problem! Our tour company helps support many schools and orphanages. We visited the DeJi Orphan School and “talked” with the kids. It was very enlightening and enjoyable. The orphanage was very simple and poor, but luckily they will be moving to a new building soon. Near the new orphanage in the country we saw a yak heading home with a cargo of dung for fuel. Our guide asked the family if we could visit, and yes, we entered the home along with the yak! We also stopped at a Tibetan home in Lhasa for a serving of local foods and yak butter tea. One evening we watched a troupe of Tibetan folk dancers while we ate dinner. One of the most unique experiences for me was a visit to Sera Monastery where the a couple hundred young monks engage in hours of daily instructional debates. I videotaped the animated debating and was entranced with the way they express their dissatisfaction at the answers of the monks being “grilled.” Our time in Tibet was short, but we felt very happy to see so much, and that included visiting with the people and seeing yaks and fishermen in a traditional yak-skin boat.

We flew China Air back to our hotel in CHENGDU for a reunion with our suitcases. The next day was wonderful with a two hour visit at the Panda Sanctuary. Pandas of all ages are there, and we were able to photograph all of them except the babies. Then we took an afternoon flight to Hong Kong. Since we still had some daylight, our guide took us on a walking tour through Victoria Park and around some of the shops and restaurants. Most of us were delighted to find a McDonald’s across the street from out hotel. Hong Kong is huge, and as polluted as all the other cities we visited, except Lhasa. We saw the local Stanley Market, Hollywood Road, Victoria Peak, the Aberdeen Floating Village from a boat, and a stop at Aberdeen Jewelry. I bet my parents bought jade and pearls at that shop 20 years ago. At a big department store we went through seeing the sights, on one floor selling tea we sat down to a tea party. Nearby we walked into the posh Peninsula Hotel to see what the tourists looked like who were having “high tea.” On our free day, Lucille and I decided to take the underground train to catch the hydrofoil ferry to MACAU. I was happy to find that the former Portuguese Colony (reverted to China in 1999) was so close. I had tried to visit there in 1976, but never made it. Now we had a 1st class ride on the ferry to this island/peninsula, still largely in colonial style, and now popping up with gambling casinos. The Sands, Wynn, and the new Venetian a la Las Vegas are popular. Lucille tried her luck at a slot machine, but we really couldn’t figure out what it all meant.

From Hong Kong eight of us continued with a post-extension tour to CAMBODIA for four nights. I was very happy to have this option, as I have never really considered visiting Cambodia! We changed planes in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, then arrived at SIEM REAP city in the evening. What a pleasure it was to walk the paths in the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (see photo) and Banteay Srei. (When I returned home I watched the video “Laura Croft – Tomb Raider” for glimpses of Angelina Joulie running around the huge tree roots in the Bayon temple of Angkor Thom) These Hindu/Buddhist temples are works of art which rival the importance and grandeur of the Mayan temples, the Egyptian pyramids and the Taj Mahal, and I was greatly impressed. Besides the historic temples, I loved the trip into the countryside seeing water buffalo and the making of sugar from the sugar palm trees; the interesting lunch at a local villager’s home on stilts; a shadow puppet show; the Floating Village at lake Tonle Sap; talking to kids at a floating school on the lake; visiting a silk farm and arts workshop; seeing shows at the Cambodian Cultural Village; and taking very enjoyable cyclo-rickshaw (tuktuk) rides.

Our Cambodian (Khmer) guide told us about his father being killed during the Pol Pot regime because he had been a teacher. Again, I was shocked at the history. Of course, I’d heard of the communist Khmer Rouge , Pol Pot and the Killing Fields, but it really comes to reality to see the skulls, the land mines, and hear the stories of 1975-1979. The Khmer Rouge targeted Buddhist monks (photo), educated people, those who had contact with Western countries or with Vietnam, people who appeared to be intellectuals (for example, wearing glasses), the crippled, and minorities like ethnic Chinese, Laotians and Vietnamese. Our guide at the outdoor War Museum had lost a leg from a landmine. Eventually, the Vietnamese invaded and suppressed the Khmer Rouge, but many years of civil war followed. In 1989, Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia. Last year there were 400 casualties from landmines. Many land mines were even planted within the fabulous Angkor Wat complex. It has been only recently that the country of 13 million Cambodians, the size of Missouri, got into tourism. The pace was grueling after nearly 30 days of touring, but we had to do everything we could to see the Lhasa. Finally, we did manage a dip in the beautiful pool at our hotel to get refreshed from the humid heat.

After a flight through HoChiMinh City (Saigon) for a change of planes (four hours at the airport), we were back at Hong Kong for an overnight at a very tall, modern hotel, then on to Japan and finally to Honolulu. It was very good to be back home. I fixed up my photos and video tapes from the trip - I created two DVDs: first of Cambodia and a better one of Tibet. Later I'll have more time to tackle making DVDs of my China trip.


Genealogy Gems said...

Hi Donna - I love your blog and I'm very proud to have Genealogy Gems be your first link! Thanks, Lisa Cooke www.GenealogyGems.TV

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great first day! And on Chinese TV already!!! haha!!

Anonymous said...

On TV your first day in China!! WOW!!! :)