Sunday, December 2, 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

Day 13 - Final morning

For breakfast we went back to the same Cantonese restaurant for Yum Cha and then Dad decided he preferred to catch a cab to the airport rather than the Maglev train because he didn't want to have to transfer our luggage around, but I would definitely recommend the Maglev as its so much quicker. Flight was at 12.50pm and we arrived in Hong Kong on time at 3:40pm. We had a 3 and a half hour wait for the flight to Sydney so plenty of time to explore the Terminal shops. As the time got closer I went to get Dad but he had disappeared. I was worried he had already gone to the departure gate so I decided to go there as I had enough time to come back if he wasn't there. It turned out the gate was at the other end of the terminal and I had to catch a train there. Well Dad wasn't there and I ended up running back to the original location because I couldn't get a train back. Got back and still couldn't find him and I was getting worried, when suddenly I saw him returning. He had gone to the loo but was away for a long time. Anyway we made it to the departure gate Ok in the end. Not a great way to end the trip but the flight back was OK. Altogether, a very different type of tour and certainly had a few experiences that I will never have again, but I do look forward to returning to China again. This second trip for some reason made me feel even more that I had found some roots and I have made a vow to learn Mandarin on my return to Sydney so that on my next visit I'll be able to communicate better with the locals.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Day 12 - Wuzhen, Hangzhou

Met our guide for day in the lobby, another young girl by the name of Tracy. She spoke very good English and I was to learn that she is going to Holland to study English for a few months and will then travel to Spain to study Spanish. A fairly long drive to Wuzhen and had an interesting conversation about life in China with Tracy.

Wuzhen is one of the "water towns" surrounding Shanghai. Jane had recommended Wuzhen as she said it was less commercialised than some of the others and this was true. The only slightly strange thing was that you entered the town through an entrance like it was a theme park, but as soon as you got in you didn't notice that. There weren't the usual plethora of souvenir shops, just small shops owned by locals selling local wares. It was a very beautiful and peaceful visit, slowly floating through the town and then casually walking back. Another recommended place to visit.

We then went to a restaurant for lunch and were given enough food for 5 people and it was very cheap and good. We then continued onto Hangzhou where we first visited an old shopping street, which reminded me of Yangshuo. Didn't buy anything but I probably should have. Then onto West Lake where we visited a pagoda with panoramic views over the lake. Dad waited in the bus as the weather was pretty bad, so the view from the pagoda wasn't the best. I will need to visit Hangzhou again and maybe spend a couple of nights here. Our visit to hangzhou concluded with another very peaceful boat ride on the West Lake. I would have loved to have had time to explore the island and gardens but we didn't have enough time. One amusing fact that Tracy told me about was that here we were in an old style boat but apparently the boat drivers are paid per boat trip and the comapny running the business keeps track of the drivers by using GPS trackers on their mobile phones. Old and new technologies combined.

A two hour plus bus trip back was quiet as Dad and Tracy both fell asleep, but not me. Last night in China so I had another qlast quick look around nanjing road ( and was approached again by spruikers).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Day 11 - Nanjing Road, People's Square

Nothing particular planned today, found a good Cantonese Restaurant for Yum Cha before we decided to have a walk down Nanjing road down to the Bund. Well the original intenetion wasn't to go to the Bund but Dad had to get some cash for our tour the next day and we had to go down that far to find a Bank of China. While Dad was there I went and took some photos around the Bund and river front. Also bought some Chinese movies on DVD in a book shop on nanjing road. After lunch, Dad went back to the hotel and I decided to wander further down Nanjing and walked around People's Square.

I told Dad I was going to see the acrobatics show as he had said that he wasn't interested, but he changed his mind and said we would eat in the local food hall and catch a cab. I was actually planning to go earlier and eat near the theatre and as it turned out that would have been a better plan as it started raining heavily and we weren't able to pick up a cab, so ended up missing out on the show. Oh well, I can see it when I return in a couple of years. Dad returned to the hotel and I decided to go down Nanjing Road to take some night photos. Full of life and neon lights, it was very colourful. The only annoying thing was that I was continually asked if I wanted a massage or a girl or wanted to go to a bar with beautiful girls. I guess thats what happens if you're a single guy walking around. But I wasn't really expecting it in Nanjing Road, it felt more like King's Cross. Didn't stay out too long as it was raining and we had a big day planned for tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Day 10 - Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition, Shanghai Museum

Today was the first day on our own. First thing we had to do was transfer to the Yangtze Hotel. I had been in contact with my friend Anne Warr who's been living in Shanghai for the last 3 years. Anne had suggested I visit Peoples Square and the museum surrounding it. It turned out our hotel was right next door to People's Square and Nanjing Road so it was a great location. In the morning dad and I visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition, which was similar to the Beijing equivalent and just as interesting. Many displays, 360 degree audio visual where you floated down the Huangpu River. On the ground floor there was a great model of Shanghai and the river, but going up to the third floor there was an even bigger model taking up nearly the whole floor of Shanghai and surrounding suburbs, truly amazing stuff.

Dad was getting a bit tired so we had some lunch and I suggested he go back to the hotel for a rest while I went to visit the Shanghai Museum, another fantastic Chinese museum which featured many themed rooms, pottery, buddhas, ethnic costumes, furniture etc. plus a special exhibition of American paintings. There was a lot to see and I spent the whole afternoon exploring the many rooms.

Then went to pick up Dad as we had arranged to meet up with Anne Warr and her partner Tim. Anne had given us instructions on using the train and we managed to successfully find our way to her "lane house" which was situated in the French Quarter. The Lane houses are exactly that, each lane has a gate at the front and the houses are sort of like terrace houses. Anne's place was renovated very tastefully and was four storeys high, very impressive, We also met little Max, the little chinese boy that Anne and Tim are trying to adopt. He was very cute. They decided to take us to a restaurant about 25 minutes walk away. The only problem was it was starting to rain a bit but the walk was very interesting as Anne pointed out some important residences and told us a bit about the history of the area and how expensive the property is now. Anne is now finishing off a book on Shanghai architecture and has a brochure out on walking tours of Shanghai. She also conducts walking tours sometimes. Dinner was quite nice and we decided to catch a taxi back as the rain was getting heavier.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Day 9 - Library, First Congress, Xin Tian Di, Sunyat Sen

First thing this morning was a visit to a library which housed geanological records. We were ushered into a big room and shown a video but I didn't understand anything that was discussed so that's about all I can say. We did watch a lady doing some restoration work.

We then visited the site of the First National Congress of The Communist Party which is in Xin Tian Di. Quite an interesting place if you want to learn more about the beginnings of the Communist party as some of the captions are in English.

We then went for a wander in the area which has been set up as a very trendy cosmopolitan tourist area. There certainly were a lot of westerners enjoying themselves in the cafes and restaurants. Would have been nice to have eaten lunch in this area but for some reason they took us to a restaurant in an office building nearby. After lunch we visited Sun Yat-Sen's residence before visitng Nanjing Road shopping mall. Then to a Silk Exhibition Hall which was really another place to buy things but they did demonstrate how the silk is made. It was similar to the one we visited in Guilin last year but not as good. Funny thing was that I saw the same quilt that we bought in Guilin at this place. Another early finish so everyone could rest before another official dinner to finish our tour.

The lady who seemed to be 2nd in charge and acted as the MC was the happiest looking person and always had a big smile on her face as she introduced everyone for their speech. Dad had only made one speech during the tour (on the first night) but got up tonight as it was the last night. Once again the group made it a fun night getting up as a group to sing a Chinese Revolutionary song at the end of the night.

Arriving at the hotel it was a bit sad having to say goodbye to everyone, but we had exchanged contact details during the tour and hopefully some of us will see each other again at some time in the future. I arranged for Jane to organise a day trip for dad and I and she said she may not be able to take us as her company had booked her on a group tour but we promised to keep in touch.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Day 8 - Pearl TV Tower, Yu Gardens, Night Cruise

A big day for sight-seeing. First up was a visit to the Pearl TV Tower which I had seen photos of. It always struck me as something from Flash Gordon, like a 1930s view of the future. Superfast lift to the viewing platform and we had a great 360 degree panoramic view of Shanghai. The new Shanghai World Financial Center is almost next door and will be China's tallest building. The area that the tower is in is called Pudong and before 1991 was a no go slum area. When the Chinese Government declared it a special economic zone, international investors came in and now Pudong is one of if not the most modern areas in China. Also before 1991 you could only get there by ferry and now there are many bridges and tunnels connecting this new financial centre with Shanghai proper.

We then visited the famous Yuyuan Gardens which were very picturesque. Many of the buildings have been restored as the gardens suffered damage from the Opium War of the 19th century. I took many photos here and it was hard to take a bad shot.

The area is also a shopping mecca, with lots of Chinese arts and crafts, tea and coffee houses etc. We had lunch here before heading off to the the Huangpu River and The Bund, which is famous for its historic colonial buildings. At dusk we boarded a boat for the evening river cruise which I would also recommend. The lights on the Bund and Pudong areas are spectacular. A couple of the buildings even display videos. I should also mention the video bill boards and video barges on the river.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Day 7 - Shaanxi History Museum

Flying out of Xi'an today but not before a visit to the Shaanxi History Museum. I didn't have a personal guide in Xi'an because the local guide, Bryan spoke English, but I found that I never really knew what was coming up next, so when we got to the museum I had no idea what it was but it proved to be a very interesting museum.

I found many of the artefacts interesting and the clay pottery models were different to anything else I had seen before, so once again, well worth a visit. Then a very nicely presented lunch in one of Xi'an's better hotels before flying out to Shanghai.

Got to Shanghai around 5.30pm where I was again introduced to another personal guide. Her name is Jane and spoke excellent English. I was also to notice that she was always impeccably dressed. I was to learn later that she does spend a lot on clothes and make-up. This is the new China, very with-it and up to date as far as the young people are concerned. For something different we went straight from the plane to the train, but a very special train called the Maglev Train, ultra-fast and a tourist attraction in itself. The speed got up to 301 Kph and we got to the city in arond 15 minutes where we were then picked up by our tour bus for the trip to the hotel, The Equatorial. I noticed from our hotel room there was a big Shopping Centre so I decided to go for a walk and ran into the younger of the two doctors who were accompanying our group and Shen Ya Feng who is from the department in charge of the tour. They were concerned that I would get lost so they took me back to the hotel and got a city map for me. I didn't really need it as you can see the hotel from where I was going but it was nice of them and the map turned out to be a really good one which I used continuously throughout my time in Shanghai. The shopping centre was actually quite expensive but I did buy a Chinese DVD from the Department Store. I thought the girl there might speak English so I asked her but she shook her head no but took the DVD from me and realised that I wanted to know if it had English sub-titles which it did. Also saw a lot of people selling things on the street including pirate DVDs.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Day 6 - The Terracotta Warriors, Huaqing Hot Baths

Early start to the day and our first stop was the obligatory factory outlet visit. I had checked the prices for souveneir warriors at the hotel gift shop but had forgotten them and figured they would be cheaper here so i did buy some. They actually make life size models of the warriors here and they were quite impressive. The factory also sold a lot of Chinese arts and crafts but I didn't think they were that cheap.

Then headed off to the Terracotta Warriors and this was no disappointment. I had seen some before in Sydney when there was a special exhibition at the Powerhouse a few years ago, but to see the main pit was quite amazing, and to think they haven't unearthed everything yet. The best spot for a photo was hogged by a company selling photos and we had a group shot taken. I hope we end up getting a copy. We had plenty of time to admire the warriors and it was another highlight for me. Two pits and a museum to explore where they have some warriors and horses in glass cabinets so you can get a good close look. Also an interesting 360 degree movie to watch and of course a souveneir shop where you could buy a book signed by one of the farmers who discovered the warriors. I wasn't going to buy one but Dad said get one because this man will sign it. I was wondering who he was.

On the way to lunch we passed a place which had a reproduction of one of the pyramids of Giza and the sphinx. I was wondering what it was and discovered later that it was the "Museum of 8 Great Wonders of the world. I always thought it was 7 but it was 8 here.

After lunch we went to the Huaqing Hot Baths which were baths used by Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) and his concubine Yang Guifei in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The grounds are another beautiful example of Chinese gardens and architecture.

The grounds were also the location of Chiang Kai Shek's field headquarters in 1936.

We then drove to a fabulous theatre restaurant, The Tang Dynasty Cultural Show, The food was Chinese but decidely more western influenced but I still enjoyed. Even drank some rice wine which was pretty low in alcohol and was served warm and sweet. The show featured musical items ,dancing and singing and was very entertaining, I would recommend it. Took many pictures, as the costumes and scenes were very colourful.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Day 5 - Xi'an, Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Last morning in Beijing and we flew to Xi'an, home of the famous Entombed Warriors or Terracotta Warriors. This was another major attraction I was looking forward to seeing. After touching down we of course had to have another gigantic lunch. After that we were taken to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. We didn't get a chance to climb it but had some time to wander around the grounds which featured many different types of buddha statues.

From there driving to our hotel (The Howard Johnson Ginwa Hotel) I was surprised at how modern Xi'an is, I figured that all the tourist dollars coming into the city had contributed to this growth. The charming thing about Xi'an is that the original old city wall is still intact and is beautifully lit up at night. Once again we had an official dinner to go to and this one turned out to be rather informal. After eating, James from Canada got to sing and even the host got up to sing. Everyone who got was presented with flowers as a gee up so it was quite funny. A good time was had by all, The group is actually quite fun loving.

On returning to the hotel it was still early so I decided to go exploring and photo taking. I just had to get some photos of the old wall lit up. I then came across a very lively scene at one of the parks. Men were banging on these big drums and people were doing a strange sort of dance in a procession. Some were dressed up and some carried colourful umbrellas which they twirled around. The park was situated just next to the South Gate and also featured people selling things and games.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Day 4 - The Great Wall, Diaoyutai

Today was the day I was looking forward to as it was the day we visited the Great Wall of China, or more accurately a tiny part of the Great Wall of China. How fantastic to see a structure that I have heard so much about. There are 5 sections you visit from Beijing and went to the Badaling section. Michelle reckons this is the best section to visit. We actually took a cable car to the wall as its mainly perched on top of mountain ridges. Down the bottom there are a few souvenir stores and the prices are actually cheaper here than the shops on the wall itself. We were only allowed about an hour and a quarter to explore and many of the older people just stayed put at the cafe. I went with Michelle and a younger lady named Geet who was accompanying her parents-in law and climbed to the highest point where a shop selling souvenir medals was doing a roaring trade. Considering they were only about $A2 each I wasn't surprised and got one myself. they even engrave your name on them. On the way down i heard some familiar accents and started chatting to a couple of ladies from Melbourne. Some parts are very steep, reminded me of when I climbed Uluru. Took lots of photos.

After that we had lunch at a garden restaurant, Every lunch and dinner I've had has been 12 to 15 courses! On the way back Michelle went up to the front of the bus and sang us a song. This prompted some of the men on the tour and the young video camerman to get for a sing as well. Then they made me get up as well and I did a couple of verses of "The Letter", my debut in China. Everyone was impressed so that made me feel good. Arriving back at the hotel it was with great sadness that I had to bid farewell to my personal guide Michelle, who had been great company, I learnt a lot about life in China from her and promised to stay in touch. I would be back with the rest of the family soon. That night to another official dinner at a place called the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where all the international dignitaries are invited to stay. The complex consists of 18 buildings and lush gardens throughout. It was quite a big deal to have dinner there.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Day 3 - Hospital, Beijing Planning Exhibition, Suing Acrobatic Troupe

Early start, no breakfast as the medical check-up will include a blood test. When I say a full medical I mean it. I think we went through every test imaginable. Turns out they think I have some gall stones which they picked up on the ultrasound. Not many of the staff spoke English but a couple of the doctors could. The ear specialist spoke excellent English and when I told him my hearing was bad he said that physically they were OK. After the tests we were given breakfast in the dining room and some ladies came up in white coats. Turns out they are herbal specialists and everyone was prescribed some herbal medicine before we left after some very long chats. It was actually a bit boring for me because I couldn't understand what everyone was talking about and I definitely think there could have been better things for me to do that morning.

Then to a restaurant in a multi storey Office building before heading off to the Beijing City Planning Exhibition. This was actually quite an interesting exhibition and featured a 3D movie, vast model of Beijing and some history as well. There was also an interesting bronze model of Beijing and the surrounding mountains where you could see where the Great Wall is situated. Everyone was then given some time to rest before heading off to dinner. A bit too much time for me but I didn't have much choice.

After another massive banquet dinner we were taken to see the Suing Acrobatic Troupe of Sichuan China. Unfortunately we were rather late and got there just before the last act before intermission. I did buy a DVD of the show so we could see what we missed. The DVD was only about $AUS5.00. What we saw was quite enjoyable.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Day 2 - Forbidden City, Song Qingling's Residence

First full day in Beijing. After breakfast met everyone in the foyer where I was introduced to my personal guide, Michelle and boarded the bus to the Forbidden City. Still in a bit of daze as I entered the side gate, it was hard to believe I was now standing in a complex that I had seen so many times in movies and documentaries. Dad had insisted that Michelle sit next to me on the bus so that she could translate what the main guide was saying. But the guy never stopped talking so I told her not to bother with translating and just give me the main points. It was much more interesting talking about our families and life in general in China. Turns out Michelle is unusual in that she is the third of a family of three children , something that I didn't think was very common in single child policy China. She explained that her family is from a smaller city and 2 children is not too uncommon. She told me her father was able to arrange things so that it was OK.

Spent around 4 hours exploring the Forbidden City. The only disappointing thing was that two of the main buildings were completely covered with scaffolding but I consoled myself that I would be returning in a couple of years and will get to see them then. Towards the back of the complex are smaller rooms where the concubines were kept but now they house various museums. It was also great seeing the famous 9 nine dragons wall.

Lunch was in a restaurant that was right next door to the Forbidden City. We then went to an old part of Beijing, the Hutong area where we boarded rickshaws which took us at a very fast pace through the area and along a canal where we stopped at the former residence of Song Qingling who was Sun Yat-sen's wife. It was quite a grand residence and property with lovely gardens.

That night we attended our first official dinner which was at, what I assumed to be a Government building seeing as there were guards at the front gate. Dad said the program had casual dress but when we went downstairs all the men had suits on and the women were also dressed up. I felt really uncomfortable even though Dad said he was right, so I told him I was getting changed anyway and went and put my suit on. The dinner was in quite a formal setting so I was so glad I did. Dad didn't seem to care. Lots of speeches by officials and also all the overseas men including Dad were asked to speak. It was a very grand dining room and the food was served banquet style. The most unusual thing about it was that a lot of the dishes were soup based. Mostly very nice but I imagined I would be going to the loo a fair bit that night.

On the way back we were told not to eat or drink anything because the next day we were to be taken to the China-Japan Friendship Hospital where we are all to have full medical check-ups.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Day 1 - Arrival in Beijing

Into Hong Kong airport very early in the morning with plenty of time to get our connecting flight on Dragon Air to Beijing. Long wait at the security gate and they're quite strict on the new rules about resticting liquids to 100ml bottles, but I was allowed my bottle of Saline solution.

Had a bit of a snooze on the 3.5 hour flight to Beijing and it went quick. It was with some excitement when we emerged from customs and a group of people were there to greet us holding up Dad's name in Chinese. Of course I had no idea. The group included Zhou Li who is Deputy Direcor of the Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs of the State Council of P.R.C and China Overseas Exchange Association. They certianly don't believe in abbreviating Department names. Also there was her assistant Shen Ya Feng who just happened to have been born in the same year as myself which I found out later in the tour. There was also a young man Wang Yun who was busily videotaping us as we arrived and was to follow us during the whole tour. pretty good gig for a young man if you ask me.

They took us to a car and accompanied us to the Xiyuan Hotel , got there around 3pm and we had some time to rest before dinner in the revolving restaurant. Wow finally there after some 17 hours travelling.

Dinner was a buffet style with plenty to choose from. This abundance of food was to be typical of every dinner time and lunch time as well. We got to meet some of the others on the tour and sat opposite james from Canada and his wife, who could speak English so were the first people I chatted to other than my father since arriving. It was a bit embarrassing being the only person on the tour who couldn't speak Mandarin. To my surprise Dad told me that Zhou Li said she was organising an English speaking guide just for me so they certainly made me feel special.

We finished dinner at around 8.30 and dad decided to take me downtown to a place where they sell food on the street. It was very interesting and we looked around the shops for a little while where dad bought a belt, before heading back to the hotel for a proper sleep.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

2nd June 2007

Spent the day packing and off to the airport early. The plane was due to take off at 9.55pm. Here we were, about to embark on a special tour, my father and I. Dad had been invited by the Chinese Government along with ten other men from different parts of the world. It is something that the Government has been doing over the last few years. Over the years many Chinese have settled in other countries, made successful careers and supported their local Chinese Communites. This was a way for the Chinese Government to show their appreciation of what these expatriates had done. It also showed me that the Chinese tradition of respecting your elders was even practiced by the government.
I don't mind long plane trips, I enjoy watching the movies and even eating airline food. This trip was no exception, I knew I wouldn't get much sleep so I didn't worry about it and just relaxed.