Hong Kong

Hong Kong.

God.Bless Hong Kong with the western toilets and high pressure flushing, with high speed internet that is not blocked and curse it for it’s $9 coke and $13 cup of soup.

Entering Hong Kong is like entering a different country, as it was several years ago. The traffic is awful, the people on the streets are elegant and the cost of living is ridiculous. There is a new airport outside of town so The limit on sky scrapers height is no longer required. The buildings are raising fast and tall all over.

In the morning we traveled to Victoria Peak by funicular, it is a very step climb, so this mode of transportation is very popular. The peak is a very exclusive neighbourhood, for many years under British rule the Chinese were forbidden to live there. From the peak you can see the harbor, the boats and the ever increasing skyscrapers. Down the peak to repulse bay we dipped our hands into the South China Sea. Next was Aberdeen Village, home to the largest floating restaurant. We boarded a sampan for a ride Around the harbour that is packed with exclusive yachts and lowly fishing boats.

Out last buying adventure was at the Hong Kong Jewellery factory.

The afternoon is on our own, exploring local shops.

Tonight the farewell dinner and then a 4 am departure for the airport. Our flight will stop in Japan and then Detroit. I’m sure the next few days will be spent turning my body clock back 12 hours to eastern standard time. I am relishing a bowl of Greek yougart with honey nut Cheerios, an American pizza and a fried egg sandwich. I miss my family and friends, but most of all Drew and Brandy. When I recover I will start planning the next journey. Who is up forAlaska?, Australia? Or Africa? As always I have miles to walk and adventures to live.

Vantage and our guide Yanzhang have been remarkable. Eileen and I enjoyed every minute of the trip. We made many new friends but strengthened our friendship with fabulous memories and lot’s of laughs.








Chongquing and Guillin

Chongquing and Guillin

Chongquing is the end of the line for our river trip. It is the largest city in China. We stopped at the Stillwater Museum.. General Stillwater was stationed here and lived in this house from 1942 – 1944. As the US commander he helped Chiangmai Kai Scheck over throw the Japanese. Next door is the museum for the FlyingTigers who held off the Japanese on the Burma Road. The fighter pilots were an all volunteer group. The Chinese respect General Stillwater for what he did and his support of the communist. General Claire Lee Chennualt, who fought with the flying tigers is not remembered well because he ended up supporting Chaing Kai Sheck against the communist.

Both of our guides talked today about life during the cultural revolution. The local guide was sent to the country to work as a farmer, she planted rice and harvested sugar cane. She was lucky. At the end of the cultural revolution she was allowed to take a test and go to college. The other guide spoke of her grandfather who was a landlord and owned many acres of land. He was executed and his wife was publicly shamed every day until she died. The land was taken over by the state. During the revolution intellects were punished and re educated so all people would learn to think similar thoughts and respect hard work. Schools were closed because the teachers were intellects that needed to be retrained. After about ten years the state went back to the education program that requires testing to advance. As a result of the emphasis on higher education there are few farmers and fisherman in the communities

We flew to Guillin.

Guilin means Osmanthus Forest. The sweet smelling trees line the streets. During the Ming dynasty it was a provincial capital. The town is a well loved tourist destination that is surrounded by karst peaks.

In the morning we boarded a boat for a Li River Cruise. The river runs between the karst peaks and bamboo forests. We saw, duck, water buffalo, goats and fishermen with cormorants. This area is also a popular spot for small raft trips for families and partying young people.
When the boat docked I tried to take a picture of a fisherman and his cormorants, I got with in striking distance of the bird and left with several nasty bruises.

Returning to the hotel we stopped at one of the universities to speak with students. .

As we left for the airport we stopped at the Ludi Yan Caves. The residents used these caves as shelter during the Japanese invasion. It is now a tourist spot that is lit throughout with neon lights.

We went to art school where we had a lesson in calligraphy. Eileen excelled in class, the instructor was impressed with her work and commented on it. I was shunned, I can, however, produce a mean black and white drawing on the iPad ap i sketch.
We flew to Hong Kong, the last stop on the trip.











China October 12, high speed train

We left the hotel for the high speed train for Shanghai. The ride was very smooth,fast clean, efficient and comfortable. The only thing noteworthy about the trip was wondering why we can’t do this in our country.

The Bund, along the water front, is a “symbol and epitome of Shanghai’s modern history”. The city has become a world famous financial center. The Pudong across the river boosts some of the most unique modern architecture we have seen, this used to been a area of brothels, squalor, the homes of he cities poorest. In 1990 it became an economic development zone, the largest building site in the world and very high rent district. Next year the second tallest building in the world will be completed here. It also boosts one-third of the worlds tallest cranes.

Ya Yuan gardens and bazaar houses many shops and gardens. The gardens are home to a temple from the Ming dynasty and many rockeries from the Ming dynasty.

In the evening we went to the Shanghai Acrobatic show. I went with the attitude that this would be nothing more than the Ed Sullivan show, I was wrong. The troupe started to lose stature several years ago, as the state put more and more pressure on academics the troupe began to fail. A national recruitment, with the promise of good wages helped the school grow in stature. Young people forgo academic training and work full time on training their bodies. There are 2 traveling troupes and the resident troupe. When you become too old for the troupe your life becomes very difficult because you have no education.

China October 13,2014

We toured Feng Jing, Shanghai’s Venice. We rode a gondola thru the town and under the numerous bridges, each bridge has it’s own personality. Retired farmers are the gondoliers. The streets are filled with vendors and restaurants. The village has numerous small apartments that were used to house communist workers. Spartan would be high praise for these little rooms. There are several rooms with Mao tributes and memorabilia.

We have seen several resettlement programs. If the state requires land for more apartments they will take your house, level it and build a high rise. We are told that people are given new apartments for free. Each time it was apparently “very good improvement” for those moved. The only one that seemed positive from my point of view was the farmers who found the Terra Cotta Warriors. They lost their farmers but have become national heroes and millionaires. They get a small cut from every book they autograph in the gift shop.

The last stop for the day was the Shanghai museum. There is a collection that spans 5000 years of history, however, Chiang Kai-shek “stole” millions of pieces and took them to Taiwan.
Calligraphy, jade, minority costumes, bronze, pottery and chops all are part of the collection. Chops were the ink signature stamps that officials used to stamp on documents. If a document had one chop it was important. If it was signed with two chops,- chop chop, it was very important and was to be delivered quickly.









Hangzhou China- October 11, 2014

I have mentioned that the parks are a central part of Chinese life. Today we went to Westlake park. The lake covers three square miles and is filled with lotus, surrounded by paths and weeping willows, it is considered one of the most beautiful spots in China. It has inspired many artists. It was once the seat of the Song Dynasty, and it was loved by Mao. We walked along the paths, took a boat ride and walked more. Everywhere there are older couples enjoying a picnic lunch, groups of women chatting and men playing Chinese checkers. The houses are are so small that people leave them for the parks everyday that they can. The government has provided many parks.

The next stop was a tea village. The village is a cooperative that grows one of the best green teas in China. Curious about the taste… No worries, I now have a lifetime supply. This tea was the favorite of the Emperors. The best picking comes in the early spring, the autumn produced a little lower grade of tea. Tea is dried and sorted by grade. Green tea was shipped to England and the tea fermented along the way creating a very different flavor. Green tea and Jasmine tea are the favorites of the Chinese. In jasmine tea the flowers add taste to a lower grade of tea. Some of the farmers have converted their house into dining rooms for tourists.

In the afternoon we visited a kiln to learn the historic methods of firing celadon. The doors were locked after we entered, the majority of the employees were cleaning to prepare for the visit of the governor the next day. Celadon is a very thick glaze that is baked at a very high temperature, causing it to crackle.

The next stop was aChinese pharmacy and Doctors office to learn about traditional Chinese medicine. Many people still use the traditional form of medicine, acupressure, acupuncture, and herbs. Our tour guide’s Mother is a heart surgeon and her family still uses the traditional medicine for chronic illnesses and western for acute illness.

Our guide is a very interesting person. Her parents were both in the military so the Grandmother raised her. During the cultural revolution her father was imprisoned and her mother was sent out in the country to be a country doctor.

We returned to our rooms, packed, placed the luggage outside the door. Many of us retuned to West Lake for a show that was written and produced by the creator of the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. He has produced several movies including, I believe, Hidden Dragon,Crouching Tiger. The entire production took place on the lake. The stages are submerged during the day and elevated at night. The actors must wear costumes made of a waterproof material, and boots with good grips on the bottom because they still slosh thru water that is about one inch deep on the many platforms that form the stage. The story is based on the WhiteSnake woman, the snake was substituted with a crane to make it more visible. The lighting was very dramatic, the entire story was fantastic.

One of the writer, directors of the play was found to have three children, he violated the one child policy and was given an astronomical fine in the millions. One of our local guides family was also guilty of breaking this law and the father was fined 7% of his salary for several years.







China 10/9 2014 Xi’an

Xi’an was the end of the Silk Road, it was known for the kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek and. Was also home to a Jewish community. It has had a long and varied history.

Many of the cites in ancient China were walled to protect from invaders. As cities have grown they have ripped down the walls. Some cities retained the gates and some preserved large sections.Xi’an preserved their nine mile wall in the city center. We walked along the wall, on one side we could see farmers market and the other a park with a morning Ti’chi class.

The jade factory was the next stop. Every trip has several ” buying opportunities” with lessons about the product. Earlier in the week it was a pearl “factory”. The jade was considerably more enticing than the pearls. We saw several qualities of jade. Jade is softer and used for carvings, jadeite is harder and used for jewellery. We saw raw jade in several colors. The finished jade ranged through several shades of green, lavender, brown and a white. SUCH A DEAL they had for us, hardly anyone left empty handed.

The Small White Goose Pagoda is part of the Jianfu Si monastery complex. The monastery is in ruins. The pagoda was built to store the sutras (scriptures). Beyond the historical value the beauty of the gardens is breathtaking. We walked,observed the people enjoying the park and exercising. We found a wood carver making Buddhas and other character s out of cedar. We also spent some time learning a little Ti’chi.

After another fantastic meal we drove to the site of the Terracotta Army. The army was built to guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the emperor who unified China 2,200 years ago. Each of the 7000 life size warriors that have been unearthed has a unique face. The pits are less then a mile from the tomb which has not been excavated. In 1974 when several farmers were trying to dig a well they uncovered several pieces of pottery. They tossed the pieces aside, luckily one neighbour took them to city and shared them with an archeologists who helped start the excavation. The government is being very cautious about the digging, it is only being explored by Chinese Historians. They learned the lessons of other counties who have had their treasure taken to the museums of other countries.

As if the day wasn’t full enough we had a special dinner at a musical production telling the story of the Tang Dynasty.

China 10/10/ 2014

5:15 am the luggage was in the hallway ready for pick up. We took a plane to Hang Zhou.
After we landed and unpacked we had a cultural connection, a Chinese foot massage. Eileen and I were placed in a room with a woman who has talked non stop since we landed in China. I mustered all my tact and suggested that we make this a Zen experience and not talk. She was stunned into silence for an hour. Out feet were placed in a tub of very hot water to soak while our shoulders were massaged. After soaking our feet were twisted, manipulated, rubbed and we melted into a state of complete relaxation. This was unlike anything I have ever experienced in the states.

Next, an early dinner and an early bedtime to prepare for another very full day.






China Beijing to Xi’an

Our first stop was Tian’an Men Square, the city centre of Beijing. Last week was the national holiday so the centre of the square was adorned with a fifty foot flower arrangement, Roses five feet across in a variety of colors, the guide said they were silk or plastic!!!!!
The most notable object is the portrait of Mao. There was a piece on NPR last week interviewing the artist. A fresh portrait is hung every year at the beginning of the National Holiday. The same artist has painted it for forty years, he painted the first one when he was 18 years old.

The forbidden City was the next stop The palace is surrounded by three walls. It was completed in 1420, 24 emperors lived there over the next 500 years. The last emperor abdicated in 1912. He was a teenager at the time and was allowed to live there for several more years. The movie THE LAST EMPEROR, is the story of his life. The movie was a joint project between the US and China and is a very accurate description of his life. It was filmed in the Forbidden City. Life with in the walls was one of concubines and eunuchs. The complex is impressive and would take days to completely view. The palace is touted to have 9,999 rooms but that is deceptive, rooms are counted by the number of pillars divided by four.

This seems to be a very superstitious culture, there was no floors in our hotel numbered 2,13, 4 or any number divisible by 4. The yin and yang principle dictate the design of the forbidden city. Yang is the masculine element and it is represented by odd numbers. 3,5,7 and 9 are repeated throughout the design. Nine is the strongest number and 9×9 is very lucky, any door for imperial use has 81 studs.

We flew to Xi’an in the late afternoon.






Shanghai to boat

China, October 14,2014 Shanghai to boat

As we left Shanghai we had another learning/buying adventure. In the silk factory we learned about the life cycle of a silkworm to the finished silk product. 70% of the silkworm cocoons are made into silk and 30% are hatched and create another generation. Silk production was a Chinese secret for over 3000 years. The legends as to how the secret was smuggled out of the county vary; a princess smuggled it out in her headdress as a gift for her husband the Prince of
Khotan, refugees smuggled them, or monks took them out in their Bamboo walking sticks. Silk is still an important product of China. We first viewed rugs, as always Eileen’s taste is elegant, she set her eyes on a $14,000 rug that was maybe 16 inches long. The rest of her shopping was spoiled. After rugs it was clothing and scarves.

Traveling on the highways, which are perfect, you become aware of the number of cars that exist around the cities. A 1000 cars a day come into China, to accommodate them all you may only drive on Monday,Wednesday and Friday,if you have a even license plate, odds drive on Tuesday ,Thursday and Saturday, Sunday is for everyone. BMW is the preferred method of transportation, Bus, Metro or Walking.

On the bus we headed for Yichang to board the boat. Before boarding the boat we stopped at another park along the river. We saw a bride and groom having their wedding pictures taken, a group of older ladies practicing a dance with drums and scarves and three young men launched a drone. As we drove through town we saw several restaurants with the staff out in front doing their exercises before opening.

After lunch we boarded the boat. The boat houses 350 passenger, a medical center, a spa, two dining rooms, bar, game rooms, karaoke and many little stores. When we sailed on the Mekong the boat was much smaller. Our group eats 2 meals in the VIP dining room and has access to the VIP lounge for internet.

Boat day 2

I woke up early and went to the deck to do tai chi and take pictures. After breakfast I went to a lecture on Chinese medicine, I volunteered for the acupuncture demonstration. Later I signed up for treatment for my sinuses. When in Rome do as the Romans. It has been a very interesting treatment and experience. Regardless of the outcome I was the only one able to sleep through the late night movement through the locks.

In the afternoon we visited the site of the Three Gorges Dam. The construction of this dam was very controversial. The US and Canada were supposed to provide technical support but they withdrew from the project in 1993. Like the Aswan Dam there are a million pros and cons for the building of the dam. Thousands of people were relocated. They were given money to build new houses in new towns. The environmental repercussions are the same from theHuron River to the Yangzi, change in wildlife, elimination of species, silt build up and in some cases down stream the current is so slow the sewage is not moving, causing the build up of huge cesspools, loss of historical sites and excellent farm land. The size of the dam is smaller than the Hoover Dam, however the reservoir is much larger. The Hoover Dam generates 1345 mega watts, the Three Gorges generates 18200 megawatts.

In the evening we had the Captain’s party and traveled through the lock.
Day 3 boat

The haze hangs over all the mountains creating, from your point of view, mysterious photos or crummy photos.

We docked in Badong and traveled by small boat up the Shennong Stream. The landscape is as you see in fine Chinese paintings. This is a area where many traditional medicines are harvested. The mountains are steep, there is little room for footpaths along the base. People travel by sampans.

There is always entertainment on the boat. This weather has been cooler and damper than any weather we have had.

Day 4 last day on The boat

Our excursion today was to a Relocation Family and a kindergarten. The family talked about the advantages of the relocation. We saw a small garden in the back of the school. We were told it is an illegal garden because it has been planted at the wrong elevation according to government standards. The students at the school were having their singing and dancing time when we arrived. They are to cute for words. It almost made me lonesome for the classroom.








Beginning in Beijing

Beijing China – October 6, 2014.

I know this is the first full day in China. I think it is Monday. Everything from Saturday morning is a blur of interrupted sleep, airplane food, screaming babies, tossing and turning in a very comfortable hotel bed but never really sleeping.

We started the day with the required getting to know you and here are the rules meeting.
Because this is the National Holiday week, our schedule is being altered so we can avoid crowds.

Our first stop was the zoo. We only went to see the Pandas who were totally uncooperative.
they eat until they are full, they sleep long hours everyday, have sex once a year…you would think they would be totally entertaining for the national holiday crowds but they weren’t, alas I have no Panda pictures. If you really need a picture, look it up on wikipedia where they will explain the debate about which family they belong to, racoon or bear. They will also tell you the life expectancy is about 30 years. They only eat four of the hundreds of kinds of bamboo in China, none of which grow in Beijing, it must be shipped in at an enormous cost to the zoo.
Beijing Pandas eat mostly meat.

Today was culture day. We rode a trishaw to a family home for a true family meal. We learned how to make dumplings. I am an absolute cultural failure with chopsticks. The house was very small by American standards, our table of 10 was placed in in the bedroom. The kitchen was The size of a closet in an older American home. The cooking utensils were a burner and a electric roaster. From roasted peanuts and bean curd , through several stir fry dishes to the dumplings the meal was a gourmet treat. We said xi xi and moved on to the Houtangs. The Houtangs are a maze of alleys created by courtyard houses. The Mongols built the first of these when they invaded Beijing. The house forms four walls that surround a courtyard where the mongals kept their horses. The current government reversed the policy of removing these houses and is now preserving them. We had tea with a older woman, retired telecommunications worker, who was given a lifetime lease for one fourth of the courtyard with shared bath facilities. She raised her family here along with three co workers who shared the unit. As the co workers died their adult children took over their parents part of the residence She said her life is lonely, she spends a lot of time walking and doing tai chi in the park.

The parks are lovely, there are many of them in the city and they seem to be very busy. With small residences the parks are very important in the life of the community.
The landscaping along the roads is meticulous, colourful flowers, manicured hedges and many trees. The military has planted many trees to protect the city from the sands blowing in from the gobi desert.

Before our dinner we walked in one of the parks, lovely trails around a lotus filled lake, benches with men playing chess, a garden pagoda with men playing cards, children fishing, several people practicing tai chi and young men playing what I would describe as foot badminton or hackie sac with a shuttle cock.

The last stop of the day was for Peking Duck. The meal was an unending procession of fabulous dishes.

The Great Wall

Beijing- Oct 7, 2014

After a melatonin fix I slept like a baby.

Today we went to the Great Wall, the only man made structure that the astronauts can see from space. It would stretch across the entire continental United States.
The wall began as a series of battlements but with the unification of China by Qin Shi in 220 BC the wall was unified.It was built to accommodate 5 horses riding abreast. The battlements were placed two arrow shots apart. The incline is incredible, perhaps as much as 45 degrees in some spots as it snakes across the steep mountains. During the 13th century the Mongals breeched the wall. The Manchu breeched it later. The majority of the wall is crumbling, several places have been restored. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.

We visited the Badaling section. The walk left me breathless, we did not make it to the battlement.

We had a photo op ( drive by shooting) of the Olympic Village. The air was hazey and the view was not really clear enough for a good shot.

China started making great progress after 1980. Life improved for many people as the technology increased. Within Beijing the number of cars, (1000/day) television sets and housing has grown rapidly. At one point they issued motorcycles permits but there was a high fatality rate so they zare no longer permitted. I am sure that we will see more bicycles later., but the vision of hundreds of bicycles no longer exists.
Young bides measure their future husbands by the five c’s, credit,condominiums,career,car and cash<
Our view of the houtang showed showed that life is comfortable for many but this is not a classless society.

When we are not with group we have been advised to eat in the hotel because of the water quality.














Today was like groundhog day. It started for us at 3am Friday morning, that would be 3 pm Michigan time. Every flight was delayed, we went through more security checks than you can imagine,we ate lousy airplane food at strange times and landed safely in Detroit Friday evening at 7 pm Michigan time ( 7 am Saturday Saigon time).

We made some new friends learned a lot of new things and enjoyed every minute of this unique adventure.