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    Asia Travel

    Surprising China – Shanghai to Chongqing

    My Second Visit to a Fascinating Country

    Location: China

    It’s been five years since we visited China the first time. I was curious to see how it may have changed in that time. It’s hard to compare given we didn’t visit the same cities. And yet the changes are clear…in a good way. Surprising China Shanghai to Chongqing.

    Five years ago we visited Beijing and Xian. It was winter and very cold. This time we visited Shanghai and took a Yangtze River cruise from Yichang to Chongqing. It is autumn now, and the end of the rainy season. It was very humid, warm and wet.

    Shanghai skyline
    From the Bund looking across at the new skyline

    Shanghai

    Surprising Shanghai. A gorgeous city. Sparkling clean, efficient and beautiful architecture. More open and spread out than Beijing, Shanghai is for the most part a new city – built as China’s financial center over the past thirty years. If you were here thirty years ago none of this would have been here.

    Yu Garden Shanghai
    The preserved and restored old town called Yu Garden

    Luckily though, the Chinese government saw fit to save bits and pieces of the ancient old town, Yu Garden, and it is preserved in a beautiful and authentic way. It is a very popular part of the city. Nearby is the People’s Park, another beautiful spot in Shanghai where the local people enjoy this large green natural place in the middle of the big city. On weekends People’s Park is where parents set up Marriage Market to find spouses for their unmarried adult children. Parents playing matchmaker is a very Chinese thing, still accepted today.

    Lingering Garden
    Daytrip from Shanghai to Suzhou’s Lingering Garden

    The Bund is the most popular spot in Shanghai, for shopping, dining, strolling and enjoying the amazing view of the Huang Pu River and the remarkably beautiful architectural masterpieces beyond. To really enjoy this area we highly recommend seeing it at night. Starting at 7:00 pm each evening the buildings are all lit up in a spectacular light show not to be missed. The best way to see it in its entirety is to take one of the evening boat tours. It was a highlight of our visit.

    Shanghai at night
    Shanghai sparkles at night

    Another fascinating Shanghai neighborhood is Tianzifang. This former residential neighborhood has been preserved in it’s original form and now houses a remarkable variety of art shops from silk to silver.

    Day Trips from Shanghai

    We enjoyed two separate day trips from Shanghai. You could do these both on one day if you are short on time. Whatever you do, don’t choose one or the other. Both are remarkable and not to be missed.

    Pingjiang Road in Suzhou
    Beautiful ancient Pingjiang Road day trip from Shanghai

    First we visited Suzhou, home of one of the most famous gardens in China, the Lingering Garden. This absolutely beautiful garden was once a family home for a rich merchant. Suzhou is also home to Pingjiang Road, an ancient street and site of the original town which was once a commodities hub where people traded and lived.

    Zujiaojia
    The Water Town of Zujiaojia known as Asian Venice, day trip from Shanghai

    Our second day trip was to the remarkable water town of Zujiaojia, one of my favorite places. The ancient town, now a tourist hub, is well preserved and often called the Asian Venice for it’s dozens of bridges, waterfront merchants and houses and boats that transport people and products. It is a must see for it’s antiquity and tranquility. We particularly enjoyed a lovely tea break at a famous Chinese tea house right on the water.

    Yangtze River Cruise

    Surprising Yangtze. Seeing China’s Yangtze, the third longest river in the world, after the Nile and the Amazon, has been on my bucket list for a long time. Traditional Chinese art often depicts the Yangtze and it’s beautiful gorges shrouded in fog. This is what we set out to see.

    Yangtze River
    The Yangtze River before the dam was built

    Our journey began from the Honggiao train station where we boarded the bullet train to Yichang. During more than seven hours on the train we passed through dozens of big cities. China is remarkable in that even its smallest cities are home to 100,000 people.

    The Yangtze River today, more than 500 feet higher

    From the Yichang train station we drove by car another hour to our boat, the MV Sophia of Victoria Cruises, on the Yangtze. This small river cruise ship can have a maximum of 200 guests, but on our cruise there was about 100 people. Our room was small but comfortable, the food was excellent and the staff was superior.

    Victoria Cruises Yangtze
    MV Sophia on the Yangtze River

    The first day we enjoyed two different excursions with the ship in port in Yichang, just above the famous Three Gorges Dam. Here the Yangtze no longer feels like the Yangtze of old. Above the dam the river is now a reservoir and quite placid.

    We toured the dam, an engineering marvel in itself, although the more remarkable thing to me is how many hundreds of thousands of people were moved from their ancestral villages. The government built entire new cities above the high water line, demolishing ancient towns and moving everyone to new homes, new jobs and new communities. The undertaking is mind-boggling.

    Three Rivers Tribe
    The Three Rivers Tribe site

    In a small effort to preserve the old way of life for tourist purposes, one village below the dam was preserved and named the Three Gorges Tribe site. Although local people no longer live here, locals are employed to represent the ancient way of life. It was very well presented and the natural gorge site itself was stunningly beautiful.

    Wu Gorge Yangtze
    Pagoda high above the river in the Wu Gorge Yangtze

    Seeing the famous Three Gorges as well as a special small boat cruise up the Shennong Creek were the highlights of our time on the Yangtze. I wish I could have seen these places before the dam flooded and raised the water level by 175 meters. An astonishing amount. But seeing it still today was amazing and beautiful. There are few places in China where you can just enjoy unpopulated scenery. Along the Yangtze I was astounded by the gigantic cities that appeared over and over as we cruised upstream. Cities of millions of people. It was the most unexpected of all the things we saw. And yet, there were also stretches of the river where no humans lived. Particularly the stretches of the Wu Gorge and the Qutang Gorge. Absolutely beautiful.

    MV Sophia
    Entertainment on the MV Sophia

    The MV Sofia was a wonderful ship and on two nights we enjoyed fantastic Chinese dance presentations from the remarkably talented crew. Colorful costumes, beautiful music and exquisitely presented dances were an unexpected bonus to our time aboard. On our final night, we also enjoyed a extraordinary final dinner. The food throughout our cruise was nothing short of amazing, but the final dinner was spectacular. A Chinese feast fit for an Emperor.

    Feast on the final night on the MV Sophia

    Our Yangtze River Cruise ended in Chongqing, China’s largest city. Another city that has seen unprecedented growth over the past thirty years. Often called the Foggy City, Chongqing lived up to its name during our short time there. We were escorted to the brand new Chongqing International Airport for our flight to Taiwan.

    Crew presents dessert at the final banquet

    Surprising China Shanghai to Chongqing

    Our two weeks in China gave us an opportunity to see first-hand the changes in this country; efforts being made for the environment including many electric scooters and cars and major recycling and litter control. Additionally China seems to be in a state of constant development and construction as this country of 1.4 billion people works to manage itself.

    My final take-away is that the Chinese people are happy. They are provided housing and jobs and can be entrepreneurial and educated. They care little about politics but are patriotic. They love nature and family and socializing with friends. They are proud, modest, kind and many speak excellent English.

    Final night entertainment on board

    China is a huge country, about the same size as the USA but with 1.4 billion people compared to the USA’s 330 million. It’s hard to wrap your head around it until you see the cities…thousands and thousands of 30 story apartment buildings everywhere you look. Surprising China Shanghai to Chongqing.

    Yangtze River
    Sunset on the Yangtze River

    There is more here I want to see. So we will surely return. Surprising China has more surprises to share.

    Thanks for following our adventures in Asia. Lots more to come! Please pin or share our blog. Thank you! Xiexie. 谢谢

    China
    Asia Travel

    Surprising China – World Heritage Sites Hold a Special Place For Me

    Location: Chinaa

    (Note – this is a repost of a blog from my last visit to China in 2014.  I am currently traveling in China again, but unable to blog until next week.  So please enjoy this post again about Surprising China, and watch for a new Surprising China World Heritage Sites post next Friday!)

    I managed to see two sites on my Asian trip that were bucket list items.  Being in China of course means seeing the Great Wall, easily accessible and visited by most American’s who travel here. It was astonishingly beautiful on the clear and cold, crisp day we stood upon it.  A site even better than you ever imagined it.IMG_6975

    But it takes a bit of an effort to get to Xian, China, the location of the second bucket list item.  Xian is a six-hour train ride from Beijing.  Xian is home of one of the most amazing things I have had a chance to see in my life, the Terra Cotta Warrior Army of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

    How is it that this mind-boggling 2000-year-old relic of ancient Chinese history was only discovered 40 years ago?  The accidental discovery by a local Chinese farmer has transformed this community as well as the understanding of Imperial China.

    The Terracotta Army is a collection of hollow terra cotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The vast discovery includes thousands of warriors from archers to generals and everything in between.

    Seeing it first hand was worth the effort it took to get here.  Photos no way do it justice.

    I’ve always been fascinated to see nineteenth and twentieth century discoveries; items of lost treasures and photo10civilizations where years of exploration or half hazard circumstance have unearthed.  My travels have provided me the opportunity to see some of these treasures first hand; Ephesus in Turkey, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Forum in Rome and Mesa Verde in Colorado are things I have stood next to and asked how?  Additionally I’ve stood with wonder at other sites never lost but yet still flabbergasting in particular Stonehenge in England and Lalibella in Ethiopia.  It’s that feeling of awe and amazement that inspires me to travel.  The Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian gave me the goose bumps I crave.

    My first question is why were they lost to start with?  In the case of the Terra Cotta Warriors, it was done on photo8purpose.  The superstitious Chinese culture, both then and now, have strong beliefs in preparing for the afterlife, while here in this life.  Afterlife preparation of Emperor Qin Shi Huang began years in advance of his death, when he was as young as 13.  Emperors spent as much time preparing to go into battle in the afterlife as they did in this life here on Earth.  Tens of thousands of warriors, each different down to the fingerprints, would go in to the afterlife battle with him.  And that is where the hollow, life size, each unique terra cotta soldiers are going.  For 2000 -years they waited, buried anywhere from 12 to 30 feet underground (depending on rank) for battle.  Until the day a Chinese farmers decided to drill for a well.  His unexpected discovery made him a local and national figure.  But, being this is China, it didn’t make him rich.  He continues to live in Xian and spends most his days signing books for tourists.

     

    The discovery was made in 1974 and by 1976 Xian was welcoming visitors to see the soldiers.  Immediately photo7upon discovery the oxidation began and the pigment on the soldiers began to disappear.  Today the soldiers you see standing just as they were placed 2000 years ago, have no color due to the unfortunate oxidation.  In fact, the lacquer covering the paint can curl in 15 seconds once exposed to the dry air of Xi’an and can flake off in just four minutes.

    The soldiers have been restored piece by piece in a painstaking and remarkable process. The gigantic exhibit at Xian shows the restored soldiers and horses, then progressively a section showing how most of the relics were found in hundreds of pieces, then finally the still covered tomb where additional soldiers wait their turn to see the light of day.  The Chinese government has continued restoration efforts on many additional pieces.  However, it has been determined that thousands more soldiers remain buried.  And that is where they will stay; until research can provide an answer to preserve the colorful paints those soldiers still bare.

    In my fabulous fifties I have an insatiable appetite to see, learn and be inspired.  My travel list is long, but at the top are such sites as Easter Island, Victoria Falls, Camino de Santiago, Angkor Wat, Jordan’s Petra, Melrose Abbey in Scotland and the Pyramids of Egypt.  All places with a rich cultural history and connection to lost civilizations.

    Will I get to all of these?  Damn right I will.  Ask me where I have been we can talk for an hour.  Ask me where I am going we can talk for days.

    Let me inspire you to go. See. Do. Live.  It’s now or never.

    (Note:  Our time in China was made special by the first class service we received from Beijing Champagne International Travel Service

     http://www.tour-beijing.com/about/#.UvwxvP1sj1o.

     I cannot recommend them highly enough.  Our drivers were conscientious and safe.  But our tour guides are what made us enjoy our travels so much.  Lucia was our guide in Xian and Rogin was our guide throughout the rest of the trip.  I would welcome them both into my home; this is how highly I regarded their care and expertise they provided.  We could not have possibly enjoyed our time in China to the full extent without the help from all of these people. If you are going to China check out Champagne and personally request Rogin.  Shi Shi.)

     

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

    This fascinating saga that earned Buck a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 is another novel I found amongst the hundreds of books in the library of the house we have lived this past month.  What a treat to stumble upon this classic and carefully created tale of life in China in the late 1800’s.

    Buck herself spent most of her life in China, as a child of missionaries her writing talent bloomed amongst the fascinating culture and history that surrounded her.  Buck’s many books on China were not her only accomplishments as she was an activist and human rights leader.  She was the first female  awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

    The Good Earth is a sweeping story of the life of Wang Lung.  The story is told in the third person but always from the point of view of Wang Lung as he navigates the life of a farmer in rural 19th century China.

    Throughout the story it is the connection to the land that is the overriding theme; always the land brings wealth, food, riches, happiness even to a humble farmer as Wang Lung.

    Throughout his life he battles prejudice, injustice, draught, famine, war, floods, infidelity, and death.  In the end only trying to keep his land for his sons.  In fact, at the end of The Good Earth I kept thinking about the book Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison ( movie “Legends of the Fall” 1994 starring Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Aiden Quinn and Henry Thomas) where a similar theme of family ties to a father and land, as well as greed, war and love creates a spectacular family saga.

    Even though Buck’s novel The Good Earth is 86 years old, it is a classic that  everyone should read, perhaps more than once.

    Five Stars for The Good Earth.

    Learn more about Pearl S. Buck’s amazing life here.

    Read last week’s review of Black Beauty here.

    This blog contains affiliate links and we may be compensated if you purchase this book.  Any money earned goes directly to offset the costs of the maintenance of this blog.  Thank you.

     

    Asia Travel

    Learning About Ancient Chinese Tea in Beijing

    Location: China

    What a fascinating experience we enjoyed learning about ancient Chinese tea in Beijing.

    Sorry Mr. Lipton, but I’m not sure I can ever use a tea bag again.

    Sorry Mr. Starbucks but your idea of Chai just won’t cut it for me anymore.

    <img alt = "ancient tea ceremony">

    Tea as a welcome and a greeting

    Oh and apologies also to the Queen – milk and sugar is out.

    I’ve been converted to the wonders of Chinese tea.

    Those of you who know me personally know I am a coffee-holic.  Boy do I love my morning java.  But, most of you probably don’t know I also enjoy tea, particularly in the evening as a relaxing way to unwind.

    The thing I found most enchanting about the ancient Chinese tea culture was the calming nature of the experience of it.

    <img alt = "tea as art form">

    Preparing and serving is an art form

    Unlike the coffee-culture we live in (fast-paced, drive-through and impersonal),  Chinese Tea Culture is about taking the time to hand brew each cup, serve it in beautiful containers and present it in a humble and ceremonial way.  Tea is not just about drinking something hot and delicious.  It’s a greeting, a gesture, a gathering, and an art – and ancient tradition.

    Both recent scientific and ancient medical cultures agree tea also has a wide range of health benefits for our bodies.  Our server at the Fujian Anxi Xihua Tea Company schooled us on the many ailments Chinese people turn to tea to cure including; low sex-drive, digestion problems, slow metabolism and lack of energy.  Tea is a zero calorie, immunity boosting, antioxidant  said to increase bone strength, improve energy level and help in weight loss.

    <img alt = "delicious chinese tea">

    Delicious

    Wow.  Sign me up.

    Learning about ancient Chinese tea in Beijing we visited a Chinese Tea Ceremony where we were given the opportunity to see, smell, taste

    <img alt = "chinese flowering tea">

    Flowering Tea

    and appreciate many different teas including; Oolong, Jasmine, Red Tea, Black Tea, Blooming Flower Tea, Ginseng and Fruit Tea.

    Beyond my fascination with the tea itself I was intrigued by the variety of implements used in the preparation and service of the tea: pots, cups, lids, spoons, scoops, sieves, strainers and even a tiny crockery naked boy, who pees when the water is hot enough. Yes I brought one home.

    Speaking of hot water, I also learned some teas are served with water that is not quit boiling…so much detail in this way of tea. So much to learn.

    I did not and could not possibly learn it all in the hour we enjoyed our visit at the Tea House.  But it was enough time to intrigue me to study up, and expand my tea drinking wisdom and enjoy the art of Chinese Tea, back at home. Slowly and with purpose.