Dwight Watt Internet Article #127 5/3/2006


#127 - China Trip Diary (Watt Thoughts)

China Trip Diary
March 19-31, 2005

By Dwight Watt

The following is from the diary I kept for my trip I made to China in the last half of March 2005 with the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education Presidentsí Council. There were 14 in our group. This is from those notes I recorded during the trip and most of the time I wrote them up each day or the next morning, although sometimes I summarized a several day visit somewhere, such s Beijing. I have edited them and added notes of some things I had not written down but have stood clear in my mind over the past year, sometimes what appears significant today is insignificant in long run and sometimes an insignificant item today is hat remains very clear and important in our mind. Enjoy my recollections of my longest trip and probably will always be as it was halfway around the world, unless I get opportunity to travel in space. This trip was unique as I got to see my 50th state; I have visited all 49 others at some time in my life, Alaska. So I have visited 49 states and seen the 50th, and I want to visit it even more after seeing beauty from air.

March 19 Day 1
Flight from Atlanta to San Francisco 8 AM - 12:55 PM
Ate lunch at airport in San Francisco airport

Flight from San Francisco to Beijing 5:05 PM - 4:43 AM (EST) (5:43 PM Beijing time)
Flew around the Pacific Ocean by the coast. (I had expected to fly across the Pacific. Discovered reason coming back for following coast line flying to China, there is a strong wind from west t east over Pacific. Alaskan mountains beautiful with snow covering them. Ice was breaking in Bering Sea. We were served lunch and snack on flight. Snack was bowl of dried noodles they brought hot water for.
Stayed at Guangzhou Hotel in Beijing.
Red lanterns on a building indicate that it is a restaurant.

March 21 Day 2
Ming Tombs
Very impressive on the artifacts the emperors buried with them and preparing to rule from next life with thrones. Rubbing turtles I learned is good luck.

Sacred Way
This is the route that led to Ming Tombs from Beijing. Now roadway down it is a walkway and tram rides available. It is lined with large statues, life-size or bigger, of animals. Very impressive.

Toured Cloistennne factory. Made large and small items. It is the copper separating colors on ornaments, vases, etc. Had lunch upstairs there. My table freaked out the tour guides when we were offered an alcoholic drink (in green bottle) we went to drinking instead of sipping. They thought it would kill us. Seemed to be a brandy. On door to the employee area was a Merry Christmas sign.

Beijing Opera
We went to see this in a theatre. Actors are very loud in screeching voices. Can get on nerves. They presented parts of several Chinese operas. I recognized one of the stories from having studied in freshman English. It was story of civil war in China and one of the men trying to return to the other side and trying to get a token to get back home. The token hangs from your waist as a recognizable pass.

March 22
Tiananmen Square.
Very large square paved in flat stones. Probably at least five blocks each way. I was expecting it to be closed in, but it opens on the street on all sides. Large numbers of people, foreign and Chinese, present. Tons of security. Uniformed and plain-clothes security. I dropped from group a little to do a picture of group and one plain clothed security person came up watching me. I could feel him looking me up and down and I got in the group quick. He had a picture of some guy in his hand. He watched us a while. Center of square around the monument was closed when we first got here and somebody was brought in for pictures in vans. Then the military dispersed and opened the whole square. Line around Mao's Mausoleum was impressive. We then went to the Forbidden City, which is across the street. The street is about eight lanes wide and full of cars. There is a very large tunnel under road for pedestrians we used.

Forbidden City.
Very large area of buildings that housed the emperor and family and staff and offices for the government in emperor times. You can only see the tops of the buildings outside. Commoners were not allowed in during historic times which is why it us known as the Forbidden City. You go through two gates in two walls to get to area where the emperor lived and ruled. Much renovation for Olympics is occurring so many of the buildings were wrapped in green cloth as they are restoring them. Looking in the throne buildings you could not see much as you were at doorways (probably at least 10 X 20 feet in size and no light inside). You could see stuff in the shadows. (When I got back and managed my pictures I discovered by the exposure adjustment and removing shadows, I saw more on pictures than my naked eye ever saw).

We were shown the housing areas for the emperor's concubines and they were just small simple rooms. However the concubines could play important roles as they could produce the next emperor in some cases.

We toured the Great Wall after lunch. I made it almost to the very top of section to the right when you climb on the Wall. Got to the foot of the last stairs to the high tower there. It was a distance out of town.

March 23
Cold and very windy.

Temple of Heaven - would be nice on a nice day. We hurried through. Did see lots of local old people on corridor playing cards, playing local music, singing as groups just to sing.

Education Ministry - Formal meeting with five high level education ministry officials around a huge table. Formal introduction of group. Learned what vocational education is in China. One hour scheduled, 2 hour actual meeting.

Peking Duck at four story restaurant (had a yellow duck in front). Very nice, attractively done restaurant. Interesting watching them carve the duck for us. Greaser than I care for.

March 24
First break. (day start is usually at 8:30 am to get on the bus (breakfast before) and goes until 8:30 or 9 pm). This morning is free. We were to leave luggage in hall by 11:30 then on the bus at 12. Five of us decided to go to Mao's mausoleum this morning to avoid line. Took taxi. Stood in line about 35 minutes that was continuously moving.

Food has all been similar to American Chinese with variations. They give you a little plate and serve family style off a lazy Susan. Each meal is at least ten items. About four appetizers (served on small plate for group to get from) then six or so main items (in large bowls). You get one glass of beer (tastes like a good light beer, I even liked it just cool), water (from bottled), or Coke (no ice). Additional beer, Coke or water was ten yuang. You get as much hot tea as you want. (Served like coffee in USA). The local variety served almost everywhere in Beijing is Jasmine, also a popular flower. Not bad. I actually enjoyed it without adding anything. Leaves in bottom of cup were a little strange. Chop sticks work. Bottom between third and fourth finger does not move. Top between index and thumb moves.

Government run shops were interesting. Cloistenne factory and gift shop at lunch one day. Restaurant upstairs. Food was fine. They had us try trying glasses of a Chinese liquor in green bottle, 130 proof. Prices in gift shop were high. Pearl market was interesting. We were showed how to get fresh water pearls. Very modern store. Prices on drinks, postcards were bottom street prices I had observed.

Every time you are anywhere, except in a ticketed area, you are badgered by street vendors and people with a handicap or holding a child wanting money. Postcards, hats, 2008 t-shirts, Rolex watches, scarves, etc. If bus driver did not chase them away from bus I think they would go on board. They make the used car salesman we joke about look like a friendly non-obtrusive person.

Traffic almost is he who is biggest has the right of way. Bikes and cars and people and buses go everywhere. Amazed with cars and buses seeming to ignore most lights and turn lanes, but see no wrecks. They have been close though. Watched cars push bicycles off street. Bicycles are even on freeways some. Overall traffic is better than the USA. Rush hour on a side street was slow. What they call bad traffic here, USA rush hour people in large cities would say, what traffic? Lots of traffic police, but cannot figure out what they do. At traffic lights they step back and forth in road. Almost all police cars always have flashing lights on if they are moving, appears to be routine patrols. Police cars have red and blue lights. Ambulances have blue lights only. Do not enter signs are often blue ("no way out") unless an international sign.

Almost all road signs are in Chinese and English. Store signs are often English with Chinese. Oddity is the car tags. The province name is in Chinese, but the tag number if it includes letters, always uses English letters.

Great Wall was really neat. I turned to right when we got on the Wall along with almost everyone touring it. I made it to the last landing from the top before it takes a sharp turn to the right. There was about 20 steps left to top but they were steep. I was exhausted. Discovered a tram and gondola that took people up, I had wondered how they were walking down so relaxed. I apparently went furthest in group. Larry went to about same area, but not exactly sure who was furthest. It was exhausting higher, steps are strange and inconsistent sizes. Slopes with no steps can be steep and hard to walk up or down. Vendors all the way to top. Part way there was one vendor that had camel rides, not on wall. It took me thirty minutes up the wall. Glad I took water. Was sweating up there although a very cool day.

Had breakfast Thursday with a family from University of Illinois who was taking a computer programming team to ACM International competition. (When I was at Winthrop University I participated on a team in the Southeast US region for the ACM competition at Clemson. Although I still think all four of us were good programmers we did not do well.)

A group of us chose to go see Mao Mausoleum Thursday morning. We waited about 35 minutes in line to see Mao. Several interesting items. As you entered the courtyard they were selling tons of flowers for the visit to Mao's Mausoleum. As we entered the door there was a box where the flowers were deposited. Looked like they were recycling them. As you came out the back door there were official souvenir shops in the building. Going down the walk both sides were filled with Mao souvenirs, t-shirts, cards, pictures and anything with Mao's picture. They must have Mao nailed down inside (he had an orange tint to him) as I can not believe he could believe the image, thousands visiting daily (line moves continuously), and then them being sold the stuff in the back (i.e. looked like pure capitalism). Less windy today but still chilly.

Had lunch at a dumpling restaurant. Only place yet with seconds on drinks. Wait staff actually ran up and down stairs from tables to kitchen (always). You entered through kitchen and then went upstairs to the dining area. Cabbage soup was good. Steamed dumplings. Center was chicken, pork, beef or spinach. Catholic priests were having lunch (about ten of them) and two spoke with us. Well marked, clerical collar and a decent size metal crosses on chest lapel of jacket. Invited us to church but we declined as we were leaving Beijing.

Saw tower which is located at where tours of hutongs start. We toured the hutongs on rickshaws. The hutongs are the old city with homes that are 300-400 years old. We visited one family who showed us her home. (The tours take you to a family's home who are paid to host you as guests and tour you in their home). The home opened on a courtyard and had a living room, dining room and two bedrooms. Several familiesí homes opened in courtyard. The family we visited had actually combined two houses. It looked lousy on outside, but was nice inside. Rode past home of Madam Dong's second daughter. Very large and spread out house but appeared to be one story. My picture number 3592 is of the front and 3589 may be the back of house.) Rode in a rickshaw. I rode in the lead one with the hutong guide so he told me what several things were that others did not learn about.

We then flew from Beijing. Left Beijing at 6:05 PM on Air China (China time) and arrived in Xi'an at 7:30 PM. All of China is in the same time zone.

Terracotta soldiers were great. Theater in round to watch pictures about the soldiers on. Like Disney World but limited bars to lean on. Very modern facility. Pit number 1 was probably size of football field under roof. Very cool in temperature (and actually to see also in other meaning). Excellent views including the entrance to the tomb. Pictures were allowed, but no flash use. Surprising number of people using flash. Pits 2 and 3 not as extensive. No pictures allowed in them. However lots taking pictures including flash. Saw security (soldiers) get after several of them. I obeyed the rules. Gift shop was good. One of the farmers who discovered the terracotta warriors was signing books. I bought one.

Hotel in Xi'an was nice but an older hotel. Bamboo theme. Food not as good at breakfast. No safe in room. I was on 10th floor and had a good view. Very large hotel. I exchanged money there and they wanted perfect USA money, but gave me crumpled Chinese money. Hotel was clean. Had a number of TV stations. No Internet available at hotel.

Sinuses fully kicked in Xi'an. I skipped two evenings activities to rest. Did copy flash cards to CD for four others. Bought CDs also. Twenty CD-R were 50 yuan. (Exchange rate was about 8 yuang to a US dollar.)

We toured the jade market. They showed varieties of lots of items and jewelry. They had museum quality pieces for over $100,000 (USD). We went to an Islam mosque. Still operational but deteriorating in shape. Went through market place (walking) to and from mosque. Unbelievable foods and cooking on streets. Hassled by beggars. We went up on the old wall of city from one of the gates. Level walkway at top and night sights viewed from it. However air in Xi'an is very poor. They claim it is dust but there is much pollution in it. I can taste difference in the air I breathe between dust and pollution. Seventy steps to top of wall. Nice parks round it

Toured Great Goose Buddhist pagoda and museum. Amazing brickwork for being over 600 years old and it is a seven story structure. We did not go to top. Still is operational. We saw candle burning and massive incense pot in use. Enjoyable museum showed China history and clothing. (We (foreigners) are known as "big nose" and if a man with beard is in the artwork, he is a foreigner.) Real nice art display.

Lunch at a Chinese buffet. (Can't believe I traveled halfway around world to eat at a Chinese buffet). It is also a theatre that group saw production at night before.

Easter morning we flew out of Xi'an. The newspaper had reports on Easter candy and rabbits and the pagan portion and what they also reported as a high Christian day for resurrection of the Lord. (Was upper case L in the statement in the paper). The previous day I also saw a big Merry Christmas sign at the entrance to theatre and buffet.

Left Xi'an at 10:05 AM and arrived in Chengdu at 11:10 AM.

Went to San Xing Dui Museum. New museum built in 1997 about an ancient culture discovered in the 1980s. The culture existed 3000 years ago. Somehow they made perfect circles in carvings and holes, they had ivory tusks (elephants live further south, speculation is that it was warmer then (global warming?)). Their written language was similar to hieroglyphics. Museum has Chinese style toilets (simply a hole in the floor), is one and a half hours north of city and had no street vendors. We had to wait a good while for one of two English speaking tour guides to be available. Beautiful building and grounds.

Supper at restaurant that had fanciest displays of foods yet and first to serve something American (other than drinks). I really have liked the Chinese food, and was not looking for American food but just observed first lunch or supper with American food. We had French Fries. Chinese carp was good but boney.

Sichuan Opera was interesting. It was in a large tea house, outside but covered. Similar to auditorium at Presbyterian Center my family went to for church events each summer at Massanetta Virginia. Mask changing, (amazing how they would suddenly have on a different mask), puppetry and local music was good. Very large crowd.

Hotel is equivalent to a five star in US standards. Free Internet in room. Called it broadband, but I have had dialup in USA that was faster. You can watch the TV in bed or turn the TV where you could watch from in the bathtub. Very fancy room. Was a little smaller room than other hotels.

Bus seats on bus are small. More modern, more clean city. Much pollution though. Fields of raisi to make canopy oil are blooming yellow everywhere. Same plant as I have seen fields of in south Georgia. There are actual department stores here.

Panda in Chinese is da shu ma or great bear. ESSO garages in country (real ESSO signs just like when Exxon was ESSO in US prior to 1973) just they don't sell gas, just fix cars. Gas is nationalized, but reports are it will be privatized soon. Price is $1.66 USD per gallon or 3.67 yuan per liter. Went up 8% while I was in China. Reported in papers that it was first increase in price since August. Station has a limited percentage it can alter the price. Price does not include taxes. Mechanical street sweepers in the city, but on edge of city and in country they are out sweeping streets by hand brooms. They come on bicycles and then sweep (most with worn out brooms) even on interstate type roads. They seem to always be sweeping bridges.

Signs that say No Scribbling mean no graffiti. Somehow I wonder if putting a sign up like this in the United States would stop graffiti, but I guess that it would probably encourage graffiti at the location. They play cards or maj jong everywhere at tables in front of little businesses. What is labeled as the Takeover Lane is the passing lane.

As we turned in last little town to head to a commercial agriculture venture, the company had several youths throw firecrackers at road to welcome us. They served us what they called a workman's lunch in which all the items were made at this commercial agriculture venture which had 24 courses. Served cherry wine (from cherries raised in the enterprise) that tasted like cherry brandy. We saw two greenhouses there, one raising flowers to sell in China and the other had young tomato plants. Will actually raise the tomatoes in a greenhouse. The owner closed the restaurant (normally open to workers and public to host us. She has been to the United States a number of times and had already worked with the Crimms (president of Chattahoochee Technical College) on setting up a trip. They use an automatic system there they bought from Spain to wash the seed, plant the seeds and to control fertilizer and water to the plants.

Fancy banquet that night at the banquet hall for government banquets. Probably the largest table I have ever seen with 25+ of us all seated around it. It was not served family style but they kept bringing each item to us on a small plate continuously. I sat by the United States embassy vice consulate for cultural affairs who has been there for years and we had an interesting conversation. This was the one meal where they gave us a program that had a list of items served and I kept my copy. Others at banquet were officials from the agriculture venture including the owner, local city leaders, communist local leaders and a couple of others. The owner of the enterprise hosted us and had a gift for each of us

Traffic lights in cities we visited after Beijing usually displayed the number of seconds to the change. Also often the light was on one spot (instead of three as usual) displaying using LEDS to change from green to yellow to red, so you could not go by the position of the light to decide the color.

Left Chengdu at 3:05 pm and arrived in Hangzhou at 4:35 PM by plane.

Had a beggers chechens dinner, where you had a pot of water and then you added items you wanted to the water and meat and made your meal. Was fancy but originally everyone used to throw in what they had and group cooked meal. So you can see it really was traditionally a beggars meal.

Saw an 1800 kilometer canal from Beijing that was built 600 years ago. The canal went north to south, while rivers in China flow west to east. It is still functioning.

Visited a vocational-technical school that was very large and modern. Unfortunately it was late in day so we only went in the administrative building that we were drove around the campus. Had a big about 6 stories tall Information Technology building that housed the library and computer studies. I would have liked to have seen the inside. The school is a Cisco Networking Academy. It has 7000 students, five teaching buildings, one IT building with computer labs, language labs and library, 32 programs of study and 90% of the students live on campus. It is located on the edge of the city in a grouping of several colleges/universities and they actually share the student housing.

The vice president of the vocational-technical school and several lower administrators treated us to dinner at a local restaurant that was on an upper leveling the building. I sat at table with other non administrators from Georgia and two department heads from China, one was visual arts department. We had enjoyable conversations. Good view. They served Great Wall Red Wine (which I really liked) there and there were tons of toasts during the evening and we went through a number of cases of wine. Was clearly reminded of term Gumbay (spelling is probably nowhere near right, but pronunciation is), which when said on a toast means drink to the bottom of the glass, and was well used this evening. We learned real quickly to choose the glass to hold in toast carefully. This was an evening of free refills of all the types of drinks.

Visited a tea plantation and China's National Silk Museum. The rest of the group went on a cruise on West Lake that evening but I stayed in room as sinuses were really kicking. Since we had just arrived bus did not have water for us and I discovered that night that I could not get anything to drink. They had a mini-bar in room but di9d not give key to it. When I asked at front desk they said I could not get one as group leader had not paid deposit for it. I was desperately thirsty in middle of night (probably dehydrated, when I had asked, and store in hotel closed early and no drink machines I could find and none they desk knew of and we not near any stores for me to walk to. It was closest I came to drinking tap water. When restaurant opened real early I was in there to eat breakfast, but primarily to get lots to drink.

We took a bus to Nanjing. We were first loaded in a small bus that we were crammed in and then they sent a van to pick us up and split the group.

We visited Sangjiang (sounds like Saint John when pronounced) University which is the first private university in China and Chattahoochee Technical College signed a sister college agreement with them while we were there. We had a good tour of the college. The non-technical educators in the group went on a tour of an elementary school while we were there. Very nice facilities, very nice gym and students were playing basketball on outdoor courts and there were crowds of them.

We then took a train from Nanjing to Shang Hai

Comfortable train, smooth ride, train station at the start of our journey had burned down and they were rebuilding and we had to go up and down a bunch of stairs, through water and mud. They were hawking books, food, drinks, etc. on the train.

I went to the hospital in Shang Hai. Hospital for Foreign Guests. The doctor who saw me had interned one year in Boston. Gave me an antibiotic. Watched clerk use an abacus and computer to do my bill. Total cost was about $32 (USD) including hospital, doctor and antibiotic. Receptionist made sure I had a receipt so I could file on insurance when I got back home. I had a hard time keeping straight face when she told me that.

Saw acrobatic show and motorcycles in globe riding (called globe of death in United States, we had it at fair in Swainsboro in early 1990s). Nice show. At the start they announced pictures were not permitted, but I think a couple others and me were only ones in huge crowd with cameras who took no pictures. We got popcorn there, but it was sweet, like sugar added.

Foggy next morning but toured the waterfront. Went shopping in afternoon on Nanjing Road. Lots of variety but I saw no major deals. Did buy a couple of ties from a street vendor and a Chinese Java programming book at the bookstore. McDonalds and Pizza Hut and KFC were also all on street but never did go in one on trip, although looking through the windows they were similar to ones in the United States. KFC supposedly has a great hamburger in China according to our Chinese guides. McDonalds pushed soft serve ice cream cones for a cheap price. (I did have an ice cream cone from McDonalds in Brazil).

Left Shang Hai at 1 PM (China time) on plane. Moderately bumpy ride. Pilot kept changing altitude to get smooth ride. Arrived in San Francisco AT 7:30 AM (PDT). Left San Francisco at 1:55 PM (PDT) and arrived in Atlanta at 5:55 PM (EDT) way ahead of time scheduled to land.

Couple of prices for Internet usage at hotels:
Beijing
0-15 minutes 10 RMB
Each additional minute .5 RMB
Max 24 hours 10 RMB

Shang Hai
.5 RMB per minute
Max 24 hours 80 RMB

Dwight

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