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Trip to China

It is only a few days away and I still have some preparations to make.
I will start updating my blog on Monday July 23rd when I leave for Beijing China from the Toronto International Airport.
My first stop is a 2-hour layover in San Francisco before jumping across the pond.

Posted by hammr 20:33 Comments (1)

In San Francisco

After managing to shuffle my way through the Toronto Zoo, more commonly known as the
Toronto Pearson Airport, I managed to make it to San Francisco. I can't say that I enjoy the security lines but Security is necessary. We are a little late bit we are finally ready to take off. See you on the other side.

Posted by hammr 15:13 Comments (0)

Safe Arrival in Beijing


View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

After a 12 hour flight, I arrived safely in Beijing. The flight was uneventful, other than the youngster playing with his mothers tray table behind my seat while his parents and grandmother slept, Even with the occasional interruption, I was able to sleep fairly well.

We crossed the International Dateline over the Pacific and Beijing is 12 hours ahead of the Eastern Standard Time.

I cleared security and customs in Beijing very quickly and grabbed a cup of coffee before Jeremy and his aunt, Guo Hau, arrived We left the airport at 7 pm (Beijing time, 7 am Tuesday morning EST) and Jeremy's uncle and aunt took us to a "Hot Pot" restaurant for supper.

At the restaurant, you select different meats that are generally cut into slivers and you cook them a small pot of water that is in front of you. You comtrol the temperature of the pot and you mix spices together to add flavor to the meats and vegetables ( cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, etc) after you cook them. There was a variety of spices, some of which I recognized (garlic, chives, etc). I enjoyed all of it. It was very flavorful and you could make it as spicy as you wanted.

Using chop sticks was fun and a bit entertaining, especially after I dropped a meatball on my pants only to find out that they "spear" the meatballs with a chopstick rather than trying to pick them up.

After supper we drove to Jeremy's uncle's appartment and we arrived there at 10 pm

Tomorrow Nicole, Jeremy's wife ( Mingsi is her Chimese name) will be driving from their home (a 7 hours drive from the north of Beijing) to meet us. She was supposed to be here already but she had a minor car accident last week ( someone rear-ended her ) and she had to get the car fixed first.

Tomorrow ( Wednesday ) Jeremy and I will be visiting the ' Summer Palace).

Posted by hammr 09:57 Comments (0)

Summer Palace & Tiananmen Square

overcast 27 °C
View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

Wednesday was an overcast day. The temperature was 27 C (82 F for my American friends) and very humid.

Jeremy and I visited the Summer Palace in the morning. It is large and ornate but what really makes it impressive, is the size of the large man-made lake behind it, the park, the bridges and the buildings that encompass it. My pictures really didn't do it justice but I have attached photos of the entrance, the view across the lake to the Budhist temple behind the palace and a closer view of the waterlillies close to the temple. The palace encompasses an area of 2.9 square km and 2.2 square km of it is occupied by the man-made lake.

At noon, I hate to admit that we ate Scottish food ( McDonalds). Then we took the subway from the Summer Palace to Tiananmen Square. It is also quite large and we didn't go in but I have attached a picture of the entrance. We also did not have time to go to the forbidden city which is in the confines of the square.

We continued on the 'packed' subway and after being pushed one last time into a full train, we popped out near the apartment.

We met Mingsi and her mother, who had successfully driven from Shenyang to Beijing and we ate supper at the original Beijing (Peking) ' Roast Duck ' restaurant. The food was fabulous and I had the opportunity to test my skill with chopsticks again. I have included pictures of the chef carving the duck in front of our table and a picture of all of the food. I would liked to have tried my hand at carving the duck, but I could tell that he was far more experienced at it and I would probably have butchered it. They even gave me the birth certificates for the 2 ducks.

Tomorrow will bring new adventures as we head south.

Posted by hammr 09:16 Archived in China Tagged attractions Comments (0)

Day 1 - Drive South to Kaifeng


View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

Thursday, July 26.

After exchanging 500 Canadian dollars for 3900 Chinese Yuan (aka Ren
Min Bi, RMB for short) and buying some water and snacks, Jeremy, Mingsi and I left Beijing in their Suzuki SX4.
We travelled south-west through Shijiazhuang towards Zhengzhou and eventually stopping in Kiafeng

We passed hundreds of fields of corn, lots of extremely large electrical transmission towers ( most of them very new) supplying power to large cities and several new developments

The temperature reached 36 C (97 F) with extremely high humidity and we were happy that the car had air-conditioning.

Road tolls were plentiful and at one point Jeremy found himself going 140 km/hr in a 120 km/hr zone so he started to slow down, but not before one of the many traffic cameras snapped his picture. When we were almost at the exit toll booth for the Hebei province we had our picture snapped again but we thought nothing of it until the police at the exit toll booth pulled us over. They informed us that we had been speeding and told Jeremy to pull over and go into their office. They showed Jeremy a picture of him speeding, asked him some questions and eventually informed him that he needed to pay 100 RMB (~$ 15). When he returned to the car, I asked him if I was in the picture and if they got my good side, Jeremy insisted that he has never gone that fast before and the one time he did, he got caught....and Nicole (aka Mingsi) snickered.

We arrived in Kaifeng at 7:30 pm and proceeded to look for a place to stay. After settling in to a hotel room we went out to get some supper. We had checked out a local street market while we're looking for a room and I took a picture with my IPhone but it didn't turn out very well because of the reflection from the lights. For supper we went to another street market and Nicole and I tried some of the dishes such as a fried bread kabob, crawfish, a cooked noodle dish ( although it didn't look like noodles) and a fish kabob. Jeremy had the local beer.

The market had all sorts of fruits, vegetables and 'unusual' dishes ( for North Americans) such as deep fried grasshoppers and silk worms, as well as some less 'unusual' dishes such as fried fish ( with heads attached), clams of all shapes and sizes and fried chicken. There were a few dishes that I did not recognize at all.

Tomorrow we will be checking out some of the sights in the Kaifeng area.

Posted by hammr 10:43 Comments (2)

Day 2 - Kaifeng

sunny 39 °C

Friday, July 27th

We started today with a breakfast of ' millet congee ' (similar to a watery porridge), wontons, chinese noodles ( bean jelly - a cucumber and cornstarch noodle dish) and ' bao zi ' ( pork in a perogie dough).

After breakfast we visited the Kaifeng museum which has artifacts, pictures and art work from the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) where I tried my hand at silk screening.

From the museum we went to the Song Dynasty Summer Palace. This had been converted into a park, displaying the buildings of the summer palace used by the Emporer and his family.

At noon we returned to our hotel room to get out of the hot, sticky weather, since the temperature had climbed to 39 C (102 F) with very high humidity.

At 3 pm, we went to another " hot pot " restaurant for a late lunch where I tried " cow's stomach/belly" as well as beef, " spam ", chinese cabbage, spicy sesame sauce, mushrooms and frozen tofu (bean curd). At this restaurant, we had a single hot pot for the table, divided into 2 sections, one that had spicy water and one that had water with vegetables in it. I ate most of my food cooked in the spicy water.

After lunch we went to " Iron Pagoda ". It is not made of iron, but of red, brown, blue and green glazed bricks and it is 55 meters (180 ft) high (for more information check out - http://www.china.org.cn/english/TR-e/43300.htm ). We experienced a short rainstorm while we were in the ' Bonsai ' gardens. When the rain stopped, Nicole (Mingsi) and I climbed to the top on a dark spiraling stairway with uneven steps to the top where we took pictures out of the small open viewpoints. The steps were solid but they varied from height from 18 cm (8 inches) to almost 40 cm (16 inches) making the climb quite interesting and the narrow walls made it difficult to pass people going in the opposite direction. The low ceilings weren't a problem for Nicole but I had to be careful, especially because it was dark.

There is an internet website that shows most of the places that we visited in Kaifeng. It is http://www.chinahighlights.com/kaifeng/ .

Our next stop is Shaolin.

Posted by hammr 18:22 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 3 - Luoyang (Ancient Tombs)

sunny 38 °C
View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

Saturday, July 28

We ate breakfast in the hotel and it was more 'traditional' ( at least for me).  I had 'halogen eggs' ( hard-boiled eggs cooked in tea), fried zucchini , deep-fried chicken sticks, Italian noodles, yogurt that you drink with a straw, spring rolls, fried dumplings, scrambled eggs,  pork-filled buns and bread with butter and jam.  

We left Kaifeng for the Shaolin Temple, however we made a short side-trip and decided to go directly to Laoyang. There were more corn fields along the highways, however, we started to see more wooded valleys along the way.

We arrived in Luoyang in the afternoon and checked into a Jinjiang Inn, which is a good quality popular hotel chain in China. We went to the Luoyang Museum of Ancient Tombs where we saw numerous tombs and their artifacts from the tombs of several emporers.

For supper we had sweet and sour pork, baked chicken, rice and breaded beef strips.

The highways between cities are very new, in very good condition and there is not much traffic. The cities, on the other hand, are a completely different story. There are wide bike lanes on the roads, the road lanes are clearly marked and there are traffic lights at all major intersections, HOWEVER, these are only treated as 'suggestions'. Cars drive in any lane and even in the lanes going in the opposite direction. Bikes drive everywhere and they will regularly pull out in front of cars. Pedestrians will cross roads anywhere and at any time. So basically you have everyone breaking the rules and it looks like a symphony of unpredictability. Everyone is constantly cutting in front of other people and they each act as if they are they most important person on the road. It is no surprise that all cars have several dents and scratches. Driving in the cities is not for the faint of heart.

I found it quite interesting that although there are numerous new, state-of-the-art hydro transmission lines all through the country, the wiring in the 'non-tourist' areas of the city are not very well maintained.

There are several sights to be seen in this area, so we will be staying here a few days.

Posted by hammr 06:55 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 4 - Luoyang (Longmen Grottoes, Chariot Pits & ShaoLin)

sunny 39 °C
View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

Sunday, July 29

After a traditional Chinese breakfast in the hotel, Jeremy, Nicole and I drove to the Longmen Grottoes to see cliff carvings. This is a walking tour that takes approximately 4 hours ( especially in the 39 C heat ) and includes climbing a lot of stairs along the sides of the cliffs in order to get a closer view of the carvings.

We were finished by noon so we proceeded back to the hotel for a spicy Szechuan meal. We made it there just before the restaurant closed for the customary break between 2 and 5 pm. While we were in there, the table next to us was drinking a lot of beer and one of them insisted that the waitress bring them more beer. She informed him that it was a restaurant and not a ' bar ' and that she could not bring him anymore beer. When he became very agitated, the waitress told him (in Mandarin) that he was embarrassing China in front of the 'foreigners' (that would be us). One of the other fellows calmed him down and they all left.

After lunch we went to see the Museum of Luoyang Eastern Zhou Royal Horse and Chariot Pits. These pits were recently excavated and they contain the skeletons of the horses and the carriages used by the royal family. They were impressive and very well preserved.

In the evening we drove to Dengfeng to see a musical called the ShaoLin Zen Music Ritual. On the way into town, a car beeped its horn next to us on the road and tried to sell us a hotel room for the night. When we told him that we had a room, he proceded to do the same thing to other motorists. We thought this was highly unusual until someone on an electrical bicycle did the same thing.

Nicole bought some tickets from a scalper (we have pictures to prove it) for 200 RMB ($35) each instead of the box office price of 250 RMB. This was a spectacular show with state-of-the-art sound stage and lighting. What made it even more spectacular was the fact that it was performed outside, between 2 mountains, with hundreds of actors over a large area.

I experienced my first occurrence of being a foreigner. While we were waiting for the show to start, Nicole pointed out that people were taking pictures of me...the strange looking, tall foreigner with the big nose! One person turned around to take a picture , but the 2 young ladies sitting next to me were more discreet. One took a picture of her friend but when I caught a glimpse of the photo, I was in the center of the picture and her friend was barely in the picture. What a waste of a picture!

Posted by hammr 18:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 5 - Drive from Luoyang to Xian

overcast 33 °C

Monday, July 30

A travel day.

We had planned to stop at Luanchuan but there were no highways so we decided to skip this stop and drive straight to Xian. This is a 5 hour drive and while we were on the way we decided to stop by and hike up Hua Shan mountain, however, by the time we got there (3 pm) they informed us that we didn't have enought time to make it to the top, so we decided to continue to Xian.

Each time we stopped at a rest stop, Nicole would buy another ice cream. One time she was fast asleep and she instantly woke up when we pulled into the rest stop. Its a good thing that we only stopped 3 times. She likes her ice cream!

We arrived in Xian at 4:30 pm. We decided to use the rest of the day to plan activities for the next couple of days. One of our primary objectives is to see the Terra Cotta warriors.

We checked about obtainng entrance visas to Tibet and the rules have changed significantly since June and it appears that they are trying to limit visas to organized groups. This will require some more investigation.

Posted by hammr 03:27 Archived in China Comments (1)

Day 6 - Xi'an (Li Shan Mountain & Terra Cotta Warriors)

semi-overcast 29 °C

Tuesday, July 31

We had a quick breakfast at the JinJiang Inn and then left for Weinan mid-morning.

Our first stop was Li Shan Mountain. It was the birthday of a Buddha ( I am not sure which one) and Nicole thought it would be a good day to see the celebrations while we were there. What she didn't realize was the everyone else in China also thought it would be a great day to visit the area and that a market had been set up to celebrate the day and attract more people. It took us 40 minutes to get to Weinan and it took us almost 1 hour to drive to 3 miles up to the entrance near the top of the mountain, squeezing in-between people, motorcycles and cars going every direction. At the entrance to the attraction, we started our hike by walking through a large Aviary and then we passed through a huge market that was so congested that it would have made a claustrophobic person scream. After we got out of the market area we proceded up the steps to the top of the mountain where we took pictures of the beautiful landscape.

I had been warned by Nicole that they don't see many ' foreigners' in the smaller towns and ' staring' is not considered rude, but I hadn't really paid much attention to it until the last few days when I experienced it first-hand. While I was in the crowded obervation area, I noticed several people taking pictures of me. I could see a couple of young ladies giggling and trying to take my picture discretely (similar to the previous day) however, when one of them noticed that I saw her take a picture of me while using her friend to block the view, she quickly tried to hide her camera. I used sign language to indicate to her that she could take my picture if she wanted and the other young lady quickly came and stood beside me for a picture. After taking a few pictures, we hiked down a newer, less-travelled, but much easier trail back down the mountain.. On the way down, a little girl going up the mountain with her mother, gasped when she saw me and quickly covered her mouth to hide her surprise. As she walked up past me, I could see her looking back down at me. I can only imagine how much fun the locals would have with some of the people I know...!

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we realized we were a long way from where we had parked our car and since the traffic was still very congested, we decided to take the local bus to go see the Terra Cotta warriors. We grabbed a quick lunch before entering the gates, The ' museum' consists of a series of buildings that house the collection of terracotta 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, and to make sure that he had people to rule over. This is a ' must see ' attraction in China. It is hard to fathom the size of these pits and the intricate work involved in constructing all the warriors, their horses and the buildings that originally housed them underground. I took a lot of pictures but, like the Grand Canyon, pictures do not do it justice. You can read about this and look at pictures but, as with most things, it is always best to see it for yourself.

As we left the museum area, Jeremy and I were asked by a family to have our picture taken with them. Nicole had stopped to buy a pomegranate, and caught up with us in time to take a picture of the father and his two daughters with us. I think they were hoping that Jeremy was single!

From the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit, we took a 'local' bus to the point at the base of the mountain where our car was parked. The bus stops for anyone on the side of the road and it keeps picking up passengers until there is no more room. The cost is usually 1 or 2 RMB ( 20 cents ) to go anywhere in town. When we got off the bus, Jeremy 'bartered' with a taxi driver to take us back up the mountain to our car. The taxi driver wanted 50 RMB but with Jeremy's excellent bartering tactics, it ended up costing 30 RMB { $ 5 } for the 3 of us. Everywhere we go the people are surprised at how good Jeremy's Mandarin is, and that has helped us a lot as we travel through the southern provinces. Even Nicole has commented that she has a harder time understanding the local dialects than Jeremy. We have come to an agreement that her Chinese is ' too perfect ' and she can't understand the ' slang ' as well as Jeremy can, however, Jeremy has a hard time ' reading Chinese characters although he can read pinyin.

Back in Xi'an, we went to a ' hot pot ' restaurant where we met an Israeli couple who were travelling around China for 5 weeks, similar to what we were doing. The only difference is that they were flying from one city to city. They were also making there plans each day and the only thing they had planned in advance was there flight to Beijing and back home. We had a wonderful meal together, getting to know each other and sharing stories about our trips.

After our experience in Lishan, I must comment again that Chinese city driving is something to behold. Cars, motorcycles and pedestrians all fight for space on the road, turning in front of and barely missing each other. If the lanes are full, cars, bikes or motorcycles will freely travel in the lanes going in the opposite direction and then honk at cars who are " legally " travelling in those lanes. I have seen electric bikes diagonally cross an intersection against a red light. Pedestrians will walk anywhere, even the middle of the road and totally ignore traffic. Horns are used readily and regularly. Some streets have a " no horn " sign because it is so prevalant. I had read about this but I didn't understand it until I experienced it firsthand. It is not for the " faint of heart ". Jeremy has commented that most of the drivers have little experience and they learn from the ' experienced' taxi drivers. Everyone drives as if they are the most important person on the road.

Highway driving is a lot easier because most Chinese do not leave their towns. Many of the highways have been built in the last couple of years and they are not congested although I am sure that will change in the next few years.

Tomorrow Jeremy and I will head south for a couple of days while Nicole returns to Beijing for a wedding reception.

Posted by hammr 16:45 Archived in China Tagged attractions Comments (1)

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