China 1999 Part 1
China 1999 Part 1
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This is the first part of the travelogue I made on a roundtrip in China at the end of August 1999. On the bottom of this page you will find a link to go to part 2, but if you can't wait, you can also  click here. On the left side of this page you should see an index panel. If you don't see an index panel on the left, you should click  on this link!

Enjoy the travelogue.
China Map
 
This trip can be booked at:
Kras Stervakanties
Plein 17A, 2511 CS,
Den Haag, The Netherlands.
Telephone: (070) 3633879
http://www.kras.nl
DayActivity
1Flight to Beijing
2Beijing: Temple of Heaven
3Great Wall and the Ming Graves
4Beijing: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City
5Beijing: Visit to the Summer palace. Flight to Xi'an
6Xi'an: Terracotta Army and the winter palace
7Trainride to Luoyang, Luoyang: White horse Temple
8Luoyang: Longmen caves, Trainride to Nanjing
9Nanjing: Bridge over the Yangtze, the Linggu Pagode, Dr. Sun Yatsen Mausoleum
10Nanjing: Xuangwu Park, Trainride to Suzhou.
11Suzhou: Visit to a silk factory, Tongli: Tuisi Garden, Chinghen Hall. Busride to Hangzhou.
12Hangzhou: Huagang Park, West Lake and the Lingyin temple.
13Trainride to Shanghai. Shanghai: Yu garden and the Bund
14Shanghai: Jade-Boeddha cloyster and Pudong
15Flight to Amsterdam
 
Tuesday August 24th
The first day of our 15 day roundtrip through China. Although I can't really call it a day, because we're not leaving until 8pm from Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Our group consists of my younger sister Fabienne (on the right), my best friend Rien (on the left), myself (behind the camera) and 32 others. We were flying with a modern Boeing 777 of China Southern Airlines to Beijing, the capital of China.

After all the delays in the summer months it was a good start of our holiday when the plane actually departed on schedule. During the flight we were very well taken care of by the Chinese flight attendants. However one major problem was the size of the seats, those were not made with the larger Western traveler in mind. I had to choose between being stuck in between the armchairs, or walking around the plane a bit. Most of the flight I choose for the latter.

Wednesday August 25th
After a flight of nearly 9 hours, we arrived at around 11am in Beijing, China. It took some time to get the three or four different travelgroups together in the arrival hall. It went pretty chaotic because the number of people and the size of that hall weren't really matched. Before you go through immigration, you have to pass a health inspection, but that wasn't really impressive, I had passed it without even noticing it. After the immigration check, which had to be done in alphabetical name order of our groupvisa, all we had to do was pick up our luggage and wait outside for Ping Baas, our groupleader, to come outside. For now, she was busy helping people through immigration. We were taken to a tour bus, which would become our method of transportation for the next couple of days in Beijing. Our luggage was taken separately to the hotel in a smaller van. After Ping introduced herself and welcomed us to Beijing she told us that our first stop on the way to the hotel, would be a restaurant to have lunch. At first I thought I wasn't going to eat very much after just having the airplane breakfast, but the food looked and tasted delicious, so my appetite quickly returned.

After lunch in the Ritan restaurant we finally headed for the hotel, where we arrived at 2 pm. The Henan Plaza Hotel turned out to be a very luxureous 4 star hotel. The 24 story building probably was only a couple of years old. Ping gave us an hour to take a rest before we would go the Temple of Heaven. During that hour the bellboy brought our suitcases to the room. Rien apparently insulted the guy by only giving a tip of 0.05 Yuan, thinking it was 5 Yuan. After the second load of our suitcases arrived we settled that by giving 20 yuan.

The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Park) consists of several buildings of which the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is the most important one. We visited several of the buildings and made our first couple of pictures and video recordings. It was the first time Fabienne ever used a video camera, so we'll just have to see how that works out. Rien and I have used our video cameras on previous vacations, but for this one we didn't want to drag it along since we didn't have a car where we could put it, in case we got tired of it. So that's how the camera ended up in Fabienne's hands. On the Temple grounds there were many streetsellers selling tourist souvenir junk. It was hard to ignore them because they were very persistent in offering their goods. I bought a couple of packs with postcards and both Rien and I bought a pair of Ying Yang balls. They were very beautifully painted and they only cost US$1,- so that's quite cheap. I should buy a couple of more sets, if I get the chance.

Next we went to a restaurant to have dinner. The restaurant was located in the Complant hotel. The resemblance with the word 'complaint' was purely coincidental, because the food was really excellent. We also got a good amount of Chinese Tsingtao beer, which only cost 5 Yuan (US$0,6) for a 0.75 liter bottle! It tastes a bit like Australian Foster's beer.

At 7.45 we returned to the Henan Plaza hotel. Since it had been a long day and because we would get our wake up call at 6.45 tomorrow morning, we decided to go to sleep. When I woke up, thinking it should be morning by now, it turned out to be only 10pm. Rien and Fabienne were also awake and they also thought it was already morning. So it probably was going to be a long night. After a few more short sleeps, we all were awake again at 1.30am. So then we decided to try some of the Remy Martin Champagne Cognac that Fabienne had bought at Schiphol airport. That tasted very good, but it didn't help us to sleep. We were still very much awake, so that's when I decided to write down this journal. BTW the original travelogue was written in Dutch, this translation was made in Januari 2000. At 2.45 we all tried to go to sleep again....

Thursday August 26th
At 6.30 I woke up again, 15 minutes before our wake up call should arrive. I decided to use the shower right away, because we were at a disadvantage for having to share a single shower with three people where as the other people in the group traveled alone or in pairs. Breakfast started at 7.30 and it was far from Chinese. It was more like an American breakfast with eggs and bacon, toast, French toast and baked potatoes. After breakfast we went to a Cloisonne factory north of Beijing. Cloisonne is a kind of ceramics that is painted with enamel. There also was a factory store where they sold the stuff at pretty steep prices. Apparently the Ying Yang balls we bought yesterday, are also manufactured here, but here they cost US$5 (instead of US$1). So probably everything is 5 times the street price.

After the visit to the factory we head further up north, towards the Great Wall. We arrive there at 11.30. The section that we are visiting is called Ba da Ling Great Wall. The group gets two hours to climb the wall and to take pictures. It's quite an excercise to climb the Wall, so afterwards we're happy to find out they sell beer and tea in the coffeeshop where we are supposed to assemble the group. They actually also sell coffee, which is strange if you know the Dutch definition of a coffeeshop.

Next we go to a Friendship Store (a government store) to have lunch in the restaurant. Again the food is very good, although in China there isn't really any difference between the food they serve at lunch and at dinner, so you have to get used to that. After lunch we have some time left to take a look in the store. It appears there are more personnel than customers (which was also true in the Cloisonne store). The female clerks follow you around as you progress in the store. Either they don't trust the big noses (Western people) or they just want to help you as soon as you show interest in something. They are also quite interested in my height (almost 2 meters). They ask how tall I am and they stand next to me to compare.

For the remainder of the afternoon we go to the Ming graves. Again these are some very impressive buildings. It is hard to imagine they are so very old. During our stay here the weather has changed for the worse. In the distance we here the thunder roll and the sky has turned grey. However when we return to Beijing the sun is still shining, so it was just a local phenomena. Tonight we are having dinner in a restaurant next to the opera. The food is not really great here, but we manage to get our stomages full. After dinner we visit a showing of the Beijing Opera. It was really horrible, I'm glad it only lasted an hour. Well at least I can say I have been there. When we return to our hotel we and some of the others go have a drink in the hotel bar. Rien tried some of the Chinese phrases our local guide, Wang, taught us today. The waitress didn't understand much of it, so for now we stick to English.

Friday August 27th
Well, apparently we have grown over our jetlag. I couldn't believe it was already morning when we got our wake up call at 7 o'clock. We had no choice but to get up, so under the shower we went.

Today we visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square was not as big as I imagined. On TV it looks a lot bigger, but nonetheless it was quite big. According to Ping it is largest square in the world and I have no reason not to believe her. The Forbidden City (the Emperor's palace) is located on one of the sides of the square. It is really impressive. Most of the building were build in the 15th Century. In all the buildings there are a total of 9990 rooms. If the emperor would stay in a different room everyday from the day he was born, he would be 27 by the time he visited them all. Of course we only saw a couple of those rooms, our time is limited.

In the afternoon we went to the Beijing Zoo. First of all to have lunch, which, as far as I know, didn't contain any exotic animals. Secondly we went to visit the Giant pandas. Most of the pandas were in their night quarters, but there was one outside that was willingly being fed with bamboo and was posing for the photos.

After visiting the zoo, we went to the Emperor's Summer Palace. Again a very beautiful and historical building, but it is not that old, it was built as recently as 1903. The big surprise here was the lake next to the Summer Palace. You can't see it from the entrance, so you don't notice it until you pass around a corner at the toilet building. And then all of a sudden you are the shore of a very beautiful lake. With the hazy sky, the boats, the trees, the buildings and the bridges it looks like a scene from a fairytale.

For dinner, our bus takes us to the 135 years old, Qianmen Quanjude restaurant, in which we will eat Peking duck. I have tried it, but I don't really like it, the meat is really fat and it tastes funny. I prefer the Chinese cuisine of the past couple of days. No entertainment tonight, so back in the hotel we have another drink with some group members and Wang the local guide.

Saturday August 28th
Today we could sleep late until 7.30. After the wake-up call we took a quick shower and got dressed. At breakfast an hour later, we heard that we had been supposed to put our suitcases outside the room at 8 o'clock. Oops, we were half an hour late. Ping informed the bellboy that our suitcases were still in our room and we took the elevator up to the 14th floor to them outside. After that we finished our breakfast, checked out of the hotel and jumped into the tourbus. Our first destination would be the bird market (real birds, no chicks :)). It is very popular in Beijing to have a bird as a pet. Because of bylaws and high permit costs most Beijing people cannot afford to keep dogs. So that is the reason you will hardly find a dog here and not because they are all cooked and eaten. The latter apparently only happens in and around Hong Kong. On the bird market you can find hundreds of parakeets, parrots and pigeons all stacked up in very small cages. I didn't buy any bird, but I was able to get a very large Chinees painting for only 105 Yuan. According to Wang that was a good price.

Our next destination for the day was the underground city. This is a collection of underground buildings and tunnels which was built in the 1960's after tensions rose with Russia. The part we got to see was not very interesting, in fact the tunnels of the Paris subway are more interesting. And guess what, the tunnel led to another souvenir store. Next stop was an antique market. There might have been one or two real antique items, but the rest was the same old souvenir junk that we saw already in large quantities the past couple of days. I did however buy another painting at the local art school. This one a lot smaller than the other one. The antique market is located in an old part of Beijing, there are a lot of authentic Chinese buildings as you usually see them on pictures of China. So despite our lack of interest in the 'antiques', it was fun to see all the old buildings.

We had our lunch today in the New Ark hotel. Again the food was excellent. They even had chicken 'Wiener Schnitzel' strips so that was a nice variation to all the Chinese food. After lunch we went to the airport for our flight to Xi'an. When we arrived there we found out our plane would be an half hour late, so we had so time to spend. The flight was carried out by China Northwest airlines. Well, at least a Chinese airline that hasn't crashed yet this year, although, statisticly speaking that can be both good and bad. We fly with a modern Airbus A310-200 so it's not that bad. our flight takes about 90 minutes. When we arrive at Xi'an airport, around 7 o'clock, it is already dark again.

Xi'an itself is still 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the airport so we have to sit in the bus for some time. When we arrive in Xi'an it is one big traffic jam. Because of the National Sport Championship, which will start on September 12th, there is a lot of roadwork in progress which causes the traffic jams. Our bus driver gets to show his Kung Fu, or some other martial arts skills to convince some guy that it is a lot healthier for him to move his car out of the way. That was fun. Finally at 9.30 we arrive at the Wan Nian hotel. Before we check in, we first get our dinner. The food is a lot different from what we are used to in Beijing. There are some dishes which are the same, but the other stuff is different but very good tasting. Although the Wan Nian hotel is only a 3 star hotel, the rooms are a lot nicer than the 4 star hotel in Beijing. We now have three real beds instead of two beds and a roll away. So we now have equal opportunity to get a good night sleep. After I type in today's events on my palmtop, we go to sleep.

Sunday August 29th
Today's first event is a visit to the Emperor's winter palace. This palace is build at the foot of a mountain range so the view is quite nice. The local hot water springs provided the water for a couple of bathing houses that were build on the palace grounds, so it was quite comfortable for the emperor to stay here. Over here the local street sellers sell small replicas of the Terracotta army soldiers, another local attraction. I buy a set with 4 soldiers and a horse, but when we return to the bus, our local guide warns us that the statues are of very poor quality. They are not really baked in a oven, but on the sidewalk in the sun. She told us that they probably won't survive the trip. (But they did!).

After our visit to the winter palace, we go to vist the Terracotta army museum. The army consists of over 8000 statues. It was found accidentally in 1974 when a couple of farmers were digging a ditch. These same farmers are now selling autographed photo books in the museum souvenir shops. Actually the farmer that signed Rien's book couldn't read or write, so he probably only learned how to write his name.

Before we went to see the Terracotta Army, we got a movie presentation of the armies history. In the theater we were completely surrounded by 360 degrees of movie screen. The nine screens and projectors gave a very impressive image of things that had happened in the past. (BTW the number nine is a recurring theme in China, the emperors considered nine the number of heaven). Anyway, apparently Terracotta Army is part of some emperor's memorial tomb, kind of like the pyramids in Egypt. Over 700,000 Chinese have worked for 40 years to complete the monument in 220 BC. A year after the emperor had died the farmers revolted and they set fire to the monument and destroyed most of the statues. About 70 percent is being restored now and the other 30 percent is kept in its original state to remember people in what state they were originally discovered. Sadly it is not allowed to take pictures of the army, so I only have some pictures of replicas.

After the museum visit, we went to a local 'farmer's kitchen' restaurant to have lunch. The food was a little different but very good. Rien tried some of his Chinese sentences again and managed to scare the waitress, all blushing, into the kitchen. He said "woo ai ni" (I love you) to her after she showed him how to serve the noodle soup. Luckily her dad wasn't around :)

After lunch we headed back to Xi'an, first to visit a jade factory and after that the Bell and Drum towers. Inside the jade factory we get a tour along the several stages of jade manufacturing. It is quite interesting, but apparently it is all show because when we go down the stairs into the store, we hear the machines being shutdown. In the store we get a group discount on any jade item purchased, but no one buys anything, so the store owner probably isn't very happy after our visit. However, Rien did buy a black silk kimono.

As we arrived at the bell and drum towers most group members were more interested in the big underground mall next to the towers. So instead of the towers, we went to see the mall. They sold mostly very expensive Western designer brands at higher prices than at home, so we didn't buy a thing. But it was very amazing to see that these brands can actually be bought here.

After this it's back to the hotel. Before we go to dinner we get 45 minutes to rest or clean up. Dinner tonight will be a Mongolian fondue. Everyone gets a burner heated bowl with some kind of bouillon. You're supposed to throw in the meat and the vegetables and then after a couple of minutes you have to fish it out again. There only is one kind of meat, which resembles some kind of ham, but actually is very thin sliced beef. When you're done with the fondue, the bouillon can eaten to fill up any left over spaces in your stomach. The fondue wasn't particularly great, the beef was tough and the vegatables were so so, but it was definitely something different.

At night there is an optional folklore show, but after our opera experience, we choose not to go there. We plan to stroll through the city. Together with group members Sybrand and Theo we roam the streets looking for entertainment. All shops are already closed, so there isn't much to do, but then get to a bowling alley (very popular in China) and Rien forces us inside. None of the employees speaks English, so it's quite an effort to tell them we want to do some bowling. Of course we have to wear bowling shoes, but that's where I get in trouble. The largest shoes are size 10, so with my size 15 I can't bowl. Theo decides he doesn't want to play either, so eventually it's only Rien, Sybrand and Fabienne handling the balls. After a couple of rounds of bowling (and of beer), the owner of the bowling alley comes along and tries to explain (in Chinese) that the drinks are on him. We even get another round of free tea. We're not certain, but we believe he did that because they usually don't get any Westerners in there. When we are ready to leave they ask for Rien's name, apparently he got today's high score, so his name will be immortalized on the scoreboard, or least until the 29th of September that is. Rien didn't really have such a great score (somewhere in the 120's), but the Chinese were even worse. As a prize we got tickets to have a free hour of bowling should we ever return there.

On our way back to the hotel we walk through several small streets where people are stil cooking and eating at little streetside restaurants. We end up on a very large fruit and vegetable mart, where it's still very busy at 11.30 pm. Apparently many Chinese traders (or farmers?) sleep next to their onions and watermelons, waiting for the next trading day to arrive. That was very interesting to see, something we would have missed if hadn't ventured out on to the streets. Walking in all those small and dark streets, we never felt that is was unsafe or dangerous. All Chinese people we encountered were just very friendly and saying hello to us. Coming from the West you just expect something bad to happen in places like this, but it never did. Around midnight, when we finally arrived back at our hotel, we all took a quick shower, as we have to get up very early tomorrow. The suitcases have to be outside the room at 7 o'clock already! Rien managed to block the toilet after using it, so it took him some time to get it to flush again.

Monday August 30th
Well, our wake-up call came at 6.30, so we had half an hour to get dressed and put the suitcases outside. At breakfast Rien gives the tickets for free bowling to his favorite waitress Wang Li. She appreciates the gesture but we wonder if she ever gets the chance to use them. It seems as if she is always working, no matter what time we got in the restaurant, she was always there.

Today we travel by train from Xi'an to Luoyang, a trip of about five and a half hours. A large part of the trainride we travel along the edge of a mountain range, so the view is excellent. It is also our first chance to see some of the very beautiful Chinese landscape. Every now and then we travel through a small city, nothing like the cities with millions of inhabitants we have visited so far: Beijing 12 million, Xi'an 6 million and later on today Luoyang with 2 million inhabitants, which will be the smallest city where we will stay.

After more than five hours in the train we arrive in Luoyang. At the square in front of the station we get flooded by large amounts of streetsellers, trying to sell one page city maps which they probably got for free themselves at the local tourist information center. Because the train arrived perfectly on time, we have some time to vist the white horse temple, the first Buddhist temple in China. It's not that impressive and we're also not allowed to take any pictures of the Buddha statues, so we're glad when we go to the hotel. First we check in and then we have dinner. We're staying in the New Friendship hotel, which is a (formerly ?) state owned hotel, just like the Friendship stores. The hotel actually isn't that new as the name suggests. Compared to the previous two hotel this one has the least quality rooms and food. The hotel is located at a very large square where a lot of Chinese gather in the evening to dance and to have dancing lessons. After dinner most group members go to the square to have a look. After a quick look around I have seen all I wanted to see, so I return to the hotel to take a shower. Fabienne and Rien stay behind and afterwards they tell me that they got some Chinese lessons from a couple of Chinese students who where very eager to use the English they had learned. They also found out that the Westerners pay at least double for a bottle of beer. Not that it really mattered, because the beer was still quite cheap. Around 0.30 we go to bed.
 
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