Wednesday, May 21, 2008

China Part Five: Shanghai

Sorry I haven't posted anything in awhile (my computer crashed). When we got to Shanghai, we proceeded directly toward the Bund (a stretch of European style buildings built by and occupied by western influences over the last two centuries). From here we could see the Pudong area (seen above) really well.
We then ventured toward Yu Yuan Garden and Old Town St. Built originally in the 1500's this garden provided some really cool architecture and gardens. The surrounding area was a bazaar of antiques and souvenir shops. Amy "accidentally" left our guide book at one such shop, so she could go back and by a baby carrier she wanted.
That night we took the metro to the aforementioned Pudong area to have dinner. Afterwards, we made our way 87 stories up the Jin Mao Tower (the 4th tallest in the world, although a skyscraper under construction across the street will be several stories taller). As you can see from the pic below, it offered some very nice view of the Bund.
After learning that our hotel was going to charge us approximately $80 to do our laundry, we took a tour of the neighborhood to find a laundromat. After some very broken Chinese, we finally found our cleaners. We then made our way to E Nanjing Rd and strolled along the pedestrian only (which in China means bikes, scooters, and motorcycles) outdoor mall.

After lunch at a noodle shop, we made our way to Renmin Park to the Shanghai Museum. This large museum had four floors of artifacts ranging from bronze, ceramics, calligraphy, to art.

That night we were fortunate enough to get tickets to watch the famed Shanghai Acrobats. It was an exciting two and a half hours of tumblers, jugglers, and even motorcyclists. The grand finale featured five of these motorcyclists in a steel sphere cage about 30 feet in diameter.

The next morning we gathered our laundry (all of it was there) and headed toward the French Concession. Halfway there we realized we didn't have our camera. We went back to the hotel and couldn't find it. To make a long story short, we bought a new camera and ended up finding our old camera...I think it was my fault, but I really can't remember.
Well, we finally made it to the French Concession, a residential, retail, restaurant area with tree lined street. This area dates back to when the French had significant influence in this area. We then headed toward the Jade Buddha Temple (houses a 7 foot tall statue of Buddha carved out of one piece of jade). You weren't supposed to take pictures of it, but I got a rogue (but blurry) picture of it.
While there, we got to witness a bunch of monks performing some type of ceremony. They had little drums and cymbals...I referred to them as the Buddha marching band. When we got back to the hotel Amy found our camera, so we were very happy to have our pictures. Then it was off to the train station for our last overnight train of the trip to Beijing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

China Part Four: Xi'an

The first morning we were in Xi'an (once the capital of China) we headed to the Big Goose Pagoda surrounded by the Da Ci'en Temple. This pagoda dates back to AD 652. After touring the grounds we ate a quick lunch at KFC (there's tons of them in China) and headed to the Shaanxi History Museum. This had some interesting artifacts, including some terra cotta warriors you could view close up.

We then walked about 30 minutes to see the Little Goose Pagoda. We only saw this AD 684 structure from afar as we weren't willing to pay the US $7 to enter. We then went back north through the city gates and into the Muslim Quarter.

This area was overflowing with eateries (some shady looking), souvenir shops, and art galleries. The main attraction, though, was the Great Mosque. The oldest and largest in China, this blend of Asian and Islamic architecture dates back to the 8th Century.

In the pictures above you can see some of this architecture with Chinese woman who wanted her picture with Amy and a street shot of the quarter. It was amazing how many Chinese people wanted to take their pictures with the white people (they would only ask the girls, though). You felt like a celebrity.

On the way back we got a good glimpse of the Drum and Bell towers that lie within the city walls. These were used to signify sunrise and sunset, respectively.

The next morning we boarded a bus and drove about 40 minutes to see the terra cotta army. Built for China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang's tomb, more than 100,000 people took over 40 years to complete it.

Each warrior has an individually detailed face, so no two faces are alike. Many of the warriors are still buried, because unearthing them will cause the paint to fade off. They're too cheap to buy the technology from Japan and Germany to preserve the paint, so they'll remain buried until they come up with the solution.

As you can see from the pictures, it is overwhelming the size and area this army covers. We actually got to meet one of the farmers who discovered the tomb when he was digging a well in 1976.

That evening we got to partake in a traditional Chinese Dumpling feast. The dumplings actually originated in this region.

The next morning we woke early and walked about 15 minutes to the city wall. Built in 1370, it is one of the few city walls in the world left standing. We rented bikes and rode the perimeter of this 12 meter tall and 18 meter wide stone fence.

It wasn't the smoothest ride in the world considering we were riding on 14th century bricks and bikes without much give. As you can probably tell in some of the pictures (the Little Goose Pagoda picture in particular) the pollution in the cities is awful. These were cloudless days, yet you couldn't see more than half a mile due to the smog. Good luck Olympians!

That afternoon we strolled through Shuyuan Xiang, a neighborhood with throngs of vendors and nice architecture. Amy, of course, never failed to find something she couldn't live without whenever we ventured into one of these market places. We did have to make a detour to make a few purchases, as some of Amy's undergarments came up missing after having them laundered. We also witnessed a grand opening for a Wal-Mart here.

That night we boarded yet another overnight train headed for Shanghai.

China Part Three: Three Gorges

After 12 hours on a train and 4 1/2 hours on a bus we reached Yichang. Once in Yichang we took another bus 40 minutes and reached the Three Gorges Dam. Spanning over a mile in width Amy and I can now say we went on the longest dam tour in the world.

We then took another bus 40 minutes to board the beauty you see above to navigate the Yangtze River. To quote a British lady traveling on the same vessel "the bathrooms are hideous." You had to take showers at a certain time to have warm water (I didn't know this, so I got a cold shower). We didn't hear them before we went to bed, but there were rats scurrying all throughout the boat. Good thing we only had to stay one night on the Princess Cruise.

The next morning we docked, boarded a smaller river boat, and traveled up one of the gorges. Although the dam has made the waters rise about 30 meters, the gorges are still beautiful.

After an hour on this boat we boarded this small traditional fishing boat paddled by three local minorities. When the water became to shallow to row, they got out of the boat and pulled us by ropes. Apparently they used to do this part in the nude, but they now wear shorts.

We then headed back to the luxury liner (needless to say, after we heard the rats we spent the rest of our time on the top level of the boat enjoying the views of the gorges). We spent the night in a nice hotel and zoomed back up the river in a hydroplaning boat the next morning to a 16 hour overnight train.

China Part Two: Yangshuo

After an overnight train, a one and a half hour bus ride, and a ten minute walk we made it to the charming stone paved streets of Yangshuo. Here we stayed at a youth hostel (not the best but certainly not the worst place we've ever stayed). Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, we got to experience the quieter side of China. Although the shops, musicians, boaters, and street vendors were appealing, the real draw to this area was the limestone karsts.

This area is literally covered with them as far as you can see. The first day we were there, we wondered the streets and made some bargain buys. Late that afternoon we headed in a van for a river tour through the karst lined Li River.

As you can see from the video our boat didn't appear to be the most sea worthy vessel, but it made it out and back okay. The scenery was awesome, and we got some great sunset views before we headed back in.

The next morning our group gathered together to ride mountain bikes through the country side. Once again, we weren't sure if our bikes were going to make it (one of the bikes in our group actually didn't), but we got lucky and finished the trek.

We took a bunch of unpaved roads and received some strange looks along the way (as we did in many parts of the country). As you can see in the pictures, there wasn't a lack of scenery on this bike ride.

After awhile we came upon a karst known as Moon Rock, which is a popular hike for the tourists. Before we even started on the hike, Amy and I had a couple of local farmer's wives trailing us with fans. They fanned us up and down the entire trail (the hike took a good part of 2 hours round trip)...and all they wanted in return was for us to buy a coke from them. That's them with Amy near the top of the climb. China's economy might be booming, but a majority of them still live in poverty as we witnessed many times along the trip.

After the bike ride and climb we were treated to a traditional farmer's lunch at a nearby farm. I can't really remember what all we ate, but I do remember eating this chicken's foot (I guess that chicken didn't cross the road).

The picture below is at the farm where we had lunch. You can see Moon Hill in the background to the left.

That night we took a local taxi/van to watch a light show on the Li River. The significance of it being that the director will direct the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. And if the opening ceremonies is anything like the show we watched, it will be worth watching. I didn't get any good pictures or video, but here is a snippet of it.