China Road Scholar Tour September 2007 China Road Scholar Tour September 2007

China Road Scholar Tour September 2007

Marguerite and her college friend, Gretchen Turner, had such a good time on their trip to Thailand and Vietnam in 2006 that they decided to venture forth to China in September of 2007. The 14 hour flight from LAX to Beijing was more than George wanted to sign up for, so he elected to stay at home with Apollo and Dreyfus.

China is a fascinating huge country. The population now exceeds 1.3 Billion and the majority of the population still lives in rural areas. Politically they are a communist country, but they describe themselves as a socialist, democratic, dictatorship (go figure...we thought that was an oxymoron!) The cities are very large with hundreds of high rise apartment buildings close in town – a “small town” is 6 million people – and it is apparent there is constant and rapid growth in the economy, living conditions, and commerce.

Road Scholar, a division of Elderhostel, works with the Chinese American Educational Exchange to provide this 21 day trip two or three times each year. The tour guides are outstanding, the hotels are at least 4 star, and the food is fresh, well-prepared, and delicious. There were 23 of us on the trip – 8 couples and 7 singles – we were all in mid-60s (except for an 81-year-old MD from LA who is still working full-time!), well-traveled, educated, and interested in seeing “behind the scenes” as well as the usual tourist sights.

Marguerite and Gretchen in Beijing

We arrived and spent three days in Beijing. After getting acquainted, we started seeing the sights – lots of emphasis on the Beijing 2008 Olympics that on the big count down clock in Tian’anmen Square would have the Opening Ceremony in 335 days. Marguerite and George had visited Beijing in 1997 – lots and lots of changes, many more cars and many fewer motor scooters!

Our first adventure was to go to an old section of Beijing called a hutong. People live in very small old dwellings and share common bathrooms down the streets. Most of the people seemed old and poor. The streets were much too narrow for the tour bus so we got around the area in rickshaws pulled by men on bicycles. We had lunch in a private home (sort of – they feed tourist groups regularly) and learned a bit about family life.

Peking Duck Dinner in Beijing

After seeing the Forbidden City and other tourist attractions, we had a lovely dinner of Peking duck – beer was the standard drink as it is less expensive than water. Margueritie had to forego her usual wine with dinner as it was very expensive and rarely available.

Climbing Great Wall

We visited the Great Wall and climbed up for about half a mile on a very hot day. Our 81-year old traveler is leading the way in this photo with Marguerite taking the picture.

Lunch a la Box

The hotel had fixed us a box lunch that we enjoyed in the cool of a small tower along the way. After the Wall experience, we went back to the city and took a look at the “Bird’s Nest” stadium being constructed for the Olympics and also the emerging Olympic Village.

Shopping with Xian Tour Guide Jessica

We flew to Xian and first visited the old Hui (Muslim) section of town. China is primarily an atheist country (65% of the population do not claim a religion) but many religions are represented and appear to have freedom to worship. There are 55 different “ethnic minority” groups in China and one majority group (93% are Han). The different minority populations have certain rights and privileges so long as they stay in their geographic areas – similar to the Native American Indians in the United States. Our local guide took me to a large department store (similar to Nordstroms with all the European designer brands) to go shopping.

Replica of Terra-Cotta Warrior in Gift Shop

The highlight of a visit to Xian is the terra-cotta warriors. The warriors were first discovered in 1974 when local farmers were drilling a series of wells in search of water. Excavation began shortly thereafter and it soon became apparent that this was an amazing discovery. The over 7000 terra-cotta warriors are in a very large tomb for the Emperor Qin who died in 210 BC at the age of 50. He was obsessed with the fear of death and had over 750,000 workers spend almost 40 years creating his mausoleum. He believed that life under ground after death was a continuation of life on earth and wanted to be sure he was well protected from his enemies!! It is truly a remarkable place!

Marguerite and Gretchen at Paradeso Hotel

We flew to Guilin and then drove to the small town of Yangshou where we experienced the beauty of the countryside and visited the home of a local farmer. The home was quite large and comfortable – 7-8 people lived there. The living room was dominated by a television and a picture of Chairman Mao. [We thought there should have also been a picture of Deng Xiaoping who is credited with making life better for the farmers after Mao’s death in 1976 -- Deng promoted the idea that “rich is good”].

Overlooking the Li River and Mountains

The Li River is one of the most beautiful rivers in China. We cruised downstream past many charming villages and the Karst mountains of the region – very familiar in Chinese landscape painting. We also did a bit of shopping with the street vendors!

Visiting a Tea Plantation

We next flew to Kunming where we visited the Yunnan Fine Arts Institute and learned about Chinese watercolor painting and Chinese music. We also visited a tea plantation where tea is grown and processed in the traditional method. Tea is a very big deal in China and a Chinese Tea Ceremony there is quite different than anything we usually experience in the United States. Of course, we bought some tea to bring home!

Marguerite Visiting a Cow in a Farmer’s Home

We flew to Dali for a day’s visit in a local market where we saw lots of people, animals, and food. The next day we departed by coach for the tiny town of Lijiang. Unfortunately, it had been raining for some hours and we were on a narrow and muddy dirt road. The bus got stuck in the mud! We got out and walked down the hillside and through the back alleys to get to a small fishing village for lunch. Along the way we saw lots of homes with livestock living on the first floor where Margueritie made friends with a local cow!

Tie-dyed Tablecloth from Local Bai Ladies

In China there are thousands and thousands of small groups of ladies who make a variety of handicrafts, mostly to sell to tourists. We visited with a group from the Bai minority population who spend their days making tie-dyed fabric for clothing, tablecloths, hats, and purses.

Black Dragon Pond Park, Lijiang

This is one of the most beautiful parks in China – very peaceful and quiet. Of course, the tourists are now there in abundance and there are many things to purchase. After the tranquility of the park, we visited another local market that was full of noisy chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, and carcasses of undetermined origin! It is easy to see how the bird flu passes from birds to people when you experience the close proximity of people and animals – both in their homes and in the markets.

M&G at the Lijiang World Heritage Site

This small village has been designated as a World Heritage Site to insure the preservation of its history. We visited a very old water mill on the canal and ate spaghetti in a local restaurant! Later we shopped some more and had tea and watched a musical performance with ancient Chinese instruments.

General Stillwell’s Quarters

Chongqing is the largest city in China with a population about the size of California (over 30 million). While there we visited General Stillwell’s lovely home and offices. Stillwell was Chief Commander of the US Forces in the China-Burma-India Theater during WWII (1942-1944). There are many photographs and artifacts related to this time in history, including information about the long and torturous “Burma Road” that was built to enable supplies to get to the Chinese during their battles with the Japanese who controlled the ports. Georgie would have enjoyed this visit, history buff that he is!

Cruising on the Victoria Star, “The Civilized Way to See the Yangtze”

After dinner we boarded the Victoria Star – a newly refurbished cruise ship for 200 guests. Gretchen and Marguerite had a very nice cabin with balcony, and settled in for 3 nights of cruising down the river and learning about the Three Gorges Project. Along the way we made many stops, including a visit to the home and shop of a farmer who was relocated to a “resettlement town” before his village was flooded as part of the Three Gorges Project. The shop (sort of like a small 7-11) was on the ground floor and there were 4 floors above – in addition to 3 televisions there were a washer and dryer and some modern conveniences. The kitchen was very small and primitive. Pigs and chickens lived in the basement in very clean, concrete quarters. Outside on the street, rice was drying on mats. We saw only one car and very few people on the streets – a very quiet village.

Sampan Ride into a Mini-gorge on the Yangtze

One of our adventures was to ride a sampan into one of the beautiful small gorges that will eventually be flooded by the river when the dam is finished. The Three Gorges Project was started in 1993 and will be completed in 2009 – the water will rise 175 meters (about 600 feet) by the end of the project. The purposes of the dam project are to 1) eliminate the destruction and deaths caused by the river flooding every few years, 2) to provide lots of additional electrical power to this part of China, and 3) to improve navigation along the river for larger barges and ships. The Yangtze River is about 4000 miles long and is a key transportation route through China.

Approaching the Shiplock of the Three Gorges Project

The Shiplock is enormous – up to 6 ships the size of the Victoria Star would fit into the shiplock at one time. To get to the other side required going through 4 locks and took about 3 hours. We entered the lock as the sun was setting – very beautiful – and emerged almost at midnight. The highest lock (number 5) is not yet open as the final 20 meters of flooding will not occur until next year.

Cruising on “the other side” of the Locks Prior to Disembarking at Yichang

We got up, had breakfast, packed, and enjoyed the morning on the deck learning about the small villages along the way to Yichang where we disembarked. The depth of the river has not changed on this side of the dam. The plan is for the river on the other side of the dam to become a huge reservoir that can be regulated to provide safe water downstream. We saw lots of flotsam and jetsam in the rather debris filled river.

Road Scholars Group

This is our group photo taken using Denis Gandy's camera, he is the tall man in the back row on the left. Much fun was had by all. As you can see the group consisted of 8 couples, 2 gentleman, and 5 ladies. Two of the single folks had spouses at home who did not want to join our adventure (my husband was one of them). The oldest was about 81 and the youngest was in her low '60s. This was a facinating tour and I recommend it for all who enjoy a little education with their fun.

At the Shanghai Airport and Ready to Come Home

After leaving the ship in Yichang, we flew to Shanghai – the most modern city in China. The buildings are absolutely gorgeous high rises with beautiful architectural design. The highlight of this visit, however, was the Shanghai Acrobatic performers – absolutely gorgeous and amazing. We had terrific seats near the front and watched in awe as they contorted into pretzels and flawlessly stacked and climbed chairs higher and higher. We went to the hotel savoring the wonder of it all.....then at 3 AM, Marguerite woke up with terrible food poisoning – not sure where it came from but it was a dreadful 8 hours! Thank goodness we were in the hotel for two nights before the flight home. Gretchen spent the last day sightseeing in Shanghai while Marguerite stayed in bed to get well enough for the farewell dinner (a little soup for her was it!) and 17 hours in the air flying home. After clearing customs at LAX, we connected with George and Gar and Chandi for dinner – American food at TGI Friday’s – then Georgie, Margueritie, and Gretchen headed back to San Diego for the PM. Gretchen flew home to Atlanta Thursday AM – a wonderful time was had by all....

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