For some time now, our buddy Petey has been wanting to visit his ancestral homeland in China. And since we were planning to take a break from blogging anyway, he asked us if we'd like to accompany him on a trip halfway around the world. Our answer? "You bet!"
So we all filled out our Chinese visa applications, kept our fingers crossed that the Chinese authorities would not be concerned that Petey might cause some panda-monium in their country, and breathed a big sigh of relief when our visas came through. We set off in mid-May on a tour of China that would start in Beijing and take us on a 4,000-mile loop through the country, ending up two weeks later in Shanghai. It all began with a 14-hour, nonstop flight from Dulles to Beijing that took us over the North Pole; we think we even saw Santa waving up at us. (Or perhaps that was the effects of the
Our first evening in Beijing, we walked over to the Square to watch the daily flag lowering ceremony at sunset. It was a very impressive event. A platoon of soldiers marched over from the Forbidden City, and the flag was lowered and meticulously folded. Even more impressive, the moment the ceremony ended, the soldiers from the People's Liberation Army immediately ushered the thousands of onlookers out of the Square, and locked it down for the night. Welcome to China.
A few days later we returned to the Square in the daytime, and then headed across the street to the gates of the Forbidden City. Is there a more iconic symbol of Beijing than this? It was a pretty amazing sight for a couple of baby boomers. Chairman Mao is revered in China, and we're told that young people are taught very little about the Cultural Revolution from Chinese history books. According to our guide, international news networks like CNN and BBC are not allowed to be broadcast in people's homes, and the nightly news on Chinese TV consists only of "happy news."
Inside the gates, the Forbidden City looks like this. As impressive as those sites were, our visits to the Great Wall were a dream come true. Petey and the BCs first climbed the Great Wall at Mutianyu, a couple of hours outside Beijing. It was a spectacular day!
And then a few days later, we climbed another section of the Wall, at Badaling. Here, the Wall was so steep in places you literally had to pull yourself up using the handrail. But the views -- and the experience -- were definitely worth the effort!
Another stop on the Beijing part of our itinerary: the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests inside the Temple of Heaven Park, where only the Emperor could worship. The wood building was constructed without a single nail.
Each morning, scores of retirees gather throughout the Temple of Heaven Park. They can be found singing, dancing, practicing Tai Chi, stretching, playing chess, doing calisthenics. So very unlike any park in America. It was a very happy place; we joined in a line dance, and we could easily have spent the day there. Beijing is a fascinating city, with lots of green space and water.
Though Petey's a vegetarian, the BCs are not. So while Petey ordered room service, we enjoyed Peking Duck . . . in
Archeologists believe there are 5,000 or more Warriors still buried. (Xi'an itself, unfortunately, is a depressing and terribly polluted city where, even on a "sunny" day, you cannot see the sky, just a thick grayish haze.)
From Xi'an, we flew Sichuan Airlines (really) to Chongqing, where we boarded a riverboat for a five-night cruise down the Yangtze, the world's third longest river. (Bonus points if you can name the two longer rivers without using a search engine.)
Along the way we visited old pagodas . . .
. . . and met young children at a local elementary school.
Our river cruise took us through the five step locks of the Three Gorges Dam, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain (our only rain-day of the entire trip, fortunately). It was awesome!
Life along the river was fascinating; so much to see . . . gorges, towns, cities, commercial shipping, dams, people fishing, people doing laundry.
The river is a very vital part of life in this area of China.
Meals on board were served family style at large tables. Here's Petey with some of his new friends, enjoying boiled milk and beancurd.
Petey didn't get to see Tai Shan on this visit, but he did visit a Chinese panda nursery.
Our trip ended in Shanghai, along the beautiful Huangpu River. Shanghai is a city of modern skyscrapers, so very different than all the other cities we visited in China.
Photo Credits: DC BasketCases