I''ve never eaten so much white bread and rice in my life. I'll need carb detox.
I will openly admit that for most of my life I haven't liked Chinese food. My parents did, so I would pout and hope there would be a hamburger on the menu every time we had to go to a Chinese food restaurant. I wasn't coming to China for the cuisine. The food actually started out ok, took a turn for the bland and greasy but is better in Xian and Beijing. Breakfast is usually good because it's in our hotel and there is a variety of food - western, Chinese and European.
Lunch and dinner are always the same. Sit down at a round table that seats 10 with a large lazy Susan in the middle and plates of food randomly arrive. Actually first the glass of beer arrives and we do our toast. I like the beer better than coke or sprite - they are too sweet. There is always a pot of green tea. Sometimes the rice is first - sometimes last. The food is a lot greasier than I expected. Everything, even cooked bok choy or cabbage has a greasy after taste. In Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou all the food is deep fried and coated in some sort of sauce (either very bland or very sweet). As we moved to central and northern China the sauces got spicier and tastier. We are usually served flat, breaded meat that is fried. Some people think it's chicken. Some people think it's spam. Not a good sign if you can't differentiate between chicken and spam! We've had neck of some sort served - we could tell by the vertebrae.
One day at lunch we had a whole fish, head included,on the plate (breaded and fried of course) and coated with ketchup. Looked like a fish horror flick. We've had a plate full of small, greasy, unpeeled shrimp. The Chinese eat them with the peels on. As Aunty Deb said, we don't eat whiskers! Too many eyes on the table means I'll be eating rice and granola bars.
As I mentioned in the previous blog, the plates are saucer size that we eat off. We learned that Chinese do not put soya sauce on rice. We do.
At the end of the meal is watermelon slices or mandarin orange slices.
Smoking is allowed in restaurants. Sometimes there is a little box of Kleenex on the table.
The carpets and upholstered chairs are usually filthy no matter how good or fancy the restaurant is. Even if the chairs have chair covers, they are stained.
We noticed food inspection rating signs in the restaurants. There are three ratings - fail, pass and excellent. I've only seen two excellent and one was at Starbucks.
We are getting the food Chinese think is more palatable for North Americans. They don't eat like this. I haven't seen any obese Chinese.
I held off posting about the food and I'm glad I did because it is much better than the beginning of the trip. We don't go hungry, but it I won't want Chinese food for a while after this!
KFC is huge here. We only went once. This morning I had ice cream for breakfast. It's ok though because there is All Bran on top!
Overall I am grateful that the food is organized for us and we aren't trying to feed ourselves. Who knows what we would order. Other than an upset stomach one afternoon which I think was from being over tired, I haven't been sick from the food.
Jade, the Great Wall, Cloisonné, Giant Pandas, Olympic Sites and cheap glasses. Authentic China!
The highlight of the day was the trek up the Great Wall. It sounded easier in my mind than it actually was, but it was worth it. Even in 30 degree heat. At one point I had to say Holy, I'm in China climbing the Great Wall. Surreal. We went to the highest point that we could get to. We were pretty sweaty by the top. The kicker was two Chinese women made it to the same point we did - one was pregnant and the other one was carrying a baby. Neither was sweating. We had noodle legs by the time we got back to the bus. And later when I had to use a squat toilet my legs found it challenging!
The stairs on the wall are steep, worn and different sizes so you have to be careful. We had a casualty on the climb. Aunty Mary Lou twisted her ankle and is hobbling around. Aunty Pat and Aunty Deb sherpa-ed her down (I just made up a new verb). Aunty Mary Lou is a committed shopper and she is determined to make it through the Silk Market tomorrow. She's a trooper.
We learned about jade and cloisonné today. Jade is an important stone in the Chinese culture. There are 1200 different kinds of jade - jadeite is the best. Confucius said there are five virtues of jade- benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, courage and trust. He also said men must wear a piece of jade as a behavior corrector. James bought me a beautiful jade bracelet so his behavior does not need correcting today.
We saw the Great Pandas at the Beijing Zoo. I was hoping a big fluffy one with a piece of bamboo in its mouth would come up to the glass for a photo, but it didn't happen. Their backs are cute too. We saw some of the Olympic sites before dinner. Traffic in Beijing is crazy. At one point there was four layers of backed up traffic on the ring road. Dinner was in an authentic Chinese restaurant. That means no forks. And Chinese men smoking at the table. At every meal they give us a saucer size plate to eat off. It's odd.
Did you know that sticky rice was used in some parts of The Great Wall to keep the bricks together? I didn't. 50% of the people who built the wall died in the process. It's also known as the great grave site.
We left the hotel at 8.30 this morning and didn't return until after 9.30 pm. Another full day. There is a lot to see and do here so we are always on the go.
In a nut shell - there was ice cream at breakfast this morning, I love the bathroom in our hotel, Beijing has good food, it's getting busier the closer we get the May 1 (a national holiday), willow trees add mystique to scenery, some tree is producing a lot of fluff, watch out for the dragon lady, warm beer is also good for panda eyes, I like gold pearls, women from southern China are like jade and the northern women are like pearls, ziggy-zaggy chanting at dinner followed by a rousing round of O Canada is good fun and Kung fu monks are entertaining.
Let me expand. This Marriott Hotel is awesome. The breakfast buffet has great variety. The bathroom has a wall of windows so lots of light and it's spa-like.
Our first stop this morning was the Summer Palace. The palace has a large clear lake (that produces pearls) and stunning views. We learned a lot about the Dragon Lady today (of the last Qing Dynasty). She liked power and to spend money. And she wasn't very nice.
Next stop, the pearl factory. I didn't know that gold pearls existed. They do. And they're expensive.
We spent most of the afternoon walking around Tian An Men Square and the Fordidden City (the massive compound of the emperor). The emperor had 3,000 concubines and 10,000 servants so it had to be big! The courtyards and buildings go on forever. It was warm today and we saw a bit of blue sky. I must watch The Last Emperor when I get home. We saw the building it was shot in. The history is fascinating. The last emperor (who was very young) was allowed to live in the forbidden city for a while after the revolution but he had to leave the palace in 1920's so the government could change it to a museum. He spent time in jail in Russia and China. The last time he went to the palace in 1964, he had to buy a ticket to enter.
At dinner there were a couple of tables of French students. For some reason they did a chant when their food came. That prompted Aunty Mary Lou to get her table to chant. And the fun began. Our whole section of the restaurant was doing the wave and we ended with O Canada.
This evening we went to a really interesting performance, the Legends of Kung Fu. It was a combination of martial arts, dance and acrobatics. It was high energy and great to watch.
I've got a bit of a head cold and the NyQuil is kicking in.
Tip of the day from our guide - 'the street food is good and cheap but your stomach is not made in China.' True.
Xian is an interesting city and has a lot of history. This morning after breakfast we walked to the city wall which is 600 years old. There are 72 emperor mausoleums in Xian because of the ideal burial feng shui - mountains facing the back and the sea at the feet.
There are three major dynasties to remember.
1. Qin (pronounced Chin)- Built the Great Wall and terra cotta warriors, conquered 6 areas to make a unified region.
2. Han - opened the Silk Road, introduced trade and cultural exchange, made paper and created the nation. This is also the dynasty that cherished women with small feet. Girls had their feet bound until their late teens to inhibit growth. 92% of Chinese are Han people.
3. Tang - Things like eating, concubines, low cut dresses represent the dynasty. Small feet are no longer in vogue. The population reached 1 million during the dynasty. They likely did more than eat and show a lot of cleavage but our guide didn't mention it.
The Terra Cotta warriors were one of the reasons I wanted to take this trip and I wasn't disappointed. Over 8000 warriors total (each with a different face we were told) in the three pits. Some are headless and some are still in the recovery stage. All very unique and interesting. I love the warriors they are working on. You can see the broken pieces and the amount of puzzle work and glue it takes to get them to look like a soldier. The farmer who discovered the warriors - while trying to dig a well on March 31,1974 - was at the museum signing and dating books. I got a book but not a photo. If you take his photo it's ¥20. The museum opened in August 1979 but didn't receive much international attention until 1998 when President Bill & Hillary Clinton visited Xian with the purpose to see the warriors and meet the farmer on a trip to China.
There are a lot of people trying to sell you boxes of low quality figurines as you are wandering around the museum. Watching uncle Rick barter for a package of warriors was a highlight. He didn't want the warriors, he wanted to play the game. Bartering is a sport here.
Before the warriors we visited the art ceramic and lacquer factory. Lacquer trees grow in the area. If you have a baby girl you plant a lacquer tree and when she marries you make her furniture from it. If you don't want lacquer furniture, you can have a full size terra cotta warrior made with your face. I was thinking that my parents would like a warrior version of me in their garden, but the shipping would have been pretty steep. The silk duvet from Suzhou will have to do.
We watched a creepy mannequin make delicious noodle soup for lunch. Xian definitely has the best food on this trip so far! Our time in Xian was short but full of history and amazing sites.
We flew to Beijing this evening and we are back in a 5 star hotel - a Marriott. With a Starbucks in the lobby.
Oh, another tip, never give a Chinese man a green hat. It means his wife is having an affair. Unless of course his wife is having an affair.
Give us a rice-less meal with some flavour and protein and we are happy! Tonight we had a dumpling feast and it was the first meal we've had since we came that we cleaned up all the food on the table. We had at least a dozen different kinds of dumplings artfully pinched to represent what's inside - pork, duck, fish. Following the dumplings we watched a Tang Dynasty Show. It was entertaining but nothing like our show last night.
This morning our tour guide, George, got us checked in at the Hangzhou airport and posed for a green bus group photo before leaving for home. We'll have a different guide in Xian. Our flight was delayed because of air traffic so we arrived in Xian, the cultural capital of China, at about 2.30 pm. We decided to skip lunch so that we could visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Grand Mosque. The pagoda is about 1400 years old but you are not allowed to climb it. It was interesting to see the monks and people burning incense to make a wish to Buddha. The park area around the pagoda is beautiful. I got my photo with my zodiac sign, the dog. James will posts the photo on his blog.
There are about 100,000 Muslims in Xian. The mosque (this is a male mosque - the female one is down the street) is very old and does not look like a traditional mosque. The most fascinating part was the walk to the mosque through a street that seemed to be dedicated to food on a stick and a very crowded market area - known for pick pockets. Walking through was a real experience for the senses!
Aunty Pat requested that I mention in the blog today that Aunty Deb (absent mindedly) left her purse (with passport) at breakfast this morning. Total panic when she realized it was missing. When they finally found the purse all the zippers were opened. Luckily it seems like nothing is missing. Whew! We like Aunty Deb and would hate to leave her in Hangzhou. No police involved.
Who would have thought that we would be eating KFC and DQ in Hangzhou? Dinner was "on our own" tonight and we didn't want Chinese. So popcorn chicken + an Oreo blizzard = dinner tonight. However, our day was much more exciting than that.
The excitement started with a drive in to the West Lake district. It felt like we were entering another enchanted world. The city quickly turned in to a forest with huge trees and then a big lake. It's very lush and green.
Our first adventure was aboard a boat for a cruise around the lake. We shared a boat with tourists from Hong Kong. At first they shyly asked to take our photos. By the end of the trip there were group photos and it was like they were part of our family. They were so cute and they were really dressed up for the boat ride.
We drove a bit more in to the tea farming area - Lonjing (Dragon Well) Plantation. As an aside, our guide told us that all youth in high school have to spend 10-15 days working on a farm so they learn to respect food and where it comes from. The tea grows up the mountain and this area is very famous for award winning green tea. This time of year produces the best tea. We learned about and tried the famous dragon well tea. So good. We also learned about the benefits of green tea and saw a shocking demonstration about how it quickly detoxes. I need to drink more green tea.
After lunch we climbed the 6 Harmonies Pagoda all the way to the top...and we have the stamps to prove it. Amazing how high up we were. The clouds and fog made every thing look very mysterious. Stunning views and steep stairs. Good training for the Great Wall. I rubbed Buddhas belly so I am anticipating good luck.
We had 3 hours to explore a market in the area. I didn't catch the name. This market has been here for over 800 years. Some of the current stores are 200 years old. Some areas of the market have a distinct/unpleasant smell. Kind of like fried liver drenched in sugar but worse. It was interesting to see the street food. Lots of things on sticks like sugar syrup candy crab apples, chicken and shelled crabs. We saw part of the copper museum and the famous copper statue of Buddha with 100 boys.
Tonight we watched the most amazing show on the West Lake produced by the same person who did the Beijing opening ceremonies. The show is called Impression West Lake. It's hard to describe but the lake, forest, mountains and pagoda are the stage for a beautiful love story. The story is based on the real story of butterfly lovers and white snake lady. Except this story is not as tragic...the couple got married in the end. The stage is under water, the forest is lit up and the costumes and staging were spectacular. If you ever visit Hangzhou, you should definitely go! I had one of those moments where I thought, wow - I'm in China watching the most stunning performance take place on water. Life is good!
Another full day in China. We are in Hangzhou now - we left Suzhou by bus this afternoon after a full day.
After a decent buffet breakfast this morning (although I couldn't believe Aunty Mary Lou willing took noodles from the buffet!) we walked the hotel grounds. We were told there was a garden that our hotel key would grant us access to. A secret garden? We're in! They were amazing. Pagodas, koi, people doing tai chi, a group of seniors singing, caves with waterfalls, bridges and roses in bloom. Very different from our walks in Edmonton. It's nice to see so much green! Our walk in the garden was so peaceful and definitely one of the trip highlights so far.
We learned that Chinese retire in their late 50's and because they are so young they like to stay active. If they have grandchildren, they will help to care for the children. You will also find them in the public parks ballroom dancing, singing, doing tai chi, stretching with fans (this might be some form of tai chi- I don't know), or like we saw this morning, busting a move to some modern music. It's awesome to see.
We checked out of the gorgeous Suzhou Pan Pacific and headed to Master of Nets Garden. The walk to the garden took us through a side street area which was fascinating. The garden was lovely and interesting. We saw intricately carved ginkgo furniture, carved stone entrances, a tiger's burial site, a 500 year old pomegranate bonsai tree and another tree that was 900 years old. Truthfully the 900 year old tree didn't look like there was a lot of life left in it.
I must admit I didn't know much about silk before this trip, but a visit to the silk factory cured that. Suzhou is known for their silk production. Silk worms need to eat mulberry tree leaves and mulberry trees grow in Suzhou. We learned about the life cycle of the silk worm and how the cocoons are turned in to silk. The pupae become some sort of Chinese Viagra. We also learned about how the double cocoons can't be used for silk making so instead of wasting them, they are used to make silk duvets. James even got to try pulling the silk for the duvets. The silk in Suzhou is high quality and so soft. We bought a duvet (not the one that James stretched) and it is being shipped home. It'll be a surprised when it arrives in a couple months.
After lunch we had a boat ride along the grand canal. This is the old town area. Until about 15 years ago people used to throw everything in the river and do their laundry in it. It was interesting to see the houses on the water. They claim Suzhou is the Venice of the East. Apparently along the canal is where young love hangs out. And we bought some Tiger Balm on the boat. Odd?
Hangzhou is considered a medium sized city at a population of 7 million. Our hotel in Hangzhou is nice but only a 4 star. We prefer the 5 star we were in yesterday. We are right next door to a WalMart Supercentre. Very different than home. They sell chicken feet.
I'll start with the laws. There seems to be a law for everything here. Did you know it's illegal to swim in a public pool without a bathing cap? It is. The people here are very smart and they usually find loop holes in the laws so the government makes another law. I'm not sure if there is a loop hole in the bathing cap law - we didn't go swimming.
This morning we started off high above the city. We rode the Jin Mao Tower elevator up 88 stories to see the stunning views of the city. We visited a silk rug factory which was interesting. It's an intricate art form and expensive to buy. Some of the carpets take 13 months to weave. We poked around the Shanghai museum - lots of interesting old masks, ceramics, bronze pieces, furniture, etc.
For our last bit of time in Shanghai, we made a brief stop at Nanjing Road. It is a very cool shopping area with lots of people to watch. I wish we could have stayed longer. We did find a Starbucks and got a Shanghai mug.
We are now in Suzhou at the most amazing hotel - Suzhou Pan Pacific. I'll have to explore in the morning before we check out. Tonight we went out for a bit and stumbled on a couple great bakeries and the oddest hair contraption we've ever seen. It looked like a torture device from the Middle Ages. We learned that Suzhou girls have the reputation of being the prettiest so they must take their beauty parlour time seriously! Actually we found out one reason they have the reputation is because they put sugar in meat when they cook it and thus are considered sweet. I won't get started on the food yet. I'll save that for another day.
We've done a lot since we left Vancouver - except get much sleep. It's all good though - there's so much to see here!
After an uneventful flight we were met at the airport by our Chinapac guides and whisked away to dinner. We hadn't slept in over 24 hours so dinner wasn't high on our list of priorities. It was good to stay awake plus James and uncle Daryl had birthday cake. They were kind of shorted - with the time change they only got a partial birthday.
Today we walked the Bund, visited the Yuan gardens, had dim sum lunch, rode the Maglev train (floats above the tracks and goes 300+ km/ hour), had dinner and went to an acrobat show.
Shanghai has some stunning architecture and the buildings are lit up at night. The government pays for them to be lit from 7 - 10 pm. There are a lot of people (30 million) and a lot of apartments. And laundry drying on the balconies.
I've learned that I like lotus root, squat toilets aren't so bad and uncle Rick can run fast holding two beer with traffic nipping at his heals.
We made it to Vancouver. The family is all here and comparing suitcase weight. The winner is Aunty Deb at 20 pounds. Aunty Pat claims the granola bars she brought to sustain us in China are weighing her down.
Had a wonderful Easter dinner at Garth & Anita's. Just before we left for dinner, the police were here questioning Aunty Pat. She accidentally called 911 and they take that pretty seriously. Hopefully that's our last encounter with police this trip. I'm not curious to witness the inner workings of the Chinese justice system.
The hotel is close to the airport and I can hear the planes taking off. That will be us in a few hours.