A month ago we were in China exploring, laughing and eating rice. I don't think I've had rice since we've returned. Or watermelon. Definitely no Chinese beer.
It feels like our adventure was a long time ago. Funny how the routine of regular life takes over. Except this week for us has not been normal. Two of the dogs were sprayed by a skunk so we are still dealing with the clean up of that stench. I digress...
I created this video of photos which brought back great memories of a fabulous trip.
I must start planning the next adventure!
Why is it snowing on May 4? This "winter" does not want to end. There are many reasons we live in Canada, the awesome weather is not one of them!
It’s the second day back home. There is laundry to do, groceries to buy and sleep to catch up on. I am thrilled to be able to brush my teeth with running water. Brushing my teeth with bottled water in China did make me aware of how much water I waste brushing my teeth.
China is a fascinating country. The people are very proud and hard working. It is an odd mix of communism and capitalism. One of our guides said if communism is symbolized by red and capitalism by white, China is pink.
As our first guide George put it, China is governed by one party and that is the communist party. Although they don’t call themselves communists. The government owns all the land in the country and they can make you move out of your home if they have other plans for the land. People do not vote in China. The president is chosen by a small group of government officials. The current president/chairman is Xi Jinping and he is trying to clean up all the corruption in the government. This is no small task. The Chinese government was notorious for spending lavishly on restaurants, hotels and celebrations. The hospitality industry has taken a hit since the new president has decided to get rid of the waste. This was to our advantage because high end hotels are now giving tour groups good rates. That’s why we stayed in the amazing Pan Pacific in Suzhou.
The Chinese are hard workers and incredibly industrious. They do not get many holidays and if there is money to be made, they work. Our guide told us the Chinese live to work vs. North Americans and Europeans who work to live. I wonder why? Why make a lot of money if you can’t enjoy it?
There are a lot of people in China! The one child/couple policy for population control is still in place but it has been relaxed a bit. Rural families can have a second child if the first one is a girl or disabled, if the parent was an only child they can have an additional child, twins are OK, foreigners are exempt, etc. The penalty fee for going against the policy is three times your last year's income.
We were told that it is illegal to find out the gender of a baby through an ultrasound, but if you know the right people… Having only one child creates other problems – the singletons are often very spoiled by parents and grandparents causing other social issues and because of the Chinese family structure of supporting generations, one adult child has the pressure to look after two or even three generations of parents/grandparents.
China allows 10 Hollywood movies in to the country/year. Of course all the movies are edited to Chinese standards of decency. Avatar was removed from the theater because the government was afraid it might evoke a revolt. Although the official message was that the movie might stifle the local film economy.
Other things I learned:
I am very glad to have had the opportunity to glimpse in to the Chinese culture. For me the ChinaPac tour was perfect. The guides were excellent and we didn't have to worry about anything - food, accommodation, transportation, admission to sites, group check in at the airport - everything was taken care of for us. Even a wake up call every morning. It was a trip I will never forget!
Traveling makes me realize that I am fortunate to be able to take time off to explore different places. And, we are very fortunate to live in Canada. Even with snow in May.
It's been a very long travel day(s).
We were up at 3.40 am Beijing time and out of the hotel by 4.45 am. Check in was a bit slow at the Beijing airport but everything went smoothly. The food on China Eastern is not great. It's actually really bad. We had about three hours to wait in Shanghai until the 11 hour flight to Vancouver. We were starving but couldn't find anything to eat while we waited so a few of us ended up getting 6 orders of fries and 2 cokes for $50. We had to use up our yuan.
I can't sleep on planes so I watched a couple movies and played Bejeweled - there are lots of things to do on the back of a plane seat these days.
We finally arrived home to our excited pack of mutts at about 5.00pm. It's been a 31 hour day so far. We are trying to stay awake for another hour and then take some melatonin and hopefully sleep through the night.
I will post more things we learned about China - that I couldn't post while we were in China - over the weekend. The government monitors and blocks 'controversial' topics from the internet. What warrants being controversial is up for debate. Many social media discussion outlets like Facebook, YouTube and other blogging forums (like Wordpress) are blocked. Oh, and Tibet. They don't like internet chatter about freeing Tibet.
I must get ready for bed. My eyes lids are heavy and I don't think the steam from green tea or Chinese beer can cure these panda eyes!
Happy May Day! Today is a national holiday in China, but everything is open so it didn't hinder our shopping.
Have you ever met a champion cricket fighter? I have. Mr. Liu aka Cricket Liu is #1 and an animated character! More on him in a bit.
Today was our last day in China and we made the most of it.
We visited the Temple of Heaven. It was built in 1430 after the emperor had a dream that he had to build a temple where the seven stars are. He sent his men to find the seven stars. They didn't know what to do so they lied and told him they found the seven stars (rocks) and the emperor built the temple on the spot. The temple is 5 times the size of the Forbidden City (which is ginormous) so we only saw a snippet. There were seniors in the park playing cards, knitting, exercising and sleeping. We even walked by a band playing Jingle Bells. This is not the first time we've heard Christmas music on this trip! We looked inside the Hall of Prayer for Harvest. This is where food is offered up to god. The emperors knew as long as the people had food there would be no revolt so it was important to keep the masses fed. I didn't like the story we were told about pouring boiling water in the live animals ears so they would scream and god would know the food was coming to him/her.
Visiting a hutong was next on our itinerary. A hutong is an old area of the city where families live somewhat communally. They are a labyrinth of small alleys that lead to living areas. Families share kitchens and bathrooms. The hutongs are passed down through the families. First we got to see in inside a sitting room of a hutong owned by the Wong's for 100 years. The Wong's made us a delicious cup of jasmine tea and gave us a small gift. They explained what it's like to live in a hutong. The best part was when the animated Mr. Liu (a hutong neighbor) explained cricket fighting and how he is #1. He has a lot of articles and magazines to prove his cricket fighting prowess, including the front page of an Olympic publication. We met Tiger, his prize cricket, two other nameless crickets, some babies and two grasshoppers. There is a lot that goes in to the sport - wedding rooms, wedding water dish, a dish for babies, fluffy sticks to move them so you don't break their delicate legs, a scale to weigh them pre-fight and because they only live 100 days...caskets for the crickets who have won a lot. Cricket fighting is serious business - you can win enough to buy houses, cars, etc. Fascinating. We then did a rickshaw tour through the alleys of the hutong. So cool and something to experience. Meeting the Wong's, Mr. Liu and the rickshaw tour were a definite highlight of the trip.
If you ever need someone to bargain for you, call Aunty Deb. We had so much fun watching her work her magic at the silk alley market. She even tied a scarf around one sales girl's neck. Many belly laughs. I heard a lot of - lady you want to buy a...fill in the blank for whatever knock off they were selling. We visited another market after the Silk Market but it wasn't as good. They barely put down their cell phones to look at us.
Tonight was our farewell Peking duck dinner. We learned how to wrap the duck in the rice paper wrap with our chopsticks. Brenda struggled as the photo below shows. Dinner was really good and the farewell speeches emotional. Tonight we pack, have a short sleep and we will leave the hotel at 4.45 am for the airport. It will be a long travel day.
This has been an amazing adventure. Lots of laughs, wonderful sites, some questionable smells. I really like China and I wasn't sure that I would. It is cleaner, safer and more organized than I expected. There is a lot of green space, they even plant roses down the middle of the road. Today it was a bit smoggy but the smog wasn't too bad while we here. The people are really friendly - they wave to us and hand over their babies for photos.
Thanks to my family, new friends, Rennie, Roman and the China Pac guides for an outstanding (but not relaxing) vacation! Simply the best.