Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Beijing - The Forbidden Palace

Sorry about this post only being pictures. I have experienced a few blogging problems I hope to resolve. Lost my beijing post except for pictures thanks to Sean's help. But you are saved from my ramblings today. The picture of the food is Peking duck - yummy. The forbidden palace is where the emperor and his family would live - including his concubines (mistresses). Cannot imagine living with my husband's mistresses - must have been one fun household!

Beijing - Zoo

Today I got up early and took a bus to the beijing zoo - only 1 yen (15 cents) for a 20 minute adventure but I found the zoo and saw the pandas (another tick on my bucket list) and got back to my hotel without too much drama.  I am off to shanghai this afternoon by bullet train. It takes 4 hours and 48 minutes and travels at a speed of 330km - well maybe a little less once the weight from my luggage is factored in! See you in shanghai . . .

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Yangshou-gangzhou-Singapore-Bangkok-koh Samui

Sorry ignore the last post it is missing pictures and was only a draft version (hit the wrong button). I will be leaving china tomorrow and will start uploading my blogs but I thought you would enjoy my story.
When I decided to come to Yangshou I did some research about getting flights out of this area using staff travel with Jetstar. I figured out that Jetstar flies out of gangzhou and there is a bus from Yangshou which i thought would be a couple of hours. Great gangzhou to Singapore to Bangkok to koh Samui about 10 - 12 hours travel time.
NOT the bus ride is 10 hours and then about 8 hours in flights not to mention the time between flights - this little adventure will be over 24 hours - oh well I save one nights hotel accommodation.
Last thoughts about china - I would not come here alone again as it is really helpful and more comfortable (not to mention cheaper) if you have a travel companion especially with the language barrier. China is a country of over one billion people and you can understand why they need to control the population The young people do not seem to mind this as they would rather quality rather than quantity. There is still the rule of one child unless you are in the country and if you have a girl first you can have another child but you must pay a fee to the government. Someone told me you can have more than two if you want to pay a fee but I am not sure this is true.
Family generations still live together and lots of grandparents babysit while the parents work. Like most of Asia they don't have much of a middle class - lots of poor and lots of rich. The rich do not help subsidize the poor in any way. The best thing the government has done for the economy was
to open to the west - the tourist industry and western companies have helped many of the population go from starving to the ability to feed, house, cloth and educate their families. The surprise to me is that it seems Canada has more social services programs than china especially for the poor and disabled - guess that is why many want to come to Canada. The young people want the same gadgets and opportunities as those in the west. Although they have an unrealistic view of our lifestyle because of Hollywood - often the first thing they ask is how much do you earn - they don't want to hear about the taxes we pay or the cost of mortgage payments.
The customer service has a long way to go here. It was difficult to get use to people being in your personal space all the time and think
nothing of pushing in front of you - nothing personal just part of the culture. The following probably sums it up best for a country of over a billion people:
There is a question on the driver's test here - When you want to pass a car which side do you pass on? Answer: Any space available.
I am very thankful to have this opportunity to learn about china and it's history - although at times difficult overall a fabulous experience.

Friday, May 25, 2012


I do not seem to be able to load any of my blogs while in china. I am wondering if it is due to the inclusion of to many photos and the wireless signal is not strong enough to handle the blogs with that or the chinese government are censoring my travels.
I am going to try and post this blog and if it works I just want to let everyone know that the china blogs along with pictures will start coming as soon as I leave China! Stay tuned . . . I am alive and safe!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Beijing - The Great Wall

I hired a car and tour guide to take me to The Great Wall and Summer Palace as they are both outside of Beijing.
They picked me up at 6:30 am to avoid the Beijing morning traffic and we arrived at the Jiayguan pass by 8 am (about 50 km drive away). Well now I can tick another bucket list item - the Great Wall is truly impressive and looked just how I imagined. The first part of the wall was built in 1417 and was added to during the Ming Dynasty. When it was completed it was 8800 km long and used for defense and migration control. The wall was built from brick, stone and mud - some of it is in need of repair and therefore is closed to the public. Apparently the wall is visible from the moon. It was a much more strenuous climb than I anticipated so I was very glad to be doing the climb in the early morning. However when I got to the top my stomach was upset and there were no washrooms up there. The last public toilet I remembered seeing was half way down. I got there much faster than it took me to climb up only to find there were no western toilets, only Muslim toilets which are a hole in the ground - you know they say when you gotta go, you gotta go!
You will notice some of my pictures are with random Chinese people. For some reason they keep asking to have their picture taken with me. When I asked my tour guide about this she said many of them are from small towns in china and rarely see white women my age - oh to be so popular! On the climb up i only saw asians however on the way back the bus loads of tourists were starting their climb. I arrived back at the van at 9:30 - great climb (except for the washroom incident) and incredible views.
My tour guide was telling me how much china has changed over the last 15 years - for example the whole country now has electricity - her village did not get electricity until 1996! By the way Internet is very poor here and I can upload my blogs to the Internet however you cannot view blogs from china on the Internet nor can you get into Facebook!
Next it was off to the summer palace. This is outside of Beijing on a man made lake where the emperor and family would go during the summer months. The summer palace area is 29 sq km. of palaces, gardens, bridges, temples and a long outdoor covered corridor all in classical Chinese architecture. The summer palace is a world heritage site and is truly a magnificent place. You can easily imagine the emperor's family wondering these beautiful grounds. Sean and Aaron take note they had a palace built for the emperor's mother! This site sees between 20,000-50,000 visitors per day.
According to my tour guide the price of the private tour is subsidized by different retailers so she will take me to visit them. I find it hard to believe because I paid the equivalent to $60 plus all my own admissions and tolls plus paid for her lunch! We went to Chinatown in beijing for lunch (and I thought the whole city was a Chinatown).
So we visited the jade factory, the silk factory, the tea house and the Olympic wellness centre. I had no intentions of buying anything but the sales people are relentless and kept dropping the prices when I wasn't purchasing. So let's say I am now helping china's economy. Marianne i do not need you to purchase me excess baggage yet! The government Olympic wellness centre is located very close to the 2008 Olympic stadium. They give you a 'free' foot massage but then tell you that your feet need to be scaled and that will cost equivalent to $15. Then they have the Chinese medicine doctor read your palm to check on your health condition like they do with Olympic athletes (are they confusing me with an athlete). Anyway apparently my kidneys are not working, I have a bad stomach (this guy should have been with me at the wall for my little episode) and I have extremely poor circulation. Boys get that box ready cause it sounds like I am on the way out! Don't get me wrong i do believe chinese medicine has some value. However i knew they were going to try and sell me something - guess what - they have some Chinese medicines that can help me (the stuff comes from the Tibet monks - OMG!)
The medicine for my kidneys will cost about $40 for a one month supply and the medicine for everything else will be $90 for one month but I will need to go on these medications for at least three months and of course they can sell me the supply. When I did not bite the price dropped and I could get two months for the price of one! Wonder if my new retirement extended health plan will cover this? When I told them I had my own Chinese medicine doctor at home and I would be sure to go see him they were not too happy with me but could not say much except he might not be able to get the special Tibet medicine! Spare me please! I told the tour guide I would not purchase anything else today so there was no need to take me to the pearl factory! I got dropped off at my hotel - what a day!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


After a flight from chiang mai to bangkok, overnite in bangkok then flight to singapore then another one to beijing - i arrived safely at 1am in the morning! Beijing means 'northern peace' and has a population of 20 million people (more than half the population of Canada). Beijing is one of the most populous cities in the world. The language spoken in mainland china is mandarin (in hong kong it is Cantonese). I have come across very few people who speak English - for the most part any English is very minimal. Therefore it makes getting around the city somewhat of a challenge as reading mandarin is not my strong point. However i have learned to say hello, thank you and i love you in mandarin (must ensure i don't get these mixed up and tell the people in the markets that i love them). As you can imagine land is a precious commodity here so everyone lives in apartments (no houses). In the mid 70's i visited both east germany and Czechoslovakia during soviet rule and found them to be very bleak and restrictive. To my surprise beijing feels like any western city and i hardly know i am in a communist country (at least the kind i remember from the 70's). Everyone is very westernized with computers and cell phones, McDonald's and KFC but more than that the people look happy and free to get on with their lives, although they always seem like the are raising their voices at one another but i think that is just the language. There is however a lack of ability to upload blogs so i may not be uploading any until I leave china (I will keep trying). The weather here is like a Toronto springtime with the days sunny and in the mid twenties- very pleasant for walking around. The traffic is crazy here and to help control the unbelievable congestion there are certain days of the week you cannot drive your car such as if your license number ends in a 7 you cannot drive your vehicle on tuesday's. Every three months the days of the week are changed. Another interesting fact I found out was during the 2008 Olympics the Chinese government would only issue visa's to those who were associated with the games or had tickets to the games so apparently there were less tourists than normal during that time.
Yes there is pollution but in my view no more than hong kong or Bangkok. The is very clean and actually a nice walkable place. I am staying in one of the City's Hutong areas. Hutong means narrow streets. So I am located in a nice Chinese hotel in the old part of Beijing outside the narrow alley is full of people, vegetable stalls and Chinese restaurants. The best part is I am around the corner from the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
Also the lovely Jingshan Park is at the end of the road with its lovely flowers, a lookout that has some of the best views of the city (including views of the forbidden city). The day I was at the park I managed to get a picture of people dancing to music. Lots of elderly people seem to socialize in the park.
Around the corner from my hotel is the Forbidden City the down side is there is only the exit on the north side and you have to walk to the south side for the entrance (approx 2km)- oh well I am getting exercise. Across the street from the Forbidden City is Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen means 'gateway to Heaven'. The square is massive and can hold up to one million people. It is the largest open urban square in the world. There are magnificent gateways on the south side of the square and beautiful garden areas adorning the east and west sides. The square is surrounded by the great hall of the people, the national museum of china and the working people's cultural palace. I spent so much time walking around the square I did not leave myself enough time to visit the forbidden palace so I will have to leave that for another day.
So far the food is much like eating Chinese food in Victoria dumplings, won ton soup, noodle dishes and soups - I do hope to try some Peking Duck.