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23 Days in China - The Trip Report Begins!


May 5th, 2008, 02:55 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2007
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23 Days in China - The Trip Report Begins!

Between one faithful Fodorite who keeps telling me she can't wait to read my TR and knows it will be fabulous, to Rebecca (the student who served as our Hangzhou interpreter) who thinks I should take my TR and publish it I'm under the gun not just to produce a TR, but to produce an amazing, award-winning publishable account of our trip. It has been almost two weeks since we have returned and having just gotten over the much touted and definitely real eastward-bound killer jet lag and started to catch up on the piles of work that accumulated while I was gone (I hate when work gets in the way of travel activity!, I will now embark on the story of our travels. I hope that you will enjoy our tale and that you will benefit from our experiences half as much as I gained from your accounts and advice in the months leading up to our trip. Special thanks to ekscrunchy, shanghainese, marksfour, ellyse, and Peter N-H and a general thank you to the countless travelers who have taken the time and trouble to answer questions on these threads and to write up their own trips for the edification of all readers.

Planning and Preparation
“Thinking about traveling China independently. Am I crazy?”I didn’t make that up – honest! It’s the heading on a post on the Frommers Travel Talk section posted by a woman in February of this year considering an independent trip to China. I hadn’t always planned to travel independently in China. After years of receiving brochures for tours, and considering the ages of my husband and myself (60’s) and the lack of ability to speak Mandarin, I had always thought a tour would be required. When I started to research the trip in earnest (spending quite a lot of time on the Frommers website reading about the various tour companies), I also took a look at Fodors. Much to my surprise, several individuals on that website recommended traveling to China without a tour group. Most influential in my planning, was the long, wonderful trip report by ekscrunchy, in which she described the marvelous time she had in Beijing and Shanghai (including what sounded like delicious eating and great shopping, all on her own schedule). I was hooked. If she could travel without a tour, so could we. Plus, I wanted to eat and shop the way she had and not in large group banquet-style dining and factory stores on the run. I then began to read travel blogs and other trip reports, all of which reinforced my plan to travel independently.

Once that decision was made, I immersed myself in books about China (I read relevant sections of every major travel guide) and spent countless hours on the internet reading travel blogs, questions and answers, and trip reports on the Fodors, Frommers, Trip Advisor, and sometimes the Lonely Planet chat sections. As I read, I copied whatever seemed worthwhile and cut and pasted from the internet into word files that grew to hundreds of pages of material, organized into sections on the various places we would visit. (These were later edited down into working files and placed in labeled sections in file folder for trip use). I also read every book about food in China I could find along with Fried Eggs with Chopsticks (Polly Evans sometimes hilarious account of a trip she took through China, Wuhu Diary (Emily Prager’s intensely personal, wonderful story of how she and her four-year old adopted Chinese daughter returned to the city of her daughter’s birth), and Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China (Paul Thereux’s tale of riding the rails in China in the 1980’s). All of these books gave me a much better understanding of Chinese culture and customs.

As first-time China travelers who are not panda-focused, (in fact not all that interested in Pandas, I must admit) we quickly settled on Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Yangshuo. The next big decision was Yangste cruise or not. For me, that should have been a no-brainer, since I have taken over 20 cruises in the last 12 years, but in the end I opted to skip the Yangste cruise. It’s not that I didn’t want that experience, it’s just that we had to be back in less than a month, we were moving around a great deal, and to squeeze a cruise into that itinerary would have created an even choppier, more harried travel experience. Since even this much travel was probably too much, in my opinion (although hard to avoid) I decided not to add the cruise (and its attendant flights to additional cities and its attendant expense). I was convinced that maybe that particular cruise is not what it once was and that extra time to unwind and relax in Yangshuo would be a good substitute. It was a hard decision, and I let go of the cruise with reluctance. Having been to China and chatted with folks who did the cruise along the way, I would consider adding it to a future itinerary. That said, I developed the following itinerary:

March 31 – Fly NYC – Hong Kong
April 1-4 Hong Kong
April 4-6 Hangzshou
April 6-10 Shanghai (with day trip to Suzhou)
April 10-11 Xi’an
April 11 Deluxe Soft Sleeper Train from Xi’an to Beijing
April 12-16 Beijing
April 16 Fly to Guilin; Drive to Yangshuo
April 16- 20 Yangshuo
April 20-21 Longji Rice Terraces
April 21 – Travel to Guilin
April 22 Fly to Shenzhen and travel to Hong Kong
April 23 Fly home from Hong Kong to NY
We did a circular itinerary starting and ending in Hong Kong with the season in mind – moving primarily South to North as the weather warmed, with a restful and relaxing break in Yangshuo (on our way back to Hong Kong) scheduled before returning to our regular somewhat frenetic lives. I initially had Shanghai followed by Hangzhou and changed it around to accommodate a visit to a school, which needed to be during the week.
I don’t think anyone pointed it out in the months before our trip and I’m not sure when the switch happened – it probably was sometime after the Lunar New Year travel week – but it resulted in my biggest mistake - not realizing that the formerly localized grave sweeping holiday of April 4 (because it was Leap Year) had been turned into a national holiday weekend by the government this year to spread out the holidays more evenly during the year. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have scheduled a visit to one of the most popular Chinese tourist spots for a major holiday weekend and I certainly would not have scheduled travel for Friday, April 4th. A quick note: Throughout this report I will refer to “we.” “We” did, indeed, make this trip, but all decisions were made by me (with the exception of a few days when DH opted out of the scheduled activity – as noted.) This was my trip – one long planned and given to myself as a 60th birthday present. My DH accompanied me (and was a great travel companion!), but traveling is not his pleasure and given the choice, he would have stayed home. I do think that on the whole, he enjoyed the trip and found China as fascinating as I did.
I booked all our internal flights on Ctrip, waiting until about two weeks before departure to try and get low fares and accurate schedules. I know it might have been possible to get lower fares by waiting until the last minute and using Chinese travel agents in China, but that would have caused me angst, taken up valuable time, and for a first trip, just didn’t seem like a good option. Off season maybe I would have attempted it, but as it was, I did wait and I did use a Chinese discount online agency for the flights.
I researched hotels on Trip Advisor and booked them as close to departure as possible after checking and re-checking prices. I used AsiaRooms for the Salisbury YMCA, elong for the HNA Huagang, and Ctrip for all of the other hotels except the Li River Resort, which was booked directly online. Before booking any room, I researched multiple websites and used the lowest price offered at the time of booking.
Part I - Our Trip Begins in Hong Kong
Monday, March 31-Tuesday, April 1 - The Continental flight from Newark to Hong Kong was uneventful and not as difficult as I feared. Over the course of 16 hours I slept, ate three meals, read, did crossword puzzles, and watched three movies. DH listened to his ipod. We arrived at Chek Lap Kok Airport just a few minutes late at 7:15 p.m. on April 1 and quickly went through immigration (long line but it moves fast) and baggage retrieval and customs. Be aware that there are two spots where you can purchase Octopus cards, one inside and one out in the main arrivals hall at the special kiosk near the exit to the express train If you want to pay by credit card, you must use the one outside. ATM machines are out there and the lines were short which meant we were on our way in quick order. The exit for the airport buses is in the middle of the terminal and as reported elsewhere, for the A-21 you walk down the ramp and go to the right. If you have an Octopus card you do not need to purchase a ticket… just jump right on, put your card up to the reader (HK$33 for me and half price for DH), leave your bags in the bag holder, and find a seat for the ride to Kowloon. We were on our way to the Salisbury YMCA, where I had booked a room several months in advance of our trip since I knew it can be full.) One little mistake, stops 14 and 15 came in such quick succession and nobody got off at 14, that we didn’t get off in time, but it was only a few extra blocks to the next stop and then we walked back on Salisbury Road to the hotel, where we quickly checked in and were pleased to find our room completely as advertised. The Salisbury is very popular because it has one of the best locations in HK (steps from the Star Ferry reached via an underpass), close to Nathan Road shopping, with a view of the harbor that is hard to beat. We had a partial-view room and enjoyed the changing harbor scene. Feeling fairly awake and in need of some exercise, we set out for Canton Road, strolled along checking out the large malls that run together here (cosmetics, cosmetics, and more cosmetics along with every upscale vendor you can think of – not my kind of shopping, but interesting to browse). I had my eye out for a noodle place people had recommended (Happy Garden), but either I had the address wrong or it’s gone, because I couldn’t find it. We eventually ended up eating Hong Kong dumplings and noodle soup in a cheap, local spot on Parke Street (I lost the card, but it could have been Mak’s or one of its competitors – I looked for a place that had lots of customers) wandered around checking out some of the night market in the area, and then called it an early evening and went back to the hotel for some sleep.
Tuesday, April 2 - The Hong Kong plan was simple – we had two full days, one for Hong Kong Island and one for Kowloon. After checking the weather report, we opted for Kowloon the first day (gray with sprinkles) and hoped that it would clear as promised for the afternoon of the second day, when we hoped to go to the Peak. After eating a piece of fruit from our fruit basket and drinking some tea in the room, first on my list for Tuesday was dim sum. Since we were in Kowloon, we headed for Tao Heung in the Silvercord Mall (2367 1328 3/F., Carnavon Plaza, 20-20C, Carnavon Road),The dim sum was wonderful. There were no carts, but if you know what you like the order forms have numbers and after perusing the menu which had English and matching up the numbers, I ordered an assortment including Rice Roll, Shrimp and Chive Rice Roll, BBQ Pork Bun, Premium Siu Mei, Steamed Glutinous Rice and Chicken, Steamed Shrimp Dumplings “Tao Heung,” Steamed Dumplings “Chiu Chow Style,” and Egg Custard Cake. Prices per dish ranged from 6.80 to 11.80 HKD.
Since we got there about 10:30, we paid the breakfast price and the entire brunch came to 124 HKD (about $16), one of the great bargains of our trip for the quantity and quality of what we ate. Tao Heung was filled with what appeared to be local residents and I didn’t see any Westerners in the large restaurant. Note that there are several restaurants on the third floor, so make sure you are in the right place.)
After a quick stop back at the hotel, we took the MTR (as wonderful as others have reported) to the Yau Ma Tei stop and walked over to the Jade Market (Kansu Street in the Yau Ma Tei area had really looked forward to this place and found it quite disappointing. In fact, compared to what was available in Mainland China, it was almost a joke – overpriced and much of the same merchandise from stall to stall. I did my first bargaining of the trip and got some cheap pendants for gifts. When I attempted to negotiate a pair of earrings with one of the pearl sellers she apparently thought my first offer was so ridiculous that she didn’t bother to continue the negotiation. Of course it was ridiculous… I thought that was how you were supposed to bargain! Anyway, I liked her merchandise and if she’d had a little patience, she would have made a sale eventually, but it was her loss. Throughout the trip I found that although bargaining can be tedious, it must be done. If I didn’t like the attitude of the seller, it was easy to move on to another vendor. When I enjoyed the back and forth with the vendor, I usually bought something, and some of my favorite moments of the trip were truly funny interactions with salespeople, especially in the Silk and Pearl Markets in Beijing.
We walked back along Shanghai Street, then checked out the markets for flowers, vegetables, seafood and bakeries on Reclamation Street. Ended up on Nathan Road, taking in the scene, the crowds, and the shops, enjoying our first day in Hong Kong. This evening we set out for the all-important roast goose dinner. First choice was the highly recommended restaurant Loong-Yuen in the basement of the Holiday Inn, but when we looked at the menu, it seemed too expensive to me (198 HKD for a Roast Goose and Pork Platter)) and we opted instead for a local place called the Guandong BBQ Restaurant (which was busy with people eating plates of roast meat). I ordered the Roast Goose, DH had the Roast Pork, plus some Fried Rice and an unnamed vegetable (which we didn’t need since the meat came with Bok Choy although it wasn’t mentioned on the menu), and two sodas and the total was 171 HKD or $22USD, The goose was delicious. Due to some fairly serious rain, we skipped the Serenade of Lights from the Walk of Stars and watched it from our room with the radio accompaniment in English. Still feeling the effects of a night on the plane and jet lag, we had an early night.
Wednesday, April 3 - Enjoyed watching the two Star Cruises ships go by our window on their way to the pier while we were dressing the next morning. We walked over to the Fairmont Restaurant (just a couple of minutes from the hotel and recommended by others who have stayed in the neighborhood). This is a chain restaurant located above the Pizza Hut at the corner of Peking and Ashley Roads . It took a minute (and a helpful greeter) to realize that we needed to peruse the menus at the entrance, order from the cashier, and then take our order slip to the cooks in the back. There were plenty of seats, the food appeared instantaneously and was tasty and filling. We had oatmeal, scrambled eggs with toast and a drink for 18 HKD each – much cheaper than the hotel!
Next we took the Star Ferry across the harbor to Hong Kong Island. DH was surprised when his Octopus Card didn’t permit him entry – because he had a senior card (half price!) he had to use a different “lane” to go past the barrier. Once on HKI, we followed the walkways and signs and hopped on a double-decker tram in the center of the road going toward Happy Valley. There are several different destinations on these trams, and I had been hearing about Happy Valley for years and thought it would be fun to see. Then we returned to Central… enjoyed the ride with its interesting views of shops and people – all for 2 HKD using the Octopus card(only 1 for DH!). Then on to Maxim’s City Hall to check out the view and the dim sum. We arrived at 11:45, which was perfect since there were many carts trolling the aisles and we didn’t have to wait for a table. By the time we finished there were many people waiting for spots. We ate Shrimp Dumpling, Shiu Mai, Spring Roll, BBQ pork Rice Roll, Shrimp Rice Roll, and Mini egg tarts. Much to my horror, the check was 366.30 HKD (47 USD) – way too expensive. This dim sum was inferior to what we had eaten the day before at Tao Heung in quality (for almost triple the price!) The TF Dim Sum was far tastier than the Maxim’s Dim Sum. – very disappointing. Those that say “skip Maxims” are right – there is definitely better dim sum in Hong Kong. Anyway, I’m glad I checked it out since I had read a great deal about it and wanted to see for myself.
Next on the itinerary was Bus #6 to Stanley Market. We caught this in the Bus Station in Central – just read the signs and check with the drivers since some of the 6 buses go through a tunnel and not over the mountain. We chatted with a couple from Halifax en route from teaching assignments in Seoul, Korea to the UK, and a guy from Belfast en route from Australia to home as the gorgeous and interesting scenery went by the bus windows. First you climb up the hills (and marvel at the tall apartment buildings perched on the tops and the construction cranes all around as more go up) and then you get a fabulous view of Recluse Bay as you make your way down the mountain to Stanley Village. We enjoyed strolling around the Market, liked the stalls with their different merchandise and actually bought nothing (probably a record!) We did consider some $1 US ties (these will come up again later in the story). Took the bus back to Central and stopped off in our favorite restroom in Hong Kong at the Mandarin Oriental (such a classy place!)
While hoping all day that the weather would clear, it finally became time to go to the Peak. Took the 15C Bus (outside City Hall) to the terminus for the tram on Garden Road. Enjoyed the ride up on the tram (yes, the gradient is extraordinarily steep!) and got to the top to find we were completely enveloped in fog… the view = zero! I had hoped we could walk around Harlech and Lugard Roads and take in the views and the real estate, but given the conditions, opted instead to check email at Pacific Coffee (free with a purchase). We took the tram down, topped off our Octopus cards with some more cash, and walked from the station down Lower Albert to Wyndham, and down to Queens for some quintessential Hong Kong scenes. We walked over to the Mid-levels Travelator and checked that out, then used the walkway down to Connaught and over to the Star Ferry. I loved the walkways – so easy to get around and find everything and if it’s raining, you never get wet.
We took the ferry back across the choppy waters of Victoria Harbour and then tried to choose between the Jade Garden (Cantonese) and the Crystal Garden (Beijing style food) in the Star Building. Ended up in the Jade Garden (since we were in Hong Kong and headed for the mainland) where we ordered Fried Chicken, Fried Rice, and Eggplant in Black Bean Sauce. The service was excellent but the meal was pricey at 359.70 HKD ($48 USD). On the way back to the room we bought two slices of cake, and two bananas at the Park N Shop for our breakfast (since we would have an early start in the a.m.) for a total of 9 HKD.
Friday, April 4 – Awoke to another gray day after a noisy night filled with the sounds of jackhammers and sirens. We ate our breakfast in the room, checked out, and got a taxi (waiting at the door) to Hung Hom for our train. I had purchased tickets for this online, but needed to pick up the tickets at the station. I was glad I had pre-purchased when I saw the signs saying all the morning trains were sold out! We were told to go through immigration (done here for the Chinese border) at least half an hour before departure. We had our ticket punched and found no line at all for visitors through immigration (virtually everyone in the station was Chinese). We waited with the other first class passengers for the time to board our train, found the coaches were numbered, had our ticket checked at the door of the coach and found seats. There were luggage racks overhead. Coffee was offered along with newspapers and a cute little Watsons water bottle. A toilet and sink (Chinese version) were at the end of the car. Most of the Asians brought McDonald’s breakfasts into the waiting area and onto the train.
A couple of notes here – by this time you’ve noted that we often eat “cheap” and shop “cheap.” That’s our preference. My husband would be happy if we spent next to nothing, and I love a bargain. Now and then we splurge, but by and large one of the goals in planning this trip was to try to “beat” the tour prices. We booked very nice, non-Western hotels with good reviews (with one exception) and ate well most of the time for very reasonable prices. The hotels were comfortable and chosen for both price and location. Restaurant choices were made on the basis of good food for reasonable prices (with a few exceptions) and shopping for bargains was always the way I shopped on this trip (with one exception in Shanghai which you’ll hear about when we get there).
So there we were, rolling along the tracks, leaving Hong Kong and on our way to our Chinese mainland adventure. At this point, you might be thinking, wow, she had everything figured out and arranged pretty well… good planning. I, too, was feeling pretty good about myself and my work as a trip planner at this point. Well, all that was about to change, so stay tuned for the next installment…
wiselindag is offline  
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May 5th, 2008, 03:31 PM
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Just an apology - I edited this post several times and put spaces between the paragraphs, but for some reason the spacing keeps disappearing. Sorry about that -- it's a lot easier to read with the spaces! Not sure why the spaces are there at the beginning and then disappear...

Any suggestions to prevent this would be helpful.

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May 5th, 2008, 05:09 PM
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Boy, oh boy, or is it you go girl?! What a fabulous start for the first installment of 4 days in HK, so detailed, informative and colorful! I will politely stayed tuned for future installments, never mind the gun waving guy, don't bow to the pressure!!
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May 5th, 2008, 10:04 PM
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WONDERFUL on many levels! I think your planning and research will be most helpful to travelers and I wish I had your report while I was planning our trip

The details are great and I am craving all those foods you ate..even the so-so dimsum.

Take your time and I agree with Shanghainese..don't bow to the pressure

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May 6th, 2008, 06:58 AM
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Thank you for the encouragement. I've finished the Hangzhou section and am halfway through Shanghai, so I should have another installment up soon.

I keep finding mistakes... the cheap, "oppposite of gourmet" breakfast chain place is Fairwood, not Fairmont. There's actually a branch at the airport, but I couldn't resist one last try with Maxim's and dim sum, so we ate at that branch on the morning of our departure.

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May 6th, 2008, 07:48 AM
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Food cost and its quality have little correlation in Hong Kong. When a place cost a lot, it's because of its name, location, harborview, decor, service, etc. But seldom - I won't say "never" - because the food taste better.

Many of us have found really great tasting stuff at little hole-in-the-wall places that cost next to nothing in Hong Kong.
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May 8th, 2008, 02:07 PM
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Part II – Hangzhou

I booked our flight to Hangzhou from Guangzhou instead of Shenzhen because the prices were lower. Because it was farther from Hong Kong, I moved the departure time back an hour to 1:00 p.m. and thought we would have enough time… big mistake as it turned out. I compounded the mistake by booking the 9:18 train from Hung Hom. If we had taken the train at 8:25, everything would have been much, much better, but hindsight is great and foresight sometimes lags. I had been lulled by stories of quick, efficient, breezy trips through Chinese airports. I somehow had the idea the train station was closer to the airport than it actually was… I didn’t know I was traveling on a national holiday (Qingming Day)… and I didn’t know the Guangzhou airport would be huge and filled with people when we got there… all facts it would have been helpful to know, but on our first foray into the mainland on our first flight, we were to encounter big problems.

The train station at Guangzhou wasn’t part of the problem until we got to the taxi queue. As we made our way through the gauntlet, taxi touts kept offering us rides to the airport. We declined. We were headed for the queue. Then we got there and found it stretched forever. Ok, I thought it’s long, but it’s moving. We got on line, and when it was our turn, we told the guy we were going to the airport and would he please tell that to the driver in Chinese? He complied and we got into a cab driven as it turns out by a former Nascar driver. He was everything and more we had read about Chinese drivers rolled up into one person – aggressive, fast, and sure of himself. Okay, I thought, just what we need – someone who will get us to the airport quickly. Off we went, and I thought we were doing okay until I saw the sign for the airport and realized that we had many kilometers to go. Uh oh, I thought this is going to be tight. We all shared a laugh when our driver, who was in the left lane and going at least 80 mph was passed by a car in the center lane going at least 100. As the faster car whizzed by us, we all thought that was pretty amazing.

As he pulled up to the airport I thought to myself, wow this is a big airport… I had expected a little one. Also, I thought it would have been good to know where to get out, but too late we were on the sidewalk and wheeling our bags into the building. It was 12:10. I immediately spotted a young woman wearing a uniform seated behind an information desk. Perfect, I thought… just what I need. I hurried over and handed her my China Southern confirmation. She glanced at it and told me a number and the alphabetic section of the airport we needed. We quickly wheeled the bags the length of the building and found the letter, only to be flummoxed by long lines and no signage indicating our flight. The number she had given me did not correspond to any of the lines, but ascertaining this took another few minutes. Starting to feel desperate, I asked a bunch of people who either shrugged their shoulders or pointed to the destination board at the front. When I went back and looked I found our flight, but no place to check in (only a gate). Then I went to the front of one of the lines and asked a person where I should be. He told me to see a supervisor and pointed to an area where people were working (the signage here was only in Chinese if there was signage and if I had known these were supervisors, I would have asked them ten minutes before when I first couldn’t find the correct line!)

I showed my paper to the woman behind the desk and she said to me, “too late!” I said, “but it’s only 12:30, there’s still time to get to the plane.” She said, “You can’t board; it’s too late. Go over there to that line” and pointed across the way. I tried to show her that there was still time – to no avail – and then went over to plead my case with the other person – she explained that I was on a line for stand-by for the next flight in an hour. That seemed workable until I asked if there were seats on the flight. She said it was sold out and there were standbys ahead of us. She didn’t think we would get on (and then there was the problem of our luggage which I was loath to send on a plane I might not board). She suggested we take the flight after that, which was three hours after our original flight. Very distressed because I had a person waiting at the airport and a room reservation waiting for us that I was worried about losing, I finally said okay. Then I had to go wait on a different line and was told to pay --- 1260 additional RMB ($181) because my original flight was discounted and this one was not! Needless to say, I was extremely unhappy about this, but given no other options, I gave them my credit card and got the boarding passes for the 16:05 flight.

Boarding passes in hand, and luggage checked, we went in search of food. Starving (we had expected to eat lunch on the plane) and uncertain as to whether we should eat before going through security, I asked a guy I had been chatting with. He told me there were no restaurants after security. Later I found there were at least seven or eight places to eat (this varies in Chinese airports so it’s good to try to know precisely where the food is if it is as important to you as it is to me!)

We found the gate and settled down for a long wait. A Chinese woman who had taught for many years in England sat down next to me and began to chat. She was on her way home to Hangzhou for her birthday, where her mother was preparing noodles since that it was Chinese people eat on their birthdays – the long noodles signify a long life! Gradually I calmed down and began to enjoy the conversation. I managed to call Rebecca and tell her the situation (she elected to remain at the airport for our arrival and after urging her to get something to eat, she reported that she had feasted at KFC! That made me feel better (and I wished I had some KFC to feast on, too!) I also called the hotel and they assured me that my room would be waiting. After a while they announced that our plane would be delayed an hour, and then switched our gate to another one, so we all trooped off to the new one, with my new friend, Helen, making sure that we were informed as to what was going on. Just what I needed – another delay, but by this time, I was starting to roll with the punches.

We finally took off at 17:15 and arrived at 18:50. They served what I would consider to be strange food on the plane – noodles, cherry tomatoes, dried cured olives and dessert cake. Rebecca was waiting for us and we were off to our hotel in a taxi (directed by Rebecca) and I was so happy to have someone to take care of the details for the moment!) We checked in, went to our room (Rebecca thought the carpet in the hallway was too thin and the room was not what she expected – I guess she thought Westerners would have a nicer hotel and a nicer hotel room, but this was a bargain). We had some soft drinks together at the lobby bar, made our plans for the next day, sent Rebecca off for what turned out to be her long trip back to her dorm, and went to bed, completely exhausted.

Actually, before falling asleep, I should take a moment to tell you about Rebecca. Initially we had no guide for Hangzhou. I never have seen any recommended on the boards and figured we were just going to walk around the lake anyway. Then I read Marksfour’s wonderful account of her visit with husband and daughter while they “transferred her DD” from her Beijing studies to her dorm in Hangzhou. A little light bulb went off in my head and I asked Marksfour if her daughter might like to have a meal or two with us, help us translate, and show us the “lay of the land” in Hangzhou. Both mother and daughter were enthusiastic (especially when her “anxious to eat anything not Chinese daughter” discovered my DH would prefer something else, too!

Then DD discovered she needed to be in Yangshuo on the same date we were arriving. In the interim, smart Marksfour had referred me to a wonderful Hangzhou blog by two Americans spending a year there with their children. He was working as a teacher at the university. I wrote and asked him if any of his students would like to serve as translator for us in Hangzhou, and that is how the wonderful Rebecca came into our lives. An English major in her third year at the University, Rebecca was inexperienced, but eager to practice her English and to “give it a try.”

Saturday, April 5 – We woke early and went to the breakfast buffet (one of only two hotels where the room came with breakfast on this trip). There was quite an assortment – corn, salad, hot vegetables, noodle soup, stir-fried noodles, buns, bun with sausage, hush puppies, toast, congee, spring rolls, eggs cooked to order (more or less) and more. I went over to the egg station and showed the cook a picture of a fried egg – it worked! While looking baffled about where to sit in the large, crowded dining room, one of the hostesses came over and beckoned to us from a table with three people seated and lots of room. We went over and sat down and I thought, “it isn’t often that you get to eat breakfast with a monk (shaved head and saffron robes)! Although we didn’t seem to have any language in common, we did manage to smile at each other several times, so no matter what happened on this day, I figured I was ahead of the game.

Rebecca had visited Prince Bay Park a few weeks before our visit while the cherry trees were blossoming and knew they were in the midst of a tulip festival, so she suggested we walk there. The day was beautiful – mild and sunny and it quickly became apparent as we strolled along the Yang Causeway that half of Hangzhou and the surrounding area had the same idea. Rebecca rushed over and purchased our entry tickets (I think they were 10 yuan each). The flower displays were gorgeous and the people watching was just about perfect.

I quickly learned something I hadn’t known before – when posing for photographs, Chinese people are far more serious than Americans. Americans tend to just stand still and smile. Chinese people are more likely to have a serious expression and to strike some sort of pose – often something in relation to the scene behind them. I saw a girl pose with her hands in the same position as the statue before which she stood. People posing in front of flower beds tended to point to flowers or use their parasols as part of the composition or pose coiled around (or after climbing up) the nearest tree. People often use the “V” for victory in their poses. Over and over in our travels we observed this phenomenon and enjoyed watching the creativity of the photographic subjects. I also learned something funny about Chinese brides. Unlike U.S. brides, who pose for photos on their wedding day, formal Chinese photographs are taken on a different day when the couple pays a company to rent them clothing and go with them to a park or other scenic spot for formal wedding portraits. On this day a bride, beautifully made up with her hair neatly done, wearing a gorgeous white wedding dress posed for photographs in front of a waterfall. What made the picture funny was that under the gown, she kept on her pants and her regular shoes! I never did find out the price of these photographs, but I imagine that entire package isn’t cheap.

Another phenomenon was in effect all over Hangzhou… “hellos” to westerners. As we strolled around the park and took photographs of the flowers, Chinese children said hello to us. Sometimes their parents asked us to pose with the children in photographs. Once a mother asked me to take a picture of her daughter with my camera (not sure what the plan was there!) Anyway, we loved the friendliness of the children and enjoyed helping them practice their English. At one point we passed a school group (tour groups tend to wear Tour Company hats so you can tell they are in a group and student groups are often in their school sweatsuits, so everyone is dressed alike. This group of high school students called out to us and we stopped to chat. We enjoyed the chat so much (once we got past hello, how are you, how old are you, the conversation was pretty limited, but we tried) that we ended up taking a photograph together.

Following Prince Bay Park, and totally enchanted with the people, the scenery, and the weather, we ventured on to Huagang Gardens, the MaYiFu Pavillion on Su Causeway, and other areas around the park. Getting hungry, we considered going to Louwailou, the most famous restaurant in Hangzhou, but decided it made more sense to go to Zhiweiguan, which didn’t necessitate some means of transport since we could walk over to Renhe Road and found it was quite close to our hotel. My notes said Zhiweiguan also serves typical Hangzhou cuisine and has been popular for many years. When we arrived we needed to take a number and sit in an area until the number was called (Rebecca made this process easy… without her, perhaps we would still be there trying to figure out what to do!) The wait didn’t take too long (there were many people at the restaurant, but it was quite large) and we were soon ushered out to the terrace, where we were seated next to the water under an umbrella. For lunch we ate Fried eels with shrimp, Fried shrimp cooked in tea, Fried Rice, Spring Rolls, and Dongpo Pork. For dessert, the ubiquitous watermelon was brought out and we found that this practice was common in China in the better restaurants. You don’t need to order it; it just appears (sometimes in combination with other fruit such as orange slices) and is the perfect way to end the meal. This meal, which was plentiful and delicious cost 228 RMB ($33 for the three of us). Just before we finished eating the waiters summoned Rebecca to another table where a contretemps had developed when some (I think) Australians wanted to sit there and hadn’t taken a number first. Rebecca sorted it out for them.

Our next task was difficult. We wanted to visit the Lingyin Temple, but would need to take a bus to get there. Earlier we had observed that with Hangzhou and the area around West Lake so saturated with people and traffic, everything moved at a crawl and people were hanging out of buses because they were so crowded. It took a few tries, but eventually we were able to board a Y2 bus and even finally to get seats (which we needed since all that walking was beginning to take its toll!) Along the way we passed lovely fields of tea plants. (The tea villages will have to wait for another visit!) At the temple we looked at ancient cave carvings from the 6th Century AD and the many Buddhas spread around the grounds. We got lost a few times while walking around but eventually found the main building. Feeling tired, we decided to head back to the hotel and walked to the bus parking lot to pick up the Y2. The queue was long; eventually we were able to board the bus, but unable to find seats. We set off and rode and rode. After a while Rebecca asked me if anything looked familiar. We had just passed a hospital I had noted on the way, so I reassured her that we were okay. A few stops later nothing looked familiar to me either, and we decided the route wasn’t right. She went up and checked with the driver only to find that the bus was now on its way to the Train Station (a completely different route than the one it took to the temple. I don’t know if this was just for the large crowds on the holiday weekend, but be sure to check with the drivers at the Temple before boarding a bus for the return trip.

We had to get off the bus in the middle of the city with no idea where we were. Rebecca scooted off to the intersection to ask the guy directing traffic and he pointed in a direction that gave us an idea of where to go. We had no idea how far we were from our hotel, but Rebecca assured me that it couldn’t be more than a couple of miles. Now you need to remember that we had been walking the entire day since right after breakfast with only a break at lunchtime and that we were tired when we got on the bus. The prospect of miles more did not appeal to me, but given the fact that there was no bus we could take and taxis were all taken, we didn’t have any choice. Miles (and what felt to me like more than two miles) later, we finally arrived back at the hotel. At that point I was in no state (okay, I admit it – I was exhausted and very grouchy) to get into a cab and go off to a nice dinner, so we decided to dine in the hotel. That was probably a mistake since the in-house Chinese restaurant was almost empty when we got there (maybe people all dined early or maybe everyone knew they should avoid this restaurant… we’ll never know which, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it). We ordered Hot and Sour Soup, Noodles Beijing Style (with vegetables, chicken and shrimp as it turned out in broth), and Fried Rice with Mushrooms. I should say at this point that we often ordered fried rice in China, and no two ever seemed to be the same. Usually it was a safe item to order and ranged from decent to delicious, but the ingredients varied enormously from one place to the next. This night the food was decent, but uninspired.

Two other points about this day… first, we attempted to get train tickets to Shanghai in the morning. We had planned to do this the day before, but due to the late arrival, we missed the business office and had to wait to make arrangements. In retrospect, I should have emailed the hotel and asked them to do it before we arrived. I’m not sure that would have worked (I did email them to reconfirm our booking and never heard from them), but given the crowds in Hangzhou this weekend, it’s not surprising that we learned we couldn’t travel by train the next day. We could, however, take a “luxury bus” (the words of the woman in the travel office). That sounded okay and we agreed to purchase the tickets which she said would be available for pick-up that evening. When we got back from the “long march” (as DH dubbed our hike) the tickets were waiting.

Second, this might have been the only hotel in China that didn’t provide bottled water. It is true that hotels generally provide free bottled water, but you should check first. After we got charged for our bottles, we learned that at this particular hotel we were expected to boil water for personal use and that the bottles were available for purchase. When I explained that I thought the bottles were complimentary, the manager removed the charge from our bill.
wiselindag is offline  
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May 8th, 2008, 02:49 PM
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Linda this is a superb report! Welcome home and keep up the good work!!
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May 8th, 2008, 03:34 PM
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I applaud your assertiveness, patience and ability to roll with the punches when the going went tough, it's all part of the traveling experience.

A couple of questions: When/where did you purchase your train tickets from Hung Hom to Guangzhou, and your plane tickets to Hangzhou? What hotel did you stay in Hangzhou? Keep in mind ot all hotels provide free bottled water. Glad you ate at Zhiweiguan, we love that place!

Hope things went better after Hangzhou, we preferred the "luxury" bus to the not too pleasant regular train although the new high speed train is plush.
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May 8th, 2008, 03:36 PM
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I meant to say not all hotels provide free bottled water.
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May 8th, 2008, 05:09 PM
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EK, thank you. I'm trying as hard as I can to live up to your high standards and provide tons of details for the travelers who follow us.

Shanghainese - I bought the East Rail Line train tickets on line before we left. These can be purchased in advance up to 60 days before departure (unlike other Chinese trains, but these are the exception since they originate in or go to Hong Kong). The information is on the MTR website.

The plane tickets were purchased from Ctrip online before we left.

Our hotel in Hangzhou (and I can't believe I left out that important detail!) was the HNA Huagang. I will post a detailed review of this hotel and all the others used on this trip on Trip Advisor. Suffice it to say that the price was right (it cost us 558 RMB per night including the big buffet breakfast, which is about $80 booked on elong). The hotel is set in gorgeous grounds. The pictures I took from the room look like they were painted by Monet! If you walk down the hotel's short drive, you are on the Yang Causeway, quite close to the Zhiweiguan Restaurant, and a short stroll up to the corner of the lake, which is visible through the trees in along the causeway. There was a cosmetics company conference going on at the hotel while we were there and it appeared to be full. Everything we needed was in the room and bathroom, but in general it was on the drab side and could use a thorough renovation. Among the hotels we booked, it was not nearly as nice as the other hotels except for the one used up in the rice terrace (which wasn't booked in advance or pre-screened), but it was perfectly adequate and was booked for a combination of location and price, so we didn't mind. Also, the people I dealt with at the front desk, in the restaurant, and in the business office were all helpful and pleasant and the manager was very understanding of my confusion about the water.

We actually loved the full day we spent in Hangzhou until we had to hike back to the hotel so I tend to think of the visit as positive. When I look at the photographs, which are gorgeous, I can see how happy we were at the time (thankfully there are no photographs taken of us on the hike back or after we reached the hotel!) Also, we loved meeting Rebecca, who is now one of my regular email buddies.

As you are about to see, things did go much better after Hangzhou until the very end of the trip, but those stories will come later...
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May 8th, 2008, 05:37 PM
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I feel your pain on the long walk home and admire your great attitude. Glad everything worked out with Rebecca. This is definitley a "print this out" report for future travelers.
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May 8th, 2008, 05:52 PM
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Part III – Shanghai

Sunday, April 6 – Another big buffet breakfast with most of the same items from yesterday plus String Beans, watermelon and tangerine, and buns with bean paste. I enjoyed the noodles in broth, more fried eggs, toast, crullers, string beans and more fried eggs. I got some help from the woman in the business office with the address for our Shanghai hotel (I had the hotel written in Chinese characters, but wanted to add the address in Mandarin as well). She looked it up on the computer and called the hotel to confirm the address for me, which I appreciated. I’m glad I added this information since getting a cab turned out to be very difficult, and without the address in Chinese characters, we might still be at the bus depot in Shanghai!

Rebecca, DH and I set out for the bus station, which was fairly far from our hotel and afforded us another opportunity to see the growing city of Hangzhou (we had some glimpses from the cab on the way from the airport). At the bus station we found wall-to wall people. We admired the highly efficient system, as new buses arrived at the docks every ten minutes. Passengers were quickly boarded and sent off to their destination as a new group took their places. Rebecca knew where the Shanghai buses were located and quickly found us the proper area in which to wait.

When it came time for us to board the bus, we said our goodbyes, but were surprised a minute later to find she had come out to the bus to make sure we were ensconced in our assigned seats on the proper bus. We waved goodbye, but not before she had commented that these were certainly not “luxury buses” as described by the woman in the business office at the hotel. In fact, if not luxurious, the bus was fine – a fairly comfortable seat with luggage stowed underneath the bus. A television played in the front (this was true on virtually every Chinese bus we used; even the city buses had televisions showing what appeared to be commercials.)

We enjoyed looking at the scenery during the three hour trip. Apartment buildings were going up everywhere amidst the farm land and we wondered what the crop with the yellow flowers might be – it seemed to be the predominant crop. Later in the week we asked a school principal and he opined that it was probably (here he mentioned a word in Chinese for which he had no translation), an oil used in cooking.

The arrival at the Shanghai bus station was a little chaotic (okay, in fact it was totally chaotic!). Unfortunately for us, the bus pulled into a dock on the roof of the station. In front of us there was a gigantic flight of steps leading down to the street and nowhere in sight was there an escalator or elevator. We had enough luggage to make that long flight of stairs intimidating and surrounding us were people competing (loudly in fact vociferously) to take our luggage for us. Given the flight of stairs, I nodded to one of the would-be porters, thinking he would know where the escalator was located, but as it turned out he simply strapped all of the bags on his trolley and took them down the stairs himself. I couldn’t believe he had the physical strength to do that, but he did (sweating quite a bit at the bottom to be sure!)

Then we got into a bit of a hassle since he dropped us off in an area filled with cabdrivers (no organized queue with a dispatcher in sight although there might have been one somewhere else). They immediately started throwing out numbers. We had no idea where we were in relation to the hotel, but my mantra was “meters only” and I told all of them we would only go in a metered cab. Much arguing ensued, but I stood my ground and a guy in a dark blue cab (one of the better companies according to my notes with turquoise perhaps the best) agreed to use the meter. Much relieved, we loaded the luggage into the taxi and set off for the Bund Hotel on Guangdong Road (located between the Bund and Nanjing Pedestrian Street).

Check-in was smooth (as it was at every hotel) and we were soon in our room which we loved. I was very surprised to find that in addition to CNN, they had ESPN and a YES broadcast of a Yankees game was on (from a few days before, but still it was the first Yankee game of the season I had been able to see and I was in heaven). I received a message from our prospective dinner companion (given to us at the desk on check-in and delivered to the room a second time, but both contained the wrong telephone number). Fortunately I had his contact information and used it to set up our dinner date.

Bill (a friend of a friend who lives and works in Shanghai) had made a dinner reservation for us as agreed at Jesse (Jishi) one of the Shanghai restaurants on my list, but wasn’t able to get a table until 8:30. Since we had been up early and were hungry, we were willing to switch to a recommendation of Bill’s – a place named Abby Road where DH could eat something other than Chinese food. The menu turned out to be somewhat strange – Pork and Rosti, excellent French Fries, horrible hamburger. I didn’t eat any after the first bite and when the waiter inquired, I told him it didn’t taste good to me. He took it back to the kitchen and reported that the chef tasted it too and said “it was fine.” In China the customer is definitely not always right – in fact the customer is usually wrong! Saving face for the chef clearly takes precedence over keeping the clientele happy. It wasn’t deducted from the bill and I won’t be returning to that restaurant.

We walked a bit in the French Concession neighborhood where the restaurant is located, with Bill serving as tour guide pointing out the sights, and then took the Metro back to the hotel. We were very impressed with the Metro – clean station and what seemed like new trains – glass plates between the tracks and the platforms, automated ticket dispensers that can be used by English speaking travelers (you select English and then choose a line – the stations appear and you press your destination and the number of tickets – the machine tells you how much you owe, makes change if you use a bill, and prints your tickets.) It turned out to be about a ten minute walk from the People’s Square (Remnin) back to the hotel and we were surprised that at about 10 p.m. on Sunday night the stores were open in Raffles City and there was lots of street sales action including a bustling crowd outside Raffles City.

Monday, April 7 – This was the day designated for exploring Shanghai and it was a relief to find the weather was sunny and warm. We each ate a croissant (purchased across the street at Paris Baguette, a bakery chain we were later to encounter in Beijing and which served as a source for breakfast each day that we were in Shanghai) and then set out for Nanjing Lu. This pedestrian street featured a little tourist trolley, which we ignored, and many street hustlers “the watch, bag men, (ek, I always thought of your description and concern that you should watch your bag when we encountered them) which we also tried to ignore. For some reason all of these guys, who carry the same glossy brochure of watches and bags you can purchase for “cheap” are men…. DH, who likes to engage such folks in conversation, quickly tired of the game and started following my example to keep walking and not say anything.

Our first destination, (I know you aren’t surprised by this) was Jia Jia, often described as the best dumplings in Shanghai and possibly in the world. Enroute I discovered that Yangs Fry Dumplings is right across the street, so we ended up sampling both. I say “we” but in fact my DH was being “difficult” this morning and refused to eat dumplings. That meant I ended up eating quite a few breakfast dumplings starting with four pork dumplings at Yangs (no English, but they had a menu from which you could order). The four dumplings, nicely browned on the bottom, juicy and delicious, cost a grand total of four yuan… a great bargain and a delicious breakfast, but Jia Jia awaited across the street. We were at Yangs at 10:30 and there was no line. When we left just before 11, it was getting busy. At Jia Jia I ordered Crab and Pork soup dumplings (they also had an English list of different types). Twelve dumplings arrived in a bamboo basket and I wondered how I was going to finish them. The helpful older guy working there brought me vinegar, a spoon, and napkins, and he mimed wiping his face (I guess in case I didn’t know what the napkins were for). While we were eating a big fight broke out between one of the customers and one or more of the employees. Although the entire staff gathered around to listen to the argument, we never found out what it was about and were surprised to note that the unhappy customer eventually sat down and ate dumplings as if nothing had happened. Although we were enormously curious, there was no way to find out what happened, (we certainly speculated on as many possibilities as we could imagine including adulterous affairs, faulty dumplings, overcharges, and who knows what else!)

By 11:30 I was totally stuffed with (scrumptious) dumplings and we were headed for Remin (People’s) Park. There we encountered the first scammers of our trip and my poor husband still feels hurt by the experience. A “lovely” couple came up to us and started conversing about our trip, asking us questions and telling us they were also visiting the city. After all the friendly people in Hangzhou, we weren’t immediately on our guard, but continued the chat. After quite a bit of back and forth, they asked us where we were going. We said we were headed for the museum and they told us they were on their way to a tea ceremony. Would we like to come along? No, we would not. DH kept saying “they seemed so nice,” “are you sure they were scammers?” Yes, I was sure.

We walked over to the Shanghai museum and there were three more young people taking pictures. Would we assist them by taking their photograph? My helpful (he noticed how attractive the young women were) DH jumped right into another conversation which ended with another mention of a lovely tea ceremony. We said “good-bye” and headed into the museum to check out the Porcelain and Pottery exhibit. One helpful tidbit offered by the first couple was that the museum was free until after the Olympics. Sure enough, that part was true; there were no admission charges. We enjoyed the exhibit (amazing and beautiful vases and urns) and I enjoyed the gift shop (I never yet have been in a Museum Gift Shop that didn’t appeal to me; sometimes I’m tempted to skip the museum and head straight for the shop!).

Next on the schedule was Xintiandi and one of the women in the shop pointed us in the right direction (we were using a map, but given that I didn’t know where we were exiting the museum, a little extra help was appreciated.) Without difficulty we made our way to this area of chic shops and what appeared to be lovely restaurants and began to wander around. My plan to was to stop for lunch in whichever restaurant I found first of those on my restaurant list.

It’s hard to believe that I could manage to eat lunch after eating 16 dumplings in the morning, but I wanted to sample at least one of the restaurants on my list while we were in Xintiandi and so when we got to Zen, we went in for a late lunch of more dim sum. We had shrimp dumplings, BBQ Pork Char Shiu, and Pasta with shrimp and chives (which were rice rolls). Everything was delicious. So far, we were three for three on dumplings in Shanghai.

Still following the map on our way to Yu Gardens, we walked through the Old Town Market. First we encountered the non-tourist streets, filled with shops selling all sorts of food, household goods, cosmetics (every other shop in Shanghai seems to be selling cosmetics these days!), shoes and clothing. Along all the streets we found laundry hanging out to dry (from poles suspended outside windows, from lines strung up along the street, and once from a building that appeared to be under construction!)

Then we got to the tourist area outside the Yu Gardens. As we wandered down the street a “watch, bag guy attached himself to DH, and persisted for about 20 minutes to try to make a sale. I felt sorry for the poor guy. While DH was otherwise engaged, I wandered into a tea shop where the salespeople were very friendly and very sweet. After quite a lot of chat, a deal was struck and I bought some tea. Further along the block, I found the earrings I sought (light gray pearl studs) and after some negotiation paid a paltry sum. I don’t know how long they will last and know they are just dyed shell, but they look great and the price was right (just a few dollars).

Finally we entered the madness of the Yuyuan Bazaar. As we walked in, DH missed seeing some large rocks at knee height and went down. I turned around to realize he was being helped up by a number of people who had seen the fall… nice, helpful people. He was okay and we continued to wander through the Bazaar. Many shops looked appealing, but we were rapidly running out of energy and I decided not to bother with what would surely be inflated tourist pricing. We passed the Naxiang Dumpling Restaurant and I actually passed up the chance to get on line and buy some… I just couldn’t get another dumpling into my mouth… a miracle… Previously unbeknownst to me, I had a dumpling limit, and I had reached it. We ended up eating there later on in the week, and the lunch was so fabulous, that I’m glad I waited until I was actually hungry.

We took a taxi back to the hotel. When we showed our hotel card some taxi drivers refused to take us, but we found a turquoise cab and that guy agreed to transport us. (This happened several times on our trip and I'm not sure if it was the inability of the cab driver to read the card, their lack of information on the whereabouts of the hotel in question, or a desire for Chinese passengers. I noticed that when we had a Chinese speaker with us in the cab the drivers tended to do lots of chatting, and we didn't provide that possibility.

We had received a card in our room promising 80 Yuan off of a spa treatment in the in-house spa (Helen Huang), and I decided a foot massage was exactly what I needed after a day of hiking around Shanghai. The masseuse, Sophie, turned out to be delightful company and the massage was well worth the discounted price (I think it was 100 RMB or $14 USD). She was most hopeful that I would bring my son to China so she could marry him!

We had asked the concierge to make a reservation for us at Shanghai Uncle for dinner. We walked over to the Westin (the closest branch is in the basement) and ordered Lions Head Meatball Soup with Cabbage, Uncle’s Pork, Sticky Rice with Eight Treasures, and Eggplant. The food was excellent, portions were large, and we had a hard time finishing what we’d ordered. We had a funny conversation with a couple from Toronto at the next table who ordered about twice as much as we did. They were laughing at all the food on the table (and so were we) and invited us to join them, but we were full and declined. Others have commented on the rather garish décor of the Uncle, (reminds me of the tackier places in Las Vegas). Our concierge was funny enough to ask about reserving a window seat (in the basement!)

Back at the hotel, we ran into a couple we had seen three times during the day (in the morning at the front desk, in the Shanghai Museum, and then again after dinner. We compared notes on our day and joked about the tea ceremony photo group outside the museum. This couple circled around the museum and observed the scammers chatting up three different couples. My poor DH was still having trouble believing that such well spoken seemingly nice people could be entrapping unwitting tourists, but of course they were!

Tuesday, April 8 – We had set up an appointment when we arrived in Shanghai to visit the Xiwai International School Before departure I had corresponded with the Principal who asked me to call when we arrived. The school is located within a new university town, next to the recently established Shanghai International Studies University campus. It is a part of the new Songjiang City, a suburban district of Shanghai. Since Songjiang City is so far from the center of town, it was suggested that we take the metro to the end of the line and meet the bus that picks up staff members and transports them to work each morning.

In order to get there on time, we asked for a 5:00 a.m. wake up call. Then we walked over to the Remin Square stop and picked up Line 1 to Linhua Road where Chang Tu, Directory of Facilities, met us and escorted us across the street to the bus. When we arrived at the school I was amazed to find they have nine buildings (one for administration alone) in a completely new plant built to provide some joint recreation facilities with the community. The two hour conversation with the Principal, Lin Min, was provocative and fascinating and DH and I both enjoyed the visit.

The night before our school visit the weather sign in the lobby of the Bund Hotel said that Tuesday’s weather would be much like Monday’s (that is, warm and sunny). We left for our meeting at the school sans umbrellas or rain jackets and were surprised to find that by the time we reached the school there were some showers. We were taken on a guided tour of the campus by a young teacher, who thoughtfully brought umbrellas for us to use, but as we strolled around, the rains intensified and heavy rain and wind drove us inside before we completed the tour.

Principal Lin arranged for us to be taken to another Metro stop,where we could pick up Line 9, which would take us as far as Guilin Road, from which we could get a cab back to the hotel. As it turned out, when we got to Guilin Road, everyone on our train lined up for a bus. Stumped as to what this meant, I asked where the bus was going and at first it seemed no one on the line would respond (or could understand my question), but then one young man replied, “Yishan Road” So, although this line wasn’t finished, the Metro system supplied a shuttle bus to the eventual end of the line at Yishan Road, where it was possible to make other Metro connections and pick up cabs. We were able to find a cab quickly as someone arrived just as we went out in the raging storm (a rare piece of luck) and were soaking wet by the time we got back to the hotel.

Hungry, but in no mood to venture out and try to find a cab in the pouring rain, we went around the block and found a dumpling chain restaurant called Wa Da Niang Dumplings. Pork dumplings with soup and vegetable and two Pepsi Colas came to 38 Yuan – a cheap and filling lunch. Next, I went down to the Business Office and caught up on email and then back up to the room to took a nap (remember we had gotten up at 5 a.m). I checked the weather for Wednesday (the day of our planned trip to Suzhou with Ellyse) and found out the forecast was for more rain. Not in the mood to traipse around Suzhou gardens in a rain storm, we decided to cancel and made plans to meet with Ellyse for lunch at Naxiang in the Yu Gardens. We also arranged a dinner date with another young teacher Bill suggested we meet for the following evening.

Our dinner plans for Tuesday (today) were to go to Jesse’s (Jishi) in the French Concession. This was one of the Shanghai restaurants on my list and Bill said he would come by the hotel and we’d go together. After many near-misses on cabs outside the hotel (Bill and the doorman tried valiantly, but it was a miserable night and cabs were in short supply) we decided to walk over to the Metro. As we neared the Park, Bill spotted a cab and ran for it, leaping a small fence in the process. Much impressed, we jumped in and headed for Jishi, where we ordered Cold Salted Chicken Wings, Pork in Brown Sauce, Eggplant with Cucumber, Fried Chicken and Shrimp with Peppers (as it turned out more red peppers than I think I have ever seen in my life!), Jissu Fried Rice, and Scallion Pancakes. With drinks, the dinner came to 398 Yuan ($57 for the three of us) – a feast, but not an inexpensive one. We all enjoyed the meal and the convivial conversation with Bill and the waiter. At the next table a group busily played cards and gambled while they ate and drank. Tables were extremely close, and part of the evening’s entertainment was watching the waiter handle the many diners, their endless array of dishes (which arrived through a pass-through in the wall from the kitchen next door) and the general hubbub of the room… definitely not the spot for a romantic dinner!

We completed the evening with a visit to a bar situated in a former bomb shelter, where Bill is friends with the owners. They greeted us and invited us to stick around for drinking and dancing (apparently the place gets going after midnight!). We declined with thanks and took the bus back to Peoples’ Square (two yuan per person).

Wednesday, April 9 – The day dawned warm and sunny (a perfect day to go to Suzhou except that we had cancelled that trip the day before!) We discovered weather forecasting can be completely wrong in China – this happened more than once on our trip.

We took a walk around “our neighborhood” and discovered some great streets just behind the hotel filled with local residents out doing their morning shopping. DH was delighted to find that with bargaining, bananas were only one yuan apiece (it took some getting used to that we needed to bargain for our breakfast bananas, but DH continued to do so for the remainder of our trip with varying results.) We also walked as far as the Bund and strolled around, looking at the buildings.

We were supposed to meet Ellyse (who was picking us up in a cab) and I got worried. when she hadn’t shown up 25 minutes after the designated time. that we might get to Naxiang too late for a table, but just in the nick of time, she arrived. We swiftly rode over to Yu Gardens and dashed up the stairs to the third floor of the restaurant, where Ellyse knew what to say to snag one of the few remaining tables for our dim sum brunch. I am happy to report that the Naxiang Dumpling Restaurant lived up to its reputation – everything we ate was extraordinary and thanks to Ellyse, we ate all sorts of things I would never have thought to order including: Samosa shaped spring roll with crab and bean curd (magnificent), Mushroom Dumplings, Dumplings with Soup and Crab Meat (served with a straw to drink the soup), Curry Puffs, and Shrimp Balls with Crab Roe and Soup, Flaky Pastry with Sesame Seeds and Cashew Nuts, Pork and Crab Dumplings, and leaf-shaped buns with a sweet green paste (which they brought out at the beginning, but Ellyse insisted belonged at the end to serve as a sort of dessert, so they took the plate away and served them at the end). This was, by far, the best meal we ate on the trip. Even DH enjoyed it and said it was delicious!

Both Bill and Ellyse had suggested shopping on Taikong Street and in the Art Alley, so that’s where we headed next. In fact,they were right -- it was great shopping! There were all sorts of little shops and galleries selling clothing and jewelry, and various art materials, frames, paintings, sculpture, and antiques along with charming little cafes. I wandered in and out of shops and bought some small costume jewelry items in one shop and a gorgeous charcoal colored cashmere shawl with buttons (the owner assured me I could wear it ten different ways, but so far I’ve only remembered about half of her demonstration) in a shop called Moo. I met some women married to men who work for Multinational corporations and live in Shanghai and we chatted for a while. (The multinational part is an in-joke for Ellyse's amusement). I also spent time in a shop where I loved the merchandise and seriously considered buying several expensive items of clothing including a cashmere jacket with a silk lining (a stunning jacket!) and a gorgeous silk blouse. What stopped me were 1) the prices 2) the sizes (they would have to make the clothes in my size and deliver them to my hotel early the next morning, but we were leaving very early and the whole proposition sounded too risky to me and 3) the lack of space in my suitcase. It turns out that my full suitcase (the bane of my existence and a cause for constant complaints from my DH) had a good purpose after all! Like Scarlet vowing to return to Tara, I promised myself I would return to that shop in the future (with an empty suitcase and lots of money!)

Dinner was planned with Sam, the American music teacher, and his wife Emily, who is Chinese and works for a chain of clothing stores. We agreed to meet them at the Lujiazui stop of the Metro and then walk to the Superbrands Mall. We had no trouble getting there and finding Sam. It was interesting to see the Space Needle up close and to be able to look at the Bund from the other shore of the river. The mall reminded me of Hong Kong – lots of familiar name brand stores and cosmetics everywhere. (Actually the area of the mall where we entered reminded me a lot of my local mall in West Nyack, New York!)

Like many malls, there were quite a few eateries clustered up on the fourth floor, and we took the escalators up there to dine in Emily’s favorite restaurant called Xiao Nan Guo. We ordered cold fried fish, fried pork dumplings, spinach and pork dumplings, noodles, and bean curd with crab meat. With drinks the tab was 238 RMB. ($34) The food was good and the opportunity to chat with this interesting young couple made for a delightful evening.

This was our last night in Shanghai and Bill wanted to say goodbye, so we met him in the lobby of the hotel on our return from the mall. I hope we thanked him adequately for his excellent company, recommendations, and assistance with getting around Shanghai. Then we arranged a cab for early in the morning (taking no more chances on missing flights!)

I forgot to bring to dinner the folder I had for brought from home for Sam, so I checked on the opening hours of the Business Center and found that they would be open early in the morning. If I got going in time, I'd be able to mail the folder to him before we left Shanghai. In fact, that worked out well and the young ladies in the Business Office were all very nice and very helpful.
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May 8th, 2008, 07:55 PM
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Can you see how my DH went to Art Galleries 2x when he was doing his solo strolls? Thank goodness your DH was never solo or I think he may have had some tea.

Now I am craving some dumplings!
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May 9th, 2008, 07:36 AM
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It's possible that DH would have gone to the tea ceremonies, although I doubt he would have gone off with them because he had been warned regarding all the scams and was well aware that the magic words "tea ceremony" when uttered on the street were part of a scam. One thing I do know is that he wouldn't have purchased any tea! Following pretty young women - maybe, but parting with large quantities of money... out of the question!

Actually DH was on his own several times in China and didn't spend anything on those occasions.

I'm always in the mood for good dumplings. If you can stand it, I'll send you the photographs of the dumplings and then you'll really crave them!
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May 9th, 2008, 10:30 AM
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Goodness gracious, it seemed like you ate a truckload of dumplings in Shanghai, isn't Nanxiang fabulous? I'm glad Emily took you to Xiao nan guo, they have several locations both in Puxi and Pudong now.

Glad you weren't ripped off by the scammers, don't they all sound and look "lovely"? Even if you don't buy tea, you'll be charged a crazy amount for just drinking the tea. Rather spend your money on Taikong Road than tea!

The yellow flowers you saw from the bus are rapeseed, part of the mustard family and we saw lots of them by the vineyards in Napa and Sonoma last week. rapeseed oil is somewhat similar to canola oil.

Lucky you could enjoy Yankee games in your hotel! Btw, what type of phone did you bring?
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May 10th, 2008, 10:01 PM
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I finally managed to post my reply now. I'm very glad to read you report and know your experiences in other places, I learned a lot from your report and it will be very helpful if I plan to go.
Waiting for your next one!!
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May 11th, 2008, 02:27 PM
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Hi Rebecca - I'm glad you were able to post. It's fun to know you and Violet and all my other friends are reading along!

Speaking of friends, Shanghainese asked about telephones. Last year I bought a Mobal international phone which works in 170 countries. This GSM phone allows you to keep the same number and has no monthly fees. You just pay for the phone and calls as you go. Since I don't usually make many calls, it's mainly for emergency use (but comes in handy when your plane is delayed or you miss it or you want to check the airport!) Mainly it's so my mother and my son can call us if they have any emergencies and need to get hold of us. We did all our local calls using hotel phones (which cost very little) or our guides telephoned for us using their cell phones.

The one problem with this phone is that it doesn't provide us with a cheap number for people in country to use if they want to get hold of us outside the hotel. If I return to China I might buy a cheap phone that will work there so I can get a card and have a cheap option for people to reach me.

I'm about to post Xian and Beijing is right behind that, so stay tuned.
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May 11th, 2008, 02:39 PM
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Part IV – Xian

Wednesday, April 9 – Our taxi was waiting outside the lobby at the time we requested and we set out for Pudong for our flight to Xian. The driver checked that it was Pudong and not Hongqiao (the other airport) and although I knew it was Pudong, when I couldn’t find it on the Ctrip receipt, I got nervous. Could I be wrong? Feeling worried, I pulled out my cell phone and called Jeff Zhang, who was supposed to pick us up at the airport. Could he please double-check that the flight was leaving from Pudong? He could and he did, and when I put down the phone I felt so much better. The long ride out to the airport cost 199 RMB on the meter (the hotel told me it would be about 160) but as far as I could tell the driver took a very direct route. We both noticed his very speedy, very skillful driving. DH said, “another former race car driver.”

The driver thought we needed to go to Terminal 2 and got out and checked with a guy in uniform who verified that our Hunan Airlines flight check-in was in Terminal 2. Of course as soon as we walked in and asked the Information Lady she looked at her computer and informed us that we needed to go back out and take the free shuttle bus to Terminal 1. Unlike the Information Lady in Guangzhou, this one knew what she was talking about. Since we were early, it was no problem to make the changeover to the other terminal. The Yellow shuttle bus driver was apparently also a former race car driver so the ride was short, but exciting.

When we got to the correct Terminal we easily found the area for our check-in, but we were told we were too early. The line of people waiting there were headed for the island of Hainan (also the name of our airline). I had never heard of Hainan, but since a big meeting was taking place there over the next few days, there was a story about the island in the English-language Chinese newspaper distributed on the plane, and by the time we landed I knew much more than I ever had before about Hainan.

While we were waiting for the Hainan group to finish, one of the workers came over and asked us if we were going to Xian. Assured that we were, she brought us over to an empty counter and quickly checked us in - this was more like it! When we got to security we were doubly happy we’d gotten there early – the lines were huge! We seemed to be between two segments of a large group of guys who were very agitated and clearly worried about missing their flight. I told the guys behind us, who were part of the group, to go ahead of us and rejoin their friends. They seemed to be very grateful for this gesture on our part (lots of smiles and “thank you’s” and one guy showed us his boarding pass. It was 10:50 and I imagined they were scheduled to depart at 11 something, but was surprised to see that their plane was due to depart at 10:50! I don’t know if they made it or not, but they sure ran fast after they cleared security.

We found our gate, but our flight had been moved so we found the new gate and settled in to wait for our departure. It seemed we were traveling with a large, elderly tour group (all wearing red hats). After we boarded they announced that there would be delay in departure and then much to my surprise, they started serving drinks and lunch (while we were still at the gate! I never saw that before.) Apparently they had been told we would have to wait for an hour and figured they could pacify their passengers with the food and drinks. In fact, they brought the drinks cart up and down the aisle at least three times during this short flight. They also made dozens of announcements about the turbulence (kind of obvious) and advised passengers that the bathrooms were closed, but if you go, hold tight to the door handle. This was a little confusing, but amusing. Lunch was a choice of Beef with Rice or Fish with Rice. Included with the rice was a roll with strawberry jam (in my experience rolls in China are always served without butter, but always with strawberry jam!) The beef was gristle and to me, inedible, but the rice with sauce, cabbage, fruit, and salad of lettuce and ham with a container of water were all okay.

We had left sunny Shanghai and soon arrived in Xian, where it was pouring. We took a shuttle bus from the plane to the terminal and found our baggage without delay. Jeff was waiting right in front with a sign with our names, took our luggage, offered us umbrellas, and walked us out to the car, where his driver, Mr. Leo, was waiting. We chatted and saw some of the sights as we made the drive to the hotel, where we again quickly checked in. Jeff, not taking any chances, walked us to the elevator and assured us he would be waiting in the lobby when we were ready to go out for our walking tour.

Then we walked with Zeff through the tunnel that takes you under the busy street to the Bell Tower. Zeff guided us around the Tower and explained all about the city and the Tower. From here we went back down to the tunnel and over to Muslim Street, where we walked around observing the vendors, the shops, the pedicabs and the tourists.

Jeff insisted on buying me a snack cake with cherry (DH declined) and then walked us over to Da Fang Chang Dumpling Restaurant for their famous dumpling feast. At this point, if you have actually been reading this Trip Report (and not just skipping around), you know that a Dumpling Feast holds great interest for me… to put it mildly, I was really looking forward to this meal. I expected Jeff to drop us off at the door and say goodnight. Our hotel was right across the square (easily accessible through the tunnel we had just used). Much to my surprise, he said he would dine downstairs and come back to pick us up after we ate. We invited him to dine with us upstairs, but he declined although he did walk us upstairs and make sure we were seated and our waitress informed as to our order before he departed.

Da Fang Chang has many different feasts at different price points beginning at 88 RMB and then going up the scale at 100, 120, 180 and 220. Jeff assured us that we wouldn’t be able to eat more than the 88 RMB feast so that is what we had. It came with tea, a glass of some local liquor, hot water, and coke or beer. First cold sprouts, peanuts and cold pork were served. Then came a flat bun with bean paste, dumplings with pork and green chives, something that might have been pumpkin dumplings, and assorted dumplings in different shapes and colors containing shrimp, spicy chicken, pork and nuts, mushroom, ham and egg, plain ham, vegetable, chicken and guava. I liked the variety of the colors and shapes, but was completely disappointed in the dumplings. The grand finale of the meal was a speech welcoming us to DFC (a little late in my opinion) and a serving of baby dumplings in soup. After the dumplings we had eaten in Shanghai, all of the dumplings served at DFC were largely tasteless. Sadly, that seemed to be the case for the rest of our trip – the dumplings were encased in light, often delicate containers, but the insides of the dumplings were strangely lacking in flavor. The one exception was at Din Tai Fung in Beijing, which is a Taiwanese dumpling chain that is well known and, in my opinion, has good, but not great dumplings. But I have gotten ahead of my story since we are still in Xian.

Our sweet waitress had very little ability to communicate in English (Yang Huc Xia was her name and she deserves credit for trying). Twice during the meal Jeff came up to make sure we were okay (there was a long delay at one point while they seemingly made fresh dumplings and for all I know went out to the market to buy more ingredients since it took a long time!) We all walked back to the hotel, Jeff worrying about us and making sure we didn’t slip on the wet surfaces or hit our head or otherwise come to any harm on the short walk. He gave me the train tickets for the train we had booked for the following evening and assured us that he would come to the train station to make sure we got on the right train (apparently once he had some customers who got on the wrong train and he took this completely to heart!) I pointed out that we would be with Clarence Guo (with whom we had booked a tour for the following day) and since he would be dropping us off at the train station, it was possible that he planned to come into the station with us. Jeff asked me to have Clarence call him in the morning so they could work out a plan to ensure that we didn’t get lost in the train station. I felt very well taken care of and although usually very independent, after some of our earlier mishaps, not at all unhappy to be fussed over.

I should add a word or two here about how we came to have two different guides in Xian. I had originally written to four guides recommended on the various boards and asked them to price my full-day tour including the Terracotta Warriors. Clarence Guo’s price was the cheapest and since he is very responsive to email and comes well recommended, we booked with him. Then I received an email from Jeff, who had the second lowest price. He asked if we needed anything in Xian and offered to be of assistance. I wrote and asked him to price the airport pickup, walking tour and I also asked him if he could get me a specific price at the Bell Tower Hotel and book our train tickets for Beijing. In each case he came back with a good price, and we engaged him for these services. I had read that Jeff was very caring and responsible and I can certainly attest to that. I have never had a guide more caring… Jeff really goes above and beyond (witness the description of our visit to the restaurant and his decision to meet us at the train station). I should add that when he picked us up at the airport, Jeff came equipped with umbrellas for us to use and small gifts for us to take home – souvenirs of Xian.

Friday, April 11 – We had a 7 a.m. wake up and then went down to the breakfast buffet (our second hotel with breakfast included in the price). The buffet at the Bell Tower included eggs cooked sunnyside up, scrambled, and hard cooked, pancakes, French Toast, cold cereals, congee, yogurt, nuts, fruits, steamed buns, pork buns, bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, baked beans, breads, rolls, orange and grapefruit juice and coffee.

I met a couple from Needham, Massachusetts who had been traveling for six weeks on a super-economy tour of China. The previous night they had stayed at a $20 hotel and had cold showers, so they were treating themselves to breakfast at the Bell Tower (but not staying there). For the record, our room at the Bell Tower was fine and another bargain (492 RMB or $70). Jeff had booked it for us and made some mistake in the price (I think his price didn’t include breakfast, but I had asked him to book it with breakfast, so he abided by the agreement we had made and we ended up paying the hotel slightly more, with the extra RMB deducted from what we owed Jeff).

We checked out and found Clarence Guo at the appointed time in the lobby with a sign. We set out in his Ford van for a Taoist Temple. Clarence knows quite a lot about this temple and we enjoyed viewing the beautiful buildings and the many interesting altars (at which some people were praying and lighting incense sticks).

As we toured, we noticed a large group meeting in the main courtyard engaged in an activity with a group of monks and what we learned were nuns. One of the people in charge of the Temple came over to Clarence and asked him if we would be willing to participate in the activities in the courtyard. Curious, we agreed, and learned that a film crew was making a documentary about the exercises as part of a larger program to be shown on Chinese television. As we approached the group and took the places assigned to us in the front row, the group applauded our participation. Wow, we were getting applause just for showing up! With Clarence to translate, we quickly learned that we should imitate the nun standing in front of the group. She was using her hands to signify something (don’t ask me what… I might have known at the time, but forgot to right it down and don’t remember). Anyway, we imitated the movements and drew the approval of the people around us, who assisted us in the exercise.

Then the film crew asked if they could interview us. They asked us what we thought of this community participation in the religious exercises of the nuns and monks and whether we enjoyed our involvement. DH was his usual, quiet self, but I enthusiastically (DH later said too enthusiastically) responded to their questions, essentially saying it was great – what else was I going to say after they applauded for us and everyone was so nice? Well, I don’t know what I expected to have happen at the Taoist Temple, but it certainly wasn’t what transpired. We were quite happy with the first stop on our tour and had lots of fun perhaps “starring in a Chinese television documentary.”

Next, Clarence said we were going to pick up an Australian family who had just flown in and been picked up at the airport by one of his assistants. They would join us for the rest of the day. Clarence has two prices – one for his special tours which may be for several people and his special tours that are private. If you opt for the former, you pay the lower price whether you go alone or with others, and we had opted for the lower price. As it turned out, the Australians (we’ll call them the “L Family”) were lovely and we enjoyed our day with them. The family consisted of two parents who were visiting their son, who was teaching English in Shanghai, and who was showing Xian to his parents. Both parents are retired teachers and so all of us (retired teachers with the exception of DH) enjoyed chatting about our former careers and our experiences in China.

Next on the itinerary was a visit to Clarence’s “cave dweller.” DH took exception with that description since the “cave” was just a cut-out in a hillside, but nonetheless, we were shown this woman’s abode, which was cozy. Most interesting was her television set and her bed, which is a slab of rock placed over an oven with a quilt on top. During the winter she stays warm between her quilts and over her oven. In the summer, the oven is turned off and she uses a stone pillow which keeps her cool. We also viewed her little cook house in which she was making dumplings, but we weren’t having lunch with her.

Clarence gives his tour groups a choice of several restaurants. One is attached to a factory store and another is in the village next to the Terracotta Warriors pits. Based on previous recommendations, I had requested the village restaurant, and that is where we went. This was a lovely little brand-new village. I asked about who lived there and how the village came to be built with identical houses for everyone. Clarence explained that these people had been living in a village on the land needed for the Terracotta Warrior museum. When they built the museum, they relocated everyone to this charming new town, about a quarter of a mile away. Another advantage of having the extra folks with us was that Clarence ordered extra dishes. After checking on allergies and preferences, he ordered Rice and Noodles in soup, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Vegetable dumplings, some sort of local bread stuffed with more greens, Kung Po Chicken (with nuts), Scrambled eggs with vegetables, Shredded Potato and Bottles of Water and Soda. Clarence prices his tours to include lunch (and all admission fees), so we didn’t see the bill.

After lunch we headed over to the Warriors and toured all the pits (which are now open). First we saw a short film on how the warriors were built, buried, and uncovered, and then we proceeded into Pits 1, 3, 2, and the museum in that order. As everyone reports, the TC warrior exhibit is excellent. Clarence has a theory about what happened that differs from the official version and has written a book, which he hopes will soon be published. We enjoyed discussing his theories with him and just seeing the warriors in situ, which is truly one of the great wonders of China.

I bought a few postcards from one of the endless procession of vendors and was astounded to discover that DH had bought a small boxed set of warriors for 10 Yuan. At first I thought it had to be a joke, but eventually realized that wonder of wonders, my husband had made a purchase (and a useless one at that!) It seems that while I was chatting with Mrs. L and Clarence, the guys had lagged behind and gotten into fierce negotiations with one of the vendors. When Mr. L. got the price down to 10 (I don’t know where the bargaining started, but considerably higher), my DH decided that he couldn’t pass up a bargain like that. (Note: I have since noticed that DH has placed the little warriors on a bookshelf in our dining room).

On the way back to town we encountered serious traffic and we all applauded Clarence when he made it from the far right lane to the inside left lane of a densely clogged roundabout – a task that I would have imagined to be impossible given the thickness of the traffic and the fact that traffic was pretty much at a standstill. We also passed some people having a fistfight in the middle of the street (and totally blocking the traffic behind them - fortunately not on our side of the street. The fight seemed to involve a cab driver and his two passengers, from what we could figure out). We had passed a large crowd clustered around the railing of the old moat outside the city walls on our way out of town in the morning and wondered what was going on to draw the crowd. We asked Clarence to let us know if there was anything about either incident on the evening news or in the newspaper!)

We dropped the L family off at their hotel (a new Ibis) and then drove to the train station. There we went into the Soft Sleeper area (which was packed) after going through some security and putting our bags through an x-ray machine. Jeff soon joined us since he and Clarence had decided this would be a good opportunity to meet and exchange business cards. Tickled to have not one, but two guides in attendance, I asked DH to take a picture of the three of us sitting there. When they called our train, each of them grabbed a piece of our luggage and set out to find the train, the car and the proper compartment for us as we raced to try to keep up with them.

Properly delivered to our compartment, we said goodbye and took a look around – pretty basic, not nearly as nice as I expected, the deluxe compartment consisted of two bunks with duvets and thin pillows, a table and one arm chair and a tiny bathroom with sink and toilet. There was a lace curtain on the window and each bunk (upper and lower) had a small television set, but since all the channels were in Chinese, we soon gave up on watching anything, but decided the headsets were cool. Having read much about the cuisine on trains (none of it good!) we decided to dine on trail mix bars and chocolate and drank the bottles of water supplied to us by Clarence earlier in the day. After the huge lunch, we weren’t really hungry. EKScrunchy – I don’t know what train you were on where you got food and beverages with your ticket, but this deluxe soft sleeper train provided none of that. A tea lady came along, but we declined when we found out they were charging ten yuan for the tea (if you’ll recall, we got tea, coffee and free water on our two-hour train ride from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, and absolutely nothing on our overnight deluxe train ride!) If our friend Rebecca from Hangzhou had been with us, I’m sure she would have said “this compartment is definitely not deluxe!” Exhausted again, we both went to sleep.
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May 11th, 2008, 06:19 PM
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Part V - Beijing

Saturday, April 12 We awoke early and found the scenery interesting… fields punctuated with clusters of new buildings going up seemingly everywhere. The train arrived in Beijing at 7:30 a.m. and since we had agreed we would meet Violet at the hotel, we were on our own at the train station. As usual, we were easy prey for porters, who spotted us and our luggage and made a beeline. A quick young man was rewarded with our bags. Here it turned out the porters are organized and as we followed him through the station, he made a stop at the porter desk where an officious young woman collected ten yuan per bag from us. It was a bit of a hike from the track to the taxi queue including one uphill ramp, so I didn’t mind paying for his services, but when we got to the line, it seemed to be interminable. Rather than drag our luggage all the way to the end, our porter simply inserted our luggage into the queue and although embarrassed, we had no choice but to follow along with the bags. No one seemed to object to this maneuver and it sort of reminded me of the way Chinese people drive (people constantly cut in front of one another. Since that seems to be the norm, it’s accepted by drivers as the way they do things.)

When we got to the front of the line, our porter gave the paper with our hotel written in Chinese to the dispatcher who assigned us to a cabdriver who took one look at the paper and refused. This meant the porter had to find another cab since apparently the rule is that he can’t just leave us and the luggage to fend for ourselves (a good rule!) After some disagreement with a few more drivers, he finally found one who would take us. After we got into the cab I gave the driver the phone number for the hotel, which he seemed to appreciate since he promptly pulled over and called the hotel for directions.

At the hotel Violet was waiting for us as we had agreed. It was too early to check in, but we left our luggage and set out for a place to grab some breakfast. Violet suggested a noodle place across the street, which is what we did. Then we set out for the Forbidden City, which was just a few blocks away. The weather was chilly and it actually sprinkled for a few minutes while we were walking around and listening to Violet’s explanations about what we were seeing. We found it interesting and enjoyed the beginning of our time with Violet, but the FC was extremely crowded and getting from one place to another involved going around huge Chinese tour groups. By the time we finished checking out the jewelry and other exhibits, the sun had emerged and we actually saw blue skies.

Violet suggested we eat hot pot for lunch and we walked over to Min Fu Lou, where she had made a reservation. We were quickly shown to a table upstairs. There was a wedding reception going on and many diners were scattered through the dining rooms. After some deliberation, we ended up with lamb, beef, mushrooms, cabbage, peanuts, noodles, fish balls, peanut sauce and coriander for our individual hot pots. Since Violet has become a fan of spicy food (a gift from Kong Lin who does most of the cooking!), she had some spicy oil added to her hotpot as well. The check for the three of us came to 293 RMB ($42). On the way out we met Kong Lin’s sister, who was “babysitting the van” while he ate with his tour party inside the restaurant.

We walked back to the Hotel Kapok and checked in. Because they were redoing the sidewalk in front of the hotel (actually we discovered it was the whole block and it was interesting to watch the workmen each day and to see the quick progress they made), we were upgraded from a fashion room at the front to a garden room at the back. This was terrific – an ultra-modern room with a glass bathroom and a garden outside the window. The room and bathroom were all in white and gray and it looked quite slick. Every hotel in which we stayed had slippers and robes. The Kapok slippers were by far the best – very comfortable gray slippers. There were no dressers so we used our suitcases, but there was ample closet space and we had no trouble getting extra hangers.

The front desk receptionists, Viv and Jen were pleasant and helpful as was Tiger, who brought up our bags and manned the door. Later in the week we had occasion to get to know Xavier, and he was great (and a little bit more fluent in English). It should be noted, however, that although very nice, most of the people who work here are not fluent English-speakers and of limited assistance in providing Concierge services, so having Violet make our reservations and generally arrange our days was extremely helpful. For example, we asked about where to find an internet café and were told that in addition to the over-priced Business Office in the hotel, there was one “at the corner.” It took a few days to find this place, so I won’t get ahead of the story, but suffice it to say that there was no possible way to find this place with the information given to us by the front-desk staff.

When we returned to the lobby we found Violet laughing. It seems there was a wedding reception upstairs and the groom had too much to drink. He vomited all over the sink area of the bathroom (which was next to the area where Violet was waiting in a comfortable chair) and some poor hotel employee was busily cleaning up. Like many Chinese bathrooms, the toilets were in separate sections for Men and Women, but the sinks were unisex. The next day we noticed these chairs were moved to another area of the lobby so apparently this was a temporary arrangement for Sunday.

After getting our belongings stowed, we set out with Violet to explore Wangfujing and get our bearings in the neighborhood. We walked as far as the Oriental Plaza Mall and enjoyed exploring the Food Court, which looked great. If we hadn’t been stuffed from the Hot Pot lunch, we might have done some sampling, but as it was, we did enjoy introducing Violet to a DQ sundae.

On the way to the FC I had noted the location of Dragonfly part of a spa chain in China), which was one of the places I hoped to visit while in Beijing (indeed, its location just a block from the hotel was one of the reasons for selecting the Kapok!) I went for a deluxe spa experience – an oil massage and add-on foot massage and got 90 minutes of western-style spa bliss for 293 RMB ($42).

Then I went back to the hotel and DH and I went out for a small supper in a neighborhood place. We ate Stir fried mushrooms, Fried Rice and some noodles with a coke for RMB 65 (less than $10). Before returning to the hotel we stopped in the convenience store across the street and picked up some muffins and in a fruit shop (also across the street) for our customary banana purchase (made after negotiating the price of course.)

Sunday, April 13 At 9:00 a.m. Violet picked me up for our trip to the Panjiayuan Dirt Market (DH decided he would skip the shopping trip and hang out near the hotel.) We took a taxi and rode a long way to get to the market (still within Beijing, but riding out to the Market or to the Summer Palace makes you realize just how big a city Beijing is!)

The first section of the market we visited was the area where people had goods spread out on blankets. Each person had an assortment of small items including some jewelry. Naturally this attracted me and I bargained for a nice lavender jade pendant and a small bottle for a gift for my mother. Later we saw rugs and some larger objects including carvings, hangings, furniture and statuary. Inside we found dozens of long aisles filled with vendors selling all sorts of items including jewelry, scarves, beads, stones, pearls, childrens’ clothing, silk, playing cards, Mao watches, calligraphy brushes…. You name it, and someone was selling it in the dirt market. I wandered the aisles and ended up buying a Mao watch for my son and a bracelet and necklace set. I also picked up some very cheap bracelets to use as presents and some chopstick sets to give as gifts… nothing cost very much and the browsing and buying were fun. I would definitely recommend this market and given more time in Beijing, I could have happily spent the full day here. It should be noted that later in our trip we saw many of the same items available in this market for much higher prices (in particular, the hotel shop in Guilin was filled with the same merchandise with unbelievable mark-ups) so I would advise doing your souvenir shopping here.

We returned to the hotel and picked up DH before setting out in search of a laundry. About two blocks from the hotel we found just what we were looking for – a small laundry where we could leave our shirts and sundries and avoid the hotel laundry prices. It came as something of a surprise (although why we were surprised I’m not sure at this point in our travels except that we’ve never bargained for laundry prices before and somehow we expected the guy to name a very small price for our bag… of course we had never before bargained for a banana either!) Anyway, the laundry man started the negotiations at 90 and we ended at 70 RMB including a button which needed to be replaced on one of DH’s shirt. I’m sure this was way too much money to spend, but it was cheaper than the hotel and we were too hungry to hassle much longer or try to find another laundry.

We stopped to eat at a local restaurant called Liu Jia Guo. Other people seemed to be eating what had become the ubiquitous hot pot (in Beijing at least), but we ordered some Fried Rice, Sauteed Cucumbers, and Chicken and Peanuts. With cokes, it came to 62 RMB ($9) Then we took another long taxi ride to the Summer Palace (neither the Dirt Market nor the Summer Palace are close to subway lines at the current time or we would have taken the subway). It was a gorgeous sunny day and we enjoyed walking around on Violet’s tour. The Summer Palace was mobbed with people – the problem with going there on Sunday, but it was preferable to tour the Summer Palace with a crowd and save the Wall for Monday morning, which was the plan. When we’d walked about halfway around, we took one of the dragon boats back across the lake to the entrance and a cab to the Silk Market.

As has been noted, the first few floors of the Silk Market are filled with stalls selling jackets, tee shirts, pants, and all sorts of modern clothing. We had no interest in bargaining for the kinds of clothes we could get at home, so we kept taking escalators until we reached the silk floor, where there were dozens upon dozens of stalls selling scarves, ties, tablecloths and bolts of cloth for tailoring. We found many funny (even comedic) and assertive salespeople who, once you stopped to look or responded to their entreaties, would do their best to assure you they had the finest merchandise for the best prices. We started pricing shawls and ties and DH reminded me that we had once seen ties for 1 USD in Hong Kong (although to be fair, the selection in the silk market was much nicer and I think the quality was better too) I found a stall with lovely shawls, negotiated a price, and spent some time deciding which one I wanted while conversing with the saleswoman, who was quite nice. Her name was Lily, and her stall was C3-0025 on the 3rd Floor. While I was busy, DH was assuring a young saleswoman that there was no way he wanted to buy a tie – he had enough ties to last him for the rest of his life. . This answer did not impress her, and the price kept getting lower and lower. Finally it was so low (15 RMB), that DH told her he might buy a tie if she put it on him and it “lay right” under the collar. In this way he ended up wearing a tie in the Silk Market. When we moved on down the aisle, every saleswoman with ties for sale did her best to convince him that he could have done better with them. One did undercut the competition and now the price was really ridiculous (10RMB) so he went through the same story again… if it lay right, etc. We had a good laugh when we discovered that the saleswoman had the same name as I do and she found that extremely funny too. This was Linda at Stall Number C2-0028 also on the third floor. Now wearing the second tie, we made the mistake of passing the first saleswoman who nearly had a heart attack when she saw him wearing the tie sold by her competitor. “How could he have bought a tie from someone else… and so on.” Both Violet and I had a great time enjoying the show and ended up in hysterics. I loved the Silk Market and wished I had more time to shop there. Even DH seemed to have a good time (much to his surprise. He hadn’t been happy when he realized that the trip to the Summer Palace would end at the Silk Market and thought when he skipped the Dirt Market excursion in the morning that he had avoided shopping for the day!)

We returned to the hotel on the subway. In Beijing they haven’t installed the equipment used in Shanghai so you need to buy tickets at the booth and all tickets are the same price (I think only 1 RMB with Violet’s discount card). The Subway we used in Beijing was much older and less slick than the Shanghai Metro.

Then we walked back from Wangfujing (subway stop) to our hotel, changed our clothes and headed out to get a ride from Kong Lin and Violet, who were driving home and able to drop us off at Dadong, where we had a reservation.

When we arrived, uniformed doormen/cab guys ushered us in and Violet checked us in with the reservationist before heading home. We were shown to a table and given large menu books opened to the page with the duck. There were two choices – Dadong Special Duck for 158 RMB or Guest Special Selection, which wasn’t explained but cost more. I asked the waitress what this meant, but she wasn’t able to explain in English and went off to find someone to help us. Eventually someone else came and said the special selection meant we picked out our duck ourselves. She also said we could order a half duck (not on the menu, but available for 79 RMB). Since DH never has a very big appetite and isn’t a “duck person,” we decided to order the half. The waitress then said we needed to order something else, so we ended up ordering fried prawns.

The half duck was carved from a full duck by a masked duck carver and artfully arranged on a bed of lettuce. We were each iven little dishes of sugar, hoisin sauce, scallions, cucumber slices, pickled vegetables, sliced radishes and crushed garlic. The waitress demonstrated the “classic” duck pancake (just duck, hoisin or plum sauce as we also know it, and scallions) and she also demonstrated the alternative – crunchy sesame bun (duck, plum sauce, scallion, cucumber, radishes, and garlic). Finally, she demonstrated dipping the duck skin in sugar and I quite agree with ek that this is addictive – totally delicious. In fact everything we ate at Dadong was delicious and I was very pleased with this restaurant (with the exception of the waitress who advised us to order more than we could eat!) It lived up to all my expectations. Following the duck we also had rice and prawns, which were good, but nothing in this restaurant could match the duck (of course I didn’t eat my way through the menu, so I could be wrong about this!) They brought the duck soup and we joked that after all these years, we finally understood Groucho’s joke. This was followed by an almond milk dessert, which was, in turn, followed by an artistic display of melon on dry ice. We didn’t order the desserts… they just came as part of the meal. The half duck and shrimps with three diet cokes came to 223 RMB ($32).

As we were paying, a cab guy came over and asked us if we wanted a taxi. I gave him our card and we were quickly home. For once we didn’t have an argument with the taxi driver about whether or not he could find our hotel!

Monday, April 14 – Violet and Kong Lin were waiting for us at 8 a.m. for our ride to the Great Wall at Mutianyu. The day was sunny and warm – perfect weather for the expedition. There was a fair amount of traffic and we went by the “Bird Cage” as the new Olympic Stadium is called. It’s really a beautiful building and looks like it will be ready in plenty of time.

When we got to the wall we went up to the wall using the ski lift… since I’m not crazy about heights, I tried not to look down too much, but except for worrying a little about getting off and out of the way quickly at the top, it was easy. Riding the ski lift with DH did remind me that the last time I rode a ski lift, we were newly married and went skiing (my first time) at Stowe. He buckled on my skiis, told me to go this way and that (with me looking at my feet the entire time) and the next thing I knew, we were on the lift line. What was I do to… I didn’t know how to ski… “don’t worry, said, DH. It’s easy. You’ll be fine, etc. No problem”… so next thing I knew, I was sitting in the ski lift. It suddenly hit me that I didn’t know how I was going to get off… DH said “no problem, just ski off.” Somehow I avoided getting hit by the ski lift and managed to get off and fall down in short order. As we headed for the wall, I hoped this experience wouldn’t be quite as traumatic (and it wasn’t!)

The wall was relatively empty and we easily walked for about four towers worth of pavement and sometimes steps. I met a family from the U.K. – parents and their seven-year-old Chinese daughter visiting Beijing and Harbin. They said they hope to come back every seven years. We stopped frequently to take photographs and enjoy the views, which were stupendous. Then we took the toboggan down (much to my husband’s surprise since he didn’t think I would do it, but I did and I even enjoyed the ride!)

Next we drove to the famous Family Reunion Restaurant. Violet suggested a menu of Green Salad (the only salad we ate in China and quite good), Pork Dumplings, Pumpkin Dumplings (which weren’t orange but green so I don’t know exactly what this was), Pork and Mushroom Dumplings, and Egg and Leek Dumplings. Once again, I was disappointed… the casings were light and delicate, but the fillings really didn’t taste very interesting to me. Last, but certainly not least were the best dumplings of the day – fried and crunchy and covering the pan – Fried Dumplings made with pork and cabbage. With a large bottle of coke the meal, which easily fed the four of us, cost 62 RMB ($9).

Back in Beijing, we headed for the Pearl Market. The first floor was filled with stalls selling cosmetics and sneakers. Then came the second floor, which had cheap pearls and bead necklaces. The third floor contained jewelry shops and here Violet took me to her favorite place. She said she has found them to be reliable insofar as they sell what they purport to sell. I wandered around, but with the exception of one bracelet, didn’t see anything I wanted. I found the salesman to be disinterested in waiting on me once he discovered I wasn’t interested in buying a real pearl necklace or anything too expensive.

I went next door and found some inexpensive jewelry items including a gray mother of pearl necklace and bracelet set, another bracelet for me, some earrings, and a violet jade pendant for Violet for a total of 400 RMB ($57). The next store was my favorite. They had an entire wall filled with beads in every color you could think of made from lots of stones including agate and pearls. I ended up with three necklaces and two bracelets strung by several young women working in the shop and closed with clasps I selected. As they worked, they kept trying on the necklaces until I was satisfied with the length. When I asked for the store card and discovered that once again, our saleperson was another Linda, Violet told her I was Linda, too. She thought that was very funny and we all had a good laugh. The store was Xiao Hong, JS Esquisite. I spent 448 RMB ($64 USD) and had a great time.

Then it was on to the Acrobats. Violet purchased our tickets and I told her we didn’t need expensive ones. We ended up in the balcony and the seats were fine. The show was quite good – we enjoyed the costumes, music and scenery, and, of course, the acrobats were terrific. Violet said it was a new show and she hadn’t seen it yet, so she stood in the back and watched it, too.

Last stop for the day was DTF for dim sum. This branch is located on the 6th floor of a shopping mall. On the way to the restaurant we passed dozens of upscale cosmetics counters and with wide aisles and music, the ambience of the mall was quite nice. DTF was decorated with lots of wood and glass and seemed very modern and possibly fairly new. We ordered an assortment of dim sum (I love when you can order dim sum for dinner!). We had the signature pork dumplings, pork and shrimp dumplings, wonton soup with noodles and pork buns, and with two diet cokes the total was 120 RMB ($18) – a good dinner for a great price. (Notice I was finished with vegetable dumplings - no more of those for the remainder of the trip!)

Interestingly, we seemed to be surrounded by English-speaking Asian couples. On one side we had a young woman who works in Beijing media and was educated in the UK and her dinner companion, who was a guy from Hong Kong who travels to Beijing, L.A. and NYC for his company of catering consultants. He recommended his cousin’s restaurant, The Thai Grill, near 5th and 53rd in Manhattan, but I haven’t tried it yet. We also discussed dining in Hong Kong and he made several recommendations (for my next trip!) They were eating a dessert made with almond milk and bean curd, which they recommended we order. It looked a lot like the almond milk dessert we were served at Dadong, but it was huge, and we were quite full from the dim sum so we passed on the suggestion. The next couple to sit down was a guy from Korea (who lives in Laos) and his dining partner, who was from Beijing. They were also friendly and I really enjoyed this dinner – the surroundings, the food and the company.

When we got downstairs I wondered if we would have trouble finding a taxi. I noticed that the mall had “doormen” and asked one of them about a taxi, thinking he would point me in the right direction. Instead, he went out to the curb and flagged one down. That was impressive. This cab was driven by a woman (the first female cabdriver I had seen in Beijing). Violet had added the Night Market to the hotel card to help cab drivers locate our hotel (one complained that the writing on the card was too small), and this driver took a quick look at the card and took off in the direction of the hotel. She drove down the block next to our hotel (where the laundry was located, which was handy because we needed to pick it up). Then, just before I was about to tell her to stop, she took a right turn and started down toward the far street (away from our destination, thinking we wanted to go to the other side of the night market instead of our hotel). I was emphatic that she should stop, and she got that part, but she was concerned that we would get lost and kept trying to tell me that she was taking me to the Night Market.) After we paid and got out, she rolled down her window and tried again to convince me that I was making a mistake. I took the card and pointed to the hotel part and assured her as best I could with the card and my smile that we were fine. It was one of those moments that I really wished I could speak more Mandarin. I was touched, however, that she was worried we wouldn’t get to our destination okay. We picked up our laundry – it was clean and nicely folded, but we discovered when we got back to the hotel that the button wasn’t fixed.

Tuesday, April 15 – Once again, the sun was out and it was warm. We set out for the Temple of Heaven with Violet. Since Kong Lin didn’t have any customers, he came along with us for a “busman’s holiday.” First on the schedule was to find the internet café. The information supplied by the front desk got us nowhere, so both Violet and Kong Lin started asking local people. Violet went over to the Jaguar restaurant on the corner since the front desk people had suggested it would be next to that, and Kong Lin asked some guys playing cards behind the newsstand. Two minutes later, they both had the information we needed – the café was located in the hutong in back of the Jaguar (which is huge and takes up the whole block – it’s a seafood restaurant and very expensive, so we didn’t ever go there.) Strolling along the hutong, we were in another world from tourist Beijing – here people were going about their daily lives. We passed a kindergarten and then came to the market where people said the café would be found. First we thought it was next to the market, then after further checking realized it was downstairs in the basement, reachable by a door within the market building. There’s no way in a million years we could have found this on our own. The plan was to go there after our day of sightseeing, so we checked on the hours and then set off for the subway, which we took to the Temple of Heaven.

On the way to the TOH, we stopped off at the Hyatt to book a table at Made in China. They had no tables for dinner, but it occurred to Violet that we could lunch there, so she checked with us and then made the reservation for lunch. Then we took Line 1 one stop and transferred to Line 5. After we got out of the subway, it was a short walk into the Temple grounds. By this time it was around 11 a.m., and there were senior citizens (with a few grandchildren in tow), playing Chinese games, singing in small groups, playing instruments, selling knit items, playing a form of hackey sack, and walking around the grounds. Violet did her Temple tour for us and then we headed back to the subway and Made in China.

The lunch at Made in China was one of the most disappointing meals of the trip. I had expected a delicious lunch for a reasonable price and instead got a decent lunch for an exorbitant price. We ordered String Beans stir fried with pork and dried vegetable, Fried dumplings with pork and shrimp, and Crispy pancake with lamb, chives, and cumin. That plus three diet cokes came to a whopping 357 RMB ($51 for the two of us.) The cokes were the killer – 135 RMB for three cans that would sell in a market for under a few Yuan apiece – for shame Hyatt Hotel - that is price gauging, which I guess they get away with because the place is filled with businessmen on expense accounts. I am a Hyatt Gold Passport member and often stay at Hyatts, but given the way guests are treated at this hotel, (and if this is what they charge for a coke in the restaurant I imagine all of their pricing is way more than it should be) I would look for one with better prices! We could have ordered the duck, and that probably would have been a better lunch, but that was, of course, way more expensive. The bottom line – stick to Dadong for Beijing Duck – much more reasonable for the duck, and the cokes were only 10 Yuan a piece!

After lunch we debated various hutong walks and decided to take a look at the famous Back Lakes area. We took a taxi over and then strolled around the lake, with hawkers , cars, building materials, and rickshaw guys trying to sell us a ride amidst dozens of ex-pat bars everywhere. I didn’t find it lovely. In fact, it was so commercial and unpleasant that I can’t see why people like it. The lake itself was pretty with willows and boats, but the area around it, as I wrote in my journal – ugh! Many of the old buildings were being redone (I guess they want to spiff it up along with the rest of Beijing for the Olympics). When we got back out to the street Kong Lin realized that the bus they were going to take home (Bus 60) stopped right around the corner from our hotel, so we all got on, found seats, and DH and I quickly returned “home.”

Then it was off to the internet place to catch up. When we descended the stairway beneath the market, we found a huge room filled with computers and a few young guys playing games in an otherwise empty room. We paid three yuan each for one hour. The young man in charge gave us adjacent computers, put in our codes, and we were set. We were interested to note that at this place the computers were much faster than they had been at any of the hotel Business Centers we had used. I was pleased to see that Lily had written to reconfirm that she would meet us at the airport in Guilin on Wednesday morning.

After stopping back at the Kapok, we set out for Wangfujing and our customary Bank of China stop. We withdrew money from ATM’s every few days throughout the trip and never had any problems. Violet had made a reservation for us at a restaurant in the Jinmao Tower called Xiao Nan Guo. When we walked in a young woman came over and said they had no tables. I explained we had a reservation, but she didn’t speak enough English to understand me. Then another young woman came over with the reservation list and there was my name listed. I pointed it out to them and they realized their error. Quickly seated, we were given two sets of chopsticks (one for serving and one for eating). This was a good idea, but this was the only restaurant in China in which we saw this done. The wait staff was extremely attentive and kept putting food on our plates and into our bowls after we were served. We ordered Cold Pork Ribs in Sweet Sauce, Crab Dumplings, Noodles and Crab (a lesson learned after two orders of something inexpensive with crab – the first in Shanghai – if it’s inexpensive, it won’t be crabmeat as we know it; it will be crab roe or some other unrecognizable part of the crab. One person told me we had eaten crab uterus and roe – who knew a crab even had a uterus?) Dumplings in Soup, and Stir fried vegetables in Black Bean Sauce. DH kept asking me what the vegetables were, but I had no idea – some sort of greens (another lesson learned – ask what the vegetables are and hope they can give you an English translation that makes sense!)Dinner was good, but not great. After the food came the watermelon. The total was 192 RMB with our customary sodas.

We strolled back to the hotel past the snack street (on the next block from the Kapok). We saw raw oysters sitting out in the warm evening – I love oysters, but there is no way I would eat them after they had been sitting out. And, of course, we were in China, where we only ate salad once and that was at a place where our companions vouched for the hygiene and we had been in country for quite a while. I wasn’t about to eat raw seafood even if I did have shots for hepatitis. Every vendor said “Hello” in a loud voice to us, but we were full and truth be told, although the snack street had held a great deal of interest for me before I got to Beijing, once there, I had no interest in eating the food. They put it out around 4-4:30 in the afternoon and sell food until late at night (since I never went past there very late I have no idea when they pack up, but it was crowded with people eating things every time we passed by.) I would have enjoyed a DQ at that point, but they didn’t have one in the snack street and it was too far to walk back to the Oriental Plaza. NB. Neither one of us had any stomach problems during our 23 days.

We were starting to feel completely at home at the Kapok and in our neighborhood, and that meant we were about to leave for a new destination. In this case, departure would be extremely early in the morning, so we needed an early wake-up and an early night.
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