BeachGirl's China Adventure

Sep 2nd, 2009, 06:42 PM
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BeachGirl's China Adventure

We are wrapping up our trip today and departing Beijing. We've had a fabulous time! DSS has found a great apartment for his 4-month stay for grad school so we can go home knowing he'll be fine. (Grad school is what started this adventure.)

During our trip, I posted in the lounge of our China adventures. Some of you thought I should post it here so here goes!

Posted by: BeachGirl247 on Aug 22, 2009 at 12:44 PM
Posted in: Fodorite Lounge

**Image yourself walking into a Best Buy store, tvs all over the walls. All on a different channel. All at full volume at the same time.

Arrived in Shanghai! LONG flight from Newark to Shanghai -- 14 1/2 hours. After a one-hour drive from the airport to the hotel in French Concession, we were immersed in a high energy, high pollution city. I cannot emphasize enough -- HIGH POLLUTION!! Can you imagine driving through a greenish-brown haze and wondering if it's going to rain but those aren't clouds of rain -- its pollution! We cannot see the buildings past 1/2 mile. Husband says it is worse than Dehli. Scary driving. Anything that has wheels all compete for the same concrete.

You want to cross the street? Have life insurance? Lights are a suggestion. And, just because traffic is coming from your left does NOT mean you will not have traffic approaching from the wrong direction on your right. Bike lane? Peshaw! It can be anything with wheels and a motor or a family of 4 on a vespa. No sh*t. I almost got hit tonight by a man on a bicycle riding down the sidewalk and then on to the street -- and not abiding by the street crossing light. Again, just a suggestion. Upon his approach to my being, he emitted guttural screams as he was 'rounding the corner, ones that are universal -- I knew to get the hell out of the way. Some things don't need translating.

Like I said, the lights are just a suggestion.

After checking in to the most charming hotel -- Old House Inn -- complete with wood floors, bay window, poster bed with sheers and Ming Dynasty era bench - we were most enamored with the place. Who wants a Hilton?

I'm here to tell you that you cannot plan for your initial experience here.

It is sensory overload for an American!!

We love our hotel, Old House Inn. Great area and such a beautiful, old hotel with quiet , modern features.

More to come tomorrow!
BeachGirl247 is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 06:44 PM
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Day 2 Shanghai:

Awoke to a nice rain shower. Ate our free breakfast in the sun room and headed out to Yu Gardens and Bazaar via cab. Our eyes began burning -- again -- & realizing it wasn't from a long flight but the brownish-green fog pumping out of all motorized vehicles in traffic. Glad I smuggled Visine on the plane!

Arrived at the south end of Yu Gardens Bazaar, a multiplex of old style buildings with the beautiful roof lines.

Turning the corner under the arch entered us in to stall after stall of every product to peddle -- silk tops, beads, beautiful kites, masks, calligraphy brushes, Western t-shirts, "Jalvin Klein" shirts (hmm, knock off you think?) and hundreds of peddlers trying to sell watches and hand bags. "Lady! Lady! You want purse? I sell Gucci. I sell Louis Vuitton!" They run in front of you shoving a photo paper of handbags in your face. Some went away after the first few shake offs. Some finally left after my very poor Mandarin "boo yau" which is supposed to mean "no want". With my inflection, who knows what I said as a few went away laughing!

Yu Gardens was gorgeous. Beautiful, scenic areas of water, rock, and the old buildings. Such a peaceful respite from the madness outside its walls.

Ate too many dumplings at Din Tau Fung which led me to a visit to the public restroom. Yes, a squatter but it had a flusher AND a door. WOW! But, as I was warned, no toilet paper. As a good Fodor's traveler, though, I was prepared. I wasn't prepared, however, for the ladies washing their feet and hands in the sink but at least they were clean.

Speaking of clean, there are people constantly sweeping with home-made brooms. Not only sweeping any trash but even water that was forming a puddle was swept away. For such a large city we are impressed with the effort to keep it clean. Remember, clean is a relative term here.

Discovered the foodie street. I wish I could post some pics -- buckets of things that I couldn't make out what they were. But, many things looked and smelled delicious. Woks darkened by many years of use were full of fresh (cough cough) veggies and mystery meat. Have to say it looked very tempting. Such an impoverished area -- these people have absolutely nothing. And a family of 5 live in the size of what we call a walk-in closet.

An excellent day. I've craved the pork dumplings from Din Tai Fung for so long and it lived up to the hype. As did the excitement of the markets. No purchases yet but I'm sure a few trinkets will make their way back home with me.

Good night for now!
BeachGirl247 is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 06:46 PM
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Greetings from Day 3: China. Shanghai

Awoke at an ungodly hour and got out and about in the French Concession area. Everyone was stirring for work and picking up produce or heading somewhere very quickly. Bikes with 6 jumbo water tank bottles strapped to an old bike that made you wonder how it held together, much less how they were able to peddle up the street dodging people and cars without falling over were competing for street space with city busses and every scooter in the city.

We were in awe of the scooters and cars all aligned at the stop light. Just like a motocross event. Revving their engines, all ready to take the first advance past the pedestrian line but not any sooner as their was a man with a whistle waving you back at the starting line. Light turned green and it was every man for himself! For as crazy as it all is, I have to say that system works. No one has become a white outline on the street yet!

Passed a few meat markets along the street today -- chicken feet, pig snouts and miscellaneous organs that I don't remember from anatomy class. It was ready for consumption unlike the pickled versions in lab. However, neither were appealing. And, sadly, around its corner was a bike packed with ducks and chickens wrapped in netting to prevent an escape were destined to be in the rotisserie window the next day.

We took a one-hour river cruise to see the modern, time-square lit architectural wonders along the Bund. Cheesy -- yes. But, there is so much construction that you can't walk along and admire the Vegas-like structures with led motion screens on the outside of the buildings so we had to get out on the water to enjoy it.

We pulled away from the dock noticing the two large barges heading our way. We wondered who would lose the chicken contest as we were on a collision course and I was sure we would be the loser. "Tourist Barge Sinks in Huangpu River. All Dead from Water Pollution. Story at 6." Forget drowning. The toxicity of the water would kill us first. With a little maneuvering we missed by a mere 3 feet or so. Scary stuff. But, that chicken game goes on every day on the streets with people, scooters, bikes, cars and busses all vying for position. How no one comes out dead I really don't know.

Halfway through the cruise I noticed there was a lady on the microphone talking about something, in Mandarin of course. Interestingly, it didn't matter that it was Mandarin or English as we had tuned it out as most of us do when we're on one of the tourist traps. Blah blah blah.

We're packing tonight for our Air China flight tomorrow to Xi'an. Terra cotta soldiers here we come! We are very much looking forward to this. The soldiers anyway. Not Air China and Shanghai airport again.

Shanghai was a surprise. I expected to find tall buildings and a crazy, high-strung place with no soul. But what I found were little nooks of neighborhoods of people doing what we all do everyday -- running errands, hurrying to work or our next appointment, taking a walk in a park, enjoying a drink with friends at a local cafe or just watching the day go by on their balcony.

It's seems so different from home but really, it's just the same.

See y'all in Xi'an!
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Sep 2nd, 2009, 06:47 PM
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BeachGirl247 on Aug 25, 09 at 11:02 AM
Working on it now, swiss. Uploading just a few to photobucket. China has banned Facebook so I cannot post through my computer or add pics. I've tried different proxys but they've already shut them down, too.

BeachGirl247 on Aug 25, 09 at 11:09 AM
Here goes nothing. I don't know if this will work or not.

BeachGirl247 on Aug 25, 09 at 11:16 AM
I'm too pooped to write any more so I'll add the days events tomorrow (or your today).

The muslim quarter was much more vibrant and exciting than we anticipated. The aromas wafting from one cook stand to the next were drawing us in to one, then the other. The colors, the smells, the people -- everything was stimulating and exciting. I felt like I was in an Anthony Bourdain episode.

The cake picture is one of my favorites -- a birthday cake with a dead cow on it. I don't think I've ever heard the words "hey, mom, can I have a dead cow on my cake? Please? Pretty please?!"

(paytonsgrandma, there's a new cake idea for you!)
BeachGirl247 is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 06:48 PM
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BeachGirl247 on Aug 26, 09 at 09:18 PM

Good morning! It's a sunny and smoggy day here in Xi'an. Our last. We have an excellent view from our 10th floor room. Below lots of small shops selling cold drinks, tea, mystery liquor, and a small food vendors that all look like amazing food.

One in particular has piqued our interest. They are open all night long with men playing card games, people wandering up and ordering her specialty is and wandering on to wherever they're going at 3:30am. It's quite interesting. We've found ourselves going to the window to check out what is going on whenever we are restless during the night. Very interesting.

I couldn't take just talking about it and we succumbed to our temptations and headed across the street. One of our breakfast items is a fried bread that has egg and scallions fried into it. Then they brush it with a brown runny, sauce (not spicy) and a red sauce (very spicy). Then topped with a green, leafy vegetable that I think is bok choy. Then they fold it over and voila! A chinese soft taco.

The Chinese doughnut/fried bread stick is so light and fluffy. He took out long, rectangular pieces of dough. Stretched them out and pounded with his fists. Then cut into small, short pieces maybe 4 inches long. Each one is then stretched and spun with his hands and tossed into the pot of hot grease where his wife tosses them to brown evenly.

I saw people dipping them in something we think is soy milk. They are so light and fluffy and would be perfect with a cappuccino!

YUM! I didn't segregate pictures from this morning but they are the first ones. The others are from the Muslim Quarter food fest.

Next up, our visit yesterday to Terra Cotta Warriors. And, tonight, our overnight train from Xi'an to Beijing.
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Sep 2nd, 2009, 06:49 PM
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BeachGirl247 on Aug 27, 09 at 11:56 PM
Good Morning from beautiful Beijing!

Last night was our overnight train from Xi'an to Beijing. We booked the 2-berth deluxe sleeper, nicest cabin they have and worth every penny because THEY HAVE A BATHROOM! Muy importante. I don't consider myself a germaphobe. However, I don't like bathrooms that look worse than the ones found in Animal House either. My son's college apartment bath looked spotless compared to the one I had to use in the train station's soft sleeper lounge = VIP lounge. I may need to burn the rubber on the bottom of my shoes to disinfect them after standing in pools of pee. Anyhoo, didn't sleep much but the whole idea was to experience something different. I did. Ain't doing it again. Between the hoards of people cramming together at the train station, smoke, pee and more smoke and the pee bucket on the train, I'm done with China train travel.

On to more interesting topics, Terra Cotta Warriors. I'll skip the story of our captivity in the mini van with a tour guide we didn't hire. We finally got the the warriors which took what seemed forever with an angry tour guide and very slow driver who didn't want to get anywhere fast if it didn't result in a commission for him.

They drop you off where you must walk through a shopping area with things from a jumbo laughing Buddha to crocs (shoot me, please) to unidentified animal skins. We all agreed, one looked like a german shepherd skin and lots of long haired cats. For my well being, I'm telling myself it wasn't dogs or cats.

Avoiding the mildly aggressive vendors we made it to the pit areas where the soldiers are located. We decided to go straight to the biggie and work our way down. After reading the information board we proceeded into the room holding the clay soldiers we had seen many times in books and travel shows. The anticipation was killing us and hurriedly passed through the doors and into the covered hall.

There they were. All facing us. Part in shadows. Part revealed by the rising sun. All different and all expressionless. Over 1,000 of the 6,000 soldiers were revealed to us. Some in front of horses, some following, all in rows just as they would have been if marching for the emperor. While we were amazed at the grand scale and details of each soldier, we were somewhat underwhelmed. It will be a quite a site when all 6,000 are excavated and repaired.

Photographing them is allowed. No flash. No tripods.

So, that's it for me today. It's time to shower after our overnight train and hit the streets of Beijing. Today, Forbidden City.
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Sep 2nd, 2009, 06:50 PM
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BeachGirl247 on Aug 28, 09 at 09:30 AM

Well, I should be out and about in downtown Beijing living it up and sipping expensive cocktails. However, as mentioned above I took the night train last night and just because it's dark doesn't mean you sleep. And, I didn't. I heard every shake, rattle, and roll from the train. So, I sent dh and ds out to enjoy sushi and anything I would approve of without me.

Me? I'm sitting in a fluffy, white robe, large hotel slippers (who wants to walk on hotel carpet!), and about to partake in a salt bath just because I can. And, of course, free red wine from the club lounge.

Today's adventure was Forbidden City. We took a short 10-minute walk from our hotel to the crowded area of Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City. It was a little odd to see such a formidable, ancient place in the middle of 21st century buildings. Once we passed through the gates, fighting off guide offers and "hey, where are you from" voiced from a young lady to my ds, we came upon the doors to the Forbidden City. I know for me, I have seen the photos, the travel shows, etc., but the enormity of this 'city' cannot be conveyed by tv or photos. Nor can the spirit of it as well. I would stop at moments just trying to take in what it was like in the day, how magnificent, how beautiful the ceremonies, the parties, the celebrations were in the palaces. So much beauty and grandeur.

But, after the first few palaces I became a little jaded and was not impressed with the info my walkalong tour tape was giving me so we departed the north exit, fighting off more tour people and souvenir vendors.

It was a beautiful, peaceful place. So much detail but too much to absorb and appreciate in a couple of hours. More curly-roofed buildings with odd number of animals on it, painted ceilings, lots of marble-carved ramps for the emperor and a lot of courtyards. I may sound tired from it all but it really is sensory overload at times and trying to take in centuries of this beautiful architecture in just a couple of weeks can be too much. There's only so much you can see before you begin to not appreciate what you are seeing and I don't want to reach that point with another week left.

This has been a trip like no other. So intense. So much of everything all at once that I feel like I'm hitting "sensory overload" and I probably am.

So, I'll regroup and we'll venture on tomorrow to Summer Palace. However, there's a really cool swimming pool at our hotel. I didn't bring a suit but I can still hang out. I just wished it was in the sun and not underground. Something creepy about that -- especially when one of the hot tub areas looks like a Playboy knock off of the grotto. Which reminds me, I haven't heard from my dh or ds in a while...
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Sep 2nd, 2009, 06:52 PM
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BeachGirl247 on Aug 31, 09 at 09:35 AM

In the voice of Robin Williams....Goooood Morning, Fodors Friends!

Today. THE day. Great Wall Day. We made a big check on our bucket list today: Hiking the Great Wall of China at Simatai.

An early wake-up call by a fancy automated service got us up and going. Little did I know dh and ds had been up and going already. Seems there was a little Beijing food adjustment problem and suddenly our big day was in the hands of our friend, Immodium.

A good breakfast of cheese and bread should cure the problem and it did. DH even tempted fate with his Tabasco addiction. What was he thinking. Toilets on the Great Wall? Think not.

Got the 'thumbs up' from the two light weights and we were on our way for a 3-hour tour. ...a 3-hour tour....

We were there in record time as who knew Mario Andretti has a Chinese cousin, Mr. Zheng? Amazing how their rush hour works. We should all visit and take note as, again, total chaos works. At home, we would have fender benders and the middle finger flying. Not here.

After passing the many, many fruit stand venders off in the distance we could see the wall and its towers on the craggly, rocky peaks ahead.

We have arrived at the Great Wall of China! Stomach aches turned to butterflies as we viewed something we had only seen from magazines and the Travel Channel.

In front of us was a most spectacular view. Soon, we were out of the car and on our way via the public toilet squatter -- women's room complete with a germ-infested baby crib and mobile.

We had considered the 4-hour hike from Jinshangling to Simatai, however, knowing that we didn't have all day and were in decent shape but we were no Lance Armstrong, we voted to take the cable car up. This provided beautiful views and no lines -- we were it!

Just before arriving at the cable car dump off we saw that we weren't close to the top -- we had quite the hike uphill ahead of us just to get to the wall. And, with the Immodium twins puckering up at the thought of physical exertion of that level we decided to take the amusement park tram reject ride up a very steep incline to what we thought was the last leg to get to the wall.

While grateful for the rusty, metal death trap up we couldn't help but wonder "what if the gear breaks and we rush to our death on this reject ride"? That thought passed as soon we were dumped off and at a pathway that was somewhat closer to the wall. Just a short 20-minutes climb up tall, rocky steps zig-zagging back and forth would bring us to the wall -- albeit without breath as our lungs had collapsed 15 minutes back. This is not for the faint of heart.

We arriving on the wall and before us, while smoggy and hazy, provided the view we had longed to see. Miles of the wall stretched out before us following the winding, path just clinging to the rocky ridges.

It was everything we had expected and more. Each new tower gave us a new vantage point. A view unlike the last and leaving us wanting to see more and more. The steps were uneven, tall, short, deep -- all different which forced us to look down when all we wanted to do was look out before us. But, better sense prevailed as there would be nothing to stop our decent -- down or over -- had we lost our footing.

We were grateful for only having a few people on the wall, even the few locals following us trying to sell their t-shirts and expensive bottled waters were few and far between. It allowed for us to appreciate the magnificence of this formidable structure without having a large amoeba moving around us.

After 3+hours of our walk (cough cough - think steep hike up/steep hike down), we were lucky that our direction took us mostly down and not up. Many a time we saw the look of "OMG, more stairs" from passersby. These are not mall stairs. These are double-tall steps that will suck the wind out of the most healthy individual. But, it's worth every pain as the views are unbelievable.

DS was intent on taking the zipline down and I wondered with the high winds if it were in operation. I'm sure subconsciously I was hoping it would be closed. However, to ds's delight -- it was open. Suddenly, I felt the need for immodium as DS asked if we were ready to go down and, in unison, he received an emphatic *&%@ NO! I refuse to be a chicken so here we go!

Clutching my backpack carrying cameras, phone, and most importantly -- toilet paper -- I climbed into my harness and was soon flying down the zipline screaming and laughing at the same time. No harm no foul as all went well and soon all three of us were in the boat and on our short ride to the parking lot.

What a day! What memories! THE BEST part of this trip. PERIOD.

If you come to China for one thing: Go to the Great Wall of China. Simatai. It is bucket-list worthy. It is stinky-squatter-train-station-toilet worthy. Yes, I would ride that dang overnight train again if it meant I could see this impressive structure I would go.

Thank you to Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Yes, the same emperor that brought you Terra Cotta Warriors.
BeachGirl247 is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 06:54 PM
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For the unabridged version, here is the link:

Thanks for all who helped us with your advice and posting your experiences. It was of great help!!

BeachGirl247 is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 08:10 PM
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What a fabulous report! Can you tell me the names of your hotels?
sdtravels is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 10:24 PM
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Shanghai: Old House Inn, French Concession. We absolutely love the hotel and the area.

Xi'an: Citadines. Great location near everything. Not a full service hotel in regards to setting up a car, etc.

Beijing: Grand Hyatt @ Oriental Plaza. Great location near shopping, dining and metro.
BeachGirl247 is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 10:26 PM
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oops. Hit submit too soon! I'm glad you enjoyed reading.
BeachGirl247 is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2009, 02:29 AM
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Loved traveling along with you BG! Safe travels home!
Statia is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2009, 06:17 AM
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thank you for the great live report, brings me back to China. I'm glad you had such a great adventure.
HappyMom32 is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2009, 06:57 AM
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What a fun read, sorry you didn't post the complete report here. Those steps at the wall are quite something. I read that they were designed that way on purpose to make it hard for invaders.
Nywoman is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2009, 07:23 AM
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Great report. We're going in two weeks, so it was a big help. Timely. No penalty.
Gpanda is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2009, 08:16 AM
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Glad you had a great experience and thanks for taking time to report back as you go. Not everyone enjoys overnight trains and I understand your feeling.

Good you enjoyed the Old House Inn, the area is my favorite, my DM lives 2 blocks west. You must have had a nice room, another Fodorite was put in a tiny attic room.
Shanghainese is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2009, 01:56 PM
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Have a great trip, Gpanda. Bring visine and throat lozenges.

Shanghainese, we had a great room. Corner room with lots of windows and a gorgeous king bed. Our son was put in a smaller room since he was a single. But, it was still a nice room.

Just landed in Newark. Two more flights and an overnighter and we'll be home! Yea!!
BeachGirl247 is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 11:08 AM
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Great to read your trip report BeachGirl! Our trip got postponed until sometime after the first of the year.
dougieshoney is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 12:09 PM
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Thanks, dougieshoney. I hope you get to make it next year.
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