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Highlights from 17 days in Beijing & Shanghai

Highlights from 17 days in Beijing & Shanghai

Old Oct 29th, 2009, 09:18 AM
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Highlights from 17 days in Beijing & Shanghai

I hated to miss the Boston GTG but I did have the perfect excuse: an 'on-again, off-again, oh-yes-we-are-after-all-going' trip to China. I had made two somewhat leisurely trips to Beijing in 2004 and 2005, but in China-time that was ages ago, pre-Olympics, so I was very eager and curious to experience the city again. My husband and colleagues had plans to work long hours while there so the trip offered me the advantages of inclusion in some dinners and other social events coupled with lots of free time for solo exploration. Perfect.

Caveat: What will follow is neither Dogster-poetic nor Panda pitch-perfect. It won’t offer the spectacular competence of a Kathie or ekscrunchy or Kristina or Craig report, nor the bracing insights of intrepid NYwoman, nor laugh-aloud humour of riposte from His Bobness, nor the richly informative and authoritative commentary of Peter NH and Cicerone, nor …well, you get the idea. It is just a quick and succinct laundry list of details and highlights from 18 stimulating days. I have gotten so much help from this forum over the years; perhaps something that follows might trigger a question or two that will spark more clarity and insight.

Time period: 6-23 October

Destinations: Beijing (7-17 October) & Shanghai (17-23 October)

Ok, wheels up and I'll quickly gloss over all the air travel details.

Air travel overview: United business class BOS-ORD-PEK. China Eastern economy class PEK-PVG. United again, business PVG-SFO and first SFO-BOS.

Yes, I know that United biz class standards are alas well below those of other carriers in Asia but I flew on miles accumulated from my husband’s seven trips to Asia in the preceding year. Also, any business class travel compares so favorably to ever-degrading economy class travel in the US that I am grateful for the upgrade and uncharacteristically tolerant. I don't even get misty eyed and inclined to view our frumpy legacy carriers as a metaphor for a civilization in decline. Never. Not one bit.

The two trans-Pacific flights differed in tenor. The Chicago-Beijing flight offered the older style cabin and a much less appealing menu but there was some compensation in scattered empty seats which made the environment more relaxed. I suspect that flying in on the tail end of the National Day/Autumn Festival holidays meant that the flight was less crowded but that’s just a hunch.The return from Shanghai to San Francisco offered the sleek new lie-flat seats which I found extremely comfortable for sleeping although I am not quite sure how much I liked the pod design for waking hours. The new cabins also offer large (15”) personal screens which I imagine many people appreciate but that enhancement is lost on me since it just makes others’ viewing selections more of an attractive nuisance. Every seat was filled. Not only were there no delays or mishaps on any of the flights, PVG-SFO arrived an hour early.

Later in the trip, the China Eastern flight was about two hours long and, yes, they managed to serve a meal without seeming harried. It was otherwise a very standard economy flight experience. Lines at PEK were very long on that Saturday (10/17) morning though. Thanks to Panda candor, everyone now knows that there are two airports in Shanghai, the old Hongqiao and the new Pudong International. Our flight went into PVG, the latter, which was actually much less convenient to our destination in Shanghai but did afford the opportunity for a Maglev ride.

Accomodations overview: In Beijing, we stayed at the Shangri-la because it was well situated for my husband’s work in the northwest Haidian district. In Shanghai, we had non-hotel accommodations in the southwest area of the city. I would not recommend either location to the leisure traveler but the affordability of taxis in Beijing and Shanghai meant that I just settled into a routine of long rides everywhere, rides rich in time to look out the window, study maps and guidebooks, and catch up on email. The Shangri-la also has a lovely, restful garden.

But, I am perhaps confusing things in my desire to tidily wrap up all air travel and hotels details in one section. Let's get back to Beijing now and stay there.

Arrival: The great soaring spaces of the new Beijing Capital Airport made entry very different from arrivals of a few years back, to be sure. I was very appreciative of the new terminal. I even remembered in a sleepily disorganized way to look upward for the pattern of “scales on a dragon’s back” on the roofline. The excitement of arrival was tempered though by the remarkable sight of legions of stern-faced airport workers heavily masked and often gloved as they brusquely interacted with you, the invading alien. Maybe I was just jostled by the abrupt transition between sleeping peacefully in tight quarters in close proximity to a group of strangers – all very human and intimate in a way– and the clinical austerity of the “welcome.” I understand why it is the way it is, I know how spooked they are by H1N1, it’s just that, well, they look pretty spooky in turn and the arrival had a bit of an Ellis Island aura despite the spanking new facility.

A car had been arranged for my husband so exiting the airport was a simple matter of following our Chinese driver to the car. I had to chuckle. Now that we have some experience of China, and arrive with our Chinese cell phones ready to go, such arrangements fall into place, of course. The first time we went, five years ago with children in tow and no Asian experience, the driver wasn't there and the scene was chaotic. That time I wandered around fitfully, racking my brain for any on-point Oriental-list instructions (Evangelicals may have WWJD; when in China, we solo-travel cultists and wannabes have WWPNHD to get us through some rough patches.)

We settled in for the hour-long ride to our hotel on the west-side of this enormous city
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Old Oct 29th, 2009, 11:15 AM
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The Shangri-la Hotel is one of at least four properties run by that chain in Beijing. Located very close to the third ring road on the west side of the city, it consists of two buildings, the old Garden Wing, where we stayed, and the newer Valley Wing. “Wing” conjures up something a little more low-rise and bucolic than what you actually get – two standard- issue high-rise buildings – but then this is Beijing where nearly everything is outsized. The lobby is trademark Shangri-la with soaring (there’s that word again) spaces and glittering chandeliers. The breakfast room /all-day dining room, Cha, is located on the ground floor and is backed with an enormous glass wall that looks out to a very pretty garden. Our room on the (allegedly non-smoking) 15th floor looked out over the garden as well, affording views of many garden weddings and other celebrations.

The Valley Wing rooms are reportedly both newer (2007) and nicer. I planned to tour some of those rooms before check-out but then ran out of time (and possibly motivation) before doing so I can’t say. What I did tour, also in the new Valley Wing building, was the very good health club, lovely palm-shaded pool (if an indoor pool can be shaded by anything), and the sumptuous new Tibetan-themed spa, Chi. Even if I had deep pockets, I would have trouble with the commercial exploitation of Tibetan temples for such purposes. Their services – starting at nearly $100 USD for a foot massage -- were also wildly out of my price range so there’s a nice dovetail of principles and pragmatics. It is a gorgeous facility though. I expected to use the pool and health club, but wound up doing so much walking and exploring in the city that I never paid another call on those facilities.

As you might expect, there are numerous restaurants and bars (7?) including the trendy Blu Lobster touted for “molecular gastronomy” (whatever that is), a Cantonese restaurant, and a Japanese restaurant. I had one solo dinner in the comparatively prole Cha – an Indonesian dish chosen because I knew nothing about it (Nyona Laksa), followed by a mango budding (sic) with sago pearls also chosen because I had no idea what it was. It was rubbery mango pudding served in a preposterously tall martini glass and topped with what look like the tapioca pearls from bubble tea. Simple ice water rounded out my ascetic meal. Neither dish was well executed. The bill was about $ 50 USD. One doesn’t need to settle like that, folks, unless one is extremely jet lagged and disinclined to go out. The hotel’s extensive buffet breakfast was very good but I would recommend up, up, and away for anything more. For some of us, the other hotel restaurants are best treated as shrines to commercial and cultural development worthy of a quick peek.

The hotel staff are very helpful and friendly.

Inside the revolving front door, the hotel sported a somewhat awkwardly rigged metal archway with a thermometer draped for the purpose of registering guests’ temperatures. (It was rather amusing to watch guests decide to either engage with it or dodge it since either option was equally convenient.) During my ten night stay, everyone I observed coming and going had a temperature of exactly 34 degrees and nobody was hustled off. What I came to think of as the “H1N1 huppah” stayed in place though.

Oh, I almost forget to mention – now there’s a little insight into my priorities and interests – that the hotel was the headquarters of the China Open tennis tournament during the first 2/3 of our stay. The new China, indeed. After the tennis crew cleared out, the large glass vats of tennis balls on display everywhere were gradually replaced by more soothing plants and flowers. The young women maitre d’s at Café Cha continued to sport tennis whites and perky caps for days after though.
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Old Oct 29th, 2009, 12:29 PM
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Our first full day in Beijing had appealing balance. Up too early, of course, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, particularly the dumplings and fruits we don’t get at home such as dragonfruit and lychees. They offered a soup station that looked like a Vietnamese pho station but the result, even when jazzed up with lots of chilis, wasn’t quite on a par with pho. After breakfast, we took a stroll through the garden.

My husband’s friend sent a car for us at 11:30 and that took us to meet the friends – a couple and their young son – at a very lovely restaurant that served Hangzhou cuisine. They were nice enough to invite us to join them for the last day of the Golden Week holiday in observance of both National Day and Autumn Festival. They confided that most Chinese were exhausted at that point though since every family had crammed weddings, birthdays, and other celebrations galore into the 8-day holiday period. The cuisine was light and featured some wonderful seafood and river fish. A crab dish was a memorable treat. I also learned at that meal that a dish that I had been avoiding for years at other events because it looked to me like big slick discs of fatty sausage was in fact sliced lotus root stuffed with sticky rice. I love those travel moments when I realize how misinformed or dead-wrong I have been about something.

The car was put back at our disposal for a little bit after lunch so I asked the driver to take us to the rather newly restored Confucious Temple and Imperial College. They were in dusty disarray when we visited the nearby Lama Temple years earlier so I was anxious to see them. He offered to wait for about 40 minutes while we wandered among the temples, pavilions, and stelae, and came to terms with the fact that we were back in China. I would recommend a longer visit to this lovely complex.

Back in the car and we were offered a ride to one more drop point. It was my husband’s turn to choose and he chose the Olympic grounds since he had already visited the facilities in previous years but he knew that the last time I was in Beijing they were, at best, holes in the ground. We got dropped off by the Watercube and bid farewell to the driver. For the next couple of hours, we wandered around, admiring the Watercube from the outside and paying to go inside the Bird’s Nest where we sat and enjoyed watching the crowd and the large-screen videos of Olympics highlights. Lines were very short and reasonable by Chinese standards since it was late in the day on the last day of the holiday, but there still were enormous crowds of people everywhere.

We hopped in a cab for the ride back to the hotel where we settled in with tea and books and called it an early night.

A word on taxis. We had excellent luck with taxis in Beijing and Shanghai. Our hotel did have a consistently executed practice of handing you a card with your taxi number on it every time you returned to the hotel in a cab so you would have recourse in the event of a mishap or property loss, but we didn’t experience any difficulties. Years earlier, I had numerous problems in Beijing with taxis not putting the meter down, or misreading our hotel card and taking us elsewhere and insisting he (the driver) was correct, or refusing a destination, but post-Olympics, those scenarios seem to have vanished.
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Old Oct 29th, 2009, 01:51 PM
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Our next day in Beijing was the last day before my husband’s colleagues arrived and work began in earnest so we decided on a day visiting universities. After a enormous breakfast at a table overlooking the fountain and gardens, we headed north in a taxi for Peking University (“Bei Da,” short for Beijing Daxue).

We had read about the Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology and Sculpture Gardens, a small teaching museum and garden funded by a husband and wife pair of American philanthropists and located past a small lake inside the university’s west gate. We had been told that passports were required for entry onto the campus but that demand never materialized. We were shown in the gate and directed to the museum where we paid the trivial admission fee of about 5 yuan. For the next hour and a half or so, we enjoyed a short course on Chinese art and archaeology that took us from the Paleolithic era through the Ming dynasty. English signage admittedly petered out in the later dynasties but the collection was very worth viewing. We then relaxed in the gardens which were restful and pretty albeit not particularly well tended. We then spent another hour or so walking around the campus and sitting by the large lake.

Time to move on. We hailed a taxi and headed over to Tsinghua University, what some Americans refer to as the MIT of China. We had stayed there a few times years ago but, once again, the changes made in the past 4 to 5 years were staggering, with so many new buildings. We toured around and then, feet screaming for a rest, we headed for a café that my children and I were fond of those same few years ago – Sculpting in Time Cafe. It was still there but looked considerably more upmarket. We relaxed awhile over cold drinks, me always absorbed in maps and guidebooks so I could figure out possible next steps. We still were none too solid but were taking it all one step at a time.

Refreshed by our café stop, we headed into a mobile phone store to try to buy a new card for my phone but, between our toddler-level Mandarin and their pre-school level English, we failed to figure out the differences among the different purchase options. Nobody’s miming skills were up to it so we gave up and headed for the last stop in our trio of universities.

That last stop was “Bei Yu,” the Beijing Language and Culture University where our daughter had resided during the summer of 2008 while studying intensive Chinese. She had sent me detailed instructions on the recommended gate of entry and the path to follow to get to her building. We navigated according to her excellent instructions and took pictures of ourselves goofily grinning and pointing at landmarks on campus so she could eventually see evidence that we had explored her old stomping grounds. We were very proud of her for signing a Mandarin-only language pledge for the 9 weeks of that summer program and completing third-year college Mandarin so it was personally meaningful to see where she had lived.

At this point, we hailed another taxi, returned to the hotel, and just collapsed. Ah, that 12-hour time difference.
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Old Oct 29th, 2009, 02:41 PM
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Sounds great. It's amazing how taxis are such a convenience in Asia. We found the H1N1 phobia to be amusing. The tempreature reading in the hotels was perfect. One of the great things about reading trip reports is that it vividly brings back memories of our trips. Thanks. Timely report, no penalty. We did miss you at the GTG. Next year.

I'm leaving it to someone else to ask what WWPNHD means. I'm scared of the answer.
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Old Oct 29th, 2009, 03:24 PM
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Ah, that would be "What would Peter Neville-Hadley do?" I am very grateful for everything that I learned from him here an anon, particularly on the Oriental List, so you might say he was our family's "higher authority" when we first started going to China. Sorry if my secularism leads me to make references in poor taste, but I mostly meant to make fun of myself for rigidly casting about for memorized decision rules in a situation in which I felt out of my depth. One does sometimes feel in over one's head in China. Worth it though.
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Old Oct 29th, 2009, 03:36 PM
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Poor taste is welcome here! I agree, China can make one feel adrift. The wonder soothes the jangled panda nerves nicely. The entire abbreviation mode is a tribute to P.G. Wodehouse, the master of the amusing acronym.
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Old Oct 29th, 2009, 04:48 PM
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Perhaps you will recommend a Wodehouse title or two for the official Fodor's boof list?

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to turn my attention to something of the utmost seriousness: Chinese food and cooking school.
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Old Oct 29th, 2009, 05:14 PM
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The next day was Saturday, a day that I had been anticipating with particular enthusiasm. Here’s why. Last year, I became interested in learning about culture through food and so began to read some books that we might inelegantly refer to as food memoirs. After enjoying Jen Lin-Liu’s “Serve the People: a Stir-Fried Journey through China” among other books that we discussed here on Fodor’s, I was intrigued to explore the author’s web site and learn that she operated a cooking school in a Beijing hutong.

The Heizima or Black Sesame Cooking school is located in the hutong of the same name in the Dongcheng section of Beijing. If you know Beijing at all, it is northeast of the Forbidden City and close to the Drumtower. Have a look: http://www.blacksesamekitchen.com/

They offer a variety of services that match your energy level, from cooking classes to “wine ‘n dine” evenings in which you sit and sip wine while watching a Chinese meal being prepared. Whatever the format, you relax in the adjacent dining room afterwards and consume what has been cooked. Before leaving Boston, I had secured two reservations (at 300 yuan a head) in a three-hour, Saturday afternoon class on dumplings. For the record, I am interested in food but have no special expertise. I certainly have no knife skills. My husband’s repertoire is defined by grilled steaks and shish kebabs. OK, a little more than that but not much. I was thrilled that he was willing to join me in this adventure.

We arrived ridiculously early so spent a half hour delightedly wandering the hutong, then went into the class. Let me cut to the chase since I could write on and on about this experience and keep you stuck in the hutong with me for a very long while: I am a big fan. Everyone was lovely and the experience was great fun. The event manager, Candice, is ethnic Chinese but grew up and went to school in the US so she translates and bridges the cultural gap with warmth and ease. The class was taught by one of Lin-Liu’s mentors, Chairman Wang, who had been a most intriguing and appealing character in the book so I was pleased to meet her. The other students that day were from the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, and the US so English flowed. If people are interested, I can write more about this but suffice it to say that I enjoyed the day so much that I signed up for the next open class the following Thursday.
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Old Oct 30th, 2009, 07:50 AM
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Ok, no interest, dud report, so here’s a mid-course correction: I’ll wrap up with a few thoughts and a short list of some of the trip’s most memorable experiences in case there is targeted interest in any of the sights or restaurants.

First, summing-up thoughts. Prior to this trip, I loved going to Southeast Asia, swooned at the opportunity to travel anywhere in Indochina, but just found travel in China to be…well…profoundly interesting. How can one not be interested in China, after all? That, I realize, is a rational argument rather than any kind of admission of affection or genuine enjoyment. In the past, I have to confide that I was happy to get out of China and go onto someplace magical (for me) like Luang Prabang, or Chiang Rai, or Hong Kong, or Bangkok, or Hue, or Siem Reap, or (you fill in the rest).

This trip to China was very different from my visits in 2004 and 2005 and ignited my enthusiasm to return yet again. I suppose that I have become a little more knowledgeable and savvy, and that helps, but in large measure, Beijing and Shanghai have changed a huge amount in how they make their cities’ cultural resources available to foreigners. Larger cultural-economic trends and the experience of the Olympics 2008, as well as the prospect of Shanghai Expo 2010, have made it much easier to travel on your own, at least in these two major cities.

Here is a coarse but possibly compelling insight into the magnitude of change as I experienced it. With our blonde hair and blue eyes, my daughter and I were, to our surprise, like a walking circus act in Beijing five years ago; my memories of so many major attractions, including the Summer Palace, Beihai Park, Tiantan, etc., are bound up with memories of constantly being accosted for photos and for persistent comparisons (forearm to forearm) of skin tone. Those experiences were unimaginable to me during this last trip.

The on-the-ground interactions that keep a trip humming along – interactions with taxi drivers, shop-keepers, ticket sellers, hotel staff, wait-staff, and all – were so much easier to negotiate than they used to be. The energy, excitement, and sense of moving ahead that you feel on a daily basis in these cities is breathtaking. Such rapid cultural change has an enormous downside, I know, and this is not the forum in which to discuss the major issues relating to the environment, human rights, social inequality, and so on, that we all care about, but, from the point of view of this average tourist, China has become more welcoming and more accessible than it seemed a few years back. There may be some among you who love SEA and haven’t been tempted by the PRC who just might want to reconsider.

Memorable experiences:

Beijing

1. Going to the Black Sesame Cooking School for two leisurely classes, delightful conversation, and sublime eggplant
2. Seeing the new National Centre for the Performing Arts (the Egg) under evening illumination and attending a performance by the Stuttgart Ballet
3. Touring the new Capital museum, particularly the “folk arts” such as Minorities’ exhibits and the recreated hutong
4. Wandering around Tiananmen Square to experience the parade floats and other exhibits on the very last night of the National Day holiday period – catching glimpses of Mao’s portrait through the floats and wondering if this was real
5. Getting lost for a couple of hours in Black Bamboo Park where I was the only visible westerner
6. Wandering around the Back Lakes area for much of a day, visiting small sights such as the Mei Lanfang house, and sitting by lakes
7. Savoring a Yunnanese dinner at Dali Courtyard
8. Being a guest at dinner at Yan restaurant in Haidian (near Tsinghua University)
9. Wandering through the Confucius Temple and Imperial College
10. Visiting the Olympics grounds at an off-peak time
11. Sampling three university campuses – Bei Da, Tsinghua & Bei Yu
12. Wandering in several different hutongs (sense a pattern here?)

Shanghai list of memories to follow.
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Old Oct 30th, 2009, 08:02 AM
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I completely agree that China is now relatively easy for tourists to negotiate. There is so much wandering to do that pays super dividends. I note that none of your first eleven points of interest were things that we did, but we still had a fantastic time.
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Old Oct 30th, 2009, 08:21 AM
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Marya_ - I'm very much enjoying your report.... I think you abbreviated at the end? I, for one, would be interested in the longer version and more details!
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Old Oct 30th, 2009, 08:55 AM
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Shanghai (in no particular order)

1. exploring Xintiandi and nearby Taipingqiao Park during the early morning, then relaxing in an outdoor café as the day got in full swing
2. wandering around the French Concession area for hours, then finding respite in vest-pocket parks and great cafes like the Old China hand Reading Room and an antique store-café on Sinan Lu
3. touring the Shikumen courtyard house museum at Xintiandi
4. paying a call on Sun Yat Sen and Soong Qing Ling at their lovely French Concession area home
5. similarly paying a call on Zhou En Lai
6. riding the fastest train in the world (Maglev)
7. visiting the highest-elevated occupied floor in the world at Shanghai World Financial Center, which put us even higher up than our last visit’s trip up the Jin Mao Tower (I am claiming that this is “memorable,” not better)
8. eating dumplings at Din Tai Fung, at both Pudong and YuYuan
9. touring the Memorial for the site of the First National Congress of the CPC and reflecting on how all people and countries build cultural mythologies
10. strolling the (to me, new) Pudong waterfront one day and sitting out at night on the Bund side of the Huangpu the next night
11. revisiting the Shanghai Museum (although I was disappointed that Minorities’ Exhibit is still closed)
12. savoring lunch at Tai Thai on Tai Kang Lu after wandering and browsing in the galleries and shops
13. watching the artists and artisans work at the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum and trying not to feel too sad over how run down the beautiful house was
14. dallying in the City Temple of Shanghai (near YuYuan) during a prayer service
15. marveling at how each very long walk turned into a sort of roller-coaster ride as it brought me in and out of shiny-newly-developed and poor-neglected areas, over and over and over.
16. Marveling at how complex and delicious Kung Pao sauce can be at South Beauty Restaurant

Fini.
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Old Oct 30th, 2009, 11:56 AM
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I enjoyed your report too. If you have more time, could you give us more detail?
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Old Oct 30th, 2009, 06:07 PM
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dreaming and sdtravels -- thanks for your kind words. If you have particular questions or even vague areas of interest about travel to Beijing and Shanghai, I would love to try to respond to them. Just let me know.
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Old Oct 31st, 2009, 01:50 AM
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Very interesting report, especially the post olympic changes in the city. My 12 year old son and I (both blonde) are planning a trip next year to include a visit to my daughter who is teaching in Yiyang,Hunan Province. Based on her experience there she has warned us to expect a lot of attention so its nice to know Beijing is a bit more relaxed. As its our first visit we will be doing all the major sights but Ive noted some of the places you visited, and will try to squeeze them in.
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Old Nov 1st, 2009, 05:40 AM
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Hi marya. I'm sorry we didn't get to meet. This boston GTG was my first. I am kimberly, cousin of Jessica aka quirkles, if you have met her. I'm going to Beijing in May for a family bat mitzvah. I'll take time on my own in Beijing, so I'm following your details. I'm also interested in flying to another china destination, though probably not Shanghai, if anyone has any recommendations. I hope it fits with blog protocol to also interject commentary with questions
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Old Nov 1st, 2009, 09:47 AM
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MaryA-Beth loved your report. Trust me, her praise is not given lightly. It's the highest Fodors acheivement.

Kimberly-threads often veer sideways. Don't worry about it. If this is your first China trip, I would go to Shanghai along with Beijing. Both are amazing. Who knows when you will next be in China? Shanghai is incredible.
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Old Nov 1st, 2009, 12:35 PM
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Andy and Beth -- thank you for your encouragement. It has taken me a few trips to get on the China wavelength but I now have a confirmed interest and growing facility for navigating around. I am eager to go back and experience more of the country. You two, by contrast, seem to have rocketed through the awkward adjustment phase that plagues many first-time travelers to China -- I am impressed.

Kimberly -- That's great that you may be able to use the Beijing trip as a platform to seeing something else of the country. Any reason why Shanghai doesn't interest you? Is it because you will be traveling in May when the Shanghai Expo has opened and you fear that the city will be even more madly overrun? Are you looking for something very different, hoping to get away from big cities perhaps? If you expand on your interests, you might shake loose some intriguing recommendations from some knowledgeable people here.

This is a good opportunity to remind anyone thinking about a trip to Shanghai that the schedule for the Shanghai Expo 2010 might influence your travel plans in one of several ways, depending upon your travel style. I am including a link to the website here: http://en.expo2010.cn/participation/pop/moren.htm. Expo runs from 1 May to 31 October 2010. There is a great deal of construction in the run-up to Expo, of course. Some folks might think Expo a draw while others would rather wait until after it is over for a visit.

Izzi -- I would be fascinated to hear more about what your daughter reports about her teaching experience! By the way, do you know Peter Hessler's wonderful book, RIVER TOWN, about his experiences teaching in Sichuan province in the mid-to-late 1990s?
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Old Nov 2nd, 2009, 05:09 PM
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Thank you Andy and Marya for your comments. Exactly... Since I am spending time in Beijing with the family, I wanted to try another destination that is a totally different pace, rather than another megalopolis(?).

I have read River Town and will say I am intrigued by the gorges, which I believe Bob and Karen did. I will start a new thread requesting random China recommendations.
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