Karen and Julie in China

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Nov 4th, 2012, 07:30 AM
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Karen and Julie in China

(Please disregard previous post - I forgot to click trip report.)

Some of you may remember my thread about whether I should go on my trip to China or postpone because of a back injury. I debated (mostly with myself) and fretted and talked to my doctor and my physical therapist and my boyfriend (not necessarily in that order of importance). In the end, I decided to go for it, although I knew I might have to make some sacrifices. Could I negotiate the Great Wall, could I bicycle in Yangshuo, and most worrisome of all, could I use the bathroom in squat toilets?

The answers turned out to be yes, no, and not very well. Still, China is an amazing place, and my daughter and I had some wonderful experiences. Do I regret not waiting until my back heals? Yes and no. I could have done more things in a few months - but we had a great tour guide, met some wonderful people, and had once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Here's how it went....

I flew from Baltimore to SFO on United with an upgrade to First Class, met my daughter Julie in San Francisco and continued on with a direct flight to Beijing in Economy Plus (for me) and Economy for Julie. It was an incredibly smooth flight - I don't think the pilot turned on the seat belt signs once, except for take-off and landing.

In Beijing, a G Adventures representative transferred us to our hotel, Dong Fang, an average, nondescript tourist class hotel - nothing special, but in a decent location within walking distance (20 minutes) of Tiananmen Square.

As everyone here warned: the beds are hard. I don't mean hard like a firm bed. I mean hard like the floor. Our tour guide, Jerry, kept telling us that the next hotel had much softer beds. And the next one, even softer still. Either he was trying (hard) to make us feel better, or the degree of hardness was lost on us - we found no discernible difference from one bed to the next. All were like sleeping on the floor. On the bright side, I think it might have been good for my back.

Day 1 we strolled toward Tiananmen Square, found a bustling restaurant along the street, and had our first meal in China - cheap and good. A noodle bowl, a plate of vegetables, and some fried rice. We were the only Westerners and saw a few people staring. I noticed one older lady who kept looking at us; I smiled and waved at her as she left - she smiled and waved back.

We met our favorite "Beijinger" (what's the word for someone from Beijing?) - a deaf calligrapher who charmed us with his antics. Posing for pictures, making funny faces, holding a magnifying glass and peering at Julie through it. He was a dear.

That evening we met our tour group: 15 in all, 4 nurses from Seattle, two young couples - one from Canada and one from Germany - two older couples from England (brothers and their wives), a young single man from England, and Julie and I. Plus of course, our tour guide Jerry, a 30-something native of Yunnan Province. He was terrific - with good English skills and a fun-loving personality.

We had a duck banquet after introductions. I've never been good with chopsticks and was determined to use them exclusively throughout this trip so I could come home an expert. While I fell short of that, I did improve my skills. Some of the duck dishes were good, but I'm not a huge fan. I go more for the vegetables.

We were as ready as we'd be! Tomorrow: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven.
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Nov 4th, 2012, 07:32 AM
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I'll post some pictures as I get them online.
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Nov 4th, 2012, 08:08 AM
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Looking forward to more, Karen.
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Nov 4th, 2012, 08:17 AM
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Karen - this sounds like the trip that my DD took earlier ithis year, so i'm coming along for the ride.

nice start!
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Nov 5th, 2012, 07:08 AM
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karen...sounds great, looking forward to more

we loved shanghai and hated to leave...
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Nov 5th, 2012, 09:14 AM
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Karen - I'm reading along in the Atlanta, ga airport on our way home from china to ft lauderdale! Glad you had fun and hope you are on the mend.
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Nov 20th, 2012, 02:55 PM
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Karen - nice of you to wave at the woman. The staring started to bother me after awhile. Like 10 minutes. I think I only waved one part of my hand. Look forward to reading more.
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Nov 20th, 2012, 03:38 PM
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Waiting for more!
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Nov 20th, 2012, 08:04 PM
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Karen - I see you have also gotten busy with your life. It's hard to sit down and spend time writing. We're waiting for more. In the meantime I am just as guilty as you!
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Nov 21st, 2012, 04:50 AM
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Yes, life has been very busy with the new man in my life (well... not so new anymore - nearly a year together!). I'd been on my own (divorced) for 12 years before meeting him. He's changed my world - in the best way imaginable.

But yes, I'll "buckle down" (as my dad used to say) and get back to work on this because I do have a lot I'd like to share.

Thanks for the encouragement.
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Nov 22nd, 2012, 08:11 AM
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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Day 2: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven

After a good night’s sleep (despite the rock-hard bed) and an ok breakfast buffet at our hotel, we left via private bus for Tiananmen Square. Our guide Jerry gave us the lay of the land: off in the distance to the right was the Forbidden City, to the left Mao’s tomb, behind us the Chinese National Museum, in front of us the Monument to the People’s Heroes and behind it the Great Hall of the People (used for legislative and other Communist Party activities). No mention of the 1989 (or any other) protests, although Jerry did later give his perspective on the Tiananmen Square events. Julie was only eight in 1989 so remembered little, but the TV footage of the student vs. the tank was clear in my mind.

The square was, in many ways, just as we’d expected: a flat, wide-open sea of concrete teeming with tourists (overwhelmingly Chinese) and a few military personnel. After the brief overview, Jerry turned us loose to explore on our own - and it was then we discovered the UNexpected: beautiful manicured flower beds, a giant flower pot just recently erected (alas not for us but rather for the Communist Party National Congress), and the largest TV screen I’ve ever seen (54 yards long and 16 feet high) showing propaganda type stuff. Julie and I had that “pinch-me-I’m-in-China” feeling of awe at being there. Thanks to my telephoto lens, I was able to get a couple of nice shots of young military guards.

Many pictures later, our group reconvened near the entrance to the Forbidden City. An animated young Chinese woman joined as our tour guide. Jerry referred to her as “a panda” - his slang for a woman who’s sweet and adorable, with a cute smile and innocent manner. We saw many “pandas” on our trip.

The Forbidden City lived up to the hype: huge squares, graceful roof-lines, elaborate carvings, colorful tiles. My only disappointment was the furnished rooms, which were behind glass so you had to crowd your way to the front for a peek in the window. We took silly pictures (finger touching top of building, as we did at the pyramids), smiled a lot, and enjoyed getting to know our tour-mates. At one point a young Chinese mother asked if she could get a picture of Julie and her daughter (who was very shy and less cooperative than Julie). It reminded me of Egypt, where we had many such requests.

As we exited the back of the Forbidden City (after enjoying the beautiful gardens and rock wall), we saw an elderly man flying a big red kite. He had just reeled it in and, as I struggled to pull out my camera, he released it again to take flight. I was lucky enough to snap one photo - a trip favorite.

We then wen to lunch at a restaurant geared for tourists and had noodle bowls (not very good) - which brings me to my number one complaint about the tour: the group meals were generally only ok and not in restaurants I’d have chosen. This came as no surprise - it’s one of the downsides of a tour.

For me/Julie, however, that compromise is made up by what we see as advantages: a fairly structured schedule but with a pretty good amount of free time (to minimize disagreements about when to get up and what to do), a group of new friends (to ease the stress that 24/7 mother-daughter time can create), and the ease of having logistics taken care of for us (to eliminate many hassles and frustrations). It’s far less adventuresome, yes, and I remember our independent Thailand, Laos, Cambodia trip with great fondness, but tours can be a good option - just know what you’re getting into by thoroughly researching the itinerary and the tour group you’re going with.

After lunch, we headed to the Temple of Heaven. I was getting pretty tired by this time (back was bothering me), so I was happy to finally head back to the hotel.

For dinner, several of us met with Jerry to go down the block to a little street restaurant - one that Julie and I had passed by the first day and wondered if the food would be safe to eat! It turned out to be my favorite meal of the trip.

They set up tables for us just off the sidewalk in the street. Right next to us was a small convenience/grocery store with a group of 10 men engaged in a lively game of Chinese chess. It was very cool. For about $6 each, the kitchen sent out steaming plate after plate of amazing food - the best sweet and sour chicken ever, beautiful vegetables, skewers of pork, soup, bread, and more. A feast fit for an Emperor!

After that, it was off to bed to reminisce about our fabulous day and get a good night’s sleep for the next day... the Great Wall.
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Nov 22nd, 2012, 08:25 AM
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Nice start. I loved those flower pots - must have. Dozen pictures of them and the flower beds. And th gigantic tv screens throughout china were like nothing we've seen before. They are a great firm of advertisement and as you say, propaganda.
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Nov 22nd, 2012, 08:30 AM
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Poor Blip.
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Nov 22nd, 2012, 10:00 AM
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Did I miss something? Where's blip? Did you abandon blip for the new beau?
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Nov 22nd, 2012, 10:37 AM
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I am sooo ashamed to say that Blip got left behind. Julie couldn't believe I forgot him, but somehow I did.

Blip goes next time for sure.

The young German couple had two small stuffed animals and took pictures of them everywhere. And of course, I thought about Blip at home on my dresser every time.

So, shh, don't tell him.
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Nov 22nd, 2012, 10:55 AM
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There's room in my life for Blip AND Tom.
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Nov 22nd, 2012, 01:28 PM
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Here are my Beijing photos...

http://kbutler1122.zenfolio.com/p115...8208#h4ca18208
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Nov 22nd, 2012, 02:13 PM
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If Tom is still around he is definitely not a Blip.
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Nov 22nd, 2012, 04:39 PM
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Haha - you're right, Cold, definitely not a Blip. I think he may be around for quite awhile.

Day 3: The Great Wall

We got an early start to the Mutianyu section of the Wall, same as dgunbug. The previous day had been smoggy, with a white sky and little visibility - not great for pictures. But it had rained overnight and today was completely different - blue sky and pleasantly cool weather.

I'd been worried how I'd fare “climbing the Wall” with my back injury (torn disk), especially with all the walking we'd done the previous day. But I'd started the Prednisone (steroid) pack my doc sent with me and was feeling pretty good. When we arrived at the Wall, Jerry showed us a big map on a stone wall to give us an orientation. The easiest way (although not really all that easy) to see the most would be to hike up to the gondola, ride to the top, turn right and walk back “down” a few towers to the toboggan run (or chair lift) to the bottom.

Sounded like a piece of cake. But not so much. First is the uphill hike and stairs just to GET to the gondola. Then, after a gorgeous ride up, with my excitement and anticipation mounting, I found even more stairs to get up on the wall. But finally.... there we were! And it was so worth it. We took group photos and individual photos and photos of the wall and photos of the mountains in the distance and photos of... everything. Julie and I even did the obligatory "jump for joy" shot, in spite of my back.

The wall wasn't terribly crowded and the people soon dispersed, leaving me and my daughter largely on our own. This was definitely a trip highlight for both of us. The Great Wall was, well, Great.

Unfortunately, the walk to the toboggan run from where we got off wasn’t exactly “down,” as Jerry had described. It was down and then up and then down again and then up and then down and, oh yes, up a little more and finally down. But we took our time, breathed in the fresh air and the beautiful scenery, and I managed pretty well.

The toboggan ride was a blast. We bought our tickets there at the top, then each of us climbed aboard a little cart on wheels, very low to the ground, with a big stick between your knees. If you pushed the stick forward, it released the brake and off you went. Simply pull back and you slowed down. The shiny metal track curved up on either side, allowing you to bank on the curves as you snaked down the mountain. You could zoom along pretty fast, or take it slow. It was really fun.

That evening we went to a Kung Fu show (more like a dance/story than a sporting event) - and everyone agreed it was well worth it. (I don’t remember what we did for dinner that evening.)

Next up: Hutong Tour and night train to Xi’an.
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Dec 3rd, 2012, 02:52 PM
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Just home from cortisone injection number 2 and decided it was time to get back to my trip report.

Day 4: Those of you who remember my Thailand trip will not be surprised to hear that Julie decided to sleep in when she learned that the Hutong tour departed at 8:30 and was optional. Only 5 of us chose to go, but I thought it was delightful. The weather was gorgeous, blue sky and clear air - completely different from the first two days in the smog (and nearly the rest of the trip). It was amazing how pretty the city looked in the sunshine.

We took taxis to the bell tower and boarded rickshaws for an hour and a half ride through the narrow lanes, with several stops along the way, plus lunch at a local home at the end. I was surprised at the number of public bathrooms - our guide told us that many of the homes don't have bathrooms, so the public ones are used by the locals.

We stopped at one of the homes for a peek inside. The owner had a myna bird, which talked to me in Chinese. When I asked if it spoke English, the bird - right on cue - said hello. Lunch was later at a different home - simple but clean. The woman had a warm smile, and after serving our food, she and her husband sat off to the side watching television (and laughing frequently) while we ate.

When the others in the group decided to climb the bell tower, I set off on my own (because the stairs looked like too much for me). I wandered into an artist's shop, and took several photos of the area while waiting for the others.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we had only a few hours before leaving for the train station. Julie and I walked back to the area where we had met the deaf calligrapher on day 1, and took a few more pictures. We also had a final look at Tiananmen Square.

Then it was off to the train station. While waiting for the train, we sat in a Chinese food court playing a Kung Fu movie on a screen near where we sat. Every eye (among the locals in the area) was GLUED to the screen. They were totally absorbed in the movie; unfortunately, there we no subtitles...

We were in soft sleepers, four persons per cabin. Julie and I shared with our guide Jerry and the young man (Mike) from England. We took the bottom bunks; the guys had to climb up to the top bunks. "Soft" sleeper is a misnomer. These beds were as hard as the ones at the Beijing hotel and as hard as any yet to come.

When the train policeman came by, I managed to convince him - with enthusiastic gesturing and a pleading look in my eyes (plus some translation help from Jerry) - to sit down (on my bed) so Jerry could take a group photo: http://kbutler1122.zenfolio.com/p166...e8e0#h4ca6e8e0

Next up: Xi'an.
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