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Trip Report Shanghai, Xi'an, Beijing

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I have just finished writing up what my family of 3 (2 adults and a 9-year old girl) did on our 2 week trip to China. It is long and a little dry, but may have some useful information for those of you planning trips to China. We had a fantastic time. We were there from early June to mid-June.

L (DH) was invited to a two-day conference in Shanghai. Our daughter, C, and I decided to come along and add Xi’an and Beijing to the itinerary for an almost two week trip. This was the first trip to China for all of us. We were based in California so it seemed like a slightly easier time to take the trip than normally. I had a lot of worries in advance about how our 9-year old was going to do. We travel a lot, but mainly Europe. She is reasonably adventurous for a 9-year old.
We tend to stay in nice, but not high end hotels. On this trip, when I had control (Xi’an and Beijing) I opted for high end. My hope was that having a big breakfast to start and nice surroundings to return to would help with any sensory overload issues we might encounter. Plus it isn’t as expensive to stay in premium places in China as it is in Europe/North America.
I planned a mix of guides/transportation with solo exploration and public transit. C and I prepared by reading some great children’s books:
The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China by Jane O’Conner
Where is the Great Wall of China? By Patricia Brennan Demuth and Jerry Hoare
Elephants and Golden Thrones: Inside China's Forbidden City by Trish Marx
I also bought, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, by Jung Chang and read it during the trip. It was great background for our visit to the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. It is a different take on Cixi than the standard. I only finished right before returning home and then started in on the Wild Swans book by the same author about the period following the fall of the Qing Dynasty.
I have a friend from HS who showed us around our first day in Shanghai. C has a school friend from last year who is now living in Shanghai whom we visited. And, we had the good luck to overlap in Shanghai with my first PhD student who was visiting friends and family. It was great spending some time with a true local. In Beijing we had one lunch with some locals who had been post-docs in our department a few years back. But, otherwise, after leaving Shanghai we were on our own more or less.

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    Sorry the spacing from Word didn't carry through in my above cut and paste.

    Rough Itinerary and lodging

    Thursday, June 4 – Leave SFO 1:50pm

    Friday, June 5 – Arrive Shanghai 5:25pm stay at Howard Johnson CAIDA Plaza Shanghai (Had to stay here for the conference). The only good thing about this hotel was the WIFI. It was the best we experienced in China. The room was reasonable size for two, but with the extra bed a bit tight. It smelled like smoke. The breakfast was pretty bad. I mentioned to a Chinese friend staying at the same place that I supposed the non-Western part of the breakfast was good, and he said actually it was pretty bad too. But the worst thing was that it wasn’t very well located for anything other than the conference L was going to.

    Saturday, June 6 – Tuesday, June 9 – Shanghai

    Wednesday, June 10 – Air China CA1216 8:30am-11:05 (PVG-Xi’an) bought through China Depot. We Stayed at Sofitel Legend Peoples Grand Hotel Xi’an. This was an amazing hotel. It is right between two other Sofitel Hotels on Renmin Square. It is small. We only saw a couple of other guests while we were there. Every time you turned around there was someone saying hello and offering to help you. I think the idea of the place is that the whole hotel is the club floor. They have a cocktail time in the late afternoon. We went the first day because we were beat and it turned out to be free. The room was fantastic. We got upgraded to a room bigger than the standard to better fit the extra bed they provided free. (It was free only after I raised a little bit of a fuss about them claiming kids under 12 were free, when in fact there was no room that slept 3 people and the extra bed was close to $100/night.) This room came with a second small bathroom. They even brought a small size robe and slippers for C. Oh, and a special kid’s toothbrush. The breakfast was wonderful. They had a continental spread and then you could order a hot item off of their menu. I wouldn’t recommend the Italian restaurant for dinner. It was only average. Lastly, the WIFI was pretty weak.

    Thursday, June 11 – Xi’an

    Friday, June 12 –G88 13:18 Xian Bei North Railway Station 17:55 Beijing Xi through We stayed at Raffles Beijing Hotel. This was a very good hotel, but it is hard to measure up to the Sofitel Legend in Xi’an. We were supposed to have a room in the new part of the hotel, but got put in the old part. Because it seemed larger than what we would have gotten otherwise, I didn’t complain. We had two rooms separated by a door and two bathrooms. This was the most space we had all trip and it was nice to be able to spread out at the end. We did have a surprise giant cockroach on the bathroom floor one morning, and one day there was a sewage type smell in the bathroom (not from us!). When I mentioned the smell, the front desk did something that took care of it – or it went away on its own. The breakfast was really good. We hadn’t gotten sick of it by the 6th morning. There is an ambassador that is very helpful with planning out details of activities. Otherwise, it was hit or miss whether the staff understood what you were asking. The location is fantastic. It is right by the Wangfujing metro stop and a few blocks from the Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square.

    Saturday, June 13 – Wednesday, June 17 – Beijing

    Thursday, June 18 – Leave Beijing at noon, arrive in SFO 8:55am

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    Day 1

    We arrived in Shanghai an hour late after a relatively smooth flight. The one bad thing is that the United planes we were on in both direction did not have personal video screens. We didn’t notice where the outlets were until the flight home, so on the way we were running out of battery. This was probably good, because it made us sleep more. (We also just found out we only got half the miles towards Air Canada due to the fare class – grrr.) I was prepared for masses of people and no personal space in China. We got off the plane and we must have been the only plane offloading as the airport was empty. We were near the front of the immigration line and got through quickly. We carried on our bags, so we exited immediately. I was bracing myself for crowds, but it wasn’t that busy as we entered the main part of the airport. Our host was there to pick us up. We waited with her for a cab she had called and then went to the hotel. We checked in and ate with her at the hotel restaurant. It was 9 when we crashed.

    Day 2

    Surprisingly we all slept until 6:30. Thankfully, we didn’t have any trouble adjusting this direction. I think arriving late and being ready to sleep helped. L went to his conference while C and I hung around the hotel waiting for my friend and his family to pick us up. It was a sunny day with blue sky and the US consulate was reporting good air quality. Yay! (Pollution was another fear of mine.)

    Our first stop was lunch at 1221. It was a great inaugural meal in China for C. My friend has two daughters. One is the same age as C, so they have similar eating tastes. We got dumplings, Shanghai noodles, some sort of shrimp and green beans. It was really good and so nice to have someone else order it all.

    Next we walked along People’s Square, by the Shanghai Museum and over to the Urban planning museum. This was great for C, because she loves models and there is a giant model of Shanghai on the top floor. We got a better feel for the city. We wandered through the rest of the museum, letting the kids play on the computer exhibits. I didn’t pay much attention because I was catching up with my friend who I hadn’t seen in 7 years.

    After the museum we went to Yu Garden. We spent about an hour or so walking through the temples and the garden (pay to get in). It was nice to see something that looked like China, even though my understanding is that it isn’t really historical.

    We had dinner at Mercato on the Bund (3 on the Bund). This place was really yummy and has great views over the bund. We arrived when it was still light and got to see the sun set and the lights come on the tall buildings. The restaurant was expensive, but one of the best places we ate on the trip. I am still thinking about the ricotta with strawberries…

    We walked along the Bund to see the lights for a few minutes, but it was getting cool and we were really tired. We went home and hopped into the bed. It was a great first day in Shanghai.

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    Day 3

    L went to his conference again. C and I met my student J in the lobby. He called a cab (with his cell phone app) and we went to the bottle opener. It was a grey day, so not fantastic for viewing. But, Cecelia had heard about going to the top of this building from one of the girls the day before and was very excited. It wasn’t at all crowded. J bought the tickets (and everything else – I tried, but lost). We first watched a movie and then rode one elevator to the floor right below the hole in the tower. Then we took a second elevator to the very top. It was fun looking through holes in the floor and seeing the building below. While up there, a man asked C to take a picture with him. I thought it was a photo service and said no, until I realized he wanted his own picture with her. We had heard this might happen since she is blond. Once I figured that out, I let her pose with him.

    After the tower, we took a cab to the Bund where J had made a reservation for lunch at Dragon Phoenix in the Peace Hotel. It was quite fancy and C was impressed with the room and the view. We had a really nice lunch. J bought C TWO apple juices and was surprised that it took so little to make her so happy. We took a cab back to our hotel so we could meet C’s school friend.

    The friend, her sister and her mother came to pick us up at our hotel and bring us to their house. It was a 30-45 minute drive. They live in an area with a bunch of ex-pats. There wasn’t anything particularly Chinese about this experience, but it was great to have a simple meal of grilled meat and veggies and rice. Aside from fried rice, this was the only rice we had on the trip! C had a fun time catching up and playing.

    Day 4

    Today Dad was back with us. We walked a few blocks from the hotel and took the Metro to the Shanghai Museum. This was a good thing to do on a rainy day. It is a nice museum. Each area has a little write up in English that describes the items in the room. We tried to get an audio guide, but were told we needed some sort of ticket, but couldn’t figure out where to get the ticket. We spent all morning in the museum and were wiped out at the end.

    We walked to Xintiandi and had lunch at an Italian restaurant. It was raining off and on, but we decided to try to walk around the French concession. Unfortunately, we weren’t quite sure where the area was other than the marking on the map. We took the Metro to Shanghai library station and walked back to South Shanxi Road station through what was marked on the map as the French concession. It was raining and we were tired and this was a bit of a bust.

    We got back to our hotel and rested for an hour and then got a cab for dinner at Lost Heaven, just off the Bund. My HS friend had recommended this place. It would have been great, but C didn’t like much of anything we ordered. Her favorite, dumplings, had lemon grass, which she didn’t care for. The apple juice was freshly made and she didn’t like the texture, and so on. Ugh. Strangely, the one thing she liked was the beef dish we got for ourselves that was supposed to be spicy. We all liked that one best.

    Day 5

    Today, L’s host for the conference, S, picked us up and spent the day with us. We started at Lu Xun park and museum. It was fun watching the dancers and the games being played in the park. There is a museum in honor of Lu Xun, whom we had never heard of. S said she had to memorize some of his writing when she was in school.

    We then walked to the Sinan Mansions, which are some remodeled French mansions. It wasn’t that interesting to me. We then walked over to Tianzifang, which is an area of small streets/alleys with shops and restaurants. There was a neat candy making shop where we stopped to watch some candy being made. C got some ice cream and a souvenir luggage tag with a Panda on it.

    We took a cab back to the area near her campus and had lunch at a Thai restaurant. It was really good and a nice change of pace. We walked through the campus to the hotel where we hung out until dinner. S and a former student from our University, B, took us to dinner at a Szechuan restaurant. It was a fun night because B is so animated. He kept jumping up and snapping his fingers to order things.

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    Day 6

    We got up really early to catch our 9am flight to Xi’an. Happily, Air China is part of the Star Alliance so we could use the fast check-in and security lines and we got lounge access. Our flight was only 10-20 minutes late, which was good given what I had heard might happen.

    Our guide for the next day, Michael was waiting when we came out and drove us to our hotel. It was very hazy. Michael said it was a dust storm, but it could have been pollution. On the way he pointed out where we should eat for lunch and mentioned a hot pot restaurant we should try for dinner. At the hotel, he wrote all of this down along with the Chinese name for the Shaanxi History Museum, which was where we wanted to go that afternoon.

    The hotel was fabulous. While we were checking in, they brought us tea. The room was giant and so much nicer than the HoJo  We ate lunch at the place suggested by Michael. It was really good. We used the translator App L had on his phone and managed pretty well in ordering. We tried to get a cab to take us to the Museum, but no one wanted to drive us. So we went back to the hotel and had them call one for us.

    The Museum was a lot like the Shanghai Museum, except it had some nice pieces from the Terra Cotta warriors (TCW). They found some bronze birds there that are now on display at the museum. I think it was a nice thing to do prior to our day at the TCW Museum. Plus it was free. We were told that if there were lines we should just buy a ticket. But there wasn’t much of a line, so we got the free ticket (need your passport). We decided to take the Metro home. We should have tried to get a cab. We were all tired and it was a longer walk to and from the Metro than I thought it would be. The Metro was crowded, so we had to stand there too. After all afternoon on our feet, and after a night of little sleep, we were wiped out. The air was also pretty bad and it was hot. We got back to our oasis of a hotel and collapsed.

    C took a bath in the lovely tub. L and I showered and we went down to the Happy Hour in the lounge area. During these hours drinks are free (we didn’t know that at first). It was lovely to sit and have a glass of wine looking out over their garden. We were so beat we decided to eat at the Italian restaurant in the hotel. It was ok, but not great. The nice thing was not having to walk anywhere!

    Day 7

    We got up and ate breakfast at the hotel before our busy day with our guide. It was a gorgeous blue sky day. L wasn’t feeling well, so he took an Imodium pill. Unfortunately, this made him feel dizzy and weak, or whatever was bothering him did that. Michael picked us up at 9 and we went to the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum. On the way he stopped at this office that was supposed to be able to print out our train tickets to Beijing for us. I would have had no idea that that is what this office did, because it was entirely signed in Chinese. It turned out that they couldn’t figure out how to deal with a foreign passport. They claimed something was wrong with the ticket, which didn’t make me feel great about our trip the next day.

    Michael was a good guide. His English is pretty good. He was very helpful giving us advice on things to do in Xi’an without him and in finally getting our train tickets. We definitely managed to do more things in this day than we could have on our own. One thing was kind of funny. He chatted with us a bit as we headed out of town. Traffic is crazy in Xi’an. There are more bikes and motorbikes than in Shanghai and Beijing. These people don’t obey traffic signals, so it is a bit chaotic. Once we got on the open highway, he announced he needed to concentrate on driving so couldn’t talk anymore. Given he was talking to us through much crazier driving conditions, I had an internal chuckle.

    Visiting the TCW was amazing. In the end, we probably didn’t really need a guide here, because most of what he told us, C and I had learned through our reading (children’s books are good!). But, it was nice to have someone direct us around. After the museum we went into the neighboring town for some biang biang noodles. I thought they were amazing. C didn’t care for them much, and L looked like he was going to die. I still feel a little guilty about dragging him to the restaurant instead of immediately driving him back to the hotel, but it was one of the best meals I had in China. Michael drove us back to Xi’an and we dropped L off at the hotel to try to recover.

    Next we went to the main train station to try again to get our tickets, and we had luck this time. Michael then took us to the East city gate and we went up and rented a tandem bike. I was a bit nervous about this, because it was supposed to be L and C on the tandem, not me and C. The bikes aren’t the greatest quality, so it was a little hard to get going and stop. Luckily for us, it wasn’t crowded at all, so we didn’t need to maneuver around people. They had helmets, and C really wanted one. Kids these days are so well trained. The problem was that they were all giant. We adjusted it best we could, but every bump we went over made her helmet shift around. It was hot so we only rode from the East gate to the South gate. It was really neat to be up on the wall and get that view of the city and walls.

    After this, we went over to the Muslim quarter and walked down one street to get a view of the Bell and Drum Towers. C was intrigued by the candy makers stretching the candy out from the hook and then swinging it so it almost hit the ground. She also enjoyed watching the noodle makers. We had read someone’s blog online about the Muslim quarter, so everything we saw we had anticipated.

    When we got back to the hotel, L was looking much better. C took another bath and we cleaned up. We went down to the cocktail time for another relaxing drink, and then walked over to the hotpot restaurant a few blocks away. This was an experience. Our waitress could speak a little English, but not much. We ordered a spicy and not spicy liquid. We ordered some beef and some veggies and a noodle. The cool thing about ordering a noodle is this guy comes over and makes it at your table, swinging it around and doing a little performance as it stretches out. It was fun cooking the stuff, and our waitress gave us a lot of help in how to mix the dipping sauces. When we got home we realized the clothes we had on smelled strongly of hotpot. I tried to air them out, but they became our hotpot clothes, only to be worn to future dinners.

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    Day 8

    Our train wasn’t leaving until around 1:15 and we had our tickets, so we had some time in the morning. After breakfast, we walked back over to the Muslim quarter, because L had missed it the day before. It was another blue sky day. After our walk, C went swimming and we packed up. I had arranged for a driver through Michael. It would have been easy and cheaper to take a cab, but C really didn’t like riding in cabs because of the lack of seatbelts. I also was worried that L might not have recovered and would need a more comfortable ride than a hot taxi.

    At the train station, L and C got lunch from McDonalds. It was the only time we ate fast food in China and their hamburgers were spicy. I have no idea if this is normal or just an accident because they got cooked after something else spicy. C couldn’t eat hers. We had first class tickets on the train to Beijing. I guess this means bigger seats and more space for your stuff. The train ride was uneventful. We got a little box of snacks. They didn’t amount to much and weren’t very good. It was good I had granola bars, nuts and dried fruit.

    I had arranged for a driver through Mark Ma to pick us up at the train station and take us to the hotel. He was supposed to be in the arrivals hall with a sign with my name. No one was waiting for us when we exited into the train station (there were other people with signs). It was chaos and we had no idea if we were at the arrivals hall or where to go. We went to the info booth and L called Mark on his cell phone. While he was on the phone our driver came up and pulled a sign out of his pocket with my name on it. He must have been late. It later dawned on me that just staying put was the safest thing. It would be a lot easier for one Chinese guy to find three Westerners than the other way around.
    It took a long time to get to the hotel through the Beijing traffic. We got checked in and no one had any energy to go out and find dinner, even though we hadn’t really had lunch. We went to the lounge and ate their happy hour spread and then collapsed in bed.

    Day 9

    Of course we woke up starving. We had a nice breakfast in the restaurant (included in our rate). We hopped on the Metro and went to the Temple of Heaven. It was really easy to reach by Metro. There is a stop right outside the hotel and then the stop at the TOH is only a block or so from the gate. This was a really neat place to visit. It was fun watching the people play hacky sack, paddle games, dance, play cards, play chess, knit, etc… It was a low pollution day and a bit overcast so not too hot. We walked through the various parts of the temple. Our favorite was probably the echo wall. None of it was as crowded as I was anticipating.

    We went back to the hotel and changed and went to South Beauty restaurant in the Oriental Plaza across the street. We met 3 guys who had visited our University at some point in the last several years. We had a great lunch and a really nice discussion about the changes in China, the current government and some Chinese history. C brought a book and was happy to read for the 2 plus hours we were there.

    After lunch we walked over to Tiananmen Square and went to the National Museum of China. To get there we had to go through security. People were showing IDs, so I got out my passports, but no one wanted to look at them. We had them with us to get tickets at the museum. We went in the ticket office and it is completely electronic. You scan your ID and a ticket comes out, but only if you have a Chinese ID. We were confused, and went out and flashed out passports at the guard he pointed to the other end of the museum. We got our tickets from a person in that office. We did not need to go to this museum. I had heard the ground floor had a good collection. It does. But after the Shanghai Museum, the Shaanxi History Museum, and the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum, we had seen enough. C was losing steam. I told her we could leave after the ground floor, not knowing L wanted to see another part of the museum. We ended up walking through another exhibit that was only interesting because it was so propaganda filled.

    After the museum we walked over the Tiananmen Square. We had to do another round of security. We spent 15-20 minutes on the square and went back to the hotel.

    We went up to the lounge and had a few happy hour snacks, but recognized we needed to find a place to eat a real dinner. We went down to the Writers Bar in the hotel and ended up having dinner there. The staff was very nice. The food (burger, pasta and sloppy joe) was mediocre and fairly expensive (no surprise on that count). We were told there was a 50% off drink special for happy hour. We were supposed to have 20% off food at the hotel’s restaurants. I wouldn’t have gotten a drink without the happy hour deal, and we probably wouldn’t have gotten anything special for C either. I was annoyed when they brought the bill and told us our 20% discount on food was nullified by the 50% discount on drinks. I am fine with not getting a double discount on drinks, but I didn’t realize by taking the drinks we were forfeiting the food deal. I probably wouldn’t have cared so much if the food had been better.

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    Day 10

    Today was our first day with Jonathon, our guide from Stretch a Leg. After breakfast, we met him in the lobby at 9. It was a blue sky day with good air. He took us to the Forbidden City, but we went through what was the South Temple (if I remember correctly). I think it is now call Beijing Working People’s Cultural Palace. It was crowd free and a really nice way to start the tour. Jonathon is great. His English is fantastic. I never had to think about how to phrase things in a way he would understand. He was full of information.

    In the Forbidden City I had my only true experience with a pushing and shoving mob. C and I tried to get a look in at the throne, which you can only see through a dark window. There was a mass of people in front of it and everyone was just pushing their way in. It was amazing to me, especially the fact that no one seemed to mind when I pushed right back. I am not very big, but neither is the typical Chinese person, so I managed to get C and myself near the front. Even so, it was hard to see much in the dark room.

    We enjoyed getting to see the Dragon Wall, Emperor Qianlong’s garden, and the well Pearl got thrown into on Cixi’s orders. C and I had read a story about the little river Emperor Qianlong used for a drinking game, and it was fun to see that. I had just read the part of my book where Cixi orders the concubine Pearl to be thrown into the well, so was interested in the well.

    After the Forbidden City we took a bus to a lunch place. We had some dumplings, noodles, scallion pancakes and some meat dish I can’t recall. It was really good. Jonathon then walked us to a little museum that shows a model of what Hutongs looked like in the old days. It was nice to see, but we really didn’t need the model to understand courtyards. C enjoyed the courtyard of the museum, because it had lots of birds in cages.

    We took the Metro to I think it was Qianmen and Jonathon took us through a hutong. I thought the tour was going to cover the hutongs north of the Forbidden City. He claimed they had all been gentrified, so this was better. It was interesting, but C was getting bored and tired at this point. We probably would have done better to replace the hutong visit with some other sight.

    We had dinner at a Thai restaurant in the Oriental Plaza across the street. It was here, C copied down the Chinese characters for apple juice from L’s phone. I didn’t realize she was doing it and was proud to see her order her own drink successfully. The food was good and a nice change from all the Chinese food we were eating.

    We tried to find someplace to buy something for lunch for our hike on the Great Wall the next day, but only managed to find a loaf of bread.

    Day 11

    We got some extra cheese slices from breakfast and some fruit from the tray in our room to combine with all my dry snacks for our hiking lunch. Jonathon and a driver picked us up at 8. It took 2 hours to get to the drop off point for our hike on an unrestored section of the Great Wall. I was nervous C was not going to enjoy this. I was worried it would be too hot, too long, too whatever. She was quite excited at the start. We got hiking sticks, which were very helpful. We hiked about 8k. I would guess it was about 2k up to the Wall, 3k along the wall and then 3k down.

    It felt like we hiked straight up to get to the wall. We were hot and sweaty by the time we got there. It was worth the effort. Even though it was a hazy, not great air day, the views were incredible. We could see the Wall snaking around the mountains. We got to climb around the crumbling guard towers. Best of all, we saw no one else the entire hike. Whenever we reached a new guard tower we would have a break in the relative coolness of the shaded area. It was in one of these we had our cheese sandwiches, fruit and nuts. Near the end of the Wall section we took an offshoot that clearly isn’t hiked much. We were walking among trees that had grown up on the wall.

    The hike down was pretty much straight down. Both L and I were really feeling it in our knees. C on the other hand was practically tripping over Jonathon’s heels. To be young again! We brought two bigger water bottles and two small water bottles and ran out of water right before the end. Thankfully, the driver had ice cold water in a cooler in the van. It is pretty hard to find cold water in China, so this was a fantastic end to our hike. A cold beer would have been even better! We took about 5 hours to do the hike.

    It took another two hours to get back to the hotel. We had the concierge make us reservations at Da Dong around the corner for duck. We cleaned up, went to the lounge for a few snacks and then walked over to Da Dong. We ordered a small duck, some peas, fried rice, and some noodle dish. The duck was ok, but I am not a big fan of duck in general and even less so for duck skin. There was a lot of skin relative to meat. It was fun watching them put the ducks in and out of the big brick oven. It was also fun watching them carve it tableside.

    Strangely, at the table next to us a little girl started screaming. I looked over and she had peed all over the chair she was on. Her parents stripped her down, in the dining area and put some other underwear on her. It looked like they just wiped the chair off with a napkin. People are way more relaxed about bodily functions in China.

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    Day 12

    Today we took the Metro to the Summer Palace. The air wasn’t great and it was hot and crowded. The Summer Palace is huge and I hadn’t prepared enough for this visit. We didn’t know where we were going and much of what we were seeing. I knew to look for the stone boat and the long covered walk. My family was lagging after the long day the day before. So, they went off on a boat ride around the lake, while I walked around the palace area and out to the island. I was the only one who made use of my through ticket (entrance and all the other paid sights within). If I had to do it again, even I wouldn’t have bought that. Other than the Tower of Buddhist Incense area, the other fee sights are more museums, and I felt like I had seen enough of that stuff. It was interesting to see where Cixi worked and where her adopted Emperor son was held under house arrest, etc…

    We rode the Metro back to the hotel, relaxed a bit, and then went to the lounge for afternoon Tea. It was nice getting a whole pot of black tea for myself and being able to write postcards and read the guidebooks.

    L asked the woman in the lounge to make a reservation at Capital M for us for dinner. She told us to bring an umbrella, but L looked at the weather and decided we didn’t need one. Capital M is an upscale place on the south side of Tiananmen Square that overlooks the square. We got shown to the patio with fantastic views. I hesitated for a moment, because it was in the 90s out and muggy. I decided the view was worth it and that it should cool down a little as it got dark. We enjoyed the view and ordered. While we were drinking our drinks, a wind blew in and it started raining – the lady in the lounge was right! We got moved inside, where it was also nice and cool. The meal was great, especially the appetizers. I got a plate with a bunch of dips and falafel. The falafel was the best I have had. L started with a small size lemon risotto, which was divine. They even had a kid’s menu. The main courses weren’t as good as the apps, and were quite expensive. If I went again I would just get two appetizers. We had the lemon soufflé for dessert.

    The rain had tapered to a drizzle when we walked home. It was lovely walking along Tiananmen Square with the buildings all lit up. It would have been even lovelier if it hadn’t been raining!

    Day 13

    Today we took the Metro to the Lama Temple. It was another hot, not great air day. In the very last part of the temple is the most gigantic Buda carved out of one piece of wood (at least that is what the guidebook said). Either way, it was huge. It was interesting watching all the people burning incense. They were giving it out free and I tried to get C to burn some with me, but she wouldn’t do it. We probably spent an hour and a half there.

    Next we took the Metro over by the Bell and Drum towers (Shichahai stop). We walked over by the lake and along Yandai Byway, and then to the towers. It was so hot we stopped at the first one we got to – the drum tower. L had an Italian restaurant in mind for lunch in one of the hutongs (Mercante). We walked along Fangzhuanchang Hutong. We finally found the restaurant, but apparently it is only open for dinner during the week. We turned the corner at the end of the block and came upon another Italian restaurant. We were hot and starving so we went in. We were the only ones in this big place. We ordered C an apple juice, but they were out. I ordered the Gnocchi, but they were out. We ended up just getting basic pasta and marinara and Bolognese sauces. We asked for cold water (Bing shui – the one phrase we learned!), and got luke warm water. But we were so thirsty we didn’t care. I didn’t expect much. We were full when we left.

    We walked through the Hutongs to Beixinqiao Metro stop and headed back to the hotel. I took C to swim in the pool. I had heard it wasn’t very nice, but it was fine. You have to have a swim cap, but I had read that and came prepared. I wasn’t going in with her and when we got to the pool, the attendant didn’t want to let her in. I think she was too short to swim without me. But, I pretended like I didn’t understand and her English was bad, so she relented and let us in. It wasn’t like I was going to leave her there. And, she is a really strong swimmer.

    Once again, C and I went to the lounge after cleaning up for tea and some relaxation. C liked the treats and small sandwiches they set out at tea time. At this point it had started pouring outside. We had planned to take the Metro to the Silk market so C could get a few trinkets for herself and her cousins. We were going to then walk up to Parkview Green (a fancy mall) to have dinner on the recommendation of a guy at the hotel. When we set off it was just sprinkling. We brought our rain jackets and umbrellas.

    C got the fans she wanted for her friends, the chopsticks for her cousins and a little purse for herself. By the time we left the market, the sun was shining and it was a lovely evening. We walked to Parkview Green, explored the art in the mall, and then ate at Element Fresh. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here, but it was fine. We walked back to the Metro and went home.

    Day 14

    We packed up, ate breakfast and met the driver (through Mark Ma) outside the hotel at 9am. We got to the airport before 10. The driver must not be able to drop off, so parked and walked with us into the terminal. We checked in and had a relatively smooth flight home (again with no personal video screens).

    We had a much harder time adjusting to the time change coming home. Maybe it is because we arrived at 10am?

    Summary: I was abnormally nervous about this trip. I was worried about the language barrier. I was worried about the air quality. I was worried we would have sensory overload with smells and sounds. I was worried it would feel too crowded. None of these were significant issues. We managed to get by just fine without knowing Chinese. Of course it would have been a different kind of trip if we had had Chinese language skills. The air was fine. There were only a couple days where the air quality was bad, and none of us reacted to it. I had bought some masks. C put hers on once (in Xi’an), but decided the discomfort wasn’t worth the gain. It really wasn’t any noisier or smellier than any other city, and it really didn’t feel that crowded.

    I felt like I learned a lot on this trip. This is partly due to the fact that my knowledge was so limited to start with. I also spent a lot more time preparing for this trip because of all of my fears. This meant we got more out of it.

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    Cold, I remebered your comment about doing that. I felt like a whimp only doing a quarter and back. But it was hot and my kid can be a whiner about activities. It is annoying, because she is strong and can do a lot. She just likes to make us all as miserable as she apparently feels.

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    Looking forward to reading this report -- thanks for taking the time to post!

    China is on my "someday" list, but I'm getting more and more interested in a trip there, and am having fun browsing trip reports now.

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    Eastave at least you didn't end up with a mouthful of soot riding the wall. That was the worst day of air pollution for us.

    Our son was one of the blondes to get hit with a lot of attention. I'm showing him your story now.

    Great experiences for all of you!

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