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Thanks for helping make my trip to China amazing!

Thanks for helping make my trip to China amazing!

Old Jun 9th, 2010, 10:43 AM
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kja
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Thanks for helping make my trip to China amazing!

I recently returned from an amazing 4-week trip to China and wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who helped me prepare for my trip, whether by responding to my questions or by posting trip reports or responses to others. I learned from so many of you!

I ended up visiting Beijing, Tai Shan, Qufu, Luoyang, Xi'an, Pingyao, Taiyuan, Wutai Shan, Datong, and Chengde. I saw many things of great beauty and interest, ate some delicious local foods, met many helpful and kind strangers, and stored a tremendous array of wonderful memories.

Thank you all!
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Old Jun 10th, 2010, 10:03 AM
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So are you going to post a report?
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Old Jun 10th, 2010, 10:12 AM
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Glad you had a good trip. Yes, please post a trip report!
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Old Jun 10th, 2010, 12:40 PM
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Thanks for your interest! Unfortunately, my work life is unlikely to allow me the time to write a trip report (thus sparing you my lack of either eloquence or wit). I will, however, happily answer any questions I can.
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Old Jun 10th, 2010, 01:18 PM
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OK:

What was your favorite part of the rip?

What was your least favorite part of the trip?

Why?
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Old Jun 11th, 2010, 10:26 AM
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kja
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> What was your favorite part of the trip?

Taking it.

> What was your least favorite part of the trip?

Returning to work afterwards.

> Why?

Because I love to travel and I had a wonderful time.
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Old Jun 11th, 2010, 10:33 AM
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kja
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Sorry, Gpanda, I couldn't resist!

To provide a bit more detail, I’ll start with the things I liked least: The seemingly incessant noise; the pervasive construction grit, particularly when strong winds blew it into my eyes; the press of crowds wherever queues were not enforced by barriers; the nerve-wracking and (it seemed) life-threatening perils attached to crossing streets; the frustrations of being unable to express myself well or to understand others (particularly those who didn’t know pinyin and so couldn’t use my pocket dictionary, which was alphabetized by pinyin, to find words); loud and bright restaurants that closed way too early; and the small and uncomfortable seats on most buses and some trains.

Some of the things I liked best: Having the chance to see and experience a tremendous range of diverse cultural treasures (including buildings and objects and performing arts and public spaces and cave carvings and I don’t even know what all!); encountering the kindness and patience of so many people who offered me their assistance or otherwise made me feel incredibly welcome in their homeland; seeing men playing cards beneath their caged birds and people exercising in groups or alone, in parks or on sidewalks or wherever, and people gathering to make music together, and the many ways in which people seemed to find a way to bring some thing of beauty into their lives; tasting delicious foods and the shared laughter as groups of wait staff worked with me and my phrase books to help me order local specialties; capturing some glimpses into a culture that is quite different than mine, and finding common ground despite cultural and linguistic differences; seeing stunningly beautiful mountains and the fascinating loess plateau and the amazing views of the Great Wall snaking into the distance across mountain ridges; walking by carts and baskets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and being inundated by wonderful aromas wafting from street vendors’ stalls and tiny shops; strolling through some of Beijing’s hutong and various side streets of other cities and sharing smiles or greetings with strangers and watching children play and watching their parents watching them; admiring the flowers and shrubs – roses, iris, lotus, lilac, countless others – in full bloom in parks and gardens and street-side plots; seeing the things I’d read about and wanted to see for so very long, even if I did have to do so with throngs of others, and visiting some less touristed, but nonetheless special, places, a very few of which I had almost to myself; and living more or less in the present (instead of the past and future, as I tend to do when not traveling – maybe there’s a lesson there?).

Those are some of my most vivid memories. And the many things I liked best MORE than made up for the few things I liked least.
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Old Jun 12th, 2010, 12:04 AM
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What a fabulous response! I can see it through your words.
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Old Jun 14th, 2010, 07:52 AM
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kja
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Thanks for your kind words, sdtravels. And BTW, I loved the Yide Hotel in Pingyao - thanks for answering my questions about it (and other things) before I left!
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Old Jun 17th, 2010, 05:49 AM
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What a great response! You've summarized up so nicely the things we like to see. Eloquent writing skills are not your problem. Working is no excuse for your failure to provide a trip report! You can do it in dribs and drabs. It seems like you have so much to offer and we would love to hear about your experiences. PLEASE consider writing a report.
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Old Jun 17th, 2010, 10:27 AM
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kja, I need a trip report ASAP. Sept we plan on going to Beijing, we were in China early 2007. Planning on seeing some missed sights and revisiting several others. Also looking at flying to Lasa for a few days. We are looking to perhaps use Beijing as a base and taking day trips if possible. We are also open to going from place to place for a day or two if that is a better plan. We are independent travelers and travel our own pace and route. Based on your previous comments I know you have a lot to add as we plan our trip. Thanks.
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Old Jun 17th, 2010, 01:10 PM
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I will join the chorus of those who are eager for a report, however brief. Especially on the places you visited that are not often discussed here. PLEASE! I am considering a return visit within the next two-three years and need to read all I can!
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Old Aug 30th, 2010, 02:36 PM
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It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally found some time to start a trip report. Better late than never? I’ll add when possible.

My 29-day itinerary, starting in early May and ending in early June, included:
• A few initial days in Beijing (3 nights)
• Tai’An / Tai Shan (1 night)
• Qufu (1 night)
• Luoyang (2 nights)
• Xi’an (4 nights)
• Pingyao (1 night)
• Taiyuan (2 nights)
• Wutai Shan (2 nights)
• Datong (2 nights)
• Chengde (1 night)
• And a longer, final stay in Beijing (6 nights).

Background:
• I’m a woman who was traveling solo and independently.
• This was my first visit to China.
• I learned a few (very few) Mandarin words and phrases beforehand.

Advance planning:
• I used quite a few different guidebooks, everything I could find on this board from a search of the last 3 years (thanks to all of you who posted!), and some other internet material.
• I did not make reservations for intercity trains or buses before reaching China and didn’t take any internal flights. When possible, arranging a train onward was the first thing I did when arriving somewhere. I had printed out train schedules, written in both English and Chinese, which I used to indicate which train I wanted. Doing so generally worked quite well, and I was almost always able to get the train I preferred.
• Particularly because I didn’t know exactly when I would be arriving anywhere, I accepted PeterN_H’s advice to wait to book rooms except for my 1st few nights in Beijing,. It worked surprisingly well. In almost every case, I was given a discounted rate; in a few cases, I was able to negotiate an even lower price. Before starting my trip, I identified a target hotel that was near several others that I thought would be suitable back-up options. I had the names and addresses of these places in English and Chinese, and showed my taxi driver the name and address of my target hotel. I was able to get a room at 8 of my 10 target hotels. One place didn’t exist any longer and one place had no available rooms; in each of these cases, a room was available at my second choice hotel. In one case, I probably should have left to check out other options (even with a discount, it was more expensive that I thought it was worth), but I made a choice to stay.
• I also had lists of restaurant names and addresses and lists of local specialties, printed in both English and Chinese. It was often fun to work with the wait staff to determine whether they had one of the dishes on my list and if not, what local specialties might suit. In many cases, the wait staff did not speak English, but my lists and a phrase book / pocket dictionary (and a sense of humor) were enough to ensure that I ate some wonderful meals.

Saturday 8 May — Beijing — Arrival

My very, very long flight from DC, which (thankfully) was not as bad as it could have been, landed at Beijing’s modern airport in the late afternoon. It was easy to find my way around the airport and get a taxi.

During the ride into the city, I couldn’t help but notice all the new and ongoing construction — something I was to see in virtually every location I visited. Each city seemed ringed by masses of new high-rises - clusters of them in the same not particularly attractive style next to other clusters in different, but also not particularly attractive styles, with enormous construction cranes and partially built towers surrounding them. There was some degree of construction or reconstruction going on almost everywhere I visited, with all the attendant noise and grit.

As the taxi neared my hotel, I began to see some signs of Beijing’s traditional architecture — some of the old city gates (massive!), low buildings with gracefully curving grey-tiled eaves. . . . OMG, I’m in China!

For my first few nights, I stayed at the Templeside — a siheyuan west of Beihai Park, about 10 or 15 minutes by foot from a metro stop. As mentioned above, I had booked this room in advance. My taxi driver left me off as close as he could; it took only a few minutes to wheel my suitcase the remaining way down the alley. I thought the Templeside had some charming features, but it also had some limitations. I was very pleased with the location: The hutong in this area seemed much less gentrified and more authentic than other hutong I visited in Beijing. Once off the major streets, there were only a few shops or businesses, and these did not cater to tourists. After my long flight, I thoroughly enjoyed a long walk around these hutong, exchanging greetings with people who seemed to be trying as hard as I was to avoid overt displays of our curiosity about each other.

As night fell, I flagged a taxi to Han Cang, a Hakka restaurant that several Fodorites have recommended. I enjoyed dining alfresco; I also enjoyed my meal of shrimp baked in salt, celery with cashew, and beer, but perhaps not as much as some others have. It was good, but not great. The shrimp were very flavorful, but a bit drier than I would have preferred, and frankly, the service was awful. In fairness, I might have enjoyed it more if jet lag hadn’t begun to set in and if I didn’t have several minor abrasions on both hands, which made peeling the salty shrimp rather painful. The area seemed a bit touristy, but it was still quite pleasant to watch the rippling reflections of the many colored lights of the restaurants and shops that surround Qianhai Lake and watch the many people enjoying their time in this popular evening destination. A short taxi ride brought me back to my room, where I soon lapsed into deep steep.

Sunday 9 May — 1st full day in Beijing

One benefit of west-to-east jet lag is that I woke up very early, and I took full advantage of that unusual event (I am not a morning person!) to try to find one of the weekend-only tour buses to the Eastern Qing Tombs. Although I succeeded in locating the two bus depots from which such buses generally leave, in both cases, I was told that no buses were going there because of road construction. I won’t deny being a bit disappointed, but I know that one always needs to be flexible when traveling, and — from what I read before taking this trip — perhaps particularly so in China. At least I had learned how incredibly easy the Beijing metro is to use! (And it is, truly, a remarkably good metro system.)

By this time, I had been up for several frustrating hours, and I was craving caffeine — enough so that a Starbuck’s sign near Qianmen was inordinately appealing. It wasn’t open yet, so I spent the few moments before it did walking along Qianmen Dajie, with its mostly name-brand Western shops. It seemed to be a recently renovated/reconstructed street and although it held some pretty features, it felt a bit contrived. I wasn’t sure what to think — after all, this was my first morning in China; could I really tell what was real and what was not? Of course the answer to that question was (and remains) no — but it seemed to me that the remodeling of this street was driven primarily by an intent to create something that would appeal to tourists.

Starbucks finally opened, and fortified by a grande latte, I set off on foot for the Museum of Architecture / Altar of Agriculture. It was farther away than I had anticipated, but I always feel more grounded in a city if I walk some of the streets that aren’t on the usual tourist routes, so I my only concern was whether I was on the right track or not. I reached a point where I was sure I had to be really, really close to the entrance to the museum, but I hadn’t seen it, so I stepped into a hotel to ask, pointing to the Chinese characters for the museum. The staff — there were 3 — all denied knowing anything about it. That struck me as very sad, because it was actually just around the corner.

Turning down a quiet lane, with a pleasant tree-shrouded public square to one side, I soon found it. What a wonderful place to experience my 1st Chinese temple! Only a few other people were visiting while I was there, so I could take full advantage of the opportunity to see things at my own pace and from any angle I chose. The displays of the evolution of the dougong were fascinating and the areas used for rituals seemed more intimate than other imperial structures I saw later.

I lingered a while before walking several blocks to the Temple of Heaven. I entered by the west gate, and stopped first at the residence used by emperors for abstinence and purification before performing their obligatory duties. I found it quite lovely, with an elegant simplicity about it. I then entered an expanse of park in which there were trees planted in orchard-like regularity, under which a magnificent field of some kind of blue flower with white touches blanketed the grass as far as I could see. Glorious! There were some (but not many) people around, and it was very peaceful — quite in contrast to the congested and dusty and traffic-filled streets just outside the park. I walked to the south gate, thoroughly enjoying the flowers and trees and sunlight and glimpses of couples strolling and friends sharing picnics and otherwise enjoying this pleasant area.

From the south gate, I walked north through the Altar to Heaven to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This area was packed with tourists - and I mean packed! I don’t particularly like being in crowds, so when I become so enthralled by something that I become almost oblivious to the crowds, I know I’m seeing something special. And that was my experience at the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Once I reached a place where I could see inside, I was jostled and shoved and nearly knocked over and I did not mind at all - what an artistic and architectural achievement!

I walked briefly around some of the paths lined by ancient trees outside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest before turning to the long covered corridor and the many delightful vignettes one encounters there: Men playing cards and women belly-dancing in coin-bedecked garments and people chatting and people watching people and various performers thriving on the attentions they were receiving and a group of musicians who seemed indifferent to their appreciative audience as they played traditional songs on traditional instruments. While I watched, some arrived and others left with the kinds of verbal exchanges that suggested a long-standing coterie of people with similar interests who found a way to share their music whenever their schedules permitted. How wonderful! Stepping away from the covered corridor, I saw children playing under their parents’ watchful eyes and people enjoying picnics and people exercising and aspiring opera stars entertaining crowds with the help of blaring loudspeakers and an old man teaching a young boy how to fly a kite....

When I was finally ready to leave, I took the metro to my siheyuan, quickly showered and changed, and then took the metro to the Huguang Guildhall for a performance of Beijing Opera. I didn’t expect to enjoy the vocals, and I can’t say that I did. Still, I enjoyed the performance much more than I expected — the costumes and make-up and stagemanship and unexpected acrobatic elements were all memorable! And I found the theater quite special — it was small enough to feel intimate, tall enough to heighten the sense of theatricality, and very nicely decorated in a style that was (I thought) pleasantly understated.

I decided to return to my siheyuan for dinner. I was hungry, but tired, and I remembered that the in-room information included a menu that did not specify hours. It turns out that they order the food, and there was some question of whether it was too late to do so, but the caterer agreed. I had a delicious meal of steamed fish, fried rice with egg, and beer. The fish had lots of tiny bones, but it was incredibly flavorful and was well worth the effort it took to eat.

Monday 10 May — 2nd full day in Beijing

A bit of jet lag caught up with me, so I began this day a little later and a little more slowly than I would have preferred. I started with the boat to the Summer Palace. I enjoyed much of the scenery — especially the parks through which the river meanders, but the nearly constant blaring of a loud-speaker meant that it wasn’t as relaxing a journey as it might have been.

Within minutes of my arrival at the Summer Palace an incredible windstorm swept through. I’d never experienced anything like it! The extremely strong, nearly unceasing, sand-bearing winds forced most people to take shelter if they could or to turn their backs to the wind and protect their eyes as well as possible while struggling to stay upright. And then, maybe 15 minutes later, it stopped just as suddenly, and the rest of the day was beautiful. VERY strange!

I spent many hours enjoying the Summer Palace, which has lovely grounds, as well as some gorgeous and fascinating buildings. Many of the buildings and some parts of the park were packed with hordes of tour groups; other areas were delightfully free of all but a few visitors. I especially enjoyed the covered walkway, and it was obvious that others enjoyed it, too, with lots of people strolling inside or sitting on its benches or sitting outside in a place where they could gaze at it and many, many people happily putting their cameras to work. I must admit that I found the absurd and completely frivolous Marble Boat repulsively ostentatious and “Suzhou Street” (which I saw only from above) struck me as a bit grandiose. I could have spent much more time pleasantly exploring the grounds of the Summer Palace, but finally felt ready to leave.

It was a long metro ride to Tian’an Men Square. I started at Qianmen and slowly walked north. No words or pictures had prepared me for just how vast this space is — I found it’s scale extremely difficult to comprehend. I could see that many other people were there, but the space felt empty, in part because they seemed so small in comparison to the monuments. Conversely, it was hard to appreciate just how monumental the monuments were; my sense of perspective seemed completely off. At the north end, I spent a few minutes watching the preliminary phases of the flag-lowering ceremony, but didn’t have a good position from which to watch and so soon left.

I hurried to Wangfujing Dajie, where I reached the Foreign Languages Bookstore in time to buy a copy of Mooney’s Beijing Eats before it closed. I then strolled this popular pedestrian-only street for a while before selecting an outdoor table for a beer.

After studying my newly purchased restaurant guide, I located Shun Yi Fu, a dumpling restaurant in a nearby shopping mall, with clean tables in a brightly lit space. Almost as soon as I sat, a waitress appeared. I wasn’t ready to order, so I tried to ask her to come back in a few moments. I tried everything I could think of to let her know that I wasn’t ready to order, but nothing seemed to work — she just stood there. Finally, another patron who spoke English translated for me and I was left to review the menu without pressure and in peace. I was subsequently to observe that in most of the restaurants I went to, a server (usually female) would arrive almost as soon as I sat down and wait for me to order, no matter how long I took. (Oh my, is that why they are called WAIT staff?!?) As I noted in my prefatory remarks, I learned to engage the wait staff in my decision-making and shared laughter with them as we reviewed my lists of local specialties. I hadn’t figured that out yet. I eventually ordered two types of dumplings - pork with chives and a mushroom/bok choy mix. Both were very tasty!

I walked around the area for a while before taking the metro back to my siheyuan. Upon emerging from the metro, I encountered another sand storm. This time, the wind carried not only sand, but also a lot of construction dust. I walked with tears streaming down my cheeks, barely able to open my eyes enough to see the street in front of my feet. I don’t know how people who live here deal with the sandstorms and grit.

Planning to leave Beijing the next day, I prepared as much as I could and was just about ready to go to bed when — at about 11:45 p.m. — I heard what sounded like a truck outside my room, and people talking, and heavy objects being shifted. Looking out, I saw a small truck, loaded with brick and slabs of slate, and a large group of men unloading the truck and a few men beginning to drive pickaxes into the alley. They were paving the alley, and they continued to work throughout the night, with the small truck making many loud trips in and out of the alley and the men talking to each other between swings of their pickaxes or other tools. I tried to sleep, and am glad to report that I did get some snatches of it — but not that much.

Tuesday 11 May - Beijing to Tai’an (Tai Shan)

At 6:45 a.m., I heard what sounded like the truck departing once again, and a lot of people — men and women — speaking with some energy, and then the sounds gradually faded away, only to be broken a few minutes later by my alarm clock. I looked outside and found that the previously dirt alley was now neatly paved. I would have liked to have a better night’s sleep, but it was intriguing to realize what could be accomplished in just one night. Too, given the reports I had read of hutong being slated for destruction, I would like to believe that the paving of this alley is an indication that it has been spared, at least for now.

Understandably, the young lady on duty at the siheyuan that night/morning had also been thrown off-schedule by the noisy work on the alley, but she did her best to meet the needs of those of us who needed her attention. I ate breakfast, checked out, and took a taxi to the Beijing South train station, where I hoped to book a train to Tai’An. The train I had targeted was fully booked, but I was able to get a later train that would meet my needs. I checked my suitcase and got on the metro.

It took me a while to find the Ox Street Mosque - which was actually a good thing, because it meant that I spent some time roaming the streets of this very interesting neighborhood. I’m very glad I persisted — the mosque has some lovely features and it was fascinating to see a few Arabian features in this otherwise obviously Chinese setting. I particularly enjoyed the women’s area, where covered walks and bits of greenery provided a few surprisingly pleasant niches, and the sedate, tree-shrouded walkway that marked the main entry to the mosque. There were just
a few other people there — enough to accentuate how small the area outside the main sanctuary was. Very nice!

It was just a short walk to Fayuan Temple, which I loved! Magnificent old trees, monks going about their business, courtyards filled with incense from beautifully crafted burners, wonderful relics, few other visitors. . . . I enjoyed a long visit here, and then returned to the train station, glad that I had had the time to see both of these sites.
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Old Aug 30th, 2010, 02:40 PM
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Very good, but not nearly long enough.
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Old Aug 30th, 2010, 03:11 PM
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Bravo! Very refreshing, and should be compulsory reading for many contemplating a trip to Beijing: How to do it, and how to have fun doing it, by a female solo independent traveller who also takes in lesser-known sights. I'm sure there'll be other hiccups other than this mysterious cancellation of bus trips to the Eastern Qing, and I, for one, look forward to finding out.

> The staff — there were 3 — all denied knowing anything about it. That struck me as very sad, because it was actually just around the corner.

Unfortunately it is very common in China for people to have no knowledge of what is beyond their own personal experience, even what is right under their noses, and there's no encouragement for curiosity from the education system. Although life for many in the big cities is far more comfortable than it was even 20 years ago, it is still a struggle. Hotel staff would feel they had better things to do with the price of entrance, and better things to do with their free time than enter some ancient monument. Sadly Beijingers tend to know very little about Beijing.
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Old Aug 30th, 2010, 03:41 PM
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Definitely bravo! I'm very much looking forward to reading more.

I was particularly glad to see that someone else visited the Museum of Architecture / Altar of Agriculture, which I loved. Like you, I had it almost completely to myself, but I had more difficulty finding it!
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Old Aug 30th, 2010, 06:34 PM
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<<Unfortunately, my work life is unlikely to allow me the time to write a trip report (thus sparing you my lack of either eloquence or wit)>>

Methinks the lady doth protest too much... your report is eloquently written and better yet, supremely informative! You have no idea how interesting your observations are to those of us preparing to depart! I am copying your report to my laptop to make sure I can refer to it upon our arrival in Beijing. I can only hope to catch a glimpse of some of your experiences and make a few of my own. Thank you!
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Old Aug 30th, 2010, 07:41 PM
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If your work schedule prohibits you from making detailed trip reports, I'm very sorry about your recent firing! LOL

Thanks for a wonderful report. My list of liked most and liked least are incredibly similar to yours. I especially laughed about the restaurants that are too bright and close too early. Couldn't they at least unscrew a few light bulbs?
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Old Aug 30th, 2010, 08:09 PM
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Terrific report ! Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences in such an eloquent manner.
Quick question: I notice that the charming Beijing B&B you stayed at has only 8 guestrooms so how far ahead of your trip did you reserve on their website. Thanks!
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Old Aug 31st, 2010, 03:11 PM
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Thanks to all of you for your compliments! I’m glad you’ve found my observations informative and hope the coming installments are helpful and/or entertaining as well.

PeterN_H – I did have a great deal of fun on this journey, in large part because of the very helpful information you have offered on this board. And yes, there were other hiccups, but nothing that proved insurmountable.

Thursdaysd – I remember reading your account of the Museum of Architecture / Altar of Agriculture – it was part of what inspired me to make it a priority. And of course your trip report, along with those of other solo female travelers to China, was very helpful to me as I made the decision to go. Thanks so much!

NeoPatrick – I am still gainfully employed. Things were quite hectic for a while, but fortunately, things have eased up a bit. I hope you’re enjoying your trip; I’m looking forward to reading about it when I can.

LA_Traveler – I believe I booked the Templeside about 2½ weeks before my arrival in Beijing. I thought it had many charming elements, but it wasn’t perfect. For example, the young girls who staffed the reception desk were very sweet, but not particularly helpful. I have no regrets about spending a few nights there, but chose not to return to it for my time at Beijing at the end of my trip.


Installment 2:
Train to Tai’An / Tai Shan

I reached the train station in plenty of time to buy some beverages for the trip, reclaim my suitcase, and relax a bit before boarding. Others have commented on the nearly chaotic boarding process, so I won’t elaborate, except to say that it struck me as bizarre and unnecessary. My seat on this train was incredibly comfortable and roomy — a nice introduction to train travel in China. (As it turned out, this was the only truly comfortable train seat of my journey.) For most of the trip, the tracks crossed flat cultivated land, with mountains — the kind that rise with remarkable steepness — in the distance.

I spent part of the trip re-thinking my plans: If I had gotten an early train from Beijing, I would have tried to reach the top of Tai Shan that day and spend the night there. I didn’t think that would be possible with this later train, and so I identified a new target hotel and restaurant. Upon reaching Tai’an, I stopped at the tourist office across from the station. The non-English-speaking staff person immediately called someone, and within moments, an English-speaking person appeared — something I experienced more than a few times along my journey, at a variety of types of establishment. I soon had a map and all the information I wanted.

Fighting my way through the mobs of taxi drivers who declined to use the meter, I finally found a metered taxi and set off for the Tai Shan Binguan. I must admit a bit of trepidation: Although I had confidence in PeterN_H’s advice about showing up at hotels without reservations and bargaining for a room rate, I did not have confidence in my ability to pull it off. But it worked! I was immediately offered a discount and I managed to negotiate an even lower price. Wow! What’s more, the receptionist didn’t speak English, so I managed with my very limited Chinese and my phrase book. (At least some English was spoken at the other hotels in which I stayed.) I was very pleased — and relieved — by my success. The room wasn’t anything special, but it suited my needs, and I had secured it quite easily. I quickly freshened up and headed to a restaurant that one of my guidebooks commended for the local cuisine — only to see it close while I waited for a break in the traffic to cross the street.

I walked around briefly and settled on a nearby restaurant that I think was called Wei Wen Wen. This restaurant was the first one I went to where it seemed like the entire wait staff joined in the effort to help me order. The staff seemed very appreciative of my desire to sample local foods and intent upon making sure that it would be something that I would enjoy. They didn’t have any of the dishes that my guidebooks listed as local specialties, and when they realized that one recommendation was for the local fish, they took me by my hand to show me a tank of the local fish, which were at most 2 inches long! My pocket dictionary flew back and forth among various hands and we all laughed a lot. I ended up with something they indicated was one of their specialties - a tofu dish with local vegetables that was very tasty. I couldn’t help but notice that they were closing even while we were choosing my meal, but no one rushed me or otherwise made me feel uncomfortable as I enjoyed it.

Wednesday 12 May — Tai’an (Tai Shan) to Qufu

I managed to get up early, starting my day with the hotel’s breakfast buffet. In addition to a wide array of Chinese foods (which is not what I prefer to start the day), there was a young man who cooked eggs on the spot, and although over-easy was the usual preparation, gestures were sufficient to get him to scramble some for me. After breakfast, I went to the desk to check out and arrange to store my suitcase for the day, which required that I fill in every line of a small form.

I soon took a taxi to the park from which buses depart for Tai Shan’s half-way point. There, masses of tourists — almost all Chinese — pushed and shoved their way to and through a series of lanes defined by railings that channeled people to the buses. The buses formed an almost nonstop stream, with departure as soon as the bus was filled. Filling them was no problem — filling them with the “right” people apparently was: As a solo traveler, I was moved from one bus to a second and then to a third as tour guides and their members struggled to ensure that they were all together.

Eventually, my bus took off, and after a seemingly endless series of switchback turns, it arrived at the mid-way point. There was English signage there, but if there were signs indicating where to go for the cableway, I missed them. You will, perhaps, not be surprised that knowing how to say “where” is not very helpful if you don’t know the name of what you hope to find, and “cable car” was not in my limited Mandarin vocabulary. But I soon found my way.

I shared the cable car with a middle-aged woman and an elderly man who I believe (without evidence) was her father. They didn’t speak English, but I was able to answer a few of their questions — I was American, traveling on my own, having a wonderful time.... I ran into them again at several temples, and my guess is that he had wanted to visit Tai Shan for a long time (he seemed so thrilled to be there!) and that she had made that happen. She seemed to enjoy what she was seeing, but to take even greater pleasure in his joy; in turn, he seemed to be very happy to be sharing it with her. I have no idea what their relationship actually was, but I loved seeing their interactions. We ran into each other several times while exploring the area, and they made a point of greeting me each they saw me. We found nonverbal ways to communicate, but it would have been nice to have been able to speak with them.

The temples and lanes at the top of Tai Shan were jammed with people. I stand in awed admiration of the many, many people who climb to the top. I had read that many Chinese make climbing Tai Shan a goal and while I can’t say that those who climbed the mountain were of all shapes and ages — not surprisingly, there were more young and fit people than others — the range of those who were climbing was impressive. And the porters, OMG!!! Climbing with several cases of liquids (e.g., water or beer) or whatever hanging from each side of a wooden bar balanced across their upper backs and stabilized by their arms, stopping every few steps, and facing tourists’ cameras with every step — what a job! More to the point, what strength, endurance, persistence, and patience!

I visited several interesting temples and enjoyed the views (it wasn’t a super clear day, but it was clear enough to see some distance). And then I began to walk down. . . and down. . . and down. It took me more than 4 hours to reach the bottom! OK, that includes visiting a few more temples and stopping frequently to take pictures, but still! I am very glad I didn’t try climbing up. Maybe I could have done it in my youth, but I don’t think there is any way I could have climbed it now! There was some lovely scenery to take in along the way — various types of trees, a few flowers, some butterflies, interesting rock formations (often with calligraphy that I didn't understand), a bit of a waterfall. . . . And it was pleasant to exchange greetings with a few other people who were descending at a similar pace, as we passed and were passed by each other and checked to see what had caught each other’s attention.

From the base of the mountain, it is not far to Dai Miao. This temple was quite lovely, and deserved far more time that I was able to devote to it. The garden area into which one enters had some ancient and beautifully shaped bonsai, along with “regular” trees and pools with lotus and vine-covered trellises and various blooming flowers. Although I didn’t have time to linger, I enjoyed a quick walk through part of it. My goal was to see the Song-era wall mural in one of the main (and very impressive) temple buildings. It was poorly lit, but remarkable and IMO well worth seeing. I admired it for longer than I thought I should.

I wanted to be sure to catch a bus to Qufu that day, and although there are buses every half hour during the day, the last one leaves at 5:30. I hoped to reach the bus terminal in time for the 5:00 bus, just in case there was a problem. So, I pulled myself away from Dai Miao and returned to my hotel for my luggage.

You might imagine my surprise when I found the glass-fronted lobby taped off, with most of the doors locked, and glimpses inside of a space filled with drop clothes, plaster dust, and men wielding various tools - including power tools - hacking the walls and ceiling away! I found a way in, and was soon greeted by a startled young lady who asked (in English) how she might help me. She seemed incredulous when I handed her my luggage receipt. The key to the luggage area didn’t work; another was found and also didn’t work. Men began taking various tools to the door - a saw, hammer, crowbar. I saw men running at the door, alone or in pairs, shoulder first or feet first. I stepped outside.

It was one of those moments when all one can do is appreciate the absurdity. Really, did they not know, that very morning when I checked my bag, that the lobby was to be renovated that day? Did they not check the luggage room before starting? Apparently not. Since it was now after 5, I was contemplating where I would spend the night when I heard a particularly loud crash. The young woman, who had been immaculately groomed and was now covered from head to toe in dust, came out with my suitcase. I commend the dignity with which she ensured that it was mine, helped me brush the dust off the suitcase (and me!), and thanked me for staying with them.

I hailed the first taxi I could, remembered to ensure that the driver used the meter, and arrived at the bus depot with more than 5 minutes to spare before the day’s last bus left! I got the 2nd to the last ticket and watched another passenger buy the remaining one. As we pulled out I reflected on my good fortune. A few minutes later, still in Tai’an, the bus pulled off the street. I heard the driver say what I believe I had learned meant “not good” or “broken,” and then a few passengers shrugged and said the same thing. The hood went up, and I once again began considering my alternatives. But about 15 minutes later, the hood slammed down, the bus driver reentered, and off we went.
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