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massagediva Jul 7th, 2006 05:20 PM

You're doing a great job of illustrating those head-scratching episodes that we'll all remember from our trips.I was in India last year,and some of the crazy things that happened there are my most treasured memories.

baby108 Jul 7th, 2006 06:30 PM

Looking forward for more. Bookmarking!

travelgirl2 Jul 8th, 2006 11:35 AM

Hi all. Just checking in. We are doing fine. Will post more hopefully tomorrow or the next day. --Travelgirl

CRAZY4TRAVEL Jul 8th, 2006 11:50 AM

I'm finding your trip report and adventure facinating. What a wonderful learning experience for your boys. I can't wait to hear how you make out in China.

SandyBrit Jul 8th, 2006 01:03 PM

travelgirl2 - Looking forward to your report on the Forbidden City.

Your detail and style of writing is like reading a good book. I was nervous for you all when the taxi driver had not turned on the meter. How amazing that his mother could speak English.

Sandy

amaclise Jul 8th, 2006 01:35 PM

Bookmark for my summer reading and vicarious travel.

Marija Jul 10th, 2006 04:39 AM

We're waiting! Hope you're enjoying China.

LCBoniti Jul 11th, 2006 07:41 AM

travelgirl -
Well, you have spoiled us with this ongoing journal and now we are missing you! I hope all is well with you. You have me a little worried since in your last China posting you did not seem to feel comfortable yet.

I hope you are able to check in with us soon.
Take care!
Linda

travelgirl2 Jul 11th, 2006 10:16 AM

Hi Linda and everyone! I am a few days behind on posting. We are currently in Santorini, where we have only an internet cafe, and you can't transfer any files. Luckily, I just realized that I had emailed my word file to myself in China, so I will be able to download the next day from my email...

travelgirl2 Jul 11th, 2006 10:21 AM

Day 12 – Beijing – Hutong Tour

We wake up early, have a leisurely breakfast in the apartment, and decide that we will have to arrange some tours of Beijing. Everyone is feeling better. We’ve decided to regard this as an adventure. But, taking taxis and touring on our own will be too stressful for us. We are apparently not as adventurous as we had imagined ourselves to be! So, we get to work booking some tours for the next few days. First, we book a Gray Line Hutong tour for this afternoon and another Gray Line tour to the Great Wall for tomorrow. And we send an email to Jane Yeo, who has been recommended by several Fodor’s posters. We hope she can show us the sights us around Beijing.

We unpack a bit, research Beijing a bit and catch up on our email for a couple of hours. We start some laundry. It is a combined washer and dryer, European style. It runs for about 3 hours, at which time we have to leave to have lunch before our afternoon tour.

We have lunch at HUANG TING Ting, in the Peninsula Palace Hotel, which is next door to our apartment. As we approach the hotel, there are two revolving doors and a man stationed at each door to push them around for you. What service!

While waiting momentarily for a table, another woman strikes up a conversation with us. I notice that her husband, who appears Western, is speaking to the hostess in Chinese. I ask him about this. He tells me that he was with the foreign service in Australia and was posted in China in the 1970’s and again in the 1980’s. He is here on a diplomatic mission to arrange scholarships for foreign students to study in China. He tells us he was a Greek and Latin professor prior to joining the foreign service. The couple is charming and it sounds like they have had an adventurous life. They tell us that Beijing has changed so much over the years that they don’t even know where things are today. I can see how this would be, as there is construction everywhere.

Huang Ting is a beautiful, serene restaurant. Fodor’s says it is arguably Beijing’s best Cantonese restaurant. We order shrimp dumplings and barbecued pork buns from the dim sum menu. Also, sautéed asparagus, beef with mango, soy marinated chicken and some fried rice. We share everything and enjoy it all. The kids really like the barbecued pork buns, beef with mango and fried rice. We give this restaurant a 9.

The service is excellent. Our jasmine tea is constantly refilled with hot water. We order a large Evian and DH receives it. We are momentarily confused, since with such fabulous service, we would expect them to pour the water. He opens the bottle and the waiter then rushes over to pour it. DH tells me he realized that it is probably a courtesy to give us the water unopened, so we can confirm that it is a fresh bottle of water. I am oblivious and thinking he is rude to have opened the water with the waiter standing right there, until he fills me in.

After lunch, we head back to the hotel. We have had airplane tickets to Xian delivered to the front desk. I’ve ordered them through www.wacts.com. There seems to be a problem with DS2’s ticket and it looks like we will be proceeding to Xian without him. The lady at the front desk tells us she will work this out and also call the airline to confirm our flights, which is necessary in China. Later, she tells us that we just have 3 paper tickets and 1 electronic ticket, which should be fine. Once back to our room, we find the load of laundry soaking wet in the washer and the door will not open. But, it is time for our tour, so we will have to deal with this later.

The Gray Line mini-bus picks us up and takes us to the hutong area. The pedicab tour is with www.hutongtour.com.cn. It costs 220 yuan per person (about $25) and there are 15 people on the tour. Jackay is a very nice guide and we are each taken, 2 to a bike, from site to site, where he describes what is going to happen and gives us a history lesson. We visit the bell tower and climb to the top, where there is a brief drum ceremony. Then, we go inside a family’s hutong and garden, where the man of the household explains their lifestyle to us. This is a very upscale hutong, with indoor plumbing, electricity and running water. He is a retired engineer and now does paper cutting. His work is simply beautiful. Our last stop is at a tea house, where we are instructed in the tea ceremony and we try oolong tea, jasmine tea, and lychee tea. We end up purchasing a lot of tea to take home. Overall, we all love this tour. It is quite varied and also allows us to relax as we are driven through the hutong neighborhoods.

When we return to the apartment, we find that the clothes are still soaking wet and we still can’t open the door. A call to the front desk brings someone to the apartment with the instructions written in English. After some fiddling by DH, the clothes are finally done a bit later. Meanwhile, I am writing on Fodors.

We want to go to FANGSHAN for dinner. It was established in 1925 by three royal chefs. It is in a lovely spot on the shore of Beihai Lake. As we are leaving in the taxi, the doorman tells us it is raining and asks if we want to take umbrellas. No, thank you, we tell him. How bad could the rain be, we think, as we are just being dropped off at the restaurant.

As we are driving to the restaurant, the sky opens up and it begins to pour. Then, the thunder and lightning begin. The driver is not quite sure where to go and he makes a call and then stops and gets out of the cab to ask someone. Eventually, he drops us off at the gate to the park. When he stops and points ahead and doesn’t drive any longer, we realize that we have to get out. We bolt through the rain and find a somewhat dry haven underneath the gate to the park. While waiting under the gate, it proceeds to get windy and soon we are pretty well drenched. We keep waiting for the rain to abate. About 10 of us are huddled together waiting. Most people have umbrellas and one guy is huddled under a box. The parking attendant goes to retrieve someone’s car and stops at a shop. He returns with umbrellas and says they are 50 yuan (about $5) each. Yes, thanks, we’ll take 4. When he returns the change, I realize he is charging us 15 yuan (about $2). I briefly wonder how much he paid for the umbrellas, but I don’t really care. That is the best $8 we have ever spent.

After about 35 minutes, we decide to walk to the restaurant. We are all very wet. DS1 is completely soaked. We head off, over a bridge and along a path next to the lake. Soon we come to a flooded area. So, this is what a flash flood looks like. The path to the restaurant has about 4 inches of water covering it. The restaurant workers lie pallets down and we skip from one to the next. There are only 4 pallets, so they are continually bringing the last one forward. Eventually, we make our way to the restaurant this way. As we arrive, everyone stares and laughs. We are laughing too. DS1 has removed his shoes and this causes lots of laughter.

The dinner is okay. We order a set menu and I think there were about 15 dishes. But, we are wet and pretty cold and miserable. We give this dinner a 7. After dinner, one of the waiters walks us all the way back, along the lake, over the bridge, through the gate, along some small streets and to the major street. The rain is a soft drizzle and the floods have disappeared. He hails a taxi for us. I am grateful, because at this point we just want to head home and take a warm shower.

Back at the apartment, DS2 slips on the wet bathroom floor, falls and skins both knees. Luckily, he is okay. We then start another load of laundry and wonder how long this load will take… DH and I reflect on the last 2 days. When we first arrived in Beijing from Japan, we were overwhelmed by the activity and the pace. Now, we are finding China to be charming and exciting.


LCBoniti Jul 11th, 2006 10:32 AM

Oh, I'm so glad to hear that! (And you are very adventuresome IMO!) I am truly enjoying your journal. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this.

Take care!
Linda

HappyCheesehead Jul 11th, 2006 01:11 PM

Travelgirl - from China to Santorini, how did that feel? I can imagine it seems domestic and tame in comparison to China and Japan, LOL!


tower Jul 11th, 2006 01:27 PM

Hold on a minute, Happy Cheesehead...don't jump us to Santorini..want to hear more about China..Xian, the Wall, etc etc.

So glad to have you back in touch TravelGirl...you're successfully "weathering the storm" I see.

Was in Xian 22 years ago....at that time the soldiers were in a tent-like structure...and our hotel was infested with rodents...want to hear about the chages since then. Great Wall was not at all touristy in '86...now??
Where else in China?

What a super report!!!(Have bookmarked all the other stuff...still hope to return next spring....and Japan)

Stu T.

OneWanderingJew Jul 11th, 2006 06:53 PM

I just found your report...It's wonderful! I look forward to future installments :)

SeaUrchin Jul 11th, 2006 10:31 PM

Stu, the soldiers are in a big nice building now and parts of the Wall entrances are crowded depending on where you are. I walked the length of the Wall as far as I could and I was completely alone.

Isn't this report wonderful!

maureencol Jul 12th, 2006 06:48 AM

Thanks so much for your very informative and entertaining travel report. I love to travel, as everyone else on this board! I have to do it on a budget though so I appreciate when you quote prices for things. I went on the Hutong Tour site and it looks like they also have accommodations. Do you have any idea what they charge? I don't see any rates on their website.

Keep up the great postings!

travelgirl2 Jul 12th, 2006 06:55 AM

Day 13 – Beijing – Great Wall at Mutianyu Tour

Today we take a Gray Line tour to the Great Wall. We decide to take the half day tour to Mutianya, as we’ve heard it is less crowded than Badaling. The bus picks us up at 10:30 am. We drive around Beijing and pick up other passengers. The tour guide is very funny (a comedian really) and speaks excellent English. He tells us a lot of history about the various dynasties and the wall. We make an obligatory stop to a ceramics studio. We arrive at the wall at 1:00 pm. We have about 2 hours to climb and walk on the wall.

Everyone walks through a gauntlet of vendors on the way to the cable car. The vendors are hawking t-shirts (3 for $1), drinks, souvenirs, etc. Some of the vendors’ setups are quite elaborate.

The trek to the cable car seems like it is straight up hill. We are all huffing and puffing (especially me). The cable car ride is nice. Once on the wall, it is amazing. It continues as far as the eye can see, in both directions. It has been a dream of mine to walk along the Great Wall. I can't believe we are actually here!

I'm glad we've come to this section of the wall. It is not too crowded. Our whole busload of people get to the top almost at the same time. But if you wait ten minutes to let everyone else go on ahead, you can have the wall almost to yourself. The kids have a grand old time hiking here.

We ride the cable car with a couple from Wales. DH tells them that he has noticed a ton of advertising in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, trying to attract business to Wales. The man from Wales tells us that they have had technology jobs be outsourced to cheaper countries, so they are indeed looking for new investment.

There is one enterprising vendor about 1/4 mile along the wall, selling cold water for 10 yuan (about $1.20). This is a little pricey, for waters should cost 3 or 4 yuan (maybe even less), but I am impressed at the industriousness of this vendor (and many of the people in China), so we buy some water bottles. This is a large country, full of hard-working people with lots of energy. I think their economy is going to be unstoppable in the future.

After our hike, as we exit the cable car, we again run the gauntlet of vendors. People step into our path, showing us their t-shirts. It is hard to make our way through. DS2 has no problem, pointing out to us that it is only the adults who are being mobbed.

DH stops to purchase some water and soda and beer. The purchase comes to 40 yuan. For 100 yuan, he is given change of 50 yuan plus 10 yuan. He notices that the 50 yuan looks a little funny. We had been warned that this is a popular place for passing counterfeit money, as the tourists will likely not be back and most will not notice a problem until later, if ever. DH calmly hands the 50 yuan back to the woman. She calmly gives him a different 50 yuan bill. DH looks at it and again calmly hands it back to the woman. She sighs and walks to the back of the shop and returns with a 50 yuan that looks better. We are so proud that we have not been taken advantage of!

On the long bus ride home, DS2 and I discuss the counterfeit situation. He says it is just wrong. While I agree, I also have some sympathy for people working hard to better themselves. It is tempting to get frustrated with the people who are chasing you and yelling at you to buy their products. But, if I lived in China, this is probably what I would be doing too, if it was the best way to earn a living.

I ask DS2 - what if your family was starving? Would you steal a loaf of bread? He says no. I say, but what if your family was starving and there was no other way to feed them? He says he'd get a job. I say, what if there were no jobs or the job you could get would not pay enough to feed your family? He decides that he would take half a loaf of bread and create his own job by making some crafts and selling them. It is hard for us to imagine living in a place without unlimited opportunities. This has been a good experience for the kids.

After the Great Wall tour, the guys all go for a swim at the apartment pool. I go for a foot massage. There is a massage place located between the Lee Garden Apartments and the Peninsula Hotel. I met a woman on the hutong tour who said she had a great foot massage there, so I thought I'd give it a try. Well, it was terrific. Jack was the masseuse and he was a total professional. My feet and ankles felt great afterward.

In the same location, there is also a tea shop. I had to stop and buy more tea cups and some tea. The prices, as I would expect, were much better than the official tour teahouse we were taken to the day before.

The prices in China are difficult to know how to deal with. There is the local price. Then there is the price which the foreigners are used to paying in their countries. Sometimes I knew people would charge us five, even 10, times the local rate. And it would still seem cheap to me, relative to the Western rate. But, what is fair? I decided not to stress out about it. Although at the government ceramics shop, the prices seemed high even by Western standards, so we just didn't buy anything. In general, I would pay the local price when possible (i.e. taxis for $3-4 for a 30 minute ride) and a marked up rate if it wasn't more than I was used to paying (i.e. $25 for a 45 minute ride to the airport in an air conditioned van).

That night for dinner, we went back to the Peninsula Palace Hotel and tried their restaurant JING. This restaurant had a good write-up. We went because they had a buffet and we thought that the kids would like to pick out what to eat. The food was above average for a buffet and the kids appreciated the choices. We thought the food overall was okay, but nothing special.

As we wound up another day in Beijing, we found that we were loving it. The noise. The chaos. The bustling excitement. The dust. The smog. The crowds of people. The place is totally alive!


travelgirl2 Jul 12th, 2006 07:01 AM

maureencol -I booked the hutong tour through Gray Line Tours. When we got there, it seemed that they were using the hutong tour people, since their web site was listed on the back of the pedicabs. I don't know about their accommodations.

The Gray Line Tour to the Great Wall cost 280 yuan per person (about $35).

noe847 Jul 12th, 2006 07:04 AM

I'll bet after your experiences in Japan and China that Western Europe will seem quite tame.

missypie Jul 12th, 2006 07:22 AM

A foot massage! How delightful!

You have been through so much in China, but then your reward is the Great Wall - good for you!

What are you doing with your purchases? Shipping home, or did you pack really light?


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