Sunday, June 21, 2015

Wet and Weary in Wuhan

Goodbye Shanghai, hello Wuhan.

Our third day in China found us at the peak of exhaustion from travel weariness and jet lag.  Captain B was also still fighting the good fight against a vicious chest infection.  He had insisted he wouldn't miss this trip for anything, even though his doctor strongly advised doing so!  Needless to say, another three bus trips and an air plane ride were not high on our list of things to do in China, or anywhere else that day.

If either one of us had been given a vote, we would have nixed the whole idea of a museum tour at 5 pm. after the day of travel.  Our tour guide insisted there was no option.  Well...we had travelled to the opposite side of the earth to see the cultural highlights of China, and whether we wanted to or not at that exact moment, it was going to happen.  As it turned out, it was very well worth the time and energy spent.  I wouldn't have missed it for anything, now that I know what I would have missed.

We were so late arriving, the museum had closed to the public.  They allowed our group in under special permission.  I am impressed with Viking Tours powers of persuasion!

The Hubei Provincial Museum is a large place, with imposing entrance and beautiful gardens.  It houses an impressive collection of artifacts from the Warring States period (500-400 BC).

The primary attraction of this museum is an astonishing set of 65 gold-inlaid bronze bells.
Engravings have determined these bells were a gift to Marquis Yi of Zeng by his king Chu, in 433 BC.  Such an extravagant gift shows the length to which various kings went, to ensure the loyalty of even minor Vassels.  Every tiny fiefdom was at war with its neighbours, during that time, trying to hold power over as much territory as possible.  Kings needed all the support they could get.

The bells and many artifacts were discovered when the tomb of Marquis Yi was unearthed.  This collection is highly valued and considered a major prize of antiquity. 

The set of bells cover 5 octaves and range in size from 8 inches (weighing 5 pounds) to 5 feet (weighing 448 pounds).

To listen to a short sample of what these bells sound like, check out this link:

Notice the ancient stringed instrument at the front of the stage.  It has 24 individual bridges.  Can you imagine tuning that???

This photo shows the "tiles" also used in the musical performance.

Among the many artifacts in the museum, we marvelled at the lacquer coffin of Marquis Yi.  Lacquer coffins were highly valued for their preservative and decorative qualities.  Again, one wonders at the ability of a lowly Vassel to afford such an outrageously expensive coffin:  King Chu was still coddling the Yi family and heirs.

As the Egyptians, so the Chinese, and probably many other ancient cultures...they buried their dead with everything thought needed for the after-life.  Marquis Yi's burial chambers contained food and wine vessels, furniture, weapons, the bells of course, and the bodies of his favourite concubines!  

A small sample of photos....

By the time our visit to the museum was complete, the sun was setting, rain was falling, and we were ready to find a place to veg out, preferably in a horizontal position.  Our loyal bus driver and local guide kept us awake and informed as we made our hour more drive to the boat--our home for the next five days.

The Yangtze river at last.  I never found out what this was, illuminated next to our ship, but it appeared to be a ROUND boat!

A dancing DRAGON and deafening drums heralded us as we boarded our ship, The Emerald Viking:  colour, noise and confusion as we staggered aboard, carrying what hadn't been portered for us.  We left all our cares behind us as we were royally greeted and ushered to our cabins.  There, a bottle of champagne and a bouquet of fresh flowers awaited us.  

Oh boy!  This was going to be fun.  
And it was!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday In Shanghai

Our first day in China began in the enormity of Shanghai.  I say that big cities are the same everywhere...

but then....  This place really had something others do not:  the heart of the city hosts a stunning collection of high rise buildings, each one an architectural masterpiece.  

A stroll along the Bund, the elegant riverside promenade, is a tourist must.  A floral bedecked, elevated boardwalk, swarming with those wanting to see and be seen!

"Old Shanghai" (newly renovated and updated, as in paved streets, painted and refurbished shops) was our first morning stop.  

an original, ancient tea house.

Chinese tourists, and our small group of 35,  clogged the pedestrian lanes, crowded the tiny shops and devoured edible offerings from the street-side cafes.  
(click to enlarge photos)
The things with straws in the middle of them are dumplings full of soup.
Although I was careful to follow our tour guide's warnings not to eat the street food, I still ended up with Travellers' Complaint.  Immodium forever my friend.

 Tour agents advise modest, plain clothing, not too colourful, plain even.  Don't listen to them.  Even on the cruise, which advertised casual dress, the women turned out dressed to impress.

Haggling for purchases was the way of it--fun.  
-How much did you pay for your silk scarf/copy watch/chopsticks/fan?  
-I got mine for half that!

I loved the ancient, enclosed garden we spent time in.  A young, aspiring government official, back in the day, made building this garden his life's work.  He had failed his parents, embarrassing them by not making it in "officialdom", so he tried to make amends by dedicating the garden and it's many buildings to their memory.

Being a country of billions, every effort is made to keep things clean.  Litter is non-existent!  Street sweepers are everywhere, constantly, busily making sure there is not a scrap of paper, piece of string or cigaret butt to be found, and they do it with rag mops, twig brooms  and dust bins, all by hand.

Who is watching who?
-This one looks like a tasty morsel.

We had barely 1.5 hours (not nearly enough time by half) to tour the Shanghai Museum.  We ooo'ed and ahhh'ed over exhibits of ancient Chinese art, ceramics of the Ming Dynasty, jade carvings, silk screens, country dress from day one and onward, scrolls of ancient script (read right to left) complete with red chops (the official stamp, unique to the author, a practice still in use today when gentlemen sign official documents or write letters of import.)

Where we had lunch, there was a silk factory, complete with a display area and a shop.  Who would have guessed???  See it, learn about it, buy it.  At least that was their plan for us tourist types.

I learned that the silk worm builds his cocoon by spinning one continuous strand of ultra thin silk filament around and around himself and then goes into metamorphosis mode.  Before he is ready to eat his way out of his cocoon, thereby breaking the single strand of silk, the cocoons are steamed in boiling water to kill the wee beasty.  Then, people with nimble fingers unwind the cocoon very, very carefully.

Numerous strands are spun together to be used for silk embroidery, cloth, or in this case, carpets.  The fine grade silk carpets are over-the-top luxurious, wonderfully beautiful and fantastically expensive.  No, the Steadfast Crew did not buy anything.

After supper, we were treated to the Shanghai Acrobatic Corps performance.
The highlight, grand finale, was a breathtaking, daredevil act:  8, count them, eight full-size motorcycles spinning, at full speed, INSIDE A ROUND, ORB CAGE!!!!

Ah...the satisfying end to a busy day.  Our five star Westin Hotel was a welcome sight for jet-lagged travellers.  The fun was just beginning.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

First Impressions of China

They said it would be the trip of my life.  I guess you could say, yes, it was that.  From the time I first discovered China thru the eyes of Pearl S. Buck ("The Good Earth", "Pavillon of Women", "Letters from Peking") and after meeting Gladys Aylward (a British evangelical Christian missionary to China) I dreamed of going to China to see it for myself.  I envisioned the rice paddies, the rickshaws, the Forbidden City, the rural lifestyle....  It all seemed glamorous and romantic in my mind's eye.  I had a rather rude awakening when I woke up in Shanghai!!!

Our direct flight from Toronto International Airport to Shanghai was 14 hours and 15 minutes. We chased the sun the whole way...there was no night.  Time Travel!!  We landed a day and a half in the future.

Our bus ride from the Pudong/Shanghai airport to the heart of Shanghai took one and a half hours.   The number of people in China today was what hit me first. The population of the city of Shanghai is 24 million living souls!  The population of ChongQuin mega city is 30 Million.  The country has a population of 1.35 BILLION.  (Compare that with 316.5 million in the USA and 35.16 million in Canada. ) It will be 2030 before the population stops growing in China, due to the one child policy.  By then, the population of China will be 1.45 Billion.  

As our bus made its way from the outskirts, to the centre of the city, we passed row upon row, after row, after row, ad infinitum of apartment buildings, those already standing, and thousands more under construction for mile after mile, after mile, after mile.

In each city we visited, the horizon was punctured with cranes.  Building is ongoing everywhere.

The next thing to make a big impression on me was the traffic.  My eyes popped out of my head when I saw four traffic lanes clearly marked on the road and eight streams of cars, trucks, taxis, bicycles, mopeds and buses surging ahead!  Our tour guide told us that in America, traffic lights are the law.  In other countries, traffic lights are a suggestion.  He said that in China, traffic lights are a decoration.

To make an attempt at traffic control, the country has made it very difficult to get a license for a car.  There is now a lottery for the limited license plates issued every year.  The going rate to "buy" a licence plate is $15,000.00 (on top of the cost of buying the car).  Then, depending on the number on the plate, there are two days a week that your car is not allowed on the road.  That being said, there are other means of transport available...bicycles (mopeds that will sneak up on you and run you down in an instant,)"illegal" taxis and public subways.

I photographed this shot from a brochure in our hotel room.  My attempts from a moving bus couldn't come close to capturing these interchanges.  It seems China as a whole has chosen one template for every bridge, every city, every highway, every interchange.  We saw the same things over and over again.

I guess everyone has heard of the air pollution in China.  Yes, it's real.  We NEVER saw a blue sky the whole time we were there, even when the sun was shining.   And they say it gets WORSE in the winter.  People go to great lengths to ameliorate the effects...masks for instance.  Umbrellas and gloves protect from the sun.

In the city of Xian, population 8 million ( a small city by Chinese standards ) there are four coal power stations alone.  Add that to the national habit of smoking cigarets, and you have the leading cause of death in China:  lung cancer!!!!!  A pack of cigarets costs about 1 US dollar.

So much for the negatives.  Why did I start with them?  These are the things that first assaulted me and the things that come immediately to mind when I think back on my trip.  There are tons of wonderful things to tell you about, and I will, in subsequent posts.  To give you a foretaste....

Ni hao (hello) is pronounced in Mandarin like this:  Knee How.  We were told to think:  how is your knee, to remember this greeting used uniformly across the country.  If you know me, you know I love to learn at least enough local lingo to interact with people.  I had such fun using my limited phrases and eliciting smiles.

Have you been to China?  Do your memories marry with mine?  

I am back in America now, and doing the Maine thing.  Stay tuned for memories of China and fun in the sun in the USA.