April 30, 2013 – Beijing, China

We wake up to another beautiful day, blue skies and low humidity.  Today is our Great Wall day and the group is excited.  After a breakfast of congee for John and curried vegetables and lentils for me we are ready to hit the road.  I also must mention that the crunchy, spicy pickled vegetables and the pretzel rolls are welcome additions to breakfast.  We are going global.
 
As it turns out, even though we leave for the Great Wall before 7AM, we are not the only ones on the road. Beijing is a city of 5 million cars plus all the visitor’s cars for this middle day of the three day holiday.  We arrive shortly after 8 AM.  After making sure that our needs have been taken care of in the 4star Happy Room (bathroom), we have a group photo and then we are off to the Wall.

Our fearless leader, Jimmy, imparting great information and also urging us to take advantage of the 4 star bathroom

Our fearless leader, Jimmy, imparting great information and also urging us to take advantage of the 4 star bathroom


Our first glimpse of the Great Wall of China from the bus

Our first glimpse of the Great Wall of China from the bus


Mary and John before Great Wall backdrop

Mary and John before Great Wall backdrop


 
There are A LOT of Chinese people here as well as assorted tour groups.  The most popular site for Chinese here at the Badaling Hills section of the Wall is the direction that takes them to a rock with an inscription by Mao. We are advised to go in the other direction. We still have a lot of company but it
is not like the surging mass of humanity going in the other direction.
People heading off to see the tribute to Mao

People heading off to see the tribute to Mao


Even more people heading off to see the tribute to Mao

Even more people heading off to see the tribute to Mao


The Wall is very steep.  John and I are really glad we have brought along our hiking poles.  My hip is killing me and it is difficult to climb the stairs and the steeply sloped areas.  But we persevere.  We climb to a couple of towers and then John goes a little further. We take endless pictures. The wild cherries are in bloom in the mountains.  All in all it is a great experience.
Wild cherries in blossom

Wild cherries in blossom


John on the Wall

John on the Wall


The section of the Wall we climbed

The section of the Wall we climbed


Mary and John on the Wall

Mary and John on the Wall

Making our way back down is a scary prospect. It would be easy to lose control and go careening down the  Wall but we return safely, find a quiet spot for some green tea, and do a little shopping at the Friendship Store.  I buy two beautiful silk overblouses.

A glass of green tea and thee

A glass of green tea and thee


 
Time for Jimmy folks to get back on the bus!  We make our way very slowly through unbelievable traffic to a restaurant for lunch.  But first a quick sales pitch for jade since this is a restaurant and giant jade store.  Lunch is the frantic Susan again but is enhanced by 112 proof Chinese fire water.  We then wander around the jade store pursued by eager sales associates.
Chinese fire water

Chinese fire water


Woman sculpting jade

Woman sculpting jade


 
Jimmy people! Back on the bus!  (to be continued when we get back from today’s activities – visiting Tiananmen Square with a billion other people for May Day!)
 
Continuing with our Great Wall day – After lunch we battle traffic to the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs. Jimmy tells us that there were 14 Ming emperors and that 13 of them are buried here.  We walk down a shaded lane guarded by massive stone sculptures of officials, soldiers, and all kinds of animals, real and imagined.  We take time to pet the head of the giant turtle which will bring our family good luck and longevity.
Entrance to the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs

Entrance to the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs


Stone warrior on guard

Stone warrior on guard


Mythical son of the dragon with realistic copy of John

Mythical son of the dragon with realistic copy of John

John wishes long life and prosperity for our family

John wishes long life and prosperity for our family


 
Needless to say we are a little tired from the days exertions and wish we could go collapse in our room but due to the horrendous traffic, there is no time to do anything but hurry into the shower before the next activity which is a Peking duck dinner.
 
Most of the Jimmy group is going and we take the bus down embassy row and through really upscale shopping districts to the restaurant.  While some of the dishes are real losers, the Peking duck is great.  We eat all of it (probably the only table to do so.). Towards the end of the meal it is suggested that we use the Happy Room and the woman sitting next to me comments that she is glad that there are more Western toilets here.  I mention that I have been using the squat toilets. Well, this starts a big conversation about how one accomplishes this.  It seems that two of the women had tried it but did not even face the correct direction.  I said I looked it up on the Internet and then practiced at home.  So I told them what to do.  I am now the squat toilet celebrity.  (I ran into one of the women the next day who proudly told me that my method works!)
Chef carving our Peking duck

Chef carving our Peking duck


 
So with my place in history secure, we board the bus back to the hotel.

April 29, 2013 – Xian, China

We are up early this morning and go down to breakfast.  John continues to have his bowl of congee and I find a tasty steamed bun and some egg with fresh vegetable which is seasoned with soy sauce.  
 
We meet to get on the bus at 7:45 AM.  We are trying to beat the crowds to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.  Today is the first day of a three day holiday in China.  That means millions of Chinese will hit the road to visit all their favorite tourist sites.  We reach the site around opening time but it is already very busy.

Building housing the terra cotta warriors

Building housing the terra cotta warriors


 
The Terra Cotta Warriors (TCW) are in a very large building.  The building was built around their actual burial site.  They are there to protect the first Xin emperor in his afterlife.
Some of 8000 warriors

Some of 8000 warriors


More of the terra cotta warriors

More of the terra cotta warriors


The warriors were found strewn about the site. Each one has been put back together and positioned in his original place.

The warriors were found strewn about the site. Each one has been put back together and positioned in his original place.

 The TCW are modeled after real people. Each one of their faces is different.

A terra cotta warrior

A terra cotta warrior


A different terra cotta warrior

A different terra cotta warrior


A terra firma warrior

A terra firma warrior


Modern day Chinese warrior

Modern day Chinese warrior

 There are archers, foot soldiers, officers and generals as well as horses to ride and pull armaments.

Terra cotta war horses

Terra cotta war horses


In another building a rare standing archer is housed

In another building a rare standing archer is housed


The exhibition building also has a kneeling archer

The exhibition building also has a kneeling archer


and a warrior guiding horses

and a warrior guiding horses


 
We also look at two other excavations and a building containing two half size bronze carriages pulled by four jade horses.  It is great but the crowds are enormous and more than a little overwhelming.
Half-size jade horses and carriage

Half-size jade horses and carriage


Jade horses with tortoise shell shaped carriage

Jade horses with tortoise shell shaped carriage


 
Leaving the TCW, we make our way through the drizzly weather to the airport.  We find out that our flight has been delayed. Ultimately it is delayed two and a half hours.  Instead of getting in around 4 PM, it is past 6 before we arrive in Beijing. Then there is the purported one hour ride to the restaurant for dinner which, due to the holiday traffic, is much longer.  On the plus side, a freshening breeze and rain earlier in the day has washed the air clean and we are treated to low humidity and bright blue skies. Jimmy cannot keep from marveling over this.  Beijing is rarely this unsmoggy.
 
John and I and Brad and Kathy decide that we cannot endure another frantic lazy Susan dinner and catch a cab from the group restaurant to the hotel.  We settle into the bar and have drinks and appetizers quietly.  It has been a busy and exhausting day and we are happy for a little solitude before bed.

April 28, 2013 – Xian, China

 
The boat has docked in Chongqing and we are off very early.  We are going to the zoo here and taking a look at an art institute followed by a flight to Xian.

Time to disembark! Chongqing in the morning

Time to disembark! Chongqing in the morning


 
We arrive at the zoo before 9 AM and it is not too crowded yet.  The people are out doing their morning exercises.  They do a variety of tai chi, dances with fans, and just plain calisthenics.  And look who else is just waking up! Giant pandas!  Also the smaller red pandas.  We take endless photos of the pandas who totally cooperate by walking around and settling in for a big breakfast of bamboo.
People doing Tai Chi at the zoo

People doing Tai Chi at the zoo


Lesser red panda is so cute

Lesser red panda is so cute


Panda!

Panda!


Panda breakfast!

Panda breakfast!


Seriously, you can never take enough panda pictures

Seriously, you can never take enough panda pictures


 
After getting our panda fix, we climb a hill to an art institute.  An artist and professor from the institute explains different types of Chinese art.  There is a gallery and a buying opportunity.  We buy four small paintings representing the seasons.  At least we know this is genuine.
Interesting talk and demonstration of Chinese art

Interesting talk and demonstration of Chinese art


 
Now we go to a local restaurant for a Chinese lunch served lazy Susan style.  We Westerners have not quite got the protocol down pat.  People are trying to serve themselves while others are trying to turn the lazy Susan to get the next dish. It makes for a messy affair.  There are a couple of tasty dishes but mostly it is just bland. We are then exhorted to use the washroom before we head for the airport.  We are reminded so often to use the washroom at opportune moments that I feel like I am five years old.  On a brighter note, I am totally competent at the whole squatting thing now.  It is better than waiting endlessly for the one western toilet.
 
After lunch we head for the airport. We are flying to Xian this afternoon.  On this trip we are spending a lot of time on buses, planes, and at airports.  We arrive in Xian around 4 PM. The idea is that we will get to the hotel by 5 and then have two hours of downtime before our Tang Dynasty dinner and show.  After walking a mile to the bus, a road is closed and traffic is terrible.  We are late arriving at the hotel and our luggage is even later.  We end up going out to dinner in our smelly zoo clothes.
At the Chongquing airport awaiting our scary plane ride to Xian

At the Chongquing airport awaiting our scary plane ride to Xian


 
Now about the show and dinner. This is billed as an authentic dinner and show representing the Tang Dynasty.  Truly it is just a tourist trap.  The food is awful. We have one course that looks like  Mrs. Paul’s fish and shrimp TV dinner.  It is uniformly breaded and fried piece of fish and one shrimp plus a fried potato thingy.  Seeing as how the Tangs were making people miserable between 600 and 900 AD, the chances of their having potatoes is non-existent.  Beef in aluminum foil with buttered broccoli is also served.  This is followed up by orange jello with some tapioca pearls in the bottom.  We are surprised that the Tang Dynasty dinner and show did not serve us their namesake drink of the astronauts.
 
The entertainment begins. A woman sings the American song, Red River Valley in Chinese as well as some other Tang favorites.  The band looks bored.  Then there is a bunch of dancing and singing in elaborate costume mostly reminiscent of a Las Vegas revue.  Lots of women dancing and a few guys. It was okay.  
Lady singing Red River Valley in Chinese

Lady singing Red River Valley in Chinese


The Tang Dynasty Band

The Tang Dynasty Band


Pretty zither player

Pretty zither player


The Tang Dynasty showgirls

The Tang Dynasty showgirls


Martial arts dancer

Martial arts dancer

 
Finally the show ends and we are released to our hotel room which now has our luggage. We unpack and then repack since our luggage is being picked up before 6:30AM for our flight to Beijing tomorrow.
Hotel room in Xian.  All the accommodations on the tour have been really nice.

Hotel room in Xian. All the accommodations on the tour have been really nice.

April 27, 2013 – Shibaozhai Pagoda

April 27, 2013. Shibaozhai Pagoda
 
Today we disembark for a walk to the Shibaozhai Pagoda.We run the usually hawker gauntlet almost the entire mile to the rickety bridge that crosses to the temple.  There are a lot of people here and it is hot.  The weather is getting warmer daily.

Jimmy group is leaving the boat for the shore excursion

Jimmy group is leaving the boat for the shore excursion


Shibaozhai Pagoda in the distance

Shibaozhai Pagoda in the distance


Mary by gate into town

Mary by gate into town


 
The bridge is a wood planked pedestrian suspension bridge. It rocks and undulates underfoot.  It is difficult to keep one’s balance.  We walk around the temple grounds. The pagoda itself is merely a staircase up to the mountain.  Although originally constructed during the Ming Dynasty, the current pagoda has been reconstructed due to having been hit by lightning.  We decide to pass up the nine story climb to the top and stroll around the quieter and shadier grounds.
John by the pagoda

John by the pagoda


A handmade broom on the pagoda grounds and John

A handmade broom on the pagoda grounds and John


People washing their clothes in the river

People washing their clothes in the river


 
On the way back we are once again assaulted by the souvenir people and do end up buying a picture of three fish.  We are happy to get back to the cool and quiet of the boat.  It seems like a good time for a gin and tonic.  Lunch today is Chinese food! It seems more authentic than most of our other Chinese dinners.
 
In the afternoon we watch some vegetable carving and get our disembarkation instructions.  Then there is dinner and packing. Tomorrow we leave the boat, visit the zoo and then fly to Xian.  

April 26, 2013 – Lesser Three Gorges

Sleeping last night was difficult. Passing through the locks is a noisy, smelly business. It takes about 3 1/2 hours so there is not much sleep between midnight and 3:30 AM.  This morning as we look out the air and the water seem somewhat cleaner. We only see pollution when we pass by a town high up the cliffs. These are towns that were relocated up the hill when they flooded the dam. We are told that there is such a volume of water in the Yangtze that it only took 10 days to fill up the dammed part.

Cruising through the gorge

Cruising through the gorge


 
This morning we are taking small excursion boats into the lesser Three Gorges area. We leave from Wushan. After the construction of the dam the original Wushan was flooded and the new Wushan was built on the hills above it.  Our guides, who are Wushan natives, have mixed feelings about it.  One guide is pleased because she was able to get an apartment that is more spacious and has indoor plumbing.  Our male guide remembers sadly how beautiful the gorges used to be and how he hiked the trails into the mountains as a child.  Wushan itself is a typical sprawling city of high rises now.
Modern Wushan

Modern Wushan


Headed by Lois, the bar manager, we are waved off our boat to the smaller excursion boats

Headed by Lois, the bar manager, we are waved off our boat to the smaller excursion boats


One of the excursion boats passes under a bridge

One of the excursion boats passes under a bridge


 
There are three gorges here, the Dragon Gate, the Misty and the Emerald.  The guides keep remarking on how the air is clean here.  It actually is so much better than the air on the Yangtze. We see various scenic spots including a hanging coffin which is a burial site chiseled out high in the rock over 2000 years ago.  Apparently the ancient people had an inkling that if they buried their ancestors in the ground that some day the burial sites would all be flooded.  For a society that venerates its ancestors, this issue continues to be a concern.
Terraced farming in the gorge.  Farmers plant the exposed ground as soon as the water recedes in the summer.

Terraced farming in the gorge. Farmers plant the exposed ground as soon as the water recedes in the summer.


Cliff wall with casket

Cliff wall with casket


People honor their submerged dead with rock memorials

People honor their submerged dead with rock memorials


175 marks the high point for the water in the winter

175 marks the high point for the water in the winter


 
Later in the day we have a talk by Daniel about modern day China.  He is amazingly frank and admits that even 5 years ago he would have been in serious trouble for saying some of the things he says.  These comments concern the environmental destruction, the corruption in the government, and the lack of freedom.  He talks about  how communism doesn’t work well due to lack of incentive to achieve anything.  He points out the brave people who have tried and succeeded to change things.  He also says that the Internet has changed China because the government can no longer hide the truth from the people.  Even though the government blocks some sites, people have a way of getting around those blocks.
 
In the end he concludes by telling us how fortunate we are that we have the freedom and resources to travel around the world because meeting new people and seeing new cultures is the best way to bring peace and understanding around the globe. He says that just like Americans he wants a good life for himself and his children.  It is all quite touching.
 
Later there is a mediocre dinner and a crew show.  The show is cute and our tireless, quiet serving persons show a wide variety of talent.  On to Shibaozhai Pagoda in the morning and the last day of the cruise portion of the trip.

April 25, 2013 – Three Gorges Dam

It is a very gray day when we get up today.  It is not the weather. It is the pollution. During breakfast we pass a town with factories and coal powered plants lining the river. Run off from these industries pour into the river. I step outside. The smell is overpowering.  This afternoon’s activity is to go see the outside of the dam. I am opting out. I am afraid to breathe the air outside. I think I shall shelter in place and let John go and take pictures. I schedule a foot massage for the afternoon.

Smoggy air along the river west of Yueyang

Smoggy air along the river west of Yueyang


 
Our first activity of the day is a lecture on the Three Gorges Dam. Daniel Peng, the program director, is pretty frank about the hazards and risks in building such an enormous project.  He also says there has been an ongoing debate as to whether the costs associated with the dam are worth it. We have been surprised about how frank all the tour guides have been.  Daniel even refers to some of the Mao era as a disaster.
 
Next up, tea ceremony.   The different types of tea are explained to us, the last one is called dark tea and it comes in a solid block. They carve it into shapes and put it in their tea pots.  The tea ceremony is a lot of rinsing and waving one’s teacup around.
Tea ceremony

Tea ceremony

I have a bunch of pictures of the boat going through the Yichang lock. Since they are between the tea ceremony and the Three Gorges Dam pictures, I guess we must have done it sometime today.

The ship sails into a lock where there are already two boats waiting. We are then joined by two other barges. I am surprised that they could fit all these boats in such a small space. We start off very low in the lock and as the lock fills we are raised quite a distance.

The ship enters the Yichang lock

The ship enters the Yichang lock


Mary contemplating the lock

Mary contemplating the lock


Closing the lock

Closing the lock


Afterwards we sail out into a very different looking area. The air and the water are much cleaner. There is terrain and some beauty to the area.
Landscape past the Yichang lock

Landscape past the Yichang lock


But of course there is a power plant belching pollutants into the air

But of course there is a power plant belching pollutants into the air

We have lunch and most people head off to see the dam.

Overview of the Three Gorges Dam

Overview of the Three Gorges Dam


Dam John

Dam John


Model of the dam

Model of the dam

I opt to stay behind for a little quiet time and a foot massage.  One of the other women has been raving about how good it feels.  Mandy, my masseuse, starts by washing my feet in rose petals.  Then she starts squishing just above my knees.  It hurts so much that I have to tell her to stop.  She rubs and slaps my feet. She digs her fingers into every sensitive spot on my foot .  This is probably the most painful thing that I have ever agreed to.  I lie on the table trying not to writhe in pain and watch the clock praying for the 45 minutes to go by quickly.  Finally it is over.  I now have little bruises on my feet and legs.
 
John and the others come back while I am sitting in the bar consoling myself with a glass of wine and a dish of peanuts. We are really glad that we ended up buying the wine package. A lot of the wine is about $20 a glass.  I know we have made good use of the package. We listen to a talk on what’s coming up tomorrow, have a pleasant though tasteless dinner, watch our companions lose at bingo, and retire on the early side.
 
Tonight the boat will traverse the 5 locks of the Three Gorges Dam.

April 24, 2013 – Yueyang, China

After a fairly good night’s sleep on the boat, we make our way down to breakfast at around 7:15.  It is the usual type of breakfast fare, eggs, bacon, cereal, pancakes, German deli breakfast and a small table with some Chinese items.  I am guessing that they have learned that old people from the U.S are not very adventurous eaters.  I try a steamed bun. The thing I like best though is a spicy noodle dish from the German breakfast items.  There are two tables of Germans here.  A couple of people from our Jimmy group join us after a while and we feel obliged to talk to them.  Some other guy from St. Louis sits down.  After finding out we are from California he opines that CA is losing population to FL and TX because of our high taxes.  I know that is not true.  I say I guess it depends on how much you value your quality of life and that we are happy to pay more to live in California given the weather, insect situation and recreational opportunities.  People are such dicks about California sometimes.  I do not go around insulting their states although in most cases it would be easy to do so.
 
Around 9 AM we listen to a lecture about boat safety and facilities.  Then we set off for our day’s activity which is a visit to an elementary school in Yueyang which is supported by Viking.  The city of Yueyang (only three million people) is pretty dismal looking.  There is a lot of heavy industry revolving around coal.  China generates a lot of electricity using coal.  Smog is a big result.

A view of a coal barge on the river

A view of a coal barge on the river


Industry along the river

Industry along the river


View from the bus on the way to Yueyang

View from the bus on the way to Yueyang


Another view from the bus on the way to Yueyang

Another view from the bus on the way to Yueyang


 
I am expecting a nice modern school but the school is rundown and ugly.  The children line our path saying “Welcome to our school” in English.  It is kind of weird.  Then some girls do dances.  Lastly we visit a classroom where 68 students are crammed into a little classroom.  They are very excited to see us.  I don’t think they are faking it.  They read some English for us.  John is the example of the tallest American in Jimmy’s group. Later they ask us to sign their books. John gives out a business card which they want him to autograph.  I show some kids the pictures I have on my camera.  They are all excited.  It turns out to be quite a nice visit.
"Welcome to our school"

“Welcome to our school”


School sponsored by Viking

School sponsored by Viking


Girls doing a dance for the tourists

Girls doing a dance for the tourists


Classroom

Classroom


Lesson for the day

Lesson for the day

 
 
This afternoon we are only on the boat which is nice. We can relax. We fall into a stuporous jetlag sleep and wake up with our hearts racing and nerves ajangle.  This kind of nap is worse than not sleeping at all.
Our boat docked outside of Yueyang

Our boat docked outside of Yueyang


John cruising along the Yangtze

John cruising along the Yangtze


A favorite activity

A favorite activity


 
We head down to hear a lecture on the Yangtze or long river as it is known in Chinese. We learn a lot about the importance of this river, the third longest in the world.  A new project that the Chinese are working on is a diversion of water from the wet south to the dry north.  The idea of people drinking this water full of effluent is disturbing. The water is so dirty that when the locals wash their clothes in it, they have to take the clothes home and wash them a final time in the unsafe to drink tap water.  Although the pictures in the talk have blue skies, the sky here is an opaque whitish gray.
 
After a pretty much tasteless Chinese dinner, we watch a show with native costumes.  We decide to go to bed on the early side, hopeful that our ill-advised nap has not cost us the night’s sleep.
Show with native costumes

Show with native costumes

April 23, 2013. Wuhan, China

April 23,  2013. Wuhan, China
At breakfast this morning I try a pretty ugly dish.  I think it may be marinated egg made into a pancake and wrapped up.  I do not really know why I selected it.  I was waiting for a scrambled egg and it seemed so forlorn sitting there on a plate.  John tells me it is yuba skin and it is delicious!  It tastes exactly like moo shu.  While I am standing there I also take a scoop of a wood ear and celery dish which is also very tasty.
 
Around 8:30 AM we board the bus for a trip to the airport. It’s a gray, drizzly day so there is not much to see out the windows.   Jimmy teaches us some Chinese and tells us about the optional excursions from the boat. We figure we might as well do everything since we will probably not be back in China.  Once at the airport there is quite a bit of hurrying up and waiting.  Then our flight is delayed due to the bad weather but ultimately we take off only about one half hour late.

Jimmy folks at the airport

Jimmy folks at the airport


 
The flight is fine although we are squeezed in like sardines. Landing in Wuhan, we are amazed to realize that we have never heard of this city of 9 million people.  It is bigger than New York or Los Angeles! We drive past giant people warehouses.  There are skyscrapers of tiny apartments with tiny balconies. Jimmy has told us that the apartments are of a regulation size of about 600 sq. ft. containing two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, a living room and a balcony so people can get some light and air in their dwelling. Rosalind, our local guide, tells us that in Wuhan there are no elevators unless the building is taller than 8 floors. There is also no heat. Only apartments north of the Yangtze have heat even though it gets below freezing in the winter. Weird central planning!
Apartment buildings in Wuhan

Apartment buildings in Wuhan


 
We ride on the bus for about an hour and reach the Hubei Provincial Museum where we visit the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng.  The tomb was discovered in 1978 fully intact.  There are four chambers. One is for the Marquis and his concubines. Another is for 14 sacrificed girls age 14 to 26. The third is for armaments. And the last contains an amazing set of bells.
Hubei Provincial Museum

Hubei Provincial Museum


Mock up of the Marquis Yi of Zeng tomb

Mock up of the Marquis Yi of Zeng tomb – Bell area


Coffin of one of the girls sacrificed for the burial of Marquis Yi of Zeng

Coffin of one of the girls sacrificed for the burial of Marquis Yi of Zeng

 We are treated to a concert on a replica of the bell set. Each bell can play two different tones. It takes several people to play the bells. The players also include two zithers, a sort of mouth organ and a flute.  They play traditional music and also the Ode to Joy.

Chinese musicians play on a replica of the bells

Chinese musicians play on a replica of the bells


Zither player

Zither player


High pitched stone chimes

High pitched stone chimes


 
Finally we get to the boat. Our room is fine but not nearly as luxurious as the Regent staterooms.  We take a trip down to the bar and meet up with some fellow Californians. We decide to get the drinks package. We make good use of it.  We have dinner with our new friends, Brad and Kathy, as well as two interesting British couples. It is all very convivial.  Oddly there are no Asian entrees at dinner but our fish is quite tasty.  We finish up in the lounge with Irish coffees and a little dancing. It has been a very enjoyable evening.
Drumroll! It's time to board the boat!

Drumroll! It’s time to board the boat!


We are welcomed by a friendly dragon

We are welcomed by a friendly dragon


Our cabin on the boat

Our cabin on the boat

April 20, 21, 22 Shanghai, China

Since I am using my iPad the pictures will have to be inserted once I am home.

Our trip to Shanghai although long goes very smoothly. Between meals, movies and a stop at Narita Airport, time goes by fairly quickly. Only downside is John’s inedible entree. He selects the Eastern meal and ends up with stringy, dry beef. Weirdly none of the components in his meal have the least resemblance to the description on the menu.

John enjoying the flight from Tokyo to Shanghai

John enjoying the flight from Tokyo to Shanghai


John's Eastern dinner on the flight

John’s Eastern dinner on the flight

We are met at the Pudong Airport by a representative of Viking River Cruises. By the time we get to the hotel it is after midnight. We cannot even calculate how many hours we have been awake. We are told to be ready to go at 8AM. We are also warned not to drink the water and to use the bathroom facilities at the hotel since Chinese people prefer squat toilets and western people do not. So it seems that one must strike a careful balance between becoming dehydrated or squatting.

Our room at the Shanghai Ritz Carlton

Our room at the Shanghai Ritz Carlton


Smoggy view from our room in the morning

Smoggy view from our room in the morning

We are herded onto a bus with our tour guide Jimmy. He is very enthusiastic about his country. Shanghai is a giant city with 24 million people. It is clean and there are lots of flowers and shrubbery. The first place we go is to the Yuyuan Gardens. It is in the traditional section of Shanghai and was once a private residence. We are accosted by souvenir sellers who are very much in one’s face. It is like running a gauntlet back and forth from the buses.

Jimmy bus

Jimmy bus


Traditional section of Shanghai

Traditional section of Shanghai


Mary in a traditional section Shanghai

Mary in a traditional section Shanghai

The garden and house are lovely and Jimmy fills us in on much of the cultural background. We learn about ways to keep evil spirits out of your house and that the evil spirits cannot bend their joints. John confides to me that he is feeling a bit like a stiff evil spirit himself. I imagine legions of zombies not being able to lift their legs over the high thresholds. There is much significance in every piece of decoration.

Yu Yuan Garden

Yu Yuan Garden


John and a good luck dragon

John and a good luck dragon

After running the hawker gauntlet back to the bus, we proceed to a silk rug factory. Here we will have a tour (sales pitch) and lunch at a Mongolian BBQ. We are also told to use the restrooms here. We women troupe in only to find squat toilets. I am the only adventurous pee-er. There are going to be a lot of uncomfortable women today! (side note: also no toilet paper.)

The Mongolian BBQ is fun although not as good as St. George. We get giant bottles of beer. There are a lot of unadventurous eaters in our group. I think this has not been a total success for them.

Silk rug factory sales pitch

Silk rug factory sales pitch


John contemplates the Mongolian BBQ

John contemplates the Mongolian BBQ

Back on the bus! Jimmy thinks we should have some fresh air and a walk. We go to a promenade with the Bund on one side and the ultra modern Pudong section on the other. The new buildings, all erected since the 90’s are amazing. Jimmy gives a brief history lesson about the colonial period and the Opium Wars. Back on the bus!

Modern skyline of Shangahi

Modern skyline of Shangahi

Now it is time for a visit to the Shanghai Museum. The group is fading. People are falling asleep as we drive to the next venue. The Shanghai museum has lots of bronze, pottery, coins etc. from ancient times to the last century. John and I concentrate on the pottery. We are so exhausted that we cannot imagine trying to look at the whole place. After shuffling around for an hour we find a bench and just sit. We have noticed many of our group doing the same thing. It is a shame we cannot really appreciate the museum. Finally we head back to the hotel.

Ming plate

Ming plate

We have about an hour and a half before it is time to be organized for dinner. John and I fall asleep immediately. I have set the alarm so we can wake up for dinner. One couple misses the bus because they fell asleep without an alarm.

We are having a traditional dinner at a banquet hall tonight followed by an acrobat show. We sit with some of our “Jimmy” group who seem nice. We have a lot of dishes which are served on a lazy Susan. Most of the group at our table eat almost nothing. John and I and maybe one or two others can have most of everything especially if it contains fish. There is some luscious pork belly that nobody is eating. We want to eat the whole plateful but decorum demands otherwise. The Shanghai style food is bland and sweet for the most part. We use chopsticks. Everyone else uses a fork. We have giant beers again. I am the only women who has a beer. Sigh.

Back on the bus! Thank God the acrobat show is at our hotel and we can just go upstairs and pass out afterwards. The show is great. The acrobats are amazing. They can contort themselves in all sorts of ways. The woman next to me snores gently. John is falling asleep and I find that I am being startled awake by applause. Finally it is over and we go to our room to and pass out.

Tomorrow we go to the airport and fly to Wuhan, see a museum and board the boat. Jimmy says the pace on the boat will be a bit slower. We hope so. Luggage out in the hall by 7 AM and then, back on the bus to the airport.

March 17, 2013 The Family Celebrates Passover

Well, sure and begorrah we are celebrating Passover this year on St. Patrick’s Day. We are a little early but we Pilats have a long tradition of making the holiday calendar fit our calendars. Nobody minds. While John is busy preparing the meal, I have a craft project for Nathan and Sam. Actually it turns out that everyone ends up making one of the 10 plague puppets. Who knew that cattle disease could be so cute!

Nathan, Sam and Ryan work on plague puppets

Nathan, Sam and Ryan work on plague puppets

We finish all ten!

We finish all ten!


Soon after our puppets are completed it is time to light the candles and gather around the table.
John says the blessing over the candles

John says the blessing over the candles

Let's get started!

Let’s get started!


Over the past few years our seder has been a bit abbreviated so that Nathan and Sam don’t get too bored but this year they are great participants. Nathan carries the water for the washing of the hands.
Nathan is our helper

Nathan is our helper

Nathan holds the bowl while Zayde washes his hands as Sam looks on

Nathan holds the bowl while Zayde washes his hands as Sam looks on


It was so exciting this year because Nathan was able to read the four questions! He did a really great job.
Nathan reads the four questions

Nathan reads the four questions


We have a great seder and Nathan has a momento to take home along with his afikoman money. He has worked hard to decorate his placemat. It looks great. Happy Passover!
Nathan works on coloring his placemat

Nathan works on coloring his placemat

Nathan has done a really beautiful job

Nathan has done a really beautiful job

March 8, 2013 – Nathan’s 7th Birthday

John and I go over to Nathan’s house on his birthday to wish him happy birthday and bring along a few presents. We have been away since the beginning of January and it is so good to see Nathan and Sam again. It is hard to believe that Nathan is already seven. It seems like he was just a baby not too long ago.

Nathan opening his presents

Nathan opening his presents


One of the gifts we give him is an encyclopedia of Star War characters. He goes through it page by page telling me about each one.
Nathan peruses his Star Wars characters encyclopedia

Nathan peruses his Star Wars characters encyclopedia


Both boys are enthralled by the Star Wars saga. So far they have seen Epsodes IV, V, and VI.
Sam shows us his light sabers

Sam shows us his light sabers


The next day we go over for the party. There are a lot of little boys and girls here! The boys play raucously and the girls play quietly in a group. Sam and a little girl from Iceland who is also younger than the others hide behind a chair. Auntie Leigh has made a special Star Wars cake for the occasion.
The light saber has split the cake in half!

The light saber has split the cake in half!


Sam also enjoys hanging with the adults and trying the various hors d’oeuvres.
"Why thank you, Auntie Leigh, I will try one of these."

“Why thank you, Auntie Leigh, I will try one of these.”


Finally it is time for the cake to be lighted, the candles blown out and a spirited rendition of Happy Birthday to be sung. Happy Birthday, Nathan!
Happy Birthday, Nathan!!

Happy Birthday, Nathan!!