Suitcase and World: June 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Xi'an. A museum, a pagoda, two towers, a mosque & some dumplings.

an and I woke up early enough to grab breakfast at the hotel before meeting up with everyone. The first destination on our sightseeing agenda was the Shaanxi Historical Museum. We headed out to catch the same bus that we took the previous night to the Tang Dynasty Theme Park as the Historical Museum is located very nearby.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Things you find in your hotel room.

hat can I say? I've had nice things greet me in my hotel room like flowers, a welcome basket of munchies and chocolates on the pillow. I've also had yucky things greet me....mostly creepy crawly things. Maybe it's because I don't stay in certain types of hotels but believe it or not but the condom/vibrator set is a first for me.

The Chinese must think tourists are a bunch of horny, slutty folks ;-) These were on our nightstand in our hotel room in Xi'an and lucky me, I had a similar set in my hotel room in Beijing.

Okay....I can say I didn't need them :-)

Chillin' in Xi'an.

efore we arrived into Xi’an, Bernd and Robbie had told Jenny that they wanted to get haircuts and I had told her that wanted to get a traditional Chinese foot massage. After our bike ride on Xi'an's city wall, we had the rest of the day free so it was a good time to get these activities out of the way. We first had to get the guys to the hair dresser. Jenny led us down the street the look of which reminded me very much of what I used to see in Malaysia....brought back good memories.

Hello Xi'an!

e pulled into the train station in Xi’an around 7:30 in the morning. It had been a long 17 hour overnight train ride and I was happy to be able to really stretch my legs. We all got off and followed Jenny out of the station and piled into taxis for the ride to the hotel. Bernd, Jan and I shared a ride. Along the way, we rode with the windows down - the weather in Xi'an was much more bearable....a wee bit cooler and less humid than what I had spent the last week enduring. (Later on I would find out that was just because it was early would be hot, humid and hazy the rest of the day....ugh.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A dam and a park.

oday we would be leaving the boat. I got up, packed my bags and headed down for breakfast. It was going to be a long day so I wanted to make sure I had enough energy to keep me going. Jenny got us checked out and we were off the boat by about 8:30a. There was a van waiting for us in the parking lot of the ferry dock. We piled ourselves and luggage into it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A night on the Yangtze.

inner was served around 6:30p. Nothing special, nothing memorable. Lucky I wasn't very hungry.

Rollin', rollin', rollin' down the Yangtze.

ack on the ferry, we all kicked back to enjoy the view and each other's company.

Jan, Jackie, Mairead, Trevor and Madeline

Robbie, Bernd, Jenny and Dean

We arrived back at the “Mother Boat” at around 11:30a – just in time for lunch. :-)

The Tujia boat trackers of the Shennong Stream.

his is what the ticket showed we would be seeing ;-) Butt naked men pulling a boat. Hmmm....didn't know this was an x-rated boat ride. *blushing*

Rollin', rollin', rollin' up the Yangtze.

oday is “Yangtze Boat Cruise” day but we first we had to get up and have breakfast.

On our orientation tour the previous night, Jenny had warned us about the boat’s schedule. There would be a wake up call at 6am, breakfast would be served at 6:30a and then at 7a all passengers would transfer to a river ferry for the actual cruise. Jenny told us the wake up call would be sounded over the boat’s speaker system and that we needed to check to make sure the speakers in our room worked. Of course, I was not (and it turned out Mairead was not either)) paying any attention to this part of the orientation so we had no idea where the speakers were or what to check for.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Heading for the Yangtze River.

ur wakeup call this morning came when Mairead's cellphone rang. It was a text message from her brother telling her that Michael Jackson had died. I thought I was dreaming until I woke up and logged on to the web to check. What shocking news and yet another reminder for me that you have to live each day to its fullest because life is too short :-(

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Nanjing, here we come!

oday we begin our journey from Shanghai to Beijing. First destination on the travel route is Nanjing which up until the Cultural Revolution was the capital of China. I have to admit, I wasn’t really looking forward to Nanjing as I knew the two places we would be visiting would invoke intense feelings.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shanghai. Round 2.

y first full day with the rest of the tour group started with the buffet breakfast at the hotel . I wasn’t hungry so I just sat with the group. Our itinerary for the day was to visit the Shanghai Museum this morning and as the group decided, to go to see a Chinese acrobat show tonight. We would have the afternoon to explore the city on our own.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The night lights of Shanghai.

Looking across the Huangpu River to the skyscrapers of Shanghai. The tall structure on the far left is the Oriental Pearl Tower.

o work off the bazillion calories we all just consumed, Jenny suggested taking a walk. Perfect!

Shanghai glows at night from all the neon lights!! We headed out of the restaurant, down the street that our hotel is on, then onto Nanjing Road and then headed towards the area famous for its historic British and European style buildings. There was a lot of construction going on in the area so we were not able to reach the area that runs along the Huangpu River that divides Shanghai into eastern and western regions. On the eastern side of the river are all the modern day skyscrapers...quite a spectacular sight even in the dark of night. Since there wasn't much to see along the Bund, we didn't linger long.

Meeting the gang.

onight I met my tour guide and fellow tour mates.

Our guide is Jenny Chen. She told us she took her name from the main female character in Forest Gump – her favorite movie. She looks like she’s barely out of her teens but I think she’s in her 20’s.

Madeline and Trevor who are from New Zealand. They’re both in their 70’s.

Robbie and Jackie who are from Ireland. I’m guessing they’re in their 20’s.

Dean from Canada. Manitoba I think.

Zhujiajiao and Qibao. Off the beaten path.

was determined to see *old* China on this trip as I fear that will be lost as *new* China emerges. I especially wanted to see the old watertowns. Unlike Zhouzhuang, Zhujiajiao ("Jew-gee-ah-gee-ow")and Qibao ("Chee-b-ow")are not as well known….a little more off the beaten path.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Exploring Shanghai.

oday was an *off day* for me as I deliberately left one day that would be unplanned. I woke up around 8am and as I was getting ready for the day, decided I would head over to Yu Yuan Gardens though I have to admit, I had no idea what I was going to be seeing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hangzhou. Natural Beauty.

I had signed up for a one day tour of Hangzhou. My guide Helen arrived promptly at 7am and met me in the hotel lobby. I had made it downstairs just a few minutes earlier and had not eaten breakfast. With Helen’s help, I darted across the street and ordered 4 pan fried dumplings and a soybean milk to go. Breakfast cost me 5 RMB (about 70 cents). I got in the car and Helen told me that we had one other passenger to pick up – there would only be the two of us in the tour group. A few minutes later, we pulled up outside another hotel and a man got inside the car. He introduced himself as Lennart (sp?) from Stockholm, Sweden.

Shanghai....the furnace of China.

ei warned me that Shanghai would be swelteringly hot and she wasn't kidding. I thought I had packed light enough clothing but it looks like I forgot to bring along the icepack :-)

It is hot here with daytime temps in the high 90's F but what makes it unbearable is the humidty. It is s-o-o-o humid that the Shanghai sky is constantly gray and hazy. At first I thought it was smog but my lungs would have choked if it was. Andrew confirmed it's just humidity.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Suzhou. Silk and Garden.

fter our morning visit to Zhouzhuang, we headed down the road towards Suzhou, about a half hour drive. Suzhou, in addition to being famous for its gardens is the *Silk Capital* of China. So, naturally, our first destination when we arrived into Suzhou was the No. 1 Silk Factory. Conveniently, the factory has a restaurant that caters to the masses of tourists that enter its grounds. So that’s where we had our lunch – a buffet of western style food. No offense to the Chinese but they should not cook western style food. The food filled the belly but there was definitely some funky tasting food. I was grateful, however, that the restaurant was air-conditioned. The heat and humidity is killing me. Ugh.

Zhouzhuang. Going to Venice in China.

My first day in Shanghai started with me waking up at 7am. I hadn’t slept well partly because of the 12 hour time zone difference, partly because the room was too hot and partly because the bed was very firm. The air conditioner had been turned off all day so it took time for the room to cool down after I turned on the aircon. I would have opened up the window to let cool air in but there was no cool air to be had. The temperature when we landed in Shanghai was close to 90 degrees 1:20am, and I swear the humidity level matched. As for the bed, let’s say, it would have been a softer surface sleeping on the floor. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I definitely have a firm hotel bed.

It looks like a duck, it must quack like a duck.

t started the second I got on the plane to Beijing. I look Chinese, therefore I must speak Mandarin. Sadly to say, I neither speak Mandarin nor read Chinese characters. As Lei would say, I am a *bad* sad :-(

My response whenever someone tries to speak to me is to say "Sorry, English" to which I get a look back like "Whaaat? You don't speak Chinese?" Luckily, I have been to so many places where I don't speak or read the language, I've figured out how to get around. Hand signals are the way to go though I am always worried that I will make one that will get me scoldedd, slapped in the face or thrown out of an establishment. So far, so good in China.

I'm off in a bit to get some breakfast and I'm headed for the street market so we'll see how good my hand gesturing is. I'm hoping to get some dumplings....let's see what I end up with :-)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Shanghai, here I come!!

My travel itinerary for Day 1 was Dulles to JFK to Beijing to Shanghai. Despite a long check in line at the United counter and a long line for the security check, my flight to JFK went off without a hitch. I arrived in plenty of time to check in at the Air China counter and go through the security lines at JFK. As I sat in the departure gate, the skies outside were getting more and more ominous. I started to worry that we would be delayed by bad weather and we eventually were. By the time the plane taxied down the runway and lifted off, we were two hours late leaving – that was my two hours of layover in Beijing so as we took off from JFK, I already knew I had missed my connecting flight to Shanghai.