The longest journey begins with a lot of muddling around trying to fit stuff into a carry-on bag referring to the packing list from onebag.com. I started packing a week before the trip, but managed to find all sorts of things to distract myself.
Juanita was more organized. She started weeks sooner, but she was also more focussed by the imminent arrival of a grandchild in Edmonton and having to be ready to go.
Ansel Theodore Srochenski, six pounds, fourteen ounces arrived on Labour Day (go figure) and Juanita left me for the new man. In my muddling I realized that this week was possibly the last chance to do all the outside stuff I hadn’t managed to get done all summer so that was a pleasant distraction. And then there were a couple of new books that came highly recommended and the fascinating musings on the internet about the rise of the Trump card and …..
Thursday morning I sorted all my stored and not so stored clothes into fat and skinny and in-between and put the outliers in Rubbermaid containers and stored them. Thursday afternoon I carried off a load of accumulated stuff for the dump and a bag of recyclables and some returnables and a library book to their ultimate destinations and on the way home picked up the mail.
There were two letters from the government: one from CPP saying they were going to pay me slightly more than last year due to 2014 contributions; another from Employment Insurance saying they wanted to get to know me better in an interview a couple of days after we get back from China. Things have changed in the forty-six years since I last collected EI, besides the old name of Unemployment Insurance. Apparently one needs to keep a lot better records than I did of one’s job searches. But with a couple of hours of digging through scraps of paper on my desk and my Sent folder and the call log on my cell phone I managed to be ready for the meeting and to get back to packing. Well, it’s late and it’s a good book and there is tomorrow.
Friday, September 11, 2015
Ansel was discharged from the hospital midday and at home with his mom so Juanita started driving back to Meadow Lake to pick me up so we wouldn’t wind up with two vehicles in Edmonton. I puttered at home, doing some packing and sorting and clean-up and making lists of stuff I should buy before the trip. After lunch I drove to town to try and buy a couple of things to save shopping time in the city. Yeah, like that worked. Meadow Lake is a lot less spread out than Edmonton, but doesn’t have a lot of choices in clothing. Didn’t find a thing so settled for a muffin and a coffee at MacDonald’s and went back home where there are dozens of ways to waste time that are more enjoyable than shopping.
Back home I try a few. Yep. More pleasant. Nope. No further in being ready. Finally I change clothes back from town clothes to grubs and crawl under trailer and fix the broken wire to the right rear electric brake and start to grease new pins and bushings left over from installing new springs on the rear axle last week. Juanita shows up having been delayed by construction between the Alberta border and St Walburg. Happy to see each other. I carry on the greasing and she feeds the fish in the pond. They are happy to see her too. I have been kinda erratic in feeding them in the days she has been gone.
I finish the greasing and put away tools and clean up the pads I laid on and then we do a few more tidy type chores and I shower and change back into decent clothes and we have supper.
I finish choosing stuff that will go to China and stuff that will go to Edmonton and stay there and stuff that isn’t going anywhere. I get it off the bed and organized enough that we can deal with it tomorrow. We play a couple of games of mah-jong and call it a day.
Saturday - September 12, 2015
We headed to town to the Elections Canada office to vote in the advance poll. I am not sure I will come back to Meadow Lake in time to vote so voting today will take of it. That’s the plan, anyway.
The office is staffed by three ladies when we get there. Two of them we know and know us. We present our approved identification. There is a problem. We all know we are the two people on the voters’ list that want to vote, but our driver’s license and passport show our mailing address rather than the land location. Our polling station is based on where we live, not on where we receive our mail. Apparently one can get a driver’s license that shows land location but ours do not. I wonder how one gets renewal reminders and the actual license if they are addressed to an acreage in a forest, but I digress. Bottom line we end up going home to get a power bill and a tax notice that show land location. After all “if you only had a post office box you could live in Saskatoon and be trying to vote here”. Or I could own a cottage here and live in Saskatoon and would have a power bill and a tax notice, but I refrain from going down that rabbit trail.
Answer a bureaucracy according to its foolishness.
We present the papers, cast our ballots, buy gas for the car, hit a drive through and leave town on the stroke of noon.
People may not change, but this person has developed some slightly greater control over the years. Prior to our marriage in Tucson, Juanita had bought an open utility trailer to carry her worldly goods that she would “thee endow” me with back to Canada. The trailer was owned by a University of Arizona graduating student who had brought it with him from his home in Missouri and it had sat there until he graduated and was moving away and wanted to sell it. Juanita had bought it and the DMV had sent off inquiries to Missouri to transfer the title and register it in Arizona and inspected it and given Juanita a temporary permit to move it. She parked it at her sister and brother in law’s place and he had started to put a top on it.
When I came down a few weeks before the wedding I finished the work on the trailer and we went off to the DMV to get another temporary permit to move the trailer over to Juanita’s mother’s house. Juanita had moved back in with her mom and packed all her stuff up. We could load the trailer there. The DMV had other ideas.
They would not issue a second temporary license.
I ranted. I raved. I cajoled. I begged.
The best they would do is give us a form for power of attorney for the former owner (still the registered owner until the paper work came from Missouri) to sign and get notarized. We took the form. We stopped someplace to eat. I was still ranting. The former owner of the trailer had gone off who knows where in his search for post graduation prosperity. There was no way to find him. Juanita starts seriously doubting why she would want to marry this ranting madman she is having lunch with. We get back to her office. I start reading the form carefully. It says “I ________ buyer/seller hereby give power of attorney to….” I said “fill in your name”. Under protest Juanita did. We took it to the bank across the street and Juanita signed it and got it notarized there.
The DMV happily gave me a permit because I had power of attorney from the person that they would not give a permit to the day before. The title came before we had to leave. Juanita still had some doubts about me (maybe still has) but wedding arrangements have a certain momentum and that was forty years ago and here we are over the Pacific on our way to China on a fortieth anniversary trip.
We were not likely to get much shopping done in Edmonton getting out of Meadow Lake at noon so we adjusted our plans. Coming into Lloydminster the back way to avoid the construction zones we drove through town and hit Canadian Tire (RV antifreeze on special. Not for trip. For when we get back – I did the RV plumbing on Wednesday and the cistern circuit that is obsolete with the new well, but we will still need more for the house when we go south in January), and Mark’s Work Wear. Mark’s had moved, but we found it in its new location and got our grand opening discount. There is all sorts of road and new commercial building construction in Lloydminster. I think it was planned before the oil prices collapsed. Could get nasty.
Access to Broadmoor Boulevard off the Yellowhead is blocked outside of Edmonton. Wouldn't want to be the Flying J right now. We exit early and get onto Broadmoor the back way, and go to Costco for more stuff on the list and then we go to a buffet dinner at the New Asian Village. It was an anniversary gift. Much better dining than ML. We waddle out of there and head to Rebekah and Nick’s and visit for a while there before heading to buy gas and a couple of cell phone top-up cards.
Juanita’s cell is getting low in minutes and when I called Service Canada the other day to tell them of my new prosperity of slightly higher CPP payments so they can cut back my EI cheques the estimated waiting time was twenty-five minutes. I want to know I have a lot of room on my pay as you go phone. I keep checking every couple of years, but no plans are even close to being competitive to pay as you go if you are going to be out of the country a lot.
I filed the bi-weekly EI report online. It asks it anything has changed in terms of pension income and then won’t let you tell by how much. At the end it says to phone them and talk to them before they will think of issuing any further payments. Nice. I remember a book in the genre of the abyss called, “End of the Line”, written about thirty years ago. The author in the spirit of Jack London (The Abyss) and George Orwell (Down and Out In London and Paris) did a modern day take away my money/ credit cards and see how I survive at the margins of society. He started as a day labourer in Regina moving toxic waste without PPE (personal protective equipment) and moved to Vancouver and Victoria, eating at Sally Ann and doing various interesting things. The point of this digression is his observation that the welfare system was looked at favourably by the underclass but that the Unemployment Insurance system was hated for its pettiness and bureaucratic nature. The technology has changed, some things go much smoother, but it is not hard to notice a family resemblance between UI and EI. In the DNA?
Next off to Walmart to buy some SD cards for the cameras and a polyester dress shirt in a brand that has proven itself to wash well in hotel room sinks. We try to buy dress shoes, as well, but they don’t seem to carry the ones I want anymore. Don’t need them for the trip, but they have been on my buy in the city list for a few months.
Back home for a bit more visiting and then to bed.
Sunday - September 13, 2015
We all went to church.
Nick, Ezekial and Eliana in their car and Juanita, Rebekah, Ansel and I in our car. Eliana has a cold and it is better for a six day old baby not to be in the same car as a coughing toddler. On the way back from church we stopped and checked for Canada flag pins at the Dollarama. Too far after Canada Day, I guess. No joy.
After lunch we head for The Wildbird General Store and buy some Tilley socks and then to Princess Auto to buy seals for the next time I do the trailer wheel bearings (another city list thing). Lloydminster Princess Auto had had none in the desired size yesterday. Southside Edmonton Princess Auto had none today. But after going to MEC to buy some cargo pants with zippered pockets we found seals in the north side Princess Auto.
The Walmart store on Stoney Plain Road didn’t carry the shoes I like so we tried Payless Shoes. They did. I bought two pairs to postpone the pleasure of shopping as far into the future as possible.
We went to Menchies for frozen yogurt and then went back to Nick and Rebekah’s for supper and a pleasant evening of visiting interspersed with finalizing the packing.
We fought with the printer and printed out boarding passes and a “take me to this hotel” printout that is available on the Crowne Plaza Shanghai’s web site.
When we left Somotillo, Nicaragua after our time there with Food for the Hungry we caught a van to the bus terminal at the market in Chinandega. There was an oversized van/bus (about nineteen passengers) waiting there until it filled with people wanting to go to Matagalpa. We got two of the last three spots then it was full and we left. One fellow, about sixty years old, was from the states and he had been travelling in Central America for three months without speaking a word of Spanish. He carried a piece of paper with the name of his next hotel and showed it to taxi drivers. It worked. I guess it would work for us in China, too, but we are more comfortable with the idea of a package tour and being dragged around. Maybe we will want to try it differently another time, but I doubt it.
Crunch time. No more fooling around. No more procrastination. No more stalling. I emptied suitcase and personal item and Scottevest jacket and filed nooks and crannies with the final choices.We then weighed the bags and sorted and shed objects to get within target for travelling with carry-on only. I did bring a duffel that can be checked on the way back. Losing your stuff on the way home is annoying. Losing luggage at the start of the trip is an order of magnitude worse.
Nick says he will drive us to the airport at five in the morning before he goes to work.
China Trip Overview
Escorted Package Includes
Flights Los Angeles-Shanghai, Beijing-Los Angeles
Airline taxes & fuel surcharges
All intra-flights: Shanghai-Yichang, Chongqing-Xian & Xian-Beijing
12 nights First Class accommodations
3 nights Shanghai
4 nights cruise upstream on the Yangtze River
2 nights Xian
3 nights Beijing
Hotel taxes, fees & service charges
Hotel & cruise porterage
26 meals: 12 breakfasts, 8 lunches, 6 dinners
Sightseeing per itinerary in modern air-conditioned motor coach
Services of English-speaking tour manager throughout
Services of local guides in all major cities
Entrance fees per itinerary
Comfortable wireless earphones for enhanced touring
Visit the Forbidden City and Summer Palace
See the world famous Terracotta Army
Visit the Great Wall, the World’s longest man-made structure
Explore the classical Yuyuan Garden and the Bund Riverside
Savor a famous Peking Duck Dinner with Wine
And, of course, there were numerous optional extras. We signed up for every one available at the time of booking.
Monday, September 14, 2015 - Fly Edmonton - Vancouver, Vancouver - Shanghai
Up in the morning. Quick to the shower. Put on the clothes for the day…
We leave the house at five and it doesn’t take long to get to the airport with the light pre-dawn traffic. Nick drops us off. Thanks, Nick. We head inside the terminal and he leaves for work. It is early enough he may stop back at home to kill time before work.
With just carry-on bags and having printed our boarding passes on-line we head for the security line and do what one does in such places – line up. Things are busy. There is a priority line to one side. It is so busy they keep shunting people from that line to one of the three other “gates” into the actual check lines. That slows things for us, but we have plenty of time.
The Plexiglas gates are automated. They close behind each person passing through and a light turns red and then when the light turns green again you scan your boarding pass and the display shows the number of the check line you go through and the gate opens. Pretty slick. There are not people clumped around the conveyors where you put your stuff in trays and the slower moving check lines don’t keep backing up. They just process fewer people and fewer people get directed to them.
After clearing security we went the opposite way from our gate and had breakfast at Tim’s. Along about the time we were finishing I heard somebody being called to a flight loaded for Vancouver. It was an earlier flight than ours. If I had had my wits about me earlier we probably could have grabbed that one. With no checked bags airlines let you move between flights.
We did head to that gate to be told the flight loading was over and ten minutes earlier might have worked. I was asked if I was the person they had been paging so I guess he didn’t make the flight.
We proceeded to our gate and we surfed and read and walked about a little. We were in boarding group five and so were boarded close to last and then snagged by the boarding scanner. I vaguely remember reading that we were supposed to present ourselves and our documentation to the agent at the gate. Well we had not done that so we were set aside until the second person working at the gate entered our Chinese visa into their system muttering to her work mate that they shouldn’t allow international flight passengers to print their own boarding passes if they had no checked baggage.
We got on the plane okay and there was space in the bins. They had trolled for passengers who were willing to check their baggage. Don’t know how many takers they got. I couldn't see without turning around since we were sitting with our back to the desk because it was closest to the power plug-ins. Airports have sure improved in the last couple of years. It used to be that you had to sit on the floor near a bathroom to get a power outlet. The Edmonton airport had charging stations in the waiting areas with both 110 Volt power and USB outlets. Vancouver had just 110 Volt outlets but more per station.
The flight was quick and uneventful. Coffee and cookies. Nice view of Mt. Baker to our left on approach to Vancouver. We did the long walk to our next gate, passing a point of no return where we showed boarding passes and were advised we couldn’t come back. Pretty posh duty free and waiting areas beyond there.
We found our gate, connected to the free internet and settled in to wait with the odd trip to the bathroom or to get beverages. I got the in-box empty for the third time this year. The first was while waiting between flights in Houston in January. The second was May or June when I forced myself to sit at the keyboard for most of a day.
There was a voice mail waiting from the EI investigator in answer to my voice mails from Thursday and Friday.After a few tries I got through to him and we discussed the scheduled meeting and a possible conflict if a job is waiting in Edmonton when I get back.
Then I called Service Canada every five minutes to get the message that the call volume was high so they would not put you on hold. After an hour and a half of this I tracked down an alternate number and that got me right onto a waiting list to talk to a representative with only an estimated forty-five minutes in the queue. It wasn’t quite so bad as that. The call was over in about thirty three minutes including the time taking to the agent and updating CPP information and letting them know I would be out of the country for two weeks. I tried telling her about the January to March trip but that was way too far out. There may be another long call in my future. Compare that to the call to the credit card company last week. They handled the out of country for both China and Nicaragua with one call.
Overheard a couple of passengers talking when some friends joined them in the waiting area. One commented “there always has to be one person who checks his luggage” referring to her husband. The others agreed. One pitched in “last year it was me. Never again. They lost my bag and I never saw it again.”
The airplane is a 787 Dreamliner. Not especially crowded. Juanita and I have three seats to ourselves. The wing span on the Dreamliner is huge. As the airplane taxis the wingtip just narrowly missing jets parked other jetways, but a miss is as good as a mile I remember hearing in my youth.
We taxi and take off and head up Georgia Strait turning a bit more westerly over Texada Island. The carbon fibre wings curve up when the airplane is in flight. It seems a little strange and a little futuristic compared to the aluminum wings I am used to.
A couple of meals and some TV shows and video games on the seat back video screen and we cross the International Date Line and there went Monday.
Tuesday , September 15, 2015 - Arrive in Shanghai
Tuesday arrives or we arrive in Tuesday which started without us over the Pacific Ocean.
The Boeing Dreamliner flies at 40,000 feet and its carbon fibre body allows greater pressurization so it is said to reduce the impact of jet lag. We’ll see. The plane back is scheduled to be a 777 which takes an hour longer to cover the distance.
Nothing much to write about so I’ll read our itinerary and maybe doze a bit. Catch you later.
We passed over Japan. Mount Fuji poking up through the clouds. It seems small from 40,000 feet and looking down into the crater seems odd.
Today’s Itinerary (from the Gate 1 information package): Arrive in Shanghai, the thriving metropolis on China’s eastern coast. This dynamic city is constantly changing and growing, with an unforgettable skyline. Remainder of the day at leisure to rest, relax and acclimate to the time change.
We had our paperwork efficiently examined and stamped, then we skipped the baggage carousels and left the secured area of the airport into a gauntlet of people with signs.
Recognized some company names and logos (e.g. ABB) and found the Gate 1 sign being held by the local guide, David. He led us over to a cluster of six other tour participants. We stood around and visited a bit and then went outside to stand and wait for the bus.
People and vehicle watching. Observed lots of Buick mini-vans. Don’t see those back home.
I was regretting not seizing the opportunity to use a washroom in the terminal, partly based on the hotel web site saying it was ‘twenty minutes’ from the airport and figuring we would be there in short order. Had not counted on standing around waiting for the bus to show up with passengers from another terminal. I asked about a bathroom. “No problem”. “It’s just over there”.
I feared it being a squatty-potty, but it was not. It was a western style commode. I went into the cubicle and checked the paper dispenser. Experience is a teacher. I did not want a repeat of my trip to the washroom before the dessert course in Edmonton where there was a commitment to the situation before checking the dispenser. There, fortunately I managed to stick my hand up into the bulk dispenser and, with much persistence, scrape off the four or so layers glued to the mostly empty roll. That was enough to allow me to move to the next cubicle which had paper.
But enough about Edmonton. Back to China. No soap at the sink. Since then I have found this to be normal in public washrooms. The “paper towel” for drying hands was a toilet paper dispenser. Also seems to be the norm. It works (kinda).
Back to the now arrived and loading bus. Got there before it was loaded. Therefore not late and did not keep anybody waiting. Good.
An hour bus ride into the city to our hotel. The airport the hotel is ‘twenty minutes’ from must not be the International Airport. Glad I found what the tour guide calls a “Happy Room”. On the bus we meet the tour manager for our whole Gate 1 tour experience. His name is Yuan and by the end of our trip we decide he is a national treasure and a credit to Gate 1 and China.
We lined up and checked in. After that Juanita and I walked to a market off on a side street and shopped for supper. Turned down the duck heads and wings and settled for fried, breaded, animal protein. Chicken? A little too chewy. Squid? Not chewy enough. Maybe too white for squid, as well. Too white for dog I think. Cat? Nah.
Bought bottled green tea and sesame balls and a bottle of water for the room at a corner grocery store and walked home as the drizzle started.
Juanita, wise lady, went to bed. I transferred stuff to the web page until I couldn’t see straight (about 9 p.m.) then did laundry, had a shower and collapsed into bed about ten p.m. Shanghai time. I guess that is 28 hours since getting up at 4 a.m. Edmonton time.
There are serious formatting issues with the transfer to the web page of the stuff I wrote in Word on the plane but I decide to “ship it!” as is and do the rework over time.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - Shanghai City Tour
Today’s Itinerary: Morning briefing with your Tour Manager about the exciting trip that awaits you. Then, onto see some of the city’s major highlights. Begin at the classical Yu Yuan Gardens in the Old Quarter, built during the Ming Dynasty, a quiet and serene sanctuary in this frenetic city, with its scenic pavilions, ponds and streams. Continue to the lively Bund, Shanghai’s popular promenade; stroll along the park-like water front and experience the old world charm. After lunch at a local restaurant, on to the Jade Buddha Temple, one of the most attractive Buddhist temples in Shanghai, dating back to the Qing Dynasty. Return to the hotel late afternoon and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure.
Evening: Acrobatic Show with Dinner
Our pictures for each day are between the daily itineraries and the daily write up. For some pictures from other tour members click here and here.
We began our day with a healthy breakfast. Well, maybe, a “hearty” breakfast, is a better description. There were all the normal North American choices and many Chinese food choices in the buffet. We chose too many and after all you can’t leave food on your plate. The spirit of your mother might nag you about starving children in China.
There were two automated coffee machines. Each had three brewing selections. The selection determined the amount of beans and volume of water they used. Neat idea. Very complicated. Didn’t see either of them make two cups in a row without hotel staff intervention to respond to an alert that the machine needed cleaning or more coffee beans or the drain tray emptied. Consequently the coffee line was longer than the line for custom cooked eggs or omelets.
There was a meet and greet with the other Gate 1 tour participants and the Gate 1 tour manager. We each introduced ourselves and then he talked about himself. He had been a university professor in Beijing until the Tiananmen Square Incident, then tour guide, now tour manager. There were people from the States and Canada, There was a discussion of the trip and today’s events and safety tips especially with money, and some common scams to avoid.
On the bus we learned some local history. The city was historically divided into three sections: English Concession; French Concession; and “China Town”. There was a creek between the French and the British Concessions. Each had different police and justice systems, different electrical voltages and different units of measurement. A fleeing criminal could jump the creek to escape justice.
England traded with China for porcelain (“china”), silk and tea. All they had to offer in return was opium. Thus they encouraged the use of opium by the Chinese. Some Chinese officials saw the negative impact of opium on their society and seized a massive quantity from the British traders and destroyed it in a pit. The British Traders went whining to Queen Victoria about the Chinese destroying their “trade goods” being deliberately vague about the true nature of said trade goods. The response with British Navy and Army forces is known as the Opium Wars which China lost. Britain ended up with long term land and trade concessions.
Four hundred years ago a bureaucrat in charge of a northern Chinese province, retired at age 50 to his home town of Shanghai. His parents, aged 80, were complaining they were bored. He started building a garden for them. It is a large garden and took twenty years to complete so they did not live to enjoy the finished product. That’s okay. Today we got to enjoy what is now called the Yu Yuan Gardens. There was much use of large pieces of naturally honey-combed limestone. It had the same colour and texture as the pumpkin sized lime rock that came out of the old sulphite mill acid tower in Powell River, B.C., Canada. Powell River locals would use it to demark the sides of their garden paths. A timeless fashion I guess.
We got dropped across the street from the Bund, a walkway along the river that would be called a malecon in a Spanish city. I didn’t follow the explanation of the name of the district. It has nothing to do with being the financial district. That much I got. Anyway it was a long broad walkway alongside the Yangtze River with a great view of all the skyscrapers downtown. There were throngs of locals and tourists both foreign and domestic. Vendors sold “selfies” (selfie sticks) and a big thing were carts where you could buy framed pictures of yourself photo shopped into local backgrounds. We had some free time walking about before regrouping. I spent it taking pictures of couple and families with their cameras and handing out curved illusion tracts to those who spoke English.
After lunch we went to the Jade Buddha Temple with its Buddha from Burmese jade.
When the Red Guard was rampaging and destroying all the Buddhist temples in town they took a pass on this one. The head monk had had all the glass of the case containing the life-sized jade sculpture covered with pictures of Mao Tse Tung.
After an hour back at the hotel to shower and change we regrouped and loaded into the bus and went to supper before going to the acrobatic show. It was spectacular. Part way through I started noticing gaps in the performance. Somebody would be supporting a bench with somebody balanced on top and the next thing I noticed was there were a couple more benches involved. I thought it was only me but asking around afterward I discovered pretty well all of us jet lagged travellers had been fading in and out of wakefulness.
Home to sleep.
Thursday, September 17, 2015 - Shanghai
Today’s Itinerary: Full day tour to Suzhou, including lunch and a cruise on the Grand Canal. Morning departure from Shanghai for the drive to Suzho, known as “The Venice of the East”. Upon arrival in this charming city, relax on a boat ride on the narrow waterways of the Grand Canal followed by lunch at a local restaurant. Then, continue to the beautiful and fragrant Garden of the Master of the Nets, a UNESCO World heritage site. End the day in Suzho with a walk along bustling Guanquin Street, where the locals gather for entertainment and food. Return to Shanghai later this evening.
We load onto the tour bus and take an hour and a half bus ride out of the city and through the burbs to the nearby small historic city of Suzhou. The Tour Manager answered questions and mentioned generational differences and the history of US /China relations. When walking I asked about Norman Bethune, he said when he was a student he read a paper by Mao describing Norman Bethune as a hero.
The bus dropped us in a market area near the end of a canal. After a period for shopping we got on small sampan type boats in groups of four or five and headed down the canal with the local boatman sculling us along. We took turns posing for pictures as boatmen holding the sweep. A few of the photo ops came to a quick close when the boatman got nervous and took over steering to prevent an imminent collision. After the boat ride we had forty minutes free time to check out the stores and market stalls along the canal and had instructions to meet at Starbucks at the far end of the street paralleling the canal. This canal is a tributary of the Grand Canal built by some long dead emperor to connect Shanghai and Beijing. It is some thousands of kilometers long. I forget how many. If you need to know look it up. Google it. But not in China. No Google allowed. Likewise, Facebook and Twitter are blocked I hear. YouTube for sure is blocked. Just text saying you can’t go there where web pages have YouTube windows.
At the first market area before we got on the boat I was accosted by a street vendor selling folding fans. She offered me a fan for ten yuan. I read in a flight magazine that one should start at ten percent in responding to an offer from a street vendor and settle at twenty to twenty-five percent as a final price. She never dropped below the ten yuan price and eventually started poking me with the fan when I persisted with the one and two yuan response. She followed me along for a while poking me with the folded up fan.
We also bought more of an object we had bought at what looked like a one price store across from Silk World yesterday. I had negotiated a slight discount for buying several, but that price was a multiple of what the first price we were offered at a market stall today. We ended up buying more items paying the same in yuan per item that we had paid in U.S. dollars the day before. About six and a half times more yesterday than today.
After the boat ride we walked along the side of the canal checking out the shops. Some other people from our tour had just purchased a drink at a booth. It was bubble tea with large tapioca and a fat straw. Try as we might we could not buy the same. We ended up with one mango drink with sago (small tapioca, skinny straw) and one green tea drink. They were fine, but it was interesting how the lack of a common language changes transactions.
There were scenic backdrops all along the way, especially where tributary canals met the main canal we had been on. We saw many brides and grooms having professional pictures taken. Some were in modern wedding clothing and some in traditional Chinese robes.
We are in a group of twenty-seven and when we eat together we end up at three tables with a variety of local food dishes laid out for sharing on a lazy Susan. You turn the lazy Susan to get what you want. Hopefully you do this while being observant of somebody else dishing out what they want at another spot on the wheel and also watching for serving spoons which have a tendency to knock over the stem ware. This is messy and hard on table cloths, clothing, and furniture. You can get a dry chair from the next table, but since you only get the first drink with the meal there is a cost to get the replacement drink. Both lunch and dinner were served this way. I think we avoided spilling anything at lunch today at our table, but the same was not true at lunch yesterday or dinner tonight.
After lunch we walked through a garden with extensive ponds, bridges, shrubbery and history. We had a bit of free time before we met up a block away. I bought some embroidery at the gift shop and was sorely tempted by an Oba Mao olive green tee shirt with a picture of Obama in a Mao type red army hat. Decided it was a little too provocative. My mom had and Juanita has always encouraged me to limit my truthfulness in order to get along with others. The very people who might be offended by such a tee shirt are the ones most likely to be offensive in expressing how their right to not be offended has been trampled upon. I have never quite figured out why speech that was not offensive to somebody would need to be protected and concluded that the protection of free speech was for speech that would offend somebody. But as the Spanish say I do not have a candle in the funeral of American politics so might as well not wear provocative tee shirts. The more I said I didn’t want the shirt the more the price dropped which was even more tempting, but I prevailed and went and joined the group and waited for the bus to find us. Bought and ate a Magnum bar while we waited.
We had started early enough to avoid rush hour on our way out and thus were able to head home early enough to not take too long getting back. Juanita’s sister, Ninabeth and her husband, Gary are on the same tour. The four of us walked around the corner from the hotel and went into a noodle shop and I asked for La Min and, just to be sure showed the cook the piece of paper the tour guide had written for us with the name in Chinese script. The cook took a large lump of dough and proceeded to beat, twist and stretch and wave it around in the air. Eventually he separated it into four portions and took the individual portions and stretched and folded them repeatedly doubling the number of strands with each extension. The strands of noodles became thinner than spaghetti noodles and he threw the noodles into a cauldron of boiling water. Once cooked the noodles were served in a bowl of broth, with pieces of beef and leafy vegetables.
We walked around afterward and bought ice cream bars and then went back to the hotel for the night. I slept well, but woke up at 3:30. Eventually I got up and worked on the blog, cutting and pasting things into Word. The connection to the host server for the blog was poor so the final product of any of my efforts will have to wait until after our cruise.
Friday, September 18, 2015 - Flight to Yichang; Embark Cruise
Today’s Itinerary: Morning visit to a silk carpet and embroidery shop in Shanghai to understand more about this ancient Chinese craft; see some of the beautiful creations, unusual styles and masterful techniques. Afterward, transfer to the airport for the flight to Yichang, the second largest city in Hubei province after Wuhan, its capital. Upon arrival enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before continuing to the Yichang Port for embarkation on your cruise ship. This evening you will begin the scenic journey on the fabled Yangtze, the longest river in China and the third longest river in the world. You’ll be warmly welcomed aboard by the friendly international staff. A memorable voyage awaits you.
Up early and fight with internet connection. Able to read some sites, but hard to get interaction with any busier sites.
Breakfast at six.
Luggage outside door at seven. Took one of our carry-on bags and checked it, using a duffle as my carry-on for the flight to Yichang.
Check out of the hotel and get on bus.
Go to silk carpet factory. Spectacular weaving. Some pieces take two people working in eight hour shifts six months to produce. Prices reflect that. Will ship your purchase anywhere in the world. Even a 9 by 12 rug. Did not make any purchases even of the lesser and smaller art pieces that are economical after being desensitized by carpet prices. Learned interesting factoids. The work is so demanding and repetitive that weavers are dying off with few young people willing to learn the trade.
I found a bathroom by somebody guessing what I was looking for. When in the bathroom I looked up correct phrase in an iPod app and successfully remembered it enough to use at the restaurant later today in Yichang.
Off to the airport. Throngs of people herded and indexed through security. Free Wi-Fi hotspot with a box to fill in to gain access. Box description in Chinese characters. None of us successfully guessed what to enter. Two days later as I write this I realize I could have gone to the other side of the gate waiting area to where our tour manager was watching his herd of cats from a distance and asked him.
The flight was full. There was more carry on than overhead bin. We were in row 47. I salmoned through the still boarding passengers and put Juanita’s carry on roller in the bin above row 41. My checked carry on roller was happy in the hold. I put my duffle under the seat in front of me. A couple of hours in the t-rex middle seat of the 737 and a hot meal later we landed in Yichang in a gentle drizzle.
Juanita had the window seat for a view of gray everywhere. My other neighbour was a portly retired IT manager who had worked for Oracle. He originally lived in Chicago and, now retired, in North Carolina. I don’t know much about North Carolina, but we had enough in common that we kept busy visiting for the flight. He had retired for health reasons and was not doing himself any favours by the weight he carried. I judged him when he let the table down and had to recline his seat slightly to make room for it to get past his belly. Then I put my table down and had to push it into my belly to get it down all the way. Hmm. Judge not lest ….
Yichang airport is a smallish airport built for the Three Gorges Dam project. We waited by the carousel and retrieved our checked luggage and carried it out of the terminal to be handed off to a box van. Mine was small so I just put it under the bus with the other carry-on bags and got on the bus. The bus left a few minutes later after the tour manager investigated why they were two bags short on the luggage truck and myself and another person confessed to short circuiting the process and the bus departed the airport.
We arrived at the restaurant for our evening meal and were early for the chefs’ schedule so hung around the lobby and used the free Wi-Fi and visited and ate our choice of various flavoured ice cream bars that our tour manager acquired from a nearby store. Feeding the kids junk food always calms them down long enough to make it to the next meal.
A short bus ride later and we arrive at our ship and are herded under umbrellas with our carry-on luggage. In the confusion I forget to tip the bus driver the mandated voluntary two dollar tip for half a day’s service to two people. Oops.
There is an orientation meeting led by the Angela Merkel lookalike German lady cruise director. I will resist even thinking the term Cruise Nazi.
We all get our room keys and cards that we can use to show whether we are al a carte or VIP guests. A la carte guests only get beverages at meal time. Anything outside of that and the half litre bottle of water left in your room each day and you pay for it.
There is an opportunity to check out the VIP rooms and upgrade from a la carte rooms without an accompanying upgrade to VIP beverages and meals but we took a pass. Then we all go to our rooms. Luggage was staged outside each room. Juanita and I worked our way around the two large bags outside our room and got settled. Other people took longer to settle in. They had to track down their luggage since the luggage staged outside their room was not theirs.
The quarters are efficient. The twin beds are comfortable. Perhaps the VIP rooms have bigger beds as well as more room in your room. Didn’t bother checking that out. Just put away our stuff and stowed the bags and the folding bag stand under the bed and checked out our balcony. We are moored to shore on the opposite side of the boat so for this mooring we can watch the river traffic going by. There is a list in the desk drawer with the price of every possible item that could be broken or carried away including a price for the binder with the list.
I looked into buying Internet coverage for the cruise. It was only twenty five dollars but was for one device only and only gave intermittent coverage at speeds only adequate for e-mail. I can wait four days for e-mail and a four day fast of North American election and financial coverage might be a good thing.
Saturday, September 19, 2015 - Xiling Gorge
Today’s Itinerary - This morning, a tour to the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest and most ambitious hydroelectric project ever undertaken by man, nearly six times the size of the Hoover Dam. In addition to producing electricity, the dam was constructed to increase the Yangtze River's shipping capacity and reduce the potential for floods. This project has forever changed the landscape surrounding the Yangtze River and has also forced the re-location of people who once lived along the river. Tour the massive site to see this impressive achievement of engineering. Following the visit, return to the ship as it cruises upstream and enters the dramatic Xiling Gorge, the longest and deepest section of the Three Gorges.
The itinerary is a bit confused as to the order of events.
After breakfast we arrived at a spot where we could partake in an optional tour for rmb 289 (289 Renminbi/Yuan, about US$ 50) each. A lot of people held off on deciding until the last minute to see what the weather would be. It was gray but not raining. The tour had a traditional wedding of the local ethnic group and had a walking tour with a lot of photo ops where they had developed typical scenes, almost like life sized open air dioramas. (From brochure: “Here multiple landscape elements are harmoniously combined, which include rocks, waterfalls, caves and springs. Majestic are the mountains, limpid the water, fascinating the caves, magnificent the waterfalls, and impressive the rocks”).
This specific tour had not been listed on the Gate 1 program when we booked. If it had we probably would have signed up, but have no regrets over not going. We had a marvellous morning taking pictures of the shore and visiting and, in my case, writing up notes of our trip so far.
Eventually we got under way and the ship passed through the first gorge and we all took pictures and listened to the commentary and then had lunch and it was time to go on the Three Gorges Dam tour.
This trip through the Three Gorges was better than the last time we experienced it in the mock-up of a river boat in the Expo 86 China pavilion. Sort of a hallway with windows and painted scenery scrolling past the windows.
Off the ship to the bus we passed through a market and were beset by hawkers of wares. I bought a map of China and felt okay about getting the price down from rmb 120 to rmb 20 (around $US 3) until I learned I could have paid 10. At least my map was of China. The bus was delayed a bit while the local guide helped two of our group try and locate the vendor they had dealt with. He sold them a local map in a Red China map folder. They were upset. I don’t know what they paid. Hey. At least they got a map. It is not unheard of to be sold an empty folder. The vendor who sold the local map could not be found.
We bused to the dam site and got out and went into a large security building processing hordes of visitors to the dam site.
TSA is security theater. This was security theater on steroids. Played by bad actors, as far off Broadway as you can get. I had my tour ticket scanned and got to the conveyor belt to the x-ray machine and stopped to put all my stuff in the back pack. Yesterday at the Shanghai airport I set off the metal detector and had to dig out my inside money belt with its EU passport in its foil RFID sleeve and the US and Chinese money which has metal and then dig out the wallet and money in the other under-my-clothes wallet and I did not want to repeat the uncomfortable experience. Here the security person motioned me to stop putting stuff into my back pack, waved my bag onto the belt and waved me into the metal detector.
The metal detector went off. A security person stood either side of me and each touched a metal detector wand near my belt and waved me on.
We are herded outside the other side of the security building and onto our waiting bus. Must be a make work project. What’s to protect? We are only going to a building with a scale model and to viewing areas. Anything that would have enough power to damage the infrastructure of the dam or power plant would have to be carried on a bus. They don’t check those.
The model building contains a large animated model of the Three Gorges Dam with water and lighting to indicate how things work. It is a bit too crowded to get a good look at the model at the time our local guide is giving his spiel, but I can kind of see over the crowd and go back later when most people have moved back outside. We have our whisper earbuds and can usually hear the local guide, but it is difficult with competition from the automated voice describing the animation as it unfolds and several other groups’ guides who are relying on the volume of their voices rather than electronics.
There is a potty break and shopping break. Most women won’t use the squatty potty facility and wait for a western one that will be available a little bit later. When I go back in the gift shop there is somebody demoing an interesting toy that might make a good gift for a grandchild. It looks like a one-price store but it is always worth a try. I offer fifty for an eighty price tag. They go down to seventy and stick there. No deal.
Riding up one of the several escalators from the model building to the overlook I talk to another couple who bought one of the toys for rmb 80 and start second guessing myself. That’s only about 12 bucks after all and I may have missed an opportunity.
The top of the hill gives what our guide calls a “Bird’s Eye View” of the dam and ship locks. Large ships take three hours to go through the lock. Small boats have a quicker arrangement which I will look up on line someday. Max, the local tour guide was a hoot. We all tipped him well, but not for his expertise in answering arcane technical questions. He was great with the canned stuff such as 32 generators, 700 MW each, supplied by CGE (Canadian General Electric), Siemens, etc.
Walk down the back side of the viewpoint to an overlook of the dam proper. There are market stalls with such treats as a couple of guys beating a nut and candy mixture with large wooden mallets. I taste a sample. It tastes good and I think the price is pretty good, but realize before committing to a purchase that I don’t really need a mixture of fat and sugar.
Find the toys I wouldn’t buy at rmb 70. They are priced at rmb 120. I offer 50, and eventually we settle on rmb 55, but can no way get her to give me a cheaper price for two, I buy two for rmb 110. And hand out six pairs of curved illusion tracts.
Back to boat.
Couple of hours down time reading in the room.
Captain’s welcome reception.
We had filled out our supper choices at breakfast. That seemed a long time ago. One table mate expressed his regret at not taking the optional tour this morning. They had been indecisive because of the weather and now regretted the final decision to not go. He said it would be better if everybody who took it didn’t keep saying it was “really, really good”. “Good” would have been okay.
A half hour after supper there was a floor show put on by the crew in traditional regional and ethnic clothing. Very well done and interesting. Rather than walk down to our room and back we went early and got a front row seat for ourselves and Gary and Ninabeth.
Ahead of dinner the ship had queued for entry to the locks to proceed up the Yangtze River. We could see the sides of the lock going down outside our window as the water coming into the lock raised the ship. It seemed to us like we would be spilling out of the top of the lock until we considered that we were on the sixth floor, the top floor of the boat. The locking process carried on without us as we watched the costumed people and was still going on when we turned out the lights to go to sleep.
Sunday, September 20, 2015 - Wu Gorge & Quatang Gorge
Today’s Itinerary - Awake this morning to beautiful vistas on the river. Enjoy a scenic journey up Shennong Stream, traveling in small boats between rolling hills and rocky cliffs. Continue through the Qutang Gorge, the smallest of the three gorges, flanked by lush terrached hillsides.Today, your tour will take you on a scenic journey up Shennv Stream, the journey accompanied by local folk songs and dances. Continue through the Qutang Gorge, the smallest of the three gorges, flanked by lush terraced hillsides.
I woke up at 3:30 and decided not to fight things and got up and pulled on some pants, a shirt and flip-flops, grabbed the laptop and left the room. All the dining rooms and lounge rooms and the bar were closed and locked on the darkened ship, but I climbed to the top deck and found a chair with a bit of light between two terracotta warriors and settled in for an hour and a half of composing in Word. About then my legs were tightening up from sitting so long on a wooden chair and I went down a couple of levels and found a softer spot to sit under another light source until my daily wake-up alarm went off and I went back to the room to disturb Juanita and plug in the laptop to charge with the Kindle and the iPod plugged into the laptop.
We went upstairs to the bar area for complementary early coffee and mini muffins. As we drank our coffee we visited with a couple from PA. Juanita visited with the Cruise Director about the changes she had seen in her ten years in the tourism business in China.
Apparently China is one of the safest countries in the world in which to travel. Tourism is a government priority and people who do harm to tourists are dealt with harshly by the police.
Right after breakfast we gathered as a group and got onto the waiting ferry and went off on a trip up a side gorge. Our group had assembled early and we were first off the boat and got good seats on the left side of the ferry for the trip up the gorge.
We crossed the Yangtze running parallel to a large suspension bridge and then up the tributary, under a bridge into the gorge. The gorge was fairly narrow. The steep cliffs reminded me of Jervis Inlet near where I grew up.
Before flooding when the Three Gorges Dam was completed the bottom of the gorge was just a narrow, rocky stream in places. The boatmen would keep their clothes dry when they towed boats through the rapids by stripping down and working in the nude. No more nude boatmen, but we did see monkeys and some people claim they saw goats and we all tried to pick out the hanging coffins that had been put in the crevices of the cliff face in ages past. We passed a cave that we were told was five miles deep and we passed under a highway bridge supporting a freeway that had cut travel time from six to three hours between the nearby major cities.
After an hour of sailing we arrived at a small town on the hillside overlooking lake. We climbed stairs and passed through the obligatory vendors and assembled in a large hall to be entertained by the indigenous people dancing and lip syncing to what must be indigenous rock music. A backdrop to the stage was a photomural showing naked boatmen pulling on bamboo ropes to get a boat through the rapids. The boatmen were photographed from the back and the live performers were dressed so we didn’t get a totally authentic experience of the local culture.
We had been warned about the full volume from the powerful sound system and sat close to the back of the hall. During the show I couldn’t help thinking of The Producers and Springtime for Hitler and putting on a show for the rubes because they wouldn’t get the joke.
Eventually I said I was going for a smoke (I don’t smoke, but I was going) and left and stood far enough away from the building that the music was almost pleasant. The rest of our group and our tour guides came out and we walked up the hill through a neighbourhood before returning to the waiting ferry boat captain annoyed at our tardiness. The houses are all new since the 3,500 ethnic locals were displaced by the rising waters. Every available space is used to grow food of a wide variety including sweet potatoes, loquats, peppers or pumpkin. The big public buildings and tourist activities are part of an employment effort. I guess you have to do something when you flood out 1.3 million people in all.
We rode back on the ferry boat the way we came, taking pictures we had missed on the way in. Got a better look at the hanging coffins, but saw no monkeys or goats. The cruise ship sailed soon after we re-boarded and lunch was served early so we would be free to be on deck for travel through the next gorge of the Three Gorges. After passing through the middle gorge there was a talk and PowerPoint presentation about the Yangtze River.
After some down time between scheduled activities the ship passed through the third of the Three Gorges. It is the gorge shown on the back of the ten Yuan note.
I attended a demo of snuff bottle painting (scenes painted inside bottles) and learned a few things about how it is done and the difference between good and poor quality ones.
Many people left for a temple tour we had not purchased and after they had been gone for a while several of us got passes and signed releases to wander unaccompanied into town. We climbed a series of stairs and escalators and then passed through the typical vendor gauntlet. Most booths were not manned, because we were between times for organized tours so we were not accosted by vendors.
Juanita and I ended up walking around just the two of us. I bought an orange juice and we wandered in a grocery store and looked at the strange-to-us variety of snack food, considered buying some coffee and decided we did not need any, but definitely needed some corn cob snacks and a couple of ice cream bars. The chocolate coating on mine was suffused with sesame seeds rather than nuts. It really was quite pleasant tasting.
Coming out of the store there were a couple of small children riding a coin operated ride. The music playing was initially Fur Elise but changed to Old MacDonald with lyrics in English. I joined in, loudly singing along much to the enjoyment of the handful of adults sitting around the area. We carried on up the hill passing a noodle making shop which had three noodle drying courtyards next the sidewalk. There was a woman hanging the noodles on the last spaces on drying lines totaling over a thousand square feet. At the top of the hill there was a park and a bridge. We walked onto the bridge far enough to take pictures of the river and then walked through the park and started back downhill to the ship back the way we had come.
At the grocery store the mother of one of the children was waiting for us with a bowl of grapes and she insisted we take some. We did and took pictures of her and the kids.
After tonight’s dinner there was a talent show. The crew are pretty practiced and have impressive traditional Chinese costuming. The passengers for their part compensated for any lack of talent with enthusiasm. A good time was had by all. I sat near the front and cheered on our tour group’s efforts with my pocket whistle. Juanita sat near the back and snuck out when near the end of the show they were dragooning non-participants to get involved.
Back at the room I shower and do the day’s laundry. Yesterday’s is almost dry after twenty-four hours. Things don’t dry quickly on the river. In our travels we have come to expect the same type of clothing to dry overnight. Can’t imagine what it would be like without air conditioning in the room. One uses the lower decks of this and adjoining cruise ships to get to shore and gets a brief glimpse of life below decks. Crew cabins seem to consist of a pair of small, curtained bunk beds and just enough floor room to open the door into the room. Pretty sure they are not air conditioned. It also sure looks like hot work in the ship’s laundry room with people feeding towels into an ironing machine. Looked worse than any thing I ever saw in a paper mill.
Monday, September 21, 2015 - Cruise to Shibaozhai
Today’s Itinerary - The ship arrives this morning at Shibaozhai, built during the Ming Dynasty. This pagoda is sometimes referred to as one of the eight construction wonders of the world, built into the side of a rocky cliff face and constructed without use of nails. This vermilion 12-story pagoda stands impressively over 100 feet high. The optional tour highlights the main attraction of the temple, with its traditional Chinese design. The structure is inspired by the mountains with patterns and figures that vary from odd to extraordinary. Climb the stairs and experience the most extraordinary sights of the valleys below.
We climbed the ramp into town and walked through the almost deserted streets of new buildings built for people who were dislocated by the flooding but who could not afford or did not want these buildings built for them.
There are storefronts with living arrangements above them. The shops are empty. A few of the apartments are occupied. The buildings are only a few years old but, without occupants, are deteriorating very quickly in this warm, humid climate.
We crossed over a long, swinging suspension foot bridge onto the mountainous island with the pagoda described in the itinerary above. The pagoda is built up the steep side of the island. The steps inside the pagoda were about ten inches high and there were around a hundred of them.
A few people bailed on climbing the pagoda before they reached the point of no return. We were the first group to the pagoda today but there were hordes of tourists from our and other docked cruise ships coming behind us. Once you start climbing the narrow, dovetailed stairs within the pagoda there is no turning back. You climb to the top and then you climb down the stairs on the other side of the mountain.
One way traffic.
One smaller, old gentleman with our tour group had so much trouble he was almost lifted up the stairs by a couple of the tour group. After climbing ladders all summer we found it doable.
Here and there at the top and on the way down there were opportunitieto buy stuff. A brief, but spirited haggling session resulted in a snuff bottle being added to the collection of souvenirs.
Back across the bridge there was an opportunity to share curved illusion tracts with several English-speaking guides and then pose with them for a picture together. Then off to locate a washroom and wander through the market. At one point to get around a slow moving clump of people Juanita zigged left and I zagged right. Despite search efforts from both of us we did not reconnect until back at the dock.
The heat and humidity and sweat from the climb meant a shower after lunch and a change into dry, neutral odour clothes. We did not do laundry today. There is no way that wet clothes would dry overnight on the boat so today's clothes will get double bagged for washing in the hotel in Xian tomorrow night.
Mandarin lessons at eleven.
Lunch at noon, followed by a meeting of our Gate 1 tour group about tomorrow and beyond. We will be the last off the boat tomorrow since our flight to Xian is not until 12:30 p.m.
Apparently the pace of the tour will pick up a bit with more scheduled events and more walking and more of everything except down time. After observing some babies in the village yesterday, today’s meeting started with a long discussion of baby rearing practices in China. No diapers. Baby clothes are open around the crotch area. That’s more than enough information about the Q&A. If you want to know more, research it on the internet.
Tea and cookies at three.
The ship docks again and people leave for a couple of different tours – one which has bad online reviews and another to visit with people displaced by the flooding of the dam reservoir. We stay in the lounge area where the tea and cookies were and visit and I do some writing.
Now there is just Juanita left with me.
She is reading and I am blogging.
I got so into the blogging and enjoying the view of the head shaped failed hotel we are docked beneath that I lose track of the time. When I realize the mah-jong lessons should be starting soon it is five minutes after the scheduled start so I just keep on writing.
Back to the room. Start packing for tomorrow, do some proof reading and wait until it is our group's turn to go for supper.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - Disembark Cruise - Fly to Xian
Today’s Itinerary - Disembark the Yangtze River cruise this morning in Chongqing, a major metropolis and one of the top emerging cities in China. Transfer to the airport for the flight to Xian, ancient capital of eleven dynasties and an archaeological treasure trove. Upon arrival, visit the renowned Shaanxi Provincial History Museum, home to a wealth of historical artifacts and treasures. See the Tang Dynasty murals which colorfully depict daily life in ancient China. Time to relax before the late afternoon visit to the Muslim district of Xian; learn more about Chinese Muslims and witness the preparation of local foods in the market. Return to the hotel with a stop en route at the gigantic Bell and Drum Towers
It was raining steady in Chongqing (formerly known as “Chongking”, presently pronounced as “Chongching”) we had about three hours to make our flight… (with apologies to Harry Chapin :-) )
We arrived in China with carry-on luggage only. This is the way we normally travel. However, once somebody else was responsible for our luggage and we accumulated purchases we took a collapsible duffel style bag out of our carry-on and let Gate 1 deal with it as checked luggage. The tour group’s checked luggage was outside cabin doors at 6:45 to arrive in that night’s hotel rooms in Xian. We left our bag and proceeded to the top deck bar for complimentary morning coffee before breakfast.
After breakfast and after the other groups had disembarked our group gathered in the reception area of the ship. We paid our mandatory $US 50 fee/ gratuity that was said to be distributed among ship staff and the voluntary gratuities to assembled staff too senior to be included in the mandatory bite or who had gone above and beyond to help you individually. There were handshakes, hugs and a few kisses happening depending on the circumstances or the level of cultural deafness.
The ship was docked next to pontoons connecting it to the shore of the swiftly flowing Yangtze (pronounced “Yanks” by the ship staff). We had the option of carrying our luggage to shore ourselves or of paying an additional fee to locals to hang it from bamboo poles that they would shoulder and carry for us. We chose them to do the heavy lifting and made our way to shore.
Juanita attracted an unwanted helper to assist her on the passage by holding her arm across the pontoons and up the stairs. Despite her protestations he persisted and at the top of the stairs she sent him to me and I paid him a buck to go away. That was probably the only instance on our trip to China where somebody provided unwanted assistance and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
There were the usual vendors pestering us between the top of the stairs and the tour bus. I got down under an acceptable price for the umbrellas they were selling so ended up with nothing. As Karass found in his research, excessive demands result in the most movement from initial bargaining position, but they also result in a higher percentage of deadlock. I had gone too far but at least found their bottom price.
The bus heads to the museum. Well that was the plan. Unfortunately the plan had not been clearly communicated or understood by the bus driver. Eventually tour staff noticed he was headed for the airport and redirected him back into the city to the museum. We figured this out when we started to pass repeat sites seen from the bus windows and asked what was happening.
When we get off the bus at the museum the first thing I do is buy a couple of dollar umbrellas from a sidewalk vendor. That was the last price offered by the vendor when we were getting on the bus. By the time I realized the price wasn’t going to be any lower somebody else had bought the last umbrella.
We have one hour and fifteen minutes to see the museum. I look at a guide map and we take the elevator to the third floor and start walking through exhibits from top floor to bottom floor walking past everything and stopping at anything that was of particular interest. There were not a lot of English description placards so we were not slowed down by reading.
Chongqing was an object of interest to the Japanese in World War II and there were displays about that including bombing damage and mock-ups of the tunnels used as bomb shelters. A number of people suffocated in those tunnels. Other displays dealt with local and cultural history and with the Yangtze River.
At the end of our burst mode tour we met up with the tour group assembled near the front doors of the museum. A local TV reporter singled me out for an interview in which I dutifully provided banalities.
Then it was back onto the bus where we accepted mandarin oranges our guide had bought from a street vendor. At the airport we are handed our passports and boarding passes and headed off through security.
Security was much more thorough and efficient than one ever sees done by the TSA. If the Chinese don’t eventually own us all it won’t be their fault. After four days on the ship I had gotten out of airport thinking mode and was still wearing various under clothes pouches and money belts when I went through the metal detector. I was pulled aside and the person with the wand discovered each as I semi undressed and showed off the contents before being cleared.
Once through security we bought a cafeteria style meal and then picked up a MacFlurry at
a McDonald’s operating out of a window in a hallway wall. Then we proceed to our gate.
In the crowded waiting room there are various noodles and foil packages of dried foods that can be reconstituted with the near boiling water available from a water station near the entrance to the washrooms. There is free public Wi-Fi. Along about the time I figure out how to access it, an announcement is made for us to line up for our flight. We go outside at ground level and get on a shuttle bus with straps, but no seats. The bus quickly fills beyond capacity and amid confusion the bus next to it is made available for boarding.
The shuttle buses head off toward jet liners parked all over the tarmac. After a few stops and starts and changes of direction we arrive at our plane and its tiny, exquisitely dressed porcelain doll like stewardesses. None of the p.c. mixed gender, seniority based flight attendant stuff of Aeroflot Canada here.
With all these efficiencies our boarding time of 12:55 at the gate morphs into a take-off time of 1:55. Juanita has a window seat and I a middle seat. There is a national in the aisle seat. After take-off we eat some of the biscuits we bought and share them with our seatmate. She shares some sesame snacks from her capacious purse.
The plane lands at a little after three. Loading time only a little less than flight time. Maybe they won’t eventually own us.
On landing our seat mate sprints up aisle and makes it from halfway down the plane to the front door before anybody else gets up from their seats to block the aisle. Don’t think I have ever seen that before.
By four we are driving away from the airport on our tour bus. Deplaning was almost as efficient as loading.
We meet our local guide and the bus stops at a furniture factory display room full of exquisite, expensive Chinese style furniture, heavy on the lacquer and inlay. There is, of course, a Gate 1 discount and shipping is included in what is a reasonable price if you had the budget, home space and a complementary décor. We just admire the work and take a pass on even the cheaper small items offered for sale. The commercial side stops are somewhat interesting to us and help keep the price of the tour down since Gate 1 obviously doesn’t make the stops for humanitarian reasons. Usually there are tour members who make purchases at the commercial stops. If nobody bought anything the stops would not be happening.
We arrive at our hotel at six. The bus gets into the hotel through a narrow back alley. A pretty tight squeeze with no contact made to immovable objects. A few bent corners on corrugated metal roofing and mismatched paint streaks on a cornice or two indicate that not all buses have been as successful at avoiding contact as our driver.
We have forty-five minutes between arrival at the hotel and time to get back on the bus for departure to dinner and a show. We do laundry and change clothes. No time for squeezing the laundry in a towel to speed drying. Just wring it out onto itself and hang it to dry. We check e-mail. Laptop g-mail doesn’t work. Hotmail works okay. I send myself a file by Hotmail then it is downstairs and onto the bus and off to the dinner theater. It was an interesting Tang dynasty period piece with spectacular costumes and music. I think I would really enjoy it if I was not falling asleep.
There is rice wine included with dinner. I dip a fresh chopstick in the small cup provided. It tastes like fermenting bread dough.
Back to hotel.
Wake up at 4:30.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - The Terracotta Army
Today’s Itinerary - Morning visit to Xingqing Park, a hub of activity where you may have the chance to join the residents of Xian in their morning exercise, singing and dancing. Afterward, stop at a lacquer furniture shop to learn more about this technique. Lunch at a local restaurant. Then, an unforgettable experience! Continue to visit the archaeological site of the magnificent Terracotta Warriors, a vast collection of life-sized soldiers, horses and chariots that were entombed with China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. This world-famous site, discovered by local farmers in 1974, is still being discovered and excavated today, more than thirty years since the time of its unearthing. Optional: Dumpling Dinner
After breakfast we all loaded onto the tour bus and drove to a local park, got off the bus and entered through the elaborate gates.
We joined the local residents in their daily tai chi exercises. Tai chi had been available on the dance floor of the ship’s bar every morning before breakfast. Juanita and I had not joined in, but had just enjoyed our free coffee and muffins and visited with other coffee drinkers or blogged while the tai chi participants followed the lead of the ship’s doctor.
Here in the park was a different matter. Non participation was not an option. We followed as best we could the lithe lead of a woman chronologically two decades our senior while our junior by the same amount in flexibility and grace. Smooth moves indeed.
After that exercise the tour manager hooked us up with some people using weighted feathers in a hacky sack type game. We demonstrated little skill in that department either.
Then it was around the corner to dance with costumed local seniors as we waved fans or twirled woven disks on our fingers. None of us got to wear the horse costumes around our waists however. Most of us wouldn’t fit anyway.
Our group trekked to another part of the park where people lined up to give each other neck massages and then turn and reciprocate. Along about then either my high fluid or high fibre intake was kicking in so I conferred with the guide and darted off to a bathroom and returned to the group when the massages were ending. Juanita said they were quite wonderful and that a few of our group had managed to play the system to receive more than one.
Then we all loaded onto the waiting bus and drove an hour or so towards the home place of the terra cotta warriors stopping on our way to eat an Italian food at a restaurant in a five star hotel. We had provided our choices to our guide the day before and everything was as promised. The hotel is near a university which government officials had attended in the past managing to obtain diplomas for advanced degrees in relatively brief time frames while racking up huge expense claims at the hotel. Its popularity had driven its prices up to above the budget of the tour company and had been off the itinerary until recently when an anti-corruption campaign had reduced the ranks of its clientele. Prices dropped again to appeal to non-government customers.
The terracotta warriors are life sized pottery statues of soldiers buried to protect the tomb of some long dead emperor. Each had a unique face and carried real weapons and were accompanied by supply wagons and chariots pulled by terra cotta horses.
The terracotta warriors had been re-discovered by a farmer digging a well a few decades ago. He basically lost his right to farm the land (all land is owned by the “people”) but had managed to secure a job with the museum on the site where he autographed souvenir books. He is now quite elderly and was not in attendance on the day we were. Who was in attendance, however, was the leader of one of the “stan” countries and his security detail and a busload of Chinese soldiers and police. We managed to visit one of the buildings before it got shutdown and then dodged and waited for the security forces to be out of the way so we could see the others. The interruptions allowed many of us to gather in one of the coffee shops for beverages and ice cream bars and to sit around in the sun and visit and stare at the lines of soldiers and the groups of ear-budded people assembled around the limos and standby ambulance.
After that excitement we walked back to our bus. I was the last to leave the area, because I had finally found a source of batteries for Juanita’s camera and was paying for that when the group headed off. Our long suffering tour manager kept an eye out for me and brought up the rear of the procession back to the bus while I speed walked and was far from the last to load on the bus. I do not have the temperament to make a happy tour guide. The babbling on part would be okay, but the herding cats aspect of the job would give me fits.
Back at the hotel we had to freshen up before returning to the bus which dropped us at the end of the Muslim bazaar near the walled city. We walked the length of the bazaar and its sights, smells and sounds a little too quickly to savour the experience, but I consoled myself that we would see them on the way back out after the dumpling dinner. Nope. We left dinner in another direction.
The dumpling dinner was a multiple course dinner of eighteen different types of dumplings. All different but all enjoyable, tasty and filling.
Afterward we walked closer to the wall around the old city and one of the lit up battlements before returning to the bus waiting to take us back to the hotel after driving around to see a bit of the city lights.
Another long day. And tomorrow will be an early day with a five a.m. wake up call and luggage to be in the hallway by 5:30.
Thursday -September 24, 2015 - Flight to Beijing
Today’s Itinerary - Depart Xian on a flight to Beijing, sprawling capital of modern China. Afternoon at leisure - feel the pulse of this city of contrasts with its astonishing history and wondrous sights. Join the half-day Hutong Tour which begins with a Rickshaw ride through the old narrow streets and alleyways. See the courtyard homes which once covered all of Beijing - only a few still survive today. Hear more about "old China" from a local family who will welcome you to their home.
The wake-up call arrives, as promised, at five. Our bag is out by 5:30.
We go downstairs and sit in the darkness with other tour group members until the restaurant opens. Breakfast is done with and we go back to the room to grab our remaining belongings and onto the bus at 6:30.
We ride the bus to the airport, say goodbye to our Xian guide, Jackie, receive our passports and boarding passes and head through security. I remember to place my inner stashes into my carry-on before the x-ray machine and metal detector. One of the security people still checks the contents of my carry-on to make sure that the auxiliary battery is not too many watt hours and to make sure that the container of tooth powder was not a liquid or gel.
We are on the plane to Beijing at 8:20 and the plane takes off at 9:00.
Arriving in Beijing we load onto a smelly tour bus and proceed through stop and go traffic to lunch. Anywhere we get off the bus there are vendors. They offer “real” Rolexes for $US 5, 3 for $US 10 and some ball caps for $US 1, with the elaborate caps (embroidered in gold or army style with attached pins of Mao and others) priced around $US 3. At some point I get scammed and buy two army style caps and later discover the inner cap has no pins.
The restaurant has the usual lazy Susan rotating centre piece, with dishes of food. The food today is somewhat spicier than most we have experienced.
After lunch the bus takes us near the drum tower and we walk through a neighbourhood to the drum tower. The drums are beaten at certain times. We stand around a bit waiting until it is closer to the scheduled time. While we wait, the tour guide buys some of the weighted feathers and we ineptly kick them at each other occasionally managing to keep one in the air more than one kick.
Most of us climb the steep stairs to the drum tower and then watch the huge drums beaten by people in white, kimono style tunics and pants. Afterward we walk through the neighbourhood toward a visit in a private home. Along the way we pass local loos. Most homes in the area did not have toilets or showers. These communal washroom building provided a place to wash and to relieve oneself. During an earlier talk one of the guides mentioned that a few decades back that in the west it was common for us to shower daily and shop for food weekly while in China it was common to buy food daily and to shower weekly. This traditional neighbourhood is a holdover from that era. It is easy to understand that without refrigeration you would buy food daily and that with the shower a block or so away you probably would not use it daily. Nowadays with most people living in apartment blocks the schedules are more western.
We visit in a private home and listen to the elderly owner talk about his life and the history of the home and the family. The format is of an outer wall with rooms against the wall forming an inner courtyard much like one sees in Nicaragua. The owner serves us tea and sweets and answers our questions.
He says that with land prices the rights to where the house is sitting have risen to where he could get fifteen million yuan/renminbi (2.5 million dollars?) but that it is home and he cannot envision living anywhere else. I don’t know how that relates to the “people” (government) owning all the land and have no point of reference to evaluate the truth of the statement.
We load onto rickshaws and get pedalled back to the drum tower where the bus awaits without us. It takes us to a four star hotel. While we are waiting to check in we sit on couches in a raised, carpeted area. In short order the roller cop arrives and chases us out of there with our roller luggage. No wheels allowed on the carpet apparently.
Getting to our room we contemplate the tiny bathroom without clothesline and the twin beds that are bigger than the ones on the ship, but too small to sleep two. Oh how quickly one becomes spoiled and whiny!
This is a “free night”. We are on our own. Some of the group decide to seek out a foot massage. Some opt for a nearby Pizza Hut or other nearby restaurants.
We didn’t get our fill of the Muslim market in Xian. Beijing has the “Wang Fujing Night Market”. Maybe that will give us our market fix. The tour guide writes the market name in English and Chinese in my notebook before we head to our rooms. One other couple is interested and another couple is maybe interested in going to the market.
Back at our rooms we realize we don’t know anybody’s rooms but Juanita’s sister and her husband. I phone the tour guide and get the room numbers of the other couples and phone the one. They have decided to do something closer to the hotel. Meanwhile the other couple has left their room and is calling our names. That worked. We opened our door and connected and went down to the concierge desk and got subway maps and directions and headed to the subway station down the street. After walking past it once we managed to find our way in and buy tickets and head through the gates and get on the first line.
It is still rush hour and the car is a bit crowded, but as in subsequent subway cars a young man offers one of our group his seat. It generally escapes the group that only one of us ever gets the offer and that it is the one with the low cut blouse and the young man hangs around after giving up his seat.
The animated line map in the subway car shows you where you are with the stations named in both English and Chinese and announcements about upcoming stations are in Chinese and English. We manage to get off at the right station and change to a line heading downtown and get off that car at the right place and take a train crosstown one stop and get off that train.
As we get closer to the surface we find ourselves in an underground mall. At any decision point I whip out my notebook and show them the night market name in Chinese and get pointed in the right direction. Once on the street at ground level we continued this process along a pedestrian mall.
At one point we were pointed wrongly and overshot by a block and a half and found ourselves outside a store with a pharmacy upstairs. The other couple went inside to buy something they were looking for.
While waiting I noticed a CoCo’s stand across the mall and saying “there’s a CoCo’s. Do you want anything? I’ll be over there.” Juanita, having no idea what I was on about declined any interest in anything from CoCo’s and I headed across the mall and successfully purchased the bubble tea I had failed at purchasing in Suzhou. Shortly I was joined by the three others. They wanted one, too. Sipping our drinks we headed back toward the night market and successfully entered the narrow, well-lit alley way.
The night market in Beijing is quite different than the Muslim market in Xian. That market was organic like it sort of happened, with pushcarts parked haphazardly on or in front of sidewalks on a blocked off street. The Wang Fujing Night Market was more organized. It has permanent booths with their backs to the walls of an alley. More Coney Island than county fair.
The signature product of the market is roasted scorpions on a skewer. The first few booths showcase scorpions, cockroaches, grasshoppers and even a few unlucky seahorses impaled on skewers waiting to be roasted for your dining delight. Many of the scorpions and a few of the cockroaches still wriggle on their skewer. Talk about fresh meat!
In that bunch I notice a donair stand and file that for future reference. We take pictures, but none of us reach for our pocket books to make a purchase of roasted creepy crawlies. We carry on looking at the choices for purchases. Most items offered for sale are to be eaten, with not much in the way of merchandise. We try a few minor items. At one booth I allow myself to fall into a rube trap and buy something with a price next to it along one with that has no listed price, but walk away when the unlisted price is fantastically overpriced.
The alley is over a block long. Near the end I sense a fairly immediate need for a bathroom and tell the others I will be back and dash out of the end of the alley and follow the signs to a “hotel” around the corner. I don’t find it, but find the entry to a series of merchandise booths running parallel to the night market food booths and head into that asking for a “Cesou” (close approximation of the word for washroom) and people seemed to know what I meant and pointed me in the right direction and when I overshot pointed me back to a cross hall with a washroom. All the stalls were squatty potties, but I was getting desperate and managed sufficient agility to accomplish the task without disgracing myself and then discovered I had insufficient paper product with me. Almost but not quite enough. I went back to the hallway and guessed it went back to the night market alley and walked through a food court with edible looking choices. No creepy crawlies where the locals eat. I came up on my companions from an unexpected direction, accepted the gift of more paper products and relocated the cesou before rejoining the group. We headed back up the alley and I bought a donair and ate it before we headed back underground, bought some water in the food court and retraced our subway journey in less crowded cars than before.
At various times during the evening I had shared curved illusion tracts. One young man on the subway ride home read the cards and said, “Now I understand the religion you are sharing.” Not sure what that means but it sounded promising. I just scatter.
Back home at the hotel Juanita washes her hair, I have a shower and wash a few clothes.
Another long day.
Friday, September 25, 2015 - The Forbidden City and Summer Palace
Today’s Itinerary - Visit huge Tiananmen Square, the largest public plaza in the world built at the height of the Ming Dynasty. The square's Gate of Heavenly Peace was once used as a staging ground for imperial edicts and by Mao Zedong himself to declare the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. Next, enter the Forbidden City, which served as the Imperial Palace until 1912. The extraordinary and immense walled complex is truly a masterpiece of Chinese architecture; its complex consists of 800 buildings with more than 9,000 rooms. Afterward, continue outside the city to the fabled Summer Palace, resort of the Empress Dowager. Have lunch at a local restaurant followed by a visit to the palace grounds, filled with a variety of picturesque gardens and architectural structures. Then, stop at a local Pearl Shop to learn about the famous Chinese pearls. Tonight, dinner at a Beijing restaurant
After an early breakfast and an early start on the bus to avoid the horrendous rush hour traffic, we did everything on the itinerary, just in a different order, starting with the Summer Palace.
Beijing is normally smoggy. Certainly it was yesterday, but today was glorious with clear blue skies and a breeze keeping them that way. We marvelled at the construction and artwork and walked the long walk and climbed to the top of the manmade hill and back down and took a boat ride across the manmade lake.
That took a couple of hours. Then we spent an hour at a large pearl shop. After the informative talk on pearls, I found a corner in the coffee shop and read until it was time to get back on the bus and go to lunch.
After lunch we went to Tiananmen Square and walked across it and into the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square was interesting as our guide had been living in Beijing in 1989. It is huge. On one side is Mao’s mausoleum. On another is the Chinese equivalent of parliament, on another is the national museum. On the forth side is one end of the Forbidden City. We took an hour to cross Tiananmen and get into the Forbidden City and spent another three walking through the Forbidden City. It was where the emperors and their families lived. We were told that to go through every nook and cranny would take about three weeks. The large scale public areas seemed repetitive after three hours, but then there were spectacular pockets of uniqueness in the individual palaces where family members lived.
We made it out of the Forbidden City through the gauntlet of vendors and onto our bus. The bus inched through rush hour traffic until we arrived at our dinner location. Dinner was served family style with the group of 27 (plus one guide) split up into three tables each with a large lazy Susan in the middle.
The meal took a bit of time to order and to eat so we arrived back at the hotel around nine. The guide pointed out a Walmart about a block from the hotel. One group member headed there to check it out. The next day he said it was pretty much like the States. Personally I would like to check out a Wumart a local knock off of Walmart, but not badly enough to track one down and get to it.
Saturday, September 26, 2015 - The Great Wall of China
Today’s Itinerary - An amazing day! Travel to the extraordinary 2000-year-old Great Wall of China, one of the most spectacular structures ever built by man, spanning nearly 4,000 miles of China's northern frontier. En route, stop at a local jade shop to admire ware crafted with one of China's most famous materials. Then it's time to climb the ramparts of this ancient wonder to view breathtaking mountain passes, plateaus and grasslands from this 7th-century defensive fortification. Afterward, relax at lunch in a local restaurant. Drive via the site of the 2008 Olympics to see the National Stadium and the sprawling Olympic Village followed by a stop at the Beijing Zoo to see the famous Pandas - a must for all travelers to China. Tonight enjoy a Farewell Dinner featuring China's famous Peking Duck.
We got an early start to avoid traffic and were the first tour bus at the Jade Shop. The talk about different types of Jade and watching the workman cutting jade was informative, but the scale and price of most of the pieces were beyond our tastes and spending choice. I marvelled at the price of some of the bigger pieces in the entry way and dividing the eleven million yuan by six to get a rough price in dollars before the “VIP Gate 1 30% discount” when somebody pointed out that the numbers were proceeded by a dollar sign not a yuan sign. Wow! $US 200 for a jade statue the size of an egg is more than this cheapskate is willing to pay. Other tour members have bigger budgets as some very nice necklaces and bracelets showed up on the bus.
I wandered around carrying the complementary bottle of water and used their five star washroom before handing in my id badge and lanyard and wandering outside and onto the bus. Juanita was right on my heels but didn’t show up on the bus right away. When she did she said there was a booth “way at the end of the parking lot” that sold some sesame snacks like the ones Susannah had shared when we went to the market. I got back off the bus and walked down the row of buses and haggled for a bag of snacks paying 10 yuan after being quoted 15. There were a variety of really cheap looking jade articles. Not quite up to the quality of the jade shop we had just toured.
There was a bus with a Gate 1 sign at the end of the row and I almost got on that bus but realized even though it probably smelled better than our bus it would not have anybody I knew on board and after two weeks was sort of attached to the group and after forty years am really attached to Juanita so walked back down the line of buses and started eating and sharing the sesame snacks. They were harder than I remembered and harder than the sample that had been sitting out on the table at the booth so I ate mine very carefully. The filling I broke in March took five trips to two dentists and a periodontist and around $CDN 2,000. I don’t know whether the process or the payment was more painful but want to avoid a repeat experience of either.
Once we were all on the bus and the bus was turning around somebody set off a bunch of fireworks that had been laid out in the parking lot and a convoy of limos arrived with a bridal party. The bus headed to the Great Wall on side roads to avoid the back up on the freeway due to a traffic accident and before long we were at The Great Wall. The Gate 1 tour guide had been adept at timing our arrival and choosing locations that minimize the crowds we experience. Like yesterday at Tiananmen Square when by going in the afternoon there were about a quarter of the people than had been there in the morning.
Today we got to a section of the wall that only had a couple of tour buses. I think maybe the location has a bit steeper walk than others, but it worked for us and we had plenty of room to move on the wall without bumping into too many others. Off the bus and into the washrooms and through the ticket booth and onto a stand for a group picture with the Great Wall in the background. For 100 yuan which most of us opted for you could buy a picture book with the first page being our group picture. We paid our 100 yuan and received a plastic card to hand in for the book after our walk on the Wall.
We were advised that the right side was “hard” and the left side was “harder”. Most went right. Juanita, Rene and Paul went left. Half way up we were looking down on the right side. When we were near the top we met another couple from our group on their way down. They encouraged us “only 400 steps to go. Ice cream, half price jade and Canadian Embassy at top.” Lies except for the 400 steps. Somebody did share moon cakes with us at the top, however. We made it back down, picked up our picture book and were on time getting back on the bus. Even if we were the last ones on the bus we beat the 12:30 deadline.
We stopped for lunch on the way back to the city and when back in the city stopped to take pictures of the 2008 Olympics buildings from a distance. Then off to the zoo to see the animals, especially the giant pandas. They were happily munching away on the special bamboo that gets flown in for them daily from the faraway mountains which are their natural habitat.
After returning to the hotel to dress up for supper we all went out for a dinner of Peking duck and lighter fluid. I didn’t try the lighter fluid. It was some sort of local high test spirits.
Back to hotel by 9:30. Good bye to Gary and Ninabeth leaving for airport at 10.
Sunday, September 27, 2015 - Depart China
Today - Transfer to the airport for your departure.
They say to allow three hours at the airport and an hour to get there. Other people and couples have left already by the time we go downstairs to breakfast.
Our flight is at 16:05 so we should leave just after noon, but we are scheduled to share a car to the airport at 12:30 with somebody who has a later flight. The 12:30 is a compromise departure time that should work with Sunday traffic and an official 90 minute window on the Aeroflot Canada web site. There are a few others that leave later than us, but only a few.
By rights we should have altered our sleep patterns closer to back in Canada by now, but we will try to go to sleep right after the first meal on the plane and see how that works out. The plane is shown as a 777 so we will be more at risk for jet lag than in the 787. I don’t know which is worse to adapt to, going East to West or West to East. Going home and getting picked up at the airport can’t be worse than going to Ireland a few years ago and getting off the plane and driving off into Dublin traffic on the left hand side of the road.
After a relaxed breakfast we surfed and read and blogged and packed for a noon check out.
The ride to the airport was uneventful. We got dropped off by the cab at the wrong end of the right terminal and dragged ourselves and our bags the full length of the long terminal and came around the corner to the row of check-in counters. Oblivious to the long line at the economy class check-in I led us up to the business class check-in which had no line. The counter person kindly processed us lowly econo flyers without a harsh word or comment about being in the wrong place. It was only after we had our boarding passes that I realized my mistake and was very glad for it.
Less the one bag we wandered around and found the shuttle train and our way to the gate and then went and had a Pizza Hut pizza and red bean pearl bubble tea as our final meal in China.
The flight over the Pacific was boring. When the plane landed in Vancouver and we walked up the aisle to the exit door we noticed abandoned slippers like are given away in the better Chinese hotels.
A jet lagged wait in Vancouver and an overpriced Starbucks sandwich later we got on the plane to Edmonton where son-in law Nick met us and drove us to their home.
Monday morning I phoned around and asked about available work and went to the union hall expecting to pick up a call from one company. At the dispatch counter I had been out of work the longest of anybody so I had first choice of jobs I was qualified for. There was an instrument call for a site north of Fort McMurray and they asked if I had done the phone interview. I said I talked to “Ken”. They said that was the wrong person. That call had been filled and I should call somebody at a number they gave me. I called him and had one of the more unusual job interviews I have had. He said, “You have lots of experience, right?” I agreed. He asked about my "HART communicator experience” I said I had lots, and some Foundation Fieldbus, but not a lot of that.
It turned out that was like the army routine of asking who has a driver’s license and then they end up pushing a wheelbarrow. I ended up doing much less technically demanding work than advertised, but was happy for the work and the wages and the experience rebuilding skills I had not exercised terribly much in recent years.
Monday afternoon I went for an alcohol and drug test. Tuesday we drove back to Meadow Lake and Thursday headed back to Edmonton where I flew on a charter 737 to north of Fort McMurray. That was September and a day of October. From the second of October onward I worked the last eleven days of a fourteen day work tour fighting a terrible head cold and vicious latent jet lag for about the first week of the eleven days.