Day 13 – Saturday 22nd June- Beijing to Sydney

Day 13 – Saturday 22nd June- Beijing to Sydney
A quick debrief on yesterday, we were all very tired by the time we got to the Beijing Airport so now some observations on what happened.
We arrive at the airport, it’s enormous, and Beijing will have another airport finished next year which will be the largest in the world. Michael, our guide is still with us and gets us sorted at the Qantas Checkin desk but we are early and have to unpack, repack with shopping, lock up the bags again, get changed for the plane and cold weather back home, life is tough eh.
We get checked in, say goodbye to Michael, he has been fantastic, very honest, very informative, and can still do the travel company line.
We’re in through the first immigration bit, then customs when the Mechanic causes the Navigator to almost have a heart attack, again, over a passport issue. Genelle is busy emptying drinks, food, old deodorant etc out of her carry on backpack and Mark is sorting stuff out before we go through security, ready to go and he can’t find his passport, meanwhile I’m through but have my bag pulled out for a rescan and also I have the pleasure of another frisk from a non smiling officious young girl because my knees set the bells ringing, again.
Anyway, all ends up good, his passport was knocked off the table and was on the floor, if he hadn’t found it he’d have been in limbo land – though immigration but not through customs. Our gate is E 12 in Terminal 3, we have to take a train to the terminal, that’s how far away it is. By now The Sparks’s toes and feet are swollen, I can hardly walk and it feels like my feet are going to explode – must be the circulation issue the Chinese doctor said is my problem. Maree from the trip gives me a celery tablet which is meant to help with fluid reduction, it’s a diuretic and I know it’s working because I nearly wear my sandals out walking to the toilet on the plane.
It’s nice to get on a plane and know 34 other people well and another 26 or so we know a bit, although the plane is 1/2 an hour late leaving so it’s after midnight when we leave, I take a few pain killers and am asleep before they bring the gin and tonic and the food, but as usual it’s a very difficult sleep.
Sydney finally arrives, we do the zombie walk out through immigration and customs after buying some cheap grog in duty free.
It’s been a great trip, we have met some lovely people and the trip has been an absolute pleasure. Much better than I expected. We say our final good byes once we’re through customs and head to the Holiday Inn for a shower and a rest. Dinner at the hotel and I reckon we’ll sleep the sleep of the dead tonight.
A final sum up when I have regained composure, got my sleep debt sorted, and I’ve had some clear air to look back on the trip, it’s pluses and it’s minuses. Cheers from Sydney
Paul

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Day 12 – Friday 21st June – Beijing

9 am start today, very civilised, just like my work days.

What do you think about Chinese for breakfast, I’ve sort of grown used to it now, dumplings, fried rice, spicy omelettes, tasty steamed rolls, it will be hard going back to corn flakes and weatbix, washes down with a cup of tea.

We leave the big bags at the hotel, they’ll meet us at the airport later tonight. It’s a hazy day, not too hot, if I was home I’d say rain was on the way.

Some China information;

The main religions of China are

  1. Buddhism – largest by a long way About 90%
  2. Taoism – Michael doesn’t rate Taoism very highly
  3. Christianity
  4. Islam – there are 1m people in a Beijing who say they are Muslim but Michael feels they are mostly more interested in money than Religion

Language ;

Bing Shrr – Cold Water

Bing Piego – Cold Beer

Choolamaa – heave you eaten yet

In 1987 China went to a market economy

In 1949 life expectancy was 49 year in China

In 2019 Life expectancy is 75, so health services have improved considerably, but is still very expensive in China, even though the doctors work for the government.

Retirement Age in China – men 60, women 55

First stop this morning is a traditional Chinese medicine facility in central Beijing, it’s a sales show again but very interesting, we all have a personal diagnosis by a Chinese Dr, with an interpreter, pulse, tongue, eyes checked and questions asked and they tell you pretty closely what problems you have and what should help fix them. Very interesting, then a 10 minute neck massage for 30 Yuen ( $5).

A wander in the expensive shopping / pedestrian mall, with Rolex watches and all the expensive brands. I buy a fridge magnet for 10 Yuen, the suckers don’t get my money.

Then on to the cheap markets, knock off watches, t shirts, electronics stuff. Heaven on a stick for The Navigator, she bargains and buys the afternoon away and fills our bags up with all sorts of stuff.

Then the airport, an hour and a half through the peak hour Beijing traffic, we’re ready for checkin at 7pm. QF 108 leaves at 12.45, after a stressful time getting through checkin, immigration and then to Gate E12 via a train ride all is good except for my feet swelling. I need the Chinese medicine!

Cheers from China for the last time

Paul

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Day 11 – Thursday 20th June – Beijing

Today the Great Wall Of China, let’s see if it’s stands up to being a wonder of the world!

But first some Chinese lessons;

Gambay = Bottoms up or Cheers

Shrr = Yes

Boo Shrr = No

Shroe = water

There is a big focus in reducing smog in Beijing, same as the other cities

There are 80,000 characters in the written Chinese Language but you can read and write with about 10,000 characters ( this is about standard for a normal person)

Peking Duck is a cooked duck

Beijing Duck is a lady boy, so be careful asking for a cooked duck, if you ask for a Beijing Duck you might get a surprise.

First thing we do is I manage to lock the safe and can’t open it, The Navigator steps into action, men in suits with screw drivers and secret keys follow her to the room, I’m too embarrassed and go to breakfast, she’s fixed the problem.

7am breakfast this morning, 8.30 am we leave the hotel, heading for first stop which is a government owned jade factory and sales setup ( I assume one of the requirements of the sponsorship of the travel company). As expected we get the pretty girl, beaming smile, very friendly who tells us all about jade, it’s hardness, the colours, we see some craftsmen working on it then we are directed to their sales team of young pretty girls. As expected we buy a few pieces for our travel cabinet, the Navigator is restrained until the almost the end. For my part, the cappuccino is better than yesterday at the pearl place.

On to the main attraction, the Great Wall. We see mountains, quite big mountains, also high bullet train bridges and then there it is The Great Wall, looks very impressive.

It’s hot, bloody hot, was supposed to max out at 34 but it feels a lot hotter. We come in at station 7, and the challenge is to get to station 12, should be easy, but the hill looks a bit steep. The Mechanic strides up the variable height steps easily, the Navigator and Me struggle and get to Station 8, sweat is running into my eyes , my shirt is soaked, the heat mixed with the physical exertion as well as fear of how I’ll get down convinces me to rest and return. The Seamstress and the The Nurse press on, the Sparky guards station 8 for a while. My walking stick is a god send, worth carting all the way here, it braces me as I crab down the steps. The Navigator takes the sensible option and takes the invalids option, a path and evenly spaced steps. The wall is a feat that is difficult to comprehend, the scale, the length of the wall, the steepness of the mountains in this part, the story is that there are thousands of workers buried in the wall. I reckon there were almost a few more bodies to add after today. Of the 36 in our group only 4 make it to station 12, an achievement of monumental proportions, I’m in awe of those that did it.

We come back to the jade place, they have lunch prepared, Chinese food, lots of it, delicious, with beer and soft drink.

We move back into the city via the Olympic Area, we see the Birds Nest stadium, the village and some of the other wares where the games were held. So,e of the group are interested and some aren’t, the 2022 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony is being held at the Birds Nest. Beijing will be the only city to host both a Summer Olympics and a Winter Olympics.

We come to the old Beijing, the village area where people live traditionally in the court yard houses, no toilets or showers but lots of space, the places sell for 30m yuan ( about $6m AUD) and we are visiting a family for dinner later in the afternoon. This is the Hutong area, a nice lake, lots of shops and we have a short time shopping. I find a post office buy some post cards and try to sell the, it’s a post office so they are government employees I guess, I write the postcards, buy some stamps and 2 very nice young staff explain that a couple of them have to go in envelopes, they peel the stamps off get out the paste and sort me out. Very official and very helpful, my mail is on its way to Australia, I know I’ll beat it home but that’s not the point. The Navigator finds a craftsman working with bottles and of course she buys a bit of stuff.

We move around into the residential area, locals are playing mahjong, kicking a bamboo shuttlecock type thing very skilfully, playing cards, little kids are on rollers skates, it has a very communal feel about it. We head off of a rickshaw ride through the Hutong lanes and then to the Hutong families house where we meet the Cricket Man. What a hoot, he’s as eccentric as they come, he breeds and trains fighting crickets, has been mentioned in magazines and books, he has a couple of pet grasshoppers who find their way on to the Navigators hand and also onto the The Seamstress’s hand. The Navigator says that the Grasshopper bits here, must be good at reading human nature.

Then dinner, it’s another beautiful meal and a few of us wash it down with rice wine, a few of the including The Sparky go for the snake wine ( dead snake fermenting in a big jar of wine), I opt for a goji berry wine it’s very nice but not as good for me as the snake wine, apparently.

We’re finally back at the hotel at about 7pm, a long long day.

Sayonara from Beijing

Paul

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Day 10 – Wednesday 19th June – Beijing

Day 10 – Wednesday 19th June – Beijing

Short Chinese Language Lesson ( Mandarin) – Phonetic

NeeHow – Hello (any time of the Day)

Sheh sheh – Thank You

Boo Sheh Sheh – No Thank You (polite NO)

Boo Yaeo – Don’t want (Stronger version of NO)

Tai Gway – Too expensive ( Genelle hasn’t used it yet)

Ding Ding How – Bloody Good

Bing Peijo – Ice cold beer

Some facts or versions of the truth;

90% of Chinese are of Han origin, the Han came from Xi’an

The other 10% are made up of about 50 ethnic groups

There are 32 provinces in China

Beijing is split into The Old City and the New City

Trip A Deal started in 2015 with 3000 travellers to China

This year they will have 30,000 travellers to China

Trip A Deal is sponsored by the Chinese Government

From 1949 to 1979 China was closed to the west

There have been 24 Dynasties ruling China

13 of these came from Xi’an

Enough of that, you’ll go to sleep. A sleep in this morning, breakfast at 7, we leave at 8. First stop is a pearl factory, the usual sales pitch by a pretty and articulate girl, a lot succumb to the lure of sales pitch, my purchase is a cappuccino, 25 yuan ($5) and it’s a good coffee, not as good as the Def Chef at home by a long shot though. The Navigator is like a moth to a flame when it comes to jewellery, I stay away from her as I tend to make sarcastic comments as she seeks moral justification to spend ridiculous amounts on jewellery, but as we all know she doesn’t have much jewellery so I figure stay away stay calm and stay alive is the best option.

Tiananmen Square is the site of the student uprisings 40 years ago, only a week or 2 ago. About the same time the Berlin Wall came down. It’s a big space, the national museum is there, the Chinese parliament is there and the Forbidden City, which was the Emperors winter palace is still standing and pretty much original runs off Tiananmen Square. There are thousands of people, it’s Chinese school holidays at the moment.

There is a long history in their area, the throne room, the concubines rooms near the Emperors rooms, something like 9000 rooms there. It’s an enormous area, clean, maintained in traditional fashion, with a beautiful garden on the edge near the moat.

Lunch is a mixture of options, The Sparky and I head to Chinese and have sweat and sour pork, spicy chicken and fried rice with a couple of local Beijing beers to wash it down. It takes about 3 hours to get sensation back into my tongue and lips after the spicy chicken, but the Sparky gobbles it up and the sauce as well – he’ll be a certainty for the ring of fire at the Great Wall tomorrow. The Mechanic, The Nurse and The Seamstress and The Navigator head to a Pizza Hut for Italian food in China.

We move on to The Golden Dynasty theatre production at Happy Valley, directed by the guy who put the opening ceremony together for the Beijing Olympics. It’s a spectacular show, with acrobats, trained flying peacocks, dancers, a water feature on stage that is hard to believe is possible. A mistake by Michael sees him hand the flag to the Navigator, we could end up in North Korea rather than at the bus.

We’re back at the hotel at 5, it’s been hot hot hot today, we’re dehydrated and tired after a long day, tonight we’re chilling. Genelle is going market shopping and I’m getting a foot massage. I don’t need much for dinner.

Tomorrow is The Great Wall, quick trip via the 2012 Beijing Olympics site, a Jade Museum (a factory with a smooth talking pretty girl who will sell us stuff), a rickshaw ride and explore the old part of Beijing and a Hutong village where they still live a traditional old style Chinese life.

Ding ding how from Beijing for the day

Paul

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Day 9 – Late Breaking News

Day 9 – Late Breaking News

The Navigator joins me, The Nurse and The Sparky for Peking Duck, I don’t know the restaurants name , nothing is in English, but it’s a very good decision .
The Navigator orders a chicken dish, and the other three are having a duck. Two women on the trip with Chinese heritage coach on how to handle the duck as it comes to you.
The duck arrives, almost a ceremony with the chef cutting it up, back fat first ( crispy, almost translucent) you then eat the rest by putting a thin crepe like sheet on your plate, you get the slices of duck with your chopsticks, dip it into a sugar, then soy put on the crepe, some bamboo shoots and some celery ( I think), wrap it up and eat it with your fingers, it was to die for – Peking Duck in Peking. Genelle’s chicken dish is great as well, she even has some duck. Did I just say that? Genelle in a Chinese restaurant in China, eating Chinese food she would normally turn her nose up at.
A fantastic meal, best on the trip so far. The meal and drinks cost 390 yuan ( $80 or $20/head)
We walk back, then The Navigator decides to hunt some drugs for The Mechanics ulcers. 9.30 pm, we find a funny little pharmacy open, 2 young girls a 60ish man, Google Translate, and she has her drugs and powder to try on the heat rash for 64.5 yuan ( $12).
About 10 pm we pass some people dancing, maybe 20 or 25 on a flat surface off the footpath. The weather is warm, a bit humid, maybe some rain tomorrrow. Ciao from Beijing
Paul

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Day 9 – 18th June – Xi’an to Beijing

Day 9 – Tuesday 18th June – Xi’an to Beijing

The morning starts with the Navigator rising at 5am, not sure if I’ll get used to these early starts, maybe if I subject myself to it for another month or so, then again maybe not, why give up one of life’s little pleasures, a little lazy lie in. Oh the heat is gone from my feet, good news.

Yesterday’s big day has its consequences, the headache is karma for crappy comments about the Navigator, I tell myself “ don’t do it!” But it’s so much fun and the target does leave the door open for commentary.

We have a very nice breakfast at 6am, it goes with the rest of the hotel, it’s very nice. We leave spot on 7am for the train station.

The Xi’an train station is huge, and as usual full of people, we’re Train G26 just 2 stops over 1500 km before Beijing, and boarding is via gate B1. As usual I talk on time, coach 10 seats 12 D & C.

We’re all in the same carriage, so the usual scramble for baggage space, our small flexible Kathmandu 70 litre bags are so good, they easily swing up to the overhead rack.

The train speed varies between 290 and 350 kph, mostly at about 306 kph, and there is hardly any movement in the carriage. At 250 kph it feels like you could walk beside it. We talk to a Chinese Railway Police officer in the dining car, his English is good, mainly learned from watching English language movies. A coffee I get is average but the caffeine hit is still helpful. He tells us are the 1000 on the train and 1 policeman (him) and 6 girls looking after the food and other stuff.

Beijing East Train Station is the end of the line for the Bullet Train ride, right on time again. We find our leader “Michael” – real name Huang, and immediately notice that there is an amping up of security type people in uniforms around the station, most look like they are 18-19 years old , but no guns. We head out of the air conditioning to the Beijing heat, 34 degrees with the Asian haze and humidity.

Our hotel is pretty good, the Chang An Grand Hotel, but not as good as Xi’an. This afternoon is free time so after a little walk, I find a market for the women with stones, jewellery, I think more a wholesale market but huge, needless to say I don’t spend a yuan in a place like this, that’s up to the Navigator – world class shopper that she is. She makes decision that she might check it out tonight, but dinner is a Chinese restaurant near the hotel that has Peking Duck as its specialty, food or shopping? I know which one will win.

A full report on the Peking Duck and local beer tomorrow. Tomorrow we do Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden Palace and a general look around Beijing

Arrividerci from Peking/ Beijing

Paul

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Day 8 – Monday 17th June – Zhengzhou to Xi’an

Day 8 – Monday 17th June – Zhengzhou to Xi’an

Today, the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an – underground for 2400 years.

But first, a 2 1/2 hour bullet train ride, 600 km, from Zhengzhou to Xi’an. Xi’an is west of Zhenzhou, so we’re really in western China now.

It’s a 5am rise, breakfast at 6, bus to the trains station at 6.30 and then 9am train. Apparently the security at Zhengzhou is pretty fierce so we have to prepare to lose any fluids or aerosols over 120ml’s , it ends up being pretty tame and we get the water through.

We have an issue with the Navigator trying to pay double with the tips, it’s $12/ day / person to cover driver and the guide, she doesn’t believe me or the people around us and pays $50 extra which when she realises the error of her ways she has to get the money back, she was rrrrrrrrrr wrong……. but struggles with that concept.

Sean, our guide is only onto his second tour group but he is a very nice guy and very caring and protective of the group but a little green, some time with John our Shanghai man would be good for him. He just needs to relax a little.

There is a scooter crash with a taxi, not sure who’s fault as we try to enter the massive Zhengzhou train station, police, arms waving, bits of scooter and car but no dead bodies so all is ok.

An issue at security sees The Seamstress’s prescription sunglasses crunched by the security machine and they lose a wing, looks like travel insurance or an optical repair in Beijing.

Our train is off at 7.52, into Xi’an at 10.24, we pass spectacular white ( I guess limestone) mountains, the usual Chinese farms all getting a little larger as we get into dryer country. More fields of millet and other cereal crops, I’m assuming barley but it still looks pretty flat and productive land.

We see the Yellow River on the right hand side of the train, a big river and I’m colour blind so can’t tell if it’s yellow or what I see is a muddy brown.

I’m writing this the next day on the train – I’ll explain why later on.

We arrive in Xi’an right on time, of sure what to expect so far away from the city names we know of Beijing and Shanghai, but Xi’an turns out to be a surprise.

Our Xi’an man meets us, his name is Michael – we call him “Mick”, a solid bull of a man, and a booming voice. We grow to really like Mick, he’s funny, efficient, knows his city and lets us inside his life and personal family story. He lives with his wife and 9 year old daughter, he is an only child (China’s 1 baby policy) so he also has his parents – retired in their 70’s and his Grandfather and they have 2 apartments on the same level. The grandfather spent 7 years in detention during the Cultural Revolution because he had a former association with a rival political organisation to the Communist Party. His daughter lives under constant pressure to perform because they invest all their money in her future because it’s harder for girls in the job area.

As we leave the Xi’an train station we find out how fearsome he is when he takes on the toilet cleaners for not allowing us to use one of the toilets, the police hover on the side and after we move on to the next toilet block and he has another blue with this “toilet manager” we find out they have had a water pipe break and they can’t flush – which is a fair excuse, so he goes to the bus and gets 20litres of water to flush the toilets – compromise reached and we can use an emergency toilet with Trip A Deal water.

Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China, but it looks modern and has spectacular gardens and streets, very tidy on first impression.

So the story of the Terracotta Warriors, 2400 years ago the Emperor of a now united China was based in Xi’an, the Emperor was preparing for his after life and set up his mausoleum with protection from the Terra cotta warriors, he decides not to use real human sacrifices. When he died he was buried below the field of the clay fired army, and the workers were all killed and the whole area covered up and when the few who knew the location died their secret went with them. A fire and the area caved in and was possibly lost forever. In 1974 some farmers were digging a well looking for water and found some shards of pottery, which were part of one of the kneeling archers, the archeology that followed discovered the magnitude of the discovery and the site is now one of the wonders of the world. The soldiers all have different faces as the workers did their own styles in the face but the bodies of all types are the same ( I think). There are Officers, Generals, cavalry, standing archers, kneeling archers, and a few others. The archaeologists are working non stop and will probably still be working on this in 100 years time, it is immense. They have laser scanners to try and match pieces up.

It’s is truely worth seeing.

We have a very nice lunch for 50 yuan each ($10) and do our exploring with Mick giving us the story as we walk. The crowds are enormous, but so it should be, this site is fantastic and well worth seeing.

We get to our hotel, The Grand Noble Hotel, Xi’an at about 5, exhausted, tired, it’s the best looking hotel so far, and in the middle of the city, but it’s a big city 9 million people so there might be more areas like it. We are right near the Bell Tower, set up to tell locals to time to start work.

Xi’an means Xi = peace and An means Rest. The Japanese didn’t take Xi’an in the 1937-39 war when they invaded China. It’s a walled city with the wall about 600 years old, it’s also the start of the Silk Road. The drive to the hotel shows how pretty this place is, men with birds ( feathered ones!) sit beside the moat in beautiful gardens, Mick says they’d rather listed to the birds than their wives at home.

Mick tells us there are a few things not to mention in Beijing, very important to follow the 4 T’s and don’t mention;

  • Tiananmen
  • Taiwan
  • Tibet
  • Trump

A rest and we’re off walking to the Bell Tower and then to get some food. It’s a vibrant place, The Electrician buys some shoes for a reasonable price, he says his other ones have an eco system of their own now and need a rest.

We split into 2 groups, and both of us end up lost, as we exited the underground pedestrian roundabout at the Bell Tower. A quick data connect and Google MAps gets us back on track. I won’t mention the Navigator’s choice of direction nor her lack of acceptance of my sage advice suggesting things didn’t look right. Twice in one day – she was rrrerrr wrong, whoda thought that could happen!? A pizza at the hotel tonight, too tired and my feet are burning, a headache coming on so I hold off Blog work u til I’m up to it

Cheers from Xi’an – I like this place and could spend some more time here.

Paul

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