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

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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



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.


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Xi’An China

Photos will be on the blog, didn’t update it last night because my feet were burning and ended up with a headache. Why? We got lost last night walking the streets, who’s navigation? Guess who!
Xian is a beautiful city, very old and very modern, gardens are green, so many trees, would have liked more time here. Xian is the start of the Silk Road – the Terra Cotta warriors are amazing, so much work still to be done.
We’re off to catch a 5 hour bullet train to Beijing right now, 1500 km or there about Tomorrow we’re off the the Great Wall of China
The Trip A Deal thing is great but it’s full on – you do need to be a little bit fit Cheers Paul


Day 7 – Sunday 16th June – Zhengzhou, China

Day 7 – Sunday 16th June 2019 – Zhengzhou China

Today we do the Shaolin Kung Fu thing up in the mountains about an hour and a half out of Zhengzhou. Big mountains like we haven’t seen so far.

I’m thinking of David Carradine and his character in the American TV show. “Grasshopper, what you thinking? You need to look inside yourself and find what is good”. Or words to that effect, anyway we’re a bunch of old farts mostly and most should remember the show.

Shaolin is the martial arts bit of Buddhism, at least that’s what I think I’m hearing, the early start blunts my concentration a little.

First stop is the Erqi Memorial, an old building in the middle of modern buildings, some in need of a tart up, then the drive into the mountains.

Our guide, Sean, has a little trouble with the Australian humour but this is only his second trip with Trip A Deal, so I feel he’s doing ok.

We arrive to a crowd of people, not many Caucasian faces around today, and move up the hill to the forrest of memorials for dead monks, some of them quite old. We then move through the temples, we light some inscence for Tim and leave some of his ashes at the temple. When him and Mark were younger they were karate exponents, maybe not as devoted as the kids who go to Kung Fu School – a real school but majoring in Kung Fu – lots of little “Grasshoppers”.

We then go to a Kung Fu/ Shaolin masters performance which was terrific, lots of skilful fit young blokes ( no girls?) with knives, nun chucks, breaking steel on their heads and throwing a needle through glass. We do a session, just our group with the Master, inscrutable man that he is with his two junior monks helping, we look like a bunch of paralytic praying mantis’s , bit sad, but quite funny really.

A bit of shopping before we head home, the Navigator skewers an umbrella sella, (poetic eh), and drives the Chinese umbrella market into free fall.

Back in Zhengzhou we rest a bit before heading to a Russian restaurant for dinner, there’s us 6 and 8 others, they squeeze us in but at 2 tables. We give ourselves Russian names, like Vlad, Irene etc and order food and drinks. A very pleasant evening. Australians eating in a Russian Restaurant in China.

Tomorrow an early start for the train to Xi’an, another 600 kilometres away but only 2 1/2 hours on a bullet train.

Cheers until the next one



Day 4 – Friday 14th June – Shanghai, China

A 6.30 rise, the Navigator had a migraine last night and didn’t get much sleep, which means I didn’t get much either, but no worries I’ll catch up.

Breakfast in the Holiday Inn is bedlam at 6.30, it’s chock a block, hardly any seats, and the food is pretty average. But it’s fuel for the day so I shovel a bit in.

Today’s program is a big one, we start with the Maglev train ride, 30 km is 7 minutes at a top speed of 430 km/ hour, 2nd the Bund – an area on the river on the old side of the city that looks over to the new centre of Shanghai, 3rd is Shanghai Museum, 4th is a 1/2 day tour of the city and 5th is an evening boat ride on the river to see the city at night. I weary just thinking about this!

The drive to the train is through the heart of Shanghai, we see all the landmark buildings, the massive bridges, the sea of sky scrapers with a few bits of the old Shanghai in between the new.

The Maglev train is an experimental train, there are 2 of them, it has no rails and it levitates and rides on a magnetic field, and I’m assuming it’s very expensive because there aren’t any others like it. It’s super fast, and gets to top speed of 430 km/ hour in a bit over 3 minutes, it takes 7 minutes to get to its destination 30 km away. When it’s slowing down 300 km/hour feels like it’s a canter and 160km/hour feels like you could walk beside it. When the train going the other way passes it’s like a gun going off, 2 trains at 430k makes for an 860kph effect when the meet. It was phenomenal.

The heart is still pounding when we head to the Bund and walk along the river on the old side looking over to the new side of Shanghai. The buildings are spectacular feats of engineering and design, the “Bottle Opener” is particularly interesting. Coffee and a snack before we head to the Shanghai Museum. All travellers are behaving so far, can’t really have a shot at anyone yet.

The Museum is interesting, we aren’t there all that long but the best part for me was the jade exhibition, some pieces from 2000 bc. The Chinese furniture from the Ming Dynasty period – about year 1300 for a few hundred years was good as well. The obligatory fridge magnet was purchased for 15yuan ($3)

Then it’s on the the French Quarter where few of the old buildings remain, we go to an area some are still standing and have been renovated and are full of funky expensive food operations and name brand outlets. Ironically it’s also the area where the original Chinese Communist Party headquarters was located. On a walk I find a film shoot going on, lots of people in red army uniforms singing a song and waving red flags – a director with the megaphone yelling “cut” or whatever the Chinese word for it is. 2 Paul’s from the trip don’t move from a bar and consume copious amounts of German beer, it is a warm day after all.

We then end up in and old market area, very traditional Chinese architecture, the Navigator is dribbling in anticipation of the shopping, but in the end doesn’t buy much at all. I buy a green tea and some Chinese bean cake and watch the seething crowd below. So many Australians in China, and they all look alike, I don’t know how the Chinese stand it!

A short trip to the British area, food, beer and conversation are the order of the day, we’re all getting a bit weary and it’s around 5pm

The night river cruise is more than I thought it was going to be when I saw the heaving mass getting on to the boat. The crowd spread out fairly well over the 3 decks, and I reckon I’m correct in saying that the Shanghai night time sky is spectacular – every night, not just special occasions like Sydney’s Vivid.

We get off the boat letting the rushing locals go ahead, they all clearly had somewhere to go that was more important than what we had on.

The Electrician and I head out for dumplings for dinner, as well as picking up our glasses. The dumplings are good, the service is a bit average, I think we arrived right on closing time.

Tomorrow we’re off early to catch the bullet train to Zhengzhou in central western China, 1500km in 5 hours.

Arrividerci from Shanghai.


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Day 3 – Some Photos

The North Lake – Hangzhou, China

Tea in the Plumb Valley – Hangzhou China

Tea negotiations in the Plumb Valley – green v black

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Day 3 – Thursday 13th June – Hangzhou to Shanghai

Day 3 – Thursday 13th June – Hangzhou to Shanghai

FYI Hangzhou means sailing boat. Hangzhou has about 13 million people, just a village really.
Breakfast at 6.30, a quick walk along the river through a beautiful park, manicured lawns, mondo grass of different lengths, like we heard yesterday man made but made to look natural. We hear some music playing and investigation finds a man playing a saxophone by himself, no busking, not hit up for money, just playing for pleasure.
We slowly amble back to the hotel and we’re off into the traffic heading for North Lake.
The things that surprise me about China so far;

  • there are so many trees and it’s much greener than I thought
  • The roads are so good and the signs mostly have an English version on them
  • There are not as many people on the streets as I thought there would be
  • The people are so friendly, and many want to have their photo taken with you, apparently a lot of Chinese have seen very few round eyes and it’s a badge of honour for them to show their friends that they have an “ English/Australian friend”
  • Chinese history is long and complex with provinces, dynasties, invaders, war, wealth, poverty…..

Some facts I heard from John – our guide;

  • The Quiantang River runs to Hangzhou Bay – about 50 kms away
  • It’s a tidal river that about 2 days after a full moon, every month, the river will get 10-12 meter tides.
  • It was settled about 500bc, and 800 years ago had a population of 1 million people
  • This was renowned as a trading city
  • Hangzhou hosted the 2016 G 20 meeting
  • In 2022 they will be hosting the 2022 Asian Games

The North Lake area is a paradise, fantastic gardens or forest that looks well organised, the lake is beautiful and looks clean. We hear that nobody can use a boat with and engine ( only electric boats), no toilets onto the river, no swimming in the river. We take a boat out on to the lake, it’s calm, flat, a slight drizzle of rain, thee is a contradiction, we can see a modern big city skyline with ancient temples around the hills.
A Very pleasant and relaxing hour on the lake.

NXT stop we head into the hills, and beautiful green sub tropical jungle, through tunnels into the Plum Valley where the famous Dragons Well green tea is grown and made. The rows of tea, terraced into the mountain side is spectacular. Mei is our educator/ salesperson, she is very knowledgeable about tea, and we succumb to her magic spell and after drinking 2 cups of green Dragons Well tea we are convinced green tea can cure anything, and in the right hands could bring about world peace. On that basis I buy a little tin of Dragons Well green tea. The Navigator goes deeper and her and The Mechanic share some tea “ supplements” , even after both struggled to get through the tea they were given. The score – 30 Love to Dragons Well Green Tea for selling this to The Navigator.
It’s a few hours drive back to Shanghai, a metropolis of sky scrappers ( or as John says – skyscrapes), the rain gets heavier and doesn’t stop .
Shanghai is busy busy busy, roads wind there way like spaghetti through the sky scrappers. The Holiday Inn Zhabei is not bad, good room and we check in for a rest before heading to an acrobatics show downtown at 6.30 pm. I’m exhausted thinking about the schedule.

The show is spectacular and we get back to the hotel at about 9.30pm, just in time to go shopping and we both buy prescription glasses for about 20% of the cost in Australia, $347 gets me reading glasses and Genelle multi focal glasses with transition lenses, they’ll be ready by tomorrow lunchtime!
I’m knackered, time for bed.
Arrividerci from Shanghai

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Day 2 – June 12th 2019 – Suzhou – Hangzhou, China

Day 2 – Suzhou, China to Hangzhou, China.

A little perspective, China is a bit larger in area than Australia, but we have about 25 million people and China has 1.39 billion people. Suzhou, which most people have never heard of, is 13 million people, and Shanghai has about 26 million people. Suzhou was settled about 500 ad, so it’s a very ancient area. It was the capital of the Wu kingdom. A lot of information spews out of our guides mouth, statistics, history, political, economic, you name it an he has been to Australia many times so he seems to have a need on Aussies.

The Electrician and I decide to go for a walk before the bus leaves, a wide pedestrian crossing, green light so I wade out into the traffic, using the lessons learned in India and dodge the silent electric bikes and cars and make to the other side.The Electrician hesitates, misses the groove in the traffic and has to wait for a light change, but he gets it sorted and we wander down the street but nothing is open really. We meet a young bloke, maybe 14, who wants to talk, I reckon practicing his English, he’s off to school with a kilometre still to walk.

The bus loaded and at 8am sharp we’re off to the Lingering Gardens, the former home of a wealthy Suzhou family that had pavilions for every different season, with magnificent gardens, water areas, and a fantastic bonsai area, some plants we are told are over 250 years old. It’s very peaceful area, at least it would be if it wasn’t for all the tourists! We corner the fridge magnet market and run a little late for the bus but no rebukes from our fellow travellers – yet.

Next is Suzhou Silk Expo Museum, really a front a silk sales factory outlet, we’re given a run down on silk production by Tim (clearly not his Chinese name). We learn about how this area is the best climate for mulberry trees and as such 13 % of China’s silk is produced in this area. Now Tim is as smooth as silk, no pun intended, he can sell, he works the crowd over expounding the benefits of silk dooners, silk underpants, silk pillows, and I’m almost converted, but not the Navigator, she holds firm saying what we have at home on the bed is perfectly ok. We find out Tim has been to Australia and loves Penfolds wine, especially 389 and 407. A lovely mans scarf is sold to The Mechanic, he’s up and running in the shopping stakes, has even beaten his mother out of the barriers, but the race has a fair way to go yet. Lots of the group bought gear and I think it’s very high quality stuff that looks nice but apparently we didn’t need any of it, I’m in disbelief that The Navigator abstained.

We move on to a canal cruise, Suzhou is known as the Venice of the East, it’s much older than Venice but more crumbling and in need of a little scrub up, but lots of the tourists in the area are Chinese and not many Europeans. The Electrician and I miss an opportunity to eat wantons and dumplings for lunch, our fault because we hesitated, so we find another place and have a pretty authentic Chinese meal of shark, chicken, noodles with green stuff and chillies – with a green tea for cooling down the chilli hit.

Then the bus ride through a rural area, heading the Hangzhou, intensive market gardens, hothouses, paddy fields, ponds that looked Iike aquaculture setups, with high rise apartments in groups in amongst the agricultural. The roads are fantastic and the traffic moves pretty well.

Hangzhou is the home of Chiang Ki Shek, the bloke who was leader of the Chinese Republic from 1911 to 1949 when Mao’s revolution rested power in China away from him.

Our Hotel is the Pujing Gardens Hotel, beautiful foyer, but we’re on the 8th floor, the wallpaper is falling off I places, the rooms seem ok but the wifi doesn’t work. So maybe this blog won’t post until tomorrow when we’re in Shanghai.

Dinner for me was 9 courses with most of the group at a local restaurant, beautiful food for 55 yuan ($12) and a 500 ml beer with a green label and Chinese writing of some description was 15 yuan ($3)

The 28 people in our group seem a pretty good bunch, no real pains stood out so far.

Cheers from Hangzhou, tomorrow we’re off to Shanghai.


Our Tour Group

From the Lingering Garden in Suzhou

Suzhou canals – the Venice of the East

Clipping you toe nails for all to see, a bucket?