China June 2007

This is a report of my trip to China with 10 of my cohousing neighbors, plus 10 of their family and friends. We went on the 12-day "Historic China" tour with China Focus Travel and were very happy with it. There were 33 people on the tour: the 20 of us plus some other folks we met and got to know.

Click on the photos to see a larger version, or go here to see a slideshow that includes these photos plus a few more, including almost every meal we ate. Throughout the text below I've added links to Wikipedia for more information about particular topics.

Day 1: We're Off!

Early morning Thursday June 14 and we're on our way. 10 of us from PHCH. Some of the group wanted to walk (suitcases rolling behind them) from home to the BART station. Others (including me because I wasn't feeling so great that day) opted to get a ride. Here's Emily waving goodbye.

Day 2: Beijing

We arrived in Beijing and met our guide Han who would be with us for the whole trip. We got to know him quite well and he was wonderful - so knowledgeable, patient with all our questions, took really good care of us, was open about his life. We hope he'll come visit and bring his wife and young adult daughter.

Beijing is the capital of China. It has a population of 13.5 million (compare to NYC which is 8.2 million, or LA with 3.8 million). It used to be called "Peking" by Westerners. Some first impressions of Beijing: It's a BIG city, lots of traffic, sky very gray, the air smells bad. Highrises everywhere, some old and run down, others new or in process. Construction everywhere. The buildings in the middle photo below are actually tilted...that's not an illusion! There is a moat around the city which has green parks and trees alongside it. The expressway is one of the old "ring roads" that used to be the wall protecting the city. We stayed at the Jiangxi Hotel, outside the city. (Note, this is one way China Focus keeps the tour price so low - we stayed in hotels that were not in the central city so were less expensive.)

More about Beijing on Wikipedia>>

Day 3: Breakfast

(This pretty much applies to all our breakfasts.) Our hotel had a buffet breakfast with both Chinese and Western food. I was determined to eat totally Chinese for the whole trip.

Some breakfast foods I liked were the sticky rice and dates wrapped in grape leaves (photo below). Also there were some little rice things that I don't have a picture of. There was always a pot of congee (rice porridge) (middle photo), a basic staple which is pretty bland but you can add stuff for example peanuts and pickles. Breakfast was the only meal where we had the option of Western food. Among other things, you could have eggs prepared on the spot however you wanted them (last photo).
Later on, towards the end of the trip, I did veer over into Western food a bit and I ate some hard boiled eggs and some toast. (Full disclosure: I'm not counting the trailmix and Luna bars that I brought with me and occasionally snacked on!)

Day 3 morning: Summer Palace

After breakfast we met our Beijing city guide, Tony, and took a bus to the Summer Palace on Kunming Lake. This was a really beautiful spot, a "playground" for the emperors and empresses to escape the summer heat in the Forbidden City. We took one of these dragon boats (middle photo) across the lake and viewed the famous Marble Boat, built by the Empress Dowager Cixi circa 1888 with funds that were supposed to be used to modernize the navy.

Then we walked back around the lake alongside a lovely colonnade. There is beautiful art everywhere you look....amazing!

On the way out we passed this man writing Chinese characters on the sidewalk using an ingenious system of water bottles and sponges. He painted the characters which only stayed visible for a short time because the water evaporated.

Day 3 afternoon: Tian'amen Square and Forbidden City

First photo is the Zhengyangmen Gate ("front gate) at the south end of Tian'amen Square (which by the way is huge!). In the middle is a photo of all of us in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace, entrance to the Forbidden City, at the opposite end of the Square. The photo on the right shows the picture of Chairman Mao that looks out over the Square. The picture is replaced every year or so. The writing on either side of it reads: (on the left) "Long Live the People's Republic of China" and (on the right) "Long Live the Union of the People of the World." Our guide Tony was always quoting Chairman Mao. For example, "Father is close, Mother is close, but neither is as close as Chairman Mao." and "You can't make a true hero unless you climb the Wall."
More about Tian'amen Square>>

Inside the Forbidden City: Big courtyards, many buildings, too much to see everything in the short time we had.

More about the Forbidden City>>

Day 4 morning: The Great Wall

Today we take a bus to the Great Wall. But on the way (of course) a shopping opportunity! The Jade Market. Lots of very beautiful jewelry and artworks. I bought a necklace - agate not jade. It takes an experienced eye to know what is good jade (hint: the darkest green is usually NOT the best quality).

The Great Wall is in many sections. We went to the one closest to Beijing, called Juyongguan (I think that's right?). It was very crowded. Emily and some of the other kids (and Marian and Harry, others) went all the way to the pagoda at the top of the mountain. I did not. I went to the 2nd tower and then back down which was enough for my knees. It was pretty cool, though, to imagine all the people who have walked on those steps. The Great Wall covers about 4,000 miles, the world's longest human-made structure. It was begun in the 5th century but took many years and emperors to finish.

More about the Great Wall >>

Storytime: The long chain in the photo below is made up of padlocks. People come to the Great Wall to get married and they add a lock to the chain to ensure their marriage will be solid and never come apart.

On the way back to Beijing, we drove by the site for the 2008 Olympics. Massive construction going on. We saw in process the "birds nest" National Stadium building and the "bubble" swim building. Here are some pix I found on the web showing what it WILL look like when done.

More about 2008 Olympics>>

Day 4 afternoon: Hutong area - Old Beijing

We had a special guide for the Hutong area of Beijing, Nathan. He's a historian and feels strongly that the old areas should be preserved. He took us there and, after having seen mostly modern buildings, it was surprising to turn the corner and see a completely different part of the city with a canal and trees and old buildings. This is what China must have looked like to the first Westerners who came here.

We walked for awhile and then took a pedicab (middle photo is me and Sue) through the alleyways. We then visited a private home (Mr. & Mrs. Lu) and spent some time learning about their life. Unfortunately I didn't get any good photos of the home which I suspect was nicer than most of the homes in the area, but you can see what the courtyard looked like (last photo).

More about the hutong>>

Day 5 morning - Temple of Heaven

Went to the Temple of Heaven park and later the temple. The park was really cool. Lots of people out doing things such as ballroom dancing (first photo shows Barbara & Ted joining in) and a variety of Tai Chi done with a ball and racket (middle photo) which looks a lot easier than it is (I know because I tried. We bought a set of rackets and balls and Isaac got pretty good at it). Inside the colonnade, people were playing cards, singing, knitting, playing instruments, all very friendly and peaceful. Really fun and a nice scene.

Then we walked through the park to the temple area. This was a very important place; it's where the Emperor (the son of heaven) would offer sacrifices to the god of heaven. The main building, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (last photo), is notable for being built without a single nail.

More about the Temple of Heaven>>