Thursday, May 14, 2015


We were in such a big country and it has many complexities.  My impressions ran the "yin and yang" gamut, but maybe that is appropriate. Many people say they would never visit China. It Is NOT an easy country to navigate oneself, but we persevered with our guide, and tried to immerse ourselves in the predictable, and the less predictable. China is the 3rd largest country in the world, but holds almost 25% of the world's population. It is a developing nation with a Capitalistic economy, controlled politically by Communist leadership. I found this facinating. It is not your "old" China. The young and the educated are moving in droves into the big cities where there are many more opportunities than in rural life. They are leaving the old traditions behind, and it is changing things. China has just lifted their one child limit because so many young people are not having children at all. $$ is a big motivator, and paying for a life in the city is expensive, plus, most Chinese people still take very seriously the tradition of caring for one's parents. 
Random thoughts: everything you heard about the smog is true, but give credit to many many sanctions the government is trying to implement to change this. On the other hand, it is a very clean county with no littler. There are alot of rules (most of them sensible). I was surprised how little English was spoken unless you were in a tourist building. I was surprised how few "westerners" are tourists. Most of the tourists were the Chinese themselves. People were very kind EVERYWHERE, and happy we were there to visit. Infrastructure is tremendous as far as roads, airplanes, airports, rail. It is modern, clean, easy to travel and very very organized. We flew four times with in the country, rode subways, boats and buses, and never had a glitch. We learned alot about Chairman Mao, good and bad, and there are still many people who were helped by the revolution. China has some wonderful ancient sites and a very complex history of feudalism, dynasties, nationalism, and communism. We touched on all of these as we saw the magnificent Great Wall, Tianamen Square, Terra Cota Warriors, and so much more. 
I am really glad I went and got to see it now that it is changing once more. If you dont think much about China, look around your house and cars. I emptied my suitcase in Beijing and 90% of everything I packed, I was bringing back to China!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Well, we had a lot of Chinese food in China! Big surprise! Some things were always similar, and other things not. We were ALWAYS served at a large table with big lazy susan in the middle..always. It is just the way groups of people eat in China. They would basically bring a fresh cooked dish for each person and we would all share. No serving utensils.  Most of the time it was chopsticks, but a few resturants would bring forks if you asked. Some of the food was similar to what we eat in a Chinese restaurant here. Depending what provence or area we were in, sometimes the food would be spicier, or more noodles, or more meat,but always soup was brought half way through and always rice. Dessert was rare...actually never. chinese are not big dessert eaters, neither do they eat much cheeses or milk.  Watermelon sliced, came at the end of the meal, and then you knew they were done bringing food. Mostly tea was served,we could usually order a beer. Liquor is heavily taxed in China, so most people drink tea or bootleg. We had a lunch where our guide brought each table a bottle of the local 120% proof. Yep! Served in the tiniest glasses ever. I drank mine, but holy cow! My mouth would have exploded if a flame was around!
One night we had a special dumpling dinner, only served in that area. Small little pillows of dough stuffed with an endless selection of delicacies like meats, sausages, roasted pumpkin, sage, vegetables. It was fabulous beyond words. We could hardly move after because of stuffing ourselves. The Chinese love to have festive times around food, so it was always fun.  I liked everything, but think I may take a break for awhile from Chinese food.  We never did get chicken feet or any of the REAL exotic strange stuff I know they eat in private. They were very aware of "Western preferences".

Tibet was different. No lazy susan, bland, rough food...yak, goat, potaoes, and even Indian food as of their strong ties with Nepal. So Chapaties, and even an odd pizza.  Their staple is a barley paste dough, and I tried everything. The hotel we stayed in had a wonderful fancy variety of food, even King Crab and sushi, but out in the town, expect the common food of Tibet...which isn't really gormet as it is  substancial.  

The picture of the dried fish, etc was taken out over my boat deck. One moring we were awoken early by loud talking and I got up and the Chiese on the boat were buying all sorts of fishy things from the Chinese boat people below. Lots of bargaining and nets filled with money and fish going up to the deck of the people who were buying.  Quite a racket, but quite interesting too!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


I forgot to say that as we were exploring Shanghai, it really didn't seem like China at all, so we went to see Chinatown.....IN CHINA! I thought it was funny. A place set in a big Chinese town that was so modern they had to have a Chinatown of old in it. It was very much like Chinatown in San Fransisco, New York, or Vancouver, except all the tourists were Chinese and it was very very crowded! Something strange about that. This is where all the "knock offs" are sold and buyer beware! They make everything look so legit!  And there was a Starbucks of 180 Starbucks in Shanghai!
This am I was feeling bad and stayed in bed all day.  Steve went with some other travel matesto the  Bund(waterfront) and after they were turned loose, he made it to a real Chinese silk factory where he bought a silk comforter, which is supposedly better than down. You can use it all year round. He also bought me a beautiful scarf there.  After the real deal, he and another few people wanted to go to the fake area where there are are all sorts of "backroom" deals being made in jewels, watches, etc. he and another guy found a "Rolex" seller, but the guy was nervous and had to take them into a back room, something we were warned NOT to do. They each wheeled and dealed and ended up with an "authentic" Rolex.  Yeah.  We'll box, no service, no guarantee. Hmmm. We'll have to see who got the best deal!
After being in bed all day, I rallied enough to attend our farewell dinner at a French Restuarant, the only non Chinese meal we had the whole trip. I wore my beautiful new scarf! But , as we returned to the hotel, I was feeling punk again!

Monday, May 11, 2015


Got our luggage off the ship...check out the pic! Old fashioned way but amazingly strong crew does it easy. Checked in for a night flight to Shanghai. We arrived about 10:30 to delightful weather and no smog. I was feeling sick and just wanted to go to bed. We were holed up at the Hilton. Sweet. I could be sick there. And miracles....FB and google were now allowed. I dont get it! We slept in and the next am took a walk in a beautiful park in the French Quarter. We have been doing a little Tai Chi some mornings with our guide. Always outside in a delightful setting.  He is making us a Tai Chi video that goes through the excercises we learned, and I plan to practice it.  I loved taking his instruction in China. Shanghai is different than the other cities we visited because it feels European and is even called "Paris of the West". It is on the Yellow Sea and a moderate climate, with a lot of Westerners, and English signs and English spoken, so it feels comfortable. As in all of China, guns are illegal, the police do not carry guns, and probabaly the only thing to ever worry about is pick pockets in the crowded markets. We went into Chinese grocery store to buy candy and look around and they took our water bottles.  But, as were were leaving they handed them back, even remembering who's was who's! funny! After communism, and expulsion of foreingners, Shanghai went into decline. But, it has recovered nicely  with banks and economics rule. The city is vibrant and bustling, and beautiful and by far my favorite place on the whole trip, even though I was feeling pretty sick by nighttime. Everyone went to a traditional Chinese acrobatic show after dinner.  I skipped it all, and just went to bed!


We flew 4 small flights while in China. From the minute our Air Canada flight touched down in Beijing, we were very impressed with the Chinese airlines. The airports were beautiful, spacious and very modern and easy to navigate. Probably, the best airports I have ever been in in the world. The planes we spotless, efficiently boarded and ran right on schedual. We flew 3 different Chinese airlines. The crews were young, but there were alot,of crew for each plane, so things were taken care of immediately. They always served a hot meal, and while NOT gormet, they were adequant. This all in coach. The Chinese are masters at moving large amounts of people efficiently. Customs were quick also. Cars are all new. We never saw an old car in any of China. The cities have alot of cars, but not many trucks. The freeways are big and new and signage is everywhere. The rail system also is efficientand  the subway was a piece of cake, and we found no one there speaking English. We used "sign language" and people were helpful, but the subways were extremely clean and safe, and even tho they are packed with people, people are orderly and curtious. I was expecting chaos and crowding and yelling and misery. Every transport was the exact opposite of that, and we were impressed. I Love the picture of the different speeds on can go in different lanes. Why don't we do that? The Chinese are not bad drivers. No one speeds, the cars are all new,and people just seem to know how to drive. The only thing I thought was odd is they do not stop for people on foot! At all, even if you have the light in your favor or are in a crosswalk, they will completly ignore that and just keep moving. It is usually at a slower speed, but you have to be on your toes and ready to dash or die!


After sailing thru then gorges we entered the locks at the damn. Our passage  entry was determined by the lock master  and took over three hours. Unfortunately, our turn was in the middle of the night, so not much to see...but it WAS VERY NOISEY and kept me awake a lot. After breakfast and disembarking, we toured the site of this massive (and controversial dam). It is 5 times larger than Hoover dam and the largest dam of it's kind in the world. The subsequent lake is now the world's largest reservoir and the dam provides over 10% of China's hydroelectric power. We climbed all over the towers and the platforms and really got an in depth look. Once again, it was very very warm. We returned to the ship in early afternoon and sailed onto an area called Yichang, this a beautiful area with the old mixed with the new. We left the ship and went to a restaurant for dinner, then drove to the airport to await our flight to Shanghai. I was feeling coughy and bought Chinese. Cough drops, that were very strong.


We are basically headed to the monumental Three Gorges Dam, and along the way we will pass thru the three main gorges. The idea for this massive dam was started over a century ago. Many nations, including the USA have played a big part in building it. But, today, we just relax and let the world go by as we sail thru one gorge and then the next...each one longer than the previous and beautiful scenery along the way. In Wu Gorge we board small Sampans and travel down the tributaries the ship cannot go. We see where the local people have been displaced by the rising waters. The Chinese government had rebuilt whole neighborhoods and small towns and most of the people were in favor because they promised them A/C, TV, and a few more modern conveniences. We had a local girl guide who had taught herself English by listening to the radio in her new town. She wanted a better  job, and she got it being a guide.
That night we attended a beautifully costumed fashion show showing the dresses of each dynasty. After the show, the Chinese, who LOVE disco, put on the tunes. A few us us got up on the dance floor and  had a bit of fun. They think if you are a westerner, you KNOW all the best dance moves and they yell....teach me, teach me. It really doesn't matter what one does..they love it! So I did my signature lawn mower  and sprinkler disco moves. We laughed so hard...and they just love the Electric Slide and Macarena too! A little old fashioned...but still alot of fun. It was one of my few "late nights out"!

Saturday, May 9, 2015


The Yangtze is the third largest river in the world, with over 700 tributaries feeding from Tibet. It is a MAJOR waterway for barges, tugs, fisherman and all kinds of boats. We boarded the Victoria Jenna in the evening, had our safety drill and retired to our small but adequate stateroom to get some rest. We sailed all night and got up for a delicious breakfast buffet. We were getting the royal treatment andhad our   own dining room with our own servers. We were also on the top stateroom floor.  Most of the other shipmates were Chinese. There were various stops along the way, and even a ship's Dr. ,who was trained in traditional Western medicine and Chinese medicine
Iike accupucture and cupping, and accupressure. One lazy am, I went to his lecture on the Chinese Medicine. He was also the ship's Tai Chi expert, but our guide Michael was already leading us in Tai Chi.
The first moring we stopped at the 12 story RED Pagoda, which wasmbuilt in 1816'and simply rests against the rocks, without securment in anyway.  
Also, today I was standing on on our little balcony, and I saw something floating which I thought was a large garbage sack. The current was bringing it closer and closer and I saw it was a dead body floating face down in the Yangtze.  I saw it very clearly and looked over at our friends cabin and the man was also seeing it and takng pictures. He told the capt and crew, but nothing was done about it, really. Nothing. It looked like it had been dead for awhile and there were other boat traffic on the river, so my feeling was they didn't want to mess with the schedual if they reported it and had to wait for police, etc.


We said goodby to Tibet this morning, as we boarded abother plane to fly out to the biggist city in China, Chongqing. Over 3,000 years old and surrounded by Mts and hills. It has 34 million people in the surrounding area as big as Ohio, but they still call this a city in China and it is ranked as a 1st tier because of his population and industry. Cars, motorcylces,appliances...anything you have probabaly bought for your home is made in Chongqing. not as smoggy as Beijing, but miles upon miles of condos going wonders who is filling these and when will it stop.
We went to a resturant to try the famous Chinese "hot pot" popular in this area. We each had our own bubbling cauldren of side spicey to dip the many pieces of thinly sliced foods they brought to the table.  It took some getting used to,  but I thought it was fun and different. After luch we went to the Chongquing zoo where they Chinese are successfully trying to save the giant Panda from extinction. Each Panda had he own very large enclosure that looked as mucg as possible as the wild. I know it's still a zoo, but there in no other recorse for these delightful animals right now, since their breeding numbers are so low. They were out in full force to eat their favorite bamboo, which incidently is bought at the  market from local  vendors. They really were cute and I OD'd on pictures!

Friday, May 8, 2015


As we started our descent from the top of Potala Palace, I had the chance to walk and talk with our Tibetan on one for over a half hour. He was very candid and answered all my questions about the Chinese involvement. After the long and thoughtful conversation with this very devout Tibetan Buddhist, I came to some conclusions. China's presence is here to stay. Things are changing rapidly and it is not all bad. As mentioned before, the educational opportunities are substantial. But to show what happens, the students have to learn Chinese if they want to learn English.  No Chinese, then no English.  The are not really able to practice Tibetan language at school. So, along with promising jobs and infrastructure that Tibet could never supply for themselves, it is easy to see how things have really changed. Before the occupation, Tibet was a nomadic garbage dump, with no sanitation, garbage basically just left to scavengers, and people didn't live very long.  40's.  Not good. Our guide felt some of the new  things outweighed the downside at the moment. I don't think he was being politically correct, either. Of course, the Tibetans want their cake and eat it too, and really, I do not know why this is so wrong at the moment. They want ALL those things, but want to be able to practice their religion as in the old days, with the Tibetan leadership being the Dali Lama, and not the Chinese Government. China is systematically squeezing out their culture in many too many ways to list here.  it will take awhile, but it will happen and is happening already. For now, they DO practice their religions , but behind closed doors or very carefully watched. I could not get a straight answer from either side, but I would guess there are more Chinese in Tibet now, than Tibetans, especially with the huge army presence. With the young having less and less to do with the old ways, it is just a matter of time.....


We went to the Summer Palace at Norbulinka. This is the most revered place for Tibetan Buddhists, because it was where the Dali Lama was when he fled from the Chinese. The clocks are stopped at the time he left his home forever...9 PM. In an effort to reduce his impact on the people the Chinese will NOT allow any pictures of the Dali Lama.  But, there is one painted wall in the chaple where there is a picture of him painted while he was young, the only official one in Tibet. This is allowed because it is an artistic interpretation in a large mural, and to destroy it, would cause a lot of damage. They don't showcase it, but our Tibetan guide pointed it out. There are many festivals and parties on the lawn in front of the summer palace, and of course, most Tibetans feel the the Dali Lama will return here.
After another fine Tibetan lunch with beer , we had our schedualed visit and climb to the Potola Palace. This 1,000 room palace is the cities greatest landmark and a pilgrimage site for Tibetans from all over the world. It was built for Tibet's fifith Dali Lama and has served as a winter home for all Dali Lama's since.  It was a very warm day, around 80, with many steps,up, up, up at a high elevation. It was definatly a climb, but we took it a bit slow and made it ok. The incense was intense, and theseperate chapels    or rooms were filled with buddha after buddha, and gold and jewels, in immense quatities.  It was mostly dark and musty, but there were monks around and some faithful prostrating themselves and of course, lots of praying.


We went to a huge,vast monestary called Sera to watch Monks debate. This is one of Tibet's last historic institutions which now serves more as a university than a place of worship. Alot of it is in decay, and not as many Monks are there, but each day about 4 pm, the Monks have a debate on philosophical issues.  It is really more of a training ground for the older Monks to test and ask questions of the younger, novice Monks. The younger ones sit around in an outdoor court yard, while the more experienced Monks bark out questions.  If they are not satisfied, the Monks SLAP their palms together very hard to "shake things up".  There was A LOT of palm slapping the day we were there, but it looked like the Monks were having a good time, and some laughter along with the learning.  The presence of the Police was huge and even though we were allowed in the courtyard, we had to stay on a cement barrier and not congregate. When we returned to town we went to a Tibetan cultural show and ate yak, and many other different foods common to Tibetans...also, Lhasa Beer which is a lager type and a great thirst quencher.


Tibet is changing rapidly. People for "free Tibet" may be unrealistic. The Chinese presence is EVERYWHERE. They have been pouring money into this remote and harsh land. All signs are now written in Tibetan (small lettering) and Chinese(LARGER letters.) Education has been greatly improved with entering children taking Chinese AND English. Infrastructure is booming with new roads, bridges, tunnels, making it much faster to get around. No more yak wagons! The condos springing up are certainly going to be filled with Chinese laborers from the Higher plateaus. Lhasa has 1.6 million people, and is becoming very modern with the help of the Chinese. With all the new improved schools,there is no longer a need for so many monks,who were the traditional teachers for rural families. Yes, there are a few important well known Buddhist Monasteries, but the Chinese know the Westerners want to come to Tibet to see these, so they "allow" this to a small extent. We still have to show our passports at the Monasteries to get in, and they regulate how many people can see them each day. There is a huge police presence in anything related to the Tibetan religeous past. Groups of people are continually kept from forming or massing, for any type of demonstraion is illegal. There are no picutures of the Dali Lama allowed anywhere. They Chinese seem very afraind of the political power of the Dali Lama, even tho he says he has none. Privately, they call him a joke, but I felt they are still afraid of his influence. They seem to be waiting......but building and changing things in many obvious and not so obvious ways. I basically felt I was in China, with a side trip to the old style Tibet. The young have defiantly assimilated to the modern China, but the old still hang on to the is a waiting game, and China will be the winner. 


Every single day the devout come to Jokhang and walk around the temple. Some are chanting, some are plying prayer beads, and some are spinning prayer wheels. Many are prostrating themselves over and over in front of the temple. Some do this every morning before work, some do it on holidays, and some make a pilgrimage from far way. Most do hundreds of prostrations on their small quilt with wood covering their palms as they slide prostrate. It is like watching S LO W burpees. 400 or even 1000 is not uncommon. Another form is to take 3 small steps, and then prostrate oneself, rise and repeat. It takes forever to go any distance, and I guess that is the  point. We saw monks doing this, and crippled people and people who had walked miles and miles doing the prostrate this way. There is ALWAYS  a lot of juniper incense burning out side and inside the temple.  I finally had to don a mask, as my throat was getting so irratated. The temple used to house over 1000 monks who took care of the education for children, and led their followers.  After China invaded and the Dali Lama fled, there is less than 400 that call Jokhang home.  Still, the streets are crowded with people all day, everyday, and the walk is always clockwise.  I had to back track to find the prayer wheels that I missed, and I felt weird bucking the the tide of humans chanting and praying.