Day 23 - Saturday June 21, 2008

On the way home:

Our 28th wedding anniversary is today!! and with the time zone changes in our traveling, we get to celebrate this whole "day and a half" by sitting beside each other - all the way back to Halifax! Little did I know our trip home would stretch to almost 40 hours of actual travel time.

So, we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel. Although expensive for China, we started off with watermelon and pineapple, then moved on to the middle course; I had grilled tomatoes and cabbage and squash with scrambled eggs and Michael had his regular baked beans, hash browns, eggs and bacon. Then for the final course we had coffee and croissants.

The highlight of my breakfast was helping an older British fellow who I noticed was having trouble with the self-serve espresso machine - since I'd already gotten a coffee for Michael I knew how it worked. He had been pressing several buttons and waiting, then I did the same thing - but turns out that the machine was out of water, so, so much for helping. He said he’d never had espresso before and was somewhat impatient - I told him the coffee was worth the wait because it tasted so good - he chuckled.

The two above pics were taken from our hotel window - we were so excited to see a blue sky - it was basically the first "clear" day (the term is relative) we'd had for 3 weeks.

Most of our packing was done the previous night - and miraculously we managed to get our large tea set into my red suitcase (woohoo!); first emptying it completely, and then stuffing a bit of clothing on the sides, in the tea box itself, and on top, with all of my shoes fitting on the inside upper sections. The rest of my few pieces of clothing went into Michael’s bag. (Good thing that clothes in my size were hard to find in China!)

We checked out and took a taxi to the airport (it was 102 rmb - 14 dollars), about a half hour drive.

These aren't great shots from the taxi, but they give some idea of the buildings in Beijing.

Bye-bye Chinese people!

Thanks for letting me visit you!

Hey, that's blue sky!

I got to roll my window down for the above photo - but I had a sense that the driver was not impressed so I rolled it back up.

Very strange building

close up of the same

This building in the centre (with a pole in front of it) is still under construction (it has a huge hole in it) will be the new television station building - CCTV.

Approaching the airport

Shiny and new

A steam fountain. I noticed that it's typical in China for hotels and other buildings to use many little pots for their plants - inside and outside - instead of one big long planter. I think it's another sign that they have a lot of cheap labour available to them.

During our 3 hour wait at the airport we met 4 students from the
University of Florida who had been on a month long course in China with a couple of professors - they stayed in Xi’an - the city where the terra cotta warriors are and where Butterfly, one of Michael’s students at Huang Hui University, are from. Some of the students were going home, some were going on to Hong Kong and one, after Hong Kong, was going on to Thailand and Cambodia. Very pleasant students - strangely they had no particular American accent.

So we boarded the airplane on time and without thinking anything of it I ate most of the first meal offered (big mistake). After that my stomach didn't feel too good. I didn't sleep much on the plane (normal for me).

Here's how long it took us to get home:

- arrive 3 hrs early at Beijing airport

- 13 hr flight to New York (I got maybe 1 hour total sleep)

- 5.5 hrs waiting in a freezing airport for our plane to Halifax

- 1 hr wait for the plane to taxi on the runway

- 2 hr flight from New York to Halifax

- 1.5 hr back to Boston (fog)

- 7 hrs in a Boston hotel (no sleep, sick with diarrhea all night)

- 3 hrs wait for our plane to Halifax
- 1.5 hrs to Halifax

- 1 hr to get out of the airport with security

- 3/4 hr to get home by 1 pm on Sunday afternoon

Total travel time: 39.25 hours - but I'm not complaining, because, uh, see the ad below? A pic on the back of the seat of our taxi cab asking for help for the earthquake victims.

So that's it - we had a wonderful time in China and I'm very thankful to have had the opportunity to visit such a different land.

lots of love,


Day 22 - Friday June 20, 2008

We had a great breakfast this morning - I think 95% of the people in the breakfast restaurant (there were others in the hotel) were non- Chinese. I had watermelon and pineapple with grapefruit juice and afterwards went back for roasted tomatoes, sauteed cabbage and onions with a croissant, and decaf cofee. Michael’s second course after his fruit (he calls this his “Chinese” breakfast) - baked beans with bacon, seasonal vegetables, hash browns, rice, scrambled eggs and broccoli - with coffee.

I met and talked with a woman in the lobby - she was from England, teaching in China and she told us about a picture dictionary that was available in the international bookstore. So we went and bought a copy: Michael is going to get a lot of use out of it in his future trips to China.

That's a page I could have used (above) because I wanted to get my hair cut in China - maybe that was not such a good idea anyway.

Then we went bought a lovely tea set that is the same shape/style as the one above, but with a different pattern painted on it. It’s very heavy and we thought about mailing it, but it would have cost 1500 rmb to ship ($200+). We’d have to try to take it with us, but it was really heavy ... so instead of an experience to complain about, we decided to make it an enjoyable experience worth remembering. Michael really wanted to get it and I'm glad he made the decision and he was going to carry it. We took it back to the hotel and then went back out to taxi to the silk market.

Aside: I was walking around the curb-side of a tree because of the construction (there was very little sidewalk), slipped off the curb and fell on the street - flat on the bump on my leg - yeeoweee! After a pause and some loving compassion from my husband, we continued on but it was quite painful to walk.

We felt that the taxi driver "overcharged" us on the way to the silk market because we were told by Steven (who knew) that it would cost around 10 or at the most 15 rmb and we shouldn't pay more. We knew the driver was doddling - our total fare was 18 rmb. That's a little over 2 dollars, but he's the one who has to pay the gas. It's hard to consider an extra 50 cents as a burden.

So, the silk Market is a department store with 3 or 4 floors - with stalls upon stalls of STUFF. Here's a drawing of the building - it used to be a street market but was torn down and reinstated as this modern horror:

(Silk Street (Chinese: 秀水街; pinyin: Xiùshuǐjiē , aka Silk Market, Silk Street Market, Pearl Market) is a shopping center in Beijing that accommodates over 1,700 retail vendors, notorious among international tourists for their wide selection of counterfeit designer brand apparels - wikipedia.)

I hope they don't mind, but someone put up a youtube video from the silk market - here it is, just copy and paste it into your browser. It's just like I experienced:

One floor had mostly clothing, another had mostly jewelry, another mostly scarves; there were household goods, there were toys, there were tea sets, etc. But a lot of it looked a bit cheap - especially the jewelery (but what do I know about jewelery, I only wear it) and the tea sets. They didn't seem to have the beautiful sets we had seen near the hotel.

It was very busy, the atmosphere was so "electric", the sales people were so “grabby” that I was stunned - and did not even take one picture. The first stall with scarves that I stopped at sucked me in, it had me in it's claws and would not let me out. I bought two scarves very quickly without having the opportunity to consider if I really liked them or not. The sales girls were in my face and I couldn’t think! They wanted an enormous amount of money, but even so I gave them about 45 dollars for 2 scarves. Way more than I had wanted to spend on scarves and they were not even the kind I was looking for!

After that another saleslady got me in her booth and was pressuring so much I had to just laugh out loud. I couldn’t even look at the scarves without their tentacles latching on to me. They were going to make a sale - no matter what! This one lady wanted to go with me to get my husband (who had gone up the escalator on purpose) because I told her he had the money. I almost got caught, she was going to let me have it without paying, trusting I would come back to pay. Finally I tossed the scarf back on the rack and immediately took the quick escape up the nearby escalator - WHEW!

All in all, it was a fun experience I must admit. I think I would do better next time having already been there once - but for me, it’s not worth going back. It was one of my China experiences for 2008.

Now to Gallery 798.

Then we took a taxi to the 798 art gallery area. We did lots of walking and saw lots of art..

This above is a slightly "larger than life" piece - I thought it was excellent work

What are we saying here - it's ok to pee on the sidewalk? The watermarks are unintentional, they were formed by dripping air conditioners right above the doorway to a gallery.

I thought this might be a sculpture of Mao, but Michael says no, it's not.

It's massive!

They were laying rectangular stones for this sidewalk, then drawing an uneven outline and cutting the shapes out with a rock cutter - very time consuming work, but I figured they'd get it done before the olympics.

There seemed to be a lot of dark work - paintings of greyness and fumes and jumbled chaos. The sculptures were interesting - some depicted multitudes of people, as though they were small anonymous toys; one showed a soldier rising out of thousands of small, deformed little toy people - all the same colour. It seemed to symbolize one person getting to the top at the expense of many others - not an uncommon theme in the west. I mostly took pics outside, many places said “no photos”.

At times I it seemed that the colour schemes were either gray and subdued or overly bright and unrealistic. Very few had, what I would consider, "beautiful colours", nevertheless, it’s always inspiring to see art that other people have made. Art is a universal language.

I used a drill press like this before - many years ago.

Maybe I was not supposed to take this photo (above) but I thought it was amusing.

I don't know if that large thing on the sidewalk was temporary or intentional - I guess it doesn't matter in an art park.

Day 21 - Thursday June 19, 2008

Farewell to Kaifeng:

One of Michael's great night photos

So still in our hotel in Kaifeng, we got up around 5 am, checked out at 5:40 - but we couldn’t communicate with the staff. The two young girls at the front desk (one was asleep on her arms on her counter when we first got there, the other was on a cot). They were very confused and looked a bit worried that they couldn't handle what they were sent to do. They called someone on the phone who might be able to translate for us, but that person spoke with Michael and still couldn't make us understand. It took until 6 am and a call with Chunhong (our translator back in Zhumadian) before we realized all they wanted was our deposit receipt that they gave us when we first checked in. We had given them 700 rmb at that time as a deposit and after all was said and done; our total for the 3 days, including breakfasts was 714 rmb (around 100 dollars). You get what you pay for.

The trunk of the little taxi couldn’t handle all our bags so my big one had to sit in the front seat. The taxi driver ran a few red lights on the way from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou (it was a one hour drive), and when we finally got to Zhengzhou, he had to ask for directions three times before we got to the crowded train station (and with just enough time). The fare was 180 rmb - about $25. The taxi driver couldn’t get very close to the station it was so crowded on the street, so we had to get out and walk for a bit with all our stuff.

Inside the station there was English on the signs (what a relief!), and there were lots of people in uniforms who stand around waiting to give directions to people like us who don’t know where to go.

But here we were again, needing to go down quite a few stairs with all our luggage to get to our train. There was a ramp at the side of the stairs to allow suitcases to descend more easily, but it was made of marble and a heavy suitcase can become quite unwieldy. My suitcase (actually I was handling Michael's because mine was heavier) turned over a few times while I was descending the stairs and there were so many people that I lost sight of Michael.

I had a few frantic seconds but I showed my ticket to a “helper” and she waved me down to the end of the train. I had to run to catch up with Michael who was waiting for me, and my bag turned over a couple more times, but soon we were in our seats. Unfortunately, our seat numbers put us across the aisle from one another, but an older couple with a grandchild switched seats with us so Michael and I could be together - and then they got to be together as well. How nice.

Our second trip with the bullet train.

So, we cracked open the fruit and the pitas and had a good breakfast on the train. I took lots of pictures and slept a bit - this was our second experience with the bullet train - fast and smooth. However, although we were in a non-smoking car, we were in the last one and the smoke from all the cars in front of us wafted back to our car every time the door was opened - and that was a lot.

Pictures that I took from the train - in my mind, I'm imagining their lifestyle...

If the roofing tiles leak, I guess you replace them with galvanized steel or aluminum and since you have no screws or nowhere to screw the roof to, you use bricks or anything else that will weigh down the "new" improved roof. Where there's a will, there's a way.

There's always someone when you look out the window - there's lots of space but I never saw a place in the countryside where I didn't see one or two or more people .

This could be southern Ontario - where I grew up.

We arrived in the Beijing train station around 1 pm and took a taxi to the hotel.

This was a photo I took from the taxi on the way to the hotel - I think we were passing close to Tiananmen Square. Please go to Youtube and type in Tiananmen Square and see the tragedies from June 1989.

This was the Novotel - very posh - and I saw more westerners in the first 1/2 hour in the lobby than I had seen in 2 and a half weeks!

One view

Another view

Another view

The hotel restaurant - was I still in China?

We got changed and went for a walk down a pedestrian mall. Very tourist and shopping oriented.

Someone was posing for a picture, so I took one.

We went into one jewelry store and on the third floor saw some coral for the first time (I still wanted to get some for Christel). They were having a “sale” and the prices were marked down 90%, hmm... that’s suspicious, isn't it? We were just looking though. Sometimes I couldn't help but feel like I was in a dollar store.

Then we went into a silk fabric store, they make clothes for you there if you want. They also had scarves and some ready made clothes. I tried a jacket on - XXL was too big, XL was too small. I suppose if I really wanted one I’d have to have it made - but that’s ok, I don’t need a jacket and it takes a couple of days.

We walked around the block and stopped in a tea shop on the way - they offered us samples of 3 teas, I liked the Jasmine tea the best and decided to buy some before we left Beijing.

This is a Hat Store - oh ya, you can read the English on the sign ...

I thought these two trucks were so cute! Maybe they're made for use on sidewalks ...

Amy and Steven

Then, in the lobby of the hotel, we met Amy and Steven - friends of Michael - a Chinese couple who live in Vancouver most of the year, but visit and do business for a month or two in Beijing - Steven does work in information technology and is self employed. Michael met Amy through Bonnie who teaches teachers of English (ESL) at Simon Fraser and one of her students was Amy. Amy came to the presentations in Beijing last year where Michael was making presentations and talked to the students about learning English.

The four of us (Steven, Amy, Michael and I) had dinner in a small room in a restaurant (with all smokers right behind us - that empty table in back of us is where they sat).

We saw Amy’s artwork - she’s a VERY talented draftsperson. She’s 28 years old but could pass for 18. Her English is excellent, she was great to chat with and she gave me a few shopping tips: for example if they want 600 for a scarf - offer them 100 or walk away.

By the way, the fingernails I got painted the Friday before in Zhumadian still looked great a week later! I guess the secret is not doing dishes or laundry or cooking or cleaning. Hmm...

More strange things in Beijing.

Does this look like the building has been plastic-wrapped?

Out with the old - in with the new. The story of China I guess.

Great poster!