We have toured the Chinese coast before but now we go inland—all the way into Tibet.
  • Oct4

    Arrival in Shanghai

    October 4, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    When we arrived at the Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai about 4:45 pm, Viking assigned us an opulent room. We saw a documentary recently showing old film footage of the Chinese Revolution of 1911 in which this hotel was depicted as the place where the Western diplomats and businessmen stayed and strayed. The hotel is still here, and we’re in it. It is on the Bund, the string of European hotels, embassies and finance houses that reduced China to slavery in the late 19th century. The decor is 1920’s Art-Deco excess—over the top elegance. I expect F. Scott Fitzgerald to walk around the corner at any moment. Arriving in Shanghai this afternoon, we encountered a parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution of 1949. Hundreds of people joined soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army in the streets. When we went out to photograph it, a policeman told us we must move with the crowd, so even though I had told Glenda I would meet her at our hotel, we were not allowed to stay in place. Kathy, Gil and I joined the river of humanity parading through the streets of Shanghai. We thought we would just go around the block and return to our hotel. No such luck. At the next intersection, the one after that, and the one after that there was a cadre of young cadets all blowing whistles and telling us we could not make a left turn. When we were finally able to turn left, we were six blocks away from our hotel, so our whole walk took us about fourteen blocks. It was amazing! We got to see a million new friends on our first night in this beautiful city. What a wonderful way to get our first walking tour of old Shanghai.Read more

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  • Oct5

    Master of the Nets

    October 5, 2019 in China ⋅ ☁️ 20 °C

    Su Zhou was the capital of one of the seven ancient kingdoms of China. Ancient travelers said, “There is paradise, and beyond that there is Su Zhou.” Even though its kingdom was later incorporated into larger China, this small city of 10 million people became a paradise on earth for “The Humble Administrator,” “The Master of the Nets,” and other noblemen who built their palaces and gardens here. Glorious flowers, peaceful lakes, and remarkable monoliths grace these estates. Huge, abstract stone ornaments in gardens became fashionable simply because the stones were taken from the bottom of a lake considered the most beautiful in China. Their extraction before the days of mechanization was arduous, dangerous and expensive. Merely having one of these huge rocks in one’s garden testified to the wealth and status of the owner. The status of the city was further enhanced by the construction of the Grand Canal that extended from Shanghai all the way to Beijing. We took a boat ride along a portion of the canal and marveled at the many homes and temples from the sixteenth century that still overlook the waters. Following our boat ride on the canal, we enjoyed an elegant meal that featured not only familiar Chinese favorites, such as Kong Pao Chicken, and Sweet and Sour Pork, but also a new experience for me, silver needle fish. We finished the day visiting a silk factory. I got to touch young silk worms as they ate their dinner of mulberry leaves. We saw workers extract a 1.5 mile-long thread of silk from one cocoon. On display were colorful quilts, elegant silk prints, and beautiful silk clothing. A two-hour bus ride returned us to Shanghai in time for the laser sound and light show, bouncing intense colors from the gaudy facades of some of Asia’s tallest architectural wonders. The patriotic sounds of China’s military bands led a million marchers through the streets and along the Bund as Shanghai continues to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.Read more

  • Oct6

    Ambrosian Breakfast

    October 6, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    The Fairmont Peace Hotel on the Bund in Shanghai is the most sumptuous and artistically beautiful hotel I have ever stayed in. This morning’s breakfast offered every type of cuisine, Eastern and Western. I have never had better food anywhere. We started off with traditional omelettes, but then I added some Chinese dumplings, pork inside a steamed bread roll. Everything was at least as good as the best food I ever tasted. Some of it was better. We have enjoyed egg custard tarts everywhere from North Carolina to Europe. Until today the best I had ever tasted were in Portugal, but today’s tarts here in Shanghai topped them. Today we will enjoy another trip to a garden in Suzhou, a seventeenth-century wonder, and will learn about the production of silk.Read more

  • Oct6

    A Loud Pop, A Woman Down

    October 6, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    I heard a loud pop as the woman behind me hit the concrete. Everyone in the line to enter the Shanghai Museum fled from the noise, and I stood with Shane Lawrence next to Mary Larsen, sprawled out on the walkway. I had met her only the day before. She had tripped over a plastic hump covering electrical cords, and lay motionless on the concrete. Her right wrist showed an ugly bulge, and her hip hurt so that she could hardly walk. A guard rushed over to open that barrier that held us in the queue. Shane and I slowly pulled Mary to her feet as the guard shouted Chinese orders and motioned for Mary and me to go into the building—not Shane, just me. I don’t know why. Security officials ushered us into a cloakroom, where they asked Mary if she wanted a glass of water. In broken Chinese I suggested that they bring ice for her wrist, swelling and turning purple. Bringing a cold pack, they asked if she wanted an ambulance to take her to the hospital. After some discussion, they allowed Mary to go to the nearest hospital in a cab. The guards allowed Shane’s wife Mandy, a nurse, to join us. The taxi took us to a hospital, maybe ten minutes away, where we sought the entrance to the emergency room.

    Mary struggled to walk in the parking lot as I saw a woman whom I asked in Chinese, “Do you work here?” She said she did. I asked, “Can you help us take this woman to the emergency room?”

    Immediately she was a blur of action as she produced a wheelchair and rolled Mary up a nearby ramp and through a door draped with a heavy brown canvas curtain. She pushed Mary’s wheelchair through the split in the middle of the curtain into a semi-lit room. A baby with a bandage on its head cried with pain. An old lady covered in bloody bandages lay unconscious, surrounded by family members in the middle of the room. A wall of patients with a wide range of injuries and illnesses looked down at the floor as they sat in silence on gray metal folding chairs extending in a line down a hallway. In the corner of the room our helper began a Chinese shouting match at the nurses’ station, adding to the cacophony of wailing infants. A well dressed Chinese woman came to me and asked in broken English what was happening. I told her that Mrs. Larsen had fallen and broken her wrist. She joined the shouting match and after a few minutes told me that this hospital was only for ordinary citizens of Shanghai. Party officials, VIP’s and foreign tourists were treated in another, better hospital nearby. This hospital could not admit Mary. After more shouting with the hospital staff, she told me that a nurse was calling the other hospital to arrange for Mary to be transferred there. She spoke in broken English, I in broken Chinese, as I learned that she now lives in Ohio, but that she was in Shanghai tending to her mother, who was currently admitted as a patient. Finishing her phone call, the head nurse informed us that because the National Day celebration was underway, many of the the VIP hospital’s staff were on vacation, and no doctors were working at the VIP hospital that day. Then she said that if Mary thought her wrist was broken, she could stay, and they would treat it when her turn came. Because Mary was a foreign tourist, though, they would try to advance her in their schedule. Mandy and I held a quick discussion with Mary, and she decided that she would prefer to receive treatment elsewhere. We decided to take a cab back to our hotel to assess our options.

    Back at the hotel about lunchtime, I explained our situation to the concierge. She snapped into action as we took Mary to use the restroom in the hotel’s restaurant. The concierge said she was working things out and suggested that we return to our rooms for a few minutes. She would call us soon with more information. Mary’s arm and hip made her grimace as she asked to be allowed to wait in place, there in the restaurant. I returned to my room and ate a quick bag of peanuts washed down with a bottle of water.

    Our concierge advised us that she had made an appointment for Mary at a better hospital at 2 pm. She also introduced us to Jenny, our translator. At 1:20 pm we took a taxi to an emergency medical clinic near the old Russian embassy. The staff took Mary back for x-rays, with nurse Mandy accompanying her. I learned that Jenny was a Russian from Yekaterinburg studying hotel management in Shanghai. Her Chinese was superb. Her English was reasonably good. X-rays showed that Mary’s wrist was shattered, her hip was badly bruised but not broken. We would need to go to a hospital with an orthopedic surgeon for the wrist.

    Another cab ride took us to United Family Healthcare, a hospital with an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Xu. After more X-rays and CT scans, the doctor advised Mary that surgery was necessary, the sooner the better. Mandy expressed both to the doctor and to us her serious reservations about Mary’s decision to allow a foreign surgeon in a Chinese hospital repair her wrist. Calmly Dr. Xu explained the risks involved in waiting to have the procedure done after returning Mary to the United States. Mandy asked me to step outside of the room and told me that she was having a panic attack.

    I said, “Panic attacks are not authorized tonight. You can have one, but not now. You’ll have to wait and have it later once we have Mary safe.”

    Finally, Mary had her mind made up: she would have the surgery in China. Again Mandy attempted to persuade Mary to delay surgery until she returned home to Arizona. Dr. Xu told Mary that he would prefer for her to stay overnight so that he could take her to surgery early the next morning, but because she had some things to pack, Mary asked to return to the hotel that night. She would return to the hospital for surgery the next morning.

    By that time Ray, our Viking tour guide, had arrived in Shanghai. Because my cell phone was not completing phone calls since arriving in China, I asked a nursing station attendant to call him for me. I reported the situation to him. He suggested that I tell the taxi driver to drop us at our hotel’s rear entrance on Dian Shi Road to avoid the National Day Parade. When we approached the area of the hotel, however, the police would not allow the driver to turn onto Dian Shi Road. I asked the driver to let us out at the intersection of Bei Jing and Si Chuan Roads. With the battery supply in my cell phone nearing zero I shot one final text message to Glenda asking her to have Ray meet us there with a wheelchair. He did so within ten minutes, and we returned to the Fairmont Peace Hotel at around 10:30 pm.
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  • Oct7

    Old Shanghai

    October 7, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Our tour of Shanghai resumed today after yesterday’s unfortunate accident. We began by visiting Old Shanghai. This area retained many of the old buildings in the city and for many years was nearly in ruins. A few years ago the city government cleaned up the neighborhood and rebuilt some of the old public buildings. The result is a magnificent “new” old city. A lovely marketplace attracts both tourists and locals to a place where they can dine, snack, wander, meet friends or just hang out.

    The Buddhist Temple of the Jade Buddha is one of the most important in China. It claims several of the largest and most important statues of the Buddha in the world. Before 1949 approximately 90 percent of the Chinese population were Buddhist. Now the number of Chinese who claim any religion is far less. Less than one percent are Christians.

    We enjoyed a delicious Chinese meal at a local restaurant before driving over to the museum.

    Though I missed our own private visit to the Shanghai Museum yesterday because of Mary’s accident, we visited the museum today with our tour group. Normally it is closed on Monday, but because this is the week of National Day, the exhibits were open today. Glenda showed me the collection of bronzes, some dating from 2000 years before Christ. I never knew Chinese history went back so far. These lovely bronze wine vessels were made in the time of the Sumerians and Akkadians. Somehow that ancient period in China escaped the notice of the history books I read as a child. I was especially interested in a collection of ancient drums from about 1800 BC, and a set of bronze bells, whose recorded sounds were enchanting. Later I made my usual pilgrimage to see the calligraphy exhibit and the one for ancient Chinese art.

    We enjoyed strolling along the Bund and seeing it lit up in the evening from the observation deck on top of our hotel. An elegant supper allowed us to meet two new friends, Felicia and her husband T, who is the illustrator for the comic strip “Over the Hedge.” His work was made into a movie featuring Tom Cruise a few years ago. After dinner we went to a theater, where we were amazed by the performance by a Chinese acrobatic troupe. By the time we returned to our hotel we were ready for bed.
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  • Oct8

    China's Ancient Treasures

    October 8, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Upon arriving at the Wu Han Provincial Museum, the first thing one notices is the building itself. Although it is a modern structure, it is built according to the style of the Han dynasty (1-400 AD). It is a lovely, symmetrical building housing the most valuable historic treasures of the People’s Republic of China. The most amazing part of the collection consists of artifacts from the burial site of Marquis Yi, who lived in the fifth century BC. Some notable exhibits showed a wine cooler chilled by ice, as well as the world’s first insulated ice box. One noteworthy exhibit showed glass beads and trinkets from the Middle East. From these scholars have concluded that there was a much more robust communication between China and the West during ancient times than previously believed. The most amazing exhibit displays a huge set of musical bronze bells. For hundreds of years the West has come to believe that all oriental music is based on the pentatonic scale. The bells of Marquis Yi, however, contain a twelve-tone scale complete with sharps and flats. Each bell produces two different tones, depending upon where the musician strikes it. This bell set is played by eight musicians. The players of the Marquis were buried with him when he died. Their eight skeletons, along with the chance discovery of an illustration showing the bells being played, revealed the manner in which this instrument was used. The original bells are rarely played. Their last performance occurred at the opening of the Bei Jing Olympics in 2008. An exact copy of these bell is played in concert every afternoon. We heard a performance of pieces ranging from ancient music through Beethoven’s Ode to Joy this afternoon in the museum ‘s modern and beautiful concert hall.Read more

  • Oct9

    Viking Emerald

    October 9, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    We have arrived on board the Viking Emerald, our home for the next six days. Perhaps I should mention first that the surgery on Mary Larsen’s hand was successful, and that she will return to Arizona in a few days. Last night we became accustomed to the ship, though many of us were falling asleep during the lecture. A good night’s sleep restored us, and now we are cruising down the mighty Yangtze River. This ship is a bit older than others on which we have sailed. It is not one of the iconic Viking longships, but rather one owned by a Chinese company. Government regulations prevent vessels owned by a foreign company from sailing in its interior waters, so Viking contracts with a company here to lease the Viking Emerald. Despite its age, though, this is still a lovely vessel. Filled with antique wood and glass, she is well kept and very clean. In many ways she reminds me of the hotel we left I in Shanghai, older, elegant, matronly and classic. Not a bad way to enjoy China’s most ancient waterway.Read more

  • Oct10

    Falling in Love Again

    October 10, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    In Jingzhou we visited an elementary school, one of two schools in China adopted by Viking Cruises, which provides generous financial support. The children were charming! They began by presenting a little program that depicted their daily activities and finished by singing in English, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.” We visited in their classrooms, and I wrote in some of the children’s autograph books in English followed by a Chinese translation. In China students begin studying English in third grade, so none of our second graders had received any formal language instruction. Nevertheless, several of them said “hello” and followed up with, “It is good to meet you.” I returned the greeting in Chinese and told them that we were traveling on a big boat on the Yangtze River. The little girl who invited Glenda to her desk gave her a stylized drawing she had made for her. It is a pencil drawing of an abstraction resembling a stained glass window showing trees, lakes and meadows. Its quality is remarkable for a second grader. On the left hand side are characters reading, “I cannot dream of going to the place you have come from.” Following the characters was a sad face with a tear under each eye, then another sad face with two tears under each eye, and finally a sad face with three tears under each eye. Our meeting these second graders was a high point of our trip. They were so precious that everyone on our tour fell in love with these wonderful children.Read more

  • Oct10

    Jingzhou City Wall

    October 10, 2019 in China ⋅ ☁️ 21 °C

    Three friends who lived about the time of Jesus became so close that they claimed each other as brothers. Fortune shined upon them, and they became very successful. Eventually one declared himself to be the governor of this area. He built an earthen wall for defense. Around 1600 AD the emperor covered it with brick and stone. Now it is the focal point of a lovely park. The city converted it into a shimmering lake where residents come to revel in its beauty.Read more

  • Oct11

    Ambience

    October 11, 2019 in China ⋅ ☁️ 20 °C

    You might say that we have half a day off today. There are no excursions planned for this morning, and we will stay onboard the ship until we reach the Three Gorges this afternoon. On this fallow day I am aware of some intangibles, the general atmosphere you encounter when cruising down the Yangtze River. One of those intangibles is the humidity. We have found temperatures between 60 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit, but whatever the temperature, the humidity has been very high. There is a constant mugginess to the air, morning, noon or night. The air is never completely clear. There may be exceptional days when low humidity and bright sunshine bring a diamond clear day, but so far on our trip we have not seen one. Humidity and pollution combine to give the air a constant fogginess.

    Up to this point we have been on the lower Yangtze, where the land is flat and the river is busy with industrial ships, most carrying coal to China’s many coal-fired electricity producers. Over 70% of China’s electricity is still produced by coal. The use of this fossil fuel is one of the reasons for the high level of air pollution here. It seems that in China every building, bridge, sign, tower, and temple gleams with exterior lighting at night (and sometimes even throughout the day). Eastern China does not have dark skies, so it would not be a good place for astronomy. Today we are leaving the coastal plain and entering the foothills. Already I see fewer ships on the river. This is not to say our boat has no company on the waters, but merely that the river is not crowded as it has been since we left Wuhan. Beautiful mountains are beginning to show in the pre-dawn darkness. The mountains here are not the gently rising, rounded hills of the Appalachians, though. They are sharply pointed bumps on the terrain, steep, abrupt vertical spikes. The tops of distant ridges do not appear as undulating hills, but rather as jagged, black edges ripped from the sky by the hand of a giant. Becoming even more extreme as one heads west, the spiky quality increases until one reaches the mountains of Guilin, pure vertical spires pointing toward heaven. John Denver, in his song “Country Roads” speaks of the rounded hills of the Appalachians as a “Mountain Mama.” If that is so, then the abrupt spikes of the Tian Ji mountains definitely have a certain male-ness about them.

    We are going through the Xiling lock, so I’ll step outside to take some photos and check back later.
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