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  • Day14

    Alright, one step further into the world of eating animal parts. It is pretty common to eat frogs here in China, and they actually tasted quite nice. But frogs are also on the menu in many other countries of the world, also including Spain, Greece and, of course, France. There are sources that say that worldwide around 3.2 billion frogs are traded each year (!) By the way: the round vegetable that you can see in the picture is actually from the root of the Lotus.Read more

  • Day12

    During the first moments always hard to read, it is great to see how very skeptical faces turn into wide smiles. This is what happens to me many times each day. On the streets, in the metro, in restaurants or in stores. It’s like this:

    I look at someone.
    She looks back at me, pokerface.
    I smile.
    She smiles even more.
    I say “hello!”
    She cracks up laughing.

    Especially children are very interested. They sometimes just stare at me, especially if I am wearing my cap or even sunglasses :)Read more

  • Day13

    In China, money doesn’t count a lot anymore. It is all about the smartphone! Everyone is just paying via QR code, which is connected to WeChat or Alipay. Tencent and Alibaba are not only social media or e-commerce platforms anymore, they are actually very strong in financial services.

    If you go out for lunch or for some drinks after work in a group, one single person will take care of the bill and the others will just digitally transfer their share to that person’s account. This is very convenient and no one actually uses cash anymore (besides the weird German who still has Cash only ...)

    And if your smartphone ever runs out of battery ... the next charging station is only one store away :) and you will pay for the electricity by ... of course: digital currency.
    Read more

  • Day1

    Ni Hao.
    Hello from Beijing.
    Mike and I arrived late Thursday after very long flight. At the last minute our Air Canada flight was rescheduled so we flew Air China. Fortunately, with some persistence from Mike we were able to sit together and, all in all, it was a very pleasant journey. No complaints about the food or service in fact I'd rate it better than Air Canada and heads and tails above some other airlines. Only 2 problems - didn't have a clue what the announcements were trying to communicate even though they were ostensibly translated and 2. When we asked for white wine they looked confused, finally found a bottle and poured us about 2 tablespoonsful in our coffee cup. Not a big seller with the Chinese mainlanders yet, but evidently that's changing like so many things.

    Jonathan was at the airport to meet us. Took about an hour to run the gauntlet of immigration, customs, baggage etc. But all smooth. We took a car to the Shangdi area of Beijing .Kind of like arriving at Pearson and driving to Niagara Fall. We were instantly reminded of how huge and busy this city is. Have already had some interesting discussions with Jon about how the government is trying to control the population of this economic hub which threatens to balloon to 50 million people.

    Our hotel is a very comfortable Holiday Inn Express near the big University district of the city. We are only 2 subway stops from Jon and Maria's apartment - virtually next door. Our only complaint at all is that the elevator doors slam shut rather quickly and if you don't jump right in you risk shoulder injuries.
    Yesterday was Friday . After attending the very extensive breakfast buffet featuring both western and chinese offerings, we met Jon and headed into the centre of the city. We met up with his buddy - a Texan named William who is here teaching English. Unlike Jon, he has made a very concerted effort to learn Mandarin and he helped navigate our day. For anyone who has not been here, unlike Europe and many other parts of the world, English is not widely spoken here, for any number of reasons. I expect the younger generations are traveling more and being exposed to far more Western cultures so that seems to be changing slowly.
    We took a stroll up to a temple that looks down over the inner city. Beijing sits in kind of a bowl beside the mountains. It has been cool but very clear so far. The views yesterday were terrific and we could see the Great Wall winding through the distant mountains. We continued with a long walk around various parts of the city centre and stopped for a lunch - everything is family style here. Good Kung Poi chicken - not sure if I'm spelling that correctly .
    We spent a few hours visiting the very grand Chinese National Museum. It is in an enormous, very imposing building that sits bordering Tianemen Square. The security was tight and we went through scanners and checks . The main exhibition is mainly about the last 100 to 150 years of Chinese history. So their modern history from the Opium Wars ( lots of information about the bad colonialism) and the throwing off of the feudal Qing dynasty, through the revolution and assumption of rule by Chang Kai Shek, who was overthrown by the Communists under Mao. Very interesting - from what small amount was translated - the explanations of the various changes along the way. Lots of emphasis on Deng Xiaoping who really moved China into a more open, modern society. We also visited the great hall with all the international gifts that have been given to China from visiting world leaders. ( looks like a bit of regifting might have been going on. Not another vase!)

    We finally saw Maria last night. She ´s struggling with some of the changing demands of her current job and we chatted with her about that. We had Yunnan style food last night. Specifically a large whole fish bubbling away on a burner that everyone dug into with their chopsticks. Forks and
    Knives are as scarce as English speakers here and My clothes are taking a real hit. Those thin, slippery mushrooms are really a challenge with chopsticks!

    Today we took the subway to Jon and M's apartment . Jon showed us around his neighbourhood. A large - 1 km long - stretch of apartments. Their place is quite large by Beijing standards. Maria's cousin Chung Chung and his friend also live there. We met up the translator who the kids hired and rode via Uber type car to Chang Ping- the neighbourhood where most of Maria's family live. We were greeted enthusiastically by a large crowd of relatives and spent a very enjoyable few hours visiting and eating a stupendous feast. Dishes on offer included roasted chicken, lamb, roasted pig, Peking Duck with all of the trimmings, a delicious fish dish called squirrel fish due to the way it is sliced and served to look like a squirrel. Also, many interesting side dishes and finally the soup made from the carcass of the duck.
    People made the usual rounds of toasts and the Uncles - who we got to meet a couple of years ago- took to the Crown Royal we brought them with much enthusiasm then started on the beer. Mike was right in there with them. We gave out gifts to everyone . They in turn offered gifts to us. Nothing small so now we're trying to figure out getting things shipped to Shanghai in time for our flight home.
    The discussion today, not surprisingly turned to Grandchildren with the not so subtle message that I was to start the pressure from our side. The translator, Alice, explained that this is pretty standard for family gatherings. First pressure on the younger ones to get married then to have that child.
    We are now back in the hotel taking a much needed break in the action. Tomorrow more family time then Monday bright and early we fly south to Xiamen.

    That's all for now. Hopefully this will actually upload. Internet is fine with lots of bandwidth but lots of things get blocked. Hard to tell.
    Hope all is well wherever you are.
    Love Heather( Mom)
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  • Day7

    Stuffed, completely stuffed. Lily gave us a map of Xi'An and armed with that we set off to find one of the recommended places to eat - De Fa Chang - navigation is interesting because unsurprisingly they dont put names in the European we followed the instructions, got to the right area but seemed to be at a sort of dumpling MacDonald - bright pictures over cash we wandered out to the next restaurant similar but not dumplings, we must have looked like dumplings because a helpful person pointed us back to the one we had just left...we went back and stared at that one through the windows and then noticed people were coming down from upstairs - so we went for a look. An enormous dumpling restaurant!

    We had a choice of 2 menus - so we picked the cheapest! Pomegranate juice was recommended by our server as a drink - nice but very sweet! and we waited. First out was a selection of largely unidentifiable vegetables and some weird chewy meat with gelatine... a slightly unnerving start but we are brave we waited.
    Round one one was a fried meat dumpling each and a sweet fried persimmon dumpling each. Next we had a "cereal" dumpling (rice in a black, licorice flavoured dough) and two other sorts from there they cam thick and fast including a plate of plain meat dumplings - about 8 each. The rest were in ones and two..but there were 6 courses. And at that point we were stuffed and we could see the watermelon for desert waiting for us. But no, out came a brass pot on a burner - there was yet another course. This final one was a lucky dip soup cooked at the table...we had to wait for it to cook and our server added small raw dumplings. Once cooked she explained that the number of dumplings you got in your bowl told your fortune 1- for happiness, 2 for double happiness, 3 for wealth, 4-6 I got promotion, dad got double happiness. Utterly stuffed.. we wobbled home via the 24hr shop (for beer - Dad didn't want 2 dry nights). I might have been tempted by wine but it was £8-23 a bottle! Four beers and a tube of pringle like snacks was £2.40!
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  • Day2

    After a nap we needed food, we thought peking duck would be a logical choice and we noted the address of the nearest recommended venue. However it must have moved or closed or we couldn't recognise we walked round and found a Beef hot pot restaurant English spoken but the menu had translations...I think that was the first bit that unnerved dad - intestine hotpot didn't seem to appeal nor black tripe and that was just what we spotted before an accommodating staff member trotted over with a translated phrase on his phone - "we have a two person special would you like that"? What we got was some vegetation - still growing in a pot, some crispy carbohydrate of some sort, two trays of raw beef, two pots of funky peanut'y sauce and a huge steaming pot containing taro, peppers, beef, and lots of coriander. We worked out a method for cooking the beef by gripping it between enormous cooking chopsticks and swirling it in the pot..tasty but chewy, we crunched some of the unknown golden fried carbohydrate and then the staff took pity on is and came to help us out. We'd been doing it all wrong...mostly slowly and inefficently rather than anything else. Except for the fried carb..which we were supposed to add to the stock until it went floppy...and took on the consistency of old leather. By this time Dad had decided he really didn't care for beef and in the end I decided I couldn't cope with anymore coriander..I had done my best to avoid but it kept sneaking through. We admitted defeat, finished our Yanping Beer and paid up... An interesting experience but not as good as last nights noodlesRead more

  • Day3

    So we hopped back in the car and settled in for the drive back to Beijing, in less than 5 minutes we had stopped at what appeared to be a greenhouse. It was our lunch venue, warm and verdant. Food was good, fried aubergine and potato in a garlic'y sauce, vegetable wraps (like duck with pancakes but veg and strips of egg) and a spicy chicken dish with a sharp sauce and unidentifiable crunchy fungus. This plus our exertions meant that both of us were struggling to stay awake for the drive back to the city. We got back and went straight to the Temple of Heaven. Large gardens much used by the local retired community for dancing and gambling and in the middle a square building. This lead to another covered walkway the balustrade of which was buried in groups of people playing noisy games of poker and Chinese chess.
    This brought us eventually to a central building and a gate which took us through to the centre of the complex including the magnificent Temple of Heaven, a Qing dynasty Daoist temple solely for the use of the Emperor. A circular building made entirely of wood (nanmu ), no nails or pegs and decorated inside and out.
    Surrounding buildings explained the rituals and the construction history/techniques. The crowds were thining and there was again Chinese music drifting from the dancing pensioners outside the complex.
    We were offered various options after but we settled for a return to the hotel to rest our tired trotters.
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  • Day5

    Arrival is deceptive, the bullet train deposited us at an anonymous new station and we met our new guide and Mr Yang the driver. It immediately felt different; in Beijing sleek modern Volkswagen driven by our expert driver who glided through the chaos of the city traffic. Mr Yang's car was a battered people carrier with the back row of seats weighed down by a vast gas canister, our bags got tucked in round it and it didnt move. Th car too had slightly fraying seat covers and a golden plastic Mao on the dash. The traffic here is less chaotic more plain batshit, but very friendly none of the temper and cursing that would result at home from the sorts of manoeuvres that are standard here. As we came off the practically deserted new highway we were in an area of apparently fairly new but already tired looking shops and apartments. Pingyao outside the walls is a boom town loads of new blocks of flats going up and according to our guide most people want to live outside the walls. Only the elderly who like to look at the tourists like living inside the walls. Pingyao county has a population of 500,000 and they seem to be heading for the city, although currently only about 40,000 live there. A sudden stop to avoid a vehicle that had moved into our lane but coming towards us...this was avoiding a funeral. Trucks and people carrying glittery decorations, a small truck with a painted coffin and an extended golf cart with some additional mourners - the coop could learn something - it certainly didnt seem very solemn. Mr Yang drove through a large set of gates (only locals can do this and even then they are restricted) and threaded the large car down tiny alleys to our hotel. Within the walls the city a mix of Ming and Qing architecture and the oldest part of the walls - the clay core, dates back 3000 years. our hotel is a hutong; a courtyarded building. It is completely lovely to look at a brick and wooden structure and our room is one of or 8 around a courtyard, there are a number of other courtyards so I suspect the place is larger than it appears. Snag one I cant connect to the internet - I have wifi but there is some sort of DHCP issue that stops it authenticating on my phone - the tablet is fine however. Having issued us with a map our guide left us to it and we set off for a wander. Snag 1 - the map only has english names for 4 streets. Those four streets are not named in the city, lots of other named streets but they are in chinese on our map. however we wandered happily past lots of tourist aimed shops as well as ordinary shops, historic buildings and tiny alleys that led into the unknown. We are the only western faces here as far as we can tell - on the streets the crowds were all chinese and we have been thoroughly stared at by the elderly locals who are (and it is such a terrible cliche) inscrutable - a smile, a wave, a nihao get no response.... However in a phenomenon I havent experienced since my last visit to Hong Kong we did get collared by three sets of students doing surveys...all spoke impeccable English, one set insisted on photographing us to prove we were real, one lot videoed the whole thing and the last ones were most ecstatic to find us but didn't insist on verification. After this we needed snacks - so Portuguese custard tart for dad and a black sesame & custard dipped slice of white bread for me (not what I expected but nice).
    We eventually navigated back to the hotel for Dad's power nap - this is when we discovered the weakness of the mapping - still we got back eventually. Dad napped and I swore at the phone trying to sort the internet issue. At last we decided we needed food - our guide had helpfully given suggestions and there was one other recommendation (People dont com to Pingyao for the food!) but sadly we couldn't find one of them, one was empty - so despite the recommendation it was rejected and the last we didnt fancy - chicken with mushy shrimp, or a selection of duck tongues were the high points so we decided we would scoot back to our hotel - apparently most people eat at their hotels here. So we got lost again, but by now it was dark, and we were hungry /hangry - no lunch we were on the train and we could see that places were closing down for the night.......very stressy. when we finally stumbled in the staff were not thrilled to see us but they sorted some food and a much needed beer for us. Fortified we went back out for another wander around and managed not to get lost. At 10:30 we returned to our overheated hotel room - no aircon lots of heating- again - I have been too hot to sleep now for three which point the bathroom plumbing started to play up - it is ok now but we might need a man with plunger in the morning - too exhausted to worry about it now though.
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  • Day8

    So on an impulse and after reading the Lonely Planet Guide we decided to trek out to the Tomb of Jingdi. Lonely Planet's 2nd must see after the warriors. Buses were hourly from the Xian public library so we had to go and find the metro to get there and then find the No.4 bus. The metro was perfectly straight forward and cost 3RMB each (about 30p) for a 10 minute journey. We followed the LP information and found the bus stop quite easily. For the sum of 2 RMB each we rode out towards the airport for about 3/4hr. Fortunately Jingdi's tomb was the last stop so we were ok. As ever just traveling about was fun and an opportunity to observe life. Traffic was as expected and the bus driver drove like Mr Li, The rate of development is furious - Lily had told us about the power station built far outside the town that was now in the suburbs but the bus took us past enormous tower block construction sites - 5 - 10 at a time with all the roads and drainage etc going in. There is no shortage of capital investment here.

    Jingdi is the opposite of the Terracotta warrior King Quin Shi Huang, he believed in non -interference. His tomb id filled with small figurines (about 50,000!) that depict everyday life in the 2nd c BCE- there are pigs, people etc etc. It is an active dig and so you have to put shoe covers on and it is all dim and climate controlled. The pits are impressive and best of all in some areas you can walk directly over them on a glass floor so you can see the contents in detail. These are thousands of small statuettes of workers animals officials - everyone the Emperor would need. The statuettes originally had jointed wooden arms and silk outfits.

    After the dig we walked to the south gate past children having pony rides on the grass outside it. The south gate is a modern construction to cover the tombs of the emperor and his wife. We had a wander, admired some photographs, exchanged greetings in English with a family who obviously wanted to get a bit of practice in and decided to call it quits. We could have spent longer there but we wanted to be sure to squeeze in a bike ride so we headed back for the bus. There were a few people waiting but not a bus full so we didn't worry too much - but the buses only ran every 50 mins or so. Eventually the bus turned up and the very grumpy driver would not come into the bay until everyone was behind the tape that denoted the waiting there was some shoving whilst everyone re-positioned themselves. he then brought the bus forward at which point it turned into a complete scrum, Dad and I were virtuously behind the tape and so handicapped when attempting to get to the door area. I have never been in such a crush and the driver was shouting and the people were shouting and gesticulating whilst pressing en-mass towards the steps...but mostly few people were moving - there was obviously a tunnel somewhere that loaded people on the bus because the bus filled without the crowd subsiding. And then he announced he was full and threw some people off his bus! We hadn't moved but we'd been intimately introduced to all the other passengers... So the bus disappeared off down the road leaving us and a reduced crowd at the bus stop. Two blokes then came along obviously running some sort of car scam to take people back to Xi'an, we couldnt understand what was happenning so we just stayed put but after nuch discussion two people wandered off with them looking very dubious...much arm waving and discusson...we settled in for a long wait - obviously we didn't dare leave our spot or we'd have no chance again next time. And lo less than 5 minutes later another bus turned up ..and we all boarded in an orderly fashion and trundled back to Xian. Where we spent a happy 30 mins in the queue for the metro ticket office because we didn't have the right change for the automatic machines and we were through security before we discovered this. Eventually we got tickets and made it back to the stop by the Bell Tower, as we headed to the Muslim quarter for lunch we got stopped by another bunch of surveying students....Questions this time included did you have culture shock on arriving in Xi'An? They were much less fluent than their Pingyao counterparts but charmingly pleased to find us- we were photographed as proof of existence...

    Anyway after that we hit Muslim Street (that's what it is called) and (for balance we passed one on the way to the warriors called Christianity...but nobody else gets a look in). I was rather hoping dad might fancy battered squid on a stick - they looked almost sculptural but he wussed and opted for deep fried banana and freshly pulped pomegranate juice. I had spiced meat of unknown origin (but I think mutton) on a stick of unknown origin (it still had its bark on but my tree knowledge is limited). I hope the stick was fresh but we did see people gathering them up out of the bins.... We then hoofed back to the hotel to drop our coats and rucksacks before making our way to the South Gate of the city walls - it was the bit we'd been to with Lily but it was close to our hotel and the light levels were dropping, it stays open till 8 but given minimal street lighting I didn't think a ride round a 12m high dimly lit wall would be smart.

    It took about 10 mins to walk to South gate and then climb the steps up - yet more steps, it does rather feel by now as if we have been on a week's step aerobics holiday. at the top Dad and I argued about wearing a cycle helmet. I was in favour - Dad refused. I had to remind him repeatedly about the insurance consequences if he had an accident and hadn't worn the helmet. He still didn't care...but eventually I wore him down...Helmet was worn; I am sure they were decorative rather than functional but the principle was important...otherwise I'll never be able to take him abseiling.

    The ride was fun, we didnt go very far - about 75 mins riding, stopping at various points. The bikes were single speed mountain bike style but they don't bother to adjust the seat height and it wasn't a quick release - so I rode with my knees almost coming under my chin. Easy riding though - very flat if a little uneven in places, we probably did about a third of a circuit - about 5km.

    Back to the hotel for a little recuperation before a little shopping and dinner. I bought a tiny warrior for the princely sum of 50p and a couple of other bits. It is mayhem down in the alleys of the Muslim quarter - I think it will make Temple St night market in HK look like an oasis of calm. Dad hasn't been wild about the food here so we went back to the only restaurant that we had found that served shrimps. Dad had shrimp dumplings I had Muslim meat pie. Which was minced mutton and onion spiced and served between two crisp pancakes.
    A last walk through the alleys and back to the hotel to pack, we leave at 7:30 tomorrow morning for our flight to Hong Kong.
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  • Day2

    After Tiananmen square we walked through a subway adorned with carvings (and supervisory soldiers) to the south entrance of the Forbidden City. Enormous thick walls and and multiple layers make it seem like an optical illusion... The further you walk the further away it seems to be... Once in we joined the mass of Chinese tourists and pushed and shoved to peer into buildings. Lots of grim reminders of colonial Britain... Huge brass water pots scarred by British soldiers who thought they were gold and wanted a piece! The main thoroughfare was packed all the way through but eventually we destroyed to the Ladies quarters and the tourists largely evaporated. Our guide told us tales of ancient times and Chinese jokes and took endless photos of Dad and I.Read more

You might also know this place by the following names:

People’s Republic of China, People's Republic of China, China, Volksrepubliek van Sjina, Kyaena, ቻይና, Cīna, الصين, চীন, República Popular China, Çin, Кітай, Китайска народна република, Siniwajamana, རྒྱ་ནག, Sina, Kina, Xina, Republikang Popular sa Tsina, ᏓᎶᏂᎨᏍᏛ, Čína, Китай Халăх Республики, Gweriniaeth Pobl Tsieina, Folkerepublikken Kina, རྒྱ་མི, Tsaina nutome, Κίνα, Ĉinujo, Hiina, Txina, چین, Siin, Kiinan kansantasavalta, Chine, An tSín, ચીન, Caina, Sin, סין, चीन, Kína, Չինաստան, Republica Popular de China, Republik Rakyat Tiongkok, Chaina, ꍏꇩ, Tsina, Populala Republiko di Chinia, Cina, 中国, jugygue, ჩინეთი, Қытай Халық Республикасы, ចិន, ಚೀನಾ, 중국, Res publica popularis Sinarum, Volleksrepublik China, Cayina, Sinɛ, ຈີນ, Kinija, Shine, Ķīna, Haina, Кина, ചൈന, Хятад улс, Ċina, တရုတ်, Volksrepubliek China, Chinne, Kitai, ଚିନ୍, Китай, Maldang Republika ning Tsina, Chiny, Chunwa, Ubushinwa, Kiinná, Shîna, චීනය, Čínska ľudová republika, Kitajska, Shiinaha, Kinë, சீனா, చైనా, จีน, Hytaý Halk Respublikasy, Siaina, Ol Manmeri Ripablik bilong Saina, Çin Halk Cumhuriyeti, جۇڭخۇا خەلق جۇمھۇرىيىتى, Хитой, Trung Hoa, 中华人民共和国, כינע, Orílẹ́ède ṣáínà, Cunghvaz Yinzminz Gunghozgoz, i-China

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