Category Archives: China

The Dragon Lady and her Summer Palace

Today is our last day so after breakfast we were taken to visit the Chinese Herbal Institute where we all received wonderful foot massages by the interns and trainees. We were told about traditional Chinese acupuncture, cupping and herbal remedies. Some fully qualified Chinese traditional doctors came around to take our pulse and discuss our various ailments. We were offered some creams and herbs to purchase to alleviate our issues.

At this point we were split into two groups – those who had opted to visit the Temple of Heaven and have a rickshaw ride and dinner and the rest of us who were taken to view the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was originally built in one of the dynasties near the hot springs outside of Beijing. The emperor would take his boat up the Grand Canal from his kingdom home in the south to the Summer Palace in the north where he would partake of the healing and soothing hot springs. Over the years the palace fell into disrepair until the late eighteen hundreds. The Dragon Lady who was the aunt of the young child emperor at that time and who ostensibly ruled the kingdom decided to restore it. The money that had been assigned to the Navy was confiscated and used to bring the place back to its former glory and enhance it for her particular needs. Very few were allowed into the huge area consisting of beautiful walkways, flower gardens and buildings alongside a man-made lake. She demanded large quantities of food with over 20 courses of which she ate very little. Eunuchs had to test the food before she would eat in case it was poisoned. It seems she realized she was not well liked. (When Angel had been describing the empress yesterday I thought she was talking about some woman named Ann Price. It took me a while before I caught on.)




Just after noon we were out of the Summer Palace and into a van headed back to the hotel. Our sight-seeing of China is basically over. I have really enjoyed this trip though I have to admit I came here with some trepidation. But the country is gorgeous, the food is really good and the people we have encountered have been lovely. What I have seen is a bustling economy, huge cities with rows upon rows of high-rises, lovely parklands, great roads and a solid transportation network. The countryside I glimpsed from the train appeared quite lush with beautiful rolling hills.

And the people on our tour have been really great. We meshed well as a group – looking out for each other as well as sharing many laughs.

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The Great Wall

Up early to eat breakfast and catch our bus first to the Jade factory where we were taught a bit about the history of Jade and its importance to China and then introduced to the art of Jade sculpture. Ultimately we ended up in the large Jade showroom where they attempted to trade us some jade for a large portion of our money. I admired the beautiful sculptures and jewelry but wasn’t tempted to buy.

Next stop was further northwest into the hills where we were confronted with the majestic sight of the Great Wall. It is truly magnificent. I never thought I would ever get the chance to climb even a portion of it but ten of our group were able to climb the steep steps up to the 12th Fortress. The Wall is around 8850 km long with square stations (or fortresses) every so often.  I believe we passed four or five along the climb.  The Wall was built in sections across northern China under various dynasties as fortifications against marauding tribes and later as border control points. Much of the Wall has deteriorated to the point it can only be detected by using special archeological technologies. The Wall is an extraordinary feat of work and I can’t imagine the number of workers who died during the building.  This was the highlight of the trip for me (though I loved the Terra Cotta Warriors too).

The 12th Fortress is blocked off so you cannot pass further along the Wall in that direction though there was a branch off to the right just below the 12th. I believe you could follow it for some distance in that direction though people were not going there. We were only given a couple of hours and the weather was off and on raining so after reaching the 12th we posed for some pictures and headed back down.

Lunch was on the way back to Beijing at a Cloisonné Factory where we learned the art of painting on copper. This is an ancient art that was adopted by the French (where it was given the name Cloisonné). Some of the work is absolutely beautiful and some looks pretty tacky. Again we were given a chance to separate ourselves from our money.

By the time we got back to the hotel we were pretty tired but there was an operatic-style (without the singing) musical show called The Golden Mask Dynasty. It was an optional program but Dave and Dawne and I decided to go since it was highly touted and we had resisted all the other shows. It was well worth the admittance price. We had great seats in the front row of a balcony. The costumes were spectacular and the dancers were amazing. How they could contort their bodies! But the flood scene was incredible. The engineering that went into producing a waterfalls onstage was something else – reminiscent of the opening spectacular for the Beijing Olympics.

A very late supper at the hotel and then we hit our beds. Janet has developed a cold over the past couple of days so is quieter than usual. People have been giving her lozenges and advice. She is normally very fit and healthy so I hope this passes quickly so she can enjoy her last few days in China.

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Beijing beckons

We dragged ourselves down to the hotel lobby to head for the airport at an ungodly hour. Our flight was at 8 am. I ended up seated beside Rosalind and Tomas (the youngest of our group at 8 yrs. He is here with his grandfather Ed – retired anthropology prof). He is a great kid and fits in with us all. He has 27 grandparents to spoil him.

It was only a two hour flight and was really quite comfortable. In no time we were loaded onto our Beijing bus and headed into town for lunch.

From here we were taken to the famous Tiananmen Square where we saw the monument to Mao Tse Tung that holds his body. It is a huge open air square that can hold half a million people.

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At the north side of the square is the Forbidden City – home of the last emperor of China. We made our way across the square towards the ornate entrance to the Forbidden City. To get tickets to go into the Forbidden City you need to provide your passport and the ticket is produced with your passport number on it. Tony had collected our passports ahead of time but somehow there was a mixup between some of the tickets and the passport numbers so we stood outside the entrance for at least an hour before Tony was finally able to straighten things out. He was a bit frazzled over the whole business.

The City was an interesting set of buildings for the emperor and his many concubines. I’m afraid I didn’t catch much of what our local guide Angel said. She has an annoying habit of saying ‘Ahh’ after every few words and her English pronunciation is not very clear. I will do some research on the Forbidden City when I get home.

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It was late before we were loaded onto our bus to head to our hotel – the Wyndham – in the northwest section of the city. We passed the Birds Nest stadium on the way but it was not yet lit up for the night. Even still it is an awesome sight.

The hotel is fine – not as great as some of the others but still lovely.

We finished Alan’s scotch for him then Dave, Dawne, Janet, Alan, Rosalind and I headed for the bar/dining room to get a drink and a bit of supper. They were slow to serve (I think they prefer people to eat buffet-style) but we had good conversation and drinks to keep us going.

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Dynasty Day – Ming to Qing

After another buffet breakfast we were loaded onto our bus to head for the ancient town wall. During the Ming Dynasty which was 600 years ago a huge wall was built around the town of Xian. It was rectangular in shape and thick enough that you could put in a two-lane highway with full shoulders along the top of the wall. It certainly rivals any European city walls that I have seen. The old city with its older architecture is inside the walls and luckily the architecture has been mostly preserved. There is even a moat around the entire wall. Definitely a well-fortified city.

Xian was the end (or the start?) of the Silk Road which hit its height during the Tang Dynasty – 1400 years ago (though it actually began during the Han dynasty from 207 BCE to 220 CE). That era is known for its cross cultural influences and cosmopolitan lifestyle – due to the thriving trade brought on by the Silk Road.

We traveled to a government run (or maybe just endorsed) factory for terracotta warrior reproductions. We were shown how they create a mold and use the local clay to create the various warriors. We were also given a lesson on how to distinguish between the various types of warriors – archers, infantry, captains and generals. And then we were let loose to spend our money on the reproductions or some silk or some lacquer furniture or whatever else took our fancy before serving us lunch.


This area is known for its noodles and dumplings so at lunch I made sure to get a bowl of their noodle soup. It was fantastic!

From here the bus took us to the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors. I was blown away! They are absolutely amazing. Rows and rows of these life-size clay soldiers. And to think they were only discovered by a farmer digging a trench in 1974. There are more than 8000 of them. There is on-going excavation and restoration. So far they have only restored 1000 or so. It is a very long and technical task.



The warriors were created to protect the first emperor of China after he died and were buried with him during the third century BCE.  The terracotta figures include more than 500 horses as well as more than 100 chariots. The detail and accurate proportions of the figures is amazing – especially considering the craftsmanship  that was required to create such works of art over 2000 years ago.

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Panda Pandemonium

We had an early start today – too bad we couldn’t stay in this beautiful hotel a bit longer. The breakfast was incredible. It was the usual buffet style but it had many different stations – both Chinese and western.

Our guide, Fen, gathered us up and onto our bus early to try and miss the worst of the morning rush. We got to the Panda Research Base within twenty minutes. It’s a huge parkland filled with beautiful bamboo trees arching over the walkways, ponds (I even saw a swan) and beautiful flowering plants (I couldn’t tell what they were but I did see bougainvillea). We followed Fen along the winding trails until we started seeing sleeping pandas in the trees. They are really hilarious as they lounge in the branches. I’m not sure whether this is typical behaviour of pandas in the wild or it is simply because these pandas are so well cared for that they don’t have to worry about foraging. One fellow was splayed out over a log munching on a bamboo stick – at peace with the world.




The baby pandas (under a couple of years) are kept with their mothers in a separate area where we are allowed to go indoors to view them through glass windows. Dawne and I found ourselves at the back of our group and before you knew it we were totally separated from them. It seems that the nursery area for the baby pandas was a huge attraction and people were bunching up there. That caused a backup all the way past where Dawne and I were trying to make our way forward. We got caught in a huge crush of humanity from which we could not escape. It was actually quite scary. We were to have met our group outside the baby exhibit but we could not move. It must have taken at least twenty minutes before we spied an opening in the crowd and were able to make a break for it. Yikes – not fun.

From here we caught up with the group and headed to the red panda area. I only spied one. They are not really pandas – more like large red raccoons.


Next was shopping at the official panda shop then off to a local lunch. I didn’t end up buying anything in the panda shop though a few people did. Lunch was another delicious “lazy Susan” style meal with beer, tea and Sprite chasers.

We bused it to the train station and loaded onto another bullet train heading for Xian. The bullet train reached speeds of 245 km/hr – not too shabby. I was with Rosalind and Melanie and we got into a couple of games of Golf (otherwise known as Kings). Rosalind was the big time winner. The train was very comfortable and our trip went quickly event though it was about three hours.

So now we are in the Titan Hotel. It is a bit older and nowhere near as magnificent as last night’s Kempinski but our room is clean – with a seating area as well as a sleeping area. The bathroom is nice but dated.

We joined up with Alan, Rosalind and Dave and Dawne for a scotch in Alan’s room and then a late supper in the hotel’s dining room. I had a club sandwich that was quite good. I was ready for something less Chinese just for a change.

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Ships, buses and trains

The ship docked at Chongqing which is the biggest city in China with over 33 million people. That’s almost the total population of Canada all in one city. Incredible!

I really enjoyed those four days on the boat but I think it was good that we upgraded to VIP. It was well worth it at $25 a day for the dining area, the fruit trays delivered to the rooms each day and the free beer and wine.

We had to pack two days worth in our carry-on and send our big bags off in a van that we will catch up with on Monday night. A bus took us to the train station where we caught the bullet train to Chengdu. The train took us through beautiful countryside of rolling hills, lots of greenery and small garden plots in every nook and cranny. These bullet trains can reach up to 350 km/h.

We ended up in Chengdu which is a city known for its Giant Panda Breeding research base. We will visit the pandas tomorrow but today our guide Fen took us to Jin Li which was teaming with humanity – maybe because it was Sunday. Jin Li is an area of artisans, souvenier shops and every kind of restaurant and food vendor you could possibly imagine. It was a great place for colourful pictures but I found the number of people overwhelming and was glad when we were herded onto our bus to head for our next stop.






We had had very little to eat all day unless people had thought to bring something on the train so we were ready for supper. This time it was something called Hot Pot. Each table has a sunken heating element that holds a pot in a pot. The inner pot contains boiling oil that is highly spiced. The outer pot has boiling broth. Meat is cooked in the pots – depending on your preference. It’s almost like a fondue in that you cook your own meats and vegetables. You mix up a bowl of cut up shallots, cilantro, peanuts, garlic, chili sauce, sesame sauce and rapeseed oil then dip your cooked meat and vegetables into your sauce before eating. I really enjoyed it although some didn’t seem to like it as much – feeling it was too oily. It was pretty messy.

I was quite ready to settle into our hotel room after supper. This hotel is spectacular. It is called the Kempinski and even has a brew house. Dave Robinson was quite excited. Some people went off to a “face changing” show but Dave and Dawne and I chose to just have drinks in the lobby then head to our rooms for an early night.

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A visit to the underworld on top of the world

Woke this morning to great swaths of mist hiding the rolling hills along the river. The air was cooler and quite damp. The almost dry underwear I had laid out on the balcony was no drier so I lined it up on the TV.

After our last session of Qigong with Zhong and another great breakfast we wandered up to the sun deck on the sixth level. That seems to be the only place to get the intermittent wifi. If you are lucky you may see some emails come in. I tried uploading yesterday’s post to my blog but it just wouldn’t go. There’s no way pictures will make it.

Dawne was persuaded by my glowing description to toddle off for a massage. She did not regret it.

Sometime after lunch we docked at the Ghost City of Fengdu. When they flooded the area with the Three Gorges dam the Buddhist temple section on the hills of Fengdu were surrounded by water. The rest of the town was moved higher up the mountain. We disembarked from our ship and were taken to the base of the ghost city where you can climb a set of more than 400 steps to view the temples and statues dedicated to the afterlife. If you don’t want to do the climb there is an overhead cable car that can take you up. Many of us chose to do the trek and were “glowing” by the time we reached the top.




Most of the buildings are reconstructions because the originals were destroyed during the cultural revolution but the topmost one dedicated to the god of the underworld himself is original and is about 1400 years old. It has some pretty gruesome dioramas on either side that puts you in mind of the Spanish Inquisition. The view from the top was spectacular though.





Back down the mountain we were loaded onto a bus and taken back to the ship. Being the last night we had to settle bills and then tidy up for a special farewell banquet. Dinner was not buffet style this time but they kept bringing dishes to the table. There must have been a dozen or more different dishes – way too much food. Actually I preferred the buffet meals but we did get a glass of champagne each and a very short visit from the captain.

There was a guest talent show but Jan and I decided to forego that. We have an early morning tomorrow.

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The Gorgeous Gorges

I was up early to see the sun rise over the steep hills (mountains?) that lined the river. We had started moving in the night (finally!) and I had felt the slight shudder of the engines periodically. The emerging view from our balcony was breath-taking – bringing to mind those water-colours of steep rounded hills and deep gorges.


Jan and I made our way down to the lounge for the morning Qigong session with Zhong. Yesterday there had been four of us. Today the ranks are growing. I think we may be up to six. The movements are very Tai Chi. Zhong is a good leader.

Breakfast was a bit earlier today cuz we were heading out on a boat tour of the Lesser and Mini Gorges. I’ve been eating way too well. I will need to do a lot of exercising when I get home.

We docked at Wushan and loaded onto a tour boat to head up the Daning River – a tributary to the Yangtze. Like the Yangtze, the river was lined by steep cliffs of limestone and shrub growth. The trees are not big so probably next to no original or primary growth here. We travelled under a “golden” (mostly orange) bridge near Wushan as we headed upriver. Periodically we would see caves in the cliffsides as we travelled the Dragon Gate Gorge. Part way up the first gorge there was a lot of construction happening. According to the guide they were building bridges and tunnelling through the mountains to put in either train tracks and/or a highway – a huge project. Most of the gorge was uninhabited probably because the cliffs were so steep. We did see a few places where monkeys came down out of the bushes for food left at the Monkey Feeding Stations. They seem to be the only wildlife other than birds that we have seen so far. We entered the Emerald Gorge which lived up to its name and wound its way oxbow-like towards the third gorge. After about an hour we came to a boat launch where we were loaded onto an upgraded sanpan for a trip up the Madu River through the Misty Gorge. At one point our sanpan was serenaded by a boat of local musicians as we motored by.






Eventually we turned around and retraced our steps back to the pier where we were loaded back onto our cruise ship for lunch and an afternoon of relaxation. After lunch Jan and I booked ourselves in for a 70 minute massage that consisted of foot manipulation, hot stone work and wonderful kneading. I fell asleep a couple of times. It was well worth the 300 yuan.

Supper was another great repast. Our group seems to always be the last to leave the dining lounge. The poor wait staff are so tolerant. We ambled out onto the deck to view the stars and watch the light show on the struts of the nearby bridge. It was quite impressive. Rosalind and I hung around long enough to catch some fireworks on the south bank of the river.

That evening was a cultural dance display that I was only able to catch half of. I was so exhausted that I snuck out. Jan skipped the whole thing and she was passed out fully clothed on her bed when I got back to the room. That was a good massage.

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VIP Treatment

It seems that upgrading to VIP was a smart move. Only eight of us took the package which gave us a fruit basket, unlimited wine and beer at lunch and supper and our own dining area.  (The fruit basket was finally delivered the next day after I mentioned to Tony how we had missed it last night.)  The main group has found that they are fighting for space in the food lines even though there is lots of food in their dining area on the second floor. It is also so noisy that it is difficult to carry on a conversation.


We have no problem like that on the sixth floor. We have our own reserved table where the staff are continually checking to see whether our drinks needs replenishing. Food lineups are short and we have ample opportunity to relax, eat and chat.

None of our group took advantage of the morning activity but we took the time to settle in and explore the boat. Tajinder even had a massage and reported its excellence. Some of us were able to get a bit of wifi from the sixth floor sun deck but it was very poor quality and only intermittent.

After lunch we were herded onto a bus with a local tour guide who inundated us with a barrage of facts and figures that very few of us could catch. We were driven to the huge Three Gorges Dam that was built just a few years ago and which supplies a huge area with electricity. They are trying to reduce their dependency on the dirty coal generators.



We only got to see the dam from a distance – no tours through the generator or anything. There was a park on a hill overlooking the massive dam where you could climb up top of a structure commemorating the building of the dam and from which you got a spectacular view of the dam, the locks and the ship elevator used to move ships up or down the Yangtze.


We got back to the boat in time for late afternoon tea which consists of tea or coffee and sweets. Meals on the boat have been really quite good. They are buffet style (as most of our meals have been) consisting of stations for fruit, sweets, salads, local food and western style food. Breakfasts always have congee but also cereal and pastries. I’ve been eating a mix of Chinese and western food – trying to eat more and more Chinese. I even try to use chopsticks at each meal but sometimes that gets messy.

There was a Captain’s Meet and Greet in the evening but both Jan and I were too tired so hit the sack early.

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Trek to the Yangtze

The stench of cigarette smoke was nasty despite the fact that our room was non-smoking. It was disappointing. I’m glad we only stayed in that hotel one night but I really would have liked to stay in Hangzhou longer. It is a beautiful and vibrant city. After another lovely buffet breakfast we were loaded onto the bus and headed for West Lake – right in the middle of the city. The streets following the lake shore are lined with sycamore trees giving the area a very genteel feel. We were told the story of the Long Bridge – where two young lovers committed suicide because their love was forbidden by their families. A beautiful pagoda overlooks the lake from the opposite shore. We watched a couple of small herons land nearby and were able to get a few good pictures.

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From here the bus took us up into the rolling hills to visit a tea farm. The tea bushes are planted in neat rows of terracing. The leaves are hand-picked and hand-rubbed before the drying process. There are three types of tea – non-fermented (green), fermented (black) and oolong. We were given a demo of green tea and all its healing qualities. The young woman giving the talk was extremely knowledgeable which meant that her sales pitch was very convincing. She elaborated on the many health benefits of green tea. One thing I learned was that you don’t pour boiling water directly on the tea leaves. You boil it but then let it cool a bit before pouring. Also, the loose leaf is better than tea bags because the leaves tend to be of better quality. The older, broken leaves end up in the tea bags. After the talk we were encouraged to buy and Rosalind somehow miscalculated the exchange – ending up spending far more than she had bargained for. Dave, Dawne and I split one can of leaves which still cost us $60.

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The rest of the day was spent travelling by bus back to Shanghai airport then catching a domestic flight to the Yangtze. The plane was a Boeing 737 (but not a Max 8) and was actually nicer than Air Canada. At least I felt the seats had a bit more room. I was so comfortable that I actually fell asleep and the stewardess had a heck of a time trying to wake me up when we were coming in for a landing.

From the airport we were loaded onto a bus. By now it was dark so we couldn’t see much of Yichang. We drove for about an hour through hills and tunnels to the Yangtze where we were welcomed on board the boat with some kind of tea and warm wet towels.

Our room is fairly small but it is fine. We have a balcony giving a view of the lights of Sandouping in the Yiling District.

The group of eight who upgraded headed to the bar where we bought a package of 6 beer for 200 yuan – not much of a bargain but such is life. We bantered back and forth enjoying each other’s company until the party finally broke up after midnight.

Too bad they didn’t provide the promised fruit basket cuz most of us had not had any supper.

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Wuxi to Hangzhou

The sun was shining this morning but we had been told it would be cooler so I dressed a bit warmer today. From our window you could see a lovely little courtyard – again with the water, wood and architecture but we never did find a way in to investigate. I did notice a tennis court on the rooftop near our window. Nobody was out there playing but it may have been too early.

This morning’s coffee was quite delicious – the best I’ve had. Another lovely buffet breakfast and then we were loaded onto the bus to head off to the fresh water pearl store.

We were given a very short demo of cutting open an oyster and counting all the pearls inside. The demonstration of pearl production in Vietnam was much more thorough. This visit was another hard sell but I resisted. Some of the others were able to drive a few good bargains and came away with some lovely jewelry. I enjoyed the breeze and birds outside.


Christina bade us goodbye and we headed out on the bus for a three hour trip to Hangzhou. We had a stop along the way at an ‘En Route’ style convenience store. I noticed a really nice-looking SUV that turned out to be a Chinese model. If they ever make it to North America I bet they will be really popular.


The hotel in Hangzhou isn’t quite as nice as our previous hotels but it is decent. A number of our group went off to enjoy the optional show at West Lake. Dave and Dawne and I wandered down the street and found a nice little spot for supper. Afterwards we met up with John – the son of a friend of theirs. John has been teaching in China for a number of years and has recently moved to Hangzhou. I left them to head back for an early night.

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So long Suzhou

Breakfast was in the same huge dining hall as last night’s dinner and was filled with just as many delicious offerings. Chinese breakfast is very similar to Chinese lunch and Chinese dinner. All the varieties of noodles, dumplings, vegetable dishes, dim sum, soups and meats seem to be offered at each meal. Congee seems to be the one dish that only shows up at breakfast though I may be wrong about that. I kept going back for the freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

We wandered out onto the grounds after breakfast and discovered a huge park with winding creeks filled with coy and a pagoda lined pond. The setting was gorgeous. On the far side of the pond was a choir practicing some traditional music. The effect was quite magical. I really wish we could have stayed at this hotel longer but Tony hustled us off to our next outing.


We travelled by bus to a local silk spinning mill. Today’s guide was Christina and we all fell for her. Christina was younger than May – probably in her early forties. She spoke slowly and clearly but she also spoke to us – not at us. It was really refreshing. We learned that an ancient queen had discovered the silken threads of a worm that had fallen into her teacup and from this experience emerged the ancient art of producing silk. After a discussion on the life-cycle of the silkworm we were led into a room where we were shown how the silk threads are used to make a duvet and then all the beautiful silk coverlets that the factory produces for the duvets and pillows. There was a concerted effort to get us to buy – with all kinds of enticing “deals”. The duvets were absolutely beautiful but I’m at the stage in my life where I am getting rid of things not accumulating more. And I don’t think my taste in beautiful duvets would match my daughters’ so I didn’t cave and buy some for them.

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From the silk factory we headed to the Lingshan Grand Buddha where we were led into the ancient Buddhist monastery for our lunch – again, in buffet style. All the dishes were vegetarian. I quite enjoyed the meal but it was getting on for two in the afternoon so I was quite hungry by the time I got to eat.

From here we took a cart ride to the base of the giant Buddha statue. In the plaza below the hill on which the Buddha stood there was a 1400 year old ginkgo tree that still sports greenery.


A number of us climbed the numerous steps up to the base of the Buddha in order to touch his feet for luck. Afterwards we watched a water show where the baby Buddha emerges from inside a metallic lotus blossom – all set to traditional music.


The Buddha was on the edge of the city of Wuxi where we stayed in another five-star hotel. We were treated to an excellent meal at a restaurant before we were taken to our hotel. The problem was that the lunch had been so late in the day that we had little room for the supper. We did manage to stuff a good amount in though and once we were settled in the hotel, a group of us met in the lounge to round out the evening with a beer.

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Puppies, Canals and Beautiful Gardens

These five star hotels really pamper you. And the breakfasts are amazing – buffets laden with fruit, pastries, dim sum, congee, and every Chinese dish I know along with many more that I don’t.

We caught a bus at 9 am heading for Zhujiajiao. The town is full of artisan shops and local food delicacies along a cobblestone walk which lines a picturesque canal. Ancient arched stone bridges span the canal every so often – perfect settings for a selfie. This ‘ancient water town’ is said to be almost 1,700 years old – with homes dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. I fell in love with a fluffy little black and white pup climbing out of a box in front of one of the shops.




Next was a ride down one of the canals running through the city. It reminded me of the canal ride we did in Bangkok. We travelled past the back doors of peoples’ homes where laundry was hanging to dry and flowerpots lined the steps leading up from the water. Crooked stone walls and ancient arched bridges leant the feeling we were travelling back in time.




From here we headed for the Lingering Gardens in Suzhou. Our guide for the day was May. I had a lot of difficulty catching what she said. She spoke really quickly and had a somewhat strange sense of humour. Maybe I just didn’t catch enough to understand what she was saying. The gardens though were lovely – lots of water, stones, architecture and wood.  These are the four main ingredients of a Chinese garden – all very artfully worked together to produce a place of peace and harmony.

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We ended the day staying at an incredible hotel that looked like some ancient castle. Tony likened it to a maze and he was not far off. It was a bit late in the day that we arrived so we didn’t have a chance to discover the hotel properly but outside Jan and my window was a small creek lined with willows and other trees. It looked like we were out in the country – not in the middle of a city.

We ate a buffet supper that was wonderful – stations of food spread throughout a huge dining area. We lingered long over the meal – with many treks to check out the various food stations.

I was too exhausted to join Jan and Alan with a wee dram of scotch. Now that must be a record!

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Discovering Shanghai

Sleep eluded me for the most part despite the lovely Scotch precursor but such is life. I seem to be able to manage on little sleep.

Breakfast was an elaborate buffet with way too much choice. Tony had suggested we take full advantage so I did – trying out a number of Chinese dishes and supplementing it with a few “western-style” baked goodies.

We boarded a bus to head into the main section of the city to check out the Shanghai Museum. We all noted how clean the streets are and were blown away by the number of high-rises and sky-scrapers. With the density of housing you can see why the population is so high (more than 26 million I think Tony said).


The four floors of the stunning museum were divided into sections devoted to the arts of jade carvings, watercolour paintings, ornate furniture, intricate pottery. We only had a couple of hours so I missed a lot. I could have spent many hours wandering through those rooms. Some of the jade carvings dated back almost six thousand years and were beautifully carved. I really loved the ethnic clothing exhibits.

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From the museum we walked to a restaurant where we enjoyed a Chinese lunch with local beer and tea. I was not totally enamoured with the meal – partly cuz my stomach was a bit off but most of the dishes were quite salty. An antacid tablet fixed me up so a bit later I was able to enjoy wandering near the Maglev train station while a number of our group took a ride on the Magnetic Elevated train that travelled 30 km in six minutes. (That was a bit of a run-on sentence)


Later we took a walk along the bund (riverside) of the Huangpu River. It is lined with a number of skyscrapers exhibiting an interesting variety of architectural designs. I didn’t see a lot of children but I did see a couple of toddlers wearing pants with open crotches. I guess it makes it easier when they need to be changed. One didn’t even sport a diaper – just a wee bare bum peeking out.


Most of the group opted to do a night-time river cruise for an hour (with an added $50 cost) which I and a few others chose to forgo. So now I’m relaxing in the room after a lovely shower writing this with CNN talking in the background.

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Heading East again

I joined up with twenty-six UofGuelph retirees and their friends and family at Pearson where we boarded a ChinaEastern airplane heading out on a fifteen hour flight to Shanghai on Thursday afternoon. I will never get used to those long-haul flights. This time at least I paid a little extra for an exit seat. It didn’t give me any more seat width but it did give me much needed leg-room and ease to get up and stretch whenever I felt. I did have a moment’s envy when I passed those beautiful business class pods as I boarded but I just couldn’t swallow the cost.

Getting through customs in Shanghai was really not too bad and we gathered our baggage to meet Tony (our guide) waving his blue Nexus flag. He boarded us onto our bus and we were off to our five-star hotel – the Crown Plaza. Jan (MacInnes) and I were assigned a lovely room on the fifth floor – frosted glass enclosed washroom with separate tub and shower room as well as a separate toilet stall. The room comes with dressing gowns and slippers. Not too shabby.


Jan and I ended up heading down the hall to Alan’s room for a late night scotch before hitting the sack.

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