Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Highlights from China-from 'The Great Wall' to the 'Caves of Guilin'

 The Great Wall of China was definitely a huge highlight for me!
 As you can see, it was a misty day...which our delegation manager, Effee, said was a great thing.  If it had been the normal blue sky and hot, it would have been difficult to walk as much as we did.  I think Adam (one of the leaders out of Seattle) and I walked about 5 miles on the wall.
 I kept saying to myself, "I'm on the Great Wall of China!  I'm in CHINA...on the GREAT WALL!!!"
I had chills...

This is the section of the Great Wall we were walking on...
 We went to Beijing's Olympic Park...and saw the Bird's Nest...
 and the Water Cube where Michael Phelps won his 8 medals...
The kids went nuts when we went to the Beijing Zoo and saw the Giant Pandas.  We had a personal showing of them...pretty special!
 We took a ride on a rickshaw through the Hutong...an old part of Beijing that has been preserved.
 We went in a typical home to hear this lady (in the picture below) talk about living in the Hutong.  See those two blue circles on the top of the door?  Those are like posts and they show that the family that lives there is an average family.  The more posts, the more status of the family.  This family is paid to allow us to come in and talk with them. 
 This is the lady who has lived in this house.  Her family still does, but she has gotten married and now lives in a different place in the Hutong.  Only the wealthiest have bathrooms.  This home didn't have one.  There are communal bathrooms that everyone shares!  She said she loves the Hutong...that everyone watches out for each other and are like family.
 The Hutong
 Tian'anmen Square!  Our group actually missed going to this originally...the first day...because of our flight delays out of SFO..but Effee made sure we got back there.  We didn't get to go in and spend time in the Forbidden City...which disappointed me, but the kids didn't seem to mind!  Tian'anmen square is the fourth largest city square in the world...109 acres. 
 The Monument to the People's Heroes

The shrubbery there was beautiful!  Can you tell that the white part of the round ball is China?  All in flowers!
 The Summer Palace was beautiful...but would have even been more-so if the air had been better.  Again, you can see the air...it's not weather, it's smog.  Our view was limited because of it.

 The Summer Palace, in Beijing, is on Kunming Lake...and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
 UNESCO says it's a "masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design.'  The first palace was built here in 1161.  It really started as the 'Summer Palace' in 1750.  It's a bit old...
 Starting in 1888, it served as the summer resort for an empress of China (Empress Dowager Cixi). 
The Dragon Boats are popular ways to travel across the lake...which we did!
 Even though it wasn't the most exciting thing...riding the bullet train from Beijing to Xi'an was an experience!  It took over 12 hours!  We definitely covered great distances in China!

 Xi'an was definitely a highlight!  I love this place.  It's the cultural center of China, they say!
We were headed to a gate on the city wall for a welcoming ceremony...when we had a little fender bender in the coach!  It took so long to get a new bus (the old one wasn't THAT damaged, but wasn't allowed to go on without all the documentation...so they sent us a new bus)  As we sat in the bus waiting, I watched this man trying to pull his wife (?) through the crazy traffic in their little carts!
Here we are at one of the city gates.  This is what met us.
 We were welcomed...then the city gate opened and we were once again welcomed one by one with a 'passport' and key to the city put around our neck. 
 Inside, the performance was amazing...we saw other performances where the ladies had the sleeves way longer than their arms...I would guess it's for gracefulness?  It was beautiful.
 There were many performances for us...

 The emperor and emperess...
 Once this was complete, we were able to have time to walk around the city wall. 
 The city wall of Xi'an was originally built as a defense.  It has watchtowers, moat, and a drawbridge.  Some parts of the wall are from the 7th century, but most of it is from  the 14th. This city wall is one of the oldest and best preserved in China.  The wall is 40 feet tall, 40-46 feet wide at the top and 50-60 feet wide at the base.  It's 8 1/2 miles long.

In this picture above, you can see the battlements...where soldiers could look out and shoot at their enemies!
When we went back down the steps to get to our bus, the whole entourage was  gone...so some of us snapped a few pictures...not sure if we should have???
 We visited a boarding school...a middle school...where the students are learning English.  They performed for us...and vice versa.  They also took us to their cafeteria for a delicious lunch..and then the students all played games together...mostly soccer, but also badmitten, basketball...etc. 
 On the outskirts of Xi'an, we went to a park that has the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.  This Pagoda was built between 707 and 709.  Yep, that's correct .. the year 707!  It used to be taller, but an earthquake in 1556 shook it so  hard, that it is now 2 meters shorter than it originally was! 

 In the park, there were people doing Tai-chi..and other arts.  Many of our delegates joined in.
 The Small Wild Goose Pagoda

I loved this!  Obviously a pair of grandparents with their little granddaughter.  The grandmother was dancing with her.    It was so precious!
 We also took a class in Chinese painting.  This 'master' showed us how to use their brush...and he painted this flower while we watched.  Then we were instructed on how to paint bamboo...which we all did. 

 In the shop after our class, there were all kinds of paintings for sale...and this 'master' would also write whatever you wanted on some blank ones where he had already painted flowers...or blossoms...or....  I loved the trim on this one, which was unfinished.  He finished the flower for me...and then wrote Ron & Judy. 
 The Terra Cotta Warriors was a HUGE highlight for me.  I had been wanting to see them ever since I first heard about them.  First, we went to a place where they make replicas...using the same clay as the originals.  These statues were outside where you could have your picture made...which most of us did. 

Inside, we all used molds and made one...we couldn't keep them, unfortunately, because the clay needed to dry and be fired.  It was fun to see how they did it though.

Next stop...the actual Terra Cotta Warriors!

 This is Pit #1.  There are 3 pits...and this one, has an estimate of 6000 warriors.  Many of these have been restored..or are being restored.  It is the largest of the three pits.

 Here, you can see some that haven't been completely unearthed...
 They are amazing!!!  After going to the shop where we got to make a replica and before coming here to the actual pits, we went to a briefing/interview with one of the farmers who discovered them.  He refuses photographs...which is why you don't see any of him.  There were a group of farmers digging a well who discovered this on March 29, 1974.  Apparently, for CENTURIES, there had been reports of pieces of terra cotta that was unearthed in this area...

 Outside the buildings of the Terra Cotta Warriors!
 Well, this was certainly spectacular! 
 This lady was playing this instrument...not sure what it's called...before the show began and while we were eating.  This was a dumpling banquet...oh my goodness!  We were served all kinds of dumplings and each one was amazing!  Besides the dumplings, we had a full dinner...equally delicious! 

 Before the show started, 'Happy Birthday' started playing...and our Bella was a little in shock as it was her 16th birthday...and unbeknownst to her, the song was for her.  The entire place started singing...and she was given a beautiful cake...which we all got a little piece of.  What a special way to spend your 16th birthday!
 These two came out between performances and said...well, I have no idea what they said...but I assume it was something about the performances!

The sets were amazing...as well as the performers.  My little camera didn't do well with the low light...so no pics :(
From Xi'an...we flew to our next area of China... Guilin

 See that thunderhead?  That's where we were heading.  John David, you would have loved the turbulence!
Once we arrived, we drove...and drove on little farm roads (in our huge coach) with farmers walking their cows, people on bicycles, people on scooters, chickens...etc...all on the same road.  We were heading for caves...
 Once we arrived at the village close to the caves, we had to catch rides on these little trolleys...the pink ones to take us halfway to the caves...

 Look at these mountains!  It was all so incredibly beautiful!

                            Then we got off and hopped on another one that took us closer.

 I'm not so impressed with caves...and although a lot of our group was impressed with these, I wasn't.  I don't like all the different colored lights, either...just my opinion!

 This is how some made the last leg into or out of the caves...we would have loved to have ridden these.  They were little 2 seaters on rails!  Very cute...
 Off we went from the caves, back down the little farm roads with the variety of travelers on the roads....

Guilin is amazingly gorgeous!

We were heading to a tea plantation...