Visit to China May 8/21 2012

On May 8, 2012 we took off from Melbourne with Qantas to fly to Hong Kong. the aircraft seat configeration was: 2-4-2, we managed to negotiate four seats for ourselves. Dreadful food in flight, Qantas to us seem to have dropped their standards.

Denise had organised that we would be met at all our destinations and taken by private car to our hotels, and also taken by car back to the airport for the next leg of our journey.

Denise outside the Olympic Stadium at Beijing
Denise outside the Olympic Stadium at Beijing

This all worked very well, without any hitches.

Our car was waiting and off we went to the Langham Hotel in HK, a superb choice, staff attentive and friendly, and our room fine.

We took the tram ride to the Peak on a fine morning, and the views of Hong Kong harbour stretched out below were quite wonderful. Unfortunately we had forgotten the camera to record our visit.

A day trip to Macau by fast Catarmaran took an hour, then an indifferant tour and a visit to a Casino. Here there are 33 Casinos, and the one selected not from the top ones.

Return to Kowloon by the fast cat, all in all, a bad choice of tours. We could have done far better on our own and saved a good deal of money.

Whilst here, I ordered a Navy blue jacket which was made and delivered to the Langham prior to our departure.

We visited both the Ladies Market and the Night Market, literally hundreds of small stalls carrying in the most part junk, but interesting to wander through the lanes, crowded with people, and shunting off touts or stall holders, all wanting us to buy whatever.

I bought a smart Tablet with key board and a nice case by Google here at the Night Market, sold by BILLY at stall 157.

I was silly enough to buy a fake Omega watch with a fine black leather strap it was even stamped with the Omega label. It was an automatic, and soon began to run slowly not keeping good time at all. I have probably wasted A$40.

I had suffered from an inflamed and very sore big toe on my right foot, and could hardly walk at all, it was most likely a bout of gout, never had it before. A visit to a local shoe shop was highly successful, buying a pair of grey Skechers, which I wore constantly, and allowing me to walk in comfort, they were just perfect.

We just loved the Langham Hotel and its bustling atmosphere. 

After 4 days off to Beijing by the internal Chinese airline Dragonair.

The Chinese airports are huge, here at HK airport there are some 530 gates.

One word to sum up Hong Kong: Colourful! 

Man flying multiple kites on a single string at Beijing. He desperately tried to get us to buy a set of kites. But Our Kite Flying days are well gone
Man flying multiple kites on a single string at Beijing.
He desperately tried to get us to buy a set of kites. But Our Kite Flying days are well gone

A 3.5 hour trip to land in Beijing with a foggy outlook, and the Domestic airport about 19 k from the city. Met by Jason, our Chinese guide here, who proved to be most knowledgeable, spoke good English, and was very caring and attentive.

Me on the Wall at Beijing with our Chinese guide, Jason
Me on the Wall at Beijing with our Chinese guide, Jason

Beijing means Northern Capital, and is the seat of the Chinese Government, the Government even have their own airport. no troublesome Customs to worry about.

An amazing airport, even bigger than at Hong Kong, built for the Olympic games.

Jason said that 30 million people cram into Beijing, and it has about 4 million cars, so that all times a car crawls along at a snails pace.

We had dinner, Peking Duck, at a Chinese establishment, and had to stop the stream of various dishes coming to the table as we could not cope with the huge amount of food.

Our hotel here the Novotel, not at all like the Langham where we were spoilt, a dreadful room, it was dusty, dirty, and the carpet smelt of urine, so bad that at about 5.30 AM on our first morning, Denise stormed down to the front desk and demanded a better room, this resulted in moving to a suite. This at least was tolerable.

Jason met us with a private car and driver, and off we went to the Great Wall some 75 k to the North West of Beijing.

We arrived in the vicinity of the Wall, and there was a walk on very uneven cobbles of about 500 metres, and up a fair slope. With Denise and Jason assisting I made it finally to the cable car station, and a ride to the base of the wall.

Cable car descends from the Wall at Beijing
Cable car descends from the Wall at Beijing

To actually stand on the Great Wall we needed to negotiate about 15 stone steps with a large riser about 18 inches in height. This was the last hurdle, and it was suggested I might stay here. Not likely, I was not giving up at this final climb, with Denise and Jason pushing and an American tourist at the top pulling I made it, and finally I was standing on this section of this wonderful engineering feat, built here to keep out the maurading horde of Mongols.

Denise and me on the Wall at Beijing
Denise and me on the Wall at Beijing

The wall was mostly built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) it stretches East to West some 5,500 miles.

The wall at Beijing
The wall at Beijing

Jason took us to a Jade factory where a Chinese lady explained the process of cutting blocks of Jade into various fashion jewellery etc, thence to a huge retail area, here I bought a nice Jade necklace for Denise.

Denise on the Wall at Bejing, with the wall stretching into the distance
Denise on the Wall at Bejing, with the wall stretching into the distance

We visited the Sacred Way in a buggy, where 13 past Chinese Emperors are all buried. This area covers over 80 square kilometers.

Ming Tombs (Shisanling)
The Ming tombs lie in a broad valley to the south of Tianshou Mountain (Longevity of Heaven) in Changping District, about 44 km northwest of Beijing proper. To the southwest of this valley, a branch of the Yanshan Range suddenly breaks off and forms a natural gateway to the 40-square-km basin in which the bombs were built. Thirteen out of the 16 Ming emperors as well as 23 empresses, 1 highest-ranking concubine and a dozen immolated imperial concubines were buried in this peaceful valley.

It was widely held in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that although dead physically, a person's soul remained, still having human needs. Consequently, the 13 emperors' tome complexes look like imperial palaces.

Under the guidance of traditional Chinese Fengshui (geomancy), the whole process from site selection to designing of the tombs paid attention to harmony between tomb architecture and the surrounding mountains, rivers and vegetation to embody the philosophical view that man is an integral part of nature.

Of the 13 tombs, Dingling, the tomb of Emperor Wanli (reigned 1537-1619), was under archaeological excavation in 1956, and all other tomb architecture has remained intact. The Sacred Way (Shendao) in front of each tomb as well as other main architectures including the marble memorial archway, the Great Red Gate (Dahongmen), a tall square stele pavilion, Avenue of the Animals, and Dragon and Phoenix Gate (Longfengmen) are still in perfect condition. Lots of pines and cypress planted in the Ming Dynasty inside and outside the tomb complexes and flanking the Sacred Way are still growing well.

The tombs for imperial concubines and eunuchs inside the mausoleum area were reclaimed as farmland during the later years of the Qing Dynasty, but the underground coffin chambers have remained intact. Though varying in size and architectural complexity, these tombs are similar in general layout: the plan takes an oblong shape with a round (or oval) Precious Hall (Baocheng) at the rear. Each tomb complex starts with a stone bridge, followed by a front gate, a stele pavilion, the Gate of Eminent Favor, the Hall of Eminent Favor, a watchtower and then the Precious Hall. The layout of these Ming Tombs produced a far-reaching impact on the construction of the Dong Tombs and Xi Tombs of the Qing Dynasty.

The Ming tombs were put under protection of the Beijing municipal government in 1957.

During our time in Beijing we visited Tianenman Square, a bustling area where all the Chinese people en masse just walk around the square and gaze across to the entrance to the Forbidden City with a picture of Mao prominent at its entrance. One could see swarms of people lined up to buy a ticket and go inside here.

Denise in front of the Forbidden City entrance at Beijing
Denise in front of the Forbidden City entrance at Beijing

We had taken a taxi asking to be let off at the entrance of the Forbidden City, but were dropped at its exit.

To buy an entrance ticket was some distance away, a Chinese woman was touting a ride there in a rickety motor cycle contraption for 30 Dollars Chinese, about A$5.

Statue of Mao in Beijing

We were silly enough to accept, a rough ride in horrendous traffic, a car colliding with this mode of transport would have written us off. On arrival at some distance from the square, we were tipped out, with the driver now demanding in a very nasty and threatening way 180 Dollars Chinese, we were well and truly taken for the only occasion during our total visit to China.

Beijing is very clean, the streets pristine.

On a four lane freeway both in and out sections are separated by a median strip where roses red and yellow are planted, plus a mass of petunias, all very well attended and colourful.

At major road intersections where traffic lights are installed, a clock ticks down the seconds before a light change, but even when the Pedestrian Crossing is showing a green light, cars, especially taxis, motor bikes and even bicycles just stream through, not caring about the pedestrians at all, a very dangerous exercise crossing on a green light.

Our Foreign Minister Bob Carr was in Beijing at the same time as us, but he neglected to invite us to Afternoon

I had taken two pairs of reading glasses to China, and somehow managed to shed a springloaded arm on each of them, to my utter suprise no Chinese Optical shop could help. All they offered was to transfer the lenses into a pair of designer frames for A$400 for each pair. No thanks.

I battled on using a pair of Denise's glasses to shave.

After our 4 days here off to Shanghai by East Chinese air line, a 2 hour flight.

To sum up Beijing in one word: Sterile!

Skyline at Shanghai
Skyline at Shanghai

On arrival at Shanghai we were met by our guide here with a car and transferred some 19 kilometres to the Fairmont Hotel, we used their chain in Canada, and they now owned the Savoy in London, but do not have a presence in Australia.

Me with a terra cotta warrior at Shanghai

Built in 1929 as the Cathay by Victor Sassoon.  Sir Ellice "Victor" Sassoon, 3rd Baronet, GBE (20 December 1881 – 13 August 1961) was a businessman and hotelier from the Sassoon banking family. He succeeded to the Baronetcy on the death of his father Edward Elias Sassoon in 1924. Married late in life, he had no issue and the Baronetcy became extinct on his death. Sassoon lived in Shanghai as a wealthy bon vivant who worked tirelessly to protect Western interests in the Orient and helped European Jews survive in the Shanghai Ghetto. Sir Victor walked with the aid of two sticks as the result of injuries in World War I in which he served in the Royal Flying Corps. He founded the Cathay Hotel (now the Fairmont Peace Hotel) but left under increasing Japanese pressure in 1941.[1]  Named Peace Hotel to denote the end of WW2.

Victor Sassoon was an avid photographer and held extravagant parties at his hotel. He sold his business interests in India and Shanghai in 1948 and transferred the proceeds to the Bahamas. It was in the Cathay Hotel that Noel Coward wrote "Private Lives"

Renamed the Fairmont, in 2007 it closed for three years for both extensive and expensive renovations, now fully restored to its former glory, our room was fine, more like a suite. An entrance hall, laidies separate powder room, combined bedroom and sitting room and a lavish bathroom.

Our bedroom in Shanghai
Our bedroom in Shanghai

It stands on a corner, the famous Bund one of its streets. On the Bund which fronts the Huangpu river, thousands of the locals walk constantly.

The Bund Boulevard at Shanghai from our Hotel window
The Bund Boulevard  at Shanghai from our Hotel window

Shanghai boasts a population of 25 million, this city alone carries over 3 million more than the total Australian population.

We visited Victor's Cafe ( named after Victor Sassoon) regularly during our stay to partake of an excellent French Onion soup, Our seat by the window faced a main street which was always awash with the locals out walking.We were very interesting to the locals who constantly stared at us, if we waved it usually evoked a wave back with a smile.

The Bund from our Hotel window in Shanghai
The Bund from our Hotel window in Shanghai

Opposite was the Swatch Hotel and an outlet for the watch of that name, a 101 years old building of no outstanding appearance, but the locals were continually taking photographs of this site. 

We took taxis to market complexes here, at all times in China the taxis were both clean and cheap, the drivers rarely spoke any English, the Hotel staff would write out our destination in Chinese, and the Hotel name likewise, so by showing these to the taxi driver we got around and safely back to our specific Hotel.

Bowl of small pumpkins at the Hyatt on their 91st
Bowl of small pumpkins at the Hyatt on their 91st Shanghai

In Shanghai we took a taxi across the river to the Yintai Centre, here at the 81st. floor stands the Grand Hyatt
Hotel, we went up to the 91st. floor for Coffee, the view usually a 360 degree one spoilt by a foggy outlook.

Mac at the Hyett Shanghai
Mac at the Hyett Shanghai

We had a nice lunch at Mr and Mrs Bund at Number 18 on the Bund, a stonesthrow from our hotel. Our entree smoked salmon, carved by a Chinese waitress from a whole fish at our table, followed by steak Bernaise with hot chips.

Shopping in Shanghai did not impress us at all. Denise did succumb to the temptation of buying a fine Aiger German made handbag, my only purchase a China Owl in blue, for about A$6.

We went off to a Circus featuring acrobatics one night, it was located in a fine building with its own theatre, we
had seats in row 4, and watched in awe as both men and women performed the most outstanding acts, The finale was carried out in a meshed steel dome, where a single high powered motor bike rode at high speed, a second, then a
third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh and finallyan eighth bike joined the throng inside the dome.

Four rode from top to bottom of the dome and the second 4 bikes in the middle rode round and round crossing the top 4 bikes, all at breakneck speed, the timing had to be perfect to avoid a crash, It was simply breathtaking,a
wonderful evening we will remember for a long time!

The Fairmont boasts a Jazz Bar where elderly muscians play for three hours nightly, playing all the old numbers. We
enjoyed the music, propping up the bar was a brassy blonde with a middle aged business man she had obviously picked up, two hours of drinking, animated conversation and much knee touching, the expectant look on his face indicated he thought he was onto a good thing. She excused herself to go to the toilet, but lo did not return, he kept watching the door for her return, but it did not happen as he realised he had been done.

We took a ride on the Hop on Hop off double decker bus to give us a feel of the city, it took about 1.5 hours and
was most intereting.

Throughout China my blood sugar readings were fine, we made sure we only drank bottled water and cleaned our
teeth from that source of water.

We did not have a moment's problem from Chinese Immigration or Customs, I was usually in a wheel chair because of the vast distances at all airports, and we were simply waved through all check points.

The Royal Australian Navy Frigate HMAS Ballarat visited Shanghai on a friendly visit whilst we were there, and was welcomed to the port by a Chinese Navy band.

Nightly at all our venues we had our traditional Gin and Tonic, just as if we were at home.

Shanghai in one word: Busy! 

I would recommend that all shopping be done in Hong Kong if you are also visiting the Chinese mainland, its cheaper in HK as the exchange rate is more favourabe and the variety much greater.

In hindsight we should have flown into Shanghai from Australia, moved north to Beijing, and finally flown south
to Hong Kong, and flown from there direct into Melbourne.

Finally, our time in China was up, and we off to Pudong International airport about 43k away by car. Our guide found the Qantas check in, and we were at the gate awaiting our plane's departure. The aircraft was very full with Chinese passengers, either visiting relatives in Australia or returning home. 

Again the Qantas food was awful, and most of it left uneaten.

It was a night flight home and neither of us slept at all, as Qantas only fly into Sydney from Shanghai we needed to
move from the International airport to the Domestic one. This was a nightmare, we had to find where to check our
cases in at the International terminal, quite a walk, catch a bus to Domestic, check in and our gate Number 17, of course the furtherest from check in, we always draw the gate short straw, its the greatest distance to travel.

No activity at Gate 17, only 4 passengers waiting in all, finally we are called on the public address system, your
aircraft is loaded and waiting for you at Gate 5. We hasten there to be told by the boarding pass man to hurry up, I rebuked him about the uniformed gate change, oh! we are always changing gates and it has been displayed for a
long time, not at Gate 17, I respond. Do not shout at me Sir, he says, I will do more than shout at you I say as we
move to the aircraft door. The flight staff there friendly and apologetic, the aircraft is crammed full, we grab our
seats and immediately push back and head for our take off point.

We land at Melbourne about 12.20 PM on Monday May 21, our saga to China all over.

The smiling face of my daughter Jayne greets us as we emerge at the arrival gate, its as usual a long way from
from the collect baggage area, I take a ride in a buggy, and Denise and Jayne walk the distance, our bags arrive
and Jayne drives us home.

Our apartment is welcoming, and no matter how good any overseas trip may be, it is always good to finally be
safely HOME.

We had an interesting experience, teeming millions of Chinese, horrific traffic snarls, but there is no place like Australia.



Huge Jade retail outlet Beijing


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