Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Wet Mummy?

I last left you as we were getting settled on the ship. It's called The Gold 8 and the amenities reflect that. Our traveling companion says it's nicer than the European River Cruise ship they took a few years back.

But it's raining the next day. After lunch, we travel to see the old city wall, but it's not that enjoyable in the pouring rain. Worse, the police have ordered our bus driver to move, so we are all standing outside as our guide tries to locate him. The city wall is nice, don't get me wrong, but we're tired of walking and I am cold and wet.

When we finally get on the bus again, we're taken to the museum that holds the Wet Mummy. 

Our guide tells us he looks life-like. Not quite. He is better preserved than an Egyptian mummy, about 2200 years old, and red because his tomb had been treated with cinnabar and mercury and lacquer. Being buried 10 metres deep had allowed his casket to be filled with river water which reacted with the chemicals and thus preserved him. The textiles found in his tomb are impressive, I have to say. While the same age, they are in very good shape. 

But my feet are soaked and I am tired. I 'slept like a dead pig' last night, as the Chinese might say, but it hasn't helped my energy level. 
We return to the ship and shortly after, it begins to move upriver. 
Supper has western food, a welcome relief, although they also have sushi, with the hottest wasabi imaginable. I warned the lady in front of me as she squeezes from the tube a generous portion, several inches. She smugly tells me she likes it that way, but Allan shakes his head. No one can eat that much. 
We watch a traditional Chinese medicine demonstration and my husband decides to seek relief from his backache. 

The time on this ship is a blessing. We don't have to do anything. So, with that in mind, we head up to the library and play Canasta. (I'm pretty sure the girls won) There is a Captain's welcome party and a small glass of wine and finger foods are offered. I thought the Captain looked like one of the ancient feudal lords our guide had spoken of. 

My husband returns from his treatment, and we discover that it wasn't much different than what our local physiotherapist offers. Acupuncture, cupping, electric therapy, and intensive massage. All that is available to us in Canada. But it has made my husband feel better, and that is all that matters. Although, I question the reasoning behind cupping. It is supposed to take out the 'cold' in your body, and the darker the bruise, the more 'cold' was in you. My husband's is light. I guess he's normal. 

The evening show is lovely, put on by the staff and I am impressed by their skill.

But the day has been long and we retire early to sit out on our balcony and enjoy the cool evening air as the pleasant scenery passes us by.

Tomorrow, we are headed into the Three Gorges, the highlight of the cruise.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Bullet Train

One thing I've noticed about Chinese architecture is that it's radical. 

There are train stations with sweeping waving roofs and ones with bold dramatic pillars, but the one we ended up at today was pretty ordinary. The reason we're taking the bullet train wasn't, though. Our flight had been canceled and Sinorama needed us in Wuhan by a certain time, so the bullet train was our only option. Our guide tells us that the travel company is losing money on this trip, as each ticket costs over $100, but I suspect it's not so in the long scheme of things. 
As with everything else, we must go through security and we're told our tickets will be checked twice at this end and once at our destination. 

But after all the security we've walked through, this is more than manageable, and we're soon aboard the train. 

It's roomier than a plane, thankfully, and a ticker tape up front tells us how fast we're going. If I hadn't been told, I wouldn't have guessed it. The train is smooth as ice and no acceleration is felt. The toilet in it is a squatter, but clean and hot water is available for your bucket of dry noodles. I watch the landscape tear by, and again find myself shocked at the pollution. 

Even though we take the bullet train, we still face a 3 hour bus trip to reach the dock where we will board the ship. We stop at a highway rest stop, and I find myself snapping pictures of the exotic food the Chinese purchase for snacks. No thank you!

Supper is super fast, a rush in and rush out, but we are allowed to look down from our balcony spots to watch a local wedding in progress. It's stunningly noisy, more like a bridal show and filled with loud music and an MC who'd obviously had too much sugar and caffeine. 
Thankfully, we leave that behind and within the hour are aboard the cruise ship. It's late, but the ship is small and luxurious, with each cabin having a balcony. 

I flop down on the bed only to discover it's a box spring with a mat on top of it. The luxury part slipped a bit. 
Our view is dockside, but the weather is warm. We won't be 'shoving off' tomorrow. Rather we will be seeing some of the local sites. Stay tuned, because one of the sites you'll only see in China.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dumplings and Dances

After a visit to one of the most incredible sights in the world, The Terracotta Warriors, our guide chats to us about the supper we're to have. 
Yup, it's Chinese food. By now, some of us are weary of it, but Tom tells us this is different. It's a Xi'an hamburger.
Now, we're not going to get excited. We're too weary. Good thing. It's pulled pork on a hard roll the size of a small apple. Someone behind us wisely suggests only small portions. But it came with unlimited drinks, so there's always a silver lining.
But, if you will allow me to back up a bit, say, one day, I want to tell you about the dance last night. I switched the order of things for this blog to tell you about the warriors, but what happened to us last night is worth telling.
We were driving into a dark, dodgy area of Xi'an, and I wasn't the only one who was glancing around nervously. 

But it was all in vain.
The Dumpling Festival is at a theatre-styled restaurant where we immediately receive hot rice wine as a beautifully dressed woman plays one of those Chinese lyres I mentioned in an earlier post. It's a nice quiet introduction to what we are to watch.

We're then served mixed dumplings, and only one small drink. The rice wine was pretty good, all things considered, and the dumplings were in various cute shapes, depending on their filling. My photos were blurry because they dimmed the lights. 
They all tasted good, but our wine and one small cold drink had long since vanished by the time they brought out the spicy dumplings. One lady at our table had been told to wait for the later dumplings as they were better tastings, but by now, we needed to buy a drink. 

Which became an exercise in patience at this fully-packed theatre that saw the servers darting around like flies. I wondered if that was their ploy, to give us a hot drink, a small drink, then spicy food after that in order to force us to purchase the other drinks. 
But when the dance show started, all was forgotten. The performance was stunningly beautiful. 

I can't adequately describe it. Women dancing with long sleeves flipping them around as they represent birds like swans and such. It sounds feminine and it is, but everyone in the audience enjoyed it. 

The music delightful, the dancers incredible, and with an English narrator, we could follow the folk story being told. I videotaped two small segments and wish I could post it here, but I can't, so I put it up here.

Feel free to drop by and comment. 
Overall, though we were tired, I have to say it was a fabulous performance. 

In tomorrow's post, I'll take you on the Bullet Train!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Terracotta Warriors

As my friend said, "This is the moment I have been waiting for!"
We traveled by bus to the site, passing the actual emperor's tomb site. Through the mist and pollution, we could spy a mound in a distant field. Our guide told us that they would test for mercury in the soil. High concentrations, probably a tomb. The ancient Chinese would build a wonderful building for their emperor, going so far as to put in a river of mercury for him to enjoy in the afterlife, as mercury was believed to have curative properties. 
But all I could think of was the mercury in the soil, getting into the food we ate. 
The bus cannot take us directly to the Terracotta Warriors site. We must park at one end of the market and walk in, crossing a busy road en mass.

The traffic is insane, the pollution worse. Cars and buses squeezing past each other down a road, people shoulder to shoulder. I put on a mask, as does my friend. And together, our group follows our guide, his yellow flag held high, and make our way through the market toward the Terracotta Warriors' entrance. 

I snap photos along the way, marveling at the variety available, at the throngs of people and the vendors hawking their wares. 
At the entrance, we go through the usual security, and then the turnstiles. 

The line up is just starting. We're early. Later, as we pass the entrance again, we do the math. Six turnstiles, one person a second, steady for 10 hours. 6X60X60X10. 216,000 people entered to see the Terracotta Warriors that day.
And all want to see that one huge first building. The iconic sight of thousands of clay soldiers lined up, deep in the field. We see the well that had been dug that one day decades ago, where the farmer found that first head, and marvel at how close he came to missing them. I have to pull off the mask, as it's hot and as hard to breathe as if I wasn't wearing it.
The people are ten or twelve deep, and I use all the skills I honed in Europe in the 80s to press through them. Chinese have no personal space, and pushing past them is nothing to them. No one gets angry, everyone gets their turn if they push in. I got my requisite selfie, a few pics of the warriors, but the building is dim to protect the paint. 

 Then I turn to photograph the crowds. 

They are as awesome as the warriors. 
There are three other buildings, and we squeeze through to make our way to all of them. Like most big sites in China, it's all one way only. 

 At another building we see other statues and parts of statues. Not one has been found intact, and we see the excavation process and learn that the rest underground will never be unearthed, in order to protect them. 
Can you see the horse's back end?

Having seen all we could, we take a break outside. No one is allowed on the grass so we all huddled on the curbs. I do the same as I write about my experiences in my journal. I am studied by Chinese students bold enough to stare and watch me write cursive left to right. The toddler beside me pulls back his open-air onesy and pees on the concrete. A vendor is selling popcorn and when another toddler on the other side of me spills her box, her mother carefully cleans it up.
Flying above us is a drone, making its way around the site. Security, we suspect. I doubt the Chinese government would allow the private citizens to fly them.

As we finally leave, we pass the thick lines of people still trying to come in, and then through the market, where I buy 3 pomegranates for 10 yuan, about $2. 

Another fabulous site under our belts. And tonight is something nearly as spectacular.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Jade and Silk and Pomegranates

This morning was a trip the Jade Factory. Now, as with all Sinorama Tours, they herd you through their factories, warn you of fakes and knockoffs, and put ever so slight pressure on you to buy.

 At the Jade Factory, we saw some pretty fascinating sculptures and I did buy some earrings, but to my untrained eye, they appear much like fake ones might. Ironically, some of us buy silk there, too. Our guide comments about that, but we're glad we did. The caftans are gorgeous and we will soon realize that they are not available anywhere else we're herded into.

We slip upstairs to the cloisonne and lacquerwork and furniture.

(Anyone have a few thousand for a screen?) We're soon shepherded into the lunch buffet. I bit into an apple, something I am allergic to, but hurry back into the bus to take Benadryl. It's probably a good thing. The smog is insane and had already been stuffing me up. 
Soon, we're traveling again, through madly crowded streets (remember, that National Day? It lasts a week, but more about them later) and notice the never ending line of pomegranate stands.

It's the height of the season, and I notice that the Chinese lanterns, (not the ones we made in kindergarten) resemble pomegranates. 

But the crowds and traffic will soon be worth it as will tomorrow's post. The Terracotta Warriors await us!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lotus Pods, The Great Wall and KFC!

I finally slept and rejoiced in it! Although the hotel is excellent, albeit not in the city centre, the beds are hard. Thankfully, there is an excellent breakfast awaiting us. Western food!!
But, feeling better and perhaps pushing my luck, I tried a rather curious vegetable with the texture of turnip and the taste of a potato. But it was full of perfectly round holes. We soon learn it's lotus pod, the same thing that's in your dried arrangements. 

Don't google it. Most of the photos are disgusting. My photo didn't do it justice, so here is one from the internet.

Yup, those pretty things floating in swamps on which frogs sit. It soon becomes part of our diet. The Chinese harvest about half the plants in the fall. I had learned that yesterday at the Summer Palace, but due to my fatigue that day, I barely took it in.
We're off to the airport and our guide, Tom, gives us good and bad news. The bad news is our flight after the river cruise has been cancelled. The good news is that we will be taking the bullet train, a super fast train that can reach speeds of 350 kph, although we most likely will travel at 300 kph. Tom says that Sinorama Tours is losing money on this change, but he gets no sympathy from us. Sinorama gets free flights within China when they bring tourists in. The bullet train, with its $100 ticket to Wuhan, is a mere blip on the big picture, we're sure.
But this plane ride will take us to Xi'an, the city closest to the Terracotta Warriors, another must-see in China. At the airport, I see a beautiful cashmere jacket for only $2300, and am beginning to realize that the Chinese like to spend money. It's a status symbol to them.

We Westerners aren't as concerned for such, especially not when our guide appears with our lunches. Kentucky Fried Chicken sandwiches! Tom rocks!

From the plane, we spot the Great Wall of China. It's barely there, a thin white line snaking over the mountain ridge, but proving what Tom said, that it is NOT visible from space as the myth suggests. 

Still, it is amazing to see. Can you see it move from centre right down to centre bottom?
The airline has another surprise. It shows Just For Laughs, a comedy program from Montreal which is perfect for everyone, as it has no words, just comedy sketches mimed out for all to enjoy.
We arrive at a Holiday Inn, a much nicer one that we normally see in North America. And again, the hotel room is unique, with yet another big window between the main room and the bathroom, and again, the blind being on the outside, denying the bather the right to choose their level of privacy. 

Can you see my husband standing in the shower stall? A lovely room, but a weird set up.
Tomorrow we see the sights of Xi'an. I had never heard of the city before, but it's worth it for you to return to this blog. 

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