Dynasties, Temples, Lakes, and Lotus

Trip Start Sep 01, 2004
Trip End Apr 25, 2005

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Monday, November 29, 2004

Ni Hao,

Now be careful how you say that. You never know how it will come out depending on the inflection of your voice. According to my Mandarine Phrase book, "hitting the wrong tone can turn a 'poem' (yi shou shi) into a 'handful of shit' (yi shou shi)". While Don and I both try to mimic the way that they place their tongue and their inflection as accurately as possible, it never comes out sounding right. We may be a little better in a few weeks, I hope so because practically no one outside of the hotels speak much English, and that is in Beijing. Wait until we get out of here. When we want to go in a Taxi we have to say the name because our map doesn't have anything written in their alphabet. We always end up saying it 4 or 5 times before they get it, each time they repeat what you just said and act like they have never heard of it, then after the fifth time of saying it exactly the same way, then they act like, oh yeah, of course!

Beijing is an amazing mix of ancient and hi-tech western civilization. There will be a Microsoft high rise right down the block from 100+ year old row houses with narrow alley ways of the Haotong District, that only a pedicab will fit through, and that will be around the corner from a temple and palaces from the 15th and 16th centuries, and huge beautiful parks you could spend hours in.

The economy here seems to be booming and there is high rise construction and cranes everywhere you look on the skyline.

China is a developing country, but it seems to us, as with all of the countries we have been to, that the young people are adopting the worst traits of western culture. Materialism being the most evident. Knock off designer shops are everywhere and many of the young people wear the worst of the "designer look". I have never seen so much crap to buy in my life and all of the stores are packed. Everyone has 1 cell phone, and we saw some people with 2. They are constantly ringing around you, or should I say, playing some obnoxious music, or noise from a game. There are hundreds of cell phone stores that blare rock music and have a million flashing lights. It looks like Las Vegas. We were told that there are 150 different car manufactures here in China! Of course this is city life, and we haven't seen the rural lifestyle yet.

The Chinese people here are much more low key than the people of Hong Kong. There dialect of speech even seams softer and less aggressive. It is not hard to get a smile from someone. Today we said ni hao (hello) to an old woman on the street, and she had a complete one sided conversation with us, then laughed when she realized that ni hao was all we knew. They have a great sense of humor.

We feel completely safe here, but always have to be on our guard not to pay "too much" for anything. Typical scams are; Unofficial taxis with no meter that just make up a price. Pedicab drivers that say they are charging you 100RMB$ (you think that is the total) and then when you arrive at your destination they charge 100RMB$ for each person. Restaurants that don't put prices on their menu, when you order you don't ask how much it is, and then they rip you off when you go to pay them. OK, that was just our experience for the first couple of days....maybe there are more to come, but we are ready now! Today we got 2 Northface fleece lined Goretex knock offs for $20.00ea. We think that we did OK with that one. Don thinks that he has his Black Belt in negotiation. Even I am impressed with the deals he gets and how he handles the people we have to deal with.

It is the dead of winter here, so we have to imagine what the scenery must be like in the spring when the cherries and lotus are blooming. It must be spectacular because the scenery now is great.

We have visited these sites so far; The Old Summer Palace, the New Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Tennamen Square, the Dirt Market, and the Great Wall.

Keeping all of the Dynasties straight is impossible for us and as bad as trying to figure out the Egyptian History. Since our crazy round the world route has roughly followed the Silk Road and the routes used for trade between the Middle East and Asia, it has been interesting to see connections between the two areas in their art, clothes, and relics. Rome, Xian, and Constantanople (Istanbul), all vied for the most powerful cities at their height of power, so their histories are rich, and their museums are full of the products of trade between the areas.

The Dirt Market is a weekend flea market that would remind you of the flea market in Galt. It had hundreds of stalls with art, antiques, rocks, jewelry...you name it. I was most fascinated with the brushes that they use for their painting and calligraphy. They range in size from tiny to as big as 24 inches in diameter and as tall as I am. I really wanted to buy things bad, but was strong, because after 3 months of carrying my home around with me, I know better!

Don and I both agree that the Great Wall of China was by far the most amazing of all of the sites that we saw in Beijing. One advantage of doing a trip like ours, where you have no time to really study any particular area in great detail and have no particular plan, is that you never know exactly what to expect and are always surprised. Sometimes they are bad surprises...but mostly good! The Great Wall was one of those great surprises and we were amazed at the magnitude of the structure. It winds like a snake along the ridge tops of the mountains for miles with shear cliffs on either side. They say that thousands of bodies of the people who died building the wall were used as part of the building materials. Luckily we were able to ride the gondola to the top of the wall, and then were able to walk along it, but the best part was the toboggan ride back down to the parking lot!

To us the main attraction of China so far are the people and the culture. The historical sites are just a side show. We are looking forward to venturing deeper into the areas that are less developed. The best of China is yet to come!

We are doing great, and have stayed in good health since leaving Zanzibar. We are constantly cleaning our hands though and are super careful where we eat. Also I am proud to say that we have not had one thing stolen or lost thanks to my constant paranoia! We have thrown a few things out though. The bags seem to get heavier with every plane or train ride.

Hope all is well back home and hope that everyone had a nice Thanksgiving and didn't eat too much! We really miss everyone. Sometimes we get a little weary, but then we see something amazing and are ready for one more adventure.

Don and Jo
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