|We have finally arrived in Bejing and are taking a couple days rest before we get on the train ride of a lifetime throiugh Mongolia to St. Petersburg, Russia for 21 days. Something tells me you won't be hearing from us until we arrive in Berlin sometime at the end of the month. But before all that, here's how the last part of our trip went in China.
After meeting our second group in Shanghai we headed from the small town of Zhouzhuang which is over 2,500 years old and is called the "Venice of the Orient" with a series of bridges, canals and ancient buildings. That afternoon we took a boat down the Grand Canal to Suzhou which is famous for having two of the four most famous gardens in China. One is called the "Garden of Harmony", the other is the "Humble Administrator's Garden". Both were very peaceful and stunning. For over a thousand years Suzhou has also been known for producing the finest silks in China.
We spent some time in the ancient capital of Nanjing and then headed to Qufu which is a center of pilgrimage. Confucius was born and died there in 479 AD. The first temple was started the year after his death. It appears that over 20,000 "direct descendants" of Confucious actually live in Qufu and are buried in this huge cementery. We actually rented these rickedy old bikes from some local women and rode thru the cemetery several times. Its really quite a beautiful location. Now for our "Special Confucious Banquet".
It was one of those round table deals with the vegetarians or non-red meat eaters sitting at one of the tables. There were already some small munchies on the table, but then they brought out the first course which appeared to be crisp rice cakes, but there was something on them. I noticed something, a bug, on the food and thought, "oh my God, they don't see that". Wrong again, the rice cakes were actually covered with fried scorpions. Tasty little devils, like peanut shells if you like that sort of thing.
Next came the soup in a bowl with a rather large turtle floating in the middle. You guessed it, "turtle soup". You could actually see its head over the bowl. Not a good thing to put at the vegetarian table. After we all caught our breath, we had them take it away, but the other table thought it was delicious. None of them could remember who had actually eaten the head.
The next day was probably the best of this tour, we actually got to climb up an incredible amount of steep stairs to the top of Mount Tai Shan which is the most venerated of China's five sacred mountains. It is believed that the sun began its daily westward journey from its peak. It was actually amazing how many buildings (hotels, restuarants, small shops) were on top of this mountain including all the temples. Once we climbed the top, we got a beer and went out on the terrace and watched the sun go down over the mountains. Really spectacular. What was really interesting is that many of the locals wanted to take pictures with anybody who was foreign. Needless to say I think Melissa and I will show up in many of the locals vacation pictures.
The following morning we got up and headed down the mountain and drove to a local village. Here we got the opportunity to visit a kindergarten, a clinic, and a rest home before splitting up into three groups and having a meal with a local family. We lucked out in that we got the local tour guide who could translate. We ate with at the home of the "assistant to the mayor". What a character. He took a liking to me, I have no idea why, and decided I could probably keep up with him in the alcohol consumption contest. I only had to sip my beer before he would refill it. He then gave me a cup of the "good" stuff which was probably equivalent to white lightening. After I recovered, the tour guide informed him that I was a retired police officer. That went over great, after that I was his buddy.
That same evening we took the overnight train to Luoyang. We thought we would have compartments of six each, not so, the train was a local train and was set up like a dorm. Three bunks to each wall where Melissa and I lucked out, just kidding, and got the two top bunks which you basically had to climb up and then crawl into.
We arrived the following morning and during that day we got the opportunity to visit Shaolin which is where all Kung Fu is taught in China. They estimate that over 30,000 youngsters and young adults are currently attending an institution in Shaolin that teaches Kung Fu. As for Jackie Chan, he nevered studied Kung Fu in China at Shaolin. We actually went to one of the institutions and watched a Kung Fu demonstration before visiting the Shaolin Monestary.
Once in Luoyang, we went to visit the historic site, the Buddhist Longmen Caves. Unfortunately it was during the Chinese's one week vacation, so the site was absolutely packed with tourists. You could just guess the pushing and shoving that was required to get a view of the actual statues.
The following day was off to Xian to finally get a glimpse of the famous "Terracotta Warrirors". It was even more spectacular than I imagined. They were actually discovered by accident in 1974 when a peasant was digging a well and stumbled upon just a piece of one of the statues. It was amazing how the archeologists throughtout the past 30 years had painstakingly brushed off each piece and put them all back together.
We ended our trip by flying to Beijing. It was quite nice to rest for 6 days in one location. We had a chance to visit the Forbidden City and other locations in the capital. It was also where we had to say goodbye to our group, plus our special friends that we had been with for 30 days. Really a great group of people and our tour guide, Sarah, was spectacular!!!
We then had a chance to meet our next group. The average age of the group was probably 65 or greater. Yes, believe it or not, I was one of the young ones.
We ended China by spending 3-1/2 hours hiking on the Great Wall of China which sits between Mongolia and China. It was a beautiful day and there was no one else on the wall but about five of us and all the folks selling wares. Needless to say we were the only show in town, so they all (20 plus) followed us the majority of the way. The best part was the speaker on the hill opposite the wall blasting ancient chinese music to get you in the mood.
Doing "things" the Chinese way has definitely been trying at times, but very worth while.
P.S. Beijing and the Great Wall pics will be with the next update. Ran out of time.