Subject: Re: Was Beijing/Vietnam/India/Morocco
Hi Joan,

It has been so long since I traveled in China that perhaps what I can tell you is no longer very relevant (late 80's). I did take the Li River trip. It was on a wide, flat-bottom boat and a very tranquil river, but with wonderful scenery. Where we disembarked, there was a very rudimentary landing with a small market going on. A dentist had an old regular dental office chair set up a foot or two from the walkway and had people lined up waiting for his services. He seemed only to be pulling teeth (quite a few on his table). No amenities in sight. I relate this to tell you it was very interesting from the point of observing how people lived, but it was a no-frills area. The trip was several hours, and they served a fried chicken lunch on the boat with the usual orange Koolaid type of drink served all over China (usually only that and the local beer).

Several years after the trip, I discovered that a picture I had taken on the Li River was at the exact spot as a postcard I bought. The only difference was a few water buffalo on the shore in one of them. I keep them both under a cover on my computer desk, so I never forget that trip.

As I say, I know things have changed enormously in China, but be prepared to always have your own water bottles with you. We had a thermal jug of very hot water on a tray of tea things each morning in every hotel, and we used that water to refill our bottles. At that time you could never get ice in the places we went. Even the Coca Cola at the Great Wall shop was barely beginning to cool a bit. You are prepared to do things differently, and there are many compensations. Other Ziners have been there more recently and can give you good feedback.

I don't recall the name of our hotel in Guilin (I may still be able to find it in my files), but it was on a lake and quite nice. You could have a marvelous one-hour massage in your room for the equivalent of about $5. According to the guidebook, their restaurant's specialty was roasted anteater. I can't tell you how good it was, as I was not brave enough to eat things I could not identify. It was very warm weather, and we were only a few blocks from the main part of town, so we would mill around with the local people on the street and in the department stores until very late at night. We were real oddities to them, but all you had to do was smile and they were very friendly.

Again, I don't know how it may be now but, at that time, there were wonderful buys to be had in the Friendship Stores. I saw the most beautiful silk, hand-tied rug I have ever seen before or since at an unbelievable price, but was with a group and just didn't have the time it obviously took to do all the paperwork -- a tedious transaction, at least at that time.

We had a lovely meal at the Forbidden Palace (in the Pavilion Where Orioles Sing) our first day in Beijing, but in general I was glad I had taken a supply of snack food to fill in when rations were too iffy. Again, I know they have worked at accommodating tourists to encourage the business, and I'm sure you will find things quite different. There was a Maxim's in Beijing, but we didn't have the opportunity to try it.

In Xian, which you won't miss, of course, the new hotel at the time was the Golden Flower, but since the government controlled such things, we stayed at the Scarlet Bird. Go for the Golden Flower or something newer. I hear they have built a lot of new ones in all the cities.

The only Chinese I remember is the word for hello, which is pronounced, nee-how, but inflection is everything, since the same word can mean many things depending on how it is said. Smiles go a long way.

Sorry I ran on so long. Have a wonderful trip and buy lots of tee shirts. They were the best quality I have ever seen any place and my grandson grew into and out of one that said, I climbed the Great Wall, and it was still perfectly good.

Happy traveling,

Lou Matthews (TX)