Subject: The China Trip or Chopsticks for Two Weeks
Greetings one and all!

Now that I've cleared off emails, clipped and mowed outside, cleaned and gone through mail inside, and petted and reassured the cat, I'll post a bit on my May China trip. It was a tour with Imaginative Traveler that started in Hong Kong and concluded in Beijing. I had ff miles with United so was able to upgrade to Biz class - and I could become addicted to that. Sure helped with the long trip over and back.

Got into HK in the evening and met with the group upon arrival. The Gang of Three! Others were signed on but cancelled at the last moment, so we were three: the other two were a young newly married couple! Fortunately, he was a Taiwanese born American Chinese, quite fluent, so we really had an assistant tour leader. The tour leader was a young Chinese woman, one of two Chinese used by IT. We had the day after arrival in HK free, so I wandered around Kowloon park (marvelous flamingoes!), other areas of Tsim Sha Tsui and down to Ya Ma Tei, where we had stayed when I was last there. Found various open markets, including the Kansu street jade market. Then went down to check out the museum and cultural center; walked along the bay front before returning to the hotel, and with the rest of the group, flying off to Guilin.

The next morning, we took the cruise down the Li River, an almost unbearably beautiful area, the subject of many classical Chinese paintings. For two nights, we stayed at a Lodge just outside Yangshou, described as a "backpackers paradise". It was a farming town that had become a shoppers delight for the Li River cruise tourists, most of whom cruised down for the day and then bused back to Guilin fafter a several hours. The view over the valley where we stayed and where we biked around, was exquisite. We also had a Chinese language lesson (included) and atai chi session (optional).

However, we talked our guide into leaving early on the final day so we could have time to explore Guilin a bit before we flew off to Chongqing, toured that city before we caught our Yangste river boat for the Three Gorge cruise.

We were three nights cruising. Passengers were mainly Chinese; our table of Westerners included two French couples and a German couple. The common language was English. The scenery was as expected though the third gorge was not as challenging as it had been before the dam had been put into limited operation. We stopped for several teHere we took the night train to Xi'an - a grubby and basic soft sleeper. Air conditioned by a noisey fan attached to the ceiling near the window. Better than the Indian trains for at least I could see out of the window. But basic. We had a four bunk sleeper and managed. Our tour guide made sure we purchased food before so we were not at the mercy of the train vendors.

After arriving at Xi'an, we did a brief tour and then had the rest of the time to ourselves. The three of us walked around, biked on the City Wall, climbed up the Little Goose Pagoda (we thought it was the Big Goose Pagoda). That evening we ate at an excellent and famed dumpling restaurant near the hotel. The next day was the Terra Cotta Warriors which were more impressive than I expected. Every one different. And they are still uncovering more. It was well worth the return to China.

Evening flight to Shanghai where we drove about for a bit before arriving at the hotel. Bund was lite up and really beautiful at night. The next morning, the couple took off on their own and while I started with the tour person, ended up wandering off by myself. Didn't get to Peoples Park and the new performing art center as I had hoped. We all met at noon and went to the YuYuan Gardens, a bit of sanity in the midst of the hustle of Shanghai. The couple took off again and I stayed some with the guide and wandered off some on my own - bought three pieces of art work, but no rug (I almost always come home with a rug of some kind!).

Back to the night train to Beijing, but a new and immaculately clean express. In fact, our tickets included eatable food. It was lovely, lovely and no comparison with the Yichang-Xi'an train. Got into Beijing somewhat rested and immediately went out to see Tianamen Square (including the remains of Chairman Mao), the Forbidden City (with the Starbucks housed therein) , and the Temple of Heaven (where we had lunch). We were then on our own so I walked around the hutongs (old residences along narrow alleyways) near our hotel, getting myself somewhat oriented. The next day was devoted to the Wall: We drove three hours to Jinshanling, a lesser known entry to the Wall. The plan was to walk/climb the wall to Simatai,another entry place, about four hours and 10 K along unrestored areas of the wall. I didn't make it: lasted about a third of the way, huffing and puffing before I returned and the driver drove me to Simatai, where I had lunch and talked with a cafe manager who wanted to practise English as I waited for the rest of our group.

Dinner that evening was interesting. I went off on my own to a local Chinese restaurant where I tried to order with everything, but everything, in Chinese. I managed tea and rice OK, but finally had to crow like a rooster for chicken - never figured out how to get vegetables. A friend has subsequently suggested I should have drawn a picture or snow peas or whatever - Don't know what would have happened had I done that for my artistic skills are about on the same level as my linquistic abilities.

The final day we were on our own. I hired the local guide to accompany me to the Summer Palace and to wander around more hutongs and the Bell Tower. She was delighted to practise her English and I was delighted to have the company. Then, I just walked about on my own, looking into back alleyways. At one point, I ended up at a student art display where again, people wanted to practise their English. That evening we all went to a hutong restaurant, famous for its Peking Duck (and I have no idea as to the name or exact whereabouts - we were led by our guide), for our final meal together. Superb food. Afterwards, we ended up at Starbucks for a frappe as the guide had never had one.

And endth the trip. Did run into my two companions at the airport at 6 AM as we went through security; they were toting two bird cages and a painting they had purchased. I promptly went to sleep once we had effected the transfer at Narita.

Should mention: in addition to the tour guide, we had a local guide and driver in every place we stopped, some better than others. Hotels were all 3*, comfortable and with insuite facilities. I was impressed with IT's itinerary and pacing of activities. It was not a luxurous tour but it was comfortable with interesting adjuncts, eg: bicycling and the Lodge at Yangshou. Tour guide was enthusiastic and professional. It was my second guided tour - the other was a Rick Steves B/B tour of Spain and Portugal - and it worked for me! The tour was labeled China Highlights and cost $1155, exclusive of air.

Will be glad to answer any questions.

Cheers! jo, settled in Sunnyvale for a month or two.