Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pictures added

Over the weekend I am adding some pictures to my past posts. Not many, but a few to give some flavor to what I wrote about China. Feel free to check out past posts to see some of the sights I saw. I will put up a Picasa link to the rest of my photos (I promise to try and weed them down) in the next few days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Knitting in Public . . . in China



I took these pictures at a park in Shanghai. Those are some long double pointed needles!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Book Meme

A friend posted this on Facebook and I thought I'd post this meme on my blog and pass it along.

The rules for this meme are:

  • Grab the nearest book
  • Open it to page 56
  • Post the text of the sentence on your blog along with these instructions.
  • Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the closest book.

My book is Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire. I am in the process of unpacking and my roommate on the trip gave me this book before we left.

The fifth sentence on page 56 is: "This is my table, my food, my wine."

I'm now supposed to tag a few other bloggers to do the same:

Jump in if you want to, and leave a link with your comment. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shopping haul

As you probably noticed from my posts, I bought a few things during my trip. Since I can't concentrate at the moment to go thru my pictures, I instead decided to photograph some of the things I picked up on my journey as I was unpacking.

Here's a picture of most of the items spread out on my coffee table. There's a lot of tsatskes, but some things I just couldn't help but buy.

First off, I bought a lot of pearls. When I went to the Pearl Market in Beijing I went with a list of items that folks wanted me to pick up. I still think I forgot some people and if I did, I apologize. If I didn't get an email before I left, the request wasn't on the list. My brain was too fried and overloaded to remember anything that wasn't written down. Here's a pile of what I brought back.


The next day we stopped at a government pearl store and learned how pearls were cultivated. I hadn't planned on buying anything, but I found a unique setting that I couldn't resist. I have had so many compliments on it on the trip.

At the Wall, I found a jade elephant that was just calling me. I remember my grandfather always drawing elephants when I was little. This one had it's nose up in the air and was extremely translucent (a good quality for jade). It reminded me of him so I had to have it.
I bought the following at the cloisonne factory. It is very tame compared to the other pieces on sale, but it had all the deep blues that I love.
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Next up are my purchases from the jade factory. I hadn't planned on buying a thing there, but thought I'd check out jewelry anyway. Dumb move. Turns out I found a ring that I really liked that was made of lavender jade. Unfortunately, lavender jade is the highest quality jade and thus costs a lot more. Still, it's what I liked and I knew I'd regret it later if I didn't buy it.


It's a simple setting, but I really liked it. Then, after buying a bunch of jade animals and Buddhas, I found the following dragon and decided to buy it for my "art collection."


As if that wasn't enough. At the temple that housed the Jade Buddha, I saw a folk artist making these beautiful paintings. He didn't paint these w/ his brush but with the side of his hand. I loved them so I bought 2. One might be a gift. I haven't decided yet.

At the Wild Goose Pagoda, I bought the following bracelet made of red agate. It is a Dzi bracelet that is for good luck. It has been blessed by 100 (or was it 1,000?) Buddhist monks and is specific to those born in the year of the Rabbit, Goat or Pig (me). The pattern is called a Money Hook Dzi.


At the silk factory in Shanghai, I purchased a robe, some pillow covers, and a queen-sized comforter. Now I need to go out and buy a new duvet cover. :-)

Election Results and China

So, I was in Beijing during the US presidential elections. I managed to vote by absentee ballot before leaving the country. We learned the results of the election on the way to visit The Great Wall. The next day, walking near the Silk Market in Beijing, we came across this TV screen at a busy intersection. It was a whole report on the outcome of the election, including this still shot.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Home

After a very long day, starting Saturday at 6AM in Hong Kong and ending now, Saturday at 8PM in NJ, I am home. The 15-hour flight did not seem nearly as bad as the one on the way out, but it was still very long. Luckily, I didn't have someone in the middle seat, allowing me to get a little more comfortable. Even after taking two Ambien (10mg total), I still only slept a few hours.

I stopped off in NJ to do my laundry and sleep before heading back to Philly tomorrow. I tried forcing myself to stay up (don't forget, it's a 13-hour time difference), but started to fall asleep watching Grey's Anatomy from while I was away.

For now, just know that I'm back on American soil. Once I get home to Philly, I'll start weeding thru my photos and will post them here. I can then go back thru what I've already posted and start adding more details.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hong Kong

We arrived in Hong Kong on Weds. afternoon. Our hotel is in Kowloon, just off of the Harbor. After walking around the neighborhood and having drinks at the bar across the street, we walked along Victoria Harbor to the old clock tower to watch the Hong Kong at Night Light Show. Every night at 8PM, the city has a neat light show that it puts on to music for 15 minutes. It was definitely different. Afterwards, I grabbed some Indonesian food w/ folks and then went to the Temple Night Market. This night market was full of trinkets and other bad knockoffs for sale. Still, it was some great local flavor.

Thursday, we had a half-day tour of Hong Kong, starting w/ Victoria's Peak. I loved it up there and wish we had had more time to spend there. There was a great 1 hour and 20 minute walk around the peak that I wish I had time to do. Instead, we had an amazing bird's eye view of Hong Kong, Kowloon and Victoria Harbor. You can just imagine the number of pictures I took. Next, we drove down the winding streets to Aberdeen on the southern side of Hong Kong Island. Here we boarded these boats and took a ride through the fishing village which consisted of lots of house boats. These aren't the house boats you would normally see in the states. It really was amazing that this is how people live. Afterwards we headed to a jewelry factory to learn how jewelry is made and to shop. At this point, I was all shopped out, especially for jewelry. I'm done w/ that! Of course, we left the jewelry factory and headed to Stanley Market, an open air market also on the southern side of the island. I was not impressed. It was basically a bunch of the same old trinkets and even more junk.

When we got back from the tour, I was itching to go off on my own. I walked along the promenade to the Star Ferry. There, I took the ferry back to Hong Kong island and explored the worlds longest/steepest (?) escalator. I really liked the neighborhood it was in. I then took the subway back in time to grab dinner with friends. We had a great Italian dinner in the Shangri-La Hotel (beautiful) and then had one of the worst foot massages I've ever had. I would call it more like a shin massage. The guy barely rubbed my feet. There were many other things wrong w/ it but I'm too tired to go into it.

Today (Friday), I woke up at the crack of dawn to go see the biggest Buddha in the world, the Tian Tan Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery. Instead of taking the quick way over, we took an hour-long ferry ride over to Lantau Island. It was a beautiful morning and a great harbor cruise of sorts. We then hopped in a cab and climbed the winding roads over 1,000 feet in elevation to see the Buddha that is over 1200 tons of bronze. The Buddha is also associated with a beautiful monastery. We timed it perfectly and were mostly finished by the time the tour buses started unloading folks. We took the quicker way home which is a tram or gondola over the mountains and down by the airport. It was definitely nerve-wracking at times b/c of the height.
We then hopped the subway and made it back in time for high tea at the famous Peninsula Hotel. I then walked around for a bit before heading back to pack.

Tonight we grabbed dinner with folks at this great eating area off of Nathan Road. A number of us wanted one last Chinese meal before heading home. It was a yummy Asian Fusion restaurant and now I think I've had my fill of Chinese for a very, very, very long time.

We leave for the airport at 6:45 in the morning. This will be a very long day as I leave on Saturday at 9:45AM and arrive in NY at 12:10PM on Saturday. There's no way I'm going to drive back to Philly that day. I figure I'll crash at my parents', do some laundry, have a huge salad for dinner, and then drive back the next day. Let's just say that we are all dying to have salad since we've been following the rule that if it isn't cooked or boiled, then don't eat it. Oh, and brushing my teeth w/ water from the tap will be a nice luxury as well.

I'm sad it is all coming to an end, but now it's time to start planning the next vacation. Japan? Peru? African Safari? :-)

Rushed ramblings

I write this as I'm trying to avoid packing. I've been in Hong Kong for 3 (?) days and leave early tomorrow morning. I still can't believe the trip is almost over. It's been such a great vacation. I've seen so much. The Chinese people are very friendly. Even the eastern (squat) toilets weren't so bad.

The air quality wasn't as bad as I had expected. Beijing was similar to Denver in that it had a brown cloud sitting over it. There was more of a haze than anything. At night, the air quality was worse since folks would burn all sorts of things to heat their homes or to cook. The air felt (and smelled) as if there was a forest fire off in the distance. Xi'an was the worst as far as air quality goes. My throat/lungs burned all the time. It was also very dry so that mixed w/ the poor air quality was not enjoyable. Shanghai had a nice breeze so the air quality wasn't bad except for the constant haze. Here in Hong Kong, there's a haze, but the air quality is fine.

We've had amazing weather during our trip. The worst weather was in Shanghai and that's where it was cooler and overcast. Otherwise, we've had beautiful, dry, and sunny weather.

I'm off for now. Will try to check in before I leave

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Shanghai'd in Shanghai

I've been in Shanghai now for 3 days, but this is really the first chance I've had to post again. Shanghai is a huge cosmopolitan city that is impossible to cover in 3 days. You could easily spend a week here and still not cover everything.

We arrived in Shanghai mid-morning on Sunday (I think that's what day it is). After yet another family-style chinese lunch, we embarked on our quick and ambitious bus tour of the city. Our first stop was the infamous Bund, a walkway along the west side of the Huangpo River. The Bund gives you spectacular views of the new Pudong area of Shanghai, which used to be a wasteland prior to 1994 and the construction of the TV tour. Our tour guide for the Jewish Shanghai tour (TBD below) said it best: "In 1994, the Chinese had an erection and two balls." When you see it, you'll totally understand.

The views from the bund were spectacular. There is the Grand Hyatt Hotel which is the tallest hotel in the world or Asia, I can't remember. Then there's the world financial center which looks like a bottle opener and is the 3rd tallest building in the world. The architecture in Shanghai is also amazing. I can't stop taking pictures of buildings. The designers of the Comcast Center could have taken a few lessons from the folks who have designed these buildings. They are truly works of art.


Unfortunately, the views on the bund were more insane. The place was totally crowded with folks and the "hello people" - the people who greet you as you get off the bus and try to sell you postcards, chopsticks, Mao watches, etc. It's either "hello", "maybe later", or "$1, $1". They are so much more aggressive here than they were in Xi'an or Beijing.


After our tour of the Bund, we then went to a silk factory and learned about how silk is made. Very interesting. Apparently, the silk comforters, which are made from double-larvae cocoons are cheaper than the bedding since it cannot be silk cannot be unwound in one continuous strand. I even took a video of the ladies demonstrating how they stretch out the silk to make the comforters. I even gave it a try. It was very cool.

video


Of course, we all splurged and purchased comforters and some purchased bedding. I didn't buy a silk duvet since I prefer to sleep on my nice cotton sheets. Silk is too warm for me.

Next we went to the Yu Gardens and Bazaar. The Yu Gardens is a beautiful former private garden that provides peace and tranquility from the bustle of the city. Not only that, but also from the bazaar next door. The bazaar is insane, but beautiful. It is jampacked with tourists. There are tons of stalls selling every type of trinket or souvenier you can imagine. It's also a bargaining mecca (or hell for some). It was all about getting the best deal. However, that night was just a glimpse of the bazaar. I came back the next day and did some damage, but not like I did $$$-wise in Xi'an.




That night, we saw an interesting acrobatics show. I don't know how to describe it. Some were acrobatics, some parts weren't. By that time I was wiped out since we were up at 6am to catch our flight out of Xi'an.

The next day (Monday?), some friends and I started off at the Yu Gardens Bazaar. I purchased a number of souveniers and gifts, but won't get into it now. I still suck at bargaining, but b/c I was with others, they helped me out. :-) I then came back to the hotel and needed some "alone" time and walked around the French Concession for a bit.

That night, we did a night tour of Shanghai, starting off at the largest mall in Asia. I wasn't thrilled w/ that part since the stuff was expensive and it was boring. However, we were right next to our next stop, the TV Tower and its observation deck. We took the elevator up to the 88th floor and had an amazing view of Shanghai at night. We then walked along the east side of the Huangpo River, a much calmer and more relaxed area than the Bund. Finally, we went to this bar area in the French Concession and had a drink before heading home.



Today (Tuesday?), the group organized a Jewish tour of Shanghai. It was very informative and I enjoyed it a lot. I wasn't familiar at all about the Jewish community here in China so it was interesting to learn how much the Jewish community, albeit small at some points, had influenced pre-communist China. Sadly, very little remains of the Jewish community in Shanghai or of the buildings that used to be here. All four graveyards had been dug up and the gravestones were found all over the countryside. An Israeli man that gave our tour has made it his mission to find these stones and try to build a memorial to the Jewish community in Shanghai. He's asked the government, but now has to wait. Click here for more information about what he's been doing.

After the tour, I explored the Shanghai Museum and then the Jade Buddah Temple. The Museum was great. Lots of artifacts detailing China's cultural history. The temple was also beautiful. Now I'm sitting here, passing time before dinner and our farewell event. Tomorrow we leave for Hong Kong for the extension of the trip while some are headed home. I can't believe that the trip is almost over. I only have 3 more days before we leave on Saturday. Not sure what we'll be doing in Hong Kong yet, but I think my credit card needs a break from shopping! I think taking pictures is a better option. :-)

8th Wonder of the World

Today was our day in Xi'an where I got to see the 8th wonder of the world -- the terra cotta warriors. I am speechless at how amazing they are and the fact that each statue is different from another. We spent the afternoon wandering through 3 of the pits that house the statues.



Prior to our visit with the warriors, we went to the Wild Goose Pagoda, which is a buddist temple. Some of our group participated in a prayer ritual while others took pictures. I purchased a bracelet that has been blessed by 100 monks and is meant to bring good luck to the wearer. It is special to my chinese zodiac sign. I lucked out and some of my friends had already negotiated the price since I'm really bad at bargaining w/ the locals. And I mean really bad.

Afterwards we went to a jade store and learned about how jade is mined, the types of jade - hard or soft - and the quality - jadite or nephrite (sp?). I went in thinking I'm not into jade, but that I might get some gifts for folks (jade buddahs, etc.). I just skimmed some of the jewelry and fell in love w/ one of the rings. I'm not a fan of green, but jade, the really good (and expensive) jade is also translucent and lavender. That's the ring I found and worked my way to bargain down the ring about 45% of the price with a little help from my friends. Then I got the trinkets and then a little piece of art for my living room.

Seriously, I am really not a jade fan. Please take my credit card away from me! I haven't even made it to Shanghai or Hong Kong where there's even more shopping!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Days 3-4

The past 2 days have been so busy that I haven't had a chance to get back on and post. I can't even remember where I left off! We have now left Beijing and are in the old capital city of Xi'an, home of the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Day 3
We only had a 1/2 day of touring with the rest of the day and evening free. In the morning, we went to the Hutong for a tour of what Chinese living used to be like in Beijing. With all of the development in the city, there are only 2 hutongs left. This hutong houses about 30,000 people and is a quiet, almost suburb-like living. Hutong means small alleys and that's just what it is made up of. Some "streets" can't even take cars they are that small.

At the hutong, we hopped onto Rickshaws (what fun!) and headed off to a local kindergarten to see how the kids learn. OMG, they were so cute! Afterwards, we took our rickshaws to a local woman's home to see how folks in the hutong live and to ask questions. This woman doesn't work but hosts tour groups. Her husband, son and brother are all artisits that make beautiful caligraphy scrolls. Of course, I had to buy one. :-)



Afterwards, we went to what used to be the Prince's garden and watched a tea ceremony. It was very interesting, but of course they were trying to sell their products and I really wasn't interested.


Once our hutong tour was over, we had the rest of the day free. Some folks went to the zoo to see the pandas (they're in China, why not see pandas), some went to the Lama Temple, while others, including me, went to buy pearls! Mind you, I did not go for the expensive cultured pearls that would cost more than my rent. Instead, I went for the kind that were fun. I'm not a huge pearl person, so this worked for me. I went to Jin Na's on the recommendation of Janet's friend and went to town. I had orders I had to fill, things for myself, as well as a gift or two to purchase. In the end, I also left with 2 free 34" strands of white pearls and a floating pearl necklace.

pearls to choose from
women stringing the pearls i purchased
posing with JiNa

That night, we went back to the hutong for dinner, after having some issues w/ cab drivers that had no clue how to get there. Dinner was at the Li Family Restaurant, highly recommended by all the guidebooks and on the list of 1000 Places to See Before You Die. 10 of us went to dinner and it was so worth it! Great, local authentic food and great company! We had planned to go to the night market in Beijing, but dinner went to long and we missed it. Basically, the night market consisted of the pictures I posted before the trip. No big deal if I missed it.

Day 4
Our last day in Beijing. Today we went to the Summer Palace, which is a beautiful extensive palace on a lake in the northwest of Beijing. Very beautiful. It's also in the Guiness Book of World Records for the longest corridor. I'll show you pictures, but I didn't quite understand it at first. It's an outdoor corridor, with thousands of painted pictures along it. Very beautiful.


Afterwards, we saw how pearls are cultivated and then were sent to shop in a government-owned pearl market. Deals weren't the same, but I did see a drop pendant that I liked and would never see again. That means I bought it!

In the afternoon, we flew to Xi'an. Last night, we went to a Tang Dynasty perfomance. The costumes were beautiful. The music was a bit high and did not help the headache I had. It also didn't help that we were up at 6 that morning and were utterly exhausted by the end.

Today, we are off to see the Wild Goose Pagoda and the Terra Cotta Warriors, with a dumpling banquet in the evening. More to post later.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Beijing - Days 1 & 2

I don't even know where to begin. This is the problem with not getting onto the internet sooner.

Day 1 - Beijing

Today we started out early and headed out to the Temple of Heaven. This is was the major place of worship for the Ming Dynasty. We had to go through several gates before we got to the famous Hall of the Prayer for Good Harvest. This is a gorgeous 3-story octagonal structure with amazing detail and design. Needless to say, I took a lot of pictures. I had a great time trying to get cool shots of the different angles and the designs. At the beginning of the Temple, we all stood on a circular stone that was said to be the "center of the universe." The emperors thought themselves to be the hand of god, so that is why they felt they were the center of the universe.

It was also amazing how aggressive the Chinese vendors were. We would be standing around waiting for others and we would be swarmed (not even a strong enough word) with folks selling "silk" scarves, chopsticks, postcards, etc. Around the Temple, the grounds were extensive. Folks gather on the grounds and perform tai chi, play a cool form of kadima with two rackets, and dance.

After the Temple of Heaven we moved onto lunch at a local restaurant. We had been warned that the food might be an issue for some on the trip and to bring lots of snacks. This meal was actually quite good. And the best thing, they had a western toilet! You've probably seen or heard that the toilets in China ("eastern toilets") are basically holes in the ground. They think that western toilets are unsanitary, which is pretty much what we think about the western toilets. Beijing has also rated a number of the toilets in the city, but I think the rating system is pretty arbitrary and just plain false!

This afternoon, we were dropped off at Tienanmen Square, the largest city square in the world. It's huge. What else can I say. Tienanmen Square is also at the entrance to the Forbidden City, so we continued across the street to walk through the Forbidden City. Before we crossed the street, we took a great group picture in front of the entrance w/ the picture of Mao on it (remember it from the Olympics?).


The Forbidden City is magnificent. The detail that went into the buildings and the shear size of it is unbelievable. This is the home of the emperor and his concubines. We went through 3 gates before we actually entered the "city". I took soooooo many pictures and desperately need to weed thru them.




Afterwards, we had a Peking duck dinner. I wasn't too impressed, but that's b/c I don't like duck (too fatty) and they didn't carve the duck in front of us. :(

When we got back, we quickly changed and walked down the block to have a traditional foot massage. OH. MY. GOD. It was amazing. You are in rooms w/ 2-6 people, all seating in lazy boy-type chairs. They then have you soak your feet in hot-as-hell water to open up the pores. The masseurs come in and being pounding your legs and then go to work on your feet performing the ultimately massage - reflexology. This was 90 minutes, ending with a back massage. It was heaven. What a great way to end our first day, and a long one at that!

Day 2 - Beijing

Today, we headed out of the city and out to the Great Wall. On our way out of town, we stopped at the Olympic Village to see the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube. What amazingly beautiful buildings! Really, the TV coverage does not do them justice.


Afterwards, we went to see the Ming Tombs. I thought they were supposed to be more interesting, but it was kind of boring. I think maybe I missed something that I should have looked for. I'm not sure.

We then stopped at a total tourist trap to see how cloisonne is made. The stuff I made in high school pales in comparison to what they were doing. This place had a huge shopping area, kind of like a mini-department store of touristy items. They had huge cloisonne vases and jade sculptures you could buy, along with silk and tea pots. I looked at some of the silk robes for gifts, but the sizes were just too hard to get over. One woman on our trip who can't be more than a size 4, was told that she is a size XL. Yeah, that's how small the Chinese women are and their sizing structure. Some items went up to 6XL to accommodate western bodies. It was too complicated so I abandoned that idea. I did find, however, a beautiful cloisonne bowl w/ lid and a couple bracelets.

After stopping here and having lunch, we were off to the wall. Wow! You truly cannot imagine how magnificent this wall is until you set foot on it. I took the "easier" route, which was not as steep as the other side and climbed up several posts. Some parts were far worse than the hills in San Francisco. They were very steep and slick.


China is an interesting place for western tourists b/c we stand out so much from the dark hair and dark eyes of the Asian community. I had just had someone take my picture when a Chinese man asked to take a picture w/ me. I then had some friends jump in and then the men kept jumping in and out oft he pictures. It was hysterical. It was like we were celebrities! When we took group shots, random folks also took our pictures. We couldn't get over it. My friend managed to capture one of the shots with the Chinese men so I will always remember our celebrity.



Tonight, instead of hitting the night market, we instead went back to the massage parlor and got full body massages to stem of the inevitable pain of climbing the wall. This can be addictive. My 80-minute massage was only $50. You can't beat it!

Tomorrow is a day of exploring the hutongs of Beijing by rickshaw, eating out on our own, visiting the night market, and shopping. I'm off to bed now . . .