China Travel – Shanghai – June 14-16

Shanghai, with a population of 19 million, is located on China’s eastern coast, about midway between Beijing and Hong Kong on the banks of the Huangpu River, close to where the great Yangtze River empties out to the Yellow Sea.

DK Eyewitness Travel China summarizes its history as follows:

       “It is an autonomous municipality, and an explosion of economic and industrial development has made it one of the fastest growing cities in the world.”

It was not always so.  Again referring to Eyewitness Travel:

        “By Chinese standards, the development of Shanghai . . . is a recent development.  In the 13th century it became a minor county seat and so it remained until the mid-19th century when British commercial ambitions led to wars with China.  [the First Opium War, 1840-42 and Second Opium War, 1856].  The ensuing Treaty of Nanking allowed the British to trade freely from certain ports, including Shanghai.  The city soon became an outpost of glamor, high living, and ultimately decadence.  It was divided into ‘concessions’, where foreign nationals lived in miniature versions of first Britain, then France, the U.S. and Japan.  The Bund or quay along the Huangpu is still lined with concession-era buildings, evidence of a time when Shanghai was the third largest financial center in the world.”

I wanted to lay this “second-hand” background in some detail, in part because, for me, the most fascinating experience of my whole trip to China was the time spent in the French Concession, with its beautiful little streets and high-end shops in the old buildings, and in particular, our visit to the old house which is the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.

communitst-party

 

Again, resorting to DK Eyewitness:

“This house in the French Concession was the venue for a historic meeting, where representatives of China’s communist cells met to form a national party on July 23, 1921.  Officially, there were 12 participants, including Mao Zedong, but it is believed that many others also attended.  The police discovered the meeting and the delegates were forced to escape to a boat on Lake Nan, in Zhejiang.  The house has a reconstruction of the meeting with the original chairs and teacups used by the delegates.  The exhibition hall tells the history of the Chinese Communist Party.”

No photography is allowed inside the house.  The most memorable items on display were the simple black and white photographs of the young Chinese participants in the meeting, all men, I think, and the brief summaries of their backgrounds.  It seems it was no coincidence that the location of their historic meeting was in the French Concession; many of them (notably excluding Mao) received their university educations in Paris, where they probably acquired their enthusiasm for the theories of Marx and Lenin.  I could easily have spent more time at this sparse display, but the group had many more places to go and things to see in Shanghai.  To my mind, this is a very high priority place for any visitor to Shanghai to acquire a deeper understanding of China today.

We then went to the Yu Yuan Gardens, in the heart of Shanghai’s diminishing Old City.

yu-yuan-gardens

Created as a private garden Yu Yuan was opened to the public in 1961 and today is one of Shanghai’s most popular attractions.  Indeed, it is a restful and lovely place, well worth a visit.

In the afternoon the group went to the Shanghai Museum of Ancient Chinese Art.

shanghai-museum

Barbara and the rest of the group spent a couple of hours in the Museum, and all of them proclaimed it as excellent.  I was not doing so well with my walking/standing at the time, so I opted to lounge around the surrounding gardens with my binoculars, looking for any city birds that may have found them attractive.  The most spectacular birds, however, were the pure white pigeons that enjoyed the largesse of the human passersby.

This evening we attended a production of a traditional Chinese Acrobatic group.  It was very entertaining.

acrobats

On Saturday, June 15, the weather was still somewhat wet and foggy, but we nevertheless strolled out along the famous Bund.  The Bund, a wide avenue, was the center of the European Concession era and influence.  It is flanked on one side by the broad Huangpu River and on the other by historic European style edifices.   Today, massive construction projects form a growing backdrop for this attraction.  The architecture is stunning, as often is the case in many of the Chinese cities that we visited.

bund

After a visit to a very nice silk shop where we were treated to an excellent presentation of the history of silk and the silk worms that produce it, we succumbed and made a purchase of a silk bed cover and a few small silk items.  Lunch was on our own.  Burger King won out.  The afternoon was on our own so we rested and then enjoyed our final dinner in China, at, of all places, a French restaurant.

 

 

 

         

 

China – Yangtze Cruising – June 11-13

We boarded our Viking Cruise ship at Chongqing on the evening of the June 10.  The ship was larger and more luxurious than we had anticipated.  We had a spacious cabin with a little balcony so we could sit outside and watch the world go by.  Everything was kept nice and clean and the service and food was good.  We enjoyed a relaxing three day river cruise from Chongqing to Sandouping, the site of the immense Three Gorges Dam.

After breakfast on board the next morning we disembarked to visit Fengdu, or the “Ghost City”.

Michael’s summary:

“Fengdu was dubbed the “ghost city” for its appearance in two ancient stories about the underworld.  Significant for its preservation of Chinese afterlife culture, Fengdu’ otherworldly associations date back nearly two thousand years to two imperial court officials who journeyed to nearby Mt. Minshan to practice Taoist teachings, ultimately achieving immortality as legend has it.  Their combined surnames, Yin and Wang, translate to “King of Hell”, and this title birthed the city’s ensuing fascination with the supernatural.”

fengdu

To reach the main attraction of Fengdu, we climbed a lot of stairs in stifling heat and reflected on the visions of the afterlife portrayed in the statuary and carvings lining the path.

We returned to our ship for lunch and afternoon cruising.  In the evening Barbara attended an on-board fashion show depicting several different dynasties and areas of China.

On the morning of Wednesday, June 12, we passed through the scenic Qutang Gorge, at five miles, the shortest of the Three Gorges.  Mountains towered from both sides.

qutang-gorge

This afternoon we enjoyed a ride in a sampan on a tributary, the Shennong Stream, with a 5 man crew, 4 to row and 1 to steer.  The waters of the tributary were much clearer than the Yangtze.  A very enjoyable side trip with beautiful scenery.

We cruised through Wu (Sorcerer’s) Gorge, 25 miles long and with cliffs so sheer that the sun rarely penetrates.  Later in the afternoon we entered the beautiful 42-mile long Xiling Gorge.

We then arrived at the approach to the locks of the Three Gorges Dam, to await our turn through the locks.

We went through the five locks during the night.  We slept through it, although we were told the next morning that it had been quite noisy.  Barbara woke up around midnight and saw a huge cement wall very close to the boat, disappearing heavenward.  That is all we experienced from the locks.

locks

On Thursday morning, the 13th, we disembarked to tour Sandouping, the site of the Three Gorges Dam.  An observatory has been constructed overlooking the site. The Three Gorges Dam has been planned for almost a century and was completed just a few years ago.  The flooding of the Yangtze as a result of the dam has displaced millions of folks who previously lived and made a living along the river.  Replacement villages have been constructed high above the new waterline along the river.

resettlement

Three Gorges Dam is 5 times larger than our Hoover Dam.

3-gorges-dam

It is the largest dam of its kind, with walls more than 600 feet high and 6,500 feet long.  The lake created by the dam is the world’s largest reservoir.  It provides about 10% of China’s hydroelectric power.

We returned to the boat for lunch and to continue on to Yichang Airport for our flight to Shanghai.  We arrived in Shanghai at rush hour and the traffic was very heavy.  Upon arrival at our hotel, the Hilton, we found our room on the 30th Floor had a terrific view of down-town Shanghai.  It was late, so we just grabbed a panini and a beer at the hotel and ate in our room.

 

 

China – Chongqing and Dazu June 9-10

We rode from Lhasa to the airport, a trip of about an hour and a half.  Our destination is Chongqing.  The boarding process was a bit hectic.  Security agents went through one of our party’s bags with a fine tooth comb, causing us some delay and concern.  We never knew what the perceived problem was.  Next, Barbara’s boarding pass was issued in the name of our guide, Michael, who then had 2 boarding passes.  When this was discovered, shortly before boarding, Michael managed a quick fix.  Barbara’s window substitute seat at the back of the plane at least allowed her to get some beautiful photos of the Himalayas.

It was raining when we arrived in Chongqing, the first rain we have encountered in China. I have been blissfully ignorant of China’s history and geography, and nowhere on our trip was this information gap more obvious than when we saw Chongqing.  I had thought of it as a little place somewhere in the outback of China.  How dumbfounded I was to learn that it is the largest city in China with over 30 million inhabitants, and growing. My impression was of an asphalt jungle with high rise condos at every turn.

In Michael’s words:

“Chongqing [is] one of China’s – and the world’s – largest cities.  Called the ‘Mountain City,’ Chongqing is surrounded by hills in a most scenic setting and has a history dating back more than 3,000 years.”    

In the 1930s, General Chiang Kai Shek made Chongqing his wartime capital in view of its protective hills, access to the Yangzi River, and its proximity to the American allied soldiers in Kunming.  The city was bombed repeatedly by the Japanese but many caves in the surrounding hills provided ample bomb shelters.

The countryside around Chongqing is lush and heavily cultivated.  The drive into the city from the airport is marked by terraced hillsides, tilled valleys and a series of farming villages.

The Yangtzi River is nearby and contributes to the economy in a major way.  Shipping, tourism and distribution of goods and products to the “hinterlands” of China are among the important contributors to Chongqing’s  economy.

Our principal excursion for the day of arrival was a trip to the local zoo to see the pandas.

panda

At first we were disappointed to learn that we would be seeing them in a zoo, but then learned that that is about the only way they will survive.  The survival rate in the wild is very low, and they have a much shorter life span.  Seeing them was indeed special.  We were told they like wet weather, and we were pleasantly surprised to see 4 of them enjoying the rainy day.  They munched on bamboo most of the time we were there.  A few birds made their appearance in the rain, primarily White-crested Laughing Thrushes.

We checked into the Marriott and rested while several of our group explored the local flower market.

On Monday, June 10 we rode the bus for a couple of hours to Dazu to see the rock carvings.  We stopped at one of the farms along the way and were warmly greeted by the proprietor, who showed us the growing rice and the amazing variety of other vegetables cultivated on the farm.

farm

 

Dazu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

dazu-1

The numerous and impressive carvings and statues reflect Buddhist teachings, the tenets of Confucianism, and local folklore.  I thoroughly enjoyed this site and recommend it for anyone having an opportunity to visit anywhere near the area.  Again, I was humbled by my own ignorance of the existence of this historical jewel.

This evening we boarded our Viking Cruise Ship to begin our trip on the Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world, exceeded only by the Nile and the Amazon.

cruise-ship

The Yangtze allows Chongqing to claim the title to the second largest port of embarkation and disembarkation in China, although it is located nearly 1,000 miles from the coast.   The amazing river, with its recently completed Three Gorges Dam Project, is the life-line that has built the City.

 

 

 

 

China Travel – Tibet June 8

The Potala Palace

potala-palace

Michael, our guide, in one of his succinct summaries of the places we visited, described our object of today’s outing as follows:

     “Today’s full day tour begins at the 1,000 room Potala Palace, considered the city’s greatest landmark and a pilgrimage site for Tibetans from all over the world.  The Palace was built for Tibet’s fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century and has served as home to all subsequent Dalai Lamas.  Opulently decorated with gold, jewels and carvings, it is a wonderful and fascinating place to explore.”

DK Eyewitness Travel elaborates:

     “Thirteen stories high, with over a thousand rooms, it was once the residence of Tibet’s chief monk and leader, the Dalai Lama, and therefore the center for both the spiritual and temporal power.  These days, after the present Dalai Lama’s escape to India in 1959, it is a vast museum, serving as a reminder of Tibet’s rich and devoutly religious culture, although major political events and religious ceremonies are still held here .  The first palace was built by Songtsen Gampo in 631, and this was merged into the larger building that stands today.  There are two main sections – the White Palace, built in 1645 under orders from the 5th Dalai Lama, and the Red Palace, completed in 1693.”

What neither of these sources mention is that the climb up the steep hill is a real challenge for some of us.

potala-palace-steps

Over 450 steps up at about 13,000 feet altitude just about did me in.  Then, of course, one must descend.  With the help of my trusty walking stick, and strategic pauses, I made it in good shape.   The only avian distractions were multitudes of Himalayan Swiftlets that nest in the upper reaches of the Palace and a few Hill Pigeons, easily mistaken for Rock Pigeons unless the tail band is noted.

Many pilgrims accompanied us on the climb up and down.  Upon our return to the base we drove a short distance for lunch.  Yak.  It was excellent.

In the afternoon we went to Norbulingka, the splendid summer palace of the Dalai Lamas.

tibet-summer-palace

While the rest of the group explored the Palace, I found solace on the grounds, described thusly by DK Eyewitness Travel China:

        “Today a pleasantly scrubby park, the Norbulingka (Jewel Park) was once the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas.  Founded by the 7th Dalai Lama in 1755 and expanded by his successors, the park contains several palaces, chapels, and buildings, and is a charming place for a leisurely afternoon visit.”

This gave me the best opportunity since the first day in China to go birding, and I took advantage of it.  Because Barbara was exploring the buildings for most of the visit rather than acting as my spotter and photographer, no pictures will grace the narrative.

Among the surprisingly numerous birds in the park were Great Tits (no chuckles, you non-birders, that is the name); surprising and quite beautiful Derbyan Parakeets, including pairs feeding their young; a lovely little Short-billed Minivet, Bar-headed Geese (captives, of course), numerous and vocal Oriental Turtle Doves, Brown-cheeked Laughing Thrushes, Eurasian Blackbirds, and the ever-present Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

The rest of the group finished their tour of the buildings and joined me for a quick report on what birds I had found.  They all wanted to return to the hotel, but I wanted to stay and continue birding, so they left and I stayed at the park until about 5:30, closing time.  Michael had shown me where to get a taxi and I went there, but for reasons unknown to me, none of the drivers would take me to the hotel.  I kept flagging them down and about 20 stopped to pick me up, but when they saw where I wanted to go, they shook their heads and drove away.  Finally sometime around 6:00 a young guy with two Tibetan passengers stopped for me and they all welcomed me. The reason for the rejections may have been that when we got near the hotel, the roads were all blocked off and we had to take a very long and winding back street approach to the hotel.  Barbara was a bit concerned, and I must admit I was too, after the first few taxi rejections.  A mystery unsolved.

Tomorrow we head off for the airport and the flight to Chongqing.   This chance to see Lhasa and Tibet was one of the best experiences of my travels anywhere.     

 

China-Tibet June 6-7, 2013

We were up at 4:00 a.m. for an early breakfast and a ride to the airport.  During the flight we saw a few cracks in the clouds, and below them, some of the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas.

himalayas

From the Lhasa airport to the town itself is a 60 mile ride on a good road.  The scenery is very interesting.  We followed the course of the valley created by the Kyichu River (sometimes referred to as the Lhasa River, or with different spellings).  All along the river valley farmers were in the fields working on their crops.  The amount of agricultural production at this high altitude was surprising.  The green of the valley contrasted sharply with the brown of the bordering, treeless mountains.  The river is wide and fast.  Along the way I saw some Brown-headed Gulls and Common Terns working over the water.

Tibet was absorbed by China in 1950.  It is designated as an Autonomous Region, rather than as a Province.  Before then it was virtually inaccessible from anywhere.

There are now 3 ways to reach Lhasa: by air, by train or by highway.  The advantage of air travel is solely the time saved.  Among the disadvantages are inability to see the great scenery that could be seen from a train or a motor vehicle, and the altitude sickness often incurred upon arriving abruptly at 12,000 feet.  Fortunately, we all had taken altitude sickness pills.  This worked well for me (I have never had a problem with altitude sickness anyway) and several of the others, but Barbara had some adverse effects the first day, until she increased her dosage.  Our guide, Michael, suffered greatly during the whole stay, and apparently this always happens to him in Tibet.

As we approached Lhasa we stopped in a small village to visit a farm family.  The husband was out working while the wife was home with a little baby.  Another lady was there to help her.  They lived in an old limestone structure, enclosed with “outbuildings” in a wall-like fence.

tibet-house

Within the compound was a barn with several cattle and chickens.  Dung patties lined the top of the wall, presumably fuel for the cold nights ahead.  It smelled just like the barn I remember as a boy, but much closer to the living quarters than I experienced.

Among the immediately noticeable differences in Tibet from Beijing and Xian were the features of the people and their clothing.  Most of the residents of Lhasa are Tibetan, and many of them wear the traditional garb of Tibet.  Many of the people looked more like American Indians than like Han Chinese.  Lhasa has the feel of a very different culture.  The practice of Buddhism here is obvious, whereas in Beijing and Xiang, there was almost no evidence of any religious observance.

We checked in at the Xin Ding Hotel and rested for the remainder of the day and evening.  Michael had told us that the hotel wasn’t the highest rated in the city, but the rooms had the best view of the 1,000 room Potala Palace, the home of the Dalai Lamas since the 17th century.  Indeed, the view was spectacular and almost made up for the deficiencies in the other amenities, like cleanliness, food, temperature control and service.  At night, the Palace was lighted and presented an even more spectacular view.

potala-palace-at-night

Barbara experienced a bad night with nausea and headache.  I was tired.  We are at 11,975 feet altitude and it definitely feels like it.  The shower leaked badly so we had a lake in the bathroom.

Our first activity was go to the holiest temple of the Tibetan world, Jokhang.

johkang

Jokhang is for Tibetan Buddhists much as Mecca is for Muslims:  a visit there in one’s lifetime is essential for a happy after-life.  Although Tibet is part of China politically, and is experiencing some assimilation, it still preserves an ancient culture all its own – which we began to encounter more intensely as we moved to the eastern part of the city toward Jokhang.  Many pilgrims in traditional garb (which I found most attractive), were walking to the Temple. Near the doorways to the Temple, pilgrims, many quite elderly, were  prostrating themselves (stand with hands together above head, come down to kneeling position, put hands, usually with protective mittens, on the ground and slide them forward until the hands are again above the head and the face is on the ground; stand and repeat).

prostrating

Many were spinning their golden prayer wheels.  

tibet-pilgrims

There was a giant prayer wheel outside the Temple, at which we each took our “turn”.  “Incense” (from juniper branches tossed on a big fire in the square) was burning away with abandon, adding to the sensory overload.  Within the Temple itself, the crowd was dense and making one’s way through required effort and ingenuity.  Within, red-robed monks chanted prayers and collected money.

We climbed to the roof of the Temple, from where we enjoyed a panoramic view of Lhasa, including the Potala Palace from a different direction.  We walked back a half mile or so through the Barkhor Bazaar. It was teeming with vendors of religious and other items, and with people.  Lunch was at a local restaurant at the corner of the Bazaar.

In the afternoon we went to the Sera Monastery, which is more like a seminary or university than a place of worship.  Once home to over 5,000 warrior “Dob Doa” monks, fewer than 500 now reside there.  Many (150 or so) red-robed monks were engaged in debate in the open courtyard.

monks-at-sera

The debate is vigorous.  A monk stands in front of 1-3 others who may be seated, speaking loudly and emotionally, punctuating his speech with sharp hand claps and foot-stamping lunges toward his audience.  The listeners, on the other hand, maintained a fine decorum, smiling often, nodding, sometimes as if in agreement, sometimes as if not in agreement.

From the Monastery, we returned to the hotel for a couple of hours rest before dinner.  The food was adequate and the dinner was accompanied with a show featuring traditional Tibetan dancers.  The yak butter tea tasted fine.  Tomorrow we climb to the main attraction, Potala Palace.

 

 

China – Xian’s Terracotta Warriors June 3-5

We flew from Beijing to Xian and arrived late morning.  The airport in Xian was new and sparkling clean.  We went directly to the Yangling Mausoleum, the extensive burial ground of Emperor Liu Qi.  There is a building over the tombs with a plexiglass walkway all around so the tombs can be viewed from above.  From there to the city wall, the largest remaining city wall in China and one of the largest in the world.

xian-city-wall

At noon the temperature is hovering around 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

After lunch we checked in at the Sheraton and headed out for a dumpling dinner.  This, plus the Peking Duck we had in Beijing, was one of the two featured Chinese dinners on our itinerary.  The dumplings were many and various, with different shapes, contents and tastes.  All good.

On Tuesday morning we enjoyed another big buffet breakfast and were off to see the Terracotta Warriors.  The site has been developed into a very impressive campus with attractive new buildings, including a museum, the 3 main pits and a cinema.  The history of the site and its rediscovery in 1974 by local well-diggers is very interesting.  The life size pottery army of men and horses was constructed some 2,200 years ago on orders of the despotic Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who unified China at that time.

warriors

It is difficult to understand the mentality of the Emperor which led to this extravagant expenditure of money and people for the assurance of his pleasurable after-life.

The faces of the warriors struck us as the most interesting aspect of the pits.

warrior-faces

We learned that the workers used the faces of their fellow workers as the models for the soldiers.  No 2 are alike.  At one end of Pit 1 we observed several uniformed and gloved restoration workers.  Italian experts have been hired to help with the painting (the original colors, not surprisingly, are largely gone), and German experts have been hired to guide the technology of restoration and preservation.

From Eyewitness Travel:

“The Terracotta Army is just one part, the defending army, of a complex necropolis.  A mile west of the pits, a large hill, yet to be fully excavated, is believed to be the burial mound of emperor Qin Shi, a tyrant preoccupied with death and the legacy he would leave behind.  He spared no expense, enlisting 700,000 people over 36 years in the tomb’s construction.  Historical sources portray a miniature plan of his empire: a floor cut by rivers of mercury beneath a ceiling studded with pearls to represent the night sky.  The complex is also said to contain 48 tombs for concubines who were buried alive with the emperor, a fate also reserved for workers, to prevent the location and design of the tomb from becoming known.”

After our group tour there was time to wander about in search of our own interests.  We returned to Pit 1, just to absorb the sensation more completely.  By this time there were crowds of people, but the area is large and the groups kept moving so that was not a problem.

In the afternoon, with the temperature now crowding the 100 degree mark, we drove to a small farming village.  We were escorted about the village by a local man who spoke no English.  He showed us his older house, the small fields of corn and barley around the village, and then took us to his newer house.  Surprisingly, the upstairs was an artist’s studio, air conditioned, no less.

artist

His history was no less interesting.  His father was a soldier in Chiang Kai-shek’s army, so after Chairman Mao achieved victory, he was sent with others to this small village to farm.  In his spare time, he paints and teaches.  He has visited the University of Minnesota on two occasions to display his work and teach his methods.  Barbara bought one of his watercolors as a gift.

On our final day in Xian we visited the Shanxi Provincial History Museum.

museum-piece

It turned out better than expected, and our local guide, Florence, put us through the paces of her “Power Tour”, which was the way to do this one.  We hit the highlights on the Power Tour, and then were given time to explore on our own.  We visited a jade shop and learned something about the various grades of jade.  Another shopping opportunity.  After lunch we went to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, a Buddhist monument.  This was a very pleasant, uncrowded place with not a lot of attraction other than its own architecture.

We were on our own for dinner this evening and settled on a fast food chicken place called Dico’s.  We had difficulty with the menu and a young boy, probably about 9 years old tried to help us but his English was too rudimentary.  We finally pointed to what we wanted, ate rather quickly and retired early in preparation for an early departure (4:00 a.m.) the next morning to Lhasa, Tibet.

 

China Visit – Beijing June 1-2

Barbara kept a daily journal and this posting is almost verbatim from that.

We took a rickshaw ride through old, narrow streets called “hutongs”.

hutongs

We did not think it would amount to much and we were eager to get moving to see the Wall, but it turned out to be quite interesting.  We stopped at one of the houses for a visit with the residents.  The lady was a retired physics teacher whose husband had died a few years ago.  Her daughter and son-in-law live with her, as well as their son, who is now in college.  The son-in-law is a calligrapher who learned his art from his father-in-law.  He had a large selection of works to view (and buy, but no pressure).

Now, on to the Wall.  How exciting to finally see it.  It was as impressive as we thought it would be.  We took a bit of a hike up to the cable car, but then moved on up quickly on the same cable car ride that President Obama took during his recent visit to China.  We are standing on the Great Wall of China!!!

great-wall

We walked one direction from the guard house, returned and walked the other way.  I decided to rest and take it all in while Barbara and Ken Freyermuth, our two most dedicated hikers, walked on quite a long distance.  The light of the afternoon sun made the scene especially nice.

We were thrilled to see not only the Wall, but the beautiful countryside around.  We were not expecting such lovely scenery.  The Wall was a true highlight.

We returned to the city for a wonderful Peking Duck Dinner.

peking-duck

It was quite different from what we had expected, not at all like roast duck at home.  The duck was thinly sliced.  You could take 2 or 3 thin slices, wrap them in a taco-like bread, dip the whole thing in a delicious sauce, and eat!  We returned to the hotel, full, tired and happy.

The next morning, June 2, we enjoyed our usual very good breakfast at the Sofitel.  The buffet is huge with something for everyone.  This morning we visited the Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  We were free to explore on our own.  We saw one of the two circular ceremonial buildings with the blue roofs.

temple-of-heaven

From there we went to see a pearl outlet demonstration.  I enjoyed the beer, while Barbara learned about pearls.

After the pearl stop, we walked through a farmers’ market.

market

It was very interesting to see all the goods, especially the great variety of vegetables and fruits, for sale as well as hear the vendors’ shouting to get buyers’ attention.

We had lunch at a local establishment where a wedding party was in process.

This afternoon we went to the [new] Summer Palace.

new-summer-palace

It was full of people exercising and enjoying the day.  Michael showed us some of his exercises and guided us along through one of his routines.  It looked easier than it was.  We strolled along the lake and then took a boat ride to the other side of the lake.  We both agreed that it was a little disappointing, maybe because the weather was dingy today, or maybe because it was so crowded.

Dinner was on our own, so we went to the mall near the hotel.  We found a cafeteria, but had no idea what was what or how to order.  There was a couple sitting nearby who noticed that we were clueless.  They helped us out.  Lo and behold, she was Chinese, but he was from Red Oak, Iowa, and had graduated from UNI.  Small world, indeed.

Tomorrow morning we fly to Xian and we look forward to spending time with the Terra Cotta Warriors.