A Travellerspoint blog

Reflections on 20 days in China

Some final thoughts...

Our bags are more or less packed. We've an early start in the morning and just some time to reflect and think back over an eventful (almost) 3 weeks.

So what have we learned...


First of all I've realised, and probably even John has a bit too, that our thinking about China was at least 20, maybe 30 years out of date. Coming here has been such an eye opener. I thought it would be like India but it is nothing like that! This is a throughly modern country, more tech savvy than most of us in the UK I would say. It's a country that does everything on it's phones - QR codes are everything - we even have a QR code for our thumb prints taken on the way into a building in Shanghai! They are in a frenzy about 5G which is imminent, across the country - the next step on from their electronic loos!

What really stands out is the consistency of approach across such a big country. Yes, there are differences in geography and population - something like 80% of the population live in the North and East. However, the reality is that wherever you go in China you will have access to great roads, transportation and infrastructure and you will have no difficulty accessing a mobile signal whether you're on top of a mountain or in the most remote countryside! Having done whistle stop tours of the history, this 'one country' approach has been a feature right back to Qin dynasty - one language, one people, a united approach etc.

This is a country that is recognisable as thoroughly embracing capitalism - everyone aspires to have a job, then a better job, to be able to buy a house, to be able to afford child care and education (which is expensive) and health care which is paid for through insurance. The principle of families sticking together applies and many generations do live together for traditional as well as practical reasons of saving money and having child care on tap. We have driven down roads that are reminiscent of Park Lane in London - huge multi-national hotels, high end car dealers, exclusive shops. Interestingly, today we saw the one and only person begging on the street we have come across and yesterday watched a chap checking through the bins to find discarded Starbucks coffee to drink.


We are convinced there is no steel left for the rest of the world because China needs it ALL - they are building so much and at pace, they must be consuming all the steel there is! As well as having a beautiful view of the main sights of Shanghai we haven't told you that our hotel window also overlooks a building site! Initially we were thoroughly annoyed, but it has grown on us and we have to have regular updates on progress with pile driving, trench dredging, the essential hosing to keep the dust down and tea break times.

They build cars here - Range Rovers, BMWs, Fords, VWs, Buicks - anything you fancy, there will be an assembly plant for it probably in northern China. Of course there are Chinese models too - usually taxis, but most cars on the road are new, modern and high tech including electric. When we were in Xi'an we learned that it is the home of Volvo and VW plants and a huge Lenovo computer production centre. Of course the most ubiquitous road vehicle is the electric scooter - everyone has one. In the old days we all held images of people riding bikes in China - well they still do but those that aren't electric are hired via an app from bike 'pools' that are available in every town.

More than anything this is a country FULL of people - millions and millions of them. We've come to understand the implications of that, particularly in Beijing. Alice, our guide told us that Chinese people generally shout because it's so noisy in most houses and public spaces, simply because there are so many people around! If you don't shout you won't get heard!


Jo, our guide in Xi'an told us that most people live in high rise appartments which is great in terms of access to housing...until it comes to parkng. In the mornding, she says it's wise to allow at least a couple of hours to get your car out because everyone just parks where they can and you have no guarantee that your strategic parking for a fast get away will achieve anything!

But they're all very patient with the queuing and jostling that comes with being so many people. It's probably why chinese people don't queue (unless it's to see Chairman Mao in his tomb or if there's a guard organising the toilet queue). If you do queue, you'll never get anywhere! While we were walking though the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and being carried along by the crowd, Alice described the phenomenon as the chinese Sea of People - you just get carried along by the flow - you may get bumped and jostled a bit but generally you'll end up where most people are going! That's a lovely idea - there is a real sense of this being a country of people who have learned how to move together with all their differences but with a powerful sense of unity.

Our observation from our young guides is that young people love being part of China - they love their country. They love President Xi who they see as a reformer who is making life better for them. That's completely different from the old days of the Communist Party - You don't get a sense of compulsion now but a genuine pride in their country. People can and do watch the BBC and CNN - they use it to practice their English! They know plenty about what's going on in the world, they know what's happening in Hong Kong. They have technology and they use it. They would love to have access to Iphones - there are Apple shops but the phones are so expensive - it's actually worth going on holiday outside the country to buy an Iphone!


We have been rubbish at eating out and ordering food in local restaurants. We have a fundamental flaw in that neither of us like dumplings or noodles. It is fair to say that most chinese people would happily live on these two staples. Chinese people love to snack so many places are dedicated to one particular sort of food, so for us, to get a decent meal we'd probabaly have to go to several different places.

Our hotel rankings - we have to differentiate between 'chain' and boutique hotels:


Cote Cour Beijing - quirky being in the Hutong - but fabulous food and, of course, we had the joy of Tao Tao, the hotel cat as our welcome to china house guest

Jings Residence - Pingyao - also quirky - amazingly attentive staff who left us little gifts of hand sewn bags to put things in

Hilton - Xi'an - has to be our number one 'chain' hotel - definitely for food - the buffet was amazing! Somehow they made a huge hotel personal.

MGM Diayutai - Chengdu - the most eye popping high tech, massive room with every facility possible, but a very strange restuarant and empty bar - we can forgive them anything because of the pandas!

Shangri-La in Guilin - huge, impersonal....but had shops!


Li River Resort - Yangshuo - our favourite! We loved the staff, the food, the hospitality, the complete remoteness of it all

Hyatt on the Bund - can't help feeling our first choice of the Peace Hotel would have been better, more central for some of the sights (thanks Chinese government for bumping us out!) but then we would have missed out on watching the river, the building site...

As for our guides - they have all done their job well, but some are way more outstanding than others.


Our favourite has to be Alice in Beijing - for her sense of fun, for sharing so much of herself with us and for really thinking hard about treats to bring us every day (i'm still eating her stash of seed bars she found me!) This girl is amazing - anyone who can do a few kilometres along the Great Wall every few days is a fit as a flea, but she was very tolerant of our various aches and pains and found us every sort of work-around to experience as much as possible.

Jo, in Xi'an runs a close second - amazing knowledge of the Terracotta Warriers and the history. She has a rare gift in a tour guide - she's been doing it so long that she's realised it can be more interesting to listen rather than just to talk. She asked us about ourselves and our lives and was inquisitive about the world. She's off to Peru for a holiday soon!


Probably equal second is Irene in Guilin and Yangshuo - she seems very young but has a little girl aged 3 who loves Peppa Pig! She is so passionate about her part of the country, the fruit and vegetables - she's got a cure for everything that grows in someone's garden or on the side of a mountain. She also loves her food!


No one knows more about pandas than Danna, but she was rubbish at treats! (I should explain that part of the package with Audley is 'daily treats' - this is usually fruit or some sort of snack plus water, of course) Danna's treats were packets of what seemed to be crushed biscuits. However, Danna just loves pandas and even though she visits them several times a week, she is such a fan - she knows where they sleep, she knows the short cuts around the reservation and gets ridiculously excited about them.

Lele was the historian amongst our guides - in Pingyao. She is one of those who starts from the moment you get in the car, while you're still reeling from finding your way out of station and navigating car park traffic and can't concentrate and she's off on dynasties and meanings of symbols! What can I say, she was probably the least empathetic of our guides!

Kathy in Shanghai (also very young) has been very focused on the specifics of the visits we have done. We were astounded to learn more about the city in an hour on a Big Bus Tour this morning than we've picked up from Kathy in 3 days!

Finally, I ought to say something about toilets. There's work to do China! The range is too great at the moment. I love your high tech loos, i get that squatting is a much more 'natural' approach, but I do like a choice and I hate your occasional foul smelling, offensive shockers! Sort it out!

It's been an amazing 20 days - it seems like months! We've done so much and got so much to think back on. By the time the jet lag gets us over the weekend, we'll lose our relaxed and chilled out current state but hopefully the improvements to us - whether in John's back or my sense of perspective in life will hopefully stick with us!

Posted by BarbieWi57 02:05 Comments (1)

Scaling new heights in Shanghai

Health warning for those who don't like heights!

Today has been our last 'organised' day, we have one more day to do as we please and then we will spend Friday travelling home on a 13 hour flight and it will still only be 3pm when we land!


So today we were out early to beat the crowds and go up the Oriental Pearl Tower. We can be pleased with our achievement on the basis that there were very few people in evidence when we arrived. We went up to something like 360 metres in a left - the 197th floor or thereabouts! It was a glorious sunny mornng for Shanghai so despite some mist we had a really good view.


We asked Kathy to take a photo of us with our hotel in the background... she said she is rubbish at taking photos... I quite agree!
Having spent 3 days looking at the pearl tower out of our hotel window it was fun to look back the other way.

We went down a floor to the glass floor viewing circle. I really enjoyed that... it's a weird experience some people really struggled with it and the best they could do was sit down! I'll try to upload a video here - hope it works.



Next stop was the Jade Buddha Temple in the South East of Shanghai - quite a long drive which again gives a reminder of the scale of most Chinese cities!
We're not very good at our Buddhism and were bewildered by the accounts of who is who in all the rooms in the temple. Significantly, there are 2 jade buddhas in the temple made of Jade from Burma - a reclining buddha and a standing buddha. They are very beautiful and the large number of people there to do their devotions to their 'favourite' god was intriguing. I love it that Chinese Buddhas look Chinese in the same way that Indian Buddhas look Indian!


Our final 'organised' visit was to a house in a suburb that contains the Propaganda Museum. Many of you will be familiar with the sort of art that was epitomised by the Mao era. Much of it was destroyed as part of the cultural revolution, but the keepers of this museum have been able to gather up examples and tell the story. Artistic skills were highly prized during the Mao era and workers were encouraged to create these big cartoon like drawings that were 'on message' for the time.

We were dropped off on the Nanjing Road - that's the main shopping street in Shanghai and we ambled our way home from their visiting various shops on the way (apologies to John!) We had a well deserved cuppa in the hotel tea lounge when we got back. I have to say Mr W has been hitting over 10,000 steps most days since Dr Lily stuck pins in him in Yanghuo!

Posted by BarbieWi57 03:53 Comments (1)

Exploring Shanghai

trying to stay upright and alert!


I've had a dramatic 24 hours having spent most of last night taking in the view from our window in between bouts of throwing up! So we have changed our assessment from 'it was something you ate' to 'I think we've both just had a 24 hours D&V bug'. Neither of us are ever ill on holiday. Yes I know I've done dramatic things like have my lip explode last time we were in Egypt but generally we just stay well We managed 3 weeks in India with nothing more than an ear infection for me (from swimming in dirty water - ahem!) and a blocked ear for John. Both of which were sorted for less than the cost of a meal


Undeterred, despite not much sleep we set off this morning with Kathy - walking slowly. Good news, the sun was shining and it was actually warm enough to be without a coat!


We are about 5 mins from The Bund - the most famous bit of Shanghai, probably - it's a bit like the South Bank is in London - a place where people 'promenade', do their exercises early in the morning, congregate and from what we could see have their wedding photos taken. There are brides everywere! I love that the guy in the second photo is carrying his wife's shoes for her! The Pearl Tower seems to be the attraction - a must for the wedding photos.

We walked past the Fairmont Peace Hotel which is where we should have been staying this week - we booked over a year ago and were looking forward to being right on the Bund.... However, we got bumped out by the Chinese government who have taken over the hotel for a conference. There was tight security all around.


Shanghai is full of banks - we popped into this one and I would definitely be happy to come and do my paying in in this place. I feel they should serve tea at least in such a big space. That's the ceiling in the middle of the entrance/foyer.


We then went to a very touristy area around the City Gardens. Very traditional architecture but this, of course is not ancient! I did spot a couple of turtles (probably more ancient) sunbathing in the corner of the lotus pond! They don't look terribly happy! This was a great place to buy some souvenirs. You are supposed to haggle, that can be quite a challenge and you generally have to speak through the use of a calculator!

The French Concession area was next and something we found quite fascinating but Kathy seemed less up to speed with it! Fortunately there were good English texts accompanying all the exhibits. It was the building where the first meeting of the Communist Party in China took place. The pictures documenting the story of the history of 'interference' in China from the UK, US, France and the start of the movement to develop the communist party. The meetings were highly secret and the members of the group in great danger in developing their new thinking. The picture of the protagonists is accompanied by the 'who's who'.


We were fascinated to see a group of young communist party members who had come to the building to pay their respects, we assume. The sense now is that this is just all part of history rather than current or the way people think today. But clearly there are some who hold on to the tennets of the original vision. This was quite eerie to hear - I hope the video will play for you. Annoyingly in Shanghai the ability to connect to some sites is even harder than in the less developed areas.

Tomorrow we are hoping to both be fighting fit and up for a trip up the Pearl tower - the one we can see out of our hotel window! IMG_20191028_165156.jpg

Posted by BarbieWi57 05:25 Comments (0)

Way out East - in Shanghai

A shock to the system!


Hi there - late yesterday afternoon we flew into Shanghai Pudong airport - amazingly there was a ball of light in the sky, something we haven't seen for many days! We've been living in the strange cloudy, humid (and currently not warm) climate of Yangshuo in Guanxi province.


Monday morning we said goodbye to the team at the Li River Resort - this is just the best hotel - what makes it so special is that the staff are so happy, they love doing their jobs and they love making their guests happy. We posed for a photo before we left!

It was an hour's drive back to Guilin and the airport - so much easier than that river cruise! Mr Wei our driver has a distinctive driving style - I call it "1970's petrol shortage driving"! wherever he can, he cruises in neutral then drops into an appropriate gear at the last possible moment! My dad used to do that when there was the petrol shortages and 50 mph speed limits on the roads 'to save petrol'. It made us chuckle quite a lot! He also used his bottle of water to prop his gear stick in 5th as it kept dropping out! Vehicles are definitely not as sophisticated in Guilin as in other areas!


China is full of beautiful airports - they are all works of art! The one in Guiin is build to look like a wave.

Shanghai Pudong is just immense and reminiscent of T5 at Heathrow! We were greeted by Kathy, our latest guide and ushered off to a waiting Buick - I'll say more about cars in China at some point. Again, I have to say thank you to Yvonne for telling me about WeChat - I now have a bunch of friends in China who are all guides for Audley! Kathy's chinese name is one I really can't get my head around at the moment, so I'm happy to stick with Kathy!

Tomorrow we are off the explore The Bund and have a visit to the Propaganda Museum...

I'm falling asleep writing this but refuse to close the curtains - it looks amazing out there on the river!

Posted by BarbieWi57 06:43 Comments (0)

A day of rest

Chinese medicine!

You maybe don't want to read this, if you are at all sqeamish... I suggest you just move on to another day...

John had an upset tum in the night. I'm writing this whilst he is being attended to by Dr Lily (not Lucy as I thought yesterday).


She returned this morning and seeing the state of him said she would sort out his tum first before dealing with his back. So she stuck pins all over him for 30 mins; told him he has a cold that has affected his tummy - this is something that affects people here (according to Lily) who are not used to the strange climate of the river, the humidity in particular. She suggested that he needs to drink ginger tea. I shall report back on the outcome later!

She has now moved on to his back and I have to say that since yesterday morning John has taken no pain killers and has walked about 5k. As noted, he has also, perhaps temporarily, lost the tremor in his left arm which is as steady as a rock. That's a pretty good result considering he has been mainlining strong painkillers for about 3 weeks now! I was not convinced, but I can't get away from the fact that I can see a huge improvement - despite the tummy thing!

She's now talked me into having her look at my knees.... I will definitely report back.

Later that day....

We are now back in our room, John is asleep and recovering and I am passing some time!

We had our ginger tea and went for a walk down to the wharf to watch the lunch time cruisers come in and the ensuing chaos.

The walk down there was fine and I was happily taking pictures when I realised John had disappeared! He was throwing up beside a bin (it was quite hard to throw up in it as it was covered, but at least he tried!) He had only had one cup of ginger tea but there seemed to be a lot of ginger in the air by the wharf!

The great thing about China is that you are never far away from someone whose job it is to clean up and right away a lady came over with her broom and duly 'cleaned up'. I ran (walked quickly) a few yards back down the path because a passing scooter rider had 'shed' a packet of tissues as they went past us so I'd picked the tissues up and left them on another bike, incase the person came back. I decided they were a gift to us! So we cleaned up and eventually walked 'home' again!

That's why John is now asleep! Best place for him.


Oh yes, about my knees. Dr Lily tackled my definitely swollen left knee (still recovering from the Great Wall) and dug her knuckles into all the bits that hurt and then sent for the lovely Sha-ron (that's what her names sounds like) who came and did a Chinese foot and leg massage on me for an hour. She's a lovely happy girl. She let me take her picture. I took 2 because one of them features our lovely hotel slippers even though the pic of Sha-ron is a bit blurred - they're the coolest slippers in any hotel we've stayed in!

My family will tell you that I HATE massages. This was fantastic and if I could be guaranteed a Sha-ron style massage every time I would have one every day. My knee is now not swollen and my tight ham strings are sorted! Those who love massages will hate me when I tell you that an hour's massage is under £20. John's acupuncutre is the same for 40 mins, although to be fair he had an hour today for the same price!

So here are my pics from the wharf today.


The guy with the cormorants on the pole is advertising the Liu Sanjie show on the river. There's a scene where about 50 boatmen go across the 'stage', ie the river, with these birds on their poles - it's amazing. At the start of the video you can see him tell the bird to get on the pole and sit still!

My initial thought was that the birds were ducks... but now I've got myself informed having read some more local info... of course they're cormorants ! The local fishermen go out with them on these poles and they cormorants do the fishing for them! There's actually a day trip organised by our hotel where you can go out with the fishermen and watch the birds at work... Stephen you need to get some cormorants to go fishing with you - they would make short work of it!

(I can't get the video to upload while we are here in Yangshuo - I'll retro-fit it when we get to Shanghai tomorrow.)

Posted by BarbieWi57 23:42 Comments (0)

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