Beijing Day 1: The Sacred Way, Jade Factory, Tea Ceremony’s and The Great Wall of China
The Sacred Way (which means the road travelled to heaven) of the Ming Tombs. The pathway starts with a huge stone memorial archway lying at the front of the area. It was constructed in 1540, during the Ming Dynasty, this archway is the earliest and biggest stone archway existing in China.
The pathway is lined with stone statues which are important decorations of the mausoleum. These statues are usually 12 human figures (including the general, civil officials and meritorious officials) and 24 animals which are lion, camel, elephant, xiezhi (a mythological unicorn), qilin (one of the four “divine animals, the other three are dragon, phoenix and tortoise), and horse. There are 4 of each of these animals: two standing and two squatting with different meanings. We learned that the Lion symbolizes awesome solemnity because of their ferocity. The Camel’s and elephant’s are meant to suggest the vastness of the territory controlled by the court, because they are dependable transport in desert and tropics. Xiezhi was put there to keep evil spirits away, because it was believed to possess the sixth sense to tell right and wrong. Horse, as the emperor’s mount, is absolutely indispensable. It is said that these animals is supposed to change guard at midnight.
After exploring The Sacred Way we arrived at The Jade Factory. This factory was actually home to making the 2008 Olympic Medals using white jades. We learned about the different textures and colours of Jade and how each figure has it’s own meaning such as the Psu statue made from Jade will actually bring more money into the household. The male statue represents bringing the money and the female represents keeping the money. After The Jade Factory we stopped for lunch before heading onto The Great Wall of China which was a dream. I can honestly say I never thought I would have ever made it to one of the seven wonders of the world. We hiked up to the top which was so beautiful
Beijing Day 2: The Temple of Heaven, Tian’anmen Square, Forbidden City & Kung Fu Show
The Temple of Heaven was used several times annually when the emperor, bearing the hopes and sins of the Chinese people, humbled himself before heaven and performed rituals calculated to insure good harvests.
It is a very popular place for retired Chinese folk to hang out, exercise and to play games such as hacky sack or cards. From there we went to The Pearl exhibition centre were we learned the pearl life, how to tell the difference between a fake and a real pearl and the different colours and sizes of pearls. We had lunch at a local restaurant and then went to The Tian’anmen Square which covers 44 hectares and is the largest public square in the world. In the centre of the square are the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall where Mao Tse Tung’s embalmed body lies in state. The most recognizable feature of the Rostrum is Mao’s portrait; a required backdrop for any photo visitors may take of themselves. Often people go here to protest by lighting themselves on fire and you will find guards here standing by fire extinguishers. Crossing Changan Avenue and directly behind the Rostrum is the entry to the Forbidden City, so called because it was off limits to commoners throughout the history of Imperial China. Commoners caught in the palace during this period were executed. The current construction was originally built between 1406 and 1420 by 100,000 artisans and a million labourers as a palace for the Ming and Qing Emperors; it lies on more than 178 acres and has more than 9,999 rooms. (9 is a lucky number in China).
After The Forbidden City we went to The Academy of Chinese Medicine to get reflexology massages which was much needed after the hike up The Great Wall yesterday. Both Stephen Harper (previous Prime Minister of Canada) and Obama have been treated at this academy. We finished our evening at a Kung Fu Show with acrobats, kung fu masters and a story of a boy who grew up to be a Kung Fu master.
Beijing & Xian Day 3: Panda’s, Rickshaw Tour’s, Visiting local families & flights to Xian
Today we started the day with a trip to the Beijing Zoo and we got to see Panda’s!! Among many other animals such as hyena’s, monkeys, wolves and many more. After the zoo we took an hour rickshaw tour to a 250 acre village of the Shichahai area which is the most renowned historical and cultural quarter in Beijing. The ancient imperial mansions, celebrities former residences, and the trendy boutiques and bars along the narrow alleys showcased both ancient and modern glamour of Beijing.
We experienced the local resident’s daily life by tracing the age old hutongs and courtyards. When we got there we went to visit a local family. At this local families home we soon found out that the man of the house was actually an artist who has travelled to 35 countries showcasing his art. They told us about the village, told us some family history and showcased some of the art work. We were then able to purchase signed artwork from the home studio itself.
After the rickshaw tour we had to quickly go to the airport as we had an afternoon flight to our next destination Xian. Upon arrival in Xian we met our local tour guide Francis who led us on a knowledgeable tour of Xian as we were transported to our dinner venue & hotel.
Xian Day 4; Terra Cotta Warriors, Wild Goose Pagoda, Xian City Wall and Tang Dynasty Show
It’s Day 4 in China and our first full day in Xian. We have a jam packed agenda as we leave tomorrow for Shanghai.
We ventured to the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum which is actually known as an 8th world wonder. Founded in 1974 when villagers chanced upon what is known as one of the world’s most astonishing archaeological findings- an 8,000 man army in battle ready formation, each warrior a life size figure made over 2,200 years ago. When the warriors were found the people actually thought it was a bad omen from the earth god and that a curse was coming. We explored three different pits each showcasing a different size, style and form of statues and grabbed lunch at a local restaurant nearby. After lunch we arrived at The Big Wild Goose Pagoda which was built in 652 AD and is filled with many buddha shrines, gardens, and courtyards and is known as a place of prayer. In the middle of the entrance there is a huge incense pot which filled the whole courtyard with an incense type smokey smell.
At The Pagoda there was also many shops that were filled with things like buddha statues, books, jewellery, incense and much more. The whole courtyard smelled of incense with a huge pot containing all the incense sticks in the middle. We quickly went to explore the Xian City wall as we had about a half hour to kill before our show & dinner. The Xian wall runs 12 kms in length and features imposing guard towers, it also features a lamp post with red drapery and a small dragon that outlines the city wall. You will find a mixture of old and new china architecture along the view point of the wall. After the show we were treated to a Dumpling Ceremony right in the theatre. Chinese Dumplings are among one of the most famous dishes in Xian Each dumpling is hand wrapped and stuffed with freshly prepared stuffing. Sweet, savoury, vegetarian, meat filled, fruit filled and many other flavours are available, each with it’s own design. We arrived at our nightly show which was tonight was The The Tang Dynasty show. The Tang Dynasty is distinguished as the most progressive and prosperous era in the history of China. The dances were traditional Chinese dances which gave thanks to prosperous seasons and weather. The Costumes are the performances were stunning.
Shanghai Day 5: Huangpu River Cruise
Today we were finally able to have a bit of a lay in before our afternoon flight to Shanghai. The tour days are long and packed so it was nice to be able to relax at the hotel or visit local spots. Upon arriving to Shanghai we met our local tour guide Allen who was extremely knowledgable about the city of Shanghai and gave us so much information on the way to our hotel. The first evening in Shanghai was a dream. Our tour guides gave us the option to go on a HuangPu River Cruise which majority of us decided to go check out. We were placed in the VIP section which allowed us to not have to fight for good photo’s of the Shanghai skyline.
A little bit about the HuangPu River:
“Huangpu River, a symbol of Shanghai originates Dianshan Lake and empties into the Yangtze River at Wusongkou. It is 71 miles long and 437 yards wide. It is ice-free year round. The river divides Shanghai into east and west. It is a silent eyewitness to Shanghai’s history and its development. A spectacular sight is that the two suspension bridges, Nanpu Bridge and Yangpu Bridge that appear to arch over the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, resembling ‘Two dragons playing with a ball’. The west bank of the Huangpu River is the cultural, residential and entertainment center of Shanghai. The Bund, Monument to the People’s Heroes, Waibaidu Bridge and the oldest park in Shanghai – Huangpu Park, are located on the west bank. In addition, many historical buildings left over from Shanghai’s colonial days have been preserved. The east bank of the river (Pudong) is the newer district of Shanghai and its financial and commercial hub. Steel and glass structures are abundant here. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Jin Mao Tower, skyscraper hotels, offices and malls of the Lujiazui Financial Zone are located on this side of the river. The busy wharfs and the ‘three-layer waters’ (or three-color waters) at Wusongkou are also within sight. The ‘three-layer waters’ is formed by the convergence of Huangpu River (gray white), Yangtze River (yellow) and the East Sea (green) during high tide.
When the sun sets, the river is veiled in the glittery neon lights. Cruising on the Huangpu River has become a must for most visitors to Shanghai. Cruise ships vary in size, decoration and amenities, with the most luxurious offering air conditioning, conference room, banquet hall, bar and television” This has got to be one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever seen.
Shanghai Day 6: Silk Factories, Jin Mao Tower, The Bund, Yu Yuan Markets and Gardens & The French Concession
Today is our last full tour day of the trip as tomorrow we have a free day. We started the day with a tour of the silk factory. China and specifically Shanghai is known for its silk and Suzhou is most famous place for silk producing. We learned the entire lifespan of the silkworm followed by watching them make silk products. After the silk factory we arrived at The Jin Mao Tower which is 420.5 m high, with altogether 88 stories and total construction area of 290,000 square meters. It is a perfect combination between the Chinese Traditional Architecture Style and the advanced technologies of the world. Some of us decided to try the Sky Walk – which is an adrenaline rush walking on the outside of this tower on the 88th floor attached to a bungee rope. Here you hang off the tower (don’t look down) After exploring the views at The Jin Mao Tower we arrived at The Bund which we had seen on the boat tour the evening before, but it was a beautiful day walking, exploring and seeing that it is boulevard lined with impressive neo-classical buildings.
The Bund is the classic image of Shanghai and the city’s main attraction. Sweeping along the western side of the Huangpu River, the majestic building dates back to Shanghai’s grandest days.Many banks and financial companies built impressive offices here in the early 20th century when Shanghai was the financial capital of Asia. After The Bund we decided to head to what they call the “Shanghai Bazaar” which is the Yu Yuan Markets, it was packed as it just so happens to be a National holiday in China called Labour Day”, Here we were able to purchase a mish-mash of items including traditional Chinese arts and crafts and souvenirs, ornate chopsticks, Chinese medicine, walking sticks, fans, silk umbrellas, bamboo and rattan furniture, goldfish, pottery and much much more. We did some shopping, had lunch on our own and then met up with everyone to go check out the Yu Yuan Gardens which was a stunning lay out of beautiful pavilions, miniature lakes, bridges and rock formations. After exploring the Yu Yuan Gardens we had time left over so our tour guide’s brought us to what is called The Shanghai French Concession. The French Concession is the area of Shanghai once designated for the French, consisting of today’s Luwan and Xuhui Districts. Luwan’s Huaihai Road is a busy shopping street and is also home to both Xintiandi and Tian Zi Fang, extremely popular shopping and dining spots for tourists. Xuhui is also ever popular for tourists and is home to Shanghai Stadium. The tree-lined avenues and their many Tudor mansions in the area still retain an air of the “Paris of the East”. This place was a little bit of home to us as it had classic western food, draft beer and a lot of people spoke english. It was bitter sweet arriving at dinner that night knowing it was the last dinner together as the little family we had created. Today is our last day in Shanghai and it couldn’t be more bitter sweet. The friendships created, the memories made, and the laughter would be something that would last a lifetime.
Shanghai Day 7: Brunch, Markets, Art Museums & The Final Dinner at The French Concession
The last day in Shanghai I ventured to go meet up with a friend from high-school that has been living in Shanghai for the past 5 years with her husband. We went to a place called Bread Etc and ate food that finally felt a little bit like home. There was 8 of us at brunch and it was great to be able to sit with people who live in the city and have a different insight than tourists. After brunch we went to these beautiful hidden little markets that were tucked away on an off street. It was fairly busy as it was a national holiday called Labours Day in China. After the markets we ventured to the Art Museum in Shanghai which was this beautiful 5 storey building that resembled an upside down pyramid.
After the museum I went back to the hotel for a bit of down time before dinner that night. That evening we went to this french restaurant called Va Bene located in the French Concession that we had seen the day before. We ate the most delicious french cuisine, drank some wine & reminisced over the past week of our China adventure. Although there is things I won’t miss such as squatty potties, smog, language barriers and having to pay for water everywhere I go. (some of the luxuries we have living in the US and Canada) it will be very difficult to say goodbye to this amazing group of people, this incredible cultural experience and the beauty that I have discovered over the last 7 days.