Friday, March 9, 2007


WHEN friends returned from a tour to China and raved about it, my husband and I, who enjoy travelling, decided to go there.
We left in September, and our national guide, Mr. Wong met us at Beijing airport. For the next 14 days he vigilantly herded the 29 people in our “blue” group – blue referring to the color of the identifying flag of our guide. He listened to our praises or complaints about the meals (mediocre) and hotel accommodations (very good). For two weeks he was nursemaid, friend, interpreter, as well as ambassador of goodwill.

Our two days in Beijing barely gave us time to see all the highlights. Beijing is huge and bustling with high rises interspersed with dilapidated low buildings, reminding me of Manila. The streets are wide with a separate lane for bicyclists. Riding the bicycle is the main mode of transportation in Beijing; and hordes of bicyclists jam with streets, competing with the cars and buses.

Cities in China have populations of 13 million or 4 million, incredible numbers of people. After learning this, I understood why their government is very strict about their One Child Policy. Our local guide told us that his own mother had to abort her second pregnancy. What happens quite often is that women abort girls. Boys are still desired, even thought our woman guide in Guilin (who had one girl) said that nowadays, it isn’t that important to have a boy – boy or girl, the same, she insisted.

Our first stop was Tiananmen Square, which reminded me somewhat of Luneta in Manila. It was filled with tourists, Saturday promenaders and school children rehearsing for the October 1st celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mao’s October Revolution.

Along the one side of Tiananmen Square lays the Forbidden City, which we visited. We passed the moat and several gates, until we entered the area with ancient buildings. We saw the elaborate halls where emperors held court, fabulous carved centerpieces that ran between stairs, and courtyards with few potted low plants (so that assassins could not hide). I couldn’t help thinking that centuries ago, Marco Polo himself had visited the Forbidden City. That is what impressed me most about China, its antiquity. In China, people talk of thousands of years B.C. as if it wasn’t really that long ago.

In Beijing, we also visited the Summer Palace, which was built by Empress Xici, a concubine who bore a son for the emperor, and who therefore became powerful. The Summer Palace is a huge area surrounding a beautiful lake with forests and beautiful halls, temples, and an opera theater.
That night we saw a Chinese Opera, which was interesting, although many of us were nodding off, weary from jetlag and a full day’s tour. All I remembered about it was the high pitched tone of the singers and the frantic clashing of gongs.

The next day we went to the Great Wall, which is the only man-made structure that can be seen from the moon. It was incredible, miles and miles of this stone wall that curved and wound around mountain tops, across most of China; it had been built to prevent China’s northern enemies from invading China. In fact, the wall did not hold back their enemies; and even the Manchus, who had been enemy, had a dynasty that lasted for hundreds of years, ending with the last Emperor of China in the early twentieth century.

From Beijing, we flew south to Xian, famous for its terracotta warriors. In 1974, some farmers were digging a well when they struck a hard object. They dug around it and discovered a life-sized terracotta or clay statue of a soldier. They turned it over to the government, and for their honesty they were given monetary compensation and lifetime government work. The government conducted archealogical diggings around the area and discovered thousands and thousands of terracotta warriors. Emperor Quin, credited for being the first to unify China, had ordered his tomb and burial grounds prepared. His burial preparation included the creation of these terracotta warriors, which were made from clay, fired, painted, and arranged underground in battlefield formation: the footmen in front, the charioteers in the back, and generals in some other area.

If the Great Wall was incredible, the sight of thousands of these terracotta soldiers lined up in trenches, took my breath away. Each warrior’s face was unique, so one had the sense of looking at a sea of frozen people. I could understand the reasoning behind the building of the Great Wall, but these terracotta soldiers had a mystique about them. Of all the sights I have seen – and I have visited many places – this one is the most remarkable that I have come across.
In Xian, we also visited a neolithic village and the Huaquing Hot Springs, called the Winter Palace of the Tang Dynasty. Here the emperors and his court came during the winter to be able to bathe in the hot pools. The buildings and courtyards in this place were also quite charming.
From Xian, we flew to Guilin, where we saw the craggy limestone mountains. I had seen many Chinese paintings of fantastic steep mountains with rocks and pines that stick up here and there. All along I thought this was stylized painting by Chinese artists. When I saw the mountains of Guilin, I realized that those mountains really do look like that. We sailed for four hours along the Li River, totally captivated by the beauty of the mountains, the river, and the peaceful riverbanks. Guilin is relatively close to Vietnam, and the landscape in this area, with bamboo trees and carabaos, reminded me of the Philippines.

We had some rain in Xian and Guilin, although the weather remained warm and pleasant. In Nanjing, our next stop, it continued to drizzle, but this did not stop us from visiting more temples, the bridge that spans the Yantze River, and the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, which honored the more than 300,000 Nanjing residents who were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1939. In their haste the Japanese had dumped thousands of bodies in various common graves. The memorial shows a pit with bones piled one on top of the other. I was touched by this stark memorial especially since many Filipinos had also been killed by the Japanese during World War II.

From Nanjing, we visited Suzhou called the Venice of China because houses are built along canals. We saw a marvelous old castle there; and the houses along the canals were very charming. Most buildings are of the Tang architecture with the curved roofline. Apparently the government had decided several years ago that buildings in Suzhou should be built in the Tang architecture, and so the government has been taking over buildings and rebuilding them accordingly.

Our last stop was Shanghai, and unfortunately we only had a day and a half there. This city is as cosmopolitan as New York, Paris, or London. It is filled with some 1,500 skyscrapers. The Bundt area, which fronts the river pulses with people and activity. The old China town section has been redone by the government, and it is impeccable in its “old look,” so much so that it has a feel of a movie set.
Our tour group had little time to relate with regular folk since we were on tour buses and at different sites most of the time. Clearly we were shown only the beautiful side of China; and the Communism we saw seemed lax and capitalistic. The Chinese takeover of Tibet for instance was never mentioned. If anything the image of the government is that of a benevolent one, allowing their minorities to have as many children as they wish, as opposed to the majority (the Han people) who must follow the one-child rule. Obviously, there is more to China than what we saw; but for a tour, it was a wonderful one, and I would recommend China to everyone.

September 1999
(Above pictures show Cecilia Brainard in the Forbidden City, Beijing, China; and Lauren Brainard with the terracota soldiers in Xian, China)

tags: travel, China, Asia, Xian, Guilin, Zian, Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, tourism

 Read also:
Grand Tour of Egypt 1 (visit also Egypt 2, 3
Maids in the Mist - Canada  (and visit Canada 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

Turkey 1 (and visit Turkey 2, 3, 4)
AND MORE - Search in my blog Philippines, France, Ireland, Peru, Turkey, Mexico, Egypt, Vietnam, Mexico, etc.
tags: travel, tourism, holiday, pictures, Brazil, India, Kenya, Egypt, Vietnam, Philippines, Turkey, China, Cecilia Brainard
All for now,

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