Sue's Asian Journal 2005

Arrived in Beijing after a bleary-eyed 14 hour flight from Toronto..oh yes, Air Canada did the job except move the continents closer together! Highlights were seeing the tundra and frozen lakes of northern Canada, then the mountains of Alaska, then over the iced-up Bering Strait. Snoozed to waken to a mountainous Asian scene below, with glimpses (I would like to believe!) of the Great Wall.

I was met at the airport by Lee, a fellow Chinese PEIer who now lives in Beijing. He waited most of the day at the airport for me ... bless his soul. This then started my introduction to the hospitality and kindness of the Chinese people.

Grabbed a 1 hour taxi drive into Beijing (70 yuan= C$10 for 45 minutes) with Lee carefully pointing out to the taxi driver the CORRECT route, then got me set up with my reservations at the Gloria Hotel and a bus tour the next day. We then we celebrated yet another Canuck who had arrived safely, over a beer. (3% alcohol,, must be American content here).


The bus tour was great in 2 respects- saw wonderful highpoints of Beijing and met other gung-ho tourists from every corner of the world...Ukraine, California, Ireland, Wales, Australia, France, Philadelphia, Korea. E-mails exchanged and places to visit with my new friends! All of these strangers now know that I was born in Moncton, NB..

Beijing BeiQi International Travel Service, , phone (86) 010-65084345 OR e-mail or sign up at most major hotels.

Forbidden City

This seemed a sea of pagodas, with waves of exotic roofs and giant squares unfolding in front of us. These were all interspersed with clay lanterns 6 feet high, bronze lions, deer and dragons. Peeking into the buildings, one saw thrones, bedrooms, dining areas..everything was being restored, perhaps in time for the Olympics in 2008.

Temple of Heaven

A place of Buddhist worship, it includes a perfectly symmetrical echo wall, where one can whisper at one side and the sound carries around to the other side of the 200 meter circle. The actual Temple laden with rich colors carried prayers for a good harvest and other entreaties.

Summer Palace

A huge complex, double the size of the Forbidden City, this was summer home to the emperor's family, now found just north-west of Beijing. Located on Kunming Lake, with an arched bridge leading to a pavilion, the actual Palace has exotic gardens, beautifully decorated walkways and arches, coral- like limestone as well as bronze statues of many types of animals.

Silk Factory

Watching the silk workers at their looms, picking out the thread from each cocoon "cooking" in the simmering water to extract (kill) the silk worms, one can appreciate the quality (read...expense) of silk making. Our tour group had a chance to stretch a gauze made of 8 cocoons, on the way to making a light duvet filler of 80 cocoons. Of course, credit cards came out to buy the many silk clothes and beddings!

Pearl Factory

At the Summer Palace, oysters are extracted from Kunming Lake and an enormous jewelry industry is born. Who can resist the beautiful pearl earrings, necklaces and exotica all made of various-colored pearls?


Beijing, as is Chongqing, is modern and bustling, with huge contrasts between skyscrapers, squalor viewed down each alley-way, and tiny open-to-the air storefronts. The smallest "store" I saw was actually a door entrance to a stairwell, no lights, not bigger than the width of a door, with a person dimly lit inside with their goods. On the other hand, each city has huge people squares, with expensive upscale shopping emanating from them. From street vendors selling baozi (steamed buns), jian bing (pancakes), fresh produce and Chinese crafts to Gap and Jones New York the culture shock is found in the extreme polarities of goods and lifestyles.

Huge effort goes into the surface presentation, so the landscaping is fabulous with carefully arranged trees, shrubs, flowers and statues lining roads and fronting buildings. Look within and one sees an increasing deterioration of quality as you move away from the entrance areas, especially the plumbing of virtually ANY institution! Take Kleenex and tissue with you, ladies. Strong quads and hamstrings for deep leg squats are definitely a plus here!

Great Wall

The Gonzo in us says this is THE place to experience! How can you describe walking and hiking the Great Wall almost in total solitude, scrambling up un-restored areas until you see "Keep out, Military Area!" (is this Gagetown?). Some parts of the Great Wall were started in the Qin Dynasty (207 BC) but most areas were constructed in the Ming Dynasty ( 1368-1644 AD).

The un-restored areas were from the 16th century and the restored areas in the Tin Dynasty in the 1780's. There are several areas open to the public: we were at the Simitai section (Jin Shanling village) stretch about 120 kms from Beijing and was well-worth it as there were few tourists. Most tours stop at the Huanghua (60 kms.), Badaling (70 kms.) and Mutianyu (90 kms.) sections and are quite crowded and HOT in summer. Our late October time there had down-to-freezing temps overnight...great for snuggling in! .

For us, this awesome experience was coupled with the actual sleeping in a watch tower on the Great Wall, venturing out several times to star-gaze, even grabbing our flashlights and walking down the Wall by moonlight. We imagined the barbarian hordes from the North descending on us, almost all being repelled except for Genghis Khan!

The stunning sunset and sunrise was shared by professional photographers, who took advantage of the crystal-clear conditions. Our host was Mr Sun and family, who picked us up at the main road in a motorcycle/truck cart and took us to his home at the base of the Great Wall. It is possible to hike into this area "free" but Mr Sun was our equivalent of a AMC White Mountains hut.

After the sunset, we went back down to his home and were served a 10 course meal…the food just kept coming!..... with a wonderful beer.

The only other person her own words...a Jewish Buddhist witch! How special to experience this all with Deeana! Thank you, again and again!! After dinner, we ascended the Great Wall by flashlight, Mr Sun made up our beds (foamies and 2 sleeping bags each) and then departed. Ah, what a night, what an epiphany!! What absolute heaven!!!

In the darkness-before-the-dawn, we were out to watch the sun rise. We spotted the tripods of photographers on a far mountain but other than that, we were completely secluded. The horizon brightened, the mist from the valleys lit up and THEN, here comes the sun, we sang!!

Crazy to take pictures, Deeana murmuring into her video, and I going from side to side of our watchtower to catch the sunrise and the sun-on-the-far-mountaintops. Incredible!

Mr Sun showed up with Chinese noodles and coffee, and we warmed our hands, watching the brightening landscape.

Then a walk down the mountain to Mr Sun's home and a ride on our motorcycle-truck cart into the village of Jin Shinlang. Robert and I took Mr Sun's children to the local market, bought some goodies for the children, then caught the bus back to Beijing.

How to experience this? No website but call- 13932444368 and Mr Sun (Sun haiLong) from the "Jin Shanling The Great Wall Tourist Service Room" will set it up. Cost- 200 yuan (C40.)

A final comment on transportation

We had several options to get to the Great Wall: Taxi ($$$), tour bus ($$) with a group or a long-distance bus that locals use out of the Beijing inter-city bus depot. We chose the latter, paid about C$8. each, one-way and had the most amazing experience sharing a 3 hour ride with local people heading north to Chengde, 150 kms. away. We got off at Jin Shanling at 110 kms. and were picked up right at the gate by Mr Sun who took us up in the moto-truck to his home, then further up to the Great Wall.

Traffic in China is very fluid and it is not uncommon to have 2 lanes of traffic shift into 3 and even 4 lanes,..this phenomenon happens even in heavy city traffic! See Robert's "Zen of Bicycling in Chongqing" on the Gonzo website! Robert believes that China could save millions of dollars by not painting lines any more as the lines have absolutely NO EFFECT on where traffic goes! On a mountainous hilly highway, vehicles pass on the right as well as the left, around blind curves and squeeze in between 2 vehicles to forge ahead. It is quite mesmerizing as one watches their life flash in front of them while a cement truck bears down on you! Hopefully the huge bags of lichee nuts resting in the bus aisle will protect us when we roll! The only thing missing were chickens in cages tied on to the roof -top!


Robert organized tickets with Sechwan Airlines, half the price ($C125. each) of Air China, and we had a great flight to Chongqing, just over 2 hours. Tasty, tiny meal, including pressed crab, in-flight video with no sound ( no headsets available), AND the chance to do exercises cruising at 35000 feet. Yes, half an hour before landing the 6 air flight attendants (all women) stood up in the aisles and led a 15 minute session for upper body stretches. Almost half the passengers joined in enthusiastically! Another thing that caught our attention was that the Chinese/English audio included a reassurance that our pilot now had 10,000 safe flying hours! We wondered what description accompanies the novice pilot and would people demand to get off for a more experienced pilot!

Foreign Language School

John and Robert share the teaching load for 25 students whose parents pay tuition. These students have lessons in the Chinese language , from 7- 10 at night after the regular "English" school day! The day includes 2 sessions of calisthenics to military music...the day starts at 8:00 and ends at 10:00 at night...would love to see a Canadian student withstand this grueling schedule! The tuition money goes towards using the School's facilities, room and board in a dorm and the teachers salaries, etc.

My first introduction to these charming and sweet 16 and 17 year old students was at a Hallowe'en Party, all organized and carried out by the students. What fun to watch the students AND teachers bob for apples, play musical chairs and enjoy KFC and pizza afterwards. There were prizes for best costume and most people had a skit to put on. John and Robert put together a song which we all sang, to the tune "House of the Rising Sun"....."There is a school in Old Chongqing, etc" Lots of giggling and uproarious laughter , not my preconceived notion of robotic and regimented Chinese people! Sue went in to Robert's classes for the duration of her stay and helped tutor the students in English as well as do some career counseling. The students are bright and quite motivated and fascinated with Western ways but it is frustrating to have such limited conversations with them...they seem SO interesting!!


Taken under the sheltering and encouraging wings of Kristine, wife of John, and enjoyed getting to know the shopping ins and outs of the Shie Fa Pu district where Campus B is located (Campus A is 26 minute bike ride away, as Robert, the bird flies!) There was the local "Walmart" type store, including all sorts of food beside the row-upon-row of goods. Street vendors provide almost as much selection if one has the patience and stamina to walk miles of streets searching for what you want. Sue got measured for a hiking vest at the street seamstress's place whom Robert had befriended. Kristine, Robert and John had many beautiful Chinese curios from their searchings. I found the local produce from the street vendors to be excellent and fresh. One night, as Robert and I walked through this shopping district,

Sue spotted a large group of ladies doing a jazzed-up version of Tai Chi: joined in and had a blast as we exercised in the dimly-lit square. A little 3 year old kept us all giggling as she danced blithely in front of us all! Children here are adored and revered, the focall point of any group. No day-care here as the grandparents are seen minding the children while both parents work VERY hard to make their living in a very difficult economic situation. It's hard to find out what unemployment stats are as it's obvious that street vendors aren't necessarily licensed and how can a hole-in-the-wall store be regulated?

Kristine and Penny, an Australian who teaches the younger students, took me on several explorations: once into Shapingba where Penny picked up beautifully-tailored pants from her seamstress, we had great chocolate milkshakes and we saw the 3 Gorges Square which depicted the downstream dam project.

Downtown Chongqing

Robert and I had several excursions there. Yesterday we took a modern Expo-67 style mono-rail right into the heart of Chongqing, walked over to the Yangtze River gondola tram and swooped over the Yangtze...what a great way to view this magnificent river for the first time! On the other side, we walked along the boardwalk (actually tiled with many art works about the history of the Yangtze River) along with many families and couples enjoying a plus 25 C. Sunday. We had a beer at one point and marveled that we were IN CHINA and looking at the YANGTZE..felt quite like Ernest Hemingway!!

Another day we went to a Picasso exhibit, depicting his 1950's and 60's time, mostly wood cuts, then we went to a Flower Park, strolling with the locals who danced, sang, played mahjong, boated on the lake, fished in a special pond, picnicked and relaxed. A great way to see the Chinese enjoy a Sunday in the park!

One day, Kristine and I headed over to the Buddhist monastery which is being restored in Chongqing...fascinating to see 400 year-old pagoda-style buildings and Buddhist monks strolling about.

Again the friendly tour guides, using their English on a whim and a prayer, were the highlight...they are so EAGER to practice their English, especially the young Chinese who have taken it as a second language throughout their schooling. The older Chinese are quite a bit more reticent but still curious.

The many buildings are home to the cremated remains of the wealthy Chinese and are like a living room in any Western home, complete with sofas and coffee tables, for the visiting families who remember their loved ones.

Finally we encountered the statues which signify the animal of our birth I am with the ox, of all things!!