Here are the emails I sent out during my trip to China with Patrick from 11/9/07 to 11/17/07.
All my pictures can be found here:


Jump to: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 3-4Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Postscript

DAY 1 - 11/9-10/2007

Hi all,


Just wanted to drop a note and say that Patrick and I are here in Beijing, safe and sound. It's been a long day, but I feel fine. Patrick, however, is a bit tired, and has hit the sack. It's 9:30 p.m. here, but about 5:30 a.m. in Seattle, which would mean that we've been up for over 24 hours, having met our bus in Bellevue at 4:30 a.m. this morning. Not that we didn't get some sleep. We slept on the bus, in the Vancouver airport, and on the plane. Anyway, it's great, and a bit surreal, to be here.


Everything went smoothly. The border crossing was brief. The flight went well, although it was on the order of 11 hrs or so. We got two meals on board, both of which were just fine. Every seat had its own personal video screen (maybe this is nothing new to some of you), and we had a choice of about 14 channels, each one running in a loop. Watched two movies (In Her Shoes; Just Like Heaven). Read, slept, listened to some more Chinese lessons. Patrick and I tried to figure out where our hotel was on the map and what we might do at night. The pilots never said a word. Landing and customs went without incident. The skyline was very hazy coming in.


Our local tour guide, Tom, met us and we got on our bus, one of two for the tour. A long drive into the city from the airport, but it gave us a chance to see a bit of Beijing. It's as bustling as you might expect. Traffic was very heavy at times, but we mostly moved at a good clip. Cars were brand new imports; advertising (billboards, etc.) and neon were everywhere. Whole buildings changed color. Electronic countdowns show the number of days and minutes left until the Olympics. There were a good number of bicycles, in their own lane, jostling and careening around merging traffic. But it's about as modern and commercial as any Western city. It feels booming.


Am getting a good workout on the Chinese. Been able to use a little here and there, and I can recognize characters if not understand much of what I'm reading. The street names are pretty straightforward.


We were taken directly to dinner at the Tianjin One Hundred Dumplings Restaurant, where our six tables of 10 were served family style, with one dish after another coming out onto the lazy susan. The food was quite good and plentiful. As it turned out, our hotel was nowhere where we thought/hoped it would be; we're pretty far out on the Third Ring Road. So between that and dinner and relaxing, whatever plans we had for the night are gone. But the hotel is quite luxurious, and if we want, we can partake of the gym, swimming pool, sauna, and business center (where I am typing this), all free, or we can get a long variety of massages (for a fee). In the room, which is very comfy, we have a minibar, robes, a safe, and TV (about 70 channels, mostly Chinese, showing game shows, melodramas, news, traditional performances, music videos, etc.; but we also get HBO, CNN and ESPN).


We're supposed to go to the Great Wall tomorrow, which is a departure from the itinerary. Who knows... gotta go with the flow, I suppose.


Hope all's well for you,





DAY 2: 11/11/2007

Hi all again,


A full day again today. Automated wake-up call at 6:00 a.m. As you know, I haven't seen 6:00 a.m. in a very long time. Sumptuous breakfast in the hotel restaurant: piles of bacon being the highlight for me. On our hotel's street, there was a very long line of street vendors, selling who knows what. But no time for that. We were off at 7:30 in the tour bus (with people running across our path to cross this street or that) to Temple of Heaven Park nearby, where people were doing tai chi, playing badminton, and performing flag dances. The temple, from the 1400s, was very lovely and colorful.

From there it was off to a jade factory with a very large showroom. Lots to choose from. You choose your item, go off to the cashier to pay for it, then go back and pick it up. Anyway, on from there to the Ming Tombs outside the city. Another lovely temple, with some of the items buried with the emperors on display. There are 13 tombs altogether, but we saw just the one. Seems the others haven't been excavated since it would damage the booty buried there.

Did I mention vendors? At most of the places we went, we were treated to a gantlet of hawkers pushing their wares on us: t-shirts, postcards, scarves, etc. One could do all one's shopping just on the way from one place to another.

Alternating history with commerce again, it was off to a cloisonne factory owned by the government, where we saw the painstaking process underway and got to shop, shop, shop. We also had lunch there, which again was plentiful and yummy. This one included french fries, oddly enough, among all the Chinese dishes. And two small bottles of 112 proof liquor for our table to share. Yikes.

Then we heading onward to the Great Wall (Chang cheng) at Badaling. By that time (around 3:00), the portion we climbed was sunlit, but another portion was in the shade and harder to see. Luckily, the sunlit portion was the "easier" one to climb, but it was still a stiff challenge. The steps were of irregular height, and some of them were quite large indeed. But it was well worth it and it was just great to be there, no pun intended. Got to relax on top and look around before heading down again.

Next we headed back towards the city, stopping along the way at a traditional Chinese medicine institute, where most of us, seatedtogether in two rows of comfy chairs in one room, bought foot massages from the uniformed staff who descended on us. These were reflexology massages, which were quite a bit more energetic than many of the group were used to.

Afterwards, we sauntered down the hall to dinner in what was basically a big Vegas-like showroom (albeit more subdued): raked levels of tables seating hundreds of people and a giant stage. (What exactly this was doing in a medical institute, I'm not sure.) We helped ourselves to a buffet-style "herb" dinner, with a lot of unrecognizable things and cooked with Chinese herbs. Then the show began: acrobatics--plate spinning, strength displays, balancing, hat juggling, precarious towers of performers.

Home again around 9:00. Again, Patrick and my plans for a night out on the town have come to naught. We're not close enough to things to make it practical. The subway doesn't reach us, and a cab at this hour (given our wake-up time and where we wanted to go out to) would take too long. So, back to sending you this email.

Anyway, that's all for today. Hope this finds you all well.


DAY 3: 11/12/2007

Hi all,


So--I've gotten back late and have just 20 minutes on the computer til the "business center" (3 computers, some office services) closes, so this will be brief.

Again, a crammed day. Breakfast early again, off at 7:30 or so to Tiananmen Square. Weather pretty damp, but changed to merely hazy (pollution) by the end of the day. Got our pics taken in front of Chairman Mao. Proceeded through the massive Forbidden City, much of which is under renovation for the Olympics. Very impressive, vast plazas and temples.


On to a very sleek, shiny pharmacy-slash-Chinese medicine center, where we endured a long lecture on how Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture differ from Western medicine. Then those who wanted had quick diagnoses from a small army of doctors and translators, and then they were offered prescriptions for purchase in the pharmacy below (which cursorily resembed the perfume department at the finest department store, it was that nice). Others, including me, had 10-minute massages. 


From there it was on to a tour of the "hutong" area of town, which are the older, narrow streets and traditional architecture. We had a fabulous lunch in a nicely renovated hutong, with about 7 scrumptuous courses. The husband and wife then answered our questions about their hutong. We got in a parade of rickshaws and took a mad ride throug the streets, barely missing a large number of other vehicles and pedestrians.


An hour or so at the Summer Palace outside of town, which consists of a great number of lovely palaces on a large manmade lake. Again, the colors and details of the architecture were impressive. But the haze made the more distant buildings hard to see, but a little mysterious.


A few miscellaneous observations? We are constantly accosted by street vendors. They are extremely persistent. Then multiply by ten. ... Driving patterns are exciting. Lane demarcations mean not much. Horns mean you are about to sideswipe me. Pedestrians and bikes dart across traffic in all directions, regardless of right of way, which seems to be a foreign concept. It's the automobile version of jostling in a large crowd of people. ... And I forgot to mention yesterday that the trees lining the road to the Ming Tombs were painted white for about 5 feet from the ground, since there are no street lights there and that's how drivers know they are going to reach the edge of the road...


Patrick and I were dropped off somewhere in town, since we had decided to see a show at the Lao She Teahouse, which is well known and came recommended. It was well worth it. There were acrobats, comedians, opera singers, vocal mimics, and face-changers (hmm, maybe I'll explain that later). We were served various teas and appetizers, most of which I couldn't describe, and we sat next to a nice Scottish couple and a Malaysian family. The whole show was in Chinese, but there was some English explanation on a video screen.


Now it's off to sleep (11:00) since tomorrow's wake-up call is at 4:00 a.m.! We have a 7:20 flight to Shanghai, then a bus ride to Suzhou, or is it Hangzhou?


Best to you all, thanks for the emails, which I'll try to respond to another time.




DAY 3-4: 11/12-13/2007

Hi all,

So here I am in Suzhou with a little free time. Why would I be sitting here when I could wander? Well, I may yet. But it's nice to just do nothing for a little bit. Today we were up at 4-ish (Patrick was up earlier) after hitting the sack at 11. On the road to the airport around 5. Security, etc. (I got the whole wand treatment; don't know why.) Flight at 7:20. Arrived Shanghai and hopped on the bus taking us to Suzhou, about 1.5 hrs. away. More heavy traffic and controlled chaos on the streets.

(From Kevin comes this: "As a driver/bicyclist/pedestrian, you are only and absolutely responsible for anything in front of you. You are not supposed to do a headcheck. In fact, if you are in an accident and the police find out that you were looking behind you for any reason, you will get the ticket. I wouldn't recommend this rule as a pedestrian, but it will help you with the cars and buses. It might even start to make a certain sort of sense." ... Now it's all clear! It certainly seems like no one is paying much attention to anyone, and it's all a game of chicken as to who will yield to whom. But there is apparently a method in the madness.)

Straight to lunch, another yummy family-style meal with dish after dish brought out. The usual free beer.

The hotel here is very nice indeed. For some reason, the bathroom/shower has a window into the bedroom, with blinds. Odd. As in Beijing, the lights in the room won't stay on for long unless you leave your key-card in a slot by the door. Again, robes and slippers for our use. Checked out the gym and pool here; might go later tonight.

More later! Rich

DAY 4: 11/13/2007

Hi again,

After this afternoon's break, we reassembled to go to the Lingering Gardens, one of the best gardens in China, we were told. It was quite lovely and peaceful, thoughtfully laid out with winding paths among the traditional buildings. Afterwards, we had dinner at a pretty glitzy restaurant, again served family-style. This time we were treated to some live traditional music near our tables and offered another song for a small price. We had something I particularly liked, but didn't really catch the name; sounded like "new roll" (but I think "nyu" is "meat" in Chinese.)

More careening and plowing through traffic to the hotel, dropping off a few of our group who wanted massages after dinner. (Suzhou is booming and bustling with activity; it apparently has a huge amount of foreign investment.)

Patrick and I decided to explore the neighborhood, and so we walked around, taking in the street vendors, selling pants, batteries, watches, shoes, fruit, etc. There were also a number of relatively elaborate street vendors cooking up what seemed like hot dogs and a wide variety of condiments or other things to go with. Couldn't tell you exactly what, but it smelled good, although we were not about to have any.

We went into a mall: the first floor was full of stores of all kinds: cell phones; herbs; candy; shoes; clothes; jewelry, etc. The upstairs was a huge Walmart kind of place, half selling food, and the other half every kind of appliance, household good, clothes, office supplies, games...

A bit more walking and observing and shopping, then dodging the bikes and cars back to our hotel, where we relaxed with some drinks in the bar, accompanied by a cover band singing American pop classics, featuring a female singer and an Elvis type on the synthesizer.

A late day tomorrow: wake-up call at 7:00 instead of 6:00, due to our early day today. Tomorrow will include a ride on the Grand Canal, and then it's on to Hangzhou, the honeymoon destination of China.


DAY 5: 11/14/2007

Hello again, Ni hao,

Today we were allowed to get up at a leisurely 7:00, for an 8:30 departure. After breakfast, we got onto our bus. I should mention that we were met by a chorus of "hello!" and "one dolla(r)" from a crew of street vendors, who lined up on the sidewalk, behind the shrubbery, selling their wares (lace, fans, musical instruments). They must be under orders not to set foot on the hotel driveway. This has happened elsewhere, where there are forbidden zones and the police frighten them away. But they are at every tourist stop, including inside the Forbidden City, and they are sometimes joined by older men with missing limbs. But we've gotten used to the chorus and how to deal with them.

Off to a silk factory, where we got to learn about the process and see the silk being drawn out from the cocoons and separated into strings, then layered and stretched, etc. Then, yes, the showroom, and upstairs was basically a silk department store. 'Nuf said.

On to Tiger Hill, a lovely park with shrines, a river, bridges, and a short hike to a pagoda atop a hill, dating back 1,049 years. It now leans a bit, like Pisa.

Lunch back at the silk factory. But no worms; just another sumptuous buffet. More things to buy on various floors: pandas, luggage, candy, etc. We fed the fish in the pond outside, and moved on to an embroidery center, where we observed young women doing the very detailed work. A gallery held a display of very impressive embroidered pictures, some of which were done on both sides of the fabric, and a few even had different images on each side. Through the showroom...

The Chinese are immensely, impressively capitalist. The cities are booming, if I haven't mentioned it. Today's city, Suzhou, is about 2 million people and is considered a small-sized city. The traffic is extraordinary. The pollution is heavy, creating a haze everywhere so far. (It's only just today gotten to my throat, though.) There are vendors and billboards and neon and construction at every turn.

After the embroidery came a boat trip on the Grand Canal, which runs 1,500 miles from Beijing to Hangzhou. There are about 130 bridges in Suzhou. The ride, low in the water, was a lot of fun and very interesting: old, low apartment buildings line the sides, clothes hanging out the windows, interrupted by the occasional alley or street market. Many of the houses hangred lanterns out over the canal. We stopped at one bridge and had time to wander the street market, see the wares, smell the food, dodge the bikes and honking scooters and little trucks loaded with who knows what. Patrick and some others from the tour and I haggled over some items and came away with some interesting finds.

Our group on the bus really gets along well, I should mention. Although we are 60 altogether, we are just 30 on our bus and we rarely have contact with the other 30. We end up at the same places, but they might as well be with another tour (one of many, many: tour buses choke the streets and fill large parking lots). Most of the group are married couples in their 40s-60s; there is one family of 6, and a couple of young women. Everyone is friendly and cheerful, always inquiring what the others have bought; laughing over who's missing or last on the bus; commiserating over some stolen items and missing luggage.

A long ride to Hangzhou (one of China's honeymoon cities) followed as darkness fell. The traffic and our bus driver's driving drew gasps and applause, depending on whether the maneuvers we were watching were ours or someone else's. Arrival -- plentiful dinner (including beer "without formaldehyde," according to the label) -- posh hotel with all the amenities.

Have been taking videos, too, and I'll post them when I get home, probably to YouTube.

All for now,


DAY 6: 11/15/2007

Greetings, all,


Here I am in Shanghai, after another full day nears an end. It began in Hangzhou and followed the same pattern we are getting accustomed to. Early rise. Buffet breakfast and socializing. Perusing the wares of the vendors shouting at us from the sidewalk. Paused to take in the sea of humanity on their morning commute: thousands of bikes and scooters in their own smallish side street, separated from the main street choked with cars and buses and trucks.


The day was hazy (smoggy?) again, but at least not rainy, and still the beauty of the parts of Hangzhou we saw came through. It's definitely the most attractive place we've been so far, nature-wise. We started by heading to the Longjing Tea Village, in the lush west part of the city, with winding roads and beautiful views of the hills and tea fields. The village is a series of a few dozen attractive tea houses, which apparently are also inns. But we were headed to the Mei Jia Wu tea plantation (link is to a picture), where we learned about the production process, roamed the lovely grounds, and got a very entertaining demonstration and tasting from a funny fellow with a degree in tea. Of course, there was the gift shop...


Off next to the Lingyin Temple (link to some great pictures that will give you an idea of the place), which was really one of the highlights of the trip for me. A series of huge temples climbing a hill, each filled with huge, detailed, colorful statues. Incense in the air, many people bowing and kneeling in prayer. The largest Buddha in southern China and the 3rd largest in all of China. On the path through the park to the massive temples, we passed dozens of the over 300 carvings in the rocky hillside. I could have spent a lot more time there.   


After lunch, we took a boat ride on West Lake in the haze (mist? smog? fog?), which is another lovely nearby part of the city, and where many honeymooners are to be found. All sorts of boats plied the lake and some temples dotted the hillside, at least when we could see it. We were also beset by flies on the boat, but survived.


We spent some time at a knock-off store in the city. Why the tour took us there, I don't know, since we had been told about how serious China was supposed to be about copyright, now that it's in the WTO. Anyway, we could buy Louis Vuitton luggage, Rolexes (Faux-lexes), Gucci handbags, etc. We were given longer to shop there than walk the Buddhist temples, to my dismay. But we didn't need it, since we were ready to move on.


A two-hour drive to Shanghai took four hours, thanks to the mother of all traffic jams (construction mostly). (Have I mentioned the traffic yet? Just kidding.) Arrived Shanghai: dinner and check-in at another fancy-shmancy hotel. 


OK, gotta go. As usual, all the best, and thanks for the emails,



DAY 7: 11/16/2007

Ni hao!


Today's word is "flashy." Shanghai is one flashy, sparkling town. We've seen the special effects on buildings in other cities, even apartment buildings, meaning that there is some sort of lighting effect (around the building, or top to bottom). But Shanghai's towers put on quite a light show, rows of light cascading down the building, or the massive TV tower sparkling in multiple colors. Other buildings change colors entirely, or display ads. And although I wasn't able to really catch it on camera from the bus, the big old European buildings in the Bund (the European concessions from last century) really impress, all in silver and gold light.


We started the day as usual, except today was a little damper than it's been until now. The mist was definitely water, not smog, today. We headed to the TV Tower area (um, through heavy traffic), where we got a panoramic view of the Bund from across the Huangpu River. I was a little disappointed we didn't actually go to the Bund.


But we did get an unexpected treat. Forty (out of sixty) of us wanted to take the bullet train to the new international airport. It's a Mag-Lev train which just opened 3 years ago. (Why the other 20 didn't want to go, I don't know. They headed off to a carpet factory.) So off we went to the huge, sleek terminus and got on the next train. Modern, comfortable, and smooth, it took us the 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the airport in 7 mins. 21 seconds, at a maximum speed of 431 km/h (269 mph). Of course, the countryside whizzed by and we arrived at the huge, sleek new airport only to turn right around and jump on the next train back. A lot of discussion over how Seattle could use something like this (perennial candidate Stan Lippmann has been pushing for this, as a matter of fact). We could get to Seatac in about 5 mins.


More discussion about how the Chinese government seems to get things done: massive construction or highway projects or the restoration of the Forbidden City. The money seems to be endless and there's none of the endless discussion and votes we take in Seattle. Of course, that's a dictatorship for you. But as long as you're not threatening their political power, the regime seems interested in the improvement of the nation, and we're told most of the population supports the government.


We did rejoin the others at the carpet factory. Again, a lecture on the process, watching some women weaving very intricate designs at about 625 knots per square inch. Again, a showroom with impressive, expensive wares. Most fascinating was the carpet that changed color if you spun it around (as in how a record turns on a turntable, not flipping it over): it would get lighter then darker and back again.


Lunch at at Mongolian grill then we were taken to Chinatown. Yes, Chinatown: a shopping maze, done in classic Chinese design. Lots of shops, tea houses, street musicians, Western chains (Starbucks, Haagen-Dazs, etc.), and the ubiquitous street vendors. We were let loose for two hours, which was a lot in any one place we've been this week. But of course, hardly enough time to see all the alleys going this direction and that. At dusk, the buildings' outlines lit up. It was really charming, even if hugely commercial.


Went to a nearby restaurant for our final dinner. The consensus was that we'd all skip the optional river cruise and the optional show (which I gather was going to be just like the one Patrick and I saw in Beijing Tuesday) and head home to the hotel. Fine with me, too: I can maybe take advantage of some of the amenities here: a massage, the gym, the pool, the sauna, who knows...


This will be the last travelogue. We have an early (5:00 a.m.) wake-up tomorrow so we can fly to Beijing, then on to Vancouver, where I'll stay overnight in, coming home Sunday sometime.


Been fun to write this, and of course to be here, and also to hear back from you.


Best to you all,




As it turned out, Patrick and I did not spend our evening luxuriating in the hotel. We decided to walk down the street from the hotel to what we heard was a local mall. I wanted to find a few things, as did Patrick. Along the way, we observed the street life: vendors, small stores, traffic, trains on the elevated tracks, etc. We found the mall and spent about an hour there.

Then we flagged down a cab to head to a street that the concierge told us would be lively and have drinking spots. We wanted to just have a night out on the town and mix a bit. A long cab ride and short broken English-broken Chinese conversation with the driver later, we were dropped off where we wanted. At that point, we decided first to go to a gay place that I had read about in his Lonely Planet guide and which I thought was pretty close by. We started walking...

As it turns out, the building numbers do not jump to the next hundred each time you reach an intersection. No-- they keep on going. So we had a long, long walk, as it turns out. But it was interesting. We were in the consular area; when we passed the American consulate, we stopped to take some pictures but the guard nearby waved us off, in a friendly manner. We continued.

When we thought we had reached the right spot, we were unable to find the bar, Eddy's. That was frustrating! All that walking... We stopped in a nearby hair salon (they must know, we thought). Well, one of the hairdressers stepped outside with us and pointed. We had just walked right by Eddy's!

We went in. It was a medium-sized room, kind of dark, nicely appointed, with art on the walls and good music playing. It was pretty lively, with a mix of Westerners and Chinese, and some women. We found a table in the corner. Got ourselves some beers and looked around. After a while, I prodded Patrick to chat up the 4 guys next to us. Turns out they were from Hong Kong and Taiwan, visiting for the weekend. They responded when spoken to, but otherwise didn't seem interested in conversing.

After a while, we decided just to hop a cab back to the hotel and pack for the early morning flight. Well, at least I got to see what a gay bar in a communist (sort of) country looked like, where the government is much less than enthusiastic about gay rights. As Patrick noted, it could have been anywhere, Belltown or New York...

Comments? Write me at