Pandas enjoying some good bamboo at the Beijing Zoo

We are in Hong Kong ending the 2009 year, in the same hotel where we started the 5 week China journey.  We knew then that the next 5 weeks would be the toughest part of our trip because it was going to be the coldest.  It was cold.  We were lucky we did not have to buy snow boots only cold weather clothing.  At the Great Wall the wind was 20 mph and the temperature in the high 30’s.  Strangely on the wall for 3 hours we did not notice it because it was one of those moments where we said “Can you believe we are in China”.  Beijing left the impression of a really huge, wide city and it was our first encounter with the preservation of ancient thousand year old buildings along side the newer construction.  The city we were told is getting wider with the newer construction. It use to be a 3 highway belt city 5 years ago and now is a 5.  Ten years ago there were

Ann and a day with Chinese High School students

less than 1 million cars, five years ago 2 million and  2 years ago 3, today 4 million.  There are so many cars now that Beijing has a major air quality problem.  I wore a mask one day because the air was congesting in the back of my throat. You can go on and on about the growth,  but one thing is evident, Beijing is affluent and becoming more so. It was  fun negotiating the purchase of our winter clothes and negotiating through the mass of vendors and people at the Silk Market. This sharpened our shopping skills for almost everything is negotiable in China.  We learned quickly that English is not spoken  much and to get anywhere some type of Chinese help is needed.  The Chinese acrobatic show was spectacular but getting there and back was also spectacular.  On a busy downtown street we showed a hailed cab driver the Chinese card of our hotel, only to get a hand wiping motion across his face, that we took for a negative.  A few moments later he jumped out of his cab and took our card and started conversing with a crowd on the sidewalk and motioned us into his cab.  The people are helpful and friendly but because of the language barrier it may seem otherwise.  Getting to and from places is

George on the Great Wall still recovering from a day of Beijing bad air

an adventure, taxiing and subwaying from the Forbidden City was no exception.  At closing time we finally exited the grounds where we could not negotiate a ride back so we hurried back through the the grounds that we spent 3 hours going through, barely getting through closing interior doors.  What would it be like to be locked in the Forbidden City The Forbidden City is a site that is a seemingly endless history of a past era of buildings for the living pleasure of the then Emperor and the Summer Palace the summer home of the Emperor.  Both consist of many acres of buildings and are extravagant.  The most powerful person in those days was also the wealthiest.  One end of the Forbidden city opens into Tienanmen  Square.  A large open expanse of concrete with rows of tall red pillars on each side.  American TV shows the May day parade of Chinese military marching through Tienanmen square before the reviewing stands built into the wall of the Forbidden City. Being

Ann outside the Forbidden City facing Tienanen Square

there was another moment of I can not believe we are in China. The stay in Beijing was filled with full days of activities, going to the Ming tomb, visiting a Jade factory, learning the ins and outs of Chinese tea at Dr Teas teahouse, seeing the pandas at Beijing Zoo, and everyday activities like buying groceries turned into adventures.

The pace of activities never slowed down in Nanjing when visiting our special friend Hongxuan, and her husband Yufeng and daughter Doudou.  They not only brought us to the Suzhou gardens, Silk factories of Suzhou, the canals and Tiger Hill of Tongli, tours of downtown Nanjing, Nanjing Massacre Memorial and the Confucius temple but also we were privileged to live with them and experience everyday Chinese life. We spent a great day with Hongxuans brother in law, Wen.  On his day off he spent a day driving us around to find a knee brace for Ann’s gimpy knee and then

Hongxuan and her parents. Who she said would be to shy to meet foreigners, but gave great insight to our visit to Xian.

spending the rest of the day with us at the Nanjing Museum.  The Terra Cotta warriors outside of Xian are enough to make a trip to China worthwhile, but the city itself is a constant reminder that you are in China with its mixture of traditional and modern Chinese architecture and the particularities of Chinese life on display everywhere.  Shanghai and Hong Kong showcase the new and emerging China and are very cosmopolitan and international.  It is a memory we will never forget, and a start for some new thinking about China.