Monday 1st June

We arrived in Kunming and were greeted with a medical check before we even got off the plane. Everyone had their temperature taken and had to complete an extensive questionnaire.

When we finally got through customs our tour guide, Kevin, greeted us with a rose (because Kunming is the Spring City and noted for its flowers). First impressions are of enormous spending on infrastructure, massive buildings, cars rather than motorbikes, lots of trucks, a sense of prosperity and western luxury.  We even saw McDonalds and Walmart!!

Tuesday 2nd June

After a rugged night we had our first look around Kunming. It is a very modern city of 5 million and is noted for having about 25 ethnic minorities. Many of them live in special autonomous regions with tax benefits and greater freedoms so the majority Han try to marry them to get the benefits. There are building projects everywhere and a feeling of great prosperity.

In the morning we drove 2 hours to the southeast of Kunming. First stop was at a silk handcraft factory. They produce exquisite hand made pictures and tapestries. Items were priced at $300 USD per month it took to make them. On the way we saw the narrow gauge railway that goes to Vietnam and the Burma Road, both important in enabling China not to defeated by the Japanese in WW2. There is also lots of intensive cropping, often with planting done through plastic.

                                                                                                                                                    Exquisite hand made silk tapestry 

After lunch we visited the Stone Forest, another World Heritage site. We saw amazing pillars of limestone that, long ago, were thrust up from the sea, and have been weathered away to form a 'forest'. 

'Minorities' were dressed in their colourful costumes and we saw a group of them singing and dancing. We bought a beautiful rug made in these colours. The Stone Forest is really amazing: a little like Bryce Canyon in America but not on such a big scale. There were lots of Chinese tourists there, enjoying the fantastic scenery.

In the evening we went on an 'optional' to 'Dynamic Yunnan', a show that portrayed the music, stories, drama and dance of minorities in Yunnan Province. The show was really professional with great lighting and subtitles in English so we could understand what was happening.  There is probably nowhere else in the world where music, dance and drama like this could be seen.

Wednesday 3 June

On the morning we wandered around the shops and then after lunch flew 1 hour east to Guilin. What a lovely city Guilin is!  It has a population of 600,000 and is very modern, clean and pretty, with many lovely flower beds and gardens. It is situated on the Li and Peach Blossom Rivers and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. We climbed one of the mountains for a stunning view over the city and the surrounding mountains. The view is even more picturesque as, long ago, a moat was built around the city which has now joined to form a series of lakes.


After dinner we walked downtown where they have a big market every night. There were lots of people out and about and real buzz about the place.

Thursday 4th June

Today we went on the famous Li River cruise, travelling from Guilin to Yangshuo. This is another World Heritage site.  All along the river there are picturesque mountains, made even more beautiful by the mist that seems to put them in layers, one behind the other. The cruise took 3½ hours and there was lots to see along the way: villages, people fishing, traders climbing onto the boat to sell us rubbish, and mountains in various shapes and sizes. eg. the 'Painted hill of 9 horses'. Truly spectacular landscapes! Photos and videos barely do them justice.


On arrival in Yangshuo we walked through the township (very hot!) to our hotel and had a rest and a catch up on the Internet. (No wireless in China, and restricted Internet access. There is also quite a bit of censorship eg. The TV suddenly went black on a CNN news item telling about the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square).

After dinner we went down to the market and ended up talking to 3 girls who were in an English language school. Their (English) names were 'Blue', 'Blues', and 'Ice cream'. We had a lovely time talking with them and invited us back to their school. There we talked with lots of other students and everyone was so excited to see us. They took pictures, swapped emails and asked lots of questions. What a fantastic experience for us (and obviously for them).

Friday 5th June

Today we had a 'countryside tour' as we drove back to Guilin from Yangshuo. First stop was at the home of a farming family. Their house was over 300 years old and they live much the same now as their ancestors would have (except for the TV). The kitchen was primitive, just a fire and a hole in the roof, and the lounge sported pictures of Chairman Mao. On the middle of the house they have courtyard where they draw water from a well and grind out the bean curd. At the back there is a dining room and a shed for the farm (that included 2 coffins ready for the grandparents as they are over 70 years old). It was all so basic, yet authentic, and the members of the family were obviously content with their simple lifestyle.


Next stop was a pearl factory where we saw how they grow sea pearls and use them to produce beautiful jewellery. There was even a fashion show with models on a runway showing off the pearls.

After lunch in Guilin we went to the Reed Flute Caves. We climbed down into the caves and saw beautiful stalactites and stalagmites in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The mood of the place was enhanced by lovely lighting, including a light show. The caves are much bigger than anything we have seen before and are quite spectacular.


Next we went to Dagu Village, an authentic old-style Chinese town. Set against the amazing backdrop of the river and spectacular mountain peaks, the old buildings and people were reminders of how China was in most places until recently, when it became very modern and westernized. It was fascinating seeing the people living in their dingy homes watching TV or playing cards. Outside, though, every spare bit of land was planted up with all sorts of crops. In the country every family is given a small plot of land and they sure know how to get the best from it.


After a banquet dinner we wandered downtown to the market and made a purchase to help us remember this beautiful part of China: an oil painting of the Li River.


Saturday 6th June

We flew from Guilin to Xian in central China. Xian is a city of 8 million and is very important in China's history as it was the capital for many years. Today it is famous for the Terracotta Warriors which we will see tomorrow. After lunch at the airport we went to a museum showing the history of Shaanxi Province where Xian is situated. There are artefacts going back thousands of years and lots of Chinese people avidly studying them. It was all a bit lost on us as we had no context in which to place what we were seeing. Most of our tour party soon retreated to the coffee shop! It was interesting, though, to see how seriously the locals took their history and how keen they were to learn about it.

Next we went to a tea shop and tasted Oolong, Jasmine, One leaf, and Lychee teas, before checking into our hotel, right beside the wall of the old city of Xian. The new part of the city has incredibly big buildings everywhere and is pulsing with life and energy. The air is very misty though, and you can't really see the sky anywhere.

 In the evening we went to the Sunshine Grand Theatre for dinner and a show. The dinner was a dumpling banquet with 16 courses of traditional Chinese dumplings (and we were full before we went!), and the show was a magnificent spectacle of colour, music and dances of the Tang dynasty. What a privilege to be able to experience such wonderful theatre deep in the centre of China!

Sunday 7th June

The Terracotta Warriors are about ¾ hour drive outside Xian. On the way we stopped at a factory to see how replica warriors are made. The tourist industry here is flourishing and at the factory you could buy all sorts of crafts, furniture and clothes.

 Around 2200 years ago Qin Shi Huang unified all of China and proclaimed himself Emperor. He set up the Qin dynasty. One of his notable achievements was to start the building of the Great Wall of China. He began preparing an enormous tomb for himself while he was alive and included around 7000 terracotta warriors and horses to show the extent of his army and protect himself in the afterlife. The mausoleum occupies 56 square kilometres. 720,000 people were involved in its construction. It had thick earth walls and wooden roofs covered with rammed earth. Three big chambers have been excavated since the tomb was discovered in 1974 and there may be lots more as the site is so large. The warriors are generals, officers, bowmen, infantry and horsemen, distinguished by their headgear. They were made of clay minus their heads and other appendages. After firing of the clay the heads and appendages (like horse's tails) were placed in holes. The Emperor died at the age of 39 before his tomb was finished.  Unfortunately the tomb was ransacked and burnt and the warriors were smashed by the next ruler, in setting up the Han dynasty which was later replaced by Tang dynasty. The area is called the 8th wonder of the world and is a World Heritage site so it will be preserved for the future.


After lunch we returned to our hotel and it rained. We were finally able to access the Internet which was great, as it has been hard to find in China.

Monday 8th June

We spent the day exploring Xian. First we went to the city wall. It is 60 metres wide, and 13.7km long, and is surrounded by a moat and a green belt. The inside city is older and has fewer modern buildings, while outside there are enormous buildings everywhere and lots of construction. We hired bikes and rode right around the city wall. The bikes were old and had no suspension and the top of the wall was made of stones, many of which were worn down to pot holes. All very hard on the back and on the bottom!  We were pretty tired when got to the end but were very glad we finally were able to have some decent exercise, even though it was hot.


Next we visited the Little Goose Pagoda and did some Tai Chi, and had our names written in Chinese calligraphy. We then went to the Moslem part of Xian and wandered around the mosque. This showed that there is religious freedom in China. We haven't seen much evidence of Christian churches though.

After dinner we headed to the train station and boarded our sleeper train for Beijing. We are in a four berth cabin and the trip takes 11 hours and 1 minute! No shower, limited toilets and washrooms and some in our group were getting a bit merry!

Tuesday 9th June

We were pretty unwell when we arrived in Beijing, due to lack of sleep. After a quick stop at the zoo to see the pandas we checked in to our hotel and freshened up.

 Beijing, the capital of China, is a city of 18 million people. Like Xian it is ordered and clean and has a general feel of prosperity and 'westernness'. There are lots of trees and green areas and, of course, massive buildings. In the afternoon we visited the Summer Palace, a large park built around a lake, which was created in the 1750s. We heard about the Empress Dowager Cixi who lived in the palace in the late 19th century. She was known as the 'Dragon Lady' as she was corrupt, bossy and had very expensive tastes. She even had 180 courses at each meal! She had a 750 metre long outdoor corridor constructed to protect her when she was moving around the garden and it is highly decorated with paintings so is described as the longest art gallery in the world! The palace is now a very popular park, visited by thousands each day.


After this we went to see another Chinese specialty: an acrobatic show. The young acrobats were able to do amazing things with their supple bodies. Colour, danger, rhythm, lighting, music, timing....  This show had it all. We've certainly seen some wonderful art forms during our time in China!

For dinner we had a Beijing specialty: Peking duck. Plump ducks are chosen and their skins are separated from their flesh and coated with honey. After they are roasted the skin is brown and crunchy. The meat is quite fatty so you are supposed to have tea afterwards to reduce the effects of the fat.

 Wednesday 10th June

Chairman Mao was a peasant who helped the ordinary people overthrow the capitalists and gain some power through communism.  On October 1 1949 Chairman Mao proclaimed the People's Republic of China: the 'new China', and in the period between 1953-1956 a socialist society was established. The 'great leap' in 1958 was a period of industrial development when metals were gathered from citizens and used to make machinery. Unfortunately in 1959-1961 there were 3 years of natural disasters, but in 1962-65 there was more development. This was led by ministers that threatened Mao's powers so in 1966-1976 he instituted the cultural revolution. Chairman Mao felt capitalism was dangerous and tried to gain back power from all capitalist people and organizations. He used his wife and the Red Army to find capitalists and remove their power. Later the 'gang of four' (including Mrs Mao) was blamed for leading a capitalist movement and were shamed and punished.  The Cultural Revolution finished when Mao died in 1976. Since then there has been major reform and the 'opening up' policy resulting in the modern socialist state that China is today. Chairman Mao still commands great respect in China and millions go to see his tomb every day.


Tiananmen Square is the biggest square in the world (and seemingly contains the biggest crowd in the world)! It is not a political area any more: rather it is a place for celebrations, tourism and remembering Chinese history. The square is 750m long and has Mao's tomb at one end, the Great Hall of the People along one side, and the entrance to the Forbidden City at the other end. In 1989 students were demonstrating about lack of freedom in Tiananmen Square and were mown down by Government officials. Our Guide said she was too young to remember these events but she knew that the students were on a hunger strike and they were given duck soup by the government! We wandered through the square learning about the recent history of China then went across the road into the Forbidden City.


The Forbidden City contains the Imperial Palace used by 24 Emperors and Empresses of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was built in 1407 and is a massive complex with 9999½ buildings. They are all ornate and beautifully decorated. The roofs have gold coloured tiles signifying their royal function. Inside there are a series of buildings and courtyards and then the houses where the Emperors, Empresses and their concubines and eunuchs lived. All very impressive, especially to the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who visit every day.


Next stop was the Temple of Heaven, a big park and temple complex where the Emperors used to go to worship the god of heaven and pray for fruitful harvests. They didn't know who the god of heaven was so just used a slab of wood!  The temple itself is highly decorated and is an imposing sight. The local people gather outside the temple each day to sing, dance, and play cards and mah-jong.  By the way the air I'm Beijing is clean and the sky is blue!

In the evening we chose not to go to Kung Fu. Instead we had a wander around the streets,

Thursday 11th June

We got up early and drove for 1½ hours through the streets of Beijing to part of the Great Wall, one of the 7 wonders of the world. Before China was unified by the first emperor each king built a wall around his kingdom for protection. Around 2200 years ago the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang decreed that the walls should be joined and a Great Wall constructed across China to protect the Silk Road trade route and keep enemies out. Millions were involved in creating the wall and its existence today is a testimony to their engineering skills using the most basic materials.


Chairman Mao said you will only be a hero in China if you have climbed the Great Wall, so we did!  The section of the wall we climbed was very steep and the rock steps were worn and uneven. Along the way there were slits in the sides and occasional towers. There were also lots of people, both locals and tourists. We climbed quite a long way up and were a bit puffed but coped OK with regular stops. High up you could see the wall snaking on over the mountain ridges and valleys, far into the distance. We had to be careful on the way down but made it safely.


So now we can say we have walked on the Great Wall of China. Chairman Mao would have been proud of us! (And we have visited another of the 7 wonders of the world).

On the way back to Beijing we visited a jade factory. Jade is prized in China and valuable bangles are worn daily and are passed on from mother to daughter. Jade is also carved to form all sorts of intricate shapes and objects. This explains the many jade shops we have seen throughout China.


Next stop was the Olympic Village.  We saw the 'birds nest' used for the opening and closing ceremonies and the water cube used for the swimming. The complex is very extensive and is still a popular tourist destination. We could see why the athletes struggled with the heat, and the air was a lot dirtier than yesterday.

 We then visited two shopping centres. What an experience! There are countless little shops selling the kind of things westerners like: electronics, clothes, watches etc. As you walk past they engage you: (I remember you. Cheap xxxx. What size you want? Where are you from?). If you hesitate at all you are trapped. They grab your arm and pull you in, tell you what you want and set up the haggling process. It starts with a high price put on their calculator. If you say 'no thanks' they just carry on with 'how much you want to pay?', all the time forcing you to name a price. It gets tiresome when you move to the next shop and have to start the process all over again. If you are interested in buying something you start at 10% of their starting price and you can soon find their limit. I was hit a couple of times and called a 'bad man' because I wouldn't budge from 10 yuan ($2.50) for an Omega watch!  After a while it became more fun just to talk and joke with them. They recognize it's a game and so do we.

A girl, Acya, came up to us, wanting to practice her English, and to show her paintings as she was a design student. She said she was a Christian, so we had a good talk with her about that, as we had heard nothing about Christianity in China so far on the trip. Acya had recently become a Christian as so many of her fellow students were and also her grandmother. They obviously had something different about them which attracted her, especially their happiness. Later our Guide said that there are about 50% Buddhists, 20% Christians, and 20% Moslems in China and that there is now full religious freedom. Acya confirmed this, saying she had a Bible, went to Church and did not have any persecution as a Christian. She had not heard of the underground Church, but had freedom to think and believe what she wished.


Friday 12th June

We flew from Beijing to the big industrial city of Shanghai. As we flew over the countryside there was lots of cultivation, dense industrial development and close-packed housing. Every part of the land was being  used intensively.

Shanghai is the business centre of China and has 18 million people. The air is pretty dirty and it is humid. There are lots of trees and countless big buildings; even bigger than we have seen before. The city feels very western, modern and progressive. After lunch we visited the Shanghai Museum.  We saw jade, calligraphy, bronze, pots, seals, paintings and coins dating back to the 13th century BC. We weren't that motivated to explore too deeply!  The locals were intently studying all the pieces, though. They obviously value their history.  Afterwards we went for a walk in the big bustling city. It Is pretty amazing. There are lots of lovely parks set among the big buildings and it is all surrounded by the misty grey air.


In the evening we ordered some new prescription glasses (along with many others in our group). Test, frame and lenses were less than $40.

Saturday 13 June

We looked around the old city of Shanghai. First stop was the French concession, where French people lived and had special privileges after the opium wars. There were also equivalent English and American areas. Next we went to a silk shop and saw how they make a silk duvet: from cocoon to threads to stretching and drying. In the shop there were lots of wonderful silk clothes and crafts. China certainly has a wonderful history of craft-making!


Some of the group went on the Maglev magnetic train that does 30km in 8 minutes. It reaches a top speed of 431kph. After this we went to the Bund, an area that used to be part of the British Concession. It is by the Huangpu River and was a port which the British used to get goods in and out of China. There were lots of tourists viewing the river and massive buildings that surround it, (and also lots of aggressive sellers of copy watches. The best our group could do was 7 Rolex for 100 yuan - $20).

We then went to another shopping centre to be buffeted, grabbed and enticed to buy cheap things they said we wanted. The salespeople are incredibly skilled at engaging you and trying to get you to part with some money!


In the evening we went on a scenic cruise on the Huangpu River. It was really eerie as the dirty air mixed with mist made the big buildings seemingly emerge out of nowhere. You could easily imagine traders long ago coming up the river in conditions like this to ply their trade (or contraband like opium!).


Sunday 14th June

Our last day! In the morning we went to Nanjing Rd shopping area. This is a bit more up-market than the places we have been to recently and our group is pretty much shopped out. We have all enjoyed the bargains and the haggling process, though.

Next we went to Yu Gardens, a lovely garden constructed in 1549. The garden isn't a park, rather it is a series of lovely spaces built around small rooms. In each space there are ponds, rock formations, trees and sculptures. All very pretty!  Outside the garden there was another crazy market filled with people and little shops.


Shanghai is a big, bustling city but they have made a great commitment to parks, trees, and green spaces. And, of course, as in all of China, it is meticulously clean.  In the afternoon we had a rest, did some final shopping and then went for our farewell dinner with our tour group.

We sure had wonderful time in China and are really glad we came.  Some aspects that particularly impressed us were:

  • the bigness of China, especially in its countryside, buildings and cities
  • the efficiency of the Chinese in utilizing their land for growing of crops
  • the amount of industrialization, building and new development that is going on
  • the westernness that is emerging in Chinese culture. (Chairman Mao would turn in his grave at the capitalistic society of today!)
  • learning about the history of China and seeing this history reflected in the beauty of Chinese crafts: silk, jade, clothing, calligraphy,dance, drama, music, acrobatics
  • the sheer volume of food we were presented with, and the excessive waste it caused
  • the aggressive selling approaches and bargaining in the markets and shops (and the cheap bargains we got)
  • the wonderful scenery of the Stone Forest, Reed Flute Caves, and around the Li River in Guilin and Yangshuo
  • climbing on the Great Wall; seeing the Terracotta Warriors, and visiting Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City: all classical tourist experiences
  • interacting with local people, and finding how easy it is to do this as English is used so widely
  • a congenial tour group (even though they were all Aussies, except for us).

Overall, our Wendy Wu tour to China was really excellent. Our purpose in coming was to see China before it changed too much from the old ways.  We were too late!  China has already changed and is now a modern, prosperous, clean and progressive country. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to visit here.

Here are some of the enduring people memories we have from our visit to China:

          One child policy: Grandmother, Mother and child                            Silk tapestry

And, of course, the bunch of Aussies that we shared our trip to Viet Nam and China with:

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