We awakened on another frosty morning in Tibet and prepared to hit the road for Lanzhou. Unlike our trip here, we would not be stopping to see the sights along the way. Instead, we would be taking the most direct route, and it would still be a haul of about four and a half hours.
|Sue warms up before our final breakfast in Tibet.|
|It was almost like the sheep didn't want us to leave.|
|Not too far out of Xiahe, we re-entered the modern Chinese highway system,|
complete with bilingual signs in Chinese and Tibetan.
We left the camp at 7am and made only one stop along the way to use the facilities, but it was still a close call at the airport. Fortunately, we found out flight to Shanghai had been delayed by the late departure of a Beijing-bound flight at our gate. One Chinese woman who had missed that flight was giving the gate personnel an earful when we got there. In a way it was gratifying to see that Chinese can be just as upset as Americans when they arrive late and then blame someone else for it.
Our flight was a half-hour late but otherwise uneventful. Most of us took the time to get some extra shuteye or catch up on our reading. We got to Hongqiao International in late afternoon and the trusty EXO staff was waiting with our minibus to our destination for the next three nights, the Jing An Shangri-La. Nobody else in our group had stayed there yet, so Sue and I enjoyed filling them in on the hotel's amenities.
Our check-in process went just as smoothly as the first time. After a rest and freshening up, we changed clothes and headed up to the Horizon Club Lounge on the 55th floor for the Travel Leaders welcoming reception. A fine time was had by all, and Sue was able to catch up with her good friends and colleagues, Denise Hanson Petricka from Eau Claire, Wis., and Laurie Glomstad Passard from Grand Rapids, Minn., who had spent the previous few days touring Beijing and Xian. Following the reception, dinner was served in the Summer Palace dining room on the 3rd floor.
|From the 55th floor, Laurie took this photo of the sunset over western Shanghai the night of the reception.|
|Enjoying dinner in the Summer Palace: Bob Decker, Laurie and Denise.|
With our wake-up call in Tibet and the flight, it didn't take long for our eyes to start drooping. Sue joined Denise and Laurie for a nightcap in the 1515 West bar, but I turned in. The next morning would be a leisurely one for yours truly, as Sue and the rest of the Travel Leaders group attended their International Summit conference. In the afternoon, we would see more of Shanghai.
Friday, May 13 -- Shanghai
Sue and her fellow Travel Leaders colleagues attended the Summit conference in the morning. I'd risen early for a swim and then went for a walk around the hotel neighborhood, hoping I'd find another shop selling knives like we'd seen on the way to Tibet. Dave Hershberger and I both regretted not buying a knife there, but although I'm sure they had knife dealers in Shanghai---the city has 25 million people, after all---I couldn't find one, and the concierge said the nearest dealers were about an hour away. By now I was fairly confident in my ability to get around Shanghai, but not that confident.
In the afternoon we joined up with Laurie, Denise and a larger group for lunch at the Lost Heaven restaurant and a walk down the Bund, followed by a t'ai chi ch'uan lesson in a nearby park. Sue and I have trained in martial arts for several years and were familiar with this Chinese art thanks to Master Steven Aldus, who teaches at the Share the Martial Arts camp we attend every August, hosted by our good friend Lloyd Brown, a karate sensei in our area. The class we would experience here in Shanghai was taught by a pair of masters, a man and a woman, and was very introductory. Even so, everyone else in our group, none of whom had any previous martial arts experience besides what they'd seen on TV, could see how difficult it actually is to perform these moves, in spite of how easy they appear.
|Lunch at the Lost Heaven was, well, heavenly...|
|...but it was almost a shame we had to disassemble these presentations to eat the food.|
|The Bund was busy again on this Friday as we took our stroll.|
|Unlike the visit Sue and I had the previous week, we weren't able to go inside the hotels, like the Fairmont Peace.|
There were other tours available, and the Lees chose to join up with the popular guided bicycle ride through some of Shanghai's side streets.
|Bridget gets ready to saddle up, this time on a bike in Shanghai rather than a horse in Tibet. (WL)|
|Bonnie made sure to get a bike with a large basket, in case there would be shopping. (WL)|
|The bikers got off the beaten path pretty quickly. (WL)|
|And the paths got narrower. (WL)|
|Roger Block, in the blue, was along for the ride, too. Roger was our host for the Summit. (WL)|
|The bike tour stopped to tour the home of a typical Shanghai urban family, including their poodles. (WL)|
|After the home visit, the riders mounted up for the trek back to the Shangri-La. (WL)|
Back to the hotel for a light dinner and change, we rushed to our evening entertainment, a performance of the Shanghai ERA acrobatic troupe. To be honest, some of us were getting a little tired and wouldn't have minded staying at the hotel for the evening, but everyone decided to go and in the end, were glad they did. It was a spectacular show featuring the best of Chinese acrobatics. Never again will I wonder how the Chinese can be so successful in Olympic gymnastics; Chinese athletes have dominated the sport in the last two Olympic Games and are expected to do the same this summer in Rio. Here's a video clip I shot of two different exhibitions: Shanghai ERA Acrobatics.
As much as we enjoyed the show, we were ready to hit the hay, anticipating our final full day in China, when we would visit the famed Tongli Water Village.
Saturday, May 14 -- Tongli Ancient Town
Located about 50 miles from Shanghai, the Tongli Ancient Town, also known as the Water Village. was our destination for our last full day in China. Built during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the village sits next to the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, next to Taihu Lake. It has earned the nickname of "Venice of the Orient" for its canals. Covering about 80 acres and home to about 2,000 residents, the village has been preserved to a great extent and has been open to the public for 30 years.
Our group, now numbering about 100 people, boarded a pair of ultra-modern, German-built tour buses for the jaunt, which took about two hours, much of it devoted to getting out of the city. (Had we taken the bullet train, the ride would've been a half-hour long.) Once we got into the countryside we got a good look at Chinese farms. Unlike American farms, those in China are smaller and much less mechanized, but still efficient: although only 15 percent of land in China is arable, its farmers produce about 20 percent of all the world's food. They have enough to feed their own people, no small task in a land of over a billion mouths to feed, and export a lot of food, in keeping with China's standing as the world's foremost trading partner.
About 300 million farmers work the land in China, but the average size of a farm is very small, about 1.6 acres. By comparison, the average American farm is about 440 acres. Rice is their most important crop, comprising about 25% of the country's agricultural output, but they also grow a lot of wheat, corn and just about everything else, including citrus. They are the world's top producer of cotton, and they are heavily into livestock as well, although not necessarily dairy cattle. More than 90% of all Chinese are lactose-intolerant. During our entire visit, I never once saw milk served at a restaurant, nor was it offered, not even at the sumptuous breakfast buffets at our hotels in Shanghai and Lanzhou.
|Chinese farms don't have a lot of machinery, but they do have a lot of people. (lilianpitaro photo)|
We arrived at Tongli in late morning and were on our own for the rest of our visit. Like the real Venice, in Italy, Tongli has the canals, and lots of shops, some of them selling the usual kitschy tourist items, but others offering high-quality goods. One thing most of our group wanted to do was actually ride in the gondolas.
|Our guide for the day explains the history of Tongli.|
|The gondolas, very similar to those we saw in Venice, awaited us in Tongli.|
|We toured a nobleman's dwelling. This is the entrance hall, where the noble and his wife greeted guests.|
|The house's private garden and pond was well-stocked.|
|At one point our guide wanted to show us the narrowest street|
in the village. We could believe it.
|Some shops, selling women's and children's clothing,|
utilized models to draw customers.
|The gondola ride was very pleasant. Each gondola was crewed by a woman gondolier, and unlike their|
Venetian counterparts, none of them sang a note.
|The water was low enough that we could successfully negotiate many of the city's 55 bridges.|
|Sue, Denise and Laurie, who have now attended to the past four International Summits together.|
|Chinese love their dogs, although they aren't as common as we have in America.|
Beijing and Shanghai each have ordinances limiting families to one dog. Those they
are allowed to have, though, are often artificially colorful.
Here are a couple videos I shot during our visit. The first was from our gondola: Tongli gondola ride. And the second from a show that was on stage in the town square: Tongli Stage Show. We'd gathered there after the ride as we were preparing to depart the village.
Our time in Tongli had been well-spent, but as we headed back to Shanghai we were also thinking of our final event of the trip. This evening would be the traditional International Summit gala.
This was the event where the women would be dressed to the nines and us guys would be challenged to match them. Of course that was impossible, so we just did our best. We boarded our buses again for a short jaunt down to the Bund and Kathleen's Waitan Restaurant, which offered as its main attraction a spectacular view of Shanghai's nighttime skyline. All of these photos are courtesy of Walt Lee.
The group was in good spirits during the cocktail hour, and the dinner that followed was the last of our series of great meals in China.
Walt was kind enough to offer individual couples a chance to pose for a once-in-a-lifetime picture with the Shanghai skyline behind. Here are the ones featuring the members of our Tibet group. Dave Hershberger completed the series with a shot of Walt, Bonnie and Bridget.
|Ann Waters and Dave Falkner.|
|Leslie Flood and Dave Hershberger.|
|Sue and yours truly.|
|Last, but certainly not least, Walt, Bridget and Bonnie Lee.|
And of course the Tibet gang had to have one last group photo.
By the time the festivities were done, we were all feeling pretty good, and not just from the libations we'd consumed during the evening. It had been one last magical day in a magical place. Some summit attendees would be staying on for another several days to take tours, many of them on a cruise of the Yangtze River, but we would be heading for home. A long day of travel lay ahead, but as we hit the hay in the Jing An Shangri-La that night, it was with a feeling that a good time had indeed been had by all.
Sunday, May 15 -- From Shanghai to home.
Sometimes the best part about a trip is the day you go home. It's been a long trip, you're anxious to see family and pets again, to get back into a regular routine, even if it means going back to work. But there's always a feeling of sadness, too. You will be saying goodbye to new friends that you might not get to see for awhile, and in our case, we would be saying goodbye to a country that we might not visit again.
We were checked out of the hotel and transported to the airport with the usual efficiency and courtesy we'd come to expect in China. The trip to Pudong International, on a Sunday morning this time, went more quickly than our original trip from Pudong to the hotel had gone, with much less traffic to contend with. It didn't take too long before we were in the air again, beginning the long 13-hour flight back to Detroit. The only plus was that we would be going back in time, in a very real sense, regaining the hours on the clock we'd lost on the outbound trip ten days before.
Our arrival in Detroit was right on time, and it was still midday Sunday, although our internal clocks argued for midnight. After a short layover we were back in the air for our last hop to Minneapolis, and from there was our usual drive home. By the time we were back under our own roof, it was around dinnertime. After dropping off Sue and unloading our luggage, I was back on the road for the hour-long drive up to the Hayward area to get our dog, Sophie, from the kennel, something we'd originally planned to do the next day. But we missed her terribly and I decided not to wait another 12 hours. I had just enough energy to make the round trip safely. She was very glad to see me and ecstatic when she got home. We were glad, too, and pretty tired as well.
|It wasn't long before Sophie was back on watch, keeping an eye out for critters.|
Many people would ask me in the following days about how the trip went, how was China, how were the people? My answers (the short versions): very well, very big and exotic, and very nice. There was much to be impressed with by China. The people are hard-working, they are fit and healthy, and they appear to be well-organized. The society we engaged with appeared orderly and secure. Yes, they have obvious challenges with regard to their environment, and it remains to be seen how long they can sustain their impressive, rapid economic growth. Given more time and more appropriate venues, we might have talked a little more about politics, but that wasn't really why we were there. We went to see the country, experience the culture, meet the people, and that we did. The contrasts were vivid, going from a city of 25 million people to a camp in Tibet with 9. You can't get much more of a contrast than that.
All in all, it was a great trip, certainly one of the best we'd ever been on. Will we go back to China? Of course we didn't get to scale the Great Wall or view the amazing Terracotta Warriors of Xian, as Denise and Laurie did, along with many others who attended the Summit. So there will be ample reason to go back to China. Until then, our memories of this trip will have to do, and they will be ample and rich.
What of the future of China, and its relations with the United States? Sixty-six years ago, Chinese and American soldiers were shooting at each other in the mountains of Korea. Since then there has been an uneasy peace between us, and certainly now an economic and military rivalry is underway. If this visit proved anything for me, it is that we do not want China as our enemy. It would be much better for all of us, and for the world, for our two peoples to be friends. Or, as the Chinese say,
( sān rén yì tiáo xīn, huáng tǔ biàn chéng jīn)
If people are of one heart, even the yellow earth can become gold.