Home Sweet Home

October 13-14, 2017:

We made it home in one piece, no missing luggage to report! Our flight left at 1pm from Shanghai on Friday, October 13th. We left the hotel at 9am and arrived at the airport for 10am. Again, there was security immediately upon walking through the doors to the airport and then another two times before we were in the secure area.

By the time we were in the secure area, we had less than an hour until boarding for our flight began. I was able to request an aisle seat for this flight – I like to be able to get up and move around without inconveniencing my seatmates. This flight was substantially less booked than our initial flight to China and my dad and I were lucky to have an empty seat between us!

Our flight home was around 10 hours. Instead of flying through western Russia, around the Bering Strait and down the entire West Coast, this flight went over Japan, over the ocean then down the West Coast starting from around Seattle. My plan to stay up late the last couple of nights and be tired for the first part of our flight worked perfectly! I was asleep before we left the ground and slept for the first four hours of the flight. I purchased an eye mask before our trip and I’m so glad that I did! Again, we had two meals served on the flight: the first meal was a choice of pork and noodles or chicken and rice along with a “salad” (it was a very strange salad) and a hot roll; the second meal was a choice of chicken and noodles or octopus(!) and rice along with another hot roll, yogurt cup and cookies. For this whole trip, I’ve managed to eat a minimal amount of rice, particularly after my first flight experience. I found the noodle dishes palatable. My dad opted for the octopus and rice and – although I find this hard to believe – he said it was good.

I’m not going to lie, time zones confuse me. Our flight left Shanghai at 1pm and we landed at LAX at 10am on the same day! We also got to see the Hollywood sign from the air so that was an added bonus. After landing, we went through security and claimed our luggage. From here, our group exchanged contact information and went our separate ways. I was sad to see everyone go!

My dad and I will be staying in LA overnight then catching our flight home in the morning. I booked a hotel close to the airport and we ended up having to take a $20 cab because they didn’t have shuttle service. Note: if you have an overnight layover, book a hotel with airport shuttle service! Our LA hotel is a bit of a wake-up call compared to the beautiful hotels in China! I would give it about 2 stars. But, the room is newly finished, clean and has beds – which is all I really cared about by that time! They also let us check-in early at no extra cost.

After a nice long nap, my dad and I walked to a local restaurant and indulged in a classic American cheeseburger and fries. I’ve already put in an order with my husband for pizza when we finally get home tomorrow!

We managed to get some sleep over night – I haven’t been feeling the effects of jet lag too much yet. We were up early and back at LAX for our 8:45am flight to Calgary before our last connecting flight to Regina. Unfortunately for my dad, he will be driving back to Warman after landing in Regina so it’s a long day for him!

We went through Customs once we landed in Calgary. The limit is $800 in duty free goods for Canadians gone for a week or more. We had also had to claim our goods that are being shipped to us separately. As I had $1,000 in goods with me, I was technically $200 over the limit but wasn’t required to pay extra. We’ll see if I end up paying duty once my silk bedding arrives!

The jet lag started kicking in on Saturday night. I’m normally a night person and was in bed by 11pm and up at 6am for a couple hours. Then I went back to bed until 4pm and fell asleep periodically throughout the evening before going back to bed around 1:30am for the night. I dragged myself out of bed for work on Monday morning but ended up taking an early evening nap later on. By Tuesday, my sleep routine was back in place and I felt back to normal, although I am having some early symptoms of a sinus cold and my rings are still feeling tight on my fingers.

Now that it’s been a couple days since we got home, life is back to normal and the whole China trip feels like a dream! It’s hard to believe that less than a week ago we were on the Great Wall and cruising down the Suzhou Canals. This really was an experience of a lifetime!

Thank you for following along with me and my travels. I hope your trip to China in April 2018 is just as rewarding and memorable!

 

 

 

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Shanghai & Goodbye!

 

October 12, 2017:

Today is our last full day in China. It’s hard to believe how quickly our time here has gone by! Driving through Shanghai, the architecture, bridges, and sheer number of buildings is amazing! We have three stops today – the Bund, a silk embroidery factory and our last stop, the bazaar. Lastly, we will be finishing our trip with a Chinese acrobatic show tonight.

At the Bund, we got a 360-degree view of Shanghai and the river. The promenade is huge! We walked for 20 minutes and probably saw less than half of it. The juxtaposition between the old European buildings on one side of the river and the newer highrises on the opposite side is a perfect blend of not only old and new but also East meets West.

From the Bund, we visited a silk embroidery shop. This is an ancient art that is slowly dying in China. This fine needlework creates the most beautiful art and the pieces could easily be mistaken for paintings or photographs. The factory also creates exquisite silk rugs by hand. The entire factory was like walking through a museum, although the prices also reflected this. The smallest piece was at least $50 US.

After the silk embroidery factory, we had lunch on the next floor in the same building. We’ve ran into the same Citslinc group from Wisconsin throughout our trip, among others. I’ve tried to talk to each group that we’ve seen and have yet to hear anyone say they are not enjoying themselves. But, I must say that I am glad this is our last day of Chinese food. Although there are always at least 1 or 2 new dishes at each meal, I’m really looking forward to having pizza and a good burger when we get back! I have found that Shanghai cuisine is closer to what we call Chinese food at home. It’s nice to put a name to a dish besides fried rice but I have yet to see a sweet n’ sour chicken ball or an egg roll 😊

Next, we headed to the bazaar to finish our shopping. We were given 3 hours of free time here. This sounds like a lot of time but the place is huge! My dad and I didn’t cover half of it. The night before, our guide Jack had told us to exchange a small amount of money for Chinese currency if we didn’t have any left. Most stores do accept US money and all stores accept credit cards. However, some of our group had problems getting their cards to work, even though they notified their bank before leaving. I only had one issue and it was at the hotel restaurant of all places. Don’t worry – I didn’t have to do dishes to settle my tab 😊 Speaking of exchanging currency, the hotels are able to do this but only from US to Chinese, not vice versa. I believe they also need to see your passport to complete the transaction.

At the bazaar, Jack warned us not to engage in eye contact with the many street vendors. They call them “mosquitos” and it was easy to see why as they swarmed around us as soon as we walked in. I found the clerks in the stores also very aggressive. I changed my mind about making one purchase and the fellow literally followed me out of the store. Bartering is a must here! After our group finished souvenir shopping, we met back in a small tea shop where Jack was waiting for us. Anyone that finished early or wasn’t interested in shopping were welcome to sit with Jack until the rest of the group was done.

We had our last dinner at a restaurant that was in a mall-like building. We also had some free time here before going to the acrobatic show. Taking up another tourist’s suggestion, my dad and I explored the grocery store on the second floor. What an interesting place! They don’t really have a frozen food section and we found all sorts of things in the meat department, like live frogs, turtles, and snakes. We definitely were not served anything like this at any of our meals!

After dinner, we went to see a Chinese acrobatic show called Era. This is an optional tour and I think it was the perfect way to end our trip! The show is very impressive and all of us gasped a few times. I highly recommend it!

 

We were back at the hotel around 10pm for our last night in China. Several of our group will be leaving earlier to catch a flight to NYC. Our flight leaves at 1pm and we will be leaving the hotel at 9am. We lost a day flying here but will gain a day on the way back and will be landing at 10am on the same day. My plan is to stay up as late as possible and try to sleep through the first half of the flight so that I can try to reset my clock for home.

Several people in our group purchased a second piece of luggage at the bazaar for around $60 US to hold their souvenirs. We are allowed up to two pieces of luggage on China East Airlines. I initially packed an empty duffle bag in my suitcase and this worked perfectly!

As we had a connecting flight at the front end of our trip, the flight home will be direct from Shanghai to LA. At the beginning of the trip, many in our group felt that the connecting flight would be better to do on the way home but now that we’re approaching the end, I’m glad that it’s a direct flight!

China has been an amazing experience. For a small-town Saskatchewan girl like me, it’s hard to believe that I’m here – across the world from home, seeing and doing things I never considered! Citslinc has been an incredible host and I’m confident that those traveling in April will truly enjoy themselves.

We never learned how to say goodbye in Chinese so, until next time China!

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Hangzhou-Shanghai

October 11, 2017:

I may have spoken too soon when I said that Suzhou was my 2nd favourite (next to the Great Wall) of all the things we’ve seen and done in China. Both Suzhou and Hangzhou are beautiful cities but after seeing the Pagoda of the Six Harmonies, green tea plantation and West Lake, I can safely say that Hangzhou has knocked Suzhou off it’s pedestal.

We started our day with breakfast as usual. Our group of 20 people has grown close this past week and I’ll be sad to leave them. It sort of feels like we’re at summer camp! I think this breakfast spread had the most selection so far, but the quality of the food wasn’t as good as previous cities.

We boarded the bus for 9am and headed off to see the Pagoda of the Six Harmonies. On the way, our guide Jack gave us information about the city and its industries. Hangzhou is known for business – it makes 60% of the clothing made in China as well as furniture and leather and is also home to one of Microsoft’s offices and Alibaba. Overall, I felt that the city has a “richer” feel to it.

Hangzhou is one of the oldest cities in China. It’s surrounded by mountains and if you look carefully, you can see pagodas dotted along them. The Pagoda of Six Harmonies is very old but it has been rebuilt several times due to fire damage. The exterior appears to be 13 stories; however, on the inside, it is only 7 stories – this makes it a very unusual pagoda. It is an additional 10 Yuan to climb to the top of the pagoda. I settled for exploring the garden behind it and was not disappointed. It also had a lot of steps so I didn’t feel like I was missing out 🙂 We had about 30 minutes free time here – I could have easily spent the whole day exploring!

 

Next, we headed to a green tea plantation. This area is nestled in a lush green valley and it’s simply beautiful! On average, the plants are over 120 years old. At the plantation, we visited the tea house where we had a tea ceremony. Our guide from the plantation went to university to study tea for 5 years! We learned about the many benefits of green tea – many Chinese people smoke cigarettes and claim that the green tea they drink all day long is the reason that they don’t have the same high rates of smoking-related diseases that North America has. We were encouraged to smell and taste the leaves – to me, it was exactly like spinach!

 

After visiting the tea plantation, we had lunch in a nearby restaurant. I think this was one of the tastiest meals we’ve had so far!

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From lunch we headed to the West Lake which is located in a beautiful park just outside the city. We went on a boat ride around the lake and our guide Jack told us a few of the famous love stories associated with it. The weather is cooler today than yesterday and it’s been drizzling a little bit. The Chinese people call this “sneeze rain”. We were glad that our boat had a roof!

 

We then boarded our bus for the 3-hour drive to Shanghai. We stopped at a Rest Stop about halfway to our destination. The Rest Stops here are like mini malls with choices from Starbucks to street food. The restrooms are quite large but there are more squatters than toilets and you will need to take toilet paper with you. By this point on the trip, all of us ladies are feeling really confident about the squatters!

Our group decided to pass on Chinese food for dinner this evening. Some people are tired of eating Chinese food but I think there has been enough variety at each meal that I could last a couple more days. There was also a lot of traffic heading into Shanghai and we arrived 1 1/2 hours later than expected. Several people went to a nearby Burger King – the food smelled and apparently tasted the same as back home. There was also a food court near the hotel but most of us decided to eat at the restaurant in the hotel. I had a burger and fries for the first time in days!

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Our hotel in Shanghai is really nice! I still think that the hotel in Beijing was our nicest stay but this hotel is a close second. Tomorrow is our last full day in China and I’m excited to see more of Shanghai after the brief glimpse we had from the plane!

 

 

 

Suzhou-Hangzhou

October 10, 2017:

Our day started a little bit later today – we had a wake-up call at 7am, ate breakfast and then were on the bus for 8:30am. The breakfast buffet has been very impressive in all of the hotels so far. In my opinion, the Suzhou hotel is not quite as nice as the Beijing hotel, but it’s still on the same level as the best hotels we have in Saskatchewan.

Suzhou is a beautiful city – for me, it’s right after the Great Wall out of all the things we’ve seen and done here in China! With the water canal, it’s easy to see why Marco Paulo called it the Venice of the East!

Suzhou is also a major hub for technology factories like Samsung, Phillips and Bosch, and many more. It’s home to Alibaba – China’s version of Amazon – and also the largest manufacturer of solar panels in the world. With the creation of the SSIP (Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park), many people have moved from rural China to Suzhou to make money. The average pay is $1,000-$1,500 per month. However, although many electronics and devices are manufactured here, the price of these items are still too expensive for many Chinese people to actually purchase. Our guide Jack told us that we could bring a suitcase full of electronics here and easily re-sell them. And, with the influx of foreign brands into the market, the Chinese government has started heavily supporting and promoting “China-made” products rather than “Made in China” products. This is also a good tip for anyone looking for quality items here – look for the “China-made” label!

Our first stop of the day was a Buddhist temple. This is considered a “live” temple because monks still live on site. We were given 20 minutes of free time to wander around and I found it very serene and lovely. The temple has a large pond where people will bring turtles and fish from the market as part of their religion. There are several turtles in the pond that are hundreds of years old but they are rarely seen. The locals believe that it is good luck to see them!

After the temple, we went to a government-owned silk factory. The silk process is really cool! Out of all the factories we’ve seen, this one is my favourite so far – and I can assure you that my purchases also reflected this 🙂 Everything is so beautiful! On the first floor were linens and the second floor had both men’s and women’s clothing. A silk comforter is one of the most recommended purchases by Citslinc. And, as this is a government-run facility, there were no pushy sales people trying to get a commission!

We had lunch after seeing the silk factory at a restaurant in the same building. This was a buffet lunch and it had actual dessert! We’ve mostly been offered fruit for dessert so far. All of the other lunches and dinners have been served to us seated at a round table with a lazy susan in the middle. There’s generally several choices, none too spicy or strange, and the arrival of the watermelon always signals the end of the meal.

From lunch we headed to the canal for a boat cruise. This is an optional tour on the itinerary and an additional cost of $29US-$39US. This tour is highly recommended by Citslinc and a clear favourite with the other Citslinc groups that I met. If you opted out of this tour, you would visit the wedding dress market instead. The canal is in the older section of Suzhou and also the poorer area. The houses are very old and the law does not allow anyone to tear down any of the houses and rebuild. After the cruise, we walked through a street market with many local foods like fresh crab, fish, nuts, fruit and pastries.

The weather is extremely hot and humid today, much more like summer than fall! We visited the Lingering Gardens after the canal cruise. This is Peter from Citslinc’s favourite spot in all of China because it is very peaceful and beautiful. Our guide Jack gave us a tour of the garden and also talked about the tradition of foot binding for women. This is no longer practiced in China and has been outlawed since the last dynasty ended in 1911. There was a beautiful bonzi garden here with one tree that is hundreds of years old.

From the Lingering Gardens, we drove through the new part of Suzhou on the way to Hangzhou. The amount of active construction here is astounding! Buildings come up very quickly because they work around the clock with one night shift crew and one day shift crew. The crews work everyday until the job is finished and also live on the site in temporary housing. The construction worker’s wife is also hired to cook and clean and the company will help to find school for children. There is a workers union in place but it is more to help the bosses manage the workers rather than protecting the workers.

All in all, I have spent more money than I anticipated here and I wish that I had slowed down on the spending at the front end of the trip because I am finding that the last half of the trip has more items that I am interested in purchasing. This of course will be different for everyone. We will be visiting a bazaar in Shanghai on our last full day of the trip so I recommend that any “souvenir” items be purchased then instead of at the factories and souvenir shops you see earlier on the trip.

Second, the trip that I am on is a 9-day excursion but the Canadian trip is 11-days. One of these extra days is spent in Beijing visiting another Buddhist temple. The other extra day is spent at Suzhou seeing the lake and visiting the SSIP. Overall, the Canadian trip is more relaxing because of these extra days.

We ended the day in Hangzhou after a 3-hour bus ride. We made one rest stop along the way, about halfway through the ride. We also had dinner in the hotel for the first time on this trip.

Tomorrow we will see more of Hangzhou and then we’re off to Shanghai for the last leg of our trip!

Beijing-Shanghai-Suzhou

October 9, 2017:

Today we spent most of the day in transit from Beijing to Shanghai and then to Suzhou. Our day started with a 4:30am wake-up call so that we were ready to meet in the lobby for 5:15am and then off to the airport for an 8am flight to Shanghai followed by a 1 1/2 hour bus ride to Suzhou.Unfortunately, our original flight to Shanghai was canceled due to lightning and fog. Our flight was rescheduled for 11am but it was also delayed due to the inclement weather. We also had several gate changes at the Beijing airport for this flight.

Compared to typical Saskatchewan weather this time of year, the weather has been really great! Beijing was quite smoggy but on the second and third days we also had fog and rain. However, there has been little to no wind and the rain was quite light – certainly not a torrential downpour. Some of our group have had sore throats and sinus issues due to the smog. I think it’s very comparable to the allergies some people develop from the forest fire smoke we saw earlier this year in Saskatchewan. However, once we landed in Shanghai, the weather turned completely! The humidity level is really high with 30 degree temperatures! We’ve also seen blue skies for the first time on our trip. In general, it is much more humid here than we are used to at home.

Our flight to Shanghai was almost 2 hours. This was a really big plane with 75 rows of 8 seats. We had entertainment options similar to our first flight to China and were served a meal. The meal choices were chicken and noodles or beef and rice with a yogurt cup, fruit cup, salad and cookies. I chose the chicken and noodles – I couldn’t stomach the thought of the beef and rice after what happened on our first flight, but I heard decent reviews from the group. Airplane food is never the greatest but it was edible.

Due to the travel delays, the scheduled activities in Suzhou have been pushed to tomorrow. Luckily Citslinc allows for these types of delays in the itinerary so we won’t be missing anything!

The flight into Shanghai was truly amazing. The sheer number of highrise buildings is unbelievable! And with a population of 24 million – the largest city in the world – you can understand why!

We were met in Shanghai by our new guide, Jack. He speaks great English and has visited the US several times, as well as Europe, and also lived in New Zealand. Citslinc also arranged for our group to be met by a welcome committee with a sign and roses for everyone! The friendliness of everyone here has been really outstanding. It’s definitely given me more perspective and empathy towards the Asian tourists we see at home.

From the airport, we boarded the bus and drove the 1 1/2 hours to Suzhou. Note: there are no bathrooms on the bus but we are given opportunities to use the restrooms wherever we are. The city never really ended, it reminded me of being in the US or eastern Canada. We’ll be spending one night in Suzhou before moving on to Hangzhou. We’ve also been running into other Citslinc groups and other touring groups along the way – everyone that I’ve talked to has been very impressed and happy with their trip!

The night before we left Beijing, the people in our group received their new tailored suits. The men’s suits were $350 and apparently fit like a glove! Two ladies also ordered clothing – one had a jacket made and the other had a slim fitting, high-necked traditional Chinese dress made. The lady with the jacket had to have the fit slightly adjusted but the tailors delivered it to her at the Beijing airport before we left! Both ladies paid $250 for their items.

Another thing that is really amazing here is the highway system. Roads crisscross over each in every direction. The Chinese government has also been investing heavily in the train system. Jack, our guide, also mentioned that in 20-30 years, we might see an underwater subway system from China to America!

Our first glimpse of Suzhou has been very promising – the scenery is very beautiful and I’m looking forward to exploring tomorrow!

 

 

 

Beijing, Day 2

October 8, 2017:

Day 2 in Beijing began with a 6:30am wake-up call followed by breakfast and then we were on the bus for another day of adventure!

We started with a stop at the Olympic venue for a photo opportunity. Due to the fog, we couldn’t see much of the Bird’s Nest, but we had a good view of the aquatics venue and the large building complex that’s called the “Dragon” – this building was probably 4 city blocks long!

Here’s a quick rundown on the internet access so far: all of the hotels and airports have wifi. Some of the airports require you to log in to their site for access. We’ve found that most websites work, including this one (yay!). I’ve only been able to access Facebook using my vpn but Instagram and Google have both been accessible. My dad was able to access Netflix for the first couple days but hasn’t been able to log in for the last two days. If you’re an iPhone user, messaging and Facetime with another iPhone user is no issue – except you have to remember the time difference 🙂

Apparently Apple Pay works quite well here but I haven’t tried it yet. My Mastercard credit card worked in the airport but a couple people in our group were unable to use their Visa credit cards. Most local places prefer Chinese currency if you are paying in cash, but US cash is also accepted – depending on the vendor. For this trip, I took $500 in US cash and $100 Chinese.

Our guide Bryan has been teaching us some Chinese words along the way, which has been really helpful! He’s also been a wealth of knowledge on Chinese culture and history, not too mention funny! He really has been a great guide for us.

After the Olympic venue, we headed to the Summer Palace. This is a man-made lake and park in the northern part of the city that was used by the Emperor in the summer due to its cooler temperature. It reminded me of Wascana Park in Regina – as odd as that might sound! Unfortunately, it was quite foggy so we couldn’t get a good view of the lake, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

From the Summer Palace, we headed to the pearl factory. China is the largest producer of fresh water pearls in the world, which are less expensive than salt water pearls. We spent approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour here. Our visit started with a short presentation then we headed into the showroom. This time I remembered to beeline for the sales counter instead of lingering in the “golden room” during our free time!

After the Summer Palace, we headed to the Hutong for lunch and a rickshaw tour – this was definitely the highlight of our day! We were ushered into a tiny room with 3 small tables while an older gentleman – who also cooked all of the food – brought us dish after dish. This was the first meal where using a fork was not an option – all we had was chopsticks! I highly recommend practicing your chopstick skills before the trip. After the lunch, our chef introduced himself and spoke about his life in the Hutong. The room we were sitting in was just in front of his bedroom, although we couldn’t see it. The homes in the Hutong are very small!

After lunch, we split into pairs and went for a 20-minute rickshaw ride! I felt so sorry for our rickshaw driver as he was huffing and puffing to get us big North Americans through the narrow streets. But don’t be fooled, later I found out that they all do this to get extra tips!

The Hutong tour is one of the optional tours offered by Citslinc. This is an additional cost of $29-$39 US that is paid in cash to your guide. Citslinc highly recommends this optional tour and after seeing the modern highrises throughout the city, it was eye opening to see how most people in Beijing were living just 20 years ago. I also recommend this tour!

After seeing the Hutong, we headed to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. This day of our tour has the most walking, approximately 5km. Wheelchair service is available for any that may need it. A lady in our group took the wheelchair option and was wheeled through the Square and Palace by one of Bryan’s “cousins” – he was very attentive and made sure she was comfortable at all times.

It started raining once we started for Tiananmen Square. Most of us had umbrellas but vendors were also around with umbrellas and ponchos for a very cheap price. Tiananmen Square is exactly like it sounds – a large open square. On one side is the Parliament Building, on another side a museum, the third side is a building for Mao’s mausoleum and the fourth side is the gate leading to the Forbidden City. Due to the holiday, there was a large basket of (fake) flowers and fruit in the middle of the square. We had many people gawking at us here, one older fellow even took his picture with us! Citslinc also arranges a professional photographer on site here to take a group photo. The photo is then put into a book with information about China. The cost is $16 US and makes a great keepsake!

From Tiananmen Square we went into the Forbidden City. This was once the main residence of the Emperor and forbidden to the public. This complex is huge with 9,999 rooms – we only went through the main parts so it was difficult to fully grasp the size of it! Like the Temple of Heaven, we weren’t able to enter the buildings but could see inside.

After the Forbidden Palace, we went for dinner at a very nice restaurant. Again, the dishes kept coming out one after the other. And again, no forks! So far, this has been my favourite meal – although the peking duck is a close second! We were served wine at the restaurant – Peter had previously warned us that China does not produce good wine, and I completely agree! However, my dad thought it was perfectly fine so I let him have my glass.

These past 2 days have been very full days! It’s hard to believe we haven’t been here  longer. Tomorrow morning we have an early wake-up call as we have an 8am flight to Shanghai before driving to Suzhou. Due to it being the start of the work week, we will be leaving the hotel at 5:15am so we are set to wake up at 4:30am. Our guide Bryan will have a breakfast box ready for us in the morning so we won’t be missing breakfast.

Next up: Suzhou!

 

 

Beijing, Day 1

October 7, 2017:

This is a day I hope to never forget!

We started the day with a 6am wake-up call and with a solid 8 hours of sleep behind me, this night owl was up and at ’em! We went down for breakfast for 6:30am and let me tell you, the breakfast spread did not disappoint! With fresh pastries, fruit, dim sum, a stir-fry station, an omelet station, various cereals, traditional breakfast foods, coffees and juices, this is probably one of the most amazing breakfast buffets I’ve ever seen! Remembering Peter from Citslinc’s recommendation to eat as much as possible at breakfast – and with so much selection at hand – we loaded up our plates a couple times, and with a busy day ahead of us, it was a good thing we did!

At 7:30am, our group of 20 people went down to meet with the crew from Citslinc. Our group grew from 15 to 20 overnight with 5 people who flew out of JFK joining us. Leo, the owner of Citslinc, introduced us to the various tour managers in the cities where we will be traveling. He also spoke of how this trip and the Chambers are helping to build relationships between China and the U.S. and Canada. My dad and I are the only Canadians on this trip – a good portion of our group is from California, as well as Indiana, Florida, Utah, Iowa, Virginia and Illinois.

After the meeting, we boarded our bus for the Temple of Heaven. Again, the architecture in Beijing amazed me. We are lucky to be in China during their national 8-day holiday so the traffic wasn’t terrible. In a city of 21 million people, I can’t imagine traffic on a normal business day! Many people are on bicycles and mopeds. They have a bicycle system similar to Bixi Bikes where you pay a small fee to ride a bike for as long as you need it then you can leave it at any bicycle station. Beijing has a bus system as well as a metro. Driving here is a dangerous sport – and as Peter from Citslinc said, “Chinese people here drive like sh**.” People seem to be going in every direction at once and if you want to pass someone, you just honk to let them know that you’re passing – regardless of whether or not they’re ready! Peter was actually hit by a moped after he left us yesterday – the moped was going the wrong way and bowled him over. Luckily, he only had a small scratch and a bruised knee to show for it. If you’ve met Peter, you know the moped driver was likely more shaken up after hitting him – he’s built like a modern day Buddha.

At the Temple of Heaven, our tour guide Bryan gave us a history lesson than sent us off on our own for 20 minutes. The Temple of Heaven is now a public park and many senior citizens go there every day to play cards (poker!) or Chinese chess, sing or do Tai Chi. We couldn’t enter the Temple but we could see into it. Although 20 minutes isn’t a lot of time, it was more than enough time to walk around the Temple and meet back up with our group.

This stop also marked our first official experience with public washrooms. Most washrooms have a toilet paper dispenser at the entrance; however, that doesn’t mean that there will actually be toilet paper there. I highly recommend taking toilet paper with you EVERYWHERE you go. There are 2 types of toilets here: the regular toilet and the squatter. There are always more squatters than regular toilets, and every bathroom has a sink, soap and hand dryers. The squatters are basically urinals set into the floor. Some washrooms have common sinks outside the toilet area. I have yet to go into a public bathroom that doesn’t smell horribly.

The Temple of Heaven was also our first experience where WE were the tourist attraction. We were warned ahead of time that we might be the first westerners that some of the rural Chinese people had ever seen. Some people openly stared and took pictures of us but they were also very friendly and tried out a few English words. The children would walk directly into our group and park themselves beside us. Quite endearing!

After the Temple of Heaven, we visited the biggest jade factory in China. A lovely employee gave us a tour of the showroom and told us about the mining and design processes, then we had 45 minutes of free time. This was a long time for my dad who doesn’t like to shop. Personally, I made the mistake of not moving to the sale counter right away and quickly found myself with $4,000 in jade bangles on my arm – $1,000 per bangle. The salespeople were quite aggressive and I had to forcefully say no to making a purchase.

After the jade factory, we went to the Ming Tomb which is located in the mountains outside Beijing. This is an Unesco World Heritage Site and of the 13 tombs in the area, this is the best preserved tomb. This site had more of a museum-feel to it. Watch for the vendors outside of the tomb as they were quite aggressive!

Overall, we’ve been very surprised with the modernity of the city – everyone has a smart phone! For a city of 21 million people, you really don’t feel the crush of people all around you. The scenery is very green and the architecture is amazingly creative. I am pleasantly surprised with everything!

We had lunch in a restaurant that was connected to a ceramics store. We were again encouraged to shop and given plenty of free time to look around after the meal. Lunch was served family style – as has every meal we’ve had outside the hotel so far. The shopping at this stop was definitely more “souvenir-oriented”.

After lunch, we headed to the Great Wall. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint. From the first glance it looks exactly like any picture you’ve ever seen. It’s simply incredible and almost impossible to describe – in my opinion, it is totally worth the 13-hour flight to come and see this site!! This was also our second Unesco World Heritage Site of the day so that was really cool!

Our guide gave us 90 minutes to explore the Wall. He also spoke the entire time we drove to the Wall so it made the trip go by very quickly. My dad and I climbed to Tower 4 but some went all the way to Tower 12. Apparently this section is easier to climb than others but I would call it the Ultimate Stairmaster. Some stairs were a couple feet high while others were only an inch or two high. All of our legs were trembling, especially after coming back down! I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves here – I really can’t find enough words to describe this experience!

After visiting the Wall, it took us approximately 90 minutes to drive back into Beijing. This evening we went for a Peking Duck dinner at a very famous Chinese restaurant. I really enjoyed our meal but my dad wasn’t such a big fan. We also tried “fire water” at this restaurant – this is a 56% alcohol made in China. I found the taste quite sweet and similar to tequila. Other beverages that have been served at lunch and dinner include a Beijing beer, coca cola, sprite, water and tea.

Our guide arranged Chinese massages and tailor service for anyone interested upon our return to the hotel. The Chinese massage was $35 for 90 minutes and the masseuse came to our room to do the massage. After traveling and climbing all day, this massage was more than welcome! Our masseuses were very friendly and showed us pictures of their children on their phones. The massage itself was very good albeit a bit strange with lots of slapping, limb twisting and turning and knuckle cracking. I talked to the others in our group about their massage experience and we all found it a bit unfamiliar but we also all felt better the next day!

A couple of the men in our group took advantage of the tailor service and had custom suits delivered to them today after being measured up yesterday. The average price is $300 for a suit. There were also options for women, like traditional Chinese dresses.

This was an extremely busy day – but also an extremely memorable day! Tomorrow promises to be another full day with visits to the Summer Palace, pearl factory, Hutong, Tiananmen Square, and Forbidden City!