ANOTHER WONDERFUL TRIP TO CHINA - 2007
I was fortunate to be one of the 24 Museum Circle members who spent two weeks experiencing the “Wonders of China”. This was a repeat of the Museum Circle China tour of 2005, organised by Joshua & Francis Xu in collaboration with Webb’s Galleries.
It was a truly memorable experience which left the tour members with a lifetime of memories and the urge to definitely return again.
Our first destination was Shanghai, one of the most economically prosperous cities in the world with a population of 20 million. Driving into the city we were struck with awe at its sheer size and spectacle. We stayed at the luxurious Jin Jiang Hotel situated in the French Concession with its quaint surroundings making early morning walks very appealing. We could join Tai Chi in the park or visit the street market where farmers sell their produce, including poultry and fish, very much alive. The Shanghai Museum was amazing with a fine collection of over 120,000 pieces of Chinese artefacts dating back to 21BC. The Zhujiajiao ancient water village, free from traffic jams and pollution was for us a sanctuary with well preserved houses, one of the earliest still existing Post Offices in China and a-thousand-year-old Pharmaceutical store. We travelled the canals on sampans, were fed a sumptuous lunch in air conditioned comfort and explored fascinating stalls selling a variety of exotic wares & foodstuffs.
In Xian, we walked along the ancient city wall which was built during the 14th century Two of the younger members of the group cycled the entire way round the 13.74 kms preserved ancient wall. The Terracotta Warriors, one of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century was everything I expected and more. Home of the ‘Emperor’s Silent Army,’ with more than 6,000 individually crafted life size terracotta warriors and horses, they were made to protect the Emperor in his afterlife.
Our final destination was Beijing, a complex mix of old and new living side by side. Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are Beijing’s centrepiece attractions and the heart of the Chinese nation. In strong contrast is the current building boom creating a stage for some of today's boldest architecture and engineering such as the new Olympic village stadium structure which looks like a massive “bird’s nest” and the aquatic centre “the cube” which allows water to flow through the exterior walls for filtration and heating. With Operation “2008 Olympic facelift” many of the historic sites were encased in bamboo scaffolding. The temples and palaces that had already received their makeovers looked stunning. The traffic was unbelievable. There are an estimated 2 million cars on the road, with new ones being added each day. Although it looks as though there are no traffic rules at all, the mix of vehicles scooters bicycles and pedestrians flows with startling efficiency. Our tour guide assured us that there are 3 things that any Chinese driver must have: skill, patience and luck! There are only a few areas in Beijing where the Hutong survive. The Hutong areas are the old neighbourhoods of Beijing set up with compounds of houses facing an inner courtyard and connected to each other by small lanes. The Bamboo Garden Hotel where we stayed was situated in one of these areas which enabled us to do early morning walks through alleyways, sampling the sesame cakes and dumplings and observing the locals.
Our final encounter was to climb the Great Wall. Climbing those steep steps brought home why this was one of the man-made wonders of the world. Looking to either side were valleys, mountains, and more views of The Wall stretching literally as far as we could see.
The Chinese people are embracing rapid change and show excitement and optimism for their future. They’re very proud to show off their cities. It's not the Communist China that I imagined - they're not despondent, they're not sombre. The Chinese food was not only a feast for the eye but so delicious and diverse that one could always muster up an appetite for more and there was always more! The vibrant, distinctive culture of this great land of contrasts was everywhere to be seen. China is very, very full of vitality.