Wednesday, October 12, 2011

People are interesting don’t you think? Beijing

Last Day of our cruise – sailed into Tianjin early this morning after a late night. Farewell dinner with our friends and table mates – Jay, Sydney and Millary. Then packing – the big case (weighing 59 lbs) was going to be taken off and we would next see it at the airport; the hand luggage containing precious items (don’t ask) would be on the bus with us through disembarkation, then a tour in Beijing and finally to our hotel. Overnight at the Doubletree Hilton Beijing then to the airport and home. As usual we had overpacked and know better for the next cruise (?) which, as of now, is a Caribbean cruise in January.

My take on the time in Beijing is expressed in the title of this blog. It relates, in a very superficial way, to what I experienced.

Disembarkation was extremely smooth. All those passengers who were leaving the ship were categorized by what tour they were doing in Beijing (or not); what hotel they were staying at; and when they were leaving for the airport. We all get on the bus and the guide says – “ everyone on this bus is doing the tour of the Forbidden City, right?”; “yes!” is the response. “Everyone on this bus is at the Doubletree Hilton, right?”; “yes!”. “Everyone on this bus is leaving tomorrow by air, right?”; “yes!”. Repeated on every bus. Before we left. Amazingly two passengers got on the wrong bus, stayed on the wrong bus and we had to effect a transfer along the way. Also, every time you get on the bus after a stop, no matter how brief, someone is late. Makes me crazy.

Our tour highlighted something I found intriguing about the Chinese persona (or history). We were going to the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square. The day was October 10th 2011 exactly 100 years after the overthrow of the last Emperor of China. The guide, Tony, told us how all-powerful the emperor was. How he lived in splendor, isolated in the Forbidden City. Then he told us about Chairman Mao. How powerful he was and how, if the two of them stood face-to-face and Mao told Tony to jump off a building – he would obey. Not sure what it says about who but, I guess, ruling 1.3 billion people you have to be in charge!

The other thing is the importance of symbolism. Everything we saw had a meaning. The colors of the buildings in the Forbidden City – Yellow roof symbolizes the land and the domain of the Emperor; Red walls signify progress and prosperity.

The animals and their number on the eaves of the roof signify the importance of the building – the more the more important. The metal wire is symbolic of lightning protection!!

The lion signifies power. This one (on the right of the entrance stairs) the Emperor – his paw is on a ball – go figure. The Empress (on the left of the entrance) signifies family – her paw is on a cub (I get that)

The Forbidden City is divided into sections – a public front section where governing was done and the domestic area at the back. There are innumerable buildings in the complex and those in the front are beautifully and colorfully restored. Those in the housing complex still need work!

If you look carefully you can see the chicken wire keeping the birds out of the lovely stuff
Must also protect against people

The tile work is absolutely magnificent

The stories about the emperor they love to tell are about his sleeping arrangements. The Emperor had officials and eunuchs (plus lots of guards) to do the heavy lifting. He had his choice of the Empress or concubines for pleasure / procreation. As one can imagine this led to problems – on one hand, hence the eunuchs; on the other, the Empress was not nuts about the concubines (and had a say in the choice). Male offspring were important to succession so that created issues. There was always the danger of assassination – so there was a lot of detail about how that was managed (the concubines had to be naked in the emperors presence and they didn’t spend the night)

Obviously lots of tourists looking around the complex but also many Chinese visiting with their kids. Some of them dressed up for the occasion with headgear.
Others brought their toys with them.

Soldier on guard in the midst of a sea of people.

The Temple of Heaven was once the temple of the Emperor – he went there to pray at least three times a year – for a good harvest, for good rains and for prosperity.

Now the entire area is given over to people having fun: there was a long passageway giving access to the temple and there were scores of women (and this man) knitting and crocheting.

Merle is like, ‘temple, what temple?’ ‘I want to watch the knitting’. Unsympathetic guide.

Also people playing cards. Singing in groups. Dancing (ballroom!). Doing something wrong – we couldn’t figure it out.

having their wedding pics taken
Also a lot of people having less fun - cleaning and restoring the stone floor
A word much mentioned by the guide was prosperity. And success. And the need to succeed. I think this may well explain the incredible power of China in the World economy today; my belief it has a need to dominate in the future and clearly the way they’ll accomplish both / all is symbolized by the way they drive. No prisoners.

Couldn’t blog in China – Blogspot was blocked. Facebook was blocked. Sorry for the delay.
Thaaaats all Folks!!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Today we scheduled an excursion called ’scenic Dalian’ – this was designed to be a Sunday sightseeing bus ride around this growing and wealthy city of 6 million or so.
On a ship of 2500 passengers 400 or so were going on this excursion (DLC-290) in 11 buses. So how is it that yours truly is sitting blissful in an empty bus – bus A1 if you must know.

The answer is, for all you cruisers to be, Jay’s technique. You get to the collecting point a bit early (wheelhouse Bar at 8.15am for 8.30am in this case). They call the tour. You stand in line a get your sticker (see it on my t-shirt). Then, rather than wait for them to take you to the bus you tell them you need to go to the bathroom, take off the sticker, head to the gangplank, find the bus (which is usually pretty well marked) and there you are.

Dalian, as is the case for so many strategic cities in this part of the world, had a rough 20th century. It is located on a peninsula and has two excellent deep sea ports. The Japanese occupied it in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895. Czarist Russia forced Japan to cede Dalian in the treaty that followed; and soon after restored it by lease to China. In the years that followed, Russia helped link Dalian to the Trans Siberian Railway and opened the area up for rapid economic development. In 1904, the Japanese struck back sinking the Russian Pacific Fleet in Port Arthur (their military base in Dalian) and by the end of the Russo-Japanese War had reoccupied Dalian – which they did until 1945. The development of Dalian as a port continued under the Japanese who used the area to stage their Manchurian invasion in 1931. Russia regained control of Dalian after World War II and restored it to Chinese rule in 1953.

Today Dalian is a big, busy city. Construction is ongoing everywhere you look. A new metro system prevented our visit to Zhongshan Square which was to be our first stop. We drove around it and saw all the elegant European-style buildings that now house commercial and financial businesses. Modern skyscrapers line the streets. Shops have the global brand names – Armani, Prada, LV etc etc. The cars are my metric. Mercedes and BMWs aplenty but lots of Audis, Jags, Hummers(?), and a very orange Lamborghini (sad color choice babe)

On to the Green Hill Platform to see the view. Greenery-check; Hill-check; Platform – check; view in front, telecommunications tower above, cableway to hilltop check; on our way.

Then went to Peoples Square. Liked this better. Flower Sellers Store across the way doing a brisk business.

Kite sellers in the park selling their colorful wares – note the lady covered up to avoid any hint of sun.

Joke!! it was so overcast the sun barely had a look in

Locals on the bench amazed by these crazy tourists taking pics of locals looking at crazy tourists.

Next stop was Xinghai Park. Its at the coast and is a huge open expanse of grass, monuments and statuary.

The main column commemorates the return of Hong Kong to China. In the background you can see the Dalian International Convention Center – the convention was on High Pressure Liquid Separation Techniques (been there done that). You can also see the huge Apartment buildings – many have a design and scale that would not be out of place in Vegas

The statues, I have now realized, are excuses for a ‘photo op’. everyone here loooooves a photo.

Take a pic of me skateboarding.

Take one of me next to (but not on) the lady traffic cop’s horse

And on and on

They also love a wedding. This crowd used an ambulance as the wedding transportation. Groom a bit nervous, smoking, will need the real thing if he doesn’t give up.

Then drove along the Ocean, between the mountains and the Yellow Sea. Rugged coastline seen from the North Bridge – you walk across it with your dearly beloved to signify togetherness.

Penultimate stop was at the Tiger Statue – a fun stop. 

They were selling sunflower seeds roasted in butter and pistachios done the same way. Man is shelling the sunflower seeds (we think)

Also a gent selling these long multiple kites did a brisk business – note the US$ notes in hand.

Final stop – at the Duty Free (Friendship Store) – which wasn’t cheap and didn’t get our attention.
Back on board for an early departure and an early arrival at Beijing – our disembarkation.