Day 54 of 111. Lingyin Temple
Near the West Lake is the oldest intact Buddhist temple in China. There were four major temples, but three of them were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. The massive size of the buildings and statues in these temples was impressive, but we were also lucky enough to be present for a ceremony inside the main temple. The monks, the chanting, the instruments and incense made that ceremony very memorable.
The large statues of Gods of Heaven were my favorite part. I did take the opportunity to light incense and make a wish (Safe Travels).
Day 54 of 111. Hangzhou, China
When we arrived in Hangzhou on the bullet train, we boarded a bus and drove to the West Lake. This lake is very popular with tourists and since it was Sunday, there were people everywhere. We boarded a moderate-sized boat for our 45-minute cruise with a tour guide telling us about the lake, the surrounding hills, the city, and about the differences among pagodas, towers, and temples. We could see a tower in the distance. We saw the Dragon Boat which is reserved for officials, but is used for tourists when it is not otherwise needed. We passed a man-made island (made from the silt that collects in the lake). There were trees filled with cormorants looking to fish in the lake. A side story told by our guide was about his daughter. Because of the law, she is an only child and spoiled. However, he is glad to have a girl because in order for a boy to get married, he must have a house and a car. These are often provided by his parents. Girls are less expensive. This tradition keeps a lot of people single.
Day 54 of 111. Shanghai, China
We woke up today in Shanghai, China. It was fun to look out the window and see an interesting skyline. I thought that the colorful characters on the shore say Welcome to Shanghai or something, but our guide says they mean Starbound ⭐️, oh well! We had a bus ride to the huge railway station next to the airport and we boarded a bullet train for our trip to Hangzhou, a popular tourist destination. The train reaches speeds of 250 km/hr. There is also a maglev train in Shanghai, but that is different. An interesting fact is that the one child restriction has been eased in China. Apparently there is a need for more young people in the population since the population is getting older and many young couples are DINKs (Double Income No Kids). If you have a girl as your first child, you can have a second child to try to get a boy.
Day 50 of 111. Beijing, China
Tian’anmen Square was exciting to see because of its grandeur and infamous history. It is a large square with the classic image of Chairman Mao on the one side. The monument of heroes stands up in the center of the square. There were Italian as well as China flags flying because the Italian prime minister was visiting. There were two large statues/monuments that we could not get close to because of a barrier that led to Chairman Mao’s tomb. An interesting point was that our bus passed many visitors to the square who had to line up and go through a security check. Somehow, our bus and tour was pre-checked and we were able to pull up and park just across the street from the square.
The Temple of Heaven was our last big stop in Beijing. This was originally a temple, but now it is a public park. In the mornings, people can be seen doing Tai Chi. In the spring, people play instruments in the park. Most days you can find people along the long corridor playing cards and Chinese chess. The buildings and hallways are decorated with bright colors and interesting patterns. The temple building used to be the tallest structure in Beijing and therefore attracted lightning and burned. It was rebuilt quite awhile ago and is an impressive structure.
Day 50 of 111. Beijing, China
We toured The Forbidden City in Beijing. We entered the South Gate and exited the North Gate and walked about a kilometer in between. The scale of the complex was impressive, but thinking back to the grandeur it must have had when being used really made us think. The colors, the patterns and the shapes gave us things to look at in each direction. Add to this the history and stories told by the guide and you can imagine what a great experience this was.
There was still snow on the ground, the air was cold and the moats were frozen, but at the same time, the snow worked to clear the air of pollution. Notice how beautifully blue the skies were during our visit. The other effect of the cold weather is that I wore my knit cap all the time except for the twelve seconds it took to have my picture taken, so I have “hat hair” in my photos!
Memorable tidbits of information include the three entrances in the gates, the center entrance was for the emperor, the right for his officials and the left for the military. The golden throne for the emperor showed how magnificent he was, but even so, he sat behind a screen so no one saw him. We enjoyed the bronze animals decorating the palace, especially the dragon with his funny expression.
Day 49 of 111. Xingang Port and Beijing, China
The plan was to eat breakfast very early (5:00 a.m.), pack, and be ready for our overnight excursion to Beijing at 6:00 a.m. The weather was very cold but the roads were unsafe due to the fog and ice. So, we ended up waiting for nicer conditions and took pictures of the snow on the upper outside deck of the ship. Many of the crew members are from Indonesia, so some of them were out making a snowman. We actually got on the road a little after 9:00 a.m.
Partway into the trip to Beijing, the roads were again closed. Crews were out re-deicing the roads by hand and we were again underway after 75 minutes. We saw huge towers used for creating heat for all of the high rise buildings where the people live. The towers looked like nuclear power plants to me, but the guide did not say. Many of the trees were wrapped to protect them from the cold weather. Our guide said that this snow was pretty unusual, but that the snow would be pretty on the Great Wall.
When we arrived at the Great Wall, we were not disappointed. It was cold, but not as bitterly cold as I had feared. Apparently there are five different parking lots and five different parts of the wall to visit and climb. I expected steps and level parts of the wall to walk on, but there were only steep slopes and steps in our section. Ron and I both climbed up several segments of the Wall and I tried the next higher segment, but the steps were icy and my legs started to cramp on the way up, so I decided that wisdom should take over from daring and we came down to ground level. Noelle is a crew member who accompanied the tour. Her red hair was a sensation with the Chinese and she ended up taking photos with about a dozen people before she could get away to climb.
Ron took a picture of me on the upper portion of the Great Wall and I took a picture looking down toward ground level. Climbing both up and down was made more challenging because the steps were rather tall and the snow had turned to ice.
Day 48 of 111. Yellow Sea nearing Xingang, China
We will dock at the port city of Xingang this evening. I think that this is the port closest to Beijing. It was very cold in Korea and the weather forecast is for equally cold or colder weather for the next few days. The temperature is 32 F and there is ice outside on the deck. We had some swells and high winds during our trip from Korea, but it has been smooth as glass today as we glide into port. After leaving Japan, we had a kimono night. I did not buy a kimono, but I did find a coat that was made out of a kimono. The sleeves were useful for storing our chopsticks from dinner. In watercolor class, we have been painting cherry blossoms (the characters are supposed to be Peace and Courage) and I made a colorful picture of bamboo.
Tomorrow, we meet at 6:30 a.m. to leave on an overnight trip where we will visit the Great Wall (snow flurries are predicted), the Forbidden City, and Tian’amnen Square. We will also visit the Temple of Heaven, the Ming Tombs and have an overnight stay in a hotel where we will be treated to a feast of Peking duck! Coming from Southern California, we really did not pack for very cold weather. Luckily, when we were docked in San Diego, we found down jackets on sale and bought two. They came in very handy in South Korea and should keep us from freezing in Beijing.
We had to skip one port (Jeju City) because the conditions were not safe, so we saved time on our traveling time. Because of this, we really have had a gentle and leisurely trip to Xingang… thus the slow boat to China reference.
Day 46 of 111. Seoul, South Korea
We visited a traditional marketplace in Seoul (Insa-dong Street) where I was interested in the shops that sold brushes. Some of them were tiny and some were huge. We also bought warm hats for our next stop, China.
Day 46 of 111. Seoul, South Korea
The Gyeongbokgung Palace was beautiful to visit. Our guide helped us understand the organization of the buildings. I really enjoyed the colors and patterns and details everywhere. The feng shui of the palace has mountains in the background from which comes strength. The water in the moat helps retain the strength and the fantasy creatures overlooking the moat keeps away evil spirit. The guards were practicing their changing of the guard when we arrived. The spectacle was colorful and impressive. One interesting fact was a jug that was used to collect and urine to be used as fertilizer.
Day 45 of 111. Incheon, South Korea
One of the dangers is that there are thousands and thousands of land mines planted along the DMZ, a 4 km swath of land stretching the border of North and South Korea. The tiny trianglular signs warn of this danger. However, there were some foods to watch out for as well. At a small park with rides and food stands that marks the northernmost point that South Koreans can travel, I saw dried squid for sale as well as a large dish of silk worm cocoons for sale. Yum.
We had lunch at a nice Korean fusion restaurant with a hot pan of beef and vegetables and plates to share of various mysterious, but delicious foods. The only actual food we recognized was kimchi.
Our last stop was at Simpo Market which was the kind of open air market we hoped to see in Korea. There were many amazing things for sale from flowers to live turtles (for soup). The steaming pile of eels was pretty impressive.