The Rest of our China Tour

We are now in Seoul, South Korea for a few days before returning to Beijing to start the next part of our trip. On the downside, as soon as we arrived here in Seoul, I got sick. On the upside, since I don’t feel up to sightseeing there is plenty of time for me to update my blog! The first 4 posts are related to our river cruise; the remaining are the places we visited after disembarking from the ship.

Shanghai to Yichang

3 Gorges Dam

Shennong Stream




Beijing, Day 1

Beijing, Day 2

Beijing, Day 3

Now that our China visit is wrapped up, you may be wondering what my impressions of China were. As I mentioned earlier, we had visited a few port cities on our previous trip here and had left feeling like we had not actually experienced China. We wanted to return to visit more of the inland cities and to take a river cruise. I had in my mind a vision of what China was like. Did my vision live up to the reality?

I guess the short answer is no. One thing I did not understand about China was how very much the cultural revolution changed the country. Perhaps if I had visited prior to this era (1966-1976) I may have seen the China I had expected to see. But, Mao Zedong and his regime destroyed that China. Over the past 40 or so years, things have changed dramatically. Entire villages have been “relocated” to relocation cities, which are just big cities filled with skyscrapers. Most Chinese people live in urban jungles of 20 to 30 story tall apartment buildings. Fortunately, not every cultural icon has been destroyed, but these icons are few and far between. Many of the buildings that have been constructed are quite ugly, so the cities lack charm.

Now, the younger generation of China no longer want to live anywhere but the big cities. They like the modern amenities, but have to work like crazy to keep up the lifestyle they want. As such, having children is no longer a priority. They prefer the “double income; no kids” life. The government revoked the “one couple, one child” law and still, people are not having many children. As such, the population is aging. It is very noticeable that there area many more older people here than younger. The couples that do have children expect their aging parents to take care of their young. Some parents are not longer willing to do so; they would rather travel and enjoy the fruits of all of their years of labor.

Because so many people live in apartments, parks are very important in the daily life of the Chinese. Every morning, the seniors of China head to the park for exercise, music, and conversation. After working hours, the young head to the parks. Public toilets are everywhere because a large portion of the population do not have a toilet in their home. And, of course, the vast majority of the toilets are the “squatty potty” type. If you visit, be sure to bring your own tp and by all means, don’t flush it. There is a wastebasket for you to dispose of your toilet paper next to the toilet.

I notice random things as we travel. Here are a few things I noticed:

• Smoking is everywhere. I saw many more men smoking than women. It is now against the law to smoke in a restaurant. So, smokers gather in the hallway instead.

• Electric scooters are a common mode of transportation. There is a separate bike lane on the roads. Some of the scooters have what I call “scooter mittens” sewn on to keep the rider warm. Even though the temperature was in the 80’s and 90’s while we were there, the scooter mittens were not removed.

• The beds are really, really hard. In the villages, people used to put a board on top of bricks and use that as a bed. I guess the hotel beds were a bit softer than that!

• Of course, you can’t access Facebook and other social media platforms (unless you have a VPN). But, were you aware that you can’t access Gmail, either? That came as a rude shock to me since I use that as my primary email account.

• The locals refer to white foreigners as “big noses”. Gotta love it!

• Spitting on the sidewalk is a big thing. I noticed this more early in the morning than at other times of day.

• Dining is family style. The only real downside to this is if 8-10 dishes are served, and you only like 2 of them, you are only going to get a couple of bites of those dishes since everyone is sharing.

• Ordering food at a fast food restaurant can be a challenge. To make it easier, some have printed menus where you can point and hold up fingers to show how much you want of each item. This generally works ok, but we did have an instance where we ordered 3 main dishes but only 2 sodas. When our order came we were given 3 sodas (because we ordered 3 items??). No big deal; I signaled for her to take one back. She got quite upset and told me it would cost more money. What??? She kept repeating, “more money, more money”and I kept shaking my head no. She eventually gave up.

• Make sure you have cash to pay for virtually everything, especially food. Your credit card may not be accepted everywhere.

Well, that’s it for now. I may or may not have anything to post about Seoul; it depends on if I get well before we leave. If not, my next posts will be about our 19-day trip from Beijing to St. Petersburg! Who knows if I will have any internet access for awhile, so stay tuned!

A few days in Shanghai

After a long but uneventful flight to Shanghai, we started our tour through Gate 1 Travel. This is a completely new experience for us and I will say: so far, so good. After having spent two days touring, I can definitely say that we made the right choice. Navigating on your own in China would be extremely difficult and it is wonderful to have someone getting us from point A to point B. Meals (for the most part) are taken care of, which is great because menus here are not written in English. I do miss being able to set our own pace but the trade off is worth it. Now, if I could only sleep at night. . .

I am very glad that I have T-Mobile cellular service which gives us internet access. I found out when we arrived that I cannot access Gmail in China and of course, no Facebook. But, I can access both using my cell service. Go T-Mobile! On the downside, Nord VPN does not work on iOS. I normally travel with my laptop (Nord VPN’s obfuscated server works with it) so was assuming that it would also work with my iPad. No go. Oh, well!

On our first day of touring, we visited the Jade Buddha Temple and the Bund. Shanghai, China

Our second day was spent in Suzhou, the Venice of the Orient.Suzhou, China

Today, we will be touring more of Shanghai before flying to Yichan to catch a 4-day Yangtze River cruise.

Off We Go!

Today, we leave for a completely different type of trip than we usually take. We are spending two weeks in China, flying to Seoul for 5 days, then spending 19 days traversing Mongolia and Russia on the Trans-Mongolian Railway followed by two weeks of cruising the Baltic and Norwegian Fjords on MSC.

What makes this trip so unique (other than the itinerary)? We have signed up for tours rather than traveling independently as we normally do. We will travel with Gate 1 Travel in China and G Adventures for the trek across Mongolia and Russia. Having briefly visited both China and Russia on previous trips, we knew that neither is particularly “user-friendly” for independent travelers. Most countries we have been to have enough English language signage and English speaking people for us to manage on our own; not so in either China or Russia. It will be an interesting experience being on organized tours; we shall see how it all works out!

I realized recently that I never finished my blog posts from our most recent trip to SE Asia. Partially this was because I got the creeping crud for the last couple of weeks of our trip, so we didn’t do too much while in Bangkok. I did write a post about Bangkok; I just never posted it! Here is a link to the post: Bangkok, Thailand

The main reason I never finished is that when we returned home from the trip we found that our beloved cat, Maxwell, was not feeling well. He wasn’t his usual self, so we took him to the vet. It turns out he had advanced kidney failure and had to be put to sleep immediately. I know those of you that have furry children understand how devastating this was for me. I was deeply affected by his passing and didn’t really feel like writing. So, I never finished my thoughts about traveling in SE Asia; perhaps I will do so while on this next trip. I definitely have some ideas that could be useful for those of you planning a trip to this part of the world.

I am curious to see how much my internet usage will be curtailed while in China. I know that social media and certain email apps are not allowed. I am hoping that at the very minimum, I will be able to keep my blog up to date. We do have a VPN that we will be using; hopefully, that will help. I am also assuming that while crossing Russia by train that internet availability will be severely limited. Stay tuned!