Here is a picture of my mother wearing her scarf I bought her from the silk factory. If you've read the rest of this trip blog you will find the humour in her peace/victory sign... Made me laugh out loud. The artwork in the background is hers. She is a fantastic artist and probably the reason I find myself in the advertising and design business!
From April 22 to May 2 we went on an adventure, the ChinaPac International 12 day Super China Tour. Going into the trip we had a few concerns, we read a bunch of articles and watched YouTube videos from past travelers. But some things you just have to experience for yourself.
If you find yourself planning a similar trip, here are a few thoughts and observations I can pass along to you to consider.
1. Shots and drugs: We did it all. We updated our regular shots, had the Twinrix Vaccine, and for our stomachs took Dukoral two weeks and one week out. To play it especially safe we also brought along with us a prescription for Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic useful for the treatment of a number of bacterial infections. And we took a container of Tums. So we were ready. And I'm happy to say we had no problems when it came to sickness. I would recommend that you take all precautions.
2. Water: Water in China is not to be consumed unless it is first boiled. So for our trip we lived off bottled water. I brushed my teeth and rinsed using China tap water but Mellissa stuck to her bottled water for it. We were at a KFC and ordered a soft drink. Then we promptly threw the entire drink away when we thought that there is ice made of Chinese water in the cup. Then we were told that North American restaurants boil their water before making ice. But better safe than sorry.
3. Blocked sites in China: You've probably already read somewhere that many of the websites we use every day are blocked in China. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and many blog tools are blocked and simply won't work. We used this platform on Weebly and it worked perfectly. We could blog and add pictures and publish. No problems.
4. Internet in hotels: We read a lot of articles online about how hotels in China have cable internet in rooms and not wireless. We didn't find that to be the case in most instances. We brought an Airport Express from Apple with us when there was just cable, plugged it in and voila, we had our own wireless. Worked perfectly.
5. Washrooms and squat toilets: Washrooms in China for the most part are very smelly. The men's bathrooms smelled like pee, it didn't matter if you were in a nice hotel or a tourist attraction. Most of the places we visited had North American toilets and squat toilets so it was never a problem. One big thing is they DO NOT supply toilet paper, or if on the odd time they do you will find it as you enter the bathroom and you take it from there and bring it into the stall. For squat toilets the used toilet paper gets deposited in a garbage can in the stall. Yikes I know... Be sure to bring travel toilet paper with you just in case.
6. Canadian money to Chinese: Don't travel to China with a bunch of Chinese money. The hotels all accept Canadian money and they give you a good rate. I was really impressed that they took Canadian.
7. Safety: We were safe. People are very nice and we felt very welcome. You'll see in an earlier blog post that teenagers in China wanted to get their photos taken with us. I think they are intrigued by North America as much as we are of them.
8. Tour food: Not sure why, but on our trip we ate similar things most lunches and dinners. A lot of food was greasy and deep fried with sweet sauces. That is not what they eat though. They made that for us thinking that is what we wanted.
9. Beer: For all of our ChinaPac tour we drank Chinese beer for lunch and dinner. It is very light, almost water-like and was cheap and plentiful if you wanted to go the 7/11 at night for some. Even Mellissa who doesn't like beer had it every meal. Don;t expect any big flavourful beer here. They all are about the same.
10. Power and plugs: We had the luxury of staying in good hotels. Many of which had North American plugs. And if they didn't we heard you can get the converters from the front desk of hotels. We didn;t have any trouble charging our iPhones, camera batteries and iPads.
A few videos badly slapped together for your enjoyment. And you saw it right. A band was playing Jingle Bells on May 1. Not too surprising since we saw a lot of Santa still up in stores in China. Maybe Chinese Christmas is upon us...
Hello dear reader. Well it is May 2 and we have been up over 30 hours. It started at 3:30 am today Beijing time...
I thought I'd share a few more photos from our trip, and over the next day or so I'll add more photos and videos and an overall synopsis. We had a lot of questions before we went to China, like will we need to use squat toilets, can you exchange Canadian money in hotels, what is safe food to eat, what about drinking tap water, and are there North American restaurants there (you may be surprised to learn that KFC is huge there). I've been putting a few observations of my experience together in words and will be up on the site this weekend.
Now that I am hope I can take the photos off my camera so there will be better pictures this weekend! Here are a few...
Heaven and crickets. A love story.
Temple of Heaven is our first stop. The story behind the building of said temple is complicated and intriguing. An emperor, a sign from god in a dream about 7 stars, and a few untruths created it and it is 4-5 times larger than the forbidden city. What? Anyone who had been to the forbidden city probably hasn't see it all since it never ends. So the temple was crazy! Built in 1530.
Ok we just went up the hutong and it just became my favorite part of the trip. We had a visit with Mr. Liu, a cricket fighting master. He was in fact number one in China and had lots of well worn magazine articles about him to prove it. Look him up on google!
Who knew cricket fighting is so complex and money making since it is gambling. He had a scale (warriors must be if similar weight), a wedding house, caskets for dead ones (Mr. Liu makes crying motion)- crickets only live for 100 days, and the fighting arena. He was amazing and so animated you never knew what was going to happen next. Lots of Mr. Liu in the photos!
Then we had a rickshaw ride through the hutong and finally bought my dear father a Rolex.
Oh my god I think I may have to rethink my favorite place again. The Silk Market was hilarious. Oh my god. Auntie Deb was my mom negotiating a t-shirt purchase and it was so much fun. And everyone buying ray bans knock offs first for about $40, next $30 and mine $20. So much laughing my guts hurt.
The night ended with Peking duck in a private dining room of a restaurant. Lots of speeches and a few tears. Looks like other than our 445 am departure tomorrow the trip is over.
Just iPhone photos again tonight. But once home I will add photos from my camera. I have lots. I mean A LOT!
Thanks to everyone on the tour. It was one of the best trips I've been on (tear).
They say the Great Wall is one of the 7 wonders of the world. West Edmonton Mall is the 8th. But the guide didn't mention that.
Today the Great Wall, the zoo, a jade factory, the Olympic venue, and some place to get glasses.
I bought a jade pisu, a baby dragon (male version with left foot out-see photo). It eats money but doesn't poop so it keeps your money inside. Rub the pisu but don't rub the eyes. It will blind him and won't see the money coming.
Longest part of the Great Wall is 4,000 miles but we traveled a bit shorter. But our part was up up and up. We made it to the top and have an engraved medal to prove it! It was hard and awesome. Uncle Rick got to hold a Chinese baby as his prize for reaching the top.
We had a casualty on the wall but nothing serious. Mary-Lou hurt her foot. We didn't see it. We were too busy climbing! But anyone who knows ML knows it won't hold her back.
The evening ended with the deal of the century. The tour brought interested folks to a place to buy glasses and I found two pairs of Chrome Hearts. So obscure. Bought both. Paid about 20% of what I paid at home.
Tomorrow brings more chaos as we venture into the Silk Road Market. Knock off Rolex here we come!
I am making a comeback on my blog thanks to my iPhone. Hats off to our guide Alex who was attempting to track down my iPad. Sadly no luck...so all photos here are from my phone only.
Yesterday we went to the Terra Cotta Warriors. Check it out on Mellissa's excellent blog at: mellissak.weebly.com
One thing I wrote about and lost on my ipad. As we drove from our hotel we saw an old man on the city wall practicing with a sword, reminding me of the master in the movie 7 Samurai. It brought me back to the end of the movie where the master looks out to the graves of his friends as the rice farmers are singing and bringing in the crops. Last line of the movie is from the master. "We have lost." So sad.
Ok enough of that. Today is the Summer Palace, Forbidden Palace and a pearl factory.
Our Beijing guide said something interesting. Beijing translates to "northern capital." He also said the right way to carry yourself as a man in China is you "don't want people to know you are coming until you've arrived." Interesting. Some people back home can learn from that!
Here is an odd observation for the guys. Urinals with motion detectors here rinse water before you go, not after like at home. Seems odd. And it may account for the fact the washrooms here always smell bad.
The Summer Palace was like everything in China. Large. Took a lot of pictures but didn't pay attention to the education part.
Had lunch and was treated to the Bryan Adams song Everything I do I do for you in Chinese Muzak. So charming.
Not to sound like a broken record but the Forbidden City is absolutely GIGANTIC. 10,000 people serving the Emperor and 3,000 concubines. How he ever got anything done with that many concubines is beyond me. Might be the reason rule ended in the 1920's...
We just had the most ridiculous dinner where a table of French people in a tour started to chant a song. Enter the Saskatoon team who equaled them. Next thing you know singing and cheering and the wave through the place. It ended with team Canada singing our national anthem. Beer played a pivotal role.
Well it is sad folks. I lost my ipad today so my blogging days have come to a halt I'm afraid. And I'm kind of stuck since I can't use the find my ipad app in China. James is sad tonight (and admittedly pretty frustrated...). Hopefully I'll be back soon.
I can go on an adventure like a trip to China, but all roads lead back to advertising I'm afraid. There's no way around it. So when you are in the airport in Hangzhou and you stop at a Starbucks you hear the distant echo of Howard Schultz and his goal of world wide consistency of experience. Let me explain...
I went first to a local coffee place at the airport and tried to order a coffee, a gaggle of servers gathered around me to figure out what I wanted. Black coffee. I walked away with a coffee with sugar and milk. They opened my sugar and milk and stirred for me. They even opened my cup flap so I could drink it. One server said, "you leave?" I said yes thank you. They shook their heads in sync as I left the restaurant.
Then an hour later, past security we went to Starbucks. "Americano." "Do you want room?" I said no thank you. I was presented my receipt with two hands and my coffee with a smile, a "have a nice day" and a classic Starbucks green coffee plug. Nailed it. Just like it is being nailed in thousands of Starbucks around the world, even here in China.
When I read Howard's book Onward I came to realize what he wrote was a bible for retailers. If you are running a coffee shop or a shoe store, there are a few gems in this book that help you figure out how to do things the right way. You don't need to like Starbucks coffee. You just have to admire a job well done.
Said an old friend of mine who is a copywriter, "tell one story well." And tell that story over and over again so everyone knows how the story goes. Now do it everywhere.
Have you ever had a bad experience in service at a Starbucks? I rest my case!
Ok, well...enough about that!
We flew from Hangzhou to Xian today and immediately went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Grand Mosque. The Grand Mosque was interesting because you first had to walk through absolute chaos of the market where, I swear, everything in China is serviced on a stick. Meat in a stick. Pineapple on a stick. Squid on a stick. Really smelly hammered flat mystery meat on a stick. There will be some photos to show you what I'm on about.
We have at least a dozen kinds of dumplings for dinner and watched what was kind of like a dinner theatre show about the Tang Dynasty. I'm not sure I learned anything about the Tang dynasty to be honest.
I did learn today however that the Ching Dynasty created the Terra Cotta Warriors and the Great Wall. Not bad for one dynasty. And the Song Dynasty created the movement to limit a woman's feet size by binding their feet in fabric because the Emperor had a bit of a foot fetish. I'm hopeful the Song Dynasty did other great things too?
It's late so I'll stop here. Have to get ready for the Terra Cotta Warriors tomorrow, a visit to an art, ceramic and lacquer factory and then jump on a plane to Beijing.