March - April 2007
My trip to China with my dad ended up being full of surprises. The trip was originally conceived with us being a part of a classic car rally. The first surprise was that upon arrival to Hong Kong we were informed the the rally had fallen apart because of poor planning on the organizers part, and that the cars promised would not be available. Although the paying participants of the event took control and organized their own highway tour from Hong Kong to Beijing (it's amazing how $$ can fix a "problem" . . . even in communist China), there was no room for us . . . so we were "left in the lurch". A quick assessment of our position told us that we still had our Chinese visa's and a couple of weeks to enjoy the opportunity to use them. My dad did a great job 'rolling with the punches' as they say, and helping to organize a tour of China by the seat of our pants.
Our first decision was to take a train from Hong Kong to Shanghai. It was a great way to see the country side, as it took 24 hours, and our sleeper car made for a relaxing place to read and catch up on sleep.
The second surprise, upon arrival at the Shanghai central train station, was how cosmopolitan Shanghai was. The kids were all text messaging and were dressed as if they lived in L.A., the skyline was as modern as N.Y., and the construction boom was unlike anything I had seen. I expected third world rickshaws, but I got the financial center of China with people driving Mercedes and Bentley's.
Having always wanted to see the Terracotta Warriors, we flew to Xi'an, spending several days exploring the archeological sites. Although the ancient history was fascinating (with the first Chinese Dynasties originating from the area) and the Muslim district had a nice bazaar, the city didn't live up to my preconceived notions of 'old China'. It became startlingly apparent that as China is becoming integrated into the global economy, it is becoming homogenized, loosing some of what made it unique. This wasn't so much of a surprise as a sad realization.
Our quest to see 'old China' led us to the UNESCO Heritage Site of Pingyao, which was an ancient walled 'city' dating back to the Ming Dynasty. The town had great meandering alleys and had the feel of 'old China' that we had been looking for. It was nice to wander aimlessly through such a unique area.
Unfortunately the rally sucked us in once again, having us fly to Shanghai to meet up with the classic car group. I say 'unfortunately' because our trip back to Shanghai ended up being for naught as we were unable to hook up yet again, having to forgo other sight seeing opportunities in order to put ourselves in a position to join the rally. Life is full of choices, and hindsight told us that we made an inopportune decision in flying back to Shanghai. All was not lost though as we were able to see the fantastic Shanghai Museum, spending the better part of a day viewing it's exhibits.
With our time running out in China we flew to Beijing, seeing some of the 'holy grails' of Chinese culture. The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall, and the city of Beijing itself all lived up to our high expectations. The ancient and rich history, culture and architecture were fascinating, keeping us entertained for days. Looking back now, I'm hard pressed to choose a favorite site or experience as all were an integral part of the 'Beijing picture'.
At the end of the day, touring China with my Dad was a great experience. As with all interesting places, I feel as if I only touched the proverbial 'tip of the iceberg', knowing that there is so much more to see.
The China I saw is changing at a furious pace. There is both ancient hand carts and modern Bentley's. There are rice patties being farmed by ox and hand, and there are towering construction projects. There are people living in the 12th century with no electricity, no water, toiling in an agricultural based economy; and kids dressed in the latest fashion, text messaging and emailing on their Blackberry's as the drive down the road in a new Mercedes. China is going through massive changes. It will be interesting to see if the communist government can keep control during the next couple of generations. My thoughts about how China will handle this transition mirror Mao's when asked about the meaning and impact of the French revolution (a hundred years after the fact) . . . he said "it's too early to tell".
Below is a table with links to the cities visited on this trip. At the links you can see photos, videos and logs of our experiences.
Click here to see our original plans for this trip.
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