FAMILY TRAVEL Some Grandmothers take cruises with companions but Noeline took her two young grandsonson a train tour of China!
Excerpts from Nana’s Travel Scrapbook :
Nana (68) had wanted to visit China for years since she started watching films and reading books set in China. Grandson Rowan (9) had wanted to see The Great Wall from the time he’d heard about it at school, aged 6. Jordan (11) is just happy to travel anywhere at any time! So when Nana saw the CTS Tours NZ Rail Tour of China advertised in the NZ Herald, she thought “We must do this!” With Mum and Dad’s permission, off they went.
Jacky Wan was our National Tour Guide. He was very amusing and full of interesting information about every place we visited. He and our Tour Leader Barbara Boyce, took every care to make sure that everyone was safe, happy and enjoying the Tour. Jacky, Barbara and the Shanghai Tour Guide, Edward, all related really well to the boys, making each day a really fun adventure. Barbara, on our last evening, even searched a late night market for a present the boys had been unable to find, for little brother back home!
Tiananmen Square, the largest city square in the world was originally built in 1420 as the entry gate to The Forbidden City, and can easily hold 1,000,000 people. Nana reckoned there were about 900,000 there today, most of them Chinese from other parts of China, so our group from NZ attracted a lot of interest. Plenty of Hawkers tried to catch our attention, and we had our first experience of bargaining. We learned to get out just one low denomination note, bid about one third of the asking price, then start walking away. The Hawkers would then run after us and accept much lower prices. ...After lunch we visited an old Beijing residential area called Hutong. Here we had a really fun pedicab ride through narrow alleyways to the home of a Chinese family. We were told that young people no longer wanted to live in these old areas because there wasnnowhere to park a car, and only cmmunal toilets.
Visiting The Great Wall was the main event today. We travelled by bus about an hour from Beijing, and suddenly there it was,stretching away across the mountain tops as far as we could see. Hundreds of people toiled like ants up and down the steep access “Were going to be some of those ants” remarked Rowan. We all felt a nervous excitement at the prospect! The approach began with quite a gentle slope, then quickly became steeper and steeper as it rose higher and higher. Nana succumbed to her fear of heights just before reaching the top, but the boys made it easily to the top, very elated to have done so.
(Nana became quite emotional at the way other adults in the group automatically took charge of the boys and continued the climb, while she sat on the steps and collected her frayed nerves! The camaraderie engendered by Jacky and Barbara, amongst people who were previously strangers, was a huge enjoyment factor throughout the Tour).
From the Summer Palace we were back on the bus and off to a Jade Factory. “Were sure getting our money’’s worth!” commented Jordan.....We were able to watch the carvers at work, cutting out delicate shapes within shapes, such as a baby elephant yet to be born, inside its mother...The boys were keen to purchase a jade pendant and earrings for Mummy, and were helped by this beautiful assistant
We went to an amazing acrobatic show that evening. The performers were all of Cirque du Soleil standard, and some were ex Olympic gymnasts. They displayed fantastic and unbelievable acts of suppleness and strength, seeming to risk enormous personal danger as they performed at great heights without any safety nets or harnesses.
Today we were off to a 600 year old city of 12,000,000 people - Tianjin - and we were travelling by Bullet Train! The station was huge, with Western icecreams much enjoyed by the boys, and very clean squat toilets much enjoyed by Nana (even though her thigh muscles still felt like jelly after the climb at The Great Wall). The Bullet Train travels at speeds of over 320kph. We caught glimpses of fish ponds, factories and lots of freshly painted blue roofs as we flashed past.
Tianjin, being a coastal city is famous throughout China for its seafood. In this Food Street; all the sea food for sale was alive. “Chinese people eat everything that moves through the air or water or over land - except if its got wheels” laughed Jacky.
After lunch we went to a Culture Street which specialised in traditional Chinese clothes, paintings, calligraphy, carvings, leatherwork and crafts....Rowan was very impressed by a full sized leather suit of armour, but agreed that it would be very difficult to carry it onto the plane!
On our way to visit a 400 year old Buddhist Temple, we passed this Ferris Wheel - the largest in the world. Each rotation takes 45 minutes. At the temple we all lit incense sticks, as is the custom. Rowan managed to burn Nana with his. Jordan managed to burn himself.
At our next stop, a Fresh Water Pearl factory, an assistant showed us how the oysters were opened, and invited us all to guess how many pearls would be found inside. Most people guessed a low number, but Rowan guessed more than 10, and won a pearl for being closest to the actual number - 17.
Jordan, being so tall, was often asked by Jacky to be the ʻFlag Bearerʼ - a responsibility he loved! The flag guided the group through the crowds, and pinpointed our position for slower group members.
On the way to Qingdao our Bullet Train reached speeds of 350kph. Ancient buildings loomed beside the tracks, and as in Beijing we saw more of the ʻPent Houseʼ apartments which are rented out for 1,000,000 yuan per day. Most apartments are at only 10 yuan per month.
1.00pm, Nana decided we would all swim in the very large and beautiful hotel pool. Slight problem - the towels had all been collected and would be replaced at 3.00pm.
Hmmm.... What could be used? Nana grabbed the bathmat. Jordan snatched the handtowel. Rowan was left with a tiny wash cloth. In fits of giggles off they went to the pool. When they got there, the smiling, beautifully dressed attendants told them each boy needed a swim cap to gain entry. 20 yuan a cap. Back up to the room and everyone scratched around to get rid of all their 1 and 2 yuan notes. The pool girls were laughing as they counted the pile of at least 30 notes. Then they handed each a huge fluffy towel!
Overnight train to Shanghai! Again the station was spotless, and the train was even longer than The Ghan! We had all been assigned to a 4 berth cabin and there had been some mirth amongst the group, wondering who would end up with whom. Bribery was considered!... We were on the train for 19 hours and it was really a lot of fun....There were other kids in our carriage, all Chinese and seemingly on their way to a special Art School during their summer holiday. Rowan sat on one of the fold down seats in the corridor, and they all sketched him. Jacky helped the Chinese kids teach Rowan how to count in Chinese. Rowan then reciprocated in Maori. Jordan looked an absolute giant beside them all.
Late in the afternoon we boarded a ferry for a Huangpu River cruise. The buildings all seemed to be trying to outdo each other in height and style. We were amazed when Edward told us that just 16 years ago, this whole area had been rice paddies, no buildings at all.
Today was totally set aside to visit The World Expo in Shanghai. We had been booked in to visit the New Zealand and Chinese Pavilions. Beyond that we could explore as we pleased. While waiting for the bus, Edward and Rowan practised fan flicking....
The Chinese are very fond of nature, and everywhere through the Expo grounds, beautiful gardens and water features had been created. Huge interesting sculptures, both modern and historic in concept, were displayed throughout the park.....People were very friendly everywhere we went in China. Here at The Expo, as elsewhere, families approached us, asking if they could photograph the boys with their own families. Nana reckons there are photos of Rowan and Jordan with family groups al over China!
Inside the Chinese Pavilion, the displays were spectacular. There was even an internal rail system to move people around. The view from the top of this pavilion was typical of each city we had visited; older apartment blocks in the foreground, with increasingly higher blocks crowding in behind.
We were now almost at the end of our Tour, but the pace did not let up. Planned for today was a coach trip to Suzhou - known as the Oriental Venice because the original part of the city is built around a canal system.
A visit to the ancient Humble Administrater’s Garden A visit to a Silk factory, a boat cruise around the canals.
As part of our Silk factory tour, 16 exquisite models paraded garments produced by the factory along a long runway.....We then had time to look around the sales area for gifts for family and friends back home.
The garden we visited was very beautiful, but we were also very interested in the market stalls set up along the adjacent alley. Rowan was particularly keen on purchasing an ornamental dagger, and there were quite a few on display. He and Nana had discussed the possibility of any such purchase being confiscated by NZ Customs, but Rowan decided if he could get one for a low price, he would take the risk of losing it. The vendor typed 280 (yuan) on his calculator. Rowan typed in 100. The vendor again typed 280. Rowan turned away to go back to the bus. And got his dagger for 100. The bone dagger was passed and admired, all around the bus, and Rowan txtd Mummy: Iv bort a dager dont hav a fit.
The canal area of Suzhou was breathtakingly picturesque. As our boat cruised along the canals, we could see that the doors of the houses opened straight onto the water. “How would parents keep little kids safe?” we wondered.....
Then eventually our Tour was over. We flew out of Shanghai with hundreds of digital images on camera, and thousands more in our heads.
Would we like to return to China one day?