Travel Dates 5th - 15th April 2012.
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The Les Suites Orient Hotel concierge arranged tickets for us on the K train from Shanghai to Suzhou, where we planned to spend three days including time in the water towns, and on the G train from there to Beijing. I will post separately on our experiences on Chinese trains.
Sadly, Suzhou is a bit of a blur. We both came down with a three-day cold and spent most of the time in bed, apart from meals. We never saw the water towns of the Venice of the Orient. Maybe next time. I found the food interesting, slightly different to Hangzhou and Shanghai. An unexpected delicacy was KFC's three chicken nuggets on a skewer separated by gristle. The Chinese seem to love gristle. I tried, but failed to agree with them. I'll post a separate blog about our dining experiences in China.
The main shopping street of Suzhou is surprisingly Western in style.
The small side streets were more interesting.
The Hotel Soul was our first experience of see-through bathrooms. The en-suite bathroom and toilet were enclosed by glass walls. We struck that again later in a couple of hotels. Possibly the hotel's usual clientele were not sexagenarians married for over forty years. We asked for a change of room, but found they are all identical in that respect. My TA review is here.
However, compared to our next hotel the Soul was definitely very up-market. I chose the Citytel in Beijing from good TA and cTrip reviews, a low price and great location. It was a classic example of the sometimes dubious value of reviews on sites that do not police bogus entries. This sign by the lift doors set the tone:
All our needs, or at least those the hotel staff presumed were our needs, were catered for - for a price:
As I mentioned in my TA review, the bed made a rock seem soft. I spent the first hour or two after arrival walking around the area to find a new hotel, We moved to the Day's Inn across the road the following day.
The main reason for visiting Beijing was as a base to see the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Great Wall. Posts on those will follow. But we also enjoyed simply wandering around the district. Our hotels were between the main modern shopping area of Wangfujing Street and the Forbidden City. In that region are several street markets, lots of shops and some older small back streets. I walked a lot and took lots of pictures, but I did not take pictures in the back streets because I did not want to intrude on the locals there.
Wangfujing Street is a major open shopping mall several blocks long. Every major Western luxury fashion and jewellery shop is represented. This is where the very wealthy Chinese shop. There are now probably more millionaires in China than the rest of the world and they all shop in Wangfujing Street. It is crowded night and day.
If you want better prices there are markets in most of the side streets. The prices are cheaper, but it is much less likely that name brand goods are genuine there.
The Portuguese missionaries were not the first Christians in China. They were preceded by the Nestorian Christians over a thousand years earlier. With some exceptions earlier Chinese rulers were more tolerant of foreign religions than European or Middle Eastern rulers of those eras.
Crossing the road at the lights as a pedestrian in Beijing was no different to other Chinese cities. Cars, buses and trucks roared through as though the pedestrians were not there, regardless of the colour of the "Walk" or "Don't Walk" lights. We survived, but sometimes it took a while to cross the road.
On my first day in Beijing I tried out the local buses at the stop near our hotel to see how to buy a ticket and find out where they went. I found we were only a couple of stops from the entrance to the Forbidden City.
This massive building is the national Museum of China, beside Tien An Men Square obliquely opposite the entrance to the Forbidden City.
It was April. It seems that Christmas can come at any time in China.
The Western concept of short, punchy titles for organisations - or anything else - has not caught on. Whether it is on a menu or a building, titles tend to be very literal and often long-winded.
Another concept still in an embryo stage is "Occupational Health and Safety". This was taken from the window of our third hotel, the Sunworld, in Beijing. From memory we were on the tenth or eleventh floor. The man in the picture is outside the balustrade, at least ten floors up.
This was taken from the same window later. He was there for quite a while, repairing something on the exterior.
As a blonde Lorraine attracted attention wherever we went, with frequent requests for photo opportunities beside the blonde laowai. This girl met us in the inexpensive cafeteria in a building off Wangfujing Street.
I have no idea what this building is. It just looked interesting as the bus brought me back from the Great Wall. If you know the building and its history please comment.
On that trip we also visited the obligatory jade and silk factories. They kept the price of the visit low but I found them interesting anyway. Everyone was very polite despite my failure to buy. These workers are stretching the silk from a double cocoon, which cannot be separated to be spun into silk thread. The double cocoons are treated until they can be stretched to the size of a doona (single, double, queen or king depending on the cocoons). The workers spread them carefully until they can be set over a frame. When sufficient layers are in place for a doona they are covered in woven silk and stitched in place for an ultra-light but very warm bed covering.
The Jade Factory tour included a movie on the types of jade, source locations and values. Then we saw the people working. The detail work looked very difficult and time consuming.
The pieces on display in the Jade Factory were exquisite. I will close with some examples.