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My Far Out Far East Experience

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(Also see Vietnam and Cambodia journal.)

 

I visited the far east in 1993. I spent a month traveling and absorbing as much about this foreign land as I could. This is a short log of my trip through China, Singapore, and Bangkok. Some tips for the trip :   


My trip itinerary of cities included:

USA: Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon

Fly to Tokyo, then to: Fly to Shanghai; Train to Suzhou; Grand Canal cruise to Wuxi; Hangzhou; Fly to Beijing; Xi'an; Guilin; Guangzhou; Train to Hong Kong.

Fly to Singapore and Bangkok, Thailand.

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Seattle, Washington

I visited Mount St.Helens National Volcanic Monument and the Washington State Capitol. I was at the Washington State Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day. What an emotional moment to see people read the names carved into the marble wall. Went to the top of the Seattle Space Needle, attended the 22nd annual Folk Festival and did some Baltic Dancing…

Portland Oregon

The "City of Roses". You must see the International Rose Test Garden - roses everywhere. Also visit The Grotto - a place of solitude, peace, and prayer. The heart the grounds to Our Sorrowful Mother carved into a 110 foot cliff. It is a replica of Michelangelo's Pieta that I saw in St.Peters Cathedral in '78. It was a great place to start a wonderful trip.

A 10 hour, 4700 mile flight to Tokyo, then to Shanghai…

Shanghai

Population: 13 million with 6 million bicycles. It embraces a cacophonous urban life. Founded in the Song dynasty (960-1279). You must see the Jade Buddha Temple, built in 1882. The great Jade Reclining Buddha is 4.05 meters long. The Sitting Jade Buddha, Sakyamuni, is solid white jade and is 1.9 m high, 1.3 m wide.

Buddha means "someone who has been enlightened". Their scriptures and holy papers are called the "Sutra". A Pagota is where they store the scriptures. A Pagota is always an odd number high (5,7,9). Monks live in the Pagota and they never go in pairs because an even number will cause the Pagota to fall. We saw a Pagota with 7240 volumes of the Sutra.

We toured Rug and Jade factory. Saw a 2.5 ton sculpture that took 13 people 5 years to carve.

The Yu Yuan Garden is exceptional. "Yu" means pleasure, so it's the Pleasure Garden. It took 18 years to build this 2.5 acre garden 400 years ago.

Walk along The Bund at the end of Nanjing Lu (road) to try to get away from some of the people. So many people. As an American you may be asked to pose in many picture, especially if your female, and tall with blonde hair. Boy, do you stand out then.

Our bus paused in front of the "stock market" in Shanghai. People were actively trading in the street. They saw us and started cheering "Americans! Americans!". How lucky we are to have a free market in the U.S.

Suzhou

Population 700,000 with 500,000 bicycles. Ancient Chinese proverb: "In heaven there is Paradise, on earth, there is Suzhou." Marco Polo said this was the Venice of the East. There are 200 gardens, 35 canals and 168 bridges. Gardens are a product of Taoism - "everything and everybody is created equal".

We toured the National Embroidery Institute where they do the famous double-sided embroidery. Silk thread on silk cloth - exquisite works of art. I have a peacock on my mantle. There were 500 workers, 85% are ladies. They work 5.5 days, 50 hours a week and get a 15 minute break every 2 hours. Average income is $150 (US) a month.

We saw Tiger Hill - built in 961 AD. Burial place of King Wu (490 BC)

We rode on the Grand Canal to Wuxi. The canal is the worlds oldest, longest, man-made waterway. It was open to navigation in 486 BC. It crosses/connects the five biggest rivers in China. One fifth of the industrial goods in China are transported on the canal. Cement boats are very common.

Wuxi

"Wu" means without, "Xi" means without Tin - They ran out of tin in the city. Our tour guide here was the translator for Nixon! He was an intellectual at the university so he was put in a forced labor camp for 1.5 years during the cultural revolution.

Wuxi produces 3 million pieces of porcelain a year. We toured a factory where each person makes 100 pieces a month and makes 200 yuan ($35 US) a month.

The production of fresh water pearls is down to a science here. They draw membrane from breeding oysters and plant it in another oyster. There are water surface and fishnet breeding areas - the lower the oyster in the water, the darker the pearls. Pearls grow a minimum of 3 years, maximum 15 years.

Xihui Park is a beautiful 2.5 acre garden. The Emporer loved this garden so much that there is a duplicate of it Beijing.

The Grand Canal to ride to Hangzhou was 5 hours. A 20-minute massage was $3 U.S. dollars.

Hangzhou

It is written that those who have not seen West Lake, cannot even imagine such loveliness to exist. The foreign currency, the Yuan, has a drawing of the "3 pools mirroring the moon" on West Lake. The mid-lake pavilion was made 400 years ago. They drained the lake, made it deeper and added 3 new islands.

The Laughing Buddha is carved into "Fly Mountain" where the Lingyin Temple is located. It is believed that Buddism came to China via India. The mountain is so named because it looks like a mountain in India and it 'flew here'. There are 344 buddhas carved into the mountain - a sight to see. The Laughing Buddha represents Taoism - "Take everything easy, let things happen naturally." It is a huge carving in the side of the mountain. You must always smile when you are in the presence of the Laughing Buddha.

We toured a Tea Garden. There are 10 types and 16 grades of tea. A tea bush can grow 100 years. Black tea is fermented green tea. Green tea is tossed in 80 degree pot until ready. Use the leaves to make 3 cups: the first cup is fragrant, the second is for taste, and the third is both.

There are 120 silk factories in Hangzhou. The story of Silk: A female moth lays 400 eggs. They hatch into silk worms. (We saw live worms.) The worm eats 50 mulberry leaves each and grows to about 2" longs and 2" fat. They go dormant, then at 30 days old they spit out silk filament to make a cocoon. There are five crops of cocoons: Spring (the best), Summer, and 3 in autumn. They kill the pupa and soften the cocoon by boiling it. Dead pupa is used to make soap, medicine, etc. Cocoons are sorted - each one yields 1200 meters of silk filament. 10 filaments are reeled together to make one thread. It takes 1000 cocoons for enough silk for one long sleeve blouse. We saw silk looms, dyeing, weaving, printing, drying, ironing, then finally ready to sell at ~ $12 US dollars a yard.

Beijing

The capital of the Peoples Republic of China. The mandarin pronunciation of this city is "Peking". It gets 1.5 million tourists a day. Mostly Japanese, then American, then European.

We visited a Cloisonne factory. This is copper body and wire inlaid in enamel. "Chingtai Blue" originated from this process.

Tian'anmen Square is the world's largest plaza and the arena for democratic masses. The square is 98 acres (of concrete). It can accommodate a rally of one million. The square is truly majestic and solemn. It is lined with monumental public buildings and the front of the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace was the permanent residence of the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It is the largest and most complete extant group of ancient Chinese architecture. You can stand in the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, and the Hall of Mental Cultivation. Make sure you see the 9-dragon wall. Only the emperor could use the number nine and the color yellow.

The Ming Tombs is a burial sight for 13 of the Ming Emporors. The first tomb was built in 1409. The dragon and phoenix (a female dragon) gate is the entrance to the approach that is lined with magnificently carved stone and marble sacred animals and figures. The stele resting on the tortoise back represents longevity.

The soul-stirring Great Wall is 7300 km of a solid military defense project with superior technical levels of architecture. Up to 50 feet high and wide enough for six horses to walk side by side. You need to see it to experience it.

The Summer Palace, I believe is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Do not miss this spectacular sight. You can walk along a half mile outdoor corridor and see 8000 unique paintings - it leads to a take-your-breath-away Marble boat (Qingyan Fang). See the stage with three layers of trap doors and where Empress Dowager Cixi eat a 124 course meal.

The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) is a consummate expression of the philosophy that architecture is "music in space."  There are 3 levels of altars.  Earth is lowest, then human, then heaven.  The emperor is the intermediary between earth and heaven.  There are 50,000 blue tiles in the beautiful structure.

 

Xi'an

This is where you can see thousands of life-sized terra-cotta warriors, no two alike, unearthed in the mausoleum of emperor Qin Shi Huang. It covers over 20,00 square miles. They stand in battle formation guarding the tomb. A typical warrior is 1.8 meters high and 150 kgs.

Guilin

A landscape of jutting, mist-caressed peaks marching in ghostly procession beside the lazy Li River. This is where scenes from the movie "Joy Luck Club" were filmed. Do not miss a cruise down the Li River - a highlight of my trip that I will never forget.

After the cruise, visit the Reed Flute Caves - they are far more spectacular than Carl's Bad Caverns or Ruby Falls Cave in the U.S.

Guangzhou

Formerly "Canton." The Sun Yatsen Memorial was far bigger than the Fox theater in Atlanta and you could clearly hear someone speaking on the stage if you were sitting in a rear balcony seat.

Hong Kong

Before it was given back to England. Where do I start with this city. I didn't have a good experience here. I wouldn't go back. It was worth seeing at least once in a life time though. Take the Peak Tram up to Victoria peak, see Repulse Bay, Stanley Market, Aberdeen.

A cemetery plot here 3' by 5' is $50,000 US dollars. A country club membership is about the same cost.

Singapore

A beautifully clean immaculate country. Chewing gum is prohibited. We took the cable car across the harbor to visit Sentosa.

Bangkok, Thailand

My grandparents lived here in 1960's! What a treat to visit the exact same temples where they were 30 years ago. My picture match their slides! I acquired some rice paper charcoal rubbings that my grandmother made on the side of the temple walls. You can't even touch the temples now!

Don’t miss the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keo - a massive complex of sumptuous palaces. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha dates to 1464 and is embellished in a flamboyant style with painted murals, inlaid mother-of-pearl, and a liberal amount of gold leaf. No other Wat (temple) is so ornate. It is mystical, majestic, and awesome. I'll always remember the elaborate richness of the Wat Phra Keo.

The Wat Arun, the "Temple of the Dawn" is also inspiring. It has the steepest steps I've ever climbed up to the central prang for a view of the Chao Phraya River. It is covered in mosaics of broken Chinese porcelain.

The Vimarn Mek Palace is the world's largest teak building an worth seeing.

Road traffic was horrendous - there are no rules. We rode in a tuk-tuk (like a golf cart), saw the royal barges. Skip the Klongs of Bangkok Tour. They take you to gift shops along the canals.

I was awake for 50 hours for my trip home - I was glad to get back in the US, back is the US, back in the USA!

 

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