3 November: It was time to go home. Reenie and I were sad to leave. Even though we spent 24 nights in China and Hong Kong, we would have enjoyed more time touring another city or two. After checking out, we walked across the street to the K3 bus stop, very convenient, and took it to the express airport train station. We were able to check in with our flight and I checked my large suitcase. Reenie didn't check anything, as she was hoping to jump on an earlier flight out of Dulles to Boston. The express train ride was quick and easy. After getting off at terminal 1, we found the ticket booth to turn in our Octopus card and get our excess monies back. Then we exchanged that money back into USA. I lost a few bucks, but didn't have much to change. I guess I could have bought something at the duty free store.
As we started through the first round of customs/check in, one woman noticed Reenie's two bags and told her only one was allowed on board. She had to go back to the ticket counter and check the piece. She was not happy but rules are rules. Then we get in line to go through the area where our passports and airline tickets are checked, I move on to go through the x-ray area and Reenie is still there with the man. She's there for 5 minutes (while I'm on the other side not being able to see anything) with 4 men checking her passport and boarding pass. For some they wouldn't accept the boarding pass. She certainly didn't look suspicious! A supervisor came along, apologized and she was released.
Our first leg was on All Nippon Airlines, which I really enjoyed. Nice comfortable airplane, beautiful flight attendants, and attentive service. We flew to Tokyo and changed planes to United. We quickly window-shopped at the airport before getting to the gate. The last time I was in Japan was when I was 8 years old. Too bad I didn't add a few nights in Tokyo to our trip!!
After 12 hours of movies, eating, napping and reading, we landed at Dulles. I love going through passport control, as I always hear "Welcome home." I love to travel and always wish my trips were longer, but it's always nice to come home too. Tony was waiting for me with a rose in hand. Reenie headed off to her gate (she did catch the earlier flight) and Tony and I drove home to a waiting dog, Lucy. Wow, was she happy to see me!
People: The Chinese people we met along the way were very friendly and helpful. From Stella, who bought our bus tickets and walked us to the entrance of Xitang to the old couple in Xian laughing with us as we struggled to buy our wine, to the man who waved down a taxi car for us and making sure we got in, we felt like they really wanted to take care of us. Young children are excited to see any foreigner and their smiles just melt your heart. You can easily see how much the Chinese love their children, even girls, especially with the one-child policy. I understand it was lifted for those families that lost their child in the recent Chengdu area earthquake and that certain minority population’s areas allowed two children.
Driving and biking in China: If anyone can drive in China, then they can drive anywhere in the world! I was amazed I never saw a car accident. I was always uncomfortable sitting in a taxi, as they cover the back seats with a cloth that covers the seatbelts. The only time I sort of felt comfortable is when I sat up front. If we were on a 2-lane road, the drivers turned it into a 4 or 6 lane road. Even those on bikes zigzagged all over the road. In crossing a street, you have to look in both directions, as bikers move along in any direction they need to go.
Pollution and spitting: After my 6th day in China, I could understand why all the Chinese hack and cough and spit. The pollution gets to your lungs and throat that you are constantly clearing your throat. I never spat but did do a lot of throat clearing. I hope that China cleans up the pollution. It was sad to hear one of my guides say she had never seen the stars. Man, animal, and even plants have to cope with the pollution. I felt sorry for the pandas in Chengdu. I felt sorry for all life in China. I don't understand how anyone could live in a polluted world. I know there have been people protesting the pollution, but it certainly doesn't look like the government is listening. The air was cleared up for the Olympics, but it didn't seem to last.
Food: I found the food to be so much better than what I can get here in the USA. I know most Chinese restaurants are toned down for American tastes, but the food in China is so well made, so fresh, not overly greasy, and not sopping and drenched in thick sauces. Even the small restaurants and food stalls cooked up delicious meals. Even though I did a lot of walking, I think part of my 5-pound weight loss had to do with what I ate: More vegetables, less meat, no cheese or other foods high in fat. I need to pull my wok out and start stir-frying my vegetables. If our markets were set up like those in china, the FDA would close most of them down in a heartbeat. The same goes with the street food stalls. If anyone has seen my photographs, you know I love visiting the food markets in Europe. China was no exception. We got to see many things that aren't even grown in the USA. I certainly enjoying checking out all of the various street foods and watching people purchase their meals or snacks. The best part was that the foods were dirt cheap, filling, and delicious.
Sights: China is a fascinating country to visit and there is so much to see and do. Choosing which cities to visit is very difficult. Hiking the Great Wall at Mutianyu was one of our highlights, as well as taking a bamboo boat ride on the river in Yangshuo. Seeing thousands of terra cotta warriors knowing they were pieced painstakingly back together was another highlight. And Reenie and I will never forget the playfulness of the young pandas in Chengdu. I could have climbed the wall to hug them all!
Traveling in China: China can be done independent of a tour company, as long as you are willing to take the time to do the research and know there will be bumps in the road. I brought a couple of language books, including “Me No Speak” that my friend recommended to me. I will say that no guide is really needed in China with the exception of Yangshuo: I saw several bikers out with map in hand trying to figure their way around in the countryside and I know some of the dirt roads we went on were not on any map I saw. On the other hand, a guide certainly is helpful and makes life easier when figuring out bus schedules or menus if restaurants don’t have English menus or picture menus, as well as translating in stores. Negotiate a rate for the day and make sure you know what’s included and what’s not included. Tipping is not done in China, as the price you negotiate is the price you pay. Chinese don’t tip so why should you?
Well, this has been a long journal! 24 nights is a lot to write about and I tried to keep it short. Hah! I’m sure you’re glad to be done reading all of this, as I’m done typing it up.
I hope to work on more of my photos soon. My photos of the Yangshuo are some of my favorites and I want to share them with you, so stay tuned!