Day 21: On our way to Pingyao (14 July 2009)
Since we had a long way to go, we had to wake up early. We already prepared our
luggage the day before, so we only had to dress up, fresh up and have breakfast. At
about 7 o’clock in the morning we get into our bus for a trip that should take about six
The weather was totally different than the day before. It was a glorious day. The first part
of our trip went over the same way as yesterday, but soon we took a new highway to the
north. It was very quiet on the road and we were well away. At some gas station we had
a short stop and bought some food and drinks. Soon we drove further. There wasn’t
much to see outside so meanwhile I was listening to some MP3’s and stared through the
windows. After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant. It wasn’t
special, but tasty enough. When the lunch was finished we drove further. We didn’t drive
over the highway anymore, but just on a local way. This slowed us down a bit.
About one and a half hour driving before we arrived at Pingyao we stopped at a
tollhouse to pay. Just when we left we heard a flump. We had a flat rear tire. Slowly we
drove a bit further to park the bus. Both the driver and the guide apologized for this delay
and directly started to repair the tire. It took a while before they could put the carjack at
the right place. But the carjack couldn’t lift the bus high enough to change the tire. We all
looked for some bricks and put the under the carjack. Finally they lift the bus high
enough and changed the tire. After all we had one hour delay. The toll collectors were
already in a bad mood, because we blocked one way, which causes a long queue of
We weren’t really sure that the tire was secured well, nevertheless the driver decided to
go. A little but further we stopped at a service station to fill the tire with enough air.
Finally we drove to Pingyao like nothing happened. In Pingyao we picked up our new
guide. Soon we discovered that she wasn’t very experienced. She couldn’t explain who
our driver should go to park his bus, so we could walk the last part to our hotel. She had
to call her manager to ask the way….
At one of the old city gates we stopped and said farewell to our old guide and the driver.
The new guide arranged an electrical car for us. We put our belongings on the car and
drove to another city gate. Just before we want to enter the old town a police officer
stopped us and told us that we were not allowed to use the electrical car inside the old
town at this time. We had to drive all the way back to the other city gate. I started to
worry that we would run out of time, since we also had a busy program this afternoon.
Sadly we had to walk for more than fifteen minutes from the gate to our hotel. The whole
part of the trip we had to carry our own luggage. We all were in a bad mood about this
unprofessional reception. To speed things up I decided that I would carry most of the
luggage and with knocking knees we start to move. All the profit of the massage that I
took two days ago, were gone.
Danny Page 79 1/12/2010
Our bodies were soaked from sweat when we arrived at our traditional hotel called
Chang Yi Feng. I was bit disappointed because in our plan we should stay in another
hotel named Desheng. This hotel looked a bit cheap.We got two rooms at the first floor
at courtyard at the back. It looked cozy and quiet.Wulan and her mom took one room
and I took the other one. Our bed was a traditional Kang (炕) and is a raised plateau
made of bricks or clay. Inside the kang is a network of pipes with water. During the cold
winters they can heat the water and make the bed comfortable. During daytime this bed
is used for all other kinds of activities.
Both women were exhausted from the long trip driving and the walk. They decided to
stay at their room for relaxing and get a better mood, instead of joining the excursion. I
also was angry and tired, but it was a waste not to join. After all we already paid for this
excursion and it also would be the only change to see something of the authentic city.
Next morning we already would leave this city. In our original itinerary we planned to
stay here longer. This was one of the results of cutting down the budget.
There I went with all alone with our guide to the old town of Pingyao. The town was
founded about 2700 years ago and during the Ming Dynasty it got its city walls, which we
can see in present days. The city became famous in 1824 when the Rishengchang bank
was established. It became the financial center of China. During the 20th century the city
things went wrong and the city lost its importance. That’s why there are no modern
buildings. Everything still looks like as it was in the 19th century.
We start our walk at the city walls. The walls aren’t as high and big as in Xian, but it fit
better with the old center. Together we walked a long part over the walls; meanwhile she
asked me a lot of things about our religion, culture and history. So now and then she
interrupted me to explain something about the wall of a special spot in town.
Although her English was not good (regularly she must use an electrical dictionary to
explain things), but she could explain a lot about the town. Slowly my mood became
better. At the walls there are some funny statues which shows daily live at 19th century. I
saw that the men had long pigtailed hair. During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) all
normal men had to shave their hair but leave a long pigtail to grow.
We climbed down at one of the gates and our guide pointed at the old stones of the
road. The tracks of the old horse carriages could be still seen. During our conversation
we also talked about Taoism. She suggested visiting the old Taoist temple Qingxuguan.
This was already on our roundtrip and it sounds interesting. The temple was also the
history museum which made it even more interesting.
From the temple we walked through old streets to the old bank building. All the housed
we passed were old, but beautiful decorated. Many houses converted into restaurants or
souvenir shops. It was not very crowded and it was nice to stroll through the streets.
When we stopped in front of the Rishengchangbank I thought it was only small building.
In reality it is a huge building containing more than 2000 square meter. It really looked
like a labyrinth. The building is now a museum with attributes and puppets dressed like
the 19th century. This bank was the first that use bills instead of coins. Normally people
paid with silver coins during the Qing dynasty. But there were many civil wars and
bandits which made it dangerous to have a lot of coins with you. Therefore the bank
uses a system with notes where the equivalent of the amount of coins was written.
People could travel from one bank to the other to change the note for money. You could
compare it with the modern traveler’s cheques.
It started getting late, but the guide wanted to visit one more building before we returned
to our hotel. This building was the old governments building and contained a tax office, a
court and the city hall. With an area of 20.000 meters this complex is huge. Everywhere
there are buildings with courtyards, where the officials worked and lived. It was like I was
walking in a movie decor of the movie “Once upon a time in China”. It was unbelievable
quiet. Sometimes it seemed that we were the only ones walking in this area.
After this interesting afternoon we walked back to the hotel together. Like I mentioned
before, there were not many tourists on the street. During dinnertime most groups of
tourist were also gone. Now the local people came outside and chat with each other. Old
men put small chairs on the street and started to play cards, it was great to see such a
Both ladies slept a bit during our leave and feel better. Quickly I took a shower and
changed clothes before we went out for diner. We had to walk for about ten minutes
before we arrived at the restaurant. This wasn’t bothering for none of us. Now we didn’t
have to carry the heavy luggage. The streets were romantically lightened with red
lanterns and there was a good atmosphere on the streets. At the restaurant we tasted
some typical meals from this area and it was really delicious. After dinner we discussed
our program for the next day with our guide and then said goodnight to her.
Slowly we walked back to our hotel and stopping so now and then to look for interesting
souvenirs. I would like to sit somewhere to drink something before sleeping, but the
ladies wanted to go to their rooms. I decided to buy some beers at the restaurant from
our hotel and took it to our rooms. In front of our room there was a small square with
seats and lightened with red lanterns. Here I read something while enjoying the cold
beer. Although we had a rough start, I liked the afternoon visit of the town. Sadly we
couldn’t stay here longer. This city deserves a two night’s visit. I finished my beer and
went to my room and fell asleep.
Day 22: From Pingyao via Taiyuan to Beijing (15 July 2009)
Today we had to leave the charming town Pingyao. Our guide arranged that our bus
could stop in front of our hotel to pick up our luggage.We were very happy with that,
remembering the annoying dragging around of the day before. But this meant that we
had to wake up very early. Only at early hours it is allowed to drive into the centre.
Directly when we went downstairs we put our luggage in the bus. The bus waited, while
we were enjoying our breakfast. With a little bit luck the bus could wait long enough so
we could also drive with the bus. Our breakfast consists of scrambled eggs, yoghurt and
a roasted break with juice. It was a typical tourist breakfast, but it tasted well.
Indeed we had the luck that the bus didn’t have to leave. After our breakfast we went
Into the bus and drove away. We drove to the small and very quiet streets. It was so
early that most local people didn’t get on the streets yet. Just when we drove through the
gate I asked the driver to stop for a while. I just wanted to make some more pictures
from the outside of the city wall. After some grumbling he stopped and I went out and
quickly I took some pictures. Sadly it wasn’t a good spot, but at least I had something.
On our way to the airport of Taiyuan we stopped twice. Our first stop was at the
residency of the family Qiao (Qiaojia Dayuan) which lies about 25km north of Pingyao.
We walked through a corridor of souvenir shops to the huge complex. It was very
crowded with mainly local tourists. Finally we arrived at the entrance. Here it was
perfectly clear that our guide didn’t have any experience. Normally a guide carried an
official identification on her neck. But our guide at to look into her bag to look for the
official papers to proof she was a qualified guide. The queue behind us became longer
and longer. But after a while we could enter the building.
The first buildings were built by a farmer named Qiao Guifa at the end of the 14th
century. By exploiting of banks and a rack-renter the family became shameful rich. They
bought more land and the house became bigger and bigger. In the end the complex
grew to 9000 square meters and counted 300 rooms. During the Japanese war the
family became ruined. As a results of the beautiful movie “Raise the red lantern” from
producer Zhang Yimou and actress Gong Li, which was filmed here, the building
We walked from building to building. It surprised us that our guide only explained the
Chinese characters that were put above every gate or room. But she didn’t explain the
meaning of the rooms. My mother-in-law noticed that the guide often waited with her
explanations, till another group of tourist was nearby. Then she listened to their guide
and explains that to us, but often not correctly. We feel very bad about this. In the end
my mother-in-law just followed another tourist group and listened to their guide, openly
ignoring our guide. She translated from Mandarin to Indonesian to Wulan and Wulan
translated it to me. I didn’t like it this way at all, because most part I could only
understand a small part of it. At one moment I was tired of it, that I send a complaint by
SMS to our tour operator in Chengdu. We paid a lot of money for this trip, so we expect
that we’ve got experienced tour guides. He sure had to make things right in Beijing.
From one courtyard we walked to the other. Many courtyards looked same like in the
movie, especially because there are many red lanterns. It was a pity that it wasn’t
possible to get to the first floors of the main buildings. It would be a fascinating view over
the area. In one of the courtyards there is a wonderful garden with typical Chinese
artifacts like pagodas, rock’s and a pond.
After all we had walked for about two hours through this courtyard house, before we
went back to our bus. It was only a short distance driving to the restaurant to have lunch.
In the bus we heard that we would have dinner in Beijing instead of Taiyuan.We were
surprised about this because in our itinerary was written that we would have dinner
before our flight to Beijing. After all the mess of these two days, we didn’t trust our guide
anymore and start arguing with her. My mother-in-law ordered that she called her travel
agent to confirm about the location of diner. In the meantime I send an SMS to our tour
operator in Chengdu to make the confirmation. I decided just to wait for the answer from
our tour operator. But the ladies had more than enough from this guide that they wanted
to talk to our operator directly. None of the phones worked at the restaurant and I didn’t
want to use my prepaid card for endless discussions. I wanted to save the money for
more urgent problems. I tried to convince the ladies that they should have more
Everyone just sat there at the table with a bad mood while the waitress put some meals
on the table. The food was plain, but definitely not bad. During lunch I’ve got an answer
from my tour operator. He apologized for the bad service and he promised that we would
have a better service in Beijing. He also confirmed that we would have diner in Beijing
directly after arrival. An earlier flight to Beijing was the reason to change location of
dinner. We accept this explanation, but we would like to know this kind of information at
an earlier time. So we wouldn’t have to argue with our guide.
We went away from the restaurant and walked to the bus. We were much relived now.
Our guide regrets that we were unsatisfied about her service. As an expression of her
regret she gave us all a small gift. Of course this was just a bad excuse. After all we
never should have such a worse guide. But we didn’t want to spoil our day to argue
Our next stop was at 25km south of Taiyuan at the foot of mountain Xuanweng. Here is
the ancestor temple of the Jin (Jin ci). Over a very bumpy road we finally arrived at the
parking lot. From her it was only a small walk to the entrance. This time our guide
arranged an official local guide to give explanation to us. Sadly this guide couldn’t speak
in English. There our guide translated everything to me, while my mother-in-law
translated in Indonesian to my wife. This was very funny, because sometimes we heard
two different kinds of stories. At least we’ve got more information than at the sight
The temple complex has almost hundred building and date back from the northern Wei
dynasty (386-534). But most buildings that we still can see dates back from the 12th
century (Song Dynasty). According to legends the temple was originally raised in the 11th
century before Christ to honor the prince Shuyu. He was the founder of the Jin
The buildings have wonderful woodcarvings and paintings. Everywhere there are
century old trees in strange and spooky forms. But the serene restfulness at the temple
complex made that I fell very comfortable most of the time. Sadly I got stomach cramps
at the end of the tour. After a bit searching I found some public toilets with squat toilets.
Normally I won’t go to these toilets and look for western toilets, but now I really needed
to go. A bit uncomfortable I took position and did the job. And yes, I had diarrhea. I fell
very uncomfortable and I just wish to go to the airport as soon as possible. Sadly our
local guide has more sights for us in mind. She decided that we still have some time to
enjoy an exhibition with pen drawings. Some of the drawings are made by no one less
than Deng Xiaoping. There were indeed some very pretty drawings from bamboo and
Finally we went outside and walked to the car and drove to the airport at Taiyuan. At
some time I got stomach cramps again. I just ate some candy to distract my mind. At first
it went fine, but later on I got badly need to see some toilet again. I asked the driver to
drive faster. But he had to hold to the speed limits. It was very annoying to see that
many cars and busses drove faster than us. Just at the moment that I thought I couldn’t
hold we arrived at the airport. I think the bus wasn’t even completely stopped when I
opened the door and ran to the first toilet at the airport. I even made it without making
myself dirty. In the meantime the ladies took our luggage out of the car and said
goodbye to the driver. I met them near the check-in desks. After we’ve got our boarding
passes we said goodbye to our guide and went to the waiting room.
Everywhere we saw warnings about the Mexican flue. So now and then we heard people
coughing and Wulan looked frightened to me. We still had some time left, so I went look
around for a drink. I couldn’t find a shop selling cold beer, but finally some friendly
women pointed me to a vending machine. I was happy that there were also instructions
in English and without problem I got my cold beer. It was quiet a walk back to the ladies.
Just when I opened the can we heard the announcement that we could get into the bus
to the plane. It was very early and I was very surprised. I could hardly believe that this
announcement was for our flight. But I saw more people standing up. I little but clumsy I
took my hand-baggage and the open can and went into the bus. We all found a place to
sit and I was happy that I had some time to enjoy my beer.
Soon we board the plane. About three rows in front of us there was someone who was
ill. Some stewardess gave him a blanket and told that he could lie down on three
couches. We all were afraid that he caught the Mexican flue. We all put surgical masks
on our face. I guess we were the only one in the plane, but we didn’t care about that.
The flight took only one hour. The airport at Beijing is very big. It fell like we had to walk
for miles before we arrived at the baggage claim.
While we entered the arrival Hal we looked around to see if someone carried a sign with
our names on it. There was no one waiting for us. Maybe we arrived too early and was
our guide a bit late. One of us stayed close to our luggage while the other two walked
around to see our guide. After half an hour waiting there was still no one who picked us
up.We started to worry. Luckily we had a phone number of the guide and my mother-inlaw
phoned him. It seemed to be a very confusing phone call. After another fifteen
minutes we called again and we heard that a driver was delayed and that he was
walking at this moment to the arrivals Hal. We looked in all direction, but suddenly a tall
Chinese man walked towards me and mumbles my name. I just nod. My mother-in-law
was a bit indignant and showed that to the driver. Luckily the driver was a funny guy and
joked with her. Soon everything was settled down and we went with a good mood to the
It was still weird that our new guide didn’t show up at the airport. But when we entered
the luxurious restaurant a guide and her boss welcomed us. The guide apologized about
our strange welcome. It seemed that our arranged guide got the Mexican flue. The guide
that welcomed us would be our replacement. But due to a serious accident with her
mom, she had to cancel at the last moment. She fell very guilty about it. Quickly she said
that we didn’t have to worry, because last minute they could arrange another guide for
us. We fell sorry for her and her mom. But we were surprised about the visit from both
her boss and the guide. A couple of days later we found out why….
In the meantime we got a fantastic welcome meal. It tasted really magnificent. After my
diarrhea earlier at the day, I really was hungry. After the meal I hardly could close my
trousers. All together we drove to the Shantan hotel near the Forbidden City. The hotel
looked fine from both outside as inside. At the entrance there was a device that could
measure our body temperature. Of course we all were curious about our health situation.
But the device aimed to high for Wulan and her mom. We tried to put it lower, but we
didn’t know how. A friendly bellboy helped us and looked curiously how we measured
one at the time. My mother-in-law ordered the bellboy also to measure his temperature.
We all had to laugh when he really measures his temperature. The next couple of days
we had a lot of fun with him.
Our room was nice and clean with good beds. We took a shower and then we went to
bed. We all were tired after this strange and extraordinary day. The day wasn’t bad after
all, because we did see a lot of interesting sights.
Day 23: Temple of heaven and summer palace (16 July 2009)
Like usual we had to wake up early. The hotel served a good and extended breakfast
buffet. After breakfast we walked downstairs to the lobby. A good looking girl who
appeared to be our guide was already waiting. After she introduced herself we walked to
the bus and drove to our first sight of a busy program. Already during the trip it we find
out that we wouldn’t keep to our official program of our itinerary. I didn’t care much, as
long as we would see at least all that was mentioned in the itinerary.
Our first stop was planned like the itinerary and wasn’t far from our hotel. It is the famous
temple of heaven which is also known as Tiantan. It was built in 1420 during the Ming
dynasty and is located south of the Forbidden City. In the past only the Emperor was
allowed to enter. As son of heaven he made sacrifices to the heaven and prayed for
It’s a pity that we didn’t enter the temple complex from the official entrance at the south.
From that entrance the emperor entered the temple. Instead our driver parked at the
entrance at the north.We walked through a nice park where people played a kind of foot
tennis. Some of them were very fanatic and skillful. While we walked along very old
trees, we heard nice traditional music from loudspeakers. The volume wasn’t bother too
We climbed some stairs and walked through a gate. A huge round building appeared in
front of us. This building is named Qinian Dian or prayer hall for good harvest. Here the
Emperor prayed for good harvest. Everything in the temple has a special meaning.
There are four main pillars representing the four seasons. At the outer ring there are
twelve smaller pillars representing the twelve months. It’s prohibiting to get inside, but
with a little bit patience and pushing so now and then, we could watch the interior. It
looked very beautiful. Nearby there are a couple of side buildings containing the
museum of the temple of heaven. There are some paintings and pieces that remind the
We followed our guide in eastern direction. To my big surprise and horror, I saw a sign
pointing to the exit. I asked our guide if we really went to the exit of the complex. Indeed
she wanted to leave the place. I couldn’t believe it, because this complex is many times
bigger than only the main temple we visited. Since we still had some time left, I ordered
the guide to follow us to the south gate, so we could see the rest of it. We walked over
the “red stairs bridge” to the imperial heavenly vault. In this small temple the tablets of
the deceased emperors are stored. Around this temple is the round echo wall. When it is
very quiet, you could stand at one end of the wall and whisper something. Someone that
stands at the other end of the wall could hear it clearly. Of course it wasn’t possible to
test it. It was full of tourists. At last we walked to the altar of heaven. This round square
is at the most southern spot. It consists of stones that lie in a circle in a multiple of nine
In the meantime our driver drove his bus to the southern entrance.When we left the park
we could directly enter the bus and drove to the next sight. We drove to the north in the
direction of the authentic hutong district. First we stopped at a silk factory. We didn’t
want to enter because we already visit one at another place. We knew that our guide
took us here, so she could have a provision when we buy something. We decided that
we only would watch the factory part and then leave as soon as possible. I had to admit
that the process of manufacture was quite interesting. We saw the process from birth of
the silkworm up to the silk eiderdown. After the use of the modern toilets we walked
outside and went to our bus.
The bus took us to the huge bell and drum towers, where we got out. We took two
rickshaws and a local guide joined us. We drove through small alleys and roads through
the traditional hutong district. This is how the local people of Beijing usually lived. Most
of the hutongs are knocked down nowadays and high apartment buildings. Personally I
didn’t like this area. It just looked like a normal shabby area in some Asian city. At some
places we stopped and our guide explained some of the symbols and the life the people
lived. So now and then we could peek inside the courtyards of the more prosperous
people. To our utter surprise we could enter the house of a “randomized” owner. I felt
like I was invading someone’s privacy. We all fell very uncomfortable about this visit and
wanted to leave the house quickly. After a short trip we were back at the towers. Our
hutongtrip just took half an hour. I expected more about this trip and afterwards to my
opinion it was a worthless trip.
In the meantime we got hungry and drove to a typical Manchurian restaurant.We got a
big bowl with cold black noodles. This was the worst meal I ever ate. After their first bite
the ladies directly quite eating. In all decency I tried to eat a bit more. But it was too hard
for me to swallow. My mother-in-law asked the guide if we could have something else to
eat, because we couldn’t eat this. It seamed that the guide responded blunt and that was
the start of the hate/love relation between our guide and my mother-in-law. I can’t
remember anymore that we ordered something else, but I remember that I saw some
good looking meals served at other tables.
Disappointed and with a hungry feeling we drove to our next destination. This was the
huge summer palace, which lies northwest of Beijing. The emperors of the last dynasty
came here to escape the heat of the Forbidden City during summertime’s. The infamous
empress Cixi (1835-1908) extended the palace a lot. Near the entrance we parked the
bus and went inside. It was very crowded and quickly our guide moved further, without
giving any explanation of the buildings. Only once she stopped shortly to say something
about some building. Quickly she walked further and we almost lost her in the crowd.
There was no time to make any pictures. Finally we arrived at a long covered gallery.
This gallery is the longest covered one in the world. It protects ones against rain and
wind, while walking from one building to the other. The gallery is wonderful painted.
Halfway of the gallery we passed a huge building which was build against a hill. It looked
very interesting and I really looked forward to climb all the stairs to see the view. But our
guide ignored the building and walked on. At the end of the gallery we saw the infamous
Marble boat.While the officials asked the empress to spend more money to modernize
the fleet. The empress did what the officials asked, she spend it to make a huge
expensive ship made of marble. It was used as a restaurant. Our guide asked if we
would like to take boat to the exit or walk to the back way. I was really stunned into
speechlessness. After all we were less than one hour at the summer palace, didn’t see
any building and only went to the gallery and the marble boat.We still had plenty of time
before dinner. Our mood became worse as it is clear that our guide was exploiting us.
I really wanted to climb to the temple at the hill. It appeared it wasn’t included in our
ticket price. I had to pay for myself and if I wished that our guide joined me, I also had to
pay for her. To my opinion it was just crap. Since our guide couldn’t explain very much, I
decided to go on my own. But she walked up with me to help me buying a ticket. Wulan
and her mom were very happy that the guide walked with me. They directly went to a
small restaurant and bought some noodle soup to satisfy their appetite.
They didn’t expect that the guide directly came back to them and they were caught by
surprise. Again there was some arguing. I didn’t know this story until late at night. In the
meantime I was climbing the many stairs of the “hill of the long living” at peace. There
are several religious buildings with in the center the outstanding “tower of sweet smell of
the Buddha” (Really, I didn’t make up these names). From the top I had a wonderful view
from the lake and all the buildings. Sadly the smog gave it all a grey and sad view.
I walked back through the gallery, but I decided to make an extra detour before arriving
at the marble boat. In this case our guide won’t see me and I had some time to walk
around a bit. Most of the smaller buildings were just souvenir shops. When I walked to
the boat I met the three ladies. I bought the tickets for the boat trip and we all went
aboard. At this boat was also another tourist. He told us that he lost the other members
of the group. He hoped to see them at the other side of the palace park. It was a funny
story, but I wonder if he ever found his friends. From where the boat landed we still had
to walk a bit to the entrance. Our guide phoned to the driver and asked him to come over
to pick us up. While we were waiting we saw that a Chinese man became aggressive.
He threw all kinds of garbage to people. Luckily no one was hot. He talked in himself and
kicked some poles and containers. I guessed that he was using drugs or not in his right
mind. Maybe he was still mad at the old Empress? It was all a bit scary for us.
We drove back to the centre of Beijing again. Our guide asked us during the journey if
we would like to visit a traditional Chinese pharmacy. The mother ofWulan was very
against a visit. She went to such a pharmacy before and then she had to pay a lot of
money for the medicines. But our guide kept on hammering that we still should visit it
and it was absolutely free. We had to decide for ourselves if we want to buy medicines
or not. We didn’t have a lot of choices. If we didn’t go we had to wait for a long time at
the restaurant before we would have dinner. Inside I had to laugh about the smartness of
our guide. In my opinion we should have paid more time to the three main sights instead
of going to all these crap things. She really tried to do the best to get commission
everywhere. Here is why I decided to go.
We stopped at a big hospital building.With the elevator and some aisles we arrived at a
waiting room. Some doctor came to visit us and explained about the Traditional Chinese
Healthcare. I already heard something about this kind of treatments during my Tai Chi
Chuan lessons and of course I’ve heard about acupuncture. I really was interested in his
explanations. The doctor explained the difference between western and Chinese
healthcare. In western countries the doctors tries to heal the symptoms, while Chinese
doctors are looking for the reasons of the symptoms. By treating the flow of energy in the
body there should be balance. After this interesting explanation they asked if someone
of us would like to have a free treatment. The ladies refused, but I was interested. Two
nurses came. One was feeling my pulse and I had to put the tongue out of my mouth. In
the meantime that nurse was asking me all kinds of questions. The other nurse
translated everything in English. They told me I was healthy, but in the future I could
have problems with my liver. They asked me if I was feeling tired or that I had pain in my
back. I told them that I normally don’t have any problem, but during this busy journey I
fell a bit tired. Now came the part that they want to sell me some kind of traditional
medicine. I told them that it wasn’t necessary to take traditional medicine. I could guess
what my problem was and drinking Jasmine tea would deal with that problem. After all
I’ve heard this solution before during our trip. Wulan and her mom started to laugh about
my reaction, but our guide wasn’t amused. After just 30 minutes we were back in the
We drove to a restaurant where we’ve got a good dinner. To “celebrate” that I will have
problems with my liver, I treat myself with a nice bottle of beer.We still had one special
event to go after dinner. We drove to the “Red Theatre” to watch the amazing show
called “Chun Yi, the legend of Kung Fu”. This time we had plenty of time before the show
started. We walked around a bit and watched the souvenir stands. I bought a nice T-shirt
and a DVD from the show. In a side street we saw some “shaolin Monks” doing some
kicks for exercise. Just in time we went to our reserved seats. We had nice seats right in
the middle with a good view at the stage. Officially it wasn’t allowed to make pictures or
film during the show. In spite of this I wanted to try to shoot some pictures secretly. I
turned of all the sounds and lights, so it would be difficult to notice that I make pictures.
At my first attempt the stewards pointed a red laser beam to me to force me to turn off
the camera. That was a real bummer, but at least I bought the DVD as a reminder. The
show was really stunning. It’s about a young kid that is brought to the Shaolin temple by
his mother. Here he learned everything about martial arts and Chan Buddhism. At some
time he got forbidden desires, became selfish and rebellious. He thinks he is the best
and the strongest monk. When his mother died he found himself again and became a
good monk. He even succeeded his shifu (Master). During this show the martial arts
were mixed with dance, music and lightshow. It was really nice to watch. After all we had
great luck that we could see this show in Beijing. One week later the show is moved to
London for a couple of dates.Whenever this show is in the Netherlands, I can advise
one to watch it.
Sadly Wulan start feeling sick again during the show. I didn’t found out only after the
show, because she really wanted to go to the bus quickly. It was so crowded that it
wasn’t possible to drive away directly. Within half an hour we finally could drive back to
the hotel. My mother-in-law asked the driver if there was still a pharmacy open. But it
was already late and they are all closed. There was nothing else to do than just go to
bed as soon as possible. When we arrived at the hotel we directly measured our body
temperatures. Luckily my body temperature was still higher than that one ofWulan. So
there was no reason to panic about Mexican flu. It was really a pity that Wulan couldn’t
enjoy the show like me. Hopefully a good nights rest was enough to feel better again, so
she could climb the Great Wall….. At least that was according our planning
We saw some incredible sights this day. Sadly we couldn’t enjoy it as much as we
wanted, due to the bad behavior of our guide. Certainly I want to visit Beijing again, but
than without a personal guide. Just a good guidebook is enough.
Day 24: Forbidden City twice (17 July 2009)
Originally a visit of the GreatWall was planned. But my wife didn’t feel well and it was
raining very hard. Together with her mom she decided to change the planning of today
with the program of tomorrow. They both would stay back at the hotel to recover, while I
would go with the guide to the Forbidden City.
I woke up later than the ladies and I was surprised and disappointed that everything was
already arranged without consulting me. If I was involved with the change, I probably
wouldn’t mind it. But this was umpteenth time now and I really felt left out. Humouredly I
went down to the restaurant all by myself to have breakfast. After breakfast I’ve got my
daypack and went to the lobby.
I had to wait for a long time before my guide appeared. I asked her to sit first and to
discuss the program for this day and the day after. I just wanted to be sure that all parts
of the itinerary will be done, without running from here to there. It was very important for
me that we have enough time to visit the GreatWall. When everything was clear, we
went on our way.
We walked through the rain to the Forbidden City. Again we entered it from the wrong
side. Our hotel was close to the backdoor of the palace, so it was a logical thought, but I
just preferred to enter from the front door. First we had to pass a strict security gate,
where our luggage was checked. It was really awful weather. I didn’t bring an umbrella
with me, because I don’t like to walk with them. I thought that a poncho was enough for
me. But that meant that it was impossible to make any picture, unless I went under a
Back in 1407 the emperor Yongle ordered to build a new palace in the new capital
Beijing. After thirteen years of hard labor by 200.000 workers the palace was opened in
1420. During 500 years there lived 24 emperors in this palace. The last emperor Puyi
was thrown out of the town in 1924 by a warlord. Since 1949 the palace is open for
public for the very first time.
We started our visit at the Imperial garden. There are many rocks and old cypress trees.
Since it was raining so hard we walked quickly to the imperial inner court. This was the
private area of the emperors and consists of three palaces. Sadly it wasn’t allowed to get
inside the buildings. I had to squeeze myself to the front under a roof of umbrellas to get
a spot, where I could view inside the buildings. The guide only told the most important
things about the building, without telling me any details or nice anecdotes.
We walked through some gates to enter the quiet Eastern Palace. In the past these
palaces were the livings for the Empress, concubines and the girls of the court. Most of
the buildings are open to visit and arranged as a museum. We only took a visit in a
museum where all kinds of jade jewelry were stored. There were some pretty stuff to see
and most important it was dry.
We went further and arrived at the outer court. Here are the most impressive palaces. It
was here where the emperor worked and received officials. The buildings are huge and
wonderful decorated. One of the buildings was named Hall of the supreme Harmony.
From here we could view over an enormous square. Sadly it wasn’t possible to make
any good pictures. Every time raindrops appeared at the lens of my camera or the lens
steamed up. I was fed up with the bad weather and I just wished that our visit was over.
My thoughts became reality when our guide went outside after a visit of just one hour
without a blush.
We arrived at the giant Tian’an Men Square, better known in English as the Gate of
Heavenly peace. It became notorious in the world after that the Chinese Army ended the
student protests in 1989 in a horrible way. Now everything looked peaceful but wet. The
square was full of umbrellas and tourists in Poncho’s. There were not many western
tourist, mostly were Asian. We passed the huge Great Hall of the People, which is the
parliament building of the Chinese Government. A bit further away I saw the Mausoleum
of Chairman Mao Zedong. We didn’t enter any of the building, but I didn’t mind much.
With this kind of weather I just prefer to go to a nice and cozy bar. We just walked to our
bus which was waiting for us at a nearby parking lot.
It was around eleven o’clock when we arrived at a restaurant. Since I was all by myself,
the guide asked me what I wished for lunch. This I decided to have hot noodles with a
spicy meat and mushroom dish. One bottle of beer was included. The guide left me
behind when I started my lunch. After ten minutes I still didn’t get my beer. When a
waitress passed me, I asked her where my beer was. Directly they gave me the bottle. A
couple of minutes later they asked me to pay for my beer. I tried to convince that my
beer was already included and that my guide had arranged everything. A couple of
minutes later someone else asked me to pay for my beer. A couple of time this was
happening. It was really annoying. At last a manager started to bother me. I still told
them that I won’t pay anything unless I talked with my guide.
Finally the guide came back and it was the first time that I was happy to see her. I
explained to her what happened and she agreed that one beer should be included. She
went to the management to discuss. She came back to me and asked me if I had two
bottles of beer. But that wasn’t the case. After all everything went fine and I didn’t have
We drove to the next sight, which is at the north part of Beijing. It was the lama temple
also known as Yonghe-gong. It was initially build as a palace for emperor Yinzhen, but in
the 18th century it was changed to a Tibetan temple. The buildings are beautiful
decorated and painted. Maybe it was because I started to get tired seeing temples, but it
really failed to hold my interest. One building was an exception. Inside there is a huge
statue of Maitreya cut from one piece of sandalwood.
After visiting this temple the party was over. They brought me back to the hotel and the
rest of the afternoon I was free. In the meantime the sky was clearing up a bit, but it was
still raining a bit. Therefore I decided to wait for a while, before I went outside again. I
wasted my time by surfing at the internet in the lobby of the hotel. It was about three
o’clock afternoon when I went outside again. For my feeling I didn’t spend enough time
at the Forbidden City to really enjoy it. So I returned, but this time on my own. I walked
along the high walls and entered the city from the South entrance.
At one of the souvenir shops I bought a disposable umbrella and a small guidebook
about the Forbidden City. First I walked through the Gate of Heavenly peace with large
picture of Chairman Mao. Here I entered the queue and bought my ticket. Now I was
ready to start my tour. I walked through the mighty Meridian Gate (Wumen) and arrived
at the square with five marble bridges over the golden River. Before I crossed the
bridges I visited a palace at the left side. Inside this palace there is an exhibition about
calligraphy. It was a bit dull, so I only paid it a short visit.
Back at one of the bridges I had a wonderful view at the Gate of Supreme Harmony
(Taihe Men). Sadly it wasn’t possible to climb to the top. I guess I had a wonderful view
from there. I walked further to the outer court and I took some more time to visit the Hall
of supreme harmony (Taihe Dian). There are some panels with explanation in English.
This hall was one of the most important and contains the dragon throne. It was used for
ceremonials. The Hall of the Middle Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony were
used accordingly for preparations and Imperial Examinations. The ones, who passed the
exams, which was based mostly of Confucianism studies, got a high rank in the palace. I
followed the crowd via the Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Men) to the inner court.
Besides the Emperor only the highest concubines and eunuchs were allowed to enter.
Due to the enormous crowd I walked quickly along the three palaces and arrived at the
Imperial Gardens. From here I decided to visit the western palaces.
Normally the western palaces were the livings quarters for the concubines and the
empresses, but during the years also some Emperors started to live here. I really liked to
wander through the small alleys and visit the buildings at this part of the Forbidden City.
Nowadays most palaces function as a museum about the life in the Forbidden City.
There was many to see about the life of the last Emperor Puyi and the Empress Cixi.
From the western palaces I walked to the eastern palaces. It took some time to find the
right entrance. Sometimes it felt like I was walking in a labyrinth.
Some of the eastern palaces I already visited this morning and I skipped these. The
palaces here were less interesting. All of them contain some kind of treasures. One hall
contains bronze artifacts, while others contain marble of silver. The only real interesting
hall was the collection of gold. Here were many expensive, but wonderful treasures.
In the end I would like to enter the most eastern palaces with the famous nine dragon
wall (Jiulong bi). But it was almost closing time and they didn’t allow me to enter. That
was a pity, but there was nothing to do about. I walked through a very long alley with
high red walls to the north exit. Behind the North Gate there is an artificial hill with some
temples. This hill was meant to keep out the bad ghosts and demons from the north.
This is typical a lesson from the Feng Shui studies. Before I went back to the hotel I
quickly climbed the hill. It was a short but tiring climb to get the top at 108m. The view
from the top over the Forbidden City was wonderful. Sadly the sky was all grey and no
While I was still gasping, I slowly walked down in the direction of the hotel. It was a bit
difficult to find the right exit gate. Finally I found the right exit and from there it was only a
short walk back to the hotel. I was very tired, and soaked from the rain and sweat. I
really needed a shower before diner. I still had one hour left before our guide would pick
us up for dinner. In the meantime Wulan was feeling better again and was really hungry.
I was happy for her, because it was a pity that she couldn’t enjoy our entire program. But
after all I think it was good for her that she didn’t go outside with this bad weather.
This evening we would taste the famous Peking duck. But it appeared that the ducks
were hard to catch. Therefore we first got two other magnificent courses. When I think
back I still get water to my mouth. During the diner we got company from the original
guide and her boss. They asked us if we liked our stay in Beijing. Honestly my motherin-
law explained what we think about our guide. She really regretted that we didn’t have
a great time, but she couldn’t do anything anymore. But she gave all of us a mini
Sichuan Mask as a gift. In the meantime we slowly started to get our stomach full, when
finally the Peking duck was served. One waitress showed us how to eat this. First we
had to take a slice of duck meat, together with some vegetables and wrap it around rice
paper. Just the same like a spring roll. All this together we had to put it in a kind of
honey sauce. It really taste good, but I was a bit disappointed. I guess I just expected
more of it or I just ate already too much from the first courses. Halve of the courses we
took with us, so we could eat it at the airport the next day. After dinner we drove back to
the hotel. We spend the rest of the evening to put all our belongings in our bags, so we
won’t have to waste much time in the morning. After all we went to bed early.
It was really a pity that this day was a bit spoilt due to the bad weather. Otherwise the
visit of the Forbidden City was certainly worth. It is just another wish to return during
spring of autumn and then visit it without guide.
Day 25: The Great Wall (18 July 2009)
After one days restWulan was feeling completely better. Even the weather changed in a
wonderful bright sky. One more time we enjoyed our magnificent breakfast in the hotel.
This time we were all three together. Last night we already packed so we were ready to
leave Beijing after finishing our breakfast. Now our guide was right in time and helped us
checking out and loaded our luggage into the bus. It took a while before we left the busy
traffic at the centre of Beijing, but then we could enjoy our ride to the north on the
This day we would reach the most northern part of our journey. The Great Chinese Wall
was on our program today. The wall starts from the borders of the Gobi dessert in the
west and up to Shanhaiguan in the east, where the wall disappears into the sea. The
wall is approximately 6700 km long and consists of many different smaller walls, which
grew all together during the centuries. Already in the 7th century BC they started to build
small parts of walls. But most part of the wall was build at 200 BC by the first emperor of
united China named Emperor Qin Shi Huandi. According to stories, there were about
200.000 people who died while building the wall. The wall which we visited this day
looked like the walls that were built many years later during the Ming dynasty at 1368.
Most tourists visit the wall near the town Badaling, which lies only 70km northwest of
Beijing. Here the wall is the most beautiful and best restored, but it also means that it is
very crowded. We choose to visit a part of the wall that is not so crowded. It is situated
near the village Mutianyu and is about 90km northeast of Beijing. The journey to the wall
took about two hours. The first part we passed industrial areas and farmlands. Slowly
the view changed and we drove over quiet roads aligned with trees. From a distance we
could see the hills. Slowly the tops of the hills became more visible and we could
recognize the first parts of the wall. Everyone was enthusiastic.
Finally we arrived at a full parking lot and I feared the worst. But luckily we didn’t have to
wait inside the bus, before the driver could find a place to park. We just went out of the
bus in the middle of the street and walked to the entrance. The road was quite steep and
it already became hot. That spells trouble for later. At least we had plenty of water with
us. We needed to have a little bit patience, because our guide didn’t know which ticket to
buy for us. It appeared that it was also the first time for her at this part of the wall. It
didn’t matter me much. I surely would enjoy myself here. To make ourselves not
unnecessary tired, we went to the top of the wall by chairlift.When Wulan saw the
chairlift she didn’t like it at all. At home we saw that there were closed gondolas, but we
didn’t see them now. There was nothing else to do than go up by the open cable car.
She went together with her mom and I went together with our guide. It was a nice trip
upstairs and I liked the view. Below us we passed a toboggan run and saw people going
down in a kind of bobsled very fast. Our guide never saw this before and she liked to try
it. I suggest that this would be a fun way for us all to go down.
At the exit we still had to climb a bit before we could enter the wall. The wall was wider
than I thought. But what strikes me the most was the quietness here. Of course we saw
other tourists walking, but it was possible to walk normally. It was even possible, with a
bit patience, to make pictures of the wall without anyone else. We suggest that a visit of
one and a half hour would be enough to enjoy it. Since I was in better shape than the
ladies, we already made a deal that I would walk on my own so I could walk as far as
possible. The ladies stayed with the guide and just walked around in their own pace.
Of course we didn’t leave each other without making some group photo. Then I quickly
walked away passing one watchtower after the other. The first part was easy. The wide
path over the wall winds slowly downwards. From the first watchtower there was already
a wonderful view over the giant long part of the wall to the west. The wall followed the
outlines of the hills. It won’t take long before the path went downwards very steep. Now I
had to be carefully not to fall. Of course after every descent there is also an ascent. It
became warmer and warmer and the sweat was coming down from my face. The stairs
were very irregular. Sometimes I could take two stairs at a time, while other moments I
just could walk from step to step.
After passing five watchtowers I was halfway my objective. In front of me rose a long and
steep stairway. That won't stop me and I kept climbing. Along the way I passed some
gasping and moaning tourists. It was really tough. At almost every watchtower there
were some people selling cold drinks. One man wanted to sell a cold beer to me. It really
looked tempting, but I thought it was not clever to drink it already. During the journey
outward I only took a few pictures, so I could go as far as possible. After all I had to walk
the same way back and that was less tiredness.
At one of the watchtowers I could see the closed gondolas from a distance, which I
showed Wulan at home. Sadly for her it seemed that we went to the wrong parking lot. I
was almost at the top when I started to get dizzy. My bottles of water were already
empty and my towel was soaked from my sweat. Luckily I had some dextrose candies
with me, which put my sugar to a normal level. I decided to take it easy for a while. After
all I was already at the ninth watchtower in only 20 minutes walking. From the top I send
a SMS to my wife to tell her that everything was fine.
The wall went much further and after a small declining part, the wall went up again on a
steeper hill. I decided not to climb that hill; otherwise I wouldn't be back in time. I just
walked slowly up to the next two watchtowers and start shooting some pictures. In a
distance I saw huge Chinese characters at the mountain slope. Sadly I didn't know the
meaning of it. At the last watchtower I bought two bottles of cold water. The water was
so cold that it was still frozen. I couldn't drink it. I still wonder how the seller could keep
the water so cold that it was still frozen.
Slowly I walked back to our meeting point and enjoyed the great views. At some places
there were some small cannons mounted. That would make it even more difficult for the
enemy to climb the wall. It was possible to climb at a few of the watchtowers upstairs.
From here the view was really stunning. About halfway back I met Wulan and her mom.
The guide left them down (or the other way around) and they went out on their own. I
didn't expect them so far away from the meeting point. It seemed thatWulan was really
feeling better again.
With the three of us we stroll back passing tower after tower.We made the usual selfportraits
and climbed one more watchtower before we were back at our meeting point.
Although we were a little bit late, we didn't see our guide yet. So we walked a little bit to
the east part of the wall. At a distance we saw a part of the wall that wasn't restored. It
was all overgrown with trees and bushes. Then suddenly we heard our guide yelling to
us to announce that she was already back, but we didn't have to hurry.
After taking the last pictures we said farewell to the wall and walked to the toboggan run.
Wulan and her mom decided that they preferred to take the chair lift to go down. We
waited while they safely get into their chairs, before we get in line of the queue.
Everyone had to sit on one small bobsled. With a handle you could choose to go harder
or slower.When it was our turn I went into the chair and try to make speed by pushing
the handle to the front. It didn't really go fast in the beginning.When I finally got a nice
speed I had to break hard, because just after a corner there were some slow ladies.
Luckily I could stop in time. But the guide didn't see the holdup and couldn't break hard
enough and hit me. Luckily the collision wasn't that hard and unhurt we could go on.
Safely and well we arrived at the finish. Sadly it didn't go as fast as I hoped for, but it was
We walked downwards through a street full of souvenir shops. Along the way we saw
some very beautiful pen drawings with bamboo scenery. After some bargain we bought
two drawings to decorate our new house. At the end of the street we entered a
restaurant. Here we enjoyed a good meal and a cold beer. We all fell dirty. Our shirts
were still wet from the sweat from climbing the wall. We didn't feel comfortable to go to
the airport with these smelly clothes. So after finishing our lunch, we went back to the
souvenir shops to buy some nice shirts. There wasn't much in my huge size and I didn't
want to buy a shirt with the text:” I Climbed the GreatWall". In the end I found a nice
shirt with a printing of the wall and many Chinese characters. Maybe there was also
written that I climbed the wall, but at least I couldn't read it.
After refreshment we went into our bus and drove to the airport near Beijing. Our guide
didn't want to help us at the check-in desk. She only pointed to the direction where we
have to walk and said goodbye. Given the experience of the last three days it didn't
surprise us. Luckily we've got our boarding passes without any problem. We walked to
the gate and waited till boarding. Diner wasn't included today, but that was not a
problem. We still had some food from last evening and we weren't very hungry. It didn’t
take long before we could board our plane and fly to Tunxi. It was a flight of just 2 hours
before we landed at the small airport in Anhui province. It was just a short walk to the
arrivals hall, where our new guide was already waiting.
The airport was not far from the city and it was really a short ride to our hotel. Sadly it
wasn't the same hotel according to our itinerary. Our original hotel is very close at the
base of the yellow mountains (Huang Shan) and looked very traditional. Now we arrived
at a normal business hotel right in the middle of the town. That was a pity for me. Now
we had to drive first to the mountain the next morning. Our guide didn't know anything
about the other hotel and I was already too tired to found out what happened. A good
bed and a warm shower was the only thing where we were interested in. We went to bed
early, so we would be fit enough for the next tough two days. We looked back to a day of
good weather and an extraordinary sight. But most important was that we were finally on
tour again with the three of us and we all enjoyed this tour.