Sunday, October 21, 2007

This is a brief outline of our dance studio's trip to China to participate in the Beijing and Lou yang Cultural Festivals. My two daughters, 16 and 12, both dance in the company and participated in the trip. Because I'm not computer savy, the blog begins with the end of the trip!

Day Ten

We arrive in Beijing in the morning around 10:30 am and take the buses back to the hotel. We recover our luggage and the tour director has arranged for everyone to have a big mac!

We have a room for a few hours to get showered and dressed and arrange our luggage. We are all checked out and on the buses by 1pm, headed to the airport.
We're at the airport early, but it turns out to be a nice wait. There are lots of places to eat and we get Starbucks and Haagen Daas. There is also a chance for last minute shopping before we board the plane and head home.

The plane ride is long but uneventful and I'm a happy camper because this time I have a seat on the aisle.

Upon our arrival and after all the customs and luggage claim, our friend meets us to take us home and she has picked up my older daughter's class ring that came while we're away!

Day nine

Today is our last day in Louyang. We take the bus this afternoon to the train station and the long train ride back to Beijing.
In the morning all the participants in the cultural festival meet for a police escort out to the Shaolin Temple.

The bus ride is over an hour but we see lots of interesting countryside. The Shaolin Temple is the training base for Zen and Kung Fu warrior monks. The performers we saw in the Kung Fu show trained here. They recruit many to be in martial art films.

We returned to the hotel for lunch. Some of our group went shopping but we stay around the hotel. Later, we walk down the street to a mart store to buy snacks for the train. It was a nice part of our day and relaxing.
Our hotel is the tall building in the background

We found it funny that after all the hubbub over squat toilets, we passed two stores filled with western ones.
I'm a little more prepared for the train ride this time. I took a sleeping pill and our studio director made sure that we were in an open car. We had KFC sandwiches on the train for dinner. This time, we are one step closer to being home!

Day eight

Today was very cloudy and dreary. The tourism board provided rain ponchos for us which we needed. The parade performance was held in a large outdoor arena. At the beginning of the show , different colored smoke was shot up and promptly drifted over the dignitaries!
The skies grew darker and darker. Our dancers were number 17 and as they took the stage, the rains began in earnest. Shortly after their performance we moved to a hotel and waited on the bus for the performers to meet us.
We had our buffet lunch at the hotel. Our girls are relaxed as the performing is over and all that remains is some sightseeing which begins after lunch with a trip to the Guan Lin temple.
This temple is one of few that serves as a tomb and a temple. The General that it is in honor of has his head buried there and has been elevated to a god.

Upon leaving the temple, we travel to the Longmen Grottoes which are a complex of grottoes boasting 1352 caves filled with Buddhist's carvings. The grottoes face the Yi river which was very beautiful. The cities tourism board gave us all umbrellas which we needed as the rain continued.

The evening was low key. Yeah! My husband and I watched a little Chinese television. After the buffet dinner pizza was brought in again. My girls and husband went down and indulged and I got an early start on bedtime.

Day seven

Day seven begins with our arrival in Lou yang. As we walked through the train station to our buses we were greeted by dancers in costume and dignitaries. Our hotel was much more comfortable than the one in Beijing and after a breakfast buffet, our director canceled the morning activities in favor of an opportunity to nap and shower before lunch and our 2 pm performance.
The show was in the center of a courtyard of shops and we saw some very interesting performances by the local provinces. There was a Chinese group that did Irish step dancing, a man who did Chinese tongue twisters and some very good acrobats. There was also some excerpts from Chinese opera, body builders and performers from other countries.

After a trip by the arena where the cultural parade will be tomorrow we returned to the hotel for our buffet dinner.
A group of us went to a water fountain show, supposedly the largest in China. When we returned to the hotel, our director had ordered pepperoni pizzas for us all!

Day Six

This was a difficult day for our family. My husband was ill during the night, probably from something he ate at the closing banquet. He was still unwell in the morning but we are checking the luggage to be left in Beijing and not returning to the hotel until the end of the trip.
Before heading to the train station we visited The Great Wall. My husband rested on the bus and my girls and I went to check it out. I didn't get very far as the steps are steep and it's quite the hike up to the top. My girls both managed it and were extremely proud of themselves!

My two girls at the top of the Great Wall!
The view from above through the smog
We had a quick tour of the cloisonne factory; we literally walked through on our way to the restaurant for lunch. They served the most unusual dish so far-a prepared fish with its' head and tail still on. No one was feeling up to the challenge so the dish went untasted. After lunch we had a few moments to shop and then we were off to the train station.
The train station experience was, for me at least, the lowest point of the trip. The station was incredibly crowded and we did not have tickets.

The Chinese tourism board had arranged for the cultural festival to travel on a special sleeping train that was not scheduled so what would have been a 6 hour train ride expanded into 15 hours as it had to stop for long periods of time to allow the scheduled trains to pass. There was a lot of confusion as to what cars our group was to travel in and the cars themselves were enclosed. My claustraphobia kicked in and I had to get off the car. A kindhearted woman who was traveling with us gave me something to calm me and our studio director moved me to another car that was more open. I managed to sleep most of the night as did my husband who was still recovering.
My oldest daughter loved the train trip, however. She said it was like a big sleepover!

Day five

The stone boat at the Summer Palace

Today is a sightseeing day. First we visited the Summer Palace where the empress Americans refer to as the Dragon Lady spent her summers.

We walked along the longest corridor and were able to take a boat ride across the lake.

We all had a great chuckle as the tour guides chided us that we could not miss the boat or we would be left and all three guides plus the tour organizer were left standing on the dock! Needless to say, they managed to hurry across on another boat and were spared being left behind.
We had a buffet lunch at a tourist restaurant that had spaghetti, french fries and pizza. We could also purchase ice cream. From the restaurant we visited the pearl factory. Parents were ushered into the golden room where the most expensive items were and given a crash course on how to buy quality pearls. You could also choose your pearls and have them strung as you watched. We next visited the jade factory where they explained the varying degrees of jade and gave us a brief tour of where they carve the jade. Once again, the adults were ushered into the golden room where very eager and persistent sales persons attempted to sale very expensive pieces of jade. The director of our studio arrived and met us at the jade factory. We were all cheered to have her join us, although she came directly from the airport and must have been exhausted.
After this big day of shopping we attended the closing ceremonies for the Beijing cultural festival. The ceremonies took place in a closed amusement park.

They had a large buffet and each cultural group performed again. My eldest daughter's hair clip flew off during our performance and landed in the flowers around the stage! Losing a costume accessory is a big offense and Alex, the guide on her bus, crawled under the cameras and retrieved it, saving the day for us. When we returned to the hotel, we had to repack for the trip to Lou yang as we can only carry one small suitcase each on the train.

Day four

The dancers have a performance at the Beijing Botanical Gardens. All the groups from the parade gave a 5 minute performance before a panel of Chinese dignitaries. Our parents were allowed to sit on the steps behind the dignitaries so we had a great view.

After the performance there was a sale of donated items from each country with proceeds to benefit the Beijing children's hospital. My eldest daughter and I met a young mother, her daughter and her father-in-law. She had studied at the University of Michigan and her husband was still in the USA finishing his masters degree.
All the participants of the Cultural Festival were treated to a lovely outdoor banquet.

They provided a microphone and invited everyone to participate in karaoke. Many of our girls sang and then a young French group sang. Some of the French musicians played When the Saints and many joined in a conga line and danced around the tables. It was great fun and a highlight of the trip so far.
After the banquet, we boarded the buses for the silk factory. We were treated to a fashion show of modern and traditional silk outfits. They showed us how they make silk thread and blankets and then gave us a few hours to shop.

Dinner was a special treat to a restaurant known for its' Peking duck. We learned that "Peking" is another word for Beijing and that they have been serving duck prepared this way for 180 years. My oldest daughter and a few of her friends ate what is considered a delicacy: raw duck wing. She said that it wasn't bad but she didn't need to eat it again!
We finished the evening by attending a Kung Fu show. It was a musical story of a young monk who becomes the Kung Fu master. It was very well done and the performances were great but it was very hot where we were seated and we all had a difficult time staying awake! Thankfully, tomorrow's wake up call isn't until 8 am.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day Three

Today is the day for the parade. We squeezed in a little extra sleep, had breakfast and then headed over to the parade. We had no idea what to expect. The guide had us walk behind our dancers to our VIP seating and we found ourselves walking the parade route! It was quite exciting with people waving at us and taking our pictures. We got some idea of what it would be like for our dancers.

Our seats were in a covered area next to the judges seating and we had a great view of where the groups would stop and perform for the judges. It was so much fun to see all the other performers and of course, we were extremely proud of our dancers.

One of our girls twisted her ankle during the performance and had to take an ambulance to the hospital and have it x-rayed. It was nerve wracking for us all but more so for her mom, who spent two hours in a foreign hospital.
The rest of us took the bus to Tienanmen Square. On the way to the restaurant we saw two of the buildings built for next year's Olympic games, the bird's nest, where they will hold cycling events and the water cube for some of the water sports.

Outside the restaurant were many sellers. Everything was "One dalla, One dalla". My husband bought two chairman Mao watches for our sons at home.
When we approached the square, a guard stopped our guides who carried large American flags for us to follow. They weren't going to allow us on the square until they explained we were tourists. They still had to roll the flags up!

Once we were on the square there were many more sellers who were incredibly persistent. Many of our folks had great fun bargaining and shopping. My husband and I walked down to the far gate away from the crowd and a young Chinese couple approached us and asked us where we were from. They attended the Beijing University and were delighted to practice their English with us. They offered to give us a tour of the gate, but our time was up and we had to board the buses again.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a shopping store "like a Wal-mart" our guides told us. It was very crowded and had everything from cameras and TVs to buckets of fish and whole chickens hanging. We had a hard time finding snack foods that were recognizable but our family did get Snicker bars and diet cokes.
After our arrival back to the hotel and after the hotel dinner, many went over to the Pizza Hut nearby. I was exhausted and went straight to bed but my husband and two girls ventured out. My hubby brought me a piece of pepperoni pizza. Yummy.

Day Two

Our day started out with a 5:30 am wake-up call. There were some strange goings on in the night. My husband said a woman knocked on our door at 10 p.m.(I was asleep)and asked "Massagee?". He declined. Other folks reported mysterious phone calls with people speaking in Chinese to them and then hanging up. Maybe we're just sleep deprived!
Breakfast was at 7 a.m. The hotel was a little overwhelmed so the breakfast buffet took a while. We were divided into 3 buses for the duration: the Senior dancers, the Junior dancers and some of their parents, and a parent bus. My husband and I were on the parent bus. Our guide went by the name Winnie. She did a great job for us, explaining the sites before we arrived and getting us to the cleaner restrooms.

Our first stop was the Forbidden City. Due to the size of the palace and our time constraints, we pretty much just walked through and took some photos. It was an impressive place. Winnie told us that the Empress used the kingdom's budget for an entire year to build it. There are 9000 rooms in it!

After our walk through, we had lunch at the Forbidden City tourists' restaurant. The food was quite good and everyone got a kick out of the unusual sinks in the restroom. They had red lower women's bodies attached to the front's of them.
We boarded our buses for the ride to the rehearsal for the big parade. They parked the buses in a large parking lot of a university and after unloading, everyone walked over to a large track field to rehearse. First, there was lots of socializing with some of the other cultural groups that will also be performing. The company was interviewed for Chinese television and got a chance to be photographed with lots of different groups.

They are number 37 in the parade and it was in the mid 80's so it got quite uncomfortable. We were able to sit in the shade and watch the other groups, but the dancers had to stand in the sun. The entire rehearsal took about two and a half hours and they were exhausted by the end of it.
Our day isn't over yet, however. We boarded the buses for an hour and a half ride to the Beijing Polytechnic Institute. At the university we had our first major cultural shock: the squat toilet. Most people, myself included, made the best of it and soldiered on. But most of us also never truly adapted.

The Institute provided a buffet dinner for us and then hosted a show with our dancers, performers from the institute and performers from the art school. Our dancers performed several small group numbers as well as one large production number. The art school performers had drummers and a group that did a very beautiful dance with oriental fans. There was also a few Chinese singers. There was a gift exchange between our dance company and the other performers, which is apparently the Chinese way, and then we made the long ride back to the hotel totally exhausted.