So many holiday memories to be made in China

In case you have other names for the Chinese, be aware they call us the big noses. Mostly they are slim and not as tall; our group, mostly retirees, was “big size”.

Be prepared for hours in queues at airports, the longest and most tiresome you have ever encountered; carry your valuables carefully and be aware your passport and visa will be checked often, not only at airports but at hotels as well.

Drink only bottled water as tap water is “second water”.

Generally, about a dozen different dishes are offered at lunch and the evening meal – rice and noodles, duck and chicken, beef and mushrooms, beans and tofu and always soup.

The Chinese do not eat dessert.

The streets are alive with workers continually sweeping up bits of rubbish or the dust that comes in from the Gobi Desert just 120km from Beijing.

Many vendors try to catch your attention, but avoid eye contact.

Cyclists, rickshaws, motorbikes and taxis rush through the traffic lights, which give only a slight indication of what to do. The general rule is to drive on the right but we noticed road rules seem to be up to the individual. The roads are dangerous for pedestrians who mostly cross on overhead bridges.

The population of Beijing is 22 million registered persons – the same as all of Australia. Authorities believe there are another five million who are not registered.

Pleasant tree-lined streets and beautiful garden beds established for the 2008 Olympic Games are well maintained and a symbol of national pride.

In the dry summer heat on busy roads we marvelled at the world’s best roses. Hanging baskets and beds of brightly coloured petunias, poppies, begonias and daylilies contrasted with the harshness of grey concrete.
China is a nation of tea drinkers and there are many different teas to try. Coffee drinkers will be disappointed, as apart from the occasional (rare) Starbucks and McCafe, there is only instant.

Tourist traps are many but nevertheless great showplaces –  so-called factories with jade, silk, tea, herbal medicine and enamel embossing.

Silk Street Market in Beijing is made up of hundreds of little boutiques in one five-storey building and the pace is furious.

Vendors in arcades shout their wares – the latest ski gear, silk dresses and shirts, shoes, accessories, watches, pearls, jade, leather, custom-made suits, Versace and Gucci or best imitation!

Remember to bargain. Whatever they say, you say less and even begin to walk away. Quickly do your calculations: 100 Chinese yuan is about $20.  If they want to sell you will soon settle on a price, but beware of the vendor who offers five, six or seven watches for 100 yuan, no guarantees.

Ingeniously in the arcade, a shop on my left sells only left shoes. The assistant quickly runs across to the shop on my right to match the pair.  

“Too tight,” I say and escape.

“Remember to bargain. Whatever they say, you say less and begin to walk away”

“Come back, come back, my sister, my sister, come back,” the vendor calls.

A tourist needs comfortable walking shoes as there are many kilometres to be walked and many stairs to be climbed.

The monuments, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Great Wall are awe-inspiring but all involve long walks.

From Beijing, we travelled by fast train to Yichang, a small city of 1.4 million people. The distance was 1525km, about the same from Brisbane to Cairns, but the fast train travelling at 300km per hour takes less than seven hours with stops.

From the windows, we saw open plains, with farmers working in rice fields with water buffalo and tractors; farms for ducks and pigs; market gardens; industrial areas around cities and many new buildings. The Chinese are always building so it’s no surprise that more than half the world’s concrete is used in China.

At Yichang we boarded the cruise ship, Victoria Katerina which takes about 300 passengers, to travel 600km to Chongking over four days on the magnificent Yangtse, the third largest river in the world at 3600km long.

The river is busy day and night with other cruise boats and boats carrying cars, logs, gravel and farm produce.

From Chongking we flew to Xi’an, which was China’s capital for more than a thousand years.

Xi’an was at the end of the great Silk Road from Europe. Stories of Marco Polo went through my head.

Emperor Qin’s tomb has been guarded since 210 BC by an incredible terracotta army of 7000 soldiers, archers, horses and chariots in full battle array.

Like the Great Wall, the tomb is one of the wonders of the world. Each figure is unique and the excavation continues in three pits which are protected by enormous hangars.

Xi’an’s Provisional Museum is among the best in the world and exhibits the entire history of China from Neolithic times.

When the time came to catch the plane home, I was already thinking of a return. After all someone there is claiming me as a relative: “Come back, come back, my sister, my sister, come back”.

Caption: Audienne Blyth is surprised by the beautiful floral displays in hot, busy streets.