Study Tour Blogs

The Great Wall of China

On the second day (July 15th) of our Wild China tour we woke up early and took a van ride into the countryside to visit the Great Wall of China. Howard gave us a nice history and explanation of the importance of the Great Wall to China. I echoed some of what he had taught us in preparation for our visit. We had a beautiful day to explore the wall. Some chose to take the gondola ride up to the wall and others climbed a steep set of steps to get up to the wall. We were fortunate to arrive earlier in the morning. Initially there were not many people there so we practically had the Great Wall of China to ourselves. The setting was beautiful and we were able to see for miles when we were up on the wall. For me it was very surreal - this small town Minnesota boy is actually walking on the Great Wall of China!
We spent half a day exploring the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. This impressive piece of man made engineering is one of the most recognizable national symbols in China. It stretches for more than 3000km and was built over a span of 2000 years. It was originally built to protect China from the Mongolian invaders from the north. It is one of the largest and most extensive construction projects ever built over many generations of people. In 1987 the Great Wall was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is truly one of the Seven Wonders of the world!
Our visit to the Great Wall was memorable for all of us. Unfortunately it was a location where one of our group member's miss-step caused her to have an ankle injury. This unfortunate accident threatened to put an early damper on our China tour as Regina was in pain and had to decide wither to continue on her trip in China. It was nice to see that from this time forward our whole group rallied in support and help for Regina and each other throughout our trip in China. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we were impressed with Regina's positive, tough-minded determination. We are glad you stayed for the whole trip!
I hope everyone is doing well and adjusting to your post-China lives. It was nice meeting and getting to know all of you! Please let me know if any of you visit the great state of Minnesota. I am always up for visitors! It was an honor and privilege to for me to join you on this great adventure in China. It was a trip of a life time for me and I will always remember it and all of you who made it so memorable for me! Thank you!

Click an image to zoom with description

  • The Great Wall of China
  • The Great Wall of China
  • The Great Wall of China
  • The Great Wall of China
  • The Great Wall of China
  • The Great Wall of China
  • The Great Wall of China
  • The Great Wall of China

Esther Smith
Our arrival in Lijiang at 1:30 a.m. after bussing to the Chengdu airport and waiting for a delayed flight gave little clue to the pleasant day to follow. We bleary eyed travelers dragged our luggage up concrete steps in a crooked alley to arrive at an inn with darkened courtyard.
Later in the morning we awakened to a sunny guest house courtyard with breakfast on the roof which gave a panoramic view of Lijiang. Spread before us was the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town Dayan and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain beyond.
Our walking tour took us to Dayan, just a few blocks from the guest house, and along a shaded canal leading to Black Dragon Pool. The ancient stone bridge there is featured in many photos, with the mountain as a backdrop. Unseen, on the other side of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, is Tiger Leaping Gorge, our next destination.
Lijiang is the center of the Naxi ethnic culture, with distinctive language, dress, architecture and arts. Reconstruction following an earthquake in 1996 called it to the world's attention, and it has become a tourist destination, even though most of the buildings are actually replicas of the original.It is located at the confluence of three rivers and is threaded with canals.The canals run alongside cobbled streets, which now are lined with souvenir shops, tea houses and familiar Western fast food stops, like KFC and Dunkin Donuts. Women in red and white Naxi garb, drenched in silver jewelry, sell traditional crafts or plastic toys alongside young women in stylized updates catering to tourists.
Following our walking tour, singly, in pairs and in groups, we mingled with Chinese tourists crowiding the streets, bridges and kiosks, or sought out quieter ways to explore the unique culture and terrain.
A group of us hired a driver to take us to the nearby village of Baisha. Baisha had been the capital of the prefecture before being replaced by Lifiang and is now a sleepy rural town whose Naxi culture seemed to me to be more authentically maintained. Old men played traditional flutes and stringed instruments near a dusty welcome sign as we walked to the Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute. We saw master embroiderers passing on their skills to the next generation. The Chinese government has recognized the institute and subsidizes the efforts to maintain this ethnic craft. Also in Baisha we saw 500 year old frescos depicting homemaking and religious scenes. The murals reflect the integration of Han, Buddhist an Daoist religious themes. The Naxi religion has elements of animism, as well.
The Dongba Cultural Institute was a destination for some. There, Dongba priests demonstrated hieroglyphic writing. The Dongba language is the only remaining written word using pictographs.
The Mu Palace, home of the family that ruled Lijiang for 400 years, provided both exercise and glimpses of the opulent lifestyle of regional magistrates. Covering over 16 acres, with about 100 buildings at the Mu's zenith of power, the residence is patterned after the Forbidden City.
There were many other opportunities for hiking, shopping, mingling and people watching. At night, Old Town became even more lively, with spontaneous circle dancing in the plaza by the water wheel.

I'll post photos when I can access my own computer, which has some glitches right now. I'm posting this from the local library.

We arrive by bus in Kunming, late in the afternoon on day 16 of the tour. We head out to a group dinner on the metro and walk through a bustling city that has a modern feel. After a few corners are turned, we are walking through a cosmopolitan business district with tree lined streets and high end clothing stores. I inhale, in a Manhattan kind of way, and think this is familiar. Before dinner we stop quickly at a traditional market where we locate the bird and flower market written up in the itinerary. I am particularly excited to see this since I do so appreciate both. It is, may I find the correct words, not as I imagined. The haphazard array of multiple animal species, as well as birds, in small cages is distressing. I lunge into, 'time to split,' mode and quickly make my way through the market of trinkets to our meeting spot. I never saw the flowers...
At dinner, we are asked by our guide Howard, for a group photo requested by a member of the wait staff. She has never seen Westerners and wants to encapsulate the experience digitally. This amazes me, and I wonder if it could really be true, and then I wonder about her life and experiences. Throughout our stay, we enjoy many photography experiences with the Chinese. They often ask if they can take pictures with us, and they are usualy friendly and willing when we ask the same. I know it is not wise to generalize in a country of 1.4 billion people, of multiple ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, but by and large, in my experience, the Chinese are very friendly!
Our stay in Kunming is short. We head out the next day at noon for Yangshou. Before hand though, some of us go to the City Museum to see the exhibit on the Flying Tigers, the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force in 1941. This is quite fascinating, and I would highly recommend doing a search or two if you are not already familiar.
Goodbye Kunming...

Click an image to zoom with description

  • Kunming
  • Kunming
  • Kunming

Impression theater- Sanjie Liu in Guilin

It was with over 600 performers we watched several tales of ancient China told on water with lights, song and dance. Feel free to go to YOUTUBE to check out Impression Sanjie Liu for short excerpts of the moving stage, floating landscapes and much more. It was like Cirque de Soleil on water!

Click an image to zoom with description

  • arriving at the theater
  • enjoying the anticipation of what is to come
  • sunsets on the water park theater
  • we await the little woman to dance upon the moon

Forest of Steles in Xian China, XZian Beilin Museum- Linda Keels

My roommate Pam and I elected to tour the Forest of Steles while in Xian and were glad not to have missed the opportunity. Seeing the actual prints being copied in such a large scale was a real prod to my thoughts regarding how I might get my middle years students to make prints when I return to work in the fall. That and the fact that the artisans of the Steles had to have hands made of steel but with the drawing skill of use of a feather to carve so neatly the writings of Confucius.

Click an image to zoom with description

  • Entrance to the Forest of Steles
  • Tourists watch as the prints are made
  • A stele ready for printing
  • From the tomb of court affliate

Travel to the Tea Lodge- Hike, Pony, Mule or Van- Linda Keels

Well, as a non hiker and self avowed city girl, I elected to forgo the 5-51/2 hour trek up the hill as we made our way through Tiger Leaping Gorge.
My asthma was noticeably absent from the two days we were there. The ride on the narrow rode in the van gave all of us a spectacular site, though I was assured that those who hiked it up and down or took advantage of the farmer and his back packing animal that we missed out on even better views. I suggest that for those nature lovers you would be in paradise, but for those of us city folks, a quick day trip up and back is plenty. Decide for yourself and let me know which works for you.

Click an image to zoom with description

  • atop the gorge way on high at the Tea Lodge
  • Tea Lodge two
  • Roof top Tea Lodge three
  • Roof top Tea Lodge four

Terra Cotta Warriors- Linda Keels

Hello, I elected not to take any electronic device other than my cell phone and camera. So now after having rested I am blogging. My topic for discussion was the famous site of the Terra cotta Warriors. Made from clay thousands of years ago, found by farmers looking to dig a well these warriors with their tools, clay horses and other earthen made vessels work to protect the tomb of the emperor. I was surprised to see that the statues were indeed as tall as it had been reported by the website and that work in the pits is continuing although at a slow pace. I was unaware that due to war, the workers did not get to fill all of the pits and left one noticeably empty. I tend to believe the prevailing theory that the soldiers were put together using team work due to nature of the detail and the fact that the drying and shaping process would be rather difficult for one person or even several people to produce so many over a period of time with such consistency. I must admit that this exhibit was one of "bucket list" events and hope that all who are able can go to see this site. I further think that in time, when the funds and technology are right, the tomb of the emperor will be would be great if that happened during my life time.

Click an image to zoom with description

  • Soldiers from the first pit
  • Closer view of soldiers from the first pit
  • Soldier in a movement stance
  • Close up of soldier's head
  • Terra Cotta Warriors- Linda Keels

The Great Mosque in Xi'an

We had a great day today in the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an. Despite the heat the covered market was cool (relatively) and the Great Mosque was wonderful. A very interesting example of cultural fusion, Arabic symbols and writing amid a very traditional Chinese architecture.

Not sure why the images are upside down, I don't seem to be able to edit this. Sorry.

Click an image to zoom with description

  • Archway at the Great Mosque in Xi'an
  • The Great Mosque in Xi'an
  • Main prayer room.
  • The Great Mosque in Xi'an

Xi'an Muslim Quarter

Well this is a major adventure. Few of us can make Internet connections! That is why there have been no additions to the blog : I've been awaiting for connectivity for over 45 minutes sitting on a marble bench. Many mosquitoes have joined me but I'm not going upstairs to get bug spray for fear of losing y connections. Losing things/people has been a hallmark of this trip. Part of this adventure for me has been losing my 'group' at the Forbidden City. I broke a bone in my ankle right before setting out on this trip so it's the boot/cast on my left foot, I hobble slowly! With the crowd around the bus stop, and having to watch my step looking down, I lost the flag guide and all the group of 13. I crossed busy Beijing streets to try for a taxi. Thank the lord for themipad because I could bring up name of hotel, address and map. Despite my many harassment of taxis of all colors, the drivers just shook threir heads indicating NO! After what seemed like forever, another denial, this little head peaked out of a tuk-yuk to ask me "what about my taxi?" I almost jumped out of my skin! After finding someone to explain to him, I needed this specific hotel on the map, I negotiated a price, hopped in and what a ride I did have! We went on the sidewalk, road and bike lane, just weaving in / out of traffic and bodies, horn going constantly. So this vehicle is a tuk-tuk, like a tin can rickshaw. Traffic is rush hour and the driver is shifting gears like crazy. Soon I was deposited at the correct place and this experience was scary but, in the end, made me feel like a veteran traveler. Sorry about the typos and autocorrects. It doesn't add to the story! Working on my new iPad so this too is a learning experience.

What I had planned on blogging about is the topic I had written on, the Muslim Quarter in the city of Xi'an. The group is in Xi'an after taking a hard sleeper train from Beijing over night. That also was an adventure: another of our group sprained her ankle on the Great Wall, so now there are two of us hobbling. Regina is riding in a wheel chair while I'm wearing a boot on my left foot. We do make an odd image walking through the streets of wherever! People do stare at our group wherever we go. Yesterday we visited or revisited the part of Xi'an where the famous Great Mosque is left after all the activities of the Sik Road. Many Hui Muslims made their new home in Xi'an after trading along the Silk Road,and built a place of worship here. The mosque is used for prayer and the dwellers in this part of town continue their tradition of trading their wares in the market street in this part of town. We had a delightful shopping/bargaining expedition in this part of town on a very sunny, hot day. Although hot and tired, all of us arrived at the hotel content with our bargains. I will try to upload some photos....could be tricky because all of our group took to the street around our hotel to explore. So without any technical assistance, I'll try to upload. Here we go..........

Click an image to zoom with description

Having a moment at the Forbidden City!