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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Playa del Carmen

A few days of rest and relaxation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We stayed at an amazing resort, the Aventura Spa Palace.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Beijing, March 2011

I'm sure you can't do Beijing in a day, but how I tried!

After arriving in Beijing on the overnight train from Shanghai, we had a tough time actually trying to find how to get out of the train station to the cab line. We finally did, and waited in a long long cab line. Of course, after getting in the cab, the driver didn't understand where we wanted to go. I tried to google it, and finally he understood the neighborhood that we were trying to get to.  We stayed at a Japanese hotel, the New Otani Chang Fu Gong. It was a five star hotel, and was fairly nice.

After we refreshed and had lunch, we hired a driver who would take us around for the day. First, we went to The Forbidden City, the ancient home of the Chinese Emperors, where no men other than the Royal Family were allowed unless they were eunuchs. We learned from our tour guide Thomas that the Emporer had two official wives and lots of concubines.

Inside the Forbidden City

The Last Emperor, Puyi, born in 1906, ruled until 1912 . (He ruled again for 12 days in 1917.) He died in 1967, but we met his nephew, who is a master calligrapher.

After leaving the Forbidden City, we drove an hour and a half to Badaling to see the great wall. As we were almost there, I saw the hills in the distance with the Great Wall snaking its way across. It was amazing to see my first glimpse.

First glimpse of the Wall from the taxi

When we arrived in Badaling, we took a gondola up the hill to the wall. It was breathtaking!

More shots of the Great Wall:

On the way back home, I wanted to go to Tiananmen Square. We had been right at it when we were at Forbidden City, but didn't really have the time to go. But I couldn't leave Beijing without seeing it. Our driver took us there, and then let me out rather reluctantly, telling me not to take pictures. Scarlet and I got out and walked to the square from a side street near the Great Hall of the People (parliamentary building pictured below). I took pictures (with cameras on every pole pointing in every direction.) Suddenly, throngs of people were walking toward us, and soldiers and police would not allow us to go back in the direction we came from. We did not know what was going on at the time, but figured later that they were just closing the square and wanting everyone to leave. It was probably almost an hour before we were able to wind our way back to our driver because we had to walk around Tiananmen Square the in almost a complete circle from where we started, crossing the streets underground at each corner in the vast crowd of people leaving the square as it closed for the evening.

Frank standing in Tiananmen Square

人民大會堂 - Great Hall of the People, Western Edge of Tiananmen Square
After we finally got back to our hotel, we had a nice dinner, and went to sleep before our early flight back to the U.S. the next day.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Shanghai, China

I left for Shanghai, China on February 28 (connecting in Detroit) and landed in China on the evening of March 1. The 7000 mile flight also had a 13 hour time difference, so by the time we landed, I really didn't know what day it was. We checked into the Marriott Changfeng Park, a really beautiful hotel.

The next morning I had a delicious breakfast of rice cakes, fried dumplings, mushrooms and buns before riding out to the site of where we will be building Habitat homes in May, Pinghu. It took about an hour and a half to get out to Pinghu, a rural area with a number of factories. I can tell this will be a good build by the way the friendly neighbors come out to say hello and meet us.


Build site

Neighbors at the build site
Everyone comes out to greet us!

After returning from Pinghu, we visited a temple called the Jade Buddha Temple.

Jade Buddha Temple
Monk at Jade Buddha Temple
For dinner, we ate at a restaurant called South Beauty, where I tried many interesting dishes, including pork lung, which was actually quite good.

Pork Lung 
That night, we attended an acrobatic show called ERA. It was really amazing, and beautifully produced.

Shanghai at night
The next day, after meeting with the hotel team and touring the property, we went to an area called Yuyuan for lunch at a dim sum place called Ding Tai Feng. In the picture below, you see one of their specialties, Xiao Long Bao (steamed soup buns.) Delicious!

With Sheryl at Ding Tai Feng
Afterwards we did a little shopping in Yuyuan market. Some street scenes:

One of the more interesting things I saw while shopping was a vat of fried baby birds. This I did not try.

Fried baby birds

We also visited Yuyuan Garden, classical Chinese garden architecture built in 1559 as a private garden of a government administrator.

Inside Yuyuan Garden

Before leaving Yuyuan, I found a little store that was basically an "everything is less than a dollar" store. Mama would have been proud. I bought her a 'prize' there too. We then did some more 'upscale' shopping in an area called Tianzifang which had cute shops on narrow streets.

That night, we had dinner at Yuan Yuan, on Huaihai Road. The food was good, and obviously very fresh.

Flounder and Crab "Before"
Flounder "After"
Crab "After"
After dinner, we returned briefly to the hotel before going to Hongqiao Railway station for our overnight trip to Beijing. I had reserved "soft sleeper" which is a cabin with two bunk beds sleeping four people. Sheryl and I were in one, sharing with two Chinese strangers. It made for an interesting evening. (We were in train car 2 and ran to find Scarlet in her "Deluxe Soft Sleeper" in car 9.)

Inside Hongqiao Railway Station

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