2010 September: China/Tibet
China/Tibet Sept 4-20, 2010
I've learned a lot about China. I was fascinated about changing landscapes, amazed about the government control of different phases of people's lives, impressed with acrobatic shows. Many many hard-to-believe things.... Eye-openers. My most dreaded expectations...dirty public toilets....were non-existent in most cases. I was pleasantly surprised how clean the cities were.
My China/Tibet trip started from Beijing under the sizzling temperature of 32°C in the vail of smog and pungent gas fume. The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square were not at all impressive except for its’ sizes. Miles of walking on concrete, going up and down on uneven steps in the uncomfortable climate in the polluted air made the visit unpleasant to say the least, relieved a little by clearer air at The Great Walls. Beijing and its’ nearby imperial city, Tenjin had some impressive aspects as well. The cities were CLEAN, with workers constantly picking garbage, cleaning and polishing floors etc, due to last year’s Olympics, I surmise.
Xian in the interior was just as hot. The Terra Cotta Museum was just stifling.
All was not bad. Seeing the gate in Xian where the Silk Road started was very interesting. As we flew to Lhasa, Tibet where we were welcomed with beautiful landscape of short vegetations hugging rugged rocks and semi-arid desert surrounding recently flooded Lhasa River. Again it was an unseasonably hot temperature from 29 -39°C during our 4 days there. Before Tibet, our guides during our visits to Beijing, Tenjin, and Xian continually emphasized money as an important goal in their lives. That is, until we reached Tibet. Tibetans’ main, if not the only, emphasis is Buddhism. They are distinctly different from Chinese. They are very gentle and obliging people with unique culture and language. Dalai Lama’s Potala Palace was impressive, but needing much maintenance. Official version of the population in Tibet is supposed to be 15% Chinese and 85% Tibetan. Obviously not so. Just by looking around, Chinese occupy much more than 50% of the population. Oppression and tight grip of the Chinese government over the Tibetan people and their culture is deeply felt by many Tibetans, majority of whom cannot get their Chinese passports. Today, Tibetan language is not totally erased, but plays a small and minor role in store and other signs.
From Lhasa, we flew to Chongqing where the Yantze River Cruise started. Chongqing is a city of 32 million people. Humidity, 34°C, pollution and the smell of the upper Yantze almost made me stay in the observation deck of the ship. But no. I’m there to experience and see China, so I went to the upper deck to see the dirty ochre Yantze gradually turn to moss green as we passed the Three Gorges. There are may evidences of farmlands and industries being submerged by the dam. Boatmen who used to manually guide ships before the dams were built, took us on one of the Yantze tributaries to see unusual rock formations and lush greeneries. Going through five lochs was interesting in that 5 ships formed a group in 2 rows to go down together. The Three Gorges Dam under construction is humongous.
Following 4 days and 3 nights on the River Cruise, we flew from Yichang to Shanghai, a totally different city from any other cities in China we saw, where rows and rows of rectangular box-like buildings are common. Shanghai has a variety of different shaped modern buildings combined with foreign influences made it a very unique look. Evidences of French, English and Italian concessions are still intact and made the city hold its unique place in the history of China.
I was taken aback by the image of Mao Tse Tung on every currency denomination. His large images is still facing The Tiananmen Square. A reverence for him is due in fact to a lack of knowledge on the part of Chinese populace about Mao’s elimination of a large number of educated, well-to-do, and political opponents. For that matter, they don’t seem to know much about The Tiananmen Massacre, either.
It was good to see China and Tibet. But it’s time to reflect on how lucky we are for what we have.
2009 November: Egypt
My Egypt Tour Oct-Nov, 2009
I saw the magnificent temples and tombs of the old. It was humbling to witness locals carry on alongside the ancient monuments as they always have, as a part of their daily lives. On arrival in Cairo, I was greeted with unseasonal temperature at this time of the year, 33°C. The old Egyptian Museum was awesome, but boiling and stewing at around 45°C, with no air conditioning, nor the temperature controls for their precious antiquities. I was agast to see Tutumkamen's gold gilded crown chair displayed openly as though to invite disasters from careless onlookers. Further down in Luxor, the entire place including the Luxor and Karnac temples, is an open air museum. In spite of over 50°C sizzler I went into 3 tombs in the vast Valley of the Kings and marvelled at well-preserved thousands-year old art works and hieroglyphs. Aswan, the most southern city along the Nile is a beautiful place with many small islands, again surrounded by antiquities in the open-air. On the west of the Nile is Western Desert, the east end of the mighty Sahara. It's the second time I've encountered the Sahara, the last being from the Atlas Mountains side in Morocco two years ago. Close to the Sudanese border on the Nile are the famous temples of Abu Simbel. I was thrilled to witness the colosal statues of Ramses ll, saved from the rising waters of Lake Nasser by UNESCO financed operation. (at a cost of $40million US.) My final days were back in Cairo to see the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.