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China 2007

20 day Viking River Cruise tour in China to Celebrate our 25th Anniversary!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007 – Arrive in San Francisco at 11:30 am, called Cindy and she picked us up with her hummer.  That night Chuck made steaks on the grill and a pork loin.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007 – Went to an eye appointment for Ron.  Doctor charged him $153 for an eye exam and $60 for some other procedure.  Frames were $266, lenses over $300, outdoor darkening tint was $125.  After taxes it came to over $1,100 for a pair of glasses and contacts prescription.  We picked up Sally at 4pm.  Cindy showed me how to make lasagna and Sally loved it.

Friday, June 1, 2007 – Took Sally to work, then headed to Frys to buy some electronic toys.  Ron bought Paul and Donna’s son a radio controlled hummer.  Met Paul and Donna for dinner at their home, a yearly custom which we missed seeing them in February.  Their son Tyler is growing fast like all small kids and he’s now very talkative and social, a big change over 1 year.  Had a nice visit.

Saturday, June 2, 2007 – Ron and I went to Circuit City and I bought a portable DVD player to use on the airplane, Ron bought a small photo printer.  Then at Ross he bought a pair of pants.  We went back and prepared the house for dinner.  Made Joey’s kielbasa and sauerkraut with bacon and potatoes.  Chuck grilled chateaubriand on the grill and shrimp kabobs.  Earlier some bees went into a frenzy in their patio area.  Watched Jackass 2 movie, pretty funny.  Picked up mom from the airport from Michigan.

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Sunday, June 3, 2007 – Cindy and Chuck took us to the airport.  10.5 hours later and 4 in flight movies, we were in Beijing.  Since we were going with the sun we crossed the international date line and with the time change of 6 hours it was only 2pm on Monday.  We transferred to the hotel, I was surprised how modern and clean the city was.  Flying in it looked like any city in the USA with modern highways and buildings.  On the way to the hotel the guide talked about how Beijing has grown in recent years and how the city is laid out in roads that ring the city.  As we got more into downtown I was still amazed how clean the streets were with minimal graffiti.  We arrived at the hotel and took a 2.5 hour nap.

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The lobby “reading” area!

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The outdoor garden and tea area, WOW!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007 – Tiananmen Square & The Forbidden City.  As we walked to the square there were lots of people selling things but luckily they were not so aggressive.  People were selling all sorts of crazy toys on the street (I regret that I didn’t buy the squishy liquid toy that regains it’s shape when you splat it on the ground.)  The square is 110 acres and is said to be the world’s largest.  It was very impressive and had Mao’s tomb and several monuments.  Kind of creepy to see where the students demonstrated in front of the tanks at the opening into the Forbidden City.  Completed in 1420 in only 14 years the city is home to 9,999 buildings.  9 being a lucky number.  It was hot and a lot of walking but WOW was it impressive.  Had a forgettable buffet lunch but the cold beer sure hit the spot.  Next was the Qing Dynasty’s summer palace where the Imperial family spent the summer next to an immense man made lake.  There is a long walk way where the empress would walk which appears to go on forever with hand painted murals along the way.  We took a dragon boat ride back to our bus.  That night was a Peking duck dinner, they said a well trained chef can cut a 1 kilo duck into 120 pieces, all having some of the crackling skin attached.  After dinner was a Peking opera of screeching singing and some fighting acrobatics, luckily it was only ˝ hour long.

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June 2007 / Tiananmen Square & The Forbidden City

Wednesday, June 6, 2007 – Took a bus to the Great Wall at one point they said it stretched over 6,200 miles, now it’s about 3,000 miles long.  The section of the wall was amazing, nearly 28 feet tall and wide enough for 10 people across.  We decided to take the steeper route because the guide said it would be less people.  My brother Joey gave us some shirts to wear that had the name of his company he started on them, so I took some pics of Ron with his “Weekends are a Drag” logo on them on top of the Great Wall.  We stopped for a cold beer after the walk and WOW did that taste good as we were dripping with sweat.  A girl at the booth wanted to know the word for bracelet and necklace so she could say the words to tourists.  I had to write it down for he, then she made the symbols in Chinese, then pronounced it pretty well reading the Chinese letters, bizarre!

I wanted a man’s silk robe, but she wanted 900 Yuan for it which is like $122 USA, I laughed as I only wanted to spend $20 USA.  You’re supposed to bargain but she wasn’t going down much, so I told her I would get a cotton robe.  I bought 3 Tshirts for 200 Yuan ($27) for myself and 2 friends.

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June 2007 / Great Wall

We had lunch in a Jade factory.  There was some rice wine on the table and our guide said it was rice wine, but at 53% alcohol it was not “sake” but almost like a whiskey, the jade store was very over priced so we didn’t buy anything (except for some 53% rice wine!)

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Next we headed to the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs with a 400 year old marble gateway that is lined with 18 pairs of sculptures.  When we returned to the hotel we had 2.5 hours before dinner, I called the massage center and asked about a massage, I got a 1.45 hour massage for 650 Yuan ($88) which I thought was a bargain after all that walking.  The masseur told me it was a Chinese massage and was very strong and hard.  I loved it.  I floated to dinner which was in the hotel and was really elegant.

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June 2007 / Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs

Thursday, June 7, 2007 – Our hotel has a really fantastic buffet breakfast with Chinese dim sum and even Japanese Sushi, soup, noodles, etc.  I decided on some sushi dishes this morning, I’m usually not a big breakfast eater, but with all the walking I was trying to eat something, I still couldn’t pass up the Dim Sum choices.  They have this fruit called dragon fruit which is white with seeds throughout, I think it’s part of the Kiwi family as it resembles that in flavor. 

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Today’s tour started with a bicycle rickshaw ride through a neighborhood of “Hutongs” which are buildings built around an inner courtyard that many families would share.  The rickshaws went through some very narrow streets and even though the buildings were old and I was still surprised how clean everything was.  The Olympics are coming in 2008 and others who have visited Beijing in the past said things have changed a lot for the better.  We went into on “Hutong” and saw the interior.  Our guide explained that older people like the community feeling of living with others while the young people prefer the privacy from prying gossip eyes.  

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June 2007 / rickshaw ride through a neighborhood of “Hutongs”

Next was a stop for lunch and Ron bought some of the rice wine flasks to take on the boat for 10 Yuan ($1.35), unfortunately we remembered afterwards that we can’t take liquids on the plane and others joked about us having to drink it before getting on the plane, if we did we’d be plastered.  Yang, our guide, said we could check them separate so we’d have something to sip on the boat. 

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We then stopped at a silk rug company & had a demonstration of how they make the threads, dye them and then make the rugs.  A high quality 3x5 foot rug was about $1,500 USA.  Ron and I just watched others, there were several people who bought them and one woman ordered a 10x15 foot custom design htat would take 7 months to make to order.  We then headed to the airport for Xian.  Ah, the joys of traveling. 

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Our plane got out on the runway, taxied for awhile and then turned off their engines, lots of Chinese came over the intercom followed by lots of groans.  I eagerly awaited the English version.  They said there was something they had to check out and they’d get back to us.  Luckily it was only about 30 minutes and we were in the air.  The flight was 1.5 hours to Xian which was the original capital of China and now was 8 million people.  They said there is lots of manufacturing here and when we landed the haze and/or pollution was so thick you need a lamp in order to read.  They say the city has seen 3,100 years of development.  We were driven straight to a Tang (pronounced Tung) Dynasty dinner show.  I turned out to be in an enormous dinner theatre and we were seated right up front.  The food was quite good while 8 or 9 musicians performed while we ate.  The show started and was spectacular, more then 100 dancers, singers and musicians.  Really fantastic.

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Friday, June 8, 2007 – Waking at 6am I looked out at heavily grey skies.  I hope it’s overcast and not pollution as it’s very dark.  We’re staying again at a “Shangri-La” hotel, which sounds kitschy, but is really 5 stars and excellent.  I once again savored Dim Sum for breakfast.  A ˝ flight and we arrived at the Terra Cotta army location.  Made over 2,200 years ago and discovered in 1974, the army consists of up to 8,000 clay warriors of which 3,000 have been restored.  The pit 1 discovery site was covered with an enormous building to protect them.  As I entered the building and started to make way through the lobby to see them, my skull began to tingle, as I looked through the people to see them I could catch glimpses of them, when they finally came into view, all I could think of was WOW!  This was the most anticipated site I wanted to see on this trip and it did not disappoint me, truly TRULY spectacular. 

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June 2007 / Terra Cotta Warrior Army

We visited 3 different buildings with different artifacts, 2 buriel pits and 1 housing some bronze chariots in ˝ or 1/3 size.  The 2nd burial pit has not been excavated hardly at all as they want to find technology where the paint on the exposed terra cotta doesn’t rapidly deteriorate.

We then took the bus to the airport where we had a delicious but fast lunch and hurried to the plane for the trip to Chongqing.  Luckily the plane took off with no delays but when we arrived in Chongqing it was raining, the guide let us get our umbrellas out of our checked luggage as we were headed to see the Panda Bears at the zoo.  The bears were great and we got to see a 9 month old baby, like all babies she was very playful climbing trees, rolling around in bushes and playing with a big ball.

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We then stopped at yet another buying opportunity, an art schoool, and were given a demonstration of Chinese painting techniques.  We walked around the hall to admire the art.  There were some small bottles where the artists pained on the inside of the bottle and they were only 150 Yuan ($20USA) and I thought they would make good souvenirs for my mom and sister Cindy, we then drove to the boat.  I am still amazed how clean the city is, except for air pollution, there is no garbage in the streets and very little graffiti.  There was a steady drizzle the whole time were there and when we got to the dock there were many people offering to carry your things down the many steps to the boat.  That was fine, but with all the rain the steps were a cascading waterfall and there was no hand rail, not the greatest combination.  It was a little tricky getting down.  Then you had to walk over some floating platforms to get on to the ship. 

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Wet slippery steps we had to come down, NO hand rail!

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We put a few things away, I had a Pepsi Light that exploded in my suitcase and got all over my clothes.  We then headed to the bar to try a Yangtze Source cocktail of the day, which looked like windex, a bizarre concoction of Blue Curacao, Vodka, Sprite and Lime Juice.  Not recommended to try at home.  More and more of our group kept arriving and we kept opening up our circle to let others join.  Our second drink was a gin and tonic.  After dinner we went to our rooms as we were pretty tired.

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Balcony off our room.

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The boat we were docked along

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Saturday, June 9, 2007 – They started the day with a Tai Chi class, something I’ve always wanted to try.  There was a “Master” and a girl to interpret.  The girl was very nice and helpful but the “Master” did not look very happy with a bunch of old uncoordinated people.  

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The boat left the dock after about 7:30am.  There was a Chinese lesson, I thought since I can’t learn Spanish I might have better luck with Chinese, not a chance!

After lunch we visited the “Snow Jade Cave” a really beautiful cave with stalagmites and crystal formations, it was a little tight in some areas with lots of gushing water running through it, it was really remarkable. 

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June 2007 / Snow Jade Cave

I really wanted a light robe and they were making jackets on board the boat.  I asked if they could make me a robe and the woman couldn’t understand me well enough, walking back from the cave I saw some for sale, I knew they were cheap but that was fine with me.  They didn’t have my size but I was hoping they would alter it for me on the ship.

There was a captains welcome reception before dinner with some really nasty pink Chinese champagne and then right to dinner, so I missed the daily drink special of Red Pagoda.  It was made with pineapple juice, rum, triple sec and Campari which sounded kind of nasty, so maybe I was lucky I missed it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007 – I started again with the Tai Chi class at 7am.   The master still did a lot of frowning at our moves.  Today’s trip was through the Qutang Gorge which only lasted 25 minutes but was really beautiful.  We then transferred to a smaller boat to go up the Lesser Three Gorges area.  This area will change a lot once the Yangtze dam is completed in 2009 and the water level will raise from 153 meters to 175. 

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June 2007 / Lesser Three Gorges

By the time we got back, the margarita party was starting on the top sun deck, what a civilized way to watch the world go by.

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We had a wonderful Chinese dinner with many platters of really yummy stuff.  That evening we passed through the locks of the new Yangtze dam.   It was really fun to watch the Chinese men in the boat next to us skitter about yelling in Chinese.  I missed the daily drink again, Misty Forest, with Blue Curacao, white rum and orange juice.

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Monday, June 11, 2007 – I think I saw Master Lee actually smile twice today at Tai Chi.  Maybe we are improving.  Today was the Three Gorges Dam visit.  A true marvel of technology which will be completed in 2009.

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These www.engrish.com type signs crack me up!

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We had our 2nd Chinese lesson which wasn’t much more productive then the first.  There was then a vegetable carving class which was pretty impressive and gave me an excuse not to miss the daily “Dam Site” cocktail, vodka, grenadine, grapefruit and orange juice.  It was actually pretty refreshing but didn’t taste like there was any alcohol in it. 

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We had the entire afternoon off so I called for a massage, at 1.5 hours for 588 Yuan ($80), I couldn’t pass it up.  Our ship then cruised through the longest of the 3 gorges, Xiling.  As we watched the beautiful scenery go by, laying on deck lounges on the roof deck, I thought it was an extremely civilized way to travel.  Our ship docked in Jingzhou.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007 – Started again with some Tai Chi, really enjoying it outside in the fresh air at 7am.  Today was a visit to Jingzhou where Viking has sponsored a local school to help with supplies and funding.  It was really amazing to be greeted with a  procession of students, banging drums, cymbals, horns and smiles.  Then they performed several dance numbers and drum show.  They then took us into a classroom where students grabbed our hands to sit at their desk while they sang songs and read speeches.  The kids were in 2nd grade and already studying English which I thought was pretty advanced by looking at their workbook.  A passenger, Christina, was sitting next to me and started playing Patty Cake with a girl, you should have seen the kids eyes light up at the new game, they were all intently watching and started to line up to try it with her.  As we left, Bob said, “Look at all these commies running around with their little red neck scarves!”  I laughed but I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not. 

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June 2007 / Jingzhou School

That afternoon they taught us Mahjong, we had played with Gary and Colleen several years ago but I forgot everything.  I took my robe to the seamstress on board the boat to see if they could alter it, when I pulled it out of the bag she gasped, and I said, “What??”  I think she thought it was really cheap material and was shocked someone would buy such junk.  She looked at it and said “Come back on the 16th” which was our last full day on the ship.  I think it was her way of blowing me off.  We continued towards Yueyang, we docked in Chenglingji.

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For dinner that night the dessert was “fruit sushi”, I just had to try it, it was actually really nice!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007 – Today’s excursion took us to the Yueyang tower, originally built in 1045 AD.  It has been rebuilt several times since.  We had silver needle tea which was unique in that the tea is like needles that gloat up and down in the glass.  The flavor was nothing special though. 

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They had a dumpling demonstration which was fun and they gave out a recipe to try them at home. 

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There was a Martini party at 6pm and was a great excuse to break out the cards and play 500 while we sipped drinks.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007 – In Wuhan we visited the Hubei Provincial History museum where they discovered an enormous set of chime bells, they had a reconstructed set where they gave a performance, some of the bells seemed a little out of tune to me. 

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After lunch Yang took un into town for some shopping.  Again, I was impressed with how modern everything is, how clean, and the sheer numbers of people everywhere.  Yang said he would lead us to a Walmart if we wanted, I laughed about this, but then thought I needed some deodorant, liquor and some more underwear, all the staples a man needs.  A previous day there is always people selling stuff right before you get on the boat and I saw a guy selling rum and gin but when I asked him he said he wanted 300 Yuan ($41) for a bottle of gin so I said, “No”  It’s a good thing too because it turned out to be something other then what was on the label.  So I thought Walmart would be safe to buy liquor.  The girls at the counter were very helpful and nice.  Ron asked them if they had Mahjong sets in the store.  A crowd of 4 sales girls formed trying to figure out what Ron wanted.  When they figured out he wanted the boardgame Mahjong, they all laughed, covered their mouths with their hands and giggled, they were so sweet.  They said, “Sorry, we don’t have Mahjong sets”  We went to another floor and the girl wouldn’t let us in and was pointing at some lockers.  We understood this as something they do in Argentina, we went to put our previous purchases in a locker and a woman started to explain it to us in rapid Chinese.  I told her I didn’t have a 1 Yuan coin (about 14 cents) and she pulled one out of her purse and put it in the locker slot, I tried to give her a 1 Yuan bill but she wouldn’t take it.  I tried to thank her in Chinese with my “Shea shea.”

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June 2007 / Walmart Trip

On the way home we walked through a market where they sold pets.  Most of the animals were well taken care of, but some looked starved and sickly and was really terrible.  The day’s drink were Manhattans and Ron and I had a few while playing cards.

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Friday, June 15, 2007 – From Jiujiang we went on a 2 hour bus ride to Jingdezhen where they had a ceramic historical museum with demonstrations on making ceramics and displays of old kilns.  It was pretty cool to see the workers who can turn out 500 bowls a day.

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June 2007 / Jingdezhen Historical Museum

That night there was a crew cabaret show as we sailed towards t. Jiu Hua.  The servers on the boat were really fantastic and very friendly, it was great to see them performing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007 – Our last Tai Chi class and we were presented with a little diploma for taking the classes.  I tried to cryptically jot down all the moves we learned in the vain hope I might try it at home.  I took my robe to the seamstress to see if they could alter it.  She said, “Come back at 9pm and we’ll see if we can do it.”  I again felt I was getting the brush off but was determined to return. 

Every time we left the ship they had the service people line the gangplank to tell us goodbye, then welcome us back when we returned.

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Olivia - She picked her "English" name because people said she
looked like Olive Oil from Popeye

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Johnson

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Royce

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The excursion today was to Mt. Jiu Hua one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains.  The drive up the mountain side was a little hairy, but at the top was some really beautiful temples.  They had a 200 year old mummy that was incased in a gold lacquer, looked more like a monkey to me.

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June 2007 / Mt. Jiu Hua one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains

We left Chizhou and set sail for Nanjing.  This was the night of our 25th anniversary, our excuse for taking the trip.

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We ordered some cheap champagne with dinner and toasted to our good fortune.  I went to see about my robe at 9pm and I was happy to see that they were expecting me.  They told me to get my robe and I showed them what I wanted done.  Ron said he would do it for me, but I knew this guy could do it in 20 minutes, what would take Ron 2 days.  He made one soap mark on it and before he started I asked “How much?”  Everyone seemed to be in a happy mood as people were stopping by, picking up their jackets and trying them on.  The man who measured me said, “It’s free!”  I thought that was really nice of him.  I asked how long and they said to come back in one hour.  I went back and started packing and when I returned he had it all done and it looked great.  I tipped him 150 Yuan ($20) almost as much as I paid for it, but I was in a good mood and he saved Ron lots of work doing it.

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The jackets you could get custom made on the boat.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007 – After breakfast we got off the boat and had a tour of Nanjing which still has a mostly intact large city wall that was very impressive. 

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A huge Tai Chi class, probably over 200 people.

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Many blocks were stamped with the worker’s name, so if anything was found wrong with the block, the entire family would be in responsible.

Then on to Suzhou where we visited a small garden and then a silk factory. 

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June 2007 / Suzhou Garden and Silk Factory

Monday, June 18, 2007 – They took us to an area called “The Bund” a really nice area along the river.  Then a stop in the Shanghai museum which was recently built and had amazing displays. 

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The hotels we stayed at were amazing, this staircase constantly was changing colors.

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Our guide, Yang, explained how superstitious the Chinese are, 4 is an unlucky number and 13 is unlucky for north Americans, so many hotels have neither a 4th floor, 13th or 14th.

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This is what I expected to see everywhere, many people on bicycle, however, Yang explained that with the Chinese’ new prosperity, comes the desire to have an automobile and many effluent Chinese are buying cars even thought there is no room for them in the big cities.  Shanghai was really the first place we saw a lot of bicycles.

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People were buying things from the street vendors, which were incredibly cheap, someone bought a bunch of eyeglass and mustache toys, we were going to have a group photo with everyone wearing them.

Then a stop in the Shanghai museum which was recently built and had amazing displays. 

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June 2007 / Shanghai Museum

They took us into an area called “Old Shangai” and visited the Yuyuan garden.  Then a market place teaming with Chinese and foreign tourists. 

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June 2007 / Old Shangai and Yuyuan Garden

We had a walk around and saw these street vendors selling those really cool toys that you throw at the ground and they go flat like a broken water balloon, only to return to their original shape, I saw them at Tiananmen square on our first day but thought I would see them everywhere so I didn’t buy any, I was looking for them the entire trip and hadn’t seen them again and thought I was not going to find them, so it was cool to see them again.  I asked “How much?” and they said “3 for a dollar”, I couldn’t even consider trying to bargain for a lower prices so I bought 3.  Ron then bought 3 for his grand kids.  There were all these vendors selling Rolex fake watches for $2 and several guys bought some.  They looked great and were ticking, but who knows how long they would work, Frank even bought 5 for 100 Yuan ($14) and had them all on his arm.

That night they took us to an acrobatic show that was truly amazing as I kept saying, “No way!” at the incredible feats.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007 – We say our goodbyes to everyone at breakfast and head to Guilin and then on to Hong Kong.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007 – Full day cruise along the Li River.

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June 2007 / Li River

We flew to Hong Kong and Yang took us down to the water front for a nightly light show that is timed with music that involves lasers and many buildings that light up in time with the music, really spectacular.  There are many buildings on both sides of the river that come to life every night for the music show.

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Oooops!

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Thursday, June 21, 2007 – Went to the top of Victoria Peak to see the view of Hong Kong.  I have never seen so many tall buildings in one place, it’s not just like a small “downtown” area that has a few tall buildings, everywhere you look has 60 floor buildings.  The world’s 3rd tallest building is there, but it doesn’t look that amazing since everything around it is so tall in comparison.

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June 2007 / Victoria Peak

In Aberdeen we took a “junk” boat trip, seeing the comparison with the old and the new is something really bizarre.

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June 2007 / Aberdeen “Junk” Boat Trip

Ron and I walked back down to the waterfront to see the nightly show again.

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There is a “Walk of Stars” along the waterfront
with hand prints of famous Chinese.

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Friday, June 22, 2007 – We had a free day so Ron and I took the worlds longest escalator, over 1.6 kilometers long!  Someone in our group told us about it and thought it sounded like something to try.  We stopped for a beer walking down as the escalator only runs one way most of the day.

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These are elevated walkways that cover the downtown area for pedestrians.

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That evening we took a 3 hour cruise on the river to see the light show from the water.

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June 2007 / Night River Cruise

We were really pleased with Viking River Cruises and we would recommend them to others.  We saw they have a 16 day cruise in Russia that we might take for our 26th anniversary next year!

Saturday, June 23, 2007 – On the way to the airport, I am still in awe of the enormous, tall, imposing apartment buildings EVERYWHERE!

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We fly back to San Francisco for a few days before returning to Buenos Aires.  This gave us some more time to visit family.

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June 2007 / Family Photos