Wednesday, March 19, 2014



We recently returned from our journey to Beijing and Shanghai. It was a short trip, with only eight full days in these two major cities of the world. Typically, we prefer to spread our travel over at least a month—the “vintage way."  However, a short time in China was enough for us at this time
 As I mentioned in a previous blog, Anticipating a Vintage Journey to China, we booked this $999 trip through SmarTours. It included air travel, transfers and eight hotel nights with breakfast. We were well pleased with the arrangements, along with the added benefit of meeting some nice people. Ron and I passed on all but one of the daily optional tours. We prefer to explore on our own by walking and using the subway. Consequently, we miss out on some of the sights, but we have a good time and enjoy the freedom. There is something kind of special about casually walking along the streets and standing on the subways with the locals that you don't get on a tour bus.

The subways were generally easy to use, clean, and considerably more modern and efficient than the New York subways. People typically push to get on and off and don't allow other passengers to exit before they start rushing on. The riders are well-dressed and quiet with iPhones in hand. In Beijing, particularly, the subway riders were mostly under the age of 35. The price was an inexpensive 30 cents (US) per ride in Beijing. This increased to 70 cents (US) in Shanghai which was a more expensive city. In Shanghai we purchased the 24 hour pass for $3 (US).

Crossing the streets of Beijing and Shanghai (they were both about the same as I could see) was a challenge. They do have stoplights, walk signals and crosswalks. Many of the cars stop. However, vehicles turning right on a red light do not stop, in fact, they do not even slow down, sometimes I think they actually speed up. In addition, the bicycles and motorbikes (they have a special lane) do not stop and they often come from either direction. Making it worse is the fact that you can't hear the many battery-operated scooters approaching. Looking both directions and quickly crossing with the crowd helped us survive, but it wasn't pleasant. I am perplexed as to why a government and people would allow such horrendous danger and mayhem to exist on their streets.

The bad air in Beijing is a common concern and it managed to make the US news right before we left. A man from our group gave us a couple of face masks to use if we needed them. It turned out that everyday was sunny and windy. Our guide said “the wind is your friend in Beijing because it helps clear the air.” About 5% of the people in the cities were wearing face masks. I didn't notice any problem, but some people in our group were bothered by the smog.

The temperature ranged from 30F to 50F. It was slightly warmer in Shanghai which is about 1,000 miles south of Beijing.

We did not encounter many English speaking people. The restaurant menus often included photos of the meal as well as an English description. We enjoyed the Chinese food and the service was usually good; it just lacked any kind of friendliness or extra courtesy. The food came out in the order in which it was ready—regardless of whether or not you planned to share it. Beer was the most economical and popular beverage.  Rice wine was inexpensive, but not to my liking.

     If you walk up to the counter at McDonald's, the server automatically pulls out a menu with pictures and prices.

In future blogs I will share my favorite experiences: the lovely walks along the Bund in Shanghai, the Great Wall, hutongs, and retirees enjoying the parks on cold winter days.



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