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Day 6 – The Last Day in China

Sounds like a bad movie.

It’s been a wild ride both figuratively (general travel issues) and literally (I can’t express the fear & adrenaline laced bus rides well enough).

7:18 pm 3/17/2011 CST – 8:18 pm 3/18/2011 local
Beijing Railway Station

We have arrived back in Beijing on time. I was pretty surprised considering we had to switch engines in the middle of the night.

Many are unhappy that we are not stopping at the hotel first to clean up. If we do, we wind up not fitting everything into the day. The guides are also in the same boat, so I don’t feel like complaining.

We head off to breakfast at a nearby hotel (not ours) and then depart for the Summer Palace.

9 pm 3/17/2011 CST – 10 am 3/18/2011 local
The Summer Palace

We have arrived at the Summer Palace. This place involves the same story about the Dragon Lady and the baby dumplings from the night before. It is quite beautiful.

Other highlights include:
• A persistent young boy trying to either sell postcards or pick everyone’s pockets (unsuccessfully). Either way he also enjoyed making fun of…

• …Malcolm, who got handed some non-Chinese money as change. Malcolm was obviously upset, but took it in stride. At least the money wasn’t that much.

• The world’s largest corridor

• Lunch

1 am CST – 2 pm Local
Tiananmen Square & Forbidden City

Pictures. Keep walking. No stopping. More pictures. Keep walking. No stopping.

Thus were our instructions from our guide, Lee.

Ancient, beautiful, steeped in history (both good and bad), and more. The vastness of Tiananman Square with its modern, pervasive surveillance is in stark contrast to the colorful ornateness of the Forbidden City with it’s almost palpable sense of ghosts of the past, in spite of the hordes of tourists of various nationalities.

When I visit both modern and ancient places with a huge history, I tend to imagine the people that tread there before me. It can be overwhelming at times.

4:15 am CST – 5:15 pm local
Flying Acrobatics Show

Before dinner, we attended an acrobatics show. Flexibility, strength, and balance were all on display.

I hope my video turned out so I can post it here.

6 am CST – 7 pm local
Peking Roast Duck

Peking Duck is an old name. It is actually now called Beijing Duck. I don’t particularly care for duck, but this was delicious. The kids enjoyed it also, although I am sure yearnings for burgers and fries is becoming overwhelming.

From here, we left for the hotel…and showers. Sweet, blissful showers. Check-in bags down to the lobby by 10:30 pm and then to bed for the 3:30 am wake up call.

Day 5 – Terra-cotta and Dumplings

All of the gigs are done. Now it’s time for just sightseeing.

6:30 pm CST – 7:30 am local
Wake up calls

Every morning, Music Celebrations International makes sure every room gets a wake up call. From what I understand, it is just a call they don’t understand. I say “they” because I have never been in the room for one. I am usually up and about for at least an hour beforehand.

Anyway, it is nice not to have to do that ourselves.

Luggage had to be down and ready to go to the train (packed, locked, etc.) back to Beijing by 8 am with a 9 am departure by bus. Breakfast also had to be eaten by then at the hotel’s buffet.

8:30 pm CST 3/16/2011 – 9:30 am local 3/17/20
Terra-cotta Warriors & Horses Museum

Before we actually get to go see where the Terra-cotta soldiers were buried, we get to see how they make the replicas, both large and small. After seeing this, we have a chance to…wait for it…

…relieve us of our oh-so-heavy money.

11pm 3/16/2011 CST – 12 pm 3/17/2901 local
Lunch

A local place. I may be able to get a name off of a picture that I took. Again, better than the last with a couple of new dishes.

I will take a moment to note the use of chopsticks.

I can’t.

I have attempted to no avail. Others can. They make me mad with their air of superiority and little looks and smirks as others and myself make use of the forks provided. I wish I had a knife to whittle the and of one so I could simply stab the food and go all caveman on it…or use it on one of their hands when they smirk at me one…more…time.

Uh-oh. After that last comment I think I need a nap.

12:30 am CST – 1:30 pm local
Terra-cotta Warriors & Horses Museum

This is something I have been excited about ever since finding out we were headed to China. We get to see the real ones now.
*******************
These things are amazing. Simply the amount of work that went into making them over years and years is awe inspiring. I will post some pics here when I get home.

It is also a beautiful day today. Sunny and in the 60′s. Most aren’t wearing coats. I think Chris Jones may have taken a nap on a bench.

3:30 am CST – 4:30 pm local
Dumpling Feast

As we got to the restaurant I am reminded just how good our bus drivers are. They seem to fit into any space to park or to drive through. I bet I could put a dime on the ground and they could make the bus do tricks all while keeping one tire on the dime.

I keep asking, but they won’t let me drive. I also think that if the bus drivers had an uprising and started taking out pedestrians, China would no longer need the “one child policy”. Actually, if they did, I would be fearful. There are A LOT of buses here.

Anyway. The Dumpling Feast.

Delicious.

That’s all. I’m done.

Actually, no I’m not. It never seemed to end. Spicy pork, chicken & mushroom, pork & mushroom, and many other varieties and combinations kept being brought out in a veritable never-ending, gluttonous orgy of small delectable pieces that even I could properly pick up with chopsticks, culminating in a state of blissful fullness only tempered by the knowledge of having to endure another train ride this evening.

At the end of the meal we were given soup and a story about the Dragon Lady and baby dumplings. I won’t relate the whole story (ask your kids and see if they were paying attention), but 9 baby dumplings were placed in the roiling soup before being ladled into our bowls. If we received any number of dumplings other than 4, it meant some sort of good luck. While we have an unlucky number of 13, theirs is 4.

All told, a very enjoyable meal.

6:30 am CST – 7:30 pm local
Xi’an Railway Station

Another train ride. Once asleep, these aren’t bad since we have sleeper compartments. Until the sweet blissfulness of unconsciousness, though, they can be hot and cramped.

They were an interesting experience for a first time train ride for many of us. Not necessarily horrible, but definitely interesting.

We are now in Chicago

Arrived safe. Mow dealing with customs, baggage, and inattentive children.

More later.

Day 4 – Xi’an, Xi’an, Xi’an!

Alright. By the end of the day, everyone has agreed that today was the best day & that Xi’an was better than Beijing. It didn’t start that way though…

6:45 pm CST – 7:45 am local
Arrival at Grand Noble Hotel

We arrived ahead of our checked bags and had breakfast at what most considered a superior buffet to our last hotel. I would say it edged it out a little by having syrup for the French toast and also having hashbrowns.

All told, everyone had a little over an hour to eat, take a shower, and get back down ready for the day. Apparently, this was not doable.

9 pm CST – 10 am local
Grand Noble Hotel

We had a couple of students who couldn’t be on time (20 minutes late) and many others who just didn’t bother to shower. This cut into our time at the Temple of Heaven. You know us: “On time is late.”

I guess this part should read 20 minutes later.

9:40 pm CST – 10:40 am local
Temple of Heaven

After a short drive, we arrived at the Temple of Heaven. This is a beautiful place & I wish whatever is keeping me from posting pics here would go away. After a very short lecture on the history of the place, we get chance to walk around and sight-see. As always, there are shops for us to spend more money. The kids can sure buy some stupid stuff. Some of you, though, are getting dome nice things.

Those kids probably just love their parents more. ;-)

We meet up at 11:30 am local time at a building here at the temple for a presentation on Chinese character writing (their language) and artwork. It is interesting and the kids in my group were attentive and respectful.

Where did these kids come from?

After this, came another opportunity to make room in their bags by removing some of that pesky money they keep carrying around. I can’t believe I was able to avoid doing so.

Side note: I have had to step in and remove a student from an annoying (not dangerous) situation where a vendor will follow them for blocks trying to get a sale. I find it quite amusing. I just look at them, say no, and walk.

They don’t follow.

11:15 pm 3/15/2011 CST – 12:15 pm 3/16/2011 local
(This is starting to hurt my head to figure out)
Noodle restaurant

This was a pretty cool place. If you so chose, you could stand in line for a cup of freshly made noodles with your choice of sauce. When I say freshly made, I mean you stood there as a guy kneaded, rolled, stretched, cut, & boiled them. Then a woman put them in a bowl with sauce and you got to shovel them into your face as fast as you could because they were so delicious. I, of course, did not eat them like that. I am much too dignified.

They also had a buffet. Some of the kids are starting to complain about eating so much Chinese food and keep asking why. My reply? “Because they just call it ‘food’.”

12:15 am CST – 1:15 pm local
Xi’an Conservatory of Music

Rehearsal time. It went about the same as Monday: a long time setting up and quick hits on the important parts. Then we left our instruments in their rehearsal room and went on our way.

2:30 am CST – 3:30 pm local
Xi’an City Wall

Xi’an was the original capital of China. It was for about six dynasties or so. Around the inner, older, original part of the city, there is a wall and a moat. You read that right, a moat.

We got to walk the wall a little bit, take some pictures, and basically just hang out. I was able to get some video of the crazy traffic here. I will post it when I am able to.

3:30 am CST – 4:30 pm local
Back to the hotel

Everyone had two hours to get changed for the concert, eat, and whatever else. What is amazing is they were able to handle it this time.

On time!

5:15 am CST – 6:15 pm local

Depart for concert.

6:30 am CST – 7:30 pm local
Concert at Xi’an Conservatory of Music

Oh what a concert.

At first, it started out as any other here, or at home. We showed up, played well, we were done. Except we apparently weren’t done. There seems to be a custom here that if they audience enjoys it, you play an encore.

They really enjoyed it. In fact, shortly after the concert started, it became standing room only. Not just late and too lazy to find a seat, but actual standing room.

Needless to say, we didn’t have any extra pieces ready. They ended up playing Hands Across the Sea again after Martz suggested Bravado (I really hope he was joking).

Even more applause that time around.

Mr. Butler and I got up thinking it was time to strike the stage since the audience was up and filing out as they were still clapping.

The applause got louder. Apparently, it was time for “Bieber” Butler and I to take our turn at an encore to again even more thunderous applause.

Finally the kids left to put away their instruments and the percussion was being struck. That left Butler, Martz, & I (in that order) to fend off the hordes of adoring fans desiring pictures and autographs with & from us.

Thankfully, the kids came down fairly soon and they were able to take most of the “papparazi” abuse.

*sigh* The life of a celebrity (in my own mind).

9 am CST – 10pm local
Hotel

We are back a little late simply due to our own awesomeness. (Pleas. No comments. That was TOTALLY tongue in cheek…sort of.) The kids had some down time at the hotel that was well deserved.

Me, too. I was also able to get the FaceTime to work between my phone & my son’s iPod Touch. No lag. That was pretty cool.

Day 3 – More Beijing and the Great Wall

5:30 pm CST – 6:30 am local
Hotel

Wake up time. With their schedules off, this wasn’t really a problem. For me, either. I was up at 3:30ish and took a walk. It is going to be a cool one today. We are checking our bags in for transport to the train station this morning. We won’t be back to this hotel before Friday.

Breakfast had some excellent spring rolls instead of chicken nights today.

10 pm CST – 11 am local
The freaking Great Wall!!!

Legs. Are. Jelly. Wait. I will start at the beginning.

We had to take equipment up stairs we weren’t planning due to a parking lot being closed. The kids were troopers and Mr. Bill has those percussionists working like a well-oiled machine. Setting up was…problematic. Wow, I’m really good at understatement.

The wind. If I could slap it, I would. I will have to just use the next student to complain about it. They seem to think we can control it. Right. That’s why Martz’s score flew away.

Anyway. After the first 126 complaints & us trying to decide whether to move the performance or cancel it, the kids decided they wanted to play and say they did on the Great Wall. We played 2 pieces with all adults (and I mean all of us) in amongst the band holding the easily blown wire stands and music.

A lot of laughing during that gig. At least it’s over.

10:20 pm CST – 11:30 local
The Really, Really tall Great Wall

Butler and I got a head start in the wall. We needed it. He’s next to wheezing & I am looking for a defibulator for him just in case. I ache and am slightly nauseous. We are at the first tower. I see our kids: Andy R., Addison, Gilberto, Malcolm lying on the edge waiting to fall off, Chevy taking them two at a time,….

I beat them there, but I wave goodbye to them as they move on and I sit here wondering how fast I will roll back down. After having climbed Diamond head on Oahu about 5 years ago, I know that going down is harder for balance and leg control.
………….

Back down to the shops. I have not been able to find soccer jerseys for the family like I wanted. In fact, everyone here laugh’s about their Men’s Team just like the rest of the world does. So…I have given up. I have gotten my son & wife gifts from here.

Time to herd the cats for lunch. No exaggeration about that.

12:am CST – 1 pm local
Restaurant & Jade factory

Forks! Yes! Diet is officially over.

The food here is much better. The kids enjoyed it more and many ordered seconds. On a side note, all of the lunches and dinners are served family-style with everything on a lazy Susan in the middle of the table.

After lunch, we went into the adjoining jade factory and shop. All about the selling us stuff. Still, very interesting and the kids were happy to have real toilets here. There’s a lot of waiting “to go” going on.

The things they do to carve are unreal. Carving balls within balls with balls. All without removing anything.

I hope all of you & my daughter like jade. Just sayin’.

2:30 am CST – 3:30 pm local
Buses

We have pictures of the Water Cube from the 2008 Olympics. We will get the Bird’s Nest on Friday.

After that 5 minute picture stop, we did something not on the itinerary: a silk shop demonstration and money relieving opportunity. We were shown how silk is harvested and made into various items. There was then a place to buy items made of silk. Many of the students had wished they had waited to buy gifts.

Me, too. I am having to avoid just buying for myself now. I think that nighty would look good on me. Wait, I meant that tie. Yes, that tie, definitely.

4:15 am CST – 5:15 pm local
Restaurant

Food here is excellent again. Some different dishes. Some are the same. I will mention that the drinking glasses here are small. Smaller than our juice glasses. At home I like to use 32oz glasses. I need to remember to bring my water in with me.

6:00 am CST – 7:00 pm local
Beijing Railway Station

Huddled masses?

Wow. Very crowded here. This is honestly what I always pictured Ellis Island to look like during its time of operation.

We get sleeper cars! Whew. It’s going to be almost 12 hours on this thing so that will be good.

Hey! That’s my bed!

Good ni….zzzzz.

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