Highlights of China

See also Gallery entitled "China"
Highlights of China.

In 2016 Lesley and myself along with 4 friends joined a tour of China. The tour started immediately after an 11 hour flight to Shanghai, the business centre of China, with it’s towering skyscrapers. These included the Shanghai Tower the second highest building in the world. Without any time to waste we went straight from the airport to the city centre and climbed to the second domed level of the Pearl TV tower; with its glass floor we were able to look down on most of the city.
We moved on to Suzhou one of China’s ancient towns situated alongside the 1,200 mile Grand Canal which was originally dug, so our guide said, for the sole use of Emperor Sui to travel down from Beijing to collect more concubines to supplement his existing harem of 3,ooo. Others will give more practical reason, ie better communication and trade between North and South.
We travelled to Beijing by Bullet train; Suzhou to Beijing doesn’t look very far on a map of China but 5 hours close to 200mph puts the size of the country into perspective. Temperature had risen to 30 degrees by the time we visited Tiananmen Sq., the square was enormous and with no shelter from the heat. We were warned not to wear any unsavoury slogans on tee shirts. With the military and image of Chairman Mao looking down on us no one took any chances.
The 2,600 mile long Great Wall is an amazing structure built to keep out Mongols and other enemies; initial building was by Emperor Qui in the second century BC, first emperor of a united China, ruthlessly using conscripted labour. To add to the fortification it was built along a mountain ridge which made it very steep in places.
We then had an internal flight to Yichang for a 3 day cruise through the three gorges of Xiling, Wuxia and Qutang on the Yangtze. After the first gorge we came to the very controversial Three Gorges Dam, built under Chairman Mao’s instructions to tame the river and aid commercial traffic. Thousands of people were displaced and a lot of history and environmental features lost for ever. The dam is the biggest in the world and has two very large ship lock staircases which took 4 hours for the boat to pass through.
We then took another internal flight to Chengdu were we were able to visit the World famous Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre where we witnessed the behaviour of these rare animals. The older bears laying on their backs propped against a wall chomping into what was clearly delicious bamboo sticks while the cubs played in the nursery enclosure.
Another flight took us to Xi’an, home of Emperor Qin. As well as ruthlessly building civil engineering projects like the Great Wall he also extravagantly built his own tomb and had 8,000 lifelike terracotta soldiers made to accompany him in the afterlife; also entombed with him, to look after his every need, were all his childless concubines and workers who knew the secrets of the tomb. With concerns of health and safety it is still unopened, it is said to contain rivers and lakes of Mercury.
The tour ended by returning to Shanghai with a stunning evening cruise along the Huangpu River where we witnessed the 21st century buildings lit up in all their glory.
A few tips for anyone contemplating a visit. Watch out for pickpockets. Don’t have anything questionable in your suitcase when travelling, the authorities will hold them back rather than ask for them to be opened, this made it very inconvenient for 2 of our party. There is no western alternative to the Chinese food, the further you go into the heartland the stranger it gets, you will even find baby scorpion kebabs on the menu on some stalls.

Stafford Steed