China Day 15 – Shanghai to Beijing to London

The end of our adventure had arrived with a 05:00 start. At the airport our luggage was checked in to be transferred for the flight to London as well, and we were waiting at the gate by 07:00.

When we reached Beijing and got through passport control and security we found the flight to London had been delayed by 50 minutes, so would instead be departing at 14:20 China time. The announcements in Beijing airport are repeated so many times that even a last boarding call gets repeated a dozen times over a period of 20 minutes. Whilst waiting we did some last minute souvenir shopping to use up some of the remaining yuan. One of the items I bought was a chopsticks set, though I intended on leaving it a few months before eating any more Chinese food. We then sat and waited for our flight to be called so we could start the final leg of the journey home.

At last our adventure in China had come to an end. We had seen and experienced much over the previous two weeks and it was now time to rest and to reflect back on this time. China was not the most exciting of trips that I’d been on but it had been rich in culture, history and would be memorable for the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Army, and both types of Pandas that we’d seen.

China Day 14 – Shanghai

There was a wake-up call at 08:25, and we were out of the hotel by 10:00. It would have been nice for a later start after the previous day, but apparently there was no further flexibility to the schedule other than missing out the museum. I would assume these stops and times are agreed between the CITS and the tour company beforehand and must be kept to.

Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai

Our first stop of the day was at the Jade Buddha Temple. In the courtyard they were burning something that was spewing a lot of ash so had to try my best to protect my camera from it.

There are several Buddha statues there you can take photographs of, but not of the ones made of Jade. They believe that Jade is the only non-living thing that can hold a soul, and that taking a photo of it steals some of the soul. Peculiar beliefs, but it’s their prerogative to believe what they want and impose what restrictions they want. We are only guests after all.

Jade Buddha

Every now and then we also caught a glimpse of Buddhist monks wandering around the temple, but never really had an opportunity to photograph one of them. At this point I thought it would have been nice for there to have been an opportunity to see martial art demonstrations as well.

There was then the compulsory visit to a workshop – this one was to a silk “museum”. They demonstrated the process starting with the life cycle of the silkworm and ending in the usual shop. What I did notice is that those that were busy working had stopped when they thought no tour groups were looking indicating that in reality it’s all for show. Joking about this to our tour manager she did mention that apparently their actual production is done elsewhere in the city and that these workshops are set up purely for tourism.

Yu Garden, Shanghai

Lunch was then not far away in a restaurant that has a candle for every night it has been open. This was followed by a visit to the Yu garden. Inside the garden the path zig-zags all over the place; the reason for this layout is that it gives the impression of it being bigger than it really is. For good fengshui, as the Chinese like to say, it has a stream inside it, and a wall to block the view out at each exit. We had quite a while to look around this place and met up with the others in the Starbucks just outside the exit afterwards.

The Bund

We were back at hotel just after 16:00, and then picked up at 17:45 for the Shanghai Acrobatic show. The show contained many acts; not all were acrobatic as some were for humorous purposes only. On the whole I’d have described it more as another variety show. They did request that people did not record or photograph any of the performance. To be honest though, we copied what the Chinese tourists were doing and took photos as well and they didn’t seem to mind anyway.

Shanghai Acrobatics Show

After the show we took some photographs of the city lights at night, and was in bed by 23:00.

Shanghai at Night

China Day 13 – Yiecheng to Shanghai

As we had to check out at 07:00, the same time as when we were supposed to put the suitcases out for collection we got up at 06:00. As it turned out most people didn’t check out until 08:00, the disembarking time as they didn’t want to sit around waiting. It was 08:30 by the time we reached the coach in Maoping, and a further 20 minutes until the luggage joined us. When it did everyone stood around watching them trying desperately to fit the luggage underneath the coach. It was almost amusing, but at the same time I think most were paranoid that their luggage might get left behind.

Three Gorges Dam, Yicheng

It didn’t take long to drive to the Three Gorges project, and we made two stops there – both of which were far longer than required. On the way to the first stop we passed the five step lock gates that we would have passed though the night before had the access to them not been blocked for cruise ships. The first stop was close to the dam, but before getting there everyone had to get off the coach to go though a security check that was nowhere near as thorough as an airport check.

The first stop was at the same level as the dam which meant you could take close-up photographs of it. To be fair it is some impressive engineering, but as a sight it’s not as impressive as dams you can see in North America.

Three Gorges Dam: Lock Gates

The second stop was at the top of “jar hill” where you can look down onto the lock gates. By this time the sun was out and very warm so having an excess of time meant standing around getting burnt, or standing around inside the excessively noisy visitor centre where they had a model of the completed dam project.

It was then a one hour drive to Yicheng where we changed coach and headed for lunch. Lunch was far better than the previous evenings meal as the meat dishes contained actual meat.

As the museum guide was having lunch we instead went to see a minority group that does embroidery. It was actually very good and one of a snow leopard was life like. The works there were phenomenally expensive for the good ones, but I think that is to be expected and they do deserve it.

From there we went back to the museum to look around. In this one they do not allow cameras, though surprisingly they are selling off some of their cultural relics. The majority are 80+ years old, though some are 200-300 years old which would cause issues with the custom authorities due to the laws on exporting cultural relics. Apparently they were doing this to raise money to expand the museum. It sounded a little bizarre though as if they sold enough of their relics to improve the building they probably wouldn’t have enough to fill it. It all seemed wrong to me and I couldn’t help but think that they were in fact copies despite their insistence to the contrary.

Giant Mushrooms

Another stop was at a bonsai garden, this was a very quick stop but allowed people to take a much needed walk. Whilst there I spotted a hornet to photograph. We then moved on to the posh Crowne Plaza hotel for afternoon tea. This consisted of some excellent cake of which I tried several different kinds, along with tea and biscuits. This was a nice break and gave us plenty of time to chat to other members of the group.

Potter Wasp

By the time we left the hotel, got to the airport and made it through security it was already 18:30 – so only 15 minutes before the scheduled boarding time. When we got to the gate we found our plane to Shanghai was still in Shanghai, and the previous flight to Shanghai from 15:30 was still at the gate. Not a good time to find out about a long delay ahead of us when we also found out we’d be out the hotel by 08:00 the next day.

We managed to find out that the delay was due to a joint military exercise between Russia and China that ended up grounding over 200 planes in Shanghai. By this point the chances of a tour the following day was looking less likely. At 20:00 the local guide for Shanghai called our Tour Manager and told her that the flight would be leaving Yicheng at 21:40. This seemed a little doubtful as the plane was still in Shanghai and it takes around 1hr30 to travel – emptying and filling the plane cannot be done in 10 minutes.

When it reached 21:00 we were then given some peculiar biscuits that were high in sugar and contained almond, and also a bottle of water. Considering the last thing we’d eaten were some cakes around 15:00 or 16:00 most of the group were starting to get quite hungry.

At 21:20 we had another update, the plane would be leaving Shanghai at 23:00, so with a 30 minute turnaround for boarding it’d be 01:00 before we could leave (so that would mean around 03:30 – 04:00 before reaching the hotel). Updates like this continued until an announcement was made our flight would be leaving at 23:15. We took off from Yichang at 23:45 and eventually we made it to the Bund Riverside Hotel at 02:30.

China Day 12 – The Three Gorges

For the morning we had to get up at 06:15 for breakfast before the morning excursion to Fengjie, the White Emperor City. The breakfast room didn’t open until 06:30 so we got our boarding passes and tickets whilst we waited.

Statue of Gong Sunshu

At 07:15 we were down in the reception ready for the excursion. The weather once again was not looking great. The organisation into groups wasn’t that good as it was chaos in the lobby and no one really knew where they were meant to be.

Eventually we found one of the local guides who could speak English and was told to follow her group. Going downstairs we exited the boat and crossed through several other boats until we got onto the land. You then take several escalators up to the buses – the number of escalators you go up is changeable depending on the water level.

The bus then stops right outside the entrance to the White Emperor City. The only way to reach it now is by the “Wind and Rain” bridge. With a name like that I’d expect that to be in the United Kingdom, though based on the weather we’d had on the Yangtze maybe it was appropriate there also. This bridge is actually a modern construction, another built as a result of the Three Gorges dam project.

Stone Dragon

Our local guide was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I do find it irritating when a guide talks too much, and becomes repetitive, but this one was the polar opposite. She would occasionally speak, but it was very rare. She even managed to lose half the group and didn’t bother looking or waiting for them – just continued on without them.

White Emperor City, “Bai Di Cheng”

What I know of the Baidi City is as a result of Google searches. The White Emperor city gets it’s name from General Gongsun Shu who during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD) rebelled and created his own state in Shu. Due to white fog he believed looked like a dragon he declared himself as the White Emperor. It’s also referred to as Baidi city because of the Baidi mountain where it’s located.

By the time her tortoise pace had got us into the grounds properly we had to head back. Sadly I have no idea what was missed, but I would guess it was packed with more tourists anyway. When we got back to the bus we were told that the bus had already gone despite it sitting right in front of us (I’d made a note of the registration plate when we got off so I wouldn’t forget which one we needed to go back on). She then took the group on a different bus which got us back to the boat 15 minutes after it was scheduled to leave the port. In the end the boat ended up leaving port 30 minutes late.

The Three Gorges – Qutang Gorge

The first scenic part of the cruise was through the Qutang Gorge. The sun deck was incredibly packed so ended up using the deck below it instead. It wasn’t that impressive; though that may have been due to the fog as I’m sure bathed in sunlight it would have been a better sight.

Reaching the next gorge, Wu Gorge, coincided with lunch which meant one or the other, or attempt both by rushing around. Instead of taking more photographs that would look the same as the ones from Qutang Gorge I opted to go for lunch and glanced out the window a few times to ensure we weren’t missing anything.

At 14:00 there was then an excursion down the Shennong Stream. To manage this narrower and shallower stream we had to disembark and board a ferry. We carried on down the stream by ferry for about an hour down the river, passing some sights such as an impressive new bridge that was under construction at the time. Eventually we arrived at a floating platform where we had to switch to an even smaller boat – rickety wooden boats that were not entirely stable and didn’t really have a proper floor, just a couple of planks of wood to stop you getting wet.

Sailing down the Shennong Stream

On these smaller boats we would sit two by two and about eight to a boat so our group took up a few of these smaller boats. Each boat had it’s own rowing team of three, one person steering, and a local guide who would tell us stories about this area as we travelled down stream.

Our rowing team were by far the fastest as we passed 3 other boats on the way. There wasn’t really a great deal to see that we hadn’t already seen – just a closer look at a gorge. It was interesting to hear how the dam project had affected communities living near the river though. This particular one had required a new rope bridge to be built in order for them to easily cross.

Shennong Stream – Rope Bridge

On the way back the local guide started to sing some local songs as she is from one of the many minority groups in China. This was then followed by numerous attempts to sell us souvenirs. However these contained a lot of what is referred to as “Chinglish”, or in Internet-speak “Engrish”. It was then another hour until we got back to our boat.

As we got back to the boat later than intended the “happy hour” for drinks at reduced prices didn’t happen, and the disembarkation briefing and dinner were delayed. We did however miss the briefing whilst putting away camera equipment only to find out during dinner that the Government had closed the dam so we wouldn’t be going through the lock gates as intended and would instead have to get up early to catch a coach from Maoping.

The evening meal however was awful, easily the worst on the trip as what little meat was provided was either bone, gristle or fat. The only part of the meal that was edible was the rice and the stale bread. The bread may have been better if it had been eaten a couple of days previous, probably the day we originally boarded. Listening to conversations in the dining room many of the others were saying similar things and were very annoyed by the lack of quality. It hadn’t bothered me too much as I knew I’d got cereal bars just in case.

After the meal we then paid the compulsory service charge of 150 yuan before heading back to the rooms to pack for the next early start.

China Day 11 – Shibaozhai Pagoda

This day should have been an afternoon in Fengdu, though the Century Cruises staff changed this to be the Shibaozhai Pagoda (meaning precious stone fortress) in the Zhongxian county. I found this particularly annoying as the itinerary described the Snow Jade caves as “one of China’s most beautiful, and at present, youngest caves discovered in China”. It also goes on to say it is a truly unique scenic spot on the Yangtze river.

So what should have been the highlight of the cruise never took place, and we didn’t even get an explanation as to why the itinerary was changed for this day.

There was optional morning exercise (in the form of Tai Chi for beginners) on board the boat before breakfast but I decided to pass on that in favour of catching up on some sleep. When I did get up I found it had rained over night and was now very foggy. Apparently it’s very common to have rain and cloud throughout the three gorges.

After the buffet breakfast there was then the option of watching a Tai Chi demonstration. Instead I watched “Universal Soldier: The Return” on HBO. By the time this had finished it was still incredibly foggy out. We wandered around the boat to see what was there and then booked a place on the optional excursion to the White Emperor city, Baidi Cheng, for the following morning.

The buffet lunch at 12:00 was actually really good and contained a good selection of vegetables and salad common in the Western world. This was then followed by a selection of sponge cakes, such as Swiss roll, and fruit. This was probably one of the more refreshing meals on the trip, and it still had the Chinese aspect to it – i.e. rice, and other Chinese dishes.

Shibaozhai Pagoda

At 13:15 we gathered in reception for the only excursion of the day. Before you leave the ship you are given a boarding pass which is required for re-boarding the ship afterwards. It is then a short walk to the Shibaozhai pagoda though this took a while due to the pace set by the local guide.

Shibaozhai Pagoda Suspension Bridge

The path leads through many market stalls that opened not long after the boat arrived. The entrance then leads on to a suspension bridge that bounces and sways as much as, if not more than the Millennium Bridge in London originally did.

The suspension bridge is the only way over to the pagoda since the building of the Three Gorges Dam project which raised the water levels to the point where they had to build a wall around the pagoda to protect it. There are ten levels to the pagoda until you reach a series of temple buildings, though there are a further two you can climb up to. The steps inside of the pagoda are a little steep and rickety but they are safe to climb.

The pagoda was originally built as a way of climbing the mountain safely and to ensure some stability one wall of the pagoda is actually the mountain face.

Each of the temples have statues of Chinese Gods from before they were introduced to Buddhism. One of the courtyards also had a “pond” with a salamander in, though it was difficult to get a photograph of it.

When we were done we went down the steps on the otherside as it began spitting with rain. The back way down was far quicker than coming up and I’d guess these steps were probably buily much later than the pagoda (as the pagoda wouldn’t have been needed as an entrance). This time the bridge didn’t sway as much, probably as there were fewer people crossing it in one go.

From the market I bought a Chinese opera mask for 170 yuan. Shortly after this the rain began to speed up until it changed to very heavy rain. At that point we ran the rest of the way back to the boat. Apparently along the Yangtze river it is normally either too hot or pouring with rain, and we just happened to have a day where it was going to rain a lot.

Cabaret

On board the boat there was a brief gathering on deck 5 in the lounge for tea and cookies, and then we returned to the rooms. I watched “The Rainmaker” and this made us late to the Captain’s greeting. This was followed by the evening meal which was again buffet style.

Later that evening there was a cabaret; it wasn’t that bad but I was a little bored. I would say the low point for this is when the crew decided they’d sing YMCA; I got up and left to get some sleep.

China Day 10 – Chengdu to Chongqing

It was a 06:15 start, and we were on the road by 08:00. After two hours on the expressway we did make a brief stop at the services for the group to use the facilities and buy food if they wanted. Whilst there I tried the Chinese equivalent of a Cornetto ice cream cone – it didn’t really taste any different to what we’d get in the UK so it was nice to taste something familiar.

Asian Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) – Ploughing

At 11:10 we left the expressway behind us and started going down country roads. There was a brief stop to photograph a water buffalo that was being used to plough paddy fields. Up and down a mountain later we crossed into the county of Dazu.

When we reached the stop for the Dazu Buddhist Carvings we also stopped at the restaurant for lunch. Outside the restaurant there are some impressive carvings of peacocks that look like they were carved directly out of tree trunks – roots included. To get to the Dazu rock carvings it is a short ride in a golf caddy.

Dazu Buddhist Stone Carvings

The weather was incredibly warm with the sun beating down on us, so we didn’t hang around listening to the Buddhist explanations of the carvings and moved at our own pace. However the guide went slower than he was supposed to so we were an hour late leaving anyway; it did go to show how knowledgeable our guide was about this area though.

Niche of Sakyamuni entering Nirvana

The Dazu rock carvings are from the Tang, Ming and Qing dynasties starting from around 650 AD. These carvings also cover various religious beliefs: Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. The place we saw was actually just one of around 75 different sites that vary in age and dedication, but between them all there are over 50,000 carvings. Even in the one we saw they varied greatly in complexity and size.

These carvings were started by Zhao Zhifeng during the Song Dynasty and he spent 70 years of his life working on them. Fortunately their remoteness (until recently) meant that they were mostly protected from the destruction that took place during the Chinese cultural revolution that saw much of China’s heritage damaged or destroyed.

The Century Sky

We hit a traffic jam at 18:00 on the way into Chongqing. It took quite a while to get through the city and we boarded the MV Century Sky boat at 18:55 for the start of our Yangtze river cruise that would last the next few days. The boat was amazing, and their description of a floating hotel wasn’t far off – the cabins weren’t that much smaller than some hotel rooms. Each cabin also has it’s own private balcony. In the main lobby they even had a glass elevator and a chandelier.

Upon boarding the boat we had to wait in the dining room for everyone to arrive and group by group we were given key cards for our quarters aboard the ship. For ship-wide announcements there are speakers in every room, but you can turn the volume down. They also provide an itinerary for the current day so you know what the activities will be (such as the health and safety briefing that we missed).

The evening meal was a typical set meal served at the table; some dishes were actually hotter than the ones we’d had when we were in the Sichuan province, an area known for it’s spices. On a positive note though the meal ended with a bowl of strawberry and chocolate ice cream, much nicer than the typical watermelon that most other meals on the trip had included.

Chongqing at Night

The boat started to turn around just after 21:35 so it could start it’s journey down the Yangtze river.

China Day 9 – Pandas and a Night at the Opera

Thankfully I got a lie in until 08:45. The breakfast was better than in Guilin, but that doesn’t mean much. Agreed there was a wide selection, but most of our group didn’t find the breakfast very appealing. Personally I thought the orange juice was watered down.

Jin Lee Street

Our first stop of the day was at Jin Li street, a place which since ancient times has been used for shopping. Oh joy. As it was a Sunday it was also extremely crowded. The buildings were mostly old timber buildings that had been preserved and there was a stream running through it that had black swans swimming around.

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)

By 12:00 noon we were back at the coach and on our way to get some food. The food consisted of dishes that the people in the Sichuan province often eat, so contained spices – though they were mild (at the request of our tour guide apparently). As breakfast had only been a couple of hours earlier most people didn’t eat much and we moved on at 13:45. The journey to the Cheng Du Panda Breeding Research centre then took around 45 minutes.

Inside the centre it’s a reasonable walk to get around it all, but there is plenty to see. On the way to the Giant Panda pens we came across a female Indian peafowl, and several other species of bird including more black swans at a place they appropriately call Swan Lake.

Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)

Our first sight of a Giant panda was one sleeping on a wooden platform inside an enclosure. It wasn’t long before we saw a group of them with a bit more activity. In one of the enclosures we saw them feeding the cubs which was a great opportunity for photos as it also made them more playful. As you would expect the enclosure at feeding time is absolutely crowded at feeding time with constant pushing and shoving from other tourists. The path leads round from there to small pens (that are basically like cages) where they keep the cubs normally when not out in the sun.

Giant Panda Cub chewing bamboo

They also have two pens side-by-side for Red Pandas. The Red Panda can move incredibly fast and we saw two chasing each other around the pen. Although they look like cute foxes they are actually quite vicious animals. In a third pen further along the path there was also one that had previously been in a fight and had it’s tail bitten off by his rival.

Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)

After this we headed back to the Swan Lake so we could take pictures there on the way back to the coach. At this time we realised that the lake was filled with hundreds of massive koi that would have been worth an absolute fortune. This was followed by a very brief stop in the visitor centre for souvenir buying; from there I got a plush panda for my sister.

We got back to the hotel just after 17:00 in time to find that the showers in the hotel were rubbish. Not only did they lack any pressure but they didn’t have any hot water either. We left the hotel at 18:30 to get our evening meal.

Chengdu at Night

This was then followed by the Sichuan Opera performance; again this is not strictly an opera. It was very different to both the Peking Opera and the Tang Dynasty show. This one was in the open air of a tea house’s courtyard and consisted of various acts such as mask changing, music, shadow puppets, and a comedy – so was more of a variety show. The green tea was delivered to people via what looked like a watering can with an incredibly long spout – amusing, yet an effective way of serving people in a crowd.

Sichuan Opera – Fire breathing

The costume changes in the show were done by pulling the costume back through a slit in the temporary wall that had been brought out, and the mask changes done by wearing multiple one on top of the other so they could remove it whilst the fan was in front of their face. When removing a mask they hide it in their sleeves and belts so it wouldn’t be noticed. It’s supposed to be secret how they do that but it seemed pretty obvious to be honest.

Sichuan Opera – Singing

China Day 8 – Guilin to Chengdu

After a long day, we started at 07:30 and was out of the hotel by 08:45. The tour guide had managed to sort out a temporary repair of suitcase handle in the morning so I was a little more hopeful of it arriving in Chengdu okay. Though in them breaking the handle it did mean I’d lost my two new luggage tags as well, this left me wondering if I’d see my suitcase in one piece or indeed at all when we reached Chengdu.

I’d estimate around a one hour drive to the boarding place for the Li river cruise. At the place you board the boat there are quite a few moored together and you are assigned to one of the boats, so there will be other groups present as well. All the boats then leave at the same time, so early on in the cruise it’s difficult to get photos without other boats in the view.

Li River

The cruise lasted four hours and ended in Yangshuo. The food onboard was dreadful though – it would have been warmer if they had left it out in the sun. The quality was certainly no better either, and it didn’t help how early they served it, it was barely 11:00 at the time. As the water level was high they were able to make good time, though personally I felt if they’d gone at their normal speed I’d have been happy with that; it may have meant a clearer view of the cormorant fishing.

The Li river is also known as the Lijang river and is in the region of China known as Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region (this type of region is an analog of what we’d call a county in the UK). It is flanked by limestone mountains and various small settlements. The limestone mountains, known as karst formations, formed under the sea through erosion thousands of years ago.

Cormorant Fishing

Once we arrived on shore in Yangshou we then had about 2 hours to look around the place. There wasn’t really much to see other than market stalls so we wasted the last 40 minutes by having a drink in the restaurant near the meeting point. The restaurant was one that served Western style food apparently, though the pictures we saw of it on the menus looked more like Chinese food.

From there we then took a ride on a golf buggy to the coach park; as the sun was warm and burning it was actually quite convenient to not walk. Between the group we had to have 3 of them due to there being 24 of us.

Rice Paddies

On the way back the coach driver was good enough to pull over on the opposite side of the road for a few minutes so we could take photographs of people working in the rice fields. There was also one further stop on the way back at the South China Sea Pearls workshop – this was another of those mandatory visits that tour guides must take their groups to, presumably at the requirement of the Government. I found this stop to be incredibly boring – there was very little learning (and as a side note their map was incredibly wrong with it missing the Pacific Ocean and having two North Atlantic oceans).

We then had spare time in Guilin until 19:00. We found the best thing to photograph there was the two pagodas, both of modern construction, in the park down the road from the Sheraton Hotel. It proved a good spot to try and take photographs of the sunset with the pagodas in the foreground.

Guilin: Pagoda Sunset

The evening meal, over 8 hours since we’d last eaten, was finally the last stop of the day. Sadly although the meal was of good quality there was very little of it, and even less of that contained even a minuscule amount of meat.

As it was going to be a late night we stopped by the Sheraton Hotel to buy a doughnut for 9 yuan. The drive to the airport lasted around an hour, and we were through security by 21:45. We actually boarded on time and was in the air by 22:40. Sadly it was still a 1hr30 flight ahead of us, so we wouldn’t get into Chengdu until 00:10. We then left the airport at 00:45. Yet another of the groups luggage was damaged, bringing the total up to 3. We got into the Sichuan Minshan Lhasa Grand hotel at 01:15.

China Day 7 – Xi’an to Guilin

Amazingly there was no wake-up call this day due to a late start so was able to get up at 07:30 for breakfast. We could have got up later but the luggage was being collected at 09:00 and we were unsure how many choices would be left if we waited to have breakfast until after that.

Calligraphy Museum

We checked out at 09:45 and headed out on the city tour. The first stop was the Calligraphy museum. This was divided into three sections, the first of these was for paintings from various periods including the civil revolution when they converted to socialism.

The next was a place where we saw older paintings. Even though they were behind glass in a carefully controlled environment, these ones were all replicas.

The final section was where we were all given some rice paper and then instructed on how to use the brush and ink to write various Chinese characters. Of course, there was then a chance to buy the artwork they had, made from local art students and professors, some of these were particularly pricey though.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda: Drum Tower

Small Wild Goose Pagoda: Bell

We then stopped at the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, a library of Buddhist scrolls dating back to 652 AD, during the Tang Dynasty under Emperor Zhongzong of Tang. We stayed for about an hour exploring the grounds that included a big bell that you could ring for a fee. Here we saw plenty of Azure Magpies flying around, but they never really settled which made it difficult to photograph them. We didn’t get to look inside the pagoda, though it has Buddha statues carved by Yan Liben. There is a big Wild Goose Pagoda elsewhere in the city, though apparently our guide said it doesn’t look as impressive.

The dinner was at The Tang Dynasty restaurant and for the first time was a buffet lunch. The food wasn’t that warm or big in variety, but it was edible and better than a few of the places we’d been. The building though was amazing – and the dining room which doubled as a theatre room for Tang Dynasty show productions looked very grand. The quality of the building was so good that people were even commenting that they had fish tanks in the bathroom.

The afternoon was a short tour for visiting the Great Mosque and the surrounding parts of the city. They don’t allow tourists into the mosque so you can only take photographs of the outside.

The Great Mosque is one of the oldest in the country and dates back to 742 AD. This mosque doesn’t look like others as it has a distinctly Chinese architectural style to accommodate the community of Muslim Chinese. The only outward hint of Muslim culture is the Arabic writings on one of the walls.

Xi’an Drum Tower

During some free time here we took short walk to the nearby bell and drum towers, both of which charge admission. We didn’t bother going inside either of these but still took the time to photograph their exteriors. The place is so modernised that one of the tower is basically on an island in the road which can only be accessed via the underpass. Nearby there is also an underground shopping mall with shops that have similar (but not quite the same) names to ones you’d see elsewhere in the world. One of the shops in the mall sold many different types of electrical equipment, inclusive of Canon gear. We did waste some time looking at the lenses, etc. and from what we could tell they did appear to be genuine products.

Personally I thought two hours was too long for this place as we had run out of things we wanted to do by 15:00 and spent the remaining hour wandering aimlessly. We did have an attempt at photographing a fountain, but by the time we got close to it they turned it off for the rest of the day.

We reached the airport by 16:50 and was waiting by the gate at 17:15. Sadly there is very little choice of food at the airport. The boarding time was also delayed from 17:55 to 18:20, reducing the chance of getting dinner when we arrived in Guilin. As it got closer to the adjusted boarding time, the flight then got delayed again until 19:05 due to the amount of air traffic.

By the time we reached Guilin it was 20:46. Leaving the plane and collecting the baggage took until 21:42. Somewhere between leaving the hotel in Xi’an and arriving at the baggage carousel in Guilin they did however manage to break the only handle on my brand new suitcase. Apparently the zip on someone else’s suitcase had been broken on the flight to Xi’an earlier in the trip. We reached the hotel at 22:10, but was not settled into the room until 23:30.