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China Adventure: Hong Kong, Beijing, Xian, Shanghai,

June, 2010
Anya and I began our adventure in Hong Kong, a sparkling city of glass
skyscrapers that reach toward the sky.
Hong Kong is a very deep-water port and
splits down the middle into Hong Kong
Central and Kowloon. We stayed in
Kowloon and took ferries across to the
other side. I mentioned to Anya that a lot of
people probably just stay in Kowloon and
don’t get across that much. A day or so
later, we realized both sides were connected
by an extremely efficient, new, air-
conditioned metro, probably the most
modern metro I’ve ever seen. It makes the
New York City’s subway system seem like
it’s in an underdeveloped country.

At night if you stand in Kowloon you can

see the “symphony of lights” considered the best laser light show on the
planet. Totally spectacular. It is choreographed with music and visible and
audible all along the shore.
Since Hong Kong is
ablaze with skyscrapers
one of the first things we
did was to go to Victoria
Peak where one takes a
very steep tram to a
beautiful place to see the
whole panorama of the

But it is also a buzzing

international city half
English, half Chinese
with dozens of
interesting shopping streets.
One place, the Harbor Shopping
Mall, was probably the biggest
mall I was ever in. It seemed
like it went on for close to a
mile with air-conditioned shops
from Gucci to Rolex all over.
Such opulence and wealth. It
was stunning.

We didn’t have many good

meals in China, but we did find
a place that was very elegant and yet absolutely packed with Chinese diners
(Maxim’s Palace in Central Hong Kong). I had roasted suckling pig that
was incredible. Anya had garlic spare ribs and eggplant, plus deep-fried
stuffed shrimp in an orange-strawberry sauce). Delightful.

We met a man named Michael who explained why there are not more illegal
immigrants in Hong Kong. When I asked why a person from the provinces
just doesn’t get up and move to the more elegant Hong Kong for work, he
said that one must have a visa, even for a Chinese citizen, and that every
resident of China has a national identity card. It looks like our driver’s
license. You get it at birth, and that is how illegal immigration is controlled.
There are even posters in Hong Kong that say “if you are working here and
are not legally entitled to live in Hong Kong, you will be arrested.” I looked
it up: Belgium, Israel, Argentina, Brazil all have them.
We’ve been taught that having a national identity card is an invasion of our
privacy, but it makes you wonder.

The next day we went to see the “Big Buddha” the largest Buddha in the
world. The tram ride up the hill was scary. I had to close my eyes. The
Buddha was big all right. Built in 1973 primarily as a tourist attraction to
raise money for the monks
up there. Sorry we traveled
so far to see that, but what
the hell. We didn’t have a
guide. Anyway it
was nice to visit him and
get scared half to death.
Hong Kong skyscrapers (up); Inside the Big Buddha monastery (below)
Next Stop Beijing:

Coming to the capital of China and hearing all the Dynasties

talk of this dynasty and then that, I decided I Yellow emperor 2700 BC
Xia Dynasty 2205-1766 BC
needed some clarification. So I took my history Shang 1700-1100 BC
overview text and outlined all the dynasties. They Zhou 1100-200BC
wax and wane over the years, but it is incredible Qin 200BC
Han 200BC-200AD
that China has been ruled consistently for almost Jin 200-400 AD
5,000 years! Here is the list: Sui 500-600AD
Tang 600-900AD
Song 960-1200
For us our trip began with our personal guide, Yuan 1200-1350
Albert, who was really special and intelligent. We Ming 1300-1600
Qing 1600-1910

started at the Forbidden

City, which starts at
Tiananmen Square and then
just goes on forever. We
began with Mao and then
moved on (to capitalism!)
Above is the area where the paper mache Statue of Liberty was constructed
and the famous Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Below is more of the
never-ending Forbidden City. In the very inner sanctums lived the Emperor
with his 108 concubines (that number was prescribed by law).
Certainly the great wall is a major attraction here. Constructed by over
300,000 soldiers and peasants starting about two hundred years before
Christ, it runs a total of 3100 miles. Imagine a wall about the entire distance
across the United States.
One of the unique things, though, is that the Great Wall is one of the seven
wonders of the world, and people from all of the world are there. That is
quite fascinating in itself.

From the Great Wall we stopped in a jade factory and pearl growing factory.
I never saw pearls inside an oyster. Apparently if you inject a grain of sand
inside the shell, a pearl will eventually form over it. Interesting!

Our next stop was the summer palace. All days in Beijing, in fact in China,
were accompanied either by a pervasive mist or air pollution, so our photos
suffer from that. What is unique about the summer palace is that an empress
from the last dynasty (The Dowager Empress) in the early 1900s decided to
spend the money on herself and she created an artificial lake and incredible
stone walk ways, and royal buildings for herself. She was supposed to spend
the money building the empire and her navy. As a result the empire
collapsed, foreigners started coming in, colonialism had its way with China
(British, Russian, Japanese, American, Portuguese, English), and China has
struggled for the last century to try to get its property back. It got Hong
Kong. It got Macao. It hopes to get Taiwan. Really, Chinese foreign policy
seems so different from this perspective. China does not appear to have any
real history of expansionism, no history of colonizing other parts of the
world, and its whole collective psychology seems defensive. It wants to
build walls around itself and keep the aliens out.

I don’t really think it has aggressive and expansionist aims. That seems to
cut against the grain of what China is. Japan occupied China, not vice versa.
Anyway, here are some photos of this turning point in Chinese history: the
summer palace.
empress built a “marble boat” pictured here. Quite opulent, but it doesn’t

Now on our Beijing journey sometimes the miscellaneous things you do are
more important than the major events. For example we went to a jade
factory and learned that jade is an extremely hard stone. The artisans who
carve it sometimes work for an entire year on a single piece of jade. Here is
a jade statue that
took well over a year
to create:
We also had lunch with a family in the Hutongs. This is a neighborhood of
small old homes right in the center of Beijing. The Hutongs were nice to
visit and so
was the little
meal we had
with our

We now
prepare to leave Beijing with two last photos (a tree in the summer palace)
and me at the Great Wall.

More miscellanea:
• We had a Chinese tea ceremony with special
teas which blossom into flowers in your glass
when you add hot water. Wonderful to see and

• We had one of our best Peking ducks ever in a
small restaurant. Delightful. However, when
we got in our cab, he understood no English
and we had not a single word in Chinese. When
I said “Capital hotel” he looked blank. The
hotel was only 6 blocks from our restaurant,
but it took us half an hour to get home. The
Chinese driver was too proud to admit he didn’t know where he was
going and wasn’t going to ask anyone for help. We were all rattled.

Very curious facts about China:

(1) If you kill someone while driving a car, even if you
are not at fault, you will be assessed a financial
penalty to pay to the victim’s family and that penalty
will last your entire lifetime.

(2) The largest immigration of human beings on planet

earth occurred in the last twenty years in China as
over 100 million person left the countryside and
came to settle in the cities.

(3) At Chinese New Year, a period of two weeks, one

billion Chinese get on trains, buses, and cars and
return home to see their families and relatives. It is
the largest movement of human beings on earth.

Next stop, Xian.


This little city west of Beijing used to be the capital of the country. It is a
little bit above Lanzhou on this map.
It is a strikingly
pretty city with well-
boulevards. I rang
the bell at the bell
tower in the very
center of the city
where all the streets
seem to intersect.

The major attraction

here is a protected
UNESCO site and
what people are now
calling the 8 wonder of the world, the terracotta warriors.
Some 2 thousand years ago, the last emperor of the Qin dynasty wanted to
give himself peace throughout eternity, so he buried an army of terra cotta
statues (horses, officers, regular soldiers), each unique and individually
crafted. They were near his own monumental tomb and they were buried like
he was to protect him. There were 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses
buried in this way. This was discovered in 1970 and is being restored.

What I found peculiar is that the next emperor came along and dug up many
of his statues and broke them. Naively I said to my guide that this sort of
seemed like someone buried all his toys with him, and then some bully came
along and dug up the toys and broke them. Seemed, on the surface a tad
childish. But then, I sort of realized that if you genuinely believe in an
afterlife and eternity—and so does the bully—well then it makes a bit more
Probably the most incredible thing about our trip to Xian was that we went
to a museum where we learned how America was discovered. In 1421, fifty
years before Columbus, emperor Zhu Di dispatched his favorite eunuch, a
large man named Zheng He on an exploratory mission. Zheng He had lead a
huge and gigantic fleet of Chinese ships (62 treasure ships and over 27,000
men) throughout the world. On his next voyage he is said to have discovered
America. I took a picture of the gigantic ship that he sailed to our California
shores. It was 120 meters long [Columbus’ Santa Maria was 18].
Sorry for the crummy photo. It is a bit of a shock, though, to realize America
was discovered by a
eunuch in 1421.
This is the museum of the emperor who dispatched his eunuch to America.

We then went to Spirit Way, a gigantic mausoleum complex which is

decidedly pretty.
My main purpose in going to Xian, however, was to see the White Pyramid.
Most people in China don’t know what that is, and we were somewhat
confused if we actually found it. This appears in my new book, Aliens and
Man (working title) which will be out in Spring 2011. I’ll let you read about

it there. This man-made mound doesn’t look like much, and I’m not sure I
found the real white
pyramid, but this is
what we did find. It
is called the Maoling

On the way out of

Xian we passed a
couple of amazing
sites in this polluted
country. Right is a
nuclear power
station, and below
that are over 25 high-
rise apartment
building going up at once. These buildings are 30-40 stories tall. Can you
imagine that kind of construction going on in Cleveland? Gives you a sense
of the rapid changes and industrialization occurring in China.

Note that Xian was the gateway city for the famed “Silk Road.” It was from
here that Marco Polo set out about 1269 from Venice and ended his journey
We also visited
seven storied
pagoda and I
took this picture
of a monk
Strangely, Anya
took the same
photo on her
iphone, and
neither of us
knew that until
we got home.
Final stop: Shanghai
Shanghai has a population approaching 20 million. I was taken by this glittering jewel of
a city. It is modern to the extreme, beyond anything we have in the U.S., but as usual it
was cloudy, or smoggy, or misty and visibility was minimal.

We took a trip up the TV

tower (left), and went up
like 70 stories to view the
While up there we stood on a glass floor and looked down 70 floors. Scary!

That’s my
tennis shoe.
There is a beautiful, long, waterfront boardwalk called the Bund which we
found delightful, even though the weather was muggy and 92 degrees. Here
at the Bund there was just a tiny bit of respite.

More gigantic skyscrapers

as viewed from the TV
We also visited a quaint tea garden in the center of the city and found a
Starbucks nearby to chill out.
We were most taken, however, by just strolling down Shanghai’s incredible

shopping streets….probably running 2-3 miles and filled with Gucci, Rolex
and other upscale stores. We most enjoyed going along the side streets and
finding incredible things (shoes, tea, craw fish, etc).

Saw some weird things too. Why were all these women picnicking and
playing cards in a subway station?
Turns out they are all from the Philippines. It is Sunday, their day off, and
there are very few parks in Shanghai, so they bring their cards, sandwiches,
and sit for the whole afternoon gossiping and giggling. Lots and lots of
This is the upscale part of Shanghai’s shopping streets.
It was so incredibly hot, we went to an
old hotel, the Astor, right in downtown.
It was air-conditioned so we stayed for
coffee in this historic spot. Here Charlie
Chaplin stayed (left), Albert Einstein and
other notables.

Our guide, Andy, was articulate and fun. He taught us a lot. First, he
described himself as part of the “Lost Generation,” the disaffected, young,
bright new generation of China. He was in love with the United States and
all its values. He said that the most popular writer in China was named Han
Han, a young, Chinese adventurer-thinker-philosopher. He said 600 million
Chinese regularly read Han Han. And we never heard of him!
We attended the Shanghai
Acrobat’s performance,
thought to be the most
advanced gymnastic-acrobat
show in the world. It was

This completes our photo trip, but there are some historic and philosophical
matters I want to discuss. [You can skip this next part. This is more for me
and my need to record certain important facts for myself].
Interesting historic footnotes

• Opera: Chinese opera captures some of the most outrageous aspects of

Chinese history. In one tale, thought to be true, an emperor hated a
certain revolutionary and wanted his head. The revolutionary
similarly wanted to kill and depose the emperor. Our revolutionary
one day met a man who also hated the emperor. A deal was hatched.
Our revolutionary offered to kill himself so that this man could take
his head to the emperor and ‘get close to him.’ They agreed. The
suicide happened, and the other man brought his head to the emperor,.
The emperor was overjoyed and celebrated this great man for ridding
the empire of this evil revolutionary. In thus getting close to the
emperor, he found the right time and place to slay him. So goes the

• Mata Hari is the name of Xi Shi, allegedly the most beautiful girl in
Chinese history. The state of Wu lost a war to the state of Yue. Mata
Hari was trained for a double mission to charm the Wu king so that he
would neglect the affairs of state. Xi Shi carried out her role and the
king was conquered. Wui and Xi Shi lived happily ever after. Mata
Hari was also the stage name of Margaretha Macleod a Dutch exotic
dancer who was thought to be a spy and executed by the French in
World War I.

• In the expanse of Chinese history, many ideas and preconceptions get

tarnished. For example, I always thought Vietnam struggled fiercely
for its independence. It did, but that does not take away the fact that
Vietnam was a Chinese “protectorate” for over 18 centuries. Tibet
was similarly a protectorate of China for over 200 years.

• I never knew that Mao and Chaing Kai Shek were once allies in their
attempts to throw out the foreign invaders and influences in China.

• One of the possible reasons for China’s long history is that in 589 it
introduced civil service examinations which continued throughout its
history. Instead of relatives and the wealthy occupying significant
positions, China established a meritocracy to govern itself, and only
the most intelligent and talented gained important positions in
government. Kind of cool.
• The Chinese invented the compass, paper, printing, and gunpowder,
but strangely they never used gunpowder in guns! It was merely an
explosive agent to them. They also invented the ship rudder, stirrups,
the crossbow, the iron plough, the wheelbarrow, hot air balloons and
the folding umbrella.

• I also found it interesting that some of the world’s greatest minds were
all born around the same time. All within 191 years of each other.

Confucius 551 BC
Lao Tzu 575 BC
Buddha/Siddhartha/Sakyamuni 563BC
Socrates 469 BC
Plato 429 BC
Aristotle 384 BC

So completes our interesting journey. If you got this far, thanks for sharing
in this virtual reconstruction.

Here are some random concluding photos of China that just fit nowhere and

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