Opinion

Passage to China

Gord Turner - File
Gord Turner
— image credit: File

In China I was expecting a backward country with rickshaws and bicycles all over the place, and poor people begging or barely surviving. I must have got bogged down in my history books of 50 years ago or read too many Pearl Buck novels. Anyway, China turned out to be a major surprise—a modern, progressive country moving forward rapidly.

From our arrival in Shanghai to the moment we flew out of Hong Kong, we were amazed at the places we stayed, the transportation available, and the modern quality of everything. Walking along the Bund overlooking the Huangpu River in Shanghai, we could have been in any major city in the world. Beautiful hotels and finely constructed buildings blended in with skyscrapers and the ornate pinkly-coloured Pearls Tower across the way.

Here we were in the midst of a city of 23 million people, and we felt at ease and safe.

People strolled by, took pictures, checked the monuments, and watched the river barges slide by.  American and European cars vied with Japanese and Korean vehicles for space along the excellent inter-city highways. Buses and trains were everywhere.

Many Chinese cities have banned motorcycles and bicycles from their major thoroughfares. In Chongqing, for example, a city of 33 million souls in the middle of the country, we never saw a single (motor) bike or bicycle on the roads - this in a city that has the largest motorcycle factories in China.

We were quite impressed with the city of Nanjing which we visited before our official tour. Here we visited the burial site of Sun Yat Sen (the first non-emperor leader from 1911), the mausoleum of one of the first emperors of the Ming Dynasty, and the education room of the Confucian Centre. We walked among the gardens on Purple Mountain and spent an afternoon in Rain Flower Park among the monuments to the heroes of Nanjing’s wars.

Once we met our Canadian friends in Beijing and began the official tour, we did all the Beijing sights you hear about—the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Peking Opera, and Tiananmen Square.  Then we were flown to Tsian where the highlight was the visit to the centre for the terracotta warriors.

As we entered the huge hockey-rink of a building, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Here were terracotta figures, some ten feet tall, and large work horses created 2000 years ago, and only recently unearthed. In one area alone, they unearthed up to 5,000 of these creations, all individual in design and look. Apparently, the young emperor of the time wanted a huge army on guard along the path to his tomb, and so the populace worked on these terracotta figures over many decades.

I loved the three days on a cruise ship traveling through the Yangtze Gorges, but I thought the trip along the Li River near Guilin was the highlight of beauty. Here the pointed, strangely shaped limestone peaks have been created by erosion over the centuries. They are so magnificent that the Chinese nearly always use these mountain photos for their tourist pamphlets. Our small cruise boat floated among water buffalo bathing in the waters and smaller sampans sliding by us with their wares.

Hong Kong was a bit of a bust after the wonder of the rest of China. We did admire the harbour laser light show one evening and had a good sampan ride in the old Aberdeen harbour. A quick trip to Portuguese Macau by jet boat took one of our Hong-Kong days, and too soon we were headed home.

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