Searching for locations: The Golden Mask Dynasty Show, Beijing, China

The Golden Mask Dynasty Show was located at the OCT Theatre in Beijing’s Happy Valley. 

The theatre was quite full and the seats we had were directly behind the VIP area; as our guide told us, we had the best seats in the house. 

The play has 20 different dance scenes that depict war, royal banquets, and romance.  There are eight chapters and over 200 actors, and throughout the performance we were entertained by dancers, acrobats, costumes, lighting, and acoustics.

The story:

It is of romantic legend and historical memories, the Golden Mask Queen leads her army in defeating the invading Blue Mask King’s army, and afterwards the lands return to a leisurely pastoral life until the Queen forges a ‘mysterious tree’.  When the tree has grown, the Queen has a grand celebration, and releases the captured Blue soldiers, much to the admiration of the Blue Mask King.
This is followed by monstrous floods, and to save her people, and on the advice from the ‘mysterious tree’, the Queen sacrifices herself to save her people.  The Queen then turns into a golden sunbird flying in the sky blessing the people and that of the dynasty.

Billed as the best live show in China, described as a large scale dramatic musical, “The Golden Mask Dynasty” it lived up to its reputation and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

It was not just singing dancing and acrobatics, it had a story and it was told so that language and cultural issues aside, it worked.  There was a narration of the story running beside the stage, but it was hard to divide attention between what was happening, and what was being related.

Then came the peacock dance, with live peacocks

And this was followed by a waterfall, well, I don’t think anyone in that audience could believe what they were seeing.

I know I was both astonished and in awe of the performance.

What a way to finish off our first day in Beijing.

Oh, sorry, that high was dented slightly when we had to go back to our room.

Searching for locations: The Yu Gardens, Shanghai, China

The Yu Gardens or Yuyuan Gardens

The Yu Gardens (or Yuyuan Gardens) are located at No. 137, Anren Street, Huangpu District, very close to the Old City God Temple, in the northeast of the Old City of Shanghai at Huangpu.

Yu Garden was first built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty by Pan Yunduan and finished approximately 1577, created specifically as a private garden of the Pan family for Pan Yunduan’s parents to enjoy in their old age.

Yu Garden occupies an area of 5 acres, and is divided into six general areas:

  -Sansui Hall which includes the Grand Rockery was originally used to entertain guests,

  -Wanhua Chamber is a delicate building surrounded by derious cloisters,

  -Dianchun Hall, built in 1820, includes Treasury Hall and the Hall of Harmony,

  -Huijing Hall which includes Jade Water Corridor.

  -Yuhua Hall which is furnished with rosewood pieces from the Ming Dynasty, and,

  -The Inner Garden with rockeries, ponds, pavilions, and towers; first laid out in 1709.  As the quietest part of Yu Gardens, it includes the Hall of Serenity and the Acting and Singing Stage.

The Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse, within the gardens, is the oldest teahouse in Shanghai.

A centerpiece of the gardens is the Exquisite Jade Rock, a 5-ton boulder that was originally meant for the Huizong Emperor (Northern Song Dynasty from 1100-1126 AD) but was salvaged from the Huangpu River after the boat carrying it had sunk.

These gardens house a lot of buildings that seemed to be a perfect blend of the old and the new, and if it was up to me, I’d keep the old.  Both the building and the gardens they are set in are like an oasis in the middle of an industrial complex, and perhaps impractical for the number of people living in Shanghai.

All of the ponds had a lot of fish in them

It was a pleasant afternoon, for both a stroll through the gardens

In and out of the rockery on narrow pathways

And to look inside the buildings that were sparsely furnished

There was even an area set aside for entertainment.

Searching for locations: The Bund, Shanghai, China

The Bund

The architecture along the Bund or Waitan is a living museum of the colonial history of the 1800s.  The area centers on a section of Zhongshan Road within the former Shanghai International Settlement.

The word bund means an embankment or an embanked quay.   It was initially a British settlement; later the British and American settlements were combined in the International Settlement.

The Bund is a mile-long stretch of waterfront promenade along the Huangpu River. There are 52 buildings of various architectural styles, including Gothic, baroque, and neoclassical styles. The area is often referred to as “the museum of buildings”.

Building styles include Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, Baroque Revival, Neo-Classical or Beaux-Arts, as well as a number in Art Deco style.

Having seen these buildings initially the night before, mostly lit up, our viewing this morning was from the land side, and particularly interesting in that the colonial architecture was really fascinating considering their location, but not surprising given Shanghai’s history.  A lot of these buildings would be more at home in London, that out in the far east.

The Bund waterfront is about two kilometers long and impossible to cover in the time allowed for this part of the tour.

There was just enough time to get photos of the waterfront and the old buildings.

Some of these buildings had odd shapes, like one on the far right that looks like a bottle opener.

And, for some odd reason, a bull.

On the other side of the water, the sights that had been quite colorful the night before, were equally impressive though somewhat diminished by the haze.

Searching for locations: The Silk Factory, Suzhou, China

China is renowned for its exquisite silk, so naturally, a visit to the Silk Spinning Factory is part of today’s tour.

After that, we will be heading downtown to an unspecified location where we’re getting a boat ride, walk through a typical Chinese shopping experience, and coffee at a coffee shop that is doubling as the meeting place, after we soak up the local atmosphere.

The problem with that is that if the entire collective trip a deal tourists take this route then the savvy shopkeepers will jack up their prices tenfold because we’re tourists with money.  It’ll be interesting to see how expensive everything is.

So…

Before we reach the silk factory, we are told that Suzhou is the main silk area of China, and we will be visiting a nearly 100 years old, Suzhou No 1 Silk Mill, established in 1926.  Suzhou has a 4,700-year history of making silk products.  It is located at No. 94, Nanmen Road, Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.

Then we arrive at the Silk Factory, another government-owned establishment with a castiron guarantee of quality and satisfaction.

The look and feel of the doona cover certainly backs up that claim

And the colors and variety is amazing (as is the cost of those exquisite sets)

We get to see the silk cocoon stretched beyond imagination, and see how the silk thread is extracted, then off to the showroom for the sales pitch.

It isn’t a hard sell, and the sheets, doonas, pillows, and pillowcases, are reasonably priced, and come with their own suitcase (for free) so you can take them with you, or free shipping, by slow boat, if you prefer not to take the goods with you.

We opt for the second choice, as there’s no room left in our baggage after packing the Chinese Medicine.

Searching for locations: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China

The Henan Museum is one of the oldest museums in China.  In June 1927, General Feng Yuxiang proposed that a museum be built, and it was completed the next year.  n 1961, along with the move of the provincial capital, Henan Museum moved from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou.

It currently holds about 130,000 individual pieces, more of which are mostly cultural relics, bronze vessels of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and pottery and porcelain wares of the various dynasties.

Eventually, we arrive at the museum and get off the bus adjacent to a scooter track and despite the efforts of the guide, there’s no stopping them from nearly running us over.

We arrive to find the museum has been moved to a different and somewhat smaller building nearby as the existing, and rather distinctively designed, building is being renovated.

While we are waiting for the tickets to enter, we are given another view of industrial life in that there is nothing that resembles proper health and safety on worksites in this country, and the workers are basically standing on what looks to be a flimsy bamboo ladder with nothing to stop them from falling off.

The museum itself has exhibits dating back a few thousand years and consist of bronze and ceramic items.  One of the highlights was a tortoiseshell with reportedly the oldest know writing ever found.

Other than that it was a series of cooking utensils, a table, and ceramic pots, some in very good condition considering their age.


There were also small sculptures

an array of small figures

and a model of a settlement

20 minutes was long enough.

Searching for locations: Shaolin Kung Fu, near Zhengzhou City, Henan Province, China

After leaving the hotel in Zhengzhou, what was once one of the eight ancient capitals of China, we are going to Dengfeng city, and the home of China’s most famous martial art – Shaolin Kung Fu.

The Shaolin Temple nearby is the origin of Chinese Zen Buddhism, and the Songyang Academy, called “the Centre of Heaven and Earth” is located 87 Km from Zhengzhou, or, as we were advised, a 2 hour drive.  It will be scenic because we are heading towards the mountains.

As one of the four ancient Song Dynasty Academies, Songyang Academy is one of many schools in the province.  It is both on a large-scale, is quite spectacular, and is a comprehensive Wushu training base where students are trained to spread the Shaolin Wushu Kung fu style at home and abroad.

There is a 500 seat demonstration hall where you are able to observe 30 minutes of various martial arts in shows starting on the hour.

Outside there is a specific area that generally has about 600 trainees learning kung fu elements during the day, but can hold 5,000 [ep[;e when outdoor performances are required.

The kung fu school

The thing you notice most about the kung fu school is it’s size and then the number of buses which tells you that it is a popular tourist stop.

And with that size comes long distances between the car park and the venues we need to go to, the first of which is about half a km, and that’s just to get to the ticket plaza.

But, it is pleasantly set out and is quite a large number of shops for both souvenirs and food

We pass by some of the students going through their paces

From there it’s another long, long walk to the show arena, where we’re supposed to see various kung fu elements on display.  We watched this for a few minutes, then headed off towards the hall for a more intense demonstration of kung fu, and because there is limited seating we have to start lining at the head of the queue to get a seat.

But…

Everyone else has the same idea and we join the throng which then becomes a ride, and true to the Chinese they start finding ways to push in, even using the imaginary friend somewhere ahead in the queue.

The doors open and then it’s open slather, with the hoards pushing from behind and sliding up the side to get in first.  We go with the tide, and manage to get in and find a seat though we were separated from three of our group.

It was an interesting show even though not one word of English was spoken, which from our point of view was a disappointment because we had no idea what was going on.

However…

It wasn’t hard to follow

What the performers were doing was relatively self-explanatory, and quite fascinating especially the guy who broke a sword over his head, and the guy who stopped two spears penetrating the neck, both examples of very disciplined men.

Boys gave a demonstration of kung fu moves, and intensity and age increased as this progressed to the end.

Next, we were taken in hand by an instructor in Tai chi or an equivalent, I was not quite sure what it was called, and went through the twelve or maybe more moves that constituted a morning or afternoon exercise session or it could be just for relaxation.  I lasted the first session but it was a little difficult to do with my sore limbs and a bad back.

Not that I could remember any of it now other than hands overhead, hands in front, bent knees, and a few gentle kung fu hand moves.

Perhaps when I get home I might seek out someone to show me the moves.

Whilst the others were following their training instructor, I wandered about, finding a large statue


And some smaller statues

Lunch in the Zen Restaurant

After all that exercise it was time to have the lunch purportedly the same food as the king fu masters.
It’s in the Zen restaurant, aptly named, and the food when it came, came thick and fast, but some of it wasn’t very nice, meat with bones, tofu, a tasteless soup, but some good dishes like the vegetables and noodles with meat, without bones.

The only problem, nothing to drink except a pot of hot water.  No tea, no cold water, and if you wanted a cold drink you had to pay for it.  After paying 550 yuan why should we have to pay more for a drink when we have not had to so far.

But no cold water?  That was just not on, and when we brought this to that attention of the tour guide she just simply ignored us.  We just didn’t get anything.

That basically tainted the whole experience.

After lunch,  we had the Shaolin Temple, and the Pogoda Forest to visit.

Searching for locations: From Beijing to X’ian by bullet train

Beijing West train station.

Beijing west railway station is about eight kilometers from the Forbidden City, located at East Lianhuachi Road, Fengtai District.  Most trains traveling between south central, southwest, northwest, and south China are boarded here.

This place is huge and there are so many people here, perhaps the other half of Beijing’s population that wasn’t in the forbidden city.

Getting into the station looked like it was going to be fraught with danger but the tour guide got us into the right queue and then arranged for a separate scanner for the group to help keep us all together

Then we decided to take the VIP service and got to waiting room no 13, the VIP service waiting room which was full to overflowing.  Everyone today was a VIP.  We got the red hat guy to lead us to a special area away from the crowd.

Actually, it was on the other side of the gate, away from the hoards sitting or standing patiently in the waiting room.  It gave us a chance to get something to eat before the long train ride.

The departure is at 4 pm, the train number was G655, and we were told the trains leave on time.  As it is a high-speed train, stops are far and few between, but we’re lucky, this time, in that we don’t have to count stations to know where to get off.

We’re going to the end of the line.

However, it was interesting to note the stops which, in each case, were brief, and you had to be ready to get off in a hurry.

These stops were Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou East, Luoyang Longmen, Huashan North, and Weinan North.  At night, you could see the lights of these cities from a distance and were like oases in the middle of a desert.  During the day, the most prominent features were high rise apartment blocks and power stations.

A train ride with a difference

G Trains at Wuhan Railway Station

China’s high-speed trains, also known as bullet or fast trains, can reach a top speed of 350 km/h (217 mph).

Over 2,800 pairs of bullet trains numbered by G, D or C run daily connecting over 550 cities in China and covering 33 of the country’s 34 provinces. Beijing-Shanghai high-speed train link the two megacities 1,318 km (819 mi) away in just 4.5 hours.

By 2019, China keeps the world’s largest high-speed rail (HSR) network with a length totaling over 35,000 km (21,750 mi).

To make the five and a half hours go quicker we keep an eye on the speed which hovers between 290 and 305 kph, and sitting there with our camera waiting for the speed to hit 305 which is a rare occurrence, and then, for 306 and then for 307, which happened when we all took a stroll up to the restaurant car to find there had nothing to eat.

I got a strange flavored drink for 20 yuan.

There was a lady manning a trolley that had some food, and fresh, maybe, fruit on it, and she had a sense of humor if not much English.

We didn’t but anything but the barrel of caramel popcorn looked good.

The good thing was, after hovering around 298, and 299 kph, it finally hit 300.

We get to the end of the line, and there is an announcement in Chinese that we don’t understand and attempts to find out if it is the last station fall on deaf ears, probably more to do with the language barrier than anything else.

Then, suddenly the train conductor, the lady with the red hat, comes and tells us it is, and we have fifteen minutes, so we’re now hurrying to get off.

As the group was are scattered up and down the platform, we all come together and we go down the escalator, and, at the bottom, we see the trip-a-deal flags.

X’ian,and the Xi’an North Railway Station

Xi’an North Railway Station is one of the most important transportation hubs of the Chinese high-speed rail network. It is about 8.7 miles (14 km) from Bell Tower (city center) and is located at the intersection of the Weiyang Road and Wenjing Road in Weiyang District.

This time we have a male guide, Sam, who meets us at the end of the platform after we have disembarked.  We have a few hiccups before we head to the bus.  Some of our travelers are not on his list, but with the other group.  Apparently a trip-a-deal mix-up or miscommunication perhaps.

Then it’s another long walk with bags to the bus.  Good thing its a nicely air-conditioned newish bus, and there’s water, and beer for 10 yuan.  How could you pass up a tsing tao for that price?

Xi’an is a very brightly lit up city at night with wide roads.  It is very welcoming, and a surprise for a city of 10 million out in the middle of China.

As with all hotels, it’s about a 50-minute drive from the railway station and we are all tired by the time we get there.

Tomorrow’s program will be up at 6, on the bus 8.40 and off to the soldiers, 2.00 late lunch, then train station to catch the 4.00 train, that will arrive 2 hours later at the next stop.  A not so late night this time.

The Grand Noble Hotel

Outdoor scene

Grand Noble Hotel Xi’an is located in the most prosperous business district within the ancient city wall in the center of Xi’an.

The Grand Noble Hotel, like the Friendship Hotel, had a very flash foyer with tons of polished marble.  It sent out warning signals, but when we got to our room, we found it to be absolutely stunning.  More room, a large bathroom, air conditioning the works.

Only one small problem, as in Beijing the lighting is inadequate.  Other than that it’s what I would call a five-star hotel.  This one is definitely better than the Friendship Hotel.

In the center of the city, very close to the bell tower, one of the few ancient buildings left in Xi’an.  It is also in the middle of a larger roundabout and had a guard with a machine gun.

Sadly there was no time for city center sightseeing.

Searching for locations: The Longjing Pearl Factory, Beijing, China

The Longjing Pearl Factory is located at:
No.2 Zuoan Gate Inner Street, ChongWen District, Beijing 100061 China.

This Pearl Center specializes in both freshwater and seawater pearls, with a reputation backed by the government of China, with a big selection and of the highest quality.  There were all kinds of jewelry made of pearls in different colors, shapes, and sizes.

They also had, as an interesting sideline, famous Chinese traditional cosmetics such as pearl cream and pearl powder, reputed to make your skin smoother, tendered and most importantly, younger.

We were advised of all of this well before we arrived at the factory, and of course, one suspected the glowing review, with emphasis on the fact it was a government operation and therefore trustworthy, suggested we should buy, meant the tour guide would receive a commission on each sale.

This is nothing new, it’s the same the world over, so it’s up to the visitor to buy or not to buy.

As soon as you get in the door you are taken to the group’s guide for the tour (and afterward, available for help on making purchases). who gives you a rundown on the different types and colors of pearls.  This briefly is,

Pearls come in two main categories: freshwater cultured pearls and saltwater cultured pearls. Various types of pearls are the result of the environment in which they live, and different cultivation techniques used by the pearl farmers. 

Freshwater cultured pearls are grown in lakes and rivers, whereas saltwater cultured pearls are grown in bodies of saltwater such as bays.  The most commonly used pearls are Freshwater pearls. 

Freshwater Pearls come in various pastel shades of white, pink, peach, lavender, plum, purple, and tangerine.  
South Sea cultured pearls come in shades of lustrous white, often with silver or rose overtones. 

Black pearls are known as Tahitian pearls and come most often in shades of black and gray. While a Tahitian pearl has a black body color, it will vary in its overtones, which most often will be green or pink.

Then there’s a demonstration, where one of the tour group is selected to pick an oyster out of the tank, and then there’s the guessing game as to how many pearls are in the shell, with the winner getting a pearl.

Guesses ranged from 1 to 23 and the answer was 26.  Nearest wins, and one for the person who picked the oyster out of the tank.  After this demonstration, we move on to the ways we can tell the difference between real and fake pearls.

It seems strange that they would, but we were guaranteed by both the tour guide and the lady delivering the lecture that the pearls we were about to buy were real, so how could we suspect there was anything dodgy about them?  Besides, now we could tell real from fake!

We then move onto the showroom floor where there are casements of pearl products, in the form of necklaces, earrings, and any number of variations and uses.  And, just to let you know, the prices are very, very expensive, even if they say they have a special.

Perhaps the best products, and those that found favor with many of the women on the tour, was the pearl cremes and powders.  These were not expensive, and, as we discovered later, actually worked as described.

Searching for locations: On the road to Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

One the first things you notice when driving around Beijing, other than the roads are congested with traffic, is the number of trees and flowers that have been planted, in the median strip as well as along the edges of the road.

What you also notice is the large number of multi-story apartment blocks, which are needed to house the millions of Beijing residents.  What we have, so far, rarely seen, is single-story houses.
These continuous areas of trees and rose bushes are, every now and then, broken up by very colorful garden beds:

Nearer to the square we are able to get up close to the flowers.  These, we are told, are a variation on the rose, one that flowers for nine months of the year.

They come in a variety of colors.

And they are literally everywhere you go, on the side of the roadway, often blotting out the concrete jungle behind them.

Searching for locations: On the road to Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

One the first things you notice when driving around Beijing, other than the roads are congested with traffic, is the number of trees and flowers that have been planted, in the median strip as well as along the edges of the road.

What you also notice is the large number of multi-story apartment blocks, which are needed to house the millions of Beijing residents.  What we have, so far, rarely seen, is single-story houses.
These continuous areas of trees and rose bushes are, every now and then, broken up by very colorful garden beds:

Nearer to the square we are able to get up close to the flowers.  These, we are told, are a variation on the rose, one that flowers for nine months of the year.

They come in a variety of colors.

And they are literally everywhere you go, on the side of the roadway, often blotting out the concrete jungle behind them.