Giant Pandas and Ancient Shu Civilization

Had a very delicious, full breakfast at the Tianfu Sunshine Hotel. There was so much food, so much variety, it was a little like a Sunday Brunch but for Chinese people. There was an omelet station, though, for the egg eaters. Had some soup with noodles, some lotus root, some buns. Wow!

Latitude 30.73508, Longitude 104.143503

We headed out in a touring bus to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. On the bus, Earth Science Professor presented an interesting discussion on the significance of the panda’s ‘thumb’ in the discourse on evolution. The setting for the panda center is a very well-laid out and park-like and is a great place for understanding the importance of studying and breeding Giant Pandas. You can even hold a juvenile panda if you want to pay, the money goes to research center.

Latitude 31.005015, Longitude 104.215235

Back in the bus we made our way to the lunch spot which is where we will be after lunch, the Sanxingdui Museum. Geography Professor and Anthropology Professor talked about the different periods of Chinese dynasties as a lead up to the next stop.

The Sanxingdui Museum is an archaeological dig site that now houses a remarkable collection of artifacts from over 4000 years ago from the Shu civilization. The site was discovered in 1986 along a river, where this old civilization made its mark. What is in the museum are findings from excavations of sacrificial burial sites. Unused knives and other implements made of jade, clay pots, and coins were buried with people for use in the afterlife. Only one museum building was open when we went but in it was enough to keep you occupied for a long time. I could not take pictures inside. Also, the Google Earth aerial photographs of the site are very grainy and may be so to deter looters.

And finally, a few of us went out for a very cheap (110 yuan or $16US), two-hour long Thai massage. When we go back to Chengdu in a couple of days, we MUST go there again.


Shopping and Eating in Chengdu

We awoke to a 5:00am wake-up call and then gathered as a group by 5:30am. A tour bus took us to the Beijing airport. I couldn’t get any readings (fixes) from the GPS for most of the day. (See the success story at Starbucks below.) Geography Professor mentioned casually that I could get into trouble for ‘measuring things,’ so I’d like to not draw attention to myself. I’m carrying around a tablet PC with a GPS receiver sticking out one end and attached by a long cord. It looks kind of silly. I look like a dork, but when I have the locations of where I am, I and I think others will be happy for this small sacrifice.

We flew out of Beijing to Chengdu on an airline that I do not know. It was a great flight and the Beijing terminal was very modern, not at all like the terminal I flew into in 1996. And it wasn’t the international terminal all set for the Olympics that I flew into the other evening.

Our Tour Guide for the Sichuan Province part of the trip met us at the airport and we boarded a bus. She gave us an introductory talk about what we would be doing in Chengdu. She mentioned that when she was waiting for us at the baggage claim she noticed that many of the Chinese people there remarked at how happy they were to see our (American) group coming in so soon after the May 12 earthquake. They thought of it as a vote of confidence and support. Tour Guide also told this funny story about what she felt when the earthquake occurred (it didn’t hit Chengdu hard at all where we saw no earthquake evidence). She said that when the earthquake happened she thought ‘some naughty boys were playing the firecrackers in the house,’ and she was going to get up in the morning and go and tell them to stop it.

Once in Chengdu we stopped to have lunch. It was delicious and very spicy hot. Apparently, the Sichuan style of cooking is to use a lot of known, local, simple ingredients and make something really yummy and special. That was what we had. A variety of small dishes came out, for each of us to sample, and they were so good. It was a little like having tapas. Another humorous thing that Tour Guide said was that in Sichuan Province, with all the spicy food, the women are thought of as ‘spicy girls.’ I think she thought of herself as a spicy girl, herself.

Fed and happy, we went to the Wide and Narrow Alley shopping area. This is on Jinli Street. As I said I could not get a reading of where we were, but it was a new area opened up for shopping and strolling. Some homes are there in the ‘alleys’ and some of the former homes are made into shops. One notable building is a ‘church’ built by French people in the 1830s but all the windows had Star of Davids and it was an obvious synagogue. It will soon be a restaurant. Since this area is relatively new there was information on the Wide and Narrow Alley on Google Earth. But perhaps when I get more time I’ll investigate this street and its significance.

Then we went to the Dufu Thatched Cottage Museum. This is well-known and in Google Earth. Dufu was a Chinese poet who lived in the 700s. He is comparable to Shakespeare and highly revered. This thatched cottage is a place he wrote only briefly in his life. The grounds were beautiful. It seems as though Dufu’s works are co-opted throughout the ages and he the current party can find communist leanings in his writing from over a thousand years ago. Certainly.

Latitude 30.647627, Longitude 104.047428

Hopefully this is the last of these shopping jaunts, for next we went to another shopping spot on Qintai Road. I just rested at Starbucks and DID get a GPS location. Probably because I could sit still for awhile in order to get a fix on the satellites. (See Google Earth link for the days adventure spots). Anyway, this was another ‘alley’ for shopping. There will be plenty of shopping opportunities along the way, to be sure. Oh, and though this was Starbucks, the coffee was divine. Much more flavorful than the American brew.

Latitude 30.646595, Longitude 104.043257
Then we walked two blocks to get on the bus to drive one block to another eating establishment. None of us were hungry but when you put terrific and beautiful food in front of me, I can’t help myself. I wouldn’t want to be rude. Again, the food was spicy yummy.
Latitude 30.670017, Longitude 104.076658
We checked in to the Tianfu Sunshine Hotel. The hotel seems nicer than our first hotel, which was great. More on the hotel later with my TripAdvisor review.


Meeting Up in Beijing

We gathered at 7pm at the lobby of the Beijing International Hotel (note the curvature which is a little like Noyes House) and then went to a ‘family style’ restaurant. I don’t know the name. It had a lot of tourists in it and the food came out and was placed on a lazy Susan in the middle of the table. It was not outstanding. Our tour operator who has planned everything made sure we had an easy, agreeable meal for our first meal, I think. Here's my review on Tripadvisor.

We will be going to Tibet and that’s a good thing. But we will not go there for another few days. First, tomorrow morning we leave for Chengdu for some touring.

I've been to China once before and then as now I marvel at the interesting ways that the English language comes out in Chinese culture. Here's a lovely example of what I mean:

On an advertisement for the hotel spa that came with my room key under new recommended items...
Whitening and tightening body massage with milk 580 yuan/70 mins
Wonderful experience to make your skin and muscle cells regenerate, to whiten and moist your body, to prevent your body from degradation to keep healthy and gloss.

Photo is by PALLYCH72. Mine aren't ready yet.


Getting to Beijing, China

Day 1 June 26, 2008

LATITUDE LONGITUDE JFK International Airport (40.643532, -73.789168)

I left Poughkeepsie on Metro North at 6:43am to Grand Central Station. I didn’t need to leave this early. I caught the New York Airport bus at 9:10am ($15US). I arrived at Terminal 1 at JFK International Airport by about 10:15am, checked in like a breeze. I wondered aloud to the Japan Airlines staff if I really needed to be three hours early. My flight was not until 1:30pm. He said ‘no,’ and that sometimes all you need is an hour. So, live and learn. The security check-point was much longer, but still within reason in terms of amount of time it took me to get through.

I bought two bottles of water and exchanged $100US (600 yuan) once I got through the check point. I also bought a small bottle of rum at the duty free ($7US) as a sleep aid. I won’t drink the rum with the Benadryl I brought.

I’ve been advised by an airline pilot friend to start to sleep on China time. China is exactly 12 hours different than we are in New York, so it’s a little hard to think about it being 1:00am at the place that I’m getting ready to go to. Airline Pilot said to ‘drink lots of water; suck it up and buy two bottles after you get through the security check point and then drink it all flight long, even after the flight attendants go to sleep; get up and stretch, not just walk, but do knee bends, and legs stretches, especially the legs; take a sleep aid to sleep when China is sleeping (Tylenol PM or Benadryl).’ I’ll let you know how that goes.

So far, this is very exciting and going smooth, but I’m just at the beginning of the trip and have yet to get out of the country. Next stop is Narita Airport in Tokyo Japan.

On the plane (13 plus hours) I saw a lot of movies. I’ll start with the best: “Vantage Point.” I really liked this thriller; right up my alley. If you don’t know what it’s about, you can look it up, but the premise is that we see an assassination attempt from many different vantage points. This was the highlight for a geospatial technologist: the assassin used a geolocated weapon and a mobile pen-based device to 1) anonymously shoot the designated assassinated person, and 2) detonate a bomb on a suicide bomber.

Do not see: “10,000 BC.” Wow! What a dog of a movie. It was incredibly stupid and very poorly acted. Who wants to see a bunch of guys running around with very little clothing and shaking spears at each other? Don’t answer that. I wanted way more of the mastodons and maybe even some saber tooth tigers.

Ditto: “Fools Golds.” Ugho! This was another lame, poorly acted, dumb movie that was all about cutesy flirtatious talk between two fairly attractive people. They talk in that way that real life people think they talk like and don’t and it just sounds so disgusting.

I saw others but they were films I’d seen before. I played a lot of Tetris. Read an Annie Proulx short story in the New Yorker.

My flight was on Japan Airlines. I highly recommend this carrier. Accept for the fact that there was an obvious hierarchy between the poor-folks in the back of the bus and the fancy folks in First Class, I liked everything about this flight. I got up, walked around, didn’t need a sleep aid, got free alcohol. Did all the stretches that Airline Pilot suggested doing.

By the way, the free alcohol is a good thing because when I got to Narita Airport, they took my duty free rum that I bought at the JFK airport AFTER I went through the security check point. Can someone please explain how that is possible?! I kept my receipt so if I have the energy, I can try to get back my seven smackers, but is it worth it?

LATITUDE LONGITUDE at Tokyo Narita Airport (35.777463, 140.39085)

Still Day 1 – now it’s June 27: Connecting flight to Beijing left a little late so I got into Beijing at about 10:00pm. Took a cab from the airport. I had a piece of paper with the name of the hotel (Beijing International Hotel) with the address both in English and in Chinese. First thing you should do is have confidence that the driver knows where he or she is going and how much it will cost you. My driver got lost. The highways, just like the airport, are new and I think confusing to everyone. I saw a lot of cars stopping on the highway leading out of the airport and going into reverse to make an exit. Seemed pretty dangerous. I didn’t think too much of it until my own driver seemed to miss an exit. He told me at the beginning that it would be $100yuan. He got so lost though that I made me pay $200yuan (about $30US). I hope the drivers figure out how to get around before the Olympics start up!

I made it to my hotel, though, and that’s what matters! Very nice room. More later or on Tripadvisor.

Check out the Google Earth file for a blow by blow of where I’ve been to get to Beijing.


Added the Loki Toolbar to Internet Explorer

I added the Loki toolbar for the trip to China. If you like mapping your every little move, Loki is pretty cool. If you sit at a desk all day, Loki is probably boring.

I will also bring along a tablet PC with a GPS receiver so we'll see how accurate Loki / the GPS are to one another.

Here is where I am today: 41.685476; -73.897733


Tibet is Open

With our visas in hand, a group of us will set out for...Tibet as originally planned. Tibet will be open by the time I and we get there. Keep you posted. The geologists on the trip will put together some discussions of the tectonics of the region and recent earthquake in Sichuan province.

I'm heading out on Thursday morning, taking Metro North down to Grand Central Station, a bus down to JFK airport and then off to Japan and then Beijing, China, for seventeen days.


Planning on Going to Tibet, I Mean China, I Mean Chengdu

Soon a group of us will be headed out to meet up in Beijing. The original plan was to make our way south by train to Tibet, but entry to Tibet is still closed. After the Tibetan uprising, we made alternative plans to go Chengdu, where the recent earthquake occurred. We are not really sure where we will be headed but I will try to add information on this blog as we go.