Rob Cheng's Blog
Lost In Shanghai

A big surprise about China Tours is that they control your schedule from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. And they keep you busy, very busy. Finally, by Day 9 of our trip, they gave us a day off in Shanghai. Some people in our group decided just to stay in their hotel, because they were just tired. We decided to go shopping and see Shanghai with Özgür and Selin Tanriverdi our new friends from Dubai.

Based on the recommendation of our guide, we walked to Metro City to purchase a new camera for Solange. Her point and shoot camera was slowly breaking, and I decided to spring for a professional SLR type camera during this trip. Metro City is a very different shopping experience than American retail outlets. It is a huge building with four floors of all things electronics. It is like 20 Best Buys all rolled into one. The problem is that it is possible to buy the same camera from over 20 different merchants.

First off, we had no idea what we wanted as I have little experience with SLR cameras. Fortunately, Özgür is a camera enthusiast, and we finally settled on a Nikon 3000 with a 18mm – 200mm lens. It was no easy task to figure this out because there are so many selections by all the manufacturers. Then we wanted a good price but we had no idea. Finally, we found a place with a great deal, but when they realized we were tourists, the price went up. They wanted another $200 for a warranty. I felt like I had been slimed, like I could not trust these people. So we left and went to another shop where we found the same camera including warranty. Great! But now, they won’t accept my international credit card. In fact, they don’t accept credit cards at all. The price was about 9000 RMB or about US$1400. I had no idea on whether it was a good price but I was positive it was a better price than I could pay in Brazil. Read More

The Chinese Arts and Culture

As part of our package with China Tours, we went to four different artistic shows in four different cities. Below is a quick list of the shows and the cities.

Show City
Kung Fu Show Beijing
Ancient Dynasty         Xian
Light Show Yangshuo
Acrobat Show Shanghai

Kung Fu Show When I first heard about this, I had thought it would be a Kung Fu demonstration which I thought might be entertaining. However, it was quite different. The Kung Fu Show was actually a small play set to music and dance. The sound system in the theatre was awesome and the music truly floated through your ears. The play was about a young boy that wanted to become a Kung Fu master. He learns the ways, but he loses his focus because he falls in love with a beautiful woman. Ultimately, he finds his way back and becomes a master. The dance moves are quite elaborate and physically difficult. They are running and spinning through the air doing marvelous things. Many thought this was the best show of the tour. The one problem with this show was that photography was specifically prohibited and they made an announcement before the show began. So no pictures. 🙁

Ancient Dynasty This show was very elaborate and spectacular but in a very different way. The show endeavors to give us a flavor of how music, art and dance were during the times of ancient dynasty. Again, the sound system and lighting was fantastic. The costumes were amazing. More importantly than that, there were close to 200 people participating in the show. Because they were all running around changing costumes, it felt more like 400. They also had a few music scenes which really gave a nice feeling for Chinese music and the stark differences from the commercialized western approach to music.

Solange deserves a lot of credit because they allowed photo, and she stood up the entire time, so she could take as many photos as possible. We have the best photos from this show.

The Light Show The Light Show was by far the most ambitious project and expensive production. The concept and the production was done by the same guy that did the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. The light show takes place in a large outdoor theatre overlooking a very large lakes with numerous large stone mountains as a back drop. The entire area is flooded with light including the mountains themselves.

Rather than a couple of hundred people, this shows has close to five hundred, again all in costume with multiple costume changes. It was quite dramatic, but this show fell short because it was quite confusing. There is a story line, but it is not clear how it all holds together. On top of that, since the story is being told over such a large area, it is hard sometimes to see what is happening. And it is harder still to take good photographs. My wife, always the steady hand, did her best, and those are the photos, you see in the slide show.

Acrobat Show If you have not seen the Chinese acrobats, they are certainly worth seeing. They have been travelling throughout the US, and I had the pleasure to see them twice in Myrtle Beach. The show is full of mind boggling acts that defy gravity or how you thought the human body can stretch. Some of the highlights are when they do acrobats on bicycles and they have five motorcycles simultaneously running in a large steel cage.

Unfortunately, we did not take many photos of this show. Before entering the show, we asked the guide whether photos were OK, and he answered affirmatively. When we got to the theatre, we had great seats and immediately starting snapping away. Shortly after, I woman from the theatre came and rudely hit my arm when I was taking a shot. I thought I was blocking someone’s view, so I tried to be more careful. But then she same and hit my arm again, and had a very stern look on her face. Despite our guide’s approval, it was clear that this woman was not. She reminded me of a rule Nazi, but I didn’t want to let this Nazi ruin a good show, so we stopped taking photos. It was a great show, but we only have a handful of photos from the beginning. Oh well, guess you will have to go see it yourself.

Terracotta Warriors

One of the must-see sights in China is the Terracotta Warriors. It is really an almost unbelievable story. Way back, well over 2000 years ago, the first emperor of China make the most elaborate tomb in the history of time. The tomb itself was the size of a small city covering many square miles. He decided to protect his soul in the afterlife, that he wanted to be surrounded by an army of his best servants. So he put all of his people to work to create life size replicas of his army.

Flash forward to 1974, and researchers were speculating that there must be untold treasures in this city size tomb of gold, art, and other valuables. They did not find that, but they found close to 8000 life size warriors, chariots, horses and so on. Although the discovery happened over 35 years ago, they are still working to unearth many of the warriors. It is a pain staking process because they must be careful not to break the warriors when excavating and then they must restore what time has damaged.

It really made me wonder what it was like to be a Chinese Emperor. I really marvel at someone that decides to build a city just for his tomb. Maybe they were going through a recession and it was his way of stimulating the economy and putting the people back to work. On the other hand, the same guy that did all of this was also the one that made the Great Wall of China. No doubt about it, that this guy (Qin Shi Huang) thought really big. If you look carefully at the warriors, each face is different. The amount of time to do this project must have been stunning.

I also learned a lot about photography. The lighting is not very good, and then on top, you need to zoom to get close to the warriors. This is really pushing the limit of what a point and click camera can do. Some of the photos are blurry because you need a perfectly steady hand or the picture will distort. Solange bought a new expensive camera and maybe that will take better pictures in tough conditions like this. Anyway, I still think that the photos give a pretty good flavor of what the Terracotta Army looks like in Xian, China.

Chinese River Cruise

Another segment of our tour of China was a boat tour from Guilin to Yangshuo. The tour provides a fairly large cruise boat for a 4 hour tour along the Li River. The main reason to do the boat tour is that the rock mountains along the side of the river are simply stunning. The pictures that one can take along the boat tour are perhaps the best we took during the entire tour. I hope you can see why.

Another reason it is interesting is that the only purpose of the river is for cruise boats and tourists. The weather was absolutely perfect and we were surrounded by hundreds of cruise boats large and small all full of tourists just like us. I shouldn’t say that because most of the tourists are from other parts of China. Let’s not forget that all tourism is run by the government and so basicaly the River Li is owned by the Ministry of Tourism.

Another interesting part of the voyage is called 9 horses. There is a huge mountain wall, and if you carefully, you can see a horse, and then another one, and so on. I was able to see 5, legend has it that there are nine on the wall.

The water is very shallow and very clear. We are way up in the mountains, and so it is very clear fresh water. I saw a few people stopping and swimming which might be a little dangerous since there were so many boats, but I really wanted to jump in and join them. Don’t forget to watch in Full Screen Mode.

The Chinese Farmland

Perhaps one of the most fascinating segments of our trip to China was a small side trip to the Chinese farmland. It as only an additional $20 per person for a 2 hour tour of the farmland. At first, I was quite skeptical but those fears were quickly doused.

The location of this farmland was in Yangshuo China which was located in the southeastern part of China. They said it snows in Yangshuo but we were there in the heat of the summer. This part of China is truly spectacular. These are these very large rock formations that are nestled in the country side. Most of these rocks are rather large and the size of mini mountains. It is called a rock climbers paradise because there are so many of these structures. From my standpoint, it made for some of the best photos that I have ever taken. Hope you like the slide show.

On top of that, I learned so much about the Chinese culture and government through this simple trip. Unlike the hustle and bustle of Beijing and Shanghai, the Chinese farmer lives a simple and uncomplicated existence. They have running water and electricity. Everyone has access to a television, and more recently almost every farmer has a cell phone. The internet however has not yet found its way to this small village near Yangshuo.

Shelter is provided by the government, and everyone had ample food and clothing. The housing is very basic, and does not have air conditioning nor heating despite the fact that it can get quite cold in this area. I was surprised to see the variety of food that they harvest from this land. They grow rice, soy bean, black bean, wheat, and more fruits than I can remember. The farmers are productive parts of Chinese society.

Let’s be clear that the people are in these photos are farmers that are supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, but they are also models. All tourism in the country is controlled by the Ministry of Tourism including the tour that I was on. More importantly, these farmers are part of the tour, and a small part of their compensation is also from being “models” in these tours for foreigners. Wow!

At one point in the tour, they gave us a demonstration of how rice is harvested. I had no idea, but each rice granule has a little husk that must be removed before it can be eaten. This is a very manual process although some basic machinery has been provided by the government. Here’s the kicker and this thought blew me away. The tour guide stated that the govenrment was aware that the farmer’s productivity was not growing at the same rate as the rest of the economy. After all, China has essentially become the world’s manufacturer for very consumable good in the world from electronics, furniture and everything in between. So the tour guide stated that the government planned to transition many of the labor intensive crops such as rice to poorer nations such as Malaysia. That is right, China is planning to begin importing rice in order to further increase the productivity of their population.

Whether you agree with the Communists or not, the Chinese have a plan and a vision to become the largest and most prosperous nation on earth. They are executing on this plan, and China is growing in wealth and productivity each and every day. It is stunning to see and I learned all of this in a little farm in Yangshuo provence.