China is amazing, exotic, frustrating. As one of our tour books begins: China is not so much a different country, as a different world. One example, Baruch was trying to communicate in gestures with a train conductor as to when we would arrive at our stop. They used the thumb and forefinger- so Baruch guessed that it meant 'In two stops.' How were we to know that in China one can count to 10 with the fingers of one hand. The above described 'two' actually means eight!. (We subsequently quickly learned their system and will show everyone on our return- and have quite enjoyed our new 'one handed' fluency in bargaining with shop keepers!) Anyway, although not quite cut off like Australia or Hawaii with their unique and endemic species, for example, China has been cut off from most exposure to the rest of the world (except for the Silk Route) and in the modern period, and so their culture has been able to evolve in its own way. Of course, in contrast to the vast open spaces of Australia, and the wildlife of Hawaii, China is very urban. Beijing, with 15 million people and 12 million bicycles! (No helmets: note- business opportunity- if you could convince China to legislate helmet wearing and supplied helmets, you could make millions! An excellent idea considering the driving. It is absolutely nuts! We're surprised at the [only] few accidents we witnessed (and the few we almost participated in!) Like Micah almost getting run over ON THE SIDEWALK!
Our tour began in Beijing and was our introduction to China. It is a smoker's paradise, so if you have any friends who are smokers and are frustrated by smoke free workplaces and restaurants, tell them to visit here! We feel like we need to be 'aired' out! We visited all the typical sites (Beijing photo albums are online). In the evening, we had the opportunity to experience Chinese culture and watched performances of Peking Opera, Chinese puppets, wushu (martial arts in the style of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and amazing acrobatics (both in Beijing and Shanghai). After Beijing, we flew to Xian to see the terra cotta warriors. Apologies, but Noam has been unable to upload his 100 photos [from Xian till now]. Although we have been able to e-mail, until Hong Kong, our website was not available from mainland China (nor was CNN, for example). Very telling.
From Xian we explored 'Jewish China': Kaifeng and Shanghai. Elyse has written a fuller report on Kolel's Sabbatical report.
Before our last stop of Hong Kong (really just to be with a Jewish community for Purim and to regroup before leaving for Thailand) was the highlight of Guillin. The only non-urban stop, from Guilin one is able to take a cruise down the Li River, and the views are like a Chinese painting. (100 boats typically carry 100 passengers a day!) Our guide told us to remember these 4 things: clear waters, green hills, spectacular rocks and fantastic caves. Even though Guilin was much more rural- scenes of rice paddies and waterbuffalo, we were struck by the lack of wildlife in China. As contrasted with the rich (and sometimes crazy) wildlife so far (our animal album has 4 pages!), we saw almost NO animals at all. The only birds we saw in the city were sparrows, pigeons and few crows. In Guilin, we saw cages of animals outside restaurants- snakes, turtles, frogs, snails and inverterbrates of all kinds, peacocks, owls, and pheasants, and a number of furry mammals: a possum-like creature and a bamboo rat (sort of a rabbit without long ears). Unfortunately these animals were on the menu- and patrons could pick out their animal which would be dispatched (fairly unmercilessly- we witnessed a pheasant being beaten to death). There is a saying re: the Cantonese. "They eat anything with 4 legs except for tables and anything that flies except airplines." After Guilin, we believe it! If you weren't a vegetarian before Guilin, you would certainly consider it after!
Hopefully Noam can upload some of the pictures soon.