Almost time to start the journey. Preparations have been underway for a few months. I thought it might be useful to relate some of the issues and their solutions that seem to work for us.
Having never been to Asia, we decided against our usual “on your own” style. China was the most intimidating since my language skills are limited. The idea of finding my way around a couple of the largest cities in the world is beyond my skill set, especially reading signs and asking directions in Shanghai and Beijing. We decided to do a fully escorted tour for the Chinese portion of the trip. Friends who have used Viking River Cruises gave it high marks. Reservations were made and now we are a couple of days away from joining the cruise on the Yangtze River.
It took two trips to our own City of San Francisco to get our Chinese Visas. The first visit to the Chinese Consulate involved a long wait in line. Most of the regular tourists used a Visa application service. The paperwork was straight forward. Our return a few days later yielded a cool Visa sticker from the Consulate. The Consulate front door had been set on fire a few weeks before and security was heightened but nothing like Sochi. There are a bunch of people headed to China. There was a group of college-age Missionaries in front of us along with numerous folks with little kids heading back for a visit to relatives. Only other thing worthy of note were the “information” stands outside the Consulate protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet and other transgressions. Since this was San Francisco, it was kind of expected.
To prepare ourselves for what we would be seeing and experiencing, we read. Each of us read a historical surveys of Japan and China. Peggy was a good sport and learned all of the Chinese dynasties. It was review for me but a few things have changed since my college days. Peking is no more except in the duck restaurants. My dear neighbor, Suzan lent me at least a hundred pounds of East Asian art books. I made a valiant effort but did not manage to read them all. At least I know what the three folds on Buddhas neck mean and that the earth is square and heaven a sphere. Good thing for Wikipedia although much of it may be blocked in China.
As for blocked web sites, Facebook is behind the Great Firewall. I think I have figured a way to post these blogs and link them on Facebook. Hopefully, this will not irritate the Chinese authorities too much. I do not plan on being news on CNN. I may have to be idiom laden in my commentary. I figure the small group of Chinese old guys who make all the important decisions have other things to do.
We will be with the 5 Star tour through most of China until the last day when we are on our own in Beijing. We have to try one real Chinese hotel after all the nights in the “Westin” and on the cruise ship. Peggy picked the Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel in the traditional Hutong area of Beijing. What could go wrong in such a place with a name like that?
Packing is always a challenge. If we were only on the cruise ship, we would load up our 50 pound suitcase and another 20 pounds for carryon. Since we will be riding the Japanese trains, we need to pack lighter and have bags that can be maneuvered through the stations and to our hotel. Fortunately, Viking doesn’t have formal nights and the required suits. Instead we have packed bug spray (for the Yangtze mosquitos), rain gear and binoculars for viewing the Terra Cotta Warriors. We need pack layers as temperatures in China can range all over the place. We do not have respirators for Beijing and will hope for the best. Our dear friend Reiko, who we will be visiting in Japan, says that March-April is the best time to visit Japan. I hope our clothing selections will work there also. We expect plenty of Cherry blossoms.
I assume that we will be pretty much isolated in China from the normal Chinese lifestyle. Our visits will probably mean following the umbrella guide. We shall see. In Japan we will be on our own most of the time. The Japanese trains run on time and are spotless. Most Japanese speak some English. I need to brush up on the polite words for both countries. Japanese etiquette is extraordinary. We have purchased some small Yosemite gifts for our Japanese hosts along with business cards. I hope I have the bowing and hand gestures correct. I understand they give us westerners a bit if slack.
We also packed the usual clothesline, laundry soap and stopper for the sink in case laundry service is not as planned. First aid kit and TP will be there if needed. The usual collection of electronic gizmos and camera stuff are also in their little bags. We have provided each other with three days of each other’s clothing in case luggage gets lost. Be prepared.
I guess we are ready to go. We leave San Jose tomorrow and after crossing the International Dateline, we will be Shanghai late Thursday night. You will either see the blog links on Facebook or click the Follow button on the blog site. Bon Voyage!
Mark and Peggy