eijing 1999


September 12 - October 31, 1999

Chinese flag

We didn't know for sure that we were going to be able to visit Beijing, until literally days before. How we got our visa is quite a tale. But get here we did and in good time for the main object of our visit which was to be here for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

We spent six weeks in Beijing from mid-September until the end of October. Our first two weeks were quite filled. We would have perhaps stayed longer were it not for our old bugbear visa limitations and of course the impending Beijing winter which we had no real desire to experience.

We had arrived in Beijing with a two-month visa and counted ourselves quite lucky to get a one-month extension allowing us six weeks to travel from Beijing to Hong Kong, our destination for the Millenium Celebration.

Well before leaving the USA we thought of going to China. We didn't immediately because we got a great opportunity to rent an appartment in Paris. But after ten weeks in Paris, we went to England for two weeks to visit family and get visas for China. The day after we had the visas we got cheap tickets on Turkish Airlines via a ticket consolidator and a few days later left London. Our departure was on September 11 but we arrived in Beijing on September 12, due to the distance and 8-hour difference in time zones.

As it happened getting a visa was not easy; read more if you like. If you are thinking about visiting China see our travel advice which includes reading some of the books on China we liked.

We arrived Beijing on September 12 and spent seven weeks there in an apartment. We thought there were be plenty of time to do nothing, to read a lot, to play with all the computer software we had brought with us, etc. But Beijing was just too interesting. Of course one can get a good idea of what it is like in just three or four days. But we are glad that we got to see so many of the little and hidden things.

After Beijing we started our hotel adventures and travelled around Eastern China for six weeks. From Beijing first we went north a bit to Chengde (often confused with Chengdu, which is in the far west) for just a few days and then headed south for the rest of our six weeks travelling. We saw the big city of Jinan and hiked up Taishan, and then visited Confucius' home town, Qufu.

From there we made another 600 km train ride south, this time to the eastern Yangzi River area, and over four weeks saw Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Hangzhou, which are all relatively near to each other. Nanjing has been the captial of China at six different times; Suzhou and Hanzhou were economic and cultural powerhouses two millennia ago; and Shanghai, a late grower, was home to European imperialism and Chinese revolutionaries.

Changing from train to bus for the first time we went to the Huangshan area — this is probably the most famous mountain in China; even more famous than Taishan. After 36 hours in Tunxi, mostly waiting for the every-other-day took a 24 hours train we headed south to Shenzhen, which plays Brooklyn to Hong Kong's Manhattan. After two nights in Shenzhen and with one day to spare on our three months visa we crossed the border into Hong Kong on December 11.

Our stay in Hong Kong was on quiet Lamma Island reached by a half hour ferry ride. There, unlike Beijing, we took lots and lots of time to read and play with the computer. And we caught up with a dozen old friends from our residency there. But the appartment we had was only available to us to the end of the month, so off we went on January 30.

We had bought air tickets from Guangzhou (Canton) to Hanoi, Vietnam, so we took the train to Guangzhou and crowed a lot of site-seeing into the twenty-four hours before our flight's departure.

Then it was off for three weeks in Vietnam, where we arrived just in time to see how they celebrate the lunar new year (Tet). Our main purpose in going to Vietnam was to get some warmth and beaches, but the trip nicely completed our Chinese travels because economically Vietnam today is about where China must have been 20 years ago; seeing it one can image "old China". And, because Vietnam cultural roots are shared with China and it did not experience a Cultural Revolution, there is a second way in which today's Vietname conjurs up images of "old China."

In late February we came back to China to consult for ZTE Corporation for a month. In the course of this work we revisted Shanghai, Suzhou, and Nanjing, deeping our knowledge of them. The consulting work started and ended with a week's stay in Shenzhen, punctuated by some cross-border day trips to Hong Kong. We stayed a total of 16 nights in three hotels; by the end we were shopping in Spring close-out sales (heavy winter coats for $10) and felt that we knew our way about the center.

On March 23 we left for England and ended our first dip into China.

Updated September  15, 2002