China - seeing the sights and so much more
Tonight we stepped off the plane in Guilin and into a climate and city that seem so different to everything we’ve experienced so far. Here it feels tropical and the temperature was still 30C at 10.00pm. The city seems bustling and lively and people were still out on the street eating and socializing late into the evening.
Tomorrow we are leaving early and heading off on a three-hour boat ride to see the wonders of the Guilin countryside with its famous limestone hills – we could see the silhouettes of some of them as we drove through the city this evening.
Over the past few days, it has been China’s great historic buildings and landmarks that we’ve marvelled at, first in Beijing and then in Xian. In Beijing, we visited the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, both built during the Ming Dynasty. As with everything in China, the scale of these two famous sites are mesmerising – the Forbidden City is a chain of buildings and courtyards that runs for nearly 1km, while the Summer Palace has a man-made 1,000 acre lake!
Surpassing both of them in size and wonder, however, are the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, both built by China’s first emperor Chin, who unified the country in 221BC. We visited a section of the Wall near Beijing and most of us made it to the highest point near the visiting centre. It’s a tough climb as some of the steps are very steep – and a six-month walk if you want to walk end to end (it’s 6,000km long).
In Xian, we were able to see some of the 7,000-plus terracotta warriors that have been excavated and restored but this is but a tiny proportion of what still lies underground. The warriors, along with actors, archers, charioteers and more, all form part of Emperor Chin’s burial ground, which is now estimated to have 250 chambers – and it may be into the next century before most of it can be recovered.
We had an excellent guide for our tour – Peter is a part-time university lecturer in history and part-time guide and has actually worked, alongside his professor, on the site of the warriors.
As well as visiting these iconic sites, we’ve walked through Tiannamen Square and Beijing’s hutongs (old traditional streets), cycled along part of the ancient walls of Xian and visited the city’s Great Mosque. We’ve also still had time to fit in some short visits — to a medicine market (selling everything from dried scorpions and lizards to ginseng and goji berries), a jade centre, an acrobats’ show and Chinese opera. And all the way along we’ve enjoyed some wonderful Chinese food.
Today, before leaving Xian, we visited its Municipal Government Orphanage. It is sad to see so many abandoned children — the nursery has about 700 in all — and it is deeply depressing to know that the numbers of abandoned children is on the rise once more, now that China has relaxed its one child policy (parents who are only children themselves can now have two children). But it is heartening to know that the numbers of initiatives to help these children is increasing, fast. The nursery we visited now has flats of foster carers on site. These carers look after about four children each, picking them up from the orphanage at the end of the day to take them home for the night and returning them the next day. Some of the children are also now attending mainstream nursery, and the Government is funding foster carers to look after them near the school sites.