Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston
For a city I’d barely even heard of, I found Xi’an quite interesting. Like many places in China it’s quite the mix of the old and the new.
It’s the third oldest city in China and has been continuously inhabited since about 1100 BC. By contrast Beijing is about 55 years younger and Shanghai doesn’t even make the top 25 list. It’s the start of the Silk Road and is oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals, which also includes Beijing, Nanjing and Luoyang.
On the other hand the city was very modern and is the most populous in Northwest China (though geographically it’s not in western China) while emerging as a hub for China’s space exploration program, national security and research and development.
In general, I wouldn’t want to drive in China but in particular I wouldn’t want to drive in Xi’an. Motorbikes dart everywhere but miraculously we never saw a wreck anywhere in China, perhaps because people don’t drive very fast. Whereas in America we seem to hold fast to the ‘this is my spot in my lane don’t you dare interfere’ principle, in China it’s a bit more go-with-the-flow type of driving. But at least they drive on the “right” side of the road!
Another thing we found fascinating was the way wiring was strung down the streets. We’re assuming this is coaxial cable or telephone lines but at the poles it just looks like a giant rat’s nest. We had noticed this to a smaller degree in the hutong in Beijing but the mass we saw in Xi’an was easily 100 times larger. The photos aren’t the best as we were in the bus when they were taken but it’s truly a sight to behold.
Flying to Lhasa
Before signing up for the optional Tang Dynasty dinner we had been warned we’d get back late and would have to be up early for our flight to Lhasa. But while we were at the show Jack received word that due to an upcoming governmental meeting, our flight would be delayed because the military would be doing maneuvers near the airport. Yay, we could sleep in a little.
Our flight was once again on China Eastern and, just like before, it was an all-economy flight. Once again the flight attendants were young and once again the lead attendant making the PA announcements had a very soft voice. We were served hot meals of chicken or beef, both of which got good reviews.
The most interesting (frustrating?) part of the flight was that some of the local folks had apparently never heard of the “airplane rules” that govern deplaning. When we reached our seats, a local young woman had the window seat, I had the middle and another member of our party had the aisle. We were seated in the back of plane and once we landed, we knew we weren’t going anywhere for awhile so we just sat. The young woman kept indicating she wanted to squeeze past us (we were still seated) and get to the aisle. But there was nowhere for her to stand in the aisle as it was full of people so I don’t know where she thought she was going. She was very frustrated with me but I wouldn’t let her pass as my knees nearly reached the back of the seat in front of me so she would have practically been in my lap as she passed by.
She was not the only local who did not seem to understand. There were others seated further back who kept trying to push to the front and grew frustrated when people blocked the aisle to allow those closer to the front to collect their bags. When it finally came time for our row to get up, my friend and I just stepped into the aisle then into another row so she could (angrily) grab her bag from the overhead and storm out of the plane. Then we got our bags down and made our way out.
The jetway was quite long and just a little bit of an uphill walk from the plane. But by the time I reached the top of it I could feel the altitude difference. And that was only the beginning.
Lhasa is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Though many of us (like Marriott and Delta) may think of Tibet as a separate country, China most certainly does not. While I have seen different elevation figures, the one I remember best is that the city is 11,990 feet above sea level. As a point of reference, one of the mountain top restaurants in Park City, UT is only at 9000 feet. Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado’s Imperial Express Super Chair lift most closely matches Lhasa’s elevation as it begins at 11,901 feet and whisks riders up to 12,840 feet. And as skiers know Breckenridge is one of the resorts where altitude sickness is most common.
I have experienced altitude sickness a few times on ski trips but usually our lodging is at a bit lower altitude and we’re only up over 11,000 feet for short periods of time. But as soon as I got to the top of the jetbridge I knew Lhasa was going to be different. My pulse was racing and I was panting after walking briskly. It was the first time but not the last on this trip.
Jack had warned us that security was always extra-tight in Lhasa and with the upcoming government meetings it would be even more so. As the plane taxied to the terminal it was a little disconcerting to see fighter jets lined up next to it. But since there’s only the one set of runways, both commercial and military planes had to share them. The heightened security extended to cellular signals. There was no wi-fi at the airport and I couldn’t get a cell signal at all though that may have been because I was using a foreign carrier. Jack’s phone did work at the airport.
We disembarked, collected our luggage and walked out to our transportation. Unlike the other cities, Lhasa only had buses to seat 27 people. Counting Jack we had 32 in our group so five of us rode in a van with him and the local Tibetan guide, Pen, rode on the bus with the bigger group. This would be our general setup for the rest of our visit.
The airport was about 35 miles outside of town and other than right around the airport there were no commercial businesses between that area and the edge of the city proper. We had to stop at a multi-laned gate area where military personnel checked our passports before we could proceed into the city. That was just one of a few “firsts” for me. It was also the first time I saw a yak ambling down a city street.
Lhasa Home Visit
We stopped beside an array of businesses then went down an alley and found this colorful home entrance. Wherever we went in Lhasa color seemed to be everywhere.
I’m not sure who all lived in the home but at the time we were there a (great?) grandmother was there tending the house with her 4 year old (great?) grandson. I found it hard to determine the age of older Tibetans since the sun is much stronger at altitude and that could weather faces more than at sea level. I was also surprised to learn it really doesn’t snow all that often, despite the altitude. December and January are the coldest months but the average high temperature is in the 40s (F).
The home consisted of a courtyard with rooms all around and a second floor with more rooms and a multi-use patio. The trim around the top of the courtyard walls was amazing.
While the rooms did have doors, they also had these decorative quilts that could be hung over them that both kept the room warm as well as letting fresh air inside.
One of the rooms was set aside as a room for worship and was just incredibly ornate. The white and gold “scarves” are prayer shawls and we were each given one when we arrived.
Instead of a laundry room, there was a laundry corner.
From the upstairs patio, which also held the solar panels, we could see down into the corral where the yak were kept alongside giant stacks of hay. The roofline of the corral was wide enough that bundles of wood were stacked in advance of the winter.
The carport held a small truck, suitable for dashing up and down some of the alleys we passed.
The neighbors’ homes were much the same with stacked wood awaiting the winter.
The patio also had a small oven built on one side and up-close views of the mountains.
This was a fascinating look at the home of a local family. While our visit was relatively short I appreciated their willingness to share their home with us and let us learn a bit about their lives.