8th May 2014
We began in the most modern part of China, by taking the Maglev or magnetically levitating train from Shanghai Pudong Airport to the centre of the city’s financial district. Here among the skyscrapers we found the HSBC tower where we had an appointment in the boardroom with Terrence Chi, Head of Global Private Banking, for a talk on the history of the Bank in China. It was an interesting talk, but the view of multiple skyscrapers all around us was even more captivating.
We spent our first full day in Shanghai visiting various parks, markets and areas in the older part of the city. A visit to a park in the French Concession was a revelation; everyone was out doing communal activities such as dancing, singing and Tai Chi. We came to love these parks and join in the dancing later in the trip, but for now we just watched. The highlight of the day was probably the Bund where we were photographed by many Chinese tourists and gathered a large crowd.
The next morning we began with a choice of breakfast at the hotel or Chinese-style from street vendors outside. We then visited the Shanghai Museum, with collections of ancient bronzes, ceramics, jade and ethnic minority costumes. After a good lunch, we took the coach two hours west to the 2500 year old city of Suzhou, famed for silk and wedding dress tailoring. The old town is surrounded and traversed by canals so we took a 40 minute boat tour before visiting a silk embroidery centre. We watched a technician stitching two sides of an embroidery at the same time using thread thinner than a human hair. We ate well at the centre before checking into a conference hotel built around a garden.
On our second day in Suzhou we visited the museum, designed by the architect I M Pei which had a very well displayed collection of traditional art. In the afternoon we lingered at a Confucius Temple before heading for Pingjanglu to meet students from Dulwich College. Here we went off in small groups to get to know each other and socialise.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel and headed for Dulwich College, where we met up with Mr Lewis and the students from yesterday. We had a Chinese calligraphy class and made dumplings in the canteen. We discovered that Dulwich College is within the campus of Suzhou Middle School, which is 1000 years old and founded by the same scholar whose statue we took a group photo in front of at the Confucius Temple. After lunch, we enjoyed the large classical garden that belonged to the ‘Humble Administrator’ who was the architect of Suzhou’s walled city 500 years ago. From there, we transferred to Suzhou station where we caught a bullet train to Shanghai’s Hong Qiao – Asia’s largest transport hub. After a 3.5 hour flight to Kunming, we were met by Mr Mao and were shuttled 30 minutes downtown to our hotel. All ready for bed now!
This morning we headed to the Western Hills. Half the group walked up the Green Rooster Hill; the other half took a chair lift. It was a lovely sunny day and we enjoyed views over Dian Chi lake and Kunming city. After a wonderful lunch, we had a short rest at the hotel before meeting up with Mr Mao again. Many of the girls joined in with dancing at Cuihu park by a lake of water lilies where two men were flying kites on lines so long their kites were just dots above the sky-scrapers. We saw two pagodas and two old city gates before enjoying an hour’s free time to explore the downtown area and market stalls. We then had a great dinner at an old restaurant that used to be a private club for high officials until a year ago. The evening was rounded off with the stunning Dynamic Yunnan dance show.
After several late nights, we had a leisurely start and checked out late morning. We went to a restaurant for lunch which had an indoor waterfall and live geese on a pond. We then went to a peaceful Buddhist Bamboo Temple on a hillside and enjoyed the tranquility and sunshine. We headed back into town and stopped for a group photo at Yunnan University before returning – by popular demand – to the Cui Hu park to dance with the local retirees. After dinner, we had a marvellous couple of hours enjoying the most popular form of modern Chinese entertainment: Karaoke in a large private room. When some of the girls had sing themselves hoarse, we headed for the station to catch the 23:22 overnight train to Dali. We slept in open compartments of 6 bunks each: as people settled, we had some fun conversations but once lights went out at midnight, all was quiet until 6:00 in the morning when we were approaching our next destination.
On Saturday we woke up in Dali. We spent the morning exploring the old city, including a visit to a Catholic Church designed in a Chinese style. In the afternoon we had group activities exploring the city. The next morning we checked out of the hotel in Dali and made the smooth 3 hour expressway journey to Lijiang.
Lijiang (Beautiful River) is home to 300,000 Naxi (Black) people, who are ranked 26th out of the 55 ethnic minorities in China by size. They have their own language, culture and religion – called Dongba (Eastern Bon). The Naxi believe their ancestors emerged from a black egg laid by a bird, who also laid a white egg that produced spirits. They believe that spirits live in every part of the natural world, so we saw red ribbons tied around trees and a statue of the spirit of the Jade Dragon mountain, who is believed to take human form at night and ride around the town on a horse to keep watch over the people. The Dongba shamans also have their own pictographic script which we’ve seen in decorations around the town.
Less than 20 years ago, Lijiang was almost unknown – the only way to reach Kunming (the provincial capital) was on horseback, which would have taken 54 days. Then, in 1996 an 7.4 earthquake caused 250 deaths and huge damage to the old town. UNESCO designated the town a World Heritage Site and huge investment was made by the Chinese government and the World Bank to restore it and make it more accessible. Today, it only takes 9 hours by train, 6 hours by car and 45 minutes by plane to get to Kunming and the town receives 15 million tourists a year, 95% of whom are Chinese.
We first visited the stunning Black Dragon Pool park, originally built 500 years ago as a summer retreat for the ruling Mu (Wood) family. The nearly 6000m high snow-capped Jade Dragon mountain towers over the area, but at dusk the reflection of the trees in the park look like a black dragon swimming in the pool. Also in the park is a 500 year old temple with 3 layers of roof. The bottom two layers have two up-turned eaves, so in each corner it looks five phoenixes are set to take off. Below the temple, a man was producing amazing black and white paintings using only different parts of his hand.
After lunch, we checked into a courtyard hotel – which never normally receives Western guests – before heading into the old town. We climbed the Lion Hill to a 5 storey pagoda for wonderful views over the old town, the palatial home of the Mu family and the surrounding area. The old town is outstandingly beautiful, with cobbled streets along narrow waterways lined with willow trees and traditional wooden buildings. Although it does feel like one big gift shop, there is a lot of live music and colourful woven fabric at every turn, which makes it a relaxed and uplifting place to be. So we allowed the girls to explore freely before and after dinner.
We took the 8 hour soft sleeper train (4 bunks to a compartment with a door) from Lijiang back to Kunming, walked back to the hotel we stayed in previously and boarded a coach for the 6 hour journey up to Zhaotong. The landscape was extraordinary – endless huge terraced hillsides with enormous pylons being built to support a widened carriageway.
We were greeted on the edge of what is now a town of 6 million people by the Party Deputy Secretary of the First People’s Hospital and were escorted to our hotel. After a quick shower and change, a noodle lunch was available before we headed off to a hillside on the edge of town where Dr Lilian Grandin is buried. The original graves of Dr Grandin and her fellow missionaries were dismantled and used as building materials during the ‘Great Leap Forward’ of the 1950s. But in 2007 – with funding from churches in Hong Kong – the local church rebuilt the graves. They have held a service at the graveside every Easter Day since.
We then had a brief visit to the hospital that Dr Grandin ran in the 1920s and saw some of the equipment left over from those days. Today, the hospital has 2000 inpatient beds, a staff of 2000, and cares for 60,000 people a year.
Our last stop was the church that Dr Grandin helped lead. The building has recently been demolished in preparation for a £1 million building project that includes a 6 storey church, a dormitory block and a theology school. We were able to see the original foundation stones, some recovered stones from the missionaries’ original graves, and the church’s original altar table.
Next door is the building the church is currently using, which was the original hospital. The school the missionaries also ran has since been passed on to the local government. We were made very welcome by members of the congregation, including the Minister, whose mother and grandfather were Ministers before her.
We finished the evening in a new restaurant trying to fuse Chinese and Western styles. We were guests of the hospital and exchanged gifts with our hosts, formally cementing the link between JCG and Zhaotong.
Unfortunately, we seem to have picked up a tummy bug that struck almost everyone in the group, making the hours of travelling all the more gruelling. However, the girls showed great strength of character and sense of humour and dealt with it really well, supporting each other.
The next day we travelled for some 16 hours today and arrived back at Shanghai’s Holiday Inn – where our journey started two week before.
We have all had a fantastic trip.