Buildings at the Summer Palace, Beijing

Day 1 (Thursday) - Flying to China

We left Merced in several buses on Wednesday March 15, 2006, at three in the afternoon. The trip to LAX was fine and at the airport we went through the usual security delays, random wandings, removing shoes and things from pockets. And then we sat and waited for our China Air flight to board. I was moving through the boarding tunnel with many others when, ten feet from the door of the plane, there was much shouting and commotion. A Chinese woman who had boarded the plane decided she didn't want to go and she wanted off the flight: a red flag for security people. There was much angry shouting in Chinese while the woman remained passive and calm. No way to know what they were saying. After five minutes of shouting, those of us in the tunnel were herded into an adjacent corridor - unheated, no chairs, but windows on both sides. We could see the rest of the people waiting to board, still in the warmth of the waiting area, but we could not hear them and they could not hear us. The passengers and crew on the plane were taken off and the woman was taken to one side of the corridor while more security people arrived to question her. We could see the baggage being removed from the plane, a car drove up with a dog in it, presumably to sniff for drugs or bombs.

The flight was supposed to leave at 1:00 a.m. so it was bed time for us and we were all pretty tired. One clever passenger used his cell phone to call a friend still in the waiting area; the friend went and got his order of food and brought it to the security people who then delivered it to the happy passenger. By this time the airport was shutting down inside as far as commercial operations were concerned. After an hour or so, we were allowed to go back into the waiting area; about 45 minutes later we reboarded the plane and took off. The flight itself was routine otherwise - long (13 hours) and cramped. A rather inauspicious start to our Chinese adventure which turned out to be a wonderful trip.

Day 2 (Friday) - Arriving in Beijing

The Spring Pavilion at the Summer Palace


We arrived in Beijing on Friday morning, go through luggage and customs and find our guide at the end of all this waving a blue M-6 flag. We were in the dark blue, M-6 group - about 25 of us - and we would stay together, more or less, for the rest of the trip. Our guide was Andrew (his English name) and he was calm and organized. We didn't know it then, but it turned out we had the best guide. After we left Beijing he took charge of all the guides and organization and we got another guide. We left the airport and drove directly to the Summer Palace - about nine miles from central Beijing.

This classical Chinese garden was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. The day was gray but we had a good visit, spending about an hour looking at the bridges, buildings and lake. We were able to wander around on our own. The summer palace, includes the lake and many buildings spread out over a huge area. This was used as the summer residence of the emperors. Originally constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries, the present shape of the summer palace dates to the 18th and 19th centuries when it was enlarged and enhanced. It is now one of the best preserved and largest Imperial Gardens. There are more than 3,000 bridges, pavilions, buildings and other structures. We only got to see a small area near the Spring Pavilion.

The Emperor Guangxu was imprisoned here by the Dowager Empress Cixi in the late 1800s. She then controlled the running of the country. He died just before she did.

This Chinese man was doing calligraphy on the pavement using water. He did it very slowly and methodically, with great concentration - almost like he was meditating.


After our quick trip to the Summer Palace we were taken to a Russian restaurant for lunch for a "western meal." This was a big event, with many waiters and waitresses delivering food to our large group, plus Russian singers moving around the tables singing in Russian. The food was not exactly western, but wasn't Chinese either. Our large tour group was broken down into twelve tour buses and most times we all ate at the same places, all of which had to accommodate large groups.

We were then taken to our Hotel in Beijing (Beijing Xinyuan Hotel) and were allowed to rest until dinner. This hotel, like all the others, was very nice and very tall. The beds were very hard (which I liked) and we could only drink bottled water (provided on our bus every day, 2 for $1.00).

We had a Chinese dinner that evening - the food was wonderful and there was lots of it - and then went to see the Chinese Acrobatic Troup. The show lasted about an hour and was terrific. The athetes did things that we can't even think about doing, all choreographed and set to music.

Tree at the Summer Palace, Beijing

2 April 2006, Rev. 20 April 2006 [China Trip index|next]