China: Gardens of Cultural History

We’ve traveled quite a bit but we finally made a long overdue trip to China. The burden to prepare for the trip felt heavier than usual, as we were returning to the land of our ancestry. Therefore you can imagine that our goals for this trip were unique. Beyond just educational enrichment and exposure to other cultures and first hand learning of geography, history, and culture, I hope to instill appreciation for and to connect with their heritage. At the same time, this is a bit of a scouting mission as well, since we’ve been considering do an extended immersion stay.

The total stay in Chinese was roughly 2 1/2 weeks, hitting 4 main regions staying 3-4 days each. We started off with the metropolitan city of Shanghai, where we met of with relatives of my maternal grandmother and also took day trips to the famed Suzhou and Hangzhou. Then, we flew to Xi’an home of the Terra-cotta Warriors where my daughter’s wonderful Chinese teacher via Skype gave us an insiders tour of the city. Next, we went to Chengdu, home of the pandas. Finally, we visited Chongqing, home of my maternal grandfather, where we embarked on the Yangtze River Cruise.

Shanghai 上海
03/20/16: Shanghai is a bustling metropolis, the most populated city in China, and my maternal grandmother’s hometown. We took a nice stroll down Nanjing Rd towards the Bund (外滩), where we met up with grandmother’s family. Her niece’s family hosted us for the rest of the day and the kids had a blast running around with her 7 year old daughter, who was technically be their aunt. After enjoying the turn of the century architecture along the Bund and the new developments of Pudong, we headed to the vibrant City God Temple (城隍庙) for lots of snacks and lunch at famous dumpling house Nanxiang where we had sumptuous soup dumplings. Afterwards, we explored Yu Garden (豫园), admiring the beautiful plants and layout. We finished off with a dinner feast, where met up with the rest of the extended family. I finally met my great uncle in person for the first time and learned about his impressive background in multiple languages and artificial intelligence. The hospitality and generosity was overwhelming.

Suzhou 苏州
03/21/16: Suzhou is best known for its beautiful gardens steeped with historical significance. We explored the Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政园), the largest and among the most famous gardens of all China. Afterwards, we strolled along the canal, down the ancient Pingjiang street (平江街). When we finally reached the dining area, we discovered a power outage in effect so most of the restaurants were closed. Due to exhaustion and jet lag, we settled for a simple noodle soup for lunch then took an afternoon nap. Once refreshed, we thoroughly enjoyed the visit Panmen (盘门) Garden and City Gate, conveniently located adjacent to the Pan Pacific Hotel.

Hangzhou 杭州
03/22/16: Upon arriving in Hangzhou by train, we headed for the Wansong Academy (万松学院) named for the snow pine forest setting where the Butterfly Lovers met. Here, we also learned about the Chinese imperial exam system. During lunch at the tea plantation, we tasted the freshly harvested, tender tea leaves known for their subtle flavors. Afterwards, we took a long walk around West Lake (西湖) from Yue Fei’s Mausoleum (岳飞墓) along the Bai Causeway to the Broken Bridge. While enjoying the lovely lakeside view and spring blossoms, we recounted the famous legends that took place around West Lake and Hangzhou including, of course, White Snake.

Xi’an 西安
03/23-25/16: Xi’an is the ancient capital of the Qin, Han and Tang Dynasties and famed site of the Terracotta Warriors (兵马俑). Alexis’ former Chinese teacher graciously guided us around her hometown and instilled an appreciation for Chinese culture in the kids. After our arrival, we dropped by a restored historical center near the hotel and tried Shaan Nan food with a whole fish hot pot. On our first full day, we decided to visit the Shaanxi History Museum (陕西历史博物馆) highlighting artifacts of the region. It was such a dreary day, so we just made a quick photo stop outside the Wild Goose Pagoda (大雁塔) with the Journey to West monk. In the afternoon, the girls took a 7km bike ride along the ancient city wall from the south gate to north gate, passing the Bell & Drum Towers (钟鼓楼). We ended the day with a meal of beef & mutton dumplings, skewered meats, colorful cotton candy and other snacks at the lively Muslim Quarter (回民街). On our final day, we visited all 3 pits of the Terracotta Museum in the morning then had Shaan Bei food for lunch. Then the kids spent the afternoon playing until Alexis’ current Chinese teacher joined us for dinner.