ABC 7's Linda Carson has safely returned home following what she calls the "experience of a lifetime" -- A several week trip through China.
She sent back numerous updates to share her experiences with the Suncoast. Here are some of her thoughts:
Our adventure of a life time is over, and Beverly Copen, my traveling buddy, and our China Focus tour group are heading home. From Shanghai to Beijing to New York to Tampa to Sarasota! Thank you China Focus Tours for allowing me to see the world in ease and comfort. The traveling part that is. Some things no body can do for you. You have to do them for yourself. And those things can be incredibly hard. But one thing I learned from this trip, don't back off from the hard things. Those things may be the peak experiences of your life.
Climbing the mountain to get to the Great Wall of China was almost impossible for me, but when I got up there, way up there it was worth every ounce of effort, to see the wall stretch across the mountain tops of China and fade into the distance. The climb to the top of the Stone Forest in Kunming was so hard I had tears in my eyes from the effort, but when I finally got there and saw that amazing view, I had tears of amazement and wonder instead, I wouldn't have missed that sight for the world. And climbing up to Yellow Mountain was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it was so beautiful I discovered my mouth was actually hanging open at the wonder of it. The President of China stayed at same hotel on Yellow Mountain a week after we left.
My advice, go see China now, while you've got the energy. You'll see amazing sights. But the thing I'll remember most about China are the people. No where, no where in my life have I felt such friendship , such warm acceptance from strangers. They love Americans. And in the smaller villages they don't see many. When we were at the top of the TV Tower, we saw some farmers taking pictures. But they weren't taking pictures of the view, they were trying to hide the fact that they were taking pictures of us. So we went over, put our arms around their shoulders and posed with them. They loved that. As we parted we all gave each other hugs. Strangers, with very different lives, yet there was a bond of kinship there. The world is full of wonderful people.
The edge of the typhoon arrived just as our plane was taxiing out of Guilin. We had just visited the Red Flute cave deep underground. It is thousands of years old, but the entrance was covered over for centuries. A farmer looking for his water buffalo discovered it and it is now open to the public.
The typhoon hit Guilin hard, canceling all flights. We were one of the last flights out, on the way to Shanghai, 800 miles away. Shanghai is the China of the future. 19 years ago, the tallest building here was 2 stories high. Today we went up in the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. It is 101 floors high. It has a see-through floor, which is awesome. A taller building is under construction near by.
My friend, Beverly Copen, and the rest of our China Focus Tour Group and our awesome National guide, Toby, have visited the old China, the small villages and farm areas out side the cities, or as one guide called it the "real China", and the modern China, cities with 8, 29, 30 million people. Most of the young people who grow up on the farms and in the country are now going to the city to work, and the government is worried about the future of farming. We also visited a silk factory today, and were told young people don't want to go into that industry anymore, so as China becomes more modern and leaves the past behind, it is losing some things of great value.
We are still amazed at the overwhelming welcome of the people. So many ask to have their picture made with us and tell us through our guide how glad they are we are visiting their country. I am overwhelmed at the friendliness of the people and the beauty and history of the country.
I expected security to be tight in China, to be restricted in where we travel, and what we do. But I don't feel restricted or "watched" at all. We are hopscotching all around the country to the most popular tourist and World Heritage locations. I have only seen a couple of traffic cops working a traffic accident in all the time we've been here.
Our National Guide is extremely knowledgeable about China's History, and as a father, very concerned about China's future. He is so proud of China's magnificent history, and very happy and positive about the new President. He believes the new president will do great things for the future of China. They've got a lot of problems as all countries do, one is their huge population. But they've moving ahead full blast. Their big cities are the most modern, and the cleanest of any I've seen.
The Stone Forrest is more than 3 million years old. I also felt more than 3 million years old when I climbed up to see it. The climb was very nearly beyond my physical capabilities. If I had know how hard the climb was before I started it, I wouldn't have even tried. I'm glad I didn't. Because step by step, I made it to the top, and then down again. A great lesson there. Also, I had the help of our two wonderful guides, and so many wonderful strangers. Over and over, Chinese people saw it was hard for me and they came over and took my arm and helped. Even two teenage Chinese girls came up beside me, each took a hand, and helped me up the mountain. The Chinese really do love Americans. They are always kind and thoughtful and helpful. So different from many other countries I've visited.
And another thing. There is very little crime here. Maybe because no body, absolutely nobody, is allowed to have a gun. If you have a gun you go to jail for 3 years to life, you are fired from your job, and you can't get promotions in the future.
But I feel very safe here. I'd feel safe wandering around the streets alone, except I'd get totally lost, and as great as the Chinese people are few speak English, and I know only two words in Chinese. Knee How ... that means hello.
Shay shay, that means thank you, and bull shay ... that means "you're welcome". That's my spelling not theirs.
Last night in Old Town in Lijiung, Beverly, our fantastic China Focus guide Toby Li, and the other 5 people in our group went to the Naxi Minority Musical band. It's the oldest band in China. They play music composed 2000 years ago, on the instruments used 2000 years ago, and the average age of the Musicians is 75. Several are over 90. Few young people are studying this music, so it may soon die out.
The music director spoke to us in Chinese then English. Xuan Ke is 84, but looks younger. He was one of the top musicians in China when the Cultural Revolution hit. The so called "Flowers of China" were arrested. The top artistic, musical and literary talents in the country. He was one of the "Flowers". For being a great musician He was in prison 21 years. when he got out he became one of the top math teachers in china and finally went back to music. There was a tape of him conducting a huge Chinese Choir in the Messiah in English. They were wonderful, and not one of them really spoke English.
Today we arrived in Dali. Where Shangri-La is supposedly located. Our guide says remember, Shangri-La is not a in a place, it is in your heart. We went out on a sort of row boat into a lake this afternoon and watched fishermen fish with cormorants. They train the birds, then tie a string around their necks so they can't swallow the fish and send them out fishing. The birds bring the fish back to the boat, and after he's got enough fish the fisherman takes the string off their necks and treats them. What an amazing sight.
We visited 3 minority historic villages near Lijiang today. Independent tribes, or communities of minorities that have lived there since the Ching Dynasty.
They love the United States. The Flying Tigers, fighter planes that flew through the mountains, the most dangerous route of the second world war, were stationed here. They credit the Americans for saving them from the Japanese Invaders.
Courtship is a little different. If a boy likes a girl, at a village dance he will rub her palm 3 times. That night she is to leave the window of her second story bedroom open. He must bring a treat for the family dog to keep it quiet, then climb in her window without anyone seeing. He leaves before anyone awakes. If he likes her he comes back the next night. If she likes him she leaves the window open. If they still like each other at the end of 3 days they are officially courting. If one or the other doesn't want it to continue they break it off there, no hard feelings.
Any babies born belong to the girl's family. And the one child policy is relaxed for them. Their tribe is dying out so they can have 2 children. We visited one of the poorest homes you can imagine. Very little to eat. But in one room there's a TV and the news is on. They use something like Roku to get a signal. Unfortunately, they didn't have the station turned to ABC 7.
The Suncoast and China are alike in many ways. China has the Great Wall; Sarasota has the Ringling Bridge. Getting up to the Great Wall of China is the hardest thing I've ever done. You've got to climb up a slick cobble stone street that goes straight up, then ride a gondola, then climb very steep steps with no hand rails for ever. But when you're on the top, the view is awesome.
The Ringling Bridge is hard to climb, too, and we've also got some pretty great views.
Both the Suncoast and China promote tourism. In China, it's National Tourism. We rarely see Americans here, sometimes a few people from other countries. On the Suncoast we have tourists from all over the world. We're nice but standoffish. In China they are thrilled to see Americans. They want their picture made with us, and try to talk to us, and are so proud we are visiting.
China has the Ming Tombs. The Suncoast has the historic cemetery across from the Manatee Historical Village. The Ming Tombs are famous for the 13 Emperors buried there. The old Manatee Cemetery has some pretty important people too. But the one most remembered was the Yankee who didn't want to be buried in Florida. So when he died, they put him in a pickle barrel, and when someone headed north came by, they shipped him home.
China has had one Empress. She had to kill a lot of people to gain power. We've got Lauren Dorsett. If the Empress had been as pretty and as nice as Lauren, people would have followed her willingly and it would have saved a lot of lives.
The Chinese had Conficious. We have Scott Dennis and Bob Harrigan They're pretty wise, too. Put them both together and I'll bet they'd give the old man a run for his money.
This morning we visited the "Temple of Heaven" and stood on the spot inside that is supposed to be the closest spot on earth to heaven. The Emperor went there to pray for rain. On the Suncoast we have our beaches, which everybody agrees are heavenly. But unlike the Emperors, beach goers pray it won't rain.
Yes, China and the Suncoast have a lot in common. And I love both places.
Beijing sparkles! I have masks in my purse, which seems ridiculous. The sky is as blue as Sarasota, no pollution, cool like early fall, a slight breeze. However, Beijing is a basin, with mountains surrounding it and as you know, they can have days of terrible pollution. It is a modern city like I've never seen.
Wide streets with parks in the middle and beautiful landscaping along the wide sidewalks. The tallest buildings I've ever seen. No where a piece of trash. Spotless. The hotel our China Focus Tour is staying in is the nicest I've ever stayed in. The Sheraton Beijing Dongcheng Hotel is all glass, chrome, marble and luxury. We all walked in and said "wow".
By "we" I mean the people on my China Focus Tour. I would never dare come to China on my own. Few people speak English, and it would be so hard to get around. China Focus handles everything. There are 7 people on the tour. We travel on a very nice van, each with our own window, eat at amazing local restaurants, and one of our two guides is a teacher, so he is so knowledgeable about all the history. The tour includes everything, fare from the U.S., all lodging, food, sightseeing, and the 3 weeks over here cost me about the same as I have paid several times in the past for one week in Europe.
The new, sparkling Beijing is just one side of the city, of course. We also went to Old Town. Its like the old movies, tiny, dirty streets, a barber working in the center of the tiny street, shops packed with strange goods you really wouldn't want to get too close to along the way. We went into a private home. It was tiny, ancient, cramped. The kitchen about the size of a small bathroom. Very little furniture. The father was a retired marshal arts coach, and their son is a marshal arts coach in Texas. Even though the house was humble, the family was warm and welcoming and gracious.
Facebook is blocked in China -- our Facebook. Ha! they have their own version of Facebook, just like ours. It's not international, but they can keep up with everyone they know just like we can. And when we are able to have conservations with someone thru our guide we all agree we have so much in common, the average Americans and the Chinese. If you ever get a chance, come visit China. It's the experience of a lifetime.
We are in LiJiang, at the foot of the Mountains going to Tibet. This is near Shangrala, where the Movie "Lost Horizons" was made. It's very high altitude, cool, crisp, there are 22 different minorities living here, some still wear their native costumes. We take pictures of them because they are so odd, they take pictures of us because we are so odd.
Our hotel is right in the heart of "Old Town" a high, ancient city of tiny cobbled streets and shops. Our hotel is like something out of a Movie. We have two China Tours guides, one who lives here and is one of the minorities. I feel like we're living back a thousand years ago. I finally found the man of my dreams, but turns out he's a Sharman. I guess fate will keep us apart.
I am in the most beautiful spot I've ever seen: atop Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province in central China where the movie "Avatar" was made. Encountered big wild monkey chased by a water Buffalo.
O.K. This is what my friend Beverly Copen, award winning photographer and author, and I have learned about love in China. Ladies, if you want to find a husband, come to China. The one baby per family policy is working. And everybody wants a boy. Well, there are now 30 million more unmarried men than women in China.
And, the men we talked to say men want obedient wives like their mothers. But opportunities are wide open to young women in China today. They are smart, well educated, they have good , well paying jobs and they are looking for successful husbands. Most of the unmarried men are farmers, and these modern young women aren't interested. The girls here are really beautiful, and extremely high fashion.
Our China Focus Guide, Toby Li, has a 13 year old daughter, and he says he was very glad to have a girl. She can become anything she wants to.
And another thing our local guide told us. He's not married. And he says before a girl's family will allow her to marry, the boy must own a car and a house. I asked how they feel when they see Americans adopting little Chinese girls who were given up by their parents. He says he's seen American Families go by at the airport carrying their new Chinese daughter and people comment, "What a lucky little girl".
I am so lucky to meet these incredible warm and loving people. To see more of our pictures go to my friend's web site, www.beverlycopen.com.
Snow Mountain Lake, Lijing, China - This lake is in a world heritage area. It is fed by snow on the Mountain. It has been dry for 3 years. Global warming. Also, I was wrong about Beijing. It was crystal clear the first day we got there. The second and 3rd day, it was so smoggy you could hardly see across the street. Traffic is unbelievable. No rhyme or reason.
Cars, bikes and mostly scooters just go, and may the best man or the biggest vehicle win.
Tian'anmen Square... lots of tourists, almost no Americans. More Tibetan Monks than Americans. Of course, Chairman Mao 's picture reigns over the whole square. Our guide told us Mao is to China as George Washington is to America.
He remembers his grandmother's feet being bound and when she was older, she couldn't walk. He said when Mao came in he said no more feet binding, no pig tails, no bowing down and hitting one's head on the ground and no more humans pulling rickshaws. He said these were subservant acts by the Chinese and they should instead demand the respect and courtesy they were entitled to . We went for a rickshaw ride. They are now pulled by men on bikes Mao was certainly right about that. I didn't know all that history. Our guide says says his life and his family's life was greatly improved during that time.
The things that impressed me most about the Forbidden City ... the Emperor's quarters. He lived there with the Empress, maybe 2 other wives, and many, many concubines. All little girls in the kingdom had to be registered when they were born.
Every 3 years they were rounded up by the Emperor's people and the prettiest were chosen, at ages 8 or 10 to go into training to become concubines. They went to live in the inner chamber, were trained and our guide says brain washed to serve the Emperor. Those that didn't become attractive were usually killed, the others were scheduled at certain times with the Emperor until he tired of them. Their families never saw them again. Unless they had the Emperor's son. Then their son might become Emperor. As the mother and grandmother of girls, that seems awful to me. Also we saw where the last emperor, when he was only 3 years old, sat on the throne and gave orders. His mother and the Empress, who had killed many people to get to her position, sat behind a curtain behind the throne and poked the child with a stick when they wanted him to do something. That wouldn't work with my 3 year old grandsons. They'd just jump up and say..."Stop poking me, Grandmother." Maybe that's not so bad. The 3 year old went on to rule, but ended up in solitary confinement and eventually killed himself.
Where ever we go, the Chinese people continue to be so very, very friendly.
We are here and having an awesome time. For me it was a rough beginning. I left my house Thursday morning at 4 am took a shuttle to Tampa, a 2 and a half hour flight to JFK, had a 6 hour lay over, flew 13 and a half hours to Beijing, got off the plane, found I had missed the connection to Shanghai, but could find no one who could tell me anything, no one who spoke English, and of course, had no cell phone connection. I finally ran into an American and his son, who told me how to get to the Air China desk, and they put me up in a hotel over night, Then I flew to Shanghai the next morning. When I got to Shanghai, I discovered my bag was lost. I've had on the same bright orange pant suit since Thursday. Every day they say my bag will be here today.
But... once I got to Shanghai, I hooked up with Beverly and the China Focus tour people. They take care of everything. We flew to Huangshan yesterday and it is amazing! We have a great guide, me and Beverly and a nice man from Florida. This is in the county side, an old historic village, everyone is so friendly. We walked around the streets in Old town last night, and ate at a great China restaurant, a place where the locals and families hang out. All just like you picture China, very narrow cobbled stone streets and lots of little shops. Then we went to a great show, almost front row seats, Cindy, it was a big musical about local legends. Today we go up to the top of the mountain where the movie, Avatar, was made. It's one of the World Heritage sights. Despite all my adventures, I feel wonderful and can hardly wait to get up there. The man with us on our tour is really nice, a bachelor. He just mentioned how sad it is that his parents are getting too old to do this sort of thing. they're in their middle 70's. Ha! We told him, "Just try to keep up with us". But we're having a great time.