Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

We are back!  The Barton’s have just returned from a remarkable seventeen-day trip to China, a one-of-a-kind adventure.

We flew from National Airport to San Francisco then on to Beijing and the five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel.  In three packed days we  went to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs and, of course, the Great Wall!  I climbed it! Sort of.   I scrambled up one of the towers and gazed miles each way watching thousands of people climb up and up and up the top of the Wall for miles.  I decided a couple of long-distance pictures were enough.

After attending an evening performance of the Beijing Opera, touring (and buying from) a great silk carpet workshop, we flew on to Xian and the fantastic Terra Cotta Soldiers, which are still being carefully uncovered after the first were discovered in the early 1970s.

The on to Chongqing where we boarded the Viking Century Sun for a ten-day cruise down the Yangtze River to Shanghai.

The cruise was beautiful and at times even spectacular as we passed by beautiful and majestic mountains and through great gorges.  On the way we saw the Snow Jade Cave, walked through the new city of Fendu and danced with the residents, visited an elementary school where we developed on-on-one relationships with the students and had great fun watching them dance and sing, visit the millennia-old Yueyang Tower, visited a marvelous ceramics factory and museum, drove to the top of  Mt Jiu Hua to visit a major Buddhist temple and town, and toured the phenomenal Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam.

The dam was the dominant factor of the river cruise.  The body of the dam was completed in 2006 and has caused the river to rise more than 160 meters in many places, destroying thirteen cities, one hundred-forty towns and thirteen hundred fifty villages and displacing more than a million people.  And the river is still rising.  Entire were moved together to new cities that dotted the cruise’s route, one of the most remarkable sights of the entire trip.

Then on to Shanghai and another five-star Ritz Carlton hotel.  Shanghai was stunning.  A city of at least seventeen million, it has huge areas of glittering new skyscrapers – office buildings and apartments.  One major section of Shanghai was begun only two or three decades is now the size of Chicago with absolutely glittering new skyscrapers up to 108 stories high.  Of course there are the classic older sections of Shanghai, including the gorgeous Yuyuan Garden of the Ming Dynasty.  But the new Shanghai rocks!

Unfortunately, we could spend only two evenings and one full day in Shanghai before began our long trip home.  If there is a next time, we want to spend much more time in Shanghai.

Some random observations:  One negative was the weather.  It was in the mid-nineties with high humidity everyday – and we were told this is typical weather for this time of year.  More disturbing was the very thick smog that covered us through the entire trip.  We seldom saw the sun.  It was dramatic proof that China is the most polluted country in the world, emphasized by the absolute filth of the Yangtze River.

Never fear, America is there, and not just our money held by the Chinese government.  There were areas where we felt right at home – McDonalds, KFCs, Papa Johns, Walmarts,, Chevrolets and Fords, Burger Kings, Costcos,  and Pizza Huts surrounded by lots of Buicks (many were taxicabs).  And these were just a few.

And finally there was China’s incredibly growing economy flexing great muscle.  During the whole trip, I would hazard a guess that we saw several thousand forty to fifty-story apartment buildings under construction, not to mention a similar number of large commercial buildings.  Our guide told us that twenty-five percent of the world’s construction cranes were operating now in China.  We were also told that economic growth has been at nine to ten percent a year for many, many years.  You could see and feel it everywhere you turned.

We saw China past, present, and future,  It was a great trip.