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"Letters from China by Rail 2016" by Janet and David Morrison

Jun 10, 2016
China high speed trains are great. Our first example (30 cars and four engines) was only high speed intercity but lumbered through town on conventional roadbed. The Chinese like to elevate roads and railroads on viaducts, with the bullet trains highest, soaring above all else on spidery viaducts.

First day after Shanghai we went to ancient city of Hangzhou, noted for the quiet tranquility of its West Lake. No more. Hangzhou now has population of 9 million plus many thousands of Chinese tourists.  (We have seen at most a handful of non Chinese travelers). Fortunately our second day was great, on the Grand Canal, which is going strong after a thousand years. Two of its most famous bridges are also locations of restored neighborhoods that almost take us back to 19th century China. Next we go north to Qufu, the hometown of Confucius.

We have a compatible group of 15, mostly retired and very well traveled. This is turning into a foody trip, with many unfamiliar dishes at every meal, often local specialties. We can spend a whole meal trying to figure out what we are eating! (Today on the street DM ate a fried silkworm larva; JM declined). 

June 13, 2016
We spent an interesting two days in QuFu, a city devoted to the memory of Confucius (and catering to Chinese tourists).

We saw the city wall and ceremonies for opening and closing the gates, the huge temple devoted to Confucius, and his grave set in the midst of a forest where members of the Kong family have been buried for two thousand years. From Qufu we made a day trip by bus to Taishan, the most sacred mountain in China, a granite range rising out of the remarkably flat North China Plain, where wheat is the primary crop. We reached the many temples near the summit by gondola tramway.

The number of high speed trains as well as their comfort and speed are remarkable. All are elevated high above the viaducts that carry highways and normal trains. Our food has also been a treat, with a dozen new dishes every day. Most amazing however are the new cities, with hundreds of high rise (20 floors or more) blocks under construction. These high rise clusters are rarely out of sight even when we are crossing agricultural land.

Now we are headed far to the west to visit more sacred mountains, temples, and the ancient Silk Road cities of Luoyang and Longmen.

June 17, 2016
We are winding up our China trip spending 4 nights in Xian before flying home. We have spent the past 4 days in cities in central China that we had not heard of, culminating in a wonderful visit yesterday to the Longmen grottoes, famous Buddhist sculptures from 500 to 1200 AD. This area contained the Chinese Capitol before it was moved to Xian to escape destructive floods on the Yellow River. 

Today we are climbing the third Dao peak of the trip, the West Sacred Mountain. Previously we went up Songshan, the Middle Sacred Mt. We also were at the Shaolin Zen Temple, where we saw a spectacular demonstration of Kung Fu at its source. 

The weather cleared several days ago, and we have blue skies and no hint of pollution.  This is remarkable for modern China, and it compensates for the pervasive clouds, fog and high humidity of our first few days. 

Overall, we think China functions well in spite of its huge population, where a city of 3 million is just of modest size. We have stayed in excellent large hotels; one welcome surprise is that all hotels have universal electric plugs that require no plug adapters for US or European appliances. Our food has been spectacular, with more than 75 different dishes served us so far. (Last night DM even ate 3 small scorpions, best washed down with plenty of cold beer)

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