China – Familiarization Travel Agent Trip - August 2009- by Ann Kurek

More than once we were told, “If you want to see China today visit Beijing, if you want to see ancient China visit Xian and if you want to see China of the future visit Shanghai.”  

Our second stop was Xian in central China.  Xian was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world when China dominated the silk trade, and it is best known as the home of over 8,000 Terra Cotta Warriors. Unbelievably, each soldier has a different face. The life-sized Warriors and Horses guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor China in the second century. I was surprised to learn that NONE of the statues were found intact. When they were accidentally discovered by local farmers, Xian, a university town, had no archeologists; now it is a world center for archeology. There are other known burial sites awaiting excavation until they develop the necessary technology to preserve the archeological treasure troves. We viewed several additional burial sites with amazing armies of smaller warriors that you rarely hear about.

We also visited one of the most famous and impressive Buddhist temples in the world, the Wild Goose Pagoda. Then we wove our way through the maze-like market streets to Xian’s Islamic Mosque. It was like visiting a foreign country within a foreign country. Amidst all these impressive cultural attractions, one of our favorite China memories was the foot massage “ceremony” in the grand ballroom of the Shangri-La Hotel where we sipped tea and nibbled nuts and dried fruit while our entire tour group was given “synchronized” massages. Talk about luxury!   

Our final China stop was Shanghai- China of the future on steroids. You can still visit Old Town, the Yu Garden and the “water village” of Zhujiajiao which are old and quaint and charming; but that is not the essence of Shanghai. Shanghai is big, modern, young, prosperous and growing so fast you can practically see it changing in front of your eyes. According to our tour guide, Shanghai has grown from a provincial city into an international metropolis on a par with New York and Paris in just ten years. Over 300 of the world's top 500 enterprises have opened branches in Shanghai. The skyline of Shanghai is like looking at something in a futuristic movie. I have never seen so many outstanding skyscrapers at once. We went to the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel for a drink and view of the city at night, but we were so high above the clouds we couldn’t see and had to come down to the 93rd floor for our sightseeing.

Shanghai has a modern metro system, but truthfully taxis are so reasonable you might want to check with your hotel front desk to see which will be easier. But like Lou told you, don’t venture out on your own without your destinations written in Chinese and English. We were disappointed that we left too early in the morning to take the bullet train to the very modern airport.

Shanghai is a city I definitely want to visit again; three days were not enough for me. My favorite attractions were Xin Tian Di, several blocks of pedestrian streets full of charming cafes, restaurants and clubs, the Shanghai Museum with its famous bronzes, and the truly amazing Shanghai Acrobat Show which I had mistakenly thought would be too touristy. Shanghai is preparing for a spectacular worlds fair next year, Expo 2010. The world famous shopping street the Bund was all torn up and being redone in preparation for the big event. The Expo site is at the waterfront on both sides of the Huangpu River. The Expo will “explore the full potential of urban life in the 21st century.” This would be a great time to visit China!