The Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce just returned from China, the first ever trip sponsored by the Chamber. Our trip was arranged by Citslinc, a 20-year-old company that works with Chambers all over the country to visit China.
Our adventure started Monday morning, working our way to JFK International Airport in New York. Some of our group of 31 arranged flights out of Charlotte, some drove and 20 of us departed on a bus (thanks, Yadkin Valley Wine Tours!) for Raleigh Durham for a direct flight to JFK. We were booked on China Eastern Airlines and flew on a Boeing 777 wide body aircraft for our flight to Shanghai. The flight was 15 hours long, but each seat has its own entertainment center with dozens of movies, TV shows, games and music to pass the time. Passengers are also fed three times during our uneventful flight.
After arriving in Shanghi, we cleared immigration and then took a two hour flight to Beijing, where we arrived late Tuesday night and met by our guide, Richard. We crossed the International Date Line while flying and arrived in Beijing late Tuesday evening which is 12 hours ahead of Yadkin County. Everyone got checked into our hotel — the 5 star Sofitel Wanda Beijing — for a short nights rest. A wonderful breakfast buffet was served at the hotel each morning, and our tour bus pulled out at 8 a.m. to begin our first day.
Day one was a bit overcast, cool and drizzly. We started at the Temple of Heaven, originally built in 1420, was the place where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties would worship the god of heaven and pray for good harvest. The area was made into a park in 1918, and added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. After a visit to the jade factory, where we learned all about jade and watched expert craftsmen carve jade. We then traveled to the Ming Tombs, home to the tombs of 13 Ming Emperors. Beautiful craftsmanship in construction of the buildings, and we learned a lot about the Ming Dynasties. Then on to the Great Wall of China! We visited the Juyong Pass Great Wall section, originally built during the reign of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (1368-1398). He was the first emperor of the Ming Empire, and the wall was constructed to fend off attacks from Mongolians who wanted to recapture the empire.
There were a lot of tourists on the Great Wall the day we visited (most of them Chinese) and many in our group were asked to pose for photos, especially those with more “Western” features. Those with blonde or red hair, or those of us over 6’ tall in particular felt like models at the end of the day.
On our return, we stopped by the National Stadium, the site of the 2008 Olympics, and viewed the facility called the Bird’s Nest and the National Aquatic Center, or “Water Cube,” which resembles water bubbles in a cube. Lights change colors in the cube at night, and was quite a site to see. The Great Wall section we visited was normally about an hour and from our hotel, but we got into a huge traffic jam — there is a lot of traffic on the roads. Our trip back from the Great Wall to dinner took over three hours, but the Peking Roast Dinner that we were served was delicious! Then it was back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep to prepare for another full day of sightseeing.
A couple of observations from day one — the vast majority of the Chinese people are extremely friendly! A smile goes a long way and most people appreciated that we greeted them in their language. Our hotel in Beijing was exceptionally nice, with a fantastic breakfast buffet. Lunch and dinner meals are all served family style, with ten to a table and a big lazy susan in the middle of the table. Lots and lots of vehicles and traffic, but no road rage or offensive drivers.
We will be sharing the rest of our experiences in weeks to come in the Yadkin Ripple.
Bobby Todd is director of the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce.