Getting ready for China

Although I am currently getting ready for China, I am having the experience I always do when I am getting ready for any of the tours I guide- whether to China, to Vietnam/Cambodia/Thailand, or to Ecuador/Galapagos/Peru. There are about a million pieces of data: information, equipment, communication with providers of services, scheduling, purchasing, packing, communicating with the travelers- that swirling around in my head simultaneously. At this point in the preparations, I am unable to think a full thought or make a complete sentence because there is a conference going on in my brain at which the pros and cons of all sorts of things are being discussed: what sights should we add? what food should be bring along? what written materials shall we distribute? how do we get people to meet at the initial gathering of the group as they arrive on 7 different flights on two different days? In discussing these things with my husband, I find myself starting in the middle of a thought and am sometimes so wrapped up in what I am thinking that a solution he offers, no matter how logical and obvious it should have been to me, is something I hadn’t even thought of. Sometimes I wonder why I do this.

Then I remember: I love traveling. I long to see China again. And mostly, I love seeing my travelers being amazed, sometimes astounded, by the sights I show them. For two weeks, my husband and I work harder than one can imagine, day and night, but for two weeks, we are able to provide one incredible experience after another for our people- the sights, the entertainment, the experience of being with a group of people who are there to see and to enjoy something totally new.

So as I prepare, I also remind myself that in under two weeks, a wonderful adventure begins!

Two of our travelers enjoying the Great Wall of China

Machu Picchu

When in Peru, one of the most beautiful and impressive places to visit is Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was an Incan city whose location had been unknown until 1911 when discovered by Hiram Bingham. Hiram Bingham was educated at Yale (BA) and at Harvard (PhD). He was appointed a lecturer in South American history at Yale. After Bingham discovered Machu Picchu, he and his team excavated and extracted somewhere between 4,000 and 40,000 (depending on who is counting 🙂 ) artifacts– including mummies, ceramics and bones. He later served as the Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and after that, as a US senator.

Machu Picchu is a very beautiful location, accessible by walking the Inca Trail (about 4 days’ journey) or by railway. Our travelers, for some reason, seem to favor the railway. We pass through the Sacred Valley on our way. The valley is so named because it was a rich and fertile source of food. The Incas, using clever agricultural methods, domesticated and cultivated over 1,500 varieties of corn and more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes in the Sacred Valley.

Method for acclimating plants to altitude

There is a lot to see in the Sacred Valley and I will write about it in the future, but first, let’s go to Machu Picchu. Here you see my colleague Rita and me relaxing on the train on the way to Machu Picchu.

The ride is very pleasant and lasts under 2 hours, and we arrive at Aguas Calientes. We are greeted by the requisite Peruvian market,

but we restrain ourselves because we are ripe for adventure. We ride a small bus to the top of the mountain (about a 15 minute ride)

and this is what we see:

Everywhere we look there are magnificent structures framed by lush mountains.

The sights we see are incomparable. The city was built by the Incas some time around the year 1400. These stones were transported without the benefit of use of the wheel, which the Incans did not have. They also did not have animals capable of hauling these huge boulders. It is thought that they must have used large numbers of men who pushed the boulders up inclined planes.

The truth is, to truly enjoy it, you must see it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru

Girl with her pet, in Cusco, Peru


Come join us on a magnificent tour.  It is not only beautiful and exciting, but people find it to be a spiritually significant tour as we see the unspoiled creation of the Galapagos Islands, not to mention the Amazon Rain Forest and amazing Machu Picchu.

 

Details of the itinerary and the cost are on this page….

Famous in Vietnam

Have you ever wondered how my blog posts would sound in Vietnamese?  Me neither.  But you can find out by looking at these two links.

http://danviet.vn/68790p1c29/nong-thon-viet-trong-treo-thanh-binh-trong-mat-nu-du-khach-israel.htm
http://danviet.vn/74264p1c29/viet-nam-tuoi-dep-hon-hau-trong-mat-ban-be-quoc-te.htm

The writer of course asked permission to use my pictures and posts and he sent along this note:

These links include funny and amazing pictures that you took in Vietnam. Thank you very much for your help. I feel really grateful 🙂
Nice weekend for nice couple 🙂 I hope to see you in Lao Cai city one day. Please contact me if you have that plan
Peace,
Thu Thao

Gate in Forbidden City-- Hue, Vietnam

 

Shanghai and the Jews

There are signs of a Jewish presence in China from about the 8th century on.  Jewish traders traveled the Silk Route and some spent significant time in China.  Others married and settled down there.  The synagogue in Kaifeng was built in 1163 and from then on there was a Jewish community there.

Sephardi Jews from Bagdad started arriving in Shanghai at the end of the 19th century.  Among them were the Kadoorie family, the Hardoon family, and the Sassoon family.  These wealthy businessmen rose to the top of the Shanghai society of the time and established communal institutions and built notable buildings, among them the famous Cathay Hotel, now known as the Peace Hotel.  It still stands with pride along with other European styled buildings on the Bund, Shanghai’s waterfront on the Huangpu River.

The Peace Hotel on the Bund, Shanghai

In the beginning of the 1900s, Jews began arriving from Russia.  The two groups of Jews did not mix, but all established schools and newspapers and and restaurants, of course, synagogues.  Their communal life was rich.

When life became dangerous in Russia and Eastern Europe, Jews began flowing into China.  Between 1937 and 1939, over 20,00 Jews flowed into Shanghai.  At the height of World War II, Shanghai housed between 18 and 20 thousand Jews.  They lived in a ghetto area called Hongkou and the Chinese, who themselves were under attack by the Japanese, protected the Jews.  After the war, and with the establishment of the State of Israel, virtually all of the Jews left Shanghai.

Today, in Shanghai, there are still some locations where that experience is remembered.

Plaque in park in the Hongkou area of Shanghai

In gratitude for their treatment of the Jews during World War II, the Chinese received contributions from Israeli companies and the State of Israel to build a community center in the park.

Plaque thanking the people of China

Across from the park is the building that was used by the Joint (JDC) which provided social services to the people in the ghetto.

Former home of "the Joint"

Here is one of the roads where the Jews lived during that time.   Each building house several families.  Life was not easy.

 

Homes in the Shanghai ghetto

There is an excellent documentary about the Shanghai ghetto that shows how bad life was and how the Chinese and the Jews helped each other in times of privation.  Information about the film can be found here.

The Ohel Moishe Synagogue has been restored.  It is no longer in use because there is no longer a Jewish population in this area of the city.  However, the synagogue building itself is used as a museum and behind it, two more buildings have been constructed that show a phenomenal picture of  Jewish life in Shanghai, highlighting several families’ stories.  Visiting there is very moving and quite a relief from most museums that talk about Jews’ experiences during World War II.

Ohel Moishe Synagogue, Shanghai

Inside the synagogue

 

Inside the museum

You can read more about the Jews in Shanghai at this site.

 

Currently, Chabad has three locations in Shanghai with three rabbis working to enrich the lives of Jewish residents and visitors to Shanghai.  Their wonderful monthly magazine is on line here.

Come join us in China! There’s so much more to learn and to see.

Thailand – Chiang Mai

Since we went to Thailand, mainly to relax after our Vietnam/Cambodia tour, we saw only a sprinkling of places. For that reason, I feel as if I experienced being in Thailand like the blind men experienced being with the elephant. In case you don’t know the reference, here it is:

The Blind Men and the Elephant
John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

This is one of the reasons that the best way to travel if you want to really understand what you are seeing and its historical and cultural context, is on an organized tour. But, nonetheless here are my impressions…

We flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city. It has a population of about 1.6 million in the province, 250,000 in the city. It is located in northwestern Thailand. Once we checked into our hotel we saw this sight

Chiang Mai from our hotel room

Notice the rainbow! Our visit to Thailand really did feel like being over the rainbow– so many beautiful things to see…

We arranged for a tour that took us to an elephant camp. We saw the elephants do tricks like lifting their trainers with their legs or trunks, playing soccer, and painting.

Here come the elephants!

Holding each others' tails

Sitting

Painting

Notice, however, that the elephant has tusks. The elephants dipped their brushes in the paint and painted, but each had a trainer holding a tusk and it appeared to me, they were helping the elephants to aim. So was this really freetrunk drawing?

Another artist

It was impressive to watch them painting!

Soon it was time for us to climb the steps to a platform for our own ride on an elephant.

The platform

My croc getting onto elephant's back

Riding the elephant

On the road there were a number of platforms where they sold bananas and sugar cane to feed the elephants. Although we were pretty far back on the elephant, he was able to direct his trunk toward us and “inhale” the bananas as we fed him. As a “thank you” he would puff hot air from his trunk at us! I thought it was amusing, especially since I had read that among Cambodians, a kiss traditionally consisted of placing one’s nose next to the other person and blowing air out of it!

After about 45 minutes, we arrived at a small market and for our return trip, rode on an ox cart.

The ox carts

Sitting behind our driver

It was a partly cloudy day and there had probably been some rain earlier in the morning. The paths were muddy and uneven. Shortly after we started moving, our driver went over a bumpy part and fell off the cart. the oxen continued moving and we both feared the cart would run her over. But in a fraction of a second, she popped up from the ground and hopped back onto the cart all the time laughing- and for the next few minutes, telling her colleagues what happened to her and laughing again.

Our last adventure there was being poled down a river on a bamboo raft. It was very beautiful and relaxing.

The raft

On the river

But the day wasn’t done. Next time: the tigers and the orchid garden

Bangkok: Where we visit a truly humongous shopping mall!!!

We arrived in Bangkok after a two week stint guiding and providing all of the services for a kosher tour to Vietnam and Cambodia, meaning our working from about 6 a.m. to about 11:00 p.m. every day- and sometimes longer. So, we were not in the mood to run around Bangkok to see all of the must-see sights. In addition, two of the travelers who stayed on for an additional day had gone shopping and we agreed to meet them after our brief few hours of sightseeing. So, we took the train to the Siam Paragon Shopping Center .

Big, large, enormous, huge… all of these terms pale when describing this mall.

If you have been to Franklin Mills in Philadelphia, you’ve been in a mall that is approximately 150,000 square meters.

If you’ve been to Palisades Center in West Nyack, NY, you’ve been in a mall that is 205,996 square meters.

This mall has 500,000 square meters of retail space.

And it is definitely upscale! Every well-known designer shop I could think of is there.

And it is spotlessly clean and beautiful!

There were stores selling Maseratis and Ferraris and stores selling electronic equipment– huge selections and huge quantities. We walked into one department store that was close to the size a mall itself. the housewares department was a dream! We saw Corelle patterns that I’d never seen before (of course I’m not sure that we have all of the latest patterns here in Israel.)

We liked this flatware:

After walking and walking and seeing a lot, but not nearly all of what the mall had to offer, we went back to the hotel to rest and then we went out to the might market.

It seemed that most of what they were selling was the same merchandise we had seen in Vietnam and Cambodia except that the prices were higher. But we wanted to get back early because we were going on to the next part of our adventure in the morning!

(The picture above was an advertisement!)

Wat Pho – Bangkok

Wat Pho is a temple area that houses a most impressive statue called “Reclining Buddha.” The statue is 46 meters (150 feet) long and 15 meters (50 feet) high. It is gold-plated and stunning to see.

The complex of buildings was originally constructed beginning in 1788, but today’s complex bears little resemblance to the original construction. It was restored for a second time in 1982.

Since 1962, it has housed a school for traditional medicine and massage and to this day, people go to the temple for a traditional Thai massage.

What I found noteworthy were the amazing buildings in the complex. I could barely move without needing to take a photo, so here is some of what we saw.

Yes, there were lots of buddhas. In fact, there are estimated to be over 1000, and that isn’t even counting the gift shop!

Now can you guess which famous jewelry maker I think got her inspiration from Thai Temples? There’s one photo in particular that looks just like her work.

A visit to Wat Pho is a wonderful way to start a day in Bangkok! Even the buildings seem to be happy.

Bangkok

On our tours to Vietnam and Cambodia, we often fly via the airport in Bangkok. Here is what until recently I saw of Bangkok:

Yes, there are lovely shops.

But we never actually saw Bangkok.

This time was different. We took advantage of our opportunity to remain in Thailand for a period of time after the tour. Having anticipated a stressful tour, we were sure that we would need the time to recover. However, we had such a wonderful group of people that despite all of the work we did, we felt energized and elated rather than tired!

So, we arrived in Thailand with anticipation… and we were not disappointed.

We arrived late at night and didn’t check into the hotel until after midnight, so the next morning, we got a fairly late start. Four of our travelers were at the hotel with us because they were unable to be accommodated on flight to Israel and would instead be spending one day in Bangkok. Two wanted to go shopping and the other two, who had been in Bangkok before, were our guides for the day!

Our hotel was on the Chao Phraya River. From our hotel to the station of the water bus, our hotel provided a free boat ride that left fairly frequently. Once on the water, we got to see a glimpse of Bangkok.

Had we been on a guided tour, we would have heard about the population, history, and current status (political, economic, and social). Instead, we looked around and enjoyed the sights.

It was enormously relaxing to just sit on the boat and watch the city go by.

Next time: Buddha was relaxing too!

Coming attractions…

You can read a little about out recent tour to Vietnam and Cambodia here. Once I catch my breath, I will be writing a bit more about the tour and also about our own personal trip to Bangkok. Stay tuned for some awesome pictures, one of which answers a very important fashion question.

Until then, how about some pictures of one of my favorite sights, a rice field! This one is in the village of Pho, not far from Bac Ha.

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