A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ChinaBecky

Getting Ready for the Trip

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Help. How do I get to China? Airports closed on the East Coast by a Giant Storm!

When I began planning for this trip; it never occurred to me to factor in that I might be on another trip when I'm supposed to be getting ready to leave for China. I'm scheduled to leave Wednesday Oct 31st - 2 days from now and here I am in Bloomfield, Connecticut, right in the path of Hurricane Sandy with no flights in or out.

Nor did I factor in that I would stick my hand under the tractor mower, severely cutting & breaking the bone of my right index finger. Oh well, that eliminates dealing wtth carry on luggage.

The planning of this trip started in late April when Susan asked us to join them on a trip to China. I dithered around responding beccause I was trying to determine how many ways Philip could come up with to say "NO." You should know that I always wanted to see China (to be more accurate ... I've always wanted to see _______'fill in the blank.') What I didn't expect him to say was "I dont want to but if it's the only way you'll go......" After more thought I decided I didn't want him on a Forced March & I'd be traveling with Susan & Ed - sign me up!

Throughout the summer I've read China travel books, economic books, history books, fiction, biographies, current affairs - I'm pretty much on China overload. My daily thoughts rocket between...I'd be more secure if Philip went...what was I thinking???....this will be
wonderful!

Basically, I'm so completely outside my comfort zone, I doubt if my emotions settle down until we arrive in Beijing. Just to be clear...Susan, Ed and I aren't going on this jaunt on our own. We'll be joined by approximately 20 others and a tour guide.

So...that's what's happening.

Posted by ChinaBecky 13:14 Archived in USA Tagged ct bloomfield Comments (1)

FIRST STOP - LOS ANGELES

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I still find it hard to imagine – in 48 hours; I’ll be sitting on an Air China plane enroute to Beijing. Yesterday we received a memo that our hotel is changed to the Sheraton Dongcheng due to the Marriott being oversold because there is The Peoples Congress meeting and airline crews are still stranded in Beijing due to Hurricane Sandy.

I feel as tho I’m living in a time warp. This time last week I was in Connecticut to attend my mother-in-laws memorial service; due to HS I didn’t return home until 10 hours before I had to go back to the airport to fly to LA. Monday morning at 12:40AM our plane leaves for a 12.5 hr flight to Beijing.

Because I didn’t think I could manage the 17 hour + flight from Lexington to Beijing – my hope is to be able to walk and talk at the same time – we decided to take a break and stop in LA. I should note that Susan could have a second career as a travel guide. She made all the arrangements, did all the booking and here we are. My role is driver of the car. Having lived here – loooong time ago, how old are you Jacob, that’s how long ago it was – I have a general idea of where places are located.

We’re having a great time. Spent a day touring Universal Studios and yesterday we spent the day at the Getty. The Getty has long been on my list of I Have To See. Now it’s on my list of I Have To See It Again and Again. I’m afraid I spent most of the day staring at the buildings. Against the brilliant blue sky. In every direction, the eye was drawn to a new view. I loved how the term "Art" takes a journey at the Getty.

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Posted by ChinaBecky 09:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

WE'RE ON OUR WAY!

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We're about 5 hours from landing at Beijing. The plane is over Russia; just passing Lamutskoe. Our route from LA was up the coast, almost to Coos Bay, Oregon & then crossing Alaska & entering Russia.

Surprising, to me, I slept most of the way. The plane is new - not sure of the model but there does seem more head room. China Air staff seems competent - rarely block the aisles with their carts so it's possible to freely move about. Each seat has an interactive touch screen. The plane is almost full, lucky no one in the middle seat. My row mate is a young American woman traveling on business.

The meal, thus far, would indicate we're not on this journey as a culinary experience. I've heard several fellow travelers joking about the food or their expectations...which seems to range from dull to too exotic. Not sure what, if any, expectations I have. I'm so totally outside my comfort zone & I don't have Philip to give me a sense of "we can fix this." My goal is to observe and learn, would be nice to have some interaction. Given the olympics were here 4 years ago, I'm expecting a visitor friendly city. And Beijing is an international business community so again I'm assuming visitor friendly.

All my life I've heard about China - after Grandad returned from Pakistan in 1953 he told everyone to stop worrying about USSR & keep their eyes on the tiger to the north - China. Then there were those childhood meals where we reminded about the 'starving children in China.' There were all wonderful visits to Chinatown, San Francisco. Modern symbols, in my minds eye are: Communist revolution, Mao, cultural revolution, industry, computers, etc.....

I'm requested to mention - LAX is the worst airport EVER! If a passenger transfers between terminals, there's no way to avoid leaving a secured area & a 2nd TSA check.

After standing in line about 1.5 hours; check in was reatively seamless. Lots of noise about 1suitcase & one carryon. I suspect it's the tour agency's restriction - I saw people boarding with what I'm sure must be a new Ikea kitchen.

3:26AM - we are now over China. About 1:43 hrs to Beijing. Another meal is served - interesting: chicken, fennel, rice; melon pieces; chicken salad; roll & yogurt. And finally! !!!! Coffee .. and it's pretty good.

Coincidence - on a plane this size, my roommate, Linda is in the seat directly behind me.

Our arrival is so early; we can't check into the hotel so instead we're to go touring. Today we see yhe olymic Bird's nest & Water Bubble buildings as well as the Summer Palace. After lunch we check into the hotel & have the afternoon free. I want to see a Hutong - I understand there are only a few left. Frommer's recommended a 2 hour walking tour - which is my choice. However, our tour hosts recommend a rickshaw (motorized). We shall see.

Posted by ChinaBecky 02:38 Archived in China Comments (0)

BEIJING - DAY 1 BUT IS IT THE 5TH OR THE 6TH?

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We left Los Angeles at 12:40 AM on Monday 11/5; 12.5 hours later we landed in Beijing and it's 11/6...something about an international date line.

Beijing airport is absolutely beautiful. Clearing passport and customs was a breeze; we had time to kill before getting on the bus. Most of us headed to Starbucks were I had a cappacinno that tasted just like home. There was also a KFC and McDonalds.

I'll tell you now, this portion of my blog is being written thru the eyes & mind of someone who's had not enough sleep in the last 24 hours and is fighting a 10 hour time change.

Beijing is about what I expected and more. It looks all brand new - fantastic buildings, all very futuristic. And the traffic - it's 24 rush hour. Traffic is so bad the city government is trying to limit cars by only allowing odd and even number cars to drive on certain days.

After leaving the airport, we headed to the olympic center complex - something not on my short list but Beijiners are obviously very proud of. Our guides mentioned several times that most of the stadiums were build around the city - at their universities - so the structures continued to be used.

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We have 3 guides - Bruce will be with us during our stay in China. Lin and Davy are from Beijin and are our local guides. I would say they are late 20's, early 30s. I like the way they present information and explain the history. And if ask a direct question, no matter how silly, they give an answer.

We pass by Tian’an Men Square where Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. We're to visit it tomorrow. Our guide, David, is a little defensive. He said the western press only presented one side of the story of 1989.

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Posted by ChinaBecky 05:05 Archived in China Comments (0)

BEIJING - DAY 2

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Temple of Heaven
The Yongle emperor built the Forbidden City, he also oversaw construction of this enormous park and altar to Heaven. AB6357B12219AC6817593490807AC56E.jpg
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Forbidden City - the pictures don't begin to describe how huge it is. We were walking about 1/2 hr and I assumed we were in the Inner Court. Not so, we were still in the Outter Court. We were in FC almost 3 hours and we saw only 20% of it.
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This picture taken from the Forbidden City; showing the flags of the building where the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was meeting. There were 2,309 delegates and 2732 reporters. Sounds like the states.
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The colors of Beijing
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Kung Fu Theater
We watched a show The Legend of Kung Fu, follows the story of a young boy trying to fulfill his dream of becoming a Kung Fu master. The staging was spectactular. The average age of these practitioners is only 17 years old, but they have studied Chinese Kung Fu for many years. During the 80-minute show, the actors do not speak but present all Kung Fu, dance and acrobatics. The Legend of Kung Fun creatively unifies Chinese traditional arts and modern dance. (I picked this up off a brochure but that the description fit what I saw.)
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Posted by ChinaBecky 17:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

BEIJING - DAY 3

Ming Tombs & Great Wall

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Ming Tombs (Shi San Ling)-The resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming-dynasty (1368–1644) emperors, this is China’s finest example of imperial funerary architecture. The site was selected because of its auspicious feng shui alignment; a ridge of mountains to the north cradles the tombs on three sides, protecting the dead from the evil spirits carried on the north wind. The tombs are spread over 15 square miles (40 sq km). Three (Chang Ling, Ding Ling, and Zhao Ling) have been restored and are always busy. Unrestored, the rest are open but quiet.

Part of the 4-mile (7-km) approach to the tombs, the Spirit Way (Shen Dao) is lined with 18 pairs of giant guardians – stone statues of court officials, imperial warriors, animals, and mythical Chinese beasts.
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A horse for Philip
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The Great Wall of China (Wanli Changcheng). Even after you dispense with the myths that it is a single continuous structure and that it can be seen from space (it can't, any more than a fishing line can be seen from the other side of a river), China's best-known attraction is still mind-boggling. “Great” is something of an understatement; the wall is nothing less than spectacular. Clambering up the perilously sloping carriageways to one of the crowning watchtowers and the experience is literally breath-taking.

Look closely - we started the walk at the bottom.
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In the distance is marvelous views of Ba Da Ling, snaking up the mountains to the north, and south toward Beijing.
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View of T9 and T10. I made it past T-10 before turning back.
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Me - at T-9
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Climbing the Great Wall is a relative term. Some of us staggered, others leaped, mostly I was looking only at my feet and gasping for air. My personal climbing mantra was "don't take your eyes off the feet." The steps can be high (over a foot) or tiny or deeply rutted from thousands of years and you're not alone on the wall - sometimes the wall is only wide enough for 2 people and one of those two is usually bounding, leaping or stopping abruptly to take a picture - hard to see when your eyes are glued to the feet. The wall above the walking path is very low and there is the feeling that a good knock would send you over the side. There are railings which mar the effect a little but honestly, I used them to pull myself up and the cane to stead me. I'm in a dozen pictures as some of the Chinese told me how courageous I was ... translating "she's lost her mind." And had I known how absolutely terrifying the descent would be, I'd still be on the bus. But my personal hero was Ed. Step by step, breath by breath - he walked that wall; further than I thought he could or should. Coming down, I saw him sail pass the exit and head towards Ba Da Ling so I chased after him and we staggered back to the bus together.

Returning from the Great Wall, we stopped at a Cloisonné factory. I found it the most interesting. For the most part, I thought the mandatory shopping stops annoying and most of the stuff over-priced. As a young girl, visiting China Town in San Francisco - Cloisonné was popular and cheap. In the past years, I rarely see it anymore. After touring the factory, I can see why it's a dying art.

About the shopping - to be fair; I'm not a bargain hunter. If I want something; I usually know the value and what I can expect to pay. Beyong the sales person showing me what I want; I want to be left alone.

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Traffic - it never stops. Beijing is locked in an ongoing battle with pollution and congestion. A 2009 survey revealed that about 1,500 new cars are added to Beijing roads every day. The new vehicles add to the already headache-inducing traffic as well as the unhealthy pollution levels.

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Posted by ChinaBecky 03:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

Hangzhou - Day 4

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Lots of grumbling as we board a 6:00 bus to take us to the airport. 4:30 & 5:00 wake-up calls can make you grumpy. Breakfast on the bus was dull, dull, dull - roll, yogurt and a piece of fruit. During our stay here; most of us eagerly awaited the hotel breakfast buffet. No matter what nationality; you could find all sorts of tasty treats.

I'm in a window seat for the 2 hour flight between Beijing & Shanghai. As I look out the window I can't help but want to pinch myself - I'm in China and as far as I can see; it's China. I simply never expected to be here and I'm so grateful that Philip understood how much I wanted to see these places; even if China wasn't on his short list.

Beijing airport is enormous and beautiful. I believe someone told us it's the second largest airport terminal in the world and the fifth largest building in the world by area. So far everything in China is almost the biggest or about to be the biggest...that seems to be the mantra. I'm constantly on my blackbberry; checking out the facts and figures I'm hearing.
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Arriving in Shanghai, it's raining - and it won't be stopping anytime soon. As our plane comes down thru the clouds I can see villages and rice fields in every direction. I used to love the color of the rice fields in the central California valley and these don't disappoint - they are golden before the harvest.
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Shanghai airport located in Pudong
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Besides our ever present guide, Bruce (for some reason, all the guides use weird english names; as tho we're too ignorant to learn to pronounce their given names) we are met by Ken and Vivian. Ken turns out to be a wonderful story teller.
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We have a 3 hour bus ride to our next stop, Hangzhou. Ken tells us Marco Polo pronounced Hangzhou "the finest, most splendid city in the world . . . (see there's that better/best thing going again!) Since the bus windows are fogged over and it's misty and rainy outside; I'll take his word for it. We have two rest stops. You have to imagine roughly 20 women trying to use the one western toilet. I do know, from reading, Hangzhou's claim to fame is West Lake (Xi Hu).

Our bus arrives at the lake and it seems the mist has settled on the ground. I have my trusty LLBean, bright pink, rain jacket but I give in and buy a cheapie umbrella - it's the only way to protect myself from all the other who are carrying umbrella with the apparent intention of putting out my eye. We take a tour of the lake on a lovely old boat. I loved Ken's stories but you really had to imagine what the scenery looked like as visability was maybe 30'.

Our hotel is on the lake - glad we're only here a day. The rooms are huge - 20' ceilings views out to the lake but they are also musty smelling and cool. Someone said the heat doesn't come on until 7 PM. I don't think ours ever came on. I'm beat but roommate Linda still has energy. Her excitement and energy often revives me but not this evening.

Posted by ChinaBecky 03:29 Archived in China Comments (0)

THOUGHTS FROM 33,OOO'

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Sitting on the plane; it's still hard for me to believe - as far as the eye can see; it's China.

All my life I've been told - keep your eye on China - well I'm watching. What I see is a country that's no longer "developing" - they've developed. They're pouring their money into education and infrastructure. Their elementary schools are rated among the best in the world as are some of their universities. Ironically one of their best universities was founded by Americans.

I'm completely comfortable here. One of the advantages of being a tourist is meeting other tourists - most of whom are Chinese. Just as in the states; everyone flocks to the Great (Long) Wall, Summer Palace & Forbidden City - much the same as when we go to Washington DC to see the capitol, Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial; you see Americans from every state. People here are the same as us - friendly, curious and maybe a little kinder. I've felt at ease wandering away from the tour group from time to time - people ask me to take their pictures, we enjoy the beauty of the buildings and gardens. And if we can't talk to one another, we smile and gesture.

I'm having trouble finding old Beijing. This city is huge - 3 hours to drive from one side to another; if there's no traffic. And there's always traffic and mostly grid-lock. Eventually Beijing will have to do something about their traffic issues - too many cars on the road, constantly idling because of the traffic jams...the pollution is dreadful. They are building a subway. Yesterday as our bus was stuck in traffic and I was trying not to think about how the smell was choking me; I watched cars. I saw Mercedes, Buick, Honda, Fiat, Chrysler, VW - big, small, SUVs, pickups - and mostly only one person to a car. And the wealth...oh me...oh my....it's everywhere in the inner city - fantastic futuristic buildings and color everywhere. shopping malls with all the brands I recognized and some I've only heard about.

There are canals and parks everywhere. I particularly enjoyed the visit to the hutong where one the guides with her grandmother. We rode bicycle rickshaws along narrow streets where the tour bus couldn't go. The communal living was particularly interesting as I've thought lots about how families are breaking down into smaller and smaller units.

I'm astounded at the freedom of discussion...to a point. Sometimes the tour guides prefer to have discussions in the confines of the bus...but if ask a question; they answer. The young woman was particularly proud of women's rights in China. She gave examples of the lives of her mother and grandmother and even some of her early youth. All of the guides are in their early 30's so the Cultural Revolution was not part of their immediate lives but almost everyone had a family member who suffered.

Censorship - usually can't get in on google and never on Facebook. No problems is I use the Blackberry but almost everyone else is struggling with internet connections.

Posted by ChinaBecky 04:14 Archived in China Comments (0)

HANGZHOU TO SHANGHAI - DAY 5

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It's a warm, misty day in Hangzhow.

I'll say this for the tour company - they sure pick hotels with wonderful breakfasts. I make a point to try everything typical to China - which leads to some interesting breakfasts.

I ate:
Green bean congee
Pumpkin slices, cooked
Purple yam, cooked
Pancake pieces, sliced
Tea boiled egg
Dumpling
All accompanied by coffee & watermelon juice

Not sure I always enjoy my choices but I didn't come here to eat western food.

This morning was spent at a tea plantation, Dragon Well Tea Village (Longjing Wencha) & we spent about an hour being instructed by a tea master. Discard the image of the Japanese tea ceremony. This was more like visiting a winery & experiencing some of the nuances of a varietal. Most interesting. I think I made a mistake by not buying some of the tea but I was so annoyed at the high pressure sales that I wouldn't stay in the room. I did learn later than this is the only place where I could purchase the tea. Oh well, live and learn.
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Later - This area is so tropical. As I write this, we're on the bus for the 3 hr drive to Shanghai; the air is so heavy - you feel wet. One of the guides said the Yangtze river delta gets approximately 280 days of rain per year.

Lunch was at the small tea plantation village. We had the usual foods of sticky rice, fried rice, pork, bok choy, beans and this restaurant added baby duck soup. I'm becoming resonably proficent using chop sticks - with my left hand, no less.

Meals are served with water, sprite, pepsi or beer. I always order the beer - it's light & refreshing. And I'm becoming addicted to watermelon juice.

All our meals are served dim sum - food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions.

Back to the tour...after lunch we drove a short distance to Lingyin Temple (Lingyin Si). The temple dates to 326 AD. The main attraction on the way to the temple is a limestone cliff, called Feilai Feng (Peak That Flew from Afar), so named because it resembles a holy mountain in India seemingly transported to China. The peak contains four caves and about 380 Buddhist rock carvings. The most famous carving is of a Laughing Buddha from the year A.D. 1000.
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Truthfully, the entrance was a bit like an amusement park - shops, vendors, 1,000's of people and the ever-present Starbucks.

The present temple buildings go back decades rather than centuries. The main Daxiong Baodian (Great Hall) contains a gigantic statue of Buddha carved in 1956 from 24 sections of camphor and gilded with nearly 3,000 grams (106 oz.) of gold -- the largest sitting Buddha in China, and not a bad modern re-creation.
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After stopping at the Hangzhou Exhibition Hall, it was back to the 3 hour ride to Shanghai.
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Arriving at night; the city lights are spectacular (after arriving home, Philip mentioned he saw the latest James Bond movie - some of the scenes are Shanghai at night & he said they scenes were fantastic.) This was the night of the foot massage. I wasn't so sure I wanted to do this as I was warned it could be painful and I'm nervous about my back and right leg. Then I thought "what the heck, I'm going to be having back surgery soon - how much worse can it get?" It was WONDERFUL. This spa used reflexology, which stimulates acupressure points on the foot. We sat on reclining long chairs and spend an hour getting our feet, legs, arm & neck treated to a thoroughassage. I practically floated to the hotel.

The rain stopped and the night was lovely - our guides were considerate enough to give us a little extra time to go out to the bridge and take pictures. Given our guides had longer days than we did; I appreciated their consideration.
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Posted by ChinaBecky 04:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

SHANGHAI - DAY 6

Our 1st stop was a silk factory and I finally gave into the urge to shop - buying two duvet covers. By this time, many of my fellow travelers and begining to anxious check their luggage and discovering they're going to have to buy an extra suitcase.

After lunch and shopping we headed to The Bund. Shanghai appears to be a western city - as most of the guides reminded us. It doesn't have the history of Beijing or Xi'an. It was a fishing village located at the mouth of the Yangzi River. But nothing about it appears western to me. It's a big international city and has been active in the overseas commerical market for 200 years. Shanghainese at the core, are Chinese who have drawn the best from the cultures around them.

The Bund is european - you could easily be on a street in Paris or London. The views to the new city are magnificient as is the wall of flowers.
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Today is 11/11 - a very lucky day in China; lots of wedding parties were taking place
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For lunch we headed to The Old Chinese City (Nanshi) - too many people for me. Yu Yuan Old Town Bazaar area is surround by 3-4 story buildings that twist and turn like a maze. Being the week end, it was mobbed with people and the noise was deafening.
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Fortunately, right off the bazaar is the Yu Yuan (Yu Garden), completed in the 1500's.
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Street Scene
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Between the crowds and the walking - I'm beat and am starting to think about home. I'm not used to the 8:30AM - 9:00PM touring days. Philip and I tend to get up early - take a break in the afternoon & then go out and about a little later. I think it's called "siesta time." Still...I wouldn't have missed this trip for anything.

Posted by ChinaBecky 05:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

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