Adventures in Asia

by Greg & Francie

5 Things I Loved and Hated about China

We have been in China for 4 months and 1 day. Wow, that is pretty amazing espeically becuase it is about half of the total time on our trip so far! However, I am really glad we have spent so much time in the different regions and cities of China. It has been very fulfilling.

For the record we hit the Yunnan Province (Jinghong, Dali, LiJiang), Sichuan Province (Songpan, Wolong, Chengdu) and Tibet (Lhasa and hiking around) as well as these cities: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’An, Chengdu.

I decided to do a 5 things I Loved and Hated about China.

Here are the five things I loved:

1. The People. The Chinese were incredible and blew away any stereotypes or things I had heard about them. They were incredibily friendly and lively (even if a bit loud). We made a number of friends with people thoughout the country and a number of people bought as dinner and hung out and talked with us. We learned a lot about their own opinions about China and abroad. Isn’t that most of what traveling is all about?

Street Food in Beijing

2. The Historical Sites. Wow. China obviously has a lot to offer here from LiJiang and other preserved Chinese towns to The Great Wall and the Teracotta Warriors. Almost every region has some kind of fabulous historical structure. I was truly awed even though we had to miss many places we wanted to go (Pingyao, Hangzhou).

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3. The Food. Dim Sum and Buns were expected but some of the spicy Sichuan dishes were pretty incredible and some of the most hot dishes that I have ever had that were still edible. The most unexpected but wonderful food I found was in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’An (showed to us by a local who bought us dinner there). My mouth is watering again…

4. The Geography. The Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces are definitely high on my list to hit again. I really recommend to people thinking of coming to China to take a close look at the Sichuan province (especially north and west Sichuan) while planning your trip. We learned too much too late but it is really beautiful and much more accessible (and cheap) than Tibet–no permits. They have glaciers, mountains, forests and, of course, Pandas. Regardless, there were many other places that we didn’t make it to that we want to see such as Guilan (and regions around it).

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5. The cities. Ok. Let’s just say it–Hong Kong. HK was pretty amazing and I am glad we spent 20+ days there. I have always had a super-strong desire to go there and I wasn’t disappointed. The hills, the water and the food. A wonderful combination. Beijing was also very interesting and the French Concession area of Shanghai was quite cool. Chengdu was a great, green little city that is quite livable.

5a. The Chinglish or funky use of English by the Chinese 🙂

Tasty Taste

Ok. Fair is fair and here are 5 Things I Hated about China:

1. Censorship of the Media. I know, I know, an American bitching about no freedom of the press in China. What a surprise? However, during our four months here I really internalized what a big deal this is…I mean, the Chinese government tries so hard to curb all information its citizens see and this has some terrible consequences. All newspapers, newscasts, websites, blog sites (including this one or Ways that Are Dark) are limited, modified or are blocked. Of course, they seem to do this out of fear that there will be some kind of backlash (e.g. T. Square) but the resulting consequence is that people don’t have enough information to react against say, the air pollution problem in Beijing or the child slave labor scandal where kids were making bricks, and beaten for it, while their parents looked for them. This really limits the people’s power to solve some problems for its government. For example, take the Mothers Against Drunk Driving grassroot effort that has done the U.S. government’s job there about addressing drunk driving. Or, the activists role in improving the environment in the U.S. or E.U. Hey, China government–throw yourself a bone!

2. Air Pollution. Oh my god–it is bad. Worse than even Athens on a hot day. It is so bad in Beijing and other places that it has completely affected my views about the environment. If more Chinese people were allowed to travel to the U.S. you would think it would raise some questions for them to be in New York and wonder why the air pollution isn’t worse than it is. No real curbs on air quality are happening here and what will the Chinese people do when it begins to kill millions of people a year (and not just the hundreds of thousands it kills now). All travelers to China wonder about this train wreck and many of us predict that this is the biggest world threat to it’s sovereignty.

(That’s not a cool evening mist she is playing around in!)
Kite Flying at Tiananmen Square

3. Queueing. Ok. Maybe a little less important than air pollution but I cannot possibily express how much this drives me crazy so I will refer you to Francie’s post on the subject. I do want to say that, while I like the monthly practice Queue day that Beijing is having for the Olympics, I have to say it’s not going to work. Hate to be a naysayer but what I have learned is that all hope of queueing goes out the window when a Chinese person really really wants something. The second that one person gets out of the queue–everyone is going to get out of the queue. But it does leave us for that delicious moment when we read the Olympic news story about U.K./German’s reactions and incidents. Yum and fun.

4. Chinese Tour Groups. My eyes turn red with anger while just typing those words. Imagine some of the most rude people you have ever encountered. But, as one person pointed out to me, it is probably not that they are just in a tour group but that they are more of an upper class sort of people. Well, you can take that little flag you walk around with and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine while speeding down the road on your tour bus. Nuff said. The Chinese tour groups were especially offensive in The Jokhang–a religious site for the Tibetans…and while we are on this subject…

5. Treatment of the Tibetans. I was going to say something about this but instead I will just tell this little story. I was at a travel agency, in Lhasa, trying to write with a pen and the ink dried up. So, I grabbed a second pen and tried to use that one. I laughed and looked at the travel agent (who was Tibetan) and he looked at me at laughed and said “Sorry, made in China”.

Ok, that is it. We are about to get on a Bangkok Airways flight to Thailand and I am going crazy with excitement!

September 11, 2007 Posted by | Beijing, Chengdu, China, Hong Kong, Sichuan, Tibet, Travel, Yunnan | 5 Comments

On the (Rail) Road to Lhasa

After a couple days of errands, planning, & organization in Chengdu, we are finally embarking on our next exciting adventure: Tibet!!!

We will be leaving tonight on the new, very popular, and somewhat controversial Qinghai-Tibet Railway. We got really lucky and were able to score some tickets even though many travel agencies told us it was impossible. If you’re trying to get tickets in Chengdu let us know and maybe we will pass on to you our secret source ;-).

Some quick facts about this train:
–it is the highest railroad in the world, crossing a pass that is 5,072 meters above sea level.
–over half of the railway length (from Xining to Lhasa) is built over permafrost, and 80% is at an elevation of over 4,000 meters.
–each seat/bunk has its own oxygen supply that passengers can tap into at anytime.
–there are lots of bridges and elevated sections of the track that were designed to allow animals to continue on their migration routes without becoming ‘track kill’.
–from Chengdu it will take us 48 hours to reach Lhasa, Tibet. Yay for sleeper tickets 🙂
–For more info, check out the very informative Wikipedia entry.

A photo of the track:

So, why is such a popular train route and engineering wonder, with such beautiful scenery, controversial? The main issue is that many Tibetans feel like it is an invasion of their culture and their home to pave the way for hordes of tourists to reach Tibet from big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Since the railway opened, tourism in Tibet has increased drastically (btw, this means that if you want to see Tibet, perhaps do so sooner rather than later). Another issue is the unknown future environmental impact of the railway. I don’t claim to know very much about these issues so I can’t make any judgements, but if I get an insights on the train ride or in Lhasa I will report back.

That’s all for now. Greg and I will catch up with you again in a few days from Tibet 🙂

August 23, 2007 Posted by | Chengdu, China, Tibet, Travel | 2 Comments

The Loft Hostel in Chengdu

We have been staying at The Loft Hostel in Chengdu. This is actually the third time we have stayed here and we really want to recommend it. It is probably our favorite lodging in all of China. Super hip and reasonably priced it has everything you need like this great common area.

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Some of the advantages in staying here are:

–Friendly, helpful staff.
–Great Chinese Neighborhood.
–Good western food nearby-downstairs Cafe Copenhagen and 2 doors down Cafe Dodo.
–Great Chinese food up and down the street.
–Free internet and a good internet cafe down the street (2.5 RMB/hour).
–Easy international calls and faxes.
–Common room with pool table, TV, lots of couches and Bar.
–Cheap laundry.

And of course the rooms. They are hip and clean and everything works. We pay 180 RMB ($23 USD) for a double with private bath. There are also doubles with shared bath (RMB 120), Single rooms (100 RMB) or dorm rooms. Here are some pics of our room:

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August 21, 2007 Posted by | Chengdu, China, Urban | Leave a comment

Western Food in Chengdu

Greg & I just spent the last 5 days in Chengdu pigging out after 2 weeks of noodle soup in Wolong. It turns out that Chengdu actually has some really great western food restaurants if that is what you’re craving.

The best:
Del Mar Mediterranean Restaurant
10 Tongzilin Donglu
028-8515-9325
We found out about this place from Chengdoo magazine (a great resource for restaurant and bar information). It’s run by the same people who own Grandma’s Kitchen. Surprisingly it’s not that much more expensive than a typical Chengdu western food cafe, but the food is much better. The pasta is particularly good. So is the chocolate cheesecake.

Grandmas Kitchen
73/75 Kehua Beilu
This place is in the lonely planet. It was better than i expected and the wait staff is super nice. Their desserts are some of the best I’ve had in China.

Mutt’s Nutts @ Dave’s Oasis
This place had by far the best pizza of all the places we tried pizza (better than highfly cafe). Go there for the pizza. I don’t remember the address but they are listed in Chengdoo magazine.

Dodo’s Cafe
12 Xiaotongxiang St.
This place is just a few doors down from Cafe Copenhagen & The Loft hostel. It is very cozy and comfortable, the staff is really nice, and the food is way better (in my opinion) than Cafe Copenhagen. For a healthful lunch, order the mixed salad and a farmer’s sandwich.

Peter’s Tex-Mex
117 Kehua Beilu
This place is also in Lonely planet. It was good although each dish was a little different than how it is supposed to taste if you are in Texas. But it still satisfied our flour tortilla and cheese cravings 😉

August 14, 2007 Posted by | Chengdu, China, Travel, Urban | 2 Comments

Adventure Taxi rides in Chengdu

Last night Greg & took a taxi to a different area of Chengdu for dinner and then back to our guesthouse.   Sounds pretty straightforward right?  Um, actually No!  Taxi rides in Asia are totally underrated as an adventure travel activity, IMO ;-).  Here is how our sweet ride went:

Hail the taxi.  Show driver the restaurant name and address which we have written down in Chinese characters.  He nods (indicating he knows where it is, we think) and off we go.

After only a few minutes, driver pulls over to side of road, gets out, and goes into a store.  Hmm.  He comes back out with a package of cigarettes.   Ok, no problem, now we understand. 

We drive for quite awhile.  Driver starts to go very slow and squint at streetsigns.  At an intersection he gestures to us to ask which way to go.  I have no idea where we are or how to get where we’re going so I just repeat the address in Chinese.  He turns right, then changes his mind and does a u-turn.

Driver stops, rolls down window, and asks a street sweeper for directions.  Sweeper gestures with broom to indicate the direction in which to drive. 

We drive one more block and pull over again.  Driver exits the car and has a discussion with a security guard that includes lots of pointing.  

After a few more blocks and a few more turns we pull over again and driver asks yet another street sweeper for directions.  This sweeper uses his broom to draw an imaginary map on the ground.  I think this is a good sign… 

My hopes are shortlived because after another block or two we pull over again.  Driver exits the car and asks a pedestrian for directions.  At this point I think that Greg and I offered to just get out of the taxi and try to find the street by walking around.  

We drive again for a few blocks, but this time we find the right street!  Driver turns right, then yells out the window at another pedestrian who points behind us, so we do a u-turn and a minute later arrive at the restaurant! 

I have to give our taxi driver props because even though he didn’t know where the place was, he was resourceful and persistent in getting us to the right spot and didn’t just shrug his shoulders and drop us off in the middle of nowhere (which has happened on other occasions).

The taxi ride home was not quite as exciting, except for the 8 times that our driver drove in the lane of oncoming traffic in order to pass other cars.  One of the times he did this it was to pass cars that were stopped because they were waiting at the red light directly ahead of us.  Sweet.

August 13, 2007 Posted by | Chengdu, China, Travel, Urban | 3 Comments

More info on Wolong Panda Center

As you may have read already in our travel schedule, Greg & I are spending 4 weeks volunteering full time at the Wolong Panda Breeding and Research Center near Chengdu.  I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am about this.  We planned all along to spend a month of our China time volunteering somewhere and this is the perfect opportunity for both of us.  It will also help me to pick up a little more Chinese, I hope…

Here is an interesting article in National Geographic that talks about Panda breeding at Wolong and elsewhere.

The month of August, this will be Greg and I everyday!

Of course, for every 5 minutes spent with a baby panda, we must scoop panda dung for 6 hours or something like that… 😉 

Check out this photo of the Wolong panda nursery.  So cute!  So exciting!

June 12, 2007 Posted by | Chengdu, China | 8 Comments