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 ūüôā

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

The smell of the Mekong

En-route back to Bangkok Greg and I have a 24-hour stopover in Jinghong, a small town on the Mekong in southern Yunnan province, not too far from the border. As soon as we stepped off the plane the smell of the river, the tropical vegetation, the humidity, and the rich soil hit me and it brought back all these wonderful memories of SE Asia, but Laos in particular, where we spent lots of time on the Mekong as well as many other rivers. Thinking back about all the countries we’ve travelled through I realize just how much I loved being in Laos. Right now it is still not over-run by tourists (as Thailand is in many places) but that’s starting to change as it becomes “discovered” as the special travel destination that it is. So people, go visit Laos now! You will not regret it. However, don’t go with a big list of must-see destinations and sites. Instead, take some good books, ride the slow-moving river boats, eat lots of river fish, and visit some remote villages.

September 11, 2007 Posted by | China, Laos, SE Asia, Travel, Yunnan | 2 Comments

Trip Half-Way Point

Francie and I realized that, with our return home date of November 17th, we have just passed the half-way mark.

It is interesting because, for me, the longer we are away traveling–the less time¬†seems to¬†have actually gone¬†by.¬† For instance, that month in Laos now feels like just a day or two of my life.¬†¬† I guess that a few years after this trip is over¬†I will look back on the year and¬†remember it as a month or¬†two off from work.¬† Bummer.¬†¬†¬†

Well, to celebrate I thought I would¬†post¬†and¬†talk about¬†a few of Francie’s new pictures (see Flickr on the right).¬† Here we go:

These kids are from outside of Kalaw, Myanmar.¬† They were very disappointed that the camera wasn’t a Polaroid.¬† It really is a beautiful picture.¬† We gave them some stickers and pencils in exchange for the picture…oh yeah, and a bouncing ball.

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This large pig and his friend scared the devil out of us when¬†the¬†big guy¬†snorted at us toward the end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike. He was actually very excited because he was expecting his slop dinner–which sure enough a woman came out with, climbed into the stone pen, and fed him.
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This line of ponies passed us high up in Tiger Leaping Gorge.¬† I was immediately reminded of every time I read a fantasy book (e.g. Lord of the Rings) where a group of adventurers ride horses through a mountain pass (I know several of you are rolling your eyes and thinking ‘geek‘).

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Race horses busting out of the gate at Happy Valley in Hong Kong.

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The future of China looks bright according to Chairman Mao in Lijiang.

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Beautiful stone building and landscape near the Naxi guesthouse on the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike.  The Naxi are an ethnic group in Yunnan province (pronounced Na sha).

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Me and my new friend checking the bus schedule. 

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We took off running after this kid threatened us (He was demanding our milk money).¬† They grow up quick in China…

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The park at Black Dragon Pool in LiJiang.  Unfortunately, the black dragon was not available for pictures that day.

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Ok!  I have to quit procrastinating and get back to my Mandarin.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | burma, China, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Travel, Wildlife, Yunnan | 2 Comments

Travel Info: Yunnan province, China

For anyone out there searching for travel information for Yunnan province…

Dali (old town), May 2007

  • We stayed one night in Jim’s Tibetan guest house.¬† It’s nice, but definitely overpriced at 200Y.
  • Rest of the time we stayed at Number 4 guest house (just a few blocks from Jim’s).¬† More affordable at 60Y a night, but we did have some leakage issues in our room after some heavy rains.¬† On the same street are several other reasonably priced places.
  • Cafe de Jack (a block or two down from Jim’s) is a fantastic place to hang out, eat, and drink.¬† The western food there¬†is actually really good and not too expensive & the staff are all super nice & friendly.¬† I particularly recommend the grilled cheese sandwich (12Y)¬†and lemon tea with brandy (8Y).¬† They are also the only place in town with a fireplace.
  • The Tibetan Cafe (on the ‘foreigner’ street) was really good as well.

Lijiang (old town), May 2007

  • We stayed at a great, cheap place (50Y a night) near Well Bistro, but I don’t know the name of it because they didn’t have an English sign or speak any English.
  • For food, Prague cafe & Well bistro (both in LP)¬†were really good for western food such as salads and pizza.¬† Sakura (also in LP) had delicious korean food with really big portions.¬† We both got sick in Lijiang so unfortunately we didn’t sample too much Naxi cuisine.¬† We did try a place called Mama Fu’s.¬† It was okay – not great.

Tiger Leaping Gorge, May 2007

This hike is awesome.  If you are travelling in Yunnan province, you should not miss it.

How to do it:

  • Get a hand-drawn photocopy map somewhere in Lijiang (they have them at all the tour offices).
  • In the morning, take the bus to Qiaotou from the Lijiang central bus station. (you don’t need an advance ticket.¬† buses leave every hour or so)
  • In Qiaotou you can get another hand-drawn map at Jane’s cafe & if you have any questions about the hike, she will be happy to answer them.¬† It’s helpful to have two of these hand-drawn maps¬†since they all contain slightly different info.
  • The trail head is a short walk from Jane’s.¬†
  • There are guest houses in various villages all along the trail.¬† If you get a late start on the first day, it’s only a 2 hour hike to the first guest house.¬† All the guest houses have food and drinks & are right off the trail or very close.¬†¬† You don’t really need to carry much food or water with you – just stock up when you go through a village.
  • 1st night we stayed at Naxi Family guest house (70Y with private bathroom).¬† It was really nice –¬†I highly recommend it.¬† 2nd night, Tina’s.¬† 40Y for a double with shared bathroom (squat toilet only).¬† The view from their terrace is really incredible.¬† 3rd night, Sean’s guest house (30Y with shared bathroom).¬† Great place to hang out, good energy, good food, really clean & nice showers and bathrooms.
  • After you finish the gorge hike you can also hike down to the river.¬† It takes about an hour and a half one way.¬† We did this from the village where Sean’s GH and Walnut garden are.¬† It is really amazing to see the river, so even though you’ll be really tired from all the hiking by the time you get here you should really do it.¬† The trail is a little hard to find, but when we went, there was a village lady waiting there to show us the way (for a small tip).
  • To return to Qiaotou you have to take a shuttle van.¬† They can arrange this at Sean’s.¬† There is a big landslide about halfway back that you have to walk through, and then you catch a 2nd shuttle van to get the rest of the way back to Qiaotou.¬† The bus back to Lijiang stops right in front of Jane’s.¬† I think it comes every hour or two during the day.

June 7, 2007 Posted by | China, Travel, Yunnan | Leave a comment

Francie’s 5 month Top Ten List

Greg & I have been travelling now for over 5 months!¬† I can’t believe it’s been that long.¬† Roughly half-way through our trip, at 6 months, we were going to do a Top Ten travel experiences list (geez, how self-absorbed is that), but we’re impatient so we’re doing it now.¬†

Francie’s top 10: (in no particular order)¬†

  • Scuba diving/snorkeling in the Andaman Sea, Thailand.
  • Thai Beaches: Rantee (Koh Phi Phi), Koh Jam, & Koh Ngai.
  • Thai lessons in Chiang Mai.
  • Motorbike trip through the Bolaven Plateau, Laos.
  • Working elephants¬†in Hongsa, Laos.
  • Village trek in Kalaw, Myanmar.
  • Water festival in Mandalay and Yangon, Myanmar.
  • Eloping in Bangkok and our subsequent “Honeymoon” stay at the Banyan Tree. ūüôā
  • Tiger Leaping Gorge hike, Yunnan province, China.
  • Everything in Hong Kong.

Greg’s list will follow shortly.

June 7, 2007 Posted by | China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar, SE Asia, Thailand, Travel, Yunnan | 1 Comment

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Greg and I just got back from an incredible 3-day hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Northern Yunnan. The hike follows cliffs and mountains above the Yangze river, through a section where it has cut a deep canyon between some really big mountains. End to end the trail takes 2-3 days to hike and passes through several small villages, which, conveniently have guesthouses and cafes, so no need to carry a tent, sleeping bag, or much food! I cannot recommend this hike enough to anyone travelling through the Yunnan province. The trail is well marked, you don’t need a guide, the guesthouses along the way all have very nice rooms, and the scenery is amazing. Oh, and in case you lack the stamina for those switchbacks, there are many guys that walk up and down with their horses just in case you want to catch a lift!

Here is a photo from the first village we stayed in:
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The name “Tiger Leaping Gorge” comes from an old legend that says a tiger leapt across the river at a certain spot. How cool! Why can’t we have names like that in the US? In Washington we’re stuck with places like “Steven’s pass” and “Mount Daniel”. I think we need to start up some of these so called “legends” so that our future generations have some better material to work with.

Here is “Greg the Explorer”:
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Some dramatic later afternoon sun on the mountains:
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In this village, they like to grow a little corn:
Holy Corn Cobs!

Section of the river towards the end of the Gorge:
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I have never been afraid of a river until this hike. If you fell in this section you would surely die:
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This photo shows just how jagged the surrounding mountains are:
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And now we’re off to Hong Kong.¬† Greg’s gonna go to the dentist, I’m gonna get some film developed, and we’re both gonna do lots of shopping.¬† yay!¬† Later.

May 29, 2007 Posted by | China, Photography, Travel, Yunnan | 5 Comments

Welcome to the Sick House

Wondering why Greg and I haven’t posted for 2 days? It’s cause we haven’t left our room for 2 days! Well, not entirely accurate, Greg bravely left a few times to find food and drink. I tried to leave yesterday but ending up running back because I was afraid of hurling in public.

How did we get to this point? About 5 days ago Greg came down with a cold, then 3 days later I came down with the same + food poisoning. You’re probably wondering what I ate that made me sick. It was a cup of HOT CHOCOLATE from a CAFE. I think it is funny that after almost 5 months of travel, after all the sketchy meals we’ve eaten & all the street food, that it is a little cup of hot cocoa that gets me. It just goes to show that no matter how careful you are about food & drink, you can’t always protect yourself.

The good news is that we both left the room this morning, Greg’s coughing has subsided, and I ate a whole salad and drank a whole glass of apple juice and I don’t think I’m going to barf! Yay!!! Life is good. After another couple days of rest hopefully our ‘travelling’ will recommence. That’s the happs from China. Whoever you are out there reading this, I hope you have a loverly day… & remember, any day that you don’t throw up is a good one…

May 22, 2007 Posted by | China, Travel, Yunnan | 4 Comments

Lijiang

Greg and I are now in a lovely little town called Lijiang. We planned to leave today or tomorrow to go on a multi-day hike at the nearby Tiger Leaping Gorge, but Greg has come down with a nasty cold, poor guy. So we’re delaying the hike a few days and just chilling.

Lijiang is straight out of a movie set. I didn’t know places like this really existed.
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I mean for bejeezus sake, here is a kid in the street playing with some numchucks!
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The main park in town has a beautiful lake. It is even more beautiful when the clouds aren’t hiding the giant snow covered mountain in the background.
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Some rainy days prevented mucho picture taking, but hopefully we’ll have some more up on flickr soon. Hope all is well in other parts of the world. Have a good day everyone!

May 20, 2007 Posted by | China, Photography, Travel, Yunnan | 7 Comments

Dali

The last 4 days, Greg & Francie have had their introduction to China in a small mountain town called Dali (northwest of Kunming in the Yunnan province). It is cold and rainy here, reminding us of our native Seattle and inducing post traumatic stress episodes from all those seattle winters we’ve endured. Just kidding, actually, we just need to get acclimated is all. We’ve been in the tropics at 90+ degrees for 4 months and aren’t used to even a cool 75 degree breeze.

Its time for a picture! This is the west gate into the old city of Dali:

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One cool thing about Dali is that all the rain & snow melt from the mountains runs through the town in a little “stream”. I’m not sure why they did it this way, but it sure looks & sounds cool:
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Despite being in the mountains, we haven’t had any outdoor adventures yet, as its been pouring down rain since we arrived. This has freed us up however, to take some mandarin classes and spend our days studying in a wonderful coffee shop called Cafe de Jack. It sounds crazy that someone from Seattle would travel to a small town in China and find themselves sipping delicious cappuccinos, but that is just the way we roll.

Here is a photo of Francie in Jack’s studying our new Mandarin language book:
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Speaking of delicious things, the food that we’ve experienced so far in China has been amazing. In the space of 3 days we’ve eaten everything from dim sum to tibetan food to grilled cheese sandwiches and it is all sooo yummy! Here is a photo of the gentleman working the steamer at the steamed bun shop we ate at for lunch today:
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Are you perhaps wondering what a ‘steamed bun’ looks like? It’s your lucky day!
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Tomorrow we take a bus to another small mountain town called Lijiang, 160km to the north. Hopefully it’ll clear up while we’re there so we can actually see some of the amazing scenery.

Xai Jian peeps!
-Francie & Greg

May 17, 2007 Posted by | China, Photography, Travel, Yunnan | 5 Comments