Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My top 10 travel destinations

Frommer's just released their top travel destinations for 2010. I've not been to any of them, although I came close on two of the states and one country. And I have absolutely no desire to visit some of these places in 2010 -- or any time!

If money were no object, here's my top 10 list of destinations, but I'd spread them out over several years to allow time to savor the flavor of each spot.

1. Going on safari in Africa is something I've always wanted to do. My perfect destination would be Kenya. But there's so much unrest in Africa these days, I'm almost afraid to go. I took this picture at the Beijing zoo, but I'd prefer to see the big cats in the wild. I still get excited when we see deer or elk when we're camping.

2-3. Singapore is another place that has always captured my fancy. Exotic, but strict. From there, I'd go to Bali for awhile.

4. Yellow Knife in Canada's Northwest Territories. Many years ago, I considered driving up there, but the 700-mile stretch of gravel road made me change my mind. Maybe they've done some paving by now. And, no, I wouldn't want to fly up there.

5. Provence and the French Riviera. We spent a week in Nice at Christmas 2004, but it wasn't enough time. I want to go back and wander through A Year in Provence country, soaking up the local culture and drinking espressos at an outdoor cafe. I'd love to travel the country on a motor scooter.

6. Quebec. My French ancestors helped settle Quebec back in the early 17th century. Attending a mass in a church they helped build would be a totally cool experience!

7. Vera Cruz, Mexico. Another place that I picked because pictures of the colonial city looked neat.

8. Australia -- just about anywhere . . . Paramatta, Snowy River country, Ayers Rock . . . Melbourne was on Frommer's list, but I don't care if I get there or not.

9. Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I'd love to do an Amazon River cruise, then head over to the Galapagos Islands to see nature's best.

10. Israel. I'm not especially religious, but it would be a super experience to visit this Biblical land.

Frommer's list had 12 desinations on it, so match theirs, I'd add:
  • Russia, where my maternal grandmother was born about 100 miles from Kiev.

  • The Kashgar Sunday market in west China, as well as a few other places in China such as Lijiang and Tibet.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Try before you buy!

Another two of the podcasts I did for VisualTravelTours are now available on video. You can hear the introduction and view some of the photos on They are:
  • China's Great Wall: Walking on History. In this podcast, I review the Great Wall sites in the Beijing area, mainly the ones that I've been to. Despite heavy crowds, Badaling remains my favorite site to access the Wall. It's easiest to get to from Beijing on public transportation, and I love the "flea market" shops. It also is home to the Great Wall Museum, which is not to be missed. The picture here is of Badaling; if you walk a few minutes to the left at the main entrance, you'll soon be out of the crowds.

  • Imperial Beijing: Tian'anmen, Forbidden City, Jingshan. This is a walking tour that begins at the south end of Tian'anmen Square, the world's largest public square that is about 100 soccer fields big. It then continues to the Forbidden City, known as GuGong or Palace Museum in China. It was home to China's imperial families for many centuries. The tour ends across the street from the north entrance to the Forbidden City. Climb to the top of Coal Hill in Jingshan Park for some pretty neat views of what you've just seen at the Forbidden City.

The tours are downloadable to mobile devices. They are available on DVD as well. Click here to go to the podcasts on VisualTravelTours: Great Wall and Imperial Beijing.

I've also written other podcasts on Beijing; some are not available in video format yet, however.

Please see my website for more information about travel in China. If you have questions about travel in China, particularly the Beijing area, please feel free to email me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Writing about travel in China

I write articles about travel in China for Here's a few of my latest articles which will be helpful if you're headed to the Middle Kingdom:
  • Learn Chinese online is a review of some of the sites where you can learn how to speak Mandarin online and, best of all, for free.
  • If you get sick in Beijing, where do you go? Here's a list of some of the clinics which treat foreigners with Western medical techniques.
  • A quick primer on Chinese vegetables.
  • Chinese papercuts make great inexpensive souvenirs, and they're practically weightless in your luggage!
  • Trains in China provide an efficient way to move around this huge country.
  • The Wangfujing night food market, pictured here, is one of my favorite places to eat in Beijing. It was one of the first China travel articles I wrote for Suite101.

I'm not the only one who writes about China travel for Suite101. Here are some others:

  • Solange Hando is the feature writer for Southeast Asia and China. She gave a very positive review to my Parents Guide to Beijing, on sale at GuideGecko. Order your copy soon if you'll be giving it as a Christmas present. And don't forget to order a copy of DIY Beijing while you're at it.
  • Mistie Shaw is an American who now lives in Luoyang in central China where she teaches English as a second language.
  • Bridget Coila is another American who now lives in Beijing. Some of her articles offer tips on nightlife and the arts.

If you're planning a trip to China, check out my website for more articles, tips and recommended reading. If you have questions about China, please feel free to email me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Beijing guides in Frankfurt!

There were almost 2,500 books on China on display at the Frankfurt Book Fair last month, and mine were among them. China was the honored country at this year's fair, which is the world's largest, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

Parents Guide to Beijing and DIY Beijing are listed on page 146 under travel guides in a 202-page book of all the books about China at the fair. I was very excited that my books were displayed with all the China books as well as at the GuideGecko booth. GuideGecko is a Singapore-company which specializes in travel guides. GG's Daniel Quandt encouraged me to get my books ready in time for the fair, and has just sent me pictures of them on display at the fair.

Daniel sent me these photos of my books at the fair.

If anyone on your Christmas list is planning a trip to Beijing, Parents Guide or DIY Beijing will make excellent gifts. Check them out on GuideGecko.

For more information about travel in China, check out my website. And please feel free to email me with any questions you have about traveling in the Middle Kingdom.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Saving on travel, part 5

You've arranged for your plane tickets and hotels, now it's time to figure out what you're going to see at your destination. And, yes, it's possible to cut costs here.

If you've booked through an agency, they'll give you lots of options for day tours. However, it's generally cheaper if you book them once you arrive at your destination. Or, it likely is possible to get to an attraction by public transportation, which means you can sightsee on your schedule, not a tour company's.

First, do an online search for free things to do at your destination. You'll be surprised at what comes up. For our trip to London in 2003, we snagged free tickets to a performance at a top West End theatre. That show turned out to be the highlight of our trip. If you're going to New York City or Los Angeles, you can get free tickets to tapings of game and talk shows, and sitcoms. This involves planning ahead with ticket requests, however.

Many museums have free days or stay open late one night a week when admission is free. We saw a wonderful exhibition of photos by Charles Dodgson who, using the pen name Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland, at a San Francisco art museum; the exhibit even included a picture of the little girl who was his Alice.

If you can't get in free, get in with a discount. After you've checked out the free things to do, do a search for discount tickets for attractions. We saved big this way when we visited Cadbury World in Birmingham, England, last spring. I'd printed out a page of discounts to attractions around England, including one for a 20 percent discount at Cadbury World (I later found out no one pays full price at Cadbury because hotels have discount tickets to distribute to guests.). On top of that, Cadbury gave us their senior discount, so we ended up paying 8 pounds for a 13-pound ticket. Plus, we were given so much chocolate, we suffered from chocolate overload!

If it's available, always use a senior discount. In some countries, the discount is only offered to residents, but in others, the discount applies to anyone. Always ask, especially if the admission board does not list senior discounts. (In England, senior discounts come under "concession" or "OAP" ticket prices.) In China, where only the Chinese can read ticket prices, just show your passport for discounts of up to 50 percent. The senior discount there is only good for basic admission; a lot of attractions inside charge a separate fee, so you'll need to figure out if you want a regular full-meal deal ticket or just pay separate admissions to one or two things inside.

In the United States, American citizens can buy lifetime passes for free admission to federal facilities, such as national parks and interpretive sites. The passes, which are not very expensive, also are good for discounted campground frees.

Looking for Christmas gift ideas?

My travel guides, Parents Guide to Beijing and DIY Beijing, make perfect gifts for anyone contemplating a trip to the Chinese capital. Or how about a CD of a walking tour in Beijing -- I've written seven. Check them out on my website.

Monday, October 19, 2009

From guidebooks to papercuts

My guidebooks
  • I was a guest blogger on Travel Writers Exchange on 10/19/2009/. I wrote about how travel writers could self-publish their own guidebooks, something I've been doing since 1996. All my mini-guides have been on China so far, but I have plans to branch out to other places on the globe.

  • Speaking of guidebooks, I am getting really great reviews on the three I published this summer on GuideGecko: DIY Beijing: A guide for the independent traveler, Parents Guide to Beijing: A kid-friendly city, and Cuandixia: An ancient mountian village in China. Cuandixia is an ebook only, but DIY and Parents Guide are available as print books, too. Readers say they like the compact size, which makes it easy to pack around. They also like the directions on how to find things on public transportation.


I'm continuing to add to my cache of articles on travel in China on Suite101. Here's some of my recent articles:
  • Chinese vegetables are more than just bean sprouts and snow peas. How about broccoli, potatoes and cabbage? They're on the list, too.

  • I love Chinese papercuts. They're delicate and colorful as pictured above, and don't take up much room in your luggage. Inexpensive, too, which means they make ideal gifts.

  • Chinese trains provide efficient transportation around this huge country. I especially like traveling hard-sleeper as it provides a chance to meet average Chinese.

  • A visit to Wanping takes you away from the hustle and bustle of central Beijing to a quiet suburb. Wanping is home to the Marco Polo Bridge (Luguoqiao) where Japan fired the first shots in a war against China in 1937. A museum about this war also is located in Wanping. These aren't considered major tourist sites but are well worth the visit.

  • Tanzhesi is Beijing's oldest temple located about 45k from central Beijing. It also makes a nice day trip.
If you have questions about travel in Beijing, email me. For additional information about travel in China, please check out my website, which I recently updated.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

DIY Beijing

An update of my very first Beijing guide was published today: DIY Beijing: A guide for the independent traveler.

My pride-and-joy guide was initially published as 17 really neat things to see and do in Beijing and other good stuff I learned the hard way in 1996. It grew out of an article I was writing for a newspaper travel section. The newspaper wanted 750 words on things to see and do in Beijing. 750 words! Impossible! I kept on writing when I hit 750 words. When I got done, I counted up my favorite things to do in Beijing, and there were 17. So that's what I named my guide.

Two years later, I expanded it by 20 pages and renamed it Do-it-yourself Beijing. It was only available for sale on my website, and I didn't accept credit cards, payment in advance only. It was self-published in the truest sense of the term: I did it all myself at Office Depot., and mailed it to my customers. I sold about 500 books over a two-year period.

DIY Beijing is positively upscale compared to those early efforts. It's available as both an ebook and print from (They accept credit cards, too!) GuideGecko is a relatively new travel book company; DIY Beijing is the third guide I've published with them. The others are Parents Guide to Beijing and Cuandixia: an ancient mountain village in China. Cuandixia is only available as an ebook, but Parents Guide is both an e- and print book.

All three guides are geared for the independent traveler, but it's also good for travelers on organized tours who want to break away for a few hours. Parents and DIY Beijing takes them to the off-the-beaten path places that I love so much. The major attractions aren't neglected, however, especially if they're sites I like to visit again and again. And like 17 really neat things, DIY Beijing is still filled with tips I learned the hard way during the years I lived in Beijing.

Just click on the links above to find the books on GuideGecko. GuideGecko will feature both Parents and DIY at the Frankfurt Book Fair next month. This is exciting news for me!

If you're planning a trip to China, check out my website. If you have questions about travel in China, please email me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shameless self-promotion!

I need more votes! is having a travel writing contest for books self-published through their site. The winner gets a trip to the Frankfurt, Germany, Book Fair in October. The book fair is the world's largest, annually attracting some 300,000 visitors and more than 7,000 publishers.

Books about a different country are featured each year. This year China is the honored country. GuideGecko will be promoting by Parents Guide to Beijing there. Hopefully, with that many people they'll be able to sell a few of my books.
I've entered my book in their travel writing contest, and need votes so I can be at the fair with my book. The winner is determined by popular vote. You can vote for Parents Guide here. Buying the book is not required to vote for it, but you're very welcome to buy it if you want.
I got an email on 9/7 from GuideGecko saying I was third out of 44 guides entered, and only 10 votes out of first place. This is another election where every vote is going to count! You must be registered with them for your vote to count.

Even if I don't win the contest, I'm excited my books will be there. Books? What's this? Well, for the last month or so, I've been working on a major overhaul of my Do-it-yourself Beijing guide which I first published in 1999. I just finished the first draft last week. GuideGecko also wants to promote the updated book at the book fair, so I've got to hustle and finish it quickly. Looks like I'll spend the next couple of weeks chained to my computer.

My eguide, Cuandixia: an ancient mountain village in China, is also on GuideGecko, but, unfortunately it long enough and will be staying home. interviewed me

Glen Loveland, the Asia headlines specialist for, interviewed me about my travel writing on China. It's a nice article, in Q & A format, and, of course, the answers are stunningly brilliant! You can read it here.

In the "it's a small world" department, Glen is originally from Yakima, Washington, about 75 miles north of Kennewick, where I live. He's lived in Beijing since 2007.

For more information about travel in China, please see my website. If you have any questions about traveling in China, please email me.

P.S. The photo above is of Beihai Park's White Dagoba Temple, a landmark sight in central Beijing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tips for saving on lodging costs

Accommodations rank right up there with airline tickets for major vacation costs.

If you don't want to sleep on a park bench, a friend's sofa or a tent in a campground, what can you do to control the cost of getting a good night's sleep?

When I was younger and single, I used to stay in bed-and-breakfasts when I traveled in Europe. The opportunity to meet travelers from around the world over breakfast made up for the inconvenience of walking down the hall to the bathroom. Now that I'm older and married, I want a bathroom in the room, though I still like breakfast to be included in the room rate.

Other than that, I'm not too picky about where I stay, other than it has to be clean, in a good location and preferably cheap. If it's a place we're going to stay more than three nights, I'll probably upgrade to something a little nicer than if we're only going to be at a place one night.

So how do you find accommodations that won't break your travel budget?

Booking airfare and accommodations as a package using an online travel agency, such as Expedia or Travelocity, is one way to cut costs. In many instances I've been able to get a package deal that that is around the same cost as an airline ticket alone, booked from the airline's website. For example, when we went to Shanghai for 10 days in March 2008, I used Travelocity to book 10 nights in a Shanghai three-star, airfare and taxes for under $1,100 per person. The cheapest airfare I could find was $1,100. Three years ago, I found airfare, lodgings and taxes for five nights (three-star) in Beijing for $750 pp at; airfare alone was running almost $900. This system works best if you're going to be visiting only one city.

If you're going to be visiting multi-cities, want confirmed reservations and don't want to use a store-front travel agency, you're going to have to do some work to find reasonable accommodations.

If I know what hotel I want to stay in, then I'll check first with their website. Chains like Choice Hotels have properties in a wide range of styles and prices. So I'll check with them, if only to give me an idea of the price I have to beat. When we went to Birmingham, UK, this spring, I saved $15 a night by booking with Expedia rather than the Choice website. For our honeymoon on the Oregon Coast, I booked through the Inn at Spanish Head's website, and saved $85 a night. Sometimes I'll just do a search for accommodations in a certain city and see what comes up. Sometimes some little-known local booking agency comes up with terrific deals. I've used these a couple of times though I admit to being a little hesitant because I didn't know anything about the booking agency.

I'm also a big fan of the Motel 6 chain, having first stayed in one 40 years ago when the cost was $6 for a double. Motel 6 motels are good, basic accommodations, though sometimes the location isn't always convenient. When I had a dog, I always stayed there because they didn't hassle me about him -- he was as welcome as I was. I also like security features at check-in. Even if you're the only guest checking in, clerks never say your room number out loud, but point to it on the map, indicating how to find it. I once checked into a major chain hotel with a lobby full of other guests waiting to check in. In a loud tone of voice, the clerk announced my room number and told me where to find it. Not good, especially if you're a woman traveling by herself.

I've also used and to find accommodations. The drawback with these is that you don't find out where you'll be staying until after your credit card has been charged. You can, however, select your price range and general location. I've used hotwire a couple of times for trips to Seattle. We've gotten a Marriott for $55 a night plus taxes; the Marriott website lists room rates starting at $169 for this particular property. I used priceline to find out hotel in London last spring. I was reading online reviews of properties in our price range, and, let me tell you, they weren't good: linens that hadn't been changed in six months, smelly rooms, bed bugs, filthy rooms, etc. Nothing I would stay in. In desperation, I turned to, asking for a four-star in Kensington, figuring it had to be decent. I also bid $65 a night plus taxes. OK, so I was maybe dreaming a little bit, but guess what? The London Copthorne Tara accepted it! It was a wonderful hotel (pictured above) a three-minute walk from the High Street Kensington tube stop. The staff tried to sell us an upgrade when we checked in, but we held firm. The rate didn't include breakfast, but we were given discount coupons for breakfast. The breakfast wasn't that great for the price, so usually we went to a nearby McDonald's or tearoom. The Copthorne chain's website said rooms at the Tara started at $200, so we really lucked out.

You can also try negotiating directly with the hotel. Our trip to Beijing last fall was one of the few times I booked accommodations and airfare separately. Friends were going with us, so it would be two rooms for 12 nights. Because of this, I felt a discount was called for. The hotel gave us one night free for each room -- I probably should have held out for a larger discount, but it worked for us.

Also take advantages of business rates if you qualify, and AARP or AAA discounts if you belong to either of these groups. Properties will give discounts of 5 percent to 20 percent for these memberships. You will only get these discounts if you book directly with the property, however..

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Saving on travel, part 3

Airline tickets "purchased" using frequent flyer miles are a good way to keep travel expenses down. Unfortunately, if you don't fly very often, it's going to take a long time to build up the miles.

We go to China a lot, and that's about 13,000 miles roundtrip, so two trips is enough for a free ticket in the continental United States. But we just let our miles accumulate. A couple of reasons for this. One is that you need a lot of miles for a frequent flyer ticket to Europe or Asia. A second reason is that if the cheap seats are filled (where we usually sit -- hey! those first-class passengers aren't going to get there any sooner than we will), airlines upgrade those passengers with the most frequent flyer miles. This happened to us two years ago, when we were upgraded from the cheapest economy to business class between Munich and Chicago. Wow! Business class is the way to go, if you've got the bucks. Unfortunately, we don't.

We cashed in some frequent flyer miles when we went to London in May. United normally wants 55,000 miles for a ticket to Europe, but was having a "sale" for 40,000 miles to certain European cities. You do have to pay taxes and fees on frequent flyer tickets; this worked out to $112 for each of us. Taxes and fees depend on where you're going. We had considered going to Beijing, and that would have cost each of us $40.

I've been told by many friends that it's extremely difficult to use frequent flyer miles for tickets. For some reason I've never had this problem, and we got our first choice of dates for these tickets.

What's good about frequent flyer miles is there are many ways you get rack up the miles without setting foot on an airplane. Some of my friends have credit cards affiliated with the airlines, and charge even very small amounts just to get the miles. They pay the credit card bills every month, so it doesn't cost them anything to do it this way. Spend some time on your airline's frequent flyer program looking at ways you can earn miles.

I like online shopping as one way to earn miles. For example, if there's something I'm going to buy locally, I'll check the price at the store, and then order it through the airline's shopping mall. If I pick up the item at the store, then there are usually no shipping charges. One added benefit is that online store prices are sometimes cheaper. We also subscribe to magazines through the online malls; generally, you get 12 miles for every $1 spent, which compares favorably to the 1-2 miles for every $1 with other merchants.

I also earn miles on Northwest by taking surveys. Yeah, I know you're thinking of all those come-ons that say you can earn big bucks by taking surveys; you take the survey and nothing happens. I do surveys through They pay in e-currency which is redeemable for items such as magazines and airline miles.

I also earn miles by doing grocery shopping at Safeway, which credits my United account with 125 miles for every $250 I spend.

Granted the number of miles earned is small, but they're just enough to keep my frequent flyer account active. Each time I earn a few miles, it extends the expiration date of my miles. Over the years, I've probably lost 50,000 miles in various frequent flyer plans because I didn't use or add miles to them.

(Note: the above photo was taken in Birmingham in the West Midlands where we spent a week of our trip.)

Check out Parents Guide to Beijing: a kid-friendly city

If you're going to Beijing, with or without your children, you'll enjoy my eguide, Parents Guide to Beijing. It's filled with tips and things to do that will appeal to all ages.

For more information about travel in China, please check out my website or email me with your questions.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Saving on travel costs, part 2

Air fares are probably going to account for the biggest chunk of your trip expenses. But there are ways to cut down the cost of a plane ticket.

We try to fly United as much as possible. I'm not that keen on the airline service and I think the meals are pitiful. But back in the days when United was a better airline, we racked up a lot of frequent flyer miles, and decided to keep flying United, rather than splinter the miles off to different airlines. Actually, in Pasco, Washington, we don't have a whole lot of airline choices, anyway. United, which is convenient for Europe, especially now that the airline flys nonstop to London from Denver; Delta, which also is convenient for Europe; and Alaska/Northwest which goes to Seattle and points beyond. Delta and Northwest are in the process of merging, so that will cut down on our options. We frquently find it is cheaper to drive to Portland or Seattle and pay parking than to fly Pasco to Portland or Seattle. If you have that luxury, check out ticket prices from nearby airports.

So I always check the airlines' websites first to get my price bearings. If nothing else, this lets me know the price I have to beat. Sometimes the cost of the ticket is surprisingly reasonable, and I'll book from the website. You can usually earn a few extra frequent flyer miles booking this way.

Most airlines now will provide fares for two or three days on each side of your estimated departure date. If your dates are really flexible, try plugging in the same day of the week for the weeks before and after you want to leave, to see what those prices are. Generally, prices for weekend departures/returns are higher.

I may do this check many times, as fares change frequently. You should also do these checks at different times. I once snagged a pretty good Beijing/Portland fare at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday. This fare was only up about three hours, so if I hadn't decided to do a spur-of-the-moment price check on my lunch hour at work, I wouldn't have found it.

There also are a lot of ticket agencies out there which appear to offer pretty good fares. Some sites, like, just search for the fares and then tell you where to find them. Checking one of these sites is good for comparison purposes. However, be aware that some of the fares quoted on comparison sites don't always include departure taxes and fees, which can add up quickly.
And sometimes booking airfare and accommodations through an online travel agency such as Expedia or Travelocity is the best way to go. I'll write more on that in a future blog.

Update on Parents Guide to Beijing

Solange Hando, feature writer for China travel on Suite101, has favorably reviewed by new eguide, Parents Guide to Beijing. : “This new Parents Guide to Beijing offers sound practical advice and reveals a city full of exciting attractions for all the family.” Read the full review here. The ebook is available for sale on
If you're planning a trip to China, please see my website for information on travel in China.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Parents Guide to Beijing

After much anguish and pain, (almost as if I were giving birth to a real baby), my Parents Guide to Beijing is for sale as an ebook on

Getting to this point wasn't easy. The book practically wrote itself, but then there was the design to do. Everything went well, up until it came time to PDF the book. That's where the real pain began. It is best left unsaid what I went through in this process. But it's done. Finally.

The ebook got its start as a podcast, Beijing for kids, that I did for (They specialize in tours which are downloadable to mobile devices while you're on the scene.) It was a really fun tour to write, but I had so much information left over when I finished it, it begged for a book. So I kept on writing, and Parents Guide to Beijing is the result.

The name may be a misnomer, because it's about things that kids of all ages (even those in their 80s!) can do in Beijing, Beijing is such a kid-friendly city that even if you don't know the language, you can still have a good time. The book includes some very common phrases and numbers in Mandarin. I've given phonetic pronunciations and if you or your kids are anywhere in the ballpark with them, the Chinese will compliment you on your speaking skills.

The ebook takes in major sites to see, such as the Great Wall, as well as mentions kid-friendly things to do at them. There are sections on restroom tips and how to eat kao ya, as Peking Duck is called in Beijing.

The picture here is on the book's cover. It's one of many playful statues outside the Gulou ditie (subway station) on Second Ring Road. I really love those whimsical statues!

Parents Guide to Beijing is only available in ebook form now. As soon as I work out some more bugs, it will be available as a print book also.

Please see my website for more information about travel in China, especially Beijing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

China podcasts are available now!

We interrupt this series of blogs on how to travel cheaply to bring you this important announcement: the walking tours of Beijing I wrote for are now for sale!

I wrote and photographed a total of nine tours, with seven of them about Beijing and its environs. Right now they're available only as downloads to mobile devices, but they will be available on CD soon.

The tours are:
  • China's Great Wall: Walking on History. The Great Wall is undeniably one of China's top attractions. This tour visits several sites in the Beijing area.
  • Cuandixia: China's Village that Time Forgot. Cuandixia is a village about three hours by car from Beijing. In an effort at economic revitalization, it has turned itself into a living history museum. I've been there twice, and will go again.
  • Imperial Beijing: Tian'anmen, Forbidden City, Jingshan. This tour starts at Tian'anmen Square, the largest square in the world, and the heart and soul of China. It then crosses the street for a tour of the Forbidden City, once off limits to commoners but which is now toured by thousands of them every day. It ends at the north entrance to the Forbidden City where visitors climb to the top of Coal Hill in Jingshan Park for stunning views overlooking the Forbidden City. The park was a playground for China's royal families.
  • Beijing for Kids. This is a fun tour for kids of all ages, which provides ideas for different things to do such as visiting the world's largest inland aquarium, shopping for toys and taking pictures of silly signs.
  • A Walk Through Beijing's Past. This tour starts at Beihai Park with its landmark White Dagoba Temple. The park was a playground for China's imperial family. The photo above, of Chinese characters cut into bamboo, was taken there. The tour then goes on to explore the city's disappearing hutongs, a centuries' old style of housing that is unique to China and now giving way to 21st century modernization. The tour ends at the Soong Ching Ling House on the northeast shore of Houhai Lake. Soong Ching Line was the widow of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, first president of China, and so important in her own right she was referred to as "the mother of China."
  • Western Beijing: Boats, Blooms 'n Boots. This tour explores the Summer Palace, which is one of my favorite places to visit in Beijing. See the controversial Marble Boat, built by funds diverted from the Royal Navy. Grab a taxi to the Beijing Botanical Garden with its beautiful flower gardens and tropical conservatory; the Sleeping Buddha Temple is located inside the garden. Finally, end the day at Fragrant Hills Park which offers hiking and stunning views of the Beijing landscape from atop a hill.
  • Beijing: Finding Peace and Quiet. Beijing has millions of people and there will be times you feel like they're all visiting the Summer Palace at the same time you are. This tour provides ideas on places you can visit to escape the crowds.

The other two tours I've written are:

  • Maryhill Museum: Guarding the Columbia River Gorge. Maryhill is a fabulous little museum in southcentral Washington which overlooks the scenic Columbia River Gorge. It has the largest collection of Rodin works on the West Coast, a replica of Stonehenge which serves as a war memorial, and the first paved road in Washington State. The tour ends with a visit to Maryhill Winery with its outdoor amphitheatre for summer concerts.
  • Motorcycle Museums in Britain. Jon and I went to England in May where we visited England's top three motorcycle museums: National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham, Sammy Miller Museum in New Milton near Southampton and the London Motorcycle Museum. We also visited a couple of lesser known museums which also had motorcycles. We saw everything from the earliest motorcycles which were simply bicycles with gas engines to the Triumph Bonneville Tom Cruise rode in Mission Impossible III.

Please see my website for more information about traveling in China.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tips for traveling cheaply, part I

Jon and I do a lot of international travel. Why not? I come up with such good deals, it's stupid to stay home! Because of this, many of my friends ask me to find similar deals for them on the spot. Can't be done. You need to do your homework and that can take weeks or months.

Since 2003, here's some of the prices I've come up with for airfare and hotel:
  • Pasco, Washington, to London, 7 nights in a three-star hotel in great location, breakfast included, $800 pp.
  • Pasco to Nice, France, 7 nights in a tourist hotel, $800 pp.
  • Pasco to Munich, 7 nights in a three-star, $735 pp.
  • Portland to Beijing, 5 nights in a three-star, breakfast included, $750 pp
  • Pasco to Shanghai, 10 nights in a three-star, $1,050 pp.
  • Portland to Beijing, 12 nights in a three-star. $1,230 pp.
  • Pasco to London, 6 nights in a three-star in Birmingham and 7 nights in a four-star in London Kensington, $1,100 pp.

When we start thinking about an international trip, I start checking prices about three months ahead. If you're flexible on dates, you can pick up some really great bargains. When I was working a full-time job, I could only get a week off at a time, so we tried to leave on Saturday returning the second Sunday, which would give us nine days. But sometimes this was too expensive, so I looked at leaving other days of the week.

All but two of the trips were booked with online travel agencies, such as, Expedia or Travelocity. They'll give discounts if you buy a hotel/air fare package; sometimes, the combined price is cheaper than what the airlines want for just a ticket. On the long Beijing trip, we bought air tickets separately, and I negotiated a discount directly with the hotel because there were four of us going and we wanted to spend the whole time in one hotel. On the longer English trip, we used frequent flyer miles for the tickets (we still had to pay taxes and fees); I booked the Birmingham hotel through Expedia and the London one through

The cheap trips are after exploring all possible pricing options. I've booked a couple of trips through When we travel, we like to base ourselves in one city, and then take day trips. sometimes has great prices for short trips, if all you want is airfare and hotel. They include breakfast in any package, and you can make up your own tour program with tours they have available. We don't go for any of the extras, because they're quite a bit more expensive than what you pay if you book at your destination. But I usually start my travel pricing with them so I'll have ball park figures to work with.

I always check the airlines' websites to see what they're charging for tickets. I like it that you can stipulate flexible dates for travel. I'll then run the cheapest dates by online travel agents to see what they can come up with in an air/hotel combination. I'll do this maybe once or twice a month in the early planning stages of our trip, then weekly and finally daily the closer it gets to our desired departure date. I'll also run price checks on leaving on different days of the week as well as the same day in weeks before and after. For example, the Munich package was only good on one specific date. Prices for the day before or after were almost $1,000 per person more. So guess when we went!

Finding cheap deals takes a lot of work. It depends on how much your time is worth to you. For us, the extra time is worth it because we save so much money. It means we can spend more at our destination or on our next trip.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Terracotta Warriors in England

When Jon and I were in England recently, we visited the Dorchester Terracotta Warriors museum.

Dorchester is a small town in southwestern England not too far from the English Channel. Originally, we'd planned to see the English Channel on a day trip to Dover for the last day of our train pass. But that morning, I'd been looking something else up in our guidebook's index, and saw the listing for the Terracotta Warriors museum. Being Sinophiles, we decided to go there instead. We got to Waterloo train station at 9:33 a.m. A train, headed in the right direction, was scheduled to leave at 9:35 a.m. Somehow we made it through the ticket gate and to the platform. We hopped on the first available car, with the doors closing behind Jon who got on after me. We were on our way!

At the time we got on the train, we figured we'd have to take the train to Weynouth, then backtrack, but fortunately the train stopped at South Dorchester. The museum is about a 20-minute walk from the train station, but it took us longer because we didn't know where we were going and we ended up going the long way. Plus, many people we asked directions of had never heard of the museum. The warriors museum shares space with a teddy bear museum, so if we were to go again, I think I'd ask for directions to that instead.

The museum is small, but quite educational. I've been to see the real thing twice in Xi'an, but managed to learn some new things about the warriors in Dorchester. The information is very well presented, with tableaus, warrior replicas, a short film and photos. Museum officials don't permit photography inside, so you'll have to settle for seeing a photo of the terracotta warriors on my first trip to Xi'an in 1997.

It takes less than an hour to see the holdings, so this makes the admission fee expensive in terms of what's there. If you're in Xi'an, you can see the real thing for about the same price. Jon has never been to Xi'an before, but wants to go the next time we go to China.

I've written an article about the musseum for You can read it here.

For more information about travel in China, check out my website. Or, email your questions to me, and I'll try my best to answer them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Birmingham buffet

We had ate Chinese food once in Birmingham, England, at a small restaurant a couple of blocks from our hotel.

It was an all-you-can-eat buffet, thought not in the way we think of buffets in the United States, where you walk through a line, piling food on your plate.

At the Lychee retaurant, we were presented with a menu that listed about 80-90 dishes. You ordered the dishes that you wanted, and they were rushed hot to your table, each individually prepared. You could order as many dishes as you wanted, but if you didn't eat everything on the plate, they'll charge you the a la carte prices. Oh, and you were only allowed to eat for two hours. Two hours! My gosh, I had problems eating just three dishes: shrimp tempura, chicken in a spicy sauce (where's the spice?), and crispy duck that was seasoned with cinnamon. The food was very good, and I can see why the retaurant has been in business for almost 30 years.

I didn't take any pictures of the food we were served at this restaurant -- in fact, the only food pictures I took were of Jon eating nachos at a pub and "high heeled shoes" made from chocolate at Cadbury's. The picture here is one I took of deep-fried shredded potatoes when we were in Beijing last fall. They taste like potato chips.

See my website for more information about travel in China, and feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Off again!

We are leaving soon for two weeks in England, where we'll be mainly visiting motorcycle museums. My husband is a motorcycle fanatic! The photo is one I took of him when we visited the London Motorcycle Museum in 2003 on a trip we took to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. I call it "praying to the god of motorcycles." Actually, he was kneeling to get a close-up photograph of one bike.

It seems weird to be going somewhere other than China. Three of my last four international trips have been to China. The only non-China trip was to Munich in the spring of 2007. What can I say? I like China! Especially Beijing!

When we were in London in 2003, the bird flu was making the rounds. This time it's the swine flu which is killing the people.
We visited London's Chinatown in 2003, and I picked up a few ingredients that are hard to find here. We'll probably visit again on this trip, if I can pry Jon away from motorcycles. We walked by Westminster Abbey on that trip, but didn't go in. I joke that's because there were no motorcycles on the altar!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Park yourself in a park!

It was a nice sunny spring day yesterday, so I climbed on my motor scooter and headed for Columbia Park for a photo shoot. As far as I'm concerned Columbia Park is THE park in the Tri-Cities, where we live.

It's right on the banks of the Columbia River, which was as smooth as glass yesterday, even with the little ripples made by mother geese teaching their new goslings to swim. What was interesting about this is Mom led the flock, with another adult goose or two bringing up the rear, making sure none of the little ones got lost.

All this reminded me how much I love Beijing's parks. Beijing has a lot of them, ranging in size from vest pocket, like across from the Gulou subway station on Second Ring Road, to huge, like Beihai Park and the Summer Palace. They are my favorite parks in Beijing, and still are. I try to visit them each time I return to Beijing. I especially like the parks in the spring, when the trees are greening up and blossoming out. I also just like to sit on a bench and watch life go by. One night a small mouse scampered across my feet at Beihai Park -- that I did not enjoy; maybe he was frightened by the fireworks we'd come to watch. Beihai's White Dagoba Temple is pictured above.

Another park that I liked a lot was Tuanjiehu, a small park filled with ponds and bridges, and, at 6 a.m., people dancing, on Third Ring Road between Lufthansa and World Trade centers. I only went there once, but YuYuanTan Park was stunning -- and huge. It is so big, they allowed people to ride their bikes through it. Once, at Purple Bamboo Park, a friend and I came across a fashion show which was unique in that the clothes being modeled were all made of bamboo. I don't imagine sitting down would have been very comfortable.

The smaller ponds at the parks were filled with gold fish, as most park ponds in China. I found it interesting that children would be sitting on the bank or bench, fishing poles in hand, trying to catch a gold fish. I often wondered if this was a catch-and-release exercise or if they took the fish home.

For more information about travel in China, please visit my website.

Until next time, zai jian!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Art in public places

Jon and I took an outing to northeastern Oregon yesterday. We had to cope with a late-spring snowstorn and horrendous white-out conditions, but the drive to Joseph was worth it. I remember going to Joseph as a kid; our parents took us camping to Wallowa Lake for a week almost every summer. Joseph was just a sleepy little town to drive through. No more! I was stunned yesterday to see magnificent bronze statues lining a three-block section of Main Street. Horses, deer, wolves, cougars, fish, cowboys (a cowboy on a bucking bronc was especially mind-boggling!) and Indians. Joseph, Oregon, is named after Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe.

You can read more about Joseph's Art Walk in the article I wrote for Suite101. This wasn't a planned article, but I couldn't help myself. I just had to share this with others.

Art in public places adds so much to a city. I really enjoyed the sculptures the government placed around Beijing. Usual places like parks, but also alongside major highways or just somewhere on a sidewalk. Whoever decided to place the gigantic beer mug in Sanlitun had to have a keen sense of humor. Not only is Sanlitun a key embassy area, it has many watering holes popular with partying foreigners. The Xinhua bookstore in Xidan had an uneven stack of books for its statues. And the rickshaw driver on the Wangfujing pedestrial mall was very popular with Chinese and foreigners alike who would hop in the rickshaw for a photo op.

The Olympic Green in Beijing is filled with sculptures the length of the green. They also are popular places for people to have their pictures taken. When we were in Beijing, I didn't have time to walk the length of the green to see all the statues, but the ones I did see were great. I particularly enjoyed the two people, dressed in ancient garb, playing soccer.
For more information about traveling in China, please see my website.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hoppy Easter!

Last year we spent Easter in Shanghai. This year we're staying home.

Easter is not a major holiday in China, usually only celebrated by the big hotels that cater to foreigners. The first Easter I lived in China, we went to church and then to the Panjiayuan flea market, then held in a big dirt field. The second Easter, we went to Sunday brunch at a major hotel, but that was it. So when Jon and I knew we were going to spend Easter in Shanghai, we wanted to make it special for our Chinese friends.
All that was on the agenda for the day was hanging out at our young friends' new condo, which they'd just moved into the week before. Shuo's mom and step-dad came down from Beijing for our visit.

Jon and I decided to have an Easter egg decorating contest. We took over a couple of different Easter egg coloring kits and some stickers. After lunch, we set up the dining table with everything: boiled eggs, paper cups full of dye, marking crayons, transfers and marking pens plus ribbons and fabric for anyone who wanted to get really creative.

We spent the next couple of hours decorating the eggs -- a first for our Chinese friends. They took this very seriously. There was much discussion on what to do, and what would be the best way to go about it. Should the egg have Chinese characteristics? Should it be simple? Should it be fancy? Of course, this was a big deal. After all, a chocolate bunny was at stake. We brought the bunny to give as a prize to the person who made the best decorated egg. The winner was decided by popular vote. You can see our results above.
Celebrating holidays in a foreign land, and sharing it with good friends makes holidays just that much more special. Last Easter was one we'll remember for a long time. This year we'll be spending Easter at home, but thinking of our faraway friends and all the fun we had on that trip.

If you're planning a trip to China, please check out my website for more information. If you have questions about travel in China, please feel free to email me.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

50 articles!!!

Yesterday, I submitted my 50th article to Fifty articles is considered a milestone at S101 because then writers are eligible for a bonus on their earnings. A majority of the articles have been related to travel in China in some way, but I've done a few for the motorcycles section and some on Maryhill Museum.

Maryhill Museum is a wonderful little museum located out in the middle of nowhere, but well worth a stop if you're traveling between Portland and Boise. It sits on a high bluff overlooking the Columbia River Gorge so the views are stunning. Maryhill has the largest collection of Rodin statues on the West Coast; numerous memorabilia,including thrones, from the Romanian royal family; a replica of Stonehenge, and Theatre de la Mode, a collection of wire mannequins wearing the latest World War II Parisian fashions. The "dolls," what I called them back then, is one of my two memories from the first time I visited Maryhill when I was six years old. I also remember the signs warning visitors to look out for rattlesnakes, though I've never seen on my many visits since that time.

Here are some of the latest stories I've written on China for S101:
  • Chinese money comes in a variety of sizes and colors, making it a little easier to cope with unfamiliar money in an unfamiliar land. You'll spend it just as fast, though!

  • A list of Beijing tourism offices where you can go to get on-the-spot help.

  • The Yellow Crane Temple is a major site to see in Wuhan, which doesn't have a lot to offer in the way of tourist attractions. The inside of the temple has a huge magnificent mosaic of a flying crane. I remember the temple visit because I was fined 10 yuan for taking pictures at a wonderful bell concert. Luckily, the officials didn't confiscate my film, so I got off lightly, though if I'd known I was going to be fined for taking two pictures, I would have taken a lot more!

  • Going to church in Beijing, or any foreign city, is something I always try to do as I look upon church attendance as part of the cultural experience. I remember breaking out in tears when I attended an Evensong service at Canterbury Cathedral because it was so moving.

I also found time to post an update to my website on traveling in China yesterday. I added four new pages and revised a few others. If you have questions about traveling in China, please feel free to contact me via email.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Beijing street food

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a Chinese food junkie. And I love the snacks you can buy on the streets. I love youtiao, which is a fried break stick (I remember eating this on my first trip to China in 1984.) and jianbing, which resembles a huge egg burrito, only crunchy. (One jianbing and you won't want anything moe to eat for hours!) I'm also addicted to deep-fried lamb and pork kebobs sprinkled with cumin and ground chili peppers. Yum!

When I lived in Beijing, I ussd to eat frequently at the Wangfujing night food market, and usually make it there at least once when I go back to Beijing. It is a snacker's heaven! There is every snack available, including regional specialties from throughout China, all in individual servings. I've never been brave enough to try the bug kebobs (grasshoppers, beetles, etc), but a friend who tried the scorpions says they tasted like popcorn. I'll take her word for it.

Even if you don't go there to eat, it's fun just to walk by the stands and see what's available.

I have been fortunate enough to have never gotten sick on street food. However, I've gotten sick after eating in restaurants. I asked someone about this once, and he explained street vendors only buy enough food to sell that day. Restaurants, on the other hand, buy large quanities of food which may not be properly refrigerated and sit out, gathering bacteria. Makes sense to me.

I do follow certain rules when deciding what street vendor I'll buy snacks from. First and foremost is how clean is his cart. If I see any dirt or the vendor not following good sanitary practices, I'll pass on by. Secondly, as much as I love kebobs, I'll never buy any on metal skewers -- you just don't know how well they've been cleaned between customers. It's got to be disposable skewers or I'm out of there.

And for extra insurance I have been vaccinated for hepatitis A.
Eating street food is a personal call. If you don't try street food, you're missing out on an important part of a country's culture. But if you do try it and it makes you sick, you're missing out on part of your vacation while you're recuperating in your hotel room.

Please see my website for more information about traveling in China.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

China potpourri

Just a few bits and pieces today:

Top Suite 101 stories
My article about the Shanghai motorcycle market was my top read story on Suite101 for the last 90 days. I write mainly travel-oriented stories about China and the Pacific Northwest, but put this one in their motorcycles section. It was written about a month after I started writing for Suite 101 and 10 days after the article in second place.

If you're a biker visiting Shanghai, be sure to check out this market. It's a little bit hard to find, but if you do, you can save big bucks on motorcycle parts and gear.

In second place is an article I wrote 10 days earlier about Washington's Stonehenge, a replica of the British monolith. Washington's Stonehenge is a memorial to Klickitat County war dead, and is part of the Maryhill Museum of Art complex.

Easy chicken recipe
Last week's blog was about an easy way to turn common chicken drumsticks into elegant dinner fare. Since I'd gotten the recipe from my friend Diana in Beijing, I let her know about it. She promptly posted it on her blog.

Friends who read the blog suggested the marinade would be good over pork tenderloin -- I'll have to try that. Another suggested barbecuing the drumsticks rather than baking them. Hmm. . .

Chinese in St. Louis
St. Louis Chinese Corner is a blog I learned about after signing up for the Friends of China group on LinkedIn. It's written by St. Louis resident Donna Gamache, who has been to China a couple of times in the course of her job with a company that does business with China.

For more information about travel in China, please visit my website.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Easy Chinese chicken!

The night before we left Beijing to return home on our last trip, we went to my friend Diana's condo for dinner. Diana is a very successful young Chinese career woman who I've know since 1995. Diana had just returned from Singapore the day before, and said she was too tired to fix a Chinese meal for us. So she cooked Italian, a cuisine she likes a lot. She cooked a wonderful baked pasta dish (I still need to get the recipe for it!), garlic bread, vegetable salad and one Chinese dish, baked chicken drumsticks.

The drumsticks are superb. They're quick and easy to make, and look elegant. I've served this dish frequently, a couple of times to guests who think I've slaved away in a kitchen all day. Not so!

Here's what you need to do it:

chicken drumsticks -- I use two drumsticks per person
cooking oil
soy sauce
chopped fresh garlic

1. Wash and dry the drumsticks -- defrost first if you're starting with frozen, which I always do.
2. Put the drumsticks in one layer in a plastic or glass container with a tight-fitting lid, and pour soy sauce over them. I use enough soy sauce to cover the bottom of the container.
3. Chop fresh garlic. Diana didn't say how much garlic to use, but I use 2-3 big cloves because we like garlic.
4. Mix together two tablespoons each of the oil and honey, add the chopped garlic and stir again. If you're doing more than four drumsticks, you will need to increase the amounts of oil, honey and garlic.
5. Pour this mixture over the chicken and soy sauce, put the lid on the container and refrigerate anywhere from one hour to overnight. I usually start the marinating process in the morning. Shake the container every couple of hours if you want to mix everything up.
6. Transfer to an oven-proof dish and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until the chicken is done. Serve and enjoy the compliments!

I haven't tried this yet, but I think it would work just as well with chicken wings and thighs, or turkey drumsticks.

Please see my website for information about traveling in China.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

15,000 photographs!

I estimate I've taken 15,000 photographs of China since I made my first trip way back in 1984. That's a lot of photos!

I took 2,400 photos on our last trip to China alone. Of course, I was shooting mainly to illustrate the podcasts I was working on for I eventually did seven podcasts on Beijing for them, and they should be available for sale soon. VTT likes 65-75 photos per podcast, but I tried to shoot at least 300 pictures for each podcast topic, so I could pick and choose the best ones. As it turned out, my favorite photo of the trip was not one I used in a podcast. It's the one here, of a couple of butterflys getting up close and personal with a flower at the ancient village of Cuandixia.

Keeping track of that many photos is no mean feat. When I lived in China, and shooting two to four rolls of film a week (more if I went out of town -- I once shot four rolls in two hours at a minority village in South China), it was time-consuming to do this. When I got a roll of film back from the developers, I immediately wrote the subject matter on the back of each picture. Negatives came in flimsy paper sleeves, so I wrote the roll number on that. Then I matched the photo to the negative, and wrote the roll and negative numbers on the back of the photo. When I returned to the United States, I made photo albums out of large three-ring binders and plastic photo sleeves.

That was in the days when I was using a film camera. Now I shoot digital. No more albums, which I miss as I enjoy looking through my China photos from years past. Of course, I coiuld make prints from my digital photos, but I'm too lazy I guess. My photos are now organized by trip or by the day I took them, then copied to a CD for safekeeping in case my computer crashes. I use my China photos for writing projects, so I keep them on the computer. Also, I've set up my screen saver as a photo slide show, so I can see my pictures in random order that way.

I'll never go back to film cameras. The quality of digital photography is improving so rapidly. Plus, I like the size of the digital camera. I have two, and both fit in my jean pocket to whisk out when a photo op pops up. I used to keep a film camera, along with a couple of lenses, in my backpack, which got to be extremely heavy after awhile. Sometimes I wouldn't take it with me, and, of course, that's when I missed out on the best photos. I probably would have taken five times as many photos if I'd had a digital camera when I lived in Beijing.
Please see my web site for more information about travel in China.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More Suite101 stories on China

I'm continuing to post short articles about travel in China on Suite101. Here's a list of the stories I've posted since my February 1 round-up:

  • The ceramics museum at Yixing which we visited on our trip to Shanghai last year. This has some very old pottery and ceramics exhibits. Just outside the museum you can watch as artists craft teapots by hand.
  • Chops, which I posted about on here earlier. I really enjoy using mine, though the red ink can get a bit messy.
  • Beijing Botanical Garden which borders the Western Hills. I like it here as it's peaceful and not overrun by tourists. Plus you get to see some pretty good landscaping. Most people pass through here on the way to the Sleeping Buddha Temple.
  • Longmen Grottoes at Luoyang are very famous examples of Buddhist art. Thousands of Buddhas ranging from a few inches to many, many feet are carved into caves on a hillside along the Yi River.
  • Shanghai Museum is a definite must-see when you're in China's most populous city. Many people spend one or two days here, but you can get a quick overview in a few hours.
  • Cuandixia which is a living history museum about 90k outside of Beijing. It's an old village which once shipped food to the Forbidden City, but is now turning itself into a tourist attraction to keep from becoming a ghost town. I snapped the above picture at Cuandixia. I've also posted another story about Cuandixia on my web site.
  • Five lesser known museums in Beijing which are worth a visit after you've seen the major sites. They're not crowded like the big sites, and do provide another perspective about the Middle Kingdom.

For additional information on travel in China, please check out my web site. If you have questions about travel in China or ideas for stories you'd like to see, please feel free to email me.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

China then and now

I've spent the last couple of days updating the China section of a multi-country guidebook for a publisher.

I don't know when the China section was originally written, but I'm guessing 15 to 20 years ago. The writer obviously has not been in China in the last 10 to 15 years.

For example, the writer talks about the Friendship Stores, once the only store that foreigners were allowed to shop in, and even then they had to use a special money, called FEC for Foreign Exchange Certificates. Chinese were not allowed in unless they were employees or had FEC, which was very hard for them to obtain since they weren't foreigners. Now anybody can shop at Friendship Stores, though few do because the stores haven't adopted modern marketing practices.

The writer also mentions how people could not stay at the Beijing Hotel, then Beijing's premier hotel, unless a high Chinese official got them in. Now you can book rooms there over the Internet. And the Beijing Hotel is no longer the premier hotel in Beijing, though it's still a nice hotel.

And I bet Sanya residents would be surprised to see how their city is described: You get there on an old Russian biplane; there are only 500 rooms and none have private bathrooms. Today, Sanya on Hainan Island has a modern airport with more than 100 flights a day. It has thousands of hotel rooms in all price ranges, including a bunch of five-stars. Sanya is now known as China's Hawaii!

Please see my website for more information on travel in China.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Motorcycle junkie

When you're married to a motorcycle fanatic as I am, you spend a lot of time looking at motorcycles wherever you go.

Wherever we go, Jon must stop and look at every motorcycle he finds. This is especially true in foreign countries where different brands are manufactured. Then he takes pictures of them. Looking at motorcycles in foreign countries takes up a lot of time that could be spent in museums, parks and shops.

On a trip to London a few years ago, we visited the London Motorcycle Museum in a quiet suburb, and then made a day trip to the Sammy Miller Museum which is located in a small town 15 miles west of Southhampton. Sammy Miller is a motorcycle racing legend, so of course as long as we were in the country, Jon had to go there.

In Shanghai last spring, we went to the motorcycle market, a hodge-podge of dozens of repair and accessories shops. I really couldn't complain about that because we went there to buy parts for a Chinese motor scooter I owned. Still, I did enjoy the experience, and almost bought a couple of new helmets, but they didn't have the ones I wanted in my size. Just as well, I'm not sure where I would have put them in my luggage. Jon did buy a muffler for the scooter. It was a long, round cylinder. We were afraid it might look like a bomb to airport x-ray machines, so we had the hotel write "motorcycle muffler" in characters and put it with the muffler. Sure enough, when we got home, Jon found a note that said his luggage had been opened and inspected.

When we were in Beijing last fall, so I could research walking tours for the Visual Travel Tours podcasts I was doing, I snapped the above picture of a motor scooter. We were walking through the hutongs to a cooking class, when we came across a couple of motor scooters outfitted for firefighting purposes. Hutongs are narrow alleys that are much too small for regular fire trucks, so the ingenious Chinese adapted motor scooters for this purpose.

Please visit my website for more information about traveling in China.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chinese chops

I've always been fascinated by Chinese chops or seals. I even owned a chop with my name on it long before I went to China for the first time. I had a friend who was going to Hong Kong pick one up for me.

Now I own another one. The second one I got on a trip to Xi'an. I'd been to the Terra Cotta Warriors the day before, and wanted something as a souvenir. As I was walking through the Muslim Quarter, I spotted a chop maker. He had a chop with a warrior on top, so I whisked out my business card in Chinese and had him engrave my first name on it.

Surprisingly, the characters for Cheryl are different on each chop.

The friend picked my name out of a book of English names translated into Chinese characters. When I worked at China Daily, they translated my name phonetically into characters. That's the one that I use today, usually when "signing" the books on China I've written. In those characters, my name is pronounced as "shay ree la." It's just a group of characters that don't mean anything. Depending on the characters used, I'm told "Cheryl" can mean "morning dew" or "snow drop." And there are problably other translations out there.

There's a couple of sites on the Internet which will translate your name into characters. And I found out today, when I was researching chops for a article that you can use Adobe Illustrator to come up with a chop based on your own signature. How exciting this would be, but probably only if your signature is legible to begin with.

Visit my website for more information about traveling in China.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why China?

In the 1980s, I owned a small weekly newspaper in rural Eastern Washington. I was sitting at my desk one morning in February 1984 going through the mail, when I came across a flyer from a New York travel agent who was putting together tours of China for American journalists. The price was certainly right, about $1,500 for two weeks (airfare, hotel, meals) out of San Francisco. So I said to myself, what the heck, why not? Six weeks later, I was in Shanghai, clearing customs and immigration.

I remember thinking what did I get myself into, as we walked from the plane between two long rows of armed soldiers into what appeared to be a very large Quonset-type metal building which served as the terminal. The huge room was filled with hard benches, each one with armed soldiers sitting at each end. Our group was directed to go behind a curtain after which we walked the length of building. When we exited from behind another curtain, we were officially in China. We sat on the hard benches for awhile, and then reboarded our plane for Beijing and the official start of the tour.

I've been through the Shanghai airport many times since then, and I'm happy to see that it's a thoroughly modern airport now. In that first trip, we stayed in Beijing, with stops in Jinan, Qufu, Taishan, Nanjing, Wuxi and finally back to Shanghai. When I returned home, I wrote a series of articles about the trip for my newspaper. Looking back over that first one recently, I found I wrote, "I've never had all that much interest in the Orient, so why I went to China, I'll never know."

I still don't know today why I went to China, but I do know that trip changed my life forever. Ten years later, I returned to work as a copy editor at China Daily on a one-year contract. I came back to the United States when that contract ended, but a year later, I was back at China Daily for another year. Since that contract ended, I've gone back to China about every other year, including two trips in 2008.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Me and Suite101

I became a contributing writer to in December 2008, and post articles on travel in China on a regular basis.

Here's a list of the articles I've posted on Beijing so far:

Here's a couple of stories I've posted so far for travel elsewhere in China:

  • Shanghai Motorcycle Market is a good place to get parts for Chinese motorcycles and scooters which are becoming increasingly popular in the United States because of their low prices.
  • Yixing teapots are made from a special clay which absorbs the flavor of the tea. We visited here last year on an overnight trip from Shanghai.

The above stories are short, because that's the way Suite101 wants them. I look at them as teasers, to be expanded on my growing website, Cheryl's China.

Stay tuned because there are more stories to come!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Update on my China activities

After almost a year off, it's time to reactivate this blog.

During that time, I've made two trips to China, finally got a new website on traveling in China up and running, and have written seven podcasts about Beijing for VisualTravelTours. The podcasts should be up and running soon, and available for purchase. You can then download them to your IPod wherever you are, and off you go.

I really enjoyed doing the podcasts, and learned a whole lot about Beijing in the process. I will look at the city through different eyes the next time we go back.

My husband and I went to Shanghai in March, as planned. We really don't like Shanghai that much -- it's much too frenzied and fast-paced. We spent about half the time away from Shanghai, on an overnight trip to Wuxi and Yixing, and day trips to Tongli and Jiading. We also spent Easter Sunday holed up in our friends' apartment where we ate a lot of food and had an Easter egg decorating contest. The person who had the best decorated egg won a chocolate bunny. What else!

We returned to China in October, this time to Beijing, spending 12 days there so I could do research for the podcasts. Even though it'd been only two years since I was last year, there were a lot of changes. The expanded subway system is great!

Since we've been back, I've started a new website, Cheryl's China. It's not as comprehensive as my old one, but I'm updating it a couple of times a week, so it's getting there. I'd eventually like to get it up to about 100 pages. The old one was only 10 pages, so this one will be a whole lot bigger and better. Check back regularly!

I'm also a contributing writer for, writing mainly about travel in China. I write a couple of stories a week for them. Click here for a list of articles I've written for them.