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!