Monday, November 29, 2010

Do you have questions about travel in China?

If so, send 'em my way!

Travel in the Middle Kingdom can seem intimidating because it's such a mysterious, alien culture with customs we aren't familiar with, foods we don't eat, and a language we can't speak or read. Many travelers find the combination too daunting so they sign up for packaged tours where you get a Westernized version of the country.

But independent travel is possible in China, especially if you've done your homework and have some idea of what to expect. That's where I can help you. If you have questions about traveling in China, especially Beijing, I can help you or, if not, tell you where you can find the help you need. One of the things I like to do is help people make sure their trips to China are a success.  China is one of my favorite countries (good thing, because I lived there two years and have made about a dozen other trips there!) and it's important to me that people like China.

People email me questions frequently -- maybe I'll start an FAQ on my China travel website of the questions I get asked a lot. Sometimes people will send me several emails, such as one lady from Texas. We emailed frequently for more than a year after her initial question about independent travel versus a tour. She and her husband decided to travel independently. The following is an excerpt of the email I received from her when they got back:
" I wanted to let you know we had a wonderful, marvelous trip and experience in China.  I am so grateful that you gave me the encouragement and confidence I needed to go by ourselves.  I can’t remember how many people we talked to while we were there who told us “how brave” we were for being on our own (and people at home thought we were crazy), but we have never felt safer on any of our travels, even in our own neighborhood at night!  And the lack of being able to verbally communicate wasn’t the barrier I expected.  Travel around the country was no problem at all. "
Emails like this really make me feel good.

So if you have questions about travel in China, email me and I'll do my best to answer them.

Give a Cheryl's Guide for Christmas!

If you hurry, there's still time to order a Cheryl's Guide for the traveler on your Christmas list:
  • Parents Guide to Beijing is filled with Beijing sights and attractions your kids will enjoy.
  • DIY Beijing expands upon the information in Parents Guide but is geared to adults.
  • Motorcycle Museums of the United Kingdom has information about all the museums that I could find in the United Kingdom that contain at least one motorcycle.
More information on the books and how to order them is available from Cheryl's Guides. But you better hurry. The guides are printed and mailed from Singapore, so it could take two to three weeks before they arrive. If you order one and you don't get it by Dec. 23, email me your order confirmation, and I'll send you a stocking stuffer PDF notice to give your traveler.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cheryl's China: the newspaper

Oh, the things we do when we're bored! Or looking for something a little different to do. This afternoon, I was looking through some clippings of newspaper articles I'd written in another life -- the 25 years or so I was a reporter. I began feeling nostalgia for those bygone days when I interviewed presidents, actors and farmers in their fields. What a wide array of interesting people I met and fascinating experiences I had.

And now I'm a newspaper publisher -- again. This time I don't expect the work will be as hard or as time-consuming as the eight years I owned a small weekly newspaper in Eastern Washington. Now I'm the proud publisher of my own online newspaper, and it only took about a minute to create, thanks to the wonders of such modern technology as the Internet.

My newspaper is called Cheryl's China and will feature news articles about China from a wide variety of news sources. It's on a website called All I had to do was enter the topics I was interested in, and they do the rest. It will be nice to have all my news about China in one place not just for my benefit, but for anyone else who cares to follow China news.

Going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, especially Beijing, please check out my website and do feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China.

Monday, October 25, 2010

President Oba-mao

Buying souvenir t-shirts when you're in a foreign country is one of the fun things about traveling internationally. And my husband and I certainly buy our share. But we were surprised during our recent trip to Beijing to find t-shirts sporting the picture of President Barack Obama. He's wearing a Mao cap at an angle that is faintly reminiscent of Che Guevara.

Of course, we bought a bunch of them as gifts for friends, especially those who are anti-Obama. (One friend sends me 6-8 anti-Obama emails each week.)

Unlike in this country, the president appears to have a good image abroad.

On at least two occasions, Obama and his politics were discussed. The first time was when I was taking a cooking class. Besides me, there was a young woman from Singapore, a young couple from the Netherlands, and two middle-aged couples from Australia. When I mentioned that I was not an Obama fan (I am not a fan of any Democrat), these people were aghast and wanted to know why some Americans did not like him. As I explained reasons why some were against him, they strongly defended him and his policies.

The next day, at lunch with two friends I knew from my China Daily days, we again discussed Obama. They could not believe there were many Americans who did not like him or his policies. My husband used as an example that Obama wants to cut benefits to veterans (my husband is one) and how this would affect us financially. They were surprised to learn this and felt maybe the rest of the world was not being told the whole picture.

Going to China?

If you plan to travel to China, especially Beijing, please check out my website. If you have questions about travel in China, please feel free to email me. For Beijing guidebooks written from a different perspective, check out Cheryl's Guides for information on Parents Guide to Beijing and DIY Beijing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Life in the hutongs

When I lived in Beijing, I spent a lot of time exploring the hutongs on foot and by bicycle. It was a way of life that fascinated me, though I wouldn't want to live like that. While the hutongs are picturesque, most of the homes there don't have indoor toilets, which is why you'll see public toilets on almost every block.

But as Beijing upgrades and modernizes itself, the hutongs are giving way to tree-lined avenues and high-rise office and apartment buildings. There are some hutongs left in central Beijing but just how much longer they'll remain is any one's guess.

One of the things I wanted to do this trip was walk from Dazhalen, south of Tiananmen Square, to Liulichang, a walk through the hutongs I'd taken many times in the past. When we got to Qianman the McDonald's was gone as were all those neat little food stands we used to buy snacks at. They were replaced by a park and a multi-lane boulevard dividing the area. We did not do the planned walk.

With so much going on in Beijing right now, the hutongs remain my lifeline to a bygone era. Two years ago,we stayed at a hotel on Guloudongdajie, not too far from the Drum Tower. The location was great but the hotel was pretty bad. We gave the area another try this time and stayed in the Beijing Hutong Culture Inn which is tucked away in the hutongs around Gulou. It's a budget hotel that was very clean and with friendly staff that spoke good English. At first we weren't particularly fond of it because it was very difficult to find, but after we discovered a good route out of it, we thought it was a great place. I would get up early every morning and spend an hour or so just wandering through the neighborhood, shooting pictures and eating freshly made youtiao -- a greasy, but delicious, fried breakdstick.

If the hutongs are still around the next time we go to Beijing, we'll stay at the Beijing Hutong Culture Inn again. I've reviewed the hotel more in depth here.

Going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please check out my website and feel free to email me with any questions you have. If you're looking for guidebooks that show Beijing from a different perspective, check out Cheryl's Guides.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sharing my travels

This blog is one of the places I share my travel experiences with others, such as our recent trip to Beijing. More blogs are coming on that! I also share my travels on my website and in my guidebooks. And this week I shared them with Andy Hayes, managing editor of

The interivew was posted live on his website Thursday afternoon if you'd care to take a look. I enjoy doing interviews like this, and hope you enjoy reading them, too. The photo above is one I "shared" for the interview. It's about the different kinds of bug kebobs you can find at the Wangfujing night food market in Beijing. It's one of my favorite places to go in Beijing, though I must admit I'm not adventuresome enough to try insect kebobs. I'll stick to pork and lamb, thank you very much.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Great Wall Ends at Shanhaiguan

When I lived in Beijing in the 1990s, one of my favorite getaways was to Shanhaiguan, at that time a sleepy farming community that is famous for being the eastern terminus (or start, depending on your perspective) of the Great Wall of China.

I loved wandering through the town that was inside the city wall, as well as outside the wall where I once saw a farmer herding about a dozen pigs through dirt streets. I loved the city wall with its massive stone statues of Chinese warriors, philosophers and scholars. I loved the Sunday market.

They say you can't go home again. This was brought home on our recent trip to Beijing. My husband wanted to see the ocean and the Great Wall, so i suggested Shanhaiguan so I could kill two birds with one stone. Oh! the changes that have been made since I last visited. I spent the first few hours there in a daze, wandering out saying, 'Holy cow! What have they done now?!?"

Gone was the quaint sleepy town of 100,000 people. It was replaced by a bustling town of half a million people. Gone were my dearly loved statues on the city wall, only to be replaced by souvenir stands selling, among the shells, cigarette cases bearing pornographic pictures of Caucasian women.

Even the walls have been restored. Laolongtou, or Old Dragon Head as the translation goes, was still there, jutting out into the Bohai Sea. I was amazed at how much shipping traffic you could see in the distance; my husband counted 30 ships before giving up.

I was shocked at the changes, but then I realized I'm not the same person I was 15 years ago. Shanhaiguan still makes a great getaway from Beijing for a few days. The article, Great Wall Snakes Across Northern China to End at Shanhaiguan,  gives a better look at what was one time my favorite haunt.

Going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, especially Beijing, my website contains some great information about things to see and do. And feel free to email me if you have any questions afterwards.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tea Drinkers' Heaven

I have always liked Chinese teas and have four tea sets (all given to me by my Chinese friends) which I use when I have one of my Saturday's ladies' lunches. So I was really excited to visit Maliandao Street on our recent visit to Beijing. It is a tea drinker's paradise.

Maliandao Street, also known as Tea Street, has hundreds of shops selling Chinese teas and tea accessories. I was looking for a specific tea, a Twinings that I bought in London, which has a fragrant smokey smell and taste. In the process of looking for this tea, we sampled several teas. I never found what I was looking for, though I did buy a package of single-pot servings.

You can read about our visit to Maliandao Street in an article I wrote for Suite101.

Going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, check out my website which deals with travel in China, especially Beijing. Or email me with your questions.  Also, please feel free to check out my line of Beijing guidebooks at Cheryl's Guides.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Give Gaobedian a miss

BEIJING – If you’re in Beijing, give Gaobedian a miss unless you’re into expensive classical furniture.

I had heard about Gaobedian in east Beijing which was described as an ancient village and Beijing’s version of Cuandixia. I’ve been to Cuandixia twice on earlier trips and really loved it. It’s a 500-year-old village in the mountains about 90k from Beijing.

So one day on our recent trip to Beijing we set off to go to Gaobedian. It was a long trip, starting with a bus ride to the ditie as the subway station is known in China. We then took three different subway lines, with all changes involving going up and down dozens of stairs, to get there. We left the subway station at Gaobedian and followed the signs for a 10-15 minute walk – in the rain no less. What we found when we got there were numerous new buildings constructed in an old style. It looked more like a shopping mall than an ancient cultural street. Modern as it was, it didn’t have a Starbucks (they’re all over Beijing) where we could get something warm to drink.

Gaobedian, as it is now, is essentially a place to buy classical Chinese furniture, and shops had some very nice pieces, but I didn’t go there to look at furniture. It was a big disappointment for me.

The day, as well as the weather, did improve. From Gaobedian we took the subway back to central Beijing and then changed to another subway which took us out to TianTanYuan where we had a very lovely lunch with our friends. The menu included Peking duck (my fav!), chunks of sweet potato dipped in a sweet syrup and then rolled in corn kernels and deep fried, pumpkin sticks and quail eggs pictured above. I wasn’t adventuresome enough to try the eggs, but Jon said they were good.

Going to China?

If you’re planning a trip to China, check out my website, or you can email me if you have questions about travel in China, especially Beijing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The terrible TOEFL!

I'm glad I was born a native English speaker.

It got me out of taking the TOEFL. TOEFL stands for "Testing of English as a Foreign Language." If I'd been born in, say, China, and decided I wanted to attend college in the United States, I'd have to take the TOEFL. The purpose of the test is to see how well foreign students understand the English language. If their writing, listening, reading and speaking skills in English aren't that good, students will likely not succeed in college.

It's a dreaded test for international students. And it's dreaded for a reason: It's hard! A student's TOEFL score can affect the college he'll be admitted to. The higher the TOEFL score, the better the college that will admit him.

And how do I know the TOEFL is hard? Well, for starters, my Chinese friends have told me this. Secondly, one of my recent freelance writing gigs has been doing TOEFL test practice questions. The assignments mostly involved editing an existing passage on various subjects, and then writing additional questions in a pre-set format. Just for the heck of it, I tried to answer the existing questions and missed a few more than I'd care to admit. This was assuming, of course, I could even understand the articles! I sat at my computer thinking that if I, as a college-educated native English speaker had problems, how is someone for whom English is a second language going to get through this test. That may be the $64,000 question!

Academic writing admittedly is a different genre for me. I've spent 40 years as a journalist and writer making my articles simple and easy to understand. Now I have to make them more difficult  One assignment involved inserting tougher vocabulary words in a passage. It was very hard for me to do this as I felt I was ruining a well-written understandable passage by making it significantly harder to understand. I do understand the need to make it harder to read so it will be more in keeping with textbooks the students will use in college. But I am just so darned glad my future doesn't depend on the results of a TOEFL test!

Are you going to China?

If you're going to China, take a look at Cheryl's China about travel in China, particularly Beijing. And for more information about my China travel guides, including DIY Beijing, Parents Guide to Beijing and Cuandixia, check out Cheryl's Guides. If you have questions about travel in China, please feel free to email me.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The things that parents say!

Those things that parents tell their children! My parents always laughed about the time when I was three years old and swallowed a cherry pit as I was eating the cherry. My dad told me a cherry tree would grow out of my stomach. They tell me I got hysterical and didn't believe him when my dad told me he'd lied.

I remembered this incident this week after reading about a man who swallowed a pea. It went down the wrong way and ended up in his lung where it promptly sprouted. I wouldn't have believed that except the article showed his lung x-ray with the pea shoots growing.

I got to thinking of other things my parents told me, like whenever we'd go to the Oregon coast and I started digging in the sand. My dad would tell me if I dug deep enough I'd reach China. But no matter how deep I dug the hole, I never reached China. Could have had something to do with a 5-year-old's arms only being so long.

And then I went to live in China. On an outing to Beidahe, a summer resort on the Bohai Sea, I started digging in the sand, wondering if I dug deep enough I'd reach the United States. Nope. My arms were still too short. (And, no, I wasn't talented enough to build this sand structure.)

Beidahe was an interesting town, with people crammed on the beaches and in the water. There were a couple of interesting markets in town . About all I remember was that it was raining so hard, you quickly became soaked. I bought a colorful umbrella which I still use to this day. I also remember the day trip we took to Shanhaiguan which is where the Great Wall meets the ocean. I'd been there a few months earlier, in February, and it seemed like I had the Wall to myself. Not so this time, when thousands of people were packed into the guard tower that extended into the sea.

We hope to get back to Beijing next month, with plans to make a quick trip to Shanhaiguan. I'm not sure, however, if I'm looking forward to seeing how this sleepy little city has changed in the last 15 years.

If you're planning a trip to China, please see my website for ideas. Also, please feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China, especially Beijing. And do check out my China guides that are available for sale.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is this imaginative or what!

A news article on Chinese buses caught my eye the other day. It seems the Chinese are developing a super bus that will drive over two lanes of traffic. The bus, which can carry more than a thousand people, is being designed to alleviate rush hour traffic. Construction is supposed to start this fall in Beijing's Mentougou district, a western suburb which doesn't have the traffic that central Beijing has. Hopefully, if it works, the Chinese will expand this futuristic bus system to areas which really need help, like Second and Third Ring Roads.

When I lived in Beijing in the '90s, rush hour traffic wasn't as bad it is today, but still I could get somewhere faster on foot or bicycle. Taxis started imposing traffic jam surcharges; passengers could get zapped the extra fee in as little as two blocks. The surcharges are still in effect. When we were in Beijing two years ago, we didn't feel like walking 15 minutes from the subway station to our hotel, so we hopped a taxi. Forty-five minutes later we made it to our hotel.

The photo above was taken at Deshengmen on Second Ring Road. The buses are waiting to take people to the Great Wall at Badaling.

Beijing has done a lot to improve and update its bus system while still keeping fares reasonable, Buses are bigger and more comfortable. Buses used to break down frequently, and I remember one time while I was biking down Wangfujing, a bus broke down in the middle of an intersection. Passengers got off and pushed it out of the way. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me that day. Darn! But I did have my camera with me the day a bus caught on fire and burned while driving on southeastern Third Ring Road.

This new bus concept intrigues me. I especially like it that the Chinese aren't afraid to think outside the box. One time when I was working at China Daily, I edited a story about air pollution problems in Lanzhou, a major industrial town in western China surrounded by mountains much like Los Angeles is. One proposal to solve the problem was to blow a mountain to smithereens so the polluted air could escape through the new pass. The article did not say anything about implementing tighter air pollution controls on the industries responsible for the poor air quality.

A plug for me

If you're thinking about traveling to China, especially Beijing, please visit my website. Feel free to email me if you have questions about travel to the Middle Kingdom.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Church services abroad can be cultural experience

Even without looking at the calendar, I can always tell when the weekend is approaching in Beijing. That's when an article I wrote about church services in the Chinese capital gets heavy hits at

I went to Sunday Mass sporadically when I lived in Beijing, mostly because of a Catholic co-worker. After mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral on Wangfujing, we'd head off to the big flea market at Jingsong, then held in a huge dirt field. That market has now gone pretty upscale in its new location and is known as Panjiayuan. St. Joseph's, pictured at right, has been restored. Sundays in Beijing will just never be the same!

I look at attending church services as part of the cultural experience of travel. On my first trip to England, I discovered Evensong services one late afternoon at Canterbury Cathedral. The service, in such an old historic building, was so moving it soon had me in tears. I've since went to Evensong in other English cathedrals, and find them truly uplifting.

One of my fondest memories of Belgium is the Saturday evening I spent in Brussels. I went to mass at St. Michael's Cathedral then headed down to the Grand Place for dinner in a sidewalk cafe. The night was marred only by the fact someone tried to break into my hotel room in the middle of the night.

I enjoy touring temples in China, and once wandered upon a Buddhist service in full swing in an ancient temple in Chongqing. Worshippers made room for me beside them. My Chinese wasn't good enough to know what they were saying, but it was still a moving experience for me. I marveled at how the Buddhist priests, in this very old cathedral, adopted modern technology of microphones to broadcast their message.  When the service was over, the worshippers broke out snacks and began eating. And I thanked God for allowing me to become lost while walking around Chongqing, otherwise I would have missed out on another wonderful experience.

A plug for me!

If you're planning a trip to China, please visit my website for information or email me if you have any questions. I've also written some mini-guides to travel in Beijing. My Beijing guides are geared to independent travelers, but people with free time on a tour will also find them useful.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Farmers Markets

CNN had an article listing the 10 best farmers markets in the United States that are good for travelers. I was surprised to see that Seattle's Pike Place Market, a major tourist attraction in the Emerald City, wasn't on the list, though a smaller Seattle area farmers market was.

I used to love to go to farmers markets, seeing the produce all fresh and gleaming. But that was before I moved to Beijing. If you wanted fresh fruit and vegetables, you bought from a produce stand on the street: tomatoes at one stand, celery and carrots at another, apples here, bananas there. At each stand, because you were a foreigner, you had to bargain hard to get a price that was anywhere close to what the Chinese paid.  Produce shopping was no longer fun; instead, it became a dreaded chore.

The picture is a veggie stand in Chaping, a suburb of Beijing, where we visited friends on our last trip to China. Most veggie stands don't have this variety of produce. Here's a link to an article I wrote about the vegetables you can find in China.  

I occasionally go to our local farmers markets, but I don't enjoy them as much. Once in awhile, we might go to the Pike Place Market, but mainly because my husband likes a couple of magazine shops there.

If you're planning a trip to China, please check my website for ideas and information. If you have questions about travel in China, please feel free to email me.  Looking for Beijing guidebooks written from a different perspective, check out my guides, available in both print and electronic formats.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

China's picturesque money

I've always been fascinated with Chinese money, even going back to my first trip to China in 1984. At that time, and for many years afterward, foreigners were required to change money for Foreign Exchange Certificates, aka FECs, Foreigners were restricted to shopping only at places which accepted FECs, usually the Friendship Store in any city. The exchange rate was two FECs for $1US.

When i returned to China 10 years later to work in Beijing for a year, FECs were on their way out. Foreigners could now exchange their currency for real Chinese money which literally came in all sizes and colors. The smallest denomination is a fen, worth about a tenth of a cent. It came in both coins and bills.The largest was a 100 renminbi note, renminbi means "people's money. Renminbi is also known as yuan and, in street slang, as kuai. Each note has a different picture on it, usually of a historical place in China. Each note also is a different color and size. I'm so intrigued with Chinese money I even wrote an article about it.

Recently the Chinese government announced plans to strengthen the value of the renminbi. So far it doesn't appear to have made a lot of difference since we were last in China. In 1994, the official exchange rate was about 8.3 yuan to the US dollar, though it you changed with a reputable black market dealer (yeah, I know that's an oxymoron, but there are reputable dealers out there), you could get about five yuan over the official rate. Where I lived in Beijing, the nearest bank that would exchange dollars was several miles away, while money changers were just half a block away. They were there day in and day out, and made their profit by charging the Chinese 1,000 yuan for $100US.

When we were in Beijing two years ago, we exchanged (only at banks this time) our dollars that got us about 6.8 yuan per dollar. China's money had grown in value over the years. The rate today however about 6.7-6.8.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please take a look at my website, Cheryl's China. If you have questions about travel in China, especially Beijing, please feel free to email me. And don't forget to check out my mini-guides about traveling in Beijing.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

China for cheap!

I like to plan trips, even if we don't take them. Last night I was tinkering with the idea of going to Beijing for a couple of weeks in the fall. I got to checking airfares and hotels on the list of websites I check when I'm in the planning stages.

I found a deal on Expedia that was really reasonable, in fact the cost of  two weeks in a budget hotel and airfare was just slightly moe than airfare alone. We sometimes  fly out of Portland, Oregon, when we go to China because it's usually so much cheaper the savings more than pays for our gas and airport parking, not to mention the schedule is almost always more convenient.

Anyway, I priced a trip to Beijing from Portland for just over $1,000 which includes round-trip airfare and two weeks in a budget hotel. This is per person double occupancy. This dates I used were departing Nov. 3 and returning Nov. 17. Airfare alone is running about $1,000 per person at that time. The weather will be cool in Beijing, but the cold winter winds shouldn't have started by then. And because it's off-season, the sights should be less crowded. Play around with the dates as well as other reputable online travel agencies to see what turns up; I didn't do this, though I frequently do, and go for the best deal regardless of who has it.

We went to Beijing two years ago, returning in late October and the weather was really nice. Just a little rain on one day. Believe it or not, the Expedia price is almost $300 per person less than what we paid for that trip. That trip was one of the few where I booked airfare and hotel separately -- it turned out to be cheaper that way, especially since I negotiated a discount with the hotel.

If you book a trip to Beijing, you may want to take my mini-guide, DIY Beijing: a guide for the independent traveler, to help you get around the the city. Check out Cheryl's Guides for more of my China guides. If you have questions about travel in China, especially Beijing, please see my website, Cheryl's China, or email me.

The picture
Rubbing the gold knobs on the entrance doors to the Forbidden City is said to bring good luck. Thousands of people do it every day.

The fine print
Because I mentioned Expedia in this blog, the FTC requires me to disclose if I will receive any payment from Expedia for mentioning them. I won't.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two Beijing podcasts are now available on Amazon

Two of the nine podcast tours I did for Vusual Travel Tours are now for sale on They also arefor sale through Magellan's as well as the Visual Travel Tours website, where you can find all of my tours.

The tours are:
  • Imperial Beijing which is a walking tour that starts at Tiananmen Square, continues through the Forbidden City and ends at Jingshan Park for a stunning look back at what you've just seen.
  • China's Grat Wall: Walking on History is a visit to several sites on the Great Wall, all of which I have visited, some several times. This tour focuses on Badaling, because that's the site most tourists will visit from Beijin. It does give tips on how avoid the crowds at Badaling.
Other tours I did for VTT include a visit to Western Beijing, which includes the very beautiful Summer Palace; Beijing for Kids, which I later expanded into 52-page book, Parents Guide to Beijing; Cuandixia: China's Village That Time Forgot, which also was expanded into an ebook, Cuandixia: an ancient mountain village in China; a visit to Beihai Park and the hutongs, my favorite places in Beijing, and tips on where to find peace and quiet in Biejing. Yes! It is possible.

My non-China podcasts are on Maryhill Museum, a fabulous little museum overlooking the Columbia River Gorge about a hundred miles from where I live, and British motorcycle museums, which was expaned to an 88-page book, Motorcycle Museums of the United Kingdom: an enthusiasts' guide to British bikes.

The podcasts are designed to be downloaded to mobile devices such as iPods wo you can view them while touring a sight. Handy? Yep!

If you're planning a trip to China, please visit my website for more information. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions about traveling in China, especially Biejing.

The fine print:
The FTC requires me to let you know that if you purchase one of my books or podcasts, I will make a little money on the purchase.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Joan Hinton: an American in China

I frequently browse the online edition of the New York Times, and am generally stunned when I find mention of someone I know or, in this case, met briefly many years ago. The article in question was the obituary of Joan Hinton who died recently in China.

I was working as a foreign expert copy editor for China Daily in Beijing at the time. The paper's first foreign expert had just died, and a couple of us went to the memorial service China Daily hosted for him. I never met this man, but mainly went out of respect to the person who paved the way for my job there a couple of decades later.

China Daily had set up a large square table in a conference room. Everyone sat around it, and people at the head section talked about the expert. Ms. Hinton was one of the speakers. She and her husband wee introduced as long-time China residents who had done a lot for the dairy industry in China. Without them, the nation's dairy industry would not have made such rapid advances. She appeared a pleasant woman and a good public speaker. All the foreigners who spoke were long-time residents of China, as was the deceased, another American.

Based on comments made, I envisioned Ms. Hinton coming from a farming background. Was I surprised to learn that wasn't the case. The NYT article notes Ms. Hinton worked as a physicist on the Manhattan Project, which created the atom bombs the United States dropped on Japan to end World War II in Asia. She became disillusioned with the United States after that, and in 1948 left for China where she became an avowed Maoist. During the McCarthy era she was accused of being a spy and giving nuclear secrets to the Chinese, but the article notes this was never proved.

During my time in China I met several people -- mostly Americans -- who had spent most of their lives in China. While I enjoyed my two years in Beijing and have fond memories of China, I don't think I could spend my whole life living there. What I got most out of my time there was how fortunate I am to be an American.

China travel

If you're planning a trip to China, please see my website for some great information about things to see and do, especially in Beijing. Questions? Please email me. If you're interested in seeing the world from a different perspective, you might be interested in a Cheryl's Guide.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Where's the wildlife?

We just got back from a camping trip to the Cascade Mountains in Central Washington. We saw a lot of elk and deer, including two which wandered through a campground not too far from ours. Seeing deer and elk in the forest isn't that unusual. My husband has also seen a cougar, a wolf and a bear as he rides his dirt bike over the trails.

On the way home, it struck me that I've never seen wildlife in China, except in a zoo. (I don't count cows, sheep and goats in farm fields.) Granted I haven't traveled in the really remote areas (yet), but I have been out in the country and moutains over there. Heck, we live in the city here, and I see more wildlife on our street every day than I've ever seen in China. I enjoy watching squirrels scamper over the power lines or play tag on the fence outside my office window. Sometimes driving down our street we have to slow down for a Mama Quail and her babies. We've even seen a racoon or two.

But the only non-domestic animals I've seen running loose in China are rats. And those I could do without!

One day I'd like to travel to the Woolong Nature Reserve in southwest China and maybe see a panda or two munching on a bamboo stalk Or maybe down to the jungles near the border with Laos. I know there are wild animals in China, I just have to go where they are to see them in their native habitat.

If you are planning a trip to China, please visit my website. If you have questions about traveling in China, please feel free ro email me. I've also written mini-guides to travel in China; check them out on Cheryl's Guides.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cheryl's Guides

See the world from
a different perspective!

Cheryl's Guides is the line of guidebooks I founded last summer. I call them Cheryl's Guides because . . . well, I wrote them and my name is Cheryl.

I wrote my first guidebook, 17 really neat things to see and do in Beijing and after good stuff I learned the hard way, after returning home after my first year living in Beijing. I updated the guide over the next several years, but then got away from it when I got married and no longer went to China as much.

Last summer, I resurrected my Beijing guide, calling it DIY Beijing: a guide for the independent traveler. About the same time, I also published Parents Guide to Beijing: a kid-friendly city. Since then I've added Cuandixia: an ancient mountain village in China and China travel tips: 26 ideas to help you survive the Middle Kingdom. And I just published last month, my latests guide, Motorcycle Museums of the United Kingdom.

The name Cheryl's Guides covers just about any travel guide I could write, and I've got a lot of ideas for more books simmering on the back burner. Most of them will be about China, but some will be about other places, including my own back yard of the Pacific Northwest.

I've just recently set up a website for Cheryl's Guides which gives more information about my books, including feedback from my readers.

All my guides are for sale at, a Singapore-based publishing company which only sells travel books.

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

P.S. The picture was taken outside the Gulou subway station on Second Ring Road in Beijing. The subway station has several of these whimsical children playing at the entrance.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My favorite travel gadget

My Energizer battery charger is one item I never leave home without. I go through batteries like crazy in my digital cameras. Because I shoot high resolution photos, I can get 10-15 pictures before regular batteries die. (My husband shoots low res photos and gets 200-300 photos per battery set.) On a trip I might shoot 2,000 to 5,000 photos, so rechargeable batteries and a charger are a necessity if I want to avoid bankruptcy. OK, so maybe I wouldn't go through batteries so fast if I didn't walk around with the camera on all the time.

I tried a couple of different rechargers before I found this Energizer, pictured above. It's small, lightweight, and will charge both AA and AAA batteries. The tray retracts when the batteries are removed. Best of all, it works on international current. Just plug it in, pop the batteries in after a day of sightseeing and they're ready to go the next morning when I am. I just plugged the charger right in when we were in Beijing -- China has about five different plug types, so I was lucky. I did have to get an adapter to use it in England.

I paid about $10 for it at Wal-Mart. Rechargeable batteries cost about another $10 for four. I have eight batteries because I travel with two digital cameras plus my husband has a camera. I always carry spare batteries with me in case the ones in the cameras run out of juice. I find I can get about 300 photos on a single charge. This charger paid for itself abut halfway through the first trip I took it on.

If you're planning a trip to China, please check out my website about travel in China, especially Beijing. For a list of my China guidebooks, please check out Cheryl's Guides. Or you can go direct to and buy them there. If you have questions about travel in China or my guidebooks, please feel free to email me.

The fine print: When bloggers endorse a product now, the FTC requires them to disclose if they make any money from the endorsement. I don't. This battery recharger is such a great product, I think everyone should have it!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

UK Motorcycle Museums

We interrupt this blog about travel in China to bring you news about . . . travel in the United Kingdom.

The latest addition to my line of travel guides, Cheryl's Guides, was released this week. It's about British motorcycle museums. Motorcycle Museums of the United Kingdom is my first non-China travel guide, and contains information about every museum in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland I could find that has at least one motorcycle on display. The book's table of contents is almost two pages long, so you know I found a lot of museums! The book also gives tips on other things to see and do when you're in the area.

The book is a result of the two-week trip my husband and I took to England last year. He is a motorcycle afficionado so this was his dream trip. And we saw our share of them, visiting five museums over the course of our trip.
For several decades, the British manufactured the best motorcycles in the world, and we went right to the heart of the industry: the West Midlands where we visited three museums: the National Motorcycle Museum, (pictured above) which is the world's largest; Coventry Transport Museum which features all transport modes; and Black Country Museum, a living history coal mining town that has an excellent collection of vintage British bikes made in the area.
The book is available in both electronic and print formats at GuideGecko, the same publisher of my Beijing travel guides.

If you're planning a trip to China, rather than Britain, check out my website on China travel. And please feel free to email me if you have any questions about traveling in China, especially Beijing.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cheap calls to China

With good friends in China, we'd occasionally like to talk on the phone with them, but charges for calling to Beijing and Shanghai can be obscenely expensive. Our local phone company wants $6.60 per minute. No way! If we have a monthly international calling plan, we can call more cheaply, but we pay the charge even if we don't make any calls one month.

It would cost 89 cents a minute to call on our cell phones, but then my husband and I can't be on the line at the same time.

I searched online for cheap calls to China, and found some services that charge a couple of cents a minute. Now we're talking! But on closer investigation, I found they charge a connect fee which can be up to a dollar (or more) per call, and a monthly user fee to maintain your account. Plus, you have to buy a minimum $25 calling card. This is all certainly better than what our local phone company charges, but the plans either don't allow you to call cell phones or want more money. Cell phones are all our friends have.

But I found something even better, and at Walgreen's of all places. I usually buy refills there for oiur pay-as-you-go cell phones because the reloads are easiest with their system.

On the rack, tucked in with dozen of cell and landline phone cards, was Walgreen's very own international phone card. There are no connection or monthly user fees. The card comes in $10 and $25; I got the $10 just to see how it works. Wow!

The card says it costs 8 cents a minute to call China, but I'm wondering . . . We've called Beijing a couple of times already, and talked for several minutes each time. The first call was 35 cents, and the second call, which we thought was longer, was only 20 cents. Heck, it costs us 10 cents a minute just to call Seattle and that's only 200 miles away!

If you have need to call China or other countries, I'd recommend looking into the Walgreen's card to see if it will work as well for you. (Note the photo above is a pay phone booth in Beijing.)

If you're planning a trip to China, be sure to check out my website. And if you have questions about travel to the Middle Kingdom, email me and I'll try to answer them.

(NOTE: Per FTC regulations, I am required to report if I earned or will earn any money by endorsing this calling card. The answer is no.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kaifeng, China

Kaifeng is an ancient city in central China about an hour or so from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province.

Kaifeng was an early capital of China, but it's more well known today as being the Jewish capital of China. It was the first city in China where the Jews settled when they arrived after journeying along the Silk Road during the Song Dynasty.

I've been to Kaifeng twice, the first time with a Jewish friend who wanted to see what remained of the city's Jewish heritage. Very little, as it turns out. A Chinese co-worker in Beijing made arrangements with a friend who worked for the tourist office in Kaifeng to show us around. Mostly he pointed out spots where Jewish buildings used to be, such as a hospital now standing where once stood a synagogue.

The New York Times' travel section has just published an article on Jewish Kaifeng,w hich is worth reading. Also worth reading is Peony, a novel by Pearl Buck, about a Chinese Jewish family.

Kaifeng is worth visiting even if you're not making a pilgrimage to Judaism. It has lovely parks, an ancient shopping street where you can identify the merchants by the statues about his door, and wonderful hui mian or mutton noddles, which is a local specialty dish. The picture above is a close-up of tiles on Kaifeng's Iron Pagoda.

For more information about traveling in China, especially the Beijing area, please see my website. If you have questions about China, please email me. I've also written several guidebooks on Beijing; be sure to check them out at

Friday, March 5, 2010

China Travel Tips

Each time I've been to China I've learned something new that has made future travels to the Middle Kingdom earlier.

On my first trip to China way back in 1984, I was a wide-eyed innocent who didn't know I should have gotten protection for Hepatitis A before I left the United States. Heck, I only found this out when our tour group was eating one day and someone asked whether it was safe to eat the snails in water. My second time in China I got a gamma globulin shot that was good for four months. Now I've had the lifetime vaccination. But even on my first clueless trip, I ate street snacks and, luckily, never had any problems. And still don't. While I've gotten sick on restaurant food (even in a four-stat hotel's restaurant), I've eaten my way across China on street food without a single problem.

China hands recommend vaccination for Hep A to keep you safe in China. Even the CDC recommends everyone get vaccinated for Hep A even if we never plan to leave the United States.

Getting vaccinated for Hep A is just one of the tips I write about in my latest Cheryl's Guides: China Travel Tips: 26 ideas to help you survive the Middle Kingdom. It's a compilation of things that I mostly learned the hard way in my 14 trips to China, including living in Beijing for two years. I'm hoping the information will be of use to other travelers, too. China Travel Tips is for sale as an e-book on

Other books in my series of China travel guides are:

  • Parents Guide to Beijing: a kid-friendly city. If you're taking your children to Beijing, you need this book. It's filled with things your kids will enjoy seeing and doing while visiting the Chinese capital. It's available as both an ebook and print book from GuideGecko.

  • DIY Beijing: a guide for the independent traveler. This is a nifty book telling you how to get to Beijing attractions by public transportation and things to look for while you're there. It's basically a compilation of things I like to do in Beijing as well as those I take people on my private tours to. It's a mix of the must-sees and places that are off-the-beaten tourist path. It's also available as both electronic and print books from

  • Cuandixia: an ancient mountain village in China. This is the definitive book on Cuandixia, a village nestled in the mountains about 90k from Beijing. It's perfect for a day trip, and gives visitors a sample of daily life away from the capital's hustle and bustle. It is only available as an ebook from

If you're planning a visit to China, please visit my website first. If you have questions about travel in China, please feel free to email me, and I'll do my best to answer them.

(Note: the photo is one I took during a walk through the hutongs on my last trip to Beijing.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My take on a top 10 list of places to see in China

National Geographic recently posted a top 10 list of places to see in China on their website. Woo hoo! I've been to the first eight. Here's their list and my take on them:

1. Forbidden City: I find this former imperial palace cold and austere, but every time I go I find something different that I hadn't noticed before. And I really love this this picture of the entrance I got on our last trip to Beijing.

2. Tiananmen Square: Across the street from the Forbidden City. It is huge! I like to get off at the Qianmen subway stop at the south end, then walk north to the Forbidden City.

3. Temple of Heaven: This is probably my least favorite place in Beijing. The temple is pretty, but for me, once is enough. I don't take people in my private group tours there either, and no one has complained so far.

4. The Great Wall: The Great Wall is . . . well, uh . . . great! I've probably been a couple of dozen times to eight sites in all. I usually go to Badaling because it's the easiest to get to from Beijing, and it also has the Great Wall Museum, which is pretty cool.

5. Xi'an: I've been to Xi'an twice. I like visiting the Muslim quarter, which is very colorful, and the city wall. My first time in Xi'an, I came across giant concrete statues of a Silk Road caravan. Very neat. Depending on your perspective, Xi'an was either the start or end of the Silk Road in China.

6. Army of the Terra Cotta Warriors: This is another place that's not on my favorites to visit. I've been there twice (once when I was a tour director and it was on the itinerary, so I had no choice). Once was enough. One the way home from my first trip, I detoured to Banpo Neolithic village, and found it more interesting. I shook my head at their version of cave man's dancing. I rather doubt these ancient people wore sequined costumes and danced to disco music while laser lights bounced all around them.

7. Shanghai: I've been to Shanghai several times. The Shanghai Museum is stupendous. We spent 10 days there two years ago, and pretty much only went to see friends. We spent as much time touring sites around Shanghai as we did in Shanghai.

8. Hong Kong Island: I spent almost a week in Hong Kong a few years ago. It is an amazing city, and someday I'll go back. I especially enjoyed a short cruise on a junk through Aberdeen Harbor and a day trip via ferry to Cheung Chau Island.

9. Stone Forest: I've not been there yet. One of these days. . .

10. Lijiang: This is another place I went to visit. Our Shanghai friends went there last year, and got some stupendous photos. I was so envious!

If you're planning a trip to China, especially Beijing, please check out my website. Feel free to email me if you have any questions. And don't forget to check out my books on travel in Beijing; they're available as downloadable ebooks or in print.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Year of the Tiger

Sunday, February 14, marks the start of the new Chinese lunar new year, and is celebrated by Chinese communities around the globe. This year is the Year of the Tiger, the third of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac.

Chinese New Year is a major holiday in China, much like Christmas is to the Western world. People, by the hundreds of millions, go home to visit families. Generally, the government adds thousands of train cars and buses to the system to try to accommodate everyone.

I lived in Beijing during two Spring Festival celebrations, as the holiday is known there. My first celebration was for the Year of the Pig, the last zodiac animal. I really enjoyed seeing the creative art work celebrating this animal. I took dozens of pig photos during the holiday, and continued taking pig pix throughout the year. What a collection I have!

The second year was for the Year of the Ox. I spent two hours on a bus to get to the temple fair at Da Guan Yuan is southwest Beijing. (I lived in northeast Beijing.) I enjoyed the colorful street parade and the activities at the park, and pigged out on a variety of snacks. One activity which was mind-boggling to watch were young Chinese men on very high stilts somersaulting backwards from a platform to hit the ground standing. Some were a little wobbly in their stilt-landings, but it wasn't an activity I cared to duplicate. In the picture ahove, stick ponies rest after the big psarade.

Chinese families celebrate New Year's Eve by making jiaozi (or dumplings) to eat the next day. One tradition that I especially liked was that women weren't supposed to sweep the kitchen floor on New Year's Day lest it upset the kitchen gods.

The 12 animals in the zodiac are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, each celebrated in that order. Chinese legend says that if you were born in, say the Year of the Tiger, then you will have good luck during that year. I hope it doesn't mean you have to put up with 11 years of bad luck just to have one good one!

If China, is in your travel plans, please visit my website or email me with any questions.

If you're going to the Beijing area, check out my books on places to see that are off the beaten tourist path.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Saturday in the park

Whenever I hear the old Chicago hit, Saturday in the Park, I always think of Beihai Park in Beijing. It's my very favorite park in the Chinese capital. In fact, the last time I was there it was a Saturday and people were indeed dancing and laughing, plus a host of other things.

We saw people playing badminton, doing tai chi exercises, singing, dancing (both ballroom and traditional flag dances), using a huge brush to write Chinese characters on the sidewalk with water, playing in a chamber orchestra, juggling . . .

No wonder Beihai is the most popular park in Beijing! It's also one of the prettiest. In the spring, the trees blossom out and the park is awash in pink and white blooms. One summer I went to a fireworks display at night. In the winter, the lake freezes over, with people ice skating. In the summer, they rent boats and paddle/pedal around the lake.

Because it's just a short distance west of the Forbidden City, the park was a playground for China's imperial family. It remains a playground today -- for everyone, not just royalty.

The centerpiece of Beihai Park is the Tibetan-style White Dagoba Temple which sits on an island in the middle of the lake. It's a bit of a hike up steep stairs if you enter from the main entrance, but on a clear day the view at the top is worth it. I tell friends just go up the steps slowly, with frequent stops to catch your breath.

I write about Beihai Park in more detail in my books, Parents Guide to Beijing and DIY Beijing.

If you don't visit Beihai when you're in Beijing, you're missing out on a special attraction. Unfortunately, most organized tours don't stop there.

If you have questions about travel in China, please see my website or email me for help.