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.