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.