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.