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.