Monday, December 26, 2011

Celebrate two New Year's in January

This year we will celebrate two New Year's Days in January. The first is January 1, the start of a new calendar year. The second in January 23, which is Chinese New Year's, also known as Spring Festival. The date is flexible, as it is based on a lunar calendar, occurring on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Some years the holiday is celebrated in January, other years it takes place in February.

My husband and I celebrate Chinese New Year on the night before by having a few friends in for a home-cooked Chinese dinner. It's not as elaborate as the dinner we would have if we were in China at this time, but then I am not talented enough to cook 10 dishes on four burners. I marvel at how friends can turn out a veritable smorgasbord in just a short time on two burners.

I lived in China during the years of the pig and ox, and have visited for the years of other animals. I always enjoyed the decorations for an animal's year. Huge displays of the animal in all sorts of activities. During the Year of the Pig, I decided to specialize in taking pictures of pigs, and came home with hundreds of pictures of stuffed pigs, balloon pigs, real live piglets, pigs formed by pruning shrubs into that shape and so on.

I also enjoyed going to temple fairs held during that time, and hope to be able to do so again in the future. The fairs are like ours, with games for the children, parades and entertainment. I watched in awe as a man teetering on high stilts did a somersault, landing standing up on this stilts.

I've pulled together a few articles written by writers for my Chinese history page. The collection includes foods that are traditionally eaten for China's biggest holiday, the Chinese zodiac, history of Chinese New Year, and activities for kids during this time.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, check out my website, Cheryl's China, and feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in the Middle Kingdom.

Monday, November 28, 2011

On a slow boat to China

That's what I feel my letters and packages to China are on!

When I lived in Beijing in the mid '90s, letters from home reached me in as little as three days. which was a heckuva lot quicker than the Postal Service could move them cross-country, to the other side of the United States. Only rarely did a letter take longer than two weeks to reach me from the Pacific Northwest. However, recipients did tell me it usually took two to three weeks for my letters from China to reach them.

I am not sure what the hold up is these days on mail to China. The post office says a letter or package sent by air will take five to 10 days. Ha! Months is more like it.

Last year it took four months for our Christmas card to reach friends in Shanghai, even though it was sent air mail, and you can fly from here to Shanghai in about 15 hours time, including layovers.  The year before we mailed a small package for Spring Festival (Chinese Lunar New Year) which is a big gift-giving holiday for the Chinese. Even though it was sent airmail, it was almost five months before they received it.

When we returned from Yellowstone in early September, I mailed -- again by air -- a souvenir of our trip, as that is one place our Chinese friends want to visit on their next trip to the USA. It's not been received yet.

Our friend is pregnant and will have her baby in June. Since I wanted to be sure she received the gift before the baby's first birthday, I mailed it last week. The post office again told me it would take five to 10 days; the clerk seemed shocked when I laughed.

We'll see.

Are you going to China?

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

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chinese knots date back to ancient times

I've always been a fan of Chinese knots, as their macrame is known. I have wall hangings and
 jewelry made into knots using bright red silk string and cord. What I didn't know is that this lovely folk art originated back with prehistoric man.

Archaeologists have found evidence that the early Chinese used knots as far back as 100,000 years ago. The knots weren't used to create wall hangings to decorate the cave homes. Instead, they were used to fasten clothes made from fur together, as buttons and zippers hadn't been invented back then. It was not until the Tang Dynasty that the knots started being used for decorative purposes.

You can read more about Chinese knots in this article on them that I wrote for my Chinese history section at

Our Chinese friends had wedding knots made for my husband and I when we got married. They hang in the hallway between the living and bedrooms in our house. This hall is also known as the Great Hall of China because it contains numerous examples of Chinese arts and crafts.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, check out my website, Cheryl's China, and feel free to email me if you have any questions about traveling in China.

What's your favorite Chinese folk art?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Planning a trip to China

A moment to the Silk Road in Xi'an,
where the trade route started in China
We hope to go to China next fall - my husband wants to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary there. (We celebrated it there in 2008 with dinner at our friends' house, as well as with a trip to the Great Wall and dinner the next night at  Peking duck restaurant.)

I've already started doing research on things we want to do while we're there. My husband's never been to Xi'an to see the Terra Cotta warriors, so that is a high priority for him. I've been there twice and - gasp! - think they're overrated, but Xi'an has a lot of other things to see and do. I've never been to the Shaanxi Provincial Museum, but have heard it's quite fabulous. I've also enjoyed my visits to the city wall, Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Muslim district.

Ctrip seems to have very reasonably priced packages for a four-day trip to Xi'an which includes airfare from Beijing or Shanghai. Ctrip is a Chinese version of Expedia, and also has an English site. Has anyone ever used it? I'd be interested in your comments. As Xi'an's airport is so far out of town (about an hour's drive) I was hoping to take the train. There's an express train which makes the trip in under seven hours, though an overnight train ride isn't that bad, and you arrive in downtown Xi'an. I'm thinking we'll fly to Shanghai from there because I'm not too keen on a 15- to 24-hour ride on the train, especially when flying is not that much more expensive.

But getting back from China already is proving to be a challenge. Our preferred carrier is United which has non-stop flights from Pasco, Washington (our nearest big airport) to San Francisco, where you catch a nonstop to Beijing. Coming back, the nonstop from Beijing gets in about a half-an hour after the morning flight to Pasco. The next one isn't until night. Last year, United wouldn't let us spend the day in San Francisco. Instead, they routed us to Los Angles, where we had a couple of hours layover, and then to Denver, where we had another layover, before flying us to Pasco. I am not willing to go through that again, if schedules haven't changed by then.

A few tunes in the past, we've driven to Portland or Seattle because of the better connections. Going isn't that bad, but a four-hour drive coming back is tiring on top of the very tiring trans-Pacific flight.  If the planes landed in late afternoon or evening, we spend the night in Seattle or Portland, but when they land in early morning, it seems stupid to get a motel to sleep for a few hours, so we hit the road, taking turns driving while the other person sleeps.

Which brings us to Delta, a carrier we hate to fly, but is the only other option for us if we want to leave from Pasco. It has beautiful connections: Seattle and then non-stop to Being both ways. Delta also still doesn't charge for the first two bags, while United only allows one free bag on trans-Pacific flights. One bad isn't a problem going, but my husband does so much shopping over there, he has to buy a suitcase to carry it all back.

I was looking at Delta's website last night, and one thing concerned me: their notice that fares change constantly, and that the price you see may not be the price you pay, as fares could change between the time you hit "book it" and your credit card is charged. Has anyone had this happen to them? Tell me about it! I'm assuming fares will only go up with this process.

Of course, all of this may very well be a moot point by the time we're ready to make our trip. I probably won't do any more planning until next summer when I start looking at air fares again. I tend to overplan in advance, but I think it makes it easier when it's time to do the real thing.

Are you going to China?

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

Friday, October 14, 2011

Meeting the locals

New friends in Chengde in 1995
I was writing an article for a client on how to meet local residents when you travel, when I was reminded of two young people I met while I was touring Puningsi (Puning Temple) in Chengde back in 1995. I was used to descriptive signs at attractions that were written both in Chinese characters and English in Beijing. At this temple in Chengde all the signs were in characters.

I would have had no idea what the signs said if this young man and young woman had not approached me wanting to practice their English.  They showed me all around the temple grounds, translating the signs as we went. They were medical students, so I learned a little about the study of medicine in China -- more than I wanted to know and enough to scare the heck out of me.

They explained that most students had only two years of medical school and then are considered doctors. Apparently there are few general practitioners in China. Students specialize in the study of one body part. so conceivably if you hurt in your leg, stomach and head at the same time, you will need to see three doctors, one for each area of your body that aches. This part didn't bother me as much as they were only required to spend two years in medical school, which means doctors as young as 20 years old could be treating patients.

Luckily, for me, I was never seriously sick in China, just the normal colds and flu. My personal experience with Chinese clinics was limited to the health exam all foreigners who will be living in China for a year must have and getting a gamma globulin shot for Hepatitis A. That was an experience in assembly line medicine, let me tell you. I'd had a gamma globulin shot before I left for China, but a few months had elapsed so it was time to get another.

My language tutor took me to a Chinese clinic, one that didn't cater to foreigners with English-speaking doctors. She told the nurse what I needed, and we were sent to stand in a line. Nurses went down the line, giving injections as fast as they could. When the nurse came to me, my tutor told her she had to use a clean needle. Clean needle? What's that! The nurse was unhappy because the line ground to a halt, but my tutor kept insisting on a clean needle. Finally, another nurse appeared with a new syringe, and I got my shot.

AIDS wasn't a big deal in China at that time, so reusing a needle apparently was quite common. Privacy in treating patients also wasn't common. I survived the visit, which is all that counted.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, especially Beijing, please visit my website, Cheryl's China. If you have questions about travel in China, please email me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chinese in Yellowstone

Old Faithful

Yellowstone National Park is like a mini United Nations. As the first national park not only in the United States but in the world, it draws millions of visitors every year from around the globe. The National Park Service doesn't keep statistics on the nationalities of park visitors, but from personal observation, most foreign visitors to the park seem to be from Europe and Asia, especially China.

We just returned from a 10-day camping trip to Yellowstone, and were totally amazed by the number of Chinese we saw at the park.At every major attraction that we stopped at, we encountered literally dozens of Chinese tourists. This shouldn't have surprised us because Yellowstone is where our Chinese friends want to go when they visit us again.

I'm guessing that Yellowstone gets a substantial number of Chinese visitors because we ran into many young Chinese women working at the concession stands, My husband bought an ice cream cone from a young woman who, noticing he was wearing his "I climbed the Great Wall" sweatshirt, told him she was from the Beijing area. Plus, the National Park Service publishes its trip planning guide in Chinese. 'Nuff said.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to the Middle Kingdom, check out Cheryl's China, and please feel free to email me if you have questions about travel in China.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The math is mind-boggling!

The Marble Boat
As part of my duties as topic editor for Chinese history, I wrote an article on how Express Dowager Cixi embezzled  money from the Chinese navy to renovate the Marble Boat at the Summer Palace. The boat was built by Emperor Qianlong in 1755 and destroyed by foreign forces in the Second Opium War. Cixi wanted the boat refurbished for her 60th birthday. Work started in 1888 and ended in 1893.

OK, here is where I get overwhelmed by the math. One credible source says she stole 30 million taels of silver to pay for the project, which also included work around Longevity Hill at the Beijing historical site.
From research, I learned that a tael is 1.3 ounces of silver, so that would work out to 39 million ounces of silver.

Back then, at least in the United States, silver had a set value of $1.29 per ounce, though the market value was somewhere around 60 cents an ounce. If I have done my math correctly, that works out to $22.4 million. I cannot imagine any construction project costing that much money back then, even if the project did take five years to complete.

But wait: It gets better. The price of silver today is about $42 an ounce, give or take a few dimes. Multiply $42 by 39 million, and the figure is an astronomical $1,638 trillion. Someone please tell tell me I didn't do the math right.

By contract, the Chinese government spent only $17.7 million to renovate the Summer Palace and two other major parks for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

Are you going to China?

If China is in your future travel plans, check out Cheryl's China, and feel free to email me with any questions about travel in the Middle Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What I like about Xi'an

Silk Road monument in Xi'an
When I lived in Beijing and talked with my Chinese friends about visiting Xi'an, all advised me to take the overnight train there, go see the Terra Cotta Warriors, and take the night train back. While I've never been overly impressed with the Terra Cotta Warriors, even if it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I did find a lot of other things to like about the city.

I really liked the Muslim quarter with its narrow alleyways and colorful meat markets. I enjoyed walking on the wall surrounding the old city. And the Big Wild Goose Pagoda was an interesting temple. I especially liked the street snacks I sampled, including a honey-nut bar and a persimmon dripping with honey.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Xi'an, however, I came across by accident as I was wandering around the city. In a residential area, where a grassy median should have been, was a marvelous monument to the caravans that traveled along the Silk Road of yore. Depending on your perspective, the Silk Road either started or ended in Xi'an, an early capital of China.

The stone monument was made up of massive men and camels. It was surrounded by rose bushes, though I doubt the trip centuries ago was anything but roses.

One of these trips to China, I ope to get out to Kashgar, which was the official end or start of the Silk Road in China.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to the Middle Kingdom, please visit Cheryl's China and feel free to email me with any questions you may have.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chinese history

The Terra Cotta Warriors represent an
 important of Xi'an's history.
I took on a new  task related to China this week when I was appointed the topic editor for Chinese history for  I've been writing for Suite101 for more than two years, and have contributed many articles to the site's China travel section, as well as about Chinese food and tea, museums and the like. While I've always tried to include a bit of history when I'm writing about sightseeing attractions, concentrating on the country's history will be a new challenge for me.

Besides writing articles, I'll be editing articles on Chinese history written by other Suite101 writers and choosing the best articles to feature on section pages.

I'm really looking forward to this new assignment. China has a history which dates back thousands of years, and is rapidly assuming the role of a super power today. I believe it is important for us to understand China's past so we can better understand it's future.

Join me on the site as we travel back in time.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your travel plans, please check out Cheryl's China and feel free to email me if you have any questions about traveling in China, especially Beijing, which is my specialty.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Think sweet!

My friend Sophia, who was born and grew up in Asia, makes fabulous ethnic desserts, so I was quite thrilled when she agreed to give me a cooking lesson on how to make a couple of them. The first dessert was Indonesian, and involved mixing grated coconut, grated cassava, butter, eggs, sugar and flour together, spreading in a pan and then steaming for 40 minutes. Sophia has made this dish so many times, she doesn't use a recipe.
A Malaysian dessert made with sticky rice flour.

While this was steaming, she showed me how to make a Malaysian dessert with glutinous rice flour. It was even easier! She adds salt and Pandan, a Thai flavoring which turned the flour green. Next you mix in water and sugar, and then form a tablespoon or so of the dough into a ball. Flatting the dough to a round circle, then plop a small chunk of brown sugar cane on the dough and form a ball around it. You then drop the ball into boiling water until it floats to the top. Remove the ball from the water and dredge in grated coconut. It's best to eat these slightly warm, as the sugar cane melts into a liquid that explodes -- delightfully -- in your mouth. Yum!

The Chinese have a very similar dish, called tang yuan but is stuffed with a sweet bean paste instead of sugar cane. This treat is served at the Lantern Festival which occurs 15 days after Chinese Lunar New Year.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, check out my website, and feel free to email me with any questions.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Thank the Chinese

You can thank the Chinese for giving us one of our most enduring Fourth of July traditions: fireworks displays.

The Chinese invented fireworks even before they invented gun powder. According to the website Pyro Universe, fireworks may have been invested accidentally, when chunks of  green bamboo were tossed into a fire around 200 B.C. They burning bamboo snapped, crackled and generally scared the Chinese and their animals. After awhile, a tradition developed of throwing green bamboo on fires at Lunar New Year to scare away the evil spirits for another year. Later, after the Chinese had invented gunpowder, they put this concoction into bamboo tubes. Thus the first firecrackers were born.

Ironically, some places in China ban fireworks today because of the dangers and serious injuries caused to people who don't know how to use them properly. They're also messy. During my first year in Beijing, a friend and I went to Tianjin on Chinese New Year's Day. The streets and sidewalks were covered with red paper remains of fireworks.

Probably the most extravagant display of fireworks I saw in my time in China was the celebration in Beijing after Hong Kong was transferred back to Chinese ownership by the British. That night, the Chinese put on a spectacular celebration involving 18,000 performers at Workers' Stadium in Beijing. One of the things I remember most about that night is sitting maybe 25 feet away from Chinese President Jiang Zemin and his cabinet. It was indeed an awesome night.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Peanut brittle -- Chinese style

Shanhaiguan peanut brittle
I've been going through all my China pictures lately, looking for the best/my favorites to use on the remodeled website I am working on. It is long past due to update my website, Cheryl's China, but the process is taking me longer than I expected. The present website is 14 pages; my updated will have about 50 pages with a design that I hope is easier to read.

Anyway, as I was going through my pictures, I came across this one I took when we were in Shanhaiguan last fall. The makers put a bunch of raw peanuts, a little flour and sugar on a wooden block, and then use a big mallet to pound the heck out of the peanuts. The end result is similar to peanut brittle, but not as sweet.

I'm an addict when it comes to street food, so, of course, I bought a bag. It was wall worth the 10 kuai (about $1.50) I paid for it.. And even if I hadn't liked it, it was worth the money to watch them make it. Some stands had two smashers wielding mallets, and I wondering how many times they swung the mallets down at the same time.

What's been your favorite street snack you've sampled in China?

Are you going to China?

Check out my website and feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Exciting developments for Chinese trains

A lot has been happening in China these days when it comes to train travel.

A shopping mall in Shanghai
First, the long-awaited high speed train between Beijing and Shanghai is starting up. This will cut the time from 12 to 15 hours down to four, making train travel very competitive with flying between the two cities. I actually think taking the train will be the way to go since trains run from downtown to downtown. No 1-2 hour pre-departure check-in at the airport or a long trip from the airport to downtown.

China still plans to run its regular trains on this route, and those who want the speed will pay substantially more for express trains.

We took an express train to Shanhaiguan from Beijing last fall. It was pretty cool, only taking two hours non-stop. The first time I went to Shanhaiguan, the city where the Great Wall ends, the trip took six hours and had many stops.

Another China Daily story in the last week was about online train ticket sales. I am really looking forward to this for getting tickets on our next trip to China. When I lived there, getting tickets was such a pain as ticket clerks usually didn't want to deal with foreigners and kept referring them to other windows. Once I went to seven windows, standing in a long line each time, before someone would sell me a ticket. I finally wised up, and paid my hotel's travel desk a couple of bucks to get my onward tickets. After all, a Chinese person will almost n ever be standing in the wrong line.

I anticipate the website will be in Chinese, which could be difficult, but I think I'll figure it out some way or perhaps get some friends to book our tickets.

The new system will start with just a few routes, but is expected to be systemwide by the end of the year. Yippee!

Are you going to China?

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

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Papercuts: a traditional Chinese art

Papercuts are one of my favorite souvenirs of China. They are so colorful, not to mention especially fragile. They're made from very thin paper and tear easily, but that doesn't make them any less fun.

Papercuts are traditionally made from red paper and cut by hand. Traditional papercuts are of Peking masks, Chinese maidens, birds, flowers, the Chinese zodiac . . . the list of topics is endless. But, in recent years, a Western influence has been creeping into the designs. Stuff like Disney characters and Santa Claus, with some of the papercuts being made in several colors.

The Chinese put papercuts in their windows or frame them for wall hangings. Mostly papercuts are small, maybe 3" x 5", but I have seen some as big as 3-5 feet square. I don't put mine in windows or frame them. I use them on the greeting cards I make, using double-sided tape to stick them to the front page.

If you're looking for unique souvenirs from China, consider papercuts. They're inexpensive and come in small, lightweight packages of eight or 10.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please check out Cheryl's China, my website about traveling in China, especially Beijing. and feel free to email me if you have any questions. Also, check out my Amazon Kindle page for my travel guides to Beijing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Contrasting the old and the new

Local Chinese youngsters perform a traditional lion dance.
A couple of things brought home the difference between the old and the new this week.

First, on Saturday afternoon, we went to an Asian Awareness program sponsored, among others, by the local library and the local Chinese association. The program consisted mostly of youngsters performing traditional Chinese cultural activities, such as a lion dance, a demonstration on using a Chinese yo-yo, and singing traditional Chinese songs as well as playing them on musical instruments.

I found it quite ironic that Chinese in the United States are teaching their children about their cultural heritage while in Beijing kids that age aren't interested in such cultural activities. They are too busy trying to become Westernized.

When I lived in Beijing, I used to listen for the beating of drums in the evenings and on weekends. It meant Chinese women were doing yanko dancing somewhere, and I'd go look for them. Mostly older Chinese women would dance around in a circle waving colorful fans and scarves while older men beat the rhythm on drums. It looked like a simple dance, until one time some women talked me into joining them. Whew! Two rounds and I was exhausted, yet these women did it for extended periods of time. One time I watched for 45 minutes, and there was no break, no one dropped out. I remember debates taking place because the young adults wanted the yanko dancing stopped because the drums were too noisy.

Then the other day China Daily ran an opinion piece by columnist Chen Weihua who had just returned from a visit to Mexico City. He detailed all the things Mexicans were doing to preserve their heritage and history, then contrasted it to Beijing and Shanghai where historical buildings are being bulldozed, all in the name of progress.

So which culture is going to survive?

Are you going to China?

If China is in your travel plans, check out my website, Cheryl's China, and feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Peking Duck: Yum!

Carving Peking duck
Peking duck is my very favorite Chinese food; I like it even better than gongbaojiding (chicken in spicy peanut sauce, sometimes called kung pao chicken in the United States.)

I took a cooking class in Beijing where I learned to make gongbaojiding, but Peking duck isn't on the instructor's menus. Of course, if I learned to make it, I would make it all the time and grow tired of it.

At my insistence, we usually eat Peking duck at least two or three times when we return to China for visits. If you have cholesterol problems, you probably shouldn't eat Peking duck as it is very greasy, both the meat and the crunchy skin. But it is just too uberdelicious to worry about that.

Most restaurants will carve the duck at your table. This is fun to watch. These days the carvers wear those thin plastic throw-away gloves when they carve. I know this is a more sanitary way to carve the duck, but somehow it just doesn't have the same atmosphere. Oh well, it doesn't affect the taste of the duck . . .

Peking duck is known as kao ya or roast duck in Beijing. If you're in Beijing and want to sample Peking duck, just look for restaurants which have a huge plastic duck outside the entrance. Quanjude is premier Beijing's Peking duck chain, but the duck is just as good at other restaurants.

Going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, especially Beijing, please visit my website for helpful information. Feel free to email me with any questions you might have.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chinese "accessories"

I am always intrigued with the foods that decorate dishes in Chinese restaurants. Once I was served a plate decorated by a huge carrot that had been carved into a dragon.

On our trip to Beijing last fall, we ate at a small restaurant across the street from Prince Gong's Palace. One of the dishes came with "roses" that were actually Chinese turnips sliced thin and then fashioned into roses.  (I apologize for the quality of the photo, but this at least gives you some idea of what you'll find eating out in the Middle Kingdom.)

I have always thought the Chinese turnip was a particularly beautiful vegetable. The inside is this beautiful fuchsia-colored flesh, while the outer peeling is a lime green. The color combinations work very well together.

What intrigues me is restaurants which serve food like this aren't always the five-stars. This was served to us in a simple neighborhood eatery. Attractive decorations like this add a lot to the enjoyment of meals, don't you agree?

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please see my website and feel free to email me if you have any questions. Need a guidebook to help you get more out of the Chinese capital? Check out DIY Beijing: a guide for the independent traveler and Parents Guide to Beijing: a kid-friendly city. Both are available in print from GuideGecko and Amazon Kindle.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Wangfujing night food market

Deep-fried grasshopper kebobs
Whenever I return to Beijing, one of the first places I go back to is the Wangfujing night food market. It has an amazing array of foods you can snack on. I used to eat there about once a week when I lived in Beijing, and could put together several snack dishes for a dinner that cost the equivalent of $1.

Back then, conditions weren't as sanitary as they are now, but it didn't bother me. Now, every stand has electricity, covered stands and everyone wears the same uniform. It's a lot cleaner, but still a lot of fun even though I don't usually eat there any more. I just like to go see what's the latest, greatest snack.

If you're traveling in Beijing with your kids, they're sure to like this market, located just off Wangfujing, Beijing's famous shopping street. Just about everything imaginable shows up as a kebob: scorpions, seahorses, tiny birds, snakes, crayfish, beetles, silk worms, and even the traditional pork and chicken chunks. A few years ago, a friend tried the deep fried scorpions, and said they tasted like popcorn. I'll take her word for it, I'm not that adventurous of an eater. My motto is look, but don't touch/eat, and take plenty of photos.

You can also get the more traditional jiaozi (dumplings/potstickers), ciao mian (chow mein), bean congee and assorted fruits, to name a few of the food items on display. I visited the night food market when we were in Beijing last fall, and saw a new beverage I hadn't seen before:  large plastic glasses filled with a colored beverage of some sort that were steaming at the top, almost as if someone had dropped a chunk of dry ice in them. They looked beautiful, but I am way of drinking anything that's not bottled when I'm in China.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to the Middle Kingdom, please visit my website and feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Doing business with China

Here's the scenario: You have a product you'd like to sell and are thinking about having it made in China, but don't have the slightest idea how to go about it. Well, have I got just the book for you!

Find a Manufacturer in China is a new book that will get you started. It's filled with basic information you'll need to get on the right track. It was written by M. Vacisin who has 15 years experience in international supply and freight moving. The short book is filled with tips on how to find a manufacturer in China to make your product as well as how to avoid getting ripped off by said manufacturer. The ebook also contains information on middlemen and freight forwarders.Vacisin also gives websites so you can find the indepth information you need to protect yourself before you get too heavily involved with one company. It was written for U.S. customers.

How do I know about this book? Well, I was asked to edit it because of my expertise of China.

The book is available now through the Amazon Kindle store. Purchasers of the book also get one of my ebooks, Chinese visas demystified, when they buy Vacisin's book. What a deal!

Are you going to China?

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

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A visit to Qingdao

Downtown Qingdao as it was in 1997.
 When I worked at China Daily in the mid '90s, there were two work weeks: Monday through Friday and Sunday through Thursday, and everyone workd both of them. While it was no fun swtching from M-F to S-Th because you only got one day off, it was worth it because when we switched from S-Th to M-F, it meant we got a three-day weekend. I developed the habit of catching an overnight train after work on Thursdays to somewhere, coming back on the overnight train Sunday, showering and then heading to work on Monday.

One long weekend, I chose to visit Qingdao on the East China coast. It was almost like a quickie trip to Europe. At one time, Qingdao was a concession of Germany, and the architecture reflected this. Off the main drags, you could find narrow cobblestone streets and German styled gardens. Even the local beer, Tsing Tsao, was based on German brewing methods.

I don't recall that I ate any German food that weekend. I ate very little, as a matter of fact. In my wanderings, I came across a food stand where I was about to order something, when I felt something brush my feet. I looked down. It was a rat the size of a fat house cat. It wasn't afraid of people, so I'm assuming the food vendor must have fed it leftovers. There went my appetite. Later that day, I stumbled across the local food market, where buckets of live scorpions and snakes were on sale. Boy, was Qingdao sure good for my diet!

I did enjoy visiting the naval museum -- Qingdao is a port city for the Chinese navy. At the museum, you could climb on the exhibits and pretend you were shooting guns. Of course I did this, pretending that I was shooting fat rats while wishing I didn't have to pretend.

Rats and snakes aside, Qingdao makes a good trip out of Beijing if you have a few extra days. Train service is great and the city boasts accommodations in all price ranges. It's a very pretty city with some of the most amazing parks I've seen in China.

Perhaps the best meal I had that weekend was on the train back to Beijing. I struck up a friendship with two young Chinese men, who turned out to be oncologists making a run to Beijing to get a replacement knee for a patient. When they saw I was going to eat a bowl of instant noodles for my dinner, they immediately insisted I share their roast chicken dinner with vegetables they'd brought with them. I felt bad that I didn't have anything decent to share with them until I remembered the package of Oreo cookies I had in my backpack. They were delighted with the Oreos as they'd heard so much about out "national" cookie but had never had any. I couldn't believe they'd never had Oreos before -- they were popular in China, but then I considered that when someone is only making $30 a month (even an oncologist!), spending $1 for a dozen cookies wasn't in the budget. After that trip, I never traveled anywhere without Oreo cookies.

Going to China?

If you're going to China, please visit my website for some insider information. And feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My books on Amazon Kindle

Cover for my Cuandixia guide on Kindle.
 I love to read. There's just something about holding a book in my hands, turning the pages one by one as I get deeper into the plot. Reading a good book, whether fact or fiction, was just so important to my generation.

Today, books are being replaced with mobile devices such as IPads, Kindles and Nooks. You download a book and you can read it wherever you are. No more worrying about overdue fines at the library! I must admit these mobile devices have revolutionized the way we read. That's why I'm in the process of converting my travel guides to a mobile format.

I eventually will have all my Cheryl's Guides converted and plan to write new ones. These are the ones I have for sale now at the Amazon Kindle store:
The Kindle guides do not have pictures, other than an initial cover pictures. Supposedly you can have pictures on Kindle; I'm still working on figuring out how to do this. But the pictures that I do use are converted to black-and-white, and to me are not as appealing. If you want pictures, which I think are an important element in travel guides, Motorcycle Museums and Cuandixia are available as ebooks on GuideGecko. I'm told the ebook versions also work on Kindle. Motorcycle Museums also is available as a print book.

Keep watching my Amazon Kindle page for new additions in Kindle format.

Visual Travel Tours, which specializes in travel guides for mobile devices, has converted two of the podcasts I did for them to Kindle format:
  • Imperial Beijing, which is a tour of Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Jingshan Park.
  • Great Wall of China, which is a tour of all the sites I've visited on the Great Wall. This is my best-selling VTT tour.
China travel

If you have questions about travel in China, please check out my website, or feel free to email me.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Top 41 list

Around the first of the year, the New York Times travel section ran a list of 41 places we need to see in 2011. Two of those places were in China: Pingyao and Hangzhou.

I have not been to Hangzhou -- it's on our list of places to visit on one of out trips to China. But I have been to Pingyao, and long before it was a popular tourist destination.

I went to Pingyqo in 1997 on the recommendation of my Chinese co-workers. The trip started with an early morning express bus ride to Taiyuan, where I spent the remainder of the day looking over the city. The next day I caught a mini-bus to Pingyao, about an hour or so away.

Pingyao is one of the best preserved Ming Dynasty cities in China. It also was the site for the Chinese movie, Raise the Red Lantern. Residents weren't that used to seeing foreigners wandering the streets, and I soon attracted a following of curious children. This was much better for my ego than having a toddler take one look at me and run screaming for his mother.

Mostly I just wandered through the walled-in old town, and then climbed the city wall where I took this picture.

China is hell-bent on modernizing everything, and I wonder how Pingyao has fared in this process. Pingyao was on the short-list of our places for an overnight trip when we were in Beijing last fall, but Shanhaiguan won. But now it seems like Pingyao has become a hot destination for independent travelers to China. I'm sure I'll find many changes when I return.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

U.S. appoints new ambassador to China

President Obama has named Gary Locke as this country's new ambassador to the People's Republic of China. How cool can you get!

Locke, who is currently Obama's Secretary of Commerce, is a former governor of Washington State, the state where I've pretty much lived since 1978.. The appointment continues a line of firsts for this second generation Chinese-American. He was the  first Chinese-American to be elected governor in Washington. He was the first Chinese-American to be appointed Commerce Secretary. Now he becomes the first Chinese-American to serve as ambassador to his grandfather's homeland. You can't get much cooler than that!

It will be a good match. The Chinese people really love Gary Locke, or at least they did in 1997 when he was governor of Washington. I have first-hand experience with this. I was living in Beijing in 1997 when then-Gov. Locke traveled to China to promote trade between Washington and China.

At the time of this visit, I was traveling in southwest China. In Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, I wanted to tour the provincial museum. When I arrived at the museum, there was a big banner welcoming Luo Jia Hui (Locke's Chinese name) as he'd visited the museum recently. The museum was closed due to a power outage, but when I indicated I was from Washington State, they let me in for free. The inside of the museum was dark, so unfortunately I couldn't see very much. Plus, the museum staff was very embarrassed that I was seeing the museum under those conditions. so I ended up leaving after about 15 minutes. If I ever get back to Chengdu, this museum is on my must-see list.

I was visiting the zoo in Guiyang in Guizhou Province when an elderly man carrying a badminton racket stopped to talk to me so he could practice his English. He was delighted to learn I worked for China Daily because he has a friend who worked there but I thought he would have a heart attack when he found out I was from Washington. He immediately started talking about Gary Locke. He decided to skip badminton with his buddies and insisted on showing me around the zoo. When our tour was finished, he invited me to his home for lunch with his wife. I was coming down with a cold, so I declined. He then wanted to pay my taxi fare to the hotel; we compromised and he did pay my bus fare back.

The picture here is one I took at a Chengdu temple. While temples in the north burn incense sticks, in Chengdu red candles were burned at the temples I visited. An interesting cultural difference.

Are you going to China?

If you plan to travel to China, please see my website, Cheryl's China. I've also written several guides to travel in China so take a look at Cheryl's Guides. If you have questions about travel in China, please feel free to email me.