Sunday, November 18, 2012

Website changes

When I was a writer for Suite101, I wrote dozens of articles about China, frequently mentioning them on this blog with a link to the Suite site.

I no longer write for Suite and, at my request, the company deleted all my articles. The information contained in those articles is too good to just toss out, so I am gradually adding the ones on China to my website, Cheryl's China.

If you haven't checked my website out lately, please check back again...again...and again. Adding this content, plus other pages I'm working on at the same time, is a never-ending process. Right now, I'm updating once a week.

I've also added a Twitter feed to the home page. I tweet mainly about China, particularly interesting places to visit and news articles that I find interesting. Readers are always welcome to follow me @cherylprobst, but if you're following a lot of people, my China tweets could get lost in the shuffle. But they're all in one spot on my website.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Beijing: a valued city

Fun food in Beijing
I hate to say I told you so, but Lonely Planet has just recognized what I've been saying for years: Beijing is a top city for travel. The guidebook publishers just ranked Beijing as No. 5 on the top 10 cities in the world to visit in 2013.

The article states Beijing is the best value for culture, food and what your money will buy. It further adds, "China is on the cusp of true greatness and one day, people will look back and say it all started here."

Granted, Beijing does have a reputation as a very expensive city. That's because many foreigners think they have to stay at five-star hotels, such as the Peninsula Palace just off Wangfujing Street. I've been in the Palace - wow! - and been awed by the grandeur of the ladies' room. But I wouldn't want to stay there, not when there are so many nice two- and three-star hotels available in neighborhoods with personality throughout the city.

Two years ago, we stayed for two weeks in the Beijing Hutong Culture Inn, a two-star smack in the middle of the city's disappearing hutongs. I was out by 6-7 a.m. every day to explore the hutongs, which are at their most vibrant at that time as the Chinese stop at little hole-in-the-wall restaurants for breakfast before dropping their kids off at school or daycare and heading to work for the day.

And the food. The capital is filled with restaurants that serve wonderful food. Many foreigners eat only at their hotels or restaurants they're taken to on tours. The food there is expensive and most likely has been sanitized for Western tastes. It is far better to eat at neighborhood restaurants like the Chinese eat at, if you want to taste the real China.

Smaller restaurants may not have menus in English, but it's OK to point at what others are eating when you're ready to order. After the 2008 Olympics, more restaurants are using menus with pictures of the dishes; some may even have a loose translation in English. One thing for sure, eating in a neighborhood restaurant is certainly an adventure!

Beijing oozes culture, no matter how you define the word. If art is your bag, you'll want to visit the National Art Gallery (Meishuguan) that not only prominently displays Chinese artists but also the works of internationally famous artists. Families will enjoy the 798 art district in northeastern Beijing, where a whole electric plant has been converted into artists' studios, shops and restaurants. Even if you only stroll through the district, the outdoor sculptures alone make the trip worthwhile.

Concerts, theatre, handicraft markets and more all make Beijing a culture hot spot. Add to this looks into the past, at such attractions as the Forbidden City and Summer Palace.

Yes, Beijing is a valued city. What makes Beijing a valued city for you? Share your insight in the comments below.

Are you going to China?

If China is in your travel plans, check out Cheryl's China or email me if you have questions about traveling in the Middle Kingdom.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chinese in Madrid

This small shop is owned by
a family from Shanghai.
Madrid is about the last place I ever expected to speak Chinese, but I did.

The hotel where I stayed was just a short walk to a street that contained many small shops owned by Chinese people. I originally went to Calle de Leon to use an Internet cafe, and used two that were owned by Chinese. I also bought snacks several times at a small convenience store owned by a family from Shanghai, and one time struck up a conversation with a young woman working there that day. She was most surprised that I could speak her native language.

One thing I didn't come across though, at least in the neighborhood where I stayed, was a Chinese restaurant, though there were Japanese, Thai, Moroccan and American in addition to Spanish restaurants.

But there were many Chinese tourists at almost every attraction I visited, in stores and on the streets. I came across the most at the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), the third most-famous palace in Europe. I hadn't been planning to visit the palace, but then decided that going to Madrid and visiting the Palacio Real would be like going to Beijing and not visiting the Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City isn't one of my favorite places in Beijing, but I found I much preferred it to the Palacio Real, which I thought was overpriced for what you got to see.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your plans, check out Cheryl's China and email me if you have any questions about travel in the Middle Kingdom.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The language barrier

I was surprised to see
some signs in Chinese in Madrid.
Many people are intimidated by the Chinese language, that they won't be able to travel independently in China because they don't know Mandarin. They go to Europe instead, thinking they'll more easily find people who speak the English language.

I just got back from a week in Madrid. If I hadn't remembered basic phrases from my high school and college Spanish classes of 50 years ago, I'd probably still be wandering around the Madrid airport trying to find the exit.

For a major international city and world capital, I found the level of English to be appallingly lacking. It took me four trips before I figured out how to buy a subway ticket on my own -- the instructions were only in Spanish. I needed help after arriving at the airport, but no one at the two information booths I stopped at spoke English. My luggage didn't arrive when I did; the clerk at baggage services did have some English but getting the paperwork done was still a challenge. I was, therefore, quite surprised when my luggage was delivered to my hotel the next day.

My hotel was close to a Madrid tourist office. When I went there for assistance, again, no one spoke English. Since the hotel manager's English was limited to "Let me see your passport," I found the concierges at the nearby Westin Palace hotel to have the best spoken English. Even though I wasn't staying there, the concierge staff was quite helpful in getting me sorted out.

Even stopping people on the streets wasn't as useful in Madrid as it is in Beijing. More than once, I was told "I don't speak English," even though I was speaking Spanish. Of course, I speak Mexican Spanish while they speak Castillian; the words are the same, though the pronunciations are different in many cases.

I contrast this with Beijing where many people speak English, and even stop you on the street for an opportunity to practice English with you. Beijing's subways and buses have digital reader boards and make oral announcements in both Chinese and English. I never rode a bus in Madrid, but all subway announcements were in Spanish only.

One afternoon I took a tour to Toledo. The tour was billed for English speakers only, but the guide spent 75 percent of her time giving details in Spanish, even though there were no native Spanish speakers on board. I picked up enough of her Spanish spiel to know that what she was saying in Spanish was more detailed than her English translations.

I could go on and on about English in Madrid, you get the idea. You're in a foreign country, you need to speak their language to get along. I understand that, but a little help from the natives would be nice. After all, I am spending money in their country, money that could be easily spent in a country, like China, that is more user-friendly to non-native speakers.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your future, check out Cheryl's China for tips and recommendations on travel in the Middle Kingdom. Also feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yixing pottery

A Yixing tea pot
Tea pots made from a special clay found only in the Yixing area are famous throughout the world. That's because they make drinking tea so special.

The purple clay, known as zisha, absorbs the flavor of the tea. After awhile, you can make tea without having to use tea leaves! This is why it is so important to only use one flavor of tea. Serious tea drinkers in China reportedly use a different pot and cup for each flavor of tea they drink.

Caring for Yixing tea accessories is pretty easy. All you need to do is rinse the cups and pot in water. You never, ever wash them in soapy water. If you do, you'll be drinking soap-flavored tea!

Yixing has hundreds of tea and ceramics shops. It has a ceramics museum that gives the history of this special clay. You can even watch artisans handcrafting pots and cups just outside the grounds.

Yixing pottery comes in all styles and prices. You can pick up tea pots for 10-20 renminbi at Panjiayuan or Hongqiao in Beijing, but it's not recommended that you drink tea made in these pots because they may contain high lead content.  These pots are mainly for decorative purposes.

When I worked at China Daily in the 1990s, one of my co-workers bought Yixing pottery and sold it whenever he returned to the United States. An expert on the subject, he recommended not drinking tea from anything that cost less than $30 a set.

We visited Yixing several years ago. Our Chinese friends planned an overnight stop in Wuxi, a place I'd visited on my first trip to China in 1984. After a boat ride on the city's very scenic lake, we headed to a tea mall. The array of pots and cups was astounding. Our friends wanted to buy a tea set as an investment, and ended up paying the equivalent of $1,100 for one, even having their picture taken with the artist. The tea shop wouldn't bargain on the set, but did throw in a high-quality expensive set which our friends gave to us. The tiny cups have a half-moon on the bottom that expands to a full moon when tea is added.

The next morning we took a bus to Yixing where we bought more tea things, including a lovely bamboo tray to hold our new tea seat.

We returned to Shanghai by bus, a trip that took about three hours.

Are you going to China?

If China is in your travel plans, be sure to check out Cheryl's China and email me if you have any questions.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

New Chinese visa requirements

China has imposed additional requirements for Americans applying for a visa to visit the Middle Kingdom. Actually, it appears visa application requirements have changed for citizens of many other countries, so prospective visitors should check with the Chinese embassy in their home country for requirements.

Periodically, the Chinese government would require U.S. citizens to provide copies of hotel reservations and plane tickets, and sometimes letters of invitation to get a tourist (L) visa. This was mainly before major events in the country, such as the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing or the Shanghai World's Fair. Letters of invitation were pretty much always required to get business or work visas.

Now, the Chinese are requiring copies of all these documents all the time for Americans who want L visas. The letter of invitation can be provided by a tour company, institution or individual, but letters written by individuals require more information, including a copy of the inviter's ID card.

If there are any questions about the application and documents submitted, the Chinese government may require an interview with the applicant to clear up any issues.

Last year, the Chinese increased the visa application form from two to four pages, and went back to requiring people to apply for visas at the nearest consulate to their residence. For us, that is San Francisco, but because their staff is not as efficient as elsewhere, for the last few years, I've been using a visa service that works with the embassy in Washington, D.C.

The embassy's visa page explains the requirements in more details.

I'm guessing the new visa requirements will be harder on independent travelers than on those visiting China on organized tours, but only time will tell. The United States appeared to be easing visa applications restrictions for Chinese who want to visit this country, and now I'm wondering if that policy will tighten up again.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please check out my website, Cheryl's China, and feel free to leave a question in the comments below or email me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Youtiao" . . . yum!

If you love to sample street snacks, you'll love early mornings in China, when the Chinese converge on tiny restaurants for breakfast. Congee, steamed bread and dumplings are popular, but my favorite is always youtiao.

Youtiao are fried bread sticks that are available only in the morning. The dough is similar to our raised donuts, only minus the sugar glaze or frosting.

They're cheap (just pennies a bread stick) and filling. They also are very, very greasy, so if you're watching your cholesterol, you may want to pass on this tasty treat. They're best eaten straight from the frying pot. The cook usually hands them to you in a thin paper that does not absorb the grease, so it's helpful if you have tissue to wipe your fingers on with you.

I have been a fan of youtiao since my firstt rip to China in 1984. The tour was very structured and we had little free time after 7:30 a.m. Some of us took to hitting the streets about 6 a.m. to see the "real" China. We were in Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, when we spotted youtiao being made and just had to have one.

While other street snacks are available throughout the day, youtiao can only be found in the early morning hours. If you wait until 8 a.m. to look for some, you're probably out of luck.

Going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please check out Cheryl's China for tips, recommendations, guidebooks and more. Feel free to email me if you have questions about travel in China.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Made in China

It's difficult to buy gifts for our friends in China. That's because so many goods on sale here are made there. When I was looking in the infant department of a major department store (Macy's) to get ideas, I found something I really liked. The label said "Made in China." I asked the clerk what they had that wasn't made in China, and she replied, "nothing." I liked it, so I bought the item, though I felt a little bit like I was carrying coals to Newcastle when I mailed it.

It used to bother me a lot more. I can remember clipping off the Made in China labels on gifts for our Chinese friends, though I don't do this any more.

When they visited us in the United States last year, our Shanghai friends did what all tourists do on holiday: They shopped. Some of the things they bought - you guessed it! - were made in China.

They explained their decisions by saying the items were cheaper in the United States than what they'd pay at home and the quality was a lot better.

Chinese don't like to buy things that are made in China if they can help it. They much prefer to buy imported items, particularly if they come from the United States. When I lived there, I bought Chinese-made items, such as an iron and hair dryer. My friends got after me for this, saying the quality wasn't very good, but I never had any problems. In fact, I still have the hair dryer and take it with me when we go to China.

I will admit buying them was an experience. Clerks would open the boxes and test each item to see if it worked. They'd even do this with light bulbs, and it was amazing to see the difference in brightness for the same watt bulbs.

I used to laugh when I saw "Adiads" rather than "Adidas" on t-shirts. I laughed the hardest when I found a pair of athletic shoes in a street market that had Nike tops and Reebok bottoms. If they'd been my size, I probably would have bought them, and sometimes wish I'd bought them anyway because people don't believe me.

We recently watched a documentary, China Inside Out, which aired during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A good portion of it was devoted to the balance of trade between China and the United States. In 2007 alone, the United States imported $13 billion worth of athletic shoes made in China, according to broadcast journalist Bob Woodruff.  It was quite an interesting program, and I recommend watching it if you missed it when it originally aired.

Are you going to China?

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A baby is born

A Chinese mom-to-be's preparation for baby.
We received joyous news last week. A young Chinese woman I have known for almost 20 years gave birth to her first baby, a healthy boy, in Shanghai.

I first met the new mother when she was 12 years old; her parents asked me to tutor her in American English. She turned 30 years old just three weeks ago. We kept in touch over the years, seeing her and her family whenever we visited China. She's been to the United States twice to visit us.

Having a baby in China is a lot different than having a baby in the United States. For one thing, her husband says new fathers pass out hard boiled eggs to celebrate the baby's birth. This is much healthier than passing out cigars like new fathers do here, don't you think?

Another way having a baby in China is different is the red tape involved. Because
of China's one-child policy, prospective parents must get permission from local governments to have a baby. Then they can get pregnant. Our friend got pregnant first. Not good. They couldn't get permission to have the baby in Shanghai because they are not hukou for Shanghai.

I'm not sure I understand all that is involved in hukou, but it's like a permanent residency system. Even though our friends went to university in Shanghai, have lived there ever since and bought an apartment there, they are still considered temporary Shanghai residents. From what I understand, changing one's hukou is a process that takes many years, not something they could do in nine months. She still could have had the baby without this permission, but she would not have been able to have it in a hospital, and would get no official papers for the child, which meant he could never attend school or hold a decent job.

She is hukou for Beijing, and that's where she was finally able to get permission to have the baby.

The next step was getting accepted at a hospital that would provide the prenatal care and handle the birth. The application process included a personal interview. She was accepted at the second largest maternity hospital in Shanghai, which was her first choice because it is the closest to their home.

Once you get accepted at the hospital, then you have to decide the level of treatment you want. Basic care, which is paid for by the government, involves standing in long lines to get prenatal care. The other option was to pay the equivalent of several thousand U.S. dollars for care that put the mother-to-be at the head of the line and gave official notice of the baby's sex. Our friends opted to save the money, and would arrive at the hospital at 6 a.m. to avoid the lines; they were given an ultrasound picture of the baby, so they knew they were going to have a boy.

Modern Chinese mothers are breaking with tradition of returning to their parents' home for a few months while they recuperate from the birth and learn how to care for the infant. Modern parents are more mobile than their parents, and may live thousands of miles away, so many new mothers today opt to hire a nurse for the first month, according to a recent article in China Daily. Our friend had her nurse lined up several months ago and already has a babysitter lined up for when her maternity leave is over and she returns to work.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your plans, check out Cheryl's China, and feel free to email me with any questions you might have.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On becoming a Sinophile

On his first trip to China
My husband has become an unabashed Sinophile, which, as a macho motorcycle rider, is about the last thing I ever thought he'd turn into.

When we got married in 2002, I'd already spent two years working in Beijing and traveling around the Middle Kingdom, plus I'd been back to China twice since my last contract with China Daily ended in 1998. I was having withdrawal symptoms as it had been a couple of years since I'd been there, and proposed a trip for our first anniversary. He wasn't having any of it. No way he'd ever go to China, he declared, especially since the SARS epidemic was still going on (though in the waning days). Let's go somewhere else. So we went to London -- a city I'd visited several times before -- instead. He got sick the morning we were to return home and puked his guts out across the Atlantic. I told you we should have gone to China, I smirked.

Six months later, in the spring of 2004, I broached the subject again. I NEED to go to China, I told him. No way, he responded. OK, then, I'll go by myself. No way, he said. Never mind that before we were married, I'd spent 30 years traveling around the world by myself, and was perfectly capable of going to China again on my own. He reluctantly agreed to accompany me for a quick trip to Beijing, complaining all the way. Some good Chinese friends of mine met our late flight at the airport and got us settled into our hotel near the Chongwenmen subway stop. The next morning we took the subway to Tian'anmen Square, walking the length of it before touring the Forbidden City. His vocabulary that morning consisted of one word: awesome, and just a few hours later he was making plans for our next trip to China. And I thought you didn't want to come to China, I muttered to myself.

Two years later I returned to Beijing with three friends on a "ladies only" tour, and he complained because he wasn't invited. (Hey, sweetie pie, at least I didn't go by myself!)

He is the now driving force behind our trips to China and is pushing for us to live there for awhile. We're thinking about getting an apartment in Beijing and using it has a base as we travel around the country.

P.S. My husband has never gotten sick coming back from China, though it seems he barfs his way across the Atlantic coming back from every trip to Europe.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beijing Auto Show

The Beijing Auto Show is the capital's premier auto exhibition, at which auto makers make important announcements. This year's was no exception. Lamborghini, the Italian manufacturer of fast, expensive cars, announced it was going  to make a sports utility vehicle (SUV). The vehicle, as pictured in the article, sure didn't look like an SUV to me, but more like a jazzed up sedan.

I went to the Beijing Auto Show one year when I lived there. It was interesting to see all the cars made in China, including Jeep, Buick and Mercedes. Beautiful young Chinese women, in gorgeous clothing, adorned the cars, all except for one vehicle that I never thought to see at a car show. It was a tank, complete with guns.

I need see a couple of vehicles that I could have afforded. One was a Jeep, a vehicle that I have always wanted but could never afford at home. The Chinese-made Jeep cost about $4,000 new then. When I asked Chinese friends why it was so cheap, they told me it was very difficult to get parts and service work done in China. Regardless, if I had been brave enough to drive in Beijing traffic, I would have gotten one.

The other vehicle I liked was a tiny van that looked like a breadbox, but still had room for six or so people, making it popular for use as a taxi. I remember one night we got nine people in it. It was very crowded, of course, but it was late at night, and we'd already been waiting 20 minutes for a taxi and had no idea when the next one would come along.

The van was about half the size of one of our mini-vans, I wanted to stuff one in a suitcase and bring it home with me.

What's your favorite car?

Are you going to China?

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

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Special disount on VTT tours

Visual Travel Tours logo
Virtual Travel Tours, for whom I have written nine travel tours, is offering a special discount on tours they are selling; this includes the nine tours I've written for them since 2008.

These tours are downloadable either to your computer or to mobile media so you can use them to follow the tours as they are written. Here's a list of the tours on China I've written; the top two are my best sellers.
  •  China’s Great Wall: walking on history. This tour covers several sites, mostly in the Beijing area, on the Great Wall. The Great Wall is probably the number one attraction visitors to the Middle Kingdom want to see.
  • Imperial Beijing: Tiananmen, Forbidden City, Jingshan. This walking tour starts at the south end of Tiananmen Square, moves north to the Forbidden City and ends at Jingshan Park with a climb up Coal Hill for a view overlooking the Forbidden City.
  • Cuandixia: China’s village that time forgot was the inspiration for my ebook, Cuandixia: an ancient mountain village in China. I've been to Cuandixia twice and will go again. It's a great day trip out of Beijing.
  • Beijing for kids, a tour which resulted in the much-expanded Parents Guide to Beijing, which is available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle
  • A walk through Beijing’s past which covers Beihai Park, Beijing’s most popular park that was once an imperial playground, and the hutongs, Beijing’s unique housing that is fast disappearing.
  • Western Beijing: boats, blooms and boots is a tour that takes in the Summer Palace with its marble boat, the Beijing Botanical Gardens and Fragrant Hills Park for a hike in the mountains.
  • Beijing: finding peace and quiet is a list of places you can visit when you’re overwhelmed by the crowds at the most popular tourist attractions. Because they aren't as crowded, they're some of my favorite places to visit in Beijing.
My non-China tours for VTT include:
  • Maryhill: Guarding the Columbia River Gorge. Maryhill is a fabulous eclectic museum that sits on a high gorge in Washington State overlooking the Columbia River. It was the first museum I ever visited and, hundreds of museums later, remains my favorite museum. Museum holdings include an astounding collection of Rodin art, dozens of chess sets from around the world, an amazing collection of Pacific Northwest Indian artifacts, and a replica of the British Stonehenge.
  • British Motorcycle Museums. This tour covers five of the top motorcycle museums in England, including the world's largest at Birmingham. If you're into British bikes, you'll need this. I had so much information left over after I wrote this tour, I expanded it into Motorcycle Museums of the United Kingdom, which includes information on more than three dozen museums in the UK that have motorcycles. It is available on Amazon Kindle.
VTT is offering a 10 percent discount on my tours purchased directly from their site.  The discount also is available on all tours they offer, but you must use this special promotional code, clp20, to get the discount.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please check out Cheryl's China, my new website which is getting rave reviews. If you have questions about travel in China, especially Beijing, please feel free to email me.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Slide shows on China

Opening slide on Buddhist cave art
One of the things I like about my new Cheryl's China website is the ability to easily add slide shows. So far, I've done one on sites I've visited on the Great Wall of China and another on snack foods that can be found at the Wangfujing night food market in Beijing.

I'm working on another right now called Buddhist cave art. It's primarily about the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, but does have a few photos of Thousand Buddha Hill outside of Jinan which I visited on my first trip to China in 1984.

Buddhist cave art is fascinating, with carvings of statues ranging from a couple of inches tall to tens of feet high. Cave art may be a slight misnomer as the unique statues are carved into a hillside in such a manner they look like they are in caves. Cave art flourished in the 5th and 6th centuries. Much of the cave art is deteriorating from being exposed to the elements for so long, but what remains is quite impressive and worth a visit.

While Thousand Buddha Hill has only a thousand Buddhas carved into a hillside, Longmen has more than 100,000 statues of Buddha and his disciples. It is a particularly scenic setting alongside the Yi River about nine kilometers from central Luoyang.

More slide shows are on the drawing board, so check my website frequently. I have around 25,000 photos of China, so I've got a lot to choose from.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, be sure to check out my website, Cheryl's China. If you have questions about traveling in China, especially Beijing, feel free to email me. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chinese food

Barbecued park  from a recipe in one of my cookbooks.
People love Chinese food! If I didn't know it before, I'd know it now as those pages are the most viewed on my new Cheryl's China website.

One reader even told me the website should carry a warning that reading my food pages will make you hungry!

So today I added another page to the foods section. It's on the Chinese cookbooks that I use most often to prepare authentic dishes at home.

I usually cook a Chinese dish for dinner once or twice a week, because my husband and I both like the foods that we ate in China and can't find back in the United States.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your planes, check out my newly remodeled and expanded website, Cheryl's China. And please feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China, especially the Beijing area.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Introducing the new Cheryl's China

Introducing the new Cheryl's China website.

My new website is finally up! It's been about a year in the making, due to several disastrous starts and other problems encountered along the way. You don't want to know about them. Honest. Trust me on this.

The new Cheryl's China represents a major overhaul of the website I originally put up on 1999, which was only 10 pages. The last Cheryl's China was 14 pages, but was two separate websites cobbled together, because the software I designed my site in only allowed 10 pages per site. It also was very time-consuming to update, so it didn't get updated very often.

All this changed with the new Cheryl's China. It's about 40 pages now. Since it is easier to update this site, I plan to add new pages periodically, so you'll want to check back often.

This website is heavy on Beijing travel. I lived in the Chinese capital for two years and that is where we most often go when we return to China. However, I've been to a lot of other places in China, and I'll be adding information on them as time passes.

The section on Chinese food is getting rave reviews from viewers so far. I love to take pictures of the food we eat, and it was difficult to pick out my favorite food photos -- I have hundreds of them.

Please take a look at Cheryl's China.

And, remember, if you have questions about traveling in China, especially Beijing, please feel free to email me or leave a comment below.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flying into China

Flying over China
It's frequently dark when we fly into China, but on our last trip it was daylight as we ended our long flight from San Francisco into Beijing.

For the last half hour or so, I kept my eyes glued to the window, hoping to get a glimpse of the Great Wall. From research I did for an article, I know it can't be be seen from outer space, despite what others may claim. Well, it might be, according to NASA, if the timing and lighting are right and you know just where to look; otherwise, it's like trying to find a single strand of hair from two miles away. According to the space agency, apparently an astronaut did see it one time, but didn't know what he was looking it. Even satellite photos don't show it.

I honestly thought my chances of seeing it on a descent from 35,000 feet would be better. They weren't. I could pick out roads and rivers, but, alas, no Great Wall. Unless, of course, I blinked at the exact moment we passed over it.

Oh, well, I'll keep trying. Maybe one of these trips.

Have you seen the Great Wall when flying into Beijing? If so, please leave a comment.

Are you going to China?

If China, especially Beijing,  is in your travel plans, check out my website, Cheryl's China, or feel free to email me with any questions.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Are you a Dragon?

The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animals, including the rabbit, dog, pig, rat and the dragon. Monday the Asian world celebrates the Lunar New Year. In the Chinese zodiac, it will be the Year of the Dragon. It has been 12 years since the last Year of the Dragon and it will be another 12 years before the next Year of the Dragon.That's because the animals rotate annually.

People who were born in a Year of the Dragon will have good luck this year. It doesn't mean they won't have good luck, in say the Year of Pig, but legend says their luck will be even better in years of their birth animal.

Certain personality traits are associated with people born under an animal's sign. Characteristics of a Dragon personality include non-conformity, flexibility, lacking tact, conceited and being quick-tempered. Dragons also like their solitude. They make good lawyers, engineers and politicians. Does this describe you? You can read more about the Year of the Dragon personality on Chinese horoscopes.

I was born in the Year of the Dog. What year were you born in?

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 China.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New York Times China picks

While places in Asia rated highly on the New York Times list of places to visit in 2012, only two locations in China made the list.

The newspaper's annual list starts with Panama and circles the globe, even including space this year. As a region, places in Asia received numerous mentions, including Vietnam, Myanmar, Japan, China and Malaysia.

The first place in China to make the list was Lhasa, Tibet, which came in at No. 9, but apparently not for its rich Buddhist history or its stunning scenery. The Times' reasons for visiting Tibet started with listing the new luxury hotels the city boasts. While I have no problem with staying in luxury hotels, I doubt most travelers base their decision on where to visit based on accommodations, but rather choose their destinations based on cultural, historic or artistic features, cuisine or maybe just a desire to learn more about a destination.

Unfortunately, staying in a luxury hotel in Lhasa is not something I have to worry about, nor will I have to worry about staying in a no-star hotel there. As much as I would love to visit Lhasa, I can't because I do not handle high altitudes very well.

Moganshan was the other listing for China. The reason for visiting the mountain resort again started with luxury hotels; I noticed this was the case for many Third World countries. The blurb also noted that Moganshan, which is about a three-hour drive from Shanghai, was a former hideout for Shanghai gangsters back in the 1920s.

Are you going to China?

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

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Beijing Musuem Pass

A bell at the Big Bell Temple
If you're going to be in Beijing for more than a few days and like off-the-beaten path attractions, as I do, the Beijing Museum Pass could be just what you're looking for.

Major international cities like Seattle and Paris have city passes that are good for one to three days of admissions to a city's major attractions. To get your money's worth, you have to rush around to a lot of museums.

Not so with the Beijing Museum Pass. You've got a whole year to use it. And, unlike the other city passes where each person has to buy one, the Beijing pass is good for free or discounted admissions for one, two or more people.

The 2012 pass covers 115 museums, art galleries and other tourist attractions; you can even use it to go strawberry picking.

The pass only makes sense if you're going to be in Beijing a week or longer, or are making a return visit to the Chinese capital. If you're on your first visit to Beijing, you need to see the major attractions: Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, etc. The pass does not cover these major sites. Instead, it covers admissions to lesser known sites, some of which are among my favorites in Beijing, such as the White Dagoba Temple at Beihai Park, the Ancient Bell Museum at the Great Bell Temple, Drum and Bell towers, and Soong Ching Ling House.

Some museums allow free admission for up to two people, others allow half-price admission or similar discounts. The packet also comes with tickets to museums that are free to begin with, but having this ticket means you don't have to stand in line to get the free tickets.

The Beijing Museum Pass for 2012 costs 120 yuan (approximately $19) and, sponsors say, represents a savings of 2,500 yuan (approximately $400)  if you were to visit each museum in the program. Of course, only a tiny percent of people will actually do that.  But two people only have to visit five or six museums for the pass to pay for itself.

The pass, known as bowuguan, can be purchased at post offices in Beijing.

Pair the museum pass with an yikatong, available at subway stations, and you're all set to see the sights of Beijing. This is a pass that allows you to move around on Beijing's subway and bus systems. You don't save any money on subway rides, but do get a slight discount on bus rides. The main benefit to the yikatong is you don't have to stand in line to buy subway tickets or worry about how much bus fare will be -- Beijing buses charge fares based on distance. We've used yikatongs on our last two trips to Beijing, and they are really convenient.

Are you going to China?

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