Tuesday, November 26, 2013

China's innovative architecture

The Bird's Nest now seems tame.
The Chinese are becoming known for their innovative architecture. Of 15 buildings around the world singled out for their curvy architecture in a recent CNN article, three were from China. China was the only country to place three buildings on the list.

For many years now, I've thought that Shanghai had innovative architecture, but not one building from China's largest city made the list. The buildings that did were in Beijing, Changsha and Dalian.

In Beijing, Wangjing SOHO office resemble is said to resemble two traditional Chinese fans that are said to represent health, wealth, luck and happiness. Even the parking garage is curvy, as show by the architect's rendering. The building will be completed in 2014.

Just looking at the pedestrian bridge in Changsha can make a person dizzy, but I think it would be cool to walk across it. The bridge across the Meixi Lake (I think it resembles a canal more than a lake) is like a Mobius strip, i.e., never ending with its end connecting to the beginning. Construction on the bridge is expected to start next year.

I'm not sure how to describe the new library in Dalian, other than it's pretty curvaceous with what appears to be a book sitting on top. It sort of reminds me of a very upscale hospital bedpan.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to the Middle Kingdom, be sure to check out Cheryl's China for recommendations on what to see and how to get around the country. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions about traveling in China.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

U.S. ambassador to China leaving

Bad hair day at the Forbidden City
In what is sure to be a loss for both the U.S. and Chinese governments, the word is out that Gary Locke is stepping down as U.S. ambassador to the Middle Kingdom.

Locke, who has been ambassador since 2011, reportedly plans to rejoin his family in Washington State where he served two terms as governor. He also put in a stint as secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Locke is a first-generation American who has close family ties to South China where his father and grandfather were born. His Chinese name is Luo Jia Wei. Because of this heritage he has been immensely popular with the Chinese.

His popularity with the Chinese goes back at least a couple of decades. I remember in 1997, when I was living and working in Beijing, I traveled to South China.

One of my stops was Chengdu in Sichuan Province. When I went to tour the provincial museum, a banner hung across the entrance welcoming then-Gov. Locke to the museum. (He'd come and gone by the time I got there.) The museum was closed because of electrical problems, but when staff found out I also was from Washington State, they immediately allowed me to enter and look over the first floor, which was an exhibit of centuries-old Han sculptures. Unfortunately, there was insufficient light to see the exhibit very well.

From Chengdu, I eventually made my way to Guiyang in Guizhou Province. One morning I decided to visit the zoo to see the pandas. I met a retired man who was on his way to play badminton with his buddies, but opted to show me around the zoo when he found out I worked for China Daily. He grew even more excited when he learned I was from Washington and wanted to know if I knew Gov. Locke. Only by name, I told him.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please check out Cheryl's China, which has tips and recommendations to help plan a  better trip. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

China ranks high on 2014 best places for travel

A Shanghai shopping mall
Lonely Planet has selected two places in China that it says are among THE best places to visit in 20114.

Lonely Planet (LP) ranked Shanghai No. 6 on its top 10 cities to visit in 2014 because it is "coming of age." LP called China the world's industrial motor, then said Shanghai is "China's high-performance V-8."

The travel guide publisher notes China's largest city is expanding its subway system, which had only three lines in 2000. Its 16th line, a high-speed line, will open in 2014 at 59 kilometers (36.6 miles) long. And when the 121-story Shanghai Tower opens next year, it will be the tallest building in China and the world's second highest. The article further notes that citizens of 45 countries can visit China visa-free for up to 72 hours on stop-overs to other international destinations.

Paris was tapped as the No. 1 city to visit. Others on the list include Cape Town, South Africa; Trinidad, Cuba, and Vancouver, Canada.

Hunan Province ranked No. 9 on the travel guide's best regions to visit in 2014; Sikkim, India, was named the best region.

The guidebook publisher called Hunan, where Chairman Mao was born, "China's next best thing." Party officials are pushing for it to become a hot tourist destination. Infrastructure to make this happen includes high-speed trains, improved air service and super highways. Hunan boasts the world's tallest skyscraper, Sky City, that is about 30 feet higher than Dubai's Burj Khalifa. Plus, Changsha, the province's major city, is getting its first subway system in 2014.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Li River: a good one for travelers

The Li River, in South China, ranks as one of the 15 best rivers in the world to travel on.

The river, which links the towns of Guilin and Yangshuo, ranked No. 14. The Amazon River was No. 1, while Russia's Volga River was No. 15, according to the CNN article. Many tourists like to ride a bamboo raft between the two, viewing stunning karst formations along the way. Others like to bike along the river.

China's most famous river is the Yangtze, closely followed by the Yellow River, but the Li River is becoming more well known all the time.

CNN made the ranking based on nature and wildlife, scenic beauty, culture, adventure and activity options, such as rafting and biking.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, check Cheryl's China, my website about travel in China for tips and suggestions. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Qufu: Home of Confucius

The Confucius temple grounds in 1984
The Confucius temple in Qufu, the town where the ancient Chinese philosopher was born and died,  tops a CNN list of 15 ancient and unknown ruins in the world.

Confucius was born there in 551 BC and died there in 479 BC. He was buried on the banks of the River Si and a temple built in his honor. Over the centuries, a cemetery has grown up around his grave; more than 100,000 members of the Kong family, his descendants, are buried there. The article notes the Kong Family Mansion contains relics and monuments to Confucius.

A proud Qufu mom
I visited Qufu on my very first visit to China back in 1984. It was one of the highlights of that trip. We stayed in a small hotel in the Confucius compound and walked over the temple grounds. We played ping pong - ping pong diplomacy was a big deal back then. I went for a walk though the city and snapped this picture of a Chinese mom and her toddler. It was my favorite photo of the whole trip. We took a bus ride through the cemetery and came upon a funeral taking place. Our guide urged us to leave the bus and join the mourners and was mystified we felt this was a private occasion, not another public attraction.

Qufu is located in Shandong Province, between Jinan and Nanjing, two other cities that I visited on this tour for American journalists.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, check out Cheryl's China for tips and suggestions of things to do. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China. Or, you can leave a comment below this post.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2 of world's most visited museums are in China

Surprisingly, the Forbidden City is not on list of world's most-visited museums.
Two museums in Beijing get enough visitors every year to place them in the top 20 of the world's most visited museums, according to a report on museum attendance from Themed Entertainment Attractions.

A summary article, published on CNN, lists the Louvre in Paris as the world's most visited museum, with 9.5 million visitors in 2012. Coming in at No. 14 was the National Museum of China, located on Tiananmen Square. The museum,  opened in 2003, combines the National Museum of Chinese History and the National Museum of the Chinese Revolution.  No. 19 was the Geological Museum of China, which turns 100 years old in 2016.

I was surprised the Forbidden City, which gets as many as 20,000 visitors a day (more on holidays) wasn't on the list. Also missing was the Great Wall of China, the world's longest outdoor museum. There must have been a good reason for this, like maybe they didn't keep proper records. If you've ever been to the Palace Museum, as the Forbidden City is officially known, you'd quickly put them on this list.

No. 12 on the list was the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, which contains the possessions of PuYi, the toddler who was China's last emperor.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your travel plans, check out Cheryl's China, my website that is filled with tips and suggestions for your travel to the Middle Kingdom.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Two Chinese sites make 'beautiful' list

Cormorants in Tongli
Two locations in China are among those CNN identified as 31 beautiful sights on this incredible planet.

No. 5 on the list is cormorant fishing in China while Fenghuang is No. 13.

The article suggests drifting down the scenic Nanxi River in Zhejiang Province as the best way to see cormorant fishing where fishermen use these birds to catch fish. The birds dive off a boat into the water and come back up with a fish. We saw this demonstrated in a canal when we visited Tongli, a water town an hour's drive from Shanghai. Wenzhou is the nearest big city for those wanting to drift the river in a bamboo boat.

Fenghuang is an old town in Hunan Province that is popular with backpackers, the article notes.The 1,300-yer-old town was made popular in a Chinese novel, Frontier City. The small town only ha about 200 houses, 10 alleys and 20 streets. It sounds like the type of place I'd like to spend a few hours just walking around. Daily bus service is available from the provincial capital of Changsha.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Plan early for travel to China

If you're planning a trip to China, be sure to leave plenty of time to get your visa. The Chinese government is increasing the time to process visa applications from five days to 15 days on September 1, according to this article in China Daily. Apparently the immigration folks want more time to verify the information on the application.

The good news in the article is that the Chinese may be lowering the cost of visas for citizens of some countries, including the United States. The visa fee is now $140. I frankly can't see them lowering it that much because the Chinese practice reciprocity -- they charge the same fees for foreign visitors that another country charges Chinese citizens to visit that country.

Other new visa requirements went into effect July 1, though apparently aren't being implemented until September 1.


This article , by a law firm with offices in China and the United States, offers an excellent appraisal of the Chinese visa situation by comparing the old and the new visa regulations.

The main change for tourist visas is dropping the requirement for airline and hotel reservations to be included with the visa application. An itinerary will still be required and reservations may be requested from some applicants.

Are you going to China?

If China is in your travel plans, check out Cheryl's China, my website that is loaded with ideas and tips to help make your trip more enjoyable.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Two Chinese cities deemed unfriendly

Two cities in China made the list of the world's top 20 unfriendliest cities;: Guangzhou and Shenzhe, both in South China, The list was drawn up by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and based on a reader survey, with a summary article published on CNN. Some 46,000 people participated in the magazine's annual survey.

Guangzhou, capital of Guandong Province, ranked No. 14, while Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, was rated No. 11. Newark, New Jersey, was named the world's unfriendliest city by travelers; seven other U.S. cities were on the list.

No city in China made a companion list of the world's friendliest cities, while Charleston, South Carolina, was the only U.S. city on this list; it ranked at No. 5.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tips for trippin' in China

Flying over China
Getting away for a few days or even a few weeks provides a break in the daily routine and is always exciting, especially whether the destination is China or any other place you’ve never been before. Vacations, however, can turn into disasters, ruining even the best-laid plans. Travelers can cut the risk of disaster happening by taking a few precautions.

Protect Your Legal Papers

While most travelers don’t travel with a lot of legal papers, it is important to protect the legal documents you do have. It is extremely important to protect your passport, as getting it replaced internationally can be expensive and time-consuming if a consulate or embassy isn’t handy. (This is the voice of experience talking here!) Make copies of the passport’s front page. Put one in your luggage and give others to your traveling companions. Scan the front page and email it to yourself at an account that can be accessed anywhere in the world.  Having a copy will make it easier to get a replacement passport and may be the only proof of who you are should your purse or wallet be stolen. Follow the same procedure for any current visas in the passport.

Learn the Lingo

Learning a few words in the language of the country you’ll be visiting makes a good impression on locals. At the very minimum, travelers should know how to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you. Your pronunciation may not be spot-on, but the locals will like it that you’re trying. Even if the only word you speak in Mandarin is “ni hao,” which means hello, the Chinese will compliment you on your ability to speak Chinese even if you’ve bungled the Mandarin pronunciation. The Internet makes it easy to learn new languages through online classes and tutorials. The classes, or at least a few lessons, are generally free. Whenever I’m planning a visit to China, I always sign up for a free course to refresh my language skills.

Know Before You Go 

China is safer for travelers than other countries, but no country is completely crime-free. At a minimum, take the same precautions to protect yourself that you would at home. Stay in areas that are well lit at night; don’t venture out alone in the middle of the night. Leave expensive jewelry at home as it’s a magnet for muggers. Don’t flash wads of cash around; only keep handy what you’ll need for that day.  Wear the rest in a money belt or withdraw from an ATM as you need it; be sure to tell your bank you’re traveling abroad so it won’t deny withdrawals in China. Beware of pickpockets; some are so smooth in parting you and your valuables, you may not know you’ve been victimized until long after the fact.

Travelers who use common sense and take basic precautions are more apt to have a trouble-free holiday.
Are you going to China?
If you're planning  trip to China, check out my website, Cheryl's China, for tips and recommendations. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Two China sites rank among world's top engineering projects.

The Great Wall at Simatai
Two places in China are on a list of the world's top 25 greatest engineering feats: the Great Wall and Shanghai World Financial Center.

The list, compiled by CNN, places the Great Wall in third position. Stretching 5,500 miles across northern China from Jiayuguan in the west to Shanhaiguan in the east where it ends at the Bohai Sea, the Great Wall is undoubtedly one of early man's greatest engineering feats. it is a feat that would be almost impossible to duplicate today because of governmental regulations, including environmental impact statements.  The CNN article names Badaling as the best site to visit, primarily because it is the easiest to get to. It is also the most crowded, though there are ways of avoiding the crowds.

Something new that I learned about the Great Wall from the article is that the mortar holding the bricks together is made from rice flour.

No. 15 on the list is the Shanghai World Financial Center, a trapezoid-shaped building that is 101 stories high. It was the tallest building in China when it was completed in 2008. It is nicknamed "the bottle opener" because that's what it looks like due to a hole in the top that cuts down on wind.

Other places on the list include the International Space Station, the London subway system, Hoover Dam and the Panama Canal.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Travel tips contest winner!

Beijing's Forbidden City
Coping with the language barrier can present problems when it comes to getting around a Chinese city when you don't read or speak the language.

One way solo traveler Aleah handles this is to take a picture of her hotel to show taxi drivers when she's ready to return home after a day of sightseeing. Her tip was deemed the most helpful for first-time travelers to China by the panel of judges in last month's travel tips contest. Aleah wins a walking tour of Imperial Beijing on CD and a PDF copy of my best-selling China Travel Tips ebook.

An alternative to searching for the hotel photo is to carry the hotel's business card with you. One side is in English, the other side in Chinese. The Chinese side frequently includes a small map.

Honorable mention goes to Jean Ash, who offered several tips, one of which I'd wished I known when I was traveling in South China many years ago. Jean says to make sure you have plenty of yuan (Chinese money) before heading out to smaller cities. While these places normally won't be as expensive as Beijing or Shanghai, you may not be able to find ATMs that take foreign cards or banks that will change your money. I remember needing money in a small (one million people being small for China!) on Sunday. Banks were open, but as I was told, they only accept money on Sundays, not give it out, which they would be doing in an exchange. I finally ended up going to a major hotel and lying about being a guest there so I could change money.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your travel plans, please visit my website, Cheryl's China, for tips and recommendations, or email me if you have any questions.

Friday, May 31, 2013

China's Beidaihe on list of top 100 world beaches

Beidaihe in 1997
Beidaihe, a beach in northeast China, just made CNN's list of the 100 best  beaches in the world. Beidaihe ranked No. 60. It's a summer resort for top Chinese officials and is also popular with Russian tourists.

It's a couple of hours by fast train from Beijing.

I visited Beidaihe in 1997 when I was working as a foreign expert copy editor for China Daily. The Foreign Experts Bureau decided August in Beijing was too hot for foreigners, so they treated foreign experts throughout Beijing to a week in Beidaihe. We had to pay 100 yuan, then the equivalent of about $8, for the trip. This included round-trip train fare, hotel room, three meals a day and sightseeing throughout the area. We foreign experts pretty much got the red-carpet treatment during that trip. I remember seeing miles of roadblocks, with police standing every few yards on each side of the road,  to keep traffic off the roads as our buses were passing through.

The hotel was just a couple of minutes' walk from the beach, which was crammed with thousands of sunseekers and umbrellas. I promptly dubbed it Hawaii of the East, though that name now better applies to Hainan Island in South China. I was surprised Hainan did not make the list, though another of my favorite beaches, Bandon, Oregon, did make the top 100 beaches in the world.

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.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

China Travel Tips contest

Prize for the best travel tip
When you learn someone you know is going to China, a place you’ve traveled to, what is the first thing you tell them?

Do you tell them about the food? The language? How to get around?

Now that you’ve been to China, what is the one thing you wished you had known about before you went?

I like travel tips for China, so much I’ve written an ebook filled with my favorite tips. Now I’d like to know what your favorite tips are.

List your favorite travel tip in the comment section below. Whoever gives me the best tip by May 15 wins a copy of Imperial Beijing, a podcast I did for VisualTravelTours.com as well as a PDF copy of my book, China Travel Tips. Imperial Beijing is a CD of photos and text about Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. You can watch it on your computer or on your TV if you a DVD player.

By entering this contest, you give me permission to use your China travel tip in my book. If I use your tip, I’ll send you $2, give you credit for the tip in the book, and send you a PDF copy of it.

Please include your email address in your comment, so I’ll know how to get in touch with you.
If you can't wait until the contest is over to get this walking tour of Beijing, you can buy it now from Visual Travel Tours. Use code cp20 to get a discount on this or any other tour.
Are you going to China?
If a trip to China is in your travel plans, check out my website, Cheryl's China, or feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Travel tips gets new look

China travel tips has a new look. I recently redesigned the cover of my best selling ebook for Amazon Kindle.  The picture is the same. On the old cover, the picture was the whole cover, now it is an integral part of the cover.

The cover wasn't the only thing to get a redesign. I also added several tips to make your trip to China run smoother. At the same time, I expanded on a lot of the old tips.

The book is available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99.

Other ebooks on China include Beijing day-by-day, my latest; DIY Beijing, Parents Guide to Beijing and Cuandixia.

My other books are Motorcycle Museums of the United Kingdom, Yellowstone on a motorscooter, and Maryhill, a Washington museum that is my favorite in the whole world.

Are you going to China?

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

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Beijing day by day

Beijing day by day: Building a better visit is my newest eguide, published just this week on Amazon Kindle.

It contains seven suggested itineraries on how to allocate your time in Beijing. Actually, you can fill more than seven days, since one itinerary suggests three day trips, each of which requires a full day to do, outside of Beijing. Plus another Beijing itinerary can be broken down into two days for visitors who have extra time and interest.

The itineraries are not in any special order of importance. I've tried to group them by geographic location, to cut down on travel time spent in Beijing traffic. I like to use public transportation in Beijing, because it's cheap and efficient, so I've listed subway stops and bus numbers to get to each site. I also say when it's more efficient to take taxis, but there's no reason people can't take taxis to all the sites. Open hours at the attractions also are included.

The book is targeted for independent travelers who need assistance planning their itineraries as well as travelers who are taking advantage of Beijing's new visa-free status of 72 hours as a stopover on international flights.

Beijing day by day retails for $2.99 in the Amazon Kindle store. A list of my other guidebooks and podcasts can be found on my Amazon author page. The list includes DIY Beijing, Parents Guide to Beijing, and Cuandixia: an ancient mountain village.

Are you going to China?

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

Friday, January 25, 2013

Wow! This is a crowd!

This Forbidden City statue seems
to be saying, "80.000 people?
You've got to be  kidding!"
Two people may be company, but 80,000? Now that's a crowd!

In researching for my next Beijing guide, I came across an interesting statistic. Officials at the Forbidden City reserve the right to close admissions any day that 80,000 people have passed through the gates. 80,000 people? Oh my gosh! That's almost as many people who lived in Bloomington, Indiana; Troy, Michigan, or Bellingham, Washington, in 2010. Those cities came in at just over 80,000 residents each in the last U.S. Census.

The Forbidden City gets lots of visitors, that's for sure. It averaged 10,000 a day on weekdays and 20,000 on weekends when I lived there. It gets 36 million visitors a year, which works out to approximately 10,000 a day. Even then, there were so many people, you had to spend a lot of time waiting in line to peek through the doors in the main halls. I cannot even begin to imagine how crowded it would be with 80,000 people. The article did note the limitation was pretty much limited to holidays, but still...

I have been unable to verify this statistic, so if anyone can, would you please leave a comment? Xiexie. (That's "thank you" in Mandarin.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your plans, check out my website, Cheryl's China, for tips and suggestions on what to do for your trip. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in China.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Two places to visit in China

Most people visit China to
see the Great Wall, but the
New York Times says wine
 in Ningxia and skiing in
Changbaishan are also
good to visit.
Every January, the New York Times publishes a list of places they think people should visit in the coming year. Two places in China are named in this year's article, The 46 places to go in 2013: Ningxia, at No. 20, and Changbaishan, at No. 27.

Ningxia is in western China and is a place I've always wanted to visit, but the closest I've been to it is Baotou in Inner Mongolia, on a day trip I made from Hohhot. The terrain between Baotou and Hohhot reminded me of eastern Montana, but Ningxia is even more desert-like. The Chinese are working hard to reclaim the desert and turn it into arable farm land. The reclaimed desert in Ningxia has been planted with cabernet sauvignon grapes that are turning the province into a major wine region in China. According to the Times article, the Chinese want to become the Bordeaux, France, of China, and this is why you should visit Ningxia. Ningxia is 550 miles from Beijing and not on the ordinary tourist path; maybe the grapes will put it on the map. Ningxia is one place I've always wanted to visit, but for cultural reasons other than wine.

Changbaishan is a major new upscale ski resort in northeast China's Jilin Province near the border with North Korea. Skiing is becoming more popular in China all the time. Some $3.2 billion has been invested in Changbaishan, making it one of the largest ski resorts in China, with 20 miles of trails. The article didn't say how the skiing was, however.

Of course, there was more reasons to visit China than wine and skiing, but these choices indicate how westernized China has become in the last few decades. Forty years ago, during the "cultural revolution" these activities would have been decadent unthinkable.

Are you going to China?
If your travel plans include China in 2013, check out Cheryl's China for recommendations and tips. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about travel in the Middle Kingdom.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Visa-free entry to China

Forbidden City in Beijing
Effective January 1, new transit visa rules went into effect for visitors to Beijing and Shanghai. Visas will not be required for U.S. citizens who stop over in China's two most important cities for stays of 72 hours or less. The rule only applies to air travelers with tickets leaving China within that time. Travelers must land at Beijing's Capital Airport or Shanghai's Pudong and Hongqiao airports and show ongoing tickets when they land.

Passengers who want to stay longer or who have China as their final destination will be required to have visas that must be obtained in advance as China does not issue visas at ports of entry.

The rule change is good news for travelers bound for other countries in that part of the world. Flying from the United States to China is long and tiring, even if you're leaving from the West Coast; imagine how tiring it is to fly straight through to other Asian and South Pacific destinations.. A stopover in Beijing gives travelers a chance to rest up before continuing their journeys and see a little of China as a bonus.

Seventy-two hours is enough time to see the major highlights of Beijing, such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. It is not enough time to really get to know Beijing or Shanghai, but it is better than not going at all.

Travelers should check with airlines to see if stopovers this long are allowed without charge.

There are two other instances when China does not require U.S. citizens to have visas: the travelers belong to organized tour groups visiting Hainan Ptovince and the Pearl River Delta region (Guangzhou) for short trips.

Is China in your 2013 travel plans?

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