Saturday, December 20, 2014

Marines sent horse soldiers to China

Photos at Museum
 of the Horse Soldier
Though they rode camels in Tripoli in 1805, the Marines rode horses elsewhere around the world, from Africa to Latin America. They are best known, however, for their duty in China in the first half of the 20th century.

The Horse Marines served to protect Americans in and around the embassy in Peking (Beijing), the international community in Shanghai and the legation at Tientsin (Tianjin) from 1909 to 1938. This protection of U.S. citizens became especially important after the incident at Marco Polo Bridge in July 1937 as the Japanese began their attach on Beijing.

These horse soldiers were mainly from the 4th Marines; all were experts at using sabers and rifles. At one time, there were 1,500 Marines serving in the Horse Marines.  The horses they rode were ponies from Mongolia, because they were short and sturdy, perfect for riding around the Chinese countryside.

The China Marines, as these horse soldiers were called, disbanded in March 1938 at a review ceremony at Breckenridge Field in Peking.

Pictures of the Horse Marines in China can be found on a wall mounting at the Museum of the Horse Soldier in Tucson.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Chinese in southern Arizona history

A photo of two Chinese men
at the Arizona History Museum
The Chinese played a small part in the develop-
ment of Arizona.

Following a grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence theory, many of China’s young men immigrated to the United States during the California Gold Rush of 1849.
Their families sent them across the Pacific Ocean in hopes they’d strike it rich in California, and return home with trunks full of money. It didn’t happen this way. Other Chinese ended up in Arizona after entering North America at a Mexican seaport and then making their way across the Sonora Desert.

With gold rush excitement running high, California passed a law banning Mexicans and Asians from mining; still, the young men stayed in this country. Many chose to move eastward, and ended up working in mining camps in southern Arizona, until the territorial legislature banned Chinese from working in mines in 1878.  Then they turned to helping build the railroad through Arizona. When the railroad was finished, they stayed on, starting their own businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores and laundries, or turned to farming, growing food for Tucson’s burgeoning population.
Boothill in Tombstone

The federal census for 1880 showed more than 1,600 Chinese were living in Pima County, which includes Tucson. Tombstone, about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, also had a few Chinese residents, burying them in a separate section of the cemetery at Boothill.

Today, about 5,000 Chinese live in Tucson, and have their own cultural center, hosting events and programs that promote their native culture.
Are you going to China?
If a trip to China is in y our future, check out my website, Cheryl's China, and feel free to email me with any questions about travel in China.



Monday, September 15, 2014

China's hidden gem: Pingyao

Pingyao in 1997
Pingyao, an ancient walled city in China, was named one of the world's hidden gems in a recent CNN article.

It truly is, though its popularity for travelers in recent years would make it less hidden. It's a place that seems to be on every independent traveler's wish list to see in China.

But this Ming Dynasty city is still a treasure to see. Inside the six-kilometer wall that surrounds in, you'll find traditional courtyard homes with narrow alleys. The CNN article calls Pingyao "a magical place" that offers an opportunity to peak into China's past.

Pingyao was one of China's banking centers in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Chinese movie, Raise the Red Lantern, was filmed in a courtyard home.

I visited Pingyao when I lived in China in 1997. Foreigners inside the walls were an oddity then. I remember one toddler taking a look at me and then screaming for his mother as he ran to find her.

When I visited Pingyao, I took at express bus from Beijing to Taiyuan, which took about five hours, where I overnighted. The next day I took a two-hour mini bus ride to Pingyao. Travelers today can make the trip in four hours via express train from Beijing.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your future, check out my website, Cheryl's China, or feel free to email me with any questions.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Beijing tagged "unfriendly" city

A Beijing hutong
Beijing was named one of the most unfriendly cities in the world by readers of Conde Nast in the publication's annual readers choice survey, the results of which were recently published on CNN online.

Conde Nast readers ranked Beijing No. 6 on the top 10 list of the world's unfriendliest cities, ranking between Johannesburg, South Africa, which was No. 1, and No. 10, Nassau, Bahamas.

Melbourne, Australia, was named the world's friendliest city by Conde Nast readers.

I'm sorry, but I just can't agree with the assessment of Beijing. As someone who lived in Beijing for two years and has made about 15 trips total to China, I have found the Chinese to be very friendly and willing to go the extra mile to help me.

I'm guessing the difference in opinion may lie in how people travel. I am a budget traveler, who likes to mingle with locals in territory, such as local markets, parks and neighborhood restaurants. I will admit that locals will try to talk you into paying higher prices at street markets than the Chinese do. They know what they're doing, I know what they're doing, so it becomes a game of fun to bargain them down.

Conde Nast travelers most likely are well-heeled. They stay in five-star hotels, won't eat at neighborhood restaurants, take tours around the city, and are pretty much isolated from the Chinese outside their hotel. They are getting a sanitized version of the Chinese capital. Under those circumstances, it isn't hard to imagine they'd think Beijingers are an unfriendly lot.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

What's your opinion of Beijingers? Are they really unfriendly?

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, check out my website, Cheryl's China, for tips and recommendations on things to see and do in the Middle Kingdom. And feel free to email me if you have questions about travel in China.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

China has "cool" bookstores

China is a nation of readers. It's not unusual to see people reading a book on the subway or on a park bench.

There's lots of bookstores, crammed with books, magazines and other reading materials. Still, it was a surprise to find a couple of bookstores in China had made a CNN list of the world's coolest bookstores.

The Librairie Avant-Garde was named China's most beautiful bookstore. It is located in a former bomb shelter in an underground parking garage in Nanjing. The well-lit store features a counter built out of old books while tables are stacked high with new books.

The 1200 Bookstore in Guangzhou also made the list. It is open 24 hours, but earned its coolest selection because it also offers backpackers a free place to stay at night. The store does ask the overnight guests to participate in seminars at midnight.

When I lived in Beijing, I shopped for books mostly at the Foreign Languages Bookstore on Wangfujing. Books were cheap, and I bought so many on Chinese history and cooking I filled three boxes when it came time to ship them home.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chinese park makes tops list

A national park in China has made a list of the world's 30 national parks. Noticeably missing from the list, however, are national parks in the United States, including the ever-popular Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon, The United States created the first national park in the world back in 1872 at Yellowstone in Wyoming and Montana.

Making the list for China was Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan Province. The park is noted for its rock formations that were caused by erosion. Pictures of the park show bronze sandstone cliffs topped with lush greenery. Abut 3,000 species of plant life can be found in the park.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park gets mostly Chinese visitors. Of the 30 million tourists who visit the park every year, less than 2 million are foreigners.

The CNN article also lists tips on how best to enjoy these splendors of nature.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Eating Chinese food outside of China

A Chinese meal served in Beijing
When is almond chicken not almond chicken? When it’s served with peanuts instead  in a Mexican-Chinese restaurant in southern Arizona just north of the U.S. border with Mexico.

Honest. Not only that, but the waitress tried to convince me the peanuts were almonds after I pointed out the discrepancy to her. She finally gave up and asked, “Well, just what is an almond anyway?” Then she brought the cook out, and they had a conversation in Spanish, the gist of which was that she never used almonds in her almond chicken, but only peanuts, and that I should shut up  and just eat it that way. (They didn’t realize I understood Spanish).  I did shut up, but I didn’t eat the combo plate. I sent it back, but not only because of the “almond” chicken. The barbecued pork was way undercooked and the “foo yums” looked more like thick slices of deep-fried doo-doo than anything yummy. (I assume foo yums were supposed to be egg fu young, but you could've fooled me.

This is one of the dangers of eating Chinese food outside of China. It just taste or look the same. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve taken cooking classes on trips back to Beijing and then taught myself how to make other dishes I enjoy in the Middle Kingdom.

Many visitors to China never get to experience “real” Chinese food, usually because they’re afraid to eat any place but their hotel restaurant, where food is designed to appeal to Western tastes. Small neighborhood restaurants are the place to experience true Chinese food.

Picking out a neighborhood restaurant is easy. Just look for one that’s crowded with Chinese during mealtimes. If there are few diners there during what should be their busiest times, avoid the restaurant: The food probably isn’t that good.

And don’t worry about not being able to read the Chinese menu. Many restaurants have menus with English translations that are sure to spark a laugh. More restaurants now have picture menus. So you only need point to the picture.  Still at a loss about what to order? It’s perfectly OK to walk around the dining room, seeing what others are eating, then indicate by pointing to the dish that this is what you want, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

China bridges the gap

China has more of the world’s biggest and longest suspension bridges than any other country in the world, with five of its bridges among the world’s top 10, according to a recent C NN article.

One of its bridges, the Aizhai Bridge, ranks as the highest suspension bridges in the world, at 1,150 feet high, yet is only 15th among the longest suspension bridges. Located on the Jishou-Chadong Expressway, it bridges the Dehong Canyon.

The article also lists the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge, as the longest rail bridge in the world at 102.4 miles. It connects Shanghai with Nanjing. This elevated was named the world’s longest bridge by Guinness World Records when it opened in 2011.

The Fairy Bridge in Guangxi Province is the world’s longest natural bridge, though only 400 feet long. Mother Nature made this bridge out of rock archways. The article notes China is home to three of the world’s longest natural bridges, including another 400-foot span that crosses a river near the border with Vietnam.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Viva Las Vegas? Not if you're driving!

Chinese drivers are famous for not being the safest drivers. Because there are so many cars with drivers who are still getting driving experience, I’ve had some pretty wild taxi rides over the years when I lived in Beijing and on return visits to China.  I never thought I’d say this, but I finally found other drivers who make Beijing drivers look pretty darned safe. Those drivers are located in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Most people, when they visit Sin City, fear losing their money. I feared losing my life. On a recent visit to Las Vegas, it seemed like we had the potential to be in an accident every five minutes because of these drivers. I lost count of how many ambulances I saw or heard. Personal injury attorneys must be doing a land office business there.

Speed limits don’t mean diddly. Drivers disregarded the 35 mph signs on city streets and raced between stop lights at speeds approaching 60 mph, then slammed on their brakes when they hit a red light. Jon says they tailgated something fierce, and he thought we were going to be rear-ended several times. Drivers made multi-lane changes without warning. They also would drift into our lane, nearly sideswiping us. A couple of times the cars were so close, if my window were open I could have reached out and shook hands with the driver.  Motorcyclists created their own lanes, driving between two lanes of cars.

Early on, I permanently attached my hand to the “oh shit” handle, and held on so tightly my arm began to hurt. I could feel my blood pressure going off the charts. I started shaking and couldn’t stop, even after we returned to our hotel. Quick, where’s my Valium!

Highway 95, the route we traveled that stretches between Canada and Mexico, is posted at 75 mph in Nevada. Going up, Jon was driving the speed limit when suddenly we were passed by a yellow blur that must have been doing well over 100 mph. Coming back, two semis passed us while we were traveling the speed limit. At one point, we were on a state highway, one lane in each direction, which was posted at 70 mph and were still getting passed.

What I got out of this trip is that I will never, ever again think Beijing traffic is unsafe.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Confucius Temple is an ancient must-see

A Qufu mother and baby
 in 1984
I visited Qufu, the ancestral home of Confucius, on my first trip to China in 1984.  We stayed overnight in a quaint hotel on the edge of his family compound where we played ping pong that afternoon. The next day, we toured the Confucius Temple. Back then, Qufu had just opened up to foreigners, and we were quite an oddity. Wherever we went, we drew crowds who would shyly touch us.
So I was pleased to see Qufu and the Confucius Temple placed at the top of a CNN list of 15 must-see ancient places to see.
The Confucius Temple was built after the ancient Chinese philosopher died in 479 BC. We toured the cemetery where he was buried. Today, an estimated 100,000 of his Kong family descendents are buried there.  The article notes his tomb is a pilgrimage site.
I haven’t been back to Qufu since then, but it’s on a list of places in China I want to return to someday. While I was there, I took a walk around the town, and snapped this picture of a proud Chinese mother and her baby outside their simple home on a side street. She was so pleased I wanted to photograph her and her baby. I often wonder what they are doing now.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is it Mexico or is it China?

Street market in Algodones, Mexico
We made a day trip from Yuma, Arizona, to Algodones, Mexico, today, and soon felt we’d been transported to China instead.

We stopped at a restroom right after crossing the border from California to Baja California, and were hit with the first sign: An attendant sitting at the door handing out, not toilet paper as they do in China, but paper towels, for which he expected a tip, though a sign at the entrance said the toilets were free.

The minute we stepped onto the street, we were accosted by shills for dentists, optometrists and pharmacists. This reminded me of being accosted by shills for hotels as you leave a train station in China.

Street markets in China
Americans go to Algodones for low-cost health services, particularly dental needs. But, of course, there is the requisite shopping. Street markets abound within a couple of blocks from the border. Mexican vendors are just like those in China: though they’ve never set eyes on you before, you are immediately their best friend. And, just like in China, bargaining is expected. My husband now has an international cane collection, having added a highly decorative one to the intricately carved ones he’s bought in China. The seller originally wanted $30 for the cane, but he paid $10; I think he could have gotten it for less than that, but he was happy with the price.

Are you going to China?

 If a trip to China is in your future, check out Cheryl’sChina for tips and recommendations. And feel free to email me if you have questions about traveling in China.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Xishuangbanna, China

Xishuangbanna was the only place in China to make the New York Times annual list of places to visit in the coming year. This year the Times picked 52 places to visit in 2014. Xishuangbanna was No. 32 on the list.

Xishuangbanna, located in southern Yunnan Province, was picked because of its rich biodiversity and wild elephants. The newspaper referred to the region as "China's wild frontier."