Shanghai Metro Crash!

Wow! Yesterday the worst accident in the 15 years of Shanghai’s metro operations happened. At around 2:50pm 2 trains collided on Metro Line 10 in between the popular tourist spot Yuyuan Gardens and Laoximen. Apparently the signal systems had failed a little earlier in the day and operators were running the line at reduced speeds using telephones for the signaling system. This led to one train ramming into the back of another one.After this, line 10 operations were shut down for the day , 500 people were evacuated through the tunnels, and oh yea 270 people being injured!!!! Only 20 of these people were severely wounded with no one in critical condition. There are no reported deaths ,hopefully this isn’t the government clamping down on the media (let’s keep our fingers crossed). According to media sources by 7:30 pm 180 of those injured were released from the hospitals mostly with bruises and some bone fractures.

I think there will be outrage among the population at this latest accident. This comes only 2 months after the July 23rd high-speed train crash in Wenzhou that injured 200 and left 40 dead. People were incensed about that incident and this will only make matters worse. Transportation safety is increasingly being put in the spotlight as the nation strives to enlarge the system. Going back to the signal failures , guess who happened to make both of those failed signal systems? If you sensed a connection you are right , both systems were manufactured by a joint French-Chinese company called Casco.

I hope that these issues can be resolved with ever more and more high-speed rail lines built and with Shanghai’s metro expected to double to more than 800 km of track by 2020 (it’s already the world’s longest system at around 435 km now).

Luckily for me I was at work during this time and I ride Line 7 to Line 4 to get to my kindergarten everyday but last year I did have to ride Line 10 to get to work on Wednesdays.

I’ll leave you with some links to get some more information and to see some photos of the incident.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44682501/ns/world_news-asia_pacific/t/hundreds-injured-shanghai-subway-crash/

http://shanghaiist.com/2011/09/27/breaking_train_crash_on_shanghai_me.php

This last link is to help see where the accident occured. Look on the lavender colored line 10 in between Laoximen and Yuyuan Garden.

http://www.exploreshanghai.com/metro/

Cycling Around Erhai Lake

Ah glorious Erhai Lake! The lake is a clear deep shade of blue , the sun shines down warming me and glistens on the surface of the slow-moving lake. The skies are blue with huge puffy cumulus clouds hovering in the air unlike the typical blue to gray gradient so commonly found in Shanghai’s skies. I am utterly content and without the stresses of work and city life. This is why I’m alive , to enjoy moments such as this!

Erhai Lake is the 7th largest freshwater lake in China and the second largest highland lake besides the previously mentioned Dian Lake in Kunming. It’s definitely a very large lake stretching about 42 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide making a large oval shape. Can’t quite match up to what I’m used too living by the Great Lakes in Ohio but hey it’s big enough. It was any bigger I’m not sure I’d be down for the challenge of riding around the lake in 2 days (or even attempting the challenge).

I highly recommend biking by the lake , you don’t have to be as extreme as us but just hop on a bike and make a short journey to one of the adjourning villages along the lakeside. Xizhou and Zhoucheng villages are both not too far away from Old Town and can easily be managed (there and back) in a leisurely day trip.

On the western side of the lake one can ride on the paved road that runs along the lake. This side is easy to ride upon and is also pretty flat, traffic isn’t too heavy either. Up near the northernmost point of the lake the route turns to bumpy harsh dirt roads. Get a bike with a good seat because this can inflict some damage on the butt. The eastern side of the path as well as being bumpy dirt also has some hill climbing (up and down) to do. There seems to be a lot of construction and preparation to pave the road though so perhaps it will be a little more easy-going my next time around.

There are supposed to be 17 different villages scattered around the lake , a few temples, and some small islands to visit. Some of the villages were just mere outposts with nothing more than a few buildings and a store but others were worth stopping by for a little visit. Some villages of note we encountered were Xizhou , Zhoucheng, Wase. The islands looked pretty cool and would probably be worth visiting but we were a little occupied with the whole bike riding thing.

Starting out felt so good just riding the bicycles and cruising along the highway but after about an hour and a half or so I noticed a warm feeling spreading over my body. Uh-oh the temperature may not be all that hot but the sun is still blazing down. Remember to pack some sunblock because many of the little villages don’t sell any. It took a long time and checking at many stores along the way to find some and by that time the damage had been done. I was absolutely roasted. Ouch!

The first stop at a village was at Xizhou. Xizhou is a pleasant little town that reminded me of an old Western town with dirt streets and a little bit of tumbleweed tossed in for good measure. We also found our first hemp plant growing in the wilds , the wilds being alongside the only busy road into town. This village sold many of the tie dye tapestries to be found in Old Town but at cheaper prices. The village fruit, vegetable , and household goods market was nice to check out as well. Olivia bargained for one of the traditional cone-shaped farmers hats. We also stopped in for a fried bread with meat concoction that was amazing.

Pulling out onto the road our next stop was in Zhoucheng. Zhoucheng is especially known as the region’s main tie-dye producing town. We followed old ladies in traditional red Bai clothes to their warehouse like store with tons of clothes. I never go clothes shopping but I ended up picking up 3 very cool shirts. Be warned though bargain very very hard. At first the shirt and vest I liked were 260rmb total but we (read Olivia) managed to barter it down to 160RMB including a dress and a scarf. I hate bargaining and traveling with her made me extremely happy haha. When Chinese bargain together it may seem like each party gets extremely angry and that they are fighting but fear not it’s all business. The boss goes away happily making some money and the buyer goes away thinking they got a good deal (if your bargaining skills are good or just have no idea of how much things are actually worth).

After leaving Zhoucheng, with bags considerably heavier than when we arrived, the next major stop was in Wase. We passed through a few other little villages but didn’t really stay , there wasn’t much to see or do. I’m sure there were some other attractions to check out along the way but by this point we had covered more than 40 km (25miles) and the road had petered out into dirt. We were starting to get sore , cranky , were severely burnt, and exhausted ( I believe Wase to be approaching 70km from Old Town). The “fun” bike ride was starting to turn into something a little more arduous. Wase in itself doesn’t have too much but we stopped because it was getting dark and our bodies could go no further. We found a hotel (I think it was THE hotel of Wase) and got a room with two beds for 40 rmb , nice! After ditching the bags we lugged our broken bodies over to the pier and hung with the local villagers as they swam in the water. We watched a surreal sunset over the lake and saw as the sun slowly disappeared behind the mountains leaving a purple hue to the sky. As the sun set the stars and moon emerged from their hiding places. Wow! I could finally see stars again, something that doesn’t happen too often in Shanghai. Pretty neon lights and skyscrapers are the replacement for the stars. After a bit we went back into town to grab some BBQ and retired to our rooms.

The next day just happened to be the local market day. On the weekends a big market assembles in the town square and people from the mountains come into town to sell their vegetables and fruits and pick up on provisions. The sleepy little town gets transformed a bit and the market is huge and bustling. Worth it to go check it out. Leaving the town we were a little bit less than overjoyed to think we still had about half the lake or so ahead of us. Looking back on it we may have had more than half the lake to go due to the winding path and the ins and outs of weaving around the various coves , bays , and rock outcropping that just back out . Many more turns compared to the straight western side.

Basically we just cruised and cruised and cruised and cruised ( you get the point) , taking pictures of some huge wild hemp plants ,sometimes thinking to ourselves “I will never ride a bike again as long as I live” this is definitely not true as I love biking but yea we were battered. Made a quick stop in XiaGuan (New Dali) for some of my favorite street food I’ve had in China. Due to the proximity of ErHai lake these vendors were set up with a smorgasboard of tasty fresh seafood treats. We watched fisherman come up to the vendors with nets full of squirmy sea critters. 3rmb (less than fifty US cents) for a stick of small crabs! In addition they also had full fish on sticks , an awesome grilled shrimp cake , tiny lobsters , shrimp, fried potatoes , and all of it washed down with a (or a few) tall Dali beers. Ah yes life was good again as the aches slowly receded into the background. One of the vendors mentioned that how tomorrow one of the county big wigs was rolling through so the police informed the vendors (unlicensed vendors) that tomorrow they shouldn’t be around. I like how that kind of thing works. The police are fine with the vendors , as was I on that day!, and just want the locals to make some money. I don’t care if the vendors have paid their dues , their tax, to the (rich) man in charge.

After XiaGuan we had one final small stretch on the highway to go and we would finally be back in Old Town. As the kilometers ticked away we got happier and happier. Back in town we didn’t do much of anything , ate some food and just relaxed. That was all I was hoping for! The next day we would be taking a train to Lijiang! More to come soon!

Kid’s Songs

As a Kindergarten teacher I’ve found that having a large repertoire of songs comes in handy. We always hear that songs are very important to learning but I forgot that before. By the time we are in middle school we aren’t singing songs anymore and by the time high school rolls around forget about it. High school has students sneaking around outside trying to have a cigarette , thinking of ways to skip class and get away with it. If a teacher said let’s sing a song! The students would most likely tell them where they could go stick that song.Back in Kindergarten though when I say “Let’s Sing!” everyone gets happy and cheers! Sometimes it feels more like a game and not education but I’ve found melodies and songs do in fact teach and/or can help reinforce things we have practiced already.

As I’m looking through songs to pick some new ones to teach the kids , I’m stunned when I recognize and remember the melodies and lyrics to soo many songs I haven’t thought about in 16+ years. I have no recollection of actively learning and singing these songs in school but I know I have and the fact that I can remember the melody after so long shocks me. If I don’t remember how the lyrics go at first all it takes is one look at the lyrics page and then bam it’s all back in my head. Crazy how these things work.

If that still doesn’t convince you of the educational applications of children’s songs then at least take it consideration that it’s a good way for the kids to have fun , get them to shut up , and get them to get focused on the class. Plus the parents really like it when the kids can sing songs (bonus points for you!).

I’ve found quite a few good songs on the internet and many that I remember but not all are golden. I can just imagine the bitter old lady who penned this beauty up

“Graffiti”

Have you ever seen the scrawls
On the fences and the walls,
All the horrid little pictures and the horrid little names?

Don’t you think it is a shame?
Are the Goops the ones to blame?
Did you ever catch them playing at their
horrid little games?

Hahahahahahaha. Graffiti as art! and rebellion against all those hideous advertisements we are bombarded with everday! Wooo hooooo

Dali – China’s Hippie Hangout

If you arrive in Dali via train know that you aren’t arriving in the Dali you expect. Where are the ancient buildings and the cobblestone roads? Where are the countless restaurants, bars, and bike rental shops? Visitors to Dali are looking for the Old Town but the train pulls up into New Town aka Xiaguan. Don’t fall prey to the hordes of touts laying in wait for the train to pull up and fares to pour out. You can hop on bus #8 to go to Old Town for a mere 2rmb. If money is no object for you and you grimace at the mere thought of brushing your tooth over less than a gold and marble sink than hop in a car with one of the touts. Ok , ok it isn’t really that bad but make sure you barter a bit first , don’t ruin it for the rest of us! The battle for the bus can be kind of intense though. There is no place to line up and everyone just kind of assembles into a mass and the buses will pull up into different places in the parking lot and then the whole aggregation of people will push, shove, and generally be insanely irritating. Not even the police officer yelling (in Chinese) “don’t push don’t push!!!!” seems to have an effect. I don’t condone pushing people to advance your position in line but if others are pushing (especially trying to butt in when you are clearly in front trying to get onto the bus) then f*** it , push them and don’t let them cut!!

After about 20 or 30 minutes we finally saw the ancient protective stone walls of the Old Town and disembarked from the bus. I could already see the attraction of the Old Town. Tree lined cobblestone streets, old 2 story house architecture , a wide arrange of restaurants , bars, and coffee shops. The setting of the Old Town is also perfect. Large mountains (Canshan, Cang mountains) look up to the west of the town with quite dramatic clouds looming over the top never moving just lurking ominously. To the east of town a few kilometers away separated by some farmland is the big Erhai Lake. Some temples and monasteries also lay nestled in the mountains. 7 years ago my current roommate studied Kung Fu in one of these monasteries. I believe it cost something like $50 USD a week for accommodation , all meals, and training. Expect things to have changed since then but perhaps a great deal may still be found for all you martial arts enthusiasts out there.

There are plenty of guesthouses all over Dali so don’t worry about finding accommodations just pop in to check them out and find one that suits you. Dali has some of the cheapest accommodations in China so again don’t worry. Some highly recommended ones include the Jade Roo and the Jade Emu, I heard people talking about 5 Elements , but I stayed at (and loved) Dali’s Hump Hostel. This is run and owned by artists and features amazing murals painted on nearly all available wall space. I think Simonster would be in heaven here. They also have a music room / bar on the second floor that people can just go into and play with the instruments set up there. Some nights they feature bands and other nights its open mic time. Amazing place with huge rooms!

For now though, we hopped on some horses led by a guide (guesthouse arrangements) for a journey to Zhonghe temple and from there we planned to walk up into the Cang mountains. This was Olivia’s first ever horseback ride and she was thrilled , I’ve been horses a few times so perhaps the novelty has worn off a bit and also probably due in part to my stubborn horse never listening and always bending down to eat and trying to go down the wrong path, but I had a lukewarm enthusiasm for the trip. At the Zhonghe temple we got off and left the guide to play Mahjong for the day. We hiked up into the mountains and found a cool guesthouse. Can’t remember the name (writing this post about 2 months after the fact) but if you are really looking to get away from it all try to find this place and stay there. Located up in the mountains with a beautiful view of Old Town and the lake, there are absolutely no people around , a true getaway spot.

We hiked on the Emerald Belt or Cloud Traveller’s Path , a well-built stone pathway that cuts along the mountain side . This is a nice easy path to walk with little change in elevation and stunning scenery. While walking we found numerous species of flowers growing and I found plenty of occasions to munch on some wild raspberries. Depending on the way you go you can find an ice cold rushing mountain spring to relax by and dip your feet in or you can encounter a series of mountain pools , 7 Dragon Maidens pools, along the path you can also find the Phoenix Eye cave. After being cooped up in Shanghai for the last 6 months this was amazing for me. Wild berries , pine forests, mountains , clean cold streams, wow! Just like my trip to the Philippines , I was happy when I finally got out of the madness of Metro Manila and relaxed in the pristine forests around the village of Sagada.

Coming back into town that night on the street corner next to our hostel was a bongo circle , a frickin’ bongo circle!! This really cemented Dali as the hippie spot in China. And guess what! There wasn’t a single foreigner in this circle of dreadheaded kids wearing colorful clothes clutching guitar beating the night away on bongos. An interesting appropriation of culture to be sure. I’m sure Nixon and Mao are both turning in their graves. Oh yea before I forget , walking around the markets yields a treasure trove of hand crafted tie dye tapestries and shirts. While walking around you will even hear whispered out calls of Ganja Ganja from old red clad Bai women. Wow indeed! A quick note though according to wikitravel Dali used to be a hot spot for the green but it seems like these days one should exercise caution. I didn’t partake but be cautious if you plan on it.

Dali is also a very artsy place. During the daytime you can find local art students painting the relaxing streets and can also find some cool spray paint up on the walls. Be sure to check out waterfall street as well!

The next day we arose fairly early and rented bikes in the insane notion of trying to ride around ErHai Lake. Stay tuned , the next episode will be the ErHai Lake villages! Those pictures from last post are acting kind funky when I view the site from China. So I’ll go back to the gallery style of posting. How do they work for everyone else?

Wikitravel’s guide to Dali is extremely thourough give it a look see to learn more about Dali or to help plan a trip there!

http://wikitravel.org/en/Dali

Kunming

Kunming is the provincial capital of Yunnan province and the region’s main transportation, education, and commercial hub. It is the main point of entry for travelers to Yunnan and it boasts bus, train , and airplane connections to all the Southeast Asian countries. It also served as a major hub in WWII and was the terminus of the infamous Burma Road. It’s also a big city with 6.9 million people or so and has some of the typical gray Chinese cityscape but it’s also surrounded by some fantastic nature. It’s been nicknamed the “Spring City” for its fantastic weather. The city is situated in a subtropical zone but is 1800 meters above sea level. This helps temperatures warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Average daily highs in December are around 60F 15C and high temperatures in the peak of summer are an excellent 75F 24C with little humidity. Stepping off the airplane into this weather was incredible after the muggy Beijing.

I got in pretty late at night (due to the cheaper flights leaving either late or way too early) and hopped in a 25 RMB taxi to the incredible Cloudland Hostel. I highly recommend this if you are heading to Kunming. Chill laid back groovy interior , nice muzak , a cool bar on the inside stocked with big bottles of Beer Lao , Dali beer and others (but those were the most important by far don’t worry about the rest). This hostel is also four stories with a nice sundeck on the roof! The other hostel in town , Hump Hostel, was pretty nice too but I really really liked Cloudland , go there!

The first full day in town was pretty relaxed. I rented a bicycle for 30 RMB for the day and just cruised around the streets of Kunming. I went up to the pretty nice CuiHu Park , which has a large lake , paddle boat rental , some restaurants , the town water pump museum , and is overall a nice relaxing area. Just north of the park is Yunnan University. I went to campus just to check things out and found a Chinese dreadhead! One day into Yunnan and already I’ve found one! After walking about on campus I rode my bike to the central plaza in Kunming , Jinbi Plaza , and walked around in the area looking at the vendors and restaurants. I stopped in at the Brothers Jiang restaurant to sample the local dish ,过桥米线 Guo Qiao Mi Xian (Over the bridge rice noodles). A pot of steaming chicken broth is brought out and then one proceeds to pour in their raw veggies , meat , egg , and noodles. Let it cook for a little bit and then enjoy! I got the seafood version and it was exquisite. After the meal I went back to the hostel to read a book and as so often happens in China was approached by some Chinese university students who wanted to hang out. We made plans to play some Badminton at their university the next day and then I was off to  drink some BeerLao! ( One of the finest macro-lagers in Asia I’d say) and hit the hay early.

The next day my friend Olivia was due in from Shanghai at 4pm so I just sunned on the rooftop with my book , Tai-Pan – James Clavell , you should definitely check out his Asian series. Great and very very long (mostly weighing in at over 1000 pages in paperback editions) which satisfies my book cravings. My friend Olivia arrived at the hostel and then it was immediately off to rent bicycles and cycle to Dianchi (Lake Dian) with our new found friends. Lake Dian lies at the feet of the Western Mountains and is a nice place to cruise on bikes and take in the scenery. After we went to a local restaurant and ordered a ridiculous amount of food. Olivia and myself are used to Shanghai prices so after seeing 6RMB per plate of veggie dishes we assumed they would be small and ordered a lot of them , much to our surprise each less than $1 USD dish was huge. We sat for a good part of two hours not wanting to waste any of the great food. After gorging and almost entering a food coma , it was back on the bicycles to cycle to Yunnan University Lake Campus to play some badminton. I haven’t played sports in forever and it was quite fun. I was reminded of University soo much , just riding around bicycles through campus , and hanging out at the sports complex , made me quite nostalgic for Kent State.

The next we rose early to take the long and convoluted journey out to the JiuXiang Karst caves. It involved taking city buses to the Eastern bus station , an intercity bus to YiLiang city and then finally one final bus to JiuXiang. The path was quite spectacular and wound through the mountains and we passed over a bridge near a dam and I swear this bridge was 200 meters tall. At point through we passed near a factory settlement that was belching noxious gases and the town was just dirty and smelled horrible , I felt terrible for the people I saw walking around without masks and the children playing outside , children who probably have never lived without that awful smell. I think after around 4 or 5 hours we arrived to the 20 square kilometer park area.

The first attraction after arrival was a quite journey in a small boat with rowers going down a river through a tight rift in the stone with towering rock walls on both sides. After this we descended down into the caves with the roaring river right beside. The caves themselves are lit up in Chinese fashion , think multi-colored lights everywhere. This effect in the cave was great and one of the best attractions was the area titled Fairy Goddess Palace. Once you arrive in the area you will see why it’s called that. Another great site was the naturally formed “Rice Paddy” stone formation. It really looks like a paddy with its series of pools that descend down the rock wall. After emerging from the caves you took a quick little cable car ride back to the main area. We had a bunch of spicy fried stinky tofu. This version of stinky tofu wasn’t bad but I do admit it takes some getting used too and I prefer the non-smelly version. After dinner it was time for the long and arduous bus rides back to Kunming.

Our last day in Kunming , July 2nd , we again headed for Lake Dian and from there took a city bus to the Western Mountains (XiShan 西山)。 This area has a walk through the forested sides of the mountain (although it’s just a road with beeping , smoke emitting cars for a while until you the ticket area). We choose to foot power our way through this. On the way up you can opt to check out a view temples that are probably worth visiting but after a year and a half in China I’ve felt I’ve seen enough temples,  after a while they all become the same. The hike up offers some gorgeous views of Lake Dian and the urban area sprawling out after that. These mountains aren’t too tall thankfully and we made it up and down successfully after a few hours. After hopping a bus back to town we grabbed our things and went out to the train station for our overnight sleeper train to Dali!!

Phase II – Yunnan Province!

Ahh Yunnan province! This is a place I’ve dreamt about since my first trip to China those 4 long long years ago. Yunnan is the backpackers part of China. You can catch some of the chill Southeastern Asian vibes floating up from Vietnam, Laos , and Thailand. Picture nature , serene villages, incense , monks , giant hemp plants sprouting up everywhere ,ethnic minority groups dressed in colorful clothes, and Chinese with dreadlocks. I saw more Chinese dreadheads in Dali in one day than in 1.5 years of traveling in China , living in Tianjin, and Shanghai. Yunnan does have some of the typical Chinese gray cities but it’s really about nature ,from Erhai lake in Dali , to climbing through Tiger Leaping Gorge , to entering the Tibetan highlands.In addition to the majority Han Chinese Yunnan has the most minority ethnic groups in all of China. In other words I was in heaven! Oh yea and they grow awesome coffee!

The travels started out with a flight from Shanghai to the provincial capital of Kunming , then taking an overnight train to Dali, renting bicycles and circling Erhai lake, to a train ride to Lijiang , followed by a bumpy 8 hour bus ride to Lugu Lake on the border of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces , returning to Lijiang via the same bleh 8 hour bus ride , proceded by a bus ride to Tiger Leaping Gorge , then another bus ride to Zhongdian (aka Shangri-la) , an overnight bus ride back to Kunming , and then getting out of the country with a massive 26 hour bus ride to Luang Prabang in Laos!.

I’ve mapped out the route on photoshop (sorry for the mess) but you can follow the path :  red to Kunming , blue to Dali , green to Lijiang , dark purple to Lugu Lake , orange to Tiger Leaping Gorge , a short aqua to Shangri-la, light purple back to Kunming and onwards to Laos.

Happy Belated Mid-Autumn Festival

Well everyone its past that magical time of the year known as the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Also known as Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival. This fun festival has come and gone. I wanted to write about it before the weekend so I could brag about how I have a three-day weekend to all of those who enjoyed labor day last week. But alas we are all on the same page again. Although I do have the national Oct. 1st 5 day long holiday coming up soon! I’ll tell you some funny things about how that holiday works out. It’s truly bizarre. (I’m building suspense! Make sure you tune in around that time! mwhaha)

The weekend was pretty good , not super eventful but It was filled with bicycle riding around the city, everyone’s favorite snack ,mooncakes, random exploration via motorbike , and relaxing in parks just soaking up the beautiful weather. The best weather in Shanghai occurs in the fall , the all too brief fall. We have blazing hot. humid, summers , humid cold soaking to the bones winters , and two very enjoyable time slices known as spring and fall(or autumn).

The origins of this festival stretch back more than 3,000 years , was driven underground by the commies in 1949 , and has been reinstituted by the capitalist/commies in 2008. It is a celebration of the autumnal harvest and is a period for lighting lanterns and watching them float away , eating mooncakes , matchmaking , and a time to gather together with family and relax. I did have two mooncakes this year , one peach , and one apple. Little did I realize that these tiny cakes pack a whopping 1,000 calories each! They are supposed to be cut into eighths and split amongst the family. 2,000 calories too late I realized my mistake.

I enjoyed the perks of my new job this weekend as well! Friday we had a teachers day dinner at a nice Sichuan restaurant. 3 fully packed tables of people all paid for by the school. Each table received around 30 dishes apiece! I was soo full long before the dishes stopped arriving but each one looked so good I had to sample at least a little bit. After dinner I didn’t really have anything to do so I decided to find my home from work. This is a six metro stop 2 hour walk back but I did it! Woo hoo! If you just take the metro all the time you can’t really get to know the city.  I also got a coupon for a free Haagen Dazs gift set of mooncake shaped ice creams. Also delicious!

Ok , I leave you with a few pictures and a good link about mooncake economics and how they are becoming the Chinese version of fruitcake from a fellow Shanghai based blogger.

http://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2011/09/13/on-moon-cake-economics

Beijing Summer 2011 (Part 2)

No rest for the weary. The hands can’t remain still , it’s typing time!

Today was a bittersweet today. A fun, excellent day but the whole time I was reminded that my parents were leaving tomorrow! How could it so soon? It seems like they just got here! That’s how it always goes with friends/family visiting. When I meet them at the airport I feel like it’s already almost time to say goodbye. No sooner have they stepped out of customs it like I’m preparing to say goodbye already. Wahhhh!

After waking up, it was time for another Beijing must see. Beijing has a lot of these if you haven’t noticed already. The Temple of Heaven is complex of Taoist temples situated in the southeastern section of Beijing , also easily accessible by metro. Kinda nice to have the subway again after all the cities we had just visited which featured packed buses. The main temple , Temple of Heaven , is where the emperor went to communicate with the Gods. You can pay more to access the temples or pay a 10rmb to enter the park grounds itself. On any given nice day you can find the entire elderly population of Beijing inside the park grounds playing cards , dancing , working out , and playing mahjong. It’s worth it just to go and take in the sights and sounds of the retiree population. All along the paths the railing/seating is completely taken up by people and is loaded with activity.

The main temple is quite a sight in itself , I can only imagine what it would be like to be the only person there ready to connect to heaven , it feels like maybe you really could communicate with the Gods. I can only imagine because well it’s a Beijing tourist spot , meaning it’s loaded with people . The main temple stands alone in the middle of a circular ground area made from stones. It seems to stretch up into the sky. Great stuff.

After the temples we went over to Beijing’s ancient Drum and Bell Towers. Pretty similar in design to Xi’an’s but much more relaxing due to it being surrounded by ancient Hutong neighborhoods. Quite a difference compared to Xi’an’s traffic circle around the towers. After checking out the towers we got a ride in a rickshaw for a mini tour around the Hutong neighborhoods. Make sure you bargain hard if you want to do this. They will show you official tickets saying something like 200rmb for the tour but it was easily bargained down to 80rmb which I think is still a little high but it’s aight. Being able to speak Chinese got me some great insight into the neighborhoods as the drivers explained the sights to us and made some jokes about the shitty car drivers. The drivers were really nice guys from Lanzhou. Lanzhou is quite far away from Beijing , all the way in the way of China. Equivalent of California to Ohio. The drivers had only been living in Beijing for a few months now and it was great to meet them. In Shanghai I often frequent a Lanzhou noodle restaurant right by my house and have talked to the workers there quite a bit as well.

After the 45 minute rickshaw ride we were dropped off at South Luoguoxiang St. This is a traditional Hutong neighborhood converted into a bunch of trendy shops , bars, and restaurants. A great place for a stroll even if you can’t afford to buy anything , even better if you can afford to get some things. Thanks to Mum and Dad I got a new wallet to replace my falling apart 4-year-old Che wallet and Pops picked up a very cool little painting. On the way we found a little tea/juice stand that sells their drinks with a chunk of dry ice in a big. These creates an awesome smokey bubbly effect for the duration of your drink , just don’t touch the ice! After this we retired back to the hostel for some rest and for dinner headed out to the Ghost street. This street is essentially a 2 kilometer long stretch of street with nothing but restaurants and is all lit up at night with bright red lanterns. During the trip we had been planning on eating hot-pot and tonight was finally the night. You order a bunch of different plates of veggies and meat and then cook the goods inside a pot of bubbling broth. We got a half spicy half normal pot and I was the only one to eat from the hot part. Wow! It was pretty authentic Chongqing style hot-pot because my mouth and body was flaming! Wow it was good , but with the delectable spiciness I knew tomorrow was going to be a spicy in spicy out kinda day haha. After we returned back to the hostel and slept. I had been meaning to make it out to the Sanlitun bar street at night but sleepiness prevailed.

Breakfast the next morning was a sad affair. Just thinking about how after eating it was just time for them to pack and then a taxi to the airport. On the way we passed a massive 3 car accident that stopped traffic for kilometers. It involved a Porsche Cayenne , a taxi , and a semi-truck. Guess who won. The rest of the ride was smooth after the gridlock and then bam all of a sudden we were having a semi-tearful goodbye and then wam they were through customs. I was on my own again. Almost time to wrap Phase I of the summer travels.

After the airport I decided to check out the huge Chaoyang park on the outskirts of Beijing. I just walked around and found out it was the site of the 2008 tennis events for the Olympics. There was also a mini amusement park and a mini swimming area but I just cruised through the park area.

The next day my former roommate from Tianjin , Ozgur from Turkey!, happened to be in Beijing for some official business with his embassy. So we got to meet up after just about of year of not seeing each other. Ozgur was my rock when I first came to China. Lost , confused , friendless , terrible language skills, I was like a wet abandoned puppy and Ozgur got me through those first trying months. He really managed to help me into this all and get used to campus life in Tianjin . Thanks Ozgur!! My first friend in China!! We met up early morning at the Beijing train station and got some food before heading off to the Turkish embassy. It was cool seeing the embassy street and picking out the different ones. We only had a part of the day though since that evening I was boarding my plane to Yunnan province!! Wooo hoooo!!!

With that ladies and gentlemen Part I of the summer has come to an end! Next stop, a totally different world from the East Coast of China!

-FIN

 

Beijing Summer 2011! (Part 1)

Alright everyone back on track! I know everyone (all 3 of you) were going through withdrawal , sitting around feeling cold then hot then cold and all sweaty all the time. But fear not! I am back with yer fix!

We pulled up to Beijing West Train station after the lovely soft sleeper class , curse you parents! , now I always want to take soft sleeper!, and my parents got to experience a great example of the “lining up system”, queueing for you redcoats out there. Notice the “lining up” is in quotation marks. Here in China lining up means a vastly different thing. It means stand in a general mass of people all striving and pushing forward at the same time. Don’t worry if there isn’t any room in front of you! Space will be made by simply shoving into the already immobilized crowd. This does actually happen, however, it wasn’t quite that bad here in the train station. We were waiting in the taxi queue to make the journey across the city , unfortunately Beijing West Station is quite far from the metro and the parents don’t travel backpacker style., and man that 1.5 hour wait sucked. We had to constantly pay attention and fend for ourselves to stop those old ladies from shoving ahead and cutting in line. My Pops got his technique down , simply use your suitcase shoved against the railing to create an impasse and stop the cutting. We still had a bunch of people get ahead of us somehow but whatever.

Another great hostel recommendation I have for y’all is the 9 Dragons Hostel near the ZhangziZhongLu Metro station. This awesome little hostel is tucked into one of the traditional , but rapidly disappearing , Hutong neighborhoods. This means traditional alleyways, no tall skyscrapers, more community life, and a taste of the old times. Some of the Hutong houses don’t have bathrooms inside and residents go to a public neighborhood toilet for taking care of business and showering. An elementary school is nearby the hostel and so returning to the hostel in the afternoon or venturing out in the morning you can witness all the parents waiting for the horde of students emerge from the building or saying farewell and starting the day. The hostel has three floors and a great balcony to relax with a beer and watch the neighborhood cats leap from roof to roof.

After depositing our things it was time to venture off into the city! We went out to start being Beijing tourists with the standard Tiananmen Square , adjacent Palace Museum and a walk to the nearby Wangfujing street. Upon arrival at Tiananmen (well actually upon arrival in the city) we noticed a disgusting amount of air pollution. From the time I visited in 2007 to now the air quality has always seemed to get better but today was an exception. The smog was thick and choking , nasty! Moving on, Tiananmen is massively big , one of the largest public squares in the world , it can fit around one million people. I’ve been there quite a few times now , maybe even 10, and the enormity of it has since ceased to amaze me as much as the first time but I will tell you it is mind-boggling at first sight. Tiananmen is the heart of it all featuring: the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China (dedicated to Chinese history predating 1919). The square is under heavy security , one must pass through checks to enter the square, and has many police, uniformed as well as undercover. Leaving the square we walked to the gates of the Forbidden City.

Built between the years 1405 and 1420 this massive imperial complex is known as the Forbidden City because for nearly 500 years the public was not allowed inside. The Emperors ruled China from inside and very few were admitted entrance. Today is it the largest remaining palatial complex in the world. (China boasts many of the biggest and best historical as well as modern structures). This is a must go if in Beijing. It’s fantastic to be able to get a grasp of history by visiting and the architecture and interior design is befitting of an emperor. Walking through the entire structure we emerged from the opposite gate and took a long walk along the surrounding moat until we returned to Chang’An Rd and then cut into Wangfujing Street. If you have the time make sure to go up in Jinshan park (golden mountain park) and climb the to the tallest park , you will be rewarded with an amazing view over the imperial city and its glittering golden rooftops! By the time we had arrived at Wangfujing the skies turned fierce-looking with intense storm clouds rolling in.

Wangfujing is a giant pedestrian shopping street but I did not come for the shopping. I came for the food street!!!! The parents wisely bought a set of umbrellas before we ducked down the alley to the food street and boy were they glad they did! This food street is loaded with various restaurants , all sorts of food, and creepy crawlies on sticks! The food street is perhaps best known for its starfish , scorpions , and seahorses (all still wriggling and alive skewered on sticks) waiting for you to purchase and consume. We decided not to stick to the outdoor seating, as by this time the skies had unleashed a deluge of rain, in fact as we found out later these rains caused the heaviest flooding in Beijing in decades! We found a great restaurant that had the best 番茄鸡蛋 ,tomatoes and eggs of my life. This is a simple dish with eggs tomatoes and sauce but when made right man it is great! When the rain finally subsided we went back to the hostel and called it an early night.

The next day we went on a Great Wall tour offered by our hostel. Normally I’m not a fan of the tour package but the hostel does a great job with it. We went off to a section of the Great Wall that has a giant sign saying “section closed to the public” our guide laughed and said don’t worry the villagers all encourage tourists to come here ( as it supports the local economy) and saying that it’s just an edict issued by the party that gets conveniently ignored. Nice! I highly recommend you make it out to one of the non restored, less visited sections of the wall. For example, avoid Badaling at all costs, this section of the wall is easily accessed via metro and is completely restored , packed with people , and with the people come the super annoying vendors. Take the effort to get away from that and you will be rewarded. The only souls we ran into that day on the wall was a group of Americans who miserably camped out on the wall the last night in the heavy rain but who were in good spirits when we arrived. They said they would have offered us beer but they drank it all the last night due to low morale issues , I completely understood. Like I mentioned before, the Great Wall continues to astound me every time I see it even after 8 or so times at various sections. An absolute must see! Which makes me feed bad my good dawg Linda G didn’t make it here when we were in Beijing last summer. Come again aye Lindsay?? After arriving back in the town I took the family to see the very nice HouHai park. It is also located near to the Imperial palace. It is part of a chain of three connected lakes and parks but this part is the cool hip area with many bars (expensive), awesome outdoor seating on couches near the lake , and cool light shows in the trees. An excellent way to idle away the time on a nice weather night. After all the walking my parents were exhausted and went back to sleep. I on the other hand hit up the hostel bar for a while and met some cool travelers.

Day three featured a trip to the Summer Palace , a visit to the Beijing Zoo,  and finally a stroll through the Olympic venue of 2008. The Summer palace lies in one of the Western suburbs of Beijing , easily accessible by metro. Now last year when I visited there was no metro station there, yay for development! The park’s history stretches back to the year 1750 when the massive Kunming lake was dug out entirely by hand! Yikes , when an emperor wants something done it gets done , kinda like the communist party of China today. This palace resort served as a summer getaway for the rulers of the land and features impressive gardens , boating on the artificial lake, and many laid back palatial buildings. This park is truly huge stretching out about 2.9 sq. kilometers. This park was also destroyed two times in its history , both times by an invading alliance of Western powers. Thankfully it was rebuilt both times so we can continue to enjoy it today.

Now next stop is the Beijing Zoo. It’s a pretty decent place , although living conditions for the animals aren’t quite what we are used to back at home , especially not when we have the excellent Cleveland Zoo  and I’ve visited the world-famous San Diego Zoo , but hey its a good for a visit. As expected in China its all about the pandas. They are panda crazy over here. Not much really to say about the zoo with the exception that canals run through the zoo and you can take a really fast speedboat through the canals and hit massive wakes. I’ve never seen such a thing at a zoo before. Can’t say I agree with a zoo having roaring load boats in the zoo but hell it does look really fun. After the zoo we were on a mission to find one of my favorite restaurants. I discovered this Yunnan restaurant last summer with Linda G and proceeded to eat there 3 times in 5 or so nights. Soooo good! Spicy, exotic (roots and fried flowers) and has the great Dali beer. I was soo happy to discover this place still existed. It also seemed fitting to eat some Yunnan food as I would be flying to Yunnan in a few days woo hoo!

Last stop of the day is to walk the Olympic greens. I visited Beijing before the Olympics of 2008 and after and I can’t believe how much the city has changed.  The entire Olympic area was built for the games , there was no pre-existing infrastructure and wow is it huge. Some of the stand out buildings include the Swimming Center and the Bird’s Nest Stadium. I’m really happy that three years later the venue is packed. At night-time there were tons of people ; domestic tourists , foreign tourists , and plenty of locals there. The locals use the area as a huge public place to dance , work-out , Rollerblade , fly kites , and just hang out. I’m glad this massive area wasn’t erected and then forgotten about doomed to collect dust and slowly fall apart.

Alright that’s it , I’m done. Beijing is being split up into a two-part series. Still a few days left over and I’m tired of writing after so many words. You may have noticed the amount of detail drop as this piece has dragged on haha Peace out enjoy the photos!

 

 

 

Toss some English in there , it’ll be cool.

                 Here in China we like to put random English on things to make them cool. My parents noticed the phenomena of many, many , many Chinese wearing t-shirts with English on it. Many of the shirts are bizarrely translated random Chinglish and some are normal , mostly odd though. Some are even crazy , one friend recalls seeing a very cute little kid wearing a very cute little Pop-eye t-shirt, she wanted to get one for her own child until she saw the back where it said  “If you like my boobs , wait till you see my balls.” WTF?!?!? What does that even mean?!?! Ladyboy child?? Huh?!? Moms and Dads let this be a lesson to check what you buy if it has a foreign language. For all you round eyes out there that means be careful when getting a tattoo with Chinese characters. Maybe one you think looks cool actually means idiotic horse pumpkin.

            I’m writing this because I bought a notebook just covered in random stuff purely because I liked the randomness. I guess the method works haha.Aighty I’m gonna type it out verbatim.

“THE, A wonderful pain relieving compound brewed only from the finest cider apples.”

“Work and play do not contradict each other: in fact , they complement each other. As the saying goes. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” A life burdened with work leads you nowhere , for you would get tired and bored with your daily routine work. On the other hand , proper reaction will relieve the tension and discomfort of our monotonous life because it offers you various ways to let out your pent-up emotions.”

“Now I have a new plan for using my time wisely , I have set my alarm clock ahead half an hour. This will give me a head start on the day. I have also decided to keep a log of what I do and when I do it. Looking back on what I’ve done will give me some ideas on how to reorganize my time.”

“YOUR LOVE IS COMFORT IN SADNESS QUIETNESS IN TUMULT REST IN WEARINESS HOPE IN DESPAIR.”

“LEARNING A LIFELONG CAREER.”

“GOOD LUCK. The rabbit.”

“Urban Landscape”

        “As food is to the body , so is learning to the mind. Our bodies grow and muscles develop with the intake of adequate nutritious food. Likewise, we should keep learning day by day to maintain our keen mental power and expand our intellectual capacity. Constant learning supplies us with inexhaustible fuel for driving us to sharpen our power of reasoning, analysis, and judgement. LEarning incessantly is the surest way to keep pace with the times in the information age , and an infallible warrant of success in times of uncertainty.”

    Now a Chinese person definitely did not write this. These passages are not fraught with grammatical errors , nonsensical sentences, and is without misspellings. This was probably just cobbled together from random quotes on the internet, I’m betting the person who copied them didn’t really understand the sentences. Though they do kinda relate to each other , with the exception of the first one. Does any one know of any pain relieving compounds brewed from cider apples (only the finest!) ? Alcoholic cider? Drink enough Woodchuck and kill the pain? Haha

So ya know I’m not making it up , I’ll get around to writing about Beijing one of these days.