A Travellerspoint blog

China

A Chinese Buffet

sunny 15 °C

Although we are currently above 6,000 feet on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and it's early March, the garlic pickers are hard at work in the fields surrounding Lake Erhai...
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The next time you buy Chinese garlic think of these ethnic Bai women working in all weathers – but don't stop buying it. Agricultural workers are poorly paid everywhere but without them we would not be enjoying all the fabulous food here. This Bai lady was frying Chinese style fish and chips on the banks of the lake at Xizhou...
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Western food is available pretty much everywhere today. There is a KFC and a Starbucks even in the ancient city of Dali. In Kunming we stayed in a smart modern hotel which had a breakfast buffet that would put any North American or European hotel to shame. But in Dali we stayed in a very Chinese hotel unused to many western guests. The only concession to a western breakfast was the inclusion of a fried egg. Beware - eating a fried egg with chopsticks is not easy...
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We eat local food wherever we travel and don't always get what we want. For example: all the restaurants in Dali have fabulous displays of vegetables laid out on the pavement from which patrons can make their choice before entering...
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James was keen to try as many different things as possible for our first meal and enthusiastically pointed to a wide variety of vegetables assuming that they would be combined in some kind of stir-fry sufficient for the three of us. This was a huge mistake. We soon realised that things had gone awry when large platefuls of each individual vegetable began arriving. This was just the start.....
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We tried unsuccessfully to staunch the flow of vegetables from the kitchen but ended up with enough food for ten.. Live and learn.
So what do we eat? Chicken, pork and fish are common, but all contain lots of bones. The whole chicken, including neck, feet, intestines, gristle and bones, is chopped into small pieces and served in a spicy sauce. We eat it all except the bones.

Perhaps our biggest problem is that none of the menus have any English and the pictures can be very misleading. Many dishes in Yunnan are very spicy, but we've managed to eat most of what we ordered. Inexpensive food is sold on almost every street and in Dali the range and quality is impressive. This lady is making and baking fresh bread...
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Quails' eggs in mushroom caps are delicious and will no doubt be appearing on the menu at Bliss Café at some point...
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Some less appetizing items include snakes, live frogs and tiny day old quail chicks, (presumable eaten with the bones)...
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However, there is plenty of choice for us at this noodle stall where you simply choose your favourite noodles, meat and veg, and in no time at all it's freshly cooked for you.
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Judge for yourself, but we think the food in China is just fabulous.

Posted by Hawkson 04:29 Archived in China Comments (4)

Dali – Where Have All the Hippies Gone ?

semi-overcast 15 °C

Nestled at the foot of the mountains that rise to the Tibetan Plateau, and just a stone's throw from the historic Kingdom of Burma, (now Myanmar), lies the ancient Chinese city of Dali Gucheng – the ancestral home of the Bai ethnic people. While many of the world's cities have preserved and reconstructed their historic cores, few have been so revitalized as Dali. Every street, alley and doorway within the city walls appears as it might have done in the 18th century when it was a major trading post between Tibet and Thailand...
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The ancient city is just 16 kilometres from the modern city of Dali, Xiaguan, but they are world's apart. The new Dali is a bustling metropolis of highrises and lofty shopping malls, whereas nothing rises above the elaborate city gates in the old city....
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After the ancient city was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1925 it was decided that it should be rebuilt in its original style. So, although many of these buildings appear to be centuries old they may have been built less than 70 years ago...
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Millions of Chinese tourists flock to Dali throughout the year to see what their country looked like before wars, revolutions and the ravages of time took hold. Here are just a few of them we encountered on a sunny Sunday morning in spring...
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There are very many wealthy, fashion conscious Chinese today and they like nothing better than to dress up and take their photos in iconic locations...
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Dali was a major destination for western hippies in the 1970s and 1980s and, apparently, some of them have stuck around. However, we have only seen 5 westerners in two days. We are told that there is a Canadian bar in town but we have spent our time in search of the finest China tea – Pu'er. Despite its altitude and mountainous terrain, this part of China has a very moderate climate and on our 330 kilometres journey from Kunming we saw terraced valleys filled with flowering rapeseed and even bananas. The market in old Dali was bursting with the kind of local produce that we will only see in August at home...
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Next time on Blissful Adventures we will introduce you to some of the traditional Yunnan foods and the wonderfully friendly folk we've met here.

Posted by Hawkson 23:58 Archived in China Comments (5)

Kunming's Eternal Spring

sunny 18 °C

Kunming, a small city (in Chinese terms) in the mountains of Southwest China, is much like any modern city with skyscrapers, lofty hotels, wide roads and a ton of upscale shopping malls. There is nothing cheap about China these days even in this rural backwater and every other building seems to be a mall or a bank...
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Old Kunming, with its ancient tea shops and silk manufacturing, has virtually disappeared, but attempts are being made to preserve and revive some of the last remaining historic streets...
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The tea shops and noodle houses of old have been replaced by sushi bars, pizza joints and Thai restaurants, but it is the thought that counts.
Modernity has also taken over the streets where the iconic sit-up-and-beg bicycles have been replaced by hundreds of thousands of electric scooters which glide silently, (and cleanly), through the streets. Unfortunately, the riders ignore most traffic signals and treat pedestrians with contempt – especially when it comes to parking on the sidewalks...
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There are far fewer cyclists, but the government is promoting ride-sharing in a big way with bike rental schemes....
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Kunming's major claim to fame is its year round temperate climate and it is called 'The City of Eternal Spring' with good reason. But it's not a pretty city and its major tourist attraction lies about 75 kilometres away in Lunan Yi. These are some of the karst limestone formations in the Stone Forest - the Shilin - at Lunan Yi...
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We visited the Stone Forest on an ordinary Friday in February and expected it to be quiet. But it seems that thousands of Chinese tourists had the same idea and we enjoyed watching them dress in local ethnic costumes for a photo with an unusual backdrop...
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Fortunately, most of the Chinese were ushered around the vast site in tightly controlled groups so we were able to get some good clear shots of this pre-cambrian oddity by dodging around between them...
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The Stone Forest in Lunan Yi Autonomous County covers some 400 square kilometres and was described as The First Wonder of the World in the Ming Dynasty (1368 -1644 AD)...
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An old local saying says that 'If you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time.' We didn't waste our time and got many great pictures of the rocks and the spring flowers...
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Posted by Hawkson 04:17 Archived in China Comments (6)

China Rising

A Small Essay about a big country

overcast 15 °C

It has been said that visitors who spend a week in China write a book, those who spend a month write an essay, and those who spend a year write nothing at all. We could say whatever we wanted about China and it would probably be true, but after a month here it is impossible to know where to begin or end...
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China is a fascinating country but it is a land of stark contrasts and many contradictions. Soaring skyscrapers tower over crumbling hutongs and ritzy shopping malls back onto grubby local markets that haven’t changed for decades...
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On the outskirts of Beijing a six lane super highway was restricted to just two lanes because the local farmers had spread their corn to dry on the other four – as they have done for centuries. Drivers in the cities have total disregard for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians – road markings and pedestrian crossings are a complete waste of paint – while the impressive rail system is operated with almost obsessive concern for the safety of travelers. The modern, impeccably clean, stations and trains, are operated with the same degree of control as the equally impressive airports – nobody gets through the gates without passing several security controls and no one is allowed on the platform until the train is due.
As a young child, James often visited his grandfather whose garden was bounded by a soaring stone wall. He would stare at the wall and imagine all kinds of interesting, or perhaps scary, things lay on the other side. Years later he returned and discovered that it wasn’t such a high wall after all, and on the other side was just a field; just like all the other fields. The Great Wall of China has for millennia been a similarly insurmountable barrier that symbolizes China’s xenophobic attitude to the world. China’s fear of the rest of us is hardly irrational, after all, in the past, China has been more sinned against than sinned in terms of international hegemony. However, with growing globalization, and Chinese obsession with western luxury goods, it is only a matter of time before the walls come down...
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Today’s China has out-capitalized the western capitalists, and the Chinese nouveau-riche are out-consuming western consumers. The wealthy buy chateaus in Bordeaux, apartments by the handful, and BMWs by the dozen, while on the other side of China’s high-speed train tracks hundreds of millions still live in Dickensian squalor. But China is rising fast. More than five hundred million people have cellphones and almost all have access to electricity and television. However, we were very conscious of censorship. For instance: we couldn’t access Facebook or YouTube and, for some strange reason, the map on our blog wouldn’t appear on our computer. And whenever we were lucky enough to get BBC or CNN television, the screen would go blank whenever anything remotely critical of China was being reported. But these actions don’t represent the views of the wonderful people we met throughout our travels.
However, xenophobia cuts both ways. We want the Chinese to provide us with affordable shoes, clothes, furniture, tools, IPads and Pods and absolutely everything on the shelves of WalMart and the Dollar Stores, yet we don’t want them to take our jobs or own our companies. We want them to make everything for us at unrealistically low prices and complain when the production causes pollution. We need them to buy our natural resources and then demonstrate against them when they do.
We could write a book about China – but we won’t. What we will do is to come back to visit the friends we made and to visit so many places that we missed on this trip. We will also come back for the food - especially the delicious Portuguese custard tarts, (the favourite of our friend Christine who joined us on our travels from Beijing to Shanghai). And we encourage you to visit this incredible country to see it for yourself and to meet the many wonderful people who made our visit so memorable…
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Goodbye China. Thank you for your generous hospitality.

Posted by Hawkson 05:36 Archived in China Comments (3)

The Very Many Faces of China

rain 13 °C

Any bigoted Westerner who suggests that all Chinese folk are alike should take a close look at this group of red-hatted visitors to Beijing's Forbidden City...
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Carefully staged group shots in front of iconic structures are a must for any Chinese tourist and it is interesting to note that, while we have fearlessly traveled alone with only the internet as our travel agent and guide, almost all of the Chinese have been shepherded around in colour coded groups. Here’s the yellow brigade…
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Thirty years ago when Sheila lived in Beijing she could cause a pavement jam as hordes of curious locals crowded around for a close-up of a foreign face. It's not so bad today. However, there have been very few westerners amongst the vacationing masses so we have often found ourselves the focus of attention. The natives are not shy about taking photos and most have cameras or IPhones ready to snap any interesting looking waiguoren
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But we've done our share of posing as well. Many people have wanted to include us in their holiday snaps - or maybe write about us in their travel blog - and we have asked them to pose for us in return. These delightful young ladies worked at our local bakery in Shanghai…
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While this guy was just having fun on a hat stall…
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And this pretty miss in Xi’An was selling wedding outfits…
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Weddings are big events, and big business, in China and throughout our trip we saw countless brides posing for wedding albums…
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… and actors and actresses making movies and posing for marketing ads…
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Our posing and counterposing hasn’t been restricted to human kind. In Shanghai we came face to face with a couple of pooches coming out of the grooming parlour…
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Yes – these pampered canines are real. And while they might be dolled up like a dog’s dinner – they sure ain’t for eating. The Chinese are clearly in two minds about their dogs; while many people eat them others treat them like kids. Last year a Chinese billionaire paid one and half million dollars for a Red Tibetan Mastiff and sent a fleet of 45 chauffeur driven BMW’s to collect it from the breeder – now that would be an expensive dinner!

Posted by Hawkson 06:04 Archived in China Comments (1)

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