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China 2018

Sept 5, 2018

About My Journey 

People ask me all the time what it’s like to go to China so I thought I would approach it a little differently with this blog and share aspects that made this trip so memorable with the hopes that it will give you a little insight through my eyes. Perhaps one day you will join me on this crazy adventure I call life.

 

For me, China is sort of like a love hate relationship. I hate it as much as I have love it. The trip is long and arduous, communication in all forms is challenging and for the most part, I don’t love the food. (Let it be known I prefer Americanized Chinese food. I do realize that makes me the epitome of an American.) Once I am there, there are many things that are really great. I have seen and experienced things I will never be able to anywhere else in the world and my trips continue to expand my view of the world outside of my bubble, good and bad.


Sculptures made from broken porcelain.

Outside The Forbidden City. Hard to believe we are standing next to a major boulevard.

This is the first monk I have ever seen in China. Seems strange.

The most beautiful day

My goal for this trip was to visit the Great Wall of China to check off another bucket list item. And though our plans were loose, somehow we chose the absolute most beautiful day. This day the weather was the best it had been since we arrived. we were given a little reprieve from the heat and humidity with clouds and an amazing breeze. It was like mother nature was giving us a little kiss everytime the breeze kicked in.

From Beijing there are many places where the wall is open to the public, the most popular places are the ones closest to the city. Even before the experience at the Forbidden City, I knew that the site I wanted to visit to be further away where there are still original, non-reconstructed Wall. This pick would put us 2 hours out of the Beijing where the tourists were sparse and the sites were amazing. I can not imagine a better location for our trek.

Arriving on the site and seeing the Wall up close was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life. The Great Wall was more than I could have ever imagined. Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. My breath was literally taken away and I almost started crying. I can not even begin to describe what it was like; I am unclear I even know how. People say you can not understand the Grand Canyon until you are actually standing at the edge and looking down into it. Having been to the Grand Canyon I would agree with that statement. And the experience at the Wall was similar but in a bigger way. Perhaps it is because at the GC you CAN get a sense of how big it is. Whereas the Wall was absolutely Unbelievably large. Looking in both directions as far as the eye can see is about 12miles (so they say). And standing there imagining FIVE THOUSAND MILES! Mind blown.

The Great Wall of China was more than anything I had ever hoped for. A once in a lifetime experience. Check!


Guard Tower


A billboard ad for new development next to the Wall. You too can live in luxury next to a historic site.


Not everything was renovated. 


Many of guard towers were occupied by locals selling drinks, snacks and souveniers. They would make the trek everyday carrying much of their goods in a backpacks. 


The first Praying Mantis I have ever seen in the wild! He played nice and stood still for this picture.

Miles of "trails" being built in anticipation of tourists.

 A perspective

This trip would prove to be different from my previous travels as I gained a new perspective on so many things. My travel companions would show me that perspective. Enjoying my surroundings in a different manner than I have before. Taking more time out to just sit and to be in our space but with a drink became something that I would actually enjoy. As much as we had a schedule, I was relieved to know that we did not have to fill every waking minute. Despite the schedule we were not obligated to fulfill every aspect of it. Mind blown!

Interactions with locals is another reason why I travel. From these interactions I continue to gain more insight to the world beyond what is reported on the news and what we see on the internet. It is in these conversations that things come to life and are real. Some of the most memorable conversations were with our translators. Jocelyn who seemed as interested in us as we were in her and was completely star struck when she found out that she had met someone who worked for NASA (Emily), that she squeeled in delight, truly. She was so impressed, saying that she had never met anyone from NASA before.

Another was with Rafi how was born and raised in Hong Kong yet he was not really a Chinese citizen because his parents were immigrants. These kinds of conversations about foreign government just absolutely spins my idealist American perspective. As much as I am critical of some of these kinds of policies, hard to believe it took going out of the country to learn about some American policies. Like the weird rule that says an Australian traveling through China to the US needs a Visa! Had they traveled directly to the US, they don’t need a visa. What??

I never know what I will discover on a trip. What do expect is I always come home a little more educated.

Some Quieter Spaces


Orchid Garden

Bonzai trees at Chi Lin Nunnery

I guess these 3 found a "quiet" place for a nap. They were sleeping for about 30min!

Despite it all

On this day, Sunday, lined up, very orderly along one side of the pathway were women. Hundreds of women on cardboard boxes seemingly just hanging out. This is a public walkway in Hong Kong used to get across busy intersections. I was told that they were homeless, but it seemed so odd, they were ALL very clean, on cell phones, put together and looked like working people. Some were grouped, eating, conversing, playing cards, simply communing. While others were on their own in spaces that were delineated by the size of their cardboard box. Just hanging, primping, talking on the cell phones doing fairly innocuous things.

Who were these people? Why were they here? I just couldn’t accept the fact that they were “just” homeless people. ?. Not only were they in this passage but they were on the sidewalks below for several blocks. 

 

And the local government tolerated this every night? Didn’t seem right. I was even more confused  when we returned a few days later and there was not a single person on the ground. This could not be right.

So when I got home I did a little research on the internet and discovered that they were immigrant home workers on their day off. Sunday is a regulated, mandatory day off for these workers. And in a sense, they ARE homeless, because during the week they live in people’s homes taking care of the household and children. But with no home of their own, every Sunday these people gather in these corridors, parks and streets for respite. If only for a few hours.

 

 

I am in awe. 

 
Rafi, Mina and I can't remember.

 

Dumplings Anyone?

We took an afternoon to learn how to make dumplings. This informal class at a local's apartment not only gave us a taste for homemade dumplings, but an insight to life in Hong Kong. 

I am never happy to have to share my time with other "tourists". I was happy to be wrong about these people I assumed were tourists. (Right? Why would locals take a dumpling class?) We were joined by a Hong Kong immigrant, Indian family. It turned out that one of the sons was home from London on holiday and wanted to do something fun. Especially since his mother failed at making dumplings just weeks before.

In the end, they gave more insight on the Hong Kong culture as the sons were both born and raised in HK. They were happy to converse with on such diverse topics as politics, culture and food. 

It is moments like these that I continue to travel. To be able to enjoy the diversity in the world.

 The Wet Market

As part of the dumpling class we visited a "wet market". Basically an outdoor market where you can get groceries. 


Why the difference in carrots? One is locally grow and one is imported. 

Tofu vendor

 

Persimmon

Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan)

So Many Temples, So Little Time

After my trips to Thailand I thought I have had enough of temples, but for some reason temples are still seductive to me.

I had no idea there were so many temples left in China. The main difference between temples in China and those I have been to before was the scale. Every temple we visited were on properties that were sprawling and vast. Additionally all of the properties had multiple temples on them unlike others I have seen. The most uninteresting fact, between the temples seemed to be a consistent architecture, art and design; they were all seemingly the same. Which gave me a bigger appreciation for the diversity of temples in Thailand.

 After about 4 temples, the challenge for me was to find temples that would separate itself from the “standard". And though they were so similar, I am still drawn to seeing as many as I could.


Fang Xexuan Temple, Beijing

Fang Xexuan Temple, Beijing

Temple of Heaven (I think, they are all looking alike.)

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family,
Guanzhou

Tian Tan Temple, Hong Kong

The Forbidden City, Beijing


The Forbidden City, Beijing

Almost all of the temples had similar ceiling designs in different colors.


The Forbidden City


Every rooftop had these figures on them. 
They indicated the status of the rulers.

 
Nan Lian Garden

Chi Lin Nunnery, Hong Kong

I Travel to Eat

There is a lot of truth to that statement. When I travel I take advantage of what I am lacking in Ohio, culinary diversity. Though they say that Cleveland is one of the most diverse cities in the country, it does not mean that the food is any good. Yes, you can get everything from Indian to Polish food here, but it is all so watered down. And even though I may not love Chinese food in China, I do enjoy the food that choose to eat there.

My love affair with noodles, dumplings and snails were all fulfilled on this trip. Some better than others. Disappointingly was the lack of street food on this trip, though I did find some. Most importantly was they got in my tummy!

Like all trips I have taken overseas with my friends, at some point they find their limit with the local food and at some point we will find ourselves at a more “continental” restaurant. I am just happy to report that this time fast food chains were NOT involved. Phew. 

  • Cold Noodles
    This would become my favorite meal on this trip. Found mostly on the streets of Beijing. It was the most wonderful thing after a long flight. Cold noodles, cucumbers, gluten, sesame sauce and little hot sauce. yummm.
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    I have not clue what these were, I presume cakes. Never ventured to have any, but they were so darn cute!
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    More unidentified desserts.
  • Spicy Beef Soup
    Spicy beef soup with crispy chicken on the side and a cold bottle of Zanpa (sparkling Japanese wine).
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    Beef noodle soup for me, tomatos and eggs for Emily.
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    Nothing like a hot bowl of ramen and some octopus!
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    Starting the day with a bowl of hot soup with mushrooms and tofu.
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    Handmade spicey noodles and yes, another bowl of cold noodles because I can. Saved for the flight the next day!
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    Dim Sum with a side of tripe.
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    Vietnamese Pho made by Chinese people. Tastes like it was made by Chinese people. I'll still take it.
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    Dumplings from Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain making its way around the world. Can't wait to have it again in Seatle!
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    A little break from Chinese food with...Indian food.
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    More dumplings, because I love dumplings as much as I love noodles.
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    Avocado yogurt shake. It was about as big as Emily's head. haha
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    Traditional Chinese dinner with our translator. She ordered.
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    Diverse breakfast.
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    Steamed bun with egg custard inside. Could have been better.
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    Egg plant in a clay pot, beef and vegetables and plate of Gai Lan. One of our best meals at one of the most local restaurants in Guangzhou.
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    Jocelyn (our translator) show us how to eat Gai Lan without knife or choking.
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    Crispy chicken with the head on and Chinese broccoli (Gai Lan) again.
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    Crispy chow mein and vegetables.
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    Mooncake. This was Harvest Moon season, so mooncake was seen everywhere.
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    Scallops on the half shell and GARLIC.
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    Who knew I would have to go to mainland China to have the best Margarita of my life. I had 2.
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    Grilled shrimp
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    Porcini mushroom pasta. It was meh.
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    Interesting, they gave us 2 sets of chopsticks. I think one is meant for handling shared foods.
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    Apparently restaurants can not afford to wash their own dishes, so they bring it in washed and wrapped in plastic. So strange.
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    My obligatory plate of snails.
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    Finally! street food. Octopus tentacles.
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    Onigiri!!! OMG, this my new travel food. Made by the Japanese as food on the run. Made fresh everyday with a variety of fillings. (Lets be honest, I only had the smoked salmon.) This was the perfect food for our lunch at the show; fresh, tastes good, had all the right nutrients and cheap. What's there not to like? Wish I could get it here in the US.
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    Cherry beer? Never had one, had to try it. It was from Belgium. Tasted a little like cough syrup.
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    Wonton soup and what else? Nooooodles. Emily had the tomatoes and eggs in the background.
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    Cappucino. Why the pix, because it tasted funny. Cows in other countries eat different things, it reveals itself in the milk they use. blah
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    Part of our proper Dim Sum breakfast pt1;Onion pancakes.
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    Dim Sum bfast pt2;Rice crepes with mushrooms and sweet soy sauce.
  • Dumplings
    Dim Sum bfast pt3;Soup dumplings. had the entire basket to myself1
  • Soy milk
    Dim Sum bfast pt4;Warm soy milk and fried dough.
  • Pho
    Vietnamese Pho Bo made by Chinese tastes like it was made by Chinese. But I'll take it!
  • Crawfish
    Ventured out alone for this meal to spare Emily from this feast of carcasses. Crawfish with garlic sauce (what else!). ;;In the back, soy noodles and wild celery salad take out for Emily.
  • Soufle
    Afternoon break with an Austrian dessert.(Nockerln) I have never seen it in a restaurant and have not had it since my visit to Austria in 1987! So of course I had to have some. Wasn't as good as I remembered them. I guess that is what you get when you order an Austrian dessert in CHINA!
  • Lobstah
    It looked good, so we both ordered one. Whole lobster and pasta.
  • United
    Fried noodles, a salad, and a roll. I am not even sure how this meal makes sense to anyone. United provided some of the worst airplane food I have ever had.
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    My obligatory fresh coconut. Can not complete a trip to Asia without one.
  • Amaretto Sour
    We finished our trip with a toast and an Amaretto sour. For me this trip officially marks a record for the most alcohol drunk on a trip, ever. Thanks to the company I was keeping, I learned a little more about taking my time.

The Crush

I am pretty sure I had already come to this conclusion previously, but again by day 2 of the trip I concluded that I could never live in such a place. Holy cow, the possibility of a peaceful sanctuary just seemed impossible.

The crush of people was sometimes maddening. Despite being in China already for some 13 days, finding ourselves in the middle of rush hour in the Hong Kong subway system was completely suffating. I actually surprised myself when I found myself not handling it well. I simply don’t remember ever feeling so crowded despite this being my 7th trip to Asia.

 Popular tourist sites were so overwrought with people. The fact that I was able to get shots without people in them is a testament to my patience and the ladies I was traveling with, as they were willing to hang around until I got my shot. Everywhere we went people were fighting for their shot and unabashedly so. It was unbelievable seeing the rush of people across the courtyard at The Forbidden City when the gates opened. I could only assume that these people were running to be the first there to get their picture. 


How everything changes in time. This time, there were less bikes than before and public rental bikes were all over the city. 

Night life in Hong Kong.
 
At The Forbidden city overlooking the courtyard before they opened the gates.
 
 
Look closely at the stairs. 
 
Rush hour in the MTR. Lets not do this again.
 The Show

 The Hong Kong Gem and Jewellery show is considered the 2nd largest show of its kind in the world. Because of its size it is held in two venues 40 minutes apart (Asia-World Expo and Hong Kong Convention Center). Without much expectations we headed for the Asia-World Expo where there is supposed to be Gems and Pearls. And well, let me just say, wow. Having been to the Bangkok show (3rd in the world) I did not expect this show to be so big. It is one thing to read about it but it quite another to be there.

The big difference between this show and Tucson (the largest show in the world) was the quality. The Hong Kong show was a huge step-up in quality. Here we found piles and piles of high end pearls; and Rows and rows of diamonds and fancy gem stones some worth over a million dollars for one piece. Among all of the loose gemstones for sale were finished jewelry pieces and giftware. One of the best things we found but didn’t buy were cashmere scarves. It was one of the most amazing things I had ever touched in my life. It was definitely the Rolls Royce of cashmere, I think I have been ruined for life. Then there were the tools; you know the ones that cost about $10k, take up an entire room and we all drool to have but can’t seem to justify, yeah, those tools. At least was allowed to play with one.

We walked away with very little by way of product as most of the show was order only. But I would do it again for the experience and exposure to a whole new world I never imagined.

 
Unfortunately photos were not allowed on the showrooom floor so there are not many to share. But I snuck in a few. 

Shhhhhhh. 

A small look at the showroom floor

Impressive temporary "showrooms" on the show floor.

 My Obsession with Flowers

If you have been following me long enough, I am pretty sure it has become clear that I am obsessed with taking pictures of pretty flowers. Why? Because I don't have to ask them to stay still or smile nice. But mostly because I have this crazy idea that IF I am ever going to capture the most perfect, professional image of my life it will be with a flower as my subject. 

We took some time out to visit an Orchid garden. Among all of the orchids in the garden, I believe only 5 plants were blooming. Can you say, wrong season??? Oops.

More Images

I had so much fun playing with my camera trying to get the perfect shot. I was able to pull some off while others were just meh.
Have a look here. 

  • Carving inside of a carving, inside of a carving.
  • Didn't think I would be able to catch it. Yup, totally proud of myself.
  • Doors, they are a thing.
  • Then there are the doorknobs.
  • There is a first for everything and this is the first time I had ever seen a Gingko tree.
  • There were many of these signs along the road to the Wall from Beijing. Made me wonder how many animals they are transporting that they need this kind of warning.
  • Jojo, one of our translators.
  • Our first photo of the trip. Lets me honest, we took this so we would remember how to get back to our hotel.
  • Jocelyn, our other translator
  • I think this is the look they were giving me everytime I turned my back.
  • Nothing like a foot massage after a long day of shopping, touring, and I can't remember.
  • Pet Market in Guangzhou.
  • Markets like these were all over the city. Hong Kong
  • Random wet market, Hong Kong.
  • Antique books market.
  • Panjiayuan Flea Market, Beijing;Lots of treasures to look.
  • He was just not going to smile for Mom and Dad who are out of the shot.
  • Things to do on a Saturday morning in the park. Fan dancing for excercise.
  • Not clear what these kids were doing but there were birds hanging around waiting.
  • Hundreds of people would gather in the park to play mahjong and cards. I think I need to learn for the next trip.
  • Beijing Rd, Guangzhou. ;Interesting that they left sections of the road open exposing ancient roads underneath as a reminder of what was there. These roads date back to 900A.D.
  • Phone booths, unclear if they still work, but definitely still around.
  • This was our happy accident. We went the wrong way to our destination and foudn this instead. How fortunate for us!
  • Art
    Carving inside of a carving, inside of a carving.
  • Shrine
  • Shrines to commemorate the dead.
  • Dafo Buddhist Temple, Guangzhou, China; I think this is the best photo I shot on this trip.
  • Probably one of the most odd Buddha figures I have ever seen.
  • 26m Buddha carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood at the Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple).
  • Tian Tan Buddha, Lantau Island
  • Po Lin Monastery
  • Burned incense
  • Hard to tell but these are gigantic incense.
  • Tian Tan Buddha
  • Ceiling decor.
  • Ceiling
  • Steel urn
  • Not clear why I was taking glamour shots of a cow, but it turned out really well. Now if only I could do this with people.
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Scale model of Chi Lin Nunnery
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  • One of the most interesting finds at the show. A fish carving from a large geode.
  • A peak inside of a showroom in Hong Kong. Mound and mounds of raw gems.
  • Bamboo for scaffolding.
  • Gourds were very popular and not just for tourists.
  • Wood carvings from Western Red Cedar.
  • Going to the airport.
  • Shot from the taxi along the highway.