Sculpture Park

CUPPING
Upon getting a weekly foot massage on my lively Friday night after my spin class, my masseuse told me that I was a mess and my body was awful. I really had no idea what she was saying to me but I got the gist from the facial expressions and the constant repeat of “Bu hao, bu hao”.  She recommended to me that I participate in cupping which until this point I a been avoiding. My prior hesitancy came from my displeasure of the marks of the therapy, but after living here for so long where the majority of citizens receive this therapy, it seemed like the right thing to do.

The feeling was quite unique and only lasts about ten minutes. I was rubbed down with oil along my back where round glass jars filled with heat from flame were placed and caused immediate suction. From neck to butt, the jars are placed side by side all the way down the back. I felt like an animal with scales, and with slight movement of the back I could create a beautiful melody of clinking glass. Upon removal, the therapist again screamed “bu hao, bu hao”. The beauty of the marks is that they show where the worst and most damaged areas of the body are. The circles on the skin can range from light pink to dark purple, and the darker results mean the more damage or toxins in the muscles. Yes I would say I was about 3 shades darker than Katie who I did the therapy with.

The chinese have been practicing this therapy for thousands of years. The Chinese believe that the body is filled with Meridians which allow for the flow of Qi throughout the body and link all the organs, tissues and blood of the body. There are five main Meridians on the back which are then opened by the art of cupping and the end result being that Qi is able to flow accurately throughout the whole body. Another aspect of cupping is the release of toxins from the body.  The suction from the cups penetrates deep into the tissues causing the release of harmful toxins.  It is said to trigger the lymphatic system, clear blood vessels, and stretch and activate the skin.

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Sanya, Hainan

Qing Ming Jie

Fisherman

April 5th is the date of “tomb sweeping day”, like a chinese day of the dead. It is a time when ancestors tombs are swept and cleaned, flowers are left and paper money is burned. Well, and of course there is fireworks.
For this holiday I sneaked away for three nights in sunny Sanya. Sanya is located in the south of Hainan island which is China’s smallest province and also holds its most dense forest area. Unfortunately, with only two days full to explore I stuck to the beaches, but hope I can get some time to come back and explore the seldom visited highlands.

I went with two friends and we arrived in the late evening to our quiet and tropical hostel along the Dadonghai bay. It was reasonably priced and close to the action. We set out immediately to get some food on the ever populated coast lined with restaurants and bars.

Salmon Dinner

It is only in the last 20 years or so that Hainan has become the tourist destination it is today and I would say the great majority of the tourists are actually from neighboring Russia rather than mainland China. In fact, most of the signs and menu’s are written in chinese and cyrillic especially in the Dadonghai area. It is actually very rare to hear any English at all on the island. Unless of course, it’s the music. On our hunt for our first nights dinner we were overwhelmed with the cover bands and loud music which blasted over every restaurant. So much for a nice relaxing dinner on the beach. We heard Guns and Roses, Shakira, Katy Perry and but of course Lady Gaga.

The Floridian back in her natural habitat

The next day we set out on foot to try and conquer as much land as we could in the morning. Unfortunately we hit a wall at every turn and just could not quite get our bearings to the geography of the city, so we settled for a day on the beach instead.

Paparazzi

For 25 RMB a piece we set up camp on the beach with some chairs and an umbrella and set out for a day of sun, swim, food and booze. We combed the beaches and bought ocean souvenirs. It was a day of nothing and a day of everything, just what the Dr. ordered.
After experiencing the horrors in the quality and the prices of the food in the touristy restaurants we headed to downtown Sanya to get some local flavor. We found a nice little spot with good cheap food which could have been a chinese Denny’s for all I know. This restaurant was also located in the middle of bar street where all the alleys were filled with clubs. We peeked our head in a few, but it was only bottle service and we felt a little outdoor roaming would better suit our needs.
On the way back we met some Germans who had just themselves met and proceeded to spend the night drinking beer on the beach and having strange conversations. Hey, at least I got to practice my German.

Ferry landing

A Little Bit o' Nature

The next day we booked a boat to the island of Wuzhizhao through our hotel. Early to rise we munched on our complimentary breakfast and awaited our ride. We were joined by a nice family from Russia. The husband is from Sweden, the wife from Moscow and they met in New York. They chose to move back to Moscow and had a son who is 11 and speaks English, Swedish and Russian. They were a wonderful family and it was an honor to meet them an spend part of our trip to the island with them.
A short car ride we arrived at the ferry dock and took the short 15 minute ferry ride to the island. Although it was small island and there was a great deal of nature it was definitely chinese as far as cars and cement and construction and restaurants go. Unfortunately there is only one beach dedicated to swimming which lies right next to the ferry docking and is packed to the gills.
We tried to cover as much as we could on foot and the first stretch of beach that we hit was terrifyingly dirty and filled with chunks and pieces of trash. There seemed to be a large amount of rubber gloves that resembled floating hands.


There was a nice swimming pool along the beach that laid behind a juice hut where we drank coconut smoothies. It was fortunate that the pool was so close and it brought back the joy in our arrival of Hainan.

Phot Shoot Island

We continued around the island until we were allowed to walk no more. For protection of the island, one half of the island was off limits to foot traffic and was only allowed to be reached by a trolley. I think this was to protect the land from trash and other human disasters but it was disappointing all the same. We opted not to take the trolley and walked all the paths which could be covered by foot.

Untouched coast

I probably would not recommend this island to people to visit especially if they are looking for a beach to lay on or a place to swim. At the same time if I had not visited the island I would have wondered what it was like. So regardless the trip was worth it and we got to meet the wonderful family from Russia.
Once back to the hostel we ran to the beach to get the last minutes of the beach. A bit more sun and swimming and Liz and I also had a foot massage on the beach where we met the happiest, funniest most amazing man. Obsessed with the show friends he told us how he learned all his english from watching american movies. He also told us of the pro’s and con’s of dating chinese men.

Toast with Coconut Jam and Spicy Congee for Breakfast

Spreading Rain

It would have been nice spend more time on the island, but all in all it was good to get away. I came back a little more tan, with more excitement about New York and some German practice under my belt.

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Visitors

I know, I know, I talk about Hong Kong too much, but I just  feel so extremely lucky to be located so close to Hong Kong. Trains leave from the Guangzhou east railway station every ten minutes to Shenzen where I can just hop over the border and ride the subway into central, or if I’m feeling a little more lazy and have a few extra bucks I can simply take the Kowloon direct train all the way in.

The nostalgia of arriving out of the subway into the bustling tight fitting city has not been lost on me and seems to grow each new exit I ascend from. I am also becoming more and more familiar with the city itself which can always be a gratifying feeling in such a difficult city to navigate.
I definitely have been sticking to certain places I know and mostly because visitors come and have never been to Hong Kong so of course I show what I know. I had the pleasure of traveling through Hong Kong with my mom and brother and it was a blast. We had a nice hotel ate delicious Cantonese food by night while wandering the streets for nic-nac’s and of course hit up Maxims for a little mid-day dim sum. My brother and I attempted the night life but never really discovered anything to our liking so mostly drank 7-11 beer while shooting the shit.

Peak Tram Station


Victoria Peak can be a great place to get a view of Central and Kowloon from above. It is definitely a tourist spot with observation decks and malls and even includes American restaurants like Bubba Gumps, but on a nice day the view is worth seeing at least once. To get there you can take the Peak Tram which is one of the oldest attractions in Hong Kong. The lines can be long, but it’s pretty fun to experience. The tram is pulled straight up the mountain by a giant cable at a very steep angle which allows for interesting views of the nearby sky scrapers.

Recently I had two more visitors come to Hong Kong. Dana and Alice recently married and on a family trip to Taiwan after the wedding. I stayed with them in their hotel in causeway bay by the polo fields and we spent the evening in Kowloon walking the avenue of the stars and eating at the Temple Night Market.

Spicy Crab Restaurant

What to buy at the night market, hmmmm.........

I have to say that the seafood at the temple night market may be one of my favorite places to experience the hustle bustle and get some dam good food. We feasted on Whelk (sea snails) razor clams and spicy crab. Dana, who doesn’t even like crab even expressed that he rather liked it. Afterward we headed back to Central, I got them a bit lost and then we headed to crazy bar/club land. I vaguely remember the ar5ea from Kenneth and my debauchery that was Halloween, but I assumed it was just the holiday that made the area crowded. Boy was I wrong, hundreds of people spilled out of bars and onto the streets from the winding bar streets lined with empty taxi’s. It was sight out of Bourbon street or the Marina on steroids. As far as the scene and the crowd goes, not my style. However buying 7-11 beers and sitting on the steps and people watching? Definitely my style.
The fashion was probably the best part of people watching. As Dana looked for beauty, Alice an I looked for new styles and ideas to wear. We watched as waif-like women strutted by in impossible shoes dangling on the arm of some European. This experience also definitely made me realize my age.

Time's Square Dim Sum

Egg Custard Bun

Sunday morning, well, afternoon, we headed out for some dim sum and settled on the 10th floor of Times Square where we ate slowly and particularly. A little more elegant and stylized than Maxim’s it was still a treat and quite good.

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The Loft and St. Patty’s day!

The Loft

The Loft

So for ST. Patty’s day I was taken to a great little bar/gallery called the loft which my friends love and I had never been to mostly because I am so exhausted and lazy when my week is over. So, the holiday was the perfect occasion. After an awesome dinner a cantonese restaurant where they serve the world famous pork candy we headed out by metro to the loft.
Situated on the third floor of an apartment building which has been converted to an artist live work space, it is a place that can only be found through word of mouth and guidance. A lot of memories of Berlin filled my head as I hit up the bathroom upon arrival. Covered in graffiti and barely covered by broken doors it felt weirdly at home.

The Loft itself has windows for walls and is dead center in the middle of the floor. The gallery is filled with couches and comfy nooks, lined with art from local artists and even includes a pool table and fussball. The beer is cheap, 15RMB for a 32 oz. beer, which is incredible for Guangzhou. There is also live music, frisky cats and weird salamander like fish.

Ian Smith Trio

Love Potion Films

Lum Lum's New Nails

The night was mellow, no crowds, and I had a blast shooting the shit with friends. This place will definitely fill my future. Lujiang Metro exit C and then good luck!

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A Few of my Favorite Things

So my time has officially reached the half way point. I have been here almost exactly 7 months. I thought I would send out some photo’s of some of my favorite things; things that I do or things that I see every day. Enjoy!

Stumbling onto all things green

Stumbling onto all things green

The weird sculpture hanging from the ceiling in my office building

Tea and Teasets and all the varieties and availability of the tea's

Fruitstands and all their glory and eastern variety

Crabs that are tied with ribbons

The swimming pool in my courtyard

Reflections of the Rare Blue Sky in the largest buildings

The random abandoned bus in my courtyard

the little pieces of nature that appear

My local wine bar, LV bar

My wall of polaroids with all my friends back home

Guangzhou Public Buses

The view from my balcony at night

Very Strange signs, these are to show good kids and bad kids

animals in the streets

Sunsets in Pollution

Lum Lum's nails

Lum Lum's nails and i phone cases

The water fountain that performs every day at 4 p.m. to various classical music

English Translation

Rule #3

Group Dinners with lots of food and people

Views from tall buildings

How the pollution makes the city look like it has rivers of fire

When Angie reads funny things from the internet

Hand pulled muslim noodles at any hour of the night

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Quiz Night

Lately, to get away and have some fun and get a little brain stimulation, I have been hitting up the local pub quiz nights. There are two main bars that provide this service. Hoolies, an Irish pub located in times square has a quiz every other Thursday and the Tavern which is located in Zhujian New town holds a pub quiz every Wednesday.

The first pub quiz I frequented was at Hoolie’s and we came in second place with a bottle of wine. Since I was with Angie and Nathan, who both pride themselves on knowing many and all facts, it made the quiz a lot easier. In fact, the reason I went to pub quiz in the first place was to watch them in action. Although, I have to admit, that the i phone kind of takes away the fun of pub quiz.

Team "blame Canada"

The next was at the Tavern and we came in first and were rewarded with a bottle of Jameson. Luckily for me I was able to participate in the quiz this time, as the last round of the game was 4 second clips from horror movies. I even got to do a showdown round for a tie breaker which was also a movie clip, which I guessed in seconds and won the delightful bottle of whiskey, which I did not participate in.

The last pub quiz was back at Hoolie’s and was actually hosted by Angie and Nathan. It was ridiculously hard and unfortunately they removed a whole round of the game for foul language. We however came in 6th but out friends came in first and we drank a bottle of whiskey with them into the wee hours of the night.

Quiz Masters

Pub quizzes have actually become the best way for an English teacher to unwind, think outside of simple sentences and meet a lot of crazy people.

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Chime-Long Paradise

So lately the weather has been in and out of hot and cold, gray and blue sky, windy and humid. Something else that has been extreme is the pollution; Some days far worse than others, where the sky is thick and full of the smell of burnt rubber.

On a recent night out with my new roommate and Liz we headed down through the thick pollution after a day of work and headed on foot for the river toward Zhujiang New town where  we would see the new park and see the spring festival flower sculptures and of course head to the bar for burgers and beers and pub quiz.

While at pub quiz we met a new friend, named Jaime who informed of us the amusement park Chime- Long Paradise which is three parks combined as one. An amusement park with rides and show, an animal park and a water park. He told us the interesting news about the weather causing the park to be virtually empty so we made plans to head out the next Sunday. We also came in first place with the final round being horror flicks. Whiskey!

Chime Long Paradise is the largest amusement park in China and has a roller coaster which holds the world record for the most inversions, 10, which it shares with England. Unfortunately this ride hurts the brain a little much. It is impossible to keep from banging your head from side to side  due to all the inversions which made it a little rough for the full ride.

Inversion Roller Coaster

Head hurts, rest stop

Although, the best ride is the dive coaster which has a 90 degree vertical drop from 80m/265 feet and then an additional drop of less height which takes you underground.

The wait before the Drop

Vomit Barrel

"keep smile" camera

The third and only other ride really worth trying is the motorcycle ride. Placed on a line of motorcycles you are secured into the bike bent over and thrown down the track at a very high speed. I have to say, it was this ride that actually got my stomach jumping and the sensation of my brain tickling.

When we needed a break from the short lines and the jumpy coasters we watched two ridiculous, funny, lip synched, over acted and action packed shows.

Danger Island

A group of good trust worthy good doers are captured by the evil G.I. Joe looking ninja bad guys, but this doesn’t last for long. Filled with token white people lip syncing to over dramatized voices while explosions and fire crackers pop in the back ground, this action packed show holds hover crafts, motorcycles and jet ski’s.

You won’t want to miss the bad acting, the fake martial arts and the horrible aim with a machine gun which leads to a riveting story of the good over powering the evil.

North American Lumber Show

Again, a large group of foreigners, this time dressed in flannels and 4 square dresses take the stage to show off their ax and chainsaw skills while the ladies dance around in short shorts and tied up flannels and little dresses. Don’t miss the log running competition and the whipshaw races. Short and sweet this show even blasts the likes of “dueling banjo’s” ove the loud speaker.

All in all this was a great day and a great adventure. Thinking at the beginning of the day that I may be too old for roller coasters, I actually think this day took years off my life. I laughed, I screamed and I bought ridiculous pink bows to wear in my hair.

To get to chime long take line 3 to chime long stop. Entrance fee is 180RMB or 248RMB for all three parks in two days. Take a shuttle from the metro to the north gate or walk 300m to the south entrance which will bring you right to the vertical drop.

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Spring Festival

Guanghua Lu

It’s the year of the Rabbit! Spring festival was wonderful and I was lucky enough to have spent it with my mother and brother in China. Originally I had planned to fly to Beijing on February 1st, but thanks to a free ticket change and an approval from the boss, I was able to fly to Beijing on the Saturday before.

I arrived in the evening of Saturday the 29th of January to my mom and brother having cocktails in the hotel lobby. I was so excited to see them and we were ready to celebrate being in China together by hitting up food street, or Guanghua Lu for a Beijing dinner. Guanghua Lu is known as food street or restaurant street and for spring festival was covered in red lanterns. So many restaurants to choose from, we took our time walking through the winter cold streets watching the steam waft from the Mongolian hot pot spots and traditional Beijing fare.

Nanluogu Xiang

Winter Scooter Mittens

The next day we chose to wander the streets of Beijing rather than jump straight into a tourist hot spot so we could get our bearings and see the town. The first stop was Nanluogu Xiang which is an old Hutong that dates back to the 1200′s. Although the street is still ancient, what fills the walls are all contemporary. Small boutiques, cafe’s and  artisan crafts it was a wonderful spot to catch up, look around and find a local noodle house filled with dumplings.

Along the walk from Nanluogu Xiang to the Gulou Metro we came across the Drum Tower and Bell Tower. The drum tower marked the center of the Mongol capital and from the top of the sttep steps one can get a great view of the Hutong rooftops.

Bell tower

Drum Tower

Hutongs

In Beijing, the city is covered by thousands of old alleys or streets called Hutongs. Some of these ancient streets date back to 900 and many were built throughout the many many dynasties: Yuan (1206-1341), Ming(1368-1628) and Qing(1644-1908). The main buildings of a Hutong consisted of four houses circled around a square courtyard where people reside.
In the past, the city of Beijing was planned out by the Emperors who placed the palace, or Forbidden city, at the center of the city and the Hutongs were built around the palace. The nobel men and aristocrats lived in Hutongs to the east and west of the palace, while the working class and common folk lived farther out to the North and South of the palace.
Luckily, many of the Hutongs have been preserved due to the fact that they still house half the population of Beijing and cove about a third of the city. Small, narrow, angular and originally built around a well, Hutongs were the highlight of our trip to Beijing and are one of the most spectacular sights of Beijing.
Of course, aside from housing residents in Beijing, some of the Hutongs now house shops, cafes and little boutiques for the world of tourism. The most popular streets for this are Nanluogu Xiang, which is a great spot for Beijing crafts and warm little cafe’s and Gulou district which is a little more of a pricey area to shop for souvenirs.
If you want to see a more residential side then chose an alley in the city and get lost. To see the oldest Hutong in Beijing, go to Sanmiao jie which dates back to 900 and is located in the Xianwu district.

Spring Palace


Our second day in Beijing brought us to the Summer Palace. Although it is winter and it is January the Summer palace is a magical place and I can only imagine the beauty this place must hold when the trees bloom in the spring.
The Summer Palace is a spectacular compound located in the North East of the city and acted as a refuge from the horrible summer heat that filled the Forbidden City. A large palace which is 75% water from lakes, the palace also contains temples, gardens, pavilions and long decorative walkways.
We opted for bus 375 which we caught from Xizhimen subway station so that we could see an above ground tour of Beijing rather than the underground. We did however get off a stop too early, but the walk wasn’t too far.

The Long Corridor

Of course visiting the Summer palace in the winter isn’t the most ideal time for the gardens or the flowers in bloom, but it is however the best time to avoid the crowds. We entered at the East Palace gate which leads to Kunming lake through the hall of Benevolence and Longevity. The lake was completely frozen over so the ferries and boats were inoperable, and the crowds of  people spent most of their time sneaker ice skating.
We then followed the long corridor which is a beautiful path made from ornate carved wood and is roofed to provide shade. The corridor runs along the lake to one side and longevity hill to the other. After following the corridor to the end, we reached the entrance to the cloud dispelling hall which is connected to the Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion and leads to the top of the hill where the Buddhist Temple of the Sea of Wisdom lies. Along this spectacular rise to the top the view is spectacular and the sights and architecture are exhilarating.

Cloud Dispelling Hall

Corridor to the Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion

View from Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion

Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion

Buddhist Temple of the Sea of Heaven

Tiles with effigies of Buddha

As we descended down to the lake we wound our way through the forests, gardens, rock sculptures and marble bridges. One can’t help but day dream about this place in its heyday and picture oneself as the empress walking this fortress alone in the height of summer.
One sight that can’t be missed at the Summer Palace is the Marble boat. The marble boat lies on the shore along boathouses and is completely made to resemble marble though made completely from wood. The empress, completely a lover of fishing, commissioned the boat rather than spend the money to refurbish the Navy.

Qing Boathouses

Cixi's Marble Boat

Buddhist Tenants Hall

The palace in the winter is cold, so dress warm and one can only guess is it very hot and crowded in the summer. If you choose to take the subway, take line 4 to yiheyuan which is summer palace in Mandarin.

798 Art District



The 798 Art Zone is located in the north east of Beijing in between the city center and the airport. It is one of the original factory turned art gallery/work spaces in China. Built in the 1950’s as a factory for the military, it was designed by germans in Bauhaus style and was built as part of the socialist unification plan between China and the former USSR. Producing mostly electronics, the factory was closed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The buildings, being completely left intact, left an ample place for an art community to be built in the early 2000’s.

Lakers Pizzeria

To get to the galleries we took a subway to Dongzhimen station where we caught bus 909 for about a half an hour to Dashanzi Lukounan where the entrance to the factory lies. I was ecstatic at the prospect of visiting this place, but due to the timing of our trip and the Spring Festival approaching, there was only about 5% of the galleries, shops or cafes open. It was still pretty amazing to walk through a giant abandoned old factory and the window shopping and galleries and shops that were open kept us entertained and surrounded by eye candy. We even ate at a little pizzeria, that besides the loud boy bands playing, was quite good.
Many of the shops that were open were small boutiques containing handmade clothing and accessories from local artisans. I have to admit, it was hard to resist and we left 798 with a great selection of crafts.
Like any major art community there is plenty of controversy, including criticism about gentrification and the concern of the community to not be centered around art and of course, the threat of being shut down.

Beijing Food

Beijing food is ancient, perfected and world famous. Beijing also contains food from all over the world and from all over China, being the capital of the country and one of the culture capitals of Asia. Needless to say, we ate our way through Beijing, and spent a great deal of time trying and eating everything we crossed along the way.

Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant


The most popular dish is Peking or Beijing Duck. After the duck is cleaned and de-feathered, the duck has air pumped under his skin to separate it from the flesh and is then hung to dry for 24 hours. After being smothered with a syrup, the duck is roasted at high heat for 40 minutes where the glaze covering the skin becomes a crispy glass like texture. The duck is delightful and can be found at many restaurants in Beijing.

Spicy cucumber

Black Mushroom and Walnut


For our first Peking duck experience, we went to the world famous Quanjude Roasted Duck Restaurant located off Wangfujing Dajie, the famous shopping street. The restaurant is huge, and located on several floors and even filled with large waiting rooms for the more popular seasons. The halls are large, elaborate and filled with gaudy decorations and chandeliers. The staff is friendly and helpful and we were given a full blown lesson on how to properly eat our duck. Aside from the duck meat, this restaurant is known for using all the parts of the duck to cook the rest of the fare. The insides are used to make a broth which is served with the duck, and the vegetables are cooked with the bone to give it added flavor. Besides the duck, we also feasted on a delightful mushroom dish (a black mushroom, the name unknown to me) with walnuts and dumplings. I definitely recommend this restaurant.

1st step: Pancake

2nd step: Piece of duck dipped in fermented black bean paste and places in top right corner

3rd step: add sliced spring onion

fold in half

fold in quarters

roll tight into a small hand food roll

Our second Peking duck restaurant was on our last night in Beijing and was also a celebration for Daren’s Birthday. I do not know the name of the restaurant, but I do know that it was located in Da Wang Lu area and it was near a school. Daren’s friends Emma and Joel were delightful and lived right around the corner from the restaurant. Also sneaky those two, they ordered a large ceramic bottle of Bai Jiu even though they themselves do not drink. Besides the duck, we had a plethora of other Beijing dishes, and even got Daren the noodle of life for his birthday. The trick is to eat the noodle without breaking it to ensure a long life.

Noodle of Longevity

Daren's 23rd Birthday

Wangfujing Snack Street and Donghuamen Night Market

Wanfujing Snack Street

Both of these streets are located off Wangfujing and contain a large variety of beautiful, tasty, colorful and dangerous foods. Mostly quick street foods roasted on sticks one can eat everything from 3 different varieties of scorpion, tarantula, grasshopper, cocoons and sea creatures, such as star fish and sea anemone. Of course you can also get the usual BBQ as well, such as chicken, pork and squid.

grasshoppers and cocoons

Candied Crab Apples

Starfish, scorpion, lizard and tarantula

Other favorites along these streets are hot pot, stinky tofu and candied fruits, especially the small candied crab apples which are a famous and popular treat especially for Spring Festival. Of course, I have been rather adventurous in my time here in China with experimenting with food, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the bugs.

Donghuamen Night Market

MMMmmmm, scorpion

Fried Dumplings

There is a great deal of muslim fare to be had here as well, especially lamb kebabs and the flatbread seasoned with cumin. This latter treat became a staple and everyday snack in our adventures.
Another treat that can be found on the street and in any market is the honey yogurt. An influence from the north, Mongolia, where dairy is eaten regularly, this treat is not to be missed. Served in small ceramic cups and covered with a white and blue wax paper, the yogurt is thick and rich and reminiscent of greek yogurt. he containers are however reused, so most vendors will not let you stray from their stand without first returning the ceramic cup. Just pop in a straw and drink it up.

Last but not least, the Mongolian Hot Pot can not be passed up. Due to our timing during spring festival, it was rather difficult to find restaurants that were open during the holiday and there were a few days where we didn’t have the best of luck or the best of experiences. Fortunate for us, on the hunt for Mongolian Hot Pot, we found a wonderful and delicious spot just right across the street from our Hotel. With a curry base, we stuffed our faces with a variety of vegetables and tofu skin, followed by lamb, beef balls and shrimp. Washed down with beer and spicy special sauce, this may have been one of my favorite meals in Beijing.

Tiananmen Square and the forbidden city

Tinanmen Square

When most people hear the name Tiananmen square, they think “failed democratic revolution”, but the square is also a place that positions itself in the center of Beijing, leads to the forbidden city and now holds the remains of chairman Mao, in the Chairman Mao memorial hall. The largest square in the world, it actually doesn’t feel that large when you are standing in it. It is a copy of the North Korean square and was built at such a large scale as a symbol of the size of the Communist party, and has held two major events  of significance besides the 1989 demonstrations; parades during the Cultural Revolution and in 1976 when chairman Mao was mourned.

Raising the flag

Monument to the People's Heroes

Every morning at sunrise and every evening at sunset there is a flag raising a lowering ceremony. On our fourth morning in Beijing we arose early to catch the raising. A group of PLA soldiers exit from the Gate of Heavenly peace, cross Chang An Jie with stopped traffic and raise the flag to the national song which is blasted throughout the city from loud speakers. Since it was early February, the ceremony was held at 7:30 am, so we had some time to kill after before we could enter the forbidden city at 9 am. So we headed out and grabbed some congee to heat us up and fill us with energy for the day.
Unfortunately the Memorial hall of Chairman Mao was closed where one can catch a glimpse of the mummified leader in a crystal cabinet.

Maosaleum

Once we were full we headed back and began our tour of the forbidden city.

Gate of Heavenly Peace

Once you cross Chang’an Jie, you must pass through three gates until you actually reach the forbidden city. Cross a short bridge, one of seven, (the center bridge was used only by the Emperor) over the Changpu River to reach the Gate of Heavenly Peace which is adorned with a large print of the Chairman. The second gate is the Duan Gate, and now is used strictly by people selling tourist items. The third gate, is appropriately named the Front Gate. This is the largest gate and was built during the Ming Dynasty and served as the barrier between Inner city and the Outer city.
The Forbidden City is the most most maintained selection of buildings in China and housed Emperors from both the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Hall of Supreme Harmony

There are three main halls to the Forbidden city which lie on a perfect straight axis from north to south, as do most places of great importance in China. Although access to all and any of these halls is forbidden, one can peak through the doors to get a peak and imagine what it may have been like in the past. The first hall reached is “The Hall of Supreme Harmony” and is where the most important ceremonies were held, especially the Emperor’s birthday. The second hall is the “Hall of Middle Harmony”, which the Emperor used more like an office. The third hall is the “Hall of Preserving Harmony”  which was used for banquets.

Hall of Middle Harmony

Ancient Fire Extinguisher

Western side buildings

The next three buildings in the North are more significant in meaning. The first is the “Palace of Heavenly Purity” and was once the residence of Emperors. The next is the “Hall of Union” and at the northern most part of the palace is the “Imperial Garden” which is an impeccable maze of a garden and is stunning even in the dead of winter. My only thought is how heavenly this place must be in the middle of spring or summer.

Imperial Garden

To the east and west are many more buildings which now contain various museums and viewing halls of various items and once housed libraries, temples and housed the many concubines.

Hall of Preserving Harmony

Exit from Shenwu Gate

Upon entry to the forbidden city, you may be bombarded by the dozens of people who give tours, but my mother and I opted for the more accessible audio tour. If you are a true history buff you could stay all day, but we ousted an noon due to the holiday, and thought the timing was perfect.

New Years Eve

After visiting the Forbidden City we headed out to the White Cloud Temple in the south west where we heard there would be a fair for the New Year. After a long taxi ride across town we arrived only to find nothing but decorations and no one in sight. Unfortunately my Mandarin skills were still a little too flawed to understand when and if there would be a Temple Faire at some time.
So we went back to the north east in search of a good meal. We headed out in search of the food street again and even asked some advice from the locals on where to go. We walked for what seemed like miles passing men strewn with firecrackers in sheets along the street. The celebration was heating up.
We wandered through a great deal of Hutongs along the way, mostly local residence rather than the overprices tourist sections. The streets were littered with fire cracker carcasses and every minute there was a new strand lit. The more we walked the less we found. Everything had closed completely by 3pm and everybody was setting up what would be a long night of explosions.
So we headed back to the hotel and stocked up on cheap beer from the corner store where my brother and I had now befriended the staff. We watched as the city began to light the sky from our 10th floor room and even made it up to the 20th floor bar to catch a view and a cocktail. We didn’t really know what to expect from the evening and really were hard up for a meal, but with our poor food hunting skills we settled for meager rations and began drinking more beer to make up for it.

Mom's window cubby

By 9pm the sky and city really started to let loose with the millions of fireworks. My mom had found a cubby in the hallway from where she demanded more beer and spent most of her evening looking out over the city. Luke and I decided to be more adventurous and  went out into the night and streets with beer, a fellow American and a couple from Holland who were loaded with their own explosives.
After setting of their explosives we set out into the streets and madness to stock up for midnight and catch a glimpse of the city alive and kicking.
I’ve never seen anything like this in my life and would say it was the highlight of the trip for all three of us. Don’t ever expect to experience something like this in America. The only way I could possibly even begin to describe this event is to have you imagine every other person in Beijing setting off a firework all at the same time on every corner and midpoint of a city block throughout the largest city in the world. I think there was a whole hour where we all just stood looking up and hysterically laughing.

Remains!

If any of you know my brother, then just picture him in Beijing setting off a mortar in the middle of a pedestrian overpass on one of the busiest streets as bottle rockets are shot in every direction and bouncing off cars. Ha Ha, it makes me chuckle just thinking about it.

The Great Wall

Great Wall at Badaling


There is a saying, “You haven’t been to China if you haven’t been to Beijing, and you haven’t been to Beijing if you haven’t been to the great wall”. So of course we had to see the wall. There are five destinations along the great wall which make for great day trips from Beijing. With little time or care for research on which part of the wall to visit we chose two to choose from; Badaling and Jinshanling. Jinshangling had been recommended by a friend, but was a good three hours away from Beijing. Badaling on the other hand is only an hour away, but it is still the most populated and highly tourist oriented parts of the wall.

Depending on where you want to go and the preference of how you want to get there, almost every location can be reached by bus and minibus. If you prefer to go with a tour Badaling is the most popular option and usually includes lunch and a stop at the Ming Tombs. However, if buses sound daunting and long and tours sound horrible and time restricting, you may choose the taxi option which was our choice. For 400 quay, we had a private taxi for the day and we able to set our own time frames. So we hired a taxi to Badaling for the day and we were given the option of stopping at Juyongguan (which we didn’t take advantage of).
I had heard that Badaling was not the best place to visit the wall, but I thought it was quite nice and the crowds were not too overwhelming because it was February and Spring Festival.

Train Tram

The highest point of the wall at Badaling can be reached by two sides; one by Gondola and the other by a small train. The Gondola reaches the highest point and the train meets up a bit lower down the wall. Needless to say this is the most populated area of the wall especially considering most people go to the wall to take a picture and then go back down the mountain to eat  or shop. Once we walked away from this centralized point on the wall we were almost completely alone and able to take some photos without people in the shot.
The wall was built durng the Qin Dynasty when the country was unified and all the separate kingdom walls were attached. The wall took many years and many workers and there are legends that parts of the wall were erected out of the bones of workers. Later during the Ming dynasty the wall was continued and many died. Unfortunately the wall was never very effective and there was a great deal of Manchurian overtake for a great deal of time.
Much of the wall has been destroyed and much of it thankfully has been restored, mostly for the tourism. There have been many problems with locals especially farmers who tear apart the wall so their livestock can have better pastures for grazing. Hopefully the great wall continues on for centuries to come, it is truly an experience and amazing sight to see and it comes to life why this structure is one of the seven wonders of the world.

Prince Gong’s Palace

Through a slight miscommunication and the need to see more things in Beijing, we headed to the residence, compound/mansion . Set in the middle of Hutongs, this residence is the largest in Beijing.

Ceiling

It was very large and very crowded and housed a great deal of tourist shops whose money was placed back into the maintenance. Again, and like most places at this time, it would be a beautiful place to see in the spring or summer when the garden is in full
bloom.
It was quite an exquisite mix of buildings of which the main buildings shape was taken from a bat of which the first resident had a great love for. Seen from above, one can see the building corridors span out like the wings of a bat.

Located in the North West of the city, it’s a great place to explore after the museum and there is a great dumpling place with orange congee across the street. It’s also a great place to watch ice skating on the lakes in the winter and you can find a array of shops from souvenirs to hand made crafts.

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Li Wan District

Food Street

It had been a while since I had gone out and explored a new area in Guangzhou. From Thailand to the sprained ankle and then the sickness, January was a month spent abroad or indoors. Finally I was ready and it had been a while since I had spent quality time with Daren and Anne.
Much of Guangzhou as you may know by now has been reconstructed, renewed and remodeled for the Asian Games. Some of the most impressive areas are Zhujiang New Town, the Greenways and Li Wan District.
Anne had been wanting to visit LiWan district since the face lift, especially after hearing from many friends that it had become one of the most beautiful places  in Guangzhou. With a thousand year history and named after the Lychee fruit this district is the most famous district in Guangzhou.
Not only is Li Wan now known for its beauty but also for its food. Named Guangzhou food street it is filled with some of the best eateries containing both domestic and international treats, dim sum and cantonese foods and a great deal of congee varieties. People are spread out along the streets and sidewalks, standing in line for street food or the next available table. Although we had previously eaten my mouth was still watering upon viewing the happy eaters and their many colorful dishes.
Like many parks in Guangzhou, Li Wan is centered around a lake and a temple. Within this particular park were five lakes: Yuxiu, Liwan, Ruyi, Yucui and Xiaocui. These lakes are surrounded by newly built promenades, gazebos and benches for relaxing, row boats for the more active and a children’s play area that resembled more of a small carnival.

Monkey King

Cantonese Opera wafted through the air as we strolled through the children’s playground in awe of the rusty rides and toys built from random pieces of scraps from all over China. The small rides reminded me of being a child at the Nevada County fair. Small helicopters that bound through the air, mini train rides and shoot-em-up safari rides where the enemies are exotic aliens, small rubber animals and pissing babies.

After our short lived attempt to work up an appetite, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on some hot dim sum. We found a local, smoky greasy, five story joint on the corner filled with the smell of tea, shrimp dumplings and cigarettes. It was a true local treat.

To get to Li Wan district, take the Metro to Chen Family station and either take a bus west or walk west down Zhongshan Lu until you take a left on Pantang Lu.

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Pearl face mask



Just like almost anywhere in the world, beauty is a key factor in many peoples lives. In China both beauty and health are extremely important to many people. Considering the air quality here I would assume that certain measures are required to attain these two things in life. Also like in America, beauty and skin products are extremely overpriced.

Anne, who is saving money to go to America, has a weekly ritual with her family which involves a handmade face mask. Since her family had already left for Dianbai for spring festival, she was more than happy to share her recipe and her company.

Pearl face Mask
1 egg, egg whites only ( can be used for 3 to 4 people)

1 T of Honey

2 T of pearl, add more or less depending on consistency

And yes that is Pearl, as in comes out of an oyster and people wear them for jewelry. These are ground pearls, that have been ground to dust. It has a not so pleasant smell that I cannot quite put my finger on and can be bought anywhere.

Once you have all the ingredients, then mix until the consistency is even and there are no chunks or grain. Apply to face with spoon or fingers, smoothing out evenly, (and yes it can be messy and runny so don’t wear your favorite outfit.) Leave on for 20 – 30 minutes and wash off with warm water.

The solution will become rock hard, so be sure to keep your face the same and try not to move a muscle. Oh yeah, and don’t laugh.
The results? A beautiful smooth tight and shiny face that is flawless. Thanks Anne.

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