Tag - China

A Trip to China

800px-The_Great_Wall_of_China_at_JinshanlingIn 1997 I was an emergency replacement speaker at a four-day United Nations Round Table in Beijing. It was October and I happened to be in New York for a meeting on socially responsible investments when I got the call. Could I depart in two days? Yes!

I got into line at the Chinese Consul in Manhattan at seven a.m. the next morning. The line already extended half way down the block. Doors opened at nine and we moved quickly into the offices. I held out my documents from the UN Development Programme, the clerk stamped my visa and said, “You got good papers.”  I caught a plane that night from New York to Seoul to Beijing.

The conference, about converting military industry to commercial production, was terrific. Twenty foreigners and 40 Chinese army officers and arms manufacturers participated. Young Chinese engineers were passionate about environmental issues. A bureaucrat promised all the old equipment would be scrapped, but older plant managers nodded enthusiastically when I described a St. Louis company that has a computer that measures products with an electric eye —but also has a four-meter square granite table on its own foundation. Every five years a man polishes this table with diamond dust and certifies it as level.

The paper I presented: Technology Transfer: Applying Military Research to Commercial Industry with Examples of Joint Ventures was well received. I had my laptop in New York, and it was loaded with examples I’d garnered in interviews with subcontractors. Back then I was a sort of therapist for failing military contractors, and I stuffed my talk with tales illustrating management retraining and company networking.

I was in China for four days. My visa application was too late to allow me any vacation time. But our hosts took us to the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Ming Dynasty tombs and the Great Wall — all in one day. On the Wall Chinese tourists took more photos of our group than of the scenery, marveling that so many foreigners from so many places (India, Egypt, South Africa, France, Russia, Brazil, USA) could be captured in one picture.

We each had an interpreter. After my presentation, many people had questions and comments, so I was late for lunch and my interpreter was pressing me to hurry. But I had to use the bathroom. I hurried and when I came out, she said, shocked, “You did not wash your hands.” She made me go back and wash my hands.

The food was splendid. Meat, cheese, pickled condiments and endless stuffed rolls for breakfast. Mongolian pots of stew at lunch one day. The mayor of Beijing gave us a dinner at the Emperor’s Summer Palace. There must have been 15 or more round tables, each seating ten: two interpreters, conference participants, and Beijing dignitaries. The food was grand and the conversation was stimulating. Then there was a pause and a line of chefs, wearing their tall white hats, marched out carrying platters. One was placed directly in front of me. It was a white fish, still breathing. The flesh had been filleted and rolled back, skewered into servings that lifted easily off the fish.

Determined to try everything, I took a piece. It was the best fish I ever tasted, cooked, I think, in boiling sugar. The Lazy Susan turned around the table and when it came back to me, the fish was still breathing. I didn’t take a second serving. That’s the most extreme food I’ve ever eaten, the most amazing business trip I’ve ever taken.

* The Great Wall of China, photo credit- Wikipedia

China by Train

    China Travel- Discover the Pandas in Chengdu

China Travel- Discover the Pandas in Chengdu

So, you’re thinking of travelling to China. You’ve always wanted to go but the prospect itself is quite daunting.  The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. Yes, you might get a little confused at times, and it won’t always be easy, but with a little planning it’s very possible to travel across China independently. It’s also a lot of fun!

Now, if like most travellers you’re on a budget but want to squeeze in as much as you can then I have some bad news for you. China is just massive. The distances in China are huge, and unless you’re either feeling a little flush or like spending time in regional airports then travelling by train is the way to go. The train network in China is very good and presents a much cheaper option than taking a domestic flight.  It’s also a great way to experience a little part of Chinese travelling culture as well.

Sleeper Trains

The longer routes run overnight and they’re called Sleeper Trains. The trains have different sleeping arrangements: hard sleeper (equivalent to 2nd class) and soft sleeper (equivalent to 1st class). A ‘hard sleeper’ is not what you may think…. it actually offers practically the same bed as you would receive if you booked a soft sleeper.

This is the cheapest class of sleeper and therefore the choice of many backpackers. These cabins have 6 beds, 3 on each side, in each carriage.  The carriages are open plan with ladders to climb to the top bunk along a dividing wall. Contrary to it name, hard sleepers are still quite comfortable and reasonably padded.  All bedding is provided.

Soft sleeper: These cabins are a little more spacious and comfortable with 4 beds, 2 on each side, in each carriage. These are also converted to two sofas for daytime use.  The cabins can also be closed and locked at securely locked at night.  As with hard sleepers, all bedding is provided.
Deluxe Soft Sleeper:
These are only available on some of the main routes and can be very difficult to get hold of. The cabins sleep just 2 people and often have a private toilet and washroom. They can be very expensive however, and will not be the same experience as sharing a berth.

Getting on the right train

Finding the right train is relatively easy. Train departure and arrival information can be found on large signs at the train station. These are of course in Chinese, so not particularly helpful if you language skills are not up to scratch. Thankfully though, the information isn’t provided by destination, but by train identification number, the same in any language! Just check this against the number located on your ticket and you’re set. You’ll probably have difficultly reading anything else on your ticket since everything is in Chinese. Even if this fails, you won’t be short of people offering to help. One of the upsides of standing out in the crowd!

Most trains depart right on time and if you try to be at the platform gate one hour before departure, you’ll usually be allowed to enter the train. If you run into any difficulties there is a train steward in each train carriage. Your train ticket also indicates which carriage and bed number you have been allocated. The train stewardess will collect your card and give you a type of ‘credit card’ with your seat number on it in return. You’ll have to keep this card with you during your trip.  A half hour before arrival at your destination, the stewardess will come back and collect the card and return your original train ticket to you. This is also a useful wake- up call to prepare you for your arrival!

Eating on board: Food options on the train are limited to   say the least. A cart with a very small   assortment of   snacks will ride through   the train, your main choice being a selection of instant noodles.  If   like me, you’re not a fan of these (I’m not sure who is) then follow the   Chinese example and bring along your own water, food and drinks for the   journey.

Other Practicalities: In each carriage there are toilets and a washroom with cold   water. Freshen up if you will, however don’t expect to be able to wash   in there! Your best bet is to just board the train in something comfortable   that you can sleep in, rather than getting changed. Face wipes are great to   have with you if you’re feeling a little stinky! It’s also handy to bring   some toilet paper with you as often this is not supplied on the train. Most   nights spent on trains are quiet and peaceful since the Chinese also try to   get a good night’s sleep on board. You will then arrive at your   destination bright and early in the morning, ready for the next adventure   that awaits you!

Fingers crossed that this information will inch you closer to   taking the plunge and choosing to plan your trip to China. It’s such an   amazing, diverse country, and however you choose to do it you’re sure to have   a pretty unbeatable experience. Now get booking!

  •   Toilets:  Chinese trains generally have   both western & ‘squat’ toilets, but it’s always a good idea to take your   own supply of toilet paper.  The toilets on the modern D & Z   category trains are immaculate, so no worries there!
  •   Restaurant cars:  Most long-distance trains   have a restaurant car, with waiter service of drinks, snacks &   meals.  The best trains on key routes such as Beijing-Shanghai have   menus in both Chinese and English.

Like this post? Check out more from our travel experts on our Rickshaw Travel Blog.

Check out our bite-sized China Trips and Holidays at China Travel Plan.

Restaurant review – Dim Sum in Charlotte, NC

Dim Sum in Charlotte, NC

Dim Sum in Charlotte, NC

Sometimes the best food is found in the most unassuming of surroundings. One of my favorite places to eat in my former hometown of Kings Mountain, NC was a tiny Chinese restaurant located in a terrible neighborhood where I had to carry a stun gun to feel safe. The food, however, was so fantastic that I kept coming back for more at least every other week.

Dim Sum of Charlotte, North Carolina is very similar in that, it is located in a less-than-prosperous part of town on Central Avenue and its decor is virtually nonexistent. However, you know you are onto something, when you arrive for a late lunch on a Sunday, an the parking lot is packed. Not only that, but the place is frequented by Chinese Americans from all around Charlotte metro area and recommended as the spot to get your taste of real China.

You can eat in, you can take out, the prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is lively, and there is a little Asian market adjacent to the restaurant, if you want to take some Chinese delicacies home with you and experiment in your own kitchen. A word of advice – to get the most fun out of your Dim Sum experience, go with a group of friends. Sure, the restaurant has a traditional Chinese menu with the old trusted stand-bys like General Tso on Happy Family, but why would you want to go that route? You are there for dim sum. There is only so much you can eat, and the temptation, of course, is to try as many different things as possible. So, gather a bunch of four or five people, grab one of the big round tables, and knock yourselves out.

The process is simple. Every table gets a little yellow card with numbers. Every few minutes, one of the friendly Dim Sum servers pushes by a cart loaded with up to ten different varieties of foods. I counted about four different carts. You ask the server to pause, check out what that particular cart has to offer and pick the dishes (little plates or metal pots) for your table. The server marks on the card, how many you took and from which cart and moves on. At checkout, the cashier simply adds up the number of dishes you’ve had and tallies it up.

Shrimp dumplings, fried seafood and bacon rolls, spicy seaweed and watercress salad, pot stickers, super-delicious melt-in-your-mouth juicy pork – the list goes on and on. The customer turnover at Dim Sum is quite expeditious (as is the rest of the operation), but do pray for a short wait, for newcomers’ appetites a bound to be boosted further by the tantalizing smells from the food-laden carts and by watching people at other tables having fun swapping dishes and sharing their impressions. Happy eats!


For book and game reviews from Maria K. visit her YouTube channel Ms. Review Central.

Summer Palace in Beijing: A Royal Hideaway

Tower of Buddhist Incense

Tower of Buddhist Incense

A hidden gem near the crowded city of Beijing, the Summer Palace is an expanse of elaborate gardens and stunning pavilions.  Unlike the structure and formality of the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace is permeated with a sense of peace and tranquility.  Nature at its finest is brought to the forefront and complemented by vibrant artwork from every corner.  It is easy to understand how it became a favorite hideaway of the royal family through the centuries.

A Palace Away from Home

Located 15 kilometers from Beijing, the Summer Palace was constructed in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and quickly became a garden playground befitting royalty.  Feudal emperors would rest and entertain on the grounds, away from the prying eyes of the Forbidden City.  In 1888, the powerful Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled from the national navy in order to reconstruct the palace and repair all the fire damage inflicted by the Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War.  It would become a cherished home for her during the later years of her life.

The Summer Palace occupies an area of 294 hectares (726.5acres), including parts of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill, stretching well beyond what would have been available in the capital city.  Pavilions, gallery corridors, gardens and bridges are peppered throughout the palace grounds.  Situated on top of Longevity Hill is the Tower of Buddhist Incense, standing at 41 meters (134.5 ft) in height with three levels.  Twice a month, the Empress Dowager Cixi would go to the Tower to pray.  The climb to the top is steep, but visitors are amply rewarded with the exceptional view of the rooftops and the famous Seventeen-Arch Bridge.

In the courtyard of the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, the first hall that visitors encounter upon entering the main gate, is a bronze statue of a Qilin (also spelled Kirin), a mythical beast with the head of a dragon, the tail of a lion, the horns of a deer, and the hooves of a bull.  According to legend, the fierce Qilin punishes the wicked and protects against fire.  Directly in front of the hall are a bronze statue of a dragon, representing the Emperor, and a bronze statue of a phoenix, representing the Empress.  As it was no secret that the Empress Dowager Cixi managed all state affairs, the phoenix statue at the Summer Palace stands in the center while the dragon statue stands off to the side.

The Empress at Leisure

Built in 1750, the Hall of Happiness and Longevity was originally two storeys high but was one of the buildings destroyed by fire.  It was reconstructed to be the Empress Dowager’s personal residence, where both her bedroom chamber and her dressing room were located.  The hall also boasted a throne room for more intimate guests, with both native and foreign artwork and no less than 48 attendants ready to do the Empress Dowager’s bidding.  The front gate of the Hall also opens directly to Kunming Lake, where docked boats awaited her orders.

Located west of the Hall of Happiness and Longevity and linking Longevity Hill to Kunming Lake is the Long Gallery Corridor.  The corridor is 728 m (2,388 ft) in length and winds its way through the gardens.  Strolling through the corridor is a feast for the eyes as the natural gardens are framed by vivid paintings along the beams and columns.  Painted crossbeams divide the corridor into 273 sections and there are four octagonal pavilions joining different altitudes, each representing one of the four seasons.  The paintings depict natural landscapes, scenes from classical literature, historical figures and folk tales, including a major painting depicting the legendary Sun Wu Kong of Journey to the West.  A stroll through the corridor allows visitors to immerse themselves in Chinese history and culture while enjoying both the talent of the artists and the wonders of the surrounding landscape.

The end of the corridor leads straight to the Marble Boat, also known as the Boat of Purity and Ease.  This pavilion is a two-storey structure that cannot be taken out into the lake.  Originally constructed in 1755, it was built to add aesthetic value to the gardens.  As with other areas of the palace, it was burned down and rebuilt in 1893.  Ironically, the Empress Dowager Cixi used the embezzled naval funds to restore the Marble Boat to its original condition.  The boat itself is majestic to behold and offers a peaceful view of Kunming Lake.

The Summer Palace is located at 19 Xinjiangongmen Lu.  The all-inclusive entrance fee is 50¥ from November 1 until March 31 and 60¥ from April 1 until October 31.  On Subway Line 4, the closest stations are Beigongmen Station and Xiyuan Station.

Originally posted on Suite 101.

Lin-Liu, Jen and Pham, Sherisse.  Frommer’s Beijing Day by Day 1st Edition.  New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, 2008.