China Trip, October 2015

This wasn’t a site seeing trip, but more of a dinner out with numerous friends and family. This trip started in Hong Kong moving north to Xian, east to Shanghai, north to Beijing and then back home to Seattle. I have flown into Hong Kong before, but never spent any time there until this trip. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the 1 1/2 days we spent there. As usual and par for the course Linna and I didn’t read up or book any tourist activities but relied on our natural instincts and just started walking.

We did some shopping in the Causeway neighborhood and then found Hong Kong’s most famous dim sum restaurant – Maxim’s at City Hall. Once we saw the long-line, about as long as some homeless line in Seattle for free food, we knew we should have left our hotel earlier. Our total wait was a little over 2 hours…was it worth it? Oh hell no, but we were committed by this time.

During our walk to the renowned Maxim place, we were wondering why there were so many woman hanging around chatting and having lunch in such odd places. Approximately 300,000 foreign housekeepers (maids) are working in Hong Kong and by law they must live in their employer’s house. Every Sunday is their day off which means they are not allowed to stay at home, almost like being thrown out every Sunday. So they end up spending the day outside in all types of weather and seasons. They congregate year-round on Chater Road in the center of Hong Kong Island and it’s closed to traffic. Every place near the metro station Central where there is a few yards of available floor space, a maid will rolled out her carpet and put up camp.

After a few hours in Hong Kong (it seemed liked) we flew off to Xian, which is located in central China. You think the middle of China would be smog free, but for some reason the area becomes unbearable with smog at times. Xian has a population approximately 8 million people and was the starting point for the Silk Road. We spent four days in Xian which is plenty for any city; we spent most of our time visiting friends and family over lunches and dinners.

Another Chinese flight and we were in Shanghai which is probably my favorite Chinese city due to its cleaner air and Shanghai’s magnifignat skyline, great restaurants and of course the famous Bund Street. I had day excursions to Wuxi and Wujiang but was back in my hotel in Shanghai each night. I had a great dinner with my friends Jiapei Qin, Rong Li, Jie Qi Cao and his wife Quane Luan at this new restaurant in Wuxi called the Fusion Club.

I had a conference in Beijing later in the week and I decided to take a train to Beijing from Shanghai this time…and after this experience I will probably never take an airline flight between the two cities again. For the same price you can experience a business class seat with good food and a completely folded out seat versus a cramp coach airline seat in a stuffy hot airplane. The ride was a relaxing 4 ½ hours but I was able to get some work done and squeeze a peaceful nap in too.

Beijing was raining when we pulled into the Beijing South train station, I was actually happy to see the sky filled with grey rain clouds versus the heavy grey smog. This city usually runs well over 250 AQI (air quality index), but during the rain it was actually in the double digits. But it doesn’t take long for the smog index to creep back up, the next day it was already in the three digits.

China Trip, May 2013

The month of May is a decent time to travel in China, the weather is near perfect and most students are still in school. This trip was mainly based in and around the Shanghai area. I flew into Shanghai via Tokyo/Narita airport; after a 175 RMB tax ride from the airport to my hotel I checked in around 10:30 p.m. When I first started traveling to Shanghai 2002, the airport taxi ride into the city was 50 RMB.
More to come….

China Trip, May 2012

To travel to China during a national holiday is either brave or just plain stupid. Linna and I decided to visit her family during Golden Week or also called Labor Day holiday which starts May 1st of every year. We took a direct flight from Seattle to Beijing and landed at 10:30 p.m. Even though we flew coach, we were both lucky enough to have our own three row seat. By the time we got to the hotel and I did a few emails, it was about 1:00 a.m. when I hit the sack. Only slept 5 hours, must have been the jet-lag or the 6 hour nap I had on the plane…so I decided to head to the gym for some treadmill action.

Our first day out we headed to the Temple of Heaven which I have never been to. After many pictures, we ventured out to the 798 Art Zone, this was totally cool and I plan on going back when I am in town again and highly recommend this for young and old. I was told there was a huge car exhibition in town, but according to one of our taxi drivers the lines were so long just to get tickets and the traffic to get there was horrendous. I was a little disappointed to skip this, especially when I am in the market for a new car.

Again I woke up early on the second day and decided to head to the gym again; this might be a first for me going to a hotel gym in two consecutive days! We got an earlier start on our taxi ride into the city center and got to Tiananmen Square by 8:30 a.m. We were not the only ones with this idea; about a million other Chinese people were thinking the same thing. The Square was filled with a sea of black round hair tops. This might have been my sixth or seventh visit at the Square, but for some reason I had many young kids and their parents wanted to take a picture with me on this visit. Could it have been country people that came in for the national holiday and have never seen a foreigner before? At first we decided that the numerous lines into the Forbidden City which is directly across the 8 lane street was so long we decided to forgo it, but I wanted somewhere high enough to get a great shot of the amount of people in the square….so we braved it and actually got into the temple in about 30 minutes. After a bunch of photos and touring the Forbidden City for my fourth time, we headed to the Jing Shan Park on hill, this provided a great view of the whole Forbidden City compound; it would have been a much better view if it wasn’t for the damn smog. It was another nasty day for the smog, which was the same on my last visit in October when I was visiting with my friend Rick Massie. I got on the US Embassy’s website and checked out the smog index for Beijing and of course there was no surprise here, the alert level was at hazardous.

Our third day we flew to Xian to visit Linna’s parents and her two brothers, a two hour flight from Beijing. The whole family was waiting for us when we landed; it’s always a treat to see all of the hands flying when you come around the corner into baggage claim. The rented van we had was old and beat-up, but there wasn’t a lot to choose from. Linna’s brother Lin Bo was our driver through-out our stay in Xian, it took me a little while to get use to his driving. It took us about 45 minutes to arrive at Linna’s parents’ house via a well maintained highway; most all new highways have tolls and they are expensive in Chinese terms and even quite high for us Americans. We ended up paying out nearly $250 in tolls throughout our stay in Xian.

We stayed in a Chinese hotel in Linna’s hometown of Yao; it was probably the best hotel we have stayed in so far in this smaller city which is just North of Xian. Linna’s brother Lin Tao bought me some lovely Vietnamese ground coffee knowing that Chinese hotels never have coffee in the rooms. Next day I put this coffee to use, but I didn’t have any filters to strain the ground coffee so I used one of Linna’s hose stockings, it worked quite well. After coffee and breakfast, we took off to see family out in the countryside.

The trip to the countryside is part of every visit when we visit Linna’s parents. This is really a treat, because when you visit anyone out in the country, you know you will be treated with a homemade meal with fresh hand-picked vegetables and handmade noodles. During our visit there was a three day wake going on for a local villager that passed away a couple days ago; we walked about five minutes to another household where the deceased was at. People were chatting, some were preparing food and others were kneeling down around a small memorial crying. Of course when I walked in, people were staring…for good reason, what was a blue eyed foreigner doing here in the countryside of China? We finished the day off with Chun Bing at a local restaurant in Yao. Chun Bing is almost like a huge crepe that you get to fill with pork, vegetables and noodles. The next day we took our piece of shit rental caravan and drove over 200 miles north to go see the Hukou waterfalls. This is part of the Yellow river and the exceptional beauty was worth the trip.