Beijing Trip, October 2013

It’s not every day you get a clean, clear blue sky in Beijing, in fact…we had two beautiful smog free days back to back. But, we were not that lucky on the third day and beyond…it was back to its normal filthy pullulated self. I was visiting Beijing for a few days with a couple of other friends, Rick Massie and Brendan Jackson both from Seattle too.

Besides visiting the usual Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square, you must visit the 798 Art District, this place has some cool funky ass shit and you will need three hours or more to see it all.

Of course when dining, one must experience Beijing Duck….which I did three nights in a row!

China Trip, October 2012

This was my third and last trip to China this year and again I found myself flying the old worn Boeing 767 direct flight to Beijing. I truly believe in direct flights from Seattle, so I don’t have much choice from Delta when it comes to flying direct to China. The last few international flights I have flown I have been fortunate enough to get upgraded to first class; this makes a huge difference when you are on an 11 hour flight. Leaving customs with my one piece of luggage and heading out to the taxi line I got that familiar sniff of Beijing’s nasty polluted air.

Delta has one of the latest time-slots for landing at the Beijing Capital Airport, which usually lands around 11:00 p.m., but coming in late does have advantages…a short taxi line and considerable less traffic. The taxi line was maybe a 5 minute wait and when it was my turn, the airport taxi porter pointed me towards an unofficial taxi or a non-metered taxi. I quickly bellowed out bullshit and a few other 4 letter words; he got the message that I was only driving off in an official metered taxi! I am not your usual blue-eyed tourist and I wasn’t about to let these local yokels scam me. China is on a national holiday and if I was actually leaving the airport during the day, it would have taken me at least one hour to my downtown hotel, but…at 11:30 p.m. it was only a 15 minute cab ride.

The next day started off with a huge buffet breakfast and an hour workout at in the hotel gym. I was very surprised when I walked out for the first time to catch a taxi to the 798 Art District, the sky was actually blue and air smelled clean. When in Beijing, one must visit the 798 Art District Linna (my beautiful wife) flew in on the same flight I did but just a day later; I took a taxi to meet her coming out of customs.

Since I had business in Xuzhou, Wuxi and Wujiang the following week we were off to Shanghai. After landing we started our day at the Yuyuan Market area for a little shopping, it’s part of the beautiful Yu Garden. I picked up two oil paintings and one of the paintings was a fake Van Gough, cheesy in a way…but vogue in my world. Linna picked up a bunch of silk scarfs for herself and for gifts. For all the times we have been in Shanghai Linna and I haven’t been up to the Pearl Tower together. The last time I was up in the Tower was 2003, during the SARS outbreak; they had heat monitors that you had to go walk through.

We finished the day off at a restaurant on the Bund with views to die for called New Heights, which is part of Three on the Bund restaurants It has a gorgeous terrace overlooking the river and the Pudong District. The food didn’t match the view though, it reminded me of a local restaurant in Seattle, Salty’s…great view but the food can be a hit or miss. The next night we had the opposite dining experience; food to die for and the view only so so. Lost Heaven is located in the Bund area and specializes in Yunnan dishes that are incredible. The dark, rich décor and romantic spotlighting provided the perfect atmosphere for a wonderful dinner; after dinner we headed to their cozy outdoor lounge for a nightcap.

Our last day in the Shanghai area was spent mainly in Wujiang, a city due west. After my business meeting we found ourselves exploring Tong Li; this beautiful water town is about an hour train ride due west of Shanghai.

The last full day was spent back in Beijing visiting Linna’s good friend Rebecca Liu. We had dinner at 1949, one of the best places to eat Beijing Duck.

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.

China Trip, October 2011

I had a direct flight to Beijing from Seattle which landed around 10:00 p.m. I have been staying at the Beijing Hilton Capital near the airport for the past few trips, so…..since the hotel is near by, I was checked in by 10:30 p.m. The next day I was off to Shanghai to meet up with a few friends.

A few of us went to Xitang, one of many watertowns near Shanghai; this was about 1 ½ hour drive from Shanghai. I am told that Xitang has less tourist people than other watertowns, if that is the case….I wouldn’t want to visit the other watertowns. Of course, I was visiting on a Saturday and I highly recommend visiting any watertown or tourist attraction in China during the midweek. The waterways were actually very cool, but….once the sun set it was even better. The waterways were lined with lighted red lanterns, it made for beautiful photos.

The next day, a co-worker (Rick Massie) of mine and a few other friends rented some bikes during the afternoon, I wasn’t for sure how I was going to handle the traffic, but….we actually had a blast peddling along in traffic. Rick and I both agreed that a couple of lightweight road bikes would be entertaining cruising through traffic. I flew back to Beijing and stayed at the Hilton Capital again, about a ½ mile from terminal three. This Hilton is the newest of Beijing Hilton’s and it’s wonderful, I highly recommend this place. It has a 25 meter pool and it was always empty when I was there. I had a couple of issues coming back in a taxi at night, the taxi driver will take you to the terminal instead of the hotel. Since the hotel is new, when you hand-over your hilton like business card with the address, they assume the airport.

Linna and I like to hit around the shuttlecock in the backyard during the summer and I have been wanting new rackets and shuttlecocks for sometime now. So, I did a little shopping and purchased two new bad-ass badminton rackets (Weierfu) at the North Star shopping center. When it comes to shuttlecocks, there are so many varieties to chose from. I myself love speed, so I purchased the “fastest” variety I could find; Aerosensa 40 made by Yonex.

After shopping, Rick Massie (he was also in Beijing with me) and I checked out the Birdsnest and Cube. I have visited this place maybe 5 times now, but…I have to admit, it was disappointing this time due to the heavy smog. Beijing is well known for its smog, but todays index was hitting the highest level according to the US Embassy’s website; ranging from 320 to 350. It was hazardous, which is not a good thing. It was supposed to be a full sunny day, but due to the smog, the sun was barely visible; it gave you a weird feeling.

China Trip, November 2010

We spent 3 days in Beijing and then onto Chengdu to meet up with Linna’s family.