China


 

Beijing Hutong Rickshaws, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

(Texas Mike here)

Well, the countdown is almost over. The Summer Olympics are about to start, and China can have its calculated re-emergence to the world. But will we be seeing the new and improved China, or just a beauty pageant?

From cleaning up the air (temporarily) to controlling summer weather with rockets, and more notably, hiding it’s neighborhood eye-sores with walls, will the world really see a true China?

This article from the New York Times talks about the massive number of walls recently erected to cover up poverty-stricken neighborhoods and nastiness. I guess it’s easier than cleaning it up, right?

As we traveled Beijing, the locals talked of the trees planted along the highway from the airport, which were meant to hide the shanties from Olympic visiting eyes. I feel lucky to have traveled there and off the beaten path to get a real glimpse of this fascinating culture and contributor to the world. I hope the media exposure to the country over the next few weeks gets past the make-up and smiles too.

GO USA!

As the Beijing Summer Olympics get closer, the media coverage of life in the country is in full effect.  It provides us great recollection of how foreign the culture is in every sense of the word.  We experienced some very memorable and strange things as we traveled through, which we chronicled right here (just click on the China category).

One of the main sources for adventure was eating in China.  From hot pot to hello banana to tea houses to what-the-heck-is-that-and-is-it-cooked.  Well, this article from Trend Hunter illustrates the (sad) trend and often overlooked elements of an Olympics effect on the host country: the watering down and smoothing over of culture shock.  In this case the food.

In the interest of feeding the incoming hordes, the organizing committee for the Beijing Olympics have had to deal with the translation of restaurant menus into English. The process was contentious, requiring many rounds of discussions in order to come up with an official translation list for restaurants in book form. Nationalistic ire has already erupted over the bland linguistic makeovers. One internet commenter said “I don’t like this new naming method, it’s abandoning Chinese tradition. There are many stories in the names of these dishes.” Indeed.

If they were going to spend some effort here, I’d rather see them dial up the quality of things like, you know, running water – which even the citizens of the country can’t drink without boiling.  Yeah tea!

I’m sure you’ve heard about China’s guarantee for “perfect weather” during their Olympic Games next summer.

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What’s that you say? Can’t predict the weather? Well, clearly you don’t know the perseverance of the Chinese. From the country that claims origin of all great inventions including chrome-plating before the US, China is using missile technology to attack their Olympic-season threat! (Doesn’t that sound like the brainchild of another country?)

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The thought of it beckoned me to more research on man-made weather. Apparently China has loads of experience in affecting weather for themselves.

After traveling there, this quote seems so true:

It is no coincidence that the world’s biggest such project is in China. The country’s leadership has never been cautious about harnessing nature, taking on a slew of what were once thought impossible engineering challenges, such as the Three Gorges dam, the world’s biggest hydroelectric project, and the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world’s longest highland railroad.

For a largely agrarian country like China, the weather was thought of as far too important to be left to the whim of gods or nature. As a result, Chinese scientists began researching man-made rain as far back as 1958, using chemicals such as silver iodide or dry ice to facilitate condensation in moisture-laden clouds.

What nuisance is next in the cross-hairs – dispersing traffic? annialating mosquitos? destroying homework?

There’s nothing like sushi fresh off the “boat!”
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My crazy week of business travel took me to the left coast in Oakland, CA. Our crew, including Meg and Tripp, had about 30 minutes before our meeting. We needed lunch. Luckily, we stumbled across this little sushi place. Granted, it seemed a little dusty from the outside, but some seats were filled. Good sign, right? So we pulled on up to the sushi bar.

And the sushi came to us…
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What a great way to eat sushi – by conveyor belt. And this one was extra special, floating by on little boats. What could say “fresh” better?

For those who have not enjoyed this kind of sushi experience, let me bring it to life for you. I hope I do it justice. You’re sitting there as a range of rolls, sushi and sashimi float by. Survey – ponder – strike! When the urge hits you, simply reach out and grab it. Each plate is color coded to one of four different price levels. It’s that easy. You can always grab the sushi chef and request something custom, too.

The only other conveyor belt operation I’ve visited was in Hong Kong at a place called Dozo. We liked the sushi and the experience so much, we ate there twice.

Why hasn’t this conveyor belt operation caught on more? Turns lunch into greatness.

Ladies and gents, we’ve surpassed our 100th blog post. Meaningless threshold, yes, but I thought it worth noting as Life’s A Trip is my first venture into the world of blogging. (Erin is more of a pro – it’s her second). What started out as more of a novelty has turned into quite an enjoyable hobby for me. And hopefully enjoyable for you, too. We appreciate your clicks and comments and willingness to share in our adventures more than you realize.

A good portion of our wonderful readers are friends and family. But some of our newer readers stumble into our community via some eclectic internet searches. That’s one of the perks of seeing a website work from behind the curtain. In personal celebration of our 100th, here are a few of my favorites searches:

Search: “thousand year old eggs horse urine”
The thousand year old eggs are quite a regular draw for us on search engines, and apparently, it’s tough to find pictures. Glad we could oblige. (Just click on the China tag and scroll if you want to see them again.) This search stuck out because it reminded me how unappetizing the eggstravagance really is. (Couldn’t resist) It was the only thing at Yung Kee worth talking about, as the goose was underrated. You can barely see the remaining half egg in the upper corner.
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Search: “guy with backpack at water park pissing”
Was hard to figure out how this one triggered our little humble site at first. Sure, the backpack was a big part of our adventures. Indeed, we’ve written about some water, but no water parks ring a bell. I sure don’t recall specifically writing about any of the latter part of this search phrase, though we did see some kids relieve themselves on the street… and in the water. Split pants are convenient, as illustrated here in Yangshuo, China.
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However, the search actually links to our kayak adventure thanks to a funny comment using foreign lingo (click on the New Zealand, Travel tag to see it)
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Search: “Life’s a trip TV show”

What a great idea!  Perhaps that’s next in our quest.  One day showing on a big screen like this one in Sydney during the Australian Open. We have instead updated our travel videos and will attempt to keep them fresh. Check them out!
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Search: “life’s a trip you know”

If I didn’t know before, I know now. Just seeing skits at the Sichuan Opera is enough to pinch yourself and say “is this for real?”
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Every step of the way, we saw some incredible stuff – and we’re trying to keep that same curious approach to everyday events back home. Life’s a trip doesn’t stop when vacation ends, you know?

Search: “dalla time zoon”
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Perhaps I planned this with a purposeful typo when discussing the Taronga “Zoon” instead of zoo. Anticipating internet typos is apparently big business according to this Dallas Morning News article. However, while it steered someone here, I must admit the accident… and wonder what actual question was left unanswered. (Dallas Time Zone?)

Search: “erin finds michael in philly”

… and they lived happily ever after.
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Again, not sure how this search drove the visit. We’ve never ventured to Philly, but we’ll get there eventually. There’s so much to see and so much to share. Every day is an adventure waiting to happen. Stay tuned.

Finally, the review you’ve been waiting for: apparel. Flexibility is the key. That means thinking in terms of layers and multiple use. Imagine your most extreme temperatures and activities, and pack for those. Hopefully, you just need a few more neutral items to fill in the spectrum gap. One-time use makes for unnecessary extra weight. Also keep in mind, many tour groups and local shops often rent the more specialized gear (like rain parkas and rain pants) for your more specific adventures (like overnight hiking tours), which is probably a better investment and use of packing space.

Delights:
Sunglasses – This is a no brainer, but delightful nonetheless. The polarized sunglasses Erin purchased us from REI were great, and only about $25.

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Down sweater – this lightweight, flexible jacket is expensive, but worth every penny. They provide valuable insulation without the bulk on your body or in your bag. It’s amazing to see them wad up into a package smaller than a shoe. Erin went for the Patagonia version (down); I trekked in the Mountain Hardwear style (synthetic). Note, synthetic supposedly dries faster than down, and they both seemed to keep us warm well. Erin’s jacket lost many a feather – it was comical, really.

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Surprisingly useless:
Waterproof jacket – My “waterproof” jacket from Patagonia was anything but. It keeps the first few minutes of rain off you, but leaks right through when you need it most. I guess breathable and water proof don’t go hand-in-hand. Worked better as a windbreaker for those breezy, chilly nights. A light jacket is essential.

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Wicking T-shirts – I purchased some warm-weather sweat-wicking T-shirts knowing we were going to one of the hottest areas of the planet. I sweat easily. So I wanted some shirts that would be quick-drying and cool. Instead, these shirts not only looked bad, but performed poorly. Instead, invest in better quick-drying pants – with zipper pockets of course, for added security against evil-doer pick-pocket types.

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Surprisingly useful:
Sun hat – I had heard, but I really had no idea how strong the sun really is in New Zealand and Australia. This simple Auckland acquisition from Kathmandu saved my neck, literally. Lightweight and flexible, it went from pocket to head to bag and back. I ended up wearing it daily until our last week in Sydney, when I upgraded to an Aussie reed sun hat. Very nice indeed. Note: baseball caps won’t get it done – you need the full surround brim or you’ll pay.

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Other items of note:
Socks – Don’t invest in extra nice socks. For some reason, the better quality socks consistently disappeared in our laundry batches throughout China. Instead, they’d be switched with standard socks. Sneaky. Another trick I’ll try next time – bring extra loud, they-can-only-be-yours style socks. That way you can see them walk out the door. In the end, standard wool hiking socks worked great in cold weather; cotton was fine in warmer.

Digital watch with alarm – Time isn’t always that easy to come by, and wake-up calls aren’t common.

Shoes – your standard shoes are one item you’ll likely wear everyday, so you’d better love them. And they better perform in a variety of terrains. We purchased Vasque from REI, and they held up pretty well. They are water resistant, but not water proof as the Tongariro proved. (Not sure anything would have withstood the Tongariro incident.) I also really like our Chaco sandals – surprisingly, they worked well for both hiking hills and walking the beach.

References for gear purchases:
Froogle – brand name stuff at pretty good discounts.
eBay – set up your auto searches well in advance of your trip, and you may get lucky.
Outside Magazine – good source for gear reviews and new technology.
REI – what a great store.

I just love going to a neighborhood market for a quick cultural glimpse and some good deals on local stuff. Sure, some of them cater to the tourists and offer items no more unique to the area than Miller Beer is to Milwaukee. But sometimes, you’ll run across a market that’s made for locals. Either way, the people are always interesting and watching them is great way to spend an afternoon, getting a feel for the community

Today, Erin and I visited the annual Addison Art Fest. Erin was on location for her radio segment.

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I was optimistic, in spite of the rainy weather, that we’d have a local cultural experience in this northern urban neighborhood in Dallas. Peruse lots of regional and national artists and their crafts; hear a little live music; munch on some festival food. Good times right?

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But, the never-ending rain dampened everything, but it did put me in a market state of mind. Got me thinking about the variety of festivals and markets I’ve seen, and got me hungry to visit more.

Summer in Chicago means street festivals galore. I swear, there’s one or more every weekend! And if you’re heading to the windy city, look one up. I went to the Oyster Fest several times in Old Town. Rock n’ roll set to Guiness and raw shellfish – it’s always like 100 degrees too. A combustible but fun mix.

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Also festive, the Paddington market in Sydney. We found all sorts of unique artisans and surveyed their crafts. It felt more like a local thing than part of the tourist itinerary, as plenty of Sydney folks not only suggested this market, but also joined us on the bus from downtown.

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Speaking of markets made for locals, Erin and I spent many a Saturday morning trolling the Union Square green market in New York City. Surrounded by the towering buildings and bustling city, it’s a chance for city folk to sip the apple cider and stop and smell the fresh cut flowers. Lots of cheeses and jams, too. My favorite: the wheat grass.

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Then there’s the farmers market at Matakana, which is serves the surrounding small towns and the weekend warriors from Auckland, New Zealand. It hammered home the point that fresh and local go hand in hand. Tasty goodness.

In Huanglongxi, China, a town near Chengdu and famous for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, we experienced a market that is vital to the farmers in the communities. This is, in many cases, the only place farmers conduct commerce: buying, selling and trading for all daily essentials. I attempted to buy a roll of toilet paper and spent 5 yuan. That was apparently worth about 5 rolls, and they felt bad for taking my money – language barriers make markets even crazier.

Hong Kong is known for all types of markets. Kowloon feels like one sprawling market, block by block. Burned in my memory are the bird market and women’s market. The island is no slouch either. For example, strolling this market district in central Hong Kong, near Happy Valley, after picking up a batch of laundry. Yeah, lots of live creatures waiting their turn to be fresh dinner for locals.

Are you in the market for a good cultural exchange?

Check out this cool site, world wide panarama, and this 3-D group of famous markets around the world – starting in Huanglongxi.

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