A Travellerspoint blog

Land of the Pandas

Chengdu


View Dali, Hong Kong, Chengdu, Malaysia on jhl5006's travel map.

My last stop in China...Chengdu!

It started with a bang when my flight from Guiyang was delayed a couple of hours. I finally arrived in Chengdu around 1:30 AM Wednesday and realized I hadn't booked a room for that night. I originally planned to come the next day but found a cheaper flight. So I hopped on the bus from the airport to the city center, tried to grab a taxi but they all quoted ridiculous prices, so finally I bargained it down with one lady to take her taxi company. She tells me to wait and a rickshaw pulls up. Here I am with all my possessions, in the freezing cold and drizzle and I have to take a rickshaw around, explaining in my broken Chinese that I needed a place to sleep. The man was actually really nice and came with me to a couple places, all with no rooms available, and finally I ended up at a hostel at 3 am with an open single room. Score! In the morning I realized the area was quite nice. It was in a hutong (traditional looking neighborhood) with lots of teashops and restaurants. Chengdu has much more Western influence than Guiyang, and there was even a Starbucks down the road from my hostel. I'm ashamed to admit I got one everyday....Sometimes you just need a damn good coffee!!

I was a bad girl these past few days and took no photos. The first day I was boring and did lots of job applications on my laptop (my Swiss visa was denied so I have to look at other options--grr!!) The next day I wandered to the Wenshou Temple area. There are several streets that comprise the Tibetan village. Chendgu is only a measly 42 hour train ride from Tibet! In China terms that's not far at all. So there's a huge Tibetan Buddhist influence here. I loved the shops selling jewelry, incense, prayer flags and other Tibetan goods. I also found a great vegetarian restaurant called Lotus on the Water. Since I've pretty much become vegetarian here in China, I always know to look for the temples for veggie restaurants since the Buddhists don't eat meat!

Chengdu is in Sichuan province. Some of you might know Sichuan from the severe earthquake they had a couple years ago. Sichuan is known for several things, in particular it's spicy food and pandas. And I mean spicy. I've lived in Guiyang for the last 6 months, where they douse la jiao (chili) on everything but this is in a whole different league. The Sichuanese have this spice called ma la which literally numbs your tongue.

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There was a really good entry about Sichuanese food on a blog I like called Eating Asia, in particular about Chengdu. If anyone really likes to read about food, then here you are. There's also some great photos of the people: http://eatingasia.typepad.com/eatingasia/chengdu/

Outside of Chengdu there's the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center. This place is supported by the World Wildlife Federation. It was started in 1987 with only 6 pandas and now they have about 83 at the center. More were born and sent to live other places. Pandas are of course endangered so this is important. They're somewhat "reproductively challenged" so it takes a lot of work to breed them. They use artificial insemination a lot so often babies are born very small and need to be carefully nursed.

They have both giant pandas and lesser pandas, the smaller red ones. I was informed that March-May is the "falling in love" season but unfortunately we weren't lucky enough to see any of this--the pandas were too lazy to deal with the whole dating scene today.

I'm really mad I didn't bring my camera...I had to leave early in the morning to get to the base and see the feeding so in my sleepy state I forgot to put it in my bag. I met a couple of girls form London who took some photos for me so hopefully they'll email them to me soon. The pandas were adorable! They spend 50% of the day sleeping and about 48% of the day eating, so that leaves 2% of the time to either "fall in love" or move from one napping spot to another. Our Chinese tour guide said this is because they are vegetarian so they don't have enough energy. Yet again the Chinese are skeptical of non meat-eaters.

Here's the website of the panda center: http://www.panda.org.cn/english/index.htm
It's got some good info about them.

I also met a Malaysian guy on my tour who gave me some great advice about Kuala Lumpur. That's the capital of Malaysia and my last stop before leaving for New York. He recommended some spots for good eats and shopping. Yay!

I will put up my pics as soon as they're sent to me!

I'm hanging out for now in Chengdu until my midnight flight to Malaysia. I got some work to do to find my next job...any thoughts? Right now I got some options in Hong Kong, Spain, Istanbul...those are my top picks. But I need to get home first before I think about leaving again...Can't wait to see everyone!

I'm exhausted but really psyched...in less than 24 hours I'll be on the beach!

Posted by jhl5006 01:29 Archived in China Comments (0)

Hong Kong

part of China...but not really like China at all...

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For those of you who don’t know anything about Hong Kong, first I’ll give you a little rundown of the history and how it works.

Before European traders came and discovered the place, Hong Kong was a part of China but hardly utilized. Then the British came and thought it would be the perfect place to get opium, which they got from their then-colony India, into the country. The Chinese emperors at the time were not happy about the opium being forced down the throats of their people and about the large amounts of addictions springing up in the country. This tension led to the Opium Wars in the 19th century. At the end of the First Opium War in 1841, Hong Kong Island was ceded to the British. At the end of the Second Opium War, the British also acquired Kowloon Peninsula. In 1898, they got a 99 year lease of the New Territories.

The 20th century had its ups and downs but essentially the British controlled the entire area. Once the lease was up, the British gave the SAR (Special Administrative Region) back up to the Chinese under the condition that they had to retain the free-market economy and other social and legal systems. So now Hong Kong is back in the hands of the Chinese and it’s run as the Chinese call “one country, two systems”

Here’s a map of the regions of Hong Kong today:

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The majority of financial centers are on Hong Kong Island, but it’s only 7% of the total land. Kowloon, to the north, has lots of shopping and tourist spots. The New Territories comprise of 88% of the total land but are much less built up. Then there are over 234 Outlying Islands.

So Hong Kong is not ordinary city and I would have to say it’s the most diverse city I’ve ever been to, even rivaling New York. It’s a hub for international finance and business so there are people from all over the world. The official language is Cantonese, although Mandarin Chinese and English are widely spoken. Most signs are bilingual and the written Cantonese uses traditional Chinese characters. This was strange because the characters I’ve learned in Mandarin are read completely different.

The mix of East and West is amazing. In Hong Kong people drive on the left side of the road like in the UK, the electrical sockets are the same as the UK, you can go to the corner pub for fish and chips, but then also eat dried jellyfish with chopsticks next door or get a traditional Chinese massage. There are mosques, temples, and Protestant churches all within the same general neighborhood. People around you are speaking Cantonese, Mandarin, English, German, French, Arabic, Thai…you name it.

The climate is subtropical so while we were there is was pretty warm and humid. There are palm trees all over the place. It’s built around lush green hills and on Hong Kong Island, only the north part is really built up. In the south there’s still just a lot of green, leafy land left and Victoria Peak looks over the city from behind. The hills make for some very interesting alleyways and a very useful escalator system through Soho, one of the swanky restaurant areas probably modeled after London’s Soho neighborhood.

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You can take the ferry to any of the Outlying Islands, which we did. Going to Lamma island was probably the highlight of my trip to Hong Kong. It was only a 20 minute trip but a world away. We took it to a fishing village on one edge of the island, and walked along a trail for a couple hours to another fishing village on the other end. Where we arrived, there was a little town with cool clothing stores, organic cafes, bookstores gourmet cheese shops, a temple, etc.

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We walked along and discovered a beach:

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We found the area’s sole wind turbine, which Russ was pretty psyched about so we checked it out. And found a place that I LOVED called Herboland, a little organic farm selling fresh herbs and herbal tea. It was one of those hippy kind of places where they trusted you to leave the money and get your change from the jar when you're finished. It seemed miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Russ and I felt like we could have been on an island in Maine.

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We enjoyed that for a while then continued on the trail to the fishing village on the other side and feasted on amazing seafood. We got a set lunch for two which included lobster, scallops, shrimp, calamari, veggies, rice, fruit, all for a very reasonable price!

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We definitely didn’t starve in Hong Kong. Russ was excited to get some substantial food after visiting me in Guiyang, the land of the dog butt. Imagine how I felt to be eating Middle Eastern, Indian, Mexican, seafood, and good ol’ diner breakfasts. I was in heaven.

I was impressed by the tiniest things, like bathrooms having toilet paper stocked so I didn’t have to carry my own and hand soap and paper towels readily available, the sight of Starbucks, staying in a hotel with a concierge, being able to ask waiters about the subtleties of the dishes, not having to scramble to find someone who speaks a word of English. I was very spoiled!

The skyline of Hong Kong is pretty impressive, during the day and at night.

We found the Avenue of the Stars along the waterfront in Kowloon and I had to snap a photo of my hands in Jackie Chan’s handprints. The Hong Kong film industry is huge here, especially kung fu movies.

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Russ and Bruce Lee

Russ and Bruce Lee

Russ enjoyed getting tailor made suits, shirts and pants, and I loved shopping for cosmetics that don’t turn your face white. There’s endless shopping in HK.

Russ ran into an old friend from Holmdel! What are the odds? His friend Jared from his high school class happened to be in the hotel where Russ was getting fitted for his suit. He was there on business for Goldman Sachs, meeting with heads of banks in Hong Kong and Beijing. So he and his colleague came out for drinks with us one night. It was interesting to hear about their dealings with these Chinese banks.

Hong Kong is a great city. It’s Western enough to be comfortable but is also extremely diverse and it’s in a great location as a launching pad to the rest of Asia. I really think it would be a cool place to live. In fact, Russ and I even checked out some apartments out of curiosity for the market 

I was sad to see Russ go but I’ll be back in New York in a few weeks! I was so glad I could show him a glimpse of China. When I go back to the US people will ask how China was but it’s difficult to explain a succinct way. At least one person will have an understanding!

Posted by jhl5006 23:01 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Last weekend with the kiddies

I want to take them home!!

My laptop is out of commission so I have to wait to put up my Hong Kong pictures til I get it fixed. Right now I'm at an internet cafe and I'm the only one not playing some kind of "bang bang shoot em up", as my mom would call it, computer game. The young Chinese generation loves playing them for hours on end. I don't get it.

In the meantime, I'll put up some pictures of my last weekend at work.

Here are some of the itty bitty ones:

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Most of the staff:
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Some of my other classes:
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My C11 (middle/high school students)

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The teacher's office:
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And here are some from the beginning of Chinese New Year:

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Me and Cindy. We had 3 classes together so lots of quality time together!

New Year drinks!
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I had a great experience here and it's sad to say goodbye but I'm about ready to leave now. Tomorrow I'm off to Chengdu, in Sichuan province, and then I fly to Malaysia on Friday! I'll be back in the States on March 16th.

Posted by jhl5006 06:19 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Dog butt

Russ's favorite dish in Guiyang...

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Here's a lovely shot of some dogmeat for sale on my street in Guiyang. Russ couldn't get over this or the smells, street juice and general chaos of the city. When we were out to eat at my favorite Muslim noodle place, we ran into an Irish expat who I had met earlier in the fall. He asked us if we wanted to go out but since I was working the next morning, I called it a night but Russ joined him and a Nigerian expat for a crazy night. They went out to a club in town called 88 so Russ got to experience the Chinese nightclub---everyone buying him the signature Jack Daniel's and green tea.

He got to come in and see my school and even come in to talk to some of my high school students. I showed him our favorite hot pot and other eating spots and he went to the park to see the monkeys while I worked.

Hot Pot!

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Yes, we always have to sit on those little stools.

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Year of the tiger! I was born in the year of the tiger so this is my year. But it's not exactly good luck to be in your year. I'm supposed to wear something red all year to keep the bad luck away. But somone has to buy the red item for me. Anyone want to buy me a red bra??

Well, off to Hong Kong!!!

Posted by jhl5006 02:45 Archived in China Comments (1)

Welcome to China, Russ!

Zhe shi wo de gege! (This is my older brother)

Back in good old Guiyang after a lovely week in one the most chill places in China--Dali. (I was also there in December with Yvonne). We arrived on the overnight train around 6 am this morning and had great fun trying to find a taxi to our apartment. Russ had a dismal introduction to our city. After a 5 hour bus ride to Kunming then 12 hour train to Guiyang I think his feelings towards China could be summed up as animosity!

On the way to Kunming the first night, we hung out in the staff car after they turned the lights out in the train. There we ended up having a great time with the train staff--and we even got our own Chinese New Year signs made.

making new years signs

making new years signs

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And I had a go at writing my name for them...

Anyway, Dali was a good place for Russ to be initiated slowly into the craziness of China. There's a Western toilet at Karl's place, some Western food mixed in with the chili-laden stuff they love in Yunnan, and quite a bit of laowais. He saw the city of Kunming too which is a whole lot cleaner than Guiyang. The expression on his face was pretty funny when I showed him my bathroom here in Guiyang.

This week we relaxed and ate a lot (had my first good pizza since coming to China) went for a bike ride near the lake, hiked up Cangshan mountain to check out the temple on top and great views of the city, and spent a lot of time at the Bad Monkey, a bar owned by some British expats. We got a traditional Chinese massage one day and a foot massage the next day at a deaf massage center. We encouraged Russ to participate in the foot massage but he had a hard time relaxing his bear claw feet.

Russ by the lake in Dali

Russ by the lake in Dali

Gate in Dali

Gate in Dali

Me and Russ at the temple

Me and Russ at the temple

Dinner at King's

Dinner at King's

One of Karl's friends in Dali recently got engaged so a guy in town, who everyone calls King (originally from Hong Kong) made us a big dinner to celebrate (with lots of baijiu!)

Bad Monkey

Bad Monkey

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Me and the man who caused lots of fights that evening...long story

And I'll leave you with these gruesome shots of the market...

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pigheads

pigheads

Posted by jhl5006 02:12 Archived in China Comments (0)

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