Rock Climbing in Yangshuo!

Rock climbing in Yangshuo was awesome! We used a company called Karst Climb and though I’d frequently eaten at the associated restaurant, Karst Cafe and Pizzeria, I had never seriously considered going rock climbing. Then some of my group got excited about going and compared the prices and reputation of the three main rock climbing companies in Yangshuo: China Climb, Spiderman, and eventually chose Karst Climb.

We met the manager, a great local girl named Echo and the climbing instructor, an Aussie named Simon and then set out at 9am fully equipped with shoes, helmets, harnesses, ropes, chalk, etc. It happened to be raining that morning so we thought that would put a dampener on our plans but they had been through this situation before and knew where they could take beginners that would be sheltered from the rain and sun. Brilliant! We didn’t need to cancel our plans. These rocks had obviously been climbed before because they had rings screwed into them for attaching caribeners.

As the first beginner to give it a go for the day, I had to summon the courage to find my footing, stretch my arms and push myself up. After that initial hoist, it got easier and quickly I developed the confidence and felt capable of reaching the top! Exciting! What a sense of accomplishment! After I repelled back down, I thanked Simon for starting us out on an easy section so we could build confidence and faith in our ability before moving on to more difficult sections.

Everyone easily made it to the top of the first section and most people mastered the second as well. It was a great half day and definitely one of the best activities I’ve done in Yangshuo. I highly recommend climbing with Karst Climb and I look forward to the next time I can go rock climbing!

Photos here

Would hate to be a (would-be) Chinese traveler

It seems the Chinese have it tough when it comes to international travel.

First of all, most of my Chinese friends have barely been ventured further than the 2 provinces nearest to their hometown.  Those that have are lucky if they’ve been to Hong Kong.  I point this out because Hong Kong is a different immigration system from China and it’s actually surprisingly difficult for Mainland citizens to get permits to Hong Kong.  I can think of only 1 Chinese friend (of those still living in China) who has actually left the Chinese-speaking world for vacation.

Why is this?  Well, undoubtedly there are countless reasons, including China’s a big country so there is a lot to see here, lack of money or time, commitments to always visit family on vacations, etc.  But the reason I want to focus on is the visa process…

My roommate decided she wanted to go to Italy for a 3 week holiday in late September.  She called the Italian consulate in late-July/early-August and asked for an appointment.

Note the process: For Chinese citizens to get a visa to go abroad on holiday–and they need visas to go everywhere (except Thailand, supposedly)–the person must call the embassy/consulate of the intended destination and ask for a visa interview.  An interview appointment may be set, the interview will occur during which the traveler will be asked questions to ascertain the reasons for going to the intended destination and whether the traveler will return to China, after that the embassy/consulate will make a decision whether or not to issue the tourist(!) visa. Following which, if granted, the traveler will return to the consulate, pay for the visa (ususally upwards of $100 depeding on the country and length of stay), and obtain the visa.

When my roommate called the Italian consulate in Shanghai to make an appointment for the interview, they told her you can have your interview in October.  She said, but my trip is planned for September.  And they said, too bad.  A few days later, they called her and said, ok you can have your interview in the end of August.  A huge improvement!  But all the while prices of plane tickets are increasing weekly and obviously there’s no point in buying plane tickets if you can’t get a visa.  My roommate has an extensive spreadsheet of her trip planning and half of her hotels booked.  Nonetheless, there’s still only a 20% chance she’ll get a visa because she is a single girl.  She’s certainly doing all she can to try to prepare for the interview and then prove she won’t stay in the country, but alas, I guess for most foreign governments the fear that solo Chinese travelers will try to stay in the country is stronger than the wish for tourism income from Chinese.

If you think my roommate’s situation is tough, France is even worse.  Appointments for those visa interviews have to be made 6 months in advance!  And the US is even worse than France.  Calling the consulate just to make the interview appointment costs CNY6 per minute (I think).  I don’t know how the process works after that, but when I went to the US Consulate at 9:20am on a Wednesday morning the sidewalk outside the entrance was swarming with Chinese people waiting to be let into the building.  Then they had to queue outside the office to make sure their info was correct and go through security.  Then, the waiting room was filled with non-Americans.  Meanwhile, I, flashing my American passport, was waived through doors, to the front of lines, and was quickly in, taken care of, and out again.  Unbelieveable.  I was in shock.

(Would be) Chinese travelers, don’t feel too bad–they screen other countries citizens quite thoroughly as well.  My Ecuadorian friend living in Beijing wanted to go to Greece for a 2 week holiday and she had to show proof of a Chinese bank account with savings in it, a job in China, and a plan to return to China after her holiday.  Intense.

Sometimes there are perks to holding an American passport, even if China keeps raising visa prices and introducing stricter regulations.

Olympics Behavior?

Though I received a fair bit of criticism for my entry titled Responsible Tourism in Reverse: Educating the Chinese, I do not think I’m totally in the wrong. Consider the following excerpts from an article in City Weekend, titled: One Year and Counting: With just one year until the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jonathan Haagen takes a look at what’s being done to get the city ready for its world debut.

Lu-Chin Mischke walks impatiently across the Lido Hotel Starbucks. She stands over the glob of phlegm, just discharged on the ground by a Chinese businessman, and hands the offending party a card detailing the harm done by public spitting. The man, stunned, stands dumbfounded for a moment, but then reaches for a napkin to clean the floor. “I suppose I could just let it go,” says Mischke, the founder of the Pride Institute, a non-profit organization aimed at improving Chinese etiquette, “but in just one year, the eyes of the whole world will be on China. We can’t keep hacking and spitting all the time.”

The Olympics are a powerful motivator for change. Never before has the world’s focus been directed at Beijing in the way it will be during the 2008 Games. In preparation for this unprecedented attention—and scrutiny—the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, city officials and regular citizens like Mischke are on a mission to makeover the capital inside and out. With the Olympics just one year away, how are they doing and what is left to be done?


Mischke agrees: “I don’t think improving the outside of the city will mean much, if we don’t improve the inside as well.” Eager to help Beijingers lose their reputation for jumping in front of the line, expectorating rudeness, officials at the Capital Ethics Development Office sent almost 2 million etiquette books to city families. China Daily also printed numerous articles this year on acceptable spectator behavior. Even the Beijing police joined the movement, investing millions of yuan in a surveillance van equipped with infrared cameras capable of spotting spitters at a distance of 250 meters. Private operators like Mischke have also helped the cause by offering seminars to encourage good manners and positive peer pressure.

Bussing her own table, Mischke describes what it will take for the Beijing Olympics to be a success: “We have enough volunteers. We have the drive. The key will be reaching a tipping point where regular Chinese people start to exhibit pride in themselves and their country.” Across the café, a customer stamps out his cigarette on the floor, and turns to leave. Mischke hands him a card warning him of the harmful effects of littering. The man stares at her blankly and then drops the card on the floor by his cigarette butt.

“We have made a lot of progress,” Mischke sighs. “We still have some work to do, too.”

Based on that, it seems you can think of me as an NGO also helping China prepare for its world debut with the 2008 Olympics.

Quick Recommendations–Bangkok


  • Marvel at the view & enjoy cuisine from some of Bangkok’s best chefs at Central Chidlom Food Loft.
  • Live the high life (literally) and splurge on drinks at the Rooftop Bar of the Banyan Tree Hotel.


  • Dress very conservatively while admiring the splendor of the Grand Palace.
  • Feel the wind in your hair and the pollution in your eyes as you motor down the Chao Praya River.
  • Enjoy one of Asia’s favorite pastimes as you shop-till-you-drop at MBK, Khao San Road or one of Bangkok’s many glitzy, air-conditioned shopping malls.


  • Pretend you’re living down one of Bangkok’s old alleyways and enjoy complimentary breakfast at Suk 11 (Sukhimvit, Soi 11)

Fasting at the the Wellness Center, The Sanctuary, Koh Phangan, Thailand

The Sanctuary is a beautiful resort at Haad Tien beach on Koh Phangan. Beach at Haad TienThe design is amazing, integrating the natural habitat into every aspect of the main buildings. The setting is gorgeous, right on a palm tree-studded beach. The restaurant also had a great menu. They have many daily activities of yoga and other eccentric interests. However, that’s about the extent of the compliments I can give to the Sanctuary. Everything was overpriced for Thai standards, especially the food. The Thai food was rather bland. They frequently screwed up our order or forgot it completely. The system for totaling a guest’s expenditures, a cashless credit system that requires a deposit at the beginning and then full payment at the end, was a total nightmare. They claimed I didn’t give them a deposit, despite the fact I had a receipt showing the deposit. They also tried to charge me for services I never used. The system is a huge mess. While we met some interesting people, overall the crowd was, in my friend’s words, “too granola.” Perhaps the worst part of the Sanctuary was the staff & the service. The local staff were at times hard to communicate with and unresponsive. The foreign staff, including the property’s general manager, were unfriendly, unwelcoming, curt, and demanding. To say we felt no hospitality is an understatement. It got to such a point where we did everything possible to avoid talking to the foreign staff/management. Irony: Welcome to the Sanctuary

The Wellness Center, on the other hand, was a very friendly, enjoyable, relaxing part of the Sanctuary. At first, the manager of the Wellness Center may intimidate inexperienced or unprepared would-be fasters; however this is for the best interests of fasters as fasting can be overwhelming for the the uninitiated or unprepared. After starting a fast though, the staff learns your name immediately, are very supportive, thoughtful, and accommodating. Everything goes as smoothly as possible. A great community atmosphere also develops among the fasters. Fasting here is about USD2000 per week less than comparative programs in California or Arizona with the same results but with the added of advantage of a beautiful beach. The Sanctuary

The fasting program is very structured with fasters required to take tablets or shakes every 90minutes, starting at 7am, which I found to be very inconvenient. Each day depending on the length of the fast, fasters also have 1-2 colonic sessions. Each person has different experiences while fasting, some very uplifting and some very weakening. On my 3.5day fast, the second day was challenging as I felt very tired and weak. I did have many benefits as a result of fasting. During my fast, my dark, under-eye circles nearly entirely cleared. While fasting, at first my skin got worse but then cleared and became smoother and clearer than its been in a long time. Surprisingly, I didn’t lose weight during my fast, but actually gained 3.5kilos. Perhaps the most pleasing results of my fast came in the days after my fast when I was slowly adding foods back into my diet. Day 1: Raw fruits, Day 2: Raw veggies, Day 3: Lightly cooked veggies, Day 4: Carbs, Day 5: Proteins. During this time my hunger was greatly reduced; I actually craved and looked forward to eating fresh fruits and veggies. Fresh fruits and veggies were far more appealing to me than cooked foods and proteins. Even now, whenever I have the chance I want to order salad. Many people have told me I look healthier than they’ve ever seen me. All of this after only a 3.5day fast! The fast, along with the vacation, also renewed my energy, excitement, and attitude. As you maybe can guess, I’m definitely a believer and will be back as soon as I can.

All in all, though, I’ll go back to the Sanctuary only to go to the Wellness Center and do another fast. In my opinion there’s no reason for non-fasters to go to the Sanctuary when there are other places on Koh Phangan with just as spectacular location but far better value and a much more welcoming environment.

Sanctuary website with internal links the Wellness Center and its fasting programs: WWW.THESANCTUARY-KPG.COM

Pictures from Koh Phangan and Bangkok, click here

A curious question to my Chinese readers

The way Chinese can acquire money is something that’s recently struck me as quite curious and if any of my Chinese readers has an explanation for it, I’d be quite grateful.
1) Money can be earned, legitimately from business, jobs, etc
2) Money can be acquired by begging for it, particularly on the sidewalks in Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai.
3) Increasing in frequency, money can be gotten via theft and pickpocketing, notably in Xi’an.
4) Excessive amounts of money can be acquired by knowingly perpetrating scams against foreigners and by otherwise ripping them off.

However, the Chinese will not pick up and keep money found on the ground, nor will they keep money found laying as if lost. What is it in the culture that allows Chinese to rob, steal, beg, or scam for money, but will not take money that has been seriously left or lost?

Split Pants & Unimaginable Places

Perhaps you’ve heard of the split-pants phenomenon in China. Children under the age of 3-4 years do not wear diapers. They have a slit down the crotch of their pants so that they may relieve themselves freely. I’ve seen children, both of the split-pants age and older, urinate in just about every place imaginable. I will only mention a few memorable or noteworthy examples.

Shortly after getting off the plane in Lijiang (a beautiful, perhaps my favorite, town in China), my friend and I went into the airport bathroom. While I was waiting for her, a girl of about 8 came in with her mother, looked under all the bathroom stall doors and found that each stall was occupied. After a look of urgency and desperation at her mother, her mother nodded. Right in front of me, in the middle of the public restroom floor (not even near the grate in the floor), but 5 feet from an actual toilet, the girl pulled down her pants and proceeded to urinate, making a rather large puddle. When finished she pulled up her pants and her mother and she walked out complete normal and at ease. I stood there in shock.

Dali, another beautiful city in western China, has gutters running down the sides of the street which is meant to direct rain and mountain spring water close to the town. In this gutter water I’d seen people wash their vegetables and do their laundry. I also saw a man hold up his child over the same gutter so that the child could relieve itself. (No wonder I’m always sick.)

These two incidents happened when I was in China two years ago. Since then I’ve seen countless more children pee, in my mind, in very inappropriate places and so it shocks me less now. Nonetheless, now, 3 years later including after a solid year of living in China, there are times when I’m still floored as related below.

In Shanghai(!), while on a public city bus, an older woman had a split pants baby on her lap. The child seemed to indicate it needed to go the bathroom. The woman did a quick look around, angled the baby, and then hissed, apparently indicating that it was alright for the child to pee. Where did that woman aim that child? Squarely at the back of the seat in front of her. The piss proceeded to roll around the floor of the bus. I was horrified. Then the old lady sitting in the front seat, not seeming to notice this situation, turned round and started cooing at the baby and playing with it. This situation so bothered me that I repeated it to my Chinese teacher. She didn’t flinch, didn’t seem the least disturbed, and even seemed to pass it off as normal. I held my Chinese teacher in rather high regard considering her fairly educated, so her lack of reaction was even more shocking to me than the actual incident itself. I couldn’t believe her educated self could consider this normal and acceptable behavior.

By contrast, a trendily dressed young Chinese woman, while walking through a dirty part of Shanghai, watched then stormed off with disgust and indignation as a girl of about 7 pulled down her pants in the middle of sidewalk and urinated, not more than 15feet from the entrance of a public toilet. This woman’s reaction pleased me greatly as I was much relieved to find a Chinese person who agreed with my opinion that this behavior is dirty and unacceptable.

Someone once explained to me that the reason the Chinese let their kids pee in public places is because they believe the children’s wastes are quite pure and therefore not harmful. Can’t say I agree… Anyway, after these incidents and many, many more and with my total time spent in China, I thought I’d seen it all, until recently when I was in Beijing.

I went into one of the newest, most high end shopping malls in Beijing and found the premium grocery store in the basement. While waiting in line to check-out, a kid was running around and amusing one of the clerks, then the kid pulled down his pants. The clerk seemed to understand what was going on and alerted the father, who happened to be in front of me in line. He went over, scooped the kid up, did a quick look around and then held the kid over a new, shiny, stainless steel trashcan. When the kid had finished, the father pulled up its pants walked back to the cash register and pulled a bill out of his pocket and handed it to the clerk. The father’s pants were completely covered in urine. Momentarily, I stood there stunned, then regaining composure and with mounting disgust realized the clerk would take the bill from his hands and then run her hands over my groceries and then exchange money with me. Truly grossed out by this thought, I stormed out of that line. In passing the trashcan, I noticed it too was covered in urine and a pool was forming around it. I was aghast at how in such a supposedly upscale place in one of the most modern cities in China, with a family who apparently had enough money to shop at such a premium store, such base, uncleanly things could still happen. Could they not afford diapers? Or had they learned nothing and taught their kid nothing in all the time they were able to acquire the necessary wealth and status affording them to shop at such a store? Absolutely inconceivable. Furthermore, having watched ‘cleaning’ in countless places around China, I knew what would happen next (though I didn’t stick around long enough to watch): they’d pull out a dirty, plenty used mop, absorb the pee off the trashcan so as to render it no longer noticeable, move the pee around the floor just enough so no one would slip, then put the mop back in the corner to be used again without any cleaning.

Is it any wonder I’m frequently sick is this country?

Feel free to add your similar stories in the comments below.  I’d love to see who has the worst.  (After reading my blog, my friend said her boyfriend got peed on on a bus and jumped up screaming and the lady didn’t apologize or even flinch.)

Responsible Tourism in Reverse: Educating the Chinese

In my job as a tour leader in China, I have developed a secondary purpose for myself.  Beside fulfilling my role and duties as a tour leader, I’ve also started educating Chinese people as to Western standards of politeness, appropriateness, and generally just good behavior.  Undoubtedly this sentence reads as very arrogant and culturally insensitive.  However, much of what I try to ‘teach’ the occasional Chinese is already being strongly suggested by the govt in Beijing.  Furthermore, if China wants to be an appealing and attractive country to foreign tourists, investors, etc, it’s people need to minimize those habits which Westerners consider repulsive.  By giving a few examples, I hope I shall seem less ethnocentric.  (My apologies for the generalizations but all of these scenarios I’ve seen across the country, from big cities, to small middle-of-the-country towns.)

Chinese people (both males and females, though males to a greater extent than females) spit everywhere, regardless of indoor, outdoor, clean floor, dirty street, other people nearby, at the dinner table, in train stations, in train cars, everywhere, literally.  The actual act of spitting is preceeded by the most repulsive, sickening clearing of the throat hack imaginable (apparently quite common in India, as well).  This is a sound which makes Westerners cringe and unfortunately can be heard at all hours of the day and night, including late at night in crowded train cars.  On occasion when I’ve been nearby someone who has just made the most menancing clearing of the throat sound, followed by a large spat I give them a disgusted look and say in Chinese, “that’s disgusting, I hate that, it’s horrible to hear.”  Certainly, my 1 comment won’t stop that person from spitting but I just hope it makes him more aware of how we perceive it and in turn makes him consider the time, place, and company before letting out another one.

Chinese people, particularly those with a little money but not much education, have a strong sense of entitlement and superiority.  Because they have some money, they see themselves as superior to other poorer Chinese people, particularly those whose responsibility it is to clean the streets and otherwise take care of the trash.  As such, they feel it is their privledge, their right, to throw litter or trash onto the ground, again both indoor and outdoor.  They do this with the, mostly correct, expectation someone else will clean it up.  In one particular instance, I was enjoying a drink with my group on Bar Street in Xi’an and one of the waitstaff of the bar across the road had found a deck of cards that was incomplete.  He proceeded to start 1-by-1 flinging the cards through the air and letting them drop into the middle of the road.  He showed no intention of picking them up.  At that point, I walked up to him and in Chinese said, “What are you doing?  You’re making the street dirty.  Why are you making the street dirty?  Do you believe China is a beautiful country?  Then why are you making it dirty?  You need to pick them up.”  Then I started picking up the cards and handing them back to him and again told him to pick them up.  He stared at me stunned, then his friend came over and did the rest of the job picking up the cards.  In another example, last evening, while on a Yangtze river boat, a boy of about 8 threw trash over the edge of the boat into the (granted, already filthy) water.  I yelled at him, “that’s bad, don’t do that” multiple times.  And the parents, in a distinct mocking tone repeated my words, while the older girl of about 10 with them apologized in a rather ironic manner.  On more than one occasion, my passengers who are on vacation in China have picked up trash dropped by Chinese people.

The Chinese are notorious at failing to line up, queue, and have patience.  Frequently, while standing in line to pay for something at a store or to use a public bathroom, Chinese people have pushed past me in order to get in front of me in line.  This action almost always receives from me the following indignant reply, “Line up.  Line up.  We are in line.  Please wait.”  Most of the time, this puts the cutter, perhaps a bit irked, back in their place, with great pleasure to me.

I have seen Chinese adults cut all their nails (either hands or feet) in the most ridiculous of places, places almost as ridiculous as those I’ve seen children pee in China.  For example, I’ve seen a mainland Chinese woman cut her nails in the somewhat crowded lobby of a 5-star hotel in Hong Kong.  Recently, when a man was cutting his nails, not 5 feet from me on an overnight train, I was compelled out of disgust and fear for my eyes to tell him to stop and to express how unpolite that was.  He was kind enough to stop.

The noise level in China is absurd.  Whether its loud voices, cranked up loud speakers, unimaginably loud cell phones, full volume TV sets, or crazily loud car horns, a high level of noise is gauranteed in China.  Of all of China’s, or Chinese people’s, unrefined quirks this one I’ve perhaps come to terms with most.  Nonetheless, there are definitely times when the noise seems truly ridiculous and something must be said along the lines of “That’s too loud.  You voice is too loud.  Please turn it down a little.  Please turn that off.”

By contrast, perhaps the most disgusting and bothersome is the smoking.  China is the largest cigarette market in the world.  The govt makes 14% (?) of is tax revenue from cigarette sales.  I could go on with the statistics. Chinese people seem to pay little heed to No Smoking signs either indoor or out, nor to people with sensitivities to smoke such as children, nor to nearby diners.  While in the museum at the Terracotta Warriors, a Unesco World Heritage site, 3 men were sitting on the floor, smoking.  As the smoke blew in to my passengers faces, I said the them “There is no smoking.  You’re not allowed to smoke here.  You can smoke outdoors.”  With this, they scrambled to put out their cigarettes and rush out the door (leaving the butts on the granite floor.)  Most people are generally responsive to requests to move the smoking away from us, however, frequently this involves switching the cigarette to the other hand as if then, the smoke will blow a different direction.  I’ve encountered very insolent people who continue to smoke in the middle of a sleeper train, even after being asked repeatedly to go elsewhere.

Part of my job description is to promote ‘responsible travel.’  This term is normally meant to apply to the foreigners coming into visit a country so that they should act and dress appropriately, promote the wellness of the country they are visiting, and not leave the area worse than they found it, but perhaps better.  The last part is exactly what I’m trying to do also while adopting a more liberal interpretation of the term, ‘responsible tourism.’  I hope that by reacting to certain Chinese behaviors, as mentioned above, I can make China a better place and make it more appealing to foreigners and more sensitive to their sensibilities.  In doing so, I wish that through tourism China can continue to showcase its beauty and history to the world and that future travelers to China can find it a bit more pleasant than past and current travelers.

Rolled over HazMat Truck

Truck & Cranes

While on the highway on June 11 between Fengdu (a Yangtze River town) and Chongqing (the largest city in China) we were held up for about 1-2 hours because a truck carrying hazardous materials skidded off the highway, presumably from either rain-slick roads or the driver falling asleep and had rolled over into the center barrier. We watched from about 50-100 feet away as they sprayed water on it (to keep it cool & not explode?) and used 2 cranes to lift it up and onto a flatbed tow-away truck.Water being sprayed on truck Lifting the truck Finally the truck is lifted and you can almost read what it is

Just so that my pictures aren’t exclusive they also had photographers on-site. Photographers on the scene
It was an interesting situation and a not uncommon China experience to be held up on the highway for hours.

Isn’t it Ironic–Health & Sanitary Standards in China

Reflecting on the SARS outbreak of a few years ago and the continuing bird flu scare, one wonders what preventative measures have been put in place.

During the SARS outbreak, it became expected, even trendy, to wear a face mask (like those of doctors) from the first signs of a cold.  Even now, its still quite common to wear a face mask when you have a cold or a cough.

Also, as a result of SARS, immigration points installed high-tech digital thermometers to determine if someone trying to cross a border was sick.  However, I haven’t noticed them ever being used.

These extreme measures, in my opinion, are a bit ironic given the lack of basic preventative measures.

For example, the Chinese spit indiscriminately.  With each wad of spit, millions of tiny germs fly in every direction, potentially infecting everyone within a 5-foot radius with tuberculosis or other airborne diseases.

The Chinese find it utterly disgusting when Westerners blow their nose into a tissue.  They prefer blowing their snot out of their nose straight onto the pavement, in effect spreading millions of germs everywhere like when they spit.  How is this better than blowing it into a tissue?!?!

Granted, I know its impossible to change the spitting habits of a nation overnight, but its been 3-4years since SARS and both Hong Kong and Singapore have successfully curbed its people’s spitting habits.

Spitting aside, the most obvious and basic precaution would seem to me to be SOAP.  Bathrooms never have soap, except for upscale bars, restaurants, and hotels.  Does that mean only the rich people are entitled to clean hands?  If you really want to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, I believe it would make the most sense to put soap in public restrooms, particularly highly trafficked ones like bus and train stations, also rest stops and tourist sites.  Perhaps the most ironic bit of this is, many have liquid hand soap dispensers already installed but none actually have soap!

Also, in a world where bird flu still lurks, how is it that people can drag chickens straight off the farms and into local markets (chicken for dinner anyone?) or drive them on a bicycle through the streets of Shanghai??

I think we need a reallocating of priorities.  Instead of spending money on expensive thermometers, use that money to buy and refill soap dispensers.  Instead of encouraging the masses to spend money on face masks, encourage them not to spread disease by spitting aimlessly.  These simple precautions would go much further at helping to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

“Is it Real?”

“Is it real?” my Australian passenger asks looking at a picture of the Chongqing Green Dragon Waterfall, she’s just paid RMB80 to visit, which claims to be Asia’s largest.

“Is it real?” is a very valid question in this country.

We’ve just finished visiting Mount Emei, one of the 4 Holy Buddhist Mountains of China. I’d be curious to know when the mountain obtained this title, particularly if it was after Deng Xiaoping’s visit in which he said, “Turn your corn into gold” thereby engendering mass tourism to this mountain. The summit of Mount Emei was rebuilt in the last year complete with a rather gaudy gold statue and bronze- and copper-colored temples. Recently rebuilt Golden Summit of Mt. Emei

Can anything that new and re-buildable qualify as Holy? Furthermore, on our walk well below the summit, we pass 2 massive ‘stone carvings’. These supposedly ‘ancient stone carvings’ are nothing more than fiberglass facades they were installing the last time I passed by. The Fiberglass 'Stone Carving'

All of this makes me wonder, if the title ‘Holy Buddhist Mountain’ is merely a fabricated title to boost Deng Xiaoping’s call to mass tourism.

Of course we know China is rife with complaints of IPR violations, particularly with regards to films, music, and luxury goods such as Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton (which is whispered in every foreigners ear in Shanghai). But less well-known are fake foods, cosmetics, medications, and even prescription drugs. Ever tried fake Oreos? Those will kill your Oreo addiction, quick. Or fake alcohol? It’s cheap but it tastes like crap and will give you the worst hangover you’ve ever had. What about fake prescription drugs? Consider how effective saline water is or chalk tablets.

How about those compliments Chinese people give so easily, when meeting someone, to give face, build a relationship, or just try to get something from you? Is that a sincere compliment or fake flattery that’s just a means to an end?

And what about China’s economic growth statistics? Are those faked as well? Poverty is rampant, major development projects are left unfinished, shopping malls full of people but no one’s buying anything. How can China’s growth be at over 10% per year in a country where the working population has no understanding of customer service/satisfaction, nor efficiency and weekday afternoons in Yangtze rivertowns consist of playing (and watching others play) mahjong and cards? Who’s validating China’s statistics?

I could go on with examples of fake and the just not quite real but I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself.

As for that waterfall–it’s real…sort of.

A New Experience–Going to the Dentist in China

That’s right, I voluntarily went to the dentist in China.  No emergencies, no problems, not even any pain.  I just wanted to go to the dentist because my teeth were feeling quite grimy and drinking all that tea was really staining my teeth.  So I chose one that looked clean, safe, modern and said alright I’ll have my teeth cleaned.  (Actually in Chinese the verb used for teeth cleaning is ‘to wash,’ not ‘to clean.’)  The hygienist was a young guy that claimed he had 4years working experience. Eh, good enough for me.
For the most part it was normal, like any other cleaning, except that I couldn’t understand everything they were saying and I had two heads peering over me and four hands in my mouth instead of the standard 1 and 2.  (Hey, labor is cheap, right?)  Anyway, it started out the same–scrape the plaque off the teeth.  Then they put a cloth over my face because they told me there would be a lot of water and salt? (xian or yan).  I didn’t quite understand until it started.  And the gentle abrasive of normally baking soda (except theirs had too much salt in it) flew everywhere and dripped everywhere.  Despite the cloth, I was still covered in the grainy bits and water by the time that was done.  Then he polished my teeth with a pink paste.  It tasted horrible!  What happened to good’ol mint flavor?  Anyway that passed and then I was handed a mirror.  Ok I understand you need to check out your haircut when the stylist is done, but what was I supposed to do with a mirror at the dentists office?  Inspect his work, he told me.  Uh…no thanks.  I’ll check to make sure my teeth are all still there later.  So I figured this meant we’re done…not quite.  Then he put a iodine-colored lightly sticky substance along my gums.  I freaked out a little.  What is this for?  They never do this in the States.  Ahh, what’s going on?  He said, probably they don’t do this in the States…something in Chinese that I did not understand.  The whole time I’m thinking, you know I’m from the US, why would you do something they don’t do in the US?  What is this for?  I hope its not a secret trick to make my gums rot and teeth fall out.  haha.  Just kidding.

In the end, it was as relatively positive experience as going to the dentist can ever be. It accomplished my goal of making my teeth feel cleaner and smoother!  Can’t say that it did much to remove the tea stains but then again I don’t think teeth cleaning ever makes that big of a difference in whiteness of teeth.  So far (2days later) I haven’t gotten sick so I guess that means the instruments were clean and sanitary.  But the real test I guess is when I return to my home dentist and they tell me if there was any damage from that clean.  But I doubt it.  Anyway, I think it was well worth the RMB260 (US$34) for clean, smooth teeth and an interesting China experience.


View over Yangtze in Wuhan, thick with pollution

This past trip took me through Wuhan (Hubei Province) for the first time and I’d like to share a few observations. Wuhan was one of the dirtiest, soot-covered towns I’ve ever seen. The silt had settled on every flat surface and some was as much as 2 inches thick. There was so much pollution in the air everything was in a neutral color. The densely particulated air had toned down the otherwise bright colors.On getting an aerial view of the city, I saw there is some very thoughtful planning at work as much of the land is green with vibrant trees, shrubs, gardens, and roadside plants. I don’t know that the plants will remedy all the industrial pollution but it helps and adds a little appeal to the city.Green countryside of Hubei

Wuhan also has some of the nicest, most modern and appealing housing complexes I’ve seen anywhere in China outside of Shanghai.

Reflections on Life in Shanghai

As a prepare to become a tour leader with Intrepid Travel and be based out of Beijing for the next 8 months, I believe its time for a reflection on life in Shanghai.

When did all the white people move into my neighborhood? This last week I was wandering around my apartment complex eating dinner and buying groceries and I was shocked to see so many foreigners. Guess the combination of good location, affordable housing, and my presence attracted them. Actually, more likely the first two, plus the proximity to Jiaotong University and the beginning of another semester of Chinese at Jiaotong. Welcome to you all. Hope you enjoy living here.

Working in China-Shanghai is a daily struggle. This seems to be the general consensus, and it’s not because the work itself is necessarily hard, it is the policies, procedures, practices, and habits in the Chinese working environment that pummel against the Western mindset at every turn. These issues are multiplied when working in Chinese companies but they are also present when working for MNCs in China.

Entrepreneurship makes up a huge component of individual Western economic activity in Shanghai. Who would have guessed there were so many Western entrepreneurs out here? I guess it makes sense since working for the Chinese is more than just a challenge. Plus, Shanghai is a boom town and everyone is here to make money entrepreneurship is the way to do it!

Networking in Shanghai serves you extremely well. With a strong network comes respect, free advice, a strong reputation for being in-the-know and well-connected, and the ability to assist people who are searching for help in this massive city. I’m extremely grateful for the contacts I’ve made, the network I’ve developed, the people I’ve helped through my network, and most importantly the good friends I’ve made by networking. Though maintaining my network from a distance over the next 8 months will prove incredibly challenging, I will do my best and I hope everyone doesn’t forget me.

Shanghai’s climate sucks. It goes from being hot & humid with terrible bugs in the summer, to a short rainy autumn, to a cold, humid, rainy winter, followed by a short spring, and finally it starts all over again. Why on earth people are flocking to this city with its terrible climate, I can’t imagine. Why is the climate so bad in Shanghai (and most of China for that matter)?

Vacations become exponentially more important for expats living here. Whereas Hong Kong is an invigorating city, Shanghai is an exhausting city, whereas Hong Kong has a go-getter attitude, Shanghai has a go-getter attitude with a break-neck component. In addition, the culture and the traffic and the madness certainly eat away at anyone’s sanity and manners. Therefore, frequent vacations to more relaxing and comfortable places are a must! (Maybe that’s the real reason for the 3 week-long holidays)

The nightlife hasn’t been as 厉害 crazy, fun, active as I expected. Despite, or maybe because of, the proliferation of new bars and clubs, the late night crowds were far smaller and more tame than I expected.

Not that I expected otherwise but, friends and friendships are very fluid here. Reasons include 1) people constantly come and go so solid friendships are hard to make and keep, 2) the city is so big and people work so much and there are so many demands for an individual’s time that it can be difficult just to spend much time with friends. This situation leads to common feelings among expats of loneliness and isolation.

Perhaps related to the above, but also for many of its own reasons, dating can be extremely difficult here, especially for a 176cm tall white girl. I certainly had trouble finding quality guys with a mutual interest in dating. :: sigh ::

Given the cosmopolitan nature of Shanghai, its surprising there’s such a dearth of fantastic restaurants in Shanghai. There’s an abundance of mediocre restaurants but sadly a lack of world-class restaurants.

Being a USC alum has been a huge asset for me. The USC name carries weight here. There is a huge alum base out here which acts as an automatic resource and network of contacts for those who choose to use it. USC facilitates interaction between alums making it that much easier to use the network. Many of my closest friends in Shanghai are USC alums.

In the end, Shanghai is a great city and I look forward to returning and resuming my life here after my 8 month on-the-road adventure.