For entertaining reading about China the book “Coming Home Crazy” is a good one. Written by Bill Holm who just recently died, Bill writes about the trials and tribulations of his travels in China during the 1980’s. At that time China was just starting to waken to the rest of the world and Bill’s experiences were very typical of that era. I also experienced many of the same things during the early 1990’s. The book probably can be ordered from Amazon.com Bill points out many of the local issues like the hotel elevators did not stop at the 2nd. & 3rd. floors because it was only required to stop at the fourth floor or above. Hot water was sometimes only available during certain hours in the morning or evening. Lights were turned out after 11:00 at night in the hallways of many hotels. Night clerks often slept on the desks or on the floor and if you wanted to check out early you had to wake them.
Heat was not available until after Nov. 1st in the hotels with steam heat as were many of the department stores and clerks wore coats and mittens with the finger tips cut out. These were just some of the inconveniences and thank heavens this has all changed with the times. It’s a great book for you to appreciate more the modern China now which most people are overwhelmed with their progress. Tours to China is my business so check out my web site at www.interlakechinatours.com
Many people want to hike in China but do not know where to go. It really depends on your level of hiking and what you expect. The photos above are from a hike at the Four Sister Mountains area inhabited by Tibetan people in Sichuan province. I sent three women who were seasoned hikers into that area for a wonderful experience of meeting some of the local people. We use pack horses or yaks for hikers to carry the tents, camping equipment, food and supplies. They went as high as 12,000 feet into the snows. At that altitude the hiking season is short from July through September. With so many mountains in China there are many hiking possibilities but don’t expect a lot of trails to follow as Chinese people seldom hike. Many areas have small areas to travel on a path but they are walk ways to villages or small towns in the mountains. The hike along Tiger Leaping Gorge is an interesting one for avid hikers with 3,000 foot gains which can be done in a day or two days as you can overnight in guest houses. For more places on hiking and information contact me through my web site at www.interlakechinatours.com There are many other hikes that can be all day or half day depending on your time available or interest and ability.
Many clients when I ask about their interest in shopping will tell me “No Factory Stores” but I beg to differ with them. In some countries or tours they are masks for retail stores; but in China there are what I call craft stores where you can actually see the products being made by hand. Cloisonne pieces are one of them as you can see above where you see the actual 12 steps it goes through by hand to the final product. You don’t need to buy but to see the products being made gives you a better appreciation for them. There are many “factories” or “work shops” as the Chinese call them in China that are worth visiting. You can see Rugs, silk, embroidery, jade carving, paintings, etc. etc. being made by artists all hand made. I have shoes hand made and have taken a photo of the person who made them to better appreciate them. I have a painting from a man who paints with his toes as he was born without arms and a photo too. I have learned a real appreciation for Jade after visiting a Jade carving workshop and have a piece in mind that I saw last trip but failed to buy and hope it is still there this fall when I go. I took a photo of it but I didn’t pay attention to what I always tell clients. “If you like it; buy it because you may not see it elsewhere in China”. For more hints on shopping, please contact me through my web site at www.interlakechinatours.com Tours to China is my business but China history and culture are my passion.
I am often asked what gift or gifts should I take to China for guides, friends etc. I guess it is best to start with What Not to Do first. Chinese people tend to be very superstitious. Never give a gift that cuts anything like a knife, scissors etc. It means you want to sever the relationship. Never give a time piece as it means that the person receiving it has limited time left in this life. Never wrap the gift in white paper or tissue paper as it means Death or funeral. Bright red or bright gold paper is best. Gold means wealth and red means Good Luck. Women when they married traditionally wore a red dress however in the last few years women wanting to have the latest fashions are now wearing white! What does this mean, all you men out there? 🙂 Gifts for guides etc. should be very small gifts perhaps from your home town or country. An expensive gift may cause embarrassment as they will need to give you a gift back in like value which they may not be able to afford but to keep face must give it. If you are going on business or meeting some Chinese friends etc. the book “Encountering the Chinese” A Guide for Americans 2nd Edition by Hu Wenzhong and Cornelius Grove is an excellent book to read before you go. Sometimes hard to find, I keep 25 copies on hand at a cost of $25 including postage if you can not find it. Send a check to Interlake China Tours, Inc. P.O. Box 33652 Seattle, WA. 98133
One of the places you must visit in Beijing and seldom ever visited by Group Tours is the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square. It is like visiting our Congress building in the U.S. Note above the largest stage in Asia and perhaps the world with seating for over 10,000 people. The bottom photo is one of the reception rooms for foreign dignitaries. President Nixon was received in this particular room. Each Province has a room in the building decorated for their particular province. Although you can not tour the individual rooms, there is glass so you can look into them. You can take a self guiding tour of the building which features a banquet room as well as a cafeteria where you may have lunch. The stairways are 20′ wide and during receptions are covered with inch thick red carpeting. Another building to tour is the Beijing Hotel on the corner of Changon Ave. and Wangfujing street Mall. The reception hall if open has had many historical meetings there. Although updated the hotel is now split into three hotels in one which share many of the common areas including many restaurants which are open to the public. These buildings not included in Group Tours are good places to go on your own during some of your free time. For more places to visit and see on your own not included on group tours, contact us at www.interlakechinatours.com Private Custom Tours to China are our specialty for over 18 years.
As a Tour Operator to China only for the past 25 years, I have sent over 2,500 people from all over the world to China. Doing business on the internet, most of them I have never met but have become friends while working with them on their tours. One of the most interesting people has been a client from Colorado State University, Vicky Cass, who is a photographer and has made several trips to China. She did a unique book called “In the Realm of the Gods”. She took stories from ancient China, had them translated into English and combined them with her photography to give them visual life as well. The book may be obtained from Amazon.com at a price of about $25. I have purchased several copies to give as gifts to my Chinese associates for my trip to China this fall. Tours to China is my business and I have never tired of experiencing China to the fullest during each trip now numbering over 50+ trips since 1989.
Jet Lag is an interesting problem. I have travelled for many years and have experienced it to different degrees based on where I am going and when. People experience it to different degrees and some not at all. Going to China from Seattle which is 16 hours ahead of Seattle, the flight is about 11 hours to Beijing but we travel with the sun and it is like one long afternoon. When I arrive at 4:00 p.m. in Beijing it is 12:00 midnight Sunday night in Seattle or 3:00 a.m. Monday morning in New York. Best thing to do when you arrive is try to stay up until at least 9:00 p.m. the first night. The next day you should plan on having a short day and rest in the afternoon doing something relaxing rather than sight seeing. Jet lag will subside in a day or two. Coming back however is another story. It use to take me 10 days to get back to normal as my days and nights got mixed up and I would want to sleep all day because I was awake all night. I found the product above to be very helpful. It is called “No-Jet-Lag” and can be found in most travel or luggage stores. Homeopathic, it is made from all natural ingredients according to the label and is made in New Zealand. You take one tablet every two hours as long as you are in the air. Cost is about $15 for 32 tablets. It is effective at different levels with people according to my clients who report back to me. I hope this tip helps you.
Most people like Bargain Shopping in China. But what is a bargain to one may not be a bargain to another. You must check quality to be sure. There are 3 kinds of “knock off” watches. #1 lasts until you get out the door #2 lasts until you get back to the hotel #3 Lasts a few years if you are careful with it and you should pay about $40 to $60 for those. At $10 you know how long that one will last. Clothes can be a real bargain if they are over runs and not knock offs or irregulars. You need to know your sewing to check those out. When it comes to sizes do not trust the labels. I wear a X-large shirt. I must try them on and usually end up with a XXXX-large if it is a knock off. Antiques are usually 90% copies. There are a few good local places but you must know where they are located. The real antiques are in stores and must have a red wax seal on them. I have picked up some real antiques in the countryside sold by the locals but hard to find. The best Bargain shopping has been in Beijing and Shanghai for variety. Hand made clothes and others can be found everywhere and are good bargains. Best is to take a private tour and ask to include some local shopping. The Group tours take you to high priced shopping stops where the guides and local travel services get kick backs for taking you there. An inexpensive group tour usually includes 3 of these shopping stops per day and you are locked into them. For more information, contact me through our web site at www.interlakechinatours.com Let my 25 years Experience in China help you plan your tour.
The largest Buddha in the world, 220 feet tall is located in Leshan, China near the city of Chengdu, Sichuan province. Chengdu City and Sichuan province are best known for the Panda and also as the Gateway to Tibet. In the past most tourists by passed Chengdu unless they wanted to go to the Panda Reserve and then only stayed over night in Chengdu before leaving for Lhasa or other destinations. The Buddha, known as Da Fo is less than two hours from Chengdu by freeway at the city of Leshan. Located at the fork of two rivers, you can take a boat ride out onto the river to get a good look in front of the Buddha and as you will note in the photo above there are stairs carved into the cliff so you may get a close up view at the foot of the Buddha. Each foot is 25 feet long and an ear measures 22 feet to give you an idea of the size. Da Fo has received a cleaning since these photos were taken during my last visit. The carving was begun by the monk Haitong in the year 713 and took over 90 years to complete. There is another set of stairs going back up to the top located inside the cliff on the right side of the Buddha so visitors can go in one direction. There is a temple and garden at the top so you can get a great view of the Buddha as well as the river below. I will be writing more about Sichuan province long considered the heart of China in later blog writings.
Bicycles in China are thought to be the main transportation but in the last few years cars have taken over especially in the large cities. No longer are the hoards of bicycles crowding the streets of China. The automobile has come of age in China. However with the cost of gasoline these days, bicycles are making a come back but in a different mode. Electric bikes, motor scooters and even electric cars now are showing up on the streets in large numbers. Above is a bike of the 1980’s now antiques compared to the sleek new bikes of today and battery powered bikes are the thing of the present and future. We use to do the Foreigners Dance to get across the street to avoid the bikes but today with electric bikes we must be more vigilant as the electric bikes are silent as the scooters are too. One mode of transportation that will go on forever is the tractor/car/truck shown above which can be seen in rural areas all over China. When I was in Xishuangbanna in the south of Yunnan province which the locals call “Banana” for short, my guide pointed out the above mode of local transportation and called it the “Banana Benz” as the locals call it. A Mercedes Benz it is not; but to a poor farmer it is affectionately known as their “Banana Benz”. For more interesting stories of China keep reading my Blog or sign up for automatically receiving each blog as I write it. Happy Travels Click on the photos for a full screen view!