Tag: travel


Jun 2015

Mike’s Immersion Experience in the Chinese Countryside

I’ve had many conversations with learners looking for an immersion experience in China. Well, Michael Hurwitz, my friend (and former AllSet Learning client) decided to round out his China experience with a month in the Sichuan countryside (outside Chengdu) doing farm work. He went through an organization called WWOOF that sets up labor-hungry foreigners with organic farms and the like.

But is a month enough? Was it a good experience? I interviewed Mike to get his take on it.


农村 Mike

Could you explain why you felt the need to run off to the Chinese countryside for an immersion experience?

Mike: It was something I’d wanted to do for awhile, but the language element was only part of it. I was also interested in checking out a more “authentic” Chinese place than Shanghai, if that makes any sense. The lack of westerners and English speakers around was a big part of my reasoning, but I was also hoping that the stronger “Chineseness” of the 农村 [countryside] (and 农民 [rural workers], for that matter) would rub off on me a bit and that I’d understand a bit more about China, having seen a lifestyle very different than the urban one I’d been participating in.

What was the farm work like?

Mike: The work itself was nothing crazy, primarily because the farm was as much about environmental education as it was about growing stuff. I mostly planted trees and pulled weeds, with lots of other work thrown in. The farm’s owner was really flexible; for instance I sometimes have knee problems (because I’m secretly a 45-year old man) and he had no problem with me forgoing work that involved lots of crouching. Towards the end of my time there, the owner even had me translate some instruction manuals for products he’d ordered from the US into Chinese! Productive work, but not quite what I’d imagined beforehand.


How was the food?

Mike: Food was very hit or miss. I don’t eat pork, which complicated things, as one of the 阿姨s [ayis] simply couldn’t understand that, and often left me no meat alternatives, which is tough when you’re doing physical labor all day. However, the other 阿姨 [ayi] was a wizard in the kitchen and made some absolutely magnificent dishes that I still crave.


Were you able to practice a lot of Chinese? What kinds of conversations did you have? Was the location a good choice?

Mike: Definitely got a huge amount of practice. No one else on the farm spoke English, so all communication was done in Chinese. It was very productive in that it was easy to get past the normal sorts of introductory conversations and actually start talking with people about normal things grown-ups talk about.

This was very cool because so often as a foreigner you’re seen as more of a curiosity than an actual person, so you can’t really have genuine conversations, but living on the farm with the same people for an extended period helped me get past that.

The location was something of a mixed bag. While being out west meant there weren’t any English speakers, it also meant there were some very non-standard accents and a lot of older folks who just couldn’t speak Mandarin. It led to situations where I had to have younger people translate from the local dialect into Mandarin for me, which was colorful but inconvenient.

Another element was that many of the things I was doing and experiencing – farm work, new foods, new activities, etc – were things I had never had cause to talk about or learn the vocabulary for in Chinese, so there was a lot of learning on the fly there as well. It was a bit overwhelming at first but after a week or so it got a lot easier. It helped as well that the farm’s owner and his wife were Beijingers, so I could always lean on them when I needed something more 标准 [standard].

Would you recommend what you did to other learners looking for an immersion experience?

Mike: I would definitely recommend an immersion experience, but location-wise, I’d say I had mixed results. Being in a place with so many non-standard accents and weird dialects made it a less smooth experience than I’d hoped. I think volunteering somewhere with more standard Mandarin would ameliorate that though.

Would you recommend what you did as a purely cultural experience?

Mike: Most definitely. I didn’t know what to expect going into this experience but I learned a tremendous amount about farming and rural Chinese life. Most of the people I met were great and it was wonderful to see a totally different side of the Chinese experience!



Dec 2013

Jet Lag’s Revenge

OK, I admit… I like talking about stages. Stages of learning Chinese, stages of tonal development, Chinese grammar challenges in stages, stages of cultural adaptation. And now it’s stages of jet lag evolution.

I’d like to think that after all these trips across the Pacific, I’d have learned a thing or two about how to minimize the effects of jet lag. In reality, though, despite a few beautifully victorious battles back in the day, I realize that I’m losing the war.

43/365 – EXHAUSTED

It goes something like this:

  1. Indestructible 20’s. Ah, those were the good old days. The “stay up all night the day before your flight, and then sleep the whole way there” plan. It actually worked. I needed like a day to bounce back. I actually remember saying, on multiple occasions, “jet lag doesn’t affect me.” Yeah, those days are long gone.
  2. Slowing down around 30. Eventually I stopped saying “jet lag doesn’t affect me.” I quit feeling like staying up all night the day before a flight was either doable or wise. And I had to start dealing with jet lag the way most normal adults do, over the course of 2-3 days. (Secretly, though, I felt like I was much better at getting over it than the average person.)
  3. Dragged down by a baby. OK, I’m going to do the manly thing now and blame my heinous jet lag on a baby. (It is her fault, though!) The thing is, when we come back to the States to visit, we stay with my parents and stay in the guest room. And even if I’m still “better than average” at getting over jet lag, two-year-olds are most definitely not good at getting over jet lag. And her sleep schedule, when she sleeps in the same room as me, definitely affects mine. So three days of jet lag becomes a week. Ouch!

The moral of this story: enjoy the time you have before jet lag gets its revenge.


Sep 2012

The Road Too-Traveled

It’s almost National Day holiday in China. That means wacky vacation schedules (it’s not too bad this year, though) and tons of Chinese people traveling. Those of us that have tried traveling within China during the holiday tend not to repeat it too many times (or at least not to really popular tourist destinations).

This year my wife and I are going to make a trip out to Chengdu. Should be fun (as long as the crowds aren’t too overwhelming). We’re going to try time-shifting our holiday a bit (leaving early and coming back in the middle of the holiday) to offset the holiday rush. We’ll see if that works!

Recently I saw this advertisement, which I assume was timed to appeal to would-be National Day travelers:


The text reads:

> 没有起点 没有终点 路线你定!租!

> There is no starting line. There is no finish line. You set the route! Rent!

Of course, the first thing that went through my mind when I saw that ad was, “you’re never going to find a road like that in China.” It’s not that the “open road” doesn’t exist at all; they’re just way too remote for the average driver setting out for Shanghai, that’s for sure. A Chinese “road trip” tends to feel more like driving in the city than like the “open road.” I’ve been on a few road trips in China, and I can now appreciate why the road trip is a great American tradition and not a Chinese tradition.


Feb 2012

Ideas for Moms’ Trips to Shanghai

I’ve been away from blogging recently as my parents were here visiting their new granddaughter. It was only their second trip to Shanghai, and before they got here I spent some time wracking my brains for good things to do. There are tons of things to do in this city, but so very few of them are obvious. The best ideas always seem to occur to me too late.

Mary Ann, an AllSet Learning client of mine who is a mother herself, had recently compiled a list of mom-friendly activities for her own mother-in-law’s visit, and she kindly shared it with me, along with her comments. I thought some readers might find it useful, so here it is, with her persmission:

Urban Planning Museum. I find it interesting, and I think most people who like cities are usually into it. The top floor now shows a short movie which shows a 360 panoramic view of Shanghai from Hongqiao to Pudong. I haven’t seen it but my kids and visitors have and everyone has liked it!
– “Ghost Market.” That Antique market on early mornings on Saturdays and Sundays near Yuan gardens. I find it fascinating that so many people come to Shanghai from the countryside to sell ceramic shards. I like to watch the background social scene but picking through some of the stuff is fun too.
Old China Reading Room on Shaoxing Lu. Restful place to browse books and drink tea (nice Austrian cakes at Vienna Cafe nearby)
Glasses Market above the Railway Station. Since your parents aren’t shoppers, the one market that they might be able to get something at and take part in Shanghai commerce madness is the Glasses Market. They should bring a prescription with them from the U.S. and get some glasses made. People with glasses can always use a spare and much much cheaper than in Europe, I’m assuming the same in the U.S. My friend’s ophthalmologist sends all her patients to Bright Eyes Optical (stall 4056). I have taken people to get glasses done there and they were all were happy afterwards. Speak to Linda; she speaks English (in case your parents go on their own).
Historic houses on/around Sinan Lu. Visit the ones converted into museums.
Walking Tour. Yes, I’m insisting on this! And no, you can’t walk them around with an app instead! All parents like this sort of thing. Of course skip the cheesy ones but do go for the historian-led ones, or at least the ones led by guides with more street cred. The highly recommended guy who does the tours of the Jewish Heritage sites is an Israeli journalist/historian who runs shanghai-jews.com.
Hang out at a Tea House. You probably know of a good one. [Actually, not really!]
Foot Massage or other treatment at Xiao Nan Guo (Hongmei Lu). Have you been here? I’ve only eaten there a few times. The spa part of it has all spa typical treatments available PLUS there’s entertainment, which I think is daily. I think it would be great to take them to a foot massage while watching a show of russian dancers. Why, they may ask? Well… why not? Sounds kooky but that’s the point. Anyway, supposed to be pretty affordable so it could be something to do.
Propaganda Poster Museum.
– I accidentally came across a place in the Old town where they sell books by weight… quite amusing. Have you seen this? Isn’t one of your parents a librarian? Might be worth a bit of a hoot if in the area…
Spin Ceramics on Kangding Lu. Something for themselves or for a gift. Do you know this place? Fab stuff at great prices.

Sadly, my parents only got to do the first thing on this awesome list, but they did have a great time (despite Shanghai’s inhospitable winter weather). Hopefully someone else will find it useful.

Another client recommended Shanghai Pathways for tours, but we ended up just not having time for so many activities.

If you’ve done any of these things or have anything else to add, please leave a comment!

Related Posts:

China Lite (2011)
Micah and John on Touring Shanghai (2008)


Jun 2011

China Lite

As someone who’s taken up residence in China long-term, I’ve had quite a few visitors over the years. One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to do a little “visitor profiling” if you want your guest to have a good time. Two of my own personal “case studies”:

1. My sister Grace visited me in Hangzhou in 2001. I hadn’t been in China long, and had spent a lot more time studying Chinese than trying to get comfortable. I fed Grace the 5 RMB local cafeteria food I was used to eating. When we went from Hangzhou to Beijing, I screwed up on the sleeper “ticket upgrade,” so it was 17 hours on the train in hard seats. In Beijing, we went everywhere on foot, by subway, or by bus. Poor Grace didn’t adapt too well to Chinese food; I think she might have had western food a few times, but she also shed quite a few pounds during her two weeks in China.

2. My parents visited China in 2007. We toured West Lake in Hangzhou, and went on a Bund cruise in Shanghai. We flew to Beijing and saw the sights there, assisted by a driver. We took the cable car up to the top of the Great Wall. We sampled the local food everywhere, while also getting some western food when it felt “necessary.” My parents had a very pleasant stay (but probably didn’t lose any weight).

Fortunately, by the time my parents had visited, I was a bit more compassionate about the needs of my less hardcore visitors (and had had a chance to practice this “kinder, gentler version of China” when my other sister Amy visited in 2004). Grace actually had a really good attitude about the whole ordeal, though. She felt that she had had a taste of “the real China,” and referred to what my sister Amy had experienced as “China Lite.”

China Lite

I’m not trying to be a China snob here; this “China Lite” concept is useful. With my parents planning another visit, I’m working on perfecting the China Lite experience (without resorting to a tour group, if possible). While the whole “Real China” vs. “China Lite” thing is more of a continuum than a black or white issue, I’ve found it useful to compare the two.

Real China China Lite
Stay in hostels, crash at friends’ places, or even do some kind of homestay Stay in nice hotels or service apartments
All Chinese food, and the more street food the better Chinese food is fine as long as it’s not too weird; some western food (even KFC) is needed to buffer all that Chinese food
Baijiu (that Chinese white grain alcohol) isn’t so bad… Tsingtao is exotic enough when it comes to alcohol
As much Chinese language as possible; gotta put that phrasebook to use and communicate with the locals English if possible; translations if not
Travel by bus, train, and bike (with the people) is great Airplane preferred for long trips; other forms of transportation need to provide appropriate personal space
Pack your own TP, and study the proper squatting position in advance Never stray too far from a western-style toilet
China is big, and you don’t have much time to soak it all in, so pack that itinerary tight! China is tiring; plan the itinerary carefully and leave sufficient down time
Consider the whole trip to be “off the grid” or at least “off the beaten path” with just the occasional internet cafe Plan for internet needs, and provide a cell phone for your visitors if possible (the cost of the SIM card and phone service is negligible in China)

Got any tips to add the the list?

Some visitors are looking for “the real China,” where others are hoping to enjoy “China Lite.” They’re both here, but it’s best to be clear on what your visitors are after.

Other takes on “China Lite”:

China Lite in the New York Times
China Lite on globorati
CNYE in China Lite by Ryan McLaughlin


Dec 2010

A Rough End to 2010

This Sinosplice silence has gone on for too long! Time for a personal post.

Leading up to Christmas, I was preparing to make a trip back to the USA. This time that involved not only the usual gift-buying, but also getting a good lead in the recordings at ChinesePod, and also making sure that all of my AllSet Learning clients are properly taken care of the whole time as well.

What was meant to be a “short and sweet” visit was turned not so short by the massive snowfall in the northeast, canceling my flight out, and turned not so sweet by a bout of the flu. (I thought maybe the constant exposure to Chinese germs had me toughened up to the point of being nearly invulnerable to American germs, but this time I fell hard.)

It’s been a long and tiring 2010, but an enormous amount of good work has been laid for an awesome 2011. I’ve got lots more ideas for this blog, and I’ll be taking the time to write them up. (Now if only I could eat solid food…)


Sep 2008

Micah and John on Touring Shanghai

Blogger Matthew Stinson recently asked Micah and me about what there is to do in Shanghai. I thought the conversation might be useful to some readers, so here it is, edited somewhat:

Matthew asked:

> I’m heading down to Shanghai for National Day [October 1st]. I have rather bizarrely never actually been to Shanghai before, so I was wondering what places you’d recommend I visit and what places you’d recommend I avoid during my time there. I have about 3.5 days to wander around the city.

> Also wondering what district you recommend getting a hotel or hostel in.

Micah replied:

> Three and a half days is enough to see all the major attractions and then some. However, a disclaimer: sometimes I get too gung ho about the city, so if John’s recommendations clash with mine then trust him over me.

> For a hotel or hostel I’d recommend staying close to People’s Square, which is a good launching pad for visits to just about anywhere in the city because it’s the location of the subway Lines 1/2/8 interchange. I have two places in mind, depending on your budget. If you’re going cheap, stay at the Shanghai Mingtown Etour Youth Hostel. It’s just west of People’s Square, next to the quaint little pet market where I buy chinchilla food and the Shanghai Art Museum. It’s also a short hike away from Suzhou Creek, a good place for photography. If you’re willing to pay RMB 200-300 for a standard 标准间 hotel room, the 上海市工人文化宫东方宾馆 (Shanghai Worker’s Cultural Palace Far East Hotel?) is right on People’s Square, 2 minutes from the subway, in a historic building that’s now being used as a civic center but has a hotel on the upper floors. I tried to book it for my parents when they came for our wedding two years ago, but they were renovating at the time so now it must be even nicer now. Either place, call in advance and confirm rates/availability, of course.

> Whoa, that was way too long. I’ll keep the “tourist attractions” in list form:

> DO

> – Yu Gardens area (for the food and the antiques)
> – Taikang Road (trendy fixed-up old neighborhood)
> – People’s Square + Nanjing East Road + Bund (don’t mind the scammers, just chat them up and then brush them off)
> – Shanghai Museum (on People’s Square)
> – Lujiazui area (Aquarium, World Financial Center, Super Brand Mall)
> – Jing’an Temple
> – Yuyintang (this is a good live music venue, if you’re into that)
> – Science & Technology Museum
> – Wander around the French Concession area
> – Wander around the Old City (north from Dongjiadu)


> – Yu Gardens themselves
> – Shanghai City Planning Museum
> – Longhua Temple
> – Anything else in Pudong besides Lujiazui and Sci-Tech Museum

John replied:

> Heh, I always panic a little when people ask me about things to do in Shanghai. While I do like the city, I don’t feel like there’s really that much for visitors to DO when compared with a city like Beijing. This city is about business, shopping, dining, and nightlife!

> Still, it’s not fair to say Shanghai has nothing to offer, and I think Micah did a pretty good job of listing the attractions. I’ll just add a few comments to Micah’s list.


> I’m sure Micah’s suggestions are great, but don’t forget the traveler’s favorite: The Captain’s Hostel. It’s probably been booked solid for weeks, but you might still want to check it out.

> DO

> – I’ve never been a fan of Yu Gardens; feels like it’s just for tourists from abroad. So while I would expect my parents to enjoy it, I wouldn’t expect you to.
> – Jing’an Temple is cool-looking, being right in the middle of the city, but don’t bother going in. The park across the street is quite nice, though, and both New York Pizza and Burger King are right there if you’re interested.
> – I went to the Science and Technology Museum with my wife last year, and we were both disappointed. We found it too child-oriented, run-down, and outdated.
> – You might consider the Xujiahui Computer Market (there are actually two separate markets right in 美罗城, plus a BestBuy nearby), and I hear there’s a photography market near the Shanghai Train Station that has lots of cool stuff for photo buffs [Editor’s note: Brad tells us that photography market is now closed].
> – Micah left off Xintiandi, a major tourist highlight. Yeah, it’s all fake and expensive, but I think it’s an important side of Shanghai. To me, Taikang Lu doesn’t feel much less fake… at least Xintiandi is honest about what it is. (Sorry, Micah!)
> – Check out the Liuli Glass Art museum on Madang Lu (right next to Xintiandi). Really amazing stuff by a Taiwanese artist, with a Buddhist theme. Make sure to go in early afternoon; it turns into a bar at night, and the exhibits go away.


> To me, you’re missing one of Shanghai’s major highlights if you’re not here to EAT. Shanghai cuisine might be a bit sweet, but there are plenty of excellent restaurants, and tons of variety (both domestic and international). With a little planning, you could be eating one mind-blowing meal after another, if that’s something you’re interested in.

Micah replied:

> In re: to John, I totally agree that there’s just not that much to *do*. Go out to eat a lot, have a massage, get some clothes tailored, climb the Pearl Tower… that’s the extent of what 90% of Shanghai tourists do because Shanghai is about quality of modern life, not so much about history or cultural production.

> No comment on Xintiandi. I’m “against it” in theory, but I haven’t been there in ages and I’m not really familiar with the area. I believe John used to work near there, so he would know better than me.

> Finally, John, I was trying to think of a Shanghainese place to recommend because it’d be a shame not to eat the local cuisine no matter how people from outside of Shanghai bad-mouth it. But I was coming up a blank — the best places I’ve eaten are hole-in-the-wall, out of the way, or too expensive to recommend with a clean conscience. Can you name a place off hand?

John replied:

> You mention the Pearl Tower, but you didn’t put it in your “DO” list. I’ve actually never done it myself. Is that another one that should be on the “DO” list?

> Not really sure about a good Shanghainese place… There’s so much fusion going on that I don’t really worry about where the food is supposed to be from too much.

> Matthew, you might browse the restaurant listings on smartshanghai.com for the expat view, and on dianping.com for the Chinese view.

Micah replied:

> The Pearl Tower is the no-brainer, average-Joe view of Pudong. The Jinmao Tower’s 88th floor observation deck is the more sophisticated option. That one lounge on top of the Jinmao Tower where you pay the bar’s cover charge to enjoy the view *and* a classy drink is the savvy-traveler’s choice. But the only view that made it onto my DO list is the new World Financial Tower, because it’s NEW and higher than all the others (though I hear it’s a bit pricey).

> If I was playing tourist, maybe I’d go to Din Tai Fung. Even though it’s Taiwanese it wins all the contests for Shanghai 小笼包, and I betcha they have more Shanghai dishes than just that. Dianping has them at RMB 100 per. Jodi and I got invited to a birthday party at 1039 on Yuyuan Rd by a Shanghainese friend, very 本帮 [local Shanghai] and set in a semi-fixed-up colonial era home, but a little out of the way and RMB 200 per on Dianping.

> And yeah, seconding smartshanghai and dianping.

Readers: Any other recommendations for good, reasonably priced Shanghainese food, or must-see parts of Shanghai?


Nov 2007

Food Budgets for China

Friends planning to visit China always ask me how much they should budget per day for food, and I always give them the same very helpful answer: “it depends.” It depends mostly on: (1) how you want to eat, and (2) where you’ll be.

“How you want to eat” includes not only price range, but also type of food. If you’re in Shanghai (expensive!) and you want to eat good Western food (expensive!), you’re going to end up paying a lot (expensive + expensive). If you can eat all Chinese food (cheap!), and your vacation is to the forgotten corners of Shanxi Province (cheap!), you won’t spend much at all. Most travelers can manage a balance between the two. So with these two factors in mind, I give you my three simple budgets (the numbers are per person):

The Shoestring Budget

– 5 RMB breakfast
– 10 RMB lunch
– 20 RMB dinner

On this budget you’ll eat fine if you stick to cheap Chinese food. Shanghai will be a little tough, but you can still do it. You don’t have to eat street food all the time, but you can’t afford fancy restaurants. As for Western food, you can afford a McDonalds value meal for dinner, or maybe a cheap Taiwanese chain’s version of Western food, but not much else. You can also afford the cheapest cup of Starbucks coffee… for dinner.

For breakfast you’ll probably be eating at one of the little stands on the street. Just notice what Chinese people eat. Lunch is probably going to be some kind of cafeteria or small restaurant (look for the meals ending in , because they come with rice). Dinner will be a similar small restaurant.

The Modest Budget

– 10 RMB breakfast
– 20 RMB lunch
– 50 RMB dinner

This is not a hard budget to do. You can buy bread and juice and yogurt for breakfast. You can afford McDonalds for lunch if you must, and you can eat better dinners. You can also have a few cheap dinners to save up for a more lavish meal. (Obviously, eating Chinese is the way to go.)

This budget is also nice because it works out to a little over US$10 (damn you, falling US dollar!). I actually loosely follow this budget in my daily life here in Shanghai.

The Comfortable Budget

– 10 RMB breakfast
– 40 RMB lunch
– 100 RMB dinner

If you find everything in China “so cheap” and you have the money to spend, this should do it. You can’t afford all-you-can-eat buffets at the Radisson on 100 RMB, but if you eat cheap for several nights you can. If there are two of you, you can afford to eat at most places (even in Shanghai), provided you don’t go crazy (especially with the alcohol). If there are four of you eating Chinese-style (sharing the dishes), you can definitely have some really great dinners on this budget.

This only works out to about US$20.

A few final notes:

– If you’re planning on drinking a lot at these meals, that is not taken into account
– Eating in larger groups, especially for dinner, will get you more for your money
– I’m assuming a pretty modest breakfast, so if you eat a lot in the morning, you might have to adjust the figures



Oct 2007

Beijing Beckons

Late Monday, Beijing flashed the Pasden Signal into the dark night. So now I am on my way to the capital for a quick trip.

More blogging when I get back!


Oct 2007

When a Fever Is Not Just a Fever

Towards the end of September, on one particularly nice Friday afternoon, I suddenly came with a fever. I went home to get some more sleep.


Photo by DooogwoooD on Flickr

My wife got home and proceeded to freak out. To the Chinese, a fever is serious, much more so than a cold. Somewhere in the Chinese psyche there’s a line about “fevers kill people” and modern medicine has yet to edit that line. My wife wanted to take me to the hospital that night.

I didn’t see what the big deal was. Our honeymoon to Turkey was coming up the following week, but I felt confident I would quickly get over whatever little bug I had caught. I didn’t remember ever going to the hospital for a fever growing up, and I had a few fevers back in the day. My mom also never seemed overly concerned when it happened. To me, fevers just meant temporary discomfort. I even thought they were kind of cool, the human body’s rather “creative” way of trying to burn its invaders.

From Wikipedia:

> Theoretically, fever has been conserved during evolution because of its advantage for host defense. There are certainly some important immunological reactions that are sped up by temperature, and some pathogens with strict temperature preferences could be hindered. The overall conclusion seems to be that both aggressive treatment of fever and too little fever control can be detrimental. This depends on the clinical situation, so careful assessment is needed.

> Fevers may be useful to some extent since they allow the body to reach high temperatures. This causes an unbearable environment for some pathogens. White blood cells also rapidly proliferate due to the suitable environment and can also help fight off the harmful pathogens and microbes that invaded the body.


Photo by Tinn Tian on Flickr

But when my fever didn’t go down, my wife called her mom and they started group worrying. I was afraid my mother-in-law might even come over. So to spare the womenfolk their worrying, I agreed to go to the hospital that night. Unsurprisingly, I was given an antibiotic IV, and also a shot in the butt (just below the waist, really) to make the fever go down. Over the weekend I started feeling better. I went back to work on Monday feeling like I had a normal cold.

Then Tuesday I woke up with another fever. I called in sick. My fever went back down by that evening. I felt OK Wednesday.

Thursday was the day we left for Turkey. Over the night I came down with a fever again, and had horrible fever nightmares all night. They were horrible not because they were scary, but because they were maddening, like a kind of unsolvable logic puzzle that nevertheless had to be solved. It was something about building an ever-changing machine out of steel and fur that contained all the functions necessary to allow me to get to Turkey. Every time I thought I had my furry device complete, it would change, thwarting my departure to Turkey over and over and over again.

When my wife found out I had a fever of 39.2°C/103°F (again), she flipped out. She was upset not because she was afraid we couldn’t go to Turkey that night, but because I had a fever for the third time, and it was so “high.” She thought I was dying of some mysterious disease.

I explained to her that I actually felt OK, that I had had higher fevers before and never even went to the hospital, but she wasn’t having it. Secretly, I was wondering if those heat detectors at the airport set up during the SARS scare would detect my fever. Reason told me I had better not try to get on an international flight with a fever. Curiosity wanted to just try it (yeah, curiosity can be kind of dumb sometimes).

So that afternoon I was back at the hospital, luggage in tow and plane tickets in hand, for another IV and another shot in the butt. My wife had the hilarious idea of getting my IV “to go” and doing the drip in a taxi on the way to the airport, then ditching the bag at the terminal. Unsurprisingly, the doctor didn’t go for that scheme.

My first five days in Turkey involved dutifully taking my medicine three times a day and my wife frequently feeling my skin for signs of a fever (that got interesting after I got a sunburn in Cappadocia). Still, it was an amazing trip to Turkey.

More on Turkey next post.


Sep 2007

Tickets to Turkey?

My wife and I would like to go to Turkey soon. However, over the past few weeks I’ve been discovering that it’s kind of difficult for Chinese people to go to Turkey. Difficult… but not impossible.

Now that we’re sure we can both actually get in, we just need to buy plane tickets, but we want to go during–you guessed it–the October National Day holiday. Somehow we kind of forgot that there are a freaking bazillion* people in this country, and a good number of them also plan to leave the country during the same time period. Demand drives plane ticket prices up. Good old capitalism.

Anyway, if anyone has some suggestions for travel agencies or other good ways to get to Turkey from Shanghai, please let me know, either by e-mail or comment. Thanks!

* Rough estimate


Aug 2007

Shanghai VS Dubai

Some may view Shanghai as glamorous, but it’s got its share of expat whiners. So how does it compare with Dubai, one of the richest, most exotic expat destinations?

According to this analysis, it’s got a lot of the same issues.

I’ll leave the item-by-item comparisons to you, but Shanghai still seems pretty good to me.


Jul 2007

China: Worth the Trip

I found this brief review of China pretty amusing:

> Pros
Lots to see, Beautiful historical buildings

> Cons
Run-down areas, Communism

> The Bottom Line
Definitely worth the trip!

No mention of the people… perhaps because the pros and cons of the people cancel each other out?


Jun 2007

Visiting Shanghai

My whole family is currently visiting me in Shanghai. I’ve got a list of great restaurants to take them to, and a few other fun places as well. We’ll also go to Beijing. I was just wondering if anyone out there can recommend things in Shanghai that appeals to 60ish parent-types?

Specific recommendations as well as links to relevant blog entries or whatever are all welcome. Thanks in advance!

Update: I’ve gotten some helpful suggestions, and I appreciate that. I’m taking them to Hangzhou very soon. This means that (1) I won’t be posting anything else for a few days, and (2) there’s more time to keep those suggestions coming! (Hangzhou is so much easier to be a tourist in than Shanghai… I feel like Shanghai is mostly just eating and shopping.)


Feb 2007

A Day in Chongqing

My wife is going to Chongqing on business, and she’ll be free the whole day on Friday, February 23rd. She was able to get me a ticket to accompany her, so that means we have one day to check out what Chongqing has to offer. It’s probably not the best time of year to go, but oh well. (And yes, we both like spicy food!)

I chucked my Lonely Planet long ago, but in looking for info on Chongqing, I was thinking that there should be an online version of Lonely Planet. Something less commercial, in wiki format, that could offer the most up-to-date info on hot travel spots. That’s when I found WikiTravel.org. The site’s a little… visually boring, but it seems very functional. It has a page on Chongqing, but it doesn’t seem to offer much. Are the Dazu Rock Carvings (大足石刻) worth checking out?

To anyone who has been to Chongqing or lives in Chongqing, I would love to hear some suggestions of fun or interesting things to do. Thanks in advance!


Aug 2006

Travel by Train: China vs. the USA

My friend Shelley used to live in Dongying, Shandong Province. He is now traveling in the States. Here is an excerpt of an e-mail I recently got from him:

> I arrived in LA this morning after 3 nights on a train and couple hours stopover in Chicago. I learned a few things about the differences between US and Chinese train travel. I should first mention that this trip closely mirrors a trip I took just last year in China. It also involved 3 nights on a train with a short stopover after the first night. However, my US train took me entirely across the country, from Washington D.C. to L.A. My Chinese train took me from Kashgar (far northwest) to Xi’an, which would be more like Seattle to Chicago in the US. But I think this had more to do with the speed of the train. Anyway…

> From my half-dozen Amtrak trips between Sacramento and San Jose, I knew that 1) there would be very few people on the train, and 2) there are electrical outlets and tables by most seats. From the info I had gathered from Amtrak’s website, I knew 3) private cabins would cost a bit more than a flight (around $350) but would allow me to travel in great comfort.

> Yeah, well, I was wrong about all that stuff. I must have been looking at the seat prices because my seat from D.C. to L.A. cost me $299. Private cabins cost $1,000 and were booked up “until September” according to one conductor. The train was also overbooked, and I witnessed the familiar sight of people scrambling to get on the train before everyone else. See, I had a ticket for a seat, but not a specific one. Some people got put in the lounge car until seats cleared up in the coach cabins. And finally, you guessed it, no tables or electrical outlets. There were 3, only 3, outlets in the lounge car within an unused snack counter area. I managed to get up early enough one morning to stake a claim on one and charge up my cell phone and iPod. And believe me, I protected my outlet from other power-starved travelers like a lion over its kill fends off circling hyenas.

> Now, a seat on a Chinese train for 3 nights would be an amazing feat of stamina and bladder control. I’ve never done that. The longest I went for was a 26-hour stint which I emerged from as if I had just climbed Everest. A seat on a US train for 3 nights is about a hundred times more comfortable because it’s 1) a bucket seat and not a bench, 2) much better climate controlled, 3) bathrooms are clean and well-stocked with necessities, and 4) the lounge car provides another place to hang out with wall-to-ceiling windows and TVs showing movies in the evening.

> That said, however, I wouldn’t recommend the train to anyone who wasn’t ready to spend a boatload of cash to make it more comfortable. While the seats were spacious, they didn’t fully recline and I never found a comfortable sleeping position. I mostly passed out from exhaustion. Several times I pondered the pros and cons of sleeping in the aisle, but the cons always won out.

> Also, the train is not merely kept well air-conditioned, it’s kept refrigerated. I actually love to crank the AC up, but I was absolutely freezing during the first night. I noticed that everyone else on the train took out thick blankets and heavy sweaters. They had obviously done this before. I shivered all the way to Chicago. During that stopover I bought a hooded sweatshirt, which wasn’t easy to find but I knew my health depended on it. And folks, I’m really not exaggerating. It was amazingly cold. Amtrak might be experimenting with cryogenics. Well ok, now I’m exaggerating a little.

> The food available wasn’t all that bad but keep in mind that my standards for western food are very low. It was definitely overpriced microwaveable stuff. But they really had a great variety of it. Still, this is no advantage over a Chinese train. If I were on a Chinese train the food would come to me on snack carts roaming the cars every half hour or so.

> In conclusion, I would have to say that Chinese trains are better. Really. Because for the same price as my US train seat, I could have bought a super nice cabin (soft-sleeper) on a Chinese train and traveled in great comfort … with an electrical outlet!

> I kept wondering why so many people were on the train at all. “Um, excuse me, doesn’t anyone here realize we could’ve flown for cheaper?” Apparently not.

Thanks to Shelley for letting me publish this.


Apr 2006

Successful Beer Bartering


satellite dish = beer

Thanks to Dan of Shanghaiist who spread word of my “satellite TV for beer” deal, yesterday I successfully traded a satellite dish with box for 4 cases (96 bottles) of Sol beer. Lenny and John B can verify that the Sol is much tastier than the satellite dish could ever be. Thanks also to Peter for his generous bid.

I’m leaving for the States tomorrow for a two week visit. Will there be any beer left when I get back? Hmmm…

This visit home is a first in a way because of the awesome deal I got on my plane ticket. It’s the first time I have paid less than 8000 rmb for a round-trip plane ticket to Tampa–I only paid 5600 rmb! It’s also the first time I’ll have less than two connecting flights. This is the simplest (best) route I’ve ever taken: Shanghai – Chicago – Tampa. The American Airlines direct flight from Shanghai to Chicago just started.

Anyway, if posts are light, it’s because I’m busy trying to gain 10 pounds in 2 weeks.


Sep 2005

Transnational Life

From Ape Rifle:

> I guess that is one of the biggest downfalls of the transnational life: you meet amazing people, only to let them go as we all drift back to our respective countries or chosen corners of the world. This will be my fourth consecutive year of goodbyes, and I think that emotionally I’m getting rather tired of it. Could it be time to settle down somewhere for real? Do I need to stop being such a goddamned drifter, and realize that I can’t keeping hopping around the globe leading a disposable life without suffering the consequences once the glory of youth starts to fade?

I really identify with Patrick’s feelings.


Aug 2005

Changchun: 10 Images

Happy Ridin' The Street Food Gourmets Street Food Menu Meat on a stick (S)

1. A child dancing around a supermarket parking lot, overjoyed to be deemed worthy of photography.

2. I think I ruined all the fun of that ride for the kid. (Sorry, kid!)

3. The ZUCC gang never shies away from street food.

4. Have a closer look at that menu. Yes, that’s right: 5 sticks of meat for 1 RMB! What’s that, you say? You’re hungry for bull testicles too? Will that be large (10 RMB), or small (5 RMB)? If you’re low on funds, we recommend the bull penis itself (1 RMB).

5. Oh, so that’s why the meat on a stick is so cheap… it’s tiny!

6. Baijiu prices at 东方饺子王 (the number with the degree sign next to it is the percentage of alcohol).

7. This car has seen better days.

8. Where’d the gang go?

9. Four dead fish, their origin a mystery.

10. The Chinese love them some watermelon.

Baijiu, anyone? Shell Biker Gang Four Dead Fish Melons, Melon, Melons (of water)

The connection problems I reported having with Flickr a while back are all but gone now. Flickr is still not as fast as it was when the server was still in Canada, but at least it actually works without a proxy now.

Related: Wedding in Changchun


Aug 2005

Travel and Moving

The other day I had this IM conversation with a friend:

> 没有空: you got plans for [the October holiday] week?

> John: I was thinking of going to Beijing

> 没有空: 哦。 [Oh.]

> John: You ever do any traveling around China? No interest?

> 没有空: 我反对旅游。太费力,太费钱,太麻烦。 [I’m against travel. It’s a waste of energy and money, and it’s too much hassle.]

> John: you sure you belong outside the USA?

> 没有空: there’s a difference between moving someplace and staying for a while, which I’ve done many times, and short term travelling.

> John: Yeah. Travelling is fun. Moving is difficult and stressful.

> 没有空: 切 [as if!]

> 没有空: moving is purposeful and noble. travelling is useless and ignoble.

> John: How is moving noble??? It’s just necessary. That doesn’t impart any nobility. Travelling is much more noble because it represents a voluntary effort to become more familiar with an unfamiliar place — to better understand the world you live in.

> 没有空: and waste time and money and disrupt the work you should be doing.

> 没有空: 只有超级英雄喜欢搬家!只有流浪痞棍喜欢旅游哼! [Only superheroes like moving! Only vagrant scoundrels like traveling!]

> John: work is not life. Any life of your own outside the workplace is a disruption of work.

> 没有空: not workplace work. One’s own work. Travelling, like drinking, is a way to hide from one’s responsibilities.

> 没有空: how can you 为人民服务 [serve the people] if you are traipsing around tourist sites?

> 没有空: nice 吹ing牛 [bullshitting] with you but I got to get to work…

While it’s true that my friend doesn’t really like travelling, I know he was partly just being facetious. I can’t really fathom how people can dislike travel, though.

I want to travel more.

P.S. I should be arriving back in Shanghai this afternoon, completing a 27-hour train from Changchun. Mission accomplished! (sort of)