Cheers from Qingdao … Touring the Tsingtao Brewery!

Vintage Tsingtao PosterHere’s one the first lessons of living in China: Nothing is ever spelled consistently.

For instance, Qingdao, a town on China’s eastern coast, about midway between Beijing and Shanghai, is the very same as the formerly spelled Tsingtao, pronounced “Chingdow” (with the the “d” giving a slight “t” sound).  It is this same venerable town that was settled by the Germans in the late 1800s — hence the brewery — and hosts China’s largest beer festival every August. Continue reading

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bill Murray, and … His Doppelganger?

Gellert Spa, BudapestOkay, I know this guy’s not Bill Murray.  Or … I’m pretty sure.

But the thing is, this photo was taken almost ten years ago when Sam and I were living in Germany.  We took a road trip to Budapest, Hungary, and while there, I fell completely beguiled by this gorgeous hotel and spa built in the early 1900s that was located on the Buda side of the Danube. Continue reading

Shaxi Friday Market along the Tea Horse Trail

Shaxi Friday Market, Woman in Traditional Dress

Shaxi Friday Market Mix ‘n Match: Woman in eclectic mix of modern and traditional Dress … love the socks!

Shaxi (“Shasee”) is a tiny, quaint town midway between Yunnan Province’s larger cities of Lijiang and Dali.

But it makes up in significance what it may lack in size.

It is here that the most complete, surviving trading center for the famed Tea Horse and Caravan Trail takes place every Friday in the form of Shaxi’s Friday Market.

It is believed that tea was first introduced to the world through this Tea Horse route, starting with tea harvested from China’s Yunnan Province and then packed into bricks and carried (along with salt) on the backs of mules to Tibet, then to Burma and India. Continue reading

Skiing in China

Sam and me at PanshanWhen our tour bus pulls into the Panshan Ski Resort at 8:30 in the morning, I peer out the frosty windows, unsure of what to expect.

Our “guide” walks down the isle, collects a 300 RMB deposit from each of us — (a surprise because we’ve already paid our admission fee) — then disappears for a few minutes into the resort grounds.  When he returns, he hands us each a blue card and explains that we will use this card to rent our equipment (no extra fee for boots and skis, but jackets, pants, goggles and locker rental will cost extra).  When we return our ski equipment in good condition, our guide explains, we’ll be refunded our money for anything not considered an “extra.” Continue reading

Hello, Dali!

Foreigner Street, Dali

Foreigner Street, Dali

Of all the places we’ve visited in China, Dali probably wins out as our favorite.

Located in China’s southwest Yunnan Province — about a two hour train ride south from Lijiang — Dali was once known as China’s backpacker paradise but is said to have lost some of its granola appeal in the last decade. That may be so, but Dali still oozes charm.

Continue reading

In Pursuit of Donkey Meat

Mutton Stew(The below article was first published in JIN Magazine’s February 2014 issue)

When Sam and I first arrived in Tianjin, we were excited to explore the local eateries near our hotel.  The trouble was, our language lessons had not advanced beyond basic greetings and naturally, all the shops and restaurants were identified by Chinese characters.

Undaunted, we consulted Google maps, relying upon our Chrome browser to translate the names of various establishments in our area.  Voilà!  One translation in particular caught our interest:

“Donkey Meat Restaurant.” Continue reading

Things to Do in Harbin, China

Harbin's Famous Red Sausage

Harbin’s Famous Hong Chang (Red Sausage)

Harbin was once a thriving Russian immigrant destination and home to around 20,000 Jewish settlers — purportedly the largest Jewish settlement in east Asia.  (The last Jewish settler in Harbin was said to have passed away in the 1980′s however.)

Because of Harbin’s diverse past, Russian architecture, Jewish synagogues and some unexpected food choices await.  So if you came here for the ice festival and are wondering what else there is of interest, here a few of the highlights: Continue reading

Harbin Ice Festival 2014

Harbin Snow and Ice World

Harbin Ice and Snow World 2014

The Harbin Ice Festival is currently the largest ice festival in the world. Located in northern China in a city that blends an eclectic mix of Russian, Jewish and Chinese heritage, Harbin is definitely a destination worth a visit — even when temperatures drop as low as negative 40 degrees, which is, interestingly, the one temperature where Fahrenheit and Celsius are identical! Continue reading

A Pigeon in the Hand is Worth Two in the Factory

My Flying Pigeon!

My Flying Pigeon!

This article was published in JIN Magazine’s January issue, and re-posted on the government’s tourism site, exploringtianjin (dot) com.

Due to word-count limit however, I wasn’t able to provide as much history on Tianjin’s famous Flying Pigeon bicycle as I would have liked.  So, without further ado, may I present the article as originally intended:

A Pigeon in the Hand is Worth Two in the Factory

The Flying Pigeon bicycle is touted as the most popular bicycle brand in history.[1]  First produced in 1950 by the same Tianjin factory that had made Anchor and subsequently Victory brand bicycles, the 20-kilogram, one-speed, all-black design was created to emulate the popular 1930’s style English roadster.[2]  The name “Feige,” which actually translates to “Dove,” was chosen to symbolize peace during a time when war blazed throughout Korea.[3]  For whatever reason, “Flying Pigeon” won out in English parlance over “Flying Dove,” and the rest, as they say, is history. Continue reading

Yunnan Province: Lijiang, Shuhe and Baisha

Town Square.Lijiang

Town Square. Lijiang

Last month, Sam and I visited the Yunnan Province in Southwest China. Our original plan was to fly into Lijiang, hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge, take the bus up to Shangri-La* before flying back out of Lijiang.

(*Funny you should ask: the town of Shangri-La (formerly known as Zhongdian) is named after the mysterious place in James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon !  But sadly, we read that a week ago, a fire blazed through the old town and destroyed a quarter of the wooden houses there.) Continue reading