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The absolute latest updates in China travel information.

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Mei Zhang
WildChina founder, entrepreneur, mother.

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Insider tips on China's finer side

August 30th, 2011

Impressions of Beijing, 1

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

It’s been 2 weeks since I landed in Beijing, with the whole family in tow, pursuing my dream of another startup in the land of opportunities.

 

Welcome to Beijing

Since when, China replaced the United States to be the land of opportunities? I don’t think I am alone with this view.  Someone from Mars Bar candy company rented my house in the US, and as it happened, he just relocated to America after a 4 year posting in Beijing. He and his wife looked at me with eyes of envy, and said, “oh, you’ll love it there in Beijing.  There are so many opportunities; it’s a lot easier to make money there. The US is too mature and steady, hard to find a break in the market.”

After one week in China, my son declared one morning. “I both hate China and love China! I hate China, because people drive insanely dangerously, and they don’t stop for you.  I love China, because China has awesome pools!”. Well, school hasn’t started, so the kids daily outing was to try out different fancy pools in different hotels/gyms before we decide which gym to join.  The pools all come with hot tub and fresh towels, and someone forever vigilantly wiping away water dripped on the floor.

Many Chinese friends from years ago have now prospered. Almost everyone has a car, and many have more than one child.  We went with one family to a fancy swimming pool in the CBD area. (Central Business District).  My 8 year old boy jumped into the pool like a fish, and went off with his laps.  He took off with butterfly stroke.  I watched him, with the smile of a proud mother. This is the whole summer’s work with the swim team in our local community pool in the US.

My friend looked at him, and said, “He’s pretty good, he’ll be able to catch up with the swim team after a few sessions.”.  WHAT????  My friend didn’t notice my shock at all, and simply went on to recommend the best swim coach in town.   We signed on with the coach immediately.

After a few training sessions, my son started to whine about going to swim practice, trying to wiggle his way out of it. “He makes us swim more than 500 (ft), and we couldn’t get out of the pool in between laps. We were in the pool the whole hour!”

“Hey, this is China!” I said. “There are a lot of people and you have to try a lot harder to compete.”

“I don’t like China, I like America better.  I like swimming in America.  It’s more fun there.” He continued.

“Well, that’s why China is beating America in everything.” I felt like a Tiger mom/China hater/panda hugger/radical, all at the same time.

I quickly changed the topic, leaving no impression that he could get out of the swimming.  Of course, I chose not to mention that Michael Phelps came through a similar community pool system in Baltimore.

Parenthood exists in muddy water; bi-cultural living is also in muddy water. I’ll let the water be, hoping it’ll clear up somehow, maybe with the force of nature.

 

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August 10th, 2011

Be the first to see new baby pandas

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

China Daily: Twin pandas were born in southwest China’s Sichuan province.

The mother panda, Qi Zhen gave birth to the cubs on August 4, 2011.  The first was female of 152g, and the second was a male weighing 122g.  These are Qi Zhen’s fourth set of twins, making breeders hopeful that she will raise them together, without cub swapping. (GiantPandaZoo.com)

 

 

Panda Qi Zhen did not have such a warm relationship with her own mother, Mei Mei.  After birth, Mei Mei scratched Qi Zhen, causing a wound that required 7 stiches.  The Chinese name “Qi Zhen” derives from this operation as it homophone of the phrase “7 stitches.”

 

 

Travelers to China can visit the baby cubs at the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center in Chengdu.  They’ll be in and out of the nursery for the next couple of months, so contact your WildChina travel consultant to arrange your journey to visit China’s greatest national treasure.

 

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Our camping journey with The Yosemite Conservancy will visit the pandas during their stay in Chengdu.  This themed journey departs September 14, 2011. For other journeys to see the pandas in Sichuan province, check out this itinerary or contact us at info@wildchina.com.

Photos from China Daily, GiantPandaZoo


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August 9th, 2011

Typhoon Muifa bypasses Shanghai

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Reuters:  “Typhoon Muifa weaked as it approached China’s coast on Sunday…veering north.”

ShanghaiDaily: Over the weekend, the Shanghai area still experienced strong gusts of wind and heavy rains.  Power lines and trees were pulled down, over 200 flights were canceled, and residents were evacuated, but overall, the damage was not serious as forecasters had predicted.

All WildChina travelers are safe and have made appropriate adjustments to their journeys.

 

 

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For more information, visit Tropical Storm Risk. For any other questions on China travel, please contact us at info@wildchina.com.

Photo by Carlos Barria of Reuters


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August 8th, 2011

Festivals & great weather make autumn a great time for China travel

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Fall is a beautiful time to come to China – the rain and humidity of the summer lifts, the sky clears and the air becomes a bit more crisp.  Landscapes and nature reserves throughout the nation change hues, erupting in the cheerful colors of harvest season.

 

Jiuzhaigou National Park in Sichuan Province

 

Festivals celebrating this change provide great insight into the local culture of the diverse regions of China.  Listed here are a few upcoming events:

 

 

 

  • Ramadan (August 1-29). An Islamic month of fasting, this religious practice may affect availability of local businesses in Muslim quarters throughout the country such as Xi’an and other destinations along the Silk Road.

 

  • Yi Torch Festival(throughout August).  Throughout the southwest plateau of China, in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, the Yi minority group will celebrate the beginning of autumn.

 

  • Mid-Autumn Festival (September 12). A harvesting festival celebrated as a national holiday throughout China.

 

  • National Day. (October 1 – 7).  A public holiday celebrating the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.  Travel to China is not recommended at this time as crowds of domestic travelers at iconic sites can be overwhelming.  Travel to more remote regions in the west and southwest of China are still quite pleasant (e.g. more rural parts of Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi province).

 

 

  • Harvesting Festivals of Minorities in Guizhou (October 5, 23-25), including the Lusheng Festival (October 23), which is celebrated in Gulong town of Guizhou province. Festivities can include ceremonies in traditional attire, song, and dance with the reed.  Read more about this destination in the Financial Times here.

 

  • New Year Festivities for the Minorities of Guizhou. Miao Minority (November 10-17). Dong Minority (November 23-30).

 

Gejia Minority in Guizhou Province

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Please note that for first-time visitors to China, sites and activities in Qingdao and Guangzhou are less distinctive than other areas of China. Festivals in these areas tend to attract large crowds are are only suitable for those with a high interest in participating.

To begin planning your journey to China, contact us at info@wildchina.com.


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August 2nd, 2011

Traveler’s Voice: Thrilled with our tour company, but not seduced by China

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

The following post was written by Jan Heininger and Jamie Reuter, WildChina clients who traveled with us for two and half weeks in October of 2010.  Their journey took them through Beijing, Tibet, Yunnan Province. Guangxi Province, and finally to Hong Kong. This is the first of a series of articles he wrote detailing their experience.  We begin with their overall impression of China…

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Some people come away saying they “loved” China.  We didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong.  This was a great trip.  China was fascinating.  It had beautiful scenery.  It had lots of history and culture.  We had many very unique experiences.  Tibet was wonderful.  We saw the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.  We saw amazing scenery including the karst mountains in the Li River valley.  We saw and experienced (in our own way) the spirituality of Tibet and China.  We visited towns and areas still dominated by minority populations and tribes.  We had, alas, only a few great meals but we stayed in a number of really outstanding hotels.  We had excellent guides and drivers who gave us meaningful insights into China, its history, its culture and its peoples.  We came away with a much greater appreciation for how some of the more recent aspects of Chinese history (end of the empire, Mao, the Cultural Revolution and the change to the “new economy”) have molded how people live their lives today.  We walked through “old towns” and markets established a thousand years ago.  We got a better understanding of how life works under central control.  But we didn’t “love it.”  We were fascinated.  We will go back to visit other areas of the country.  We were thrilled with our tour company and will use them again.  But we weren’t seduced by the country’s charms.

 

 

Part of our difficulties was due to the constant and sometimes overwhelming presence of Chinese tourists.  Chinese tourists are an odd group and not terribly accommodating or pleasant from a westerner’s perspective.  According to conversations with several people, Chinese tourists are less interested in seeing, learning and understanding, and much more interested in taking home pictures of themselves and cheap souvenir gifts to “prove” they had been to the big city and seen the elephant (so to speak).  In the context of China’s economic growth and the spread of wealth down into the middle classes and rural communities, millions of these tourists are on their initial trips out of their local communities.  They smoke a lot.  They spit.  They talk, stand up or even walk around during performances.  They push and shove to get to the front of a line – a survival skill, no doubt, in a country with 1.3 billion people.  In small numbers (anything less than several thousand), they are no worse than any other population of large groups discharging from parked ranks of tour buses.  You ignore their presence and carry on.  But for some reason, we were flooded with them.  Clearly, it was worst in Beijing, and our experience there may have made us hypersensitive to the issue throughout the remainder of the trip.  But our guides uniformly reflected on how they were seeing substantially many more national tourists than expected.  In prior years, the number of Chinese tourists had substantially diminished following their big national holiday (October 1).  This year, they just kept coming.  As an early example, I expected Tiananmen Square to be this huge, open square, just like the pictures I’ve seen.  Instead, all we could see were the heads of tens of thousands of tourists jamming an open space between a few monumental marble structures.  There was a 4-6 hour wait to get into Mao’s tomb (we skipped it).  Given the number of people present, the square itself didn’t even seem all that big.  For communities all across China, hanging out a “UNESCO Site” sign means you’re guaranteed millions of dollars of revenue from tens of thousands of Chinese tourists jamming little historic streets lined with shops selling plastic crap and cheap reproductions (mostly made in Viet Nam).  You can’t fault the Chinese for wanting to visit the hotspots within their own country.  But their numbers and manner definitely reduced our enjoyment and, in some cases our appreciation, for particular sights or experiences.
Second, China is clearly struggling with the size of its population, the extraordinary rate of growth in its economy and the rapid changes that are occurring in its distribution of wealth.  Improvements in their infrastructure (highways and airports in our experiences) just can’t keep up.  So in any largish city (and a country this size has lots and lots of cities with 5-10 million people), traffic jams, litter, pollution, clean water, lack of functional sewer systems, crowded public transport, crowded airports and disruptions due to construction are real problems.  I saw more Ferraris in Beijing in 3 days than I’ve seen in Washington D.C. in 30 years.  But most of them probably never get out of 1st gear due to the endless traffic jams there.  They’re like enormous pinkie rings, serving only to demonstrate the wealth of their owners.  Our trip included many, many hours in cars and vans averaging anywhere from 10-20 kilometers per hour – both in urban areas and while driving between rural towns.  Most tourist areas are struggling to deal with the explosion of tourism by Chinese nationals and foreigners, and some sites are, frankly, failing.  For example, we had to stand around for 15-20 minutes waiting for our guide to purchase tickets to get into the Forbidden City.  There was no way to pre-purchase tickets to get into sites.  And it wasn’t just for our small group of two.  Even the large groups stood around waiting, increasing the sense of congestion and crowding around key sites.  They just haven’t learned the secrets of how to move people along.
Finally (and there’s no polite way to say this) but…  Squat toilets were not our favorite Chinese experience.  Particularly when there aren’t any doors or walls between the “stalls.”  And you’d better bring your own toilet paper because you won’t find any outside of luxury hotels and airports (and even some of the airports only had squat toilets.)
I remember when my Grandmother Miller visited us in Germany back in the 1960’s and said something like “Germany would be a great place if it just wasn’t so full of foreigners.”  That’s been an inside, Reuter family joke for years.  I am very uncomfortable with the fact that my feelings about our China trip include even a tiny hint of this incredibly ethno-centric view.  I really do believe that I’m much more cosmopolitan than that.  But it can’t be argued that in the end, we just didn’t really “love” China as a country, and these were some of the reasons why.

 

Our tour company was WildChina.  We could never say enough wonderful things about how well they actually performed.  They provided everything promised, including cars and beds big enough for Jamie.  Their guides were terrific: very helpful, informed and flexible.  While dealing with our early arrival is the best example of their flexibility, we regularly had conversations with our guides about the various options we had for spending a day.  They quickly picked up on our desire to skip the obvious and crowded and go for things that were more unusual and interesting.  They knew where the shops with “quality” goods were, and took us there.  They were very open about their own lives and experiences.  They taught us a lot about what it was like to live in the “new China.”  We highly recommend WildChina to anyone planning a trip there.  They will work with you to create the type of trip you want, and then deliver it.  A very good friend of ours, who has travelled extensively, went on a 12 day trip to Yunnan, departing two days after we returned, and spent time in many of the same places we visited.  She used one of the “usual” tour companies.  The contrast between the two trips was remarkable.  If you’re going to China, use WildChina.
Weather wise, we sort of lucked out.  The rainy season was supposed to have ended.  But everyone kept talking about how weather patterns had been delayed this year and that we were still in the tail end of the rainy season.  Weather.com kept predicting rain – with daily precipitation probabilities ranging from 60-80% for weeks at a time.  In reality, we had serious rain for only two days: one in Beijing (when we visited the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven in our rain gear and under umbrellas) and one in Kunming (when a break in a steady rain let us wander around the Stone Forest without get too wet).  On the other hand, it was generally cloudy, overcast and about 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) colder than we expected.  While Jamie never put on his wool cap and gloves, he only wore his shorts and polo shirts after we got to Hong Kong.  Jan packed too many shirts with three-quarter sleeves and was stuck wearing her 2 long sleeve shirts day after day after day.  Neither of us even got close to putting on our bathing suits.

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Stay tuned for more tales from Ms. Heininger & Mr. Reuter’s journey.  For more information about the destinations they visited, check out our destinations map here.


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August 1st, 2011

WildChina pends journeys along the Southern Silk Road

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Due to recent disturbances in Kashgar and Khotan of Xinjiang province, WildChina does not recommend trips to the area at this time. No WildChina travelers are in this area at this time. As always, WildChina keeps the safety of our clients our top priority, and we will continue to monitor the situation and keep you updated with the latest information here on the WildChina blog. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at info@wildchina.com. ———- Photo by Alice Verey, friend of WildChina

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