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August 30th, 2013

WildChina Update: Earthquake in Urumqi

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

BREAKING – August 30, 2013

At 1:27 p.m. local time, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake was registered by the China Earthquake Networks Center in Urumqi, the capital city of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China.   The epicenter was at a depth of 12 kilometers (approximately 7.5 miles).

As of 3:44 p.m. today, no casualties or injuries have been reported. There are currently no WildChina travelers in the area of the earthquake.

As with all earthquakes of this magnitude and higher, visitors and residents are advised to travel with care and be mindful of aftershocks.

We at WildChina will continue to monitor the situation and provide any updates that become available.

Xinjiang-Map-WildChina

 

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July 19th, 2013

Get Lost in Gansu

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

It’s not hard to lose yourself in the mesmerizing beauty of the Gansu wilderness… the immense mountains and sweeping meadows of China’s northwest promise a majestic realm far from the hustle and bustle of coastal cities, and offer a tantalizing glimpse into what life is like on the “roof of the world.”

Stay the night at the Norden Camp under the infinite sky, surrounded by a rugged landscape painted in hues of powder blue and lush green. Wander through the Labrang Monastery, passing red-robed monks, marveling at the intricate architectural detailing throughout the vibrant complex. Visit a Norlha workshop and learn how yak wool – khullu – is transformed into luxurious woven textiles as a part of a sustainable social enterprise; venture out to see the striking Milarepa Temple in Hezuo City.

Our WildChina travel consultants especially love trekking to the Sangke Grasslands, vast and breathtaking plains that are roamed by Tibetan nomads. Take a peek into their modest tents and try a bite of what’s stewing in their pots – these intimate interactions are precious experiences that will linger long after you leave the highlands behind.

Under Gansu’s simmering summer sun, there are endless sights to be seen and countless adventures to be had. What are you waiting for?

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Looking for a last minute summer getaway? Contact WildChina about traveling to Gansu! Email us at info@wildchina.com.

All photos by WildChina’s Gloria Guo.

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July 3rd, 2013

Kyle Johnson: China’s Ultimate World Traveler

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

Would you exchange luxurious material possessions for the opportunity to to take an extraordinary journey around the world?

From the towering snow-capped mountain peaks of Alaska to the age-old charming hutongs located in the heart of Beijing?

Kyle Johnson, an avid world traveler, would without a doubt say ‘yes’.

From the northernmost tip of North America to the southernmost end of South America, checking off a list composed of an impressive 36,000km’s worth of thrilling adventures along the way, Kyle has spent a quarter of his adult life out on the road; therefore, traveling is a fundamental part of his life, more important than material possessions.

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What does Kyle love the most about traveling?

He thoroughly enjoys the way it has broadened his perspective on life, giving him freedom and promoting an overall more vivacious lifestyle that is enriched by all of the remarkable individuals, rich scrumptious cuisine, and mesmerizing scenery he encounters. This vagabond way of life makes him reflect on and rethink the sometimes slow pace and mundane routine of our every lives. With a camera in one hand and a pen in the other, Kyle frequently uses photography, drawing, and writing to document his journeys. His journal is constantly overflowing with sketches inspired by medieval architecture and writings inspired by specific moments while traveling.

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Kyle’s most memorable adventures?

His ‘top five’ would include: exploring the amazing wildlife and fishing in the vast beauty of Alaska, hardcore motor cycling through the Andes, hiking around the seemingly endless lush grasslands native to New Zealand, long boarding with local surfers in the villages of Hainan, and dining on the most flavorful of dishes made with the freshest ingredients while enjoying some of the world’s finest wine in the tranquil Italian countryside of Tuscany.

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For Kyle, the key to a successful and insightful trip is maintaining a bright attitude. While working at a surf shop in Hawaii, he clearly remembers seeing a couple arguing. Rather than appreciating the mesmerizing and soothing waves of the ocean that lay just a few steps away, this couple was getting caught up in a heated argument. So in the wise words of Kyle, “Be aware of your surroundings, appreciate the moment, remain open-minded, and most importantly, smile”. When you smile, you get a smile back. Who knows, a local might even invite you into their home to enjoy a cup of tea – what better way to understand a specific culture than with the locals themselves?

“Be aware of your surroundings, appreciate the moment, remain open-minded, and most importantly, smile”.

On his upcoming trip to Italy’s Tuscan countryside with Bishan, Kyle hopes to expose fellow travelers to the idea of traveling on a more human level, focusing on “Experiencing Tuscany Differently”, interacting with locals and understanding the regional history, produce, and overall culture through activities such as visits to organic farms that make their own cheese. While staying at an one thousand-year old restored castle surrounded by olive trees and a vineyard, travelers can truly get away and travel back in time a few hundred years to fully appreciate the beauty of site with some delicious cuisine, flavorful wine, and lovely company –  a truly valuable and luxurious journey!

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With international progress, overall higher levels of education, and Chinese outbound tourism on the rise, the mindset of the traveler is also evolving – they are stepping away from the stereotypical large group tours that efficiently cover multiple locations in a short period and moving towards a more effective and independent way of travel, spending extended time in a specific location to get a more in-depth look at the local culture.

As the ultimate world traveler, Kyle epitomizes the future of outbound travel amongst up and coming generations of Chinese travelers.

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All photo credit to Kyle Johnson

 

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June 18th, 2013

China Welcomes Back “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers”

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

What is more important – national security, or people’s right to be informed?

The screenplay, “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers”, further explores the themes of freedom of press, government secrets, and the role of the judiciary with its inside look at the Washington Post’s decision to publish a study labeled “top secret” that documents the history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The following epic legal battle contended the public’s right to know against the government’s need for secrecy, eventually going on to arguably become one of the most important cases in Supreme Court history.

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We had the chance to talk with Alison Friedman, founder of Ping Pong Productions, a company fashioned around the mission of promoting cultural diplomacy through the performing arts. As a longtime resident of Beijing, Alison has witnessed first-hand the changes in the Chinese mindset regarding censorship, especially amongst the younger generations.

According to Alison, the main reason the screenplay returned to the Middle Kingdom was because although there were some difficulties the first time around, the show was overall a huge success, receiving positive, but more importantly, engaged reactions.

 

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Post-performance discussion on stage at Tianjin Grand Theatre Opera HouseSo what has changed between the first and second tours?

When “Top Secret” came to China a little less than two years ago, they were playing mostly to student audiences in small venue. This time around, with more financial support, especially from the U.S. Embassy, the cast was able to perform in grand theaters in every city they visited, the highlight obviously being the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Beijing, the most prestigious venue of its kind in China. Quick fun fact: LA Theater Works is the first American theater company to perform at the NCPA!

Another major difference is the audience – this time around, their viewers are much more mainstream, not simply theatre or journalism-focused spectators. In terms of the reactions that the screen play has received, there has been just as much enthusiasm because the issues discussed are both timeless and universal.

 “[It] is in essence, not simply about the story behind the publishing of the Pentagon Papers… but rather revealing the multi-facets of this complicated subject, forcing its viewers, Chinese and American alike, to raise questions about censorship and the public’s right to know.”

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The cast visiting the Forbidden City

What interested Alison was the demographic of Chinese audiences compared to that of their American counterparts. The show’s popularity amongst younger audiences in China reflects the country’s vibrant theater-attending community, which avidly frequents both domestic and international performances. This highly contrasts the much older demographic (50+) of American audiences, most of whom attended the screenplay because they had lived through this period of U.S. history.

 

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LATW cast and Ping Pong Productions producer Alison Friedman back stage at the National Center for the Performing Arts with US Ambassador Locke

The organized interaction between the cast and the audience included coordinated discussions in every city, a master class in Suzhou, and a variety of theater workshops in Chongqing. What impressed Alison the most was the level of sophistication and the amount of nuance that the discussions reached. Rather than asking Margaret Colin about her favorite scene in the the popular drama, “Gossip Girl”, the participants were genuinely interested in the substance of the play, often asking the cast about their personal opinions regarding the characters they were playing.

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“Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers” is in essence, not simply about the story behind the publishing of the Pentagon Papers or being “pro-” one thing, or “anti-” another, but rather, revealing the multi-facets of this complicated subject, forcing its viewers, Chinese and American alike, to raise questions about censorship and the public’s right to know, both in terms of current and future issues.

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First and last photos by Matt Petit, third photo by John Vickery, second and fourth photos by Darren Richardson

 

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June 3rd, 2013

Jet Lag Got You Down?

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

Even the most experienced travelers dread the inevitable misery of jet lag.

Our bodies normally follow natural cycles called circadian rhythms – internal clocks that dictate when we sleep, when we feel awake, when we get hungry, and all related biological conditions. Traveling, particularly flying across multiple time zones, throws everything out of balance, resulting in the classic jet lag symptoms: extreme fatigue, disorientation, gastronomical issues, and overall discomfort.

Over 95% of travelers report suffering from jet lag, and the older we get, the more we are affected.

Some sleep scientists conjecture that it can take up to one day per time zone crossed for your body to catch up to your new environment. For a three-day business trip, it might not even be worth the pains of adjusting – but for longer the prospect of spending half the excursion jet-lagged is disheartening.

Fortunately, there is a plethora of advice out there on how to minimize the transition time and decrease jet lag’s negative effects, as well as a growing body of scientific research on the topic (To Avoid Jet Lag This Summer, Travel Like a Scientist, The Wall Street Journal).

Of course, each body is unique; what works for one person might not work for another.

Here are some tips we suggest trying to manage jet lag:

Begin modifying sleep habits before you travel:

It’s generally recommended to alter sleep habits ahead of time. If possible: gradually pushing back your bedtime if traveling west, or heading to bed earlier than usual if traveling east (studies actually show that traveling east is significantly more taxing than traveling west).

To maintain this modified sleep schedule, you can even enlist the help of a website or app: Jet Lag Rooster and JetLag Genie are popular.

Try regulating exposure to light (wear a eye mask when sleeping):

In most cases, your body won’t adapt that easily.

To further ease the shift, many experts advocate regulating your exposure to light. This is because light – natural or artificial – is the primary environmental cue that direct your biological clock.

By selectively controlling how much light you see when, you trick your body into following a new cycle. NASA uses sleep masks to help their astronauts acclimate to sleeping in new settings; sunglasses are another valuable tool (A Battle Plan for Jet Lag, The New York Times).

For shorter flights, consider arriving in the evening local time:

The time of day that your airplane arrives at its destination can also make a difference. If you’re one of the rare individuals who can sleep soundly on planes, consider taking a red-eye night flight.

Everyone else might benefit from booking a flight that touches down in the early evening, local time. This allows for a comfortable span of time to check into your hotel, eat dinner, and get settled before tucking in for the night.

Manage diet and caffeine in-take:

Speaking of which, it always helps to get a good first night of sleep in the new time zone.

Sleep experts note that unfamiliar environments can make it difficult to sleep – caffeine and alcohol could undesirably exacerbate that effect, so be wary. To ensure quality rest, medications such as sleeping pills and melatonin are an effective option, but be sure to discuss with your doctor ahead of time (Jet Lag and Sleep, National Sleep Foundation).

For the first few days, it’s advised that you manage your diet carefully. Try eating at local meal times, so that your body gets used to metabolizing in its new schedule, and limiting yourself to familiar foods, in order to minimize digestive unpleasantness.

Particularly large, heavy, or spicy meals are not recommended.

Plan and prepare your body ahead of time:

Overall, scientists agree that you should minimize other stressors however you can: plan ahead, pack early, stay hydrated throughout, take advantage of cabin aisles and layovers to walk around and stretch your poor, tired body.

Traveling will always have its ups and downs, but perhaps jet lag is one of the bad parts that can be overcome, leaving you with more energy to focus on the good parts – the remarkable experiences – instead.

Anhui, Huangshan

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Airplane photo by Alexander Estmo

 

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May 30th, 2013

Taiwan – Asia’s Best Kept Foodie Secret?

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

Tom Stapleton, WildChina’s representative in the UK and Europe, reflects upon the delectable delicacies he enjoyed during a recent trip to Taiwan.

Ask people what they associate with Taiwan and you’ll get blank faces, or at best ‘manufacturing’. Those with a few more miles on the clock might mention Chiang Kai-shek. What you’re unlikely to hear in reply is ‘outstanding food’.

Yet that is what travellers to Taiwan can expect – some of the freshest, tastiest and most innovative food in Asia.

Partly this is due to geography.

Being an island Taiwan has an abundance of seafood – squid, tuna, shrimp and much more besides can all be found in Taiwan’s waters.

The steamy, sub-tropical and tropical climate (Taiwan straddles the Tropic of Cancer) give rise to a verdant landscape with a bounty of fresh herbs and ferns used in more indigenous Taiwanese dishes, as well as juicy tropical fruits.

History gives us an explanation too.

Indigenous peoples of Taiwan have their own distinct dishes, often based on unique fruits and vegetables found in the mountainous centre and east of the country. This has combined with the cooking styles found in the mainland’s Fujian province, from where most pre-20th century migrants from the mainland originated.

Layered on top of this heady mix is a distinct Japanese influence – Japan was the occupying colonial power in Taiwan from the late 19th century to after the Second World War. Sushi and sashimi remain extremely popular, and the quality is such that Taiwan exports a large amount of its catch to Japan.

After the defeat of the Nationalists in China’s civil war, Chiang Kai-shek led a two million strong army to Taiwan, bringing culinary influences from all over China, and expanding the horizon of Taiwanese cuisine yet again.

This myriad of influences, set within a thriving, dynamic and open food scene has given rise to one of the most innovative cuisines in Asia. Michelin starred dumpling restaurants, lively street markets, local seafood restaurants and upmarket fusion eateries – Taiwan has it all.

Come with an open mind and an empty stomach and you’ll not fail to be disappointed!

 

 

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All photos credited to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau

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March 25th, 2013

Photography in Jiuzhaigou: Snap the shutter, roll on adventure

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

Jiuzhaigou National Park isn’t as likely to be visited by people traveling to China as the Great Wall is–but it should be.

This region represents an oasis of natural beauty striking enough to rival Yosemite National Park and the Galapagos Islands. Indeed, this breath taking landscape is the very reason WildChina has teamed up with National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita to offer a photography trip to this “picture perfect” destination.

For those of you on the road to becoming the next Ansel Adams, this adventure provides an exciting opportunity to hone your skills.

Jiuzhaigou–a UNESCO World Heritage Site and World Biosphere Reserve–is a national park worthy of the international recognition it has received.

Home to exotic birds and the giant panda, Jiuzhaigou is a China wildlife safari all unto itself.

But honestly, can you blame these creatures for making their homes in the area? Book now to reserve yourself a spot in the neighborhood from April 2-8.

Throughout your adventure in this utopia Michael Yamashita will be at your side ensuring you get the most out of both your shots and the experience.

If you are interested in this journey be sure to reach out to us sooner than later as April is around the corner and spots on this adventure are getting snapped up faster than the shutter on your camera.

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 If you are curious about participating in this journey, or have other questions about travel in China, send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

For those of you looking for a fantastic photography adventure to another region of China, WildChina also offers an expedition along the Silk Road with Sean Gallagher. Sean’s work has appeared in publications including TIME Magazine, The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, Der Spiegel and National Geographic China. In 2010, he was the official photographer for the visit of British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to China. If you’re up for a focused look at this ancient highway look no further.

 

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March 13th, 2013

Can I breathe that?

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

Stories of pollution in China are all over the news. In the midst of this flurry of information, you probably have a lot of questions about what exactly it all means.

To start, what is the cause of all the pollution?

(Beijing on a clearer day and on a more polluted day)

Although car exhaust does contribute, the majority of the pollution arises from China’s heavy industry–in particular its steel production. Although the tools exist in these plants to limit their emissions, the issue is complicated by the conflict of private and public industry.  While it is difficult to say what steps China will be taking the future, it is definitely not an issue that has escaped the notice, or the ire, of the country’s population which is putting more pressure on the government to figure it all out.

For now though, you are probably wondering–what does this mean for me and my family when traveling to China?  Right off the bat, the best person to give you answers is your doctor. Not only do they know your individual medical history, but they are also trained health professionals who know the ins and outs of the possible effects of air pollution–the rest of us decided long ago that 5+ years of graduate school wasn’t in the cards.

All of China isn’t polluted all of the time.

If you are on a WildChina adventure, chances are you won’t be spending your time where the pollution is at its worst: in China’s 2nd and 3rd-tiered cities (these are cities smaller than Beijing and Shanghai but larger than Shangri-La). The rural provinces such as Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guizhou all boast air clean enough to rival that of the Rockies. In the main cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, it’s true that we’ve had those rare, “crazy bad” days that attracted so much attention, but those are few and far between. Both Beijing and Shanghai have large communities of expats from all over the world who have yet to be turned away by bad air. In fact, most days, Beijing has the capacity to look like the picture below–which is #nofilter and completely unedited.

(Blue skies over the Forbidden City in Beijing)

If you’re planning a trip to China, feel free to contact us for the latest updates on the current environmental situation. We monitor both the current and projected pollution levels and can advise you accordingly. For clients who are interested, we can also provide face masks that cover the nose and mouth in case you hit a bad day during your time here–just let us know in advance so we can have them ready for you when you arrive. Traveling to new places always means new conditions we are not familiar with. We feel the most important thing on any journey is to be informed on your destination before you set out. Our hope is that this post has provided you with useful information.

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If you have any other questions about pollution or travel in China, feel free to send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

pollution comparison photo by BBC News, Forbidden City photo by Minnie Kim

 

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March 8th, 2013

Chinese Treasures: A WildChina Original (Book by 3/31 for $200 off)

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

*BOOK CHINESE TREASURES BEFORE THE END OF MARCH TO RECEIVE $200 OFF THE PRICE. EMAIL US AT INFO@WILDCHINA.COM TO ENQUIRE)*

Back in 2000, when Mei Zhang first started WildChina, her clients were personal friends, family, and acquaintances. Because she knew these first customers well, Mei took special care to create a journey that she knew wasn’t available anywhere else–she created Chinese Treasures. Mei wanted to take her friends to the famous Chinese sites that they had heard about all their lives–the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, Shanghai’s colonial Bund–but also provide them with experiences that would take them off the beaten track, to see a very real side of China few travelers ever learned about.

The trip was a huge hit. Chinese Treasures is book-ended by China’s two most famous cities, allowing travelers an up close look at the imperial architecture of the past, the development of the future, and all the delicious dishes Beijing and Shanghai have to offer in between. Mei decided that after visiting China’s bustling metropolises, she would show her friends the place she knew best in the world–her home province of Yunnan.

In this southwestern, rural Chinese province, Mei’s friends would have the chance to break bread–or in this case noodles–with local people and take part in traditional banquets, songs, and dances. They would even get a little taste of nirvana with a trip to the heights of Shangri-La.

Upon their return Mei’s friends were euphoric. Mei’s initial success would inspire her to lay out the ethos of personal interaction and firsthand knowledge that would shape every journey created at WildChina since. Testament to her travel know-how and thoughtfulness for her travelers, Mei has been honored to be selected as a Condé Nast Top Travel Specialist for China an incredible three times since WildChina was founded. While Mei’s fingerprints are visible on every WildChina journey, Chinese Treasures is where it all started. If you are considering a trip to China, we can think of no better introduction than this; a journey of epic proportions planned and perfected by our founder.

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If you have questions about travel in China, send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

 

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March 8th, 2013

Make Way for Dumplings!

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

Who doesn’t love dumplings? Tiny edible parcels bursting with delicious juice and flavor; each little morsel is a delightful surprise for your pallet.

WildChina traveler Charles Haynes partook in our Gastronomic Tour of China with chef and food critic Fuchsia Dunlop. Fuchsia took the group to Xi’an, home to the famous Chinese dumpling, and they just couldn’t get enough.

Check out some of the dumplings they tasted below–photo credit for these amazing photos goes to Charles Haynes. Beware, looking at this blog could lead to you trying to eat your computer!

Duck Dumplings

Golden Dumplings

Little Gold Bag Dumplings

Shrimp in a Rice Wrapping

Walnut Dumplings

Skirt Dumplings

Vegetable Fin Dumplings

Four-Leaf Clover Dumplings

 

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If you have questions about travel in China, send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

All photos taken and provided courtesy of WildChina traveler Charles Haynes

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