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October 28th, 2012

From rockets to prostitution: WildChina Expert Lijia

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

It isn’t everyone who drops out of high school to work in a rocket assembly line and then goes on to become a wildly successful journalist. But most people are not WildChina expert Lijia Zhang. Born and raised in Nanjing, on the banks of the Yangtze River, Lijia managed to escape her job at the government rocket factory by teaching herself English. Lijia’s language skills enabled her to eventually move to England with a Scottish man (who would later become her husband) she had met at the Forbidden City.
In the British Isles, Lijia began what would become her professional passion: writing. Over the years, her work has been published in South China Morning Post, Far Eastern Economic Review, Japan Times, The Independent, Washington Times and Newsweek. The rest of her time, she has put towards writing books; Lijia’s most famous book, “Socialism is great!” is a memoir of her time working in the rocket factory and has been translated into Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.
(A young Lijia)
Recently, Lijia has been concentrating her efforts on two books concerning prostitution in China. While she is only a couple months from putting the finishing touches on a work of fiction, she has yet to really dig in to her second book.  This second book, a work of non-fiction, brings to light many realities of prostitution in China–an issue that has received relatively little attention.  And as she notes, “the history of prostitution in contemporary China is a barometer of the country’s changes throughout the modern era.” For her book Lijia has interviewed multiple sex workers, but says that building relationships with them has been difficult. One day a girl will be available to talk, the next she will refuse. Sometimes girls disappear completely.
It has not all been bad news though. Some of the women Lijia has spoken with were able to escape their brothels and dedicate their time to educating other prostitutes about the dangers of sexually transmitted infections. Lijia always hopes her writing can lead to more such stories.
(Lijia today)
Lijia says that when she thinks about her writing, she sees it as pushing her towards her greater goal. As someone who grew up in China she has access and insight into local society, but also has the education that allows her to share the realities of Chinese life with the rest of the world.  “My self-appointed mission in life is being the bridge, being the cultural bridge.” Lijia’s life goal is to increase global understanding. If that isn’t why we travel, what is?
If you have any questions about Lijia’s work, or are curious about meeting her on your next trip to China, send us an email at info@wildchina.com
Photos courtesy of Lijia Zhang
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September 29th, 2010

Return to the Three Gorges

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

At WildChina we take pride in showing people unseen corners of the country, but sometimes we like to visit the places that everyone else goes, places that we typically don’t take clients, just to see what we might be missing.

One recent evening we hopped onto a Chinese cruise boat to head down the Yangtze through the Three Gorges, something we hadn’t done since the flooding of the formerly magnificent gorges a couple years back.

Unfortunately, the trip was as disappointing as we feared it would be.

We boarded in Wanzhou, a few hours down the road from Chongqing, and checked into our first-class cabin, which had two clean beds, a squatty toilet and a nonfunctional shower head.

Our first scenic spot to check out was Zhang Fei Temple, or actually, the new Zhang Fei Temple, as the original was submerged a couple of years ago. It was hard not to sigh when thinking back to what the temple had once looked like, much further down the side of the mountain upon which we were standing.

Back on board, we decided to head up to the top deck and were a bit surprised to be stopped by boat staff asking us to pay 40 yuan for a two-day pass, just for the top deck, which was the only place to sit and enjoy the outdoors. We paid and ascended the stairs, discovering a deck with people, chairs and little else.

After grabbing a high-backed dining chair, we propped our head up and looked at the moon and stars for a very relaxing hour or so before heading downstairs to sleep.

The following day featured a few nice sights, especially the Wu Gorge, but it was hard not to think about how much more spectacular it had been before the Three Gorges Dam had been built.

The second night, our boat was moored for the entire evening, the engine idling noisily, making it difficult to sleep soundly. In fact, we calculated that by the time the trip was over the following afternoon, our boat had been moored about 70 percent of the time.

It was less of a cruise and more of a series of stops where we were being encouraged to buy things. Especially when we got to the Three Gorges Dam, which, despite being an impressive engineering feat, felt a bit like it had been built primarily to sell tour packages and souvenirs.

Why go on a stale trip like this? Partly to keep our finger on the pulse of the development of tourism in China and to check up on what used to be one of our favorite China journeys, but mainly to reinforce why we exist: to offer an alternative to fast-food style tourism on the mainland.

After flying out of rapidly developing but the generally characterless city of Yichang, we were travel-weary, feeling like we had drained our batteries rather than recharge them. This, we realized, was the main difference between most travel in China and WildChina journeys: our trips are aimed at rejuvenating and inspiring, not controlling the client and squeezing every cent possible from their wallet.


Photo credit: Globe Images

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August 17th, 2010

Is it safe to go on a Yangtze River cruise this summer?

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

According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, China’s Three Gorges Dam, the country’s “largest construction project since the Great Wall,” is showing signs of strain. A summer of record-breaking rains and floodwaters has “severely tested the project’s capacity to control the surging Yangtze, the world’s third-longest river.


Yangtze River, Yunnan

Given these conditions, a concerned traveler recently asked us if it would be safe to embark on a Yangtze River cruise in 2-3 weeks. We consulted our local partner in Yichang, where the cruises are run, to get the most up-to-date advice.

The verdict? Our partner gave travelers the green light.  Noting that flooding in the area has gradually subsided, our partner said that cruise operations have returned to normal. In 2-3 weeks’ time, travelers should have no problem embarking on a cruise.

That being said, we advise travelers to stay current on the latest information regarding travel conditions in China. Watch this space for any new developments.


Have a question about travel in China? Email us or send us a tweet.

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February 2nd, 2010

Interview with Jia Liming, WildChina’s Director of Operations, on travels in Yunnan

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

Orville Schell recently wrote about his journey to Yunnan with WildChina, discussing the climate change issues on the Tibetan Plateau. However, what is beyond the melting glacial peaks in the region?

WildChina’s Alex Grieves sat down with Jia Liming, WildChina’s Director of Operations, to get a sense of the diverse natural and cultural wonders that exist between the Yangtze and Mekong Rivers.

Alex Grieves: How did you initially get involved in Orville Schell’s trip? Why were you a part of this experience?
Jia Liming: In early 2009, Mei [Zhang, WildChina's founder] told me that Orville [Schell, Asia Society's China scholar] wanted to write about glaciers in China. As a member of the Operations team and someone who is quite familiar with Yunnan, I was asked to explore which routes would be most appropriate for the trip and to travel with the group.

AG: What route did you end up taking?
JL: We essentially went in a large loop. We first drove alongside the Yangtze River to Deqin, and then followed the Mekong River south again, first to Cizhong and then to Weixi. We visited the Mingyang Glaciers and Lijiang’s Jade Dragon Mountain, both of which are, or are home to, low latitude glaciers.

AG: What impressions did you take away with you while on this route?
JL: The journey down the Mekong River is simply incredible; it really is as if one is traveling through time. When you’re on the route, you travel through a myriad of contrasts: high to low altitudes; Tibetan to Lisu culture; buckwheat crops to rice fields; different styles of architecture; and colder to warmer climates. It’s amazing what one can see on just one 9-hour drive.

AG: What was your strongest impression from the trip?
JL: Driving past a Lisu village at sunset. As we passed by, I saw farmers singing in the fading light while working with cows in the rice fields. They seemed incredibly content. That was a really powerful moment. More generally speaking, the drive from Cizhong to Weixi is incredibly beautiful – there is no industry in these areas, and the natural beauty is untouched. One thing really interesting about the this area is that many villages are driven by clean energy and sustainable practices. The government subsidizes their bio-gas for cooking and heating, which enables the community to waste less and preserve their natural surroundings. It’s also very well-organized, and should serve as a model for other rural communities in China.

AG: Tell me more about the Lisu minority and their community.
JL: The Lisu people are an intriguing ethnic group, as about 20 percent of them are Catholic. Many can be found in Myanmar, since a large number of them emigrated to that area in the past.


Want to learn more about Yunnan and the Tibetan Plateau? Send us a tweet @WildChina, or email Jia at liming.jia@wildchina.com.

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October 6th, 2009

Environmental Changes in Yunnan

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

Climate change often seems like an abstract concept to many of us. But as renowned China scholar Orville Schell writes in “The Thaw at the Roof of the World,” his recent New York Times op-ed, the effects of global warming can be clearly seen in a part of China close to WildChina’s heart: Yunnan province in the southwest.

WildChina recently ran a trip for Orville and a few of his friends from the Asia Society to Yunnan and the Tibetan Plateau so that they could examine these environmental changes up close. As he writes, most people visit Yunnan’s majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for the beautiful views — unaware that the mountain’s Baishui Glacier No. 1 has receded 830 feet over the last 20 years due to climate change. While in the short run, the melting of the glacier will result in plenty of water, in the long run, it will in fact result in water scarcity – a serious issue, given that the glaciers on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain feed water into the uppear reaches of the Yangtze River, a major water resource for much of China.

Given that water resources are already dwindling worldwide, it’s no wonder that conservationists are drawing more and more attention to the pressing need to solve the climate change problem.  It certainly becomes much less abstract when you think about the people and lives that will be hugely affected, for the worse, by the environmental changes.

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August 24th, 2008

Yunnan: Experiencing the Power of Lijiang & Zhongdian

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

My month of travel came to close with two more stops in northern Yunnan province: Lijiang and Zhongdian. Traveling with two French-speaking families, I had many “lost in translation” moments (bonjour, ça va and merci can only get you so far).

Fortunately, feeling the power of the local people, their surroundings and their spirituality was a shared experience that required few words.

Our first stop was in Lijiang’s lovely Old Town, which was restored after a devastating 1996 earthquake. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lijiang is considered the “Venice of the East” as it features cobblestone alleyways, arched bridges, weeping willows and canals. Despite the rain, which seemed to be following me everywhere on this trip, we enjoyed our easy stroll through the town’s bustling market and shops.

Read the rest of this entry »

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