The Forbidden City has become forbidden due to dangerous levels of smog

I always like to follow the news on places I’ve visited before. It just so happens that China has been in the news big time recently and not in a good way. Apparently Beijing has been impacted by some of the most dangerous levels of pollution in history and it isn’t going away anytime soon. The pollution is at such hazardous levels that the Communist Governement has declared emergency measures to try to decrease the horrendous black soot in the air that is unhealthy for people to inhale. The air quality is so incredibly bad that people are advised not to venture outdoors.

Per today’s New York Times article titled Smog Blankets China’s Capital, “In the past three decades, China has adopted a growth-at-any-cost attitude to build its economy, and the resulting environmental damage is now widespread and severe”.

I was in Beijing a little over a year ago and had been shocked by the thick layer of pollution and smog blanketing and strangling the city like a murderer. Every single picture I shot while in Beijing was a huge disappointment given the pesky pollution that wouldn’t budge. It was slightly better in Shanghai yet still worrisome.

As more Chinese move up the ranks into the middle class and buy more cars, there is bound to be more problems with pollution and the damage to the environment will be unbearable. It points again to the need for all governments to come together and agree on how they should address climate change and the impact that over 7 billion people are making on this earth. Of course, Americans with their big, gas-guzzling cars need to help out too. We all do.  But I hope something is done before it is too late.

I’m leaving you with a few photos I took while in Beijing last year and processed them with a new filter app called PhotoForge which I love. I’ve also been experimenting more with Instagram as well. If you are interested in checking me out there, I am under Thirdeyemom.



China Conservation/Environment Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION

China’s controversial one-child policy

This is an original post by thirdeyemom on World Mom’s Blog published today.  

Photo above of the female lion which is always located on the west side of a building while the male lion, which is considered more important in ancient times, is located on the east side, towards the rising sun.

Imagine living in a place where your reproductive life was controlled by the government.  A place that not only controlled the number of children you were allowed to have but also the timeframe.  A place that enforced stiff fines, allowed forced sterilization and even forced abortions when you were breaking the law.  Imagine living in remote, impoverished parts of rural China.  This is what life is like for most women in these far off, often forgotten parts of the world, a place that accounts for millions of China’s 1.3 billion people.

China Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION Women and Girls

Farewell China…til we met again

Photo above of me in Beijing in late October 2011. I thought about photo shopping this picture as there is a car in the way (ha) but then again, this is China.  This is the real China and the reality of the situation is that there are lots of people and it is hard to ever get a decent photo of anything, especially in front of a tourist site like the Forbidden City! 

As they say in life, all good things must come to an end.  Right?  That is how I feel about my China series.  It has been over two months since I returned from my trip to China yet for some reason leaving this post series behind feels like a painful divorce.  I keep trying to move on, to gently push it away, but it is still there bothering me and looking me straight in the eye.

Although China wasn’t my favorite place that I’ve traveled to, it was perhaps the most fascinating place that I’ve been to.  I believe it is due to many things.  An enormously rich culture filled with traditions that go back thousands of years.  A country that is so different from my own which is always interesting, perplexing and thrilling to try to uncover and understand.  And finally, being there at the right moment in time, as the Asian Tiger reigns and soars.

The transformation of this country over the last twenty-five years has been mind-boggling. To see the contradictions of old versus new all wrapped together like a garbled package in one place just blew me away.  My mind was constantly challenged and awoken to explore this place and comprehend what I saw.  It took months and I’m still thinking about it.  Yes, I was only there a short time.  But wow, did I learn a lot in that minuscule amount of time.  For a pensive traveler, that is the best gift one can receive.

So now I say farewell to China and my posts. I do have one more post coming out on World Mom’s Blog next week about China’s controversial One-Child Policy which I will include a link on this blog.  Yet for now I’m saying goodbye to China posts and moving on. I will still passionately continue to read about China in the news and through novels.  There is hardly a day when China isn’t mentioned somewhere in the papers.  It will be interesting to see what the future brings to China.  Happy New Year, China!  May the year of the Dragon be good!


Our trip to a Chinese Water Village, Part 3 The Goods

Author’s note:  This is the last art on a three post series on my trip to a Chinese Water Village.  

After a fascinating two-hour speed tour through lovely Zhouzhuang, it was time to head out and catch our ride back into Shanghai before the horrendous weekend traffic arrived.  Our tour guide Gloria told us that traffic in urban cities was particularly bad on Fridays because many of the migrant factory workers returned home to their villages.  It was nearing two pm and we were getting close to hitting the danger zone when it comes to weekend traffic.  Yet, we had to do at least a little shopping!

As with any tourist destination, Zhouzhuang has its specialties and we were ready to discover them in breakneck speed.

This is the entrance to Zhouzhuang before the actual water village starts.  As you can imagine, it is stocked full with Chinese shops selling silk, art, tea and other local goodies.  Gloria warned us to not buy any silk because oftentimes it is not real 100% silk as the label claims.  She said that it is usually fake here unless you buy it at the source, a silk factory.  

As you enter town, you see storefronts full of these tasty local treats….pork feet including toes, snouts and whatever other part of a pig available, is dipped and baked in this bean sauce…a messy, local specialty that you can get to go.  I can’t imagine how messy it would be eating on the go!  Yet of course I saw plenty of people doing it.  

Another local treasure is crayfish like these.  They were of course alive and I’m not sure how they are eaten.  Since I’m not keen on this kind of gourmet indulgence, I passed.  I am sure they are good and not as crazy as eating a scorpion.  Yet, they did not look that appetizing to me.  

The Hairy Crab is the local delicacy of Zhouzhuang as it is caught right outside the water village in the connecting lakes.  Gloria informed us that tourists from all around the world come to the village just to eat these treasures and they are in season in late Fall.  

This crab is saying hello to me!  

This is the lake surrounding the village where the crabs are caught and that takes the fisherman all the way to Shanghai.  

Zhouzhuang is also known for its spectacular fresh water pearls and delicious oyster.  There were plenty of pearl shops in town and Gloria brought us to her favorite one to browse the pearls.

They were beautiful and beyond cheap.  

My dad bought my mother a fresh-water pearl necklace.  It was a very good deal to say the least.  

While I purchased myself a pair of $3 (no joke) pearl earrings for myself and another pair for my sister.  I wear them all the time and adore them.  You could never find a pair of pearl earrings for $3 in the States.  

As we left the water village, Gloria pointed out the hairy crabs boats and companies where the fisherman set off to capture them.  

As we left Zhouzhuang, Gloria opened up more about her life.  She is a mother of one child and her family owns their own apartment, a huge deal, outside of Pudong.  She commutes an hour to and from work each day via bus.  She is quite proud to have a college degree as her parents were part of the Cultural Revolution thus were shipped off to work in the countryside and never were able to go to university.

Gloria is very proud of China and where it is headed.  We talked about the huge raise in the standard of living and the mass exodus of peasants leaving the countryside and coming into the big cities to work in factories.  Many of these families leave their children behind to be raised by their grandparents and see them only on weekends.  It is a tough life yet the pay in a factory is much more than in rural China.  Thus despite the hardships and long hours, they are happier earning more money and hopefully giving their children a brighter future.

What I found most interesting about my conversation with Gloria was her beliefs on the three forbidden “T”‘s:  Tibet, Tiananmen Square and Taiwan.  I am not sure if what she told me was the “standard party line” that she had to say since she is a tour guide or if in her heart she actually believes what she is saying.  Her beliefs on Tibet is that it was “rescued by the Chinese from savagery and barbarians” and that basically the Tibetans were treated like “slaves”.  On Tiananmen Square, she stated that the military had to attack the people to save them from the “gangs” that were destroying the city.  Finally, Taiwan was more or less the same kind of rationale.  Like Tibet, Taiwan has always belonged to the Chinese and so forth.

I found her beliefs bewildering and somewhat disconcerting for these “truths” do not truly represent reality and it was coming from the young, college-educated generation.  It made me wonder what truly most Chinese really believe happened and what they truly think about the Communist Regime.  Perhaps we will never know the truth.

Stay tuned…

Adventure Travel China TRAVEL BY REGION

Our Trip to a Chinese Water Village: Part II Arrival

Author’s Note:  This is part two of a three part series.  To read the first post, click here

I hope I didn’t leave you hanging too much in my last post!  (ha ha).  Obviously I made it to the water village in one piece, despite the insanely dangerous driving of our hired rookie cabbie.  My stomach felt a bit queasy upon our arrival an hour an a half later.  But I was happy to be alive.

The water village of Zhouzhuang is located about 37 miles outside of Shanghai in Jiangsu Province.  

The town is one of the best known water villages in the area (the tourist signs proudly state “China’s #1 Water Village!”) and its history dates back over 900 years.  Most tourists choose to visit Zhouzhuang for its cultural history as well as gorgeous canals which has led some people to call Zhouzhuang “The Venice of the East”.

Our guide Gloria had a wealth of knowledge about the village and I took pages and pages of meticulous notes during our tour.   Gloria began the tour by telling us briefly about the history of the village.  Zhouzhuang was not the original name of the village.  Apparently the village was first called Zhenfengli and was part of the fief Yoacheng in the time period from 770 BC-476 BC).  Zhouzhuang changed its name in 1086 win a very devout Buddhist named Zhou Digong donated the land to the local temple, Quanfu Temple.    “Zhou”, his surname, was combined with “Zhuang” which means village, to honor this man  for his gift.

Throughout the region surrounding Shanghai, many water villages popped up over the years, given the areas wealth of lakes and rivers that eventually lead out to the sea.  Shanghai’s key location on the Huangpu River which links to the Yangzi River and eventually leads to the sea, made water village an important commercial hub for fisherman and farmers living in the areas fertile lands.

The entrance to the town of Zhouzhang is not impressive.  In fact I was wondering what on earth we were getting ourselves into when we first pulled into the village to use the public toilets.  As a general rule, I always like to use the restroom before a tour and knowing a public toilet is usually hard to find in foreign countries, it is best to not take a chance.  The moment I stepped out of the cab, I instantly regretted that choice.  The stench infiltrated our noses making my already nauseous stomach reel.  The conditions were horrendous and not up to par with what I’d seen for public toilets in Beijing (where the government added thousands of new toilets before the Olympics).

Thankfully we got back into the cab and headed the short five minutes further to the start of the actual water village.  I was relieved to see that it was much more delightful than the rustic, dirty public toilet.  We were dropped off with Gloria and on our way for a two-hour fast-track tour of the water village.

As we entered the water village, I was instantly entranced.  It was absolutely serene and just as I had imagined.  I closed my eyes and pictured the villagers living here hundred of years ago and transporting everything by boat.  It was a peaceful image and China has done an excellent job preserving the beauty and serenity of the place without making it a tourist trap.

Per Gloria, the water village occupies 0.4 square kilometers and has a population of 1,000 families today.  There are 14 historic, elegant stone brides and most were built during the Ming and Qin dynasties (making the bridges between 300 and 400 years old).

After passing through the modern part of the town, you reach the water village.  Here is our first glimpse of Zhouzhuang.  

As we started our tour, we passed by a line of Chinese restaurants right on the canal.  There are several specialties of the village including hairy crab (which some tourists come here just to eat), fresh fish picked out fresh from the tank and then killed right before being cooked, crayfish, fresh-water oysters and served at your table, and a kind of bean-sauce pork (legs and feet are the specialties).  

There are a few touristy things such as sitting by the canal and having “Grandma’s Tea”.  This is where the elderly woman would sit and relax back in the days.  

Thirty years ago Zhouzhuang was a small fishing village.  It came into the public eye thanks to a Chinese artist who fell in love with its beauty and serenity.  He painted several lovely watercolor paintings of the scenic water village.  In 1985 he painted a work called “Memories of my hometown” which depicted the sensational beauty of Zhouzhuang and the village instantly became famous.  Today, it is one of the top water villages in all of Shanghai.

It was a painting of a bridge like this that caught the world’s attention of the beauty and romance of Zhouzhuang.  There are over 14 of these gorgeous bridges throughout the water village.  

All the homes have been left in their traditional splendor.  I love this picture above!  It captures the magic of this place.  

After touring the bridges, we next did a tour of the largest home in the village.  It was owned by the wealthiest inhabitant of the village back in 1449.  The house has a traditional layout of many connecting buildings in which the first room is the tea hall used for greeting friends.  I didn’t take many pictures of the home since it was dark inside and relatively crowded.  However, below are some of the things I found interesting about the house.

Here is the home’s “garage” for their fishing boat.  It has steps leading right down to where the boat would be parked.  

This is the first room or building known as the tea house and used to greet friends and visitors to the home.  Many times the guests did not move past this room as the rest of the home was kept private in traditional times.  

In traditional times, the women of rich families had their feet bond and could hardly walk on their “golden lilies”.  Thus, rich families used the above “sedan chair” as a way to transport the women.  Women were also not allowed to show their face to a strange man thus the sedan chair was a way for a woman to remain hidden.  

In all traditional Chinese gardens, they incorporated different sizes of stones that could use to massage the feet!  In ancient times, Chinese people wore thin cotton slippers that did not have great support.  Thus by the end of the day, their feet hurt.  To relieve pain, they would take their slippers off and walk barefoot across the stones and get a massage.  I tried it and it felt great! 

All homes also had goldfish which are considered lucky in China.  I noticed that many shops in China have a goldfish next to the cash register (ha ha).  

The founder of Zhouzhuang was a devout Buddhist and there are several beautiful temples scattered throughout the canals.  Here are some of my favorite pictures of the Buddhist area of Zhouzhuang.  

Lighting incense.  

A gorgeously adorned Buddha.  

A lovely pagoda for relaxing and enjoying the fresh air.  

Per Gloria, in ancient times it took four days by boat to reach Shanghai from the water village.  Woman in the village were the primary fishers and would head out early in the morning with the little ones in the boat to catch their meals.

Here is the way out, towards Shanghai. 

I wish I could have stayed here all day, relaxing and reflecting on what life must have been like in an ancient Chinese Water Village.  But the clock was ticking as was Shanghai’s notoriously bad weekend traffic.  It was time to leave.  

Stay tuned…next post will be Part III:  Leaving the water village.  Thanks for reading! 

Adventure Travel China TRAVEL BY REGION

Our trip to a Chinese Water Village, Part I Getting There

Who ever said that getting there is half the fun is hugely wrong.  Getting there or anywhere in China, alive, is the best part.

Our young rookie cab driver testing it out.  

Officially there is one death every seven minutes (in China). Road crashes cost 1 percent to 3 percent of the country’s GDP every year.  China, with four times the population of the United States, has today only one-third the number of vehicles and yet it has twice as many deaths because of road crashes.

—Per article in China Daily titled “Make road safety the new traffic mantra” written by The World Bank transportation specialist Deng Fei.


I began writing my last major piece on my trip to China about our visit to lovely, picturesque  Zhou Zhuang, one of the oldest water villages in all of China, when I realized that there is way more to the story than a simple post.  Instead of one post it would take three.  For I forgot one of the golden rules of travel:  Travel itself.  Truthfully said, in China, travel is a life or death situation.  Getting anywhere alive is a big thing, no joke.

Thus as much as I had intended to wrap up my China series with a few quick and easy posts and move on to other parts of the world such as New Zealand, I am stuck here for now telling this crazy story about our visit to a Chinese Water Village.  Hope you enjoy!

The pretty Chinese Water village will have to wait….until the next post.  For we need to start the story with the basics:  Getting there alive.  

Per Lonely Planet China’s well-researched  facts on transportation in China (page 991, way at the end of the book it’s there!):

China’s roads kill without mercy.  Traffic accidents are the major cause of death in China for people aged between 15 and 45, and the World Health Organization estimates there are 600 traffic deaths per day.

At long-distance bus stations across China you may be subjected to posters graphically portraying victims of road crashes; then when you get on the bus you find there are no seat belts.  If you insist on wearing a seatbelt everyone looks at you as if you are insane.

After reading this review of traffic safety in China, I felt that surely the most dangerous part of the trip wouldn’t be the flight over or getting randomly, fatally attacked by some crazy Chinese guy with a knife (unfortunately this did happen to Mr. Bachman, a fellow Minnesota and CEO of Bachmans, during the Chinese Olympics).  No sir.  The most dangerous part of the journey would be the driving and it was something I wasn’t looking forward to.

Remember this?  From my Beijing post on Hutongs?  It was the motto from the Passby Cafe.  A rather fitting motto in this case!

So here is the story, Our Trip to a Chinese Water Village:  Part I Getting There.

Our last full day in Shanghai was my one attempt to get out of the big city and see something different.  I had heard about the numerous traditional Chinese water villages and wanted desperately to check one out.  It sounded idyllic.  Romantic canal-filled villages dating back well over 700 years.  I mused:  What could be more representative of China than a water village?  But once again, the descriptions in Lonely Planet and on our hotel’s tourist brochures were not promising.

Over and over again I saw the words “hordes of tourists“, “masses of tour buses“, “huge groups of wall to wall camera-clad people bumping into each other” and worried that a visit to a Chinese Water Village would be just another tourist trap.  Of course the two lovely young Chinese ladies at our hotel’s concierge desk strongly encouraged that we take a tour.  I tried to smile at her politely and tell her that my dad and I are not the “tour bus” kinds.  We despise being herded like cattle, chasing after a petite Chinese woman while pushing and shoving our way to the front through the swarm of fellow tourists all wearing our matching tourist hats.  No thanks.  Not for me.

So, of course we had to be creative and after such a great experience going without a tour group to the Great Wall, we believed we could probably have a similar experience going to a water village the same way:  By hiring our own private guide and ride.

After twenty minutes of negotiations with the friendly hotel staff, our guide was booked and the price was determined.  We were to meet her down in the lobby at precisely eight am and our driver, a hired taxi cabbie, would be there to meet us as well.  It all sounded like the perfect day….ahhh….but of course it wasn’t perfect.  Nothing ever is when you are traveling half-way across the world in a completely different culture!

We met Gloria, our guide for the day, in the hotel lobby drinking a cup of tea well ahead of our scheduled rendezvous.  Gloria was well-dressed and wore bright lipstick that matched her dignified, professional appearance.  She proudly shook our hands and informed us that she was a veteran tour guide with over ten years experience conducting private tours throughout Shanghai.  She also added that she was trained by Shanghai’s Tourism Institute  and was the first in her family to go to college and have a professional degree.  We were instantly impressed by her knowledge and fluent level of english.  It was so nice to be understood and to understand someone in China for once!

We left our hotel promptly at eight and were greeted by a mediocre taxi cab.  The driver opened the door and looked relatively young (remember, I’ve just turned 40 recently so now anyone in their early twenties looks like a puppy to me!).  He spoke no english, was a chain-smoker, and had a mischievous look in his eyes.  My heart plummeted.  All I could think about was those frightening articles I’d read, about traffic deaths.

We took off in heavy Shanghai traffic.  Gloria informed us that Fridays were always bad because all the factory workers were headed home.  Apparently the stop and go madness we were in was nothing compared to the five pm rush.  We would have to make sure we left the water village by two in order to beat any traffic jams and heady delays.

I noticed immediately that neither the taxi driver nor Gloria put on their seat belts.  Perhaps I am a bit of a freak in this sense, but I ALWAYS wear my seat belt at home, even in the back seat and especially in a cab.  This person is responsible for my life, dammit!  I’m not going to trust some random stranger!  

I had to struggle a bit to find the actual seat belt.  After five minutes of searching inside the worn seat back I finally found it.  Unfortunately my dad didn’t have one.  There was no way of buckling in so he simply shrugged his shoulders and held on.

As we drove out of the outskirts of central Shanghai and finally passed through the slow-moving traffic, the highway magically seemed to open up and empty.  To my dismay, the taxi driver used the open road (I swear if he could speak english he would be saying “the highway is the limit, baby!” ) and started to increase his speed.

Our tour guide Gloria continued to dictate the history of Shanghai and the water village, while I felt my skin prick and my hands become clammy.  Before I knew it, the driver put “the pedal to the medal” and was racing at insane speeds of 85 to 90 mph!!!!!  I nearly had a heart attack!!!!!  But Gloria continued to talk calmly, like nothing was the matter and I swear to God the driver was smiling. 

Our young rookie cabbie swerved in and out of traffic and even passed cars and trucks on the shoulder!  I nearly threw up!  I started to see my life flash by me and thought of my adorable, sometimes driving me crazy kids and my wonderful husband back at our warm cozy home in Minneapolis.  My heart beat faster and faster yet no one else seemed the least bit alarmed.  Not even my dad.  Hmmmm… I really getting old?  

But then I remembered the frightening statistics:  Someone dies every seven minutes in China on the road.  I didn’t want that someone to be me!

So I let my voice be heard and begged the cab driver to slow down via Gloria of course.  And thankfully he did.  He was off his joy ride.  But we still had another hour to go….

Would we get there alive?  

Stay tuned….. to find out the rest of the story with part 2!

Adventure Travel China TRAVEL BY REGION

The ultimate ride: The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel

Author’s note:  In my last post on Pudong, I mentioned that the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel needed an entire post in itself. As promised, here it is! Hope you enjoy a trip through Chinese Disneyland!

There are several ways to reach Pudong from the Bund.  You can take a long taxi ride, swerving in and out through intense Shanghai traffic.  If you want the more scenic route you can take a ferry across the Huangpu river.  Or, you can get your fill of over-the-top Chinese-style stimulation via the spectacularly, strange Bund Sightseeing Tunnel.

As accurately stated in Lonely Planet, the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel is “the weirdest way to get to Pudong, where train modules convey speechless passengers through a tunnel of garish lights between the Bund and the opposite shore”.

As one of my most favorite mottos go, “When in Rome”….we decided to give the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel a try and judge for ourselves what this quirky, disneyland-ish ride was all about.

The access to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel is easily identified by huge signs dotting the lavish Bund waterfront where tourists and Chinese alike enjoy taking a stroll and viewing this fabulous city skyline.

I should have known that this was going to be a tourist trap and ultra “cheesy” as we Americans like to say about something that is over-the-top ridiculous.  But a recent article in Conde Nast had listed it as a “must see” so I thought it couldn’t be all that bad.  

You follow the tunnel listening to silly music and then take the brightly colored escalator down to the tunnel.  It was a Saturday morning and I thought this place would be loaded with tourists.  But we were the only ones there.  Hmmmm…..

I wasn’t sure why they chose an aquatic theme.  It seemed a bit silly to have ocean inhabitants when we were descending under the river.  

There were lots of little games where you could win prizes I’m sure my kids would enjoy.  

For a ticket there and back, the price was 55Y…a bit steep.  I saw a few businessmen dressed in suits but other than that it was empty.  Once inside, it was outrageously hot and little did I know the entire ride was set to a narration about the formation of the earth many years ago.  

Come enjoy the ride! And see for yourself!

I got off the ride wondering what the heck just happened.  It was the weirdest experience I’d had in China.  And worse, we had to take it back!

Before I end this post I found this cool video that I took of the Bund and Pudong at night that I forgot to share.  It gives a good 360 degree view of this impressive scenery at night.  For your viewing pleasure, click here and I promise you it is nothing like the hilarious ride above:


Simply Shanghai: Life around the streets

A lot of time when you think about Shanghai, you expect things to all be modern and new.  My last post on Pudong goes to show how far China has come in the last twenty-five years.    However, as you step away from the famous Bund and Pudong districts, you are suddenly back in the thick of real, live China.

We spent our time in Shanghai on foot and never took a cab once except for the hired driver we used to visit a nearby water village.  The hotel staff seemed aghast that we were walking everywhere and always recommended a cab wherever we were going, short or far.  But I believe to really see and experience a place, you have to do it on foot.

After a few week of walking around Beijing and Shanghai, I had the infamous “Peking knees” from the rough concrete and my lungs felt full of pollution.  It was hot, humid, loud and a bit stressful at times.  Yet I felt like I really got a taste of what urban life was like by walking the city.

Here are some of my favorite pictures on Shanghai life that I took during my walks.  Hope you enjoy.

Morning commute. 

Lunch and laundry. 

More laundry.  I was amazed to see so much laundry hanging to dry from Shanghai’s apartments.  I saw it all—from tops, slacks, jeans and dresses to underwear and sexy lingerie and mismatched socks. 

Right outside our hotel, this street led under a sea of drying laundry.  Stores below and hanging laundry on top.  I wonder if any ever falls on someone’s head? 

Mid-day commute.  Bikes, electric scooters, motorcycles…you name it, it’s there.  It was a mad dash to cross the street with my head constantly doing a 360 for oncoming traffic. 

This place even stored their garbage outside the window.  

The air-conditioners, laundry and bikes were a common scene. 

As were these dark, narrow alleyways peppered with life and claustrophobic living.  

As were the “shops on wheels”.  This one was a plant and flower cart.  

Afternoon cards were played.  But I didn’t see any tai chi like I did in Beijing.  

Plus I was constantly amused by the high heels the women wore!  I would have lasted only a second in a pair of these spike ones. 

Given the level of walking and the concrete and pavers, I really don’t think I’d be wearing anything but comfortable walking shoes.  I don’t know how these Chinese women do it!  

This look was my absolute favorite!  Short skirt with short shorts underneath, knee highs and spiky purple heels!  She walked perfectly across the street into traffic.  I was impressed. 

Stay tuned….My Chinese posts are coming to an end.  I only have a few more to write and then am thinking about revisiting a past trip to New Zealand.  It would be fun to write about and share my photos from one of my top all-time vacations.  


Shanghai ‘hoods: Pudong

There is a saying that goes “I’ve saved the best for last“.  In my series on Shanghai ‘hoods, the last one is Pudong.  But in my opinion, I’m not so sure it is the best.  It is by far, the newest and most modern part of Shanghai and at night, the lights are so spectacular and out of this world, that it is hard to not believe that this Disneylandish looking place would be so strange.  But that is how I felt.  During the day, it was a disappointing place that reminded me of a scene out of the troubling, futuristic Hollywood movie “Inception”.

I’m not sure if it was the smoggy, gray clouds that made this place feel so eerie or the complete lack of human population walking on the streets.  But it felt just plain old creepy to me.  Like a ghost town.  I definitely shouldn’t have gone on a weekend!  I’m certain the entire place would have been different during the work week.  But still….to me it felt like a strange, futuristic place that instantly reminded me of where China is headed.

Only twenty-five years ago, the area that makes up Pudong was a barren, marshy farmland.  There were no buildings, relatively few people and not much else exciting.  Instead, all the life and blood of Shanghai was located on the other side of the river, in the Bund and the other vibrant neighborhoods stretching out from there.

Fast forward twenty-five years and Pudong is arguably one of the most beautiful, modern skylines in the world.  It is incredibly lovely and startlingly beautiful at night, when it is completely aglow in colorful lights (to see more of Pudong at night, click on post titled : Shanghai Surprise).

I had stared at it longingly from across the river, out of my hotel room in The Bund and across the boardwalk along the riverfront.  It looked so surreal and so spectacular.  I could hardly wait to check it out.  But unfortunately the only time left we had to visit Pudong was a Saturday morning and the place was empty.  There was hardly a soul along the modern streets and the typical humid, smoggy weather covered the peaks of the tallest buildings in an air of mystique and question leaving me wondering if this misty fog represented the future of China herself:  Uncertain and unclear.

See for yourself and let me know your thoughts.  Come with me through Shanghai’s newest ‘hood, Pudong.  P.S.  I’ll save the Bund sightseeing tour for another post.  This crazy underwater light show deserves a post in itself.  

Room with a view.  Our room overlooked the magnificent Bund on the left and Pudong on the right.  Unfortunately every single day we were in Shanghai looked like this one….gray, smoggy and humid.  

I could hear the tug boats calling at all hours of the night.  They were constantly coming in and out of the waterways transporting the goods that keep China afloat. 

A typical misty day along the boardwalk looking across the way at Shanghai during late afternoon. 

I never was able to see the tops of the buildings as they were always covered in some degree and level of fog.  

We walked across the waterfront and climbed aboard the infamous Bund Sightseeing Tunnel.  It was perhaps the stupidest thing I’d ever actually paid money to ride!  But I’m sure the kids would have enjoyed it.  

Then, we stepped out of the nightmarish Disney-ride for adults and entered Pudong, engulfed in fog.  Once again, the ones who built Pudong did it right and included huge, above-ground sidewalks for the pedestrians.  

There are plenty of tall, impressive buildings as far as the eye can see.  But during the foggy, empty daylight it felt lonely, desolate and detached.  

Apparently, this building going up is going to be the tallest building in the world when it is completed.  Like anything Chinese, the exact height is being kept hush hush.  How dare anyone find out the true height and try to build one higher!  

Along with the modern skyscrapers, there are also plenty of upscale shopping malls like this one we entered.  Again, there was hardly a soul around and the place was empty.  Given the price of the goods in these stores, we didn’t stay long.  But someone must be buying these luxurious things or else why would a mall like this be open?

The Chinese models getting their expensive French scarves on.  

I thought this Apple store was a mighty creative concept!  

I could hardly find anything traditional in Pudong except I did see this little Buddha.  It sure felt out of place in such a concrete jungle.  

Stay tuned…I have a few more China posts left and then I’ll be moving on to something new.  


The notoriety of being blonde in China

Have you ever traveled somewhere where it was utterly impossible for you to fit in? It is an experience that any avid traveler will face at some point in their travels and honestly, it is an important life lesson that I found truly fascinating and insightful. 

It wasn’t until I began to get off the beaten path a bit more in my travels and become more adventurous, that I began to experience the odd uncomfortable feeling off being “different” from everyone else. You see here in Minnesota, we have a strong Scandinavian heritage and many of us are blond and blue-eyed, fairly tall and hearty looking. You can easily walk down the street and blend in anonymously. Yet once you get on a plane and fly far away to a different place such as China, everything changes. You are no longer anonymous. You are different. You are big. You are tall. Your hair is a funny color one that some people have never seen. You stand out but not necessarily in a way you would like or want to.

For those who have been reading my blog for awhile, you may remember this picture above of me with my newly made Chinese friends on the Great Wall series.  As I climbed up on to the Wall for the first time, I was accosted by a herd of twenty Chinese hikers who nearly fell over when they saw me.  For the next ten minutes, I posed and took pictures with all my new friends.  It took me a minute to figure out why.  My blonde messy hair was discovered under my cap.  

In a country of 1.3 billion in which over 91% of the population is Han (or ethnic “Chinese”), any variation in hair color from the standard black pretty much sticks out like a sore thumb.  Occasionally, you will see a Chinese with dyed red, blond or even blue hair.  But not too often.  Even eye and skin color rarely varies.  Thus, looking “different” in China whether it be skin color, hair color, eye color or size, is an anomaly that for some reason simply fascinates the Chinese people and invites them to take a look.

Thankfully I had experienced this curiosity before.  Last year, I was rudely awakened by the intensity of the stares surrounding me for an eleven hour drive outside of Delhi.  Every single person for eleven long, unending hours not only looked but stared at my long, dirty-blond hair.  It was the most uncomfortable feeling I’ve ever experienced in my life.  The stares were not meant to be rude yet I felt their eyes taking me in deeply and penetrating my soul.  At first I smiled back or even waved hello from the close quarters of my car window (people drive insanely close together in India!).  But after a few hours of the penetrating stares, I felt like some kind of caged animal at the zoo and I buried my head deep inside my pillow and tried to hide.

I have traveled to many places that had never seen a blond-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned person before.  My parents had taken me to rural Mexico many times as a white-haired little girl and I remember the kids chasing me and trying to touch my hair.  I also remember being constantly harassed in parts of France and Italy while I studied abroad as a twenty-one year old American.  I knew that the continual jokes and come-on lines were usually in good humor and that these men were rather harmless.  They had believed that any American woman with blond long hair was an easy escapade thanks to all those bad Hollywood movies.  I ignored them and didn’t let it bug me (except there were a few times when I was unexpectedly flashed and that bothered me immensely!).

Yet, my short time spent in India was different. I had never felt so uncomfortable in my own skin in my life.  Growing up and living in Minnesota, a place that is home to many people with Scandinavian roots,  it was rather unpleasant to be the one who stuck out and was different.

Looking back a year later, I realize that it was probably one of the best experiences I could have ever had.  It taught me what it feels like to be different.  To be misunderstood.  To be the minority.  And to stick out.  I realized how important it is to have this rather unpleasant feeling.  And how I need to seek it out more.

I expected the worst when I went to Morocco last April.  I had never been to a Muslim country before and the anti-American tensions were rising all across Islamic nations.  It wasn’t a good time to be blonde.  So I dyed my hair darker and arrived in Morocco as an even dirtier, dishwater blonde/brown-haired gal.  What was so funny is that no one even noticed the hair color change.  None of my friends said a word nor did my husband.  So basically the point was moot.  I arrived in Morocco not knowing at all what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to see that no one noticed me at all.  I could walk freely, openly and without covering my hair with no penetrating stares, uncomfortable moments or even harassment.  It was a nice change.

So six months later when I arrived in China once again I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Would it be like India or like Morocco?  Would I be treated as an oddity or just fit in smoothly to the crowds of people?  What I discovered that for the most part, no one really cared except the young folks who treated me like a celebrity and wanted their picture with some foreign, blonde stranger, me.

As I was walking along the banks of the river overlooking the glorious Bund on one side and Pudong on the other, I was approached once again by a stranger.  It was a young Chinese woman and her friends.  They couldn’t speak English nor could I speak Chinese.  But one thing was universal:  A camera.  I reached out to grab the camera and prepared to take their picture when I saw a smiling shake of the head.  No.  That was not what she wanted me to do.  She wanted me to be in the picture.  With her.  As her blonde, American friend!

What else could I do but agree and then ask her friend to take a picture of us with mine?

Me, thirdeyemom and my new Chinese friend.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned during my travels is what it feels like to not fit in and to be different. That although we may not look the same, we are all the same in our wishes and desires in life. We all want to be happy, healthy and live a life full of love. It is this common desire that makes us human. Yet our differences is what makes the human race so grand.

Related posts:

Why I travel: An insight into why I became the thirdeyemom

How Nepal Changed Me



Shanghai ‘hoods: The French Concession

One of my favorite ‘hoods in Shanghai is the fashionable, serene French Concession.  Although you won’t find the name “French Concession” written on any Chinese maps, it is easily identified by the dramatic change in scenery as the city landscape changes from traffic-heavy, congested streets full of a mismatch of style into the elegant tree-lined streets awash in art deco and old-world residential charm.  It practically feels like you are stepping into France except for of course the constant reminders that you are in China.

See what I mean?

The French Concession was once home to a lot of Shanghai’s decadence.  Gangsters, revolutionaries, writers, pimps and prostitutes filled the neighborhoods’ notorious venues and residences making it a rather troublesome albeit enticing place.  Today, the graceful tree-lined streets encompassing the districts of Luwan, Xuhui, Changning and Jin’an are bursting with life representing the new, modern Chinese consumers who like to shop at the fancy designer boutiques and eat at the new western restaurants and cafes of the French Concession.

I could have spent hours in the French Concession wandering aimlessly among the gorgeous streets and window-shopping at the lavish boutiques.  It was the first place in all of Shanghai where I didn’t feel stressed and could actually relax a bit.  The streets were lovely and narrower.  The horns weren’t constantly honking.  You weren’t walking against a swarm of people.  In fact, the French Concession felt relatively empty in parts.  It made me start to wonder where all those new Chinese capitalists were hiding.

Getting to the French Concession from our hotel on the Bund required a bit of effort.  Against the recommendations of the hotel staff who politely insisted that we take a cab, we walked.  (For some reason, the hotel staff always recommended that we took a cab wherever we went in Shanghai.  After walking there, I understood why.  The traffic was crazy and it is not very pedestrian friendly except in the parts of town where they constructed the above ground sidewalks.  See earlier post:  Chinese Street Survival 101).

Entering the French Concession, traffic was still heavy and starting to dwindle down.  But it was still a constant struggle until we got deeper inside the hidden streets and away from all the chaos and confusion of a huge, urban jungle. 

The walk was long (well over an hour), confusing (trying to read a Chinese map and figure out where you were going was challenging) and stressful (loads of traffic, honking and congested sidewalks).  But, all in all I’m glad we did it because getting lost and finding your way around is half the fun.  Plus you sure see more on your feet than in a cab.

Like this lovely tree-lined park full of parents and their children (or shall I say child since most Chinese are allowed to have only one child since the “One Child Policy” was implemented by the regime in 1978.  

Needless to say, we were tired and slightly overwhelmed when we finally reached the start of the French Concession.  It was time to take a breather, have a cup of coffee and figure out of plan of attack.  Luckily there were plenty of French-styled cafes to choose from.

As a French lover and someone who spent a fair amount of my idyllic youth in France, The French Concession had its fair share of French cafes where you could get a good, real cappuccino french-style. 

As I mentioned before in my post called Shanghai Shopping, the French Concession is packed with row after row of designer boutiques and shops.  I had never seen so many upscale, hip boutiques in all of China.  It was amazing.  Yet, there was not a single shopper inside.  That struck me as very strange and perhaps a sign of the economy slowing.  

Finding your way around the French Concession was anyone’s guess.  The streets wove around like a snake and were poorly marked.  You just had to follow the tree-lined streets to know you were still in this unique part of town.

The architecture was simply divine!  It is the place that I would want to live if I ever lived in Shanghai.  

Although the French Concession is much quieter and perhaps a bit more tame, there are still the constant reminders that you are indeed still in China and not Paris! 

Of course there still was a fair share of interesting transportation methods even in the French Concession.  I saw bicycles loaded with presents, boxes, merchandise, produce  and even hay.  

Pedestrians still had to be careful and pay attention to oncoming interference!  

But if all else failed, and you needed a break from it all, there are plenty of places in the French Concession to sit down, relax and unwind.  Such as this little wine bar that I would have loved to pass the rest of the afternoon at….

Yet with an hour walk back to the Bund, drinking till I was silly was not an option.  For you have to take walking in urban China just as serious as driving.  If you want to end up back home in one piece, then it is best to be one hundred percent with it!  

Stay tuned…my next ‘hood for review will be the ultra modern, skyscraper concrete jungle known as Pudong.  


Shanghai ‘hoods: Old Town

The cosmopolitan city of Shanghai is one of those bewitching places that casts a spell over the freshly minted Chinese tourist.  It is city that perfectly displays the contradictions and paradoxes of China itself.  Like a jigsaw puzzle of mismatched pieces, Shanghai’s distinct and unique neighborhoods continue to fascinate and confuse the unexpected tourist who had initially thought they understood what China is all about.  From the old-world European charm of the Bund to the ultra-modern over-the-top skyscrapers of Pudong, never has one city offered such extreme representations of old versus new.

For one trip to Shanghai’s unique ‘hoods and the virgin tourist is proven wrong and thrown into even more confusion and fascination with the Middle Kingdom.  

This next series of posts is going to continue on the journey through the unique and distinct ‘hoods of Shanghai.  I’ve already written about the Bund and a little about Pudong at night.  The next few posts will move on to some of Shanghai’s other noteworthy ‘hoods:  Old Town, Pudong (during the day) and the French Concession.

Old Town is perhaps the best representation of Old China found in Shanghai.  Known to the locals as Nan Shi or “Southern City”, Old Town is a beautiful area of traditional Chinese buildings, bazaars, gardens, temples and shops.  Although a large part of Old Town has been sadly bulldozed away to make room for modernization, there is still a large area remaining of these gorgeous traditional Chinese buildings, some of which date back to the 16th century.    This part of town was originally built in a circular format protected by ancient, city walls to keep the malicious Japanese pirates away.  Now, it has become a tourist mecca and unfortunately this once pristine area is now almost intolerable due to the swarms and swarms of camera-clod tourists.

My dad and I actually stumbled upon Old Town one afternoon as the sun was setting and I was able to capture some pictures of it before the herds of tourists invaded.  Here are some of my favorites.

Old Town is only a few blocks away from the Bund, where we were staying.  We had a map of the general vicinity and pretty much stumbled upon it by noticing a significant change in the architecture around us.  Here is one such building that marks the opening of Old Town and its lovely buildings, shops and gardens.  

The buildings were unlike any I had seen in China.  Nothing like the colorfully painted ones in Beijing that sprinkled throughout the city (especially in the Forbidden City).  These buildings were mostly white with black lacquered woodwork across the rooftops.  

Before entering into the labyrinth of Old Town’s buildings through the pedestrian only passageways, we passed a preview of what was in store along the main drag.  The whimsical black woodwork was indeed a lovely contrast against Pudong’s ultra modern skyline.  

We made a left turn into this bazaar and voila, we found Old Town!  It was filled with every kind of touristy shop imaginable.  Some were outrageously annoying stocked high with knickknacks and trinkets while others were quite nice (such as the department store where I bought a few silk scarves).  

As we wandered back inside, the narrow passageways did not allow for the swarms of people.  It was late afternoon on our first visit to Old Town and a weekday.  Thus thankfully it wasn’t that crowded…..yet. 

There were hundreds of gorgeously ornate buildings such as this one.  I loved the juxtaposition of the red against the black and white woodwork.  Simply spectacular. 

Unfortunately it was getting dark thus none of my next pictures turned out.  It was a pity as we found a lot of serene ponds filled with goldfish, one of the Chinese people’s favorite luck charm.   Hunger and thirst overpowered us (it was five o’clock, cocktail time!) so we decided to leave and come back the next morning.

Although the weather was ok and not as smoggy, we forgot that Saturday meant a lot more people.  Despite the crowds, at least the conditions were better for taking more pictures of the gorgeous buildings, a work of art in their own right.

As we headed further into Old Town, the crowds of people became overpowering.

Excuse me, excuse me….but I can’t even seem to move!  

Before I knew it, my head was screaming inside…”Get me out of here!”

As we walked out, I noticed two more buildings that were worthy of representing the “old”.  The one in the photo above and below.  

And I learned a valuable lesson:  Never go to a tourist attraction in China on a Saturday!

Stay Shanghai ‘hood featured will be the glorious French Concession.