Thursday, December 31, 2009

First Glimpse of Beach!

We left in the dark cold morning in Rochester and landed in the sunny Cancun 8 hours later! I'm not the one to get pumped up before a trip but when we finally got a glimpse of the beach from the plane I couldn't wait to get to the hotel and put on some beachwear!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tips for Trips to China

At end every trip, big or small, I always leave with a bit more insight than I had before. Sometimes I research before I go, reading up online and with Rick Steves guidebooks. There's usually no preparation before going to China since I've always got bunch of eager relatives waiting for my arrival and taking me to their favorite eateries. Still, there are things I wish I had known and here are some of them:
1. Exchange currency at the Beijing or Shanghai airport upon arrival. It is difficult to find banks that exchange US dollars in small cities and they often have very unfavorable exchange rate (at times more than 10% less than major cities).
2. Buy tea from supermarkets rather than specialty shops. Prices are usually cheaper and quality should be reliable. Jasmine and TeiGuanyin are two good ones.
3. Terrible traffic condition in all major cities. Take the subway whenever available to avoid delay and expensive taxi rides.
4. Stay near the airport to catch early flights.
5. Although group tours are a bit restrictive, it is still the best way to get everywhere and see everything on a tight time frame. Traveling in China is not always the most easy and convenient. If you are not sure where you're going, take an organized tour.
6. If group tour is not your thing or unavailable, taxi can be hired for a negotiate daily rate. It's good to ask the hotel people the "average" rate depending on where you are going and how long you plan to reserve the taxi for. Drivers are willing to wait at different tourist sites to be paid at end of the day. But do let the driver know approximately how long you plan to stay at each place.
7. If a restaurant is packed it is probably good. Be courageous and try different things than you usually would. If everyone's eating it, it probably won't kill you.
8. Do mingle with the locals. Try a few words in Chinese just to say hi or bargain with vendors. Everyone will get a good laugh out of it.
9. Relax and have fun. The great thing about travel is that there is always a sense of uncertainty and room for spontaneity. Do make plans but if a plan falls through be prepared to quickly take another. There are always plenty of sights of see and experiences to be had.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chinese Food

Welcome to the land of lazy susans! Here are some pictures to wet your appetite:

Spicy Crab

Hot Pot

QGD Duck. The most authentic roasted duck in Beijing. Ate there on my 9th birthday and taste just as delicious as I remembered.

The Family

Most people who knows me knows that I have a thing for food. The truth is that the love of food is really not a personal thing, but rather the result of being brought up by a country full of food lovers. In fact, I shy in comparison to other individuals in my family. A trip back home is not complete without seeing lots of relatives and eating a humongous amount of food... Unfortunately, with restaurants being so affordable now, a home-cooked meal is really hard to come by. The first meal out was so spicy that it made me dizzy! Lack of icy water to put out the heat made it even worse. The subsequent meals where a bit more tolerable...but I always manage to feel it a day later.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bird Nest

The bird nest might have been an ok idea for a stadium but I'd rather not have that on my head! With no heat in the house, I haven't taken a shower since I left Beijing. Changing into fresh cloth wasn't a problem but I could sure use a hair wash. Instead of washing hair at home, many Chinese do it at the salon. Since my hair grows like weeds, I had no issues granting the hairdresser an all access pass to cut my hair however he saw fit. Well, that's where it went terribly wrong! I have noticed from all these years of living overseas that what is fashionable and good looking in one country may not translate to another. And this is especially true with hair styles! My hair wasn't long to begin with and it got cut way short, permed and've guessed it...into a what looked like a bird nest to me! My relatives seem to like it but I do have to show up at work in a week in the US, where I don't think people would have quite the same reaction! One more lesson learned, never have another hair cut in China, ever again!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I always tell people, out of all the places I travel to around the world, I'm most stressed out about going to China. This is especially apparent as soon as one leaves the premise of a five-star hotel and it worsens as one travels deeper into the interior of the country. Well, that is not to discourage anyone from traveling to China of course, but do be mentally prepared to not see any toilet seats everywhere you go! Since my flight to Changsha was 8 in the morning, I checked into a small hotel near the airport to avoid having to deal with morning traffic. The hotel is worse than most hostel I've stayed at...well, at least it was for same price, $25/night. I'm sure the company will be pretty happy when I expense this one... Exhausted from a long day, I rolled into the hard cold bed with all my cloth on and snoozed until 4am.
The flight to ChangSha was tolerable and my aunt picked me up at the airport with her company car. As soon as I stepped out of the airport, my nose confirmed that: yes, this is the place! I can't really assign the scent to anything in particular but I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere in there was a dash of red hot chili pepper. The sky was gray just like how most people with describe China, even though the locals called it a sunny day. Having never lived here for more than couple weeks at a time, I really don't know many streets in ChangSha other than the ones immediately adjacent to my grandparents' condo. The grandparents on my mother side are by far my favorite relatives. As they get older I feel more and more obligated to visit, which is tough to do now that I have a full time job. They were recently hospitalized for a bad case of cold. Luckily, both of recovered from it. I'm very grateful for having the opportunity to see them during this short trip. When kids are young they expose raw emotions and express things more directly than adults because they don't know any better. When people get old, they do the same for they don't know when their last day will be. They live a very simple life now mostly confined to stay inside due to the weather and gradually deteriorating health. I feel guilty for not being able to take care of them better. I felt I've always known my grandparents but with every visit I hear and see more of them. For the first time my 88-year-old grandmother said to me, "I often feel that I haven't lived enough." And for the first time I felt how difficult it must be when death seem so imminent. I wanted to stay and hug her forever but I know deep down they just want me to be happy. I owe it to myself and I owe it to them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tananmen Square

Tananmen Square may be known around the world for certain political events but for me it will always be personal, endearing, colorful and magnificent. I remember watching the flag ceremony here early in the morning with meticulously dressed guards walking across perfectly silenced Changan street. I remember statues made from thousands upon thousands of flowers in various colors during the national holiday in October. I remember buses and crowds of bicyclists rushing in front of the gates to the Forbidden City. Of all the cities in China, Beijing holds a special place in my heart, perhaps even more so than Hunan, where I spent most of my childhood. To me the Beijing dialogue sounds especially warm which in turn makes the Beijing people equally amicable. I was thrilled to have had the chance to revisit the Square and the neighborhood where mom used to live this afternoon. The weather was clear and cold, just like how I remembered. Nothing was really recognizable other than the structures that have stood here for thousands of years. I felled matching the streets around it to my memory despite having tried in vein. To many people, China have advanced in speed of light in the last decade or two. To me, I'd prefer to remember it the way it was.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beijing at 5:30am

Lack of sleep and dinner the night before the 13-hour flight made it feel even worse than it sounds. I had a persistent headache throughout and was quite nauseous when we finally landed in Beijing on Monday afternoon around 5pm local time. Fortunately, recovery came as soon as I stepped off the plane and into the spacious airport with tall oblique ceiling adorned with small lights like stars. Custom and luggage claim was a breeze. Nothing seemed recognizable despite having lived in Beijing in my early childhood. Before we knew it we were checked into our hotel just a short distance from the Olympic Stadium. The giant bird nest rests silently in the darkness. Perched in 10 degrees of cool air, it’s hard to imagine that this was the center of it all just a little over a year ago. We gathered for a convenient dinner in the hotel. The food was nothing to write home about but I’m happy to be here. I slept solid between 10pm and 5am. A great start to adjust to the new time zone. To me, it always seems that the going back is the hard part.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Liren's Workshop

Yes I DID! Cubical decoration contest...Bring it on!