China: Part 2

The giant panda in captive spends about 50% of the time eating, 40% of the time 
sleeping, and the remaining time pooping and playing. Pandas in the wild aren't so lucky. 

Sichuan peppercorns are used in a hot pot in Chengdu to lend a 'ma la' taste - it's a weird 
numbing sensation with an aftertaste reminisce of camphor.

Rice field terraces at Guilin. Looking down the terraces, one is 
reminded of the scales on the backbone of a dragon.

Taking a boat trip down the Li river to Yangshuo county. 
The mountainous rock formations are pretty awesome.

A dragonfly, a symbol of good luck landed on my window during the river cruise.

Shanghai looks pretty much like Manhattan. At least they had some decent
bars that served passable wine though.

We were fed really well in China. Apparently, restaurants and hospitals are the 
two most important things to the Chinese. Food quality however, ranged from 
passable to amazing, with my favorite places to eat being the second part 
of the trip, in Chengdu, Guilin and Shanghai! 

I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in China over the last month. As a quick recap, I visited the cities of Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Chengdu, Guilin and Shanghai. You can read  Part 1 here.

From Lhasa, we flew back into China and visited Chengdu. Chengdu is not only reknown for its tea houses but their most famous inhabitants are the current mascot of the WWF and the subject of a new Disney cartoon starring Jack Black. They are also really adorable animals. The Giant Panda Research Base was probably the congregation spot of most of the white tourists in China. It was  a really interesting place to watch people from all over the world and figure out if we are more alike to our stereotypes than we would care to imagine e.g.: loud white tourist, pushy Chinese tourists etc.

Guilin was the ancient holiday spot for emperors and it's one of the most beautiful places on our itinerary. The area is a gorgeous combination of mountains, rivers and lakes. We visited the rice terraces which were all hand tilled from way back in Ming dynasty (ca 1400s) and we took a 4 hour hike to stand atop one of highest mountains in the area to look down on the "Backbone of the Dragon with Scales" hence the name Longji rice terraces. That night we also saw the "Yangshuo Impressions Light Show" which was apparently choreographed by the same people who did the opening night at the 2008 Olympics.

The last leg of our trip was two nights in Shanghai, and all I have to say about it is that the United States needs to up the ante on infrastructure and stop living in 1950s and wondering why the Chinese are overtaking us in terms of economy, education and technology. We need to stop thinking of China as an imminent enemy bent on brainwashing their citizens and redistributing wealth. China does have its fair share of evil agendas. Freedom of speech there is really as bad as you hear on the news - I could not log on to Facebook and Twitter or even view any Blogspot pages. Every which way you turn on the streets, there is some sort of construction going on such that there was barely a day in the major cities where we could see the blue sky beyond dust and smog. I lost count on how many coal-powered plants we passed by while driving along the highways. The environment is practically being massacred on an enormous scale. People in China are also infinitely rude, a far cry from the Confucianism principals of being considerate and respectful. If you have a death wish, try crossing a major intersection in Beijing during rush hour. The chances of being killed by cars and/or bicycle is almost foolproof. Brian and I had a running joke that in order to get a driver's license in China, part of test would be to kill three pedestrians at a crosswalk during the test.

But for all the negative traits associated with the Chinese, it is also one of the most beautiful places in the world. The grandeur of the ancient world is fascinating, from the Forbidden City to the Terracotta Soldiers to the grand palaces and gardens of kings. Modern China is equally amazing, if not slightly scary and depressing, in the sense that the rate of progress has been so exponential that the standard of living for a majority of people has improved significantly over the last 20 years. The skyscrapers, cars piled up bumper to bumper, shopping malls, electronic billboards are all testament to how China has advanced. I don't think China will ever be able to recapture its glorious past but it may come close, and while the West is more concerned with inward political bickering and general slothfulness and indolence, many countries that were once impoverished are ascending in term of national superiority and we yet witness the rise and fall of nations in our lifetime.


  1. great pictures! now i'm craving ma la hot pot! i totally agree with you about beijing drivers. crossing the street there is like a potentially deadly game of frogger. i don't think i could even count the number of times i saw cars hit pedestrians, bicyclists, or scooterists.

  2. China is incredible, in positive and negative ways. Any trip I make there always makes me feel 2 ways - elated and sad. It's like there's a lot of progress and great stuff happening and there's so much beauty and culture, and the liveliness of the people, but then you also not so great things, like the "money-is-king"callousness, and the environmental degradation, and the loss of certain ways of life to modernity. Still, you can't change what has been done and I'm interested in how the leadership and the people manage the explosive rate of change in the next few decades.


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