Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kentucky Fried China

IMG_3837, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

KFC is the number one US fast food chain in China. This very large store is in downtown Beijing very close to the Forbidden City.

While we tried to avoid chain food, we were at the main train station and I needed a snack. The food choices were KFC and some large dirty looking soup counters. The soup place menus were in Chinese and I had no idea how to order, so I went to KFC. They had a picture menu and the manager spoke enough English to take my order. I ordered a Twister, but I don't know whether I got the Dragon flavor or the Mexican version since they were on the same box on the menu. Whatever it was, it was spicier than the American equivalent. I also got a ice cream with some sort of fruit topping that I have never seen in a US store.

While I usually go out of my way to avoid KFC in the US, I at least reassured myself that the Chinese version is no worse than American version.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hot Pots

P1010175, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

A popular style of Chinese cooking that is not popular in America is called "hot pot". It's a little like fondue, but it uses broth instead of oil for the cooking. It can be done with large communal pots or small individual ones like in this picture.

Vegetables and thinly slice meats are put in the boiling broth and then removed when they are cooked. You mix your own sauce from a tray of condiments like soy sauce, ginger, garlic, peppers, etc. It's a fun way to make a meal.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sweet Tooth

P1000887, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

Dessert is not a traditional part of a Chinese meal. At best some fruit are served, but the standard last course is soup. A large bowl of soup is served and everybody takes a bowlful.

As a special ocassion, the group had a birthday cake ordered from a bakery. The cake was excellent and equal in quality to a fancy wedding cake. There was also a small pastry shop right near our hotel. so there is hope for the Chinese to develop a sweet tooth.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dressing The Part

P1000889, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

A lot of restaruants in China specialize in dishes from a particular region. Since we were off to Xian, our last big meal (which includes most of the previous pictures) specialized in food from western China. The wait staff was all dressed in native costumes from that restaurant. Here the waitress is wearing the faintly fez-like hat common to that area.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chinese Fajitas

P1000875, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

One problem in trying to describe the food we ate in China is that we rarely knew what the dishes were called. Often we were just told the major ingredients. Pork, chicken, beef, and lamb were all common.

Some foods like the one in this picture required some assembly. A thin piece of dough like a tortilla was to be filled with strips of meat and vegetables like carrots, onions, and green and red peppers. I immediatey dubbed them Chinese fajitas.

Other foods like Peking duck and whole baked fish were served on a platter and diners just tore off the parts they wanted with chopsticks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lazy Susan

P1000877, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

Large parties at the restaurants in China are served at tables of ten with a large glass turntable lazy susan. New dishes are brought out every five minutes or so. For the American taste, bottles of soft drinks are brought out. 1.5 liter is the standard bottle size.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Chinese Food

P1000876, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

The most common question I get about my visit to China is "How was the food?" "Delicious" is the easy answer. We ate most of our meals in large groups at restaurants and always had way too much to eat. Dish after dish would come out and we could never eat it all.

Saying you ate "Chinese" food is a lot like saying you ate "European" food. There is a wide variety of styles and cusines. Most of the food we ate was centered around cooking styles of northern and western China.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Public Potties

IMG_3326, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

Public restrooms are very common in Beijing. In the local neighborhoods, called hutongs, there are often the only restrooms. Since they are often the newest and cleanest looking building in the area, it makes one wonder about what the neighborhood did before the toilet rooms were built.

The size, quality and cleanliness of the rooms varies from barely tolerable to pretty good. One I went into was a three-holer with no divider stalls and two were occupied. I left and waited until I was back at the hotel.

Squat toilets are the typical fixture. The trick to finding a western style throne is to look for the universal ADA/handicap sign. Inside the buildings, the sit-down stalls are also often labeled with a picture of an old man with a cane.

One disturbing aspect is that it is not customary to flush the toilet paper. Most stalls have a small wastebasket for disposal of the used tissue.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Worst. Job. Ever.

IMG_3287, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

The only rest stop I found on The Great Wall itself consisted of a two-stall outhouse. The throne itself was a sit upright can with a seat lined with a plastic bag. Outside the stall there was a plastic jug of water for hand washing.

As I left feeling much better, I profusely thanked the toilet paper vending lady. She was donning some long rubber gloves and was heading in. Apparently, everything left along The Wall must be bagged out. I felt really guilty only spending fifteen cents for the toilet paper. Great Wall Latrine Cleaner is now on my list of Worst Jobs Ever.

Great Wall Rest Stop

IMG_3286, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

While climbing the Great Wall, I felt the rumblings of a gastro-intestinal crisis. Fortuanately, on the way back down I spotted a sign in English with the international icons for toilets. To get to them you climbed down some stairs that were an original feature of The Wall down to the outhouse. At the bottom of steps a vendor was selling packs of toilet paper for 1 RMB (US$0.07). I doubled up and it was the best money I spent.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Great Wall Billboard

IMG_3289, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

Despite any qualms the Chinese may have over foreign commercialization of culturally sensitive areas, they seem to have no qualms over tooting their own horn. This sign for the 2008 Olympics is visible from nearly every part of the Badaling section of the Great Wall.

While it tends to mar the pristineness of the area, it leaves no doubt that the Chinese are not going to let any marketing opportunities for the Olympics go unexploited.

Wall of Starbucks

IMG_3313, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

At the base of the Wall, there are several restaurants that cater to the tourist trade. And one coffee shop that caters to Americans needing a strong dose of caffeine. The peak of the Great Wall is barely visible in the upper left corner of this photo.

Over the years, the Chinese have become a little more sensitive to over-commercialization of the cultural relics, particularly when it comes to foreign franchises. KFC was kicked out of Bei Hai Park and Starbucks has decided to relinquish their lease inside the Forbidden City.

Still, I doubt this Starbucks will be going anywhere soon.

Fallen Wall

IMG_3301, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

When the Manchu bribed their way through the Great Wall and overtook the Ming Dynasty, they then owned both sides of the Wall and it fell into disuse and disrepair. When the current dynasty discovered the tourism potential of the wall, sections that could be turned into attractions were repaired.

This telephoto photo of a distant section of the Wall visible from the Badaling area shows a portion of the Wall that has collapsed. What is more remarkable is that so much has stayed intact despite several hundred years of neglect.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Great Wall Photo Op

IMG_3296, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

Besides walking/climbing, the primary activity along the Great Wall is taking pictures. It is tough to go more than fifty feet without passing someone taking pictures of something or someone. Portraits, group shots, landscapes, it's all fair game.

One pair of girls caught me when I was taking a rest break and insisted on taking a picture of one of them with me. I was happy to oblige. This made me less self-conscious of taking pictures of other people.

This very stylishly dressed lady with the parasol was having a lot of pictures taken by her boyfriend. She agreed to let me take a picture and flashed the peace sign that seems to be the common posed picture hand sign.

Running The Gauntlet

IMG_3285, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

Getting past the vendors in the parking lot is just the first round of people wanting your money. While walking on the wall itself, dozens of vendors try to sell postcards, tee shirts, crafts, and knick knacks. The post card vendors are the shabbiest and most persistent. They will follow anyone vaguely American looking for a good while before giving up and looking for another victim.

Many of the vendors have semi-permanent locations. Others just pick a section and spread out. The quality ranges from the impressive like the marble carvers to the truly tacky. One lady was selling a small doll that when filled with water, spurted a stream of water from the crotch. Her sole sales pitch consisted of saying over and over again, "Look, pee-pee boy, pee-pee boy." Needless to say, I passed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Great Stairclimber

IMG_3283, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

If you turn left after getting to the Great Wall, the climb to the high point is much shorter, about a kilometer, but much steeper. The height of the steps varies with the grade and one section in particular requires a stepping style like on a gym stairmaster. Fortunately, unlike a gym, you can stop as many times as you want.

The Long Way

IMG_3291, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

The Badaling section of the Great Wall starts in a valley. From the entrance, you can either go left or right. The right direction is longer but not a steep. This is the more popular direction. I ended up climbing both directions and the right leg was very crowded.

This leg is about 2 kilometers to the highest point. The open portion of the wall continues on but most people turn around at this point.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Great Crowds

IMG_3268, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

Since Badaling is one of the closest Great Wall sites to Beijing, it is very popular with tourists. On weekends in particular, the number of people can be stifling.

At some narrow points along the wall, bottlenecks occur and you have to literally push your way through the crowd. Since the steps can be irregular and steep, it takes some attention to work the crowds safely.

Great Vendors

IMG_3260, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

When you arrive at Badaling, the large parking lot filled with tour buses is lined with vendor stalls. They are all selling mostly tee shirts, hats, and trinkets. Since I didn't bring a hat with me to China, I bought one with "Great Wall" stitched on it. Buying one item just enourages the other vendors to pester you more.

As with most tourist sites in China, prices are extremely negotiable and bargaining is necessary.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Against The Wall

IMG_3265, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

While not THE closest place to see the Great Wall from Beijing, the restored section at Badaling is the most popular. It is about an hour out of Beijing by car or bus. An expressway from the city keeps the travel time short.

Here we pose in front of a welcome sing in the town with the summit of the Wall just barely visible in the background. This spot was very popular for group photos before getting to the main section of the Wall.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Polar Express

P1000433, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

The most direct route between Washington DC and Beijing is a great circle route that goes directly over Canada, the Artic Ocean and Siberia. The flight progress map they would show on the video screen every know and then kept having names like Irkutsk that I had only ever seen on a Risk Board.

This picture is a view of the arctic ice very close to the North Pole. Because it was summer the sun stayed bright the entire trip but the scenery was some of the most desolate I have ever seen out of a plane window.

Direct Route

P1000432, originally uploaded by yellojkt.

United Airlines has a daily direct flight from Dulles Airport to Beijing. The flight is 13 hours long. The flight was completely full.

The plane leaves at 12:30 every day. We stayed at a nearby hotel that lets you park your car there for free and took their shuttle to the airport. Dulles uses a weird shuttle tram system that involves huge rolling machines that look like the vehicles out of Damnation Alley.

The plane itself was an old 747 that was showing its age. Business class looked really swank with barcaloungers and personal DVD players, but we were back in steerage. The movies were awful and the screen was hard to see. I got up to stretch frequently and got a lot of reading in.

Introduction and Overview

Back in 2005, my family visited Vietnam and I kept a blog about that trip using the pictures and video I took while there. This year (2007) we went to China for twelve days as part of a student exchange program and I returned with even more pictures and video. This blog will chronicle the trip in photos and the occasional video clip. I hope to keep the posts short and frequent. When I have several pictures on one topic I may post several related items all at once.

All the photos used were taken between June 23rd and July 3rd of 2007 and are my intellectual property unless noted otherwise. Many pictures include images of random strangers taken in public locations. I do not have model releases for any of these people and I have no way to contact them if I was so inclined. While I encourage anyone to link to the blog or to individual posts, please refrain from deep linking to the images or using them elsewhere without my permission. Each photo is linked back to Flickr as required by their terms of service and often other related pictures can be found there as well.

Comments are welcome on any post at anytime. I reserve the right to delete any offensive or blatantly commercial comments. While a particular item may not be current, I do get forwarded the comments by e-mail, so this is the best way to contact me. I purposely do not include my e-mail on any portion of the blog to avoid excessive spam, but clever people have usually found a way to get a hold of me privately if necessary.

I hope that this blog can share just a bit of the many experiences and sights I enjoyed while in China.