Saturday, April 30, 2016



China is clearly a country in transition...or at least parts of it. Transportation is an interesting study.

A friend of ours visited China in 2000. At that time, there were hoards of bicycles, and buses and cars were spewing black smoke. Now, the streets are clogged with scooters, especially in Zhengzhou. Many of them are electric, which means they can silently creep up on you when they decide the ply the sidewalk instead of the street! Beijing and Shanghai both have efficient, easy to use subways with English subtitles. Find a machine, choose your destination, insert your RMBs and get your token. The fast train ran every 20 minutes during the day from Beijing to Zhengzhou for the equivalence of $50, and the trains we took were always full. So, some advances in reducing carbon emissions have been made in the way of transportation. But outside of town, steer clear of the trucks that still spew out black death. Eeeuww. (Can I add in here that everything in northern China was covered with a dusting of black grit, evidence of the coal-fueled pollution that had plagued China until just a few weeks before we arrived. Lucky us!!)
Our Cheesehead in China, getting ready to board a fast train

Tom's favorite part was the craziness of traffic. When lights change, chaos erupts, with cars and scooters and three-wheeled vehicles zigzagging between each other and making their own lanes. Oh, and these 3-wheeled guys could sometimes be found going the wrong way down a one way street. No problem, I guess?! They don't honk at that, but they do toot the horn on highways and roads when they pass. With the craziness, it is amazing there there are rarely any accidents. We saw two fender benders, and Jackie said that is more than she has seen in 7 months. I can only guess it is because of the horn-taps with passing, my observation that people don't really speed in China, that they are in general more laid-back drivers (no road rage?), and they simply must be more vigilant because they know it is crazy and they perhaps don't assume (like we do?!) that cars will be in their expected lanes.

Another part of the craziness, and lack of rules and regs, is that several people were often piled on the scooters, including babies tucked in front. Go ahead and talk on your cell phone while transporting precious cargo. Ahem, I guess that is kinda like us?!

Bicycles were rigged to meet the elements. This one had an umbrella. In ZZ, it was still "colder," so the scooters had mitts and lap pads. Ingenious.

So, back to vehicles. The other thing to be found in plenty, and different from us, are these electric-motored, three-wheeled vehicles. In Beijing, We stayed in a hutong, a narrow, ancient alley street, so the garbage collectors were small, electric three-wheeled dudes with a large bucket in back that could easily squeeze into the narrow spaces. This type of vehicle took many forms and purposes, including street vendors. Pile the back up with fruit or veggies, and you got a market-to-go.
Police 3-wheeler and some other cute little car....
Chinese 7-11. The little oranges had thin skins, so you ate em whole.
Not all vehicles have evolved in China. In the countryside, the contrast is stark with the uber-modern fast trains and sleek skyscrapers. I saw only one tractor on the farms, (which are limited to a small size, I guess to prevent big landowners), most crops were hand-tilled, and we often saw water buffaloes. It was kind of a tranquil image, but such a contrast with the big cities.
Wooden plow. Bags in back contained cow manure for fertilization. This is a small rice paddy. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Of course, the most wonderful thing about going to China was seeing Jackie and checking out her life here. We visited her school, and we were book-readers and monsters with the kids, and Jackie is an amazing teacher! The Chinese staff all love her...of course!

 "Jakay," the most awesomely scary teacher ever!!
Good parents hop right in..... :)

Then we went with co-workers to a noodle shop down the street. Amazingly good, for the outrageous price of $1.20 for more than we could eat. Chopsticks and noodles, a little tricky. Slurping the soup? Okay until Tom accidently drops the bowl, sending up a fountain of broth. The other Chinese customers, already amazed that we were there, in a city with little diversity, probably thought "Ha! Those can't take em out!" :)

Jackie showed us around Zhengzhou, like a good hostess daughter. We had great hot pot, which is served with two types of boiling broth, then you add in your chosen items. Will be fun to try at home with friends.

Tuesday night is trivia night at Zax BBQ, so we got some yummy western food, and got to meet her ex-pat friends (from the US, England, South Africa, Canada and other places!). What a fun group!!! 


Due to technical difficulties (i.e. wifi woes), blogging was difficult for part of the trip. So, I am backing up to our Zhengzhou time and day trips from there. Some cool stuff in Jackie's area of central China, considered the cradle of Chinese civilization. Luoyang, where we visited the Longmen Grottoes, was the capital of 13 dynasties, starting in 2100 BC. Sadly, not much remains, and it is mostly an industrial city now. Back in the heyday, the compass, gunpowder and paper were all developed here, along with their first astrological calendar. The grottoes include about 100,000 carvings of Buddha and his protectors, the boddhisattvas, on a limestone cliff face, most of them carved between 600 and 900 AD, but the carvings were completed over 900 years. We did this excursion on our own, via fast "G" train and taxi. Made a quick stop to the old city gate and streets after the grottoes. Pretty easy DIY, and everything felt safe, just like it did wherever we went in China.

view of the grottoes from across the Yi River

                                   This Buddha has been making the peace sign for 2000 years. We wondered if this is where the peace finger sign originated.

This protector dude was about 3 stories high...

The other day trip from Zhengzhou was one of the highlights of our trip. We hired a guide, Timothy Zhao, because this hike was not one that was well-documented in my pre-trip research, but I had seen just enough of it to know that this was a landscape we had to explore!! We hiked the Sanhuangzhai section of Song Shan Mountain, one of the five sacred Chinese mountains. First, we went to Shaolin Temple, where kung fu originated, and took a new Swiss cable car up to the start of the trail. A hot bowl of noodles, a warm beer, and we were off!!

 It looks scary, but the railings were strong and path wide enough, lined with flagstone. Glad I didn't have to haul those up there!!!

 Our super guide, Tim, holding our little Cheesehead in China! Tim spoke great English and was an interesting companion. You can see the vats of noodles with herbs behind him, which we ate for our pre-hike sustenance.
Tom was mobbed on this trail. We were the only westerners, and the college age kids who were hiking thought he was an NBA star, I think. Many photo breaks. 

This was a Buddhist temple, at the end of the trail. Restoration was only finished about 1 1/2 years ago.
Peace to you, Grasshopper....

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Beijing to Zhengzhou

I have walked the Great Wall of China, and have the sore calves to prove it! A private driver picked us up on our first morning in Beijing for the 1 1/2 hour drive to the Mutianyu section of the Wall. We took a chairlift to the sixth watchtower, then hiked up and down the wall all the way to the 21st tower. We had to get to a high spot right? Who is this family?! Anyway, the pictures can tell the story. Just amazing views. Then we went back to the sixth tower for a toboggan ride back down. The guy who supervised we called The Toboggan Nazi. He kept screaming at people to take off sunglasses, etc., and even snapped a little stick. But then we caught him winking, that suggested that the attitude was entertainment for the crowd. Well, free of any welt marks, we got our turn. What a fun and surprisingly long ride it was. We recommend it when you get to the Wall yourself!

just to give you an idea of how steep this walk can be in parts.....

Laeschs apparently can't get enough of walking. Darn those fitbits. The next day, we had another glorious seventy degree, blue sky day, so we walked to the Forbidden City, former "enter and you will be executed" private domain to 400 years of emperors. Largest palace complex in the world. We only had access to a small portion, but that was still a lot of walking.  I appreciate the attention to geometric design that the ancient Chinese adhered to. Beautiful. Best part were the imperial gardens at the end, IMO. Spring has arrived here, and the flowering trees were stunning. Forbidden city is near two other parks, also, so we strolled around Beihai and Jin shan parks, and imagined what the lake there would look like when the hundreds of lotus were in bloom. The Chinese have symbolism for many plants and trees, and I think lotus symbolize longevity. Many of our dramatic flora originate here (peonies, azaleas, magnolias, etc.). Rows of weeping willow trees lined the lake banks and paths, and the shorelines and hills were punched with the color of blooming forsythia and flowering peach and apple trees. And they had rubber ducky boats! Happy flower lover!
A ceiling in one room in the Forbidden city palace complex.

When we got back to our hotel, we found an Easter basket with chocolate  treats and a personal note. What an awesome little inn.
You know you are in China when your room comes equipped with a gas mask. Yikes. So glad the air pollution has been so low while we are here. But we have certainly seen some trucks and smoke stacks belching coal black smoke. Gotta love the carbon emissions.


The Yuyuan gardens in Shanghai on a 70 degree spring day would alone be worth a trip to Shanghai.  Our hotel is 5 minutes away, perfect so we could get here before the crowds. These are a lovely example of Ming dynasty gardens, from the 1600s to 1700s.

Dragons represent the emperor and power. Tom digs em. Guess I think they are pretty cool too.
Then end your day with some squid-flavored potato chips!!! Yummy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


After I saw the movie Avatar, I knew I had to visit the karsts of China. And now, here we are. These aren't the exact ones that inspired James Cameron, but inspiring they are. Otherworldly.  They are the residue of an inland sea, oddly formed by the tropical monsoons, peppered with caves and hollows. Our hotel for 3 nights, the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, is outside the hustling, touristy town, alongside the Yulong river, and from our balcony we have views of the karsts, the bamboo-lined river, and the rafts of people who are poled down the river by men in bright red jackets. It is heaven. Little birds flit about and chirp, along with the evening frogs, flowers are abloom, and it is fantastically spring.
We are eating each breakfast and dinner here, because, hey, why wouldn't we? On our last night, we chatted with Franc and his family, a Frenchman who is doing IT work now in Shanghai, then sat a long time at our riverside table. The waitress brought us a lantern, another warm beer and a piece of chocolate cake. Did I not say this was heaven?...Except for the warm beer part. 😯

On this part of our journey, we walked all around, through a village to Moon Hill, a huge limestone window high in the hills. We got lost, or thought we were, and followed some westerners and their guide to a cliff and a cave past rice and taro fields, and trees of blooming jasmine. Jasmine ranks up there with roses and blooming orange trees. Mmmmm. Anyway, wrong spot, nice diversion. We finally got to Moon Hill, got the great views and photo shots, then back to our place to chill. Did I mention that there were water buffaloes in the rice paddies? Also, many roving troops of ducks, surely destined for someone's dinner. Not ours.

 lost amongst the rice paddies and blooming jasmine tea trees....

Jackie told us that everyone wears slippers indoors here. Her kids have crocs for indoor time. At the Mountain Retreat, I picked the panda slippers. Pretty comfy, and China-appropriate. 


Jumping forward to the last leg of our trip, I finally have WiFi that allows me to upload this blog. I could do Facebook easily, so that is where I was posting.

So....we stayed in 3 hotels with Jackie, in Beijing, Yangshuo  (SOUTHERN CHINA, GUANXI province), and Ping An, to visit the mind-blowing, ancient rice terraces. Twice we have had our own hotels, and got upgraded to suites both times. SUITE!!! (Haha). We are at the Narada Yu Gardens boutique hotel, about 15 minutes from the Bund. Beautiful hotel, great location, English speaking staff and good price. Perfect. And an upgrade. Shanghai is so much more cosmopolitan than Beijing and Zhenghzou. After the morning thunderstorms let up, we walked to the Bund, along Huangpu river waterfront promenade, which has old elegant buildings from late 1800s, then took the trippy light show ride under the river tunnel to the business district called Pudong. Wow. The skyscrapers there are only 20 years old. Pedestrian bridge pathways, designer malls, parks with cool statues, etc. It makes Chicago look tiny. It was a  shocker after spending time in this village in the mountains, near the Longji rice terraces. The minority people there sat around fire pits, dressed in native dress, chickens roamed the streets, and they hauled things in woven baskets across their shoulders like they have probably been doing for 1000 years. Well, the terraces are 700 years old anyway. Such a fascinating contrast.

 Longji rice terraces. Do they look like dragon scales?

We stayed in the village of PingAn. Minority peoples,the Zhuang and Yao, live and work in the town and fields, and you can see them go about their business. Chickens roam the streets. Buildings all of dark wood. Super cool and interesting.

hanging out around the fire....

And then, leaping centuries ahead, but only a couple hours of flight time....Shanghai!