Breast pump for my China trip

I am about to travel to China with my 3 kids in 2 days. My youngest baby is only 9 months old and still happily nursing away. Formula? Tried once and was rejected completely. So, do I have to lug along the breast pump too?

The pump itself is not that heavy. I have a 7 yr old Medela pump, which doesn’t work too well, but that’s beside the point.  The biggest logistically challenge is Power.  China is on a 220 voltage system, while the US is based on 110. So, if I plug this pump into a hotel power socket, I can blow the engine.

 Three solutions to this:  

  1. Buy an adaptor that says: Input -220VAC, Output-9 or 12VDC. (most breast pumps operate with 12 VDC max). You can find these online in the US. Found this one on Amazon. The cost seems right, $7.15. But need to check if it’s exactly the width of the plug to make sure it fits the pump.  At this stage, I am leaving in 2 days. This is not an option.  There are tons of such plugs for sale cheaply in China. So, don’t sweat if you are as late as me.
  2. Bring a car charger/plug as this one, which costs $30.  This is a very handy thing to have,  particularly if you are traveling to remote areas into the lovely ethnic areas of Yunnan, or the Panda nature reserves where I am going. They are universal, and can be used back home in the US as well.
  3. Rent one in China? This is not quite an option yet. Chinese pharmacies don’t carry the item. I checked the Beijing United Family hospital website, and didn’t find them offering pump rental service.  Having been a patient of theirs, I know they would have these equipment in the hospital, but will have to call or wait till I get there to find out.  This hospital is the largest English speaking hospital in China, but they only have locations in Beijing, Shanghai, Guanzhou and Wuxi. So, won’t help you again if you are traveling to rural areas.
  4. Buy one in China? Actually, this will be very hard to achieve! So, not really an option.

In traditional Chinese culture, mothers nurse their children. Now-a-days, there are also a lot of working mothers. So, many of my Chinese friends wean their children at around 3 months, which is the usual length of maternity leave. Then the child is handed to grandma for care on formula. Only the very rich or the very poor continue to nurse till the baby is 1 or 2 yrs old. The very rich can afford either to be stay home moms, or buy a pump from overseas. The very poor are still farming, so they lug their babies to the field. To them, it’s the cheapest way to raise the child, since they don’t have money to buy formula.  

I am lucky enough to settle on the best option – secured a loaner from my ex-McKinsey colleague.

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Avoid Lijiang between Oct 1 to 7 at all cost!!

A client asked WildChina to help book the Lijiang Banyan Tree hotel in Lijiang, arriving on Oct 1, and departing on Oct. 5th.  I wanted to scream –“NO, NO, NO! You don’t want to do that.”  Hence, want as many to know this as possible, pls. pass it onto anyone who’s planning to go to China. 

Here’s my advice:

If you have any flexibility on timing or location choice, I would highly recommend you NOT to go to Lijiang at this time. October 1st is the busiest day of the whole year. That is Chinese National Day, that’s the day when Chinese travel most. Lijiang is on top of the list as popular destination.  In fact, this Chinese National Day Holiday is state-sanctioned, from Oct 1 to Oct 7 every year. So star from Sep. 30, it’s already crazy there.

That means:
A. The crowd in Lijiang is probably equivalent to black Friday at the mall after Thanks-Giving.
B. No hotel or flight discounts.
C. Inconsistent services due to the volume. 

In fact, you also want to avoid Lijiang at the following time too
Chinese New Year: Feb. 13-19, 2010
Tomb Sweeping Festival: April 3-5, 2010
Dragon Boat Festival: Around June 16, 2010 exact dates to be determined
Moon Festival: Around Sep 22, 2010 exact dates to be determined
Chinese Labor Day: May 1st to 3rd, 2008
(Note all except Chinese Labor Day and Chinese National day are based on Lunar calendar, so the dates changes every year. )

This warning probably applies to all travel in China. I would not recommend anyone to travel in China during those dates.

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China’s Holy Mountains

Talking to a journalist recently. He asked me: I’m thinking of going to China in Sept. or Oct. to do a story on China’s holy mountains. Have you been to many of them? Any particular one worth profiling?

Here is my answer:
I am sure you’ve researched, two different definitions of China’s holy mountains:
Wuyue, Five sacred mountains:
1. Tai Shan, Taoist mountain of the east, Shandong
2. Heng Shan Bei, Taoist mountain of the north, Shanxi
3. Hua Shan, Taoist mountain of the west, Shaanxi
4. Heng Shan Nan, Taoist mountain of the south, Hunan
5. Song Shan, Taoist mountain of the center, Henan

Four Buddhist mountains:
1. Wutai Shan in Shanxi
2. Putuo Shan in Zhejiang
3. Ermei Shan in Sichuan
4. Jiuhua Shan in An’hui

Shame to say, I’ve only been to Er’mei, which is stunning. Most of these places are very crowded with tourist, but if you opt for hiking up the mountain the same way the monks did years ago, it’s still really beautiful. Jiuhua Shan is close to the Yellow Mountain. There are some lovely villages nearby that’s worth your visit – Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon was filmed there – all those bamboo forests.

If you include Tibet on the list, then I have been the holiest of all Mt. Kailash. I hiked around the mountain myself for 2 days. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.

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Don’t travel to China during Oct. 1 to 7th

Saw this email exchange between a client and my colleague, thought it’s really useful for anyone planning a trip to China in the fall.

Clients email: My husband and I are planning a trip to Asia in late September and are very interested in visiting Tibet and Lijiang.  We will arrive September 26th to Shanghai and will depart October 11th so we will have 14 days for touring.  We are very active and are open to cultural trekking, biking, etc.

My colleague’s answer covered a series of recommended activities and sites, but this is the most important message: Late September to early October is one of the best time to visit China as the weather then is mostly pleasant. However, during the week-long National Holiday ( Oct 1st – 8th ) or few days before/after, all places in China will see a lot of domestic tourists.  If your schedule is flexible, we would like to suggest we make the tour plan after Oct 15th , when the weather is cooler and you will be able to enjoy the local culture as well as the beautiful scenery.

Avoid China during Chinese New Year and Oct 1-7th golden week at all costs. Too many domestic travelers.

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Family get together in China with kids

A friend and I are considering bringing both of our families to China for a reunion next summer. My kids are 6 yr, 3 yr, and 9 month old. His 3 girls are 9, 7 and 3.  So here is his questions ” Should we take Josh’s Tangula express to Lhasa?   Or do we want WildChina to organize a princess tour of the wonders of China? Tibet?”

Here are my answers:

Tangula express would be cool, but not for kids. It’s too long a ride and kids get antsy. I know mine can’t handle it. I actually think it’s best to anchor kids at one place for 3 days, have lots of little fun stuff for them to venture from one base.  I would say, hang out somewhere near Guilin or Dali, go on short hikes, bike rides, fishing, crafts, etc.

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3 days in Lijiang, 2 days in Shangrila

An old friend sent me this inquiry: We (3of us) are going to Yunnan for the last week of August. We have things pretty well organised and plan to spend 3 days in Lijiang and 2 in ShangriLa. If you have any suggestions about wild and  exciting things to do, that would be great !

Here are my answers:

1. First of all, where are you staying?  That’s important because Lijiang has turned into a crazy tourist town that stays alive 24/7. The old town of Lijiang is most charming with those two-story woodden houses lining cobble stoned streets, but it’s really hard to find a quiet hotel room because the bars and cafes stay open till midnight. In this context,  I’d recommend either the Banyan Tree, which is charming, but expensive. Or some Chinese 4 star hotels like Guanfang, which is not that memorable, but at least you can sleep. In Zhongdian, you want to stay at the Songsam Hotel near the Songzanlin Monastery. It’s owned by a Tibetan entrepreneur. It’s better than the Ringa Banyan Tree.

2. Activities in Lijiang:  Lijiang old town used to be so lovely, but now, it is overrun by tourists during the day. Exploring the old town, I suggest you get up early and walk around in the maze, allowing yourself to get gloriously lost. Pick up some pancakes freshly made on a food stall, etc. That’s still quite lovely. The Black Dragon Pool, despite its popularity as a tourist site, it’s still lovely. Spend a good 2 hours in there, check out the dongba museum – not fancy, but gives you a little sense of what dongba culture is like. Xueke’s Naxi music used to be great, and I loved it many years ago. But, now the venue has doubled or tripled in size, it’s lost its intimacy. At WildChina, we used to just hire a small local band and do a dinner/concert in one of the village houses. After that, you probably want to get out of the old town as quickly as you can.

  a. Leave Tiger Leaping Gorge for a  stopover visit on your way to Zhongdian.

  b. For glacier, Maoniuping is slightly better. It’s probably quite fun to ride horse up, as compared to taking the tram. I would not recommend riding horse downhill. The horses don’t come with western saddles with all the padding and handle for you to grab. If you’ve never done horseback riding, don’t try it out there.

  c. If you like day hikes, try to go to Wenhai or Lashihai. Not tourist sites, but interesting villages.

  d. If you don’t mind 2-3 hour driving, go to Xuehua village, a tiny little village with 80 people, you can still meet the Yi Shaman there. (Yi is another ethnic group, different from Naxi in Lijiang.)

  e. Further afield, on the border with Dali, there are some wonderful places to visit: Jianchuan Grottoes – most stunning grottoes documenting the history of Dali Kingdom. Not touristy at all, but the hike and the grotto are just absolutely mind boggling. You can hike from the Grottoes to a nearby village called Shaxi – an intact old village, that used to be a key stop of the Southern Silk Road. Lovely old temple, old houses. Again, either without a tour guide, getting lost in it is a wonderful experience. (It’s not that big).  To go there, you need to drive 3 hours each way from Lijiang.

3. Activities in Zhongdian: Songzanlin Monastery, Pudacuo National park will probably take up all your time. I’d recommend you try to visit a local Tibetan home in a village nearby. Anyone will do, just to see what their life is like. Remember to start slow, give yourself time to get used to the altitude when you just get there. Altitude sickness usually hits you after a nap or something like that, with in my case, a bursting headache. Drink lots of water to recover or go with Diamox from your doctor.

Have fun. for more information, check out www.