For Breathable Air, Visit Beijing in October

A friend/WildChina client sent me the note:

“About China and the air quality in Beijing I think your statement “Loved the energy there, but worried about the air quality” sums up the problem. I believe it is this energy (human energy) that is creating, in part, the sources of air pollution. In other words to improve air quality this energy must be directed towards environmental friendly chores that is by their nature are less rewarding financially on the short term. This would not be acceptable for a population that is trying to improve their lots in life after so many years of poverty and lack of opportunities. Does this makes sense? You tell me.”

My husband labels me as a “patriotic Chinese” and I generally stay away from commenting on politics. But, for air quality, I do want to give my travel advice: If you are going to Beijing and Shanghai, go in the Fall (or Spring as second choice). I was in Beijing in July just before Olympics last year, and then again August this year, the air difference was night and day.  On the recent trip, I took my  kids out for walks to my favorite Ritan Park by the Friendship Store in Beijing at 5am (jetlag), and I couldn’t breathe! 5AM, it’s supposed to be the cleanest air of the day! Either my memory of lovely Beijing eluded me, or the air seriously deteriorated. Fall is the only time when you see crisp blue skies occasionally in Beijing. In the Spring, sometimes you can run into serious sand storms that turn the sky black.

To my friends comment, here is my response:

I can’t agree with you more on the energy vs. air quality tug and pull. The sad thing is, most of the people I know there are oblivious to it, precisely as you said, making money is more important. There are some friends who already have money, they are very pessimistic – oh, there is no hope, so why bother, just go live overseas. Then, there are the few who are dedicated to conservation, they care and want to do good, but their voices are often muted by the tide.

Bookmark and Share

Food for Your Picky Little Eaters in China

I don’t think anybody else can have a pickier eater than my son. I know, a lot of other mothers feel the same way about their own children. Well, traveling to China with picky eaters can be a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. The food choices in China broadens at an amazing rate both in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but also at unknown smaller cities or towns like Kunming or Dali. Rather than providing a complete restaurant review here, I will simply tell you how my son survived his three weeks in China.

Breakfast: All major hotels in China provide a mix of Chinese and Western dishes. You can easily find bacon and eggs, or corn flakes and yogurt at breakfast buffet table. The situation changes immediately if you are headed towards any cities lesser known than their provincial capitals. For example, in the panda nature reserve I visited near Xi’an, I was served 4 dishes of cold and spicy salads, a bowl of Zhou (very watery rice porridge), a couple of steamed bread. In situations like this, my goes for his default backup-
White Rice –available at every single Chinese restaurant, and the cheapest solution. Usually costs less than RMB4 (US$0.5)/bowl.

Lunch: One of the things that frustrate me most at WildChina is that our local guides still insist on serving a HUGE 8 course meal for lunch, regardless of how much we tried to change that. This is true for most foreign visitors, alarmed by how big those lunches are. Only on hiking trips, are we able to really change things around and provide only sandwiches and chilled drinks. If you are traveling on your own, go for local noodle soups and dumplings. Those are tasty and more than sufficient for lunch. My son would touch any of the Chinese dishes, despite the fresh green beans, broccolis, and noodle soups, he opts for –

McDonalds Happy Meals. Yes, McDonalds is practically around every major corner in Beijing, and widely available in all provincial capitals. In fact, KFC is even more successful than McDonalds, because most Chinese finds KFC more similar to Chinese tastes. That said, KFC also made some amazing localization in their menu. For example, they serve youtiao (fried dough) and Zhou (the watery rice porridge I mentioned above) on their breakfast menu too! My son was happy with McDonalds’ chicken nuggets, but didn’t like any of the toys, since they are local toys based on Japanese or Korean figures. My daughter on the other hand, LOVED those RMB10/piece Hello Kitties.

Dinner: Dinner in China is a big deal, particularly with guests. All the meals that I went to served on average 20 dishes on the table! I don’t remember any dish being completely finished off. Quite a bit wastage. In Yunnan, it’s wild mushroom season – enough reason for me to travel there just for the mushrooms. My son didn’t even taste any of that, instead, his grandfather went to fetch him a –

Pizza from Pizza Hut every single day. Yes, Pizza Hut also made successful entries into China. Although the restaurants are all regarded as high-end places that are 50% empty at all times. If you go in there to order a pizza, they ALL tell you that it’s a 17 minutes wait time for the pizza to cook. I bet their management drilled this sentence into every server’s mind. So, my dad would call the Pizza hut that’s right next door to the Carrefour Supermarket, then take a 20 minutes round trip walk to bring back dinner for his grandson. The 乳酪大汇 (rulao dahui) on a round dish is the same as a regular crusted cheese pizza here. It costs RMB 76 ($11) for a 12 inch pizza.

After all grandpa’s effort. My son made the conclusion in the end: America is better than China because there is clean air and youtube here. What can I say?

Bookmark and Share

Best Shaolin Kungfu Performance in China

I used to think that watching a show surrounded by hundreds of western tourists is not my thing at all. I am Chinese so I know China already, why would I even want to watch the same show with tourists?

Well, glad I put away that silly bias of mine, and enjoyed a great show tonight. My 6 year old boy is a die-hard fan of Kungfu Panda. So being a good mother, I took him to the Shaolin Kungfu Show at the Red Theatre.

The show’s choreography, stage production, sound production are all of international quality. The performers’ Kungfu are at par with the real kungfu show at the Shaolin Temple itself. For any of Kungfu Panda’s young fans, this is a must see in Beijing. Here are a few logistical details:

The show is on at the Red Theatre daily at 7:30pm. You can buy tickets at the door or online. If you are a WildChina client, this show is recommended to families traveling with children. But, I would even suggest adding this to anyone who’s coming to China for the first time.