The New Karate Kid film shows some beautiful parts of China

The movie critics don’t seem to think that highly of the new Karate Kid film, but I had a great time watching it with my 7-year-old son. It’s one of the few kid movies that I sat through without falling asleep in the middle, and unfortunately it wasn’t the case with the fantastic Toy Story 3!

Here are my reasons for liking it.

Most importantly, I just LOVED the scenery shots. The kid practices his kicks at the Great Wall, visits the Forbidden City, and traveled by train to Guilin to climb to the top of Wudang Mountain. All of these shots are simply beautiful!

Wudangshan is the Daoist Mountain where Mr. Han (the Kungfu Shifu) took him to reach the sacred water source.  The Daoists practicing  meditation or Kungfu scenes are Hollywood stage setups, but they are beautiful and at times, when traveling in China, you can find truly spiritual moments as such when visiting these sacred mountains.

One of my favorite Daoist Mountains to visit is called Weishan in Dali, Yunnan. It’s much smaller in scale, and very little visited as Daoism isn’t gaining many followers these years. But, the Daoist temples scattered on the mountain offer a peaceful respite from the noises of Chinese towns. One of my favorite things to do is to hike to the highest temple, and drink tea with the only resident Daoist, who grows all his own fresh produce at the temple. The tea costs RMB 1 (equivalent of 15 Cents) but tastes pure and sweet after a good hike getting there.

Now when it comes to logistics, I would NEVER recommend anyone to travel from Beijing, by train to Guilin, to climb Wudang Moutain though. So, please don’t follow Mr. Han on this route. Wudang Mountain is 800 miles south of Beijing, and Guilin (where the lovely Karst hills rise out of Li River) is another 800 miles further to the south.  It would be a ridiculous detour, but it works in a movie.

So, walk in knowing it’s Hollywood, and enjoy the stunning scenery.

Another reason for liking it is the reality of China that’s portrayed in the film. Mei Ying (the Karate Kid’s love interest) and her family provide a small window into the life of an upper middle class family in China. Usually, it’s a small family of 3 people, mom, dad and the only child. The well-off Chinese families are buying up luxury cars like Audi or BMW, the successful mom and dad are very well dressed. The pressure on the only child is intense, piano lessons and violin practices everyday. The movie hasn’t quite shown the intense pressure for testing into colleges but that would have distracted the spotlight on the Karate kid.

All in all, I find it entertaining, and absolutely worth watching for those considering visiting China.  WildChina offers a good family trip to China that incorporates Kungfu and some of the classic sites like the Great Wall and Forbidden City.

Lonely Planet China guide is good looking with mediocre content

I was very impressed by the beginning of the Lonely Planet China Guide book. “the Best of China” page offered a quick summary of the classic highlights of the country that one should never miss – The Forbidden City and the Great Wall of Beijing, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an, etc. The photos are beautiful. I also liked the section that introduced the writers, bringing a human face to advice they are dispensing.  Then the Rural China, Eat China, Hike China and Red China pages all offered some interesting sites, and are very helpful for those who want to venture off the Yangtze Cruise to experience the real China.

But, to me, it also demonstrated the lack of access due to language constraint. For example, the Hike China section is a bit limited. Having hiked most of the trails listed in that section, I beg to differ. For example, the Yubeng hike aka. Pilgramage trail to Mt. Kawagebo is among the most breathtaking and spiritual hike. WildChina team members first hiked in this area in the late 90s, and only now that trail is gaining some awareness among Chinese speakers. Not sure if the guide books’ outdated or the writer didn’t know about it. Either way, I think there could be a better guide on hiking ops in China.

Then I went straight for the section on lodging (called “Sleeping” in the guidebook) in Beijing. It is unfortunately written by a backpacker who is too well versed in adjectives such as “top notch”, “Elegance”, “gorgeous” “stunning”, “impressive”, “outstanding”, “splendid”, “enticing”.. I’ll save you the rest, but seriously, these words all appeared in 3 paragraph describing St. Regis, Grand Hyatt, and China World Hotel. You can basically randomly re-allocate these words, and the information you are getting won’t change a bit.

Obviously, the writer hasn’t stayed in any of these places.  I wish there is a bit more details like, The Made In China restaurant in the Grand Hyatt serves the best “Begger’s Chicken” and is one of the most interesting Chinese restaurants to dine in because of the open kitchen layout. You get to see the chefs tossing the greens in a wok alight with fire!  By the way, I think the Frommers Guide does a much better job with restaurants recommendations. Also, for families traveling with children, the China World Hotel Service Apartments offer the best option- with large rooms, ensuite kitchen, etc.

Also, among the top notch, I’d add the Opposite House for its zen like design and personal service. Not to mention the beautiful Aman at the Summer Palace. These are the more boutique hotels that really make Beijng an interesting destination to stay.

What got me most is the section on “Beijing for Children”. I have a feeling that the authors didn’t really travel to Beijing with kids. The hardest thing I found upon arriving in Beijing is how to kill the early morning hours due to jet lag. Two very important things for me: breakfast at 金湖茶餐厅 (GL Cafe Restaurant),and morning walks in Ritan Park. The Café is a 24hr Hong Kong style restaurant, very helpful at 4am when there is no other place to eat, and the kids are crying! They have branch locations next to the St. Regis and the China World. Hotel. And they have high chairs. Ritan Park is a major source of entertainment as it opens at 6am for the morning exercises- an entertaining place for the kids to watch others play badminton, or do taiqi. Maybe that’s me, but I need to have the jetlag bunch taken care off before I could think of ice skating in Beijing. A good source, follow @BeijingWithKids on twitter.

Where should you go in China if it’s your first and only trip?

I recommend a classic China itinerary:
Beijing -3 days, for imperial Chinese history
Xi’an – 1 days, for ancient Chinese history
Yunnan Province – 7 days, for colorful ethnic cultures and stunning scenery
Shanghai – 2 days, to experience the head-spinning modern China

Skip Hong Kong if you have limited time. You can always swing by on your next business trip.

Don’t do the Yangtze River Cruise unless it’s absolutely your thing. Too much time spent on board with hundreds of other western tourists, eating hotel food. Why come to China to do that?

Come back to my post to read about what to do if you have 3 days in Beijing and more

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Happy with WildChina Service

Received this review from a WildChina client:

As a general statement, let me just say that we were TOTALLY pleased with the services that WildChina provided us through the efforts of Jenny, Stuart and our driver (I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten his name). Should we have the need and opportunity, I would heartily recommend your business to other friends and travelers. In fact, we already had referred a couple folks to Jenny who were a part of a TaiChi group we joined in Beijing following our trip to the Guilin area. I would look forward to working with your people again if we should have the good fortune to be able to return to China in the future!
Sincerely,
Rik Flynn

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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?

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