Revisit Jackson Hole in China

During my trip to China this summer in July, I had the opportunity to re-visit the Jackson Hole resort  community, located 2 hours north of Beijing in Hebei Province.

I got to Beijing on a train on a Friday afternoon. After a brief rest at a friend’s apartment and almost two hours of driving, we arrived at their weekend vacation home in Jackson Hole. We spent the weekend there and left on Sunday afternoon.

Jackson Hole is a guarded community. It is an ideal weekend getaway destination for the rich in Beijing. During winter months and weekdays, it’s like a ghost town, but on the weekends, there is more life.

Many families have vegetable gardens, flower gardens, and trees in their back yard. Spring water flows everywhere. Walking around and looking at the different houses and landscapes was an enjoyable experience.

It had been three years since my last and first visit in 2010, Jackson Hole Beijing Villas looked more beautiful now, as gardens and trees have been established and matured. It felt like heaven on earth, just beautiful.

Since my previous post about Jackson Hole in China three years ago, I have received a few email inquiries from people in the United States who were interested in visiting this unique place in China. Unfortunately, this is a gated community, open only to the residents. I am happy to share some photos here.

I posted more photos on my Facebook page.

Here is a CNN article and video about Jackson Hole in China – Living the American dream in Jackson Hole, China

Lingshan Grand Buddha

Among the five largest world religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism, Buddhism is the largest organized religion in China.

Buddhism has a big influence on Chinese culture. This is also reflected in the travel and tourism business. Buddhist temples and Buddha statues are big tourist attractions in China.

We visited a couple of them in China during our recent trip.

On June 3, we visited the Lingshan Buddhist Scenic Spot, located in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province.

Among several well designed scenic spots are Lingshan Grand Buddha and Lingshan Buddhist Palace. The Lingshan Grand Buddha, 88 meters high and weighs over 700 tons,  is the world’s tallest copper standing statue of Buhhda. It is one of the world’s largest Buddha statues.

The Grand Buhhda is the symbol of Lingshan Buddhist Scenic Spot. Its size is really impressive. Standing next to it, I felt so so very small. 

  

   

My kids resting in front of the Grand Buhhda 

We are small comparing to the Grand Buhhda. We were touching Buddha’s toe nails.

Walking down the memory lane

On Thursday, July 1, 2010, I visited my childhood residence with my Dad and kids in Suzhou. 

What I remembered was quite different from what I saw. Here are a few pictures.

We lived on this street. It was much longer in my memory. I guess everything looked bigger back then since I was young and small.

From 1970 to 1980 we lived inside this house. During the visit we met this lady whom we didn’t know. She said she has lived there for 30 years. Some of our old neighbors are still living there.

Behind me is the back door of our old residence. On top where the red bricks are is the balcony where we had clothlines to air dry everything.

  

This street along the river took us to Grandparents’ house. The street was narrower and without rails back then. I was always afraid that I would fall into the water. So I tried to walk very closely to the wall. The trees and plants make the area look better. There used to be houses on both sides.

The old main street in downtown is now a pedestrian street.

More photos are available on Facebook.

Cultural shock

When I came to the US in 1991 after spending 22 years in China and 5 years in Germany, I had this one word to describe my first impression: "big."

Everything looked big to me: big milk/juice containers, big stores, big houses, big people, etc. I had never seen milk/juice in a gallon container. I had never seen so many obese people.

This time when I went back to China, I experienced a similar cultural shock, even though it was only five years from my last trip to China.

The word that keeps coming to me during my seven week stay in China was: "over."

So much is over-priced, over-packaged, over-consumed. It’s over and super(ficial) to the extreme.

Gifts are extremely over packaged to make them look big, nice and expensive. A few ounces of tea leaves could be packaged in layers and layers and end up weighing several pounds. Often times the packaging looks more costly than the contents in the packages.

I could care less if someone carries a $1 bag or a $2000 bag, or if someone wears a $10 watch or one that costs a Mercedes Benz. But in China nowadays, plenty of people do care about what they use and have. Expensive brand name products are in high demand. They spend big money on consumer products and housing.

The way how some people consume and spend is beyond my understanding. It’s just crazy in my mind.

Public transportation in China

If you think the United States is still the #1 in the world, you need to wake up a little bit. At least in some areas, US has been left behind by other countries.

During my recent visit to China, I traveled by car, bus, taxi, subway, train and airplane. I felt that public transportation and multi-mode transportation in China are far more advanced than in the US.

Beijing used to be the only city in China that had subways. Now many cities have or are building subway systems including my hometown Suzhou.

Getting around in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai by bus and subways is convenient and often faster than by cars due to congestion.

To travel long distance from city to city, you can take bus, train or plane. The slow trains I knew in college years are being replaced by high speed rail in China. China has the world’s longest high-speed rail (HSR) network.

In the 1980’s, when I visited my parents’ home during summer and winter breaks by train that ran from Beijing to Shanghai, the train ride took over 20 hours. It was very crowded and always packed to full capacity, with no room to move around. Many passengers had no seats and had to stand.

Now the whole train ride from Beijing to Shanghai takes less than 10 hours. When the new high speed rail that’s under construction is completed, it will take probably 6-7 hours only.

When I traveled from Xian to Mount Hua, I took the high speed rail train that can reach top speed of 350 km/h (220 mph). Everyone has seat. It was very clean and nice. It took only 45 minutes to get to the destination. It could have taken a few hours by car.

The US definitely needs to upgrade its infrastructure to keep up with the world.

No more big crowd waiting for the high speed rail train. It stops for only one minute at the Xian Railway Station. Every passenger needs a ticket with assigned seat to get on. 

 

 

The train is dusted and cleaned during its short stop.

 

It’s comfy inside the high speed rail train.

Freeways in China, free, but not free

In urban areas in China, roads are very congested. Especially in the old areas of cities, where the roads are narrow and were not built to handle the car traffic that didn’t exist years ago.

But in the newly developed areas of cities like in Suzhou and Wuxi, roads are much wider with multiple lanes, I didn’t see any congestion.

In my experience, freeways or highways in China are really free in the sense of traffic flow. However, they are not free in the financial sense. Actually driving on highways is very costly.

The 90-minute driving from my parents’ home in Suzhou to the Shanghai Pudong International Airport costs 180 RMB (ca. $26) in toll charge. It is more than two days of income for an average worker in China.

I think the hefty tolls on freeways is the biggest reason why freeways in China are not as congested as in the US.

I took the following photos because of the impressive bridges. They also show the free traffic on freeways.

On my way from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to my parents’ home in Suzhou. No vehicles in front of us at 1 pm, Saturday, May 29, 2010.

On my way from Suzhou to Ningbo, 3 pm, Friday, June 4, 2010.          The Hangzhou Bay Bridge, at 35.673 km (22 mi) in length, is the longest trans-oceanic bridge in the world.

On my way from Ningbo to Putuoshan (Mount Putuo), 4 pm, Saturday, June 5, 2010. I passes several bridges because Putuoshan is one of the 1000 islands of the Zhoushan Archipelago in the East China Sea. Newly constructed bridges are connecting the islands.

Getting through US Customs

Yesterday when I went through the US Customs upon my reentry to the US, I was asked to go for baggage inspection. I wasn’t surprised.

As soon as I handed in my passport and the agent verified it in the computer, my passport was handed over to another agent standing by the window who then told me: "After you get the luggage, follow the blue line for inspection."

I knew I was on the blacklist for a reason.

Five years ago when I returned from my last trip to China, I had two small bags of snack made from beef and wrapped in candy paper in my suitcase that my mother bought for kids. I didn’t think it as a meat product and is prohibited and didn’t declare it.

After I got my baggage I was done and could leave. But I was waiting for someone to go through the customs who didn’t know English and might need some help.

I waited and waited near the inspection area. I probably became suspicious and was called by an inspector to go over and open my suitcases.

I was fined for failing to declare the meat product and had to pay $100 for the mistake.

It was during the Chinese Moon Festival season. I saw boxes and boxes of Chinese Moon cakes in and outside of the trash canes. These were nice and expensive products, but they are prohibited because they contain eggs.

I learned a lesson.

This time I knew better. I didn’t bring fresh fruits and vegetables, plant and meat products, eggs, seeds and soil. They are restricted because they may carry animal and plant pests and diseases.

On the customs form I wrote down all food related items I have in details: candies, cookies, crackers, dried fruits, dried shrimps and processed fish.

Most of my suitcases were opened for inspection. Everything passed.

I asked the inspector whether I will be inspected ever time I go through the customs. She said: "You will be fine if you keep doing what you are doing."

To prevent any trouble I had experienced, don’t bring anything that is not allowed and declare food if you have it and write down what you have.

Here is the listing of Prohibited and Restricted Items from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
 

Meeting friend in Humble Administrator’s Garden

 

Last Saturday I met with a high school classmate and we visited the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng Yuan) together with our kids.

Ying and I were in the same class during our last year in high school. We both went to universities in Beijing. I majored in German and she majored in English. We both have lived in the US for almost 20 years. I live in Minnesota and she lives in California. We haven’t seen each other for over 20 years until now. We happen to be back in our hometown at the same time for a vacation.

We could recognize each other instantly. Not too much has changed with us. She said she could recognize me from the distance from the way I walk. I must have a unique way of walking. I don’t know.

Zhuozheng Yuan is one of the four most famous gardens in Suzhou. It is full of toursits. Right now the water lilies are in bloom. They are beautiful.

 

  More photos are posted on my Facebook page.

Visiting Tongli

My brother has the day off today. He took us to Tongli, a little town about half an hour of driving from my parents’ home in Suzhou.

Tongli was left behind during the modernization after the Chinese Cultural Revolution when old houses were torn down and new ones were built. As the.result, Yongli was preserved as it was hundreds of years ago. Now it has become a well known tourist attraction in China.

I was really surprised to see such an old town. The sceneries with narrow rivers, small bridges, gardens and old houses reminded me of the old days.

In Tongli we met a mini carving artist. He can carve really tiny words on stones with only a needle sharp knife. He doesn’t even use a magnifier to do it while you do need a magnifier to read it. He said: “I carve using my touching and feeling senses.”

I was amazed by his skills. I asked him to carve the Lord’s Prayer and a cross on a stone that is the size of my thumb. On the other side is my name in Chinese and English along with today’s date and location, see the photos above.

We spent more than five hours in Tongli. It’s a place worth a day trip.

Additional website about traveling in Suzhou and Tongli:

http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/jiangsu/suzhou/tongli_town.htm

Jackson Hole in China

I had never heard about Jackson Hole in Wyoming, United States, at least it’s not a familiar name for me, until a few days ago when I visited Jackson Hole in China.

A friend of my husband, both he and his wife are doctors in Beijing, invited my family to spend two days with them in their vacation house in Jackson Hole Beijing Villas. It is a resort community near the Great Wall, outside of Beijing. It takes about two hours to drive from their apartment in Beijing to their vacation home. 

Jackson Hole Beijing Villas are modeled after the Jackson Hole in the United States. There are about 800 houses, very unique inside and outside. They have nice views and surrounding environment. 

During the two days, we climbed a mountain in their backyard. On the top of the mountain there are carved ruins where people used to live.

Jackson Hole provides the impression of the American west. The guards are all dressed like cowboys. There are horses for riding for the residents. My kids and I did horseback riding, my first experience.

Our friend and his wife are really proud of their vacation home. “You can’t get this kind of fresh air and mountain view in Beijing. It’s so nice to be able to get away from the noisy city life and come here to enjoy the quiet country life.” 

The prices for the houses have more than tripled since 2005. As word gets around and residents introduce their friends to the resort community, demand has skyrocketed. Now there are higher demand than supply, so interested buyers have to be on the waiting list.

I posted some photos on my Facebook.

Public restrooms in China

Today I heard a story from a friend in Xi’an about former President Clinton visiting Xi’an a few years ago. He brought two portable toilets from the US on his trip.

This was the first time I heard about such a thing. But considering the situation with the public restrooms in China, it was not surprising for me.

I think for all the foreign visitors to China, using the public restrooms could be one of the most challenging things to overcome during their whole visit in China. 

Public restrooms in China used to be dirty, smelly and disgusting, some still are, even though it’s getting better now.

A lot of the buildings for public restrooms look very nice and artistic from the outside, but the condition inside still needs to be improved. 

For foreign visitors, it could be a very unpleasant experience the first time they use a public toilet in China.  

Most public toilets are squat toilets.

In 2005 when my daughter visited China, she asked me: "Mom, did someone stole the toilet?" She didn’t find the toilet seat, only saw a whole in the ground.

On the first few days during this trip, my daughter said: "It smells bad." Now she is used to it.

There is no toilet paper in most public restrooms, so people should  be prepared to bring their own paper when they are on the road. There used to be someone in public restrooms selling papers. Now I don’t see people selling papers in public restrooms anymore.   

There are a lot of KFC and McDonald’s in China. They do provide toilet papers in their restrooms, like most restaurants. 

Airports and hotel rooms all have nice and clean seated toilets and papers.    

I just want to share this information with you in case you visit China some day, so you have been warned and can be mentally prepared for a surprising experience.

I hope in a few years this wouldn’t be a problem any more.

But for now, it is a problem, unless you have the status and power of the president who can bring his own toilet whereever he goes.

Now I am just wondering what other presidents, kings and queens do when they visit China. Do they bring their own things as well?  

 

Climbing Mount Hua

Hua Shan (Mount Hua) is located 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province. Today I went from Xi’an to Hua Shan on a high speed train that can reach 350 km an hour. It was a 40 minute smooth ride, my first ride on a high speed train.

Unlike a regular train that is usually very crowded, a high speed train has seats for every passenger.    

Hua Shan is considered one of the most dangerous mountains for climbing in China. If you google it, you can find a lot of interesting pictures.

I went up to the North Peak, the lowest of five peaks with an elevation of 1615 meters. I got from bottom to the North Peak in about an hour. It was a short cut.

First I took a bus that went zigzag up the mountain and brought tourists to the cable car station. Then the cable car took me much higher to the mountain. Finally I had to walk on very narrow steps to the North Peak.

Climbing Hua Shan requires a strong will and a lot of courage. I didn’t have the time to climb the other peaks today, even if I had enough courage. Maybe next time when I visit Xi’an again.

Today’s round trip from Xi’an to Hua Shan and back to Xi’an took only about seven hours. People say you need three days to really climb all the peaks in Hua Shan.  

Visiting Terra-cotta Museum

On my second day in Xi’an, I visited the Terra-cotta Army (also called Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses), located on the east side of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang, the first emperor in Chinese history. It is descripted as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Three pits are open for public viewing. I was told that they represent only one of the 600th percent of what has yet to be excavated and restored at the Mausoleum of the Emperor Qin Shihuang.  

At this Museum, I saw the most foreign tourists during my trip so far. I also saw pictures of Clintons, Queen Elizabeth II, Putin, and other foreign presidents, kings and statesmen visiting the Museum. It’s a popular tourist attraction in China. 

The local farmer who discovered the site while drilling wells in search of water on March 29, 1974,  was present to sign books in the gift shop at the Museum.

Later I also visited the Huaqin Hot Springs where the emperors and emperesses bathed and Tang Paradise to watch a Tang Dynasty music and dance show. 

The photos from Xian are on the following Facebook pages.

Travel updates

Sorry I haven’t posted for a few days. I have been busy traveling. I am usually too tired to write at night. In addition, I don’t like to use the small laptop computer.

Since June 1, I have visited Maanshan, Nanjing, Wuxi, Ningbo, Putuo, and Hangzhou. Today I arrived in Xi’an. I was so happy to find in the hotel room a big screen TV that also serves as a computer with Internet connection.

Xi’an is an ancient capital city in China. The old part of the city is surrounded by a wall on all sides, with four gates in each direction. The wall is 14 kilometers long and very wide, probably 3-4 bus lane wide. It took us 1 1/2 hours to finish bike riding one round. My kids had a really fun time biking on the two-person bike.    

I have taken a lot of pictures. I will share them when I get back home and have time to post them.

 

Bargaining

My daughter asked for a pair of flip flops before our trip. I told her to wait and buy a pair in China. You get more choices for a less price.

Today I took her to the street market near my parents’ home to buy flip flops. At the second shoe stand, she found one pair she wanted. I paid 20 Yuan for it, about $3. The owner said: “No discount, they are very popular.”

Then two stands down the street, we saw the exact same pair for 15 Yuan. My mom reminded me that I needed to do more comparison shopping and hard bargaining before buying anything on the market.   

My kids do not speak the local dialect. Merchants can easily tell and play hard with you.

A few comparisons

Traveling offers the opportunity to broaden one’s viewpoint and to see things from a different perspective, to make some conparisons. Here are a few observations I gained from my China trip on the first couple of days. 

My first part of the flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo was with Delta Airlines (DA) and the second part of the flight from Tokyo to Shanghai was with Japan Airlines (JA).  

Everything from service to food, JA was better than DA. The DA flight attendents were middle aged or above and not so warm and friendly, while all JA flight attendents were very young and more friendly. When the customers unboard the plane, the DA flight attendents were not even at the door to say thank-you and good-bye. I was surprised by their unprofessionalism and poor customer services.

Overweight people are everywhere in the US, but in Japan and China, I haven’t seen a single one yet. I have to blame this on the SAD (Standard American Diet), I can’t think of anything else.

The continental breakfast in the US hotels are mostly very sweet stuff, donuts, muffins, cereals, etc. In Japan and China, most breakfast items are not sweet.

When we had the continental breakfast in the hotel near Narita Airport (provided complimentary by DA for messing up the flight schedule and causing most customers missing their connections) , my daughter said it was the best breakfast she had, even thought it was just so so comparing to some nice hotels I know in China. But eating the Asian style breakfast did make me feel more at home. It was good.