Zhangjiajie

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Only a few flights a day arrive at Zhangjiajie. Especially from Chongqing there was only 1 flight in the whole week! So I took the train to the Avatar mountains( yep, from the movie with the blue guys-no, not the smurfs, the other ones). The train was about ten hours total with a change in Yichang, but really cheap! I stayed in this lovely little Inn, around the corner from the station where the staff spoke English and the beds were clean. (Both not a given in China).

When you stay in Zhangjiajie it is still about an hour bus drive (12 rmb) to the National forest park (张家界森林公园) and an hour and a half to the famous glass bridge(玻璃栈道)But it’s really worth it! The city itself is not really impressive, with a small center with a few bars. So don’t expect much from Zhangjiajie itself.

Stop…..Monkey time! The National forest park is truly a good place to find some monkeys. There are even signs saying to watch out for the monkey infested areas, not kidding. They are pretty cheecky and the Chinese tourists are not very smart in their interaction with them. They scream, chase, throw stuff at them and then are very surprised that they strike back. If you treat them with some respect it is wonderful to see them from this up, close and personal. Especially the mommies with the sweet babies are adorable.

A ticket is 249rmb and gives you entrance to the park for 4 days.  There is no 1 day ticket. When You arrive at the park, the walking trail is quite a few hours. So be prepared to walk a lot, with quite a few stairs as well.  I started at the south entrance and went right. I took the Bailong elevator up (70 rmb), and later the yangjiajie cable way down (again 70rmb!) . There are busses on some parts, which you can use for fee. If you want to see everything, it will take you about 2,5 to 3 days. Views are breath taking!

Half way there is a KFC on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Quite funny and basically the only place to get some food or coffee along the way, so don’t expect to order and get out of there within an hour…pretty busy.

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In China everything always has to be bigger and better…. Even within China they keep competing on building the highest tower, the biggest shopping center, or… in this case,  the largest glass bridge. This one is supposed to be the largest suspension bridge now (August 2017) and only opened in august 2016. They checked the strength with lorries driving across and hitting it with sledgehammers. Should be safe, but it still is the creepiest feeling to stand on glass and looking down into a valley . You get beautiful brown covers for your shoes and there you go!

Take the bus to wulingyuan entrance and there transfer onto the bus to the bridge. Pretty easy.  You can choose to do only the bridge or the bridge and the valley which I thought was very much worth it. Just make sure you don’t mind going down 6 billion stairs. Okay, I might have exaggerated a bit, but it felt like they never ended! They sell water along the way, but no food.

I didn’t have enough time to see Tianmen mountain, but people say it’s really worth a visit as well. Enjoy your stay and follow my blog if you’d like to stay updated about my travels and adventures in China!

 

Funny signs

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We all know that most Chinese don’t speak or write English very well. But when you put it on a billboard, a car, a store or streetsign, I would think you’d check the spelling first. …right? Wrong! I took all these pictures myself, so not extremes from the internet, but really things you can see on the street. Enjoy!

Those were just honest spelling mistakes. My favorite ones are the philosophical ones. No idea sometimes what they are trying to say…….

Or just very random signs. I’m not allowed to do what???

And the ones without mistakes, but just really funny! The water is 20 cm deep btw.

And one more… last but not least. Only allowed to be sold in China and completely not funny at all but shocking, this wallet I found in a small store in Beijing.20170202_114021

Getting a haircut

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 A nice example of life being quite different in China is as simple as going to the hairdresser. First of all you can recognize barbershops and hairdressers by the colored twirling lights outside their shops. Usually in the colors red, white and blue and often accompanied by loud trance music you would commonly hear in night clubs in the west.

After being brave enough to step into one of the many shops, the exciting part starts where you try to tell them what you want. I had brought some pictures of women with highlights and had my translating app ready. Not many people are blonde in China, so it was a pretty scary adventure. Will my hair turn out grey, yellow, green or blonde? I talked with my guy through wechat, which has a (not so well) translating button. Here an example of our conversation. Pretty clear right?

So you get a cup of hot water and there you go… just let it happen. One girl was standing nex to me to hold my hair (why not use clips?, nobody knows) and the guy started putting foils in my hair for the highlights. Looking around the shop, I saw all customers not with a magazine in hand, but watching movies or playing games on their mobile. Quite entertaining. The result of a three hour sit was awesome! I have been back to this salon a few times now and have the guy on my phonelist and wechat and I ask him if he is working that day before I go. (salon is called VPN, for the people living in China).

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The other way of getting a trim or a shave for men is on the street. Often just a chair, sometimes accompanied by a mirror, equals barbershop. They just get a (way cheaper!) haircut in the middle of a square with people around them playing Mahjong or cards. No music, no cup of hot water, no blasting music, just scissors, some shaving creme and razors is all you need…

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Wait…what’s your name?

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When most children go to school for the first time, they only have a Chinese name. Makes sense of course, we all just have one name. But, when they go to an international school or English training center, they often need an English name. You can pick literally any name and this is what the Chinese do, they choose any…. Often the first word that comes to mind or the only word they know in English, like Apple, Flower or Baby.

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But sometimes they put some more thought in it. I met a girl named Cactus once. She saw my facial expression I guess and started explaining that she looks hard and prickly from the outside, but is really soft inside. Ahhh, nice, but still weird.

Since my school is brand new, many parents asked me to help pick out a name. By now I must have already given about 40-50 kids an English name. It is the most fun job in the world. I started with getting the whole “Friends” cast complete. But after Joey, Rachel, and Monica I was scared they would find out…. Maybe I’ll continue in a different class, cause I still think it’s a hilarious idea. I also have a Bart and Maggy (Simpsons) and quite a few of my own friends back home have a “mini-me” in China.

They also like to give it a Chinese feel and call it an English name. Just put some consonants between the letter A. Yaya, Wawa, Lala and yes, even Kaka…. (apparently the last one is a regular name in Japan, but I couldn’t help smiling)

I have met children with these names: Comic, King, Tiger, (hold on, stop laughing, not finished yet)…Sea, Twinkle, Cuddle.  Many names are also wrongly spelled, like Eason (Ethan?), Evvan or Kimmi for example.

British Beau Jessup was 16 years old when she developed an app that helps Chinese parents to choose a proper name for their child. I think she deserves a medal this girl! Although…it does spoil the fun a bit.

I am open to suggestions on what to name the next boy or girl. Bring it on!

 

Shanghai Shopping Spree

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High on my to see list was Shanghai. What a magnificent view you’ve got from the Bund()! I must have stood there for hours. Too bad there were 10.000 other people in the same spot wanting to take the same picture at the same time… So yes, you need a bit of patience to get to the front of the fence and then you can take gorgeous pictures, prettiest at night. The Bund sightseeing tunnel is a total laugh and not worth your money unless you are three years old. It might be a blast at that age.

This city is a great place to go clubbing. Most clubs you have to pay an entrance fee, but sometimes it includes a drink. Drinks are overpriced in some of the “classy” places. Bars with views on the Bund are nice for one or two drinks, but after that you’re bound to be broke. If you want to experience China, avoid the “foreigner street”. They didn’t just come up with this name. The only Chinese were the policemen(not kidding!). Other than that foreigners all around, I could have been anywhere in the world.

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Shanghai is shopping heaven! Yuyuan Bazaar (豫园市场) is the best place to buy souvenirs You will not be the only tourist there, so be prepared for long lines to get food for example. Yu Garden connected to this market is beautiful and definitely worth the 30 rmb entrance fee.

Shopping street Nanjing lu() Is nice and has many hotels and hostels around. If your hotel is close by, you’re good to go almost anywhere on foot. The Bund is found at the end of this street. More shopping and strolling you can do at Xintiandi Lanes 新天. Nice place to get some (non-Chinese) food and a good beer. The French Concession is an amazing area with lovely boutique shops and little coffee shops. I also found a cat coffee shop, where you can cuddle the cats while enjoying your coffee. Huge hipster alert, but I loved it!

My guilty pleasure of this trip was Shanghai Disney! It just opened one month before I got there.  It gives you the same experience as in every Disney park, crowded, long lines, overpriced drinks and food, but soooo worth it! I especially loved the “soaring over the horizon”. There is a metro stop near the entrance and just make sure you arrive before the park opens, so you can hurry to the most popular attractions first to avoid waiting too long. One day is plenty to do all the rides and see some of the shows. Such a funny experience to see the “Frozen” show in Chinese. I couldn’t stop laughing at the girl next to me who was literally screaming the words to her favorite songs.  I also saw the pirates of the Caribbean show with Jieke (Jack Sparrow), but sadly missed the Tarzan show. A Chinese man with muscles? Can’t believe I didn’t see that!

I gave Shanghai 6 days, but that was way too long. You can see it in three days, including a Disneyday.

Things we consider strange…

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Today a blog about some things that people from outside China would consider strange. Here, these are perfectly normal things. I just took a few, because I can think of hunderds more!

  • People sleep anywhere, anytime. On the job, on the street, in a club, Seen it all!
  • When you ask for some water, you will get warm water. No, not tea, just warm water.
  • They don’t say “bless you” when someone sneezes. Or any Chinese equivalent.
  • Cutting the line is not considered rude.
  • You buy your fish, crabs, frogs etc very fresh and alive at the supermarket and by the time you reach the cash register they may have died…or not….
  • When a woman has her period she is not allowed to eat ice cream, drink cold water, have alcohol etc etc. Many restrictions, like you are not suffering enough!
  • Tampons are hard to find in China. Chinese women do not use them at all.
  • Drivers honk all the time. Danger! Hot girl! I’m passing! Hello! I’m here, did you see me? Even when the sign clearly says: No honking.
  • Eating every part of the animal. Including but not limited to: head, brains, liver, lungs, heart, claw, etc.
  • The doctors first advise, whatever problem you may have from stomach ache to broken arm to sight problems is: Drink hot water.
  • All employees get a speech in the morning where they stand in line and listen to the boss. You see this everywhere.
  • After washing dishes, they put it in a machine to kill the germs. Washing is not considered clean.
  • Nobody owns a clothes dryer. All is hung on the balcony, which gives the neigboorhood color.
  • No dishwashers, although the rich are getting one these days, it’s not common at all.
  • Squad toilets everywhere. They are healthier apparently because of your squatting position and you don’t have to sit on a seat that is full of germs. I get it, but man, how uncomfortable! I got a western style toilet installed on top of the hole in my apartment.
  • The whole bathroom is wet when you shower, since there is no shower curtain usually. Water drains in the hole/toilet. So showering while shitting is an option for those who want to give it a try. 😉

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  • Almost all men smoke, women hardly ever smoke (until a few years ago it was considered for lowlife ladies, nowadys it’s accepted)
  • Racism / stereotypes is okay. They will say you’re fat without blinking. Or say you are ugly because you’re “black”. This is not a problem here and not considered very rude. 
  • Friendships seems to be more networking and using each other. They don’t really hang out for fun usually. This they do with their parents and grandparents
  • You never get one plate of food for yourself, always sharing style which I love!

Flying your Pet to China

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OMG what a hassle, but yes, it is possible! I am extremely happy that I took the trouble to get my precious Saartje to China. But….it is quite some work and preparation.

So when I left for China, I had to say goodbye to my cat and leave her with my mom. Man, that hurt, but I had to pursue my dream. After a few months my mom had to tell me that Sarah was not getting along with her other cats and that it was best to find a new home… I decided to bring her over to come live with me even though I heard all the horror stories of cats being eaten and hated, but I had to try.

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The flight was a total of 17 hours, with a delay of 5 hours. So from door to door it took us 25 hours to get here. It was a hell, but once again, worth it…. First of all, it is nice to have contact with a vet in the city you want to bring your pet to.  Tell them when you are flying and that you might need help at customs.

Needed:

1)      ATA approved and flexible cage, that fits under the seat in front of you, or when travelling as cargo, also IATA approved.

2)      Rabies free certificate. Meaning that 3 months in advance you need to do the test in your home country and get proof.

3)      Maximum of three days before you fly, you need a medical examination from your vet.

4)      Pet passport

5)      Microchip with certificate with the number

6)      Ticket for your pet. (mine was 75 euros for her, 500 for me to China)

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Make sure:

1)      You have water and some food for your pet to give during waiting or transit time.

2)      You don’t feed them just before you leave. You would be embarrassed and have a horrible smell for the duration of the flight if they use the cage to pee or poop.

3)      You book the ticket for your buddy, since they will try to get you more space or a seat a bit separated if possible. Also, there are only a certain amount of pets allowed per flight.

4)      To be prepared that everybody wants to look inside the cage and can scare the crap out of your pet. Also very mean and annoying people who think it’s ridiculous you bring your cat… (person next to me on the flight was allergic, she got another seat and me, extra room, mwoohaha!)

5)      You don’t drug your pet. They need to be fully conscious to regulate the pressure in their ears. If not they can get health problems with blood pressure etc.  Feromones in the cage can help. It’s a natural way to calm them down.

6)      To try to relax yourself. Animals are very sensitive to your own feelings. When I was sleeping during the flight she didn’t give a peep and I guess slept herself. There is nothing you can change or do at this moment, so just go with it and hope for the best!

7)      You know about quarantine in the city you go to. In Chongqing there is no quarantine, but I heard Shanghai and Beijing are different stories…

Good luck bringing your best friend over to China. For me it was the best decision ever. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions if you have the same plans.

Public transport 1

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Taxi

If you are not scared to die you can take a taxi in China.  Just kidding, but they drive like lunatics usually. It is very cheap though, compared to most other countries. Usually in the big cities they start with 10-13 kuai and then you pay a little per km after that. Suburbs will start from 5 rmb. E.g. If I take a cab from the airport to my house, which is a 70 minute drive, it costs me about 150 kwai. In The Netherlands they will drive you about 10 minutes for that amount.

A taxi is available when you see a red light in the window. But still, when a driver stops and asks you where to go, he will not always take you. This is nothing personal, but just not the direction he was planning to go. Or too close by, which doesn’t make him enough money. We once rented a taxi for the whole day to go to a tourist attration. He was so happy to have foreigners in his car that he wanted a picture, which he is probably showing to all his passengers. Bless.

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Once you get in and have agreed on where to go, he will switch on the meter. You can hear the sound and a white ticket will come rolling out. 9 out of ten times you get treated fairly and just pay what the meter says. Sometimes they try to squeeze out more, but don’t bellieve any of that. There are no additional charges for luggage etc.

So how do you tell them where to go? Well, little chance that they speak English. So unless you speak their language, you should be well prepared. The address in Chinese characters, or the location on (the Chinese version of ) google maps will do. Some taxis don’t go all over the city, so they will drop you off at another taxistand where you can continue your journey. Only happened a few times to me, but don’t be surprised if it does occur.

Different kinds of taxis are the tricycles, mopeds or bicycle rikshas. They are okay for short distances, but haven’t got a meter. Chances are high you will pay way more than needed.

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Metro

The metro has many different names, in English as well as Chinese, but most common are Lightrail, Metro or MTR (ditie in pinyin).

They usually come every 3 minutes and are very often quite busy. Avoid traveling during national Hoildays, because then the crowds are INSANE! Stops are written in characters and pinyin. The stations are also announced in both Chinese and English. They even tell you which side the doors will open. It doesn’t get any easier than that right?

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You have to put your bag through a scanner and there is always lots of security present. If you have a bottle of water or any other drinks, you should keep those in your hands(not in the bag) and give it to one of the security people. They will scan it and give it back to you. When that machine is broken, they ask you to drink a sip and if you survive that, you can be on your way.

If you stay for a week or longer in one city it might be a good idea to buy a travel card on which you can put money. This way you don’t have to buy separate tickets every time and it gives you a discount.  The card costs 20kuai. Travelling by metro is very cheap and convenient.  For most big cities I have added a metro map in pinyin under the “What to do in…..” button.Transit stations are usually very busy, so if you have to get off, make sure you are close to the door. You could be walking up to ten minutes to reach the other line, that is how extremely big these metro networks are.

Next time more about busses, trains and planes.

Good luck travelling and try not to get frustrated!

Chongqing Urban

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In a previous post I told you about the best places to see in the City of Chongqing. This time I’ll start again in the centre, but also write about the counties and more urban areas worth a visit.

Red wine, green tea or a milkbath? These are options at the hotspring in Shapingba, next to the Radisson hotel. Bishan also has a pretty one which is more natural than the previous mentioned, but there are many more good ones. Best time to go is in winter with average water temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius.

Chongqing has to big rivers that meet in the heart of the city. The Yangze (brown) and Jialing (green) river. Two rivers meeting point in Chaotianmen (朝天门) is a nice place to go for some pictures or an hour river cruise at night. The walk from jiefangbei to this point is wonderful with lots of shops, foodstands and little alleys.

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Eling viewing pagoda. Line 1, city centre. Entrance of the park is a little difficult to find(exit turn right, 5/10 minute walk, entrance on your left side), but once you find it, it will definitely be worth your while. The pictures you can take on a clear day are gorgeous! Yes, I did take this picture myself, with a phone camera.

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Garden expo park (20 rmb), lightrail stop line 3 with the same name. It can be a bit of a walk, but if you prefer a golfcart, that’s also possible for a small fee. It will give you the chance to hop on twice. There is also a boat taxi available, which is a nice little trip. (10 rmb) Don’t waste your time on the “international ” gardens, they are poorly maintained and not half as pretty as the Asian gardens.

Dazu (大足石刻) 1,5-2 hours drive from the city center. Rockcarvings on the list of UNESCO world heritage list. Breathtakingly beautiful!120 rmb) Don’t try the public transport unless you are fluent in Mandarin. I got a taxi for the day for 400 rmb (quite cheap, not strange if they ask more), he drove there, waited for us and drove back.

Wulong, a 4 hour drive (yes, you are still in Chongqing). It has a few famous touristy spots like the caves, fairy mountain and  three natural bridges geopark. Once you’re there, don’t miss out on the Impression of Wulong show! (240rmb) I will do a separate blog on Wulong sometime soon.

Fengdu ghost town (see my post about this place). Best to visit with a guide or someone who speaks Chinese.

Liangjiang international movie city, where you can dress up as an communist soldier and even take a picture with the one and only Mao Zhedong;) . It is about a 1,5 to 2 hour drive from the city centre and funny to see if you have enough time. I especially enjoyed the cat café…. The park has only recently opened (2017) and public transport is not convenient yet.

Changshou is a wonderful lake and a good daytrip activity. In spring and early summer, they have little windmills out which make for beautiful pictures. (So, look closely, they’re not flowers!) You can get there by train and vans are waiting at the station to take you to the lake for only 5 kuai. I bought a package deal on the spot with boat trip, cart transfer between scenic spots and entrane to the park for 110 kuai.

Still haven’t covered everything to see and do in Chongqing, but I hope you made a fun to-do list after reading my blogs. Again let me know if you have any questions on how to get to any of these places or anything else. I would be glad to answer!

Chinese Childhood

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What’s life like as a child in China? I’m not talking about the poor children on the countryside who have to work in factories instead of going to school. I don’t know anything about that, other than that it exists. This blog is about the more fortunate children living in the city, who are comparitively wealthy.

Kids/babies are taken anywhere, any time. They either get transported in high tech, state-of-the-art strollers or quite the opposite. Meaning in bamboo or plastic strollers, wrapped in blankets, tied to mommy’s body or put in a basket on the grandparent’s back.

Grandparents play a big role in a child’s life in China. Usually both parents work fulltime, so the grandparents, who often live with or very close by them are watching over the child. Never an excuse to skip a meeting or take a sick day when your kid is ill. The babysitter is always available!

Homework is a big thing in China, starting from a very young age. Every day after school they go to piano class, extra English class, art class or whatever. Rarely they just go home after school to play with friends. When they get home, they first do their homework, then eat, and then to bed. There is hardly any play for these kids after the age of 5.

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Obviously I need to mention the one child policy in this topic. It was the case till about two years ago, so a whole generation had no brothers or sisters, which resulted in a next generation without uncles or aunties. It makes it quite strange when you teach them about family by the way. But nowadays, parents can have two children and they usually call friends of the family their brother or sister or uncles etc. Very confusing. Prefering boys over girls is also not very common any more in the cities. They are equally welcome in most families.

Money is spend mostly on the children. They are the most important… You could see it as an investment, since the more you spend or your child, the better his/her life is. And the better their lives, the better they can take care of you when you are old. Win-win situation, I’d say! Time on the other hand is rarely spend on the child. Both parents work full-time usually. Sometimes even in a different town or city so they will only see their children in the weekends. But… when there is an activity at school, you will always have one or up to three family members to support the kid, which is wonderful ofcourse.

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Fun facts about being a child in China:

  • From 3 years old, they go to school from 8.30 till 5pm. Little ones sleep at noon in the classrooms.
  • Babies and toddlers often wear pants that are split in the back. No diapers, just let it go, let it go…..
  • The schoolbus has flashing lights like an ambulance since children are the most precious things on earth. Watch out…schoolbus coming!
  • Breastfeeding happens anywhere, in the bus, restaurant or just on the street.
  • Baby milk powder is expensive.
  • They raise the Chinese flag once a week.
  • Malls are a fun place for kids. They can play in jungle gyms, or ballpits for free! Other activities like fishing for real fish out of a little pool, playing with robots, etc costs a little.