Tag Archives: Travel

Dangerous Made-In-China Products

I’ve been trying to keep track of the China news in the U.S. while in China. Most of what I have read has been in the NYT and consisted of FDA warnings about food, toothpaste, dangerous toys, etc.

A blog titled, “Who Sucks,” put together a comprehensive list of all of the 2007 dangerous made-in-China products. Click here.

Recently dangerous items from the list include shoddy hammocks, lead jewelry, collapsing recliners, and shattering glassware.

Terracotta Warriors

We saw the Terra-cotta Warriors today. They were discovered in 1974 (I think) by a farmer who was digging a well. He first found a terra-cotta piece, then an entire head and more pieces. When showing his pieces to the village elders, they told him to keep it quiet so as not to upset the spirits. The farmer was brave and did show the pieces to the public. And what came of it?

He got 20 RMB, which amounts to about three U.S. dollars, 8,000 more terra-cotta warriors were unearthed, and his farm became a massive tourist destination.

I’ve been told that the farmer makes a good living signing autographs now, though the entire farmer story could be a tour guide ruse.

We also visited a tourist trap Terra-cotta Warriors factory and some Hot Springs used by an Emperor and his famous concubine.

Click here for pictures or click on the thumbnails to the right.

Xi’an Info From Our Bus Ride

After getting off the overnight train, we were greeted with a nice long walk on muddy pavement to the bus that would take us to the hotel. On the bus, Mary (a tour guide in training) gave us a rundown on what Xi’an is all about. Here’s was I can remember:

Translated, Xi’an means “West Peace.” It is known as the place in China that you go to study 3000 years of Chinese history, as it was once the capital city before Beijing. Beijing is where you go to study 1000 years of history, and Shanghai 400 years of history.

There are mountains on three sides of Xi’an, so it is often foggy here. This was both misleading and disappointing when we got off the train. After spending a week in Beijing, which seems to be the pollution capital of the world, I was looking forward to clear skies. Not yet, I guess. Maybe tomorrow. Xi’an is located in the center of China and is considered a very strategic location – or at least it was when people fought on horses.

The original city is surrounded by a large wall. Long ago, a drum would sound upon the opening and closing of the city’s walls to alert the warriors and other dwellers that they better get back or risk being stuck outside the wall all night. (Our hotel is outside the wall… hmmm.) Also, buildings inside the wall must be shorter than it so that you can see the clock-tower at all times. (I haven’t been over there yet, so don’t have a good idea of why this matters.)

Xi’an is known for its mix of traditional and modern ways – E.g. – inside the wall versus outside the wall. The people are very emotional, laid back, and enjoy their city. Mary also said they can be lazy, and cited their dining habits as evidence. Supposedly, if they’re feeling especially lazy, they’ll just put chili sauce on bread and eat it. (Sounds good to me.)

Xi’an is known for it’s dumplings and some kind of soup I didn’t catch the name of. The bordering provinces specialize, respectively, in spicy food and sour food. So, the Xi’an cuisine is spicy and sour. Believe it or not, rice isn’t terribly popular here. They’re in the “Wheat Belt,” and grow wheat from October to June; corn from June to October.

Mary claimed several firsts for Xi’an such as color TV, airplanes, and satellites. I’m a bit skeptical on this information, and assume she means Chinese firsts and not world firsts. I could be mistaken.

There is a large Muslim population here.

Squatting is popular. This was random. Overall, squatting seems more popular in China than in America. It’s somewhat awkward because when you see people squatting you can’t help but think of the toilets here, which require you to perform a difficult squat-n-hover maneuver (that I have yet to try). The origin of the squatting goes back to the soldiers. It was unsafe for them to remove their armor while on duty, so they would often squat to rest.

So, without really going outside that is what I’ve learned about Xi’an. More to come.

Finding Mexican Food and Harry Potter in Beijing

We found the sixth Harry Potter book at an international bookstore and ate Mexican food today.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the sixth book in the seven book series. I bought it in NH, but left in there. Doh! Thankfully, they had several copies here. And they will have the seventh book at the same time it comes out in the U.S., so we should have some reading on the way home too.

The Mexican food was similar to what you would find in America, and by that I mean the chips were triangular and the enchiladas were filled with chicken and cheese. But, it all tasted a little different… something we’ve come to expect with all food “over here.” Burgers have an interesting twang that makes you question the quality of the beef, donuts are harder and more fry-bread tasting, and just about everything else is a mystery.

The mystery is why we crave something familiar. Even if ordering something familiar like pizza isn’t any easier than ordering Chinese food, eating it is. You don’t sit there and wonder if you’re eating pork or duck, only later to discover it’s beef.

China Articles

American headlines I’ve read while in China. Sorry, no links. Don’t have time right now:

“In Food Safety Crackdown, China Closes 180 Plants” (NYT) – Hmmm… shall I stick to my peanut butter sandwiches? Really, we’ve been eating them everyday for lunch. It’s far easier than trying to order food.

“Text Messages Giving Voice to Chinese” (Wash Post) – It’s quite clear from my Intro to Chinese Law class that if the NPC doesn’t like something, it gets squashed. I guess text messages are a little tougher to suppress.

“Wider Sale is Seen for Toothpaste Tainted in China” (NYT) – I’ve been using my hotel supplied toothpaste morning, noon, and night (sometimes). I hope my teeth don’t fall out.

“U.S. Family Tries Living Without China” (Reuters) – The family says it’s not because they don’t like China. That sounds like BS.

“F.D.A. Issues Alert on Chinese Seafood” (NYT) – I ate a lot of shrimp, some fish, and stuff I can’t even name the other night. I wonder if the F.D.A. would like me to bring some samples home.

“Why Marathoners Won’t Break Records in Beijing” (blog.foreignpolicy.com) – It is truly filthy here. Smog hovers, like I’ve said. The articles says the levels are two to three times what is “healthy.” You don’t see anyone working out outside here. It’s weird.

The Silk Market

First thing I’ve done in Beijing worth noting.

The Silk Market is a six floor building filled with authentic knock-off jeans, shirts, shoes, pearls, watches, statues, golf clubs, etc. etc. etc. They have anything you want, and it’s as cheap as you can bargain for.

The clerks will literally grab your arm and pull you into their booth. Some people don’t like it, although I found it entertaining and only mildly invasive. The workers also speak very good English, so communicating is easy. Bargaining is done by typing prices into a calculator and finding a middle point.

I bought a pair of white Gucci loafers. They look good, fit well, and are really really white. Dirty Haidain, Beijing will be a great place to break them in.

First Impression of Beijing

I’m in the Haidian District of Beijing, China, which (I guess) everyone likens to Silicon Valley. It’s in the northwest corner of the city. On my walk to the Tsinghua Univeristy where we will be taking our law classes we pass Microsoft and Google, however these are the only indications of this being the tech center of Beijing.

The biggest culture shock so far is how filthy and smoggy the city is. The streets are covered in dirt and the trees are all tinged grayish brown from the heavy smog. I have not seen blue sky since being here. We have already seen on little girl peeing on the sidewalk in the middle of the day.

The second biggest shock is getting around without knowing the language. I was looking for the Continental breakfast yesterday morning and kept running into service people trying to help me that knew no English. I would just say, “Ni Hao… Food,” then bow and walk away when it became awkwardly clear that they had no idea of what I was saying. In retrospect a Chinese dictionary would have been helpful to bring.

Everyone stares at us when we walk around. I was told this would happen, but it’s weird. I was walking down a hallway in the hotel and one of the workers was eying me. We keep saying, “Ni Hao,” which is hello.

The supermarket is interesting. Everything is in bins on the shelves instead of being packaged in boxes and freestanding on shelves. The seafood section is very well stocked, although mostly with fish I am scared to walk within ten feet of.

So, that’s the topical take on Beijing so far. More to come.

Visiting Asian Cities

Two rules for visiting Asian cities (link – NYT)

1. Don’t walk — seeing an Asian city on foot is like cruising the Caribbean in a rowboat
2. Don’t attempt more than three things per day — each will take far longer than expected.

The article goes on to say that the Beijing metro is 3 yuan, the base fare for a taxi is 10 yuan and if you can stand the heat, a bicycle rental is only 20 yuan for the entire day. However, I would assume that means you have to store the bike at each place you visit and return it to the rental shop, which is probably confusing.

I’m wondering if taking a compass would be a good ideas so that I can remain oriented if I go on a walk or bikeride. Having absolutely no knowledge of the language I anticipate getting lost frequently.