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china

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cinematic china

my 3 favourite chinese movies are house of flying daggers, hero and crouching tiger, hidden dragon. i love it because of the actors, the action, the costumes and the cinematography. china is portrayed with a sense of romanticism and other-worldliness.
having experienced china, i want to go back and to explore these beautiful places that were not on my itinerary. the wild china featured in the movies.
i wanna walk through a full-on bamboo forest a la house of flying daggers. the forest fight scene was filmed in the scenic tea mountain bamboo sea national forest park in yong chuan, sichuan province, about 200 miles from chengdu. it is the largest bamboo sea and because of that, is known to be a natural oxygen bar.

ejina qi, located 1550 kms from beijing and 100 kms from inner mongolia, is where the battle of flying snow and moon took place in hero. with 2.3M acres of poplar trees, i would get visually drunk on the vibrant autumn colours!

who could forget the the beautiful expanse of gobi desert where flying snow and broken sword battle it out and die. filmed at yardang national park near dunhuang, it is also known as ‘tower of demons’ because of the “ghostly” sounds the wind makes late at night.
another bamboo forest i’d like to trek through! this one from crouching tiger, hidden dragon where li mu bai and jen yu duel amongst the bamboo treetops. filmed at mukeng bamboo forest in zhejiang province.
and the beautiful wuerhe desert, located 100 kms northeast of karamay city, where jen and lo fight before they fall passionately in love. also known as a ‘ghost city’ because of the eerie and howling winds at night.
i’ll throw one more i’d like to go see. although it’s not a chinese movie and technically not filmed at all in china, the legendary floating mountains of pandora aka the hallelujah mountains in james cameron’s avatar was modeled after the southern sky column at the zhangjiajie national forest park in hunan province.
ambitious dreams? certainly. but after seeing all these enthralling places on celluloid, wouldn’t you want to see them in person too?
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daydreams of wild china

next time i go to china, i will endeavor to see more of its natural wonders, like the honghe hani rice terrace. with beauty such as this, why would i want to spend all my time in a a place of skyscrapers, cars, noise and pollution?
top left source: kuriositas
when i go back, i want to see china’s panorama of greens and blues and yellow hues, meandering streams and valley floors… like longsheng dragon’s backbone rice terrace, huanglong travertine terraces, canola flower fields and jiuzhaigou valley.
top left source: bestourism
i want to marvel at karst limestone outcrops rising from flat rice paddy fields in yangshuo, the shilin stone forest with 270 million year old limestone karst formations in kunming, the geological oddity that are the 3 natural bridges in chongqing and the 5th century hanging temple built into the side of a cliff at hengshan.
top right source: kung fu tea. bottom right source: wikipedia
i want to explore the UNESCO-listed yungang grottoes with its 45 caves and 51,000 sculptures of buddha, the stupa forest at shaolin monastery, the UNESCO-listed longman grottoes with 1300 caves and more than 100,000 statues and images of buddha and the dramatic karst formations at moonhill.
and when i return, it’ll be for more than just 15 days. with so much to see, i’ll likely have to stay for a month.
photo credit: atlas obscura unless otherwise noted
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a place of beauty

don’t these pictures just take your breath away?
this is chengdu. before i visited, i only thought of chengdu as a land of pandas. but it’s so much more. there’s bamboo forests, yuecheng lake at mount qingcheng, dufu thatched cottage (i love the red walls!), mt emei, gingko trees, romantic bridges and jiuzhaigou valley otherwise known as “wonderland on earth.”
i must go back to explore more of this heavenly place.
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snapped in a sidecar

received my photos from my sidecar experience! i had hired insider shanghai’s staff photographer for a ride-along, so that they could document my experience. i think the pics turned out great.

if you have the means, i’d definitely recommend the add-on. i mean, how many times am i going to get over to shanghai, much less to do this? plus, it’s great for when you feel like a stroll down amnesia lane. that was indeed a fun day.

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the (little) faces of china

as much as i enjoyed taking scenic, vista pictures on my trip, i made sure to capture some faces of china, especially little ones. every kidlet i came across were just so cute, it was hard to resist. also included in this set are normal sized humans of china.

press play to start the slideshow or click here to supersize. enjoy.

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final thoughts on china

when i was a little girl, my impression of china was that of millions of people on bikes, martial artists practicing kung fu and sword play in town squares and the populace dressed in army green, blue and brown mao-inspired jackets. i have wham’s freedom music video to thank for that.

for the longest time, it remained that way. course, i’m a huge fan of gong li, zhang ziyi, jet li and have watched zhang zhimou movies over the years, but they were mostly historical pictures, so i never got a sense of what present day china was like.

even as i was wowed by the opening of the beijing olympics and saw how far the country advanced (technologically), i still didn’t know quite what to expect on my trip.

china had always been a mystery to me. i saw it as “wild”, thanks to BBC’s 6 part nature documentary. (if you haven’t seen it, you MUST! so gorgeous!)  for some reason, with the exception of beijing and shanghai, i had pictured the rest of the country as one of rural living and village mentality. i even thought that of xi’an and chengdu. boy, was i wrong.

china has been modernizing at lightning speed the past couple of decades. skyscrapers and cranes are dotting the landscape everywhere. gone are the antiquated uniforms. young people are trendy and fashionable. there are luxury and international brands everywhere. everyone’s out to make money and trying to get a piece of the pie. and those millions of bikes? have now been replaced by millions of scooters.

after visiting china for 15 days, 5 of which were on my own, i can confidently say that i’m less intimidated, as well as, wowed. and that i could confidently go back on my own to visit. course, learning a little mandarin will help too.

so china, thank you for a great first visit. i’m so happy to have connected with my roots and look forward to returning soon. until then, i’ll always have pictures. 再见

for a recap of my china trip, press play to start to click here to supersize.

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the good, the bad and the fun in china

as i was eating breakfast at the kommune cafe on this, my last day in china, i thought about all the things i saw and experienced on this trip.  there were so many favourite things about this trip, but i’d say my top 3 are:
#1. hugging a panda!
#2. seeing the terracotta warriors!
#3. riding in a vintage sidecar through shanghai!
ranking the places i enjoyed the most, it’d look like this:
#1. shanghai
#2. chengdu
#3. xi’an
#4. hangzhou
#5. beijing
#6. wuxi
#7. suzhou
#8. nanjing
food that i’ll miss:
#1. blueberry fluff at breadtalk (so good! someone needs to franchise it in vancouver!)
#2. sun & shine juice from hong kong (i drank so much of it, if you were to cut me, i’d bleed berries)
#3. lay’s wasabi shrimp flavoured potato chips
things that i won’t miss:
#1. horking / phlegm rattling / sneezing without covering mouths
#2. squat toilets (which i’m proud to say i did NOT use once during this trip!)
#3.  the “me first” attitude
other observations from the tour (excluding shanghai):
* beer is cheaper than pop. there were 2 liters of chinese beer to one liter of pop at the restaurants we went to
* toddlers have bum slits in their pants so that it’s easy for them to take a dump. anywhere. anytime.
* traffic in china is horrendous. reminds me of LA
* beijing is besieged with tourists, mostly domestic. we were one in hundreds of tour buses on the road. it felt like we were cattle being herded here and there
* when it comes to queueing, there’s no lineup etiquette. just shove your way to the front
* live theatre is not treated as sacred. everyone whips out their camera/phones to take pictures and videos. that would never happen at an opera, ballet or play in vancouver. if however, you take too many videos or too long a clip, there’s staff at the back of the theatre who will laser beam your ass, in an attempt to shame you into putting your camera/phone away. not that the audience member will care because 5 minutes later, they’ll do it again. it seems like people don’t get bounced.
despite all the above cultural differences, there will definitely be a next time. for china is so big and there is so much to see.
next time i’m in shanghai, i’ll visit:
* ocean aquarium
* shanghai film museum
* shanghai history museum
* underground market at shanghai science & tech museum
* chinese martial arts museum
in chengdu, i’ll have to visit:
* wuhou memorial temple with the red walls
* jinli alley in wuhouci
* wenshu temple
* san xing dui
* wide and narrow alley
* mt emei + leshan
so much to see in beijing, i’ll have to check out:
* mao’s mausoleum / tiananmen square
* national museum of china
* national art museum of china
* cow street mosque
* 798 art district
* ming tombs + eastern qing tombs
* summer palace + old summer palace
* stupa forest temple at tanzhe temple
* recreated friends coffee house, central perk
i also learned that i’m not cut out for tours. (and probably cruises for that matter) i don’t like the regimented schedules and the glossing over of main attractions. i want to take my time and relish everything.
and that as much as i love my mom, we are very different travelers. i need to travel with someone that’s more like me or just go by myself.
so much learnt in one trip, not to mention personal growth! s’why i will never stop traveling.
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taken for a ride

guess what i got to do today? a super rad ride in a sidecar with the guys at insiders shanghai. a hella neat way to see shanghai and such a thrill. i had bookmarked this idea in my mind, ever since i read about this experience months ago.
i totally lucked out too. the manager, shane, told me they were booked up solid this week, but when i told him that it was just me and that i would be leaving tomorrow, he was kind enough to make an exception. he was even able to book another driver and photographer to come with, as i wanted some photos to commemorate my ride.
so bright and early this morning, i met shane, felix and yoan down at the andaz hotel for my one hour ride. i wanted to see the old city and the french concession. as much as i love modern shanghai, i wanted to see original chinese settlements. after some introductions and safety tips, we were off.
in the old city, we walked the market street, checked out homes with laundry hung across alleyways and spied a communal men’s bathhouse (!) then we rode to the french concession and stopped off to tour the alfred dunhill shanghai home, a 2 tower neo-classical mansion slash exclusive club in the heart of the city.
some pics:
the company doesn’t get many, if any, bookings from the local shanghainese. why would they pay so much money to travel within the city, when they could use public transport? this experience is strictly sought out by tourists and ex-pats. if i was living in shanghai, i might sidecar it a couple of times to get the lay of the land. and then definitely book them for out of town trips, like beijing, xi’an and lijiang. the guides were friendly and knowledgeable. and it was oodles of fun. i’d definitely recommend them.
the lads dropped me off at the propaganda poster art centre, a hidden museum showcasing communist posters from the chairman mao era. after that, i walked through the pretty tree-lined streets in the french concession until i hit hauihai road. like nanjing road, it’s also a vibrant shoppers mecca and i prefer it more as it’s less of a circus. the high end stores here scream opulence and prestige, more so than their counterparts in new york, beverly hills and london.
i had dinner in xintiandi, a trendy and fashionable enclave festooned with shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. this fashionable part of town was redeveloped from 1930s shikumen estates or stone tenements.
i walked through the very lovely fuxing park, on the way back to taikang lu. and although it was already night, i could feel the french influence of the park, what with its wide paths flanked by cherry trees. reminded me of the jardins in paris.
can i say how much i love where i’m staying in tianzifang? especially at night when this labyrinth of an enclave is lit just by store signs, lanterns and twinkle lights. no street lights.
oh shanghai, i wish i had more time. you were so much fun and i shall be sad to leave you tomorrow. but you’ve made such an impression on me that i promise to come back again.