Category Archives: China

Xi’an, China – The City of Western Peace

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At this point in my life, Xi’an was in my “Top 3” cities to visit because as the ultimate history nerd, I had to see the Terracotta Army. I was nervous when I finally got the chance to travel there because I had such high expectations of the historic site, but I was not expecting to love the city of Xi’an as much as I did, and I was certainly not disappointed about seeing the Terracotta warriors. Xi’an is a historic city – much more so than modern Shanghai, but it the city itself had so much character beyond the history.

We flew from Shanghai to Xi’an on China Eastern Airlines. The flight was smooth; it only took about 2 hours. The airline served noodles as a meal even though it was a pretty short trip. If you are traveling to Xi’an, I recommend getting a local guide for a day or two while you get your bearings. Plus, you learn a lot about the history and culture from someone who lives there! We had a local guide that was born and raised in Xi’an, and over the course of two days, I learned a lot! Upon arrival in Xi’an, we stopped to see the Ancient City Wall. This city wall is about 8 miles long, has 4 main gates, and a bell tower. In ancient days, no weapon was strong enough to break down a wall, so the city walls were the best form of protection each city had. In fact, many cities in China had large walls (like in Beijing), but during the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao, most were destroyed. The city wall in Xi’an is probably the most  We rented bikes and took a spin along the top of the city wall – what a worthwhile experience! Renting a bike was only a couple of dollars (approximately 40 yuan).

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One thing I noticed as we drove around Xi’an was the pristine care and pride the city put into its built environment (flowers, sidewalks, buildings). It was much more beautiful than I imagined. That night, after several days of walking, we enjoyed a reflexology foot massage for about $20 USD – what a treat! I do this from time-to-time at home in Atlanta, but when in China…

The second day in Xi’an was the day I was waiting for. For those of you who don’t know about the Terracotta Army, I’ll provide an extremely brief history and perhaps you will understand why I was so excited:

In 1974, Chinese scientists stumbled on one of the greatest archaeological finds of all-time. It started with the discovery of a clay (terracotta) head, and this led to not one, but thousands of life-sized clay soldiers, arranged by military rank and each having a unique face. The army was said to be “protecting” the burial site of the first emperor (Emperor Qin) of China, buried around 208 BCE in an earthen mound several miles behind the terracotta army. This emperor is credited with (what would become) the Great Wall of China. Since the find in ’74, archeologists are still digging up these clay warriors. For those who are wondering, the emperor has not yet been unearthed because scientists are worried our climate and chemicals will destroy what is buried under the earthen mound. Perhaps one day there will be technology available to safely see inside the emperor’s tomb. The part that is most fascinating about the Terracotta Army is that no one had any idea (before 1974) that it existed. No written records describing a clay army, especially of this magnitude have been found.

When I walked into the archaeological dig site (which is actually a series of buildings), it was bigger and more amazing than I had imagined. It was extremely crowded, even on a weekday, but it was truly spectacular. I had goosebumps the entire time. To get there, you would have to hire a driver or take a city bus to get out to the archaeological site. After a 25-mile drive (which can take a bit of time on a bus), plan to spend at least a half of a day there. There are gift shops and things to spend money on, but I chose to explore with my time instead. Aside from the Great Wall of China outside of Beijing, this should be a must-see on your visit to China.

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After our morning with the Terracotta Army, we enjoyed the Tangbo Art Museum. This museum is a fairly small institution costing approximately $11.50 (80 yuan). For those interested in contemporary art, this would be a really unique stop. I also enjoyed the calligraphy and shadow puppet art. If you are taking public transport, Xi’an has a metro and you should get off Yanxingmen Station on the purple line. City buses also drop off near the museum.

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Shadow Puppet

One of my favorite parts of Xi’an was the Muslim Quarter (also known as Huimin Jie in Pingyin). The neighborhood dates back to the Silk Road over 1000 years ago. Around 20,000 Muslim residents inhabit this part of the city and the blend of cultures is truly special. If you are a vegetarian, you may want to pack a snack because the main street has a lot of street meat! I recommend roujiamo (beef inside a bun). I also enjoyed watching the shop owners make candy. Taking a couple of hours in the Muslim Quarter to walk around and try some food is well worth your time. One side note, be respectful with your camera. Sometimes I get so excited about capturing the moment, I don’t think about photo etiquette. Our guide suggested that we avoid taking pictures of individuals while they are working because the shop owners are not a tourist attraction…they are just doing their job. He made a good point, so I just took pictures of the area.

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Of all the cities in China I have been to (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong), the one I would most like to visit again was Xi’an. My husband has never been there and I know he would appreciate all of the unique things the City of Western Peace has to offer. Hopefully I’ll make it back before my Visa expires!

Shanghai, China

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In 2016, I wrote about leading a trip to Beijing, China. This year, I was invited by my dear friend, Queena who led a student-trip to China in 2018. This time Shanghai and Xi’an were also on the itinerary!

Our first stop (after a layover in Toronto) on our journey to China was Shanghai. Before the trip, the only things I really knew about Shanghai were that it is the most populated city in the world and that it is more of an international city than Beijing. I didn’t have many expectations, but after traveling there, I was certainly impressed! I will say, if you are interested in a trip about the history of China, I’d stick to Beijing or Xi’an. Shanghai should definitely be on your radar if you want to visit a bustling, growing, and modern metropolitan.

We arrived in the evening, and our tour guide gave us the option to do a night boat cruise on the Huangpu River with views of the skyline. Most people in the group decided to go to sleep after many hours of travel, but I decided to push  through to do the boat cruise, and I am SO GLAD that I did. It was one of the highlights of my entire trip to China. If you go to Shanghai and the weather is favorable, even if you see the Bund (a waterfront area in Shanghai) during the day, do the boat trip at night.

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The hotel in Shanghai was also the nicest we stayed in while in China. It was newer and modern as most areas in Shanghai are. The Holiday Inn Express Shanghai Jinsha had a full breakfast (American and Chinese food), the rooms were clean and there was air conditioning! Ask about A/C when booking your travel to China, especially in the spring/summer months. The hotel would run you about $45 a night which is a great price!

That first morning we went to the Yu Garden Pedestrian Street. It was really neat to experience the food and shopping, but it was extremely crowded. We got lunch (noodles for days!) and an ice cream cone, and many in our group decided to do some shopping (I was holding out for the markets in Beijing). We later visited a silk factory/shop and the Jade Buddha Temple.

 

Another major highlight for this city was taking the elevators (too tall for just one elevator so there were two!) up the Shanghai Tower and experiencing the view. It was incredible to see what a city of 26 million looks like from over 100 stories up. I was told to go into the last stall of the women’s bathroom and this is what I found – WOW!

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I called it “The Bathroom in the Sky”

We ended our afternoon/evening walking along the Bund in the day and shopping around the Shanghai Times Square. Overall, we did a lot in 1.5 days, but I could have spent much more time. This means, I’ll have to go back to Shanghai someday (hopefully before my $200, 10-year Visa expires!). Xi tien for now!

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Beijing, China

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In the last six months, I traveled to Beijing twice to prepare for and lead a school field trip, so I decided to wait until after the second trip to post. Beijing was amazing. A lot of Americans do not visit China because they are nervous about the major cultural shock, but if my 7th and 8th graders could do it, you can, too! I would recommend using a tour company for your first trip to Beijing because the company will make the process less daunting by booking your excursions and leading you around by bus.

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Forbidden City

The first thing I was surprised about was the amount of English. MANY people speak it, and almost all street signs feature it. The second thing that surprised me was the amount of air pollution. In November, it was BAD. In May, we had several clear days which was nice, but in the wintertime, coal is burned for heat which contributes to the pollution problem. I did not really have a problem walking or breathing, but it was just gross. The third thing that surprised me was that it was cleaner than I thought it would be. I imagined the smells in the city would be atrocious, but they really weren’t. Yeah, the bathrooms can be sorta gross (bring your own toilet paper and be prepared to squat), but what public bathrooms aren’t gross?

Below is a list of the tourist attractions I visited that are definitely worth seeing. The pictures for each description will be located below the description…

Bejing has SO MUCH history to visit without ever stepping foot in a museum.

Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City – Do this in one morning. It is a lot of walking, but totally worth it. Make sure you have an English guide for the Forbidden City to teach you about all of the history within its walls.

Summer Palace – So beautiful on a clear day. I recommend spending the money to go on a Dragon Boat ride! This is a half-day excursion. It was a eerie kind of beautiful in November when it was very “foggy.”

Great Wall of China – NOT underrated. Without a doubt, 100% the most breathtaking thing I have ever seen. DO NOT go to Badaling, go the extra hour to Mutianyu. I went to both and Mutianyu was SO much better. You take a cable car into the mountains for this dramatic, beautiful view and then I paid like $15 to toboggan down the Great Wall of China. Who does that?! Me, apparently, and it was the coolest thing I have ever done. It was cool to see the Great Wall in two seasons, winter and late spring. It doesn’t matter when you go – it’s beautiful either way!

 

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When in China…tobogganing down the Great Wall is a MUST

Beijing Olympic Park – It was really cool to spend a couple hours walking around and seeing the Bird’s Nest. It is free to walk around, but costs money to go inside the arenas. I never paid to go inside. Beijing is also hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Hutong Rickshaw/Neighborhood Tour – Aside from the Great Wall, this was my favorite part of China. I really felt like this was an authentic experience. You get to see how people have lived for generations. In the Hutongs, families live in compound-like buildings and share a bathroom/showers with their neighbors. Life is simple, but they seem so happy. Be sure to tip your rickshaw driver a few Yuan!

 

Some tips:

  •  Do not buy items from street vendors. Either the items will break in 2 hours or they will rip you off. Often they will give you change in another currency so you wouldn’t know you got ripped off until someone won’t accept your Taiwanese money or something.
  • Like I mentioned before, bring travel Kleenex to serve as toilet paper. Also bring hand sanitizer. Just because.
  • Check out the Wanlin Mall’s food court. Amazing. My favorite meal both times in China!
  • Be prepared to haggle. Not in restaurants but in markets/shops. Don’t feel bad – these people are professionals that WILL rip you off if they can. No one will ever sell anything at a loss.

 

Hong Kong!

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My husband, Kevin spent five years of his childhood living in Hong Kong. He and his family always spoke about it with such fond memories. Kevin’s mom passed away this past April, and it was her wish that we take a family trip back to Hong Kong. My father-in-law VERY generously took us on the trip of a lifetime in her memory. So, during the week of Thanksgiving my father-in-law (Rich), my sister-in-law (Kelly), her fiance (Julien), my husband and I all traveled to the last of the Far East!

I had never been to Asia before, so I was nervous and excited because I did not know what to expect at all! First of all, the plane ride was ROUGH. It was about 24 hours of travel to get to Hong Kong. If you are flying to Asia, be sure to wear comfy clothes and pack some toiletries (toothbrush, deodorant) in your carry-on. My knees were sore from sitting for so long! But the long flight was SO worth it.

We stayed at the JW Marriott Hong Kong – one of Rich’s favorite hotels. It was one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. We had a harbor view room, so the sights of the South China Sea and the many buildings were such a luxury! The bathroom was enormous and came with a shower and a jacuzzi tub along with a robe and slippers. We were also served welcome tea upon our arrival – what a treat! But the best part of the JW Marriott Hong Kong, hands down, was BREAKFAST! Holy cow! I woke up early every day just to run down there for the buffet. Is it ridiculous to say the breakfast may have been a trip highlight? Probably. But I’m saying it. I LOVED THAT BREAKFAST. There was authentic Chinese food, American food, a smoothie bar, pastries, and the list goes on.

We arrived in the early afternoon, but after so many hours of travel, we needed a nap! We woke up for an early dinner and walked over to the Peak Tram. This tram is a railway that takes you to the upper levels of the island. The views from the top of are out of this world.

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One thing I realized right away was that I did not pack for Hong Kong correctly. I should have packed more short-sleeves! Hong Kong is pretty tropical – it was also humid. So in November it was in the 70s and 80s! The nights were cool, but with all of the walking we did, short-sleeves were important for during the day.

For our first day, we went back to the Miskewicz stomping grounds in Repulse Bay. We visited their old apartment, Kevin’s old school, the American Club and their family’s church. We also spent a couple of hours in Stanley Market. Stanley was my favorite part (aside from breakfast) about Hong Kong. It has tons of little shops and restaurants and is located very close to the water. Rich even took us to his old watering hole, Smuggler’s Inn to have a beer! We used the public bus to get to and from Stanley. The bus was affordable, clean and easy to navigate. Since Hong Kong was a British territory until 1997, everything is in English and many people speak English. I will say, Hong Kong is very hilly and those drivers made me a little nervous whipping around the corners of the cliffs, but we made it everywhere safe and sound!

For the next day in Hong Kong, we went to see the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. This was the tourist attraction I was most excited about! This experience is a must-have if you visit Hong Kong. When the Miskewicz family lived in Hong Kong, the only way to Lantau Island was by bus. When we went, we took cable cars over the water! If you are afraid of heights, just don’t. But look at the lush views!

That evening we went to Lan Kwai Fong for dinner/drinks. We took the subway. Again, very to easy to navigate through, but it is EXTREMELY crowded, so if you plan on taking the subway, you need to be okay with not having much personal space. Lan Kwai Fong had many bars, restaurants, and neon lights! This was a happening place to be!

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Another trip highlight was the Mid-level escalators which we experienced the next day of our adventure! It is the longest covered escalator in the world! Basically, if you were to live in the Mid-levels, you would commute to work by way of escalator! How funny (and awesome!)

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Above: View Coming Off Mid-Levels

On the same day as the Mid-Levels, we took the Star Ferry to Kowloon. For 26 cents! Kevin loved the ferry when he lived in Hong Kong, and he really enjoyed our ride this time around. In Kowloon we went shopping for pearls and stopped inside the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong lobby (wow!). The night views of Hong Kong from Kowloon were INCREDIBLE.

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On Day 4, we took a day trip to Macau. To put it simply, Macau is the Las Vegas of Asia. Macau is a former Portuguese territory so there are a lot of European influences in the architecture. To get to Macau, you must take a ferry from Hong Kong. The ferry ride is about an hour and costs about $20 USD. The ferry was a struggle for me since I get pretty motion sick, especially since we had to go below deck for the ride. It was rocky! I persevered, but I was pretty woozy! Bring some Dramamine or motion sickness bracelets if you suffer from this ailment! My favorite part about Macau was the Portuguese Egg Tarts! I tend to be a little weary of street food, but I made an exception. So delicious! We spent most of the day going through all of the casinos including the Grand Lisboa, Wynn, and MGM Grand. The ruins of St. Paul, iconic in Macau, was also a neat photo-op, but aside from a quick look and a photo, this tourist attraction is a really quick one.

For our final day in Hong Kong, Kevin and I spent some time on our own and went back to Stanley to do some more shopping. We also enjoyed tea that evening at the JW Marriott on the Executive Floor (thanks for the access, Rich!).

Hong Kong was more than I ever expected it to be. I loved it. It was so beautiful, modern and clean! Isn’t it funny that when we make assumptions about a place before experiencing them, they are usually wrong? I had no idea an Asian city could be so Western. I could see myself living in Hong Kong someday, and I will CERTAINLY go back. Kevin and I are so grateful to his mom and dad for this amazing trip – what a priceless memory for all of us.