Monday, January 28, 2008

10 Tips for Chinese Success

I recently wrote these tips for a friend traveling to China in the near future:

1. Know the Chinese characters for man and woman. This will help you recognize and walk into the right bathrooms.

1.5. Bring your own stash of kleenex with you everywhere. (related to point #1)

2. Practice squatting and using chopsticks (not at the same time). Both are useful skills.

3. Trains are fun! But spring for a sleeper over a hardseat - it's worth it (hard, not soft, is fine and usually results in a more eventful train ride).

4. Baozi. (bow-zuh). Find it, eat it, thank me later.

5. Baijiu. (buy-geo). This liquor will kick your butt (and your stomach lining) - careful not to get into a toasting match with a businessman. You will lose.

6. Trust all things that come out of steaming circular basket stacks.

7. Trust nothing that resembles uncooked greens. (woe is the salad!)

8. Lots of curious people will say hello to you! Say hello back, and make a friend.

9. Standards of vegetarianism should be relaxed heavily in China. For instance, tofu covered in pork sauce may be your best bet at any given restaurant. (though eggs scrambled with tomatoes tend to be a popular menu item).

10. Lines are full-contact sports. Grandmothers will elbow you. Do not take offense.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Old Lang Zhong

Lang Zhang is is covered in black tile roofs and grinning old men.

Kate and I had a ball wandering around this sleepy old town, despite rain and cold and "off-season" (which, after my experiences in Tibet and now Lang Zhong, I refuse to believe exists). Thanks to the most comfortable beds in China (seriously), we got an amazing night's sleep, and woke up very late. After a breakfast of suspicious-tasting beef noodles, we scrambled around the side of a muddy mountain and looked at 1000-year-old cave carvings and a huge female buddha. Her size paled in comparison to the behemoth I recently saw in Le Shan, but she had her own lovely way about her - offerings of apples, incense, and firecrackers (bang!bang!bang!) were all freshly scattered at her feet.

We met the caretakers, who gave us lunch rather than directions to another part of the mountain. They said, "No! Too muddy. Come eat lunch with us! Now!" and we said ok, and sat by their fire chatting with the elderly men while an aproned wrinkled woman cooked us steaming bowls of delicious cabbage noodles. Afterwards, they put on their blazers and we took their portrait outside.

We never managed to make our way to the other side of the mountain. We've decided to come back later in the spring, printed portrait in hand, and try our luck again at those directions, and maybe another bowl of those noodles.