Monday, March 30, 2009

Good Times in Seoul!

I went for a long weekend in Seoul to visit my cousin Laura and to add one more Asian place to the list before I move back to the States in May. We did lots of fun stuff, so instead of narrarating it, I like lists! 16 things we did in Seoul:

1) Visited Gyeongbokgung Palace:
(I realized how much the Koreans borrowed from Chinese as all of the buildings looked just like Beijing's Forbidden City and the titles of each were in Chinese characters.)
2) Watched a changing of the guards at the palace
3) Ate traditional Korean BBQ: (Mmm Mmm Good! Done over coals in the middle of your table)
4) Walked along Insadong street, (fun art and culture pedestrian area)
5) Bought great street jewelry! (I like the street jewelry much better than in China. It is original and inexpensive!)
6) Ate Korean pancake and powdered rice cubes from the street vendors
7) Met up with an old Korean friend that I studied with in Beijing.
8) Spent a night at a fancy wine bar. (We don't really have these in Beijing. The wine list was a book!)
9) Went to the Dr. Fish cafe where fish give you a pedicure by eating at the skin on the bottom of your feet. Weird!
10) Enjoyed Turkish, Thai, Indian and American delights at various restaurants throughout the trip.
11) Walked along the Cheonggyecheon Stream that runs south of the palaces while sipping Lattees.
12) Went to the large COEX Aquarium (saw my first two-headed turtle)
13) Took silly pictures in one of the crazy Asian photo booths
14) Enjoyed the plethora of cafes and donut shops on every corner!
(No, even more than that, multiples on every block! Who knew the koreans were so into coffee, donuts and belgian waffles?)
15) Went to the top of N Seoul Tower to gaze upon the city.
16) Toured the National Museum of Korea

In summary, a good time was had by all! And thanks to Laura for all the hospitality!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Trip to Guangxi III: Final Thoughts

I wanted to include the last thoughts or pics on the trip to Guilin before I move onto the next thing. Yangshuo's foreigner-hangout and really the only interesting strip in the city is called Xi Jie, or West Street. We went a couple of times for shopping, coffee, etc. Xi Jie at night:

When you get out of the big cities, you see a lot of interesting vehicles in China. Like these old trucks with exposed engines. They make quite the clanking as they putter down the street and are really only used for trash, landscaping, etc.

Back in Guilin we visited the Elephant Trunk Hill. Apparently to Chinese people, this is a symbol of this city. Of course, I had to demonstrate where the hill got its name:

Around the mountain were photo ops with various local cultural outfits. I chose to go the fisherman route. These are my fish-catching birds:

I couldn't find many specialties in Guilin except for Mifen, or "rice noodles." I'd say this is one province with relatively few offerings when it comes to food. These noodles are served up with a little meat and pieces of vegetables and then you add as much pickled vegetables and spices to the soup as you can handle. It's OK...but pretty uninteresting compared to other Chinese foods.

However, rice wine and corn juice were both new to me on this trip! Rice wine was not so good...I just wanted to try it because I was amazed they had found yet another way to eat rice. Corn juice, however, is fabulous. It is served warm with a bit of a thin, sweet soup. We ate it practically every day we were down there, so this was definitely a good culinary find.

That's all for the Guilin trip. Next stop: Seoul.

Trip to Guangxi II: Yangshuo

The village of Yangshuo is the launch-pad village for the trips to Lijiang River, which was my last blog. We stayed 2 nights in this town, set in a background of those beautiful pointy mountains. This was the first night, as we waited for a bus to a show.

Besides the river, a must-see is the show by famous director Zhang Yimou. (Many popular movies and most recently, the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony Creative Director) The show was based outside, and this was the audience as we waited in the moonlight:

The show started with a vocalist in the lake and mountains lit-up in the background.

The torches lit up all around the lake as the minority peoples sang from all directions...first men then younger girls:

There were all sorts of creative dance and props on the water, representing various parts of this Southern China culture...

Then the show ended with hundreds of singers linked hand-in-hand walking across various platforms over the water in lit-up outfits. With impressive coordination they turned the lights on and off creating patterns and rhythms with the music.

Zhang Yimou certainly does an amazing job of creative directing as well as creating art with large numbers of people. I was very much reminded of the Olympics opening ceremony as I watched this show. It's called "Impression Liu Sanjie" if you are ever down there and interested in going!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Trip to Guangxi: The LiJiang River

I'm on a long weekend trip to the Southernmost part of China to a province called Guangxi. This province that borders Vietnam (as shown on the map) is famous for its scenery that appears in the classical Chinese paintings, songs, etc. A must-see for any long-term China traveler. I'm not going in order here but I will skip right to the LiJiang River and Yangshuo, where we went on our second day. These peaks that jutt out of the water are the most unique mountains I've ever seen, and the same ones that I've always seen in images of China.

In fact, the place where we were initially dropped off to take a boat was the exact image from the 20 RMB bill...(as I'm trying to show you in this picture. But you can click it for a larger image)!

The locals live off of the land as it is green and full of life. These guys had two very different methods of fishing...One with a bamboo boat and the other with a trained bird:

Then we ate some of their catches as we got to our half-way point. The crabs and fish were fried whole so we ate them that way. Quite tasty actually!

That's all for the Lijiang River. I'll share more from the town of Yangshuo and the city of Guilin soon!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Beijing Birthday + Weekend Brunch

This was my third birthday in Beijing and they have all been wonderful so far thanks to great friends! We had a lovely steak dinner (first and probably last in Beijing this year) followed by a party hosted at my friend Chris's house. These are some of the peeps from the party!

Thennn...comes Sunday brunch! We have set out to be connoisseurs of the Beijing champagne brunch offerings. This week's offering: The Intercontinental Hotel.
Major plus: Pork ribs and other BBQ imported from Texas, USA and cosmopolitans included in the buffet.
Minus: Service not as good and poor live music doesn't meet up with the Westin's jazz singer from New York. We enjoyed ourselves immensely as another "Sunday Funday" came to an end.

Attendees line-up:

Group shot of everyone after they came around with loads of cotton candy:

The evening continued at a friends nice pad back on the East side of Beijing. Altogether a good day and an enjoyable birthday weekend.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cuandixia Village, Day Trip!

Every now and then you just gotta get out of the city. And when that time comes, I'm oh-so-thankful for the occasional friend that owns a car in Beijing. We chose a page out of a Beijing day-trips excursion guide and decided to roll out on Saturday morning for a deligtful day of driving, exploring and blue skies in Cuandixia village, 2 hours West of Beijing.

This village was built during the Ming Dynasty (some 500-600 years ago) and still stands in a quiet valley with little temples, mountain paths and numerous family-owned inns and restaurants.

A charming day trip. Although there is certainly not much along the lines of entertainment in these little villages, I highly recommend it for the walk, blue skies, local cuisine and just recharging your batteries again before Monday!