Macaques live in mountains all over China, but I had the privilege of meeting the Tibetan Macaques on my recent trip to Emei Mountain in Sichuan Province. What a lively group! My favorite duo were the mom and very little baby, but the monkey drinking milk comes in a close second. They grab some of their food from unsuspecting tourists, like the cookies and milk and yogurt, but some of it is purchased with the monkeys in mind. That would be the fruit and nuts. Their mannerisms are so close to human that I marvel each time I see one. On this day, we saw so many that all my marveling set us back about an hour. Time well spent.
Emei Mountain is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. It has over 30 Buddhist temples and monasteries, most of which are housed near the top of the mountain. People flock to the mountain to pray to the thousands of Buddha statues on the mountain. Due to the altitude and climate, it rains on Emei Mountain over 250 days per year. The rain, however, does not ebb the flow of tourists and pilgrims who flock to the mountain for the magnificent views (even in the rain, the mist and clouds are spectacular) and for pilgrimage. Come with me to China and visit one of its beautiful mountains!
I love observing Buddhist rituals: lighting candles, burning incense, counting prayer beads, bowing, kneeling. The harmony and sense of peace is unparalleled. I suppose that this might be said in prayer rituals of any religion, but in my experience, the Buddhist way seems most tranquil. I think a lot of this has to do with the content of the prayers: selflessness, connection, gratefulness, peace, humility, light, compassion, goodness. A traditional Buddhist prayer:
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness; May all be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow; May all never be separated from the sacred happiness which is sorrowless; And may all live in equanimity, without too much attachment and too much aversion, And live believing in the equality of all that lives.
Less than two hours from Chengdu is a little city called Leshan that has the tallest Buddha in the world. The 200+ feet tall Buddha was carved into the side of a hill at the meeting of two rivers, the Min and the Dadu. The Buddha was built during the Tang Dynasty (between 713 and 803).
On our trips to Leshan, we not only see the Buddha from the viewing platforms above, but we also walk down the stairs, descending from the top of the Buddha's head to the foot. For a full view, we also take a boat ride along the river to see the Buddha from afar.
You don't need to go to Leshan to see Buddha in China, but this one is quite special. Join me on a Chow Fun trip and see what surprises are in store for you!
China is a homogeneous country. This comes from thousands of years of closed borders. While the novelty of round eyes, blonde or red hair and brown skin is wearing off in the cities, these qualities are still rarely seen in the countryside. Being red-headed in China still attracts attention.
Whether or not a westerner has red-hair or brown skin, being "non-Chinese" is rare in some parts of China. I believe that my candid photo, taken when I was not paying attention, is on walls all over China, not to mention all the posed pictures and selfies I have taken over the years.
Sometimes this celebrity status is overwhelming for travelers. I agree that at times, it is exhausting. However, I tell travelers to enjoy their two weeks of fame. Smile and wave.
This summer I spent one night living with a nomadic family on the Tibetan Plateau. Our small group of travelers learned how to milk yak and to make yak butter and yak cheese. I also shoveled yak dung into piles where it dries and becomes fuel for their stoves. This experience was in my top five China experiences, which is significant given the fact that I have been to China over 40 times and have traveled all over the country.
The family consisted of a mother, father and their adult son, who lives in another tent with his wife. However, each morning and night he helps his parents herd the yak and do the household chores, including milking yak. I tried my hand at yak milking, and met some success (a couple of pulls yielded milk), but my efforts resulted in a lot of laughter from our hosts. I stuck with poop shoveling.
Needless to say, our bathroom was the plateau. The tent was small. If I had to guess, I'd say it was about 100 square yards. In the center is a small stove, fueled by the aforementioned dried yak dung. The remainder of the space is blankets, clothing, food stores and other necessities.
Their carbon footprint is almost nil. They use and reuse, living off the land. What a privilege to be able to share in their lives, if only for 24 hours. Perhaps you are brave enough to join me on a Chow Fun trip to the Tibetan Plateau?
One of the most memorable meals for those who travel with me to China is one of the first of the trip, in the hutongs of Beijing. Hutongs are little alleyways in the center of the city, some as narrow as six feet across. This is the heart of the city, a place where people have lived the same way for hundreds of years, despite the modernization of this capital city.
Families live in courtyard homes in the hutongs. Each trip to China, I bring travelers to the home of one of the families so that we can learn about their lives and also have a home-cooked meal. Sometimes, we get a dumpling-making lesson, like in the picture to the right, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wang.
The climb up Moon Hill in Yangshuo is exhilarating. It takes about 30 minutes to climb the stairs to the top. In the picture above, there is a group of students with whom I traveled to Yangshuo, along with some teachers and an equal number of "porter" women. These women hover around the bottom of the hill and offer to help travelers navigate the well-traveled route. The day we hiked was rainy, so it was helpful to have these lovely ladies on our arms, assisting our ascent and descent. I paid each of them for their services. Some might call me a sucker, but I love to support the locals. These women offered a service and I agreed. Plus, this picture was worth whatever I paid.
Moon Hill is a hill with a natural arch which looks like a hole through the hill. It is a popular spot for rock climbers, who flock to Yangshuo (in China's southern Guangxi Province) for its unusual limestone karst peaks.
If you say "Xian," everyone thinks "Terra-cotta Warriors." But there's a lot more to Xian than the warriors. One of the many attractions is the Xian City Wall. I like to bring visitors to the wall because it's the only place I feel safe bike riding with China travelers. The wall is about 50 feet high and about 30 feet wide and the only vehicles on the wall are bikes and a few golf carts. It's a nine-mile loop all the way around and it is a lovely way to spend an afternoon, plus it's good exercise!
The wall is the last intact city wall in a major Chinese city. The rest have been razed in order to pave highways for easier access to city centers. So the Xian City Wall is special! Join me for a spin on the wall!
Most people do not realize that green and black tea come from the same plant. For black tea, the leaves are withered and oxidized, unlike green tea which is dried immediately upon picking. The plants are pruned so that the new shoots will come up regularly. This is imperative because the best green tea leaves come from the youngest shoots. The leaves are harvested about three times per year. Once picked, they are dried in the sun or in a wok over a fire.
Some of the most popular green teas from China are Longjing and Huangshan Maofeng. Longjing is translated as "Dragon Well." This is probably the most famous Chinese green tea, possibly due to the fact that it grows in close proximity to Shanghai so it is easy to procure. Huangshan Maofeng is a special kind of Maofeng tea grown in the Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) part of the country, in Anhui Province.
I have traveled all over the world, including adventures in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, England, Denmark, Russia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Dominican Republic, Canada and Mexico. My greatest love is introducing Americans to the sites, traditions and people of China. My hope is to give travelers a new lens through which to see the world.