24 May 2009

Day Trip: Xitang

Xitang, originally uploaded by StrudelMonkey.

Less than two hours by car from Shanghai, the ancient village of Xitang makes a for a great day trip. Located in Zhejiang province, the town's history dates back to the eighth century and doesn't appear to have changed much since then ... apart from the hordes of tourists following the amplified voices of their tour guides.

The numerous canals that divide the town and small bridges that span them lend the town a quaint feel. I traveled there with a couple friends and was glad to get there well before the tour groups poured in. We didn't mind the light rain that fell throughout the day





19 May 2009

Keeping it Un-real

Lake Ritchie, originally uploaded by StrudelMonkey.

Much of the urban development in modern day China appears to be a declaration of victory ... a celebration of man overcoming nature. Every square meter of poured concrete or kilometer of underground tunnel is a testament to the hard work and ingenuity of the Chinese people.

While a 100-story skyscraper is indeed impressive, I would find much more value in the preservation of something natural ... something real ... in such a sprawling urban environment. "Do not walk on the grass" signs seem to be multiplying. Each one I pass makes me think about home in northern Michigan ... fresh air and water ... protected land and areas reserved for endangered species of plants & animals. Isn't its preservation much more of an accomplishment than another bank building or shopping mall?

13 May 2009

Nanjing, originally uploaded by StrudelMonkey.

Trip Journal: Nanjing

Funny how perceptions get skewed after living in a city the likes of Shanghai for a couple of years. We took a 2 1/2 hour train ride to the former capital of Nanjing to "get away" for the weekend. Apparently, "getting away" these days refers to going from a city of 20 million people to one of 3 million. Small town, indeed

Traveling with friends Jean & Veronica, we found Nanjing to be a fascinating place to visit ... ancient history, natural beauty, political heritage and somber reminders of WWII atrocities. The city is just far enough away from Shanghai ensure a unique character. Foreigners even seemed to be a little more of a rarity in Nanjing, based on the number of stares and paparazzi-style photographs.

We stayed in the area around Confucius Temple on the south side of town and found a lot to see within walking distance of the hotel. The weather was hot (33C / 90F), so we were thankful it was so easy to flag down one of the numerous green VW Santana taxis zipping around town.

A leisure weekend it was not. We were up and out early to take advantage of the cooler morning weather. A visit to the Nanjing Massacre Museum provided a vivid reminder of the evils man is capable of. The museum detailed the events leading up to the mass killing of 300,000 city residents by the Japanese in WWII ... events that leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many Chinese to this day.

The somber mood of the massacre museum was counterbalanced by the natural beauty of Zijin Shan (Purple Mountain) on the city's upper east side. Parks, lakes and cultural points of interest are sprinkled about the area which made for a great day of exploration. The shade and higher altitude also helped to break the heat. A walk around Xuanwu Lake takes in views of the surrounding hills as well as the ancient city walls. Exploring further into the park, the area around the Ming Xiaoling mausoleum was lined with large animal sculptures which are intended to protect the former Hongwu emperor from the the Ming Dynasty.

Back in town, a climb to the top of the Zhonghua Gate provided commanding views of the city as the sun went down. The old city walls are in great condition and quite amazing in size and scope. The walls took 21 years to complete and involved the work of over 200,000 laborers. If there is one thing that China has always been good at, it is mobilizing workers in support of an important project.

Before we knew it, it was time to jump back on the train to Shanghai on Sunday evening. I was glad we decided to make the trip ... always interesting to soak up the culture and history of a new place. And besides ... sometimes you just need to escape the big city and catch your breath

Bird Bath


02 May 2009

Pigs on the Wing

Temple Monkey, originally uploaded by StrudelMonkey.

Pig flu. Monkey pox. Mad cow. Bird flu

They all have a nice ring to them ... making great graphics on the lower left corner of the TV screen

... especially when you add "CRISIS" or "EPIDEMIC" in bold red text after them

I hate to be so cynical, but it all seems so contrived and alarmist. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are old news. Economic worries appear to have bottomed out. The presidential election is over and Obama has been in office for over three months now. How else can the news networks expect to keep up viewership? Fear mongering, of course

All indications are that the Pig Flu is no more dangerous than the common flu that we deal with every year ... but add an animal name, red font ... hey, and even a more scary alphanumeric moniker ... and even I am second-guessing my Moo Shu pork order

News this morning out of Hong Kong is that an entire group of hotel guests have been quarantined after being exposed to an infected Mexican tourist.

I think I will avoid CNN coverage even more than usual this weekend ... though I may ask that my bacon be extra crispy at brunch tomorrow