Archive for September, 2008


  • Tian Chi: The Heavenly Lake of XinJiang

    Posted on 09.29.08 | 21 Comments

    Tina Su at Tian Chi XinJiang Reading
    Tina reading “Eat, Pray, Love” at Yurt park. Photo by Jeremy Sawatzky

    Tian Chi is located 114 km North-East of Ürümqi – the capital of XinJiang. Tian Chi, which literally translates to “Heaven Lake”, sits 2000m above sea level. Despite the vague description and shady directions in the Lonely Planet book, and without knowing what to expect, we budgeted 3 days and went on a whim.

    Figuring out how to get there was really confusing. We ended up catching a ride on a bus with a day tour for 60RMB per person (~ $9). The tour guide and agency both turned out to be quite sketchy, where part of the trip included a detour to a medicine store (tourist trap) so the agency could pick up an extra commission for each tourist they brought in. (Note for next time: Take a bus from the north gate of People’s Park. Or hire a taxi for about 200 RMB.)

    Tina Su Tian Chi XinJiang
    “I really like jumping pictures.” Here’s one of twenty. :)

    The place was swarmed by thousands of day tourists rushing from sight to sight in order to maximize what they saw, before hurrying back to their tour buses by 3:30pm (after arriving there at 1pm). Many tourists – with their high-heeled shoes, pin-striped suits and thin coats – didn’t look like they were prepared to hike or roam around comfortably in sub-zero weather. I took a moment to give gratitude for not needing to rush along side the over-crowded heaps of people. And having the option to see the sights before the day tourists arrived was a plus.

    The lake itself was so-so, but it was the surrounding panoramic view of the 5400m high mountain ranges that stole the show. The combination of water, mountain, snow, and green vegetation made the park breath-taking.

    Supposedly, there’s a monster in the lake (from what I read in wikipedia). I’m sorry to report that I didn’t get to see him during my visit.

    Tian Chi XinJiang

    Tian Chi XinJiang
    Bottom:
    Ethnic costumes to rent for photos. Tian Chi, XinJiang

    Upon getting off the second shuttle (see end for transportation details), I was approached by a man asking if we needed Mongolian Yurts. I’m quite skeptical of people wanting to sell me things when traveling – I’ve learned from being ripped-off many times in the past. After questioning him I felt from his energy that I could trust him.

    After some friendly bargaining with my new friend, we scored a sweet deal on a large Kazakh Yurt too cool to pass up. (Note: at the time of this writing, at the end of September, asking price was 200 RMB a night, we ended up getting it for 100 RMB a night including 3 meals for two people, two nights. That’s about $15 a night for two people including meals!!! )

    When I saw it in person, I was blown away by how cool it was, and had to bite my tongue to hold off my excitement. I’m glad I bargained before seeing the place, otherwise, I would have given him a lot more money had he asked for it. The yurt was fully decked out, with electricity and primitive coal-based heating.

    Dudes & dudettes, I present you with pictures:

    Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt

    Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt

    Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt
    Kazakh yurts in September. Tian Chi, XinJiang

    The yurt was fully decorated with over-the-top Kazakhstan carpets, draperies and details; LOVE IT! It’s large enough to sleep 10 people and includes all the necessary bedding.

    Even with heating, it was really freakin’ cold at night and early in the morning. I slept with 3 layers of pants (2 of them thermal pants), a scarf and two fleece jackets. I also had six blankets to myself, four used as a make-shift mattress, and two used as blankets.

    Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt

    Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt Meal Breakfast
    Top:
    High-tech in low-tech. Jeremy getting comfortable with laptop in the cold night.
    Bottom:
    Breakfast served in yurt: milk tea, Kazakh cube donuts, and cucumber salad.

    The owner’s name is “Xi Lang Hou”, but I called him “Mr. Happy”. His last name, “Xi” means joy or cheerful. Happy was close enough in meaning and had an upbeat emotional association. He and his family were gracious hosts. The women were curious about my instant oatmeal packets and snack bars, so we shared with them.

    Tian Chi XinJiang
    Mr. Happy’s Wife

    Mr. Happy’s wife has the most incredible light-blue-hazel eyes I’ve ever seen on an Asian woman. Mr. Happy is of the Huai ethnic group and his wife is of the Kazakh ethnic group. In fact, the Kazakh people are nomads originally from Kazakhstan (You bet’cha we made plenty of Borat jokes!). As one of the 19 major ethnic groups in the highly diverse province, they make up 6.8% of XinJiang’s population, and a majority of them live in this region.

    The food was basic but delicious, especially the morning milk tea served in a kettle after being cooked on an open fire.

    My days were filled with hiking, exploring, eating, reading and communing with nature. I also got to visit my first Taoist Monastery/Temple. There were optional horse back riding tours to the snow peaks, but we didn’t do it, due to lack of planning.

    During the hour-long up-hill hike to the Taoist temple, I kept seeing these triangle-shaped warning signs of danger (painted on large rocks). They made me laugh. So I had to photograph them for ya:

    Tian Chi XinJiang Warning Sign

    After 3 days of authentic Kazakh living, Mr. Happy drove us back directly to Ürümqi. What a nice guy!

    Tina Su Tian Chi XinJiang
    Tina in front of Taoist Temple. Tian Chi, XinJiang

    Note on Kazakh Yurt: I highly recommend Mr. Happy and his family. Really amazing value and very thoughtful people. They also run a restaurant on-site during the summer. Here is their info:

    Authentic Kazakh Yurts
    Cell: 13899601931 or 13289001080
    Cost: 50RMB (~ $8) per person, including simple meals.

    (Note for those traveling to Tian Chi: There are several legs of travel before getting to the actual lake. Ignore the confusing details in the Lonely Planet book. 1. – All transportation first passes through the ticket gate, where tickets cost 100RMB per person. You are better off paying for a day tour leaving from Ürümqi for 120 RMB which includes transportation. 2. – It’s another 10 minute drive to the giant parking lot containing countless tour buses. If you take a taxi, make sure it takes you here, past the ticket gate. 3. – Another 1 km up hill to the park entrance area. Take a shuttle or the ski lift – which is open only during summer months. Both cost 35 RMB round trip. Once here, there’s an overly-priced-and-heatless 3 star hotel, various restaurants and coat rentals. 4. – A short 6 minute walk up to the lake area – your main attraction. There are carts that can take you there for 5 RMB. It’s pretty fast just to walk. 5. – Once you are at the lake area and you plan to spend the night, all the yurts are on the hills along the right side. Many yurt owners have cars parked near the lake and will take you up free of charge. Otherwise, walking up hill to the yurts takes 25 minutes.)

  • An Unexpected Encounter: Impulse or Destiny?

    Posted on 09.27.08 | 38 Comments


    Photo by Tina Su

    I did something crazy and completely random yesterday; I bought a puppy on the streets of Beijing.

    How are you gonna bring it back to the US? I don’t think you’ll be able to take it back.” seems to be the common response I get asked. That and bewildered looks on the faces of my relatives. My answer has been a quick shoulder shrug and a reply of, “Eh, I’ll figure something out.” Everyone else seems to be more stressed out by it than me.

    The sequence of events went something like this:

    Sept 23, 7:30 pm – paid for puppy in cash.
    Sept 23, 7:49 pm – drove to pet supply store for food, leash, pee-pee pads, chew toys and treats.
    Sept 23, 8:46 pm – went to animal hospital for details on shots and health certificates needed.
    Sept 24, 8:07 am – booked puppy’s spot on the same return flight as mine.

    It all happened very quickly.

    How I Ended Up Buying a Puppy (in Beijing)

    We were walking along the streets in the historic Qianmen Hutong area. While waiting for my uncle to return from the bathroom, a woman (let’s call her Rose) walked by holding an adorable puppy in her arms. I asked to pet him and ended up playing with him.

    At that moment, a local Beijingese couple on their evening stroll stopped in front of us. The woman (let’s call her Betty) asked rudely, “How much you gonna sell that dog for?” without first asking whether the dog was in fact for sale. Culturally, I was shocked by the way she questioned this stranger. If I had asked someone that on the streets of any North American city, I’d get a nasty look or a few choice curse words.

    Turns out, Rose is a street umbrella seller who will not be able to afford to keep the puppy. She said politely, “He is for sale to a good family. I’m not an expert on pet prices. How much do you think he is worth?”

    Betty and her husband continued along with their rude tone and asked ridiculous questions that were both purposefully belittling to Rose and demeaning to the dog. They spent the next 5 minutes picking out all the things that might be wrong with the puppy:

    • “His tail is not straight”
    • “How come he is walking wobbly” (Because he’s a bloody puppy! He’s only 8 weeks old.)
    • “How come he has a beige patch by his eye? Is that a disease? Will I get the disease and die?” (No. He was born that way. It’s part of his fur. I think he is perfect the way he is.)
    • “The colored patches on his back aren’t balanced on both sides.” (He was born that way, the same way that one of your eyes is higher than the other.)
    • “How come his ears are so flimsy? Too soft and doesn’t stand up straight.”

    Turns out my relatives would later ask me the same annoying series of questions – along with commenting that I paid too much. I don’t think owning dogs is generally an accepted practice in Chinese culture. Many of the locals have the notion that dogs are dirty and that horrible diseases can be contracted from them.

    It was clear that Betty wanted to and was ready to buy the dog. Yet, she was afraid to even touch the little 3-lb ball of fur. She said that she might get a disease and die. “Okay, I’ve had enough.” I thought.

    (read more…)

  • China, Baby! 中国, 宝貝儿!

    Posted on 09.18.08 | 17 Comments


    Photo by Chas Pope

    Tomorrow morning, I leave for a five week trip to China.  I will focus on two major destinations: Beijing (北京) and XinJiang (新疆).  My original plan was to visit Mongolia from Beijing, but scrapped that plan due to recent visa restrictions imposed by the Chinese government for double entries.  “Sweet, I get to see XinJiang!” I thought.

    Here’s my plan so far:

    • Travel: Seattle – Beijing
    • Beijing – 4 Days
    • Travel: Beijing -Ürümqi
    • Side trip to TianChi – 2 Days
    • Travel: Ürümqi -Kashgar
    • Kashgar – 10 Days
    • Travel: Kashgar – Beijing
    • Beijing -15 Days
    • Travel: Beijing to Seattle

    Coincidentally and independently, two of my friends from Seattle (Ravi and Jeremy), and fellow blogger friend Nathalie will also be in Beijing for business during parts of my stay.  Plus, my parents will also be visiting Beijing around the same time, so it’ll be a party. I feel pretty lucky right now!

    My photographer friend Jeremy will be joining me for the XinJiang route, my Yoga-Teacher friend Ravi will meet us in Beijing, and hopefully we’ll get to see Nathalie.

    XinJiang – 新疆

    I’ve always been fascinated by XinJiang, a relatively foreign region within China.  What attracts me to it are the vast cultural diversities. Did you know that XinJiang is home to 19 distinct ethnic groups?  Wow!  As a little girl in Beijing, my association with XinJiang people was that they were the kabob sellers who wore exquisite decorative square hats, with tanned skin and Caucasian features.  I’m about to learn more…

    XinJiang borders all the “estan” countries: Kazakhstan (Borat!), Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also borders: Mongolia, Russia and India.   The majority of the population is Muslim. Urghur (pronounced “We-ger”), a Turkic language, is the common tongue.  I heard that Mandarin is frowned upon, so I’m all geared up with a handy Central Asia phrasebook, ready to bust out some Urghur.

    Most of my XinJiang time will be spent in Kashgar.  I actually laughed out loud when I saw it on a map, it’s waaaaaay on the west end of China.  Initially, my plan was to travel by train from Beijing in an attempt to save some money. But learning that trains will take around 72 hours, I jumped at the faster alternative – by plane.

    I’m all ready, armed with a dozen rolls of film and several digital cameras.  It will be a photojournalist’s dream.

    Beijing – 北京

    I was born and raised in Beijing until age 10 (English was my second language). I was there during the Tiananmen Square Massacre (六四) and recall seeing tanks along the main road on my way to school each morning.  The last time I was back was ten years ago, and I’m really excited to see the results of Beijing’s massive modernization.

    My focus in Beijing is mostly for visiting family and to test out how well I can work remotely. (*fingers crossed*)

    Get Packin’

    I will do my best to keep up with ThinkSimpleNow, but I anticipate that reliable internet access will be challenging, especially in XinJiang.  We shall see.

    I will be spending most of my time roaming around each town, taking photos, contemplating, writing, listening to music and reading.  I’ve loaded my iPod with all of Steve Pavlina’s podcasts, videos from Oprah’s Soul Series and a ton of music.  That should keep me busy. :)

    If you’re curious, I’ll be bringing the following books:

  • Lifestyle Update – September 16, 2008

    Posted on 09.16.08 | 8 Comments


    Photo by Melissa Webb (See more images at her flickr stream)

    The past week seemed to have zipped by in a flash. Even though I’m not expected to show up at an office each day, I feel busier than ever.

    Evaluate Goals from Last Week

    My goals for last week were:

    • Read – Spend a minimum of two hours reading everyday
    • Exercise – Go jogging three times a week. Preferably, every other day. Do Yoga on off days.
    • Renew Spirit – Meditate in silence for 15 minutes twice daily.
    • Reduce Email Consumption – Spend no more than one hour on email a day, broken down into two 30 minute sessions.
    • Productivity - Set 3 achievable and bite sized goals every morning, commit to completing them first, before doing any other random tasks.

    How did I do? Here are the ones I’ve succeeded in:

    • Exercise – I went jogging every other day. YAY!  I would force myself to go out regardless of how late in the day it was: whether it was noon or 3pm (This used to be an excuse I used to avoid running). I’m learning that the more I do it, the less resistance I feel towards getting outside, and the further I can go without needing to stop. Pretty cool to observe how responsive our body is at adapting to change.  I have been doing 1.4 mile walk-runs. I would jog half way and speed-walk the other half back.  The goal next week is to jog all the way, both ways.
    • Reduce Email Consumption – I’ve gotten my email time down to about an hour a day during the week and rarely checking email on the weekend.  This feels really liberating, as I now have more time for other things I’ve been wanting to do.  It has, however, been difficult to peel myself away from the computer after an hour, knowing that I have more email that needs replying.  I think with time, I will get better at not beating myself up too much for not replying to email immediately.
    • Productivity - The biggest challenge with setting 3 bite sized goals every morning, is the impulse to set more than 3 goals. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up with a list of 9 must do items (becoming a wish list rather than the top three priorities).  So what I do now is list out top items I want to get done, even if there are more than three, and put the numbers 1, 2, and 3 beside the tasks with the highest priority. Everything else is an optional item, and I can only work on them if 1,2 and 3 are done. This is pretty challenging, as I feel a pull towards other items on the optional list and end up doing those instead.   Again, I’m getting better the more I practice it, both at evaluating what is realistic and shifting my focus to the priority items first.

    Goals that still need some work:

    • Read – I read about an hour a day for 3 days out of the week. After completing my tasks each day, it would be late, and this goal tended to be the item that fell off my plate.
    • Renew Spirit – I meditated for 15 minutes once the entire week. I think I’m gonna put this goal on hold until I can focus on it solely.

    I’m learning that I tend to underestimate how long things will take and I need to take into consideration unexpected events when planning my week.   For example, the article on vegetarian diet last week took 20 hours to write – unexpected meetings, errands and other admin tasks took up the other 20 hours.

    I’m also learning (once again) the importance of focusing on as few major goals as possible.  For the next week I will be focused solely on my exercise, email and daily productivity goals. I will get back to meditation, reading and rising early once I’ve habituated the other goals.

    All in all, the exercise alone has shifted my state towards a positive one.  I feel renewed and excited for the future.

    What’s New?

    I bought a ticket to Beijing a month ago, and last week, I bought a ticket from Beijing to Ürümqi, and then from Ürümqi to Kashgar. I leave this Friday (3 days). It’ll be an adventurous trip in a remote part of China. I’ll post more about this, later this week.

    I’ll be updating Simply Tina with pictures and words during my travels in China.

    Eeeeeee!!!! I’m so excited!

  • Take Care of Suffering Where We Find It

    Posted on 09.15.08 | 5 Comments


    Photo by Katsuaki Shoda

    As I was reading Quantum Wellness last week, I came across a quote that deeply moved me. It was extracted from Jeanne DuPrau’s The Earth House.

    Perhaps it was the context that made me feel extra sensitive to the topic of animal suffering. As I was sitting in my reading chair, I looked over at my dog Tommy, who lay peacefully on the ground beside me, with tenderness and purity sparkling in his eyes; I started to cry.

    It wasn’t just animal suffering that had bought me to tears, but the realization that “If I could feel such empathy toward animals, then surely I could feel more compassion towards people.

    This has helped me greatly at dealing with internal conflicts involving other people.  Each time I sense a grudge or anger towards someone building up within me, I remind myself of this quote and the realization I had experienced while sitting in my reading chair.

    It reminds me to be kinder, to seek understanding and to practice forgiveness.  As a result, I’m experiencing less mind-created anxiety.  Additionally, more peace and compassion towards other people and situations beyond my control.

    Enjoy…

    “It isn’t easy to turn around and start walking in the other direction on that road that can lead either toward or away from suffering, but we can practice for it in whatever small ways present themselves. We can transport spiders out of the path of danger, if we are willing to be thought mildly ridiculous; we can give over part of the vegetable garden to the gophers and the deer; we can stop shutting the lamb and the pig and the cow out of our imaginations, which will make us less and less interested in eating their legs and sides and rumps. We aren’t going to achieve complete harmlessness, but we can take some steps in that direction. The point of saving all sentient beings is not to ensure the personal health and happiness of every bug, bird, fish, and animals on the planet. It is simply to foster the attitude that leads away from suffering. We can’t change the world so that no one gets sick, no one is hurt, no one dies. The best we can do is take care of suffering where we find it. We save all beings because in the process of doing so we expand the boundaries of our identity; we push out the fences that limit what we can love.”

  • Understanding Autoimmune Diseases

    Posted on 09.08.08 | 17 Comments


    Photo: Lynn Kasztanovics

    As part of my research on vegetarian diet, I recently dove into the fascinating book “The China Study“. It was written by Dr. Campbell, a researcher who has spent the past 30 years studying the effects of animal proteins on health.

    In addition to simply presenting the numerous studies by various researchers in a meaningful way, the book does a great job of explaining the most common dangerous diseases, in layman’s terms.  I finally have a basic grasp of the workings behind cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and the various autoimmune diseases.

    I believe that the best way to understand and retain something new is by teaching it.  Here is my stab at explaining the basics of these diseases using very simple terms.

    I hope this can be helpful to you in gaining some clarity around these health topics that are foreign to most of us.  Through understanding, we can appreciate the intricate workings and intelligence of our bodies; thus empowering ourselves to make better, more conscious and responsible lifestyle choices.

    Let’s start with autoimmune disease.
    (read more…)

  • Thirty Saturdays: Lifestyle Update

    Posted on 09.05.08 | 8 Comments

    Photo: Margaret Durow

    A month ago, I had left my job and started this new life devoid of external responsibilities.  Here is an update on how that’s going so far.

    Being Away

    I had spent the first two weeks in Canada visiting my parents and tying up loose ends related to the parting of my last relationship.  It was an emotional ride.  I’m sad for what happened, but I am very hopeful for the bright future ahead.  Several weeks have passed, I now feel restored and whole once again.

    Last week, I traveled to LA for a 3-day relationship seminar taught by the amazing Alison Armstrong. The topic was marriage relationships, and as with Alison’s other seminars, focused on gaining clarity and understanding around the miscommunications between Men and Women.  I walked away feeling enlightened, refreshed and incredibly grateful for the gift of clarity.

    During the seminar, I had enrolled in their Mastery and Leadership Program for 2009. It’s a year-long training program to become a workshop leader and teach the same topics that have profoundly touched my life.  The purpose of the material taught is to create harmonious partnerships between men and women in all contexts, by uncovering the mysteries and misunderstandings between men and women.  I’m totally stoked!

    Coming Home

    It felt unnatural waking up every day and not needing to be anywhere in particular, or needing to get dressed to go out.  While I had a job, I longed for the weekends, and dreaded peeling myself out of bed in the morning for work. Well, now that every day seems like a Saturday, I have to be honest and say, “It feels a little strange.”
    (read more…)

  • Welcome to Simply Tina

    Posted on 09.03.08 | 6 Comments


    Photo: Vanessa Paxton

    Think Simple Now posts have always been in the format of in-depth articles on personal development. As such, I don’t consider it a blog, but rather a free web publication on personal wellbeing.

    Simply Tina is a personal blog where I’ll be posting much more liberally and casually. The topics will consist of a larger range of subjects, including: updates of my progress in this new lifestyle, traveling, business lessons, blogging, passive income, the 4 hour workweek lifestyle, startups, empowering mindsets, photography, and useful resources.

    Subscribe here for updates from this space. Thanks again for your readership and continued encouragement.