Archive for Traveling

  • Update: ‘Blackie’ Travels to America

    Posted on 11.20.08 | 22 Comments

    Six weeks ago, I had written about my encounter with a puppy on the streets of Beijing. Many have since written asking about his safety and status. This is an update following up on the first post.

    After spending four happy weeks in Beijing with friends and family, Blackie and I have successfully, safely and stress-free-ly landed in Seattle.

    Blackie would like to thank you all for your concern and curiosity regarding his well being. Your love is gratefully received and gladly reciprocated.

    Blackie in Beijing

    After spending 2 weeks in a doggie hotel with a loving care taker while I traveled to XinJiang, Blackie and I reunited. Surprisingly, dogs weren’t allowed on Beijing public transports, and you couldn’t try to sneak him in, since all bags need to go through X-ray machines. So, we took taxis everywhere we went.

    He was small enough (under 3 lbs) to fit into my day purse, and we brought him along with us pretty much everywhere we went: restaurants, shopping malls, people’s homes, museums, the Olympic Stadium, the Great Wall of China.

    My parents and I were to rendezvous in Beijing, they had arrived from Toronto a week prior. Since we live in different cities, it was super nice to spend time with them while seeing a ‘foreign’ city (so much about the city has changed and in unfathomable ways), while carrying a small puppy around. My parents loved their new grand-doggie, Blackie, and hope to see him soon on their next trip to Seattle.

    Blackie touring around Beijing’s major tourist attractions in Tina’s purse.

    Resting on the shoulders of Tina’s dad on a road trip just outside of Beijing.

    While shopping, Blackie met his long lost twin. We had to take a picture. :)

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  • Roadtrip: Karakul Lake via Karakoram Highway

    Posted on 11.10.08 | 12 Comments

    Jason and Jeremy at rest stop on Karakoram Highway. Photo by Tina Su

    Back in 2006, when I was roaming around Tibet on my own, I was approached by a couple of Americans to join them on an overland Jeep trip to Nepal. I remember how relieved I felt knowing that I wouldn’t be venturing out all alone. Besides, it’s so much cheaper to split the rental car costs and much more interesting doing a trip with other souls.

    In Kashgar, when I saw the very colorful Jason Carter in the hotel lobby, I knew I had to approach him. He was traveling alone and he decided to join us on the 2 day road trip to Karakul Lake.

    As my intuition had suggested, Jason is one of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered. A bloke from London living in Spain, has sold everything he owned and plans to travel for the next 3 years. Jason was hilarious, fast talking and he swore twice with every sentence he spoke. He had just spent a month in Mongolia and passionately disliked his remote highland prairie experience. Oh the stories he had… I laughed until tears came out.

    Top: Jason mingling with locals at rest stop.
    Bottom: On Karakoram highway.

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  • Kashgar: A Colorful Celebration of Life – Part 2

    Posted on 11.05.08 | 11 Comments

    Photo by Tina Su

    For Part 1 of the post, go here.

    The old town takes up about a 20 block radius. Here life is still of the traditional Kashgar-ian flavor, with the pounding and chiseling sounds of the hundreds of craftsmen seated along the back alley ways, and where every imaginable handcrafted item can be negotiated for in the tiny shops that line the streets.

    Kids roam freely along the side alleys in the old town, most of whom are packing plastic bee-bee guns. We were shocked by the sheer number of unsupervised children running about during the day time.  They were constantly either harassing us for a picture, or shooting at us with their bee-bee guns when we weren’t looking.

    The kids were cute, until we became targets of their harassment. Lemme tell ya, those bee-bee gun shots really hurt!! They can take an eye out! An accident waiting to unfold, I can just feel it. A few times, I had to physically remove the little plastic guns from the kids’ hands when they shot too close to me, or were about to shoot someone else.  They actually listened to me when I pretended to be mad (well, sometimes).

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  • Kashgar: A Colorful Celebration of Life – Part 1

    Posted on 10.31.08 | 14 Comments

    Koran sellers in Kashgar market. Xinjiang, China.
    Qoran Sellers. Photo by Tina Su

    Kashgar (or Kāshí 喀什) is near the western most edge of China bordering Kyrgyzstan and within driving distance to Pakistan. Its remote location, vastly diverse cultures (mixture of Uyghur, Han, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek ethnic groups), and intense colors spread throughout the city are what draw in the curious tourists.

    It was a long journey to get there, four flights from Seattle. And this was the fastest option, with trains being another popular option from Beijing. However, one would need to take two different trains at 36 hours a piece, making it a total of around 4 days of land travel. Yikes! We ended up booking flights from Beijing via, since the Chinese airline websites were virtually unusable.

    Top: Kabob seller making fresh lamb barbeque kabobs.
    Middle: Running girls in old town. Kashgar, China.
    Bottom: Butcher shop along the streets of old down Kashgar.

    (read more…)

  • Video: Glimpses of Kashgar

    Posted on 10.05.08 | 10 Comments

    Kashgar Ladies Walking XinJiang
    Photo by Tina Su

    Kashgar has been a little overwhelming in several senses of the word. For one, the culture is vastly different than anything I’ve experienced; the colors are bold, the sounds are loud, and countless food stalls are packed between carpet and butcher shops along the street. If I had been blindfolded and dropped into this city, I would have guessed that I was dropped in Iran or somewhere in Central Asia.

    Also, people look different; initially, I couldn’t stop staring at the little blond girls with green eyes, or the identically dressed men in Borat-like outfits roaming in groups and walking in unison. I wanted to follow them, and watch how they live. I was basically in sensory overload for the first few days.

    It’d be too much to describe to you all that I’ve seen in this city in one post, so I will break it down into digestible chucks for your viewing pleasure.  Not to mention I’m still a bit freaked-out from the earthquake that just rattled the hotel I’m staying in!

    For now, here are some video clips I took while walking along the streets of Kashgar that should give you an introductory feel for the place. I will fill in the details later.

    Street Scene One:

    Street Scene Two:

    How People Cross the Street (And ignore traffic lights):

    Related Posts Covering Kashgar:

  • 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
    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
    High-tech in low-tech. Jeremy getting comfortable with laptop in the cold night.
    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: