Destination: China

In the Abode of the Gods

Jeffrey Tayler treks a Buddhist pilgrimage route through China's remotest, high-altitude domains

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Interview with Henry Rollins: Punk Rock World Traveler

Jim Benning asks the musician about his new book of photographs and how travel has humbled him

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Electronic Surveillance Abroad: ‘Sophisticated and Pervasive’

Also: A little scary. Ellen Nakashima and William Wan illuminate the conditions business travelers and government officials are presumed to face when traveling to China and some other countries. From the Washington Post:

Security experts also warn about Russia, Israel and even France, which in the 1990s reportedly bugged first-class airplane cabins to capture business travelers’ conversations. Many other countries, including the United States, spy on one another for national security purposes.

But China’s brazen use of ­cyber-espionage stands out because the focus is often corporate, part of a broader government strategy to help develop the country’s economy, according to experts who advise American businesses and government agencies.

“I’ve been told that if you use an iPhone or BlackBerry, everything on it—contacts, calendar, e-mails—can be downloaded in a second. All it takes is someone sitting near you on a subway waiting for you to turn it on, and they’ve got it,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, a former senior White House official for Asia who is at the Brookings Institution.

One anonymous security expert buys a new iPad when s/he visits China, then never uses it again.

Ai Weiwei’s Beijing

The Chinese artist has broken his post-detention silence in a piece for Newsweek. He writes of Beijing:

I feel sorry to say I have no favorite place in Beijing. I have no intention of going anywhere in the city. The places are so simple. You don’t want to look at a person walking past because you know exactly what’s on his mind. No curiosity. And no one will even argue with you.

None of my art represents Beijing. The Bird’s Nest—I never think about it. After the Olympics, the common folks don’t talk about it because the Olympics did not bring joy to the people.

There are positives to Beijing. People still give birth to babies. There are a few nice parks. Last week I walked in one, and a few people came up to me and gave me a thumbs up or patted me on the shoulder. Why do they have to do that in such a secretive way? No one is willing to speak out. What are they waiting for? They always tell me, “Weiwei, leave the nation, please.” Or “Live longer and watch them die.” Either leave, or be patient and watch how they die. I really don’t know what I’m going to do.

To China’s Fangji Cat Meatball Restaurant and Beyond

More travel-related hilarity from David Sedaris in China, though it’s not for those without an adventurous palate. And if you do have an adventurous palate, Sedaris salutes you:

Another of the dishes that day consisted of rooster blood. I’d thought it would be liquid, like V8 juice, but when cooked it coagulated into little pads that had the consistency of tofu. “Not bad,” said the girl seated beside me, and I watched as she slid one into her mouth. Jill was American, a Peace Corps volunteer who’d come to Chengdu to teach English. “In Thailand last year? I ate dog face,” she told me.

“Just the face?”

“Well, head and face.” She was in a small village, part of a team returning abducted girls to their parents. To show their gratitude, the locals prepared a feast. Dog was considered good eating. The head was supposedly the best part, and rather than offend her hosts, Jill ate it.

This, for many, is flat-out evil but the rest of the world isn’t like America, where it’s become virtually impossible to throw a dinner party. One person doesn’t eat meat, while another is lactose intolerant, or can’t digest wheat. You have vegetarians who eat fish and others who won’t touch it. Then there are vegans, macrobiotics and a new group, flexitarians, who eat meat if not too many people are watching. Take that into consideration and it’s actually rather refreshing that a 22-year-old from the suburbs of Detroit will pick up her chopsticks and at least try the shar pei.

China Beyond its Borders

Caught up with NPR’s series about the ways China is asserting itself throughout the world. It’s excellent. The latest piece looks at Italian response to the changing textile scene in Tuscany, “home to the largest concentration of Chinese residents in Europe.”

Sylvia Poggioli says:

On Via Pistoiese, shops are Chinese—hairdresser, hardware store and supermarket. There are few Italians. It’s 2 p.m. and all shops are open—there’s no time for siesta in Chinatown.

‘The Old Man Isn’t There Anymore’

‘The Old Man Isn’t There Anymore’ Photo by sun dazed via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Kellie Schmitt shared a big house in Shanghai with a dozen neighbors she hardly knew. Then she got an invitation to a funeral.

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Tour Guide Battle in Southern California Leaves Chinese ‘Very Afraid’

Chinese tourists are increasingly bringing their own guides when they travel to Southern California. Local guides are pissed about losing business and, allegedly, becoming confrontational. The Los Angeles Times breaks it down:

Wang Suqi, president of Beijing-based Total Travel International Travel Service, claims that one of his tour leaders was punched by an American tour guide at Universal Studios Hollywood, and now his tour leaders have asked to be transferred to different tours in Europe and Southeast Asia.

“They’re very afraid,” Wang said. “Even our customers are asking what’s going on.”

The competition for the Chinese tourism business was set off in 2007 when China, for the first time, allowed commercial travel agents to book group pleasure trips to the U.S. But China did not mandate that Chinese tourists hire accredited American tour guides—a requirement that China imposed on other countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

Of course, it’s mostly about money. Chinese travelers have been unleashed in recent years, and they spend.

In 2009, Chinese travelers spent an average of $6,800 per person per visit, including airfare, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. By 2020, China will become the world’s fourth-largest source of tourists, the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization predicts.

China’s Mandatory Vacation Woes

Forget about shrinking vacation syndrome. In China, workers are struggling with a complex schedule of mandatory holidays—followed by mandatory make-up days. The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs explains:

According to a government-mandated holiday schedule that took effect in 2008, workers were given three consecutive days off last week for the Mid-Autumn Festival, but they were required to make up two of those by working the Saturday and Sunday on either end of the holiday.

This give-and-take arrangement is then repeated for the National Day holiday, with employees enjoying seven straight days off—Friday through Oct. 7—except only three of those are official free days. (The four “gifted days” will be made up over the weekends before and after.)

If you have trouble with the math, you are in good company.

Apparently, an internet cheat sheet has been circulating that aims to help. Here’s its breakdown: “One day off, three days on, three days off, six days on, seven days off, two days on, one day off.” Clear as mud, huh?

The Life of a Hotel Butler in Macau

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the growing corps of butlers working at top-end hotels in Macau, Hong Kong and mainland China, offering a level of service most of us probably associate with an aristocratic life that’s now decades or centuries in the past. And yes, there are Jeeves references.

Josephine Ive, the English-born hospitality guru behind Australia’s Magnums Butlers, a school for budding Jeeveses, says there has been a significant increase in demand for butlers across China from both private residences and hotels.

“There are now many more millionaires in China than before. [They] are traveling a lot more and are being exposed to different levels of service,” says Ms. Ive, a former chef and lady butler who once cooked for the British royal family. “It’s very hard to put figures on the growing demand for butlers in China, but almost all the top-end hotels are including butler services now,” she says. Many of Magnums’s graduates go on to work for high-end hotels across Asia; corporations and yachts are also a source of demand.

World Travel Watch: Second Bomb Threat at the Eiffel Tower, Rabies in Bali and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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New Travel Book: ‘Dreaming in Chinese’

Anyone who has ever tried to learn even a few words of Chinese will appreciate the difficulty of the task. It turns out it was a serious challenge even for a woman with a Ph.D. in linguistics and six languages already under her belt.

That would be Deborah Fallows, author of the new book, Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love and Language.

NPR just profiled her. My favorite passage from the radio piece concerned her attempt to order take-out Taco Bell, of all things:

Her tones weren’t very good at that point, though, so Fallows’ request for “takeout”—dabao—was met with a blank stare from the Taco Bell employee. Fallows tried saying dabao with every combination of tones she could think of—rising tones, falling tones—and when that didn’t work, she started pointing at the menu, and then miming the action of walking out the door with a bag of food. After a consultation with several other employees, finally—eureka! Yes, dabao! Yes, of course, they did takeout.

I feel Fallows’ pain.

World Travel Watch: Tube Strikes Looming in London, China’s Epic Traffic Jam and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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China’s 10-Day Traffic Jam, in Photos

NPR has a sequence of remarkable photos from the ongoing jam, which stretches for more than 60 miles. Hat tip to Boing Boing’s Maggie Koerth-Baker, who speculates about how the AP photographers managed to make it to and from the scene: “I’m imagining a dirt bike was involved.”

Travelers Checks: Now Available in Yuan

Yep, American Express is now offering the first-ever travelers check in Chinese currency. The news begs two questions: First, is this more evidence that China is on its way to becoming the world’s top tourist destination? And second, does anyone still use travelers checks?