In the sky there is heaven, on earth there is Hangzhou, so the old Chinese saying goes. Steeped in history, Hangzhou was one of Seven Ancient Capitals of China, reining as capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978. Today it’s a prosperous city of more than 6 million people, spoilt with its picturesque West Lake, countless parks, and surrounding lush hills and mountains. It’s less than a one-hour fast train ride from the concrete grit of Shanghai, but a world away. It’s hard not to feel at ease amongst the peace and tranquility of one of China’s most famous lakes.
Philippine’s ‘Last Frontier’, Palawan Island, is the westernmost point of the Philippines archipelago. Once the realm of pirates, it’s now a relatively popular spot for sun, scenery and turtle seekers. On its northern tip, along with 45 islands nearby, is the municipality of El Nido.
El Nido’s landscape is simply breathtaking. Dotted with dramatic limestone cliffs humping everywhere, dropping down to countless sandy beaches. It looks like something between Jurassic Park and Robert Louis Stevenson ‘s Treasure Island. The golden sand, blue sea, green mangroves, palms and other foliage felt especially vivid coming from a slightly smoggy Shanghai in the winter.
It began around April 2011, those subtle winks and prods between couples, before slipping out early from the KTV bar with plenty of new accessories from the 7-11 counter. Lights were out across China as hopeful parents pwapped like crazy to hit the 12 month window of a dragon kid. The 17 million new babies picked to be born in the Year of the Dragon are said to possess passion, courage, luck and strength like no other, so they’re a pretty good bet for your shot at securing retirement funding. Or are they?
Burma seems to be Southeast Asia’s latest hotspot. The ‘opening up’ of Burma’s and talk of it being like Asia 30-years ago (not the first time that one’s been used) has seen tourists flocking to get a piece of the action before it’s overrun with tourists. Unfortunately that’s already happened. In 2012, Burmese tourism soared 43% and its infrastructure is struggling to keep up.
There’s little wonder tourists are coming to Burma. The people are charming, smile at ease and, unlike some with of its neighbouring countries, you feel comfortable that they’re not going to be ripped off every time you slip your hand into your money belt. There are some big-hitting sites to see too. The scale of Yangon’s crumbling colonial grandeur is matched by few cities in Asia, maybe just Mumbai. The bizarre one-legged-paddling fishermen, floating villages and surrounding vineyards of Inle Lake are cool, although one does get a little souvenir-shop fatigue. And cycling between the 4,000+ temples that dot the grassy paddocks amongst goat herders and ox-pulled ploughs is right up there with Amritsar’s Golden Temple as my favourite things to do in Asia, or pretty much anywhere.
Will the real New Zealand please stand up?
China is notorious for fakes. There’s the counterfeit handbags and watches everywhere, bogus Subway restaurants and fake Apple stores that even fooled the staff working there.
New Zealand has had it’s share of products ripped off as well: fake NZ milk powder (because Chinese are worried they’ll be poisoned by the local stuff), pirated Separation City DVDs and fake NZ kiwi fruit – though we kinda stole it from them in the first place.
However, the latest theft has taken ripping off God’s Zone to a whole new level – they’re faking NZ!
The international press hasn’t been shy reporting the dramas in the build up to this week’s change of leadership in China. There’s been the blocking of Google and other annoying Internet disruptions, the 1.4 million-strong volunteer security force keeping peace in Beijing, and the unrelated, somewhat sensationalised reports of thousands clashing with the police in China. But there seems little coverage of the positive change taking place right now in China’s police force.
I visited Greenland about 10 years ago, and it still ranks among the most fascinating places I have been to. It made quite an impression on me, keeping me curious enough to read the odd article I stumble across about the world’s largest island. One article that recently caught my attention was that 2,000 Chinese workers would be shipped to the freezing land to build an aluminium smelter.
Every time I’d seen the little men peddling the big stack of polystyrene, which was a lot, I though I must get a photo – I finally did. It’s hard not to love what they add to the contrasting city of Shanghai. They’re one of the hairier obstacles on the daily bike adventure but one of my favourites.
You don’t see adorable golden Labradors helping the blind find their way around the streets in China. Although China has almost 1 in 5 of the world’s blind people – around 5,000,000 – there are just 47 guide dogs. Yep, that’s over 100,000 people per pooch. So how do those who can’t see find their way around?
When I first arrived in Beijing in 2010, my biggest surprise was the lack of bicycles. As a young lad, gaping over sepia prints of China, it was the hordes of bicycles on Beijing’s streets that made the biggest impression. These days, China’s bicycle situation is one of the most noticeable indicators of the changes China has made over the past three decades.
Beijing has many great things, but its diminishing bike culture isn’t one of them. Just 10 years ago, 60% of Beijingers used peddle power to get to work. But with increasing wealth, sprawling suburbs, bigger roads and lessening bike lanes, that figure now languishes below many European cities, at 20%. For someone who enjoys powering two wheels from a hard seat, I was disappointed.
Six months later and a 1,200 kilometre move south to Shanghai, my faith was restored. Shanghai is China’s original home of cycling and it still reigns as a dreamland for those who enjoy a little excitement when they play on their peddles.
As a youngster in New Zealand, it wasn’t unusual to return home to the sweet aroma of roasting lamb. Over the years, Kiwi cuisine evolved to mouth watering lamb shanks, gourmet lamb burgers, lamb racks, lamb medallions and many other cuts that make your taste buds tingle and tummy twitter. With almost 10 sheep for every New Zealander, there’s a bit of lamb to go around.
Fast forward a few years and 9,735 kilometres across the Pacific, where we found ourselves craving a little lamb love in Shanghai. While lamb and mutton are the meats of choice for the sparsely populated western China provinces and Inner Mongolia, and is a popular dish in Northern China, finding a nice cut in Shanghai is needle-in-a-haystack kind of stuff.
Something I love about travelling in places like Asia, the Nile River and even New Zealand, is discovering those jaw-droppingly-magical places that are still unspoiled from the tentacles of development. We were lucky to stumble upon another gem, Koh Rong Island, in a recent trip to Cambodia.
Imagine you were the top engineering student at one of China’s best universities. You’ve studied hard, hoping some day you’ll work for a multinational and possibly get transferred to America. Fortunately, there are many graduate jobs advertised for multinationals looking for the exact skills and qualifications you have. You submit your resume, both in Chinese and English, with your English name atop, followed by your impressive credentials.
Days pass, you hear nothing. Weeks follow, without a word. One by one, you call up the companies you applied to. In perfect English, you introduce yourself to the American HR representative, “Hi I’m Rambo, I’m calling about your graduate position…” An empty silence fills the receiver, then a click.
There are an infinite amount of staggering China statistics. One of my favourites is the quantity of meat. Over a billion pigs are in China, more than every other country combined, and 12 million of them are eaten every week. On average, a small Chinese village eats more hog than Egypt’s entire population living along the Nile. But to think that China is just about animals that oink would be unnecessarily underselling that other well-known white meat, the chicken.
Mention Tibet and most people will picture snowy ranges, icy-bearded mountaineers and hardy locals wrapped in yak hides. That’s with good reason; generally the higher you go, the colder it gets, and Tibet is high.
Tibet isn’t called the Roof of the World for nothing. The Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau in the world with an average altitude of 4,500 metres (14,800 feet). Just 36 countries have a mountain that reaches that height. Yet at that altitude, even in January, much of Tibet is surprisingly pleasant.