To Get Around, take the Bullet Trains and Use the Subways in China

July 26, 2017

Believe me when I suggest avoiding driving or taking a taxi in Beijing unless it is midnight and the city is sort-of sleeping. Beijing is one of the worst cities in the world to drive in. This is probably true for most of China’s crowded cities.

To give you an idea of what I mean by crowded, New York City has a population of about 8.5 million and is ranked #1 in the United States with Los Angeles #2 with less than 4 million people. There are 160 cities in China with a population of over 1 million vs only 10 in the United States.

Here are China’s top five cities ranked by population.

Shanghai – 22 million

Beijing – 10 million

Guangzhou – 11 million

Tianjin – 11 million

Shenzhen – 10 million

I have been to Shanghai and Beijing several times between 1999 – 2008, and have been stuck in Beijing traffic breathing toxic fumes and watching the taxi’s meter adding numbers to the cost of the trip when we could have walked faster for free.

The other choice is Beijing’s subway system built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics (and it’s still expanding), which I prefer using. It’s fast and efficient, but wear a money belt because it can become sardine-can crowded creating a perfect environment for pickpockets. I didn’t even wear my backpack on my back. I put it on my chest where I could keep an eye on it. To be fair, Smarter Travel.com warns us of the dangers of pickpockets in New York City. The same advice will help in any major city you visit.


This video was filmed in 2013 when only one subway line was open. Today, Xian has three subway lines with sixty-six stations and an average of 1.5 million people riding the subway daily. Last time I was in Xian in 2008, the subway system was still under construction.

Then there is China’s high-speed rail. It didn’t exist in 2008, and I haven’t been back to China since. Why fly when you can see China from a bullet train moving at 120 – 160 mph (or faster). The Economist reports, “Less than a decade ago China had yet to connect any of its cities by bullet train. Today, it has 20,000km (12,500 miles) of high-speed rail lines, more than the rest of the world combined. It is planning to lay another 15,000km by 2025.”


“China’s high speed trains make travelling the country easy and quick but there are certain things you should know that’ll make using the high speed trains in China a painless process!” – Learn how to ride high-speed rail in China from The Adventurer

Then Manufacturing.net asks, “Why is There No High-Speed Rail Network in America?”

Here is the simple answer. Since World War II, the U.S. has spent about $33-Trillion on its military budgets and fighting endless wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan causing millions to be killed and/or maimed. Without those wars, there would probably be no ISIS. Then there is the fact that since President Reagan in the 1980s, the focus in the United States has been on cutting taxes mostly for corporations and the wealthiest Americans. That has led to about $20 trillion in debt for the federal government. During this time, the U.S. has not kept its infrastructure up-to-date – improvements that would have provided millions of new jobs and benefited the American people.

If the United States had avoided starting so many wars and had a military budget equal to China (ranked #2 in the world), it would have saved about $32-Trillion since World War II. There would be no national debt and the U.S. might even have its own bullet trains speeding from coast to coast.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Marco Polo wrote, “It is without a doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world.”

June 21, 2017

Huangzhou is considered one of the most beautiful cities in China. In 1127, the Song Dynasty made the city their capital after losing northern China to the Jin Dynasty.

“Spring Day on West Lake” by Ouyang Xiu (1007 – 1072 AD)

“The lovely Spring breeze has come
Back to the Lake of the West
The Spring waters are so clear and
Green they might be freshly painted.
The clouds of perfume are sweeter
Than can be imagined. In the
Gentle East wind the petals
Fall like grains of rice.”

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese

The city of Huangzhou (developed in the 4th and 5th centuries CE) is about a hundred miles or 161 kilometers from Shanghai. I’ve visited this city several times. My last trip was in 2008.

The city has one of the largest bike sharing projects in the world and one of the most successful. Launched in 2008, the city of Huangzhou provides 50,000 free bicycles at 2,000 bike stops across the city, and in July 2012 a paper was published on the Clean Air Action Planning in Chinese Cities: Hangzhou and Jinan Cases.

Li Zhi Hong of Hangzhou Public Transport says the city wanted to encourage citizens to leave their cars and use more public transportation. The bicycles allowed people to take that final kilometer from the bus station to their destination.

The bikes are also great for tourism.

Hangzhou’s architecture and gardens are renowned, and it is situated among hills and valleys in which some of the most famous monasteries in China are located.

Huangzhou, also known as the Westlake, has been one of the more environmentally conscious cities in China. For instance, the city’s government made space to build parks alongside the rapid development and modernization. That’s why Huangzhou has remained picturesque unlike many other cities in China where concrete has taken over.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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A Trip to China isn’t Complete until Hangzhou

April 5, 2017

If you ever visit China, plan to see this tourist attraction in Hangzhou. Before 1949, it was the home of a wealthy family but was first owned by Hu Xue-yan (1823-1885). There’s more to Hangzhou than this mansion, but it’s still worth seeing. Watch the 2nd video to discover more about the city.

Hu Xue-yan made his money in banking then expanded into pawn shops, import-export, real estate and made his biggest fortune as the founder of a Chinese herbal medicine company. After he died, his family lost the fortune and sold the house.

The house was built in 1872. After it was renovated in 2008, it was turned into a museum and tourist attraction.

When the Communists won China’s Civil War in 1949, the mansion (covering about two acres) was owned by another family that made its fortune first in the silk industry then banking.

During a visit to Hangzhou, for a few yuan, you will be able to tour most of the mansion and the gardens.

The Hu Xue-yan mansion is in a city with a population of more than eight million, but once inside its walls you have no sense of the crowded city outside. Once the owner was home and the gates closed at night, it was a world-of-tranquility apart from the city.

The city of Hangzhou is more than two-thousand years old and was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD) before Kublai Khan conquered all of China and founded the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368 AD).

There is a famous Chinese saying:  “In heaven there is paradise, on Earth there is Su and Hang (Hangzhou – Paradise on Earth).

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The Lovers Who Wanted to Save China’s Past

March 22, 2017

Smithsonian Magazine ran a piece on The Lovers of Shanxi. Lin Huiyn and Liang Sicheng are known today as the couple that wanted to save China’s ancient architectural treasures before they were lost forever. On the eve of World War II and Japan’s invasion of China, this married couple set out in the 1930s to search China and document the country’s architectural history.

Smithsonian said, “The couple would go on to make a string of extraordinary discoveries in the 1930s, documenting almost 2,000 exquisitely carved temples, pagodas and monasteries that were on the verge of being lost forever.”

Liang Sicheng is recognized as the “Father of Modern Chinese Architecture”. Princeton University, awarded him an honorary doctoral degree in 1947, and wrote “a creative architect who has also been a teacher of architectural history, a pioneer in historical research and exploration in Chinese architecture and planning, and a leader in the restoration and preservation of the priceless monuments of his country.”

His wife was the first female architect in modern China. Her passion was the restoration of China’s cultural heritage sites.  She died in 1955 of tuberculosis, and soon after her death, her husband was denounced during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and Liang Sicheng died in 1972 before the Cultural Revolution ended. During the years after his first wife’s death, he witnessed the destruction of many of China’s architectural masterpieces.

But today, in China, this couple is remembered and honored for what they accomplished.

These two also visited one of the few surviving examples of ancient China’s architecture to see the massive four-mile-long wall built in 1370 AD that surrounds the city of Pingyao in Shanxi province. One reason this city’s ancient architecture survived the Mao era is because the city was too poor to tear everything down during the Cultural Revolution when Mao was attempting to erase history.

After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping reversed Mao’s policies and opened China to the world, and over the years many of the damaged buildings were rebuilt.

I can only hope that something similar will happen in the United States once the malignant narcissist Donald Trump is gone.

Today the ancient city of Pengyao is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Most buildings in the Old city are from the Ming and Qing dynasties. During the late Qing Dynasty, Pingyao was the financial center of China.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Eating Out in China’s Oldest Capital

February 14, 2017

In 1999, in China’s oldest capital, our hotel was in sight of Xian’s city walls.  We had a view of the ancient battlements that were several hundred years old and sinking. At night, the walls and towers were outlined with white Christmas lights.

I ached to get up there and walk on those walls that were wide enough to drive cars on.  I’d have to wait more than nine years before that happened.

To get an idea of the history of this city, it helps to know that it was the capital longer than any other city in China, and was first called Chang’an before it became known as Xian.

Several dynasties ruled China from this city:

BC 221-206 – Qin (Ch’in) Dynasty
BC 206 – 9 AD – Han Dynasty
581-618 AD – Sui Dynasty
618-906 AD – Tang Dynasty
Timeline of Chinese History and Dynasties

Beijing wouldn’t become the capital of China until 1279 AD during the Yuan Dynasty when Kublai Khan was emperor.

On our second day in Xian, we walked from the hotel and through an opening in the ancient wall into the city to a Xian restaurant. I went in first and the hostess, who didn’t speak a word of English, handed me a menu written in English.

Anchee, dressed more like a Chinese peasant than an American, walked in after me, and she was handed a menu written in Chinese. Then she glanced over my shoulder at my menu before taking it out of my hands and giving it back to the hostess.

“We’ll use the Chinese menu,” she said. Anchee grew up in China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and didn’t leave until she was 28.

The prices in Mandarin were less than half the English version.  A stunned look appeared on the hostesses face.  It was a Candid Camera moment, and it was all I could do not to laugh.

This doesn’t mean every restaurant in China does this. In fact, most don’t. The double menu caper was probably the idea of the owner of that specific restaurant in a city known for tourism due to the Terra Cotta warriors and the tomb of China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.

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A Brief History of New Year Celebrations

December 28, 2016

The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival dates back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox, a day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness, and this ushered in the beginning of a new year.

If the first recorded New Year’s celebration was in March, how did it move to January 1st?

The answer to that question may be found at History.com where we discover that Emperor Julius Cesar introduced the Julian calendar in 46 BC, and it closely resembled the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries use today. In addition, Cesar made January 1st the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake, Janus, the Roman god of beginnings.

Therefore, if you celebrate the New Year on January 1st, you are celebrating a pagan holiday. But all is not lost. Later, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian leaders in medieval Europe during the Dark Ages replaced January 1st as the first day of the year with days carrying more religious significance such as December 25, the anniversary of Jesus’s birth, and that lasted until Pope Gregory XIII (AD 1502 – 1585) reestablished January 1st as New Year’s Day in 1582.


Countries that do NOT celebrate the New Year on the first of January

For China, the first day of the New Year falls between January 21 and February 20.  The Chinese New Year is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese calendar, also known as the Spring Festival.

The Chinese New Year gained significance because of several myths and traditions. History.com reports the ancient Chinese calendar, on which the Chinese New Year is based, functioned as a religious, dynastic and social guide. Oracle bones inscribed with astronomical records indicate that it existed as early as the 14th century BC, during the Shang Dynasty.

Traditionally, the festival was a time to honor deities (gods) as well as ancestors. The Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories that have significant Chinese populations, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, and the Philippines.

In 2015, China witnessed 261 million people on the move to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, and they traveled by road, rail and air—all over a short period of time. The Chinese Lunar New Year for 2016 takes place on Monday, February 8, and it is a national holiday that runs from February 7 – 13. If you are curious and want to see what it looks like in China when all those people are on the road at the same time, the International Business Times has a great photo spread to scroll through.

When we visited China in 2008 during this incredibly crowded holiday for travelers, the Lunar New Year was on February 7, the Year of the Rat. In 2017 it will be the Year of the Rooster on January 28th. Each year is related to an animal sign according to a 12-year-cycle.

Back during the Year of the Rat in 2008, it was so crowded when we were traveling in China, that it felt as if we were swimming upriver through an ocean filled with people and no water.

For readers who haven’t been to China and want to visit one day, this may be your only chance to experience a taste of what it’s like to live in a country with more than 1.3 billion people. By the way, 261 million people is more than 80% of the population of the United States. Imagine the gridlock if that many Americans took to the roads and air all at the same time.

 
2015 Lunar New Year in Shanghai, China

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Is There a Turkey Day in China Too?

November 23, 2016

Turkey is a fowl many Chinese seldom eat. However, eating duck and chicken is common. Duck is even considered a delicacy. In fact, the Unvegan says, “No trip to Beijing is complete without eating some Peking Duck.”

The Virtual Tourist says, “It is thought that Beijing roast duck, like the tradition of roast turkey in America and the UK, owes its origin to the roast goose that is still popular in Europe on festive occasions.”

Most Americans do not celebrate the Chinese New Year (the Spring Festival) and most Chinese do not celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving is an American holiday that Canadians also celebrate, but on the second Monday in October.


Thanksgiving in Beijing with Peking Duck

CBS News.com reported, “America is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of turkeys. As a nation we’re also the largest consumers of turkey …” and “China is the second-largest market for U.S. turkey exports, reportedly buying more than $70.5 million in turkey meat in 2012.”

If you are visiting China during Thanksgiving, you have a choice between Peking Duck, which is easy to find, and turkey.

Go China says, “Just head to your local international grocery store (Jenny Lu’s in Beijing, Cityshop in Shanghai) and stock up on all the fixings: frozen Butterball turkeys, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie makings. But you better do it fast, there tends to be a run on these items so if you’re shopping on the last Thursday in November, you’ll be out of luck.”

In fact, if you are visiting Shanghai, the Shanghai City Guide is there to help you find where to buy your favorite food. There are even three Walmarts in Shanghai, and Time Out Beijing provides a list for China’s capital city.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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