Posted by: CS
The National Museum of China, Beijing

Serious culture vultures are going to want to take in the National Museum of China during their tour of Beijing. It's probably the best place on your China vacation to get an understanding of the recent events in China's past from a Chinese perspective as well as some of the more enduring history. We think it's worth a trip during your time in the capital if you want to really get to grips with China as a nation.

China Tour: The National Museum of China, Beijing

History – As Two Became One

If you'd taken your China tour before 2003 you'd have found two museums in the same place rather than one. The Northern Wing of the National Museum used to be the Museum of the Chinese Revolution. This was founded back in 1950 and was designed to ensure the legacy of the Cultural Revolution was handed down the ages to Chinese citizens. The other museum was the National Museum of Chinese History and it was in the Southern Wing. The National Museum of Chinese History was in fact an extension of the two former museums and the original museum was the Preliminary Office of the National History Museum which was formed in 1912.

We've already mentioned the Ten Great Buildings of Beijing in an earlier post as one of the highlights of a China vacation and the museum is one of those buildings. It can be found opposite another, The Great Hall of the People. The building is huge and covers a floor area of over 65,000 square meters.

The museum was closed in 2007 for complete renovation and then opened up again in March, 2011. If your China travel gives you the time for a visit, you'll now find over 28 exhibitions covering more than 200,000 square meters of display space.

Collections at the National Museum of China

Your trip will encompass all aspects of Chinese history from the arrival of Yuanmou Man in China (nearly 1.7 million years ago) right through to the end of the Qing Dynasty. There are over one million items in the collection and most of them cannot be found anywhere else on your China tour.

Thankfully the much derided “special exhibit” dedicated to Louis Vuitton is gone and given the unhappiness of the Chinese public with this ridiculous commercial display there won't be any replacements to spoil your tour.

You should keep an eye out for the Ancient China exhibit which has pulled together some of the finest craftsmanship from China's earliest history. The Ancient Chinese Jades exhibit is particular fine with the standard of work so good that it's almost impossible to describe – you have to see it to believe it.

We'd also recommend you check out the painting exhibition “The Road of Rejuvenation” which focuses on China's attempts to regain its' national pride following the humiliation of the Opium Wars. Chinese art has never been so evocative.

The other thing that makes for a great vacation photograph is the giant “Simwu Ding” the largest ancient bronze piece in the world weighing in at over 800 kilograms. You should also take a peek at the Han Dynasty jade burial costumes which really are quite something.

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Posted by: CS
Personal Safety in China

We know that some folks who come on a China vacation are interested in understanding how safe they'll be on their China tour. We have some simple travel advice for visitors to China that will help make sure their trip goes without a hitch. The good news is that in general terms China is much, much safer than most Western countries for visitors.

Violent Crime in China – Almost None It's highly unlikely that you will be involved in any form of violent crime in China. It's not that there is no violent crime (it occurs in all countries) it's just that it's almost never directed at foreigners. That doesn't mean you should be completely blasé and it's a good idea to take sensible precautions – such as not wandering through poorly lit areas at night.

The important thing is to remember than China's face culture requires politeness and respect at all times. Don't shout when things go wrong, either tell your China tour guide if you have a problem or just shrug it off. Causing someone a drastic loss of face is the only chance that you might get into a fight.

Petty Crime in China – Take Precautions The truth is that the vast majority of crime in China is petty crime. Pickpocketing and thefts driven by opportunity aren't unknown particularly in crowded places. However, that shouldn't need to ruin your China vacation as long as you take sensible steps to prevent it.

  • In your hotel. Keep your valuables locked in the safe when you go out. That includes your laptop, camera, passport and any money or credit cards. Most hotel staff are honest but you wouldn't take the risk in the United States so don't do it on your China trip either.

  • When you're outside. Keep your valuables hidden away. Laptops and electronic cameras are extremely expensive compared to the average Chinese salary and you don't want to give people an incentive to steal. You should also ensure that handbags are zipped up ideally with the zip at the front so you can see if someone is tampering with it. Rucksacks are best carried on your chest in busy areas (you'll see the locals doing this too). Wallets and phones are best kept in tight trouser pockets or handbags rather than in shirt pockets or jacket pockets.

What to do if something does go wrong

In 99.999% of visits to China nothing will happen. In the rare event that you do have something stolen or you lose your passport then it's a good idea to talk to your China tour guide. They will help you decide if it's worth reporting to the police (it is for insurance purposes but there's very little likelihood your property will be recovered).

If you do need to report something to the police you should take a Chinese speaker with you to translate. It's also a good idea to take a letter from your hotel confirming you are staying there (foreigners who don't stay in hotels are legally required to report to a police station within 24 hours of arriving in a city). Stay calm and the police will be very helpful. They don't want you to have a bad China travel experience and they'll do all they can to ensure your vacation gets back on track.

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Posted by: CS
Chopsticks Culture in China

You don't have to worry about chopsticks during your China vacation. You can get a spoon and fork in almost every Chinese restaurant. However, it's good fun to eat with chopsticks and many people find it an enjoyable part of their China trip. There are some protocols for using chopsticks and we've put a quick guide together so you can hone your understanding before you travel to China.

Chopsticks Should Be Kept Even

Don't be a party pooper during your vacation. When you place your chopsticks on the plate or holder provided make sure that they are evenly laid out without any overlap. Why? It's because in China the shape that uneven chopsticks make is similar to that of a coffin. No-one wants you to bring death to the dining table. Well, except in a horror novel that is.

Keep that Forefinger Down and out of the Way

Chopsticks can be tricky to get the hang of. The right way to use them is to use the thumb and forefinger to keep them secure and then use your other fingers on the sides to keep them under control. Your China trip will be much smoother if you keep your forefinger from sticking up at everyone else at the table. It's rather rude and it reminds people of being scolded as children. You should also avoid pointing at other people with your chopsticks, that's rude too.

Don't Leave Your Chopsticks Wedged in the Dish

If you like your travel to be peaceful whatever you do don't stick the chopsticks in the bowl and then leave them pointing up in the air. In China this is like flipping someone the bird back at home. It's an unforgiveable insult. So when you've finished eating for a moment you'll want to put your chopsticks down on the dish or holder provided.

Don't Hand Someone Rice with the Serving Chopsticks Still in The Rice

The chopsticks should be passed separately from the plate. It might not seem like a big thing but to the Chinese it reminds them of the incense that is burned during a funeral. The death taboo is a strong one (remember that 4 is an unlucky number in Chinese because it sounds like death) and it's not something you want to interject into a meal in China during your tour.

Try and Keep the Chopsticks Uncrossed

Another potential vacation boo-boo is placing your chopsticks crossed over each other on a plate. This is actual a subtle way of telling your Chinese dining companion you think they're talking nonsense. That kind of behavior is no more welcome in China than it would be back home.

Don't Bang Your Chopsticks on Your Bowl

This is how beggars approach people in the Chinese streets. They bang their fingers against the begging bowl to get attention. It's really quite offensive to Chinese dining companions.

Keep Your Chopsticks Off the Floor

It goes without saying that throwing your utensils on the floor deliberately at the end of a meal would be rude. You don't need to travel to China to work that out. However, it's also a bad idea to drop them by accident. There's an ancient belief that this may upset the ancestors of your Chinese dining companions – don't panic if you do drop them, but it's good form to apologize immediately for doing so.

If you follow these rules when dining with chopsticks your China trip should be a happier one. It's worth noting that some areas have additional specific customs and it's worth keeping an eye on your hosts to make sure you're doing everything right.

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Posted by: CS
Money in China

A key part of any vacation in China is money. We know that people want to know a little more about how Chinese money works and how the banking system can support their China tour before they travel. With that in mind we've put together a quick guide to money during your China travel.

China Tour: Money in China

The Currency

China's currency is the Renminbi (RMB). While this was once a near worthless currency outside of China today there are around 6 RMB to the US Dollar. You should be able to source some RMB prior to your travel from a band in the United States.

The main unit of the Renminbi is the Yuan. This is then sub-divided into 10 Jiao which are further divided into 10 Fen. The largest banknote is the 100 RMB bill which is worth approximately $15. China currently prints 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 RMB bank notes. However, you may also encounter the old 0.1, 0.2 and 0.5 RMB bank notes too these are still legal tender from the previous run of notes. One thing you'll notice on your China vacation is how much fuller your wallet feels compared to back home.

The coins can be found in 1, 2 and 5 Fen as well as 1, 2 and 5 Jiao and 1 RMB. The low denomination coins have become increasingly rare and are not in general circulation though they remain legal tender.

Notes remain in circulation for a long time, so don't be surprised to be given bills in change that look like they've lived a hard life. These won't cause you any problems during your China tour if you try to spend them again. You should be aware however that brand new notes may be fake. You need to examine your notes carefully even if they are being issued by a bank. It's a criminal offence to try and spend a fake note and if you get given one and accept it during your China vacation it will end up being an expensive and pointless souvenir of your trip.

Banks, ATMs, etc.

There are banks on almost every street in China and you won't have to travel too far to be able to find an ATM. Before you put your card into the machine you need to check to see if it accepts overseas cards. Visa is commonly accepted in the vast majority of ATMs and MasterCard in many others. However, some machines only accept UnionPay (the Chinese payment processing authority) and may retain your card if yours isn't a UnionPay card. ATMs almost always offer an English language option so don't worry about not being able to read Chinese.

Something that could ruin your China vacation is failing to wait for your card to be returned. ATMs in China only return the card on request after dispensing cash. That means if you walk away from the machine you might find that you've treated the person behind you in the queue to a new wardrobe. The machines usually don't require someone to re-input their PIN number to withdraw more cash.

Changing money in banks is time consuming and if you want to cash up dollars it's easier to visit one of the money changers (which can be found on most streets of tourist areas). Just make sure the exchange rate is fair and that they mark each bill with their stamp – that way if one turns out to be fake you can take it back and have it exchanged.

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Posted by: CS
Kung Fu and China

One of the nice things about a China vacation is being able to see things that you just can't see at home. Chinese Kung Fu (or Wushu in the South of the country) is very easy to access on your China tour. If you've always wondered how Bruce Lee developed his skills then you should take a trip to see one of China's Kung Fu schools during your time in Beijing.

Kung Fu is an ancient art form. It was developed over thousands of years too enable Chinese warriors to defend themselves in battle. The martial art includes all forms of attack and defense including leaping, kicking, punching and tumbling. It incorporates a wide range of weaponry too and in general a Kung Fu practitioner can use any thing that comes to hand as a weapon.

There are two schools of Kung Fu in China. The first belongs to the North and is the one you are most likely to see on your China vacation – Shaolin. The second is favored in the South of the country and while you might see this if your China tour takes in Hong Kong it's much less likely and that's the Wudang style.

Shaolin Kung Fu originates from the Shaolin Temple. It comes from the Song Mountain area. Monks began to observe the postures of birds, animals and fish to see what they could learn from them. They learned to fly, jump and run and developed these tactics into a series of boxing style exercises. It is an offensive style of Kung Fu and practitioners could travel long distances quickly thanks to their fitness and then protect China from attack wherever they were needed.

Wudang Kung Fu on the other hand is a defensive art form which was developed by Taoists. It originates in the Song Dynasty but was formalized during the Ming period. The style is based on cultivating bone and muscle strength and encourages practitioners to use their own “softness” to overwhelm opponents. If you're lucky enough to catch some Wudang Kung Fu on your China tour you'll note that the shadow boxing practice routines look rather like the most complex dance steps you've ever seen.

Great Places to See Kung Fu in Beijing

The Red Theater is probably the best place to enjoy Kung Fu during your China vacation. Every night they perform; “The Legend of Kung Fu”. It tells the story of a young man's trip to China's most powerful Kung Fu master. His obsession with the art form is at first met with scorn but his hard work and perseverance pay off. The show lasts 80 minutes and takes you on a tour of all of the Shaolin style. One of the nice things about the performance is that after the show you can meet the actors and ask them anything you'd like to know about China's martial arts.

You might also consider a trip to the Laoshe Teahouse where certain elements of Kung Fu are worked into the evening performances of the opera. It's one of the must visit locations on a China tour so you might want to kill two birds with one stone.

Alternatively if you'd like to see children learning the art then Kung Fu Kids in Chaoyang District welcomes audiences to its daily performances.

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Posted by: CS
Five Great Streets for Food in Shanghai

There's no denying that everyone gets hungry. So while your China tour swings through Shanghai you'll almost certainly want to get out and about a try some of the local food. The question is where? You don't want to end up at some third-rate location during your China vacation, particularly not in the largest city in China. So let's take a trip around some of the best places to find some local cuisine in Shanghai:

Shouning Lu – Sea Food Specials

China Tour: Five Great Streets for Food in Shanghai - Shouning Lu – Sea Food Specials

This area is one of the best for cheap seafood in Shanghai. You need to take some sensible precautions to ensure that you don't spend your China vacation with food poisoning given the lax attitude towards food hygiene some vendors may have. That means only eat in places with queues and avoid the road completely in the middle of winter when most locals avoid the area. Having said that, Shouning Lu is a great place to grab a bargain and the shrimp, spiky swimmer crabs and crayfish are not to be missed. If you're there in the late Autumn take a trip over there just to get some hairy Crab which is a true China treat.

Dingxi Lu – A Little Bit of Everything

No tour of Shanghai is complete without a visit to Dingxi Lu. The food is truly representative of the whole of China. You can feast on everything from stinky tofu to turtle soup. Each restaurant of Dingxi Lu specializes in a particular province's food so you could take a trip round all the kitchens of China without travelling more than a couple of hundred yards. It's the perfect place for the adventurous foodie who is only spending a little while in the country and doesn't want to miss a single opportunity for their plate.

Huanghe Lu – Dumplings

While Dingxi Lu offers the best variety a trip over to Huanghe Lu isn't wasted if you focus on the dumplings. Yang's and Jia Jai Tang Bao are directly opposite each other and give you a chance to munch on dumplings from opposite ends of the country. To be fair most of the other restaurants in this area are OK, they're just not quite as special as the ones in Dingxi Lu. There's plenty of Shanghai local food to be found here if you're not that fussy.

Tongchuan Lu – Freaky Sea Food

If you're an adventurous sort then you'll find that Tongchuan Lu is the highlight of your China vacation. It's the perfect place to take a tour of the strangest of China's seafood dishes. You can find the sea worm and wash it down with a few local beers, or go for the mantis shrimp perhaps the largest shrimp you'll ever see. They look like a cross between a prawn and a praying mantis. You'll want to have them boiled to taste and make sure you pick some that look lively in the tank to ensure they're fresh.

Qiabao Old Street – Super Street Food

China Tour: Five Great Streets for Food in Shanghai - Qiabao Old Street – Super Street Food

Qiabao Old Street is a great area for wandering the street stalls and just trying a little bit of whatever you fancy. We've found that the locals travel to the area just to try the pigeon skewers, one of China's most popular dishes. The lamb prepared in rice wine is spectacular. Look out for the banana rice in bamboo tubes too.

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Posted by: CS
Wine in China

Wine is not something that people tend to think of when they book their China vacation. It’s probably because China isn't very well-known in serious wine circles and as such their products don’t travel too far. Yet in this week’s news China has now become the world’s 6th largest wine producer just behind Italy, Spain, France, the United States and Argentina. So we thought we’d take you on a quick tour of wine in China this week.

A Quick History

China Tour: Wine in China

China has been turning grapes into wine for a long, long time. Research at two ancient sites in Rizhao show the remnants of wine from over 4,600 years ago. However, because there are many other ingredients more easily procured for making alcohol in China the practice of wine making seems to have dried up following the Bronze Age and only really reestablished itself in the second century BCE. It wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (the 6th Century AD) came on the scene that grape based wine began to travel the country accompanying the rich and powerful wherever they went.

Today

Wine in China didn’t fare well following the Cultural Revolution and in fact the practice of wine making nearly died out. It was left to Remy Martin to kick start wine production again in the 1980s. They established a joint venture in Tianjin to produce wine. However, most of this wine would travel far from China as the local market simply couldn’t afford the new products.

Following the Millennium the Chinese consumer finally began to establish their purchasing power. The domestic market flourished and for the first time if you took a vacation in China you could enjoy local wine in restaurants and bars around the country. Though enjoy might be too strong a term, as China’s new wine industry was still learning the ropes and some of the products might not have been suited to established wine drinkers’ tastes.

China has ever been resourceful when it comes to establishing new markets and taking advantage of opportunities. As the Chinese began to realize how popular grape based wines might become their vineyard owners began to tour the world examining horticulture and fermentation in other countries with a view to establishing China as a serious producer of wine.

Chinese wine has come a long way in a short-period of time. On your vacation you’ll now be able to find wines that are the equal of decent table wines around the world. Much like in Canada, Chile and Australia the wine in China is beginning to move up the leagues to respectability. In fact Chinese wine can now be found on supermarket shelves around Europe.

China is also becoming one of the world’s largest consumers of wine. While you're on your China tour if you’d prefer to drink something from a more established producer you won’t struggle to find something you recognize. Between 2007 and 2011 Chinese consumption of wine more than doubled. Fine wines travel from all over the world to find themselves offered up in China’s restaurants. The Chinese are famous for purchasing rare and expensive wines so make sure you keep a close eye on the price tag if you don’t want to end up paying for your China vacation for another decade.

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Posted by: CS
The Internet and Your China Vacation

Last week we looked at how you can stay in contact by phone during your China tour. This week we'll take a look at the internet, which is something else people want to know about before they take their China vacation. The good news is that no matter where you travel in China you'll be able to stay online if you need to be.

Wi-Fi Everywhere

China has Wi-Fi almost everywhere. In the hotel, in the coffee shop, and just about anywhere else you can think of. You shouldn't have to travel more than a couple of hundred meters most of the time to use a free Wi-Fi connection.

You won't need to be able to type in Chinese to use the Wi-Fi access provided. In fact no-one types in Chinese in China, they use a system called Pinyin for transliterating Mandarin into the English alphabet so they can type and the PC translates those characters back into Chinese. That means you won't have to spend months revising the language before your vacation just to use the internet.

You may however, be asked to provide a copy of your passport to use the internet. This is actually a legal requirement in China. However, the vast majority of cafes, restaurants, bars, etc. ignore this. The one exception you might encounter on your trip is an actual Internet café; here it is highly likely you'll need to provide ID before you can get online. Don't worry about this – your details will only be used to record the fact that you were there and won't be used for any other purpose.

Internet speed in China is reasonable. In most places you'll get a 2-4 MB connection and in some hotels in major cities you might be lucky enough to find something even faster.

Mobile Internet

You could also buy a pre-paid mobile internet connection for the duration of your China vacation. It's not a particularly expensive option. You could visit a mobile phone store almost anywhere on your China tour and 300 RMB will get you a dongle and a SIM card for broadband use. So if you'd prefer not to rely on public internet and have your own connection it doesn't have to cost the earth. All of China's mobile internet tends to be of a 3G standard (though only China Unicom offers 3G SIM cards for iPhones and iPads).

Blocked Sites

China has a rather stricter access regime online than the West. Many overseas sites are blocked in China. This includes; Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and occasionally even Google. We know that this can be a little frustrating for someone on vacation who wants to share things with their friends back home.

In the past it was simple to side step this by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) however China has recently become more committed to blocking VPN connections too. That means for the length of your tour you'll probably have to skip using your regular social networks. There is an alternative – you could sign up for a Sina Weibo account (China's own answer to Twiiter) and get your friends to follow you on there. Sina Weibo is accessible from everywhere.

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Posted by: CS
Shanghai Museum of Art

If your China tour is passing through Shanghai you might want to consider spending a little time at the Shanghai Museum of Art. It's a China vacation favorite because of the location in People's Square, the unusual shape of the building and the enormous collection of artifacts and exhibits within. To get there, travel out on the subway to People's Square and avoid the traffic in China's largest city.

Getting In

China Trip: Shanghai Museum of Art

One of the nice things about the Shanghai Museum of Art is that it's free to get in. However, there are only 5,000 tickets available each day and in China that means you'll want to take your trip to the museum in the early morning and beat the crowds to get hold of one.

Start your tour of the museum in the bronze ware gallery which contains some of the most ancient art in all of China. There over 400 pieces from the Shang and Zhou dynasties to be found there. Then move on to the gallery of Ancient Chinese Sculpture and marvel at the wealth of Buddhist figures to be found. You'll find a wonderful assortment of jade figurines in the Ancient Chinese Jade exhibit here too and in China jade has always been a symbol of wealth and power. Many believe that the stone symbolizes the morality of the wearer.

Continue your trip with a visit to the Ceramics Collection which is perhaps the best collection of pottery in the whole of China. You'll find pieces from every single age of Chinese history from the Bronze Age through all the Imperial Dynasties and even some from the modern era.

Numismatists will absolutely love the collection of coins found inside the Shanghai Museum. There are over 7,000 ancient coins collected from the Old Silk Road and they include examples from all the central Asian countries and even Ancient Greece. China was one of the very first nations to adopt a currency of its own and your tour will bring you face-to-face with the development of money in a nation currently making a lot of it.

China Trip: Shanghai Museum of Art - ancient coins

If you've spent a lot of time in China you'll know how important seals are for everyday life. Nothing can be done in terms of travel or business without an authority's seal upon the paperwork. Forging a company seal is a serious crime and equivalent to fraud of the highest order in the West. The gallery of Ancient Chinese Seals allows you to see how this tradition developed.

If your China vacation time allows for it, then the Chinese furniture exhibit is really fascinating. Nothing in China is without meaning and the subtlety with which Chinese culture has been adapted into the designs for these Ming and Qing period pieces is quite overwhelming. It's like a tour through the Chinese soul.

You shouldn't neglect the opportunity to take a trip round all of China's ethnic minority cultures and their art either. The final gallery inside the Shanghai Museum of Art brilliantly outlines the development of each individual tribe's expression in various media. It's simply not to be missed.

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Posted by: CS
Staying in Touch While You're in China

Something people are often concerned about before they take their China vacation is how will they stay in touch with people back at home? The good news is that you don't need to spend a fortune to stay connected while you're on your China tour. We've taken a quick trip round China's mobile networks to get you the lowdown before you travel to China.

Before you Travel

One thing you'll need to do before you travel is ensure that your mobile handset is unlocked. That means contacting your telecoms provider and asking them to make the phone available on any network. If you don't then you'll either need to buy a new cellphone when you're in China or pay expensive roaming charges on your home network. It's much cheaper to use a Chinese network during your stay so make sure you speak to your provider well in advance of your trip.

When you get to China

Buying a Chinese SIM card is very easy. You won't have to travel far from your hotel to get one. They're sold on almost every street corner. Be aware that in China there's a considerable difference in SIM card prices depending on the number you want. Given that you'll only be on vacation for 2 or 3 weeks don't pay more than 50 RMB for the card and another 50 RMB in credit. The number will only end up being recycled in a couple of months any way.

If you're only going to be making calls then any of China's networks will be fine. They all operate on an international GSM standard so you should be able to pop your SIM in your unlocked phone and call to your heart's content. However, if you need to be able to use 3G facilities for an iPad or an iPhone, for example, you will need to stick with China Unicom.

China Unicom is the only Chinese network that offers an international standard version of 3G. The others all offer 3G services but none of them will be compatible with the devices you bring on your vacation. So the only way to use the other network's 3G services is to buy a new device in China. Not the best of ideas as when you travel home – it won't work with your network.

What about 4G?

Well the big news story of the week is that China Mobile is about to start rolling out 4G services across China. If you're taking your China tour in the next couple of weeks you won't be able to use 4G but by the middle of June there should be 4G coverage in every major city in China. Anything Else I Should Know?

If your China tour is taking in Macao or Hong Kong you'll need a new SIM card for each territory if you want to stay switched on. The good news is that SIM cards are available in every newsagent and cost very little and usually come with as much credit as the initial purchase price. So don't worry you'll be able to keep in touch on your China vacation without spending a fortune.

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Posted by: CS
Food in Suzhou – Squirrel Fish?

Once you've worked up an appetite on your China tour round the gardens of Suzhou, it might be time to travel to some of the finest restaurants in China. We've taken a trip round the culinary delights that await you in China's prettiest city.

The Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish – Yes, Really

China Trip: Food in Suzhou, China - The Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish

This is a China vacation highlight, one of those moments worth capturing on film. The squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish is a Suzhou specialty. Strangely it also sounds like a squirrel as it makes a sort of “cheep” if it's served when it's steaming hot.

There's a nice legend that goes with this dish. It was supposed to have been invented by a nervous chef to impress the Emperor Qianglong when he took a tour of China along the Yangtze River. The emperor wanted something special on his cruise and the chef went to extraordinary lengths to make it happen. He carved a boneless carp into the shape of a squirrel covered it in a paste made of egg yolk and fried it and then paired it with a sweet and sour sauce. The emperor was said to be extremely impressed.

Fried Crab

If you're not certain about the squirrel-shaped fish then you must try the crab. It's a delicate blend of potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, bamboo, and ginger. It's all fried in peanut oil (so if you have nut allergies you should avoid the crab and stick with the fish). Then salt and vinegar is added to taste. It's an extremely low calorie meal and considered to be one of the best diet foods in China. So if you're watching your weight on your trip this is a tasty treat that won't pile on the pounds.

Steamed White Fish

This is a simple meal that comes from the nearby Taihu Lake. It's said the best fish for use with this dish weigh about one pound. It is cautiously flavored with ginger and peppers. It's also extremely healthy as there's no frying pan involved in its preparation.

Fresh Meat Moon Cakes

During the Mid-Autumn festival if you fancy something a little bit different to the traditional moon cake then Suzhou's the place to be. You'll find that instead of the ubiquitous whole egg that the rest of China enjoys in its vacation snack that in Suzhou they use fresh meat. You can get them in either ham or shrimp varieties and they're absolutely delicious.

China Trip: Food in Suzhou, China - Little Wonton

Noodle Soup

Suzhou's soups tend to rely on Aozao Noodles which were invented for the emperor Qianglong. They are more similar to pasta in texture than the soft gloopy noodles found elsewhere in China. The soups tend to be clean broths and you can choose what you want added from vegetables to duck or pork. They're the perfect breakfast snack before you start your tour for the day.

Little Wonton

You can find these anywhere South of the Yangtze River but the best place is in Suzhou. So once you've left your cruise behind seek out these almost transparent wontons and enjoy the succulent pork fillings inside.

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Posted by: CS
China and Confucianism

One of the things you'll notice on your China tour is how little Confucianism is referenced in modern China In fact as you travel around you'll wonder how it is that someone who has made such an impact on Chinese life for thousands of years really isn't acknowledged at all. Yet, every interaction you have with a Chinese person on your China trip will be governed by rules laid out by Confucius all those years ago.

Who was Confucius?

China and Confucianism

Confucius or more properly Kong Fuzi was a teacher in the years 551-479 BC. His teachings were focused on morality and while many consider Confucianism a religion there are no references to gods, the afterlife or anything that people would consider traditionally religious. The main focus of his work is the belief in humanity and it is perhaps the earliest humanist doctrine known anywhere in the world.

The core of that belief is the understanding that people can be taught, improved and perfected through the hard work of themselves and their community. China's first philosopher encouraged people to take an internal trip and focus on their ethics and personal virtues.

The Virtues of Confucianism

There are three basic values of the Confucian approach; ren, yi and li. Let's take a quick tour of those principles. Ren is expressed as an obligation to community or social hierarchy. This is where China's concept of "face" comes from. Yi is the requirement to be morally good and to support the righteous behavior of others. Li is the guiding principle of social structure. It's where China's concept of "guanxi" comes from. You can see these expressed in every interaction with the Chinese on your vacation. It's worth noting that Confucius believed that these principles were worth dying for.

Loyalty was an important part of Confucianism's teaching too. In China at that time it was necessary for peopl e to enter the service of the Emperor. Anyone with ambition would travel great distances to enter service. Confucius provided a structure to that service and placed great emphasis on the duties of people who served. This was given as an extension of the duties to one's family. Confucius defined loyalty to family as the first priority, to your spouse as the second, to your ruler third and then finally your friends.

Each Chinese man today strives to be junzi. It literally means "lord's child" but in real terms it means the perfect gentleman. They should display moral behavior at all times, demonstrate loyalty when it is due and be benevolent and human wherever possible.

Confucianism is a simple set of principles. Yet it is a powerful one. Wherever you vacation in Asia you're bound to come across its influence; in China, in Singapore, in Japan, in Korea, etc. Your China tour will bring you into contact with many people striving to live up to Confucius' legacy. As you travel through China you'll see it expressed in the way that people eat, drink, talk and work. It's quite an amazing impact from a humble scholar who has been dead for nearly 2,500 years.

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Posted by: CS
The Ten Great Constructions of Beijing

It's a funny thing but when people get excited about a China Vacation it's always the history they want to get involved with. Yet, all too often it's the ancient history that's the focus of their excitement. When your China tour visits Beijing you have the ideal opportunity to discover something a little more modern. Let's take a quick trip round the ten great buildings of China's communist revolution.

Each of the ten buildings was constructed to celebrate the “Great Leap Forward” and the tenth anniversary of the founding of the

People's Republic of China. In the main they were all built in ten months too. They are a living reflection of China's arrival on the world stage as a superpower.

The Buildings

The Great Hall of the People

China Trip: The Great Hall of the People, Beijing

You're bound to see this when your China tour party visits Tiananmen Square. It's on the western side of the square and it's home to China's leadership and decision making body – the National People's Congress.

The National Museum of China

This is also in Tiananmen Square but on the eastern edge. It was originally intended to be a museum of China's revolution but over the years it's grown to house much of the nation's most valuable heritage.

The Cultural Palace of Nationalities

This is the place to learn about all the minority peoples of China . It comprises a museum, a gallery, a library, theater and more. It can be found on South Chang'an Avenue and is one of the most iconic buildings in the city.

The Beijing Railway Station

When it was built this was the largest railway station in China. It connects China to much of the outside world and you can grab a trip on a train to Pyongyang, Moscow or even Ulan Bator from there. Of course it might be better just to travel to the site so you can appreciate the architecture rather than cutting your vacation short by ending up in Inner Mongolia.

The National Agriculture Exhibition Hall

The first show here was celebrating China's agricultural achievements. Today there's a fairly varied program of events mainly promoting Chinese industry to visitors. You might want to check what's on before you take a trip here as it can get very busy at times.

Diaoyutai State Guesthouse

China Trip: Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, Beijing

The garden is a lot older than the building and it's worth a few photos in its' own right. It's a traditional Jun Dynasty garden and the building is designed to reflect its magnificence. It's only recently been opened up to the public too. Take a tour of the grounds and enjoy China's rich heritage.

The Overseas Chinese Hotel

This is the one that you won't be able to see on your China vacation. Sadly, it was demolished back in the 1990's. There is a new hotel on the site bearing the same name but it's not quite the same is it?

The Minzu Hotel

This hotel can still be found and you'll need to travel down West Chang'an Avenue to find it. It's China's top spot for visiting dignitaries.

The Chinese People's Revolutionary Military Museum

Take your camera and make the most of China's only war museum. It's an imposing building crammed full of ancient and modern weaponry. It should be on every China tour's schedule if there wasn't already so much to see in Beijing.

The Worker's Stadium

This was expanded and renovated for the Olympics and can now host over 66,000 people at a single game. It was also host to the first national Chinese games events.

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