There are just . . . so many options here. It's overwhelming.
I went out for lunch with my colleagues the other day and couldn't resist snapping some photos of the menu for your viewing pleasure.
There are just . . . so many options here. It's overwhelming.
I haven't written it up here yet for fear of jinxing myself, but it's been six months and I still think it's true: I have the best job ever. It's the kind of job I always wanted but had NO idea how to get. (Apparently, working in a marina in Guizhou was not the career-killer some people probably thought it would be.) It's the kind of job that has me staying in five-star hotels to "evaluate the service," or eating in award-winning restaurants to "learn more about the cuisine on offer" or going on twelve-day tours of the most beautiful regions of China for "product investigation."
In order to feel slightly less guilty for proclaiming my job's awesomeness to the world, let me interject here and say that at least half of my job involves more spreadsheets than I ever thought possible and the use of Microsoft Word in ways I still struggle to understand, and that a year ago I was sharing a seventh-floor walk-up with a family of really enormous spiders. So I'm allowed to have a really cool job now . . . I paid my dues, right?
I just returned from one such product investigation, which took me from Beijing to Xi'an, Chengdu, Dali, and Shanghai. It was a lot of work, to be sure, and very eye-opening to go from the one who is on the tour to the one who sees what happens behind the scenes. (If you've ever been on a high-end tour, you can imagine what I'm talking about. When you put your bags outside your door at midnight, they don't magically appear in your new hotel room hundreds of miles away the next day without complicated things happening backstage.) Even though it was exhausting at times--somebody has to be cheerful when the guests come down for their 5 am transfer to the next airport, and here's a clue: it's not the guests--I loved every minute of it.
Below, my journey in pictures. I'm not including any with guests to protect their privacy, though I wish I could share some of their smiling faces with you! The families we traveled with were lovely, and it was hard to see them go on the last day.
The first stop was Beijing. Good thing I'm already here, because I had less than 48 hours' notice that I'd be going on this adventure. I spent the weekend before the trip frantically trying to decide what constituted an appropriately professional-yet-outdoorsy wardrobe for the trip. It was Guizhou all over again.
The Forbidden City:
During our rickshaw tour, we stopped in the hutong home of a famous Chinese painter to hear his story and see some of his work.
Our Great Wall trip was to Badaling, which is the most crowded section of the Wall and subsequently my least favorite section of the wall. But this trip was special, because we actually got to help restore a portion of the Wall that's not yet open to tourists. This was a big hit with the kids and the adults alike.
The last stop in Beijing was the Temple of Heaven, where the guests tried their hand at the ancient art of Tai Chi. During the rest of the tour, our guide (who also happens to be a tai chi master, ohbytheway) offered morning classes to the guests who were interested in learning more.
In Xi'an, we made our way to the Terracotta Warriors. These figures are over 2100 years old (!!!) and were just as amazing the second time around. They inspire the same awe in me that the Great Wall does. I never get tired of seeing these incredible places in China, but I certainly get tired of the crowds. In keeping with the hands-on theme of the tour, the kids got to make their own mini warriors out of the same clay found in the pits. Some of them listed it as their favorite activity of the whole tour.
One of my personal favorite parts of the trip was the excursion we took to Hu Xian County, a rural farming village that happens to be the spot many famous painters were sent to do hard manual labor during the Cultural Revolution. We met one such farmer/painter, who showed us the tools he used during the 1960s and 1970s to farm the land by hand, as well as his art studio, where he developed an entirely new form of "farm art" in China. The paintings done in "farm style" are completely different from traditional Chinese watercolors--they are bright, colorful, and full of energy.
The farmer-artist himself painted an entire watercolor for us from scratch while he told us about his life experiences. It is clear from his humble story that beauty and art can rise up out of hardship, loss and pain.
We also went to Chengdu, but since I've already posted a story about Matt and my trip to hug pandas and take the train to Tibet, I won't spend much time on that. We saw the Giant Pandas, went to a brocade museum that the kids hated, stayed in one of the nicest hotels I've ever seen, and saw an amazing Sichuan Opera variety show that had us transfixed for an entire hour. I even convinced two of the kids to try "Ear Picking," a weird but strangely enticing experience that is exactly what it sounds like. I'm a veteran at this, but I wish I could share a picture of the kids' faces as they tried it for the first time. (For the record, both of the brave little souls loved it and would do it again.)
We headed to Dali next, which is a beautiful town tucked into the rice paddies of Yunnan province. This was the only city on the tour that I'd never seen before, and I was two parts amazed and one part completely deflated to discover that Yunnan is Guizhou's much more successful and attractive older brother. Everything in Yunnan was better: the weather was gorgeous (cool and not humid, even in July), the attractions were tastefully done, the scenery was stunning. Fine, Yunnan province. Be that way. Guizhou has . . . nice stuff, too.
I won't go into how utterly gorgeous, tranquil, and perfect in every way our hotel was. You can check it out yourself at The Linden Centre's website.
Spectacular views in Yunnan:
Happenings in Xizhou Village:
A cheese-making workshop in an old courtyard home:
A rice noodle factory, also in Xizhou Village:
The local wet market, filled with vibrant produce and many, many options, both tasty and less tasty:
Clockwise from upper left: Fresh bamboo chutes / Dead fish / Chinese long beans / Eggplant (my favorite!) / Nasty Chinese herb that tastes like dog hair (zhe'er'gen)
One of the most amazing things we saw on this part of the trip was the cormorant fishing on Erhai Lake. We were rowed out onto the lake by a 61 year-old woman (who could easily have passed for 80) to watch the demonstration. The fishermen would untie the birds and shoo them out into the water, where they would dive down and come up with a fish nearly half the size of their own body. They'd fly out of the water and perch onto the fisherman's net, depositing the fish neatly inside, before receiving a treat (more fish) from the fisherman for a job well done.
Another highlight was the visit to a green tea plantation, where we picked tea leaves and learned how to dry them and brew them for the freshest and most organic cup of tea ever. We also hiked up to a waterfall above the tea plantation, where the water was apparently fresh enough to drink.
(I did not test that theory. China is China, no matter how organic the tea is.)
Dali is known for its three ancient pagodas, which are flanked by this enormous golden eagle.
The last leg of the trip was to Shanghai, and we all know how I feel about that city. This time was no different.
Hello, my name is Kaci. My parents have a hard time keeping me at home.