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Ugyhur-Hui overview, biking from Xinjiang to Tibet, and a borderlands book

22 Aug

Amid turbulence in Xinjiang, here’s a comparison of China’s two main Muslim groups, the Hui and Uyghurs. There are major factors that show exactly why the two are treated and fare differently in modern Chinese society. It’s not very hard why – the Hui are ethnic Han Chinese and speak Mandarin, meaning they look and speak just like the majority of Chinese. Unlike the Uyghur, they also don’t constitute a single group or culture, though they do have their own autonomous region- Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Even then, they have no separatist or anti-party sentiments, plus Ningxia is tiny.

The Silk Road has gotten a lot of attention recently because it seems China wants a resurgence of this route, or concept, for trade linking China to Central Asia and further afield to Europe. Besides economics, the Silk Road is famous thanks to one intrepid European traveler Marco Polo. Coming to the present, few people have biked along the Silk Road in modern times, but that’s what these folks did, from Xinjiang southwards to Tibet (which is not exactly part of the Silk Road though it is still a vast frontier). It is as hard and desolate as it sounds and more.

The Uyghurs are however, just one of China’s many ethnic minorities who live in places far from the core heavily populated areas. Not by coincidence, these people often live on the borders, far from the center, ranging from southwest Yunnan to northeast China to Xinjiang and Tibet. There’s a new book out which details these peoples and places, called The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China.



China’s increasingly independent travelers

6 Jan

Some young Chinese are getting out into the world and traveling in a more adventurous way than their elders, even going so far as to take gap years. This is a concept taken from the West, such as in the UK where some youngsters take a year off after graduating from secondary school or university to travel. The Chinese who do take gap year holidays often do it later such as in their mid or late 20s, and the return to regular working life isn’t necessarily smooth. But it’s still admirable that more Chinese are willing to consider doing this.

In addition, there are Chinese travelers who want to take in culture and history for a more “spiritual” experience, as opposed to just shopping. This can include visiting temples, museums, historical sites or even tracing the routes of explorers. It’s a laudable way for Chinese to enjoy travel more, and another example that Chinese travelers are not just all into materialism and extravagance when they go abroad.

The ongoing saga of the blind lawyer, Chinese travelers, and Shenzhen’s new airport

29 Nov

This is a fantastic piece about the saga of blind lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng… after he arrived in the US having escaped house arrest in China. I admire him and his work, as well as what he had to endure during his imprisonment, and it’s terribly unfortunate that having reached the US, all this new controversy would unfold.

No, I don’t think he’s China’s Jack Kerouac, but this Chinese guy sure has guts in traveling. Chinese are now traveling more widely and bravely, and not in tour groups only intent on shopping. This guy and his girlfriend decided they’d made enough money and spent the past year traveling the world, a desire not alien to some people in the West. What’s a little different is this guy is 37 and is a Chinese millionaire, which makes him a little older and well-off than a lot of longterm travelers. It is encouraging that even with so much wealth, the guy decided to stop working and start traveling, though in a practical sense, that’s a very logical thing to do. It’s even more encouraging given the huge value placed on materialism and consumption in mainland Chinese society.

Check out Shenzhen’s new airport terminal, which has a fantastic ceiling, not to mention an interesting outer shell.

It hasn’t been a good week for China, with its announcement of an air-defense zone over the disputed Diaoyutai islands being met with shock, anger, criticism, and of course, the US flying two B-52s over it. China seems to have overplayed its hand, especially considering its rocky relations with Japan lately, but I’m not sure China wants conflict, though its latest move was sending its own planes into the zone. It mustn’t be ignored that Japan has a longstanding air defense zone that partially overlaps China’s new one and isn’t that far from China’s coast.

China journeys, and the nation’s cinematic challenge

9 Nov

Take a journey across China in this video of timelapse photos of cities and landscapes, ranging from Shanghai and Beijing to Hong Kong to Tibet and Xinjiang.

Down in the southwest of China, there are great mountains and wilderness in Yunnan province and Tibet. This guy did a 15-day trek to the 22,107 foot high Kara Kapo, one of Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest mountains, with just two guides.

Moving on to movies, a major aim of China is to have its international cultural power match its geopolitical standing. Movies is a strong way to achieve this, but the big problem is actually making a hit blockbuster. Sure, there was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but other than Jet Li (and to a lesser extent Donnie Yen) kungfu pics and Jackie Chan comedies, international Chinese hits are sparse. That’s not to say there are no good movies from China – I’ve seen some interesting movies recently in China, such as So Young, Saving General Yang, and a comedy about a Xinjiang village’s kid’s football team. Chinese movies are slowly getting there in terms of special effects and topics, but they’re not there yet. China’s biggest local hit was Lost in Thailand which grossed US$194 million last year, but it didn’t fare well in the US. On the hardware and infrastructural front, China is set as well. A Chinese magnate made news last month with the launch of his giant US$8 billion-plus studio complex in Qingdao, which saw Hollywood stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman attend. Hopefully there’ll be a time when Chinese stars (other than Jackie Chan) can attract such attention and coverage overseas.

The Xibe of Northwest and Northeast China

30 Oct

Almost 250 years ago, thousands of people from a Manchurian subtribe journeyed westwards to China’s furthest region Xinjiang to help protect the nation’s borders, being expert archers and horsemen. The descendants of these Xibe people still reside there, while thousands of kilometers on the other side of the nation, their kinsmen still reside in their original homeland in the Northeast. Recently, people from the Northeast Xibe made a journey to Xinjiang to recreate the one their ancestors made long time ago. It’s a good article about a people, who while not numerous, with a fascinating heritage and history. It’s unfortunate that their culture and language has mostly eroded, at least in the Northeast, while interestingly it has survived more in the Xinjiang Xibe, though isolation plays a big part in it.

Guangdong travel

17 Oct

Guangdong may not be the foremost tourist destination in China but it’s got some decent places to visit. This adventurous Hong Kong expat has a funny, enjoyable article about a few places to go to that maybe aren’t anywhere on any travel guidebook, but is still worth visiting. Other than Zhongshan, the supposed hometown of Chinese revolutionary hero and “Father of modern China” Sun Yat-sen, whose Chinese name is Sun Zhongshan, I’ve never ever heard of the other places. The only problem is that there are no photos with the article, which is a big shortcoming. The author makes a bit too much about being treated very well because she’s a Westerner (in other words, white) but other than that, the article is very good.

To make up for the article’s lack of photos, here’re photos of Guangdong, though not of the places mentioned in the article.



Golden Week concerns, and HK humiliation

9 Oct

China’s “Golden Week” just ended on Sunday and it seems I didn’t miss out on much. It seems that staying in or going overseas were better choices, because many of those who traveled around the country during this annual holiday week to mark the national day experienced a lot of “challenges.” This has raised a lot of concerns, so much that cancelling Golden Week and allowing employees paid leave, which they can take anytime, has been proposed. That would be a good idea, since it’d allow for more flexibility for both employers and employees, and spread travel and spending throughout the year as opposed to one week with enormous crowds everywhere.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong shows that it can be quirky if it wants. It’s a fact that ladies can be tough and intimidating, as opposed to being dainty, but this Cantonese-speaking female (as opposed to Mandarin) takes it to another level, giving her “man” a public beating, with him on his knees no less.

Tourism power, and Chinese literature from an Indian perspective

5 Oct

China’s “Golden Week,” which will end tomorrow, is a time when millions and millions of Chinese will travel around and outside the nation. As a result, it was a fitting time for a tourism law to have come into effect on Oct. 1 that clamps down on budget package tours that usually require customers to make purchases in selected stores during their trips. The law also touches on personal behavior, which. Chinese tourists have become a mighty force, both in numbers and purchase power, internationally but sometimes their behavior leaves something to be desired. The government has tried to deal with this by issuing a set of guidelines in September that tell tourists not to do things like jump lines, spit, or even take too much food in buffets. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, there’ve been some incidents though not that much in the latter place. On a personal note, I saw many mainland Chinese tourists in Japan while on a trip in July, and none of them were doing negative things.

This Caravan piece starts off with a very good question, before going on to highlight several Chinese books. Why is it Chinese writers only become known to Indian readers through Western publishers and marketing? “Western publishers are the gatekeepers of what we read from China,” says the writer. The answer to me, and which the writer most likely already knows, might be because Western publishers are the only ones with enough money and resources to search for, translate, and release books on China (as well as countries and regions all over the world), which say, Indian publishers can’t for economic and cultural reasons. Still, it’s a worthwhile question and you could extend it to across Asia as well. Are Indian authors well-known or have their books published in China? Are Japanese writers except Murakami well-known in China? Are Korean authors well-known in Japan? Just as the article’s writer says he hopes that one day foreign non-Indian literature can be directly selected and published by Indian publishers without having to be “filtered” through and via the West, I hope for China’s case that Asian non-Chinese literature can be given the same treatment (though publishing censorship and restrictions make it tricky). Among the Chinese authors covered are Mo Yan, not surprisingly, Ma Jian, author of Beijing Coma, and Ha Jin, who writes his novels in English, as well as lesser-known but likely very talented ones.

China’s basketball misery, and Hong Kong’s Tai O

10 Aug

Bad news for Chinese basketball as China was knocked out of the FIBA Asian championships by Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). It’s a first for Taiwan, who reached the semis and will face Iran, while China goes back home in tears. China’s coach offered a vague message about hope, and I really hope China gets it act together for the next Olympics, as they will not be going to the next world championships. This follows on China’s dismal performance in the 2012 London Olympic Games, when they finished bottom of their group in the first round. Yi Jianlian, China’s best player and a former NBA first-round draft pick, was injured in the first round but came back for the second round and quarterfinal.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s unique Tai O fishing village faces a big challenge in trying to maintain its heritage while undergoing development. This village features stilt houses and is in an isolated area on Lantau Island, where the airport and the cable car are on. You can eat fresh seafood, buy salted seafood, walk around and enjoy the mangrove swamps and scenery, and even go on boat rides to see the Chinese white dolphin, which is actually pink. I went there back in 2008 and it was quite decent. There were some visitors, but it wasn’t overflowing and the village was quite old, even a bit shoddy. We went on the boat ride twice before we actually spotted dolphins which was cool. I think more development would not be too bad, especially since while more people will want to come, they will still need to come by bus over the hills. I think one resident sums it up very well near the end “I think Tai O has lost part of its unique character with all the development going on. But that the price we pay to get a better life and to help this community to survive.”

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The best photo I took of the dolphins. Apologies for the poor quality; it was very hard to focus because of the dolphins’ and the boat’s movement, plus my eyes were actually on the dolphins.



4 Jul

I was absent from blogging about China while in SE Asia for a holiday, but I wasn’t absent from China. I saw and met so many Chinese, both travelers and tour groups, in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. I was privileged to meet a few young Chinese and talk to them, and it’s both nice and sobering to see how adventurous, and confident they are about traveling around in foreign countries and using foreign languages, specifically English. I feel that with more and more people like them, it’s a sign that China is progressing and younger people are becoming more outgoing, openminded and knowledgeable. Another sign of the increased Chinese presence in international tourism was the amount of vendors, especially youngsters, who spoke, pitched and hassled people like me in Mandarin in Cambodia’s Angkor. Please forgive me for the absence; more posts and links to China news should be forthcoming.