The Pants 

The odd-shape headquarters of China Central Television, nicknamed “The Pants” because it looks like a pair of giant pants. The modern building, which opened in 2008, has 44 floors and is the brainchild of Dutch architect. The building is located in Beijing, China, surrounded by other glass and steel buildings. This video is from my recent live stream on #Periscope. In it you hear me answering questions from viewers.  Add me on Periscope for future live streams from China and elsewhere @mtendstotravel , same handle as on Twitter. 

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The Great Wall Of China: The Best And The Cheapest Way

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling in Heibei Province

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling in Heibei Province

I met a 35-year-old man from Beijing, China, who has never been to the Great Wall of China. He said just like him there are millions of other people in China who have never seen the Great Wall. What’s more, they have no interest. I, an American, have made three trips to the Great Wall, two in the last few months, with more planned.

The bottom line is many Chinese have no interest in their centuries-old structures and antiquities. Those may be lingering feelings from the days when Chairman Mao Zedong in 1949 declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China and in subsequent years the communists declared many of those ancient structures unwelcome in the new society. GWMikeSystematically they began to destroy ancient temples and structures under the guise of a “cultural revolution”. In the name of modernity and progress, China also destroyed and removed structures and other relics thousands of years old.

Many Chinese people I meet simply don’t value what foreigners hold historically important. One of my Chinese friends, for instance, managed to go his entire life without visiting the Forbidden City, even though he lived within minutes of it. It was only a few days ago that he was dragged pretty much kicking and screaming by a group of his foreign friends to the expansive Forbidden City, the place from which emperors ruled China. He held little passion for the place, explaining there were better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon. Similarly, on a recent trip to the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, located on the outskirts of Beijing, it was a bunch of insistent foreigners who finally convinced their Chinese handlers to add a few minutes to the itinerary to visit the Marco Polo Bridge steps from the museum.

“It’s just a bridge” one Chinese handler said, dismissing the historic significance of the bridge known to the Chinese for centuries as the Lugou Bridge – the stone bridge Marco Polo detailed  in his travelogue – the bridge where World War II began in the Pacific theater.

I suppose it’s the same in other countries. People take things for granted. There was a time when modern-day Italians allowed the Roman ruins to be picked apart and vandalized. And there are people in New York City who have never been to the Statue of Liberty, even though it’s a short ferry ride. So it goes. You’re not going to convince people why some things are worth seeing, even preserving.

Watchtower ruins

Watchtower ruins

For those with genuine interest in visiting the Great Wall of China, it’s also not as difficult as some – tour operators – would have you believe. Save your money. No need for tours or tour guides if you plan to come to Beijing and want to see the Great Wall of China. For a roundtrip grand total of less than $12, you can be on the Great Wall within 2 hours. And this stretch of the Great Wall, known as Jinshanling in Heibei Province, is largely unrestored – what the Chinese would refer to as “wild wall” – unlike Badaling or even Mutianyu sections.

Here’s what you need to do to get to the Great Wall of China without a pricey tour, meaning on your own: There is a direct bus to Jinshanling Great Wall that leaves every morning at 8 a.m. There are several other buses that leave daily but you do not want to be on any of those, as they make stops along the way that can add up to two hours to the trip. Aim for the 8 a.m. direct bus and no other, please. To get to the bus, you will need to take the subway (you can also take a taxi there, but that is of course adds to your transportation costs. You want to take subway lines 13 or 15 to Wangjing West station. Once there, use Exit C. It’s a nice lengthy walk underground to the point you emerge on the street. Once you are outside, turn right and go across the street where you will see a large red sign that says Tickets to Jinshanling Great Wall. Your bus is there, clearly marked 8 a.m. You will likely see some other foreigners waiting in that line. That’s it.

The bus will drop you off at the visitor center where you can purchase tickets to enter the Great Wall area. You will have approximately five hours to explore the wall before the bus departs to return to Beijing. Do not miss your bus! The driver will tell you – in Chinese, sorry, you will have to ask someone on the bus what the driver is saying – when to meet and where for the return bus. Enjoy. I’m off to convince a couple of Chinese friends a visit to the Great Wall is not only easy, it’s totally worth it.


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First Impressions Of China

Park in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, China. (I took the photo with my iPod Touch, no filters)

Park in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, China. (I took the photo with my iPod Touch, no filters)

It’s been more than six whole months since I’ve been in China, and as long since I’ve said anything here about all that has happened – all that is happening – in my new life in this ancient land of so many wonders.

Confession: I haven’t exactly completely been absent. I have been posting about my time in China on other social media platforms where I maintain a strong loyal following, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the latest hottest app around, Periscope, where I live stream. You can see my live broadcasts from China and the rest of Asia if you follow me on Periscope @mtendstotravel (same user name as on Twitter).

Neglecting this blog, and neglecting you all, here, not cool. I know. But here I am with tons more insight about China, a very complex, very contradictory, at once peaceful and chaotic, amazing and vexing, puzzling and endearing, open and closed.

Night falls on Hong Kong Harbor

Night falls on Hong Kong Harbor

To be sure, the Middle Kingdom is centuries of history and culture now undergoing another revolution – an economic revolution that once it fully awakes will turn the world upside down. China, the world’s most populous nation with more than 1.5 billion people, breaks records on an almost weekly basis for its sheer size. In Beijing alone, the capital, there are 21 million people, with a massive newly emerged middle class with a spending power unheard of anywhere else in the world. Where as recently as the 1990s millions of bicycles dominated the streets, now luxury cars rule, to the detriment of the air we breathe. Factories operating pretty much around the clock belch thick smoke. People in Beijing and other cities in China are forced to wear masks to protect their lungs and keep from getting cancer.

Chinese food at its very best

Chinese food at its very best

But already the negative effects have hit China, in the air pollution and growing number of people stricken with pulmonary ailments. Yet, thanks to the proximity of the Gobi Desert which kicks up strong winds, and government intervention, there are days when the sky is blue and the air is clean and China is pure beauty.

I came to China to work as a “foreign expert” at an English-language newspaper. I edit stories largely written by a Chinese staff. English is of course not their first language and it is my job to “polish” those stories and make them sound like they were written by a native speaker. I enjoy the work. And in the course of doing it, I enjoy learning about China and Chinese culture. I don’t get mixed up in Chinese politics, though I observe and learn and marvel at it all. This, after all, is still a country hanging on to its communist roots but make no mistake capitalism is present in all its forms. The Chinese live to buy and sell.

There is much to love about China. I’ve stood on remote stretches of the Great Wall, with no tourists, just locals around, looking at the undulating structure wend across mountains, looking like a giant brown serpent. What an amazing fete. I’ve walked – twice – from one end of the Forbidden City to the next, through gardens and palaces from which emperors ruled this land for centuries. I’ve stood in Tiananmen Square, which gained worldwide notoriety for the democracy protests and violent crackdown. And I live day in and day out what the Chinese experience day in and day out: crowded subways with thousands of humans pressed against each other like sardines; the constant spitting;

Reunion with friends in Hong Kong

Reunion with friends in Hong Kong

the rudeness and generally uncivil behavior and the “me first” selfishness that happens wherever there’s a crowd. But I’ve also experienced friendly faces and wide smiles and people so welcoming and helpful beyond anything. I’m often asked if the people are friendly in China and to that I say yes, but of course there are bad apples all over the world. More often than not, I enjoy China. There are days I just wish I would have stayed in bed. And there are days when I’m grinning from ear to ear because I am so happy to be living in China, experiencing what relatively few in the world will ever experience, such as my recent trip from Beijing to Hong Kong by high-speed train. China has built itself an amazing network of high-speed rails, which has cut travel from one city to the next. A trip that may have taken several days now takes relatively few hours. And the scenery, wow, the scenery.

I will be in China at least until October. I will bring you here more about my experiences and more often. For now, I say, if you can swing it and travel to China, do it. Your biggest expense will likely be the flight. You can score reasonably priced hotels and food is cheap if you know where to look. China is open to the world as it hasn’t been before. Now is the time to see it, live it, be a part of it.


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