Monthly Archives: March 2019

Mar 28

Flowers of Nanjing: Plum blossoms and rapeseed flowers in bloom

By Mitchell Blatt | China , China Travel Tips

Spring brings the flowers across China.

The flowers of Nanjing are plum blossoms, peach blossoms, and rapeseed flowers. Plum blossoms (梅花 – mei hua) have been chosen as Nanjing’s city flower, and the annual plum blossom festival is taking place now at Plum Blossom Hill on Purple Mountain. It is near the end of plum blossom season, which lasts from February through the end of March, but some flowers remain, and you will have missed the crowds.

”The fragrance of the plum blossom pierces the bones on the bridge.”
– Cao Xueqin, Dream of the Red Chamber

The plum trees, with some other kinds of trees mixed in, are arranged all over a field and hill near the Ming Dynasty Tombs. The gardens and nearby mansion are inspired in part by Cao Xueqin’s classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦 – Hong Lou Meng). Cao was born in Nanjing and grew up in the privileged home of a scholar-official. In the book, Cao made frequent references to plum blossoms.

During the festival, the plum hill is open free to the public. To visit, take line 2 on the subway to Muxuyuan (苜蓿园) station and follow either Lingyuan Road or Mingling Road into the park.

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Purchase this image as a tee shirt or art board from Mitch’s RedBubble page.

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See other images of China at Mitch's RedBubble page.

See other images of China at Mitch’s RedBubble page.

See other images of China at Mitch's RedBubble page.

See other images of China at Mitch’s RedBubble page.

Rapeseed Flowers

South of urban Nanjing, the fields have just turned blazingly yellow this month. Rapeseed, which is used for cooking oil (canola) and cattle feed, is one of the major agricultural products of the fertile Jiangnan (江南, which means “south of the [Yangtze] river”) region. China is the number two producer of rapeseed in the world (behind Canada), producing 15 million tons in 2016. Taking the high speed train between Nanjing and Shanghai, I would see the yellow go by every spring.

Gaochun is one of the best places to see the flowers in easily-accessible fields. Walk or take a bike along a paved road through the fields, and get off to walk within the fields. Nearby, white-walled homes complement the timeless aesthetic.

There is now a subway line going from downtown Nanjing all the way to Gaochun. Buses also run from the South Nanjing Station.

See other images of China at Mitch's RedBubble page.

See other images of China at Mitch’s RedBubble page.

See other images of China at Mitch's RedBubble page.

See other images of China at Mitch’s RedBubble page.

Gaochun, a good place to bike.

Gaochun, a good place to bike.

Tea is harvested in the hills nearby the rapeseed fields.

Tea is harvested in the hills nearby the rapeseed fields.

Mar 18

Restaurant Review: Wu’s Wonton King in New York City (Manhattan)

By Mitchell Blatt | Chinese Restaurant Reviews

Wu’s Wonton King is a banquet-style southern Chinese restaurant on the east edge of Chinatown in Manhattan. It specializes in roast duck, bbq platter, and seafood, as well as wontons.

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The wontons with noodle soup ($6.99) were fresh-tasting, and the soup was salty like the taste in China. I requested pepper oil to go with it, because I like my wontons spicy.

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Looking at the menu, another item that looked tasty was fried rice. There are nine types of fried rice on menu ($10.99-$15.99), including crystal crab meat fried rice, salted fish & diced chicken fried rice, traditional Yangzhou fried rice, and Fujian fried rice (which I was told featured seafood).

Restaurant: Wu’s Wonton King

Address: 165 E. Broadway
Subway stop: East Broadway Station (F line)
Review: Worth coming from afar for wontons.

Mar 17

What to do in China, Korea, and Malaysia this spring and summer, according to national travel promoters – Day 1 of Travel & Adventure Show

By Mitchell Blatt | Travel

The 15th Annual Washington DC Travel & Adventure Show opened today at DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

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Approximately 260 vendors, including the China National Tourist Office, the Korea Tourism Organization, Tourism Malaysia, the East Japan Railway Company, Turkish Airlines, Visit Philadelphia, and many travel agencies, tour providers, and national and local tourism promotional offices, operated promotional tables. The expo also included national dance routines and cultural programs and presentations by authors, photographers, and travel specialists.

China-maps

The China National Tourist Office’s representatives enthusiastically offered me travel maps and espoused the benefits of visiting Gansu province in summer, where you can see the breathtaking rainbow mountains of Zhangye National Geopark. Gansu, of course, is also the home of Lanzhou beef noodles (兰州拉面 – lanzhou lamian).

The rainbow mountains in Zhangye National Geopark. Trains depart to Zhangye city from Beijing West Station and Chengdu. Photo from Wikimedia.

The rainbow mountains in Zhangye National Geopark. Trains depart to Zhangye city from Beijing West Station and Chengdu. Photo from Wikimedia.

One of China’s biggest summer festivals, Dragon Boat Festival, falls on June 7 on this year’s Chinese lunar calendar.

The Korea Tourism Organization promoted some vibrant festivals, including the lantern festival coming up in May to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. The festival is celebrated in Seoul from May 3 to May 5 this year. On May 4, the procession of lotus lanterns will march from Dongdaemun Gate to Jogyesa Temple starting at 7 pm. Dances and cultural performances follow later that evening and the next day in the surrounding area.

Photo from Korea tourism agency.

Photo from Korea tourism agency.

Malaysia emphasized its natural beauty and rich traditional and ethnic culture. Sabah state on the north part of Borneo Island is home to 32 ethnic communities, including the Murut, who live in the hills of southern Sabah. During the final week of March, they will celebrate Pesta Kalimaran Festival, which includes the Miss Kalimaran Beauty Pageant and a wedding ceremony with consumption of tapai rice wine and dancing.

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Malaysia also celebrates Buddha’s birthday, Wesak, in May.

Wesak observance at Buddhist temple. Photo by Kamal Sellehuddin, Wikimedia/CC license.

Wesak observance at Buddhist temple. Photo by Kamal Sellehuddin, Wikimedia/CC license.

The DC Travel & Adventure Show continues on Sunday, and shows will be held in San Francisco on March 23-24 and Dallas on March 30-31.

Carpathia Folk Dance Ensemble performs on the Global Beats stage. Photo by Mitch Blatt.

Carpathia Folk Dance Ensemble performs on the Global Beats stage. Photo by Mitch Blatt.

Mar 13

An interview with travel writer Alec Le Sueur, marketing manager of the first international hotel in Tibet

By Mitchell Blatt | Book Reviews , China , Culture , Travel

Alec Le Sueur spent five years as the marketing and sales manager of the Holiday Inn Lhasa, the first international hotel to be opened in Tibet after China reformed and opened to the world.

Barkhor Street in 1993, by John Hill. Wikimedia, CC.

Barkhor Street in 1993, by John Hill. Wikimedia, CC.

The Holiday Inn was known as “the hardest hardship post.” Nicholas Kristof once wrote an article about it titled “A Tibetan Horror Story.” It was two flights away from Hong Kong on the chaotic state-run Civil Aviation Administration of China Airlines, and for long periods of the year, the only meal to be had was spam. But the sights on mountains, Buddhist temples, traditional markets, and streets with yaks wandering freely were another thing.

Le Sueur chronicled the beauty of Tibet and the absurdities of running a hotel, where management duties were duplicated between a Chinese party and a foreign party that rarely saw eye-to-eye, where staff didn’t know how to use the new, technologically-advanced washing machines, where teaspoons went missing and a guard was hired to protect the toilet paper, in his book The Hotel on the Roof of the World.

Boeing 707 with Civil Aviation Administration of China Airlines, from Wikimedia. CAAC Airlines was not separated into private airline operators until 1988.

Boeing 707 with Civil Aviation Administration of China Airlines, from Wikimedia. CAAC Airlines was not separated into private airline operators until 1988.

Le Sueur’s witty and conversational style brings the place to life. Some of the scenes will look familiar to people who have spent time in China recently (Chengdu taxi drivers racing to the airport, rice wine banquets), but much else is lost into the past. Tibet has changed much. China’s airports are still chaotic masses of people, but they have changed, for the better, with modern airplanes and functioning logistical processes. The Holiday Inn has been taken over by the Chinese government’s managers, and new international hotels have opened up in Lhasa.

Le Sueur was also in Tibet at a time when pro-autonomy protests and riots broke out between 1987-89, and Tibet was under martial law for about a year, with no tourism. He mentions the political situation in so much as it impacted daily life and hotel operations, but he did not dwell on politics as a main subject.

Nicholas Kristof's 1990 column on the hotel and photo by Kristof.

Nicholas Kristof’s 1990 column on the hotel and photo by Kristof.

After five years, he left Tibet with his wife, whom he met while both worked at the hotel, and went with her to Belgium, which was the subject of his next book, Bottoms Up in Belgium: Seeking the High Points of the Low Land. He also left the hotel business and got an MBA in law firm management. He continues to contribute to travel magazines, including Food & Wine.

Following is my interview with the author:Continue reading