Category Archives for "Travel"

Jan 23

New York City in black and white: A webzine of my travels

By Mitchell Blatt | Photos , Travel

I visited one of the world’s great cities outside of Asia this past weekend. That would be New York City. One need not be told that New York City is a hub of culture. I sought out dive bars of Brooklyn, art galleries and zine shops of Chelsea, underground sake bars, Chinatown dumpling restaurants, pork bone soup in Koreatown, crowded Cuban restaurants with tiny tables crammed closely together.

I’m going to list some of the highlights, some of which are included in the photos, below the toggle.

See highlights

Sake Bar Decibel at 240 E 9th St; Café Habana at 17 Prince St; PanYa, which serves Japanese breakfasts with fish and miso at 8 Stuyvesant St; Totto Ramen at 366 W 52nd St; Famous Xian Foods, a chain serving real tasty Xian noodles that started out in Flushing’s Chinatown and now has locations around the city; and Printed Matter, Inc., where the zine stockpile I photographed is located.

I thought the best way to present such a city is in black and white scanned photography.

New York in Black and White by on Scribd

May 22

Jinshan: The fishing village at the very south edge of Shanghai

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Travel

Shanghai is home to tree farms, streets lined with fishwives, and children searching for crawfish at low tide.

Jinshan, at the very southwestern corner of the administrative area of Shanghai, is a mildly interesting diversion, a fishing town that has been touristified over the past five years. There you can find fish being sold on the street, museums about Jinshan fishing culture, and an “ancient-style” street full of charming shops and cafes. Here I will tell you how to get there and share some of what to see.

The fishing village is called Jinshan Zui Fishing Village (金山嘴渔村 – Jinshan zui yu cun). The Zui character means “lips.” The restaurants along the road should have you licking your lips. Shanghai was once just a fishing village. Now this is one of the few fishing villages in Shanghai; Shanghai city is not known for fishing markets like Busan, Hong Kong, or even Seoul.

fish

The fish sellers are lined up on the street that runs along the coast. Behind the fish vendors is a wall and a long stone promenade overlooking the water. (Travelers were climbing over the wall and down a wobbly ladder.) The water, when I visited, was very low, and kids were playing in the sand. They were looking for crayfish in the rocks and concrete buffers.

boardwalk

crayfish

On the other side of the road, going away from the ocean, is the typical “ancient-style” shopping street with cafes, bars, souvenir shops, and snack vendors. It was scenic, with flowers, canals (although the water didn’t look terribly clean), and cafes with porches. The “ancient-style” street isn’t close to as scenic as the ancient streets of Suzhou—and Suzhou is just 30-40 minutes away by train, too—but Jinshan is cheaper and more of a daytrip within Shanghai.

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Food
The road by the shore is lined with seafood restaurants. They have live fish in tanks for selection. Independent travelers on budget might choose to have seafood fried rice (海鲜炒饭 – haixian chaofan) for ¥20-40 yuan. I asked for it, and the manager said it wasn’t on his menu, but he said he would make some up for ¥35 yuan, and selected some shrimp, clam, and other seafood, and had it fried with eggs and vegetables.

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How to get to Jinshan

Go to Shanghai South Railway Station (上海南站), located at the so-named subway station on Line 1 (red) and Line 3 (yellow). At Shanghai South Station, there is a station called Jinshan Station (金山站). Tickets are sold at a machine, which doesn’t require identification. Click through the buttons—or have a Chinese traveler in line help you, most of them are going to Jinshan, and they will assume you are, too—and select the final station—金山卫 (Jinshan wei).

Trains leave from Shanghai South about 2-3 times an hour, starting at 5 am and ending at 9:20 pm or so. Trains from Jinshan to the city start at 6 am and run until 9:55 pm. The journey for most trains takes 32 minutes. All tickets for the full trip cost ¥10 yuan (US$1.63) one way and have no assigned seats.

You can get from Jinshan Wei Station to Zui Fishing Village by taking a tax for ¥12 yuan or walking or waiting for the bus, which might come once an hour.

This restroom won awards as a "Model Toilet" and one of Shanghai's "Most Beautiful Tourism Toilets" of 2016.

This restroom won awards as a “Model Toilet” and one of Shanghai’s “Most Beautiful Tourism Toilets” of 2016.

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Apr 09

In 1967, China was “distasteful–though intriguing” and off limits to American tourists

By Mitchell Blatt | China , History , Travel

Used book stores are treasure troves of interesting books full of insights into the past. When I see a bunch of magazines, books, and dusty records piled up outside a cluttered secondhand book store, I can never help myself to look.
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So on Saturday, I discovered a 50 year old guidebook that claimed to tell about the whole world: the Encyclopedia of World Travel: Volume 2, published by Doubleday in 1967. (Volume 2 covers Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific. Volume 1 covers the Americas.)

1967 was one year after Mao Zedong began the violent class struggle that was the “Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution” and 18 years after the Communists had founded the People’s Republic of China. As you might imagine, there wasn’t much foreign travel to China. In fact, most citizens of the United States and many other countries were generally not allowed to enter China until China was opened in the 1970’s.

So the description of China begins by stating, “Travel is discouraged in the Communist People’s Republic of China…

In fact, many of the adventurous who have tried to enter China in recent years have been jailed. Some Westerners who had lived in the country for decades before the Communists seized control are still in prison, including doctors, businessmen, and even missionary priests and nuns. The former Government, an arch foe of the Communists, retains its hold on nearby Formosa [Taiwan, in modern reference] and other offshore islands.

Though travel in China is impossible for the present, it is interesting to know in broad outline the high points of the travels of others who journeyed across this vast land not too many years ago.

travel discouraged

What were those high points of travel? The book gives a general outline of the well-known facts about China’s geography and ancient history that you will find in other guidebooks. Society developed along the Yellow River and the Yangtze. East and South China are the main population centers. The populations even then were large by American standards of 2017:

The population of Shanghai is over ten million. Peking has well over six million.

pop small

Now Shanghai’s population is over 20 million–24.1 million, according to China’s measure–and Beijing is 21 million. At the time, China’s population was majority rural. In 2012, China became majority urban.

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hanghai was described as a place of “squalor” and distastefulness.

Only in old Shanghai, which is walled no longer, did travelers see a Chinese city as it was centuries ago. Much of it was and is distasteful–though intriguing–to all but the sophisticated traveler who has long since learned Chinese cities are not what motion pictures would have you believe. In China’s cities, squalor is common, poverty almost a way of life.

China was a poor country back then–with a GDP per capita of US$95–and some of the scenes in the street still today unnerve recently arrived tourists. But the description carries with it a whiff of the old Yellow Peril imagery of Chinese as dirty hordes indulging in opium and depravity.

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n the realm of traditional culture, the book asserts that mainland China under the Maoist Communists had lost its traditions. If you want to see holidays like Spring Festival (New Year) and Dragon Boat Festival celebrated in “the grand old style,” you should visit Hong Kong and Formosa, “who carry on the traditions of their forefathers.”

chinese festivals not celebrated here

Indeed, the Communists attacked traditions during Mao’s rule. During the Cultural Revolution, “Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas” were labeled and denounced as the “Four Olds.” Besides restricting the celebration of traditional festivals, under the Maoist leadership and incitement, the Red Guards stormed libraries, burned books and artwork, and smashed temples.

Since tourism has returned and brought with it a bounty, the Chinese government, however, has emphasized its ancient sites and culture, rebuilding ancient sites, some that had been lost for hundreds of years, and putting government money behind elaborate cultural events. In 2008, China added Dragon Boat Festival, Qingming Festival (Tomb-sweeping Festival), and Mid-Autumn Festival to its official schedule of national public holidays.

Aug 10

12 random thoughts on Korea – Day 12

By Mitchell Blatt | Korea Trip 2016 , Travel

After more than a week in Korea, here are a few notes about a random array of topics:
1.) The mass market beer is pretty good compared to Chinese beers. Cass has a sweet corn malt to it and a crisp drinkability. Of course, I am comparing it to Chinese beers, so anything is good when you use such standards.

2.) There are Kpop shows on TV every day and on some channels all day.
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3.) Baseball is full of singing, stick-banging and cheerleaders.
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4.) The subway in Seoul uses a strange system of taking making you return your cards to a machine to get your 500 won deposit back.

5.) Some restaurants really do give you 5, or 6, or 7, or 8 banchan (side dishes) before your meal.
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6.) Continue reading

Aug 09

Transportation in Seoul: Don’t lose 500 won on each subway ticket – Day 11

By Mitchell Blatt | Travel

The first time I used the Seoul subway, I lost 500 won (US$0.46) because of its stupid ticketing method.

When you get a ticket issued from the machine, you pay a standard fare–about 1,350 won, or more depending on length–but there’s also an additional 500 won highlighted on the screen. If you, like me, want to try to take out the subway machine in its local language, then you will click around on the buttons until you eventually order a ticket, but you won’t comprehend what the extra 500 won is for.

It’s not until the next time that you use the subway machine and you reach into your pocket and find that you still have the old subway card in your pocket and then you try to reload your subway card and find that you can’t, then you click the buttons to buy a ticket, and the 500 won is still on the screen, and the machine issues you a new card, that you finally realize, WTF.

In fact, the 500 won is a deposit on your card, and you have to put the card back in a card return box at the end of your trip to get the refund back. (Since I still had my card in my pocket, I might have ultimately got the refund back. However, who cares?) For someone who has never used a subway, this might seem like a perfectly reasonable system to guarantee that the cards are returned.

But if you have used a subway, you might notice that many systems issue you a token (Nanjing) or a card (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong) and then the turn stalls have a built-in system for you to deposit the card upon exiting.

So, first point: Remember to deposit your card in the refund box at the end of your trip on the Seoul metro.

Overall, however, I have high praise for the Seoul metro. It has very many cars connected and is not crowded like Beijing or Shanghai or Nanjing often are. Its heated seats are highly praised in the winter.

Intercity Travel

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Aug 02

Asian women prefer traveling to Korea – Day 4

By Mitchell Blatt | Korea Trip 2016 , Travel

While researching tourism to South Korea, I discovered that tourism from Asian countries is dominated by female travelers. 62 percent of tourists to South Korea from East Asia and The Pacific are women, according to the Korea Tourism Organization’s figures for June 2016.

Looking at the numbers on a country-by-country basis, as I did, the countries or territories with the most disproportionate rate of females-to-males visiting Korea were Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan, in that order, before the first European country, Portugal, came.

Many Countries Chart

My initial assumption,Continue reading

Jul 27

Beautiful charming cafes and teahouses in the French Concession

By Mitchell Blatt | China , China Travel Tips , Cool Restaurants/Bars , Travel

In 1931, The China Weekly Review published an article by a local claiming that “such vices as gambling, opium dealing and houses of ill-fame are allowed to exist openly in China … wherever the French flag flies in China, social conditions are worse than under other foreign flags.”

Ah, the legendary French hedonism… The French had their own section of Shanghai, governed on their own terms, from 1849-1943, but the good times continue today, 73 years after they waved the white flag and signed the territory over to the Japanese who had conquered Shanghai. Remaining sections of the former French Concession, such as those around Shaanxi South Road, Huaihai Road, and Fuxing Road in Xuhui District have beautiful bars where you can have the old French-style experience, which includes quiet afternoons, too, I think.

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Maison de Thé Song Fang was my intended stop. Housed inside a Republic of China-era lane house from 1930, it is renowned for its charming old-time teahouse style. Wooden tables on a wooden floor. Woven chairs, lamps. In one room, lights housed inside birdcages hung from bamboo poles, and tables were lined up along a flowery red couch that you could just imagine high-class Shanghai women sitting on and playing mah jong. The tea menu listed Chinese and French teas divided by style, with detailed descriptions, most of which were priced between ¥60 yuan and ¥96 yuan (~US$10-15). It also included a selection of fresh homemade pastries.

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Continue reading

Jul 18

In my upcoming travelogue on Korea, I’m going to revisit the place commoners fought martial law with guns

By Mitchell Blatt | History , Promotions , Travel

The citizens were lined up in the park, holding machine guns and M-1 rifles. They had forced the authorities out after the police had brutalized and arrested peaceful protesters, and scared the military off after 700 soldiers who had been called to suppress the protests began firing on and killing citizens.

UPDATE: My trip to Korea is over, and my Kickstarter campaign unfortunately did not succeed. However, I am still going to be writing exclusive articles about my travels in Korea. These exclusive articles will only be available to email subscribers. Click here to visit the subscribe page, or sign up below:

The scene was Gwangju, the year 1980. Ever since the end of the Korean War, there had been sporadic protests for democracy against an ever-changing lineup of authoritarian regimes in South Korea. Elections would be rigged, opposition leaders arrested, the parliament dissolved, or the president would take some “crisis” as an excuse to declare martial law. Eventually the dictator would be disposed of by assassination or coup, and a new dictator would take his spoils. It went on like this through five republics and one period of military rule, but in 1979, the people would stand for it no longer. Demonstrations swept the nation in May 1980. On May 17, Chun Doo-hwan, who had used the assassination of strongman president Park Chung-hee to seize control of the military and domestic security security apparatus (and later the presidency) declared martial law over the whole country on the pretext of maintaining stability. The demonstrations in most cities were put down without bloodshed. But the people of Gwangju city in South Jeolla province, long known for its independent nature and history of rebellions, stood their ground.

For almost a week, the people of Gwangju held control of the city. They formed self-government committees, they printed a newspaper, and they raided police stations and automobile factories for arms and vehicles. On the early morning of May 27, their uprising came to an end. A line of tanks rolled in. The people had gathered on the outskirts of city the day before to try, with little success, to slow the advance of the military. Then civil militias faced down the tanks with weapons they had gathered. Their final stand lasted just one-and-a-half hours before the Korean military had regained control of the city. All told, at least 144 protesters and militants died, as did 22 troops and 4 police officers. Those are the numbers released by the government, but the Bereaved Family Association says at least 165 Gwangju citizens died, and some government critics argue the death toll is as much as 2,000*.
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Jun 24

Backstage at a Cantonese opera performance

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Culture , Travel

As a child growing up on the outskirts of Guangzhou, Li Chixiang would listen to Hong Xiannv broadcast revolutionary operas on the radio and act them out. One moment she was the White Haired Girl, a peasant oppressed into concubinage by tyrant landlords, the next she was Wu Qinghua, a brave female soldier in the Red Detachment of Women. With her imagination, Li would conjure beautiful robes, flowered headdresses, and martial props. Her family was too poor to afford those things.

One day her father brought home a large blue vase from a business trip. As the family was admiring it, young Li, then 10 years old, picked up the vase and began using it as a microphone. She immediately transformed into Li Yuhe, the revolutionary railroad worker in The Legend of the Red Lantern, but as she swayed and sang, the vase slipped from her hand and smashed on the ground.

With mother and father enraged, Li ran off towards the bus station and headed for downtown Guangzhou to find Hong Xiannv and Zheng Peiying, another actor she had recently seen perform live. When she got off the bus, none of the adults she asked knew where either of the two actors were, and she headed back to her home in Panyu suburb awaiting her punishment. But when she arrived there, her mom said, “You scared me to death! As long as you are all right, everything is fine.” News in the village had spread that a 10-year-old’s corpse had been found in a creek.

Li Chixiang recounted the story in her book Cantonese Opera Royalty in the Eyes of A Xiang, published in 2012, in traditional Chinese characters, by the Macau Publishing House. The book includes essays on 72 heroes of the Cantonese opera stage, Hong Xiannv and Zheng Peiying among them, and 25 famous songs, as well as some stories about herself.

With a career acting and hosting TV shows spanning over thirty years, which included an appearance on CCTV’s Spring Festival Eve Gala, Li Chixiang was a good guide to me for Cantonese opera culture when I visited Guangzhou last year.

Li Chixiang performing

Li Chixiang performing

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Apr 05

Dangshan Pear Blossom Festival

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Travel

I celebrated Spring Festival in Dangshan, Anhui province, and last week a friend I met there texted me and asked if I wanted to go back to take in Pear Blossom Festival.

Dangshan pears are a famous local produce. In 2010, Dangshan held its first officially promoted “pear blossom festival” to promote its local produce. While the flowers bloom in spectacular beauty every year, Dangshan also hosts performances, photography competition and events tied to the festival. Still, the main highlight is walking between the trees in the park. While I couldn’t attend this year, Lu Han sent me some photos:
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Mitchell Blatt is an intrepid travel writer, and an author of two top China guidebooks, who brings his readers deep into the cultures of the places he explores. Subscribe now to get real stories of real people in real places around the world delivered right to your inbox.