Archives For Travel Tips

One of the things that I try to avoid when I am traveling is being in a hurry to get to a flight. On a recent trip through China, I was unable to give myself the additional time before a flight because security took much longer than anticipated. As we approached our gate, we got their only to learn we would have a slight delay in boarding. As I looked around, there were many families also waiting to board. I can only imagine how horrible those words must sound to people traveling with children. I wondered how you can entertain children at an airport? There is limited space, no toys and a lot of impatient people all around.

TravelChildren1Soon I found two young boys that seemed happy about our delay. I thought that it was a great idea for the parents to give them airplanes to play with. If the children had any hesitation about flying, I am sure having planes to play with helped. Also, having the lights with multiple colors illuminating the planes truly caught the children’s eyes. The boys chose an open area to play, and they didn’t disturb any of the other passengers.

TravelChildren2Once we boarded the plane, I introduced myself to my aisle mate. She didn’t seem too happy about having a foreigner sitting so close to her, but I think she eventually accepted my bald head, blue eyes, and big nose. After using a weird looking guy like me for entertainment, her grandmother found another way to occupy the little girl’s attention. Sometimes you don’t need a toy or anything else to hold the attention of a child and keep them quiet.

As you can see in the picture below, sometimes all you need is a window! I am sure a young mind can find many interesting and new things to see at an airport, just ask my new little friend!TravelChildren3

Cargo on the Bus

December 22, 2015 — Leave a comment

In China, buses are not only used to transport people, but also to move cargo. The top of the bus is considered nothing more than a large storage deck, so why not make some extra money and charge to carry cargo as well? I am amazed by how high workers can stack cargo on a bus, and I am equally impressed by how skilled the workers are in securing the cargo with heavy nets.


Honestly, I have seen a bus or two that had such high stacks of cargo on them that I had no idea of how they kept from rolling over. I would think the weight distribution is critical for a bus loaded with cargo, and they would have to watch for low overpasses!


In the rural areas, the bus may make several unscheduled stops to pick up passengers. The people will sit beside the road and wait for the bus to come by.


When the new passengers are loaded on the bus, their cargo has to be secured. I once saw someone shipping glass windows on a bus. To my surprise, I heard they made it just fine.


If you ever have the opportunity to travel in China, I would like to encourage you to take a bus……just one time! You will be exposed to a common mode of transportation for most people, and you will get to meet many nice people. Sure, they will look at you funny initially, but then they will become your friend.


Residential Wiring

September 29, 2015 — Leave a comment

There are several differences in the wiring of homes and apartments in China and the States.  The first one is that homes in China use 220V, and the states use 110V.  That isn’t something you can see, but you may need to know that when you plug in your appliances.  Don’t worry about your laptop, because the power cable probably can make the adjustment, so no problem with it.



The lights would be another difference.  It is not uncommon at all to see a light in China that doesn’t have a glass globe around it.  That is not to say that nice light fixtures aren’t there, it is just to say that frequently you will see just the light socket to hold the light bulb.  In fact, sometimes you will see some electrical wire hanging from the ceiling with a socket at the end, and that is the light fixture for the room. RW5 

Another difference is with the unused cables.  Sometimes you will come across an electrical outlet or light switch that has some unused cables protruding from them.  You never know if they are hot or not, so be careful!RW4


I am not aware of anyone having a problem with being electrocuted by these exposed wires, and that obviously is a good thing.  So, if you are traveling in China, don’t be surprised if you encounter wiring like this.

The New Entrance

September 22, 2015 — Leave a comment

In the past when you wanted to go to the Great Wall of China at MuTainYu near Beijing, you would drive almost all the way to the entrance before the parking lots were in sight. From there you would walk through an area of huts and some permanent structures that had shops and restaurants. As you worked your way up the hill, you would come to an area where you could purchase your tickets, all 3 of them. You need one ticket to enter the park, one for the gondola ride up, and another one for the luge ride down. If you didn’t want to take the luge run down, you could take the gondola or the ski lift, which was an open air bench much like the gondola, but not enclosed.

Now the entrance has been moved a little further down the hill, and some of the charm of the mom and pop huts has been lost, in my opinion. At the new entrance there are nice new clean buildings where you can purchase your tickets for the entrance, gondola, park entrance, and van ride to the old entrance. As you can see from my list, you now need to get a ticket for the bus ride to the entrance and back to the parking area. You will also need to buy your luge ticket at the old location, because it is run by a separate company.
The New Entrance1
At the new parking area you will find the mom and pop huts have been replaced by new buildings. You can still buy the delicious dried fruit there and get souvenirs, but there is definitely a different feel to this location compared to the old one.
The New Entrance2
One challenge I see with the new system is with the buses. Nobody wants to wait for their bus, especially if you are about to see the Great Wall of China. I have never had to wait long for the bus going up, but on my last trip, I had to wait WAY too long for the ride down. Hopefully you won’t have to wait in the hot sun like my friends and I did to go back down the mountain.
The New Entrance3
Enjoy your time on the Great Wall of China, and I highly recommend taking the luge run down the mountain!

In many of the airports I have been in inside China, when you are taking a flight to a smaller city, your plane may not pull up to the terminal. Often, the plane will be waiting for you in a designated area on the tarmac and you will be put on a bus at the terminal to be taken to the plane. This was a little unnerving for me at first, because I wasn’t sure where the bus was taking us!

As you wait for your flight, you can get something to eat, watch the activity at the gates, or meet some very nice people! On this particular day, I was fortunate enough to meet some very friendly people with smiling faces.




When a flight is announced, people will line up at the gate, have their tickets checked, and board the bus. The buses are nice and clean, but get crowded quickly. It is usually a very short ride to the plane that is waiting to take you to your destination.


I imagine this system allows more flights to be used per gate. With the number of travelers increasing in China, it is imperative that their airports function efficiently! Just remember this: keep your coat if it is cold. Don’t put it in your backpack because you may wait in a line outside the plane when boarding.

The highest point in Shanghai, China is called Mount She. There is a national park there, which is well maintained and beautiful. As you climb the mount, you will pass a pagoda. Out of all of the pagodas I have seen, this would be a pretty tall one.


I always find the roof line interesting on a structure like this. I am told that the way the edges come to a point has something to do with keeping evil spirits away from the building. I don’t know about that, but I do know that there were some bells which were easily viewable from the path behind the pagoda.


I think the bells were quite ornate, but the wind wasn’t blowing so I never heard them ring. The red ribbon on the bells is placed there for good luck. These are common on rear view windows in cars and trucks as well.


This pagoda serves another purpose for park visitors. As you make you way to the top of Mount She, having an interesting place to stop and catch your breath is greatly appreciated, especially if it is a hot day!

As you probably know, the Great Wall of China covers mile after mile of land in China, so the topography will change from section to section. The area I am speaking of today is just north of Beijing, in some mountains.

If you can remember the beginning of the TV show MASH when the helicopters were flying into the medical base, well, that land reminds me of the area where the Great Wall of China was built north of Beijing. To build the Great Wall on top of a mountain ridge is very impressive to me. To consider when it was built and the lack of modern resources to accomplish this task, now that is amazing!

As you can see in the picture below, the terrain is very steep in some areas along the Great Wall. In the second picture, you can see a distant valley, and I am told that the farmers in these areas wouldn’t have to pay taxes when the Great Wall was being built, but they would have to feed the workers as they worked on the Great Wall in the farmer’s area.



In this final picture, the incline lets you know how steep the mountain is. Thankfully, there are vendors on the Great Wall selling cold drinks!


When I was teaching English at a university in eastern China, one of the places the students consistently told me they would like to see were the grasslands of China. One reason the students wanted to see the grasslands, was because they all spoke of the beautiful, blue skies. Something you should understand about the area from where the students came was that it was a coal producing area. That may not mean much to you, but it had a sizable impact on the people living in the area. Heat for the city was generated from burning coal. Also, local industries ran on coal, people heated buildings with coal, and some people cooked with coal. If you have never been in an area that used coal, I can tell you from firsthand experience, coal leaves a very fine, dark dust in the air that gets on anything and everything!

The students told me about how the tall, green grass grew as far as you could see and nomadic herdsmen let their livestock graze as they pleased. Many students said they would like to visit the area and ride horses. A friend of mine said it is a wonderful area for riding motorcycles, too.

The students assured me the grasslands were a safe area because there were no wild animals there… like tigers, which could harm you. As you can see in the picture below, the grasslands do look very inviting!



Recently, I read an article about a horrible accident that occurred at the Mu Tain Yu section of the Great Wall of China. According to the report, a 37-year-old Canadian lady was trying to catch up with a friend when she tried to go between an elderly Chinese man and his wife. Unfortunately, the younger woman bumped into the older lady causing her to fall. Tragically, the injuries suffered by the elderly Chinese lady caused her to lose her life. I am sincerely saddened by this.

If you have an opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China, I whole heartedly want to encourage you to take advantage of the chance to see an amazing and historic structure. I also want to caution you to be careful! As you can see from the pictures below, you could potentially fall a long way!


Another potential dangerous area of the Great Wall are the uneven surfaces. Also, some of the steps are different heights and widths. You will notice some of these challenges in the next picture.


If you visit the Great Wall in the rain, I want to suggest being extremely careful at all times. Good walking shoes are a must!


Regardless of where you are in the world, you may encounter a scenario that is truly unexpected― you know, one of those things that makes you stop and ask, “Why?… How?” Then all you can do is answer yes, and maybe even laugh. That is exactly what happened to me when I saw this in China:


Cart and bike on rooftop in China_Beau Sides


You can’t fully see the house, but yes, that is the roof of a house…with multiple large carts and bikes on top of the roof! When I initially saw this, from what I saw in the area, I thought, “Why are those there?” My next thought was, “How did someone place heavy metal carts on a rooftop? I couldn’t imagine how much effort was involved in completing the task.


The more I looked at the situation, the more I just had to chuckle, because I didn’t have enough imagination to come up with good answers to either of my questions. Maybe on one of my trips back to China, I can meet the homeowner and ask why are the carts on top of your house, and how did you get them there? If I ever learn the answer, I will be certain to pass the information along!




To learn more about China’s culture and history, check out my book Lessons from China: A Westerner’s Cultural Education!