Visiting Luoyang China

Luoyang China is in Henan 河南 province (see image below)

I recently visited the city and would like to recount what I remember of it before the memories are lost forever. I arrived by train, originating from Shanghai and making a switch in Zhengzhou, the province’s capital. The city I arrived in was understandably drastically different than the ancient capital of the Eastern Han Dynasty during the time Jesus was presumably living in Nazareth (25 AD).  Fortunately it did have a large treasure trove of stone carvings from 493 AD and later, which were found in a place called the Longmen Grottoes 龙门石窟. Longmen actually means dragon gate, because there was a gate where if fish jumped over they would supposedly turn into dragons. There were thousands of stone carvings of Buddha there, but most of the carvings were desecrated by thieves who stole either the hands or heads of the statues. Sometimes there are carved circles where statues used to be, meaning the thieves stole the entire carving! I’ve attached a gallery of photos I took while in Luoyang.

The city itself is like any large city you will find in China, there are shopping malls packed full of stores including American shops where goods cost twice as much as they do in America! Lee jeans cost more than $100 in their mall, while a Chinese equivalent would cost $10. The cars in the city were a mix and match of German, American, and Chinese, and Japanese models. This is unlike Japan where the roads are topped with 90% Japanese made models or Korea where the roads are topped with 99% Korean models. Having lived in China for awhile over ten years ago, it looks like the most common car has evolved from the Volkswagen Santana to the Volkswagen Lavida and Chevy Cruse!

Pollution is a problem in Luoyang, unfortunately each day I was there there was also smog overhead. My return flight was even cancelled due to what they called ‘fog’ and I ended up taking a slow train back to Shanghai which took over 12 hours. My recommendation to any traveler is to book fast trains to and back from Luoyang if planning a visit instead of risking a flight cancellation. Also bring plenty of clothes because Luoyang was colder than Vermont, I know having been to both places in the same week. Also, go ahead and take the taxi in Luoyang – the starting fare is just 6 yuan, worth a bit less than one USD. Shanghai’s starting fares are now starting at 14 yuan and charge 3 yuan per kilometer. Luoyang only charges .6 yuan per kilometer.

In Luoyang soup is king of all foods. Eating hot soup in a freezing environment is always enjoyable, one thing I had in Luoyang that I hadn’t had before was donkey soup.

Anyways, I hope someone finds this post useful. There weren’t any Lao Wai that I saw in Luoyang save two at the Longmen Grottos, so if you go there don’t be surprised if people stare at you. It is one of the relatively untouched cities and there are certainly lots of opportunities for enterprising  foreigners.

Stolen Buddha Statue

Stolen Buddha Statue at Longmen Grotto

Longmen Side View

Longmen Side View

Lots Of Buddhas

Lots Of Buddhas

Buddha Hand

Buddha Hand

Atlanta Photos

Here are some photos taken on a Friday evening here in Atlanta. There are lots of things to do, as long as you don’t mind driving and spending money.

sushi restaurant in Lennox Square Mall

sushi restaurant in Lennox Square Mall

Lennox Square Mall Friday Evening

Lennox Square Mall Friday Evening

Some Bank in Atlanta Near Lennox

Some Bank in Atlanta Near Lennox

Tall Building in Atlanta

Tall Building in Atlanta

Wine

Wine

About the Hakka Homeland, in Details

First of all I would like to mention I am writing this based on what I have learned via word of mouth, having visited Meizhou recently and having relatives from that area who are Hakka.

The Hakka people are quite unique in many ways, first of all their name means “guest” as they are a migratory people who almost one thousand years ago migrated (were exiled) from northern China about the time that Genghis Khan took over the region starting the Yuan Dynasty.

They were not exactly welcome when they arrived in their new homeland in Guangdong, so they were forced to move to the mountainous and hilly regions, many overseas to places such as Singapore (Lee Kwan Yew is Hakka). Their capital is Meizhou, a city in eastern Guangdong with a small population of five million (small when compared to bigger cities in China such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, etc.).

meizhou_hakka_capital

In the countryside in Hakka territory one will find that homes are a lot different than those of, say Shantou. The farm buildings are grouped together, sometimes in a circular formation that provide protection from outsiders. In fact, if one looks closely one will find holes just large enough to shoot from dotting around the outside of the fortifications. The farmers themselves are large square fields that typically yield rice. Unlike the farms in other parts of China one will not find as many small huts dotting the farmscape, instead you will find irrigation pools used for the important task of flooding the rice paddy and cooling down (one will often spot groups of young farmers taking a break in the pools. Yaks or water buffalo are very common, and are seen doing much of the work (tractors are virtually non-existent out here). When the rice is ready, one will not see water or a paddy but a field of something that looks like wheat.

maturing_rice

In Hakka culture education is very important, but traditionally men were the only ones educated as the female’s primary role was to marry off into another family. Women also do a lot of working in this area, and while men are studying, the women are out in the fields working on the crops. It was amusing to see a woman riding a bike with a man sitting on the back holding an umbrella (there was no rain, but some Chinese are picky about not getting a tan).

inside_hakka_compound

In the city lots of people use tricycles to get around, and hire someone for a menial price to take them where they want to go. Unfortunately Meizhou is famous for dog meat, and one will often find signs displaying the “gou rou” characters. After a while one might also get tired of the Hakka dialect, as it has evolved from people yelling across the mountains to each other and still retains its sharp, noisy characteristics. However, Hakka people are generally more law abiding as their position as commonly not owning land has made them focus on education and many enter civil service.

gou_rou

About the Chinese Farms Near the Southern Coastline

The thing I’ve noticed about farms in China is that they partition the land into very small segments, and some of these segments are covered by black tarps perhaps to protect the crops from the sun. Instead of using large machines crops are hand grown and tended, and usually there are water buffalo nearby to help with some of the labor.

There are irrigation canals through the fields, and one can often spot a group of three or more farmer kids swimming in the water. I assume they have built up a resistance to the local flora including bacteria and parasites. Most likely these people have no allergies, as studies have shown that the more hygenic the area, the more prone children are to have allergies to pollen and other materials.

In the distance one will spot the farmer’s homes, usually made of concrete and brick and built two or three stories high. Probably these building house two or three generations of one family. Once in awhile you will spot grandoise structures built in the middle of shanty villages, sporting greek columns and statues. Most likely owned by the wealthy landowners (yes land can be owned here) or the owner of one of the many factories that dot the rural towns. The pollution is not so much a problem here, as the strong winds from the ocean blow it inland.

On the hills around the farms you will spot tombs built into the rocks, on the tomb there will be one to several graves. Each family shares a tomb. Concrete is poured onto the steeper sides of rocky hills next to highways to avoid landslides, which come when the torrential rains pound the area.

Looking into the farm towns, one will see archaic three wheeled motorized contraptions, resembling tractors but much smaller. Also mopeds are pretty common in the area, along with motorcycles and blue industrial trucks used for hauling goods to the cities.

Construction is commonplace, but here in the rural areas contruction is mostly done using iron scaffolding, concrete, and bricks. More farmhouses are being constructed, all facing east. Much work is being done to improve the highway system as well, and one can spot a truck traditionally used to carry livestock being used to carry a truckful of workers to a new construction site.

All this can be seen on the five hour busride from Shenzhen to Shantou, China.

The Case Against Buying Gift Cards

As the holiday season approaches, many people are thinking about what they can buy their loved ones as a gift. According to consumerreports.org, gift cards ranked second in popularity as a gift item in 2006. Best Buy reports that it made a forty-three million dollar profit just from people forgetting to use their gift cards before the expiration date.

According to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, only 27% of adults that had received gift cards during the 2006 holiday season used them before the expiration date (usually 1 year). The most widespread reported reason for this was:

  1. they didn’t have time to shop
  2. they couldn’t find anything to buy

The credit-card gift cards are a step better, they allow you to purchase almost anything you could with a card. However they too have their drawbacks, as not only could people use them, but also there is a two to ten dollar fee when getting one.

I guess the most important drawback of a gift card is this: “What happens if the store/company that issued the gift card goes bankrupt?” This is not uncommon, as even in Idaho there are multiple examples:

  • Sharper Image did not honor its gift cards, but imposed a new rule after it went bankrupt that people could use the gift cards if they spent twice the value of the card on a single transaction.
  • Bombay Co., which closed 388 stores including one at the Boise Towne Square Mall, redeemed only 1/4 of each gift card’s value
  • Other local examples include: 8th Street Wine Co., Zutto Japanese Restaurant, Franco Latino

In conclusion, one must agree that buying gift cards is a risky venture, and something one should consider very carefully before doing this holiday season.

RNC Spends $150,000 on Sarah Palin’s Clothes

Today I was surprised to find out that the Republican National C ommittee has spent at least $150,000 on designer clothes fo r John McCain’s running mate. Spending records filed with the Federal Election Commission and obtained by Politico show the RNC paid for “campaign accessories” from upscale department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, where nearly $50,000 was spent, Neiman Marcus, $75,000, and $4,700 for hair and makeup.The McCain campain responded to the findings by saying: “With all the important issues facing the country right now, it’s remarkable that w e’re spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses.” My reponse to the McCain campaign is this… “If  you are going to identify with our country which is now facing a recession, then you sure aren’t going to entertain anyone by lavishly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on clothes for a VP candidate that probably won’t win.

A Few Facts About Sarah Palin

  1. Her husband was a drunk driver who was caught
  2. She lied about her support of Pat Buchanan in 1996 (I don’t care if she supported him, the big thing is that she lied about it)
  3. She and her husband were involved with the Alaskan Independence Party (a party advocating separation from the Union a.k.a Alaska breaking away from the USA)
  4. She abused her power as governor and village mayor (extensive earmarking for the village and firing people she didn’t like as governor)
  5. She used state funds to pay for a lawyer to defend herself against her abuses of power as governor

Now the most disturbing fact among the previously mentioned is the fact that she would consider splitting the United States of America in favor of her state (which was legally purchased from Russia by The United States on March 30, 1867). This type of favoritism and lawbreaking behavior is not one that I would accept as a president of my country; and if Alaska ever breaks away from the Union, we should join together and retake it. The goal of the Alaskan Independence Party taken from their website is below:

Become a separate and Independent Nation.

This is not acceptable, and none of it’s adherents should even think of running as Vice President of the greatest country on earth.

Idaho Republicans Don’t Get It.

I recently checked out the Idaho Statesman, as I do once in awhile to check up on the status of my home state. I was shocked and disappointed to find that all of my “representatives” were thrilled and excited for McCain’s VP choice. They praised her for her understanding of “Western Issues” and one even went so far as to call Idaho women “tough”. Now that kind of close mindedness is exactly what we don’t need, the kind of yearning for special care for me, me, and me. We are not a Red America or a Blue America; we are the United States of America. Likewise Idahoans must consider themselves as Americans above Idahoans. Regardless of where you live in the US, your fate is intertwined with that of the entire nation.

And while these Idahoan politicians praise McCain’s choice, I find it hypocritical. How can someone who has run his entire campaign on Obama’s lack of experience now choose a woman who has only been governor for less than two years for the second most important job in the country. McCain’s VP pick is especially important since he, if elected, would be the oldest president to be elected. God forbid he leaves us, we will be left with an inexperienced woman with a journalism degree from the University of Idaho. Even Idaho residents should be scared out of their pants at this possible reality, but instead they banter on and on about how her Idaho roots are a great thing for this country. Come on folks, the future of an entire nation is at stake and you are talking about “Western Issues”? By the way, Palin does not consider herself an Idahoan, she is a self proclaimed Alaskan.

On The Road Again

It has been a great summer. So great, in fact, that the generally exciting and joyous time of preparing to return to college has been dulled quite prematurely. Singapore was great, and China was great. The two countries shared a similar robustness in every day life that is hard to match, even in a college campus. If it weren’t for me going back to school, then I would happily stay here.

China is experiencing a zenith of excitement and investment, and is rapidly becoming the largest economy on the planet. Large cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen (those of which I have lived in) are modern marvels, and you would be hard pressed to find any cities in the US whom can match the grandiose buildings found scattered throughout China’s coastal cities.

I have always believed that every great country should have great food, and Chinese food is defiantly (yes defiantly) great. Don’t get me wrong, I will often have the desire for U.S. prime rib and a baked potato now and then, but once you have lived a life eating truly authentic Chinese food, you will agree with me that the U.S. will take a long time to catch up. What we have in the U.S. is puritan and plain, and please don’t ever mention the word “meat loaf” to me again. Chinese food is diverse and dynamic, and has evolved over thousands of years to perfectly cater to the human tongue. But I digress..

Yes, Iowa State University is a place of learning, so one should not expect to dine in decadence. However I should say that no man on the planet deserves to eat the strange tasting pizza offered by the UDCC (Union Drive Community Center), or the bread used in making the sub sandwiches in all of the dining centers. The steaks that one may purchase are also very plain, and have no seasoning whatsoever. To expect one to splatter those dreadful sauces known as “A1″ or “Heinz 57″ over good meat is simply a waste of resources.

Enough ranting, it’s time to pack.

Returning to School… and the UDCC

It’s about that time of year again. I have to come back from wherever I am in the word to Ames Iowa, back to the same old place with the same old food. I just have to write this, as I think it three times a day six times per week while dining in the UDCC, MWL commons, or even Oak-Elm. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a hamburger and fries every once in awhile, and eating Iowa State pizza isn’t the worst thing in the world. However to tell you all the truth the food is nothing compared to that found in Asia. I have been to China, Japan, Korea, and Singapore and of all of those countries the biggest variety can be found in Singapore. Singapore boasts food from all of the above plus Malaysia and India.  Second in line would be China. Depending on where you are in China, you will find a different culture and a different taste. My personal favorite is the food of Guangdong, that is southeastern China. Hong Kong especially boasts some great ‘dian xin’, also known as dimsum. The most flavorful award goes to Sichuan, because in Sichuan food is so spicy it puts American ‘spicy’ to shame. In the north east, or ‘beifang’, you can enjoy noodles and ‘jiao zi’ dumplings. In Shanghai, you should try the ‘xiaolongbao’ , it is a type of dimsum that is filled with soup. Now having the most vareity doesn’t mean having the best food, and the best food award also goes to … China. The healthiest food award goes to Japan, since eating raw fish is obviously healthy as long as they don’t have mercury poisoning. All of Japanese food is healthy except for Tempura and Pufferfish, which could be deadly if cut the wrong way. Korean food is also great because for one, I love Kim Chi. Kim Chi is mouthwatering garlic and chili covered cabbage. Korean food also boasts some great teppanyaki style steak. Basically you get raw beef strips, which you can cook yourself and then put in lettuce and mix with sauce and eat.

My Experience of the Beijing 2008 Olympics

Beijing, the capital of China, has been… for a lack of better words.. amazing.

I can remember going there a few times throughout my life but this time I was really shocked and awed. It is one thing to build facilities to host the Olympic games in, but another to ‘rebuild’ the entire city with grand structures, each of which would but the tallest building in my home state to shame. Thousands of volunteers will cheerfully help you along the way wherever you are. These volunteers willingly stand, sit, or patrol wherever they are needed, regardless if they can actually see the games themselves or not. Inside the venues, not a trace of advertisements are seen, only the Olympic symbol. The crowds of people all yelling “Jia You” at the top of their lungs, even if no Chinese athlete is playing, is truly a show of sportsmanship. Of course there will be a few times when unsportsmanlike behavior occurs, but it is few and far between.

Furthermore, the streets are amazingly clean, and the attitude of everyone around is genuine and welcoming. Something I enjoyed a lot was cruising down the street in a taxi with the window opening and waving to people in other cars, and watching their faces light up and see them waving back at you. This may sound corny, but there is a great spirit of friendship enveloping the city. As this is the first olympics I have been to, the “Olympic Effect” is a new experience for me. I hope in the future I can go to more olympics, but I believe it hard to match China’s effort in these 2008 games. This is truly history in the making.

Singapore

After staying in Singapore for about a month, I have quite a few things I can say about it. First and foremost, I would like to mention how impressed I was with its condition. It is a modern miracle, emerging from a poor Malaysian fishing village into a rich independent city-state.

Singapore is rich not only in money, but also in cultural diversity and an amazing assortment of food! The food you can find here includes but is not limited to: Chinese (I realize this is a very broad category), Indian,  and Japanese. For shopping fanatics there are plenty of shopping malls to find the most stylish and expensive brands.

Singapore will not only impress the wild vixens snatching up all the LV they can get their hands on, but also the devout. I was surprised to find that most of my co-workers and acquaintances here in Singapore had a religion. Most were Buddhist, some were Taoist, and there were even a few Hindus. I had an interesting talk with one of my new friends about feng-shui, and learned why the Singapore dollar coin has eight sides.

Apart from the shopping and religion, one can find some solace in Singapore’s Sentosa island, situated directly south from Singapore and linked by rail and a ski-lift-like contraption. Here you can relax on an Island that was reclaimed from the Ocean, and whose sand was purchased from Indonesia for your enjoyment. You may watch a water/light spectacle named “Song of the Sea,” where actors lip-synch a story which is made entertaining by an amazing water gun show, fireballs, and bright lights.

One thing is for certain, the traffic here wont cause you a heart attack on every trip as in China 😀

Thanks for reading and cheers.