Category Archives: Travel In China

China’s Oldest Resident: The Ginkgo Tree

News and Travel Editor

Fall is my favourite season of the year, with darker, cosier evenings and the changing colours in the trees. But have you heard of the Ginkgo Biloba Tree? It’s famous in China for being one of the oldest living tree species and shedding its brilliantly golden leaves at the start of Fall (also known as autumn in other parts of the world!).

There are both ‘male’ and ‘female’ trees, with the female producing a strange, whiffy, fruit which is often described as smelling like ‘rancid butter’. Remember to take your nose pegs if you’re planning on visiting your local Ginkgo tree anytime soon…

The fruit can actually pose a massive problem in cities with people regularly slipping on it after it has fallen from the tree, resulting in male only trees being used in urban areas.

Nonetheless, the Gingko Biloba tree is often planted near temples, shrines and castles and can be seen as an object of holy worship as well as being able to ward off evil spirits.

The species is thought to be around 350 million years old, making the tree a symbol of longevity and vitality. Reports of the oldest individual tree are wildly varied, ranging from 1,400 years to 10,000 years!

tree-3
Image by CS76.

The leaves of Ginkgo trees are used for herbal medicine and are said to have a range of medicinal qualities including being able to improve blood circulation and relieve Alzheimer’s. It’s also a hugely popular drug in France and Germany, accounting for 1.5% of their total prescription sales!

The Ginkgo tree is known also to be exceptionally hardy and able to withstand disastrous events. Some trees in China show signs of lightning damage but continue to grow and blossom out of disfigured trunks.

tree-2
Image by travel oriented. CC Attribution 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode).

So there you have it, the Ginkgo tree is more than just a pretty sight. Choosing to ignore its pungent fruit, the tree is also an allegedly effective healer and keep away unwanted spirits (perfect, just in time for Halloween!).

Fancy a spot of ‘leaf peeping’ yourself? Here are our favourite places to go!

Dajue Temple, Beijing.
The Ginkgo tree here is reportedly 1,000 years old and is easily accessible in the suburbs of Beijing. There are 3 other Ginkgo trees at the temple, the tallest being 30 metres, with a diameter of 7 to 8 metres.

Stone Buddha Temple, Beijing.
This Ginkgo was planted in the Tang Dynasty, 1,200 years ago! This tree is female and produces fruit every autumn. You have been warned…

Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple, Xi’an, Shanxi Province.
This tree was also planted during the Tang dynasty and is on the national protection list of trees. Monks at the temple often meditate amongst the fallen leaves.

Why are there so many glass bridges in China?

News and Travel Editor

Every few weeks on my Twitter feed, announcements pop up regarding a glass bridge in China. The widest, the longest, the highest, the scariest, one with a restaurant, one you can hit with a sledgehammer… the openings keep coming! As someone with a slight fear of heights, I’m yet to give any of them a go, but I can’t help but wonder WHY do they keep getting built? Am I missing out on something amazing? Aren’t they all….kind of the same?

I did a little digging to find out more.

Tourism
Embed from Getty Images

Time for a spot of science. Architect Keith Brownlie, who was involved in a glass bridge for The London Science Museum, said that the appeal of these walkways is”thrill”. Speaking to the BBC, he said “It is the relationship between emotionally driven fear and the logical understanding of safety,” he said. “These structures tread the boundary between those two contrasting senses and people like to challenge their rational mind in relation to their irrational fear.”

Dr. Margee Kerr, a Pittsburgh (US)-based sociologist expands on this by explaining to The Huffington Post  why triggering a ‘fight or flight’ response can feel good  “Our arousal system is activated and triggers a cascade of ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters and hormones like endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline that influence our brains and our bodies” She also suggests that pride from overcoming these fears and bonding with friends and family in the process also makes scaring yourself silly so appealing.

Sky-high yoga

Okay, I’m kidding, I just wanted an excuse to include these gloriously unusual photos.
Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

In conclusion, a continually growing tourist market combined with a love of thrill seeking may go part of the way to explain the glass bridge craze that’s sweeping China. One thing is for sure, all of the bridges show off incredible landscapes – something China is definitely not short of.

Are you brave enough to give one of China’s glass bridges a try? Have you been already? If so, I’d love to know what you think makes the experience so exciting!

In The News This Month | September

News and Travel Editor

Time feels like it has flown by since my last news round up, and with good reason – it’s been a very busy month! From gold medals to grapes in space, there’s been a lot of big stories this September. Here’s my pick of the best stories to come out of China in the last month:

Jackie_Chan_by_Gage_Skidmore.jpgIt was announced this month that Chinese acting legend Jackie Chan is getting an honorary for his extraordinary achievements in film.

I have decided to reconsider my career choices after hearing that Chinese Team ‘Wings Gaming’ won millions of dollars playing a game called DOTA 2 at an e-sports tournament.  Who wants to join me for next year’s competition?

The G20 took place in Hangzhou. For everything you need to know about the city and the conference, have a look here!

 

Chinese taxi-hailing giant Didi announced a move towards bicycle sharing . (Psst did you know that the world’s biggest bike share scheme is in Hangzhou, China?!)

The world’s longest desert highway is now open in China’s Inner Mongolia

The world’s largest radio telescope entered its testing phase in Guizhoufast-thumbs-8

How far will you go for the perfect glass of red? China has begun sending vines into space on a quest for perfect wine

China dominated the Paralympic Games winning a total of 107 Golds and a staggering total of 783 medals!

September 15th marked the commencement of the Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally celebrated with Mooncakes, family reunions and lanterns.

moon-cake-master

Curious to try first-class food in an airplane, without leaving the ground? You’ve got to visit Wuhan’s brand new airplane restaurant.

Yao Ming was inducted into the NBA Hall Of Fame with a little help from the only man tall enough, Shaq

In perhaps my favourite bit of news so far this year, it was announced this month that Pandas are no longer endangered in China.  I love Pandas, as you can probably tell from my previous posts, and fingers crossed they’ll be more furry friends for me to ‘aww’ at on the China Icons YouTube channel soon!

more gruel plz

This concludes another round up of in the news this month. Did you spot a great story I missed? Is there something you can’t wait for coming up in China in October? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Top 5 Reasons Why You Have to Visit Chengdu

 

News and Travel Editor

When you’re visiting China, there’s a lot more to see beyond (the admittedly fascinating) Beijing and Shanghai. Chengdu is the vibrant and visually stunning capital of Sichuan, the Chinese province known for its relaxed vibe.

Here are 5 reasons why Chengdu should be bumped to the top of your list when you’re travelling in China.

1. Food

One of the first things to try in Chengdu is the famous fiery Sichuan food. Be sure to try the local classic dish, Chengdu Hotpot, and sample the street food on Wide and Narrow Alley. Sichuan peppercorn, or huajiao, is a Chinese peppercorn with a spicy flavour so powerful it will make your mouth go numb! Cool down after all that heat with a spot of Kung Fu tea, another local tradition.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.24.22

2. Pandas

An irresistible reason to visit Chengdu is to get close and cuddly with Pandas at Chengdu Panda Research Base. The base is the only research centre that focuses entirely on the critically endangered Giant Panda. Get there around 8:30am if you want to catch feeding time before the Pandas spend the day indulging in their favourite activity – sleeping! Giant Panda in China literally translates to ‘big-bear-cat’, and a visit to the base contributes to the conservation of these adorable bears. If you have a couple of days, you could make the trip to Wolong National Nature Reserve to observe the Pandas in the Qionglai Mountains.

more gruel plz

3. Natural Beauty

As well the bustling city, the area surrounding Chengdu is home to stunning natural beauty. A must-see is Qingcheng Mountain, one of the most important centres of Taoism in China. Emeishan (Mount Emei) is the tallest of the four sacred Buddhist mountains, and you can choose to stay over on the mountain and watch the sunrise as part of your hike!

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Photo by Mikael Haggstrom via Wiki Commons

4. Traditional architecture

Another reason to make time to explore Chengdu is to explore the traditional architecture. The stunning Wenshu Temple is the best-preserved Buddhist temple in Chengdu, dating from the Tang dynasty. Luodai Ancient Town dates all the way back to 220-280AD. The most breathtaking architecture comes from the four guildhalls, built during the Qing Dynasty. If you can, visit on 26th – 27th July to take part in the Water Dragon Festival, where locals celebrate by splashing water all over each other in the streets.

Water-dragon-Festival
Photo via China Discovery

5. Culture

Make time to catch an opera. Sichuan Opera originated around 400 years ago, and incorporates circus elements, illusionists, and the unbelievable art of face changing! For a less explosive dose of culture, you can also explore Jinsha Museum, or marvel up at the Giant Buddha of Leshan.13240678_971322872975278_6858857117462572707_n

To explore Chengdu for yourself, head here:

For more insights into travel, culture and beyond in China, subscribe to China Icons on Youtube. New videos released every Wednesday! For more insights, follow us on Twitter , Instagram and Facebook

What can I do in Hangzhou?

News and Travel Editor

There’s one Chinese city that’s been on everyone’s lips over the last weekend, and that’s Hangzhou.

Unless you’ve been off the grid for the last few days, you will have noticed the buzz online about the G20 taking place in China. It’s brought a lot of attention to a city that you may not have heard of before, but you will see a lot more of in the future.

So, what’s there to do in Hangzhou? Here’s a list of top 10 things to do that’ll make you want to add Hangzhou to your travel bucket list.

  1. Hire a bike from the biggest bike share scheme in the world. With over 70,000 bikes available from 2,700 stations you’ll never be without a ride (especially as this number is expected to DOUBLE by 2020).Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 15.48.51
  2. Climb the steps of the Leifang Pagoda for panoramic views of the city. The five-storey tower was originally built in 975AD, but the version we see today dates back to 2002 as the original tower sadly collapsed in the 1920s!
  3. Be sure to make time for a leisurely paddle across the West Lake. The stunning freshwater lake has inspired poets, scholars and artists since the 9th century. It even appears on Chinese money!Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 15.51.46
  4. Grab a cup of tea with a view at the Meijiawu tea plantation, renowned for producing Longjing Tea for over 600 years. (Don’t know your Longjing from your Oolong? Read this)
  5. Take a selfie outside Alibaba, the world’s largest retailer founded in 1999 in Hangzhou by Jack Ma.
  6. Visit a paradise for bookworms and architecture lovers alike at the Zhangshuge bookstore.Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 15.53.11
  7. Give in to temptation and try local Street food at Hangzhou Snack Street. Want to try a local delicacy? Grab a beggar’s chicken, the city’s signature dish. The flavour comes from coating the chicken in MUD before roasting!Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 14.06.06.png
  8. Southern Song Imperial Street was built during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279AD). Back then, it was used only by emperors when offering sacrifices to their ancestors and to heaven. Now, you don’t have to be an emperor to stroll along the street. Visit after dark to enjoy the sights and sounds of the vibrant night market! Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 15.53.58
  9. For a glimpse into old Hangzhou, step into Hefang Old Street to experience Southern Song Dynasty architecture and traditional Chinese crafts, such as sugar-blowing, paper-cutting and hand-made dough figurines. Ctr1.jpg
  10. Lingyin Temple, or ‘Temple of the soul’s retreat’, is perfect for catching your breath after a day spent at bustling markets. The temple dates back to the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420AD), and it remains one of the largest and most visited Buddhist temples in China. As you enter, an inscription on the door reads:  ‘Let us sit and wait upon the threshold, where we shall see another peak flying from afar. Let us welcome spring with a smile as the snow melts and the brook starts to flow once more.’. 800px-Great_statue_of_Sakyamuni_in_the_Mahavira_Hall_of_Lingyin_Temple,_Hangzhou.JPG

How would you spend a weekend in Hangzhou? Have we missed off something that you’re desperate to try, or a recipe you just have to recommend? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Your Crash Course to Hangzhou and the G20

Features Editor

Several years ago I found myself in Shanghai at the same time as a big international conference.   The whole city came alive – the additional public transport, uniform on the street and the help for visitors was beyond any delegate’s wildest dreams. The sheer numbers of people enjoying the outdoors and frequenting the restaurants was immense.

For little old me, not attending the conference, it was both exhilarating and frustrating in equal measure!

So today, on the eve of the G20 – a finance forum for the world’s major economies – I have some understanding of how Hangzhou’s 9 million residents might be feeling.

Incase you are new to Hangzhou and the G20, let’s start with the basics.

HANGZHOU

Hangzhou may not be a city that you are familiar with.

That’s because it is a ‘second tier’ city and therefore not a location with the same international name recognition as Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai – all ‘first tier’ cities due to their population, size and growth domestic product.

unnamed-2

But being a second tier city, doesn’t mean second class. Instead it means that the city has been earmarked for additional development and infrastructure, and recommended for international investment and opportunities. Some might argue that Hangzhou is a particularly good bet given its personal connection to a certain Xi Jinping, former party chief of Zhejiang Province before rising to become President of China.

Hangzhou is one of China’s ancient capitals and was the country’s historic, political and cultural heartland during the Sui and Song Dynasty. Marco Polo is said to have called it the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world and Chinese poet Yang Chaoying ranked Hangzhou just below paradise.

Today, modern and ancient attractions sit side by side, with visitors as likely to be wowed by tech company Alibaba’s striking headquarters as UNESCO heritage site West Lake

But whether the G20 delegates will have time to enjoy the city is another matter!

THE G20

Formed in 1999, the G20 is a forum for the world’s top 20 major economies (G20 stands for Group of 20). Those economies account for 90% of the world’s domestic product and 80% of global trade. The G20 leaders meet every year, with the agenda generally set by the host, although this can depend on the pressing issues of the year.

In short, the G20 is a big deal.

And more so this year, being the last visit to China by outgoing US President Barack Obama and the first international acts of diplomacy by incoming UK Prime Minister Teresa May and Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri.

As the host, China will set the agenda, with President Xi scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the opening ceremony. He will be championing empowering emerging economies on the international stage and encouraging innovation in science, tech and development through international cooperation.

The Hangzhou G20 will be held on 4th and 5th September.

If you are in Hangzhou for the G20 – or are a resident – we’d love to hear your personal experiences in the comments below.

unnamed-4
Sunset over West Lake

 

 

Hangzhou’s All-Female Park Rangers

News and Travel Editor

If you’re heading to Hangzhou for the G20, you’re in safe hands with the city’s all-female patrol. Specially set up to assist visitors over the G20 global financial forum, this 21-strong female unit knows the city inside out.

After months of intensive training, these guards are all set to help visitors, tackle any antisocial behavior and even do a spot of entertaining when the children are playing up!

China Icons joined Zheng Qunfang on patrol around the scenic West Lake. Zheng’s journey to becoming a female ranger was trickier than most. First up, she’s not originally from the city. Plus she has a heart condition and fainted on the first day of training. Today she walks 15 kilometres a day and loves making a difference to the people she meets across the city.

Are you in or off to Hangzhou for the G20? Visit us again THIS FRIDAY for a special 72 hour selfie in the city and let us know how you spent your time in the city!

unnamed-2.jpg
Stunning West Lake in Hangzhou