As the camera operator on the shoot in Sichuan, this week’s film holds a very special place in my heart.
Fengtongzhai is a rural village four hours outside of Chengdu. At the time of filming, all the roads were under construction, and the only way for us to reach the village was bypublic transport. We took the coach to our hotel in Ya’an, then took another coach to Baoxing County, and THEN took a small bus up the mountains to the village. All together, it added up to a 10-hour journey. Luckily, we were pretty much asleep the whole way.
After a long and exhausting journey, I was ready for a rest. However, when we arrived, the crew and I were so amazed by the beautiful nature and the hospitable farmers in the village that I perked right up. It was a completely different world for a city girl like me.
We stayed in the village for 4 days, and I still consider it to be my most memorable shoot. Some of the trickier moments for me include trying to work out how to charge the batteries for the camera when we could only get power from 8pm-11pm, waking up to the roosters’ “cock-a-doodle-do”, holding a beehive whilst trying to find the queen bee and even sharing the toilet with some pigs.
As well as all this, my highlights include having breakfast on the street whilst waiting for a timelapse shot, being offered “honey alcohol” to drink by the farmers daily, watching the sunrise and sunset surrounded by the beautiful mountains and forest and detoxing from the internet! Throughout all of this, I loved communicating with the locals and sampling local food. It was such an amazing experience and I feel so lucky that we conquered the challenge and made our way there. I think it is a great film, but it was also a precious life experience for me.
I still remember Chen Yanyu’s smile as he talked about how much he likes his bees. He earns just enough to live, and he doesn’t demand a lot from life. All he cares about and wants to do is to take care of his hardworking babies. Watching him was probably my favorite moment of the whole trip!
It’s been 35 degrees plus, with 89% humidity in Beijing recently. So hot that those of us from chilly, damp climes are wilting. Normally I like to walk around Beijing – there’s always so much to see, and it’s quite easy to find your way, with street names that so clearly tell you where you are like “so and so North street”; “such and such outside street” (ie outside the old city walls); “such and such gate” (ie by an ancient gate on the old city walls).
But in this weather I dive immediately into the subway – an underground mirror world that’s air conditioned and quiet, and takes me effortlessly to my destination. And is endlessly fascinating.
The Beijing subway system is heading to be the most extensive in the world, as well as the busiest and, being so much newer than those of New York or Paris, for example, it has many of the advantages of recent construction and new trains. Not just air conditioning, but also regularly-placed stations; wifi access throughout; wide passageways and escalators; safe platforms and all signs and announcements on the trains in English as well as Chinese. It’s also entirely logical and as a result easy to navigate, with lines named 1 to 15, each with its separate colour and transfer stations clearly indicated.
One of the things I so enjoy about the Metro is that, as you speed around the city underground, you are constantly reminded of how old a city Beijing is; how dynasty has succeeded dynasty here and how history is there if you know how to look. On Line 2 the names of some stations, and the shape of the line itself, are a reminder of the fact that until the 20th century, Beijing was ringed by massive city walls pierced by giant gates. And that these gates and the walls themselves were torn down to make way for the Metro and for the 2nd ring road – a triumph of progress that seems closer to an act of tragic vandalism to a tourist today, but that is a window into what was important to people in China at that time. (You can see what gates and walls once looked like at the Ming City wall park, one of those fascinating corners of Beijing that many visitors miss https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/beijing/ming-city-wall.htm).
Those station names are one echo of the past; at other stations the design and decoration make that link. At Beitucheng, on Line 8, the swirling blue and white design recalls the city built here by Kublai Khan in the 13th century. His Yuan dynasty became famous for its blue and white porcelain, created with cobalt blue imported from Iran, and then exported all over Asia and the Middle East. Yongle, founder of the Ming dynasty, built his city on top of Kublai Khan’s, destroying much of the latter in the process, including his palace, but near Beitucheng station you can visit the rammed earth city walls of Yuan Dadu, an even bigger city than Ming era Beijing.
At Dongsi, on Line 5, bas reliefs show life in Old Beijing. Street traders, a procession, two strolling friends all pass under one of the 8 colourful ceremonial archways built by Emperor Yongle, but which were removed in 1954. (For other interesting Beijing metro stations, have a look here)
A friend – whose grandfather was part of the original Metro construction team – told me that when Lines 1 and 2 were opened in the late 60s, the subway was such a novelty that Beijing families would buy tickets, not to go anywhere, but just to experience subway travel. And in a way that’s what I do today. Speeding through the tunnels, in the cool of the train, watching moving video adverts on the tunnel walls – something I’ve never seen elsewhere; trying to improve my Chinese by listening to the announcements carefully before they are repeated in English; glued to the cartoons, mini-dramas and information videos on the on-train TV screens and spotting the links between this subterranean world and the history of the city, I’m mainly enjoying the fact that the subway is a great place to people watch. In fact, it’s the best place I know for watching a certain kind of Beijing person – the up and coming generation. Educated, tech-savvy, fashionable, these under 30s are the dominant group among your fellow travellers on the Metro. I love to observe their fashions – idiosyncratic, cool and sharp, but often with a touch of sentimental whimsy. I enjoy their interactions – there’s always lots of chatter and laughter on the Beijing metro – and their body language. I’m fascinated by what people are watching on their phones – and that goes for almost everyone. Above all, what I love is that you rarely see that miserable commuter look – so common in Paris or London – where everyone is trying to pretend they’d rather be anywhere else but here…Most people seem to be having as much fun as I am…
Imagine eerie, deserted streets, flecked with abandoned coins and burnt money, grand offerings of fruit and hot food, and sticks upon sticks of slowly burning incense, left to stand solitarily in the moonlight.
This is not a scene from a horror film or a nightmare, but something you can see in many towns and villages across China during the seventh lunar month, known as Ghost Month; particularly on the fifteenth day, when the Ghost Festival takes place. This year it falls on August 17th.
Around this time, the Chinese have traditionally believed that the gates of the underworld are flung open and lost spirits are free to roam the Earth amongst the living. Though most Chinese people today probably don’t lay much store by these ancient beliefs, there are some interesting taboos that some people still observe during Ghost Month.
The aim of all these Ghost Festival dos and don’ts is to please the dead in order to ensure they don’t bring misfortune on the Chinese people; food is offered to spirits that might be wandering around the streets, incense is burnt as a token of prosperity and lighted paper lanterns are floated across lakes to guide the ghosts back to the underworld. Make shift paper money is also burnt, as it is believed that ghosts will be able to use this as currency when they return to the underworld.
Does any country dominate in an Olympic sport in the same way that China dominates at Table Tennis?
China has secured 24 out of the possible 28 Olympic gold medals since the sport became part of the games in 1988. China’s clean sweep of 6 medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 even prompted the Olympic committee to limit each country to send two players to compete, instead of three. In 2012, with the new limitations, China still won two golds and two silvers.
This year in Rio, both players in the men’s and women’s gold medal matches are, again, from China, securing two golds and two silvers once more.
In doubles, China’s women’s team triumphed over Germany last night. The men’s team will take on Japan tonight for the final gold on offer.
This week’s video goes behind the scenes to meet China’s table tennis stars of the future at Beijing’s Shichahai sports school.
As Brazil welcomes the world to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics, many other countries will look back fondly to the year that their country took world centre stage and hosted the Olympic games. Along with London, Athens and Sydney, Beijing is amongst the most recent predecessors; in 2008 Beijing shocked and impressed audiences across the globe with expensive and breathtaking structures and an unforgettable opening ceremony. Beijing 2008 had firmly planted China back on the map.Each city that holds the games must, of course, be able to prove that it has adequate venues and facilities to house thousands of athletes and spectators, but what becomes of the iconic Olympic buildings after the games leave town? Often costing thousands or millions of pounds in upkeep each year, these buildings often pose a challenge for governments across the globe.
Sydney’s Olympic Park still hosts a number of sporting events as well as having undergone a series of developments that have led to it becoming its own suburb. The local government has, however, been criticised for not constructing a sufficient plan for the park post-Olympics; the suburb has largely failed to attract businesses and often remains deserted unless a sports event is taking place, even after £1.34 billion worth of investments.
Many of the venues in London are still regularly used following the 2012 Olympics; the Olympic Stadium has undergone various transformations and is now West Ham United’s training stadium as well as host to a flowing influx of concerts and events. London Aquatics Centre and other sports facilities are now open to the public and the velodrome now belongs to Lee Valley VeloPark, which caters for cyclists of all types and abilities.
It is a very different sight from the derelict and abandoned Olympic stadiums and courts built for the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. Most of the overgrown and forgotten buildings are completely deserted, serving as an Olympic ghost town.
Four years later, it was China’s turn to host its first ever Olympic games. Beijing’s Olympic Park is a must-see on any tourist’s agenda, with millions of visitors flocking to the site each year. Many of the Olympic facilities remain well kept and alive; Beijing National Stadium, also known as the iconic “Bird’s Nest”, mainly relies on substantial amounts of tourists to cover the costs of the $9 million yearly upkeep costs.
Though the stadium has an 80,000 capacity and poses as one of Beijing’s most iconic modern buildings, it has still failed to attract the vast numbers of concerts and events that its planners had predicted. However, it does host the occasional football game, such as the Italian Supercup in 2011 and 2012. (Curious about how the giant steel structure gets cleaned? Have a look at this)
Across the road from the Birds Nest lies the aquatics centre, otherwise known as the Water Cube, now a waterpark with slides and attractions open to the public.
Fewer foreigners make the one subway stop north of the stadium where the well tended Olympic forest lies; a heavenly stretch of lush greenery and lakes planted in a tightly packed concrete city. The Olympic forest remains open to the public and is a pillar of Beijing society, providing a place for children and adults alike to exercise along scenic jogging and cycling paths.
Beijing will also, of course, be hosting the Winter 2022 Olympics, when the stadium and Water Cube be again put to good use; another chance for China to demonstrate its role as a key performer on the world stage.
Are you excited for Rio 2016? What’s your favourite event? If you’ve been loving the gymnastics, check out our interview with China’s Gold Medal Gymnast, Zhang Chenglong.
Romance is sure to be in the air all over China tomorrow as the Qixi festival, also known as Chinese Valentine’s day, celebrations get underway.
In the city, shops will be packed to the brim with cards, beautiful flowers, heart shaped chocolates and a range of gifts for young lovers to exchange, much like a Western Valentine’s day. Restaurants will be heaving with romantic dates and cinemas will be full of young couples enjoying each others company.
But the tragic story behind this festival is very different to the tale of love and happiness that many young Chinese adults – like people all over the world – yearn for in their lives.
Venture further into rural China and you will notice the very different and traditional festivities taking place, all with origins in the mythology surrounding the Qixi festival. Though many of the traditions are less likely to take place within larger cities, the story behind the festival is still passed between generations, and most people in China know the legend well.
The festival originates from ancient Chinese folklore which depicts the forbidden love between a cowherd and a weaver girl and her disapproving mother.
Legend has it that the young cowherd, Niulang, who was poor but kind-hearted and an orphan, lived with his elder brother and sister-in-law, who were cruel to him and threw him out of the house. He thus lived by himself as a farmer and cattle herder.
The weaver girl, named Zhinü, was a fairy from heaven, the seventh daughter of a Goddess. She fell in love with the cowherd and descended from heaven to marry him, without the knowledge of her mother. The weaver girl and the cowherd were very happy and loved each other very much. They soon bore two children.
However, when the Goddess learnt that her daughter, a fairy, had married a mere mortal, she was furious and sent celestial soldiers to force Zhinü back to heaven. Niulang, heartbroken, was surprised when one of his oxen spoke to him and told him to slaughter the ox and wear its hide to get into heaven.
Through bitter tears, Niulang killed the ox and he and his children put on its hide – hoping to get to heaven and be reunited with his wife and their mother. But the Goddess would not allow it, and on his arrival she took her hairpin and slashed a river in the sky to separate the lovers so that they could only see each other from opposite banks.
The tears of the couple attracted the pity of all of the magpies in the world, who flew to the river and created a bridge so that the lovers could be together again. The Goddess, moved by their loyalty to love, allowed for the magpies to come once a year, so that Zhinü and Niulang could spend a single night together on the seventh day of the seventh month.
There are some Qixi festival traditions which date back around 2000 years and are still practiced across rural China today…
1. Practicing dexterity
Young single women would traditionally showcase their dexterity by threading a needle by moonlight and carving exotic shapes, animals and flowers into fruit to symbolise their good skills as a potential wife.
2. Making offerings to and worshipping Zhinü
Traditionally, young Chinese women visit their local temple and pray to Zhinü, offering her fruit, flowers and beauty powder in the hope that she will help them to find their own husbands.
3. Hanging wild flowers on oxen horns
Children collect wild flowers and hang them on oxen horns in honour of the Niulang’s noble ox who sacrifices himself for the couple’s love.
4. Bidding farewell to the celestial couple (newly weds)
Newly weds traditionally, on this day, worship and say goodbye to Zhinü and Niulang, symbolising a happy marriage and acceptance of the woman into her new family.
According to some folklore, Niulang represents the star Altair and Zhinü represents the star Vega, with the river created by the Goddess representing the milky way. Traditionally, on the night of Chinese Valentine’s Day, the Chinese look to the sky for the stars Vega and Altair shining in the Milky Way, with a third star forming a bridge between the two.
Looking for a way to surprise someone you love? Why not try Beijing’s clown-flower-delivery-man!
Is it possible to be a Vegan in China? You may be travelling to China for the first time and worried about your options, or could just be curious to know if it’s possible. It’s true that it can be a challenge to maintain a Vegan diet on your trip to China, but it is definitely possible and we’ve got a lot of tips to help.
How to tell people you are a vegan
The first thing you need to know is how to tell other people that you are a Vegan. There is no direct translation, which can be a bit frightening! However, don’t panic. What is often recommended instead is the phrase ‘Wǒ chī sù’, meaning ‘I eat vegetables’. Check out the pronunciation here.
What to watch out for
In China, most cooking stocks are made from meat, and meat is added to just about everything.
When you’re eating out, be aware that the further away you venture from tourist hotspots, the less likely you are to find English translations on the menu. In a similar vein, being in a big city means that vegetarian restaurants and cafes are more frequently available, such as this fine-dining restaurant in Beijing.
Don’t assume that most Buddhists in China are Vegan or Vegetarian. Some temples DO have Vegetarian restaurants attached but certainly not all.
Make sure to bring snacks on Chinese Airlines, as you’re unlikely to be offered a Vegan option on the plane.
Keep an eye out for…
Fruits and Vegetables
We could be here all day, so I’ll just mention a few of my favourites. Star fruit, lychees, rambutan, jackfruit and baked sweet corn are all delicious and easily available from markets and street food vendors.
Tofu needs a whole blog to itself, as it’s so versatile and a staple in the diet of Chinese vegans and non-vegans alike.The Chinese have been cooking with Tofu since the Han dynasty, 2,000 years ago. Enjoy it crispy and fried, spicy Szechuan-Style, or Kung-Pao style with rice and vegetables.
You Tiao/Dough Sticks
Delicious long golden-brown deep-fried strips of dough served with Soy milk. Just be sure to check what the strips are fried in before tucking in!
The varieties here are infinite. Of course, many varieties of hot pot do contain meat and meat stocks – but there are so many veggie-filled vegan examples to satisfy even the pickiest taste-buds. Get it hot and spicy or keep things mild – it’s up to you! At a hot pot restaurant, you order the ingredients and cook it all yourself in a boiling broth at the table. Make sure to specify that you need vegetable stock, and it becomes a great way to guarantee that no animal-based ingredients managed to sneak in.
A silky rice porridge that is a breakfast staple in Chinese homes. Have it plain with some side dishes, or add vegetables like mushrooms, edamame, and pak choi. In restaurants, sweet versions are often the safest bet for a Vegan dish.
Noodles are a great option, as you can point at what vegetables you would like with them. However, be aware that often the soup they will be served in is Chicken or Beef. If you want to make noodles for yourself, check out this video.
A personal favourite of mine, I couldn’t bare to leave them off the list. Crispy, packed with vegetables and dipped into a sweet-chilli sauce is how I like them.
Green Pea Pudding
The only dessert on the list, this traditional sweet pudding is eaten like candy with toothpicks or served with afternoon tea. Also known as Pea Cubes or Pea Jelly Squares.
Haggling for the first time in China can seem a bit daunting. Remember, it is expected by vendors, so there’s no need to feel awkward or embarrassed. With these tips, you’ll be ready and prepared to hit the markets, just like Hyper-Trypsy in today’s video.
When Can I Haggle?
It’s important to know when to haggle and when not to.
Haggling is a big part of shopping in China, but it is not acceptable everywhere. You should always barter with street vendors, at open air markets and in small, independent shops.
In large shops or chain stores, department stores or supermarkets it is not acceptable to haggle.
You cannot usually negotiate on price in restaurants, the only exception is if you are in a large group.
How do I prepare?
Before you start haggling, walk around the market/store and do some mental price comparisons.
Have a look at different stalls where you can buy similar items – being able to say that you can buy the same thing for less nearby will help you get the price down.
Remember that the marked prices may be well above the seller’s actual minimum price.
Make sure you’ve got small denomination notes and plenty of change.
Set yourself a limit of how much you’re willing to spend
How do I haggle?
Don’t be afraid to start low – far below what you’re actually willing to play. The vendor may act insulted, but don’t worry – it’s all part of the drama of the process.
Act like you’re not bothered. This is a top tip, the keener you are, the more resistant a seller will be to lower the price. If they think you’re definitely going to take it, they’ll be less inclined to lower the price to tempt you.
Don’t be afraid to walk away. If the price is still too high for you, just leave. Hopefully, the seller will call you back to negotiate further. If not, just try somewhere else!
Use a calculator to show the vendor how much you are offering if they cannot understand you. Most vendors always have one handy for this exact purpose.
What surprised me the first time I was in a small Chinese market was that, in China, people count on their hands differently from in Europe. Have a look at the illustration below to famil
What do I say?
Knowing a little local language goes a long way and sets you apart from other tourists. Try memorising these four phrases to help you haggle.
Duō shǎo qián? – how much money.
Jià gé – price, cost.
Tài gui le! – too expensive!
Pian Yi Dian – Make it cheaper
If you want to see travel and tech blogger HyperTrypsy having a go at haggling for Coco’s Kitchen, check out the video below. If you have any questions or any top tips for haggling in China, let us know in the comments!
July 28th 2016 is the 40th anniversary of one of the most devastating natural events to hit the world in modern times. A shallow earthquake of magnitude 7.8 struck China. Though felt across 14 Chinese provinces, it was in the city of Tangshan, not far from Beijing, that the effects were most severe. It was an industrial city of a million people and when the earthquake struck at midnight, the city was sleeping. Within a matter of moments hospitals, dormitories, factories, housing blocks were reduced to rubble. The official death toll was 242,000 dead and 164,000 severely injured.
Twenty years after the earthquake, in 1996, I was part of a team that travelled to Tangshan to make a documentary about the earthquake for viewers in the US and UK. Our focus was very much on the science of earthquakes – why this earthquake was so unusual and so devastating, and whether earthquakes can ever be predicted in a way that is useful for communities living in earthquake zones.
But what I remember most about Tangshan was meeting the people who had lived through the earthquake; how those few seconds had changed their lives and how they had worked to rebuild their lives and their community in the years that followed. We met a music professor in his 50s, who had written a symphony inspired by his experiences, and who played the theme for us, with passion and emotion, on an upright piano in his small living room. On the day before the earthquake, his family had moved house – a reward for his first wife’s commitment and skill as a teacher. Exhausted from a day of moving possessions and furniture, he had fallen asleep early, with his two children, one on either side. Only he survived that night. His wife and children died in the rubble of their new home. As the music ended, and we all sat silent, tears in our eyes, the professor’s wife appeared in the doorway with a giant cake. It was the birthday of one of the crew, and they wanted to celebrate the moment with us.
The next day we filmed Mr Wang, an unassuming man in his early forties who, on the day of the earthquake, had been in hospital. His young wife – her name meant “Golden Phoenix” – had come to keep him company there and, as the bed next to his was empty, she’d lain down to catch some sleep. When the earthquake struck, the hospital building collapsed and she was pinned down by concrete and girders where she lay. Wang tried desperately to reach her. He moved plaster and masonry with his bare hands but eventually he couldn’t move anything more. They could just touch the tips of their fingers through a crack in the rubble. Gradually, as day dawned, and then darkness fell; and then another day dawned, and another night fell, all the voices in the ward fell silent, including that of his beloved Golden Phoenix. On the eighth day, Wang heard the sounds of rescuers digging nearby and summoning all his strength he shouted out to them that he was still alive. He was the last survivor to be pulled alive from the wreckage of Tangshan.
In the months and years after the earthquake, the authorities acted as matchmaker for the thousands of widows, and widowers in the city, men like the professor and Mr Wang; and tried to find foster parents for the thousands of orphaned children.
Mr Wang took us to an atmospheric place – a factory building, left exactly as it was the day of the earthquake, a ghostly place of twisted girders, fallen masonry and broken walls. In the centre of Tangshan we filmed survivors at a memorial to those who died; and as dusk fell, we filmed as families came out into the open square around it to relax. Small children clutched balloons; fathers and sons flew kites. Today the city has been rebuilt and there’s an impressive new memorial, a snaking wall with the thousands of names of those who died engraved on it. On Qing Ming it is hung with flowers.
We went to many places when we were making that science series, places all over the world where people had suffered terrible natural disasters – volcanic eruptions, tsunami, hurricanes, tornadoes. But Tangshan seemed different. It felt to me as if the people there had taken a very dignified decision: they refused to pretend this enormous tragedy hadn’t struck their community – but equally, they refused to let themselves been defined or destroyed by it.
Every month, China Icons collates the most exciting and surprising news stories from China. So, what’s been happening in July?
‘Tap and Ride’ app Uber has unveiled plans to roll out hot air balloon and boat travel in China. These new services are part of ‘Uber+Travel’ and are released at a time of fierce competition with rival company Didi.
China surpassed the US to become the world leader in the mobile gaming market. Market research company App Annie suggest this is likely a result of a growth of multiplayer collaborative games.
Drivers raced from approximately 6000km from Moscow to Bejing for the Silk Way Rally , where Cyril Despres and David Castera (Peugeot DKR 2008) were crowed champions.
Loretta Yang , a Chinese Film star, left acting to pursue ancient art of liu li, also known as Chinese glassmaking
A Giant Statue of Guan Yu, the ancient Chinese ‘God of War’, has been completed in Hubei. The structure towers at 90ft tall and weighs over 1,320 tonnes.
China is heading to Mars for 2020. Or, at least, that’s the plan – to orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover – all in one mission.
The world’s first smart car has arrived from Alibaba in China! It will be available from August, and allows the driver to automatically pay for fuel, parking, and tolls, and recommend vehicle settings and destinations for each individual occupant.
More football stars have joined the Chinese Super-league, including former Southampton player Pelle and Brazilian forward Hulk.
Mr Suo from Chengdu won a chilli eating competition in Lijiang, Yunnan province, by eating 47 chilli peppers in 2 minutes. Why anyone chose to enter, we can only guess.
What’s your favourite news story from July? Is there anything we missed off? Let us know in the comments below!
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