Spring Blossoms in Guangzhou

Spring blossoms arrived in southern China at the start of March. Jun and I started seeing posts of all the flowering trees and thought it would be nice to see them. One of the best places to view them is in Guangzhou. Jun and I decided to go to the city and spend a weekend there to enjoy the spring blossoms. Jun also invited his cousin to join us.

Day 1

We caught an early morning train from Futian to Guangzhou South; Jun’s cousin alighted at Shenzhen North. When we got to the hotel, we dropped off our bags before venturing out to explore.

From the hotel, we took the metro to Haizhu Lake Park. The northern and eastern parts of the lake had quite a few blossoming white and pink bauhinia variegata. All three of us enjoyed leisurely walking through the blossoming trees. As we circled the park we also got to see some of the migrating birds. 

From Haizhu Lake we next went to the Guangzhou Haizhu National Wetland Park. Along the main river in the park, we discovered blossoming white and pink bauhinia variegata along a 3-4 km corridor on both sides of the river. We felt as if we had walked into a magical wonderland. For most of the afternoon, we enjoyed walking through the blossoms. 

Near the end of our visit, we also discovered there were some cherry blossoms at the southern end of the park. This corridor was smaller, but it seemed to have more people there as well.

After we left the park, we went to dinner at a nearby restaurant—Taoge Shenghao—that had a nice variety of Cantonese food. From the restaurant, we went to the hotel. After putting out things in our rooms, we headed out to roam around the neighborhood. The last thing we did before heading back to the hotel was to have some Cantonese desserts at a small restaurant.

Finally, we went back to the hotel and rested.

Day 2

Early the next morning we checked out of the hotel and took a car to the White Swan Hotel on Shamian Island. When we arrived we waited a bit before we were seated for dim sum at Hongtu Hall. This restaurant is well-known for its dim sum. The food was amazing and the view of the river was quite nice.

After brunch, we took a walk around Shamian Island. This small island was an enclave for the French and British concessions the Qing government gave in the nineteenth century. The island is now a heritage site to preserve the many European-style buildings and landscapes.

We next went to Baomo Garden in Panyu District. This garden was built during the Qing Dynasty in the Lingnan style to commemorate the Northern Song Dynasty official Bao Zheng. The garden unfortunately was destroyed in 1957, but then was rebuilt. When we visited the garden numerous cherry blossoms and roses were flowering around the garden. The sight and smell were quite lovely.

From Baomo we walked a little bit to visit Nanyue Garden. This garden was opened in 2009 and is an example of a modern Lingnan garden. In the middle of the garden is a large artificial hill with a variety of plants and waterfalls. While smaller than Baomo Garden, all three of us thought it was aesthetically amazing. One of the special features of this garden is the ceramic decorations on the walls and roofs of the various structures inside the garden. They’re exquisite and intricate. 

The last thing we did before heading to the train station was to visit Shawan Ancient Town. This town is roughly 800 years old in Panyu District. We enjoyed walking around the narrow alleyway and lanes to see the different buildings and to stop and have some snacks as well.

From the town, we traveled north to Guangzhou South station. Everything went smoothly and soon we found ourselves back in Shenzhen. 

Visiting Guangzhou was a nice way to spend the weekend. The sheer number of blossoming flowers was a spectacular experience!

Weekend in Shanghai

As we get closer to leaving China, Jun and I have a list of things we want to accomplish. One on that list is to say goodbye to some of our friends. One of my friends lives in Shanghai, and we arranged to meet up at the end of February. The other thing Jun and I wanted to do was experience Shanghai Disneyland. We decided we would do both on this trip.

Jun and I have both traveled to Shanghai for business over the years. I also spent some time there when I first moved to China for a few weeks of training. One of the things we have learned is that flights from southern China into Shanghai rarely leave on time. When we left on the evening of 24 February, that streak of late departures continued. Jun and I arrived in Shanghai late. By the time we checked in and were ready for bed, it was already 2:00 in the morning.

Day 1

After a pleasant night of sleep and a hearty breakfast, Jun and I ventured toward the Shanghai Disneyland Resort. Located in Pudong, the site is three times larger than Hong Kong Disneyland. To get to the Disneyland entrance, you walk a bit from the parking area around Wishing Star Lake and near Disneytown.

When we arrived we quickly went through security and presented our tickets at the entrance. We were finally inside Shanghai Disneyland! There were so many people inside that it was a bit jarring. After three years of pandemic control, it was a sight to see so many people walking around the park.

The first thing we did was walk down Mickey Avenue toward the Enchanted Storybook Castle. As we got closer to the park’s hub we discovered that a parade was about to start. A lot of people lined the sides of the parade route. Jun and I decided to skip the parade and visit the other themed lands in the park. We first went around Adventure Isle and next to Treasure Cove. We stayed in Treasure Cove for a bit as it was fun. Jun and I enjoyed going around the ships and playing with the water cannons. 

We next visited the Enchanted Storybook Castle. Going through the castle to experience the story of Snow White in Chinese is a bit surreal. After we had walked around the castle, we next walked through Alice’s Curious Labyrinth. Jun and I enjoyed this little adventure. 

Afterward, we walked around Fantasyland and explored the Marvel Universe, Toy Storyland, and Tomorrowland. By the time we got to Tomorrowland the number of people in the park was a bit much. We decided to grab some snacks at CookieAnn Baker Café. We bought some cookies and donuts, as well as a cup of coconut hot chocolate. I enjoyed the peanut butter chocolate cookie the best.

After discussing what we wanted to do next, we decided to leave and go to Lujiazui for the evening. Lujiazui is the financial hub of the city. The tallest buildings in the city and China are located here. After arriving we walked for a bit before having dinner at Shanghai Min, which had a nice view of the Bund. After dinner, we walked along the waterway in Binjiang Park to enjoy the view of the Bund at night. As we walked we both got a bit cold and decided to head back to the hotel for the night.

Day 2

After breakfast and checking out of the hotel, Jun and I first went to visit the Jade Buddha Temple. The temple was built in 1882. It is known for the two jade Buddhas that are housed there. These Buddhas statues were imported from Myanmar. The temple is well-maintained and serene. It was a great place to start the day.

From the temple, we next went towards Changshu Road. My friend suggested we have lunch at an Italian Restaurant—Bella Napoli—in this area. We arrived a bit before we were to meet. Jun and I decided to walk around Anfu Road and Changle Road to do some window shopping and enjoy the crisp, winter morning. 

Jun and I timed things to allow us to arrive at the restaurant on time. The restaurant is located inside an alley. We were pleased with the ambiance of the restaurant. The staff was equally lovely. They sat us on their covered patio. And the food was filling and delicious. Jun and I spent a few hours catching up with my friend before we left for the airport. 

The trip to Shanghai was nice. It was a relaxing weekend that allowed us to catch up and say goodbye to one of my closest friends in China. Overall, it was a great experience.

Noble Nanjing

Nanjing is a city in China I’ve wanted to visit but never found an opportunity to do so. The city has a rich history; it served as China’s capital at various times during imperial and modern times. Jun and I thought a weekend trip to Nanjing at the start of February would be a nice break from our routine. After Jun got off work on Friday, we started our trip with an evening flight to Nanjing.

Day 1

On Saturday, we decided to first visit Purple Mountain. This area is located just outside the core area of Nanjing. There are more than 200 cultural and natural sites dotted throughout this scenic spot. It’s easy to get to by using Nanjing’s metro.

We started our trip at Ming Xiaoling. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the location of the mausoleum of the Hongwu Emperor, who established the Ming dynasty in 1368. The site is quite large with different sections representing the symbolic importance of the emperor in his eternal rest. Serendipitously we learned that the plum blossoms within the site had started to bloom. Jun and I enjoyed walking around the blossoms as we explored the site.

From Ming Xiaoling we next walked to the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum. The mausoleum commemorates the life of Dr. Sun Yat-sen who is considered the founder of modern China after the dissolution of the imperial system. The main hall is located up a flight of stairs. When we visited it was foggy and it was difficult to see upwards. The view from the top of the main memorial hall reminded me of the weather in the Pacific Northwest in the United States. 

From the mausoleum, we next visited Linggu Temple. This Buddhist temple was built during the Liang Dynasty in 515. We visited several buildings and structures around the temple, such as the Linggu Pagoda which offered some nice views of the surrounding land. 

As we left Linggu Temple, Jun and I decided to visit Ming Xiaoling one more time so we could walk along the sacred paths and enjoy the plum blossoms from Plum Blossom Hill.

When we had seen all we wanted to see at Purple Mountain, we next traveled to Xuanwu Lake to visit Nanjing’s Ancient City Wall. Walking along the wall was nice as it is one of the taller walls I’ve experienced. It also offered nice views of Jiming Temple. This temple is also a Buddhist temple that was built during the Liang dynasty around 527.

Afterward, Jun and I then went to have dinner at a local restaurant in the Nanjing 1912 Block near the old Presidential Palace. The restaurant—Minguohong Residence—is located in an old historic house. The food was delicious and the service was lovely.

From there we next visited Nanjing Fuzimiao. Nanjing Fuzimiao is a popular tourist attraction. This scenic area is known for the Confucius Temple and a former imperial examination hall located within it. Around these sites are pedestrian streets full of restaurants and shops. When we visited Jun and I took a boat ride along the Qinhuai River. As we went along the river we were treated to seeing lanterns along the river.

Jun and I found this area afterwhile a little exhausting as we had to navigate through so many people. We decided to walk a bit further toward the Gate of China. This entryway is the largest gate and defensive complex in Nanjing and the world. Jun and I thought the site would be closed at night, but it ended up being open until 10:00. One thing we were able to experience was the light show that was shown within the different courtyards of the complex. That was a pleasant surprise. We also were able to walk along the top of the city wall, which offered us a nice and quiet way to end our day. By the time Jun and I returned to the hotel, I had walked 44,058 steps that day!

Day 2

On Sunday we first visited the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders. The memorial is a complex of outdoor exhibits, burial sites, artifacts, and testimonials from survivors of the massacre. The Nanjing city government built the memorial to commemorate the roughly 300,000 lives that were lost when the Imperial Japanese army invaded and occupied Nanjing beginning in 1937. At that time the city was the capital of China.

From the memorial hall, we next went and visited the old Presidential Palace. The national government of China was housed here from 1927 until it was moved to Taipei in 1949. It now is a museum that tells the events and lives of the people who worked here during that period. The site is an interesting mix of architectural styles from art deco to traditional southern gardens. I particularly enjoyed walking around the West Garden.

Finally, the last touristy thing Jun and I did that day was to return to Nanjing Fuzimiao. There were considerably fewer people during the day; it was easier to navigate through the area. Jun and I visited the Imperial Examination Museum of China. The museum is located beneath the historic Jiangnan Examination Hall. During the imperial period, this examination hall was the largest in China. The modern museum is built underground and requires that you go up through the different exhibits about the development and significance of the imperial examination system.

Afterward, Jun and I went to this lovely dessert café—Qingdou Jianailao—that had some wonderful homemade cheesy snacks and ice cream. The owner of the place was charming and spoke to us in Chinese and English. She then had us try some samples of the different desserts she had made that day. I particularly enjoyed tasting the ice cream! 

That was the last thing we did in terms of visiting the city. Jun and I went back to the hotel to collect our things and then take a car to the airport. Everything went smoothly. We also had a nice dinner at the airport branch of Liuhuachun—a local restaurant first established in 1906. The food was delicious and a nice departure from what you would typically find to eat at an airport.

Jun and I were glad we decided to visit Nanjing. The city is full of history and wonderful places to visit. While it would have been nice to spend a little bit more time there, it now gives us a reason to return.

The Wonders of Western China

After six months when any travel outside of Shenzhen proved arduous, Jun and I took the opportunity of Chinese New Year and the relaxed policies to travel a bit more than normal. After much debate, we decided we would travel around the western provinces of China for the holiday. 

Day 1: Getting Ready

Because of the need to wait to see when I would be free from the university and with Jun’s work obligations, we bought our plane tickets a bit late during a major travel period. Because of that, Jun and I decided to take the train to Guangzhou and fly to Sichuan. The flight tickets were cheaper when train tickets and a hotel room were included. We both found it amenable as we got to try a new Cantonese restaurant in Guangzhou that had amazing food. We also walked around the older parts of Guangzhou to enjoy the lighted streets for the holiday.

Day 2: Jiuzhaigou

We left Guangzhou Baiyun airport early in the morning and first flew to Chengdu Tianfu Airport. Then we caught our connecting flight to Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport. As soon as we got off the plane we also experienced the winter weather as the temperatures were below freezing. Fortunately, our car was ready to pick us up and we were comfortably seated on our way to the hotel in the village of Daji. About an hour later we arrived and checked in.

The hotel upgraded our room. We had a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. Jun and I decided to relax a bit before exploring the village around the hotel.

The village of Daji is quite small and empty during the winter months and for Chinese New Year. As we walked around it seemed like a ghost town as most everything was closed. We went further afield and visited the Daji Tibetan Buddhist temple and some of the other more historic buildings in the area.

Jun and I were getting cold and decided to find a place for dinner. Dinner was at a nice local hot pot place that warmed us and filled us up with scrumptious food. Afterward, we went back to the hotel to call it a day.

Day 3: Jiuzhaigou National Park

The next morning we got up early so we could get to Jiuzhaigou National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the national park is known for its colorful and clear lakes and ponds throughout the different areas of the park. There are several prominent waterfalls as well. During the winter months, many of the trails and areas in the higher elevations are closed to ensure visitors’ safety and protect the ecosystem. What we were able to see was quite amazing. 

The bus inside the park took us to all the park’s open areas. Jun and I enjoyed venturing around the park to see the different lakes, ponds, and waterfalls. There was quite a mix at the different elevations. Some of the lakes were just as clear as in any other season. Others were covered in ice and snow. 

In the late afternoon, Jun and I hiked through the areas of the park near the entrance. It was a nice way to end our trip as we got to meander through those different lakes, waterfalls, and rivers in this area at our pace.

Day 4: Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area

The next day we traveled south to visit Huanglong. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its travertine pools along the mountainous valley’s slopes. Our first views of the Huanglong Valley came after we exited the tunnel leading to this valley. We were mesmerized by the tall snow-covered pine trees and mountains. Jun and I felt like we had walked into a winter wonderland.

That feeling persisted for the rest of our time at Huanglong. The site is best viewed in other seasons as many of the pools were frozen and covered in snow. But the sight of the snow did create a wonderful sight for us. At the top of the scenic area where the Multi-Colored Pond is, the water there was still visible and it offered us a wonderful view of the valley. Also, at the height, there were fewer people so we were able to meander leisurely around the pond. 

On our descent, we saw more and more people as multiple tour groups arrived. Even though there were more people, it was still nice walking towards the northern mountains with the sunlight hitting them. That view amazed us as we left the site.

Day 5: Chengdu

On the fifth day of our trip, Jun and I traveled to Chengdu. After discussing things we decided we would next travel to Dunhuang in Gansu Province. To break things up and not have an entire day of traveling, we chose to stay in Chengdu overnight.

After settling in at the hotel when we arrived, we headed towards Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li to do some shopping. We needed a bit more winter wear for the colder weather of Gansu. After buying some sweaters, we next visited Kuanzhai Alley. The alleyways here were built during the Qing Dynasty and have been turned into a shopping and restaurant area. As we walked around the three alleyways, we enjoyed seeing the New Year decorations.

We also stumbled upon a pop-up exhibition called “Panda Go Home” being run by Panda Artparade. The exhibit was a fun reimagining of pandas personified as people. Jun and I quite enjoyed viewing the different artwork.

Soon, though, it got late and we were hungry. We decided to go to the Anshun Bridge area of the city to find a restaurant there. We ended up eating where we ate two years ago when we were last in Chengdu. 

Day 6: Dunhuang City

When we arrived in Dunhuang the first thing we experienced was the colder weather. In both Celsius and Fahrenheit, we were in the negative numbers. We were cold! When we got to the hotel and checked in, we put on our heavier winter clothes before we went out for lunch. As it was Chinese New Year and a smaller community, there were few places open. That made it easy to choose where to eat lunch. Where we ended up though was delicious.

After lunch, we went and walked around the city a bit. Dunhuang is located on an oasis in the Kumtag Desert and was an important stop on the Silk Road. On our walk, we visited the White Horse Pagoda. The pagoda was built to commemorate the white horse of the Buddhist monk Kumārajīva, Tianliu. Kumārajīva is known for carrying Buddhist scriptures from the Buddhist kingdom of Kucha in present-day Xinjiang to Dunhuang in China around 384 AD. 

From there we next walked to see the Shazhou Ancient City Relic Site. Shazhou is an older name for Dunhuang. The sites here include several protected earthen structures. They likely originated during the Tang Dynasty, which was a period that saw a series of conflicts for control of the city and surrounding area.

Day 7: Mogao Caves and Crescent Lake

Since 2007 I have wanted to visit Mogao Caves. They, however, are far afield from the other major tourist attractions in China. Jun was aware of my desire and he suggested that since we were already in western China, we should go and visit them. So we did!

Mogao Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site inscribed on the list because of the Buddhist artwork located in a system of caves. At the site, there are about 500 caves. The first caves were dug out around 366 AD. For nearly 1000 years, successive artists painted and carved what are considered some of the finest examples of Buddhist art in the world.

All visitors to the site are required to join an official tour group that the Dunhuang Research Academy manages as the official custodians of the site. Being an English-speaking foreigner, I was assigned to the English-speaking tour group. That meant that instead of the larger Chinese group, Jun and I were placed in a group with only two other tourists and our tour guide. Essentially we had a private tour of the site. In winter the tour includes 12 caves, during the other seasons they open fewer caves because of the number of tourists. One of the interesting things about the visited caves is that the tour guide selects which one they take tourists to see. This allows for each group to spend some time in the caves. There also are a few caves that everyone visits. Each cave is unique and has different levels of preservation. I was quite impressed with the detail and intricacies of the different art in the caves. To help preserve the artwork, photography is not permitted inside them. They, however, are allowed outside of them. After the tour, Jun and I walked a bit and saw some of the remaining artwork located outside of the caves.

From Mogao we went to visit the Mingsha Sand Dunes and Crescent Moon Spring. The spring is an oasis with a temple built around it. Over time the site has become quite touristy and has lost a bit of its authenticity. While we enjoyed walking up the dunes and visiting the temple and spring, there was a hollowness to it as it seemed more like a thing to do than a place to enjoy.

Day 8: Silk Road

Traveling west of Dunhuang, Jun and I had a day of exploring various sites along the historic Silk Road that surrounds the city. We first visited the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, which is a smaller, sister site to Mogao Caves. Many of the caves here have been lost over time, but about 40 remain extant. These caves date from the Northern Wei to the late Yuan and early Ming Dynasties, which roughly corresponds to the sixth to fourteenth centuries. These caves have distinct artwork and architectural designs from those at Mogao. Jun and I visited four of the caves with a Chinese tour group that the Dunhuang Research Academy ran. The grounds around the site were also nice and we got to see the partially frozen river. 

From the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, we next visited Yangguan Pass. Emperor Wu of the Western Han Dynasty ordered the construction of this pass around 120 BC along the Silk Road. The Chinese used the pass as an outpost to monitor and protect the western territories that fell under Chinese rule. At the base of the site is a recreation of what the site would have looked like at the time. Within the site, though, there are the remains of a watchtower situated on one of the hills in the desert environment. We walked around the watchtower and some of the hills for a bit before going back to the recreated site.

From this pass, we next went to Yumen Pass. This site had better-preserved structures. Like Yangguan Pass, Yumen Pass was an important site along the Silk Road. During the Western Han Dynasty, Yumen and Yangguan were the last outposts within China before travelers went to what the Chinese called the Western Regions. At the site, there are three areas that the site custodians encouraged people to visit. The first was the Small Fangpan Castle, which is the remains of a home of a member of the garrison that would have been stationed at the pass. To the north of Small Fangpan Castle are the remains of the western portions of the Great Wall of China. Unlike the eastern sections of the Great Wall, these were not rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty and retained the original materials of sand, weed, straw, and wood. Also at the site is the Big Fangpan Castle. This castle was a quartermaster depot for the northwestern regions during the Western Han Dynasty. It was the oldest and largest depot along the northwestern frontier of ancient China.