Every city that I have been in in China has had spacious, well maintained parks and public square, mostly called “People’s Square” or a minor variation on it. One of my favorite things to do in China is wander around in these parks and public spaces.
Weifang has two with very similar names pretty far apart and it took me quite a while to figure out that the one near where my son lived was not the one referred to most of the time.
People’s Square, near Inzone.
People’s Square, near downtown.
If I recall correctly (not a 100% sure thing) these are two view of the People’s Square in Qingdao:
People’s Square Qingdao, looking inland.
People’s Square Qingdao, looking toward the sea.
Preparing Tian’anmen Square for National Day:
Many of the parks have really cool art, and artistic details. Here is a sampling:
People using parks
On weekday mornings, even nice ones you might think that these beautiful parks are like the empty high-rises, waiting for more people to come to fill them. On a sunny day, before work or in the afternoon as people start getting off work, or a nice weekend (especially one with enough wind for kite flying) you can see that this is not true.
Parks are places for exercise, to meet friends, to dance, to fish (F is for Fishing) and, of course to fly kites (K is for Kites).
Shouguang, the city where my son lives now, even though it is considered “rural” or a “fifth tier” city, has really nice parks and a lot of nice art in them. I did some posts about this: A walk along the Mihe River , Fall in Shouguang , and, par for my course, never finished my plans to show even more of the park art in Shouguang. Maybe when I get back from this coming trip I’ll finally finish.
Even more than the art in parks, I love to see people out enjoying the parks. On weekdays they are often fairly empty, peaceful places. On nicer days there are usually a few people, often children with their grandparents, but on nice days as evening approaches and on the weekends they are busy places.
Firecrackers going off at random times (4:00 am!!?). Crowds of people pushing to get through a door or onto a bus. Cab drivers at train stations and airports and guides at attractions grabbing at you. The bright lights, often flashing…and did I mention firecrackers?
China is one of the places where the phrase “drinking from a fire hose” applies.
In every nation/language there are words and phrases that defy exact translation making it is hard for foreigners to grasp the real meaning.
In China one such word is rènao 热闹 .
Everyone who comes to China will experience rènao, even if they don’t realise it. The word is composed of two characters: rè (hot) 热 + nao (noise) 闹, but it means much more than just that.
When it gets too much take a deep breath and step out of the crowd. I’ve learned that that is often easier than it might seem. Since everyone likes to crowd together sometimes it isn’t all that far to a quiet spot.
Research ahead of time to know what to expect, although, more than once I have read entirely accurate accounts and still been surprised, and carry a map and compass. Chinese people (at least several of the ones I have been on outings with) find their way around by asking around. This seems fine, except that Chinese people, instead of saying they don’t know, will present a hypothesis as if it were an answer. You can go an awfully long way in the wrong direction before your realize.
Is it a maze? an avalanche? For me it’s both.
Chinese is a very different language structurally and there are many words that sound the same. The Chinese people speak at mach 1 and there is often a lot of background noise. It’s easy to miss the little words that tell you something happened in the past, is going on now or is a plan or hope for the future (Is the road closed now? was it closed sometime in the past? or are they going to close it? is an example of how that can matter).
Always carry a phrasebook, camera, and a pencil and paper. A picture (or map) can sometimes be worth a lot more than a thousand words. My post A picture and a phrasebook saved my day gives a good example of how they can be used.
A tip for using a phrasebook:
Even though I know little Chinese, I have made an effort to learn to pronounce things in the most standard way (I have used the on-line course Yoyo Chinese), that way people can usually understand me, even if I can’t understand them. Having good pronunciation helps me use a phrasebook more effectively. I practice with the early pronunciation lessons before every trip.
I make a point of speaking slowly and clearly. People usually respond to that by doing the same.
My life line when traveling alone. Last spring, I got on a bus back to town from the kite festival and it didn’t come back on the road I was familiar with, I called my son and handed the phone to a stranger to tell him where I was so he could tell me where I was and when to get off the bus.
Of course everyone has smart phones now, even me, and many of them have translators. Some quite sophisticated. Chinese people will have phones and use them to communicate with you. I’ve had some fun interactions that way.
Just remember that Google is blocked, and that includes Google Translate and Google maps. I have a Microsoft translation app that seems fine. The search engine Baidu seems very similar to Bing and is a good way to get information, it is mostly in Chinese, but you can search in English and many websites have English language options.
The aggressiveness, and, in many cases, blatant dishonesty of taxi drivers is well documented and I have certainly seen it for myself a few times. Using the official taxi stand at a train station or airport is a good start (and it rewards the drivers who follow the rules), but one time at the official taxi stand in Qingdao airport, late at night, we were put into a gypsy cab and he tried to charge us way more than reasonable.
It is awfully hard to cope with that sort of thing at 1:00 am , especially when your day started at 6:00 am the day before and involved a lot of activity and travel.
Always take a picture of the license and cab information. That way you stand a modest chance of getting back anything you leave behind…and it sends a subtle message that you aren’t interested in being taken for too long a ride. I have a couple of cab stories but they are too long to relate here. Just remember that it is okay to be a little rude.
I take a picture of the road signs by my son’s apartment and the location where I want a cab to stop almost as soon as I arrive, I can show the pictures to a cab driver who is having difficulty understanding me. They can put accurate road names into their GPS and know what the entrance they are looking for looks like.
The “hot noise” is part of the cultural experience of being in China. It can help to have an escape plan and take special care of your basic needs: it is always worse if you are thirsty, hungry or need to go to the bathroom. I find that when I am physically comfortable it is way easier to enjoy the cultural experience.
Pasta is reputed to have its origin in China, then brought to Italy by Marco Polo. I do not pretend to be a historical scholar who can verify or deny this. What I can say is that in the places I have been in China noodles are everywhere.
This surprised me at first, but I have been told that there is a line somewhere and north of the line the staple food is noodles and south of it is rice. I guess I have never been south of the line. Rice is often available, but noodles are way more common in the places I have traveled.
Since I buy and use packaged noodles at home they never occurred to me as a “fresh” food. But in China many places make the noodles fresh.
Dinner and a show: In Tai’an we had hand made noodles, freshly made when we ordered! Really delicious and fun to watch.
Delicious beef noodle soup in Tai’an.
Making the noodles.
Noodle makers move really fast.
Noodle restaurants tend to not be overly fancy, my favorite one in Weifang was in a food court area of Walmart Shopping Plaza. They used chopped peanuts, sesame and cilantro to flavor the beef noodle soup. I always asked for “bu la” (not spicy), but I think I was an anomaly. Many places rely on the hotness to cover a lack of other flavors.
This sidewalk noodle shop in Chongqing is typical of the more simple places to get a quick, filling meal. My son did the ordering (I still had pretty bad jet lag) so these were not “bu la”. They were pretty good anyway. There was a flavoring I couldn’t place, reading up afterwards I think it was a Chonqing area specialty.
I was surprised at the attractive presentation of the simple, inexpensive noodles.
Noodles are a good option for travelers not used to local food: the boiling makes it nearly impossible for nasties to get to your tummy.
Noodles for dessert?
Chinese meals don’t follow the same salad-soup, main course, dessert formula we have in the west. Usually a meal at a restaurant is ordered by dishes to be shared family style. They will order a combination of cold dishes and hot dishes, savory and sweet, spicy and bland. The dishes are brought to the table as they are ready. Meaning that the cold ones usually come first. They do not serve noodles (or jiaozi or rice) until after all of the main dishes are out and consumed. They call these dishes zhŭ shí (主食), or staples, and use them to finish off a meal.
A courtesy tip: you might not want to eat too much zhŭ shí (主食), as it can signify to the host that you didn’t enjoy the rest of the meal.
Cake as the main course…
followed by noodles for dessert.
At my son’s 25th birthday (on my first visit to China) I was surprised that after the birthday cake they brought out noodles. Everyone was stuffed, but James had to eat noodles, a tradition that leads to a long life.
I love going to markets when I travel. They give you a great sense of how people live and what they find important, interesting, and fun.
In China there is a wider variety of places to procure things than I am used to.
In China they go to supermarkets way less than we do in the US. One thing that struck me was how much less busy a Walmart in China is than ones I’ve been to in the US. They have supermarkets, often inside of malls that have a wide variety of other shops as well. Very few malls in the US have supermarkets in them.
Compared with stores stateside Chinese supermarkets carry fewer packaged foods, and have a wider variety of foods.
Note the large selection of oils and vinegars against the wall.
Wide variety of eggs.
Fruits I rarely see at home, and can’t afford if I happen to find them.
They even have my grandma’s favorite!
Not a single prepackaged item…how often do you see this at home?
Chinese version of a rotisserie chicken.
An entire section of soy sauces.
The reason that Chinese people use supermarkets less is that they have street markets where they can buy what they need either close to home or while they are out doing other things.
Street markets have many things that you can buy elsewhere:
Dishes,plates, cooking utensils.
Tea, in this case “flower tea”.
Decor and calligraphy supplies.
And some things you can’t buy elsewhere:
In many places there are indoor markets. These are quite large (people drive scooters and other smallish vehicles in them) and contain a variety of stalls and small shops carrying everything you can imagine. Below is a sample from the market in Shouguang, for more see my post: Shouguang Market.
Clothing and linens.
Big enough that people drive in it.
Mini-marts or Convenience Stores
It is necessary when talking about marketing in China to give some space to the convenience stores that are all over. They carry almost anything you can imagine and some you wouldn’t think of, jammed into tiny shops. There seems to be one within walking distance of almost anywhere. Things cost a bit more but its worth something to not have to go farther and haul back home a four liter bottle of water.
In China there are a lot of lights. Even during the day colored and flashing lights are used to catch your attention. They let you know where the action is…or where it’s wanted.
Food Street at Night
One use of lights that I found interesting, and very practical, is that the street lights are different shapes on different streets. That way you can tell what street you are on, even well out into the country. This is a great aid to me.I wound up staying near Beihai Lu during several stays and used to feel I was on home turf when I saw the butterfly street lights. Even if I was far off (Beihai Lu probably goes at least 50 miles) I knew I was on the right street.
Here are some examples from the City of Weifang:
Traditional, especially during the lantern festival. Many are not lit, just decorations in the shape of traditional lanterns.
Lanterns and shanzha (hawthorne).
At night they use strings of lights shaped like lanterns to let you know that a business is open.
Weifang claims (as do a few other locations) to be the “Kite Capital of the World” and every April they have the International Kite Festival.
Making kites with bamboo frames and hand painted designs is a traditional art in the area around Weifang.
Painting butterfly wings.
Once they are dry they are ready to cut out.
AsAssmbling bamboo frames
Display of several traditional kite designs.
Flying Kites for Recreation
Many people fly kites for enjoyment and relaxation. There are a couple of public squares where people come to fly kites, on weekdays this seems to be mostly retired men. On the weekends with good conditions everyone comes out. On my first trip to Weifang I was fortunate to be invited to come along to watch. My post A chance encounter tells about this.
A few pictures of people in the park (including me):
Kite Making Industry
In the countryside around Weifang City you occasionally will see a display of bright, billowing kites at the entrance to a narrow dirt road. These indicate that if you wander down that road you will come to a kite factory.
Kites ready for delivery.
Butterfly bodies…should I call them Larva?
Painted butterfly bodies.
Here is a picture from the shop owned by this particular factory:
International Kite Festival
It is held at “The beach of Happy Sea of Binhai development zone in Weifang City, Shandong, P.R.C.” It is a long trip from the city center. I’ve been twice. Both times I took public buses, a great deal but not for the feint of heart.
The first time it poured rain, I spent about 4 hour there and was wetter than I have probably ever been. It was still fascinating to see the wide variety of kites. The post I wrote about that experience is Kites and Umbrellas. The next day, naturally, was gorgeous, we spent it at a special kite field day at the school where my son taught, the post about that is Kites and Kids.
Dedicated kite fan.
The grey sky gives a good backdrop for the wide variety of fun shapes and bright colors.
The people give you an idea of how large these kites are.
The dragon had landed before I got there to see it.
Last year, the weather was beautiful, and so were the many beautiful kites. Because I took a bus after breakfast and missed the big opening. But there were many families out flying kites on the beach in addition to the extra large and fancy ones. It was a pleasant day, in town it was in the 80’s but at the beach of Happy Sea it was cooler.
I’m hoping to get there again this year. Maybe I’ll finally get to see the big dragon in flight.
All the temples I saw had incense available, no matter what type they were. The two most common offerings twere food and incense.
In the Lama Temple in Beijing the price of admission includes one box of incense. I didn’t know it when I started out but you are supposed to light three sticks in various places. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know: I lit all my sticks at once following the example of a few people.
Pick up your incense here.
Watching to figure out the process.
The charcoal for starting.
Dip the ends in wax before lighting.
The flame was kind of scary.
Resultant smoke was everywhere.
Incense isn’t tobacco, but…
I was shocked one time riding the train, to see a man take out a short stick of incense Holding it with tweezers he lit it and sniffed it. Perhaps it calmed him.
It never would have occurred to me to bring incense along as a comfort item on a train trip.
While I am guessing that strictly speaking it wasn’t against the rules, the announcements on the train about smoking sounded dire and the train was equipped with smoke detectors that would stop the train (at least so they said). The threats sounded pretty hard core so I was surprised that nothing happened, not even one of the conductors telling him to put it away.
I guess it isn’t surprising that in a country with many less than savory aromas incense can help one stay focused on the task at hand not wondering what caused a particular tingle in the nostrils. Can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t make a significant contribution to air pollution locally, and I doubt that it’s good for respiratory challenges. But then I’ve never liked incense.
Hutongs are the labyrinths of old alleys with traditional houses in northern Chinese cities. I just caught a few glimpses of hutongs in Beijing.
In a village outside of Weifang I visited a family that had a traditional courtyard type house along a street. This is typical of a home for a middle class family in that village.
Looking along a street of traditional houses.
The entrance to a traditional courtyard house.
Here are a couple of photos taken from the train, I am including them even though they are blurry because they show neighborhoods of this type of home from above, one in the country and one in the city.
High-rises are everywhere, They tend to crop up in clumps.
In many places they are empty because supply and demand haven’t matched up yet. In Xian our guide, who lived outside of the city, said that many people couldn’t afford the new units. They are desirable since the commute time is lower and there are modern conveniences like more, and better plumbing: flush toilets hooked to a sewer system, hot water in kitchens (in older buildings hot water is usually provided in the bathroom only by a passive solar contraption on the roof, modern electric and data connections and new, easy to clean surfaces. With time and an improving economy they will likely fill in.
The layout of apartments tends to follow a pattern. A very practical one. The buildings are skinny in the north to south direction because every unit goes the entire width. On the north side against the windows (which can be opened) is the kitchen and on the south side there is a sun room, usually equipped with clothes lines which can be raised and lowered by pulleys, for drying laundry.
While some hutongs, especially in Beijing, are protected for historical reasons, they are mostly being replaced with modern construction and in urban areas that tends to be high rises.
Actually living with ancient sanitary practices doesn’t stay charming for long. One of the tour guides who was telling us about the flooding of cities for three gorges dam said that most young people were glad to move to modern quarters and call bathrooms “happy rooms”.
I admit I made up the name for these. Here is why:
The folding stool is thought to have been introduced to China during the second century AD, at which time the Han emperor Lingdi was recorded to have had a fondness for foreign curiosities, including the ‘foreign barbarian seat’ (huchuang). This term referred to the folding stool, which was commonly used by nomadic tribes in the more remote northern and western regions. Its use spread throughout China over the following centuries. It became a popular seat for rulers and dignitaries when traveling or cruising on a boat, and its lightweight portability made it especially suitable for officers on military campaigns. Travelers convenient carried them over the shoulder, and even today, men and women use them to relax by the street side or while fishing along a canal.
The stool is quintessentially China. They are everywhere. Many people have nicer ones to use as extra seating when they have guests (we have a few and I love them, you can also turn them into little tables by putting a try across the top). They are fairly comfortable, even the more basic ones, and Chinese people seem to favor them. When we had visitors from China and they saw our collection of geezer stools non of them would sit on the sofa.
A simple and practical solution for seating.
The style ranges from very basic to quite elaborate. My husband refers to one sent back to him as a gift as his “geezer throne”. You can find them at street vendors, convenience stores, supermarkets and some specialty stores.
My son says that some people call them “grasshopper stools” because of how you look when you sit on them (knees up high).