Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Funniest Things About China

China is kind of awesome in a weird, offbeat way. When I visited the Middle Kingdom for five weeks, I found plenty to make me laugh, smile, or just raise my eyebrows.

The Stares

One of my favorite things about China was the way I got stared at. This was particularly true in the middle of the country, where they don't see many foreign folk. I would be standing on the subway and notice people blatantly staring at me. People would also sneakily take pictures of me. I wonder how many Chinese people's social media accounts have my face plastered all over them.

The best thing about standing out was that people told me I'm beautiful. They loved my super white skin. Take that, sunbathers. Once, I was standing next to an old lady on the subway platform, and I noticed her staring. I said hello, and she proceeded to smile, point at her hand, point at her cheek, and then give me a big thumbs up.

One old man saw me sitting in the park, and he asked if he could take my picture. Of course, through his accent and rapid-fire pace of speaking, the only reason I knew what he was asking was because he had his camera out. I let him take my picture. Then he found someone to take a picture of us together. He kept talking and talking -- most of which I didn't understand --  and he told me he wanted to draw me. I thought he would just use the picture he took, but pretty soon he was gesturing for me to follow him. Earlier, he had invited me to eat a meal with him. I didn't want to, so I thought this was him trying to force me to go with him.

I followed him. It was impossible to say no. He didn't take me to food, but instead he took me to a booth in the park where they charge money to draw people's portraits. My first thought was, "I don't want to pay for you to draw me." Still, being the pushover that I am, I sat down. As he was drawing me, people trickled by. They would look at me, look at the picture, then look back at me, and they would give me their observations on if the portrait was good or not. One man shook my hand and said thank you. I still have no idea why that happened.

As it turned out, the old man didn't want my money. He just wanted to draw me for his own personal satisfaction.The picture isn't the most flattering representation of me, but it's still a cool memory.

The Filth

Dirt and grime doesn't seem funny most of the time, but it's part of China's character. You just have to embrace the dirtiness. And when you see toddlers pooping and peeing on the street (in some places, the parents whistle to let their kids know it's time to do their business), you come to accept it.

The air, which sometimes ceases to be air and becomes something else entirely, is perpetually plagued by billions of particles of ickiness. I should have worn a mask, but I reasoned that I wouldn't be in the country long enough for the pollution to kill me. Or turn me into some kind of mutant.

Public Transportation

I don't like public transportation -- well, the public part of public transportation. The transportation itself doesn't bother me. The subway system in China's cities is efficient and cheap. It's the best way to get around. That is, if you can abandon your regard for  personal space.

Once in Shanghai, I knew I was in trouble when I saw long lines of people on the subway station. Still, I continued on, knowing that I might not survive the next few minutes. I got physically pushed onto the train and shoved into a little corner. We were packed in there so tight that I couldn't move my arms. I literally had a girl leaning with her back against me between a couple of stops. I still can't decide if that experience was amusing or terrifying.

The Bargaining

In most places in China, you can bargain for what you want, whether you need a ride from the train station or you just want to buy some souvenirs. I'm pretty sure I got swindled a few times because when I would name a low price and the merchant would frown and make a noise like I had physically hurt him, I felt guilty. Grow a spine, Joy. I did manage to haggle some, but I could have done better. I should go back to China just to prove to myself that I can stand my ground.

The English Translations

It's fun to read things in China. Most of the translations are hilariously wrong.

Ice Water

So this is what I got when I asked for ice water: Hot water and a bowl full of ice.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Glance at Seattle's Magnificent Magnolia

Every neighborhood in Seattle has its own vibe. Magnolia, just north of downtown, kinda feels like a small town that somebody just threw into a bigger city. The traffic here is minimal, the local businesses are fun to check out, and natural beauty abounds. Here are some of my favorite things about this Seattle sweet spot.

Discovery Park

Image via Flickr by La.Catholique

Discovery Park is the largest park in Seattle, featuring more than 500 acres of natural beauty. I love to walk the 2.9-mile trail that takes you past gorgeous sound views as well as through peaceful open green spaces and tree-sheltered path. You can pick up a map when you arrive so you  know exactly where to find the visitors' center and the bathrooms.

The site is that of the former Fort Lawton, so there is some history involved here, too. It house artillery and other such ugly thing. It even served as a POW camp during WWII.

The Walkability

Even if you don't take Discovery Park into account, Magnolia is still a great place to take a stroll. The exhaust from passing cars won't choke you, and some of the houses are older and have charm oozing from their orifices. Plus, the views are great. There are a few places, like Ursula Judkins viewpoint, that offer up a stunning view of downtown.

Finn's Bakery & Cafe

The reviews on this place are mixed, but I can't help but throw my two cents into the bucket. The coffee--delicious. Worth losing a battle in my war against caffeine addiction. They sell Stumptown Coffee, a local brand that will make you wonder how the Starbucks down the street stays in business.

The baked goods are a dream. The selection changes from day to day, but from the few things I've tried, I'm convinced that everything there is delicious. Sure the prices are little steep, but if you have to, you can always sell a kidney to buy something at Finn's.

Where to find Finn's: 3204 W McGraw St Seattle, WA 98199

The bottom line on Magnolia? It's magnificent!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Score Sweet Deals at Ski Spots Across the US

Hi there! Sometimes I do contract writing for travel websites, including Hipmunk. Here is a link to a piece I wrote as part of one of those campaigns:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Happened in Wenatchee

Washington state is kinda two different worlds. On the west side of the mountains, you have trees that never end, rain that never ends, and traffic that never ends. It is beautiful and frustrating and possibly one of the most gorgeous places on the planet if I do say so myself. On the east side of the mountains, there are tons of small towns, less traffic, fewer trees, and a different kind of breathtaking scenery.

I recently visited Wenatchee, a town that is about a two and a half hour drive from Seattle. I enjoyed my sojourn there. Here are a few highlights.

The View

Image via Flickr by ebis50

Wenatchee is in a valley, so everywhere you look there are mountains. When I visited, some had a lovely dusting of snow while others were bare but still beautiful. Honestly, I couldn't stop staring. Plus, the weather was pretty much perfect when I went -- warmer than usual for this time of year and packed with sunshine.

Outdoor lovers can't get enough of central Washington. You can go skiing at Mission Ridge, take an exhilarating hike on Saddle Rock, or just find a nice place to sit and take in the tranquil view.

The Food

Wenatchee is a small city; about 30,000 people live in the area. As such, you might not expect it to have the best dining options, but there is plenty here to delight the palate. I visited Carlos1800. It's a Mexican restaurant--and I usually avoid Mexican food if I can--but I was pleasantly surprised with the fare there.

I dug the vibe at Cafe Mela. It's a Starbucks-esque cafe, but with tons more charm than your typical corporate coffee shop. The brick walls, cool ambiance, and great coffee make the place worth a visit. Sometimes they even have live music there.

Cafe Mela is right downtown, which is a thriving part of town that is nowhere near as overwhelming or scary-people-ridden as downtown Seattle. There are cool vintage shops and quaint botiques that are worth a look. I didn't have the time to fully explore downtown Wenatchee, but that is something I'd like to do on my next visit.

Also on the subject of food, Glaze. It's a donut shop. Go there.

The Drive

Getting to and from Wenatchee was an experience in itself. I wasn't driving, so I could gaze out my window at the snow-dusted trees, waterfalls, and cool rock formations that adorn the path to Wenatchee.

A Very Mini Mini Mart

Oritenal Mini Mart on South Mission Street is possibly the smallest Asian grocery store in existence. Well, okay, it isn't really a grocery store. it's more like a collection of comestibles stuffed into a tiny room run by a friendly and outspoken Filipino lady. If you're in the mood for a snack -- or you just want to see what is possibly the world's miniest mini mart, stop by.

For Next Time

I was only in Wenatchee for a couple of days, and I know I didn't get to see all the best of what the town offers. I would like to to go there during harvest season so I can sample the area's famous fruit. I'd also like to check out the outdoor recreation options because, well, I just need to spend more time outdoors in general.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Traveling Is Good For You!

I'll admit that I'm not the world's most outstanding health fanatic; I love sweets far too much. However, I do try to make decisions that are good for me and, as it turns out, traveling is healthy! For now let's ignore the terrifying reports you hear about strange parasites and kidnappings. We're talking about the act of going places and the effect it has on health.

The Los Angeles Times points out some interesting statistics on the issue:

  • Women who vacationed every six years or less had a significantly higher risk of developing a heart attack or coronary death compared with women who vacationed at least twice a year.
  • Men who did not take an annual vacation were shown to have a 20% higher risk of death and about a 30% greater risk of death from heart disease.
  • Benefits of travel are almost immediate. After only a day or two, 89% of respondents saw significant drops in stress.
  • The study also noted that 59% of Americans dream of traveling during their retirement, and that the most impactful trips are those spent with family and friends.
I'm quite broke at the moment, but I definitely planning on exploring the world (and hopefully it won't wait until I retire). I have my sights set on Asia. I'm going for my health--and for other reasons, too, of course!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sweet Seattle Views

Seattle is a gorgeous city if you can see past the seemingly perpetual gray. It boasts the breathtaking beauty of the nearby mountains, the sparkling if somewhat polluted waters of Puget Sound, no shortage of greenery, and a character-rich skyline. When I first moved to the Seattle area a couple of years ago, I lived in Seatac. Every time I hopped in my car and made my way to the big scary city, I couldn't help but smile when downtown came into view. Because it is just that good-looking (from a distance, that is. Up close, downtown is a tad on the terrifying side but still fun). What are some of the best places to soak up a city view?

Kerry Park

There isn't a lot to Kerry Park. It's a small neighborhood park in Queen Anne that has a bland statue, some kids' play equipment, and a few other nonremarkable amenities. What really sets Kerry Park apart is the view. I've only been there in the fog, as evidenced by the photograph below, but I was still impressed by the view. The other photograph is from Flickr. Kerry Park address: 211 W Highland Drive Seattle, WA 98119.

image via Flickr by tiffany98101

The Alaskan Way Viaduct

While I recognize that I should keep my eyes on the road and not goggle at the city while I'm driving, sometimes it's hard to resist. If you're heading north, this stretch of Highway 99 gives you a great look at the Great Wheel, Eliot Bay, and the mountains on the left while downtown's architecture towers above you on the right.

I'm a little sad that the Alaskan Way Viaduct is in its waning days, soon to be replaced by a dreary and depressing tunnel. That is, if they ever finish building the tunnel. We'll see.

Ursula Judkins Viewpoint

I drive by this one almost every day (another reason to get distracted--yikes!). The view takes in the water as well as downtown. While it isn't the best-beyond-best view of the city, it still has a touch of that essential breathtaking quality. I want to get a picture from here, but by the time I remember, I'm usually way beyond my opportunity to pull over. It's on W Galer Street just off the Magnolia Bridge.

West Seattle

West Seattle has a quirky vibe all its own, but one of its best traits is the scenery. Whether you stop at Admiral Viewpoint, Hamilton Viewpoint Park, or Jack Block Park, you're in for a treat. Alki Beach also gives an unforgettable perspective on the Seattle skyline.

Sky View Observatory

The observation deck of the Columbia Center in downtown is the highest public observation deck west of the Mississippi River. Personally, this does not appeal to me as much as admiring Seattle architecture from afar, but I think it's worth a go (of course, when I wanted to go, it was foggy out so I didn't bother to spend the money. But someday...)

Seattle is a treat to see and explore. Know of any good places from which to take in the view? Please share!