Is There a Turkey Day in China Too?

November 23, 2016

Turkey is a fowl many Chinese seldom eat. However, eating duck and chicken is common. Duck is even considered a delicacy. In fact, the Unvegan says, “No trip to Beijing is complete without eating some Peking Duck.”

The Virtual Tourist says, “It is thought that Beijing roast duck, like the tradition of roast turkey in America and the UK, owes its origin to the roast goose that is still popular in Europe on festive occasions.”

Most Americans do not celebrate the Chinese New Year (the Spring Festival) and most Chinese do not celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving is an American holiday that Canadians also celebrate, but on the second Monday in October.


Thanksgiving in Beijing with Peking Duck

CBS News.com reported, “America is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of turkeys. As a nation we’re also the largest consumers of turkey …” and “China is the second-largest market for U.S. turkey exports, reportedly buying more than $70.5 million in turkey meat in 2012.”

If you are visiting China during Thanksgiving, you have a choice between Peking Duck, which is easy to find, and turkey.

Go China says, “Just head to your local international grocery store (Jenny Lu’s in Beijing, Cityshop in Shanghai) and stock up on all the fixings: frozen Butterball turkeys, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie makings. But you better do it fast, there tends to be a run on these items so if you’re shopping on the last Thursday in November, you’ll be out of luck.”

In fact, if you are visiting Shanghai, the Shanghai City Guide is there to help you find where to buy your favorite food. There are even three Walmarts in Shanghai, and Time Out Beijing provides a list for China’s capital city.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Caverns of Southeast China

November 15, 2016

National Geographic reports on the Empire or Rock and says, “Beneath southern China’s cone-shaped peaks, arches, and spires lie some of the largest caverns in the world.


China’s Miao Cave

Back in 2008, after checking into a Guilin hotel in Southeast China, we hired a taxi and visited Reed Flute Cave (Ludi Cave) in Northwest Guilin.

Reed Flute Cave was named during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) due to reeds (Ludi Cao) growing near the cave’s entrance  still used to make flutes.

There are historical stone ink inscriptions inside the cave dated to 792 AD.


Lucky Turtle Photo taken by Lloyd Lofthouse

Millions have walked these paved pathways. Reed Flute Cave has been an attraction for over a thousand years, and the tour lasts about an hour.

During Times of war, the local people would hide in the cave. One grotto, the Crystal Palace of the Dragon King, has room for a thousand people.

Crown Cave and Seven-Star Cave were other underground attractions, but it was late and the next day we were on our way to cruise the Li River.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Tibet by Rail but watch out for the Altitude

November 8, 2016

Many people think of Tibet as the Roof of the World. For centuries, Tibet was isolated, because it was difficult and time consuming for anyone to go there, even armies.

ChinaHighlights.com explains why. It isn’t just the distance and all those mountains. It’s the altitude. “Nearly all tourists entering Tibet experience highland altitude sickness,” China Highlights said, “For some the effect is strong, but for most it is just an inconvenience. The reaction varies from person to person, and experts cannot say who will be affected, but statistically old people are more likely to feel stronger altitude sickness than the young, the unfit/unhealthy are more likely than the fit/healthy, and males are affected more strongly than females.”

As for the distance, in 1903, the British Empire sent an army to Tibet from India to protect its interests, and it took a year for Sir Francis Younghusband’s invasion force to reach Lhasa in August 1904.

A book was written about that invasion, The British Empire & Tibet 1900-1922. Asian Affairs says, “The great value of Dr. Palace’s study is to highlight the much neglected China angle to the Tibetan issue … [this book is] helping to indicate the very important place of the Tibetan affair in the story of Western imperialism”

Today, the journey to Tibet is not as daunting.  Besides an airport, there is the train that leaves Beijing and arrives in Lhasa forty-eight hours later. The length of the rail line is 1,215 miles (1,956 km), and it was opened for travelers July 2006.

Tourists, both foreign and Chinese, take the train to Tibet to learn more about the people while others stay, changing the demographics.

The train to Tibet sometimes reaches elevations over 5,000 meters (16,404 feet).

One Western tourist, who had been to Tibet twice, said that the ethnic groups in Tibet are not mixing together. She said there was a Chinese area and another where Tibetans lived.

Makes sense. In America’s cities emigrants tend to stick close to their ethnic/cultural group. In the past, there have been Irish, Jewish, and German communities, and today there are Vietnamese, Latino or Chinatowns.

If you plan to visit Tibet and don’t want to risk the altitude sickness, China Highlights says, “Adverse reaction to altitude is usually reduced if one acclimatizes by reaching high altitude over a period of at least a few days (3 days is usually enough).”  Instead of flying to Tibet or getting there by rail or car/bus, you could do what Tom Carter did and walk.

Discover Anna May Wong, the woman that died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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China’s Laowai, their sexual fantasies, and The Exact Unknown

November 2, 2016

If God really thought sex was a mortal sin, why did He give young men so much testosterone? In fact, visit the Mayo Clinic.org to discover the facts. The Mayo Clinic says, “Testosterone is a hormone produced primarily in the testicles. Testosterone helps maintain men’s sex drive and sperm production.”

In addition, HealthDoc13.com reports that from age 18 to 30 “Your sexual appetite is prodigious (huge, enormous) and sex often occupies the front burners of your mind. It requires very little stimulation to achieve an erection.”

This post is a book review. The stories in Isham Cook’s collection, The Exact Unknown, reveal men driven by the often oppressed and censured male libido. These stories are not an author’s sex fantasy as some Puritanical minds might think, because many of the characters in these stories don’t achieve their goal, charming Chinese beauties that aren’t as easy to seduce as some think.

This collection is set in modern China where women are considered equal to men and are experimenting with that freedom and their sexuality. In case you are unaware of it, bound feet women in China and concubines as the property of men — you know, legal sex slaves — was officially ended by Mao after his famous liberating ‘Women hold up half the sky’ speech.

I think the best story in this 5-star collection of testosterone driven characters was Good Teacher, Bad Teacher starting on page 103 of the paperback.  John Cobalt is from Los Angeles and he’s teaching English in Guangzhou, China to Chinese college students. “This strange six-foot-five American dressed in what struck his employers as pajamas … went barefoot both in class and out on the street. … If that wasn’t bad enough, some students complained to the department head they could make out Cobalt’s penis against the flimsy fabric of his pants, in its flaccid state to be sure, yet they considered this to be highly improper nonetheless.”

To discover how Cobalt ends up with a devout and loyal following of Chinese college graduates, who are mostly female, you’ll have to read the book.

My second best choice would be The Curious Benefits of Neurosis starting on page 130 in the paperback that’s about a sex addict who sets out one night to visit as many massage parlors as possible with some surprising results.

I must warn you that there are a few well-written stories in this collection that have nothing to do with the out-of-control libidos of foreigners hoping to exploit the women of China.

The author sent me a complementary paperback copy of this book for my honest opinion that I’m sure modern, born-again Puritans will not approve of.

Discover China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the man that unified China more than 2,000 years ago.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Giant Pandas Are No Longer Endangered but still face Serious Threats

October 19, 2016

The giant panda is popular.  I just Googled “Giant Panda” and there were almost 5 million hits, and a Google Blog search resulted in 4.27 million hits.

But China isn’t happy about the Panda’s success because recently this cuddly bear was removed from the IUCN’s Endangered List. Nature World News.com reports, “According to the World Wide Fund (WWF), the IUCN announced that a nationwide census counted 2,060 giant pandas (1,864 of which are adults) in the wild, which means that there has been a 17 percent rise in its population in China since 2014.”

Is the Panda really safe? The Los Angeles Times reports, “Pandas   removed from international endangered list, but China says they still face serious threat.”

The giant panda, because it’s so cute with its black-and-white coloring, is considered by many of the bear’s fans as docile, but it has been known to attack humans. In fact, The Daily Mail in the UK reported “They’re not all cuddley!”

On the other hand, China Highlights.com says, “Because of their low-energy diet they avoid stressful situation and exertion, preferring shallow slopes and solitary living.”… “In addition to eating for about half a day, the giant pandas spend the rest of their time in sleeping.”

China’s giant pandas are considered a living treasure. Although the dragon has historically served as China’s national emblem, recently the giant panda has also served as an emblem for the country.

To discover more, I suggest reading what the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute has to say about the Giant Panda.

Discover Anna May Wong, the woman that died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Learning English in China with help from a naughty monkey

September 13, 2016

The Oxford Royale Academy says, “It’s often said that English is one of the hardest languages to learn … and one of the reasons why English is known for being difficult is because it’s full of contradictions.”

That difficultly didn’t stop China from making learning English mandatory in its public schools, but speaking English like a native doesn’t always work well when you’re learning from a cartoon character called Mocky the naughty monkey.

Michael Meyer, the author of “The Last Days of Old Beijing” had this to say about Mocky: “Beijing students begin studying English in Grade One. Every child is enrolled in three forty-five-minute lessons each week until the end of elementary school, at Grade Six. Much of Mocky’s instruction is automated, reducing the teacher’s role to leading students through recitations of the dialogues, animated on a disc included with the text. Although Mocky speaks slowly, he sounds as if he’s inhaled some bad helium.”


This is a normal Chinese high school student who was not born in an English speaking country and learned English in class.

A friend shared the following e-mail and said it had gone viral among the Chinese. The friend said she knew someone else who went to Beijing and was given this brochure by the hotel he was staying at.  After you read this brochure that the hotel had translated into English, you might think it was written by that naughty monkey. Here goes:

Getting There:

Our representative will make you wait at the airport. The bus to the hotel runs along the lake shore. Soon you will feel pleasure in passing water. You will know that you are getting near the hotel, because you will go round the bend. The manager will await you in the entrance hall. He always tries to have intercourse with all new guests.

The Hotel:

This is a family hotel, so children are very welcome. We of course are always pleased to accept adultery. Highly skilled nurses are available in the evenings to put down your children. Guests are invited to conjugate in the bar and expose themselves to others. But please note that ladies are not allowed to have babies in the bar. We organize social games, so no guest is ever left alone to play with them self.

The Restaurant:

Our menus have been carefully chosen to be ordinary and unexciting. At dinner, our quartet will circulate from table to table, and fiddle with you.

Your Room:

Every room has excellent facilities for your private parts. In winter, every room is on heat. Each room has a balcony offering views of outstanding obscenity!

You will not be disturbed by traffic noise, since the road between the hotel and the lake is used only by pederasts.

Bed:

Your bed has been made in accordance with local tradition. If you have any other ideas please ring for the chambermaid. Please take advantage of her. She will be very pleased to squash your shirts, blouses and underwear. If asked, she will also squeeze your trousers.

Above All:

When you leave us at the end of your holiday, you will have no hope. You will struggle to forget it.

The punchline, as it turns out, is that the original e-mail was an April fool’s joke, but because someone who thought it was real forwarded it to everyone he knew who forwarded it again, it ended up going viral. Even the Chinese had fun with this one.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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A 35,000 Mile Walk About – guest post by Alec Ash

June 29, 2016

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Photo by Eelco Florijn. The picture was taken in Kham, Tibet, at the Dongdola pass.

There have been expats in China since the first Jesuit missionaries started arriving in the 16th century. But what characterizes the hundreds of thousands of Westerners who call China home today? And what are the challenges and identity issues that they face?

Tom Carter, originally from San Francisco, has been living in China for a decade. He did a well received book of photography [China: Portrait of a People] based on trekking 35,000 miles through 33 provinces for two years. More recently he edited a collection of true stories from expat China called Unsavory Elements, which has generated both praise and controversy.

I sat down with him over lunch in Shanghai, and followed up with questions over email, to dig deeper.

Alec Ash [AA]: Why did you feel there was a need for a collection of stories and anecdotes by Westerners living in China? What is it about that experience that interests you?

Tom Carter [TC]: It was a project whose time had come. The past decade has seen an unprecedented number of new books and novels about China, but aside from a handful of mass-market memoirs there was nothing definitive about its expatriate culture. As an editor and avid reader, I had this grand vision of an epic collection of true short stories from a variety of voices that takes the reader on a long, turbulent arc through the entire lifetime of an expat – bursting with ephemera and memories from abroad. That’s how Unsavory Elements was conceived.

Of course, the landscape of China in 2013 is vastly different than 2008 – generally considered the new golden age for laowai (foreigners) – and virtually unrecognizable from 2004, which is when I first arrived. Such rapid changes are the subject of just about every book on China these days. But swapping stories with other backpackers I bumped into on the road while photographing my first book, I noticed that there was something profound about our experiences and adventures – the tales we told might just as well have occurred in the 1960s or even the 1860s. And that’s when it struck me: the more China changes the more it stays the same. So I wanted to switch up the trends of this genre and feature stories that were not only timely but timeless.

AA: But how has the foreigner community in China changed over the past decades? Do you feel there’s anything Westerners in China have in common, among all the diverse reasons that people have to end up here?

TC: Expatriates in China are certainly a motley crew. I’ve lived and traveled extensively across many countries in the world, but none seem to have attracted such a diverse crowd as China, this eclectic mix of businessmen and backpackers, expense-account expats and economic refugees. It really could be the 1800s all over again, like some scene out of James Clavell’s novel Tai-Pan [about the aftermath of the Opium War] except now with neon lights and designer clothes. What we’ve seen this past decade surrounding the Beijing Olympics is history repeating itself. The Western businessmen who have come and gone these past ten years during the rise of China’s economy are the exact same class of capitalists who populated Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1800s. They’ve come to make their fortunes and then get out – which is what we are witnessing with the recent expat exodus [now that China’s economy shows signs of faltering].

The darker side of China’s history also seems to be repeating itself. The Communist-conducted purges of “foreign devils” and foreign-owned enterprises that occurred in the Cultural Revolution are happening all over again – perhaps not as violently (with the exception of the looting of Japanese businesses during the Diaoyu Islands dispute in 2012) but certainly with as much vitriol. There was last year’s poster depicting a fist smashing down on the characters for “foreigner” and various video footage (possibly staged) of foreigners behaving badly, used to justify their Strike Hard crackdowns [against foreigners in China with black market visas]. The title Unsavory Elements is a playful homage to Communist terminology. To be sure, China has a love-hate relationship with outsiders – our success and our status here rises and falls on the whims of the government. In spite of this, as many foreigners continue to arrive in China as leave (or are expelled). So what do we all have in common? If nothing else, a degree of masochism.

AA: And how, if at all, does living in China long-term change you?

TC: I expect it’s tempered me, much like in metallurgy, from the constant pounding and heating and cooling and reheating of my patience. Suan tian ku la (sour sweet bitter spicy) is an old Chinese adage, and this country definitely serves up its share. But it hasn’t been easy to swallow. Westerners tend to arrive in China a bit hot-headed, and we’ve all had our explosive moments: with the taxi driver who runs his meter fast or takes us the long way, at a train ticket office jostling with queue jumpers, due to endless red tape, or when you are ripped off by your business partners.

Few foreign writers ever admit to having these moments so I encouraged my anthology contributors to be more forthcoming about their darker feelings – seeing red, so to speak. Alan Paul, writing in the book about a stressful family road trip across Sichuan, has a line: “I stood there bitterly looking down into that hole, silently damning New China’s incessant construction.” I can relate to that every time I hear a jackhammer. Even the famously mild-mannered Peter Hessler confesses in his essay to going ballistic with his fists on a thief he catches in his hotel room. I’ve been there as well, taking out all my pent-up frustrations on some poor pickpocket who wasn’t quick enough to escape the reach of this 6’4” foreign devil. I expect that having had my patience tried so often here has forged me into a calmer, more levelheaded person than the clenched-fisted, teeth-gnashing, Thundarr the Barbarian in Beijing I arrived as.

AA: A foreigner also has special status and perks from being in China – for instance, they always stand out, whereas back home they’re just another face in the crowd.

TC: Special status, yes, but not in the way it’s been mythologized. Sure, in the countryside it’s nice to be invited in for tea by villagers who’ve never encountered a Westerner before, but in Shanghai you’re bumped into and cut in front of and run over by cars like any other laobaixing or common person. That oft-eulogized “rock star status” was more of a vague concept that the Chinese used to have about the West – the branded clothing, the rebellious music, the casual sex. But actually there’s nothing special about being gawked at, openly talked about and cheated because it’s assumed that you’re wealthy. And there’s certainly nothing special about the hell-like bureaucracy foreigners are burdened with, or not having access to basic public services like hospitals, schools and even hotels, or the frequent suspicions that the government casts over us.

In fact, in just the past five years following the global recession of 2008 – during which nearly every world economy collapsed except for China’s – our collective esteem in the eyes of the Chinese has plummeted from superstar status to that of some invasive species, a metaphor which the environment journalist Jonathan Watts also makes in the book, comparing non-indigenous plants with foreigners. And there’s a wholesale fumigation of Western corporations [that exploit China’s low labor costs], which the Communist government now considers a threat, like the imperialist military incursions of centuries past. They want and need our business, but they are no longer going to make it easy for us. As a result, the Xi Jinping administration is coming down hard on foreign firms that have historically gotten away with shady practices like price fixing, influence buying and general non-compliance.

AA: Do you think it’s hard to adjust to life back home if you return? With no cheap taxis, eating out, cleaners, massages…

TC: I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’ve only been back to the States once in nearly a decade; China is “home” now. I’m not that laowai who skips out on China when it’s convenient, or because living here is no longer convenient. I’m also not that Westerner who has a driver or only takes taxis – I ride public transportation and my rusty trusty 40-year-old 40-kilogram Flying Pigeon bike. Nor do I hire old ayis [housekeepers] to do my dirty work – my wife and I raise our child ourselves, make our own meals, and clean our home ourselves. I can just hear all the gasps from colonialist-minded “enclave expats” who could never conceive a life in Asia without servants.

I did live in Japan for a year after four straight years in China, and found the orderliness and politeness and emotionlessness of it all quite difficult to adjust to. So I spent the following year wandering around India, which provided me with a much-needed dose of dust and disorder. After that I returned to China and for the following few years lived in my wife’s native farming village in rural Jiangsu province. That to me was like an epiphany, as if I had finally found home. But for my wife – who in her youth had strived to escape the countryside and eventually made her way up to Beijing, where we met – it was coming full circle back to where she started. So now we divide our time between Jiangsu and Shanghai, which I guess gives each of us the best of both worlds.

AA: I’ve had friends who went back home after living in China, but missed the excitement and buzz so much they couldn’t help but come back. Is China a drug?

TC: I should first disclaim that the Ministry of Public Security takes drug dealing in China very seriously, as Dominic Stevenson, who wrote about his two-year incarceration in a Chinese prison for dealing hash, can attest. But I’d venture to say that, like any drug, it depends entirely on the user’s own state of mind. If we’re making metaphors, for old China hands I’d imagine their time here draws parallels with the soaring euphoria and bleak depths of smoking opium, while China for the uninitiated is probably a bit like bath salts: the constantly convulsing nervous system, the paranoia, the god-complex, the rage.

I’d liken my own China experience to a decade-long acid trip. It began with liberating my mind from the restraints of Western society. Then I departed on an odyssey that took me tens of thousands of miles across China, experiencing various metaphysical and spiritual states as my journey progressed, punctuated by periods of intense creativity due to my heightened sensory perceptions. To a background score of warped erhu and guzheng [classical Chinese instruments], and the looped calls of sidewalk vendors echoing into the void, the kaleidoscopic chaos of this culture surged around me like the Yangtze river – in outer space. Now I’m one with China’s cosmic consciousness. I want to reeducate the communists with love. Or maybe I’m not even here. Maybe I really did perish during my Kora around Mount Kailash and none of this ever happened …

AA: Ground control to Major Tom. Your own story in the book is about a visit to a brothel with two lecherous laowai. How representative do you feel that this kind of foreigner in China is, especially those who come to try and pick up Chinese girls?

TC: It’s been fascinating for me to see how much polemic this single story has stirred. I kind of knew I’d be martyring myself when I decided to include my account of a boy’s night out at a brothel in the anthology instead of, say, a story about my marriage in a rural village, or about delivering our firstborn son at a public People’s hospital in the countryside. My publisher, Graham Earnshaw, even tried to warn me about the inevitable ire that would follow and suggested I pull the piece for my own well-being. His forecast was unfortunately accurate. Immediately following a Time Out review that dedicated most of its page space to criticizing my brothel story, certain women’s reading groups called for my arrest and deportation from China because, they said, I “patronized teenaged prostitutes”.

And yet, the story has received as much praise as it has hate. An equal number of readers seem to find it refreshing that a foreigner is finally writing about experiences many single males in the Orient have had but never dared admit – especially not in print. And considering the Party’s penchant for keeping extensive dossiers on Chinese and foreigners alike, I can understand their reticence. But I can’t help but consider as downright disingenuous the glaring omissions of any situation involving prostitution – an impossible-to-overlook trade found in nearly every neighborhood in every city and town – by certain best-selling Western authors in China. Do they not consider the women of this profession worthy of writing about? Or are they simply lying?

I’m not saying I had some altruistic intention with my story – it was just an absurd situation that my friends and I got ourselves into that also happened to make for ribald writing. But the truth is, I conceptualized the entire anthology around that brothel incident, because I wanted to compile a collection of candid and truthful experiences that left nothing out, including visits to your neighborhood pink-lit hair salon. Only the discerning reader can tell you how representative it is of them, but maybe, nay, hopefully, my story will kick off a new era of honesty by Western writers in China. We’ll see.

This interview was first posted on Tumbler September 25, 2013 and on The Anthill.org September 26, 2013