Browsing Tag


Naxi Hospitality

Yunnan province has many different minority groups, and Lijiang is home to several, but primarily to the Naxi people. The Naxis are ethnically Tibetan, speak their own Naxi language and use a pictograph writing system- the oldest still in use, in fact. They are a matriarchal society, whereby the women inherit all property, can have multiple lovers, and are responsible for supporting their children, moreso than the fathers.

We’re at Mama Naxi’s guesthouse and have been lucky to experience Naxi hospitality and nurturing. Mama, who fills the main building (Bldg 3) with her loud voice and great food, has been awesome at scoring us the cheapest plane tickets ever, as well as arranging our transport to Shangri-la/Zhongdian today. She cooked a 7-course meal last night and we all sat around stuffing ourselves silly. And it only cost 10 yuan- that same meal would have cost over 100 at a restaurant! And it was so great. Picture!!

That was taken before the last dish came out. It was broccoli, wok-fried and flavorful.

Baba lives at the the building we’re staying in. He’s a much quieter, meeker, but just as hospitable, version of Mama. So, if you ever come to Lijiang, Mark and I absolutely recommend this guesthouse. But do try to get a private bathroom- the shared bathrooms aren’t very nice. That’s really my only complaint. Everything else has been wonderful here- great food, our laundry was done super-fast and cheap, all our travel arrangements were made in like 10 seconds and for a much cheaper price than I had budgeted, our room was even way cheaper than we had anticipated. It’s just been a great experience here!

24 Hour Train Ride to Yangshuo & Radio Silence


Hello! After our awesome 24 hour train ride from Beijing to Guilin - where we met some incredible people, we were picked up at the train station and brought to our next hostel, located in the very tiny town of Aishanmen, just outside of Yangshuo – we’re deep in the karst peaks and rural farmlands. We have a billion pictures and video from everything since we left Beijing, but our connection here at the hostel is Dial-Up and it’s dark out here. DARK. Like, nighttime before electricity dark. – and it’s humid – and the mosquitoes are eating us up as I type this right now.

So. It’s going to be radio silence for a while and we’ll catch up at the next hostel in a few days – where for our blog’s sake, and my work’s sake, I will have a high speed connection.

Good night everyone, and to our new friends who we met on the train – you’re awesome and we will definitely keep in touch – with all of you – thank you for your kindness, and making this trip even more incredible than it already was – meeting people like you is part of the reason we went on this trip. Thank you. All of you.

 To all of our friends and family back home – it’s great here, we’re safe and tomorrow we’re exploring the karst peaks of the Yangshuo area – on bicycle!

I cannot describe how it feels to ride a mountain bike through the rural farmlands and the mist flowing through the mountains and enveloping everything. The fields, the people, the cows that plow the fields. It’s simply amazing to see, to experience, and to be fortunate enough to have seen this at all. We are deep in southern China and it’s humid. Close to Vietnam and the influence is noticeable. These next few days will be a sharp contrast from Beijing. This portion of the trip is what people romanticize about when they talk of backpacking and traveling without the luxuries and amenities of a hotel and working plumbing, and anything else that other ‘travelers’ think they need. I only wish I could truly convey what this is like.

-Leah and Mark

Pengyou Time

Pengyou = Friend, and yesterday was a friend-filled day.  First we went to the Dirt Market, Panjiayuan.  This place is only open on weekends and it is packed full of vendors, shoppers, and pretty much any Chinese art, souvenir, antique, etc. you could ever hope to find.  Some people get uncomfortable with the constant shouts of “Look here, I give you good price!” and by the sheer notion of having to haggle.  But these are people who have not yet discovered the pure joy of a truly great bargaining session.  So, here’s a lesson in Chinese Bargaining 101:

1. Learn the numbers.  Yes, the vendors have calculators.  You can use that, as well, for emphasis or to cover up your crappy pronunciation.  But you need to understand what they are saying, and you need to at least attempt to speak.  Always say your offer out loud FIRST, then show them on the calculator.

2. Learn these basic Chinese phrases:  “Tai gui le!”  (Too expensive!)  “Wo bu keyi”  (I can’t!)  “Qing gei wo pianyidianr”  (Please give me cheaper.)  Use these phrases each time they state their price, and be as animated as possible.  But in a lighthearted manner, never serious or angry.  This is supposed to be fun, remember.

3. If you, like me, are blessed with a youthful appearance, you can also use this phrase, which almost always brings the price down about 1/3 more than the vendor would regularly offer: “Wo shi xuesheng, wo meiyou qian!” (I am a student, I don’t have money!)

4. In order to determine how much to offer and how much to settle on, follow these guidelines: the first price they say used to be half as much as what you really should be paying.  But Beijingers have gotten used to foreigners and they are ready for the Olympic Onslaught.  They’re now saying prices as much as 3 and 4 times as high as what you should pay.  So, when they name their first price, depending on how high it is and what you are trying to buy, go low, low, low.  Example: they say 300 kuai for a pocket knife, you offer 25 or 50.  Yes.  Really.  They will act shocked and dismayed, but they will lower the price to around 270. 

You need to up your counter-offer, but just a little.  Employ one of the phrases I mentioned above, and then offer 75.  More shock and dismay, slightly lower price offered.  250.  Use another phrase, be extra-animated, and offer 90.  They will give yet another counter offer, this time even lower…maybe 200 or 190.  This is when you do the WALK AWAY.  You say “Wo bu keyi, tai gui le!” and slowly start to turn away.  They will grab you and give you an even lower price.  175.  You are SO CLOSE now!  Offer 100.  Use hand gestures to say that you really can’t afford more than that.  They will either give it to you for that price, or they will give you one final counter-offer.  Go 10-20 kuai higher than the 100, and they will agree.  Boom!  You have successfully haggled in a Chinese market.

Mao and I are proud of you.

So, yes, yesterday at the market I had a fabulous time and I even made a new friend, Wang Da Wei.  He’s already sent me an e-mail, in fact.  Yay for new friends!  These friend cards Mark ordered are coming in very handy.  So, the next time you are in Beijing and it is a weekend, please go to Panjiayuan and look for Wang Da Wei’s stall.  He sells lovely silk-covered journals, chopstick sets, fans, purses, and a variety of other items.  And if he doesn’t sell it, he will go and find it for you and the best price.  Tell him Leah sent you.  He’ll be a little scared at first of you superior bargaining skills, but he will certainly appreciate the business.

 Shout out to Wang Da Wei: Ni hao, pengyou!  Wo gaosu Meiguo de pengyou zai Zhongguo lai kan ni!

We also went to the cool artsy 798 area to meet my aunt Jill’s friend Alonzo Davis.  He’s a very nice guy, incredibly well-traveled, and also happens to be a magnificent artist.  We also got to meet his friend and Beijing guide, Claire, who is also an artist and has lived in Beijing for a year.  Hi to you both!  We really enjoyed meeting you yesterday, and checking out all the art galleries!!

Now we must prepare for an almost-28-hour train ride to Guilin/Yangshuo.  I love trains.  Woohoo!  Who knows what new adventures await?  We’ll be out of touch for a day or so, but don’t worry…we’ll be back with more stories and pictures!

Much love to all of you, thanks so much for reading and commenting!!


Day Two Quick Summary Before Bed – 2AM

It’s nearing 2AM here in Beijing and I’m just up finishing some work and then posting really quick.

First, here is Leah saying good morning today before we went out and about. (tomorrow is my turn to be ummmm.. embarassingly awesome – we’ll get better as the days go on)

LeahAndMark Good Morning – Day Two

I was gonna do a quick run down, but I’ll leave that for the morning. Here are some shots from tonight – we walked around some hutongs and ate some street food – we were just way too tired after our great day to go to the real night market and get overwhelmed. That will be tomorrow night. But still, the dark dark alleys around our hostel are excellent. These are all unedited photos.


One More – Beijing Morning

It’s 6:30 am here, we woke up early since in Atlanta, it’s Wednesday afternoon and not Thursday morning. We’ll be here at the Red Lantern Hostel for our entire stay in Beijing – so it’ll be our base of operations. I like it, it’s down a dark alleyway and off of the main road and that’s always fun.

Plus, here’s our courtyard:

Also, we have running hot water, a private room, private bath, it’s just awesome. And WiFi – I’ll need it as this first week is my hardest one for telecommuting with all my projects due.

Oh man. I cannot wait for all the food today – and the sights. Today it’s most of the obvious tourist attractions and then who knows at night.

Have a great day everyone.

We made it!

Okay, we’ve made it to China! The flight from Atlanta to Seoul wasn’t bad at all. When you’re going to be on an airplane for more than 10 hours, you sort of surrender to the fact that you are going to be stuck on that plane for practically forever. And then the time goes by surprisingly quickly!


My vegetarian meals were not that great…probably because I told the airline that I eat eggs and dairy (which I do) and thus I was put into the “Western Veg Meal” category as opposed to the “Asian Veg Meal” category. Mark’s meal’s were better, especially the bibimbap one.


Other than that, and the listing of movie titles to choose from not corresponding at all to the movie that would play, I thought the flight was just peachy. Slept a good bit, drank some wine, watched some good movies….sort of like a lazy Sunday at home! And before we knew it, we were in South Korea!


At the beautiful, pristine, gleaming Incheon airport we made our way to Gate 49 for our much shorter flight to Beijing. On the way to the gate, we stopped for a quick snack at a kiosk and discovered Butter Stick. Butter Stick is an addictively yummy snack of thin, crunchy, sweet and buttery cracker/biscuit thingies. Sort of like Pocky but sweeter and minus the chocolate coating.

On the flight to Beijing, which was less than 2 hours, we were fed yet another meal. We also met another American couple on their honeymoon, and a South Carolina high school on their way to spend three weeks attending a Chinese school. Then we landed in Beijing and the real adventure began. Could I successfully get Mark and myself to our hostel in one piece?

Heck yeah!! We made it through customs despite the overly serious customs official intently studying our passport photos and our faces to make sure that we were who we said we were. We cashed some traveler’s cheques, and found the shuttle bus (thanks to the help of an airport employee who caught me looking at an airport map and asked me where I was trying to go. I couldn’t remember the word for shuttle, so I blurted out “gong gong chi che” instead, which means bus. “Ah, Bus!” the guy exclaimed and pointed the way.

We managed to buy two tickets for Line 2, and we even managed to find the right bus (not difficult as they were clearly labeled) and get off at the right stop (a little more challenging, but I asked a fellow passenger). Upon disembarking, we were surrounded by people shoving business cards in our face. Not sure what for, but we waved them off and were then followed by a bicycle rickshaw guy. These guys are famous for ripping people off, so I told him I was getting a taxi. Well, the taxis were all clustered together just waiting for people needing rides.

And they all wanted to charge at least 50 RMB to take us to the guesthouse, when the guesthouse website clearly stated that taxis shouldn’t cost more than 20. I knew haggling wouldn’t get me anywhere with those guys, because they clearly had the upper hand. It was dark, we didn’t really know where we going, it was too far to walk to the guesthouse, and there weren’t any other taxis in sight. But then Rickshaw man peddles up again and says he’ll take us for 20 kuai (kuai = RMB). So we hope onto to the rickshaw clutching our bags and go whooshing through the streets, with cars whizzing past us and a couple almost hitting us.

It was fun! And then it seemed like the guy was kind of lost. He tried to drop us off at some random place that was not our destination, so I whipped out the map the hostel provided and showed him again where we wanted to go. Then he decided it would 40 kuai instead. Grrrrrrrrr! But, the rickshaw was more fun than the taxi and the guy did peddle kinda far, so we paid up without complaining once we found the hostel. I didn’t feel like arguing the principal at that point, so…yeah, we were ripped off. But it’ll be easier to drive a hard bargain when it’s not 10:00 at night and we’re loaded down with bags and clearly looking like newbies to China.

So, our hostel, the Red Lantern House! It’s really cute, down some twisty narrow hutong streets. We have a big king size bed and it’s very clean and quiet. I like it so far!! We’ve already met a fellow backpacker in the lounge and she was really nice and had helpful info about going to Yunnan. Now it’s early in the morning and I’m wide awake, so I think I’ll go hop in the shower and get ready for an awesomely fun day!


– Leah

1st Day of Travel – Incheon & Beijing

LOOONG day of Travel, but all of it pretty exciting.

-As far as that 14 hour flight to Korea – I have never watched so many movies in a row – I think I saw four while drifting in an out of sleep. We stayed up late the night before to hopefully help the jet lag transition, so we were tired a few hours after boarding.

The Flight was great, and long, and there’s more to say but what was really awesome was seeing Leah in action! We got off of our airport shuttle bus and then needed a taxi to get to our hostel. The Red Lantern hostel here in town. But the taxi drivers were trying to rip us off, saying that it cost more if you’re traveling at night – whatever. So we started walking away.

That’s when this bicycle rickshaw pulls up, and after some negotiation, Leah agrees to 20 Yuan for both of us – but the ends up not knowing exactly how far away it is and we end up paying 20 each instead – but the ride was much better than a regular taxi! Here’s a short video through one of the alleys and then onto a main street alongside with cars. – This was shot from my Canon Powershot A570IS – a regular camera with video capability so the quality is um. Awesome!

Also, sorry about the wind noise.

We also met a woman and her daughter who were from Maine and had been here for about six weeks – they had a great time and it was nice getting first hand updating accounts of a recent travel in the country. She covered most of the areas that we’ll going to through.

Flying Out


Ok! We’re flying out today! Just waiting for our airport transport (Leah’s mom) and then we’ll on our way to the airport… where we will sit until the flight takes off at 1pm – we have to check in our luggage by 11am – and the  wait.

So yeah. We’re hanging out at the airport for a while.

However, we both have our own regular handwritten journals and a plethora of other things to keep us entertained until then. Does the airport have free WiFi?

These last few months have been really, really awesome. We actually decided to have some form of a social life with the network of people on, AND we even like a good number of them. Sure we love each other but come on, how is anyone else going to know how great we are unless we hang out with them so we can let them know?!

My job has been super great. Leah’s job has been super great. Our pets (One-Two and Three-Four) are wild and crazy and loving as always! None of that hiding in the closet stuff, they’re right on top of you no matter who you are.

Our next apartment is getting redone, and Leah’s starting her Master’s program this August. I’m finally gonna graduate with my Finance degree next year in the spring and ummmm… everything else is just still coming at us. It’s kind of like all of the dreary/boring/hard times last year are behind us and 2008 is just being totally, totally awesome.

We hope that you can all come to our China-SlideShow Party in July at our new place.

A Camera Idea – Filming Handsfree

So. I’ll be honest with you. One of my original ideas was that I was going to purchase a digital camcorder and video everything while we’re traveling. But then funds got in the way – or rather a lack of funds. Since I had to buy four new tires for my car and then a host of other surprise costs started creeping in. SO the camcorder idea was out – especially since I wanted to make sure that I had a decent digital camera to take photos.

One of my own, and not Leah’s since her’s is the more girl-version (which means I’d have to actually be careful with it – and we know I can’t do that.) so I bought my own. It’s a Canon Powershot A570IS – and it’s a big upgrade from my last one which was a Powershot A50, a 1.3 megapixel brick – literally. It took four AA batteries.

So what I did was stick my camera in one of the slot straps in my backpack and then I walked around filming. I just have to straighten everything so it aligns right and just start recording. The only issue is the nerd factor of how it looks. It actually looks pretty nerdy. If I’m in the mood later, I’ll put it on a take a picture just to show you.

I’d show you some video but well… our house is too messy and I don’t want y’all to see that! (and neither does Leah.)

But at least I’ll be able to take video shots while we’re over there. Plus, as long as I have enough storage room (portable USB drive) it shouldn’t be a problem since I have an 8Gig SD card in my digital camera. So that should last me a good amount of filming throughout the day until I get to wherever we’re staying for the night so I can plug in, and transfer the files… and if there’s time, convert them to FLV files and upload to YouTube! Score.

****** Edit ******

Handsfree Camera

Here’s the picture of me wearing my new NorthFace pants, REI shirt, and the handsfree camera! ha (hey, the best stuff is the gear!)