Author: Amanda R

Who Writes History – Conversations With Jung Chang

Who Writes History – Conversations With Jung Chang

jung chang hk lit festAs exciting as it was to meet Amy Tan, I was actually more excited to meet Jung Chang at the Hong Kong Literary Festival. I am obsessed with her book Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. I have been fascinated by Empress Cixi for years, and it was while I was researching for Threads of Silk, that her book was released. Empress Dowager Cixi became my research bible when it came to Cixi. I read many other books about her, including several contemporary accounts, but Jung Chang’s approach, bringing so many sources together in one place, was a godsend. I have read the book several times front to back and then have gone back and read and research certain chapters and passages more times than I can count. I was so happy that she was kind enough to sign my well-loved copy of Empress Dowager Cixi, but she also accepted a copy of Threads of Silk, which really made my heart soar.

I have written and spoken many times about how wonderful her book is, but I am often met with skepticism. Cixi has a reputation, in the East and the West, of being a controlling, manipulative, traditionalist who held China back and is blamed for many of China’s problems during the 19th century. Yet in Empress Dowager Cixi, Jung Chang paints a much more complicated picture of Cixi, one that gives her far more credit for China’s sudden leap into the modern age during her reign.

empress dowager cixi jung chang

She credited Cixi with everything modern that China has today, from the electricity to the railroad, to the iron used to build the buildings. She also talked about Cixi was, in many ways, a feminist. She set up China’s first schools for girls and outlawed footbinding (even though the practice stayed in vogue until the communist era). She was not perfect, but Cixi would be the first person to admit to that. Her role in the Boxer Rebellion is something that she cannot escape, but she never tried to. She apologized, formally, for her role in the rebellion, and did her best to learn from her mistakes. Her reign post-Boxer Rebellion were some of China’s most prosperous and peaceful years. In fact, the foreign powers welcomed her back to the Forbidden City after the Boxer Rebellion. Even though the Boxer Rebellion was specifically a rebellion against foreign influence, the Western powers wanted Cixi back on the throne.

Many have called Jung Chang’s book about Cixi “revisionist,” as if that is a bad thing, so I asked her, “What do you say to critics who call into doubt the version of Cixi that you present in the book?”

“What wrong with revisionism?” she asked. Indeed, if the history we have been fed is wrong, why should it just be accepted because it is old? Why shouldn’t it be revised? She went on to say that, “People who doubt what I have written here should keep an open mind.”

It was truly a joy to meet Jung Chang and get to hear what she personally thought about the empress and her book. She also hinted that her next book will be about China’s first elections, which were also arranged by Empress Cixi before her death, so I can’t wait to read that.

Have you read any of Jung Chang’s books? Let me know what you think of them in the comments.


Where The Past Begins – A Conversation With Amy Tan

Where The Past Begins – A Conversation With Amy Tan

I was so excited for the chance to meet Amy Tan last week at the Hong Kong Literary Festival! It really was a dream come true. She has such an elegant presence. As soon as she walks into a room, you know she is someone worth listening to. The moderator at the gala dinner said, “I think we can all divide our lives into ‘before’ and ‘after’ we read The Joy Luck Club,” and I think she was right. The Joy Luck Club was a turning point in literature, not just a great book. It showed publishers that stories about women and Asians were not only good stories, but profitable because readers were voracious for her book. Many books about Chinese-Americans and Chinese people around the world probably would not exist if The Joy Luck Club had not paved the path for them.

Amy was at the festival to talk about her new book Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir. She talked quite a bit about how her book came to be, how it originally started as a series of emails between her and her editor, and the rigorous writing schedule she committed herself to in order the finish the book. She talked quite a bit about the craft of writing and how it compares and contrasts to drawing, something else she enjoys and is quite good at, but is not the true creative outlet that works for her.

She gave a really good writing tip that I have been using all week. She said that she plays movie soundtracks in the background while she writes. She said classical music also works well (anything without words since you need to writing your own words), but soundtracks are especially useful because they are designed to set the mood. She said that when she goes to her writing space and turns on the music, she is right back to where she left off and it is much easier to get started and keep going. I’ve been doing that myself this week because I had a really grueling writing schedule to catch up on since I took a week off for the festival, and it really works!

I haven’t finished reading Where the Past Begins yet, so I can’t write a complete review for it, but I do have to say that so far I enjoyed her The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life better. Where the Past Begins is more like a series of essays while The Opposite of Fate follows a more traditional memoir style.

For me personally, the highlight of meeting Amy Tan was when she kindly accepted a copy of Threads of Silk that I gave her and agreed to take a picture with it! I in no way think that Threads of Silk is in the same league as anything Amy Tan has written, but she also revealed that she never throws anything away, so I like the idea that it will at least be sitting in her library forever.

Have you ever met a writer you admire? Tell me about it in the comments!

How To Travel China Without Speaking Chinese – Guest Post by Cara Crawford

How To Travel China Without Speaking Chinese – Guest Post by Cara Crawford

Let’s face it, China is a confusing place. The culture alone is so jarringly different from virtually anywhere else in the world it’s hard to even know where to start. Between the noise, the pushing, the use of umbrellas on a sunny day, all the weird foods that always happen to be “good for body” and a million other cultural nuances I could fill a list a mile long with, my head’s already spinning…and we’ve haven’t even gotten to the language yet!

But for real, are they kidding me with all those symbols? I mean, the cultural differences are strange, although entertaining in a way, but now you expect us to try and navigate in a country where we not only can’t understand or speak to other people, but we can’t read the stuff either?!

Trust me, I feel ya. China can be a really overwhelming place your first time here. I’ve been there. And with so many barriers it’s no wonder many travelers steer clear of the place in favor of easier destinations.

But just when I started to think that clearly, the only people traveling in China were expats and tour goers, I came across the backpackers. These elusive unicorns have somehow used their unicorn magic to transport themselves to some of the most remote and difficult places to travel in all of China. I’m talking some serious back-country, like, 10-hour bus ride to the middle of nowhere type places. I studied Mandarin Chinese for a year and a half before I dared attempt to travel to some of these places, so how did they do it?

As I found out, quite easily really! Now for the good news, China is nothing to be afraid of, and the language is certainly no reason for not coming to visit some of the many out-of-this-world-amazing destinations this country has to offer. If they can do it, you can too!

Stay in International Hotels/Hostels

Cycling through Tibet on a trip through Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces.

This one has a bit of a two-part explanation.

First, not all hotels in China will accept foreigners. We’re a lot of work, you see, with the whole reading a foreign passport dealio that is a staff requirement when checking in. If the hotel doesn’t have any English speaking staff or anyone willing to deal with foreigners, they’ll just tell you to go away. No bed for you!

Now, if you can speak Chinese you can debate this, and possibly win as the law on this is extremely outdated and pretty sporadically enforced nowadays, but without any language skills, forget it, best to just avoid this situation in the first place. Plus, to be honest, most of the hotels that don’t accept foreigners you wouldn’t want to stay in any way.

Second, any hotel or hostel that markets themselves as “international” will have at least one English speaking staff member to assist you. Hallelujah!

How do you make sure your hotel accepts foreigners?

Well if it straight up says “international hotel” or “international hostel” as part of their name then that’s a pretty big giveaway. But, if not, almost all the properties listed on foreign booking sites like Agoda or will accept foreigners unless they say otherwise on the listing. China has their own booking sites that the locals use when booking domestic hotels, so if the hotel doesn’t want to accept foreigners they just won’t list their property on any non-Chinese site.

Save the Chinese name of your hotel on your phone.

Sunset view from the roof of our hostel in Xingping, Guilin.

When you arrive at the airport in China, unless your hotel has arranged a car to pick you up or you’re brave enough to take a whack at China’s ever confusing bus system, you’re most likely going to have to take a taxi. Most taxi drivers don’t speak a lick of English, which, without any Chinese language skills, could cause a problem, but, luckily for you, you’ll have your destination saved in Chinese characters on your phone, so no sweat. Just whip out your phone and show the taxi driver. Easy peasy. Even if he doesn’t know the place off hand (which does happen sometimes as Chinese taxi drivers are not the most knowledgeable of folk), now he can just type the name into his GPS and you’ll be rollin in no time.

Know the culture before you go.

Celebrating Lantern Festival in Zhuhai.

While learning a whole new language might be a bit farfetched for just a simple vacation abroad, studying the culture is something that is not only super easy, but also extremely underrated. You can accomplish so much just by understanding how things work in a certain culture. Knowing the societal norms will enable you to know how to get things done and what to expect in certain situations.

Some things about Chinese culture are pretty widely known, and, dare I say, obvious, like, for example, the Chinese eat with chopsticks, but there is a lot that’s not talked about. Even knowing the little things like the fact that in most restaurants you seat yourself, for example, can save you a lot of frustration. It also allows the Chinese to be at ease when interacting with you, an incredible asset considering how timid a lot of people are here when it comes to communicating with foreigners.

How can you find out what to expect before coming to China?

It’s as easy as reading a couple articles online or a few chapters in a book. A great resource for us was the book Decoding China by Matthew B. Christensen which will tell you everything you need to know and more about how to get around in China.

Do some background research about the sites you’ll be visiting.

Most places don’t offer guided (or self-guided) tours in English, and the majority of the information signs will be solely in Chinese. If you’re not a history buff and are just going to said place to see the pretty scenery (cough, cough, guilty as charged) then this won’t be much of an issue for you. If you do want to know the history of the places you’re visiting though, it’s best to look that stuff up before you go.

Take a business card from your hotel.

This Chinese guy thought he was so sly photobombing me in front of the Giant Buddha in Leshan.

Virtually every place of business in China has business cards available with the address, and, a lot of times, even a map of the business’s location. Most hotels have them sitting on the front desk. Remember to grab one to keep in your wallet. This way you’ll never have to be worried about finding your way back to a bed at the end of the day. Just show the card to a taxi driver, or person on the street if you’re lost, and they’ll point you in the right direction.

Download Pleco

Pleco is my best friend when out and about in China, and trust me, it will be yours too if you ever get into a communication bind. Pleco is a free offline English/Chinese dictionary app you can download to your phone. It provides more accurate translations than your typical translator and will speak the words aloud so you know how to say them.

The offline aspect of the app is especially handy for travelers, as unless you are connected to wifi or paying for international data, your phone won’t be able to connect to the internet to look up translations when you’re out and about.

Choose a restaurant with a picture menu.

Typical Chinese cuisine from Sichuan Province. Every province in China has its own unique type of food.

This one is a lifesaver, especially if you’re not a particularly adventurous eater. I have to admit, even though I can read a lot of the Chinese on a menu, picture menus are still my jam when it comes to eating out. A lot of Chinese dishes don’t come with super intelligible names, even after you translate them. “Ants Climbing a Log” anyone? Don’t worry, there are no ants involved, it’s actually noodles. But how would you know without seeing the dish?

What do you do if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere and your only options are written Chinese menus with no pictures or translations?

Walk around with your waitress/waiter to other people’s tables and point at dishes that look good. Yes, I’m completely serious. Will you feel like a creeper, yes, will you eat a yummy meal, you sure will.

A rarer third option is that the waitress will invite you back into the kitchen so you can see all the meat and vegetables and pick out what you want. You’ll just be left guessing as to the preparation, but at least you’ll know it’s made with stuff you like. The one place this method is extremely common is at seafood restaurants, where everyone picks out their own live seafood, a treat if you’ve never had the experience of picking out the exact fish you want to eat for dinner!


When all else fails, channel your inner mime. You’d be surprised how much information you can communicate using just your body language. Hand signals and facial expressions can really go a long way. In fact, research shows that a surprising 55% of communication is done through body language. Take full advantage of your body language, and you’re already halfway there.

There are so many universal cues you can communicate using just your body. Rub your stomach or pretend to shovel food in your mouth if you’re hungry, lean your head against your hands if you are looking for someplace to sleep, you can even draw or show someone a picture of something you’re looking for. Get creative and you’ll be surprised how easily you can get by without words.

Ask your hotel’s receptionist for help.

When I was in Chengdu, the receptionists at our hostel told us exactly which buses to take, and where the bus stops were so that my friend and I could go see the Pandas!

Receptionists are often a wealth of information about the local area. It’s part of their job to provide guests with information on cool things to see and do and tell how to do them. Even now, I always ask the receptionist at my hotel in China a million and one questions before I head out exploring. They can always tell me how to get to a certain place or make suggestions about cool local places that I never even knew existed.

A lot of times they can even arrange transportation for you, whether it’s calling a cab and telling the driver where to take you, hiring a private car for the day, etc. A lot of times it’s hard to find information online about how to get to and from certain places you want to see in China, so if you can’t find all the information you need online, don’t sweat it. Your hotel receptionist will probably have better information anyway.

Bargain with a calculator.

If you’re shopping at a local market, most of the time you’ll have to bargain for prices. Seems like quite a daunting task for someone with no language skills, but with the use of a calculator, whether it’s in physical form or on your phone, you can throw numbers back and forth like a pro without having to say a word. You might not be able to verbally spar, but you can both understand written numbers. Pen and paper will also do just fine in a pinch.

Bonus Tips

There are some English terms that China has adopted into their language. 3 incredibly helpful terms to know are:

  1. ATM – most Chinese will understand this, so if you’re in need of cash, just ask for an ATM.
  2. WC – WC stands for Water Closet, aka toilet. So if you need to go to the bathroom, ask for a WC.
  3. Wifi – How do you say wifi in Chinese? You guessed it, wifi.

Ready to tackle traveling in China?

This amazing country truly has so much to offer. From stunning natural landscapes and an incredible 3500 years of history to some of the most bustling modern cities in the world, China has something for everyone. Ignite your sense of adventure and your taste buds, use these tips, and get ready to explore, shop, and eat your way through this amazing place with ease.

Cara is an equestrian, photographer, writer, and lover of anything that includes the words “adventure” and “exploration”. Currently living as an expat in China with her husband, Justin, together they are on a mission to travel and see the world on a budget. Veering off into the unknown to really experience the local culture and natural scenery is what they yearn for. Cara shares all their experiences, lessons learned, and travel guides on Crawford Creations to help others replicate their unique form of travel.


Fragrant Lamb and Bamboo Shoot Soup – Recipe By Tiana Matson

Fragrant Lamb and Bamboo Shoot Soup – Recipe By Tiana Matson

Fragrant Lamb and Bamboo Shoot Soup

Lamb is good for you and is perfect for warm winter casseroles and satisfying comfort food. Lamb can increase your body heat to resist the cold, so it is one of the best ingredients for winter meals.

I remember during my childhood, my thrifty grandparents ate mostly vegetarian, but always cooked up a big batch of lamb soup every winter.

Lamb has a stronger smell than beef and poultry that is not liked by everyone, and some simply won’t eat it due to its unique ‘aroma.’ Lamb is so versatile, and often a cheaper alternative than beef, so it’s worth taking a good look at what you can do with it besides a leg roast and chops.

The method of cooking lamb is the same as for beef. You can braise it, stew it, make soup with it, even stir fry it. The difference is that to reduce lamb’s smell and increase its aroma, wine and spices are often used.

I often use lamb mostly for soup if I want a meat soup, however, it is also delicious braised and served with rice noodles. Today’s recipe is an Asian twist on lamb soup, and I’m sure you’ll love it!

The standard practice for lamb soups is to use herbs, but this time I’m using fresh bamboo shoots.

Sweet bamboo shoots are low in calories, low in fat, and rich in vitamins and fiber. Served with lamb (or steak) chops, the sweet bamboo shoots aid digestion.

This soup is different from the usual thick winter soup often made with lamb, but it highlights the lamb chops and sweet bamboo shoots, rather than just using the lamb as a stock base.


300 g peeled sweet bamboo shoots

300 g lamb chops

150 ml cooking wine

800 ml boiling water

1 x 2” piece ginger

1 tablespoon tea oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper



Step 1

Wash the lamb chops and drain.

Step 2

Cut the sweet bamboo shoots in half lengthwise and wash. Slice the bamboo diagonally and put aside.

Step 3

Add the sweet bamboo shoots to a pot and fill with enough water to come to the top of them.

Step 4

Bring the bamboo shoots to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes.

Step 5

Remove the bamboo shoots with a skimmer and put aside.

Step 6

Add the lamb shops to the water and boil for 20 seconds. Remove and put aside. Discard the water.

Step 7

Wash and slice the ginger.

Step 9

Pour the tea oil in in the pan and spread it to cover the surface.

Step 10

Add the chopped ginger and sauté for a few seconds, and then add the lamb. Stir fry until golden brown.

Step 11

Pour in the cooking wine and simmer for 30 seconds.

Step 12

Pour in the 800ml of boiling water.

Step 13

Skim off the foam floating on the surface with a spoon.

Step 14

Transfer the meat and the liquid to a ceramic soup pot and simmer for 20 minutes.

Step 15

Add the sweet bamboo shoots and continue to simmer the soup on low for one hour.

Step 16

Finally, season with salt and pepper, and serve.


  1. Tea oil has the effect of ridding the ‘fishy’ smell from the meat, however, if you don’t have any tea oil at home, you can use other cooking oil instead.
  2. The green wine can be replaced with cooking wine.
  3. Boiling the sweet bamboo shoots helps to remove the oxalic acid.


Warm and hearty, Sweet Bamboo Shoots and Lamb Soup is a perfect tummy filler for those chilly days. Fragrant and satisfying!

Tiana is a food blogger who loves to cook, she is the creator of, a site that shares authentic Chinese recipes and China culture.

The Racist Reason You Think MSG Is Bad For You

The Racist Reason You Think MSG Is Bad For You

When you think of MSG, what are the first thoughts that come to mind? Probably that MSG is bad for you and that it is used in Chinese food. But have you ever wondered where this belief came from? Have you ever really researched MSG and its relation to Chinese food?

A recent episode of Adam Ruins Everything (one of the best shows on TV) tackled this issue. Even though I live in China and have written about Chinese food quite a bit, I never gave MSG much thought. It can’t be avoided over here, so even though I believed it was an unhealthy food additive, I didn’t worry about it much. (Between the annual milk scandals and cancer-causing rice and water here in China, MSG has been a pretty low-order concern). But I remember when living in the US, everyone seems to know a Chinese restaurant that must be avoided because they used the dreaded MSG.

However, the shocking truth is that this fear of MSG is far more rooted in racism than concern for public health. As Adam Conover explains in “Adam Ruins Spa Day“, MSG was discovered and created by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda in 1907. The seasoning caught on, not just in East Asia, but around the world. By the 1950s, every restaurant and chef in the world was using it, and it was a staple in most American kitchens.

“In 1968, the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter from a doctor complaining about radiating pain in his arms, weakness and heart palpitations after eating at Chinese restaurants. He mused that cooking wine, MSG or excessive salt might be to blame. Reader responses poured in with similar complaints, and scientists jumped to research the phenomenon. “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” was born.”

So even though MSG was used by almost everyone at the time, this doctor only pointed the finger at Chinese restaurants, inexorably linking MSG to Chinese restaurants and Chinese food ever since.

And lest you doubt the racial component here, have you ever heard anyone complain about MSG in Doritos? Or Campbell’s Soup? No. The only times I have ever heard anyone complain about MSG is in relation to Chinese food.

But is there a reason to worry about MSG in your food? No. No study has ever found a link between MSG and supposed “side effects.” In fact, MSG is naturally occurring in your own body and you would die without it.

The history of MSG, the xenophobic reactions to it, and the extreme ways chefs are trying to recreate MSG without the negative stigma is all pretty fascinating and I encourage you read more about it and check out Adam Ruins Everything.

Check out The Crazy Dumplings Cookbook!

Dumplings. Wontons. Jiaozi. This remarkably simple food is found throughout Asia and in Chinese restaurants and kitchens around the world, but have you ever filled a dumpling wrapper with chicken? Lobster? North American Plains Bison? Hardly anyone has! The Crazy Dumplings Cookbook features over 100 recipes with some of the craziest and most delicious dumpling filling recipes you will ever see. From Chicken Taquito Dumplings to Timey-Wimey Dumplings to a dumpling for your dog, Crazy Dumplings will show you all the crazy things you can stuff into a dumpling wrapper for an easy meal or snack.

Amazon |B&N | iBooks |Kobo | Google



Best Traveling Apps for Exploring China – Guest Post By D Scott Carruthers

Best Traveling Apps for Exploring China – Guest Post By D Scott Carruthers

China is one of the most amazing travel destinations and visitors are fascinated by the vast cultural inclusions they are served once they arrive. But many people want their trips to be filled with a unique thrill, so their preferences will be based on getting the best destinations, which is one of the challenges visitors have to deal with. But according to D. Scott Carruthers, a travel expert who has been guiding tourists for years, you don’t need to rely on anyone to understand some of the best places to visit while in China. There are many traveling apps you could install that give you accurate and reliable information about different destinations across the world. Below are few that you might want to consider.


Built to work as a photo-sharing platform, Instagram has grown to one of the best social platforms and now has a wide base of travel enthusiasts and experts, who regularly update useful information about travel destinations. If you are planning on visiting China and are looking for a great traveling app, you should start by searching for Instagram accounts that specialize in highlighting popular travel destinations across the country, and from this you will learn about the different amazing destinations you are able to choose from. The beauty of using Instagram is that unlike other travel apps you are offered free access to quality information.

Like a Local

This is an awesome traveling app that offers you useful information from the people who reside in a destination, and this is one of the most reliable options out there as it comprehensively covers cities and towns to allow you to understand well the various destinations. It focuses on the things to do in a city, and searching through it is easy and fast. However, unlike Instagram, for this you will need to spend $1.99 for each city guide you subscribe to.


You might also want to enjoy good times while in China and for this you will also need to make a choice. One of the traveling apps you could choose for the purpose is Nearify, which directs you to local events and gigs that match your preferences. It offers you an opportunity to browse through what is happening so you can pick a destination that is matching to your demands. You will find stacks covering different categories including music, eating, comedy, and drinking experiences.

Spotted by Locals

As the name suggests, Spotted by Locals is a travel app with which you can search for destinations based on the information provided by locals themselves. The app was drawn from a blog that covered Amsterdam, but now has stretched its coverage to other cities including ones in China. To get the complete guides, you will need to spend only $3.99, and this goes to each guide, but you are given future tips for free when you choose this option. Finding a perfect travel destination is an easy process when you have guiding information as highlighted above, so don’t hesitate to try one of these apps.

D Scott Carruthers is a lifelong traveler and photography enthusiast. His writings can be found at

Two Americans in China in Hurricane Irma!

Two Americans in China in Hurricane Irma!

When we go back to the States, our home base is in Florida. We arrived at the beginning of September, the height of hurricane season! And we quickly found ourselves in the path of three hurricanes: Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Jose, and Hurricane Maria.

Irma was the biggest and baddest one headed our way. Irma was a Category 5 storm, the strongest storm since Wilma in 2005, the most intense since Katrina (also 2005), and the first to make landfall in Florida since Wilma. We were in for a doozy.

Batten Down the Hatches!

We live in the middle of the state, so usually even the strongest of hurricanes weaken before hitting us. We don’t typically have to worry about flooding or structural damage to our home. The biggest threat is usually just power outages, but we had a generator. So while many people further south or along the coasts were fleeing north and inland, we boarded up the windows, stocked up on water, chips, and gas, and prepared to ride out the storm.

First came the rain…


Then came the wind!


Our baby loves the wind and the rain. So even she had to experience her first hurricane!


In the end, we were quite lucky. We were without power for 4 days and had some damage to a fence. But many people were quite worse off. 90 people died due to the storm and there was over 60 billion dollars in damage.

Hurricane Jose then spun off into oblivion.

But then came Hurricane Maria.

By the time Hurricane Maria became a threat to the area, we were in North Carolina visiting family there. We still had family in Florida, but Maria didn’t really threaten the mainland. Puerto Rico has been another story, though. The damage there has been catastrophic. And even now, over a month later, hundreds of thousands of Americans are without power, water, and other basic necessities. It could take years for the island to recover. Local officials are calling the situation a humanitarian crisis.

Here are several reputable websites you can donate through to help the people of Puerto Rico


Two Americans in China in America – Giveaway At End of Post

Two Americans in China in America – Giveaway At End of Post

Sorry it has been so long since my last post, but we just spent 6 looong weeks in America. This was our first trip back to the US in about two and a half years, and it was the longest trip back we had ever taken. We have never been back for more than 3 weeks before. It was a nice trip. Our little girl got to meet both sets of grandparents and aunts and uncles and we got to do a lot of fun things. We visited two states, went on a road trip, went to a lantern festival, took the baby to the beach for the first time, explored two aquariums, and stood outside in a hurricane.

But I was very glad to be back home on Monday. I love our life here in China and I missed my dog! I also missed working. It was very hard to try to work with so many distractions and without having my regular schedule and work place. I hardly got anything done! I am glad to be back to my beautiful Yangshuo and calm, ordered life. Regular blog posts and a new novel will be coming soon, so stay tuned!

Here are a few pics from the trip.


In the meantime, here is something fun for you! If you follow me on Amazon, Bookbub, or Goodreads, you can enter to win a $10 Amazon gift card! It’s just that easy! 

Click here to view this promotion.
Square dancing, Chinese style – Guest Post by Daniel Otero

Square dancing, Chinese style – Guest Post by Daniel Otero

Chinese Square DancingWith the proliferation of Sino-Pop around the world came a new dance craze. It was a grand moment for a culture that used to keep everything private. Suddenly, people began doing things outdoors.

People started to gather around the plazas and town squares to listen to tunes, and from here it was developed into a form of square dancing.

A generation began to move and groove. These people wanted what they had missed: mambo, cha-cha, tango, and electronic-pop. They did it to a new vibe, you know, to those old-syrupy tunes from back in the days of Teresa Teng. Yes, when her hits began to scorch the charts and rhythms became a permanent part of the Chinese psyche with “Sweet Honey”.

And what did millions of Chinese began to do?

They formed clubs or associations and then took to parks across China to learn how to dance to a classical tune.

Chinese Square DancingChina began experimenting certain social changes with the Baby Boomers and Generation ‘X’, who began to radically transform the country. It manifested in music and body movement. And what began as a simplistic notion turned to something not seen since the dancing culture of the Han Dynasty.

The weekends came and went. But one thing became a symbol of the new China. It was to do a communal gathering every Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening. And it formed into something special, catching with a fever like wildfire across the nation.

What you have today is something that now symbolizes and it is China. It’s certainly part of every city and town. The local gathering and to dance the night away for three or more hours.

It’s a way to admire people in their 40s, 50s, and as late as their 80s, sweating away their frustrations. Most of the middle and elder ages come together to have fun, associate, mingle with the neighbors, enjoy the local gossip, and, of course, dance! Dancing has become a staple to keep fit and young.

Most people who get out there to have fun are usually women. Men also gather as part of the action; however, the females outnumber the males 10 to 1 in the performance of the dance.

While moving in an almost perfect Ying and Yang circle once they get the momentum going.

Inside a culture that is most likely very shy, these people are out and about.

It has been my experience that whether in Shaoxing, Zhejiang, Nanjing, Jiangsu or Chengdu, Sichuan, you can see the older people grooving and having a good time!

Chinese Square DancingEven for a foreigner like me, I’ve risen a couple of occasions to dance the night away and learn something not often seen in America. A possible phenomena as old as time, and for me it’d be my greatest wish for it to catch on around the United States in a way to sweat away the calories and slim down our backsides.

What’s my biggest fear is the following…

This cultural and stylish phenomena can easily disappear in the next 40 years. Why? If the millennial generation doesn’t get away from their phones and shyness to swing around, they’ll lose something that has become quite unique with China and ingrained in its culture, the desires for the dance.

For now and while I’m in China, I’ll still head out during my weekends to have a gorgeous moment and square dance in a Chinese style.


Daniel Otero was born on the tough streets of Brooklyn, New York.  He’s a passionate teacher and freelance writer who loves his work and by the summer of 2018 his second book will be published, “The Artist of War”.

Hostel Review – Mountain Escape Yangshuo

Hostel Review – Mountain Escape Yangshuo

My family was recently invited to stay the night at Mountain Escape Yangshuo. The property was amazing and we would highly recommend staying here.

big tub mountain escape yangshuo
Z-Baby immediately claimed the huge bathtub as her personal swimming pool

Mountain Escape is a refurbished countryside house about 20 minutes by car outside of Yangshuo town. The family who owns it (Gary and Fiona) spared no expense in the renovations, but they were also careful to preserve as much of the original buildings as possible. “We want this place to be not just a hostel, but a museum,” Fiona told me. The original buildings are about 100 years old, and much of the furniture and decorations are refurbished antiques as well.

The hostel is rather new and we stayed on a Tuesday night, so we were the only guests. But even if the hostel was “full,” it only has 4 rooms, so it will never be crowded. The village is quiet and pitch black at night. You can actually see the stars out here, which is something you can’t do in Yangshuo town because of all the light pollution.

beautiful bedroom mountain escape yangshuo
The beds are super comfy

The hostel is built up on the hillside, and they built a deck even higher above the buildings. The view from the deck is stunning.

The hostel was designed with expats and foreign tourists in mind. All of the staff speak English, the beds are soft, and the food is fantastic! They even made sure the fish didn’t have any bones because they know that Westerners hate bones in their food. The food was so good I didn’t have a chance to take a picture before it was gone.

beautiful ruins mountain escape yangshuo
A Qing Dynasty-era house near the hostel

If you are looking to get away from the city, this is the place to be! I always recommend staying outside of Yangshuo in a countryside hostel or villa because Yangshuo is so loud and crowded. The real beauty, peace, and charm of coming to this area can’t be found in town. The hostel is only a 10-minute walk from Yulong River, but they also have bikes you can rent to explore the surrounding area. There are many other ancient houses in the area and breathtaking views. Even though we now live here and see the mountains every day, they never get old.

If you are coming to Yangshuo and are looking for a place to “get away from it all,” I would highly recommend Mountain Escape Yangshuo. You can learn more about them and book a room on their website. 


We respect your privacy.