Category: Guest Post

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 Booking.com 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!

Mime

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.

Ingredients:

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

 

Method:

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.

COOKNG TIPS:

  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.

SUMMARY

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 https://www.yumofchina.com/, a site that shares authentic Chinese recipes and China culture.

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.

Instagram

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.

Nearify

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 www.dscottcarrutherstravel.com/

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”.

Guest Post – How To Travel On A Budget And Make Money While Traveling by Lysha Rohan

Guest Post – How To Travel On A Budget And Make Money While Traveling by Lysha Rohan

Before you decide to spend the rest of your life in one comfy place and do the same things every day, why not invest in travel? Whether it’s for a much-needed vacation or in pursuit of knowledge, traveling to foreign, exotic places is indeed fulfilling. But there’s a better way to improve your lifestyle while reaping the rewards of a great adventure — making money while traveling.

You’ve probably heard a lot about people quitting their regular jobs to find another source of income. Others have tried traveling while still earning money with a nine-to-five desk job. If you belong to the latter category and want to keep your regular job, yet still earn extra moolah while on a trip, here are some tips on how to travel on a budget and make money while traveling.

  1. Start a travel blog.

This is the common route for a lot of people whenever they think of making money from their travels. Although it doesn’t really guarantee an instant, stable flow of income, starting a travel blog can help boost your earning potential. For one, featuring sponsored content on your blog is usually where most of the profits come from. Once big organizations take notice of your content, they may actually start paying you to travel and blog for them.

You don’t even have to restrict yourself to a written blog or a vlog. You can do both! Plus, launching — and maintaining — your blog is a great way to build up your experience AND portfolio. If you’re dedicated to it, you will soon establish a good rep and solid footing as an online travel journalist.

  1. Sell your travel photos.

One of the many joys that come with traveling is taking photos of your adventures. To add to the previous point, photography also means big business for bloggers. You can post your photos on Instagram or any social networking site to promote your work, so you can eventually sell them as stock images and prints for big organizations.

Another freelance platform that you can consider selling your travel photos in Upwork. Turning your pictures into cash cows can be a great source of passive income while focusing on other matters. If you want to get another source of extra income, Upwork offers a variety of online opportunities such as video production, game development, virtual assistant work, and a lot more. With that, you can work anytime and anywhere while still having the money and time to travel.

  1. Find or make products you can sell on eBay.

Another option is selling retail travel items on eBay, provided that you’re credible enough to do so. eBay is usually the best place to sell exotic items you’ve purchased abroad. If you’re the artsy type, you can craft your own products based on your travels (e.g. the brush paintings you’ve seen in China) and sell them in online art stores such as Etsy.

  1. Rent out your space.

Say you’re traveling to the United States and leaving your flat in China behind for a few days or a week. Turn that into an opportunity to earn some money while traveling — rent out your space! You can sign up to be a host at AirBnB (though it comes with a registration fee), but you can get that investment back when somebody rents out your space. Be sure to take attractive photos your place, describe it accurately, and have someone to check on stuff while you’re gone, especially if it’s your first time to rent it out.

You can also check out other sites for listing your space, such as Craigslist and Apartments.com.

About the Author

Lysha works at Lalco Residency – Hotel Mumbai and she loves her job. Helping clients and monitoring the progress of business strategies along with her leadership skills makes her a perfect fit for hospitality services. You can catch up with Lysha at Lalco Residency in Mumbai.

Plan Ahead to Keep Travel Disasters at Bay – Guest Post by Jane Moore

Plan Ahead to Keep Travel Disasters at Bay – Guest Post by Jane Moore

There’s a reason people travel when they have time off. Taking a vacation is supposed to be relaxing and rejuvenating. It’s a chance to explore different places, take in the scenery, and even broaden your horizons. Just getting out of the house and office for a weekend can do wonders for your mood and mind.

That is unless you face a travel disaster. What if something happens to your home or even your pet while you’re traveling? And how relaxing will that trip be if you are stressed before you even get on a plane?

First, you don’t even need to consider these problems “disasters.” They are problems to be sure, but there are ways you can prepare for them.

Image Source: Pixabay

Flight Delays and Overbookings

What are your rights when it comes to overbooking and bumping? Here’s what you need to know and plan for to make your travel experience more relaxing.

As Money magazine explains, most airlines overbook their flights on purpose. That’s because there are some people that never show up for their flight. When everyone actually does show up, the airline has to bump (or remove) someone from that flight. But you do have the right to compensation if they cannot get you on a flight that arrives within one hour of your original arrival. That ranges from twice the cost to $1350.

What happens if a flight is delayed or canceled? You have fewer rights since these situations are often not the airline’s fault. You are entitled to a refund if the delay is severe. Check out this WIRED article for more information, such as dealing with lost luggage or big delays.

Damage or Theft Back Home

Having a nice, relaxing flight to your vacation destination can feel unimportant if you discover problems at home as soon as you arrive. You can feel powerless if your home is damaged or robbed when you’re so many miles away. As with flights, some planning and knowledge can help reduce your risk.

Home thefts occur more often when you’re out of town. No thief wants to catch you at home. Here are a few tips to help make your home less attractive to would-be criminals:

  • Make sure your door locks are strong and locked before leaving.
  • Do the same for all windows and sliding glass doors.
  • Set lights on a timer.
  • Put a temporary hold on your mail.
  • Hire someone to cut your grass, pick up any newspaper, or even shovel your driveway.
  • Consider hiring a house sitter.

Besides thefts, one big problem that can hit during travel is water damage. Leave one window open during a storm can really cause problems. USA Today recommends making sure your gutters, sump pump, and pipes are all maintained and clean.

When Pets Stay Home

Hopefully, your pet dog or cat won’t create any damage while you’re away! But that can happen when you leave a pet home while you travel. Pets get bored, and when they do, they can damage your property just so they have something to do.

PetPlus has a few tips for helping keep good care of your pets, including hiring a pet sitter, boarding your pet, or leaving your pet with a trusted friend until you get back. Just knowing there’s someone feeding and playing with your furry friends can take a lot off your mind.

You Can Handle This

Again, going on a vacation should be relaxing. By knowing your rights for air travel, taking precautions to keep your home safe, and taking care of pets staying behind, you can enjoy your vacation much more easily and avoid some common traveling disasters.

Interview with Kay Bratt – Author of The Palest Ink

Interview with Kay Bratt – Author of The Palest Ink

Today I’m happy to have talked to Kay Bratt, the author of The Palest Ink.  Kay Bratt is a child advocate and author of the series Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters and the acclaimed memoir of the years she spent working in Chinese orphanages, Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. After living in China for several years, Bratt now resides in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina with her husband, daughter, dog, and cat. Learn more about her memoir and works of fiction at www.kaybratt.com.

Be sure to read all the way to the end for your chance to win a copy of The Palest Ink!

  • For those who may not be familiar with your background, tell me about your experiences in China and how they influenced your writing.

The Palest Ink jacketI lived in China for almost five years when my husband’s company relocated us there for business. During my years as an expat, in addition to learning to combat culture shock the bulk of my time and energy was spent on volunteer work for the local orphanage. Not only did I find myself attaching to many of their children, but it was in the midst of the women who worked there that I became captivated by the lives of the working class Chinese people.

  • How did this latest book come about? Is it part of a larger narrative?

The idea for The Palest Ink came about a few years after the first book in my best-selling series, The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters was published. That book was inspired by a newspaper article I’d read of a scavenger in China who took in abandoned girls and raised them. The main character in the book is elderly, but it started with a prologue of him escaping from a commune when he was but a young man. His experiences during the Cultural Revolution were alluded to and set the foundation for the kind of man he grew into. Readers commented often in reviews and on social networking that they’d love to know more about his time during that period. As I wrote each subsequent book to highlight more about him and his adopted daughters, more ideas came to me about experiences that could’ve shaped his self-sacrificing persona. I began doing more research on the Cultural Revolution and the survivor stories I stumbled onto were captivating yet harrowing. Many of those accounts are woven within the pages of The Palest Ink to bring authenticity to the novel.

  • Many of your works focus on your own experiences in China, but this book was set in the Cultural Revolution. Was this book a step outside of your comfort zone as a writer?

I began planning this book almost two years ago and during that time, I told myself I wasn’t yet ready to write it. It took those two years of making notes and gathering research before I felt comfortable enough to tackle such an important story set during a catastrophic time in history for China. It is my goal to use my characters and their heart-wrenching storylines in The Palest Ink to pay tribute to those who survived, and to the memory of those who did not.

  • What are you working on now/next?

Currently I’m tackling a story based on the injustices the Chinese experienced upon immigrating to the United States in the late nineteenth century. Two of the main characters were bought and used as domestic servants in Hong Kong and decide to make their break for freedom, but find that Gold Mountain isn’t all it was made out to be in their imaginations. Another child, destined to be abandoned in China, is smuggled out of the country and those bound to protect her will find that she ultimately is the answer to their quest for security.

  • Stepping away from the book for a moment, would you like to share anything about your work as an advocate for children in the Chinese welfare system?

01-unbrokenWorking as an advocate for children in the Chinese welfare system, I came face to face with many myths and misconceptions. I myself came into the orphanage with pre-conceived notions and it took immersing in their culture for several years to become re-educated about their child welfare issues. Most importantly to me, it is untrue that the Chinese do not love their daughters. Many baby girls are relinquished for the reason that the family cannot afford them, especially when they are born with any sort of special need or medical condition. Though hard, mothers often relinquish their children in the hopes that the child will receive the care they need and is not afforded by the mother or her family. The majority of children I knew in the orphanage had some sort of special need or medical condition. Rarely did I meet an absolutely healthy child.

  • How can expats in China help China’s orphans?

In addition to supporting reputable non-profit organizations already on the ground in China, if an expat can connect with a volunteer group that does work at their local orphanage, it’s best to work with them to help China’s orphans. A volunteer there can give a list of accurate needs, as well as monitor how any donations are used to confirm it is for the children’s best interest. If there is not a volunteer group already in place, an expat can work with the facility to start one! One can read my memoir, Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage, to see how it all worked out for me.

~*~

“Bratt brings to life the struggle of two individuals during China’s terrible time that all should know about with an honest, yet compassionate style. She brings us as close as we ever want to be to an evil time, yet shows some found the courage to preserve their dignity. A must-read.”

—Mingmei Yip, author of Skeleton Women and other China-inspired novels

“The Revolution itself is well-documented and the historical significance of Chairman Mao’s Red Guard leaves fear in its wake. The danger and fear that come through the writing create discomfort and unrest, much as it must have been during the times. The danger is palpable, and adds to the chaotic feelings left after the reading of this work. If you enjoy history, revolution, courage, romance and family, then this will make a great work for your library. Kay Bratt has given us a work of intensity.” —Blogcritics.org 

“A mesmerizing and moving story of coming of age.” —Fresh Fiction

The Palest Ink, the story of Benfu’s early years fills in so many gaps in my knowledge of China during the Cultural Revolution, a topic that is practically taboo in China right now. This prequel to the four Scavenger’s Daughters books shows me what the Chinese term ‘eating bitter’ really means. Kay Bratt sure has done her research, and presents the tale of those tumultuous years in a fascinating narrative.” —Sibylla Grottke, WanderlustAndChineseInk.com

THE PALEST INK

by Kay Bratt

Author and child advocate Kay Bratt has captivated readers all over the world with her compelling and vivid books about China and its people. She lived there for almost five years and was drawn to the cause of China’s forgotten and abused orphans. Her experiences working in a local orphanage and fighting against the Chinese bureaucracy as she tried to change the social conditions led her to write a bestselling memoir, Silent Tears, A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. She also wrote a series of novels set in modern day, Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, based on the true stories of some remarkable Chinese people she’d read about. Over the years, readers have clamored to know the origin story of the series’ beloved character, Benfu. 

book1Now, here is Benfu’s story in THE PALEST INK (Lake Union Publishing; Publication date: October 27, 2015), a beautifully rendered novel about two best friends from different walks of life, set against the backdrop of Chairman Mao’s tumultuous Chinese Revolution. 

In 1966, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in order to reassert his authority over the Chinese government. All over China he shut down the nation’s schools, calling for a massive youth mobilization to take current party leaders to task for their embrace of bourgeois values and lack of revolutionary spirit. In the months that followed, the movement escalated quickly as the students formed paramilitary groups called the Red Guards and attacked and harassed members of China’s elderly and intellectual population. At the beginning of the Revolution, Benfu is a sheltered son of scholars who is looking forward to a promising career as a violinist. On the other side of town, Pony Boy belongs to a close-knit lower class family who is faced with a perilous opportunity. The upheaval all around them forces Benfu and Pony Boy to grow up quickly, and they must make some hard choices between family, friendship, and loyalty to country while doing their best to survive one of the most chaotic times in history.

Kay Bratt tells a story both intimate and epic, weaving fiction with real-life accounts of innocent people who were persecuted, beaten and imprisoned, with their families torn apart. She discovered through her research that the truth about what really happened during what was informally called “The Ten Years of Chaos” was all but wiped from the history books due to Mao’s efforts to suppress accounts of his abuse of power and hide them from the world.

 For readers of Lisa See and Amy Tan, or anyone eager for an engrossing book about friendship, family, loyalty and the fight for truth and justice, THE PALEST INK will inspire you, consume you, and touch your heart.

~*~

 About the author

Kay Bratt, credit Eclipse Photography StudioKay Bratt is a child advocate and author. She was born in Kansas and lived all over the U.S. before settling in the Carolinas. Kay’s experiences of growing up as the constant new kid—and usually one of the poorest—ignited a passion to advocate for children in need when she became an adult.

When Kay’s husband’s career took them overseas to live in China, she was drawn to the cause of that country’s forgotten and abused orphans and devoted herself to working in a local orphanage. She found that journaling helped her to bear the emotional impact of the abhorrent conditions she witnessed. Upon her return to the U.S. after five years in China, Kay wrote about her experiences and her fight against the Chinese bureaucracy as she tried to change the social conditions in a bestselling memoir, Silent Tears, A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. The book resonated with readers all over the world and became a bestseller. She continued to write, but it was when she came across an article about a scavenger in China who took in abandoned children that she was inspired to write the book that launched her bestselling fiction series, The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters.

Her new novel, THE PALEST INK, a prequel of sorts to The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, will be published by Lake Union Publishing on October 27, 2015.

Kay continues to be a voice for children who cannot speak for themselves. In addition to using her writing to gain awareness, she has actively volunteered for several non-profit organizations, including An Orphan’s Wish (AOW), Pearl River Outreach, and the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for abused and neglected children. In China, she was honored with the Pride of the City award for humanitarian work.

Kay lives in South Carolina, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, daughter, dog, and cat.

www.kaybratt.com | @kaybratt

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Robot Restaurant in Harbin, China

Robot Restaurant in Harbin, China

Today’s guest post was submitted by Barbie Jazz. 

The future is here! A restaurant in downtown Harbin employs around 20 robots instead of humans to take orders, cook, serve, and entertain guests. robot-restaurant-5[6]The restaurant opened back in June 2012 and remains a popular tourist spot in Heilongjiang.

As soon as guests walk in, a front-of-the-house robot warmly greets them with, “Earth person, hello! Welcome to Robot Restaurant!” Then, they are guided to an empty table. After browsing the menu, guests can place their orders through the robots, which are then relayed to robot chefs who are able to consistently cook several types of noodles and dumplings. Once the dishes have been cooked, a robot waiter will take them and deliver them to the customers’ tables. The robots are true eye candy, especially when they start to sing after serving the meals to guests.

robot-restaurant-1[2]China Daily estimates that these entertaining and useful robots range from 1.3 – 1.6 meters in height. They can show more than 10 different facial expressions and speak simple Chinese. Perhaps these robots show a sad face when a food item is out of stock. Of course, not everything works automatically as some of the robots’ movements are controlled by human staff sitting inside a computer room.

The robots were designed and created by a local business called Harbin Haohai Robot Company. Liu Hasheng, the company’s chief engineer, says that the management invested around 5 million yuan into the restaurant, with each robot costing around 200,000 – 300,000 Yuan. Food costs around 30 – 60 yuan per item, so the company is probably just using the restaurant as a promotional material than an actual profitable business. Perhaps the company is doing this so they can get noticed by big businesses, particularly the gambling industry in Macau, which is always in need of personnel. robot-restaurant-550x377These establishments operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, making robots the perfect substitute for humans during dead hours. According to resource website Mayfair Casinos, the Venetian Macao is the biggest hotel and casino establishment in Macau, and Harbin Haohai’s robots will make perfect employees for this enormous place that is always in need of able hands.

The Robot Restaurant in Harbin isn’t the first robot restaurant in the world. In 2010, a restaurant in Jiang used robots to replace line cooks. In Hajime Restaurant in Thailand, robots that look like samurai have replaced the job of human waiters.

Two Americans in China is always accepting guest posts and books for review. For more information, contact us at TwoAmericansinChina@gmail.com. 

Xi’An’s Very Own Capsule Hotel

Xi’An’s Very Own Capsule Hotel

Today’s guest post was submitted by Karen. I love staying in inexpensive hostels when traveling around China. This new capsule hotel might be worth checking out if you ever visit Xi’an. 

capsule 2Taking up an entire floor of a commercial center near Xi’An’s train station is China’s first, fully-functional capsule hotel. Capsule hotels were popularized by Japan, and China’s construction of the same concept is a nod to the Japanese culture that’s popular among the Chinese youth.

Each capsule in the Xi’an Youth Capsule Hotel is 1.25 meters high, 1.2 meters wide, and 2.1 meters long. For about $10 a night, people can sleep cozily in a capsule that is complete with a WiFi connection and a small flat-screen TV.

Apart from the hotel rooms’ personal size, Xi’an’s capsule hotel differentiates itself from the rest by having zodiac sign themed areas. The staff classifies guests into different star-sign zones upon checking in. Men can only sleep in the Taurus and Sagittarius zones, while women may stay at the Aries and Virgo zones. Guests who snore loudly are assigned to the Leo zone, the zodiac sign for lion.

The hotel’s staff says that the Leo zone is not meant to embarrass anyone. It was constructed in order to be fair to guests who want peace and quiet while sleeping.

capsul hotelWhile the hotel is still very novel to both locals and tourists, experts are worried about the lack of amenities. Hotels around the world rely on casinos in order to bring in serious revenues. Staying in the hotel may only cost $10 a night but apart from an Internet connection, TV, and a small area for table games that offer entertainment like ping pong, there are no other facilities to entertain guests. Pundits have been suggesting that the hotel employ the services of an online casino provider since there’s WiFi and a small screen TV inside the capsules anyway. It would be very advantageous for the hotel to have an online casino service, and InterCasino – one of the biggest slot gaming providers in the world – enumerates several benefits of such games on this page. The capsule hotel’s management, however, doesn’t seem to be very interested in the idea yet. But hopefully it’s only a matter of time before the establishment looks to offer more entertainment to its visitors.

The Xi’an Youth Capsule Hotel is located at Building 7, Wanda Plaza, Mingle Yuan Xincheng District, Xi’an.

Have you ever stayed at a capsule hotel? Where do you like to stay when you visit Xi’an?

If you would like to submit a guest post to Two Americans in China, email us at TwoAmericansinChina@gmail.com. 

How I Met Your Father – Love in 1980s China

How I Met Your Father – Love in 1980s China

While watching the American TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” I asked my mom how she met my father.

“Why do you want to know that? It is not romantic at all,” she asked.

“Oh, come on, I just want to hear your story,” I replied.

“I grew up in a family without much love, especially our father’s love,” she began. “I was the 4th daughter in my family, the child they never wanted. You can tell that from my name. My oldest sister was named Jia Lian, which means “family union;” my second sister was named “Jia Pin,” which means “family peace;” Third Sister was named Yuan Feng, which means “no more daughters.” Then I came into the world. I know they were disappointed – they just want a son. But it wasn’t my fault. They named me Ju, which means “chrysanthemum” just because I was born in the fall. Then finally, my brother came, so they gave all their attention and love to him. I was all but forgotten even though I was only 2 years older than he was.

“I never liked my father – he was his son’s father, not a father to his daughters. But I don’t blame my mother; she was always a kind woman. She did what she had to do. And I thank my sisters for being the ones who raised me.

“Anyway, that was the family I grew up in. I didn’t get much love from Father, and back at that time in the countryside, boys and girls didn’t really talk much. Your family would always arrange blind dates for you when you were old enough. I am talking about 16 or 17 here. And when both families agreed with each other, your marriage would be done. I didn’t want that. I was so scared that I would get a rubbish guy and then my life would be ruined.

“We 4 girls didn’t go to school much because your grandfather was saving every penny for his son, forcing us to leave school at young ages. But I worked really hard to make money ever since I was a child. I knew I would have to depend on myself for everything.”

I had to interrupt her at this point. “Yes, Mom, I have heard your tough childhood story thousands of times. But how did you meet Dad?”

zoe parents2“Alright, alright,” she said. “We were both paid to help a man to build his house. Our families lived pretty close actually, but we had never met each other before. Then he saw me and got interested in me.”

“Wow, romantic, huh? Fall in love at first sight! You must have been very pretty when you were young.”

“Haha, I was 19 years old when I met him, the best age of my life. But people in the village already started thinking of me as a leftover girl and my mom had started to worry about my marriage already.”

When she said that, I could see her cheeks blush. “Wow, Mom, you are blushing. Are you shy now? Haha!”

“Ah no, I just never talked about it to anyone before. So for several days, he helped me a lot. I was a little shy but would touch his arm and pay attention to him. He was a very straight and honest man; those are his best qualities.”

“So what happened later? You didn’t marry him after that, did you?”

“So for many days, we talked a lot whenever we had the time. His family situation was rough, too. His mom died at a young age because of cancer. He also had 3 younger brothers. His father, now your grandfather, couldn’t afford 4 sons at the same time, so as the oldest son in the family, your father accepted his responsibility. He dropped out of school and started working for very little money.

“This was the life for 70 out of 100 Chinese countryside families back at that time. Poor! We worked very hard but got very little in return. You think it unfair? Talk to Chairman about it! You do whatever the Party wanted you to do. When they wanted to make steel, every family had to donate whatever was made from metal in their houses… well, taken is a better word because if you didn’t do it, they just came to your house and smashed everything.”

“Oh yeah, I know about that time. Then you had to go to the community canteen to eat, and would only get a certain amount of food, barely enough to fill a stomach. And then after that period, you didn’t work for yourselves, you worked for the community and earned point tickets. Then you can buy food with those tickets. Of course, this was after they took all the cookers to try and make steel and failed. And the Red Army, just savages, tried to take down all educated men. Oh god, this was the darkest time and stupidest time, wasn’t it?”

“Haha, you tell me! I am so glad you didn’t have to go through all these things.”

“Oh, back to business. We can talk about that another time. What happened later between you and dad?”

“Oh well, it was a small village, so he used to walk me home when we finished work. One day, he told me he was going to Guangzhou because there were more job opportunities and salaries were much better. After hearing this, I was a bit upset, but I didn’t say anything. ‘I will call you when I can,’ he said. ‘And I want you to visit me there, would you?’ he begged. ‘Ah, well, I don’t have enough money to buy a ticket,’ I said. ‘Don’t worry. I will send you some money when I get paid,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to do that. You need to send the money to your family!’ ‘I like you, Ju!’ he said. For a few seconds, I couldn’t hear my heartbeat, and then I could feel my face burning and my heart was beating like a running deer. ‘Ah, umm… I have to go home now, bye,’ was all I could say. And I just ran off! After a few seconds, he shouted loudly, ‘I am leaving in 4 days. I hope to see you at the bus stop.’ I didn’t answer him; I just kept running and running.”

“Hahaha. Mom, you were so cute!”

“The next day, I saw him outside my house. He waved at me when he saw me, so I walked towards him very slowly, ‘I came to tell you I leave in 3 days. I hope you will come see me off at the bus stop,’ he said. ‘Ah, I am not sure if I am free that day. I will see, ok?’ I lied. ‘I really want you to come,’ he pleaded. ‘Ok, I will see,’ I said.”

“Oh, Mom, you are a terrible liar!”

“Time went fast. I didn’t see him for the next two days. On the last day, I was still hesitant about if I should go or not, so I talked to one of my sisters about it. She said, ‘well, I think you should go. It’s only a goodbye. It won’t do you any harm. I think you like him a little bit, actually. Just go to say goodbye.’

“So I went to see him off at the bus stop. I could tell he was really happy I was there. He waved to me even after he got on the bus and until I couldn’t see him anymore. For some reason, something in my heart was changing. That day was beautiful – pure blue sky and beautiful sunshine. The last thing he told me was ‘I will call you.’
zoe parents“He called me after 3 weeks. He told me about his life there, that he missed me, that he wanted me to visit him, that he would send me the money to visit him after he got his first paycheck. We talked so much that day. It was nice. The next time he called me, it was a month later.”

“Why did it take so long?”

“You silly girl. Technology wasn’t so good back at that time. We didn’t have mobile phones, and your grandfather didn’t have a telephone. The only way he could call me was to call the central telephone house in the village, and then somebody would have to come over and tell me I had a phone call. Then after a few minutes, he would have to call again to check if I were there. That time he called me to tell me the factory he was working for was holding a month’s salary for some insurance. So later, after he got paid, he sent me the money to buy a ticket as he promised. I stayed there for 3 days. He took 3 days off work, showed me around, and we saw some interesting things that I never knew existed. And when it came time for me to go back home, your father gave me all his salary, only leaving very little for himself. He said I was going to need it.

“So that was how I knew your father was a reliable man and I decided to accept him. Then the next year, I went to Guangzhou with him and got a job there. After we had saved enough money, we got married.

“So that is the story how I met your father. It’s not as romantic as you may think, but it is pure and real. In a society where everybody cares about money and power and romance, he is the one and only in my life. He gives me love and I love him too.”

I can’t help but think to myself, ‘no, this is the most romantic thing and greatest love I have ever known.’

 

zoe-face (1)Zoe Gong was born in rural Hunan in 1995 and is fluent in English. She has worked in English training centers and at expat restaurants since she was 16. She is currently a tourism management major at Changsha University in Hunan. 

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