Next Stop China Inspiration
Is your travel preceded by extraordinary amounts of research? My upcoming trip with Viking River Cruises-Imperial Jewels of China didn’t leave a lot of time for independent excursions. Nontheless, I found myself pouring over China inspiration. In the Boston area, their are plenty of Asian collections to help along, and then of course there is the internet. I want to get down every last detail and make sure I am not missing anything, a bit compulsive perhaps. This of course results in a frenzy on each and every trip I take. It makes for late nights and short tempers, but I just can’t help myself.
Nearly 18,000 miles and 10 cities will cover a good amount of territory. As I said, there isn’t a lot of free time in the schedule, but this research thing is how I roll. Come along and see how I was inspired for my two week excursion from Beijing to Shanghai with some time in the middle cruising the Yangtze.
- Cook from one of my favorite cookbooks, Ottolenghi , and after reading about the world’s relationship with pepper, make the Black Pepper Tofu .
- The First Monday in May-A behind the scenes look at the work up to the China- Through the Looking Glass at the Met in NYC. This exhibition was the most popular the museum has ever curated; almost 800,000 people came to see the blockbuster exhibition. Do designers co-opt or take inspiration from a culture that inspires them? A very thought provoking take on art and its influence on the fashion world. Always love watching Anna Wintour in action.
- The Last Emperor by Bernardo Bertolucci – The directors Oscar winning rendition of the true story of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last emperor of the China’s Ching Dynasty.
- The Painted Veil-Outstanding scenery. A British doctor treats a cholera outbreak in a small Chinese village accompanied by his slightly off kilter wife, who undergoes a profound transformation. Set in the 1920’s and based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham Naomi Watts and Edward Norton give great performances in the staring rolls.
- Up The Yangtze-Canadian director Yung Chang takes a farewell cruise on the Yangtze River filming the landscape threatened by construction of the Three Gorges Dam. In the process he profiles two cruise ship employees who are forced to re-locate because of the construction. This film is so relative to the cruise and I would highly recommend as it puts a dramatic human face on the increasing globalization of China.
- MFA Asia Collection – The MFA’s Asian art collection covers the creative achievement of more than half the world’s population since 4000 BC. The collection of more than 100,000 objects includes paintings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, and other art forms from Japan, China, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, and the Islamic world.exhibit
- Peabody Essex Museum – During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the Huang family built a sixteen bedroom house in the southeast of China. The home was brought to the PEM and offers a rare opportunity to vist and ancestral Chinese home along with Chinese art, architecture and culture. The home was occupied by the family until 1982 and housed the family for more then 200 years.
- Two recent releases which made the NY Times Fall Cookbook Guide offer a look into where food, culture and travel intersect. The food of Shanghai and the surrounding area are the subject of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Rice and Fish:Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China. Carolyn Phillips gives us All Under Heaven:Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China, a look into the wide variety of dishes that can be found in the country.
- China Wakes-The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn focuses on the peasant empire and how it is transitioning into the modern world.
Time out Beijing is filled with a wealth of information. Prepare to spend hours perusing this sight and the sister Shanghai selection. Excellent web site for restaurant and au courant happenings.
I haven’t been to China for 25 years, and I can’t wait to get back. I went on a whim on one of my first trips to the Philippines for the manufacturing company I co-founded in 1980. The last part of my itinerary took me to Hong Kong where I was sourcing silk. The sister of one of my college friends-Kat- was living there, working with Reebok. I had the luxury of staying in her HK apartment and her expertise during the stay. Insider tips from a local were good, but nothing prepared me for waking up to the sound of hundreds of caged singing birds in the middle of the city and the peaceful flow masses of people practicing tai chai in a nearby park can exude. Between the antiques, silks, chaos and exotica, I couldn’t get enough. When offered the opportunity to cross the border into China and attend a trade show, I jumped at the chance as did the friend I was traveling with.
We had a bit of a fantasy about starting an import business for handcrafted goods sourced throughout the world. This was our ticket! I can still see the vendor pouring hot tea in a stream through the air on the rickety train. She didn’t spill a drop as we made our way into China. Passengers had chickens, songbirds and boxes upon boxes packed into the overhead compartments or on any available lap. When we pulled into the Canton station, it was dark and since we were just about the only Westerners on the train, the customs line was short.
Apparently it’s was a good idea to know Mandarin, as no one spoke English. (strike one) It was also required to arrive with a pre-booked hotel room for the specific date of travel.(strike two) The concept of sleeping on the floor of Kat’s hotel room did not come easily in sign language. To our dismay, the gruff official, lacking in the international language of a smile was in the process of turning us back on the next train to Hong Kong. An Australian film crew came to our rescue, and for over an hour explained the details. We did indeed have a couch to sleep on for the night and a hotel reservation the following day. IT WAS NOT EASY. Copious amounts of Tsing Tao were rewarded to the crew who just happened to be staying at the same hotel. And so for 72 hours, we ran around China like chickens with our heads cut off, saw as much as possible and delighted when each and every cab driver would comment on the radio to his pals that he had these four ****** American chicks with him and then Kat would reply in Mandarin. I’ve never seen heads turn on a swivel so fast. It was one of those indelible moments: priceless. My trip was short and hurried and no additional business ever materialized. I am anxious to see how things have changed and take in so much more that I never got to see the first time around.
When I recently started talking to my Mom about the Imperial Jewels of China trip, her eyes sparkled. She had taken much the same journey when she was just about my age and delighted in telling me details about what a powerful impression the trip made on her. Especially poignant was her recounting with fascination stories of getting to Xian and seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors. The specifics she shared were remarkable. Since then, we’ve spoken additional times about the trip and during each, she’s shared different descriptions about the journey: the time of year she was there, what she wore, what she bought. Not because she was looking at photos, but because that’s the impact a remarkable journey can have on a person. She might not remember all our birthdays, but the temperature at the time of the trip and the individual faces of the Tang Dynasty soldiers came back without hesitation. I want my face to light up like that when I’m 86. I want the images from this journey to wash over my mind with the same flood of emotions as my Mom felt. That is what travel is all about. Memorable experiences that last a lifetime.