Tag travel in china

dining table


It all started with me needing a dining table. I spent a long time going to furniture stores, but I couldn’t find the right table anywhere. I thought that the only way to get the perfect table would be to have it made. After a few months of searching, I found this wood factory buried deep in the outskirts of Kunming. This fellow has been building tables and wood carving for many years. He strictly uses traditional Chinese building techniques passed down a few thousand years. All wood is joined without the use dowels or fasteners of any kind. It is a painstaking process of precision wood cutting and fitting. Everything is cut and built by hand using hand tools. They don’t use any machinery during building. Everything is hand sanded and finished.

In the process of preparing my table order, I became friends with the owner, Mr. Zou. He told me that his wood comes from Burma and all his tables are made from solid wood, never several pieces joined. The tables have to be several inches thick so they do not warp or crack with age. My table is 6’9″  X  3’5″ and is 5″ thick. It is a single piece of solid walnut that weighs 550 lbs. The base is made from solid Cyprus. The two bench seats are made from Namu, a very rare exotic hardwood, which is very hard to find in Asia now. It was traditionally only used for royalty to build the emperor’s palaces and furniture. It was against the law for it to be used for any other purpose. It is a very strong and heavy wood resistant to rotting or bending. Most of the Forbidden City was built with this wood and stands in perfect condition after centuries. Needless to say, this work cannot be found in most of the world and I was lucky to own such a rare and beautiful work of art. Total cost for building and delivery $1250.00!

I became fascinated by all the beautiful things they produced. The wood carvings were some of the best pieces I have ever seen, all carved from single blocks of wood. Mr. Zou’s trademark is his ability to carve delicate long stemmed pieces like flowers that move with the breeze. The detail and design of these pieces are without a doubt museum quality. Today there are not too many artisans with the skills to produce such artworks. He has pieces that range from several inches in size, to huge pieces dozens of feet in height and width. He uses only the wood’s natural color to enhance his carvings. Nothing is painted or stained. Only clear oil is used to protect the wood’s natural grains and colors.

Please enjoy some of the pictures of this master’s work. Note the details in each piece and I think you will be as amazed as I was to see this work. In my video section, I made a video of some finished carvings.



A 40 minute train ride from Shanghai brings you to Suzhou, the city of gardens. I expected a small to medium size city, but found this city of 6 million surprisingly more of a larger city. I would guess it to be about the size of Kunming.

Many rivers and canals run through the old city where you find hutongs and garden compounds. It is also the city that produces much of the silk in China. No doubt it is a city geared for the tourist and everyone seems quite aggressive to get you into their shops. One a plus side, this leaves for a lot of competition so you can bargain down prices quite a bit. I found the silk products here of very high quality and workmanship very good. Be sure to look closely at what you want to buy and bargain hard. I found a beautiful silk thread picture about 2 ft X 2 ft that was priced at 23,000 RMB. The colors and quality were outstanding and made by a famous artist here. I found it in an art gallery, not a tourist shop. It took the artist 5 weeks to make. I bargained it down to 5,300 RMB, and this was in an art gallery. The silk museum also has a store with some good quality silks, but they will not lower their rather high prices. Many of the items there could be found elsewhere for a lot less.

Tiger Hill Park is a must see. The 1600 year old pagoda there is the “Leaning Tower of China” as it looks ready to fall over any minute. I was assured it has been retrofitted with internal supports and it will not fall down. The public is not allowed inside, but it is quite interesting to see. One of my pictures shows it’s doorway and gives you a good idea of how much it is leaning.

Walking around Suzhou is like a mix between Lijiang and Beijing. Many interesting alleys and river views can be found everywhere. The gardens are quite nice, but a visit to one or two is all you really need to see. They all have about the same design utilizing rocks and water which is a traditional stlye for Suzhou.

The local food is fish and a special crab, but I didn’t find it all that special. Worth a try, but I liked the local noodles more. Taxi’s are very cheap and the best way to get around. You can use the 3 wheeled bike taxis as well, best for running around inside the old town area. I recommend the Holiday Inn Hotel for it’s location and room quality. It is a 5 star hotel that deserves it’s rating. 50 RMB for a full buffet breakfast including western foods and great coffee. I think 2 nights would allow one to see everything Suzhou has to offer.

Another Shanghai

I just returned from another trip to Shanghai. This time I went up to the top of the new World Trade Center. This building is 495m and 125 stories. It is the tallest building in Asia now. The Jin Mao tower held the record for 1 year before they built the WTC beside it. I also saw the Shanghai acrobatic show this time. It is amazing how they can bend and balance their bodies.

Shanghai is quite a beautiful citywhere the building never seems to end. I would have to label it as the New York city of Asia.

Swimming with the Fishes


Last Tuesday night the rains rolled in on Kunming. It was dumping rain with no let up for several hours. The water was so heavy that the noise kept me awake all night. By the next day, Kunming was completely flooded. Major streets were under a foot of water, and much of the area was 3 feet deep. The ap photo is a good shot of downtown. I found this China news release….

“Downtown areas in the southwestern city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, were almost all flooded with up to a meter of water in places after a six-hour rainstorm over Tuesday night.

The city’s traffic was seriously disrupted and many people complained they were late for work as the major avenues were all under water.

More seriously, some junior high students were late for the annual entrance examination to senior high school, which began on Wednesday, but local education authorities allowed latecomers to be given extra time.

The city’s international airport was also closed on Tuesday morning as the runways were waist-deep in water. As of 7 p.m., more than 150 flights were delayed and more than 3,500 passengers were stranded.

More than 20 flights to Kunming had to land in the neighboring municipality of Chongqing instead.

The airport reopened at 5 p.m. and flights to Beijing and Shanghai took off. However, at 8 p.m., more than 1,000 passengers waiting still stranded.

More rain was forecast in the next two days and the China Meteorological Administration asked local governments to prepare.

(China Daily)
Updated: 2008-07-04 08:06

Since Monday, heavy rains in Yunnan province have killed five people and affected more than 60,000 others, local authorities said Thursday.

The provincial civil affairs department said that as of 4 pm yesterday, more than 2,100 houses had collapsed, 14,200 others had been damaged, and about 2,500 people had been evacuated.

Kunming, the provincial capital, on Tuesday recorded its third-highest rainfall since records began in 1951. Up to a meter of water fell in the city center during a six-hour storm that inundated major roads and buildings, the department said.”

I had to drive across town at 1am that night. It was raining so hard I could barely see to drive. I haven’t seen this much rain since coming here 3 years ago! But all’s well on the home front. I managed to keep my powder dry….

Wait a week…… it will all change


Kunming, like all over China is changing faster than anyplace I have ever seen. In some of my past posts I referred to this as well. Much of this desire by the government to renew China is quickly wiping out it’s own cultural history. Hutongs in Beijing are almost extinct now. Historic villages and cities are torn down and rebuilt with modern condos.

Here in Kunming alone, thousands of condos have been torn down in just the last year. The old city center with buildings several hundred years old, is all gone save for about a 2 block strip. I think it is also earmarked for destruction. I was just through there and noticed the brick walls going up down the street. Soon after that they usually begin knocking down the buildings behind the walls.

These pictures show the destruction of two condo buildings downtown. 1 week later this park appears. Kunming seems to be replacing most of the old condo spaces with large parks, which really is a great improvement. All the people displaced by removing the condos, are given brand new condos that are being built SW of the city center. I must say that the new ones are quite impressive and a big step up for the people getting them. When a condo is ready for these people, they hold a lottery where they draw a number to see what condo you get. Seems like a fair enough system to me.

Still it is sad to see many historic buildings taken away to make room for high rise glass office buildings. Preservation of these buildings take a back seat to progress in China. I hope this attitude will change before China evolves into a place showcased by modern steel and glass cities. Time will tell.