Hiking in Hebei – Cangyan Mount 苍岩山

Shijiazhuang (石家庄) is the capital of Hebei province, a province neighboring Beijing city & a large contributer to the influx of migrants into the city. A second – tier city,  at present there isn’t a whole lot to do which would attract a foreign visitor to stay for a week, however if you’re in Beijing, this is a nice offering for a day trip of hiking in one of the Buddhist holy mountains.

Cangyan Mountain 苍岩山

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This 1039.6 meter mountain, takes about 2 hours to ascend and has been featured in director Lee Ann’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (WoHu CanLong 卧虎藏龙), and the Karate Kid. If not able to climb, a lift is available but the beginning point of the lift is about 20 minutes further up the road from where the tour bus will drop you off. Hiking is recommended. It’s not a very steep mountain and you will miss most of the sites if you take the lift up.

Known for its three Buddhist temples, with the most famous being Fortune Celebration Temple (福庆寺) because it’s situated in the direct center of the mountain, this is definitely a place worth taking a day for.

How to get there:

Tour bus leaves from Shijiazhuang XiWang Bus Station (石家庄 西王 客运站 shijiazhuang xiwang keyun zhan)

The bus station is quite far from the Shijiazhuang West Station (the station coming from Beijing), so my friend and I took Bus 1 then transferred to bus 314 (can also take 9). Get off at XiWang Zhan (西王站)。Cross the street and locate the red sign of bus station, next to ICBC.
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At the station, you can purchase both a Round-trip bus ticket for 48 元, and a cangyan  mountain entrance ticket for an additional 65 元, saving you 5 元 off the gate’s on-site purchase entry fee.

At this point, you can board the bus (Departures: starting from 8:40am every 30 minutes until 5:30pm. Returns: last bus leaves at 7pm – check with bus attendant. Times are also dependent on number of passengers ). Check your ticket and match it to the bus number. About a 2 hour ride.

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The bus attendant will ask you for a phone number for contact, and will also inform you of your assigned departure time. If you have a chinese phone number, be aware that China Unicom does not have good reception in the mountains.

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Enjoy!

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How to get your money outta China!

[Disclaimer: speaking as an American citizen legally employed in Mainland China. Amounts of money allowed to convert/send overseas may vary by citizenship.]

5 + 1 ways of getting your money out of Mainland China. I’ve tried them all except #5, but many associates of mine have used that method.

OVERSEAS WIRE BANK TRANSFER – IN BANK

Costs: 150 RMB – 230 RMB total [varies by bank, I use ICBC]

  1. Add’l costs: Wire Receipt Fee from home bank. [Bank of America charges $15 USD]

Materials: Wire Transfer Form, Passport, Local Bank Card

Info needed:

  1. Full name, local address (I just put my district & Beijing city), passport info
  2. Amount in USD that you want to send,
  • Overseas receiving bank name & SWIFT code (some banks, such as local credit unions do not have SWIFT codes)
  1. Overseas receiving bank’s address (choose any address in your home state)
  2. Your account number at overseas bank

Steps

  1. Go to bank, and tell them you want to send a transfer outside the country.
  2. Fill out form (they have an example form at the counter)
    1. You are the Sender & the Recipient
  3. Wait in line. 30 minutes to 3 hours. Chinese banks are EXTREMELY, GLACIALLY slow. They fill out, and you sign, A LOT of papers.
  4. Wait 24 hours.

Additional, but important notes:

  1. Although you can send up to $10,000 USD at one time… you can only CONVERT $500 USD per day. Which means you can…
    1. Go to the bank many times – something I do often bc I’m lazy.
    2. Go to the local tax office to ascertain a certificate proving you pay taxes through your company/place of employment. Also have some proof of current employment. At this point, you can convert as much as you want at one time

 

OVERSEAS WIRE TRANSFER – ONLINE BANKING

Costs: Less than 100 RMB [Varies by bank]

Add’l costs: Wire Receipt Fee from home bank

Info needed: Same as step 1

Steps:

  1. First have already converted money inside your bank account’s Forex. Because you are a foreigner, you must physically go to the brick-and-mortar bank building to convert money. Ridiculous, I know.
  2. Plug online banking USB into your computer (needs a one-time setup process).
  3. Log into online banking.
  1. Go to “transfers”. Then “transfers to overseas bank”.
  2. Fill out the information as prompted. Your “reason” for conversion can be any of the options – doesn’t matter.
  3. Confirm, then double-confirm on your USB. Wait 24 working hours.

Additional, but important notes:

  1. Saves money. ICBC online transfers only cost 40 RMB plus the receiving fee your overseas bank charges.

 

PAYPAL TO PAYPAL

Costs: varies by amount

Materials: Same as steps 1-2, except SWIFT code

Info Needed: Same as all info before

Steps:

  1. Create a Chinese PayPal account on Paypal.cn.
    1. As far as I know it’s mostly in Chinese, but perhaps I just failed to find the English option.
  2. Link your Chinese bank account to it.
  • Using a VPN set to a server in your home country, create an overseas PayPal (for me, an USA PayPal account).
  1. Log off VPN, so you’re back on Chinese server, log into Chinese PayPal, withdraw from your bank at a service fee of about 4-6%. If you choose USD, it will convert for you.
  2. Send to your home PayPal address just as a person sending to another person.

Additional, but important notes:

  1. Total costs are nearly equivalent to an at-the-counter bank wire but a little more convenient.
  2. Not sure on limits; I’ve only tried $500 – 1000 at a time.
  • Might need to be able to read Chinese characters.

 

WESTERN UNION

 

  1. Costs: can vary, but usually about 100 – 230 RMB
    1. Add’l costs: Your time finding a bank that definitely offers WU [the signs sometimes lie]. And time is money.
    2. Also need to pay $15 USD in cash to send.
  2. Materials: Passport, Cash, Info (especially ID info for extra safety) of receiver
  3. Steps:
    1. Fill out form.
    2. Wait in line. This is a Chinese bank.
  • Make sure to double-check your info.
  1. Add’l info:
    1. Also be sure to have them circle, highlight, etc. the number your recipient needs in order to pick up your money
    2. Common places: China Post Office or China Agricultural Bank

 

SAME ACCOUNT, TWO DEBIT CARDS. [ONE IN CHINA, ONE OVERSEAS]

 

Costs: 5-15 RMB for a duplicate Chinese bank debit card. Postage to mail your debit card. Or ticket for a flight home to give it to a trusted friend/family member.

Materials: Passport and original Chinese bank debit card.

Steps:

  1. Go to the bank.
  2. Request a duplicate. Tell them just because you want one (they’re so nosy).
  • Give it to your friend/family member back home.
  1. They can withdraw the money in your home currency for a small fee.

Additional, but important info:

  1. Your country must take Union Pay at their ATMs. I know that America, Australia, S. Korea and Malaysia do.
  2. Fee varies by ATM, but it seems to be significantly cheaper than bank wires.
  • Mailing your card has a high risk of it being stolen. This is China.

 

HUIPIAO 汇票 [TEMPORARILY/INDEFINITELY SUSPENDED

 

  1. I’ll post more details if this comes back, but essentially they would write a physical check. You could then use your banking app, such as the Bank of America app to take a photo & thereby deposit the check. It was only 15 RMB. So mad it’s gone!!!! cries a river

South of Siberia: Harbin’s International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival 哈尔滨国际冰雪节

It was so cold… I couldn’t be bothered to sing my personal rendition of Vanilla Ice’s hit, “Ice Ice Baby”. It’d have been so appropriate.

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Harbin in one night & one day.

 

Beginning of the night… Central Street中央大街

[Russian shops, glazed fruit sticks & harbin sausage 红肠 are good things to find here]

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Middle of the night… Ice & Snow World国际冰雪节

 

 

[290 RMB entry]

The low temperatures will kill your phone battery after about 2 minutes, so either bring a real camera or take advantage of the photographers that will hassle you for a  30 minute photo shoot. [We bargained our photos down to 50rmb for 10 — they’re print copies, btw]

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There are actually 3 parks for the festival:

  1. Ice & Snow World – see at night
  2. Ice Lantern Park – see at night
  3. Sun Island – see in day

 

Late night… Russian disco club俄罗斯酒吧

Dance-off against the students I met at HeiLong University 黑龙大学. Pretty much the spot for foreigners to dance at — good variety of music — hiphop starts around 1am

 

Early morning… Saint Sophia Cathedral 生索菲亞教堂

[20 RMB entry]

All of the writings inside the cathedral are written in Chinese, so unless you can read Chinese, you’re better off taking photos in the main area & admiring beneath the “Last Supper” painting.

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Afternoon… Siberian Tiger Park 东北虎林园🐯

The African lions were in snow. And yes, I know it snows in North Africa, but I feel like these particular lions weren’t from that part. They looked kinda cold. Maybe it was just me. 😦

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And then… Bye bye Harbin! Off to Guilin in Yunan Province, China — mountain climbing — beautiful scenery!

 

 

 

Visa Runs to Hong Kong are… no more!

Hey! Just a quick update: For those of us with ever-changing visa service needs (i.e., regularly applying for new Tourist visas… while living in China for years), we could simply take a train down South & hop on a ferry to Hong Kong (or simply fly), have an agent process a new visa for us, and within days, we’re back to whatever we’re doing in mainland China.

As of recent months, you can no longer legally get a new visa in Hong Kong. In most cases, you need to go home, and then come back. 🙂

I’ve just gotten back from -18 degrees-Celsius-below-death weather in Harbin for the Harbin International Snow & Ice World Festival — photos & info soon!

Travel, flourish & finesse.

6 Days Down Under – [Sydney & Melbourne, Australia]

Budget
Flight: $1000 USD [Beijing, CN → Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia(15 hr daytime layover = mini-vaca) → Sydney, AUS; Melbourne, AUS → Beijing, CN]
*Our flights cost a little more since we flew during China’s National Holiday week
Hotels: $300 USD
Hotels shared with friends, but for solo travel, backpacker hostels will be the best option.
Daily Activities & Food: $600 [100/day]
Most meals will run about $10 – 40 per at average restaurants.

Sydney, Days 1-3

Aborigines Making Music from Jall on Vimeo.

Must-see: Sydney Opera House, Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour, The Rocks District and
Hotel recommendations (low – high): Central Station YHA Hostel, Central Station Hotel & Sir Stamford at Circular Quay.

Capital of New South Wales.

Sydney Siders, as they’re called, will exalt the stunning beauty of this city, but simultaneously lament about the early evening closings of many city businesses outside of the tourist areas such as The Rocks District.Not exactly a city for the elderly, but certainly not exactly Australia’s “Big Apple”. As relaxing as the atmosphere is, 3 days in Sydney was a little stressful because there are a lot more landmarks to try to visit in such limited time. Of these, the Sydney Opera House, is the number-one attraction to see. Unfortunately, October is the end of winter in Australia, so it wasn’t yet opera season. Fortunately, the House offers a smorgasbord of events, tours and shows year round, as well as a discount for being under 30, so we opted for a romantic comedy, George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and The Man.

Reminiscent of Beijing’s own markets, Paddy’s Mart (open Wednesday – Saturday), provides a shopping opportunity for low-priced souvenirs and quirky personal effects probably brought directly from China. I was able to purchase very nice key chains, magnets, boomerangs, etc for about $1-2 AUD each. Mainstream shopping at the malls was comparably more expensive. In a shoe store of extremely low quality, think “Traffic” in America, most shoes were about 30 – 80 AUD. Shoes that you’d buy at Traffic for 10 – 40 USD. Aside from Uggs, Australia isn’t known for clothing or shoe brands, so the prices of these items were much higher than you’d find in America, but comparable to foreign brands in China.

5 free things to do in Sydney:
1. Have a picnic in Royal Botanical Gardens, where you can also get picturesque view of the Sydney Opera House at “Mrs. Macquarie’s chair”.
2. Make music with the Aborigines [between Quay Station & Cahill Walk]
3. Visit the Customs House & its library on the 2nd floor \
4. Take photos in Hyde park
5. Museum of Contemporary Art (featuring mostly Australian artists)

Need-to-know Logistics

Public transport:
Train: Can buy a ticket for each individual ride at kiosks, no card needed. Train to airpot is 17 AUD.
Free CBD shuttle: Route 555, every 10 minutes
Ferry: Hop-on-hop-off passes are available for purchase, but in my experience seemed to be a waste unless you plan to spend a whole week in Sydney and dedicate a full day to stopping at each wharf’s attractions. We only needed the ferry two times: (a) see the Sydney Opera House & Darling Harbor Bridge from the waterside (b) go to the Taronga Zoo

Melbourne, Days 4-6

Must-see: Immigration Museum, Eureka Tower, Flinders Street Station, National Gallery of Victoria in South Bank, Chinatown, 1000 steps & Federation Square. [If you have an extra full day, book a tour to see the Great Ocean Road, located about 2 hours out of Melbourne]
Hotel recommendations (low – high): Melbourne Central YHA & Melbourne Parkview Hotel.

Capital of Victoria.

Melbournites, however, are definitely more lively in the day & night. On my way to take a photo at the Eureka 88 skydeck, I accidentally knocked over a local businessman outside of the Southbank Exit stairs. Conversation ensued, and I was invited to crash a local social group’s gathering honoring Oktoberfest 2015. Following the event, some of us segued to an underground lounge/art gallery. The artists featured aren’t featured in mainstream galleries, so part of the establishment’s proceeds are donated to the artists whose art is posted on the lounge’s walls. Kabobs are the equivalent to pizza as a subsidence for late-night munchies, and post-lounge, I had to participate in tradition at a Pakistani Kabob joint near Flinders Street train station. Nightlife in downtown Melbourne is whimsical, and certainly caters to anyone from their teens to the more seasoned. Wine is affordable, and water costs about a third, so a balancing act for the night is wallet-friendly.

Referred to as the “international city” of Australia, Melbourne is certainly a capital you cannot afford to skip. The comparison between Sydney and Melbourne is akin to Beijing versus Shanghai, with the latter being more hip and culturally diverse. Australia reminded me of America in terms of immigration patterns, but on the surface, Australia’s general population is more mixed whereas America has different pockets in which each ethnic group prefers to exist. As an “African American” I was viewed as a more positive presence than “Africans”, as graciously hinted by security guards at the National Gallery of Victoria. Despite this, the Africans I spoke to, mostly South Sudanese, said it’s a great place to live and raise families. Out of curiosity, I decided to travel to Footscray, aka Footscrazy, which is a heavily Arab-African-Asian, working-class neighborhood known for a slightly elevated crime rate. During my time there, I found a litany of delicious Ethiopian restaurants, intriguing graffiti, and a few brushes with light violence. Unlike America, guns aren’t so much an issue outside of mobs, so I felt quite safe traveling alone.

Free things to do: Continue reading 6 Days Down Under – [Sydney & Melbourne, Australia]

Florida Gator taking over the world.