Wednesday, October 22, 2008


©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

I'm as puerile as the next foreigner and can't resist the temptation to upload "interesting" signs I come across. Please forgive me. 

Fruits - Chinese Jujube

Photos ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

When I was a child a jujube was an oblong candy (not unlike a coated jellybean) that you could buy in movie theaters. Jujubes are actually small fruits the size of walnuts, loved by Chinese all over the country and eaten in both fresh and dried form. In English they are sometimes mistakenly called Chinese dates. (Lat. Ziziphus jujuba, svenska: jujubär eller bröstbär). The jujube (of which there are many species) is a spiny shrub or small tree belonging to the buckthorn family (sv. brakvedsväxter) and can be found all over Asia and the Middle East, from Syria to China.  It was originally cultivated in India as early as 9,000 BCE.

A fresh jujube tastes like a mild, sweetly aromatic apple without the tartness. The consistency is slightly squishy and mealy and not as firm as a crisp apple. Inside is a small, hard stone, not unlike an olive pit. A young jujube is a shiny green, which quickly turns to yellow with brown splotches. As the fruit dries it goes from brown to a dark red. The nutritional value is high with large quantities of vitamin C.  Like so much food in China jujubes are considered medicinally beneficial. They are said to stimulate appetite and increase life-giving qi, they can also prevent coughs (därav det svenska namnet bröstbär), sore throats and alleviate stress!

In China food is not only looked upon as sustenance and medicine but often as a symbolic vehicle. Foods are served or eaten not only because they taste good or are healthy but because they sound like something else that has a positive meaning. Likewise some foods are avoided if they can be connected to something negative. There are many visual rebus constellations with jujubes, here are a few:

It is traditional for friends to place dried red jujubes (zao) and peanuts (huasheng) in the bridal bed in order to wish the newlyweds a speedy (i.e. early, zao) arrival (birth, sheng) of sons. 

Jujubes (zao) together with chestnuts (lizi) symbolize the early (zao) "establishment of a family" (li). In certain dialects where zhi is pronounced zi this pairing together with a litchi (lizhi) conveys a wish that the recipient shall "establish a family" (li) with as many sons (zi) as early (zao) as possible.  

At Chinese New Year's a sticky rice cake called a niangao is served to wish the guests greater (or higher, gao) prosperity and success year (nian) after year. If the cake is decorated with a red jujube (hongzao) the extra message is for this happy result to come as early (zao) as possible. 

...and of course the deep and warm red of the dried jujube is the luckiest of colors.

You can find more entries like this in my new book "Chinese Symbols" ICA, 2008.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Smoking in China

Photos ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

What do you do when you've just got to have a smoke at an airport and they already confiscated your lighter at the security check?? In Chengdu's Shuangliu Airport you head for the outdoor "lighter dispenser" and fire up. Under lock and key a line of disposable lighters are at your disposal (and children's eager fingers to play with). When the lighters run out of fluid they just unlock the cabinet and put in a new one. "Fiffigt!" as we say in Sweden.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Biblioteksutlåning och statistik - Resa till Kina

Glad nyhet - fick precis ett brev från Sveriges författarfond att min resehandbok Resa till Kina lånades 4570 gånger under 2007. Liten nedgång från 4674 lån 2006 men jag hoppas den har gått upp igen under OS-året 2008. Jag har inte riktigt kommit upp i Astrid Lindgrens lån (över 1 500 000 om året) men man ska inte vara otacksam. Tusen tack alla ni som lånade boken, nu finns två titlar till att ta hem. Jag hoppas att Kina-intresset sträcker sig även till dessa böcker och till denna blogg!
Resa till Kina var med som bokval i både Böckernas klubb och Månadens bok i maj 2006. Bland facklitteratur för vuxna kom den på 14:e plats som mest såld bok till biblioteken under 2006. Sedan utgivningen 2006  har den sålt i ca 10 000 ex. och är nu inne i sin andra upplaga som kom 2008 med uppdateringar och nya bilder. 

Recension i Bibliotekstjänst (BTJ) 2006: 
En guide till Kina och dess resmål såväl i Beijing som i andra delar av landet. Även om kinesisk mat och dryck, om konsthantverk och shopping samt praktiska tips inför resan. Förteckning över alla platser i Kina som finns på UNESCO:s världsarvslista. Omdöme Ingrid Booz Morejohn har mycket gedigna kunskaper om Kina. Därtill är hon en mycket skicklig fotograf och har bland annat dokumenterat landets alla världsarvsplatser. Hon har rest åtskilliga gånger till Kinas samtliga provinser och hon är väl insatt i kinesisk konst och historia samt språket. Beijing presenteras utförligt, därefter alla viktiga platser i östra och västra Kina, Inre Mongoliet, Sidenvägen samt Tibet. Alla sevärdheter beskrivs ingående med intresseväckande uppgifter om natur, tempel, moskéer, kyrkor (det finns många kristna) och utfärdsmål. Kina är ett land med många bottnar, vilket bland annat skildras i provinsernas olika matkulturer. Varje sida har utomordentligt vackra färgfoton; vart och ett är ett konstverk i sig. Boken kan läsas av alla Kinaresenärer för resa i grupp eller på egen hand. Alla som redan har varit där kan med stort nöje läsa denna bok. Praktiska råd finns, dock ej för inkvarteringar, vilket gör att denna bok är mer tidlös än andra aktuella reseguider. Register och litteraturhänvisningar ingår. - Birgitta Gren

Things Chinese - Wedding photography

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Outdoor wedding photography is all the rage in China and has been for some years now. The stylists are very creative with their poses and the photographers find the most interesting spots to place their willing victims.  If you are a tourist in China it would be a rare day that you don't come across at least one bride and groom trooping stoically around some beautiful destination accompanied by make-up artist, stylist, photographer, whiteboard carrier etc. Not only do they pick classic locations like Jiuzhaigou, Yellow Mountain and The Forbidden City but sometimes even trashy sites like broken down houses or industrial locations to contrast the flashy wedding attire. Unfortunately divorce statistics are as high in China as in the West so I wonder who gets the pictures?

I will be adding to this entry the more I come across interesting "objects" to upload...

Play day at Tumenzhen with Sichuan Quake Relief

All photos above ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

On Oct 11th my family and I went with a group of foreign volunteers  from Chengdu  up to Tumenzhen Village (on the other side of the mountain from Hanwang) to play with kids at the local school. This was organized by Sichuan Quake Relief that has been doing a lot of very good work since the catastrophe that hit this area of the province earlier this year. Most of these children had lost their homes in the May 12th earthquake and are now living in makeshift tents and temporary shelters scavenged from what is left of their houses and property. The school only had one building left but the government had provided two new prefab buildings that were functioning nicely. 
As soon as we got to the school word spread quickly and children and adults began to pour in from all directions. Games, finger painting and music lessons were organized and all the kids (Chinese and foreign) joined in immediately with great enthusiasm. Several hours went whizzing by and all too soon it was time to leave. As we all warmly said our good-byes it was a sad sight to see all the children start to walk back to the ruins of what at one time were their homes. 
A lot of progress has been made since the earthquake but life is still very grim for the tens of thousands of people in this large area of Sichuan. Winter is coming up and it might be a very cold one. If you would like to volunteer, work with or donate funds, please contact: Read there weblog posting for our outing.

Road signs in Sikkim

The road from Badogra (via Darjeeling) and Siliguri up to Gangtok quickly becomes a hair-raising experience as most drivers seem to think that the squiggly, narrow roads with numerous hairpin turns (and heavy traffic) should be taken at highest possible speed. The local authorities thankfully seem to disagree which is evidenced by the numerous inspiring traffic safety "admonishers" posted along the route. The yellow and black signs are imbedded into the road shoulder about every half kilometer and are bold and easy to read. Although very sweet in their concern for your well-being and hopeful survival they are however in themselves slightly distracting:

 Make life last - don't drive fast

Life is short - don't make it shorter

Driving faster can cause disaster

Drive like Hell and you'll get there

Driving and drinking = A fatal cocktail

Better safe than sorry

Your safety our concern

Save roads, save lives.

Caution at night - have bright light

Avoid over confidence

Go slow friend

Drive don't fly

Live don't die

Don't mix drinking with driving

Don't fly but play

Fast drive can be your last drive

Drive skillfully and live

Anytime is safety time

Drive slow and you'll know

Safety - make it a habit

Don't be Mr Late for your Date

You're heading for disaster if you drive any faster

Be soft on your curves

Let this be an accident free day

No hurry worry, drive slow

It is not rally, enjoy the valley

And my two favorites:

Reach home in peace, not in pieces

This is highway, not runway

Travel tips Jiuzhaigou

English name/Chinese pinyin name:
Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve/Jiuzhaigou Ziran Baohuqu

Overland by car/bus/train: At the moment (Oct 2008) the overland road from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou via Dujiangyan/Wenchuan/Songpan (792 km) is closed due to the 2008 earthquake. There is another road open via Mianyang/Jiangyou/Pingwu/Nanping (475 km). Public bus from Chengdu takes 10 hours and costs ca 125-150 y. You can also access Jiuzhaigou from Ma'erkang, Jiangyou (train/bus access), Songpan, Ruo'ergai and Mianyang. 
Plane: Jiuzhaigou is reached via the Jiuhang airport near Songpan. Four airlines traffic this route: Sichuan Air, South China Airways, Air China, China Eastern and direct flights arrive from Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing and Xian. Jiuzhaigou is ca 80 km from the airport and it takes 90 min to drive. Standard taxi fee is 200 y per vehicle. Airport minibus: 45 y per person if more than 5 people (fills up quickly). 

Entrance fees:
One-day tickets only and you are forced to pay a fee for bus transportation within the park, even if you choose to walk everywhere. If you want to stay in the park longer than one day you must buy a new ticket for each day. Price per day for adults is 220 y entrance + 90 y bus = 310 Y. Children over 130 cm: 170 y + 90 y = 260 y. Children under 130 cm: free. NOTE! There are off season reductions and Chinese student cards are allowed. 

Opening times:
May 1 - Nov 15: 7am to 6 pm
Nov 16 - Apr 30: 7 am to 6.30 pm
Peak Season: April 1 - Nov 15
Off Peak: Nov 15 - March 31
During peak season the lines quickly start getting very long so it is recommended to get in place as early as possible. The park is large and there is a lot to see so a full day is highly recommended but this will entail using buses between all major sights. Optimum time to see most sights in the park is 2 full days, walking from sight to sight and only taking buses along less interesting stretches (however very little in Jiuzhaigou is "less interesting"!). Three full days would give you time to explore the Tibetan villages and side valleys.

You can visit the Jiuzhaigou/Huanglong area at any time of year but winter can be very cold (but also dry) and have snow with the possibility of inaccessibility and parts of the park closed. The best season is (and the preferred season for domestic tourists with large numbers of visitors) is autumn and especially October when the leaves turn yellow, orange and red. Summertime is wonderful with all the trees green and lush. Late spring with give you some flowers and lot's of sunshine but less water in the lakes and waterfalls. Wintertime the waterfalls are frozen. The photographs included here were taken Oct 16-19. Anytime around a Chinese national holiday will see huge amounts of tourists in the park (except Chinese New year).

There are over 100 hotels in all price ranges outside of the gate in the area known as Zhangzha Town. This means over 20,000 beds which is just about enough to take care of peak season daily visitors to the park. If you are coming on your own and not with a group then my recommendation is to stay as close to the entrance gate as possible. A good option is the VIP Lodge (Gui Bing Lou) which is right beneath the gate, tel: +86-837-7739136/+86-837-7734084, mobile: 13909044987. Price: 160 y/dbl rm/Oct 2008. Sleeping inside the park is illegal but intrepid backpackers (foreigner and domestic) still surreptitiously find homestay accommodation with Tibetan families in the villages within the park area (but please note that this is an added strain on the park's water and waste disposal resources so is not recommended). 

There are a number of tourist shops and a few minimal supermarkets serving tourists in the hotel strip area. Here you can pick up snacks, fruit and drinks. Souvenirs can be bought outside the park, at the Nuorilang Visitor Center and in the Tibetan villages within the park. 

Within the park food is slim pickings, best to stock your daypack with snacks and goodies that will keep your legs walking a full day. There is a large "feeding hall" at Nuorilang Visitor Center that serves high-priced buffet-style food, instant noodles, water and sodas. Outside the park in Zhang Zha Zhan, Peng Feng and Huo Di Ba towns there are numerous restaurants, hotel restaurant, street stalls, bars etc. 

There are toilets and rest-stops easily accessible all over the park. Bring your own loo-papper and wet-wipes. 

Elevation/altitude sickness:
Jiuhang Airport is situated at a wopping 3500 meters (which is only a few hundred meters lower than Lhasa) on a plain near Songpan. Luckily most of Jiuzhaigou is 1000 meters lower (Long Lake (Changhai) is at 3100 m). Most people have no problems but if you do take adversely to the elevation the only solution is to go lower and quick.

Official website:

Trip to heaven - Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan

Five color Lake
Stream between Primeval Forest and Panda Lake
Shuzheng Lakes
Pearl Shoals Waterfall
Mountains surrounding Tibetan homestay, a 20 minute drive outside of the park.
Five Color Lake 
Peacock River
All photos  above ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

I have just returned from one of the most or maybe even the most beautiful place in China - Jiuzhaigou.  We had the good luck of being there at the most stunning time of year when the autumn leaves are still thick on the trees and have turned into a riot of color - canary yellows, rusty oranges and flaming red. Interspersed were evergreens, pines and cypresses in different shades of green. The waterfalls were bursting with water and lakes were all filled to the brim and showing off every shade of turquoise, teal, cerulean, indigo, and royal blue imaginable. It was all as a friend so correctly put it, "breathtaking"!

more to come....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Travel tips Darjeeling

Afternoon tea, Windamere, Darjeeling ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Elevation: Darjeeling: 2123 m. Kalimpong: 1243 m.

We stayed at the Sonar Bangla, near the Jeep Station, nice and clean and affordable. Many people recommend the Bellevue on Chowrasta. I’d probably try that next time around.

Oxford Book & Stationary Company, Chowrastra Mall, loads of good books on the region, Buddhism, Tibet and India.

Look out point and naughty monkeys:
Ridgewalk beneath the Windamere.

Afternoon tea:
Windamere Hotel, Jawahar Rd West
Elgin Hotel, HD Lama Rd

Nathmull’s Tea Rooms, Laden La Rd

Photo shop:
Das Studio, Nehru Rd

Glenary’s, Nehru Rd

Recommended reading:
The inheritance of loss, (sv. Bittert arv), Kiran Desai. Story about people and life in a small village near Darjeeling (actually in Kalimpong east of Darjeeling and on the border of Sikkim). Winner of Man Booker Prize 2006.


För inte så länge sedan fick jag en kopia av  läroboken Laiba! i handen som jag agerade bildredaktör och (delvis) fotograf för. Den blev riktigt fin och för alla som vill lära sig grundläggande kinesiska kan den varmt rekommenderas. Författarna heter Håkan Friberg och Henrik Bengtsson, Gleerups förlag. ISBN: 9140663833. Försäljningstext från webben:

Lai ba! betyder ungefär Kom med! Lai ba är en nybörjarbok i kinesiska för gymnasieskolan och vuxenutbildningen. Texterna och dialogerna bygger på vanliga vardagssituationer som kan uppkomma när man är i Kina: att introducera sig och sin familj, siffror och telefonnummer, intressen, yrken, mat, shopping, resande etc. Den vanligaste grammatiken tas upp och tränas i många övningar. Boken lär ut ungefär 200 tecken (förenklade tecken). Texterna och övningarna finns inspelade.

Travel tips India

Filling up drinking water bottles from a street pump in Calcutta
Photo ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Taxis from airports: use the prepaid taxi offices in the airport for a set fee and don't negotiate with the driver yourself.

Money: change a quantity of money into a stack of 5, 10 and 20 rupee bills. Your hotel will do this for you for a small fee. Small bills are essential for tipping whoever helps you with a million small things. Spread these around and be generous.

Read: as much as possible before you go or visit any one of the many excellent bookshops and stock up on good quality English language books on India. Penguin India and Oxford University Press all have cheaper editions of their numerous Indian titles published and for sale in India. A big savings on what the same book costs in Europe or US.

Toilet paper and wetwipes: sounds ridiculous but these things are essential and very useful. Can be hard to find when you need them.

New Delhi Jelly Belly: such a boring subject but such a pain when it strikes! Most likely unavoidable to a greater or lesser degree but be careful with what you eat, no ice, nothing with water added unless you are absolutely sure it is purified water, no unpeeled fruits and vegetables and keep your hands clean. You should even keep your mouth closed in the shower. Ugh. As the above picture illustrates be extra careful when buying bottles of water. Always check the seal and make sure that it is an original seal and not a refilled water bottle.


Red panda/Mt Kanchenjunga Photo ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

A short hop, skip and a jump (actually a short flight with Kingfisher Air from Calcutta to Bagdogra near Siliguri in West Bengal) will take you to the foothills of the Himalayas, the tea plantations of Darjeeling and the precipitous roads that lead up to the mountain state of Sikkim. Sikkim has the smallest population of any state in India and is only slightly larger than Goa in size. From north to south it's maybe only 100 km long but because you drive for hours and hours along winding roads with switchback turns the feeling is of a much larger place. Arriving in Darjeeling from the flat Bengal plain the contrast is enormous. Hot, dry flatlands rapidly turn into tea fields and then the up, up, up begins. Along the way you will probably bump into the World Heritage steam "toy train" and make room for it to arduously pass by. You will rapidly overtake it again as it is very slow!

We took a minibus in the rain from Bagdogra Airport and after 4 hours we arrived in Darjeeling, no more the quiet hill station of Raj days but now a bustling market town and center of the local tea industry. Here and there amongst the new concrete buildings old Darjeeling can be glimpsed, sad and droopy but still charming none the less. Old evergreens like the Windamere Hotel and the Elgin still keep up appearances and an Afternoon Tea at one or the other of these is a must. Darjeeling tea is a wondrous brew, all fragrant and light and delicious, not at all as dark and robust and powerful like Assam tea. Tea is sold all over the town, but the best is probably found at Nathmull's.

Darjeeling, like Gangtok, is all ups and downs. After a while your feet start longing for something flat to walk on! A good town walk is up to the Padmaja Naidu Himalyan Zoological Park (to see the red pandas, Indian tigers, Himalayan newts and cloud leopards), then on to the Himalayan Mountain Institute to pay your respects to Tenzing Norgay and look at the museum that honors Mt Everest and mountain climbers. (Paddy visited Darjeeling in the 1950s and remembers sitting as a small boy in Tenzing Norgay’s lap. He and his brothers were then presented with ice axes by Tenzing and Paddy can still remember his warm smile and laugh.) After the museum you can continue up to the walk around the top and hope to get clear views of Kanchenjunga (above). The Big "K" is the world's third highest mountain at 8586 m and is a stunning sight visible from Darjeeling on clear days. (Everest can only be seen from Tiger Hill). Continue through the monkeys grooming themselves in the late day sun and you’ll wind up just about right for Afternoon Tea at the Windamere!

Oh Calcutta!

Howrah Hotel Photo ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

My first visit to India left many impressions, some physical, most mental. I wouldn't dare judge all of India from this one short visit to Calcutta but I must admit it shocked me a bit (sorry I am too old to make Kolkata stick in my mind). Such colors, smells and chaos, abysmal poverty, absolutely noxious exhaust fumes, uplifting beauty, wobbly heads, sweet smiles and nasty stomach problems - even Fellini couldn’t have dreamt you up. Calcutta was like a city long forgotten, an architectural Miss Havisham in a state of utter decay.

We arrived in the middle of the night on a China Eastern flight from Kunming and were driven to our hotel in a canary yellow Ambassador taxi. The Ambassador is like an old Volvo Amazon, shaped like a Glyptodon and the very personification of the Swedish slang word for a taxi (bulle). It drives like a tank and the engine get’s so hot you could fry an egg on the car dashboard. How Indian driver’s survive day in and day out inside these taxis during the height of the hot season is a mystery to me. Every ride with an Ambassador turned out to be a vehicular adventure-nightmare, juggling for position in the totally erratic traffic, racing alongside rickshaws (both bicycle and human), motorcyclists, scooters, food carts, enormous loads seemingly carried only by two human legs, cows and towering, monster Tata public buses, grinding their gears, revving their motors and belching out carcinogenic, nasty black fumes, ready at any moment to eat you up and spit you out onto the filthy pavement only to find yourself crushed under the total mayhem that is everyday life in this city.

I loved these taxis, cheap and so close to street level, where riotous scenes flashed by my window in an endless horror show of urban humanity: people bathing in water from overflowing pipes and storm drains, the water brown with filth from the human waste deposited directly into those very gutters. Squatter's slums and roadside chai stands and colorful sweet shops. The chaotic advertising and wonderful English in the newspapers, ”The Hurly Burly Gift Shop”, ”Frank Ross Pharmacy, Serving Humanity for 100 years”, ”We regret to announce the demise of Mr Aravind Muckerjee who has now gone to his heavenly abode”. The back’s of public buses with their handpainted signs: Please Honk! or My India is Great! Women in beautiful saris and salwar kameezes, made out of cloth the color of every butterfly species known to man. But of course, the fumes coming through the window of an Ambassador could bring down an elephant.

We stayed on a floating hotel on the Hooghly River (”inventively” named The Floatel) and then on the return journey in a much more downmarket dive called The Howrah Hotel, promptly renamed The House of Horrors. The HH is situated on the other side of the Hooghly by the train station and has been around for over 100 years. Several Bollywood films have been made at the hotel which does have quite a dramatic air to it - albeit a musty, crumbling air. (The local West Bengali variety of Indian movies are called Tollywood as they are made in the Tollygunge area of the city. This is of course the home of film director Satyajit Ray.) A faded picture of India’s most well-known actor, Amitabh Bachchan, was pasted to the wall, photographed in the courtyard of the hotel. The hotel must once have been quite magnificent but today it is both a boarding house (never a good sign, men in dirty singlets and dhotis lounging about, staring at you or into space) and a hotel. We got the ”fanciest” room for about 100 yuan/sek for four people. That price says it all, you can imagine what the room looked like. But we did survive the night with no problems and no bedbugs (which Burton had gotten at the fancy-smanchy Floatel). Emy laughingly pointed out the ancient ”Suggestion Box” in the lobby and wondered if we had enough time to write down all that we thought of the place. The HH did have lovely floor tiles though….

I read several books I will gladly recommend during my two-week stay in India:

Indien, elefanten som började dansa, Per J Andersson
Karma Cola, Gita Mehta
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga, (just won the Man Booker Prize 2008!)
City of Djinns, William Dalrymple (about Dehli actually, not Calcutta)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My new books have arrived!

2008 has been an exhausting year so far. Everyday life in a large city in China seldom lacks dull moments but this year has provided more than it's fair share of natural disasters, ethnic clashes, major sporting events and much more. One shouldn't complain however, it is always interesting living here and wasn't that one of the reasons for leaving a warm, cozy home in Sweden?
In between all this high octane local entertainment I finally finished the two books on China and Chinese culture that I have talked about for the past two years (thanks for your patience). This week I got my copies and I am tickled pink (if you are still allowed to use that expression). They are already in the bookshops in Sweden and on Internet book sites like Bokus and Adlibris. Sorry to disappoint all you English readers, for the moment they are only in Swedish. The Swedish titles translate as Chinese Symbols and Doing Things The Chinese Way. At the beginning of the year I also updated my China travel handbook Resa till Kina, which has now, after just two years in circulation, come out with it's 2nd edition. Thank-you all for buying lots of copies! (Now please go out and do the same with my two new books :-)

Five Feet Off The Ground

Finding a name for this blog wasn't as easy as I had thought. Should I include "China" in the name? Too restricting, what if I branch out and write about something other than China? Should I include my name? Too saccharine, two boring, too long! So wanting to get this project into cyberspace as soon as possible I settled for something self-explanatory. (Although most of the time I am actually only two feet off the ground, reading a book in bed). 

Welcome to Ingrid's world of large and small observations of life in China and Asia. Please feel free to comment, but only nice things of course ;-). 

NOTE: All text and all photographs on this website are according to International Copyright Law ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn so please don't use them without permission. But feel free to quote me or ask permission to use any text or images.