Exploring a Hutong in Beijing

One evening in Beijing, my tour group had supper at a family home located in a hutong. A hutong is an old residential neighborhood.  Many were bulldozed in the name of progress and replaced with skyscrapers, but apparently, the Chinese government put a stop to it in order to preserve those that remain. This was an opportunity to see a private home, and get away from the bland meals served by the restaurants that catered to tour groups, even if it was only for one evening.

To get there, we took an old mode of transportation: a rickshaw. There was at least a dozen of them lined up along a wide street waiting for passengers and we would need all of them for our group. The drivers happily helped us climb in and when everyone was seated and photos taken, the rickshaws rolled out one after the other, like a wagon train rumbling across a frontier.  Continue reading

A Matter of Language: Chinglish Signs

Language was definitely an issue for me in China. When sales people started talking to me in Mandarin, I’d stop them and ask if they spoke English. Luckily, there would be another customer close by who stepped forward to translate. So being a Chinese in China who couldn’t speak the local language, I found some local signs amusing, even if it was just a typo. My favorite is the last one. Continue reading

Light Show on The Bund, Shanghai


One of the highlights of my trip to China in October was Shanghai. With a population of over 24 million, it is three times bigger than New York. If you combine Shanghai’s population with the 8 million who inhabit the city of Suzhou which is just two hours away, it almost equals Canada’s population which is just over 36 million.

Shanghai rivals New York City in razzle dazzle. Every evening from 6p.m. to 10p.m., it puts on a light show along The Bund that highlights the old and the new sides of the city. Here’s a short 2 minute video that I put together. It doesn’t do it justice, but I hope you enjoy it.

10 Tips for Travelling in China


I went on a group tour of seven cities in China in October which is considered an ideal time to go. There were so many things to consider in preparation for the trip, the main one being what to wear as the tour started in the north in Beijing where the temperature was supposed to be about 12C to Guilin in the south where it should have been around 20C. During the trip, we learned that the weather forecast was, as our tour guide put it, “just a suggestion”. I packed long sleeve t-shirts and a jacket for Beijing’s cold weather forecast and ended up wearing short sleeve t-shirts as the days were hot and sunny. Elsewhere, cloudy forecasts turned out to be either drizzle or heavy rain. Rainy forecasts in the south were hot, humid days instead. I regretted not bringing a pair of shorts, but when we returned to Beijing for the flight home, the temperature had dropped to 7C.

So if you’re planning a trip to China, here are a few tips to help make your trip more comfortable: Continue reading

Cave Painting at Ice Hotel

The Ice Hotel : Definitely a Winter Destination

In the photo above, I’m standing before one of the many amazing murals found in the Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel). My friends and I made the three hour drive to Quebec City on Saturday to see it.

We were well dressed to spend hours wandering the cold, frigid corridors: long underwear, layers of sweaters, scarves, snow pants, and one of my friends even put an extra warm insole in her boots.  It was a good thing too because it was colder inside the hotel than it was outside which was minus 11 Celsius. Continue reading

Hang Nga House “Crazy House” – Dalat, Vietnam

A great way to travel around Dalat is by motorbike. Most of the popular sights are within driving distance and the bonus is you get to stop by so many places and not be hurried.  This is what we did on our second day in Dalat, Vietnam.



Our first destination is listed as one of the top 10 strangest buildings in the world. We didn’t really know how it would look like, so when we got there, we were pleasantly surprised.


Hang Nga House or popularly known as the “Crazy House” is described as a fairy tale house. For me, it looked like a giant tree with big mouths that look like they’re screaming.  This building is still in construction because even now, they’re still adding more rooms to make it bigger. This is designed and constructed by a Vietnamese woman named Dang Viet Nga who was inspired by Antoni…

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Double Chinese Happiness

Have you ever had trouble ordering from a Chinese menu? This blog will make you smile.

Browsing The Atlas

Rarely has one meal made so many people happy.

Last week, our tour guide pointed out a red-lanterned street known as “Ghost Street” and said that it was a famous area for spicy dishes, hot pot, and Sichuan food. We were in a minibus at the time, but my husband and I decided that we’d go back and check it out. At 3:00 the next afternoon, we did.


We were fooled by the menu posted outside one restaurant that had pictures of food labeled in English. It seemed like a good choice so we went in.

The young woman serving us came over with a very detailed order sheet; the kind you typically see in a sushi place. But this one was entirely in Chinese characters. There wasn’t a word of English anywhere on it and we had no idea what to do with it.

She stood at our table…

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Cultural Routes


Montreal’s CN Station

The St-Jean Baptiste long weekend is coming up and many people will be planning a short getaway to enjoy the three-day-weekend. With the spirit of travel in mind, I’m posting an article I wrote about a train ride I took to Toronto that was first published in Canadian Living magazine, November 1997.

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As I waited to board the train from Montreal to Toronto, a Chinese man approached me and, speaking in broken English, asked if I were going to Union Station. Wary of strangers who ask about my travel plans, I hesitantly nodded yes. “Could you look after her?” he asked, gesturing toward a petite, well-dressed woman of about fifty. “She doesn’t speak any English.” Smiling shyly, she bowed.

“I don’t speak much Chinese,” I warned, realizing he’d chosen me because I was the only Oriental in line.

“It’s OK. Thank you,” he said, and left after a quick goodbye to the woman. We boarded the train and sat together. She slept. I read until the steward appeared pushing the lunch cart.

I’m bilingual: I speak both French and English, but my Chinese is very limited. Stumbling over my mother tongue, I asked if she wanted something to drink.

I understood her Cantonese reply, “Apple juice.” So far, so good. Then came the menus.

“Do they have rice?” she asked as I scanned the list.

“No rice,” was all I could manage. I ordered apple juice.

She pointed to a drawing of a pizza. “Bread?”

“Ye-e-ss.” What was the translation for tomato sauce? “It has tomatoes.” Picking up a pizza slice from the cart, I showed it to her. The thick sauce did not resemble tomatoes in the least. She frowned. I showed her the menu, hoping she would recognize something. Surely, “Chicken Sandwich” was universal. She pointed to another drawing. “Is that bread?”

“Un, no. It’s sweet. A ma-a-fin.” I regretted it the instant I said it. Saying muffin with a Chinese accent is as ludicrous as assuming a foreigner will understand English if it’s spoken slowly and loudly enough. The steward looked amused as he handed me a muffin for her inspection. “How about Pita Pockets?” he suggested.

“Oh, I couldn’t explain that in Chinese,” I groaned. Finally, she decided on pizza, insisting we share the large slice. Quiet settled between us as we ate. She cut the pizza into pieces and hesitantly tasted each one. After we finished, she pulled out a small bag containing toothpicks and offered me one. I accepted.

We attempted more conversation. I strained to understand as she talked about her visit to Canada. She giggled as I formed awkward phrases. We carried on this way and somehow it didn’t matter that I had forgotten so much Chinese. In the end, we understood each other perfectly.