This northeastern outpost is quite a change from the bustling streets of Shanghai. Stark contrasts abound. For example, one mall is chalked full of top end fashion stores and bustling with people and the next door mall is dying a slow death with years of deferred maintenance and empty storefronts. The wealth is definitely evident strolling by the parking lot of Bentley’s parked outside the Grand Hyatt on a Saturday morning. Every other high rise is under construction or in a state of suspended construction. It is interesting to think what would happen in Shenyang if DPRK decided to join the global community and trade opened up.

Here are some interesting observations from my time in Shenyang.

My coworkers introduced me to duck blood soup….. after I had consumed half of it. Apparently it is a common practice to flavor dishes with cubes of gelatinized duck blood. I thought it was salty tofu!

This was a big disconnect walking past Versace, Rolex, D&G, Tiffany’s, in a high-end mall only to encounter a life size chessboard of Simpson characters! Doh! The fun continued outside with humanoid bottles of Duff Beer representing various emotional states or character flaws. My favorite was ‘Surly’. God Bless America.

I spotted cannibal Koye fish attacking one of their dead mates in a fancy hotel lobby. Who knew Koye fish were so mean?

Horse and buggy are still legitimate forms of transportation in Shenyang! At least you can hear him coming!!

I call this one, ‘Cage of Dogs on Moto’. Yummy!

My new favorite word is ‘Generato’ !!!

Onward and upward!

“Hey Froto, I got yo ring.”

And finally, Korean BBQ, yes and amen.

38 China Travel Tips

After one year, 39 rides, and 30,000 miles I’ve learned a little about traveling in China:

1. Communism is not your friend so don’t be surprised when it slaps you in the face.

2. Always listen to Jason Eady while boarding trains.

3. Savor and cherish random acts of kindness like a rare jewel.

4. Wear long sleeves or elbow pads on planes.

5. The taxi will show up 30 minutes early in Shanghai, right on time in Beijing, and who knows in Wuhan.

6. Invest in a washable and well fitting dust mask. It will be more handy than a pocket on a shirt, also quite useful.

7. Be ready to sweat no matter the season.

8. Chengdu street food is amazing.

9. Always request a window seat on trains.

10. Don’t eat anything on the plane, ever.

11. Learn to poop whilst squatting.

12. Download WeChat and didi apps.

13. Throw anything away with a power button when leaving the country.

14. Expect VPNs to not function.

15. Remember Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are evil conspiracies trying to take over the world one ‘like’ at a time.

16. Don’t take it personal when elbow checked in lines and don’t worry about knocking over the grandma cutting you off with her bag.

17. Buy two pair of noise cancelling headphones.

18. Reflect on the valuable lessons you are learning on patience, endurance, and tongue holding.

19. Make faces at all the babies starting at you.

20. Have fun and always search for your sense of humor.

21. Stay home if you have blonde hair.

22. What would Jesus do?

23. Don’t carry large battery packs.

24. Always bring something without a battery to read.

25. Have plenty of money in WeChat.

26. The trains always leave on time and planes rarely do.

27. Marvel at the efficiency of just about everything.

28. Parking garage attendants take their jobs very seriously.

29. Always listen to Waylon Jennings while inside an airport.

30. Didi is from heaven.

31. All the Chinese airline apps are useless.

32. China Eastern kiosk only takes passport number. Use it.

33. There is a rule for everything and they are always changing.

34. Sanitize everything three times.

35. Airline loading and offloading is a contact sport. Be ready and take no prisoners.

36. Try to smile.

37. Don’t ever buy water from the stores. It is a third of the price at vending machines.

38. Remember that forty years ago everyone was wearing gray and riding a bicycle.

North Korea

Off to North Korea! I had a free day during my TDY to Shenyang so why not check out DPRK? There are approximately 1,000 trains from Shenyang to Dāndōng, the Chinese boarder town with North Korea, so booking a train was relatively easy. This was my first try using for train tickets. It was fairly easy with an app purchase via Visa and simple display of ticket on phone to window attendant at train station along with passport. I forgot to show her both tickets and had to go back and get the other printed. This was quite humorous to the officer checking tickets at the train station. Nothing a few hand signals couldn’t handle.

Shenyang Rail station is remarkably similar to other China stations except with the much more comfortable lounge chairs complete with charging ports (for a fee of course).

Also on display where remarkable copies of a Jeep/FJ Cruiser (aka “BJ40”) and Land Rover (aka “Land Wind”).

Boarding a train in China is much like entering the Six Flags gates first thing with hundreds of pre-teens. Thankfully the train boarding gauntlet free-for-all is more fun whilst reading odd T-shirt slogans.

I’ll let him know.

I also admire mermaids.

After arriving one minute early Mr. Chairman pointed the way to DPRK.

Didi (China’s Uber) arrived 3 minutes later and just like that I’m off!

The east end of The Great Wall (DPRK in background) in Huashan was about thirty minutes away.

Don’t think the soldiers had hand rails back in the day.

Not sure why the cannons are pointed at the wall?

This about as close as one can get to North Korea without taking some lead.

The heat index was north of 110 and about 25% of the 477 steps had 24” high steps! Needless to say I was a bit sweaty. It was worth the climb, though! Cheers!

Back in Dāndōng, I walked to the end of the Yalu River Broken Bridge. Which is next to the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge. Both have an interesting history. In November 1950, the USAF sent 134 planes to bomb the bridge during the Korean War. Then the river froze and Chinese forces and supplies could easily scamper over. I bet the guy in charge of that mission got promoted! The bombers came back to finish the job in February. Two of the bombs (there must have been plenty) are still on display at the end of the bridge.

Well, that pretty much crossed off all the things to do in Dāndōng. I had a few hours to kill so I wandered through the only place I could find with AC, a mall. Although it was very nice, I was the only one shopping which allowed the sales folks to give me extra attention. Chinese mall employees are trained better than a bird dog and rarely give much more than a few inches of daylight between the customer and themselves. This created a bit of an awkward situation given I was covered in sweat from my earlier jaunts. I tried to look interested as they did their best presentation in Chinese.

I grabbed a Frapachino and sandwich at Starbucks and headed to the train station early. Big mistake! The train started boarding only 15 minutes prior to departure and the waiting lobby had no AC. An hour and half later I was back in Shenyang.

Overall I would do the trip again. Only next time will be in Winter! And who knows, I might even be able to cross the bridge then (that is the working one)?!

The Road Trip that never was …

We are supposed to be spending a long weekend in the mountains in a town called Ta’if. But in between Jeddah & Ta’if lies Mecca. If non-Muslims are found in Mecca they can be executed. We decided that didn’t sound fun so we opted to use the non-Muslim bypass to get around. This route doubles the travel time since it adds an additional 70 miles to the trip. We got about 8 miles from our hotel and the road was closed so we literally had to turn around and go home because there is no other road up the mountain. Quite frustrating but we didn’t let it get us down and enjoyed seeing a truer picture of Saudi Arabia outside of the city! Which means lots of camels, sand, & tents…

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water park built into the mountains.

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thousands of buses to take pilgrims into Mecca.



the Koran held up by machine guns.