China

Capital: Beijing
Population: 1,350,695,000 (ranked 1st)
Size: 3,705,407 sq mi (ranked 3rd)
Language: Mandarin, Tibetan, Mongolian, Uyghur, Zhuang
Money: Renminbi (Yuan) (CNY)

I was skeptical at first. I had never been keen on Chinese history or culture. I was drawn there by the close proximity to Mongolia, where I had been living, and the fact that the east to west route of the Trans Siberian Railroad began in Beijing. I quickly became entranced by the close intimate alleyway residencies of Beijing’s hutongs. The tight streets, full of laughing children and old men playing board games were the perfect place to get lost. China gave up its cultural wonder further, from the mid-summer views from atop the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall to the foreign and curious cuisine. China never failed to disappoint. With so many diverse regions, cultures, and people it’s definitely a place worth multiple visits.

The Travel Guide to Inside Your Beer Glass

Crack open a can, break off that bottle cap, and pour a pint of your favorite beer. Before you put it back and down the hatch take a gander at the label. Where is it from?

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On the outskirts of Burlington, Vermont rests the Magic Hat Brewery. From the outside it looks like a mishmash of Steampunk creations. All conical towers, rusty weathervanes, and spindly windmills.

Entering the self proclaimed “Artifactory” the interior of the brewery is awash with bursting colors and zany decorations. Going on the free walking tour you’ll encounter Magic Hat’s unorthodox take on beer brewing. Whimsical signs point your way through the factory as you encounter labeled containers, belts, and machinery. With equipment colorfully labeled, names like “The Uncanny and Monumental Bottlemabob” and “The Stupendous Sticker Licker” gives one the impression that they are touring a business run by Dr. Seuss rather than one of the state’s largest beer distributers. At any turn I expected to encounter an inebriated Willy Wonka-esque character that would guide me the rest of the way.

Filtering out into the brewery’s tasting room you are invited to sample the signature and seasonal brews on tap. With interesting names like “Circus Boy” “Hocus Pocus” and “Wacko” you’re more driven to try the beer out of pure curiosity rather than learning what is actually in the bottle first. Experimenting with ingredients like beets, dandelions, and honey you never know what you’ll get in each glass.

Like the quintessential Vermonter, Magic Hat drives home the clear message that brewing beer is fun and never dull. That laid back, its all good, life’s a garden Vermonter attitude shouts out from every bottle. Whether the latest flavor craze works for you or it doesn’t there is no denying that everyone had a hell of a good time creating it.

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In the heart of Bavaria in downtown Munich, Germany I sat on a bench across from my uncle in the world famous Hofbräuhaus. The long benches and tables filled the hall giving the brew house a sense of communal camaraderie rather than individual private socialization.

The waitress lifted and placed our beers in front of us with a thud. The mugs were massive. Half liter monstrosities of tried and true Bavarian recipes. Robust lagers and refreshing pilsners graced the menu. Each massive glass screaming with that world renown German flavor. I flexed my arm to lift the giant mug and brought the brew to my lips as I observed my surroundings.

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The brewhouse seemed alive with all the boisterous jovial appeal of what one would expect from a south German pub. Coworkers, friends, and families laughing, shouting and raising their glasses, clanking them together in celebration of whatever struck their fancy on that particular day. Behind us a band blasted away on a small stage. The lederhosen clad quintet maintaining a romping tempo with brass instruments and percussion. The red faced tuba player bellowing with laughter between horn blasts as he reached for his own beer, sloshing on a small wooden stool next to him.

The noise was deafening, but it was the best kind of noise. The noise of people enjoying life. To me those big gulps of Hofbräuhaus pilsner were just like the German people that surrounded me. Loud, proud, and sure to put a smile on your face.

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Munich, Germany

If you travel out into the Asian Far East to the Pacific coast of China you may happen upon the old colonial city of Qingdao. The colonial influences of Qingdao are present in European architecture and cobblestoned streets. One of the city’s biggest claims to fame is the Tsingtao Brewery which churns out its one and only signature beer: Tsingtao.

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Walking into the halls of the massive brewery I prepared myself for China’s take on the ancient art of beer brewing. Huge chrome vats, shiny cylindrical holding tanks, snaking pipes and polished tubes lined the walls. I quick back stepped out of the way to make room for an employee pushing a squeegee in crisp white overalls. His footsteps echoed through the huge chamber of bare concrete walls and smooth tile.

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From the factory I was led into a rectangle hall. The walls were suddenly lined with framed pictures. Executives and CEO’s shaking hands and accepting rewards. I stood in front of a picture portraying a clean suited Chinese businessman, he cradled a golden star trophy in the crook of one arm while firmly shaking the hand of his counterpart. Both men smiling at the camera mid-shake. The translated plaque read, “Tsingtao brews beer for the glory of the People’s Republic of China.” The entire hall was dedicated to honors such as this. Framed ceremonies and glass cases of plaques, trophies and awards.

Exiting the big hall of credentials I took a seat at the tasting bar. I redeemed my ticket for one free glass of Tsingtao beer and in one fluid motion the bartender snatched up my ticket, poured a beer from the tap, and had it placed down in front of me before I could blink. In stark contrast of the fun tomfoolery of Magic Hat, brewing beer in Tsingtao was a very serious business. As I sipped the accredited brew I thought how like China, Tsingtao was no-nonsense, efficient, and a little bit intimidating. I shot glances around at the hundreds of Chinese redeeming their tickets and scooping up a glass of their national beer. If I didn’t like the taste, I sure wasn’t going to say so.

So I say to you beer enthusiast. You don’t have to be a world traveler to get yourself culture. Right there infused with all those hops, barley, and tasty goodness you’ve got a big ole’ helping of global insight. Every beer comes from somewhere and that somewhere speaks to you directly from your heady glass. So sit right down and pour yourself a pint.

Go ahead, drink up.

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Cheers!
Categories: China, Germany, Travel Insight, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What to Expect When Visiting Deceased Communist Leaders: Mao Zedong

Beijing, China
Tiananmen Square

We came early, but not early enough. They were there in droves. The hot China sun beat down on us while we stood in the queue of hundreds. Shining through the haze and smog amplified its humid rays onto our heads as we stood in line. The Chinese around us, prepared for the blaze, held umbrellas and donned visors to combat the wicked eastern sun. At a snail’s pace we crawled forward in line. Standing in the center of one of the largest public squares in the world I distracted myself from the heat to take in the architecture before me. It was hard to fathom the number of city blocks the square covered in total. Surrounded on all sides by the bureaucratic might of the People’s Republic of China, the Great Hall of the People and the Gates of the Forbidden City sent their shadows stretching across the pavement. The towering obelisk, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, made famous by the bloody 1989 protests capped the square’s center. As we snaked our way through the roped queue we turned a corner to stand in front of our destination, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.

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Monument to the People’s Heroes

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Passing by I stared up at sculptures depicting Chinese citizens, workers, and soldiers joining together in a collective charge forward towards the future. Out of the heat we ducked into a small building surrounded by glass walls,. Up ahead there was bustle and noise, a break up from the hum drum shuffling of the queued masses. PLA soldiers, in crisp ironed brown uniforms, directed us from the line towards the set up of metal detectors, conveyor belts and scanners. I came prepared, with minimal possessions on my person. Save for my wallet and passport I was unencumbered by the usual travel gear. Entrance to the mausoleum is very strict. No, cameras, cellphones, sandals, or bags are allowed beyond the checkpoint. With a curt nod from the guard I passed through the metal detector and out the back of the glass structure, rejoining the pilgrimage towards the mausoleum entrance. As we made our way up the mausoleum steps vendors passed by peddling flowers. The quiet whispers in Mandarin lowered to an almost inaudible hush as the crowd entered the tomb.

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Stepping into the entrance hall I was met with a monolithic statue of Mao Zedong. Perched high atop a granite chair he seemed to gaze down with a look of jovial amusement. The cavernous hall was said to have been constructed of all of the culture treasures of China. Porcelain plates, sand from Taiwan, and rocks from Mount Everest are all materials rumored to be used during construction. Posted guards kept us at a slow walk as we slowly circumvented Mao’s vestige. Those who had purchased flowers stepped forward to place them at the massive pile of bouquets at the leader’s feet. I witnessed a family, father, mother, and son step forward hand in hand, place their flowers, take two steps backwards then simultaneously bow before the memorial. Whatever noise there had been drew down to complete silence as we passed through to a room beyond the massive statue. Despite being part of a long single file crowd the lack of noise made the experience intimate and personal.  Alone with my thoughts, surrounded by Chinese culture and architecture and the growing anticipation of finally seeing what we had all entered the building for.  In a dimly lit chamber we passed in a horseshoe, never stopping or standing around an illuminated case. Beneath the glass lay the Chairman himself, draped in a flag adorned with hammer and sickle, he looked as though he had just been laid to rest. The wonders of science and cosmetics halting the destructive forces of time.  I shot glances around me, at the others viewing the Chinese leader. Sniffling, quiet sobs, and dabbing of eyes all were no stranger to the solemn chamber. It felt as though I had just begun to observe what was before me when the guards unceremoniously ushered the line along and out the far door.

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

Suddenly I was back out onto the expanse of Tiananmen Square and back into the bright summer sun. I felt myself struggling to recap and reflect on what I had just witnessed. Against his wishes to be cremated the Chairman was laid to rest inside his crystal coffin so all could come and pay their respects. Despite the controversy and atrocity of the past, it was obvious the leader was still a revered part of Chinese culture and society. His picture radiated back from everything from souvenir mugs and hats to the giant portrait hanging above the Gates of the Forbidden City. He was an ender of civil wars, an advocate for the rights of women, and the unifier of the current Chinese state.

I stood in the center of Tiananmen. Chinese bustled this way and that, traversing the giant square in crowded masses. Surrounded by the buildings of politics and culture, I glanced at each of the huge structures, beaming down power and communist icons at the square below. Up atop a towering flag pole a Chinese flag flapped in the breeze. The enormous piece of canvas, with its blood red backdrop emblazoned with five golden stars was one of the largest banners I’d ever seen. Standing in the second largest country by area and first largest by population, standing in the middle of Tienanmen Square, the fourth largest public square in the world, having just viewed the founder of one of today’s strongest superpowers, I felt small.

I think I was supposed to feel this way.

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Categories: China | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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