Tag Archives: China

A Sister in Shanghai

Carla Murray is one of our long-time group members, but I just recently found out that she happens to live in Shanghai – and has been there since 2018.  Although Robert and I have  been there twice and enjoyed visiting the tourist attractions, I was curious to find out what it’s like to actually live there. So, I asked her to provide some photographs and answer a few questions about her experience. Here’s what she told me.

“China surprised me big time. I never in my wildest imagination thought that this country had so much to offer.”

What do you like most about living there?

The quality of life. It’s so easy and convenient here. The ease of getting around, affordable, not having to pay an arm and a leg for simple things like internet and basic utilities. Another thing is that it is so SAFE, especially for black folks. There NO guns allowed except for the military—not even the police have guns. There’s very little crime, although there are money scams aplenty—but common sense will protect you from that. The ability to have an Ayi (aunt in China) that comes to my apartment once a week to clean and do my laundry, go to the spa 1-2 times a week and still save over $2k per month is amazing.

What do you like least about living there?

Being an expat and having to renew my visa and knowing I can’t stay here forever unless I marry a local. If I could retire here I would in a heartbeat.

What advice would you give to African Americans who plan to visit there?

Keep an open mind and don’t believe everything you read in the media. Unlike America, China is not an overly racist country. It is very welcoming, and you’ll be surprised by the technology here. It makes life simple and easy. Plan out an itinerary and visit more than just Beijing and Shanghai. The south of China is AMAZING! Cities like Shenzhen, Xiamen and Sanya are comparable to visiting Miami and Hawaii. The climate is HOT, and the landscape is mountainous and breathtaking. I’m hoping to move south after a few more years in Shanghai. I need a warmer climate and a beach to wake up to every morning. This concrete jungle will soon get old to me.

What advice would you give to African Americans who plan to relocate there?

It’s very challenging to relocate to China. You must have a specific job to be able to come here long term. And also living here is not permanent. To my knowledge China doesn’t offer “green cards”. To stay permanently you must marry (but I could be wrong…I’ll investigate more). That being said, if you’re young have an undergrad degree and looking for a change and a chance to earn and save money—China is it. Unfortunately, with COVID the borders are closed and it’s not easy as of now to come here for work, and visiting is out of the question for now. Check back with me in 6 months.

I like the affordability, the ease of getting around and seeing different regions, learning every day about the culture and history (history runs deep). The shopping is AMAZING.  And living in Shanghai is like living in NYC times 100…you can fit 3 New York cities inside Shanghai. Shanghai is the most populous and geographically biggest city in the world, and I feel it every day I walk outside my apartment. I used to dream of living in a high-rise apartment in Manhattan with a door man — walking out my door and having everything accessible to me, not needing a car to get around. Having dinner at nice places and not paying half my salary. I literally have that here.  I had come here thinking I would stay for a couple of years and now I never want to leave.

Do you read and write the language fluently?

I am slowly learning Chinese. (我在慢慢学习汉语)I am using several methods…mostly apps on my phone…like Duolingo and HelloChinese. I have a language exchange partner that I meet with weekly and hanging around my local friends, listening to them talk. Believe it or not, I can read and write (type) better than I can speak and hear. But it’s a slow process. I hope to be fluent by this time next year. 

What is that Eiffel Tower-like structure and where is it?

It’s just outside Hangzhou. Hangzhou is the headquarters for Alibaba and about two hours and 30 minutes by car and less than an hour by fast train from Shanghai. The replica of the Eiffel Tower is in a section of Hangzhou that was built to mimic Paris. It’s literally a ghost town now. I understand that there are a few of these “ghost towns” around China — cities built to look like other famous cities around the world. I’ve only been to the one in Hangzhou. Hangzhou is also known for West Lake. It’s a beautiful city. I have traveled there a few times before Covid as a nice relaxing day trip. The fast train runs almost every hour until midnight, so it makes it easy to visit on a whim. ️

It looks like you were at Shanghai Disney. What’s that experience like?

I used to work at Disney English here in China until it was closed down due to Covid last year As a Disney cast member I could visit up to 12 times per year and we received passes every quarter to use at any park in the world (except Japan). I’ve never been to Disneyland in California, but I suspect that Disneyland Shanghai is comparable to the one in California. I would assume the main differences are the food options (here in Shanghai the food is catered to the Chinese customers) and that everything is in Chinese language first and English second. Disneyland Shanghai is much smaller than Disneyworld.

Where is this amazing view?

That was Easter weekend in WuYi Mountain in Central China. It took us almost an hour to climb up there. The view was our reward.

In one photo you were reading to a group of children. I assume that they were your students. Please expound on the experience of teaching Chinese children.

Yes, those were my kindergarten students. It was such a nice day and it had been raining for a few days in a row, so I decided to read our story outside on the balcony just outside our classroom.

Teaching is my second career (I started teaching when I came to China). The children love hearing stories in Chinese and English. I have a co-teacher partner that teaching Chinese in the second half of the day and I teach English in the morning. The children are so bright. So smart.

What is this statue and what does it stand for?

I don’t know. I think a snail. LOL That’s in my neighborhood. We had just finished lunch and were randomly taking pictures. It was just outside the restaurant.

Carla, thank you so much for providing such a detailed account of what life is like for you in Shanghai!

Don’t Listen to What They Say, Go See







All of us are different and we experience travel differently. While reading reviews, and listening to others’ advice is helpful when planning a trip, the only way to really experience a destination is to go see it for yourself. People are different, and their opinions vary widely. Here are a few of the opinions that I’ve heard about destinations:

THE FOOD IN ITALY IS BAD: Italy is comprised of many major cities – Rome, Milan, Naples, Florence, Genoa, Bologna, Palermo, Venice and Pisa are just a few. The cuisine varies by region. So it was hard for me to believe that ALL of the food was bad. As one of the world’s most beloved cuisines, it is much more than pizza and spaghetti. We made a point of tasting food in in several cities, including Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, Capri and Vernazza. We had one of our best meals ever, at a picturesque little restaurant in Positano while driving along the Amalfi coast. The limoncello on Capri was fresh and flavorsome. The olives in Monterosso were like none I’ve ever tasted anywhere else. The pasta dishes were excellent everywhere we went. And don’t even get me started on the gelato.

THE PEOPLE IN PARIS ARE RUDE: I was very concerned about being treated badly in the “City of Lights”, especially since we don’t speak French. But bonjour, Au revoir, merci and big smiles went a long way…. We have been twice and shopped at stores, eaten at cafes, visited museums, even ridden on public transportation. We didn’t find Parisians particularly rude – no more than any other city we’ve visited.

PEOPLE IN CHINA TREAT BLACK PEOPLE LIKE ATTRACTIONS: I’ve heard people say that Chinese people pointed, stared and tried to touch their hair….and other body parts. I’m not disputing them, just saying that we didn’t have that experience. We went to Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai in 2015 and again in 2016 (there’s so much to see that it takes more than one trip to experience it all). Some people were curious and even asked to take pictures with us, but it didn’t make us feel like “attractions”. Many of the people in the major cities were Chinese tourists who appeared to be from outlying areas and probably had not seen many black folks. But it wasn’t too intrusive. In Suzhou we even explored the neighborhoods near the Grand Canal and no one even paid us any attention. After a while I even asked some of them to take pictures with us. It was fun.

THERE’S NOTHING FOR BLACK PEOPLE IN EUROPE: We have a rich history in Europe that would take years to study. For example, in 711 the Moors from northern Africa invaded what is modern day Spain and Portugal. Their rule in the region lasted until 1492 with the 8-month siege of Granada. When we visited Granada (in southern Spain) we toured the magnificent Alhambra Palace and fortress complex. It was constructed in 889 and converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. Moorish poets described it as “a pearl set in emeralds”. Touring those grounds was like walking back in history. We have visited several European countries and have seen black people everywhere we’ve gone. I met this young sister in Monaco. I don’t speak French and she didn’t speak English….but we managed to connect.

We’ve had some very positive travel experiences – and some negative ones too. No travel destination is perfect. But we never base our opinions on anyone else’s experiences. We prefer to draw our own conclusions.

Talk is cheap and everyone’s experience is different, so don’t listen to what they say, go see for yourself.

Somebody’s Watching Me

“I always feel like somebody’s watching me, and I have no privacy. I always feel like somebody’s watching me, tell me is it just a dream?”

These lyrics are from the chorus of a song by Rockwell that was released in 1984 and featured Michael and Jermaine Jackson. I have also heard them quoted by many African-Americans when they begin to travel internationally. I have traveled all over the globe – Europe, Japan, Middle East, South America – for the last 30 years I have experienced being ogled from time to time, but have never found it to be particularly problematic.  As one who was born and raised  In a diverse area of northern California, looking different from people around me has always been part of my daily life.

However, I’d heard from friends that traveling in China was a different experience altogether; and they felt like they were watched and studied everywhere they went. Last November when my family and I traveled to China I found out what they had experienced. We spent time in Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai and were quite popular everywhere we went. It was not a negative experience and no one was rude or intrusive. They were simply intrigued and had probably not seen many (if any) people who looked like us. In the large metropolitan areas of the big cities we went to malls and restaurants and nobody paid us much attention. But it was a different story at the major tourist sites like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Even Chinese tourists from outlying areas come to visit those sites also and it’s doubtful that they’ve ever seen anyone with dark skin. They would look as we passed by with expressions that were a mix of amazement and curiosity. Eventually some of the younger ones would approach us, smiling, with iPhones in hand, and we knew that they wanted to take a picture of, or with us.

lees with family on squareWe met this family on Tianamen Square and they were as tickled as we were to be taking a picture together.

ac & friend at forbidden cityEven though we didn’t speak much Mandarin and they didn’t speak much English, we managed to communicate. This young lady told me to use my “pretty face” before her friend took the photo. I gave it my best shot:)

ac & friend at shanghai museumThis young lady stopped me on the steps of the Shanghai museum. Even though we were traveling with a group of people, they always seemed to single me out. The rest of the group got used to it and joked about me being “mobbed by the paparazzi” everywhere we went.  It was quite hilarious.

A few weeks ago we returned to China. After all, one trip is not nearly enough to take in all of the history and beauty that ancient culture has to offer.  We had only been in country for a few hours when my popularity became apparent once more.

ac & wl friendsI was waylaid by these chicks after taking a boat ride on the beautiful West Lake in Hangzhou. It was all about the selfie sticks.

The following day we traveled to Shanghai.  We’d just finished riding on the Maglev train when I noticed a family looking at us and pointing. This time I decided to beat them to the punch so I pointed at my camera and asked them to take a picture with me.

ac & shanghai friendsThey were so tickled, that the lady in yellow snatched off her coat and grabbed my arm to strike a pose.  After Robert snapped the picture I thanked them by saying “shei, shei”.  As we walked away they exploded into giggles,  surprised that I had thanked them in Mandarin. At least I hope that’s what they were giggling at, they may have been laughing at my pronunciation. Either way we all had a good time.

I enjoy meeting people whenever I travel and it has been my experience that people will treat you like you treat them.  I have found that folks are just folks – all over the globe.


It’s a Family Affair

  • Watching the sun melt into the Caribbean Sea from the front of a cruise ship
  • Riding the gondola chair ride up to the top of the Isle of Capri
  • Driving golf carts on Catalina
  • Snorkeling in St. John
  • Climbing Dunns River Falls
  • Climbing the Great Wall of China

These are just a few of the experiences that our family has shared while traveling the world for the past 25 years. We began when our son Marcus was small and we’ve gone somewhere special every year since then. Some trips were domestic, others international, but all have allowed us to share some really good times.

Our first family trip was to the Bahamas when Marcus was one year old. When we arrived at the airport he was amazed at seeing so many people. That’s when we realized that his world really had only consisted of his baby sitter, a few relatives and us. So seeing hundreds of people walking down the concourse was quite an experience. He was elated and seemed to think that they’d all come to meet him. We knew then that he had the travel bug.

Dad & marc_dunns river falls

Marcus has become a true citizen of the world and his experience has expanded his education far beyond what he was learning in school. We’ve always taken St. Augustine’s quote quite literally, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”.

When visiting the Island of Kiribati he saw children living in simple dwellings and playing with simple toys and realized that not all children were as fortunate as he was. While visiting the Acropolis he saw the Parthenon that he’d been studying in his world history class.

Much of our travel has been on cruise ships since cruising is a great way for families to travel together while enjoying many different activities – and there’s something onboard for every age group. So Marcus could play and go on scavenger hunts with other children while we enjoyed a little “grown folks” time. He also learned to meet and connect with other children from all over the world. On one of our early cruises our family was seated with a family from Sweden during dinner. They didn’t speak English and we certainly spoke no Swedish. But Marcus and the 2 children were able to connect because they all shared a love for ketchup. We’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean and one of our most memorable experiences was climbing up Dunns River Falls in Jamaica. Cruising also gave him exposure to fine dining and he learned to order multi-course meals at an early age. – although most of the time he preferred to eat chicken fingers & fries – and those were readily available too.

Lee family cruise pose

Our most recent adventure was spending 10 days in China where we visited Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. We were truly captivated by the culture, cuisine and history of that ancient country. One of the highlights of the trip was climbing the Great Wall of China together. I’ll be honest, Robert and I didn’t exactly climb all the way to the top, but Marcus and his GoPro did, so we still got some amazing photos.

lee family at great wall

As much as we’ve traveled, we’ve seldom seen other Black families. We see other races of people with their children in tow or in backpacks, and we always ask, ‘Where are our families?” Of course money is always a challenge, and the more children that a family has, the bigger that challenge becomes. But we cannot afford to deprive our children of experiencing a world outside of their own neighborhood.

When I was growing up my parents also had a love for travel – but not much money to finance that passion. So sometimes our family trips consisted of loading us 3 kids into the back of our station wagon with a lunch and driving up the coast. Even that was an adventure to our little minds. And we made some great memories.

Even if parents don’t have much money they can expose their children to historical sites and attractions, even in their own hometown. “Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings.” — Hodding Carter




Are You Fit to Travel?

Jerry Rice is one of the all-time greatest NFL wide receivers. In addition to his on-field excellence, he was known for his incredible off-season training regimen. One aspect that was always mentioned was how he ran hills near his northern California home. Many other NFL players even came to train with him in the off- season, hoping to tap into some of the greatness that he exhibited on the field. That greatness eventually led him to the Hall of Fame.

We don’t often associate physical conditioning with travel, but there is a definite need to be physically fit to handle the rigors of travel. This applies to much more than adventure travel, even luxury travel requires conditioning. For instance, some airports are so large that you can walk as much as half a mile from one terminal to another, or from your arrival gate to the baggage claim area. This can entail navigating inclines, ramps, steps, escalators or trams – all while pulling your luggage. And since everyone is in a hurry, it also requires being able to move fairly quickly. We have had that experience in airports all over the country and around the world. We’ve done some serious trekking around Lisbon, Barcelona, Dubai and Beijing – without ever leaving the airport. So working out and staying in shape is a necessary part of our lifestyle.

Travel requires good upper body strength. After all, you have to be able to pull and lift your luggage. Now that airlines charge baggage fees, people are packing as much as possible into their carry-on bags. That means that you have to be able to lift those bags over your head to cram them into the overhead bins. You gotta be strong.

You need to be strong enough to hoist your luggage onto tour buses and up onto airport and rental car shuttle buses. Sometimes the driver will help, but if he doesn’t, you’re on your own. You gotta be strong.

You need to be able to walk and sometimes even run to catch a bus or keep up with a guide. When we went to Athens we took a guided tour to the Acropolis. The guidebook said, “The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens.” The operative word in the description is “high”. We had to climb a steep hill to get to the top. Since it is such a popular tourist destination there were literally thousands of other tourists there at the same time. So our guide rushed our group so that we could get ahead of the other groups and it was hot. That man almost walked us to death!

We had a similar experience in Santorini, Greece. We’d booked a walking tour of the town of Fira, so we expected a leisurely stroll around that picturesque little town – not. Our guide walked us at a surprisingly fast pace for a lady in her condition (she was pregnant). Fira is perched on the hillside above the caldera so there are lots of steps to negotiate and I think we hit all of them that day.


Often these “travel workouts” can be unexpected. On a trip to Montego Bay we decided to zipline for the first time. I knew I’d have to exert some effort and was ready to do that. However, I didn’t know how much walking we’d have to do before reaching the first platform…..down several hundred uneven steps…through the rainforest. My quads were shot…talk about feeling the burn.

bob flies closeup

Proper training requires proper equipment. Another aspect of travel fitness is having the right travel attire – especially footwear. You can always tell a seasoned traveler by looking at their feet. They wear shoes that can withstand the rigors of ancient cobblestones and uneven surfaces. Any city that has withstood hundreds of years has done so because it has very sturdy buildings and very hard walking surfaces. Those flip-flops and cute little kitten heels are no match for 500 year-old cobblestones. So do yourself a favor and wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.

Our most recent challenge was last month when we climbed the Great Wall of China. I have several friends who’d been there and told me about climbing some steps then taking a ride on a gondola, so that’s what I expected to do. However, our guide took us to a section of the wall where there was no gondola, only steps. There were hundreds of uneven steps that went straight up. What a workout! If I hadn’t been in shape I’d have tapped out early in the climb. But it was an exhilarating experience and the view from the top was spectacular….well worth the effort.

lee family at great wall

Our travels have taught us to expect the unexpected. So we train 2-3 times each week so that we can continue to pursue our passion…travel.