Sichuan, China Birding – February 2018

Chengdu is a very large city. Everywhere I went there were groups of little birds snatching snacks off the ground in parks and a few scattered here and there along the river. There are even a couple of man-made wetlands built specifically for migrating birds in the area. However, as mentioned in my Bad Ideas Blog, I was not able to make it to the wetlands, so my birding was limited to the city proper.

My favorite bird of the month was the Light Vented Bulbul. I spotted it while at the Panda Research Base. It was eating the red panda’s food. It was very pretty and I liked the little tuft of white feathers on its head.

Unfortunately, I did not spot many birds this month, but I’m still pretty happy to be adding three new birds to my life list. Hopefully next month I will be celebrating my 100th unique bird!


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Birding Update – February 2018

Identified: 5

New: 3

Life List: 98


  • Crested Myna
  • Light-vented Bulbul
  • Little Egret
  • Mallard
  • Oriental Magpie-robin

 

Budget – February 2018

There seem to be a bazillion nomad bloggers out there talking about how cheap it is to travel, but very few are open about their finances. We’ve gotten quite a few questions about how we can afford to travel full-time, so we’ve decided to open up the books and do a monthly post with the details of our budget. The hope is that these posts will help prepare others who are thinking about jumping into the nomad life, and help us re-assess our spending habits. Enjoy!

There seem to be a bazillion travel bloggers out there talking about how cheap it is to travel, but very few are open about their finances. We’ve gotten quite a few questions about how we can afford to travel full-time, so we’ve decided to open up the books and do a monthly post with the details of our budget. The hope is that these posts will help prepare others who are thinking about jumping into the nomad life, and help us re-assess our spending habits. Enjoy!


Our goal budget for this journey is $200 per week, putting us at $800 to spend for the month of February.

We did not live a life of the rich and famous, but we didn’t go without either. China is quite suitable for $800 per month for two people.

  • Average Daily Food Cost: $11
    • The time at our house sit included two home cooked meals and one meal out.
    • Outside of the house sit, we ate out for all three meals. We also enjoyed one cup of coffee and three cans of either beer or soda per day.
  • Average Daily Lodging: $7.50
    • Two weeks in the private room at the Yangshuo hostel were $14 per night.
    • Two weeks in our house sit were FREE.
    • One week in our two different dorm beds at the Chengdu hostels were $11 per night.
    • All of our lodging included Wifi, VPN (expect for three days), and free water.

Money Spent: $1,128

Income: $387

Monthly Net: -($741)


Two Month Total:

$692 (Income) – $2,662 (Spent) = -($1,970) 


Week One Net: -($178)

Despite some big nights out, we still came very close to sticking to our $200 budget. We rented a scooter for a day, ate a big meal of beer fish, and had a date night with a fancy Indian dinner and two import beers. We spent $202.

We reached our goal of 2,000 views on the blog for the month of January. I’m still not famous, but I feel pretty awesome!! I even made a little bit of money from AdWords (the annoying advertisements on the bottom of the page) of $0.46! May not be much, but that is enough for a small breakfast here.

Josh had a couple of long-term jobs on UpWork, so he was only able to close one contract for the week. We made $24.

Week Two Net: – ($149)

Week two was a travel week. We caught a taxi to the bus station in Yangshuo, a bus from there to the train station in Guilin, a train from Guilin to Chengdu, then a subway to our hostel in Chengdu. That adventure set us back ¥100/$16. We stayed at The Mix Hostel in a dorm room for a couple of days. The price was decent, but we lacked for comfort.

But the exciting news of the week was our house sitting job!!! We moved out of the hostel and moved into our house sit in Southern Chengdu where we watched a dog in exchange for a free place to stay. So, we went rent free for the next 12 days!! Whoop! In addition to our free accommodations, we had a great kitchen that allowed us to buy groceries which also saved us a ton of money. We spent $171.

It was another slow work week. We made $22.

Week Three Net: -($493)

In general, we did pretty awesome this week. We had one day where we spent nothing and three other days that were under $14. We really got into the swing of things eating more at home and only purchasing what we needed, when we needed it. However, as you can see from the sub heading, we still had a couple of really big purchases. First was a new charger for Josh’s computer. We tried to put it off for as long as we could, but both realized that we were selling ourselves short by sharing a computer. So, we bit the bullet and purchased a new charger at the Apple Store for $99. We also purchased our plane tickets to Kuala Lumpur for $313 (two direct flights). The ticket prices are amazing, but really cut into the budget. We spent $525.

Josh wrapped up one project for $23 and I made $10 on my Amazon.com eGift Cards link!!  We made $33.

Week Four Net: +$78

This was our hardest week due to the move out of our house sit, into a hostel, then into the more expensive city of Kuala Lumpur. Even with a $50 gift card applied, we are still paying 58RM/$15 per day for the 14 nights we booked at our KL hotel. That only leaves us with 43RM/$11 left to spend on other expenses per day. Thankfully, food and transportation are fairly cheap, but still not enough to keep us under budget. We have gone over our 101RM budget every day since we have arrived in KL. We spent $230.

Fortunately, all of those big projects Josh has been working on are finally getting wrapped up. He edited a woman’s non-fiction novel, wrote an essay about intermittent fasting, researched and wrote an article about drug testing, and summarized another research paper for CannaHealthWe made $387.


For our second month overseas, we still have not met our budget goals, but we did get much closer AND came in under $800 for the month’s total net. Overall, we feel pretty good about it. Some learnings this month were:

I have 50% of the rest of our journey booked with house sits. My goal is to bump that up to 75% by the end of next month. That should save us quite a bit of money on food and lodging, but will add to the travel costs (although that was going to be an expense regardless).

Josh and I also had a long talk about his UpWork “career” and have decided to pull back a little bit. He is going to continue to write for CannaHealth, but will otherwise focus more on his short stories. We put together a plan for the month that would have him doing brand building and creative writing for at least five hours per day. I think he will enjoy this much more and, if we start now, will hopefully start making some money at it within the next few months. It’s a risk, but one we are willing to take. I’ll update you on his work in a couple weeks.

Please check out our new branded Facebook pages:

The Places We Live Facebook Page

J. Brandon Lowry (Writer) Facebook Page

China Brews

China isn’t really known for their beer and it is obvious why at the first sip. Now, that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my beer in China, because I absolutely did. I enjoyed it the same way I enjoy a refreshing Coors Light. Sometimes I just really want a Coors Light, sue me.

China isn’t really known for their beer and it is obvious why at the first sip. Now, that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my beer in China, because I absolutely did. I enjoyed it the same way I enjoy a refreshing Coors Light. Sometimes I just really want a Coors Light, sue me.

My favorite brew of China was Guilin Liquan’s 1998 LiQ beer. It was very smooth, refreshing, and a great price at only ¥10 ($1.55). I would also put Guilin Liquan as my favorite brewer in China. I tried two of their crafts. I couldn’t taste much of a difference between the two, but they were both better than the others I had.

On our last couple of days in China, we bunked with a Chinese brewer at the hostel. He was in the middle of a brewery tour in Chengdu. He gave us a list of places to try and talked to us about the growing micro-brew culture in China and how he sees it around the world. It was super interesting to talk to him and we are looking forward to our next trip to Chengdu to check out the breweries he suggested.

I only got a taste for the flavors around me. Please share your favorite China beers in the comments, and if you’re an Untappd user, add us as friends!

Top UnTappd Badges Earned This Month


Brew Update – China

New China Flavors: 9

 New China Breweries: 8

Flavor Life List: 51


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Beijing Yanjing Brewery – Beijing, China

  • Yanjing Beer North American Adjunct

China Resources Snow Breweries – Beijing, China

  • Snow Beer 8.0 P Lager

Harbin Brewing – Harbin, China

  • Harbin Beer Pale

Master Gao Craft – Nanjing, China

  • Baby IPA

Panda Brew – China

  • Outlaw Witbier

Shandong Hande Brewing Co. – China

  • Baishi Royale Lager

Tsingdao Brewery – Qingdao, China

  • Tsingtao Pale

Yanjing Pijiu (Guilin Liquan) – Guilin, China

  • 1998 LiQ American Light
  • 10P LiQ North American Adjunct

Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base

Guess what we did today?!! We woke up bright and early this morning to make the hour long trek to see China’s national treasure, the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base!

I read a lot of reviews that suggested we visit as soon as the park opens at 8AM. That is when the pandas are most active and the crowds are smaller. We left at a way too late 7:30, walked to the metro, hopped Line 1, switched to Line 3, got off at Panda Ave, then caught a shuttle to the entrance of the research base. It took us a little over an hour and cost ¥7 plus the ¥55 entrance fee each, putting us at a total of about $20 for the morning. But then, we were in.

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It was similar to Disney World in that everything was brightly decorated, only this time with pandas, and there were large crowds of impatient and excited people everywhere. The park is laid out in loops surrounding the various enclosures. The giant panda areas included a section for the babies, one for breeding, and one for nursing… I think. Each of the enclosures were of a decent size and the pandas looked to be in good health and well treated.

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Although we did arrive quite early, there were very few active pandas. The crowds were a bit smaller in the morning than in the afternoon though, so that was nice. But the crowds were still enough to alter the way I like to explore a zoo. Like the picture above? Here is a shot of me taking it:

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Not ideal.

Our favorite section, however, held the red panda enclosures. The crowds were smaller in this section. I say the people who skipped it missed out. These guys were so cute and active! There were a few different enclosures with several pandas in each, roaming around on the ground or climbing trees.

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There was even one section that was walled off for the guests to walk around in with the red pandas! We did not realize this was the case until I turned a corner and screamed with surprise (and let’s be honest, a little fear). Josh came running to find me standing face to face with a red panda only a few feet in front of me. It climbed up a tree and my shouts attracted the attention of the crowds, but it was still cool.

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We finally had a blog-worthy adventure in Chengdu and it was awesome! The pandas had so much character and the park was very pretty. After another full hour trip home, it was really nice to plop on the couch and look through all of our fun pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Ideas: What Not to Do in China

Since arriving here, I have awoken each morning with so much excitement to explore this amazing city. Chengdu has beautiful architecture, varied restaurants and shops, and a million and one other activities to enjoy. Each night I plan an adventure, and each morning I wake up ready to put my plans into action. T,hen each evening, I come home tired and disappointed. These aren’t just Jen’s Less Than Totally Epic Adventures, these are Jen’s Laughably Failed Adventures.

Bad Idea #1: Coming to China During the Lunar New Year

Do not come to China for the Spring Festival. It would be like going to Utah only on Sundays or to just about anywhere in the states only on bank holidays. The large majority of Chinese are home with their families for the holiday… which lasts two full weeks. That means only one in every 15 stores are open, prices are inflated, and all events are on hold. We are living in an enormous ghost town.

20180220_145634-EFFECTS.jpg
This picture was taken at a very long stop light on a six lane road.

It is difficult to express how strange it feels to walk along a nearly empty eight lane highway between sky scrapers. It’s like a scene from a zombie movie, with the survivors making their way down empty, eerily silent streets. Sure, the freedom of movement is nice, but it’s a little spooky. How is it possible to feel so alone in a place with 14 million residents?

Bad Idea #2: Going to Tourist Attractions Over the Weekend

The only thing worse than seeing none of the 14 million residents, is seeing all of them at once. The few people that stayed in Chengdu for the holidays are facing much of the same problem that we are. The other day, we decided to do something other than cook another American meal at home. We needed to get out of the house, so we went to the only place we knew wouldn’t be closed: the streets of downtown. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones…

20180219_151453.jpg

I made a walking tour with six stops. We made it to four of them before we started to slowly lose our minds. Every square, sidewalk, alley way, shop front, and park were all packed with people. You could hardly take a step without bumping into somebody.

The above picture was taken at what looked like a very nice set of storefronts built into a section of the old city. Unfortunately, the narrow road was so packed with people that we had no time to stop in any of the shops. We could hardly even look at them as we shuffled past. The strangest thing of all was how happy all of the locals were to be there. It was as if this was just a pleasant day trip. The two of us were so keyed up and anxious by the time we got out that we were visibly shaking. Never. Again.

Bad Idea #3: Trusting Maps

China has been in a state of constant construction for many years. They build up suburbs, then ship in whole villages of people to live there. They claim it is to reduce poverty. I don’t know and I won’t comment. The point is that China is very much under construction.

20180220_160045.jpg

After a failed trip downtown, I decided to ride my bike to a park a little farther afield. I have an offline GPS map and a paper map (they do exist!). I was ready for a two hour, round trip bike ride through an impressive neighborhood of new sky scrapers to a non-touristy park.

Instead, I ended up getting stuck in a little sub-village that was so deeply under construction that there was only one way in or out. To get out, I needed to go either North or East. After circling the village for over an hour, I realized that all 12 of the through-roads were closed except for the one on the Southwest side. I never did find my way to the park. I rode my bike for four hours straight, only to come home with a few pictures of buildings and lots of pictures of blocked-off areas the size of a whole town.

Bad Idea #4: Letting Your Bad Ideas Stop You

I’ve had three full days of failed adventures now. My feet hurt, my lungs are tight, and my pride has been wounded. Despite our attempts at nearly all of the top ten sights in Chengdu, I don’t have a single blog-worthy adventure to report. I haven’t missed a single blogging goal since we left three months ago, but in the last week, I have missed two.

But, we are still chugging along. We have another adventure planned for today and another planned for tomorrow. I forced my way through this post, despite disliking how negative it is. But, this post by itself isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of our lives. Yes, we haven’t had any great adventures since we have been here in Chengdu, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t having fun. No matter how tough it gets at times, I’d still rather be out here, chasing my dream and failing, than to have never tried at all.

What not to do in CHina

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Bad Ideas: Chengdu-Style

Since arriving here, I have awoken each morning with so much excitement to explore this amazing city. Chengdu has beautiful architecture, varied restaurants and shops, and a million and one other activities to enjoy. Each night I plan an adventure, and each morning I wake up ready to put my plans into action… and then each evening, I come home tired and disappointed. These aren’t just Jen’s Less Than Totally Epic Adventures, these are Jen’s Laughably Failed Adventures.

Bad Idea #1: Coming to Chengdu During the Lunar New Year

Do not come to China for the Spring Festival. It would be like going to Utah only on Sundays or to just about anywhere in the states only on bank holidays. The large majority of Chinese are home with their families for the holiday… which lasts two full weeks. That means only one in every 15 stores are open, prices are inflated for anything that is open, buses are limited, and all events are on hold. We are living in an enormous ghost town.

20180220_145634-EFFECTS.jpg
This picture was taken at a very long stop light on a six lane road.

It is difficult to express how strange it feels to walk along a nearly empty eight lane highway between sky scrapers. It’s like a scene from a zombie movie, with the survivors making their way down empty, eerily silent streets. Sure, the freedom of movement is nice, but it’s a little spooky. How is it possible to feel so alone in a place with 14 million residents?

Bad Idea #2: Going to Tourist Attractions Over the Weekend

The only thing worse than seeing none of the 14 million residents, is seeing all of them at once. The few people that stayed in Chengdu for the holidays are facing much of the same problem that we are. The other day, we decided to do something other than cook another American meal at home and watch TV. We needed to get out of the house, so we went to the only place we knew wouldn’t be closed: the streets of downtown. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones…

20180219_151453.jpg

I made a walking tour with six stops. We made it to four of them before we started to slowly lose our minds. Every square, sidewalk, alley way, shop front, and park were all packed with people. You could hardly take a step without bumping into somebody. The above picture was taken at what looked like a very nice set of storefronts built into a section of the old city. But the narrow road was so packed with people that we had no time to stop in any of the shops, or even to just look at them. The strangest thing of all was how happy all of the locals were to be there, as if this was just a pleasant day trip. The two of us were so keyed up and anxious by the time we got out that we were visibly shaking. Never. Again.

Bad Idea #3: Trusting Maps

China has been in a state of constant construction for many years. They build up suburbs, then ship in whole villages of people to live there. They claim it is to reduce poverty. I don’t know and I won’t comment. The point is that China is very much under construction.

20180220_160045.jpg

After a failed trip downtown, I decided to ride my bike to a park a little farther afield. I have an offline GPS map and a paper map (they do exist!). I was ready for a two hour, round trip bike ride through an impressive neighborhood of new sky scrapers to a non-touristy park.

Instead, I ended up getting stuck in a little sub-village that was so deeply under construction that, despite the number of bridges and streets, there was only one way in or out. I needed to go either North or East. I circled the village for over an hour before I realized that all 12 of the through-roads were closed except for the one I came through on the Southwest side. I never did find my way to the park. I rode my bike for four hours straight, only to come home with a few pictures of buildings and lots of pictures of blocked-off areas the size of a whole town.

Bad Idea #4: Letting Your Bad Ideas Stop You

I’ve had three full days of failed adventures now. My feet hurt, my lungs hurts, and my pride has been wounded. Despite our attempts at nearly all of the top ten sights in Chengdu, I don’t have a single blog-worthy adventure to report. I haven’t missed a single blogging goal since we left three months ago, but in the last week, I have missed two.

But, we are still chugging along. I have another adventure planned for today and another planned for tomorrow. I forced my way through this post, despite disliking how negative it is. I want to be truthful about the negative side of this lifestyle, but this post by itself isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of our lives. Yes, we haven’t had any great adventures since we have been here in Chengdu, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t having fun. No matter how tough it gets at times, I’d still rather be out here, chasing my dream and failing, than to have never tried at all.

 

 

 

The Places We Live – Chengdu

When I envisioned how this trip would go, I saw us living our normal lives, but with different scenery. It worked out great when we were staying with our parents in Florida and Idaho, but since we’ve been here, we have found ourselves living in hostels and hotels. And, as anyone who travels a lot for work can attest, that is not living. We have been having a great time, but I feel like a vacationer rather than a traveler or a roaming expat.

Thankfully, today is the day! We’ve temporarily moved into an apartment in Chengdu, and woke up today with our own space, breakfast at the table, and computer time on the couch. We could not be happier.

Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan, China. There are between 7.8 and 14 million people living in this city, depending on who you ask, which makes it the 5th most populated city in China. It is the home of Sichuan spicy food, Giant Pandas, the largest building in the world (by floor area), and so much more. I can not wait to explore this city!

If you get the opportunity, check out Places Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, S8-E3 where he goes to Chengdu. It is a great representation of what we are living through.

We are living on the South end of town in an area popular among expats. How? With house sitting! That’s right. We are staying in someone’s house… for free… for two full weeks! Our host is an American teacher at an international school. She has taken off for the Spring Festival holiday and left us with her lovely home and her adorable dog, Lucy.

Jen with black dog, Lucy on couch. House sitters

Our home is in an area of town called American Village, which is a popular spot for expats. There are several other foreigners in the neighborhood, an American international school, and plenty of western restaurants. The apartment itself is on a mid-level floor in a high-rise building. It has two bedrooms, den, one large bathroom, large living room, small kitchen, and a Chinese-style laundry balcony.

The apartment was provided to our host by her work. She estimates the price to be around ¥400 ($64!) per month. It came lightly furnished in a Chinese style. During her 1.5 years here, she has added some Western flair and comforts of home (hence the coffee maker). It still has the feeling of almost right that many expats feel about the Chinese attempts at westernizing. Although the lighting and accent wall papering is elegant, the painted walls are still unevenly painted and cracked. The sinks have a nice faucet with working hot water, but the seams aren’t properly sealed, so it has a tendency to leak. There are two working elevators for the 20+ story building, but there is constant debate about turning one of them off. It has its quirks, but is overall pretty great.

The little perks of home have been wonderful. We bought some groceries and have been eating home-cooked meals. Lucy is very loving and has been keeping us entertained. We even have Netflix again. After a long day of walking and enjoying Chengdu, it was wonderful to sit and stretch on the couch in front of the TV.

We are already on our last week here in Chengdu and I don’t want to leave. I already put in an application for another house sit here for this summer. Chengdu is a very cool city and I can’t wait to explore some more. What’s on the list today? Maybe a trip to see the pandas, the opera, the wetlands, the giant buddha??? There are way too many options. One thing’s for sure, we definitely won’t be bored here in Chengdu.