Weekend Daytrip: Jiufeng National Forest

I love to hike; before Beijing, I had spent a decade in the paradise of Sonoma county, just above San Francisco. I vividly remember (and miss) those mountain walks. So, I am very pleased to finally find a Beijing mountain that offered the same solitude and beauty. It’s called JiuFeng National Forest (鹫峰国家森林公园), in the western hills, a solid 1 hour away on easy roads.

The pollution is always better just at these hills, so it’s a great escape from Beijing grittyness. The hikes are few, a straight shot up the mountains. But once you get past the slower groups, the winding trial is quiet — and lovely, with beautiful views of the Beijing valley and surrounding hills.

One great thing about it is its relative cleanliness and solitude compared to nearby Fragrant Mountain. Plus, amazingly enough, they’ve somehow avoided the regrettable Chinese tendency to leave no wilderness untouched — here there are no fake rocks, no huge red characters carved into the best scenery; not even a temple at the peak! Yes, one could spot those speakers disguied as rocks — but fortunately there was no mood-enhancing music playing.

There is also a nice small hotel there, I’m unsure of the prices but the rooms weren’t bad at all. It could be a nice Saturday night stayover.
Click here for interactive Google map and directions

Fees: for 2 persons, with car: 35RMB (15RMB each, 5RMB parking)
Address: 北京市海淀区苏家坨镇 (fastest way – Badaling to Beiqinglu 北清路, before 6th ring. More scenic – follow the lovely western canal road that passes Summer Palace, keep going north)

Weekend Beach Trip: Beidaihe and Qinhuangdao

I grew up in Boston and have wonderful childhood memories of Cape Cod beaches and towns; and I spent years along the San Francisco and Sonoma coast line as well. So, beaches and the ocean are a major stress release for me.

We all know that it’s easy to get a bit restless in dry, landlocked Beijing. Fortunately, the popular beach resort town of Beidaihe, only 2 ½ hours drive straight east, is a pleasant diversion. It’s definitely not on a par with California’s Carmel, or a typical Cape Cod beach town. But Beidaihe’s ocean is as intoxicating as any ocean, their beach itself is long, the boardwalk is fun, and there are a lot of diversions for everyone, from couples to families and big groups. The seafood, unfortunately, is disappointing and apparently has always been so – but we’re at the beach so of course tried it anyway (not nearly as fresh as in Qingdao or Dalian).

We stayed 20km north, in the port city of Qinhuangdao, at the Holiday Inn. The hotel itself is very nice and is on a beach, but it’s surrounded by the industrial port, so we would much prefer to stay in Beidaihe next time (we saw a Shangri-la being built nearby, but it’s still far from the happening areas – 没有人气meiyou renqi).

Just north of Qinhuangdao is the excellent Shanhaiguan, the famous section of great wall that ends at Laolongtou (Old Dragon’s Head) going into the ocean. It’s a very interesting and dramatic section of the wall, and definitely a good excursion while staying for the weekend. The walled-in town nearby was interesting but very empty, all the street front stores redone for tourists (like Qianmen) but practically deserted (like Qianmen). We much preferred the nearby mountain park, called Jiaoshan. There are fun, very long gondola rides which take you very far to a huge lake, or you could go the other way over mountain tops.

Overall, this beach area is justly popular, for a long daytrip or more satisfying weekend stay. I assume that with all the downtown construction, the quality of restaurants and hotels will get better as well.

Website of the Week: Natural Medicines Database

There is a lot of bad information on the internet regarding herbs and supplements for health. Many websites are full of self-promoting testimonials, or even direct sales advertising for their products.  It’s very difficult to find non-biased information and research results. This website, Natural Medicines Database, is a terrific source for both consumers and medical professionals. Especially useful is their free Clinical Management Series of evidence-based research on major illnesses. Much of the rest of the website requires a fee.

Summertime, and the gastro is easy

It’s the dog days of summertime, and I’m seeing a lot of gastroenteritis already. It’s inevitable, unfortunately! That heat just makes it a lot harder to keep meats and fishes frozen well. This gives bacteria more time to grow, as well as to create the toxins that cause food poisoning. My advice? Be even more aware of where you’re eating, and already have some laduzi medicines waiting at home!

Low cholesterol: Fish oil vs. flax oil?

To lower cholesterol, there are a few excellent non-prescription items to use. One of the best is omega 3 fatty acids — this is naturally found in fatty fish and also in flax oil. Great! So I can get the omega 3 from the non-stinky flax, yes? Unfortunately, it seems you cannot. Recent research shows that the flax seed omega 3 does not have the same cholesterol lowering properties as fish oil. Too bad, I stocked up on flax at my last Costco run! By the way, whichever supplements you use, you need at least 1 gram a day of the omega 3 part — check your bottles. Also, it’s always best to get it naturally — by eating fatty fish at least once a week. That includes salmon, mackerel and sardines.

A family doctor's wellness guide for China