Monday, September 29, 2014

Quick Post : College Commuter

Hey everyone!  Just in case you didn't know, I'm working on a graduate degree in environmental science and Neva is now in school.  With the structured school year lifestyle, we will be talking a little bit about commuting, though I still have plenty of travel tales to regale and pictures to share. I wanted to do a quick post so you didn't think I forgot about you!  My Olympus is in the shop right now, so the photos are phone-tastic!

Neva's first day of school.
Neva's school is far away for now, so no biking to school yet. She is trail-a-bike ready when the time comes!

My first night at school.  After graduate orientation, someone locked their bike up to another bike's brake cables!  That bike belonged to a girl, and she was unable to leave.  After over an hour of waiting, the parking police were called in with (very) large bolt cutters. 

My first day of school.  Can you spot my bike?  Me neither!
My first day of school I got to lock my bike up with a slew of other bikes, I made sure to pay special attention to other people's stray brake cables.  

I'll do another post on it, but that's me in Da Brim.
A must have for Texas summers.

Here's the bag I carry.  It's a Chrome mini metro messenger bag.  I've tried other Chrome bags, and I feel like they're just too big for a 5'2" girl, but this one is just the right fit.  The mini metro has the classic clasp in the front, waterproofing, and two clips and velcro closure up front.

It holds all of my stuff too.  I love the organization in this thing.  Usually you have to compromise with waterproofness and organization, but this bag has both.  There's a separate slot for my computer, a main compartment for my notebooks and grade organizer, a front zipper section with lots of pockets and slots for pens and miscellaneous items, and two medium pockets in the very front where I put my wallet, keys and phone, for quick access. 

I despise sweaty back, and am a huge proponent of panniers, but I didn't want to give up my messenger bag.  I decided to make use of all those straps and buckles and attached the Mini Metro pretty easily to my rack.  Now, I do have lots of experience, so it takes a little ingenuity, but it all worked out.

The issues I ran into at first were dealing with the heal clearance, but after fiddling with the multiple straps (the underarm strap velcros on and off if you need extra leverage there) I got it to fit pretty securely.

I have lots to share about China, but wanted to say hello.  If anyone has any questions about commuting, please post.  

With 3 night classes a week, I do this quite a bit.

And everyone really just reads the blog to see Neva, so here's your moment of zen, Neva biking 6 miles a day on off-road terrain... to be continued.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Off-road Bikepacking List - FULL

Okay, so you want to go on a bike tour? After about 7 years of touring (half of that with a child may get me bonus points) I have compiled a list for people wanting to undertake a bike tour.  This is just a list, and I will follow up this post highlighting each section and talk about specific brands and the like, but for now, this is just a copy, paste, print style list of things to bring on a bikepacking tour.

The thing to remember is you don't have to be fancy, just creative; and you can never have all of the gear because :

1. There's always new technology coming out that's lighter, faster, better
2. It would cost a fortune if this is your first rodeo, so borrow, scour thrift stores or Craig's list, check the web for DIY's, etc.
3.  You learn as you go. You won't know what your perfect set up is until you've done it...a lot.  Just get everything together enough to be safe and well-supplied and over the years, you'll accumulate the gear that's right for you.

There are lots of bike DIY options like these kitty litter panniers.

So here it is, my list (which does not discriminate against bicycling with a baby) :


  • Bike - Pick one suited for the terrain; consider frame material, style of brakes, gear ratio, eyelets and tire width capability
  • Racks - Front, rear or both depending on how long you will be out and how much you want to carry
  • Panniers - 2 panniers or 4 panniers
  • Top tube bag or saddle bag - for quick access to bike supplies 
  • Handlebar Bag - I think a necessity for any kind of touring.  You can put your map on it and always have access to where your going, hands-free AND you can pop the bag off easily and keep all of your valuables close
  • Water bottle cages - put as many of these on your bike as your bike/setup will allow
Um, this one seems a little small, refer to bike picture at top.

  • Front end dry bag holder - for lightweight off-road touring, can be used in lieu of rack/pannier setup
  • Triangle bag - also popular among lightweight mountain bikers doing the GDT
  • Trailer - if you have a child, or road touring.  I wouldn't recommend for off-road touring (sans child), as you want the weight to be as close to your bike as possible.

Cjell has a typical GDT lightweight mountain bike set-up.  And the bike, he made it.

  • Spare tubes - have 2 for each style tire you have (ex. my bike is 26" and the trailer is 20" so I carry two of each size)
  • Bike pump
  • Multi-tool
  • Tire levers
  • Patch kit
  • Front and rear bike lights
  • Bike bell - good to let both humans and wildlife alike know your coming
  • Helmet
  • Extra M5 bolts - these are the bolt size that your eyelets are, and attach your racks and cages to your bike.  On bumpy terrain, they will come loose, so bring extras in case any fall out before you get to them.
  • Zip ties of all sizes- trust me on this one
  • Duct tape/electrical tape - I like electrical tape because it doesn't leave a residue

Standard bike multi tool...with a broken handlebar bag clamp.

OUTDOOR (basically the same list as a normal camping trip)
  • Tent and fly with extra stakes
  • Sleeping bag - appropriate to the weather.  I use a 30 degree bag and Neva uses a 20 degree bag.
  • Ground pad
  • Stove and fuel
  • Lighter
  • Compass
  • Safety whistle
  • Some robe - for clothes line, to hoist food, tie things down, etc.
  • Knife
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Camping towel
  • Headlamp
  • Mace/pepper spray/bear spray - depending on the area you are in

  • Chapstick
  • Desitin - for those of you who have issues with chafing 
  • Neosporin
  • Pain killers
  • Slow release iron supplements
  • Anti-histamine
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-flu - Day AND Night-time 
  • Band aids
  • Safety mirror
  • Sting relief
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Super glue
  • Scissors

So much beauty and sooo much pollen!

  • Water bottles - as many as you can fit on your bike
  • Extra water bladder - depending on local resources available
  • Water filter
  • Bowls/Utensils/Mess kit
  • Energy bars
  • Emergen-C's - or other powdered electrolyte

Clean water is important, even if you have to work for it.

  • Chia seeds
  • Oatmeal pre-mixed with raisins and brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Packets of mustard, mayo, and other condiments you like
  • Tuna - packets if you can get them, they're lighter than cans
  • Oil - sealed very well
  • Powdered hummus - just add water and oil
  • Pesto and pasta
  • Flat bread
  • Packaged Tasty Bites Indian food
  • Cous cous - it's lighter to carry than rice and cooks in about 5 minutes

CLOTHES (all of this depends on weather you'll be in and how many days, but this list shows clothing for 3 days - 2 weeks worth, and in temperatures from 80 degree highs to 40 degree lows)
  • 6 underwear
  • 6 socks 
  • 2 riding bike shorts
  • 2 riding bike shirts
  • 1 sleep outfit/long underwear
  • 1 lightweight rain coat
  • 1 buff - or something to cover your neck and head to protect from sand, cold, smog, etc.
  • 2 pairs sun sleeves
  • 1 around people outfit - I choose a dress because it is only one clothing article
  • Around camp sandals
  • Comfy all hike/bike shoes
  • Biking gloves
  • Lightweight gloves - if necessary
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimsuit - optional, I usually will wear my bike gear
A good balance of comfy, layered and lightweight is a good idea.  Fight the urge to overdress, but be prepared for local weather.

  • Toilet paper
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Diva cup - this one applies to women only
  • Wipes - I know, very mom-like, but these things really can come in handy
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Comb
  • Hair ties
  • Nail clippers - You'd be surprised how fast your nails grow on the road

As they say, keep your sunscreen close and your toilet paper, that's not it...

ELECTRONICS (Most of these are optional depending on your lifestyle and the type of tour experience you're looking for)
  • Phone/phone charger
  • Camera/SD card/battery
  • Tripod
  • GoPro/Battery
  • iPod/headphones/charger cord
  • Netbook/charger - Optional, good if you download photos often, write, or watch movies. Probably not necessary for short tours
  • E-reader/charger - They're lighter than books

Neva biking with a Go Pro attached to a DIY GoPro belt.

  • Small pad of paper and pen - Handy for taking down fun tips from locals and phone numbers from people you meet
  • ID/money/cash - Keep these with you at all times. Always carry cash if you're going through small towns.
  • Measuring tape - In case something breaks and you need a bike measurement
  • Extra bag that packs in on itself - Even just a small canvas shopping bag works for when you're buying a small amount of groceries, or just walking around town for a day.  I have a backpack that folds down smaller than the size of your fist
  • Ear plugs/face mask - Both cities and nature can be loud, if you biked hard, the sounds probably won't matter as much, but if it's really cold or you're at high elevation and you want to sleep in, you better use the mask so that you won't get woken up by the 5am dawn sunlight.
  • Neck coolers
  • Reuseable hankys - There's pollen in nature.
  • Microfiber cloth - For your sunglasses/prescription glasses/camera
  • Carabiners - it's always handy to be able to attach something like sandals to the outside of your bags 

Neck coolers are a must in warm climates in the southwest and were a life-saver on RAGBRAI

FOR FUN!!! Yes, after biking and eating, you may wish to do other things while you're enjoying your time in the woods.
  • Hammock
  • Book/e-reader
  • Photography
  • Binoculars for bird watching or general wildlife viewing
  • Movies on lap-top
  • Instrument
  • Writing
  • Fishing pole (remember to get a local permit!)
  • Drawing
  • BLING - You'll want to spruce up your ride with a few trinkets along the way.  Neva acquired some dutch ceramic shoes from a couple driving a Model-T around the world, some Smokey the Bear stickers from some fire fighters, and some oragami birds for her trailer flag.  Give your rig your own flare
  • Toys - We can't forget about baby toys!

Sometimes socks with rocks works.  This was a Neva invention.

Okay, I think that's the list.  Oh wait.  I forgot one thing.  Remember to include EXTRA SPACE!  You will meet so many fun people who will want to give you things, you'll see strange things that you just have to have, and maybe you want a bike shirt souvenir.  You can always mail stuff back to yourself too, so it's okay to overload a little bit and adjust to unforeseen climate, terrain, or wackiness later.  

Like pie. Always make room for more pie from the Pie Lady in Pie Town.

I hope this is a good start for any beginners out there who might be overwhelmed with touring details.  I'm here to remind you that you can do it, and it's easy to figure out details along the way.  Get out and ride and you'll be fine!  I'll follow up this blog detailing each section of this list with brands, preferences, and personal experience.  Let me know if there's anything you prefer to ride with.  Is there a special trinket you keep with you on tour?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Quick Tips for a Last Minute Bike Tour

So your quirky bike friend wants to take you on a bike tour, but she only gave you 3 weeks notice, what do you do?  No need to fear, I have some quick tips that may ease your fears.  And don't worry, I do it too. T-minus 9 days until Laurie, Neva and I leave for a driving and biking tour of the southwest.  I will be posting some of our prepping and packing over the next week, so you all can get an idea of what goes into planning and packing, and what the absolute necessities are (for adult + 4-year-old).  But, first thing is first, getting your bike tour-ready.  Today was a beautiful day in north Texas, and a great day to clean the ol' bike and chain.  If you treat your bike well, she'll treat you well too (or something like that).

Man, there was a lot of grease, grime, and dirt in my chain and cassette, but now it looks pretty good. Once you scrub off all of the build-up, then you can lube your chain and wipe off the excess. You'll also want to check your tires (ALL of your tires) and tubes, and make sure you have spares.  Depending on the terrain, you may want to purchase thorn resistant or slime tubes. You will definitely want good quality tires if you plan on putting lots of miles on them, or if you're riding in a remote area.  It sure is a pain to have to stop regularly to change a tube, so just invest the money into good tires like Schwalbe or Specialized.

Yes, I even put Schwalbe tires on the trailer.

Once you're pretty sure you can stay moving, then it's brake time.  No, not "time to take a break", but "time to make sure you're capable of stopping" kind of brake-time.  It's also good to make sure your brakes aren't rubbing on anything because you definitely don't want extra drag, or to put extra wear on your brakes and rims.  If you ride regularly, you will know what needs fixing or adjusting.  Don't worry if you don't ride that particular bike regularly, just take it for a spin, and take note of if you're comfortable and that all of the moving parts are working like they should.

Laurie and Neva testing their bikes out on the gravel roads.

If you don't have the time to do things yourself, just drop it at a local shop you trust, but let them know the date you need it by, especially if you decide to do your last-minute tour during the busy season (summer-time!). And speaking of busy season, you will want to decide what gear you want asap and have it sent by a reliable service.  Take into consideration too that lots of high quality bike stuff comes from Europe, so you may have to do some investigation.  If you have to call REI to check stock numbers, do it.  Check the tracking numbers daily to make sure your packages are moving and nothing has happened in shipping, etc.  It's nice to reuse when you can, but it's always those small, unexpected parts that break, or had been a forgotten project that now is an important part of your set up.

Mounting a handlebar bag, and this happened.  Small, niche parts can be hard to track down, so phone calls are the way to go if you're down to the wire.

But, usually everything arrives on time, and you end up with a nice pile of the new, the old, the borrowed, the gifted, and the wacky inventions made out of desperation, from zip ties and old bike parts.

Then, put all of that gear on your bike, and ride on the intended terrain.  This sounds like a simple step, but it is probably the most important and time-consuming of them all.  Every rattle you'll want to check, every light battery, every bolt for anything attached to your bike.  Is your seat just right to sustain you for hours?  Does your rack rattle or move at all?  Does your heel hit your rear panniers?  If you're riding with children, assess their comfort too.  Do they complain, or are they engaged with the scenery followed by a long nap? Comfort and safety are key.

Here's me practicing with the Tout Terrain Single Trailer, and front and rear bike racks to make sure the trailer arm that attaches to the seat post will clear the rear rack.

Okay, so just a refresher.  Things to do for a last-minute bike tour :
1.  Get the bike road ready
2.  Get your gear
3.  Ride your bike

Got it?  Good.  Now go out and ride!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Fourth of July and the Tout Terrain

I hope everyone enjoyed their fourth of July!  The parades, the fireworks, the family and friends, and here in Texas, for those meat eaters out there, lots and lots of hotdogs and burgers (or veggie dogs and veggie burgers for my fellow veggies out there).

It's hard to believe that last year at this time, Neva and I had biked about 1000 miles on the Great Divide and were in Aurora, Colorado visiting friends.

 Fourth of July, 2013 spent with the Branson's in style, a rooftop view of the fireworks (shown above).

Since our family likes to do things the bike way, and we are preparing for another Great Divide bike tour later this month, we decided it would be a great time to take out the Tout Terrain Single-Wheeled Trailer and see how it handles on different trails in the area.  Our friend and upcoming tour companion, Laurie, joined us for the festivities and mayhem of biking around a new spot.

Meet Laurie, she's awesome.

The destination was Lake Ray Roberts, which is about 15 miles outside of Denton downtown.  It's a state park that has miles of equestrian, biking, and hiking trails, and every now and again, you might bump into a Lake.

You are here...ish.

The Tout Terrain Single Wheeled Trailer (which from here on out will be termed 'the Single'), is a little awkward to attach to the bike by yourself, but doable, and just takes some getting used to.  You have to finesse the bike being upright, and straddle the Single which has a center of gravity much lower and further back than where it attaches to the seat post, so it wants to tip to one side when you're trying to mount it.  This is standard with all single-wheeled trailers such as the B.O.B. or the Extrawheel trailers, but those cargo trailers are mounted at the axle instead of at the seat post so it's easier to stand over.

So the hitch is that silver thing on the bike post, and the hitch arm is the long black thing which has an articulating knuckle that slides over the hitch and is secured by a lock pin and quick release.

My small, frame mounted Greenfield Stabilizer Kickstand will not hold bike, kid, and trailer up.  The Single has it's own kickstand, but with my bike frame being so small, either my back wheel lifts off the ground and crosses the hitch arm, or the trailer wheel lifts and is quite precarious if a child is in it.  I think taller people (with bigger bikes) would have more space on their seat post, and mount the hitch higher, making the trailer kickstand more effective, lifting the rear wheel of the bike and acting like a double kickstand (without the interference of the hitch arm, of course).  My suggestion would be either get a double kickstand (which needs the appropriate flat bottom bracket to mount, and mine is round) or use a Click Stand (which I tried in the past on the Troll, but it wouldn't stay put since my triangle has such a steep angle to it). Leaning against trees is what I'll do for now, until I can figure out a better kickstand method.

You can see how the rear wheel of my bike interferes with the hitch arm when the kickstand is up.

Okay, now that we're all set up, now we can ride! After toting around the Chariot CX1 for so long, weighing in at 35 pounds by itself (Neva adds another 30 pounds), weight felt like weight to me, whether using two wheels, or one.  Then we climbed some moderate hills (for Texas) and the trailer followed behind like a trusty puppy dog.  At only 19 pounds, I was thinking I may be noticing a slight difference on the pavement. But then we went off-road...

And the difference was obvious.  The load (being trailer + Neva) felt so much lighter.  I felt so much more sleek and capable, and climbing up and over rocks was hardly noticeable.  I felt for the first time that I've ridden with a child trailer over dirt, that the trailer was an extension of my bicycle, rather than an anchor. It was reminiscent of riding with the Extrawheel trailer which is basically a 26" wheel with a rack attached to it.  The turning radius is as tight as you can make it, as it's easier to turn a U since backing up is a little bit of a chore without practice.  After a few hours of fun, we stopped for a snack and some rest.

Wait, did I say rest?  I meant : we decided to stop, shove some food in our mouth quickly, and right when the feeling of calm overtook us, were dragged by a precocious four-year-old into the extremely crowded Lake Ray Roberts for an hour of swimming and sandcastle-building. Luckily, we had come prepared with all of our food, swimsuits, and towels under her seat which has a good amount of space to fit a medium-sized backpack filled with stuff.

So, after sun and sandcastles, we explored more trails, trying some single track after warming up on the gravel paths.  I asked for trailer feedback from the little rider as to whether she noticed the bumps, she replied, "Not reay-ye".  Shortly thereafter, I find this...

Now, I do recommend the child wear a helmet with this trailer. She had one with her, but we forgot to put it on after lunch.  The trailer also has a pillow attachment which we didn't bring this trip, but is shown in the kickstand picture above, which is also a good idea.  The Chariot trailer was not equipped with adequate space for Neva to wear a helmet, and the helmet bulge would push her chin near her chest and she would be looking down. When asking Neva whether it was comfortable to ride in the Tout Terrain with her helmet, she said it was "good" and she looked very comfortable in the cockpit. She remained asleep for the rest of the ride while we took pictures near bikes and trees.

Laurie showing off her muscles!

Okay, maybe we biked a little, in addition to picture taking...

Taking some of the single track paths, I noticed right away that the trees were very narrow for such a long load.  Impossible with a 2-wheeled trailer, and iffy with a single-wheeled trailer if you don't know how dense the forested area is. Capability-wise, I think the Single trailer can handle anything a single-wheeled cargo trailer can handle, but I personally feel more comfortable with scouting out an area first before trying to ride single track. 

After a full 6 hours of play, and only 12 miles of riding under our belt, we left Lake Ray Roberts happy, tired, and a little sun kissed.  Until next time Lake Ray Roberts...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

All Around China - Famous shows from the North, East, South and West

During our short 16 day stay in the Middle Kingdom, the family and I got to see the most famous shows in China. They all had an incredible amount of talent, and each had their own strengths.  Some were more culturally relevant, while others oozed young talent. Here's my take on the shows of shows in China.

1.  NORTH - The Legend of Kung Fu, Hebei Province, Beijing 

The Legend of Kung Fu is the most popular tourist show in Beijing showing at the Red Theatre. But for a show labeled "The Legend of Kung Fu" there is less Kung Fu, and more attempt at telling a stereotypical story of a man, who happens to be a monk, who is tempted by an [evil] woman and ends up overcoming his trials through a montage.

The story is about a boy, Chun Yi, who is dropped off at a Shaolin Monk temple when he is 5 years old, and he doesn't want to leave his mother, but relents at the coaxing of his new peers.  He grows up in the temple and excels to be the best, when his ego takes hold of him, and he begins thinking of his mother again which distracts from his practice.  He has an inner struggle about this, which is portrayed as a scantily clad seductress fairy, which he eventually overcomes. He passes a final test to show his devotion, and the headmaster passes the torch to him before he dies.

Actor posing before the show starts.

This show was obviously meant for a western audience.  Not only is the show in English, but the western style of big production and lazy storytelling was distracting to me.  The acrobatics were impressive, but repetitive and more dancing-gymnastics than kung fu.  I personally would have rather seen people practicing kung fu rather than dancers and actors simulating what kung fu is. The actors did an impeccable job in their roles; but with the pretense of having a story, the show fell short.

Main character, Chun Yi showing his strength before being taken down by ego.

We saw some of the actors earlier that day at the Temple of Heaven practicing.  These young boys are very devoted and struck a pose for me when they noticed me taking a picture.  Their acting, dancing and kung fu are fun to watch, but realize the show is made for westerners and does not portray an accurate cultural story, nor a well told story. The show is worth seeing for the dedication of the actors who provide stunning choreography and acrobatics, but you will not gain any cultural insight or better understand local folklore. If you're a person who enjoys glitz and glam, and doesn't care much for storytelling, or you enjoy big production CGI movies without much plot, you will enjoy the Legend of Kung Fu.

Devoted practitioner and main child actor on stage. Most of the boys are under 17 years old.

2. EAST - ERA : Intersection of Time, Jiangsu Province, Shanghai

If you are expecting Cirque de Soliel, you are going to be disappointed.  The acrobatic show we saw at Shanghai Circus World was the ERA - Intersection of Time, which is considered the best acrobatics show in Shanghai.

It's not for the lack of talent, but rather the show is just not Vegas big. It is, however, a show none like I have seen before.  The acrobatics in Broadway's Pippin was equally impressive, but the way this show incorporated modern, urban culture with hints of traditional past (hence the name Intersection of Time) was a delight to see and kept me guessing.

I think what makes this show seemingly less BIG than something from Vegas is that there are only about 20 people or less who perform the entire show.  These aerialists are so multitalented that some can perform in every act, doing flips one moment, and throwing and balancing heavy pottery the next. The small number of people make the show seem small, but it really makes it that much more impressive to realize that these dozen people carry an entire show for 100 minutes. Every seat in the house is a good seat which also gives a small feel, but draws you in that much more.

Portrayal of China's first manned space mission in 2012.

There were bicycles on stage, break dancing acrobatics, and the famous finale of caged motorcycles with flashing lights, honking horns, and a moving background of the city : perfectly portraying what it's like to be amidst the hustle and bustle of Shanghai traffic or any city.

Mats facing every direction with road marks give a clear visual of "jumping through hoops" in a bustling city. 

This show really gave me a sense of the city, and though it is not Cirque, there are not nearly as many people, and it's not nearly the spectacle, but it is a stunning art piece all it's own.

7 motorcyclists were in the cage on the left all at the same time.  With flashing white and blue lights and a Maglev train multimedia background image, you feel right in the thick of traffic.

3. SOUTH - Show of Impression : Liu Sanjie, Guanxi Province, Yangshuo 

This show is set on the biggest natural theatre in the world, with the beautiful backdrop of the Karst mountain range, on the Li River.  Created by famous Chinese director Zhang Yi Mou who also directed and choreographed the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing olympics. There are 600 people who perform in the show, most of whom are local farmers and fishermen of the Zhuang minority who get a chance to tell their own history and sing their folk songs which is an integral part of preserving their culture.

The Show of Impression is about the Liu Sanjie, who, in local Zhuang folklore, would inspire the local people with her captivating voice and limitless beauty, as she is believed to be an incarnation of the lark.  The choreography in the show gives an impression of daily life for the locals.  In the 7 parts, each part has a color to demonstrate different feelings of the everyday life of the Zhuong.

First Chapter : Red Impression - The red symbolizes the enthusiasm and labors of the local people.

The story goes that Liu Sanjie falls in love with a village farm boy (Wesley?) and a warlord, Mo Huairen, plots to kidnap her to make her a concubine and keep her lovely voice to himself. When Liu Sanjie resists, he hires an assassin to murder her but the farmboy and her village band together to save her and she escapes. Liu Sangie and farmboy Li Xiaoniu sang as they travelled, and turned themselves into larks so more people could be inspired by their melodious voices.

Chapter 7 : Silvery Impression - Local Zhuong girls come out wearing traditional silver dresses.  The show ends with all 600 people coming on stage and proudly singing their folk songs.

This show was relaxing with a bucolic backdrop of misty mountains on the lake, but remember to bring mosquito repellant and a poncho; all of that beauty comes from lots of rainfall. The water illusions were colorful and impressive, the props are large and creative, and the lights in the show are used to help tell the story and drive emotion. To really get an understanding of local culture, see this show.  This story is so intertwined with local culture, it would be a shame to visit the Guanxi region without having the perspective of how Liu Sanjie pertains to the local people.

4.  WEST - Sichuan Opera : Sichuan Province, Chengdu

The Sichuan Opera blew me away.  Not only me, but my 4-year-old was captivated for the entire 1.5 hour long show. Let me repeat, my 4-year-old stayed up from 7:30pm to 9:00pm after a full day of seeing the sights, without a nap; and watched, laughed and clapped for the entire show.

Neva and I in front of the Sichuan Opera House

The Sichuan Opera is a compilation of talents that is prefaced with ladies dressed in red, and pouring tea from large pots in mirrored synchronization.

After the audience is served tea and has a chance to settle in, the bright colors, costumes and make-up hit the stage along with the high notes from the leading lady.  The first act of opera is jaw dropping not only from the talent, but from the immense energy coming from all of the professionals on stage. The show is both visually and otically stimulating with lots of fun movements and an heir of comedy.

With such a strong beginning act, you might expect the rest of the show to pale in comparison, but the acts stay strong; one after another, after another.

Chinese violinist.  He shredded the Chinese violin, playing fast, fiddle-like songs for his second set.

From the Chinese violin player, to the female puppet master, to the shadow puppet man, and the husband and wife comedy routine, each act hits strong.

The puppet master was seamlessly able to articulate the hands and wrists of the puppet, enough to pluck out a hair pin and wave her handkerchief at the crowd.

With so much going on, the last act sneaks up on you.  After all, the Sichuan Opera is known as the "face changing" act. After an incredible display from multiple actors, artists and singers, the finale is still breathtaking.

There is fire breathing, face changing, and even full wardrobe changes in the blink of an eye; not only from one actor, but a well choreographed line of 8 people moving as one with giant fans waving in front of their face, and after each wave, a new face appears.

If there is one show that you want to see in China, THIS is the show.

I hope you enjoyed that synopsis of my thoughts.  Do you have any thoughts to add on the shows I listed, or know of any famous shows that I excluded?  Let me know in the comments.  Stay tuned for a list of our favorite temples in China!