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Across China with the vermin


Peter Green
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what's a yellow braised chicken?

No idea! But I will be in Guilin next weekend. I'll go try it for you and report back! :blink:

I think it might just be to differentiate from "red-braised" which involves using soy sauce. But that's very much a guess.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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what's a yellow braised chicken?

No idea! But I will be in Guilin next weekend. I'll go try it for you and report back! :blink:

I think it might just be to differentiate from "red-braised" which involves using soy sauce. But that's very much a guess.

could it be the perennial favourite in Hong Kong which is the highly prized yellow chicken, as opposed to normal old chicken??

ps...love cold donkeymeat slices as a starter

Edited by insomniac (log)
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could it be the perennial favourite in Hong Kong which is the highly prized yellow chicken, as opposed to normal old chicken??

That crossed my mind, but the 'yellow' is modifying 'braised' not 'chicken' - i.e yellow -braised chicken rather than braised yellow chicken - and anyway it is black chicken which is prized around here! :cool:

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Wow.  Next trip to China...

Did you take any notes in your Sichuan cooking class?  If so, any chance of your posting them?

Once I get through all of this, I may go back and do up a more technical version of post #131.

The problem is that the chefs don't work in standard measures, it's a lot like cooking with your grandmother. A pinch of this, a bucket of that. So trying to quantify recipes is sort of down to the "cut it to about the size of your nose".

But, let's see how exhausted I am of this trip by the time we get through Shanghai.

Heck, we've still gotta do Yangshuo.

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Wait a minute.... :hmmm:...I remember my parents giving me alcohol when I was 5 and every year after that during holidays!  :shock:  Isn't it illegal to start aborting your child at the 18th trimester???  :blink:

:laugh::biggrin::laugh:

All I can say is that you'd make a great dinner companion! :biggrin:

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Wait a minute.... :hmmm:...I remember my parents giving me alcohol when I was 5 and every year after that during holidays!  :shock:  Isn't it illegal to start aborting your child at the 18th trimester???   :blink:

:laugh::biggrin::laugh:

All I can say is that you'd make a great dinner companion! :biggrin:

You know what? My instructor said the same thing to me this week. (I'm in class learning new technology.blah) He said "I bet you're great at parties!" :laugh:

Seeing how I think that comment meant that I am slightly more entertaining than a mechanical clapping monkey, I took it as a compliment. But now that I think about it :hmmm: , it might be his subtle to tell me to shut up so he can continue with class. :unsure:

I won't be posting for a week after today. I'm off to Taiwan and then to Japan (Kyoto, Osaka, and for some strange reason Universal Studios.) I will be armed with my camera and ready to go by tomorrow morning!

I'll be back with a full tummy report (minus fruit) when I come back.

Sorry to hijack your thread Peter!

I did ask my dad what the "Yellow Braised Chicken" meant and he told me that it's similar "Red Braised chicken" but using only a little bit of light soy so that the chicken comes out looking yellow rather than the dark brown/red color you would have for red braised chicken.

Edited by XiaoLing (log)
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Day 15 – Part 1 – The River’s Edge

The weather had indeed turned foul. Windy, wet, and cold. Very cold. I suspect the hotel was smugly satisfied that they had kept the pool closed for winter.

After a horrible breakfast, Pam picked us up on schedule and delivered us to the wharf, along with the rest of the mob. There’re something like 8,000 people a day being moved down to Yangshuo, which raised the question in my mind; “Why are we amongst them.”

Well, the reason lay in the initial planning. When I’d looked at our possible itineraries, I’d been working from my existing reference books. One of my problems, of course, is that I’m cheap, and I really ought to buy some up to date books…like, maybe something from this century.

Okay, here’s what the Lonely Planet 1994 Edition says about Yangshuo.

It’s a tiny country town set amidst limestone pinnacles, and makes a great, laid-back base from which to explore other small villages in the nearby countryside.

Give Guilin itself a miss, head down to Yangshuo, hire a mountain bike and find out what the Guilin landscape is really all about.

To be fair, the boat trip was pretty good. It’s hard to beat the scenery that we were taken through, and the craft itself was fun, steaming downstream and taking the bends and twists with aplomb.

Countering that were the incessant attempts to get us to buy stuff. Nescafe? 20 Yuan. Xing Ping? 20 Yuan. Playing cards? 20 Yuan. I was seeing a pattern here.

Unfortunately, this inured me fairly quickly to their sales, and I didn’t bother even really listening to their offers of local dishes, which might have been pretty good (and then again….)

With the PA system having been taken over by the tour leader for the crowd on the deck below us (“Hello? Hello?”) I fled for the top deck, away from the crowds.

Yoonhi couldn’t get me down after that. I just stayed up there and watched the scenery go by, camera in hand. You’d think at some point it would all just become “Hey, look, a rock”, but I was content to just take all of it in.

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Yoonhi and I were bundled up in our jackets to counter the wind and the intermittent rain. Doofus boy, of course, was walking around in his t-shirt.

Serena, always open to cultural enrichment, was downstairs plugged into her electronics and her panda chocolates. Why do we bother?

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It was a more-than-four-hour trip down the Li River to Yangshuo, and lunch was served about half way through. Although I had expected this to execrable, it actually came across as merely bad. The scenery was in far better taste, and I hurried back outside.\

Unfortunately, I missed out on the Osmanthus wine (20 Yuan), and the snake wine (20 Yuan). I had to content myself with some single malt I had in the hip flask (0 Yuan…at least by this point).

The foreign tourist boats are all of one design. A lower deck, with the kitchen at the stern and navigation up front, bracketing a seated section for the rabble, with a second deck given over to more seating and the buffet table. On top of this is the observation deck, which is where I was spending my time.

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The kitchens actually looked pretty good. A fair sized galley capable of producing a fair spread. Like I said, maybe I missed out by not going for the local dishes?

Talking with Pam a bit topside, we found out that the bulk of the boats do the trip down, and then come straight back to Guilin. They make the return trip empty, which seemed odd. Of course, going against the current, it’s a slower trip, but you’d think there’d still be people willing to do the ride (especially at a discounted price).

Pam was recommending the beer cooked fish and duck. This was the local specialty, and he thought it was worth having here. He also talked a lot about how Yangshuo was the best of the best for Guangxi. We’d see.

While we talked, we noticed one of the crew members (one of the two young ladies who were flogging everything at hand for 20 Yuan) dumping a garbage sack of food and Styrofoam over the rail, right beside the “Please do not pollute the Li River” sign on the railing. Things change slowly.

Soon enough (or so it felt) we steamed into Yangshuo. The fellow on the PA informed us of this, oh….maybe thirty or so times. Scud was just about ready to have a go at him when we realized that we’d have the benefit of getting off first, while he tried to organize his herd.

Yangshuo doesn’t make a bad first impression. The town is perched up above the river, with some shops and restaurants overhanging the cliff edges. The peaks do ram their way up from the town as advertised, and it is definitely green.

We humped our hand carry up the West Street, home to hostelries, cafes, and trinket shops. There was the colourful array of stuff you associate with backpacker destinations, and it was novel enough after two weeks on the road. It felt a lot like an expanded version of the Western Street in Dali, where I’d had my shoes repaired a decade before (I’ve kept those Rockports, with their all-weather Hangook Tire tread nailed onto the bottom). I wonder what that looks like today?

We weren’t in the thick of things, unfortunately. The Paradiso was packed out, and they’d decided to put us in the “Chinatown” hotel – a new hotel - which was up by the bridge going across the Li. This meant that we needed to use one of the little tourist busses to get our stuff over there. Luckily, the big bags were being hauled up by van from Guilin, so we didn’t have to contend with the eighty or kilos we were packing (we travel light…oh, yeah).

The hotel was disappointing. They’d upgraded our rooms, which was nice, but we still felt sort of out of things. Still, it would only be for two nights. And we did have a good view.

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We were on our own now, which was fine by us. Yoonhi was going to go out for the sound and light in the evening, but that was hours from now.

We walked back into town, past a few restaurants, past the porn shop, and down between a couple of the crags.

The peaks look beautiful, but in a town like this they create a number of choke points, points where the noise reverberates back and forth between the limestone faces.

In town, we wandered (as usual). I saw a sign for something called the Fiat Language Centre, and followed it a little way out of town. We actually missed it going up the hill, but caught it on the return. Besides – I presume – teaching you to converse with Italian automobiles, they also have cooking courses (and lots of other stuff). I toyed with the idea of another cooking course, but put that aside for the moment.

We came across what might be the most perfect of shops for Serena. Everything Is Pleasant, jammed to the ceiling with plush toys.

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Hunger was setting in, as none of us (particularly I) had eaten much on the boat. We poked around some of the restaurants, and looked for anything promising.

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For want of anything else, we popped into the Music East & West Café (MEWC – I’m not spelling that out again). No particular reason, other than I could feel increasingly bad vibes coming from the family members, whom I’d had pounding the pavement for the last two hours.

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I hadn’t expected much from the MEWC. Music might’ve been nice, and I did suggest to them that this could improve the mood. They obliged with something that would play well in elevators anywhere (at least it wasn’t rap). I wasn’t thrilled with the menu, so I limited myself to a beer. Yoonhi tried a pear juice, and then decided that pear isn’t one of those things that works well as a juice.

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But then the moment was saved. Onion rings. These were some of the best onion rings we’ve ever had. The batter was perfectly crisp, no sogginess. And the onions themselves were softened just to the point where there was still a little structure to allow them to bite easily, not gone completely flaccid as happens too often.

I wonder what these people could do with a Mars bar?

Back on the street, I perked up when I saw signs for a laundry. Of the 80+ kg we were hauling about, perhaps 40kg of that was now dirty clothes. One thing you can always count on finding in backpacker spots is a laundry. The other thing was internet (the internet wasn’t connected in the rooms at our hotel).

Yangshuo’s a ghetto. That really sums it up. And if you see it in this light, it can be a lot of fun. Lots of places all cast from the same mold, but more than a few spots that were showing original character. There was Le Votre Brasserie, with it’s micro-brewery set up in the front of an old Chinese Hall. And plenty of really comfortable looking bars that would be worth drinking in later.

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I checked the menu at the Blue Lotus, but it was lackluster. I’d really hoped they’d have a Snowy hot pot.

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And the dragon pots seemed to be popular. This street snake is full of a hot liquid (Is it just water?) which gets poured into a cup of something else. This then gels, and you get some nice technicolour toppings to go myopic over.

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And you get a plastic spoon, too.

All this culture was taking a heady toll on us. We headed for food.

My plan was to dine close to the hotel. This would, in the one instance, ensure that Yoonhi didn’t miss her show, and in the second instance made certain that I wouldn’t miss out on beer cooked fish, as the restaurants up here were considered a good source for this local item.

We had a choice. There were about three ramshackle wooden shambles perched out over the cliff. For no particular reason, we chose Da Shi Fu. Maybe because of the picture of their chef? Maybe because I figured the middle building would be the last to collapse?

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(By the way, I’ve since checked out the website on the sign. It would seem that they’ve taken awards for their cooking. However, the restaurant pics they’ve got posted don’t quite look like this place, so I assume they have other outlets).

Seeing as we were just across the street from the hotel, Yoonhi opted to take Serena and use the room’s facilities, rather than those provided here.

As we were early, they were able to fit us in at a table on the verandah.

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Our first problem was readily solved. I was able to order a beer, and a coke for Scud.

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The beer was nice. I thought at first I’d hit upon a non-Liquan product, but when I checked the fine print it was “Ice Beer – Liquan – Yanjing – Guilin”. Still, after a few hours of walking, this hit the spot.

It was also critical for our getting dinner. You see, at this point I had exhausted my store of Mandarin, and our waitress had used up her English before she even said anything. I think I saw the three waitresses run a quick game of rock-paper-scissors to see who had to deal with us. She lost.

So, we wanted beer cooked fish. This was easy. I drew a picture of a fish, I held up my beer, she smiled, and we were in business.

With the duck, I followed the same route. No problem.

Then she hit us with a flurry of Mandarin.

Scud and I looked at her for a moment, with that dull sheen of incomprehension. Then we just laughed.

She fled.

After about three minutes, she’d composed herself to the point where she could approach the table again. She handed us a menu, we looked at it, and then we burst out laughing.

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Another couple of minutes, and she was back. Drawing things was out, so I feel back on method B.

Carefully, I put the menu down in front of me, raised my hand, closed my eyes, and dropped my index finger on the menu.

It took a long time for her to finish laughing and come back to the table after that.

When it was done – which took awhile – we had a total of three mystery dishes in addition to our beer cooked food. Then I grabbed my camera and went into the kitchen to see what was happening. At this point I was a complete enigma to the staff, so they didn’t worry at all about the fat crazy guy taking pictures. Heck, next thing he might even be taking pictures of his food.

I liked the kitchen. Lots of elbow room, the usual three woks, and a large area for meez. He had the sauce started up, with chilis and the smell of garlic in the room, then he hit it with a liberal dose of Liquan, and dropped in a bunch of tomatoes.

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He went over to a bowl of precooked, dismembered, and dubious-looking duck pieces, and grabbed a large handful for the wok.

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This was followed by some MSG (“Gourmet powder”), a bit of sugar, some salt, and then a big ladle something dark to bring the colour up.

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On the side he had a selection of ready to go vegetables and greens.

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Yoonhi and Serena showed up as I was coming out of the kitchen. Serena wanted some milk, so I was getting geared up to do some interesting lactational miming (method C), when Yoonhi trumped me by pulling out an empty carton (method D). Relieved, our waitress ran off to one of the neighborhood shops to buy some more.

Yoonhi was charmed by the ambience. “Is that a toilet roll on the table? Are we back in Southeast Asia?”

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But, she needn’t worry about anything. We had hygienically wrapped table settings.

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There’s a question. We hear many things about the cultural divisions in China, the big one being the Coastal-Inland split, but there’s also the breakover of the Far South. Is this the marker? Wrapped table settings and tissue paper?

The fish showed up as I pondered this weighty topic. The fish was good.

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It was a very soft fish. The overall impression was tomatoes, the chilis and bell peppers giving a background to the overall sweetness of the dish. Lots of garlic in there that took you by the nose. I can’t say that I tasted the beer in any way, but that’s okay. This was a dish worth eating.

The duck, in contrast, I didn’t care for. It tasted much as the popo duck we’d had in Beijing near the start of the trip. Part of the proble is that, jointed as it is, there’s very little meat to work with on the bird. As the fish was a very tomatoy dish, this was more brown. There were some chopped pickled chilis, and lots of chunks of ginger in there with the garlic, but everything sort of melded into “brown” flavour.

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Luckily for Serena, one of my random digit stabs had hit upon a soup. This was a fresh green in a chicken broth.

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Number two on the mystery hit parade was taro, which had been cooked for awhile along with pork spareribs. The spareribs were buried on under the taro cubes and chilis, and were really, really succulent. The meat just slid off of them in your mouth.

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More greens, these a celery that had been quickly cooked up with some oyster sauce.

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This was all pretty good for being stochastic. The only thing I didn’t really care much about was the duck. The fish was great, and I’ll try and deconstruct this back in my own kitchen.

Oh, and as a sideline, we’d lost the “who’s on the can of coke” thread awhile ago. One of the problems behind this was that the kids were getting their cokes poured for them most of the time. But it had gotten pretty boring anyways by now, as the Chinese equivalent of American Idol seemed to be the main dressing for the cans. (“Bring back the Blood Elves”, says Scud).

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From here, Yoonhi was heading out for her show. This is the big thing to see, we’re told. Zhang Yimou’s behind the spectacle (House of Flying Daggers, Hero, etc), which has the usual cast of hundred strung out on boats on the river, backdropped by the hills, looking colourful.

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Okay, okay. I’m jaded. Spectacles are nice, but I can only do one every so often. But Yoonhi and Serena came back happy with the experience, and that’s what matters. One comment that Yoonhi did bring back, was the involvement of the local people in the tourist trade here. According to Pam, the primaries are, of course, outside ringers, but the bulk of the cast are Yangshuo natives. With a cast of hundreds, a lot of the performers are the locals, who are happy to have an extra income beyond just what they can bring in from the fields.

While Yoonhi was out at the theatre, I went out in the quest for beer. I was interested in the small brew that Le Votre had going.

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They did two beers. I ordered the dark first. 22 Yuan for a half litre. As I waited for the pour, I contemplated the day.

I found Yanshuo, not surprisingly, too touristy for me. A sense of tourism that isn’t just about targeting itself to be sold, but rather in giving up its character to be something for someone else. Guilin was touristy, but it felt that it had its own essence. If you were there as a tourist, then you were welcome to glide through, leaving little to no trace. But Yangshuo felt more like a foreign outpost that had sold itself out for every penny. Not a bad thing for the local people, who’ll raise their standard of living, but it saddens me, much like seeing Nepal.

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The dark was a little off. Too heavy on the chocolate malt for my tastes, and lacking a backdrop to give it complexity. Still, it wasn’t Liquan, so I could take some enjoyment from it.

The blonde was an easier drink. A reasonable head when it arrived, and a good background of honey in the beer.

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Out on the street, there are three guys squatting and doing some business of some sort. One of them was making guppy like noises. Then, of a sudden, they grab their things and take off at a run. Moments later a group of police amble by. You wonder about the things you see.

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Still full from dinner, I paid for my beers and wandered about, heading down to the river to look at the tourist junk for sale in the stalls. While there I was set upon by a group of students out to practice their English; three girls and one fellow. We meandered through the stalls, but I couldn't shake them off, so I figured I might as well buy them a beer. We talked about the Water Margin, Three Kingdoms, the current wars, and life as a student in Nanning. When it was time for me to go, they all pull out evaluation forms for me to fill, critiquing their English conversation skills.

I hadn’t expected that. But, it’s something I do often enough at work, so I ordered another beer, and gave them perhaps more of a review than they’d expected. At the end, I wished them well, and then got moving just in time to catch the rain.

Not a bad day. But would I "give Guilin a miss" for this? Not likely.

Next: On A Bicycle Built For Two

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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I won't be posting for a week after today.  I'm off to Taiwan and then to Japan (Kyoto, Osaka, and for some strange reason Universal Studios.)  I will be armed with my camera and ready to go by tomorrow morning! 

I'll be back with a full tummy report (minus fruit) when I come back.

A week? You're going to be gone for a whole week?

Pictures! We want pictures of Kyoto, Osaka, and definitely of Universal Studios! What do they serve in the canteen there? Are they using Jamaican Blue Mtn in the coffee urns?

Inquiring minds need to know.

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I will try to be as detailed as possible for my fellow inquiring minds.

I can imagine it will be an nightmare with eGImage when I get back...but no pain no gain!

Peter, I'm taking a wild shot in the dark over here to assume that you love beer. :laugh::biggrin: But did you have a...ummm..."special" beer when you were in China? By special I mean, having a cracked raw egg in a glass first and then scrambling it and slowly poor the beer into the glass while stiring? The alcohol "cooks" the egg and you end up with a egg-drop beer?

I had that the last time I was in China. It was definitely an experience. Not sure if I really liked it or not. I guess I will just have to go back this fall and try it again! :laugh:

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The alcohol in beer would do no such thing as "cooking" an egg. You would merely get a beer with raw egg blended in.

But Peter, just wanted to drop a note that this thread is fantastic. My best friend Willie lives in Guilin right now and I can't wait to visit. He's been in China over three years now, first in Suzhou before Guilin, and when we chat, tales of the food are always at the forefront.

It's amazingly cheap to stay in touch, too. Found an online calling card that lets me reach him for 1.3 cents U.S. a minute.

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The alcohol in beer would do no such thing as "cooking" an egg. You would merely get a beer with raw egg blended in.

The egg in the beer ended up looking like egg swirls in egg drop soup, so I assumed something happened to change the state of the egg.

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The alcohol in beer would do no such thing as "cooking" an egg. You would merely get a beer with raw egg blended in.

The egg in the beer ended up looking like egg swirls in egg drop soup, so I assumed something happened to change the state of the egg.

I didn't have this in China, but I have done it in Vancouver (a long time ago). My brother was putting raw eggs in everything. I can't say that it did a lot for me. :hmmm:

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Day 16 – A Bunch of Cyclepaths

We’d had some bad breakfasts, but this one beat all of them.

We were in the hotel’s “Western Restaurant” which was actually a very slick looking place. Tiled floors, generally a study in straight lines, black metal, and grey colour schemes. There were two levels, and it looked like someplace you’d drop in on in London.

Except of course for the obligatory buffet line that had been dumped in the middle.

And, as it was freezing outside, they had every door open.

But that wasn’t in use. There were so few tourists (at least Westerners) in the hotel that they weren’t bothering with the buffet. I thought at first this would be a good thing. But what came instead were a couple of croissants that had been made and baked a day or so before, and then heated in the oven for another half day, and finally retoasted for us.

I could’ve used these things for skeet shooting. I banged one on the edge of my table to show the kids how effective this could be as a weapon. Yoonhi told me to stop playing with my food.

Our napkins appeared to be made of Teflon, as they wouldn’t stay on our laps, and likewise had the same absorbing capacity.

The coffee was….well…..sad. Just sad. And as for the eggs, let’s just not go there.

With that experience out of the way, we went into town to undertake one of our favourite tourist activities.

We were going to get the laundry done.

I’d checked with the girl in the shop the day before, and she said they needed about four hours to do the clothes. This would work perfectly.

We tried for a moment to get one of the trolleys into town, but the two women on the thing insisted we had to buy their tour to the villages instead. This wasn’t the plan right now. So we figured it was easier just to walk.

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Heading into town, we came across the usual impromptu street side market activity. Scud was trying to figure out what the big bundles of dried leaves were that were being sold in volume. I told him it was dope. He didn’t believe me. He never does. I think it was actually tobacco, as it had that look to it. Serena then refused to believe me, as tobacco always comes inside of cigarettes.

I gave up.

Once we hit the main drag, we didn’t make it too far before an older woman latched onto us. She had a tour to sell as well. We told her we were doing laundry, but that didn’t phase her in the slightest. She tagged along all the way to the shop (which was closed) and then bustled about being useful having the owner found while I called him up on my cell.

The laundry was dropped off soon enough, and the old lady (“Kelly”) had decided that Yoonhi was the mark, so she was explaining how we could go biking to her village.

This was sort of what Yoonhi had planned for us anyways, so we gave in. We got bikes for the four of us, and set off through town.

There are few things as much fun as watching your nine-year-old daughter totter on a bike, with no helmet, in the midst of Chinese traffic.

It took us only a few minutes to get away from traffic, though, with one brief stop at the local market. This wasn’t particularly lively. It looked like we were probably an hour or two late for the real fun.

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But then we were in the fields. This is good and bad.

It’s bad in that a lot of the problems with garbage and such that have been so well addressed in urban China aren’t perceived as an issue in the countryside.

It’s good in that my worries about Serena being plowed under by a ten ton truck could now be replaced by the lesser concern of her getting her clothes muddy.

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And the scenery is awesome. Once you get the buildings out of the way, it’s very pretty in the countryside.

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They really wanted us to get on one of the rafts. I could see this, on a typically hot day, just drifting down the river with your bikes on the back. But I figured if we stopped moving, we were going to freeze to death. Rafting was not an attractive prospect.

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Camel riding, however (okay, it didn’t move anywhere) is obviously a must-do while you’re in Yangshuo. That was Serena’s opinion. Especially if you have a camel with a weak bladder. What was this thing doing here? Okay,okay, you know what I mean. I’ve seen way too many camels in my life, and consider them on the main evil tempered creatures, with a fondness for eating out of garbage cans…..perhaps they’re just too similar to me?

Our one real stop of the trip was the Assembling Dragons Cave. I told the kids it was a factory as we pedaled in, but the ticket office gave it away with their sign calling it “Dragon cave strange rock palace”.

This took a bit to get going. After we bought the tickets (We were advised via sign by the Yangshuo Price Bureau that “No one is allowed to force tourists to buy insurance”) we waited at the cave entrance.. The lights were out. Maybe we should’ve bought insurance. After about ten minutes one young girl showed up with a flashlight and let us in.

I didn’t need to worry (much). The flashlight was so she could see the light switches she needed to turn on and off.

If we hadn’t already done the Reed Flute Cave in Guilin, this would’ve really impressed me. Even so, it was worth stopping in, but it suffered in comparison with the detailed accretions of the other.

What this did have, however, was its own troglodyte population. Another young lady had gone tripping along ahead of us, and we’d wondered where she was going. About two thirds of the way through, we found out. We heard the music first. There was a group of around three huddled over a computer in the middle of the dark. There job was to process any photos of tourists that were taken at this one spot. Yoonhi was impressed. Here we were, in the middle of nowhere, at a site that wasn’t doing too well, and this one group of youngsters was sitting here, day in, day out, huddled around their computer in the dark, surfing the ‘net and playing games.

Scud thought it was pretty much an ideal existence. I told him we should rent Chud someday.

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Coming out of the cave (the final stretch is by boat), we ambled through the nigh deserted parking lot. I say “nigh” as there was one lone vendor selling odds and ends.

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She had a selection of steamed green things, and what looked like turnips, too (anyone want to jump in here?).

There was also some good looking corn, bamboo, eggs, and grapefruit (or is that pomelo? I’m used to pomelo being green)

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Kelly had been talking about us having lunch in her village. This turned out to be the Moon Hill Café.

For a tourist destination it wasn’t bad. They were advertising “Farmer Food”, but it seemed much the same as the stuff on the menus of the restaurants in town.

The Moon Hill Café was also advertising cooking classes, so, if I’d been of a mind to spend more time in Yangshuo, it was looking like cooking could have been a viable option.

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It was Liquan again for me. It was a little cold for this, but there wasn’t a lot of alternative (although the milk shakes looked good). This had been billed as “Bing Shuan beer” the local “best”. I’m not certain what was meant by this term. Is it Liquan’s premium brand? And what exactly causes this to be labled premium?

Serena, predictable as always, got some vegetable chicken soup. I found the broth a little thin on this.

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I was interested in what they called the Moon Hill Pancake. I’d been hoping for a Chinese version of the Korean pin dae ddok, but what came instead was much more of an omelet. It was good, with lots of meat and other stuff on the topping, but I’m just not that much of an egg guy (as you might’ve inferred from my reaction to putting an egg in my beer).

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We decided to try another beer cooked fish, as the one last night was so good. This one was a “one bone” fish, which meant that it had been deboned. It was identifiable as catfish this time, which would explain the soft flesh. The dish was lighter on the vegetables than the night before, but the sauce was still very good, and I called for some rice.

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The sweet and sour eggplant stuffed with pork wasn’t as expected, but was very good. It was a battered deep fry, extremely hot on the inside (I had Scud try one before I’d go near it.) But, while it was hot, it was great. It went a little soggy as it cooled down.

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Kelly checked if we’d be interested in going up Moon Hill, but I was getting concerned about the gathering clouds. It was getting colder and colder, and the idea of peddling back into town in the rain wasn’t too appealing.

As speed was a concern, we took the road back into town with the bulk of the tourists. This was faster (a lot) but meant we had watch out for traffic and pedestrians. Serena was a lot steadier by now, though, so I was nowhere near as frazzled.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t pick up a few more grey hairs when we had to navigate traffic circles coming downhill with questionable brakes, but we came through it without mishap.

We thanked Kelly for the tour. She did a good job of getting us off the roads and to where we should be. As Yoonhi says, it’s good to see the locals getting something out of the tourist trade.

Having spent the day fairly bucolic to this point, we were better adjusted to appreciate the splendours of Yangshuo.

For instance, there was the match dealer. Somehow, it had completely passed me by that there was a culture centred about the collecting of matchboxes. This place had them all. They had match box collections of famous revolutionary figures, matchbox collections of the scenery of Guangxi, matchbox collections of Hello Kitty.

And they had more mottos and manifestos than a collection of Spanish chefs.

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My favourite was “fond memories of childhood combustion”(I wish I’d shot that sign, too).

Just up from them was the ice cream stand. Seeing as the temperature was approaching freezing (at least that’s what it felt like) we bought the kids some ice cream.

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Scud had mango, and Serena the pineapple. I couldn’t get anyone to try the taro.

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I, obviously, was about cultured out. Once we’d secured our duffel of laundry, I wanted to get somewhere to write, and that somewhere needed to be warm, with stuff on tap.

We settled on the Global Café. It looked generally acceptable, and they advertised free internet.

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Really, all we were looking for was a kid friendly place where we could pass some time and get them a meal before Yoonhi and I headed out.

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This looked kid-friendly to me. Yoonhi was too tired to argue. She headed out in search of the massage place she’d seen earlier.

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Scud had a mac and cheese that he was less than enthralled with. I thought I’d learned my lesson earlier about cheese in this country. Serena was about to ignore one of the prime rules of dining: never eat anything bigger than your head.

(As burgers go, it wasn’t great. The meat and fixings were fine, but the bun was too lackluster).

Yoonhi came back some time later. Her massage place had been difficult to rediscover from the streetside. It had a big sign up above advertising health foot massage, but at eye level they’re selling pillows and handbags.

The children fed we installed them back in the room, and then returned to town, hoping that it wasn’t going to start raining on us.

A brief reconnoiter had us stopping in at the Rosewood – Café del Moon (I’m not certain which was the name, they used both). The menu looked good, and they offered beer by the jug.

I took advantage of this shop to get my shoes shined. Shanghai was coming up, and you don’t want to be in the city with dirty shoes. This was easy. I just went outside, waved a guy down, and enjoyed some beer while he took care of my feet.

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This was the first and only time I saw Liquan in a jug. Chieftain was the name they’d put to it, and it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t memorable, but it enjoyed the benefit of being fresh poured.

Back to the menu. First up, we ordered dry fried shrimp with tea leaves.

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This was something I want to try at home. The tea leaves reminded me of similar dishes done with crispy fired basil. The tea was still on the stem, unfermented, and fun to chew through (Yoonhi worried a little about the caffeine). The shrimp were cooked just right, the shell giving enough that you could crunch through it, peeling was an unnecessary option. There was another flavour to the shrimp as well, suggesting that they’d been marinated before frying with the tea.

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The braised snails were properly prepared, they’d been purged, but not of their young. I enjoyed this, but Yoonhi decided this was enough of the snails for this trip.

The steamed tofu was good. It came surrounded by a crinkling fried green that was hard to place. It might’ve been a seaweed, it had that taste to it.

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The chicken stuffed with dates and nuts caught me by surprise. This was much more of a European dish (although it was served with rice and fried bananas). It was a good dish, but didn’t work with the shrimp and tofu.

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After dinner we considered the range of clubs that were available. Most of them, however, were heavily techno (we could feel the thudding inside during dinner) and, while names like The Hard Seat Café were intriguing, I knew I wouldn’t do well with the noise level.

And it was getting too darned cold to sit outside.

Too darned wet, too.

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We contented ourselves with another pour from a dragon pot. This gave us something dark green to go with our spoon. Nice, a little gelatinous, with that back flavour of sweet beans.

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So, that was us. All dressed up with nowhere to go. We ambled back to the top of the street, and lucked out on one of the taxis headed our way.

Back in the room we finalized packing, which wasn’t too difficult. We just dumped things into the one suitcase we’d opened for this stop.

I did a farewell to the Clynelish bottle, putting what was left into the flask, and remembering to put the flask in the checked luggage (Beijing taught me that). And then we prepared for bed.

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But can anyone tell me what this was for? They’d just been sitting by our bedside taunting us in our ignorance. I was thinking - assisted suicide. But Yoonhi wasn’t listening to me anymore. She was asleep.

Next: Quite Ugly One Morning

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or is that pomelo? I’m used to pomelo being green

It is indeed a pomelo. They are usually yellow to yellowish-green here. There is a pomelo farm on the outskirts of Liuzhou. You pay an entrance fee and can pick your own. The only catch is that you can't take them away. They have to be eaten on-site. How much pomelo can you eat?

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This had been billed as “Bing Shuan beer” the local “best”. I’m not certain what was meant by this term. Is it Liquan’s premium brand? And what exactly causes this to be labled premium?

Liquan Bing Shuang (Ice Beer - bing is ice, shuang means clear) is one of Liquan's premium beers. Why? Because they say so.

Common Liquan beer sells for around ¥3 in every corner shop (minus 4 mao refund on returned bottles). Restaurants and upscale bars found that no one was willing to pay any more than that and so, they stopped stocking Liquan and went for beers they could sell with a higher markup. Liquan were losing out.

There was a fashion a few years ago for 'ice-beers' and so, Liquan launched Bing Shuang, priced it a little too high for the common guy in the street, but appealing to the bar crowd. They also sold it in a clear bottle to differentiate from the regular stuff. Whether it tastes better or not is neither here nor there. The point is to show that you can afford it.

Personally, I prefer the ¥3 stuff, but then I'm a cheapskate!

She had a selection of steamed green things, and what looked like turnips, too (anyone want to jump in here?).

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The steamed green things are called Ai Ba Ba and are made from sticky rice and Chinese mugwort. They are popular at Qing Ming (or Tomb Sweeping Festival) and are sometimes called Qing Ming Ba (Qingming cakes).

The 'turnips' are, in fact, taro.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Thanks, Liuzhou,

We saw the pomelo everywhere for sale on the sides of the road as we were heading to the airport. Are pomelo that popular in Guangxi? Or is it just that they're there? One of my Singapore friends couldn't stand them, as it was something she was forced to eat by her family on one certain holiday of the year.

On the other hand, the Thai salad - yam som o - is one of my favourite Thai dishes, if nothing else because I admire the obsessiveness of people that will separate out every pomelo seed.

Any idea what those green, coin like steamed things wrapped in leaves are?

Cheers,

Peter

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Yes Peter, pomelo is very popular here. I can't think why. 99% of the time they are very dry and it takes dynamite to open the things.

The pomelo farm employs little old ladies whose sole job is to open them. They get quite adept at the task.

The green coin things are the Ai Ba Ba which I mentioned in my last post.

The steamed green things are called Ai Ba Ba and are made from sticky rice and Chinese mugwort. They are popular at Qing Ming (or Tomb Sweeping Festival) and are sometimes called Qing Ming Ba (Qingming cakes).
Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Day 17 – A Farewell to Alms

Everyone was sleeping, at least everyone in my family. I slid out with the cameras and took some last filler.

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It’s a pretty place, and once you get outside of the city limits it gets to be a really pretty place. But I wasn’t particularly comfortable here. Odd, as they had decent bars, and were used to catering to foreigners. Perhaps that’s the crux of the matter. I don’t necessarily want to be catered to as a foreigner (then I should learn more putonghua than just “give me a beer”, I know). I kinda like being ignored.

But Yangshuo, beyond all the good things (like laundry), had a begging culture. You were constantly being hit on for sales, services, or just plain “gimme”. One of my least favourite aspects of India, having people hanging off of you. And there was, perhaps, a little too much of that in Yangshuo.

I returned to find Yoonhi astir, Scud at the computer, and Serena dead to the world. We woke her up, and finished our packing. Then it was downstairs to get some food of dubious quality into the kids while I checked out. The last thing I was going to do was go near their breakfast again.

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And I was justified. Behold the look in Serena’s eyes. These are the eyes of a little girl who’s been traumatized by gruesomely prepared bread products. Stop them before they they bake again!

Sorry.

The airport was two hours away over rough roads. This was the only time while driving in China that I felt uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough that, while Mr. Li was driving, I was looking around to see if there might be some seatbelts I’d missed. No such luck.

We pulled into the backside of the airport, and Pam and Mr. Li got us to departure. We were flying China Southern.

China Southern must’ve remembered me from when I’d used them back in the 90’s. I remember sitting in my seat, listening to the stewardesses working their way up the aisle to me, the only Westerner on board.

“Would you like tea or coffee?”

“Would you like tea or coffee?”

“Would you like tea or coffee?”

When they finally got to me I asked for water and they had a melt down.

So, they were out for revenge. We were 4 kg over on our weight allowance. We were charged 100 Yuan. 100 RMB isn’t going to kill me, but it just seemed odd that they were doing this (and this was the only time in China we were dinged).

We admired the farmers’ market by the check-in, but didn’t pick anything up. We just wanted to get through security and settle down for our last internal flight.

The departure hall mimicked the layout of all the other departure halls we’d seen. Big vaulted steel ceilings and lots of glass. This is why the Beijingers are saying that their new national theatre, designed by the same guy who did the pyramid at the Louvre (the Chinese born American I. M. Pei), looks just like an airport.

We found a place to sit, and as usual I choked at the cost of coffee. But I needed it, even at 18 Yuan for a half full cup. At least it tasted reasonable.

Yoonhi wanted to get some food for the kids, but couldn’t find anything on the menu beyond overpriced bar nuts. However, she spotted a steaming soup pot by the bar, so she went over to it and made eating motions. This finally produced a menu.

Of course, they didn’t have anything on the menu they’d been hiding. There was one type of noodle soup, and that was it.

Serena had noodle soup.

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While Serena ate, and I nursed my coffee, Yoonhi made a valuable discovery in the shopping area.

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Haibao! I’d waited all my life for Haibao. This had starfish and sand dollars and lizards and snake parts and sea horses and wolfberries and little black ants…..

I was overcome.

We had no idea what to do with it, but we had to buy it. Our guess at the time was that it was a soup. We were proven incredibly wrong when we returned from our trip to find that it’s for making “wine” (and I use that term in the broadest and most inclusive sense).

I should’ve bought two bags.

Shortly after we embarked upon China Southern, and we were on our way to Shanghai.

I was saddened at the change in the airline. When I’d flown them before to Xishuangbanna, they were something of a circus, throwing away free good luck charms to the passengers, and freely handing out other gifts to one and all. I still have the flight bags and key chain. Now, nothing.

Although I did like the safety instructions.

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All flight long Scud and I were plotting how to take out the smoke detectors. Getting out of Chinese prison, however, was something we couldn’t quite work out a plan for. I thought maybe Brad Pitt and Robert Redford could help, but Yoonhi didn’t find this a particularly credible plan.

Below, we were approaching Shanghai.

Next: Honey, I’m Home

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Day 17 – Shanghai Delight

I have sinned.

For years I’ve bad mouthed Shanghai. You see, I saw it before. Back in 1994 I’d come out to consider an offer from some people who wanted me to start a business up for them.

I came, I saw, I contracted a lung infection, and I left.

The city then was filthy (I refer here to the miasma they called “air”). The infrastructure was non-existent. Traffic was a nightmare of bicycles. And everything was grey.

Add to that housing at $10,000 a month, and a pretty abysmal outlook for my kid’s schooling, and we did not have recipe for success.

On the bright side, I came away happier with what I already had. There’s a bright side to everything.

But, since then, I’ve not had much good to say of Shanghai.

However, things have been creeping in over the last few years. Tales of fashion, of subways, and of food. Especially of food.

Finally, in Bangkok last year at the WGF, I spent some time with one of my friends’ relatives who was living in Shangai. I liked him, and trusted his opinion, so I figured it was worth a try.

So, we tried.

I love this town.

It was a cautious start. We were picked up at Hongqiao Airport, the same old airport we’d arrived at before. I recognized the vacant immigration desks. After that we were picked up by Kyle.

Kyle and our driver, Mr. Li, got us to our hotel in one piece. Traffic was better than before. The air was better than before.

The hotel, however, was not. We were bunking at the Hang Sheng Peninsula, which, I assure you, has nothing to do with the Peninsula hotels of fame. We were on Wu Song Lu, conveniently located on the other side of a flyover that made direct access impossible.

Still, it was clean and presentable, and they immediately upgraded our rooms to mini-suites, which afforded me the luxury of working on my computer without waking Yoonhi up. And it was, technically, in walking distance of the Bund.

And we weren’t here for the hotel. We did a quick hose-down and then caught a taxi for Nanjing Lu.

We started at the Peace Hotel, and walked up the street, aiming for the new (to me) section they had blocked off as a walking street.

As a caution, the walking street is the home of roaming tourist buses, so keep an eye out not to be run over.

As always, our primary concern was finding food. It appeared the best stalking grounds for this would be the streets leading off of the main drag.

At our first foray, we found some steamed dumplings and a shwarma stand. Serena insisted on having a horrible looking shwarma. Yoonhi and Serena waited, and waited, and waited for the guy to finish with his customer. At the end, it just turned out to be his girlfriend.

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This was a pretty dubious looking shwarma, and Yoonhi had some concerns about Serena’s health. I was more concerned about it tasting bad. It did. (the dumplings, however, were very good. Nice and juicy).

We staked out a couple of reasonable looking dives to eat at. Across the street I stared forelorn at the Nanjing Hotel. I’d considered staying there, but our travel people had said it was only a Two Star, and they wouldn’t recommend it. Looking it over from street level, I saw nothing wrong. Okay, it may be hot and cold running cockroaches inside, but the location was fabulous.

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We moved up Nanjing.

And then I saw something good.

A swarm.

Shanghai is one of those places where a good restaurant draws a mob. Notice the distinction. These places have large, large numbers of people swarming them. This particular one was Shen Da Xheng. It looked like the crowd was lined up to buy some sort of green dumpling, or bun.

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Now, I’m a busy man. I’ve got serious loafing to get done. I’m not about to spend half an hour waiting in line for something. But what I could do is pay the exorbitant surcharge and eat inside.

Except I didn’t see any green buns. Oh, well.

We made do with a stewed brawn pig claw. This sounded like part of some mutant porcine Predator, but came out as a large mass of pressed pork bits. I believe some of those bits may have been meat. Tasty, with a strong flavour.

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We ordered the dumplings in soup mainly because everyone else in the place was eating this. They tasted like they had crab meat in them. Good broth, and nice filling.

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And I also ordered the crab stuffed steamed dumplings. When you bit into these they were really juicy, squirting liquid magma onto your lips. I was less enthusiastic and more careful in eating the next one.

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And I ordered a bowl of shredded eel noodle. I like eel, I do admit. This was fine, nice and slippery, although I think I liked the matching of texture of eel and noodle at the Shanxi Loft in Beijing a bit more.

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Now we were set. We had some food in our bellies, and we’d had a chance to rest our feet. That meant it was time to go and look for food.

Up the street, past the “Nibe” store (our motto “Just Copyright Infringe It!”), and we stumbled onto a little piece of heaven.

The Shanghai First Food Store.

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Ignore the Pizza Hut (I still haven’t forgiven them for that horrible “thing” in Chengdu). We were attracted first by Bee Cheng Cheng (at least, that’s what I’ve got written down), which makes pork jerky out at the front of the building. While Scud is a fan of dry jerkies, I’m fonder of these, just on the edge of juicy, and glistening with the fat coming out of the pork.

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Inside Shanghai First there’s a marvelous world of dried goods. There’s also Yang’s Fried Dumplings.

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Yang’s met my basic requirements of Shanghai dining. There was a mob. We found out later (when I shelled out for a guidebook) that it’s well known for it’s fried dumplings, but at the time we were – as ever – blissfully ignorant.

They had photos up of their regular shop (located in Wujiang Lu) again with line ups stretching out and away into the distance.

But I didn’t mind the queue here too much. There was plenty to watch. They had a crew of 7 madly working inside the cramped little stand; rolling, cutting, stuffing, pinching, and frying.

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What they produced was really pretty. A sprinkling of sesame seeds and green onion over a pale dough, and the bottom nicely browned, as if it’d been suntanning. Like back at Shen Da Xheng you get a viciously hot squirt of liquid when you bite in. Our book talks about how the Shanghainese use a bit of gelatin in the stuffing that works to create this inner broth in the dumplings that keeps them so moist.

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There was no room to be had close by the stand, so we took up station out by the garbage. I’m not fussy. We bit into the first, and allowed some of the steam to come out and for it to cool a bit. We were learning.

We poked around the nuts and dried fruits and stuff for a bit more. I lusted after the cold hams that were on display, and then we decided we needed to eat more food.

Yoonhi spotted a place up the stairs that looked interesting. Wu Da Nang. We just had a couple of cold dishes here. I considered a Suntory beer, but they had nothing cold (I know, I’m a sissy) so I opted for the Tsingtao.

We had two dishes. One a pretty little thing of mushrooms; sweet and chewy, with a nice vinegar bite to them. There were some chilis on display, but they really didn’t do anything for the taste. It was much more a pickled mushroom flavour.

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And alongside that we had some pork trip, again pleasantly pickled (a state I try to attain in my more zen moments).

Serena had been reasonably good (for Serena) so we decided we’d let her have what she wanted.

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(She can’t be my child).

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From here, we worked our way up Nanjing Lu towards the park, until we finally decided that it was getting too cold for the kids. I confidently pulled out my hotel card, and hailed down a taxi (after a few failed attempts).

The taxi driver refused to take us there.

I hailed another.

He refused.

This was getting bad. I decided we needed to get moving, so I got us back down the street a bit, and then decided we’d be better off shielded from the wind by the tourist bus. This got us to the other end of Nanjing.

From there I got us to the piece hotel, and tried another taxi. No luck. I was getting very concerned, both about our freezing to death, and also about our being in a hotel that no one would go to.

Then I looked at the card, and realized that the print was way too small for any cabbie to read in the dark. I popped into the Peace Hotel and had them rewrite the name of the hotel in big letters. Outside, a cab picked us up, I said Wu Song Lu, showed him the card, and we were on our way home.

Back at the Hang Sheng, we left the kids in a warm room, and Yoonhi and I went out to reccy the neighborhood.

It seems we were in a fairly seedy area. This would’ve been okay, except that it was also generally lacking in restaurants. There was one place around the corner that got our attention – Pacican. We noted it, and then headed up the street to the lights.

What we found was a fairly lively area of Muslim street eats and massage parlours. I don’t think these were the type Yoonhi was interested in.

We continued through these until we hit the main street, and discovered a movie theatre. Every film playing had been included in the in-flight movie system of our Emirates aircraft on the way over, or else on flights from the previous year. I crossed off the “night at the movies” for Scud.

Nearby were some reasonable looking places. Peanut shells on the floors, cases of beer, and lots of crawfish for sale. There was some hope.

And then we found ourselves in a residential area across from a hospital. We circumnavigated this and headed for home, with just a pit stop at the local 7-Eleven for some near boiling beers (the stuff in their cooler was hotter than the stuff on the shelves).

I checked my ears, nose, and throat, and found nothing to complain about.

This wasn’t the same city I left 13 years ago.

Next: Putting On The Ritz

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This wasn’t the same city I left 13 years ago.

Next: Putting On The Ritz

Peter, thanks for the update on Shanghai. My last business trip there was also in June, 1994 and it was a visit to Dante's Inferno - the heat, the dirt, the dust, the smog...The Pudong area was in the early stages of construction then and from a high vantage point, all we could see was a forest of construction cranes through the dun coloured clouds of dust. Beijing was bad enough (maybe worse), but at least there was some historical attractions.

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Peter, I've been obsessively reading this amazing blog since you started it. I've been bugging my husband to read it, but he's been too busy at work to do a thorough read. He's trying to convince me to print the whole shebang out so he can read it on the plane: we're leaving for a trip to Shanghai in 3 days (9 days in Shanghai, 4 in Beijing). I'm so glad you got to the Shanghai bit of your trip! I selfishly hope that you post loads more about this leg of your journey before I leave :)

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I liked Shanghai, too. I was there in 1987 and again in 2004. I know that it's more populous than it used to be, and yet the streets didn't feel more crowded. I could speculate about the reasons but I'm on stronger ground just stating my observations. In 1987, there was practically nothing in Pudong but a big Suntory sign and some warehouses. Shanghai by 2004 had the most active construction in the world, 24/7. The sheer amount of construction taking place was extraordinary, and I liked the futuristic-looking skyline. The food my family and I had was uniformly good or better, except for the time when we made the mistake of going into a tourist restaurant on Nanjing Lu. I loved the fact that we could go to any random noodle house and have a delicious meal. The biggest annoyance we dealt with was the very aggressive street sellers who immediately greeted us with "Hello!" and exhortations to buy this or that -- four at a time when we walked out of the Peace Hotel, where we were staying (and very happy with the rooms) -- but we did find "buyao" fairly effective in getting them to back off and seek other marks. Peter, I look forward to your coverage of Shanghai dining.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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