Friday, January 18, 2008

The halfway point...

**Pictures added 1/22**

It's hard to believe our trip is about half over. We leave a week from today. On the one hand, we've done a ton, and each day feels incredibly long and packed, but on the other hand, I feel like we just got here! Maybe it's because we came back to Beijing today, and we really haven't seen any of Beijing yet. Our Shanghai trip was a whirlwind, and Grace has been doing a great job blogging about everything in detail that I'm not sure where to start. I'll just do tidbits:

-Jian bing! Several people (thanks Connie and Audrey!) have told me that I absolutely MUST get this in China, and I dutifully obeyed. Our first morning in China, we ventured out and I found a streetside stand that Chi-Chu had pointed out the night before. I have to say, it was everything I was told it would be. The warm crepe with egg, tangy and spicy sauce, and the cilantro and scallions and crunchy fried thing in the middle that gave it a satisfying crunch. Yum. I got a few similar versions in Shanghai, but none quite as satisfying as that first place. I think I'm going to have to go back a few times this next week.
-the dash to the train to Shanghai was quite stressful. We decided to avoid rush hour traffic by taking the subway, and left early, but didn't quite account for the rush hour crowds on the subway. We had to let two trains pass before we could get on. There were subway workers on hand to help stuff people into the train. Once inside, we were jostled to and fro, and at one point Jen and Grace were lost in the sea of bodies pushing to get out. We made it to the train station with just 15 minutes until our train was to depart. We got through security--they X-rayed (is that a word?) our bag and also our person, but perplexingly wasn't stopping anyone when the X-ray machine beeped. We frantically looked on the board for our train, found the number, but couldn't figure out where to go. Finally I realized there were gate numbers listed, but for our gate it had the Chinese character for Zhong, plus a bunch of other characters I didn't know. "Zhong means center! It must be the main hall" and sure enough we found our gate, expecting to see huge lines, but instead, the gate was closed and locked, and there were just a few people waiting. We realized that we were actually an hour early.

-The sleeper train was COOL, especially after Jen was able to convince the two men in her cabin to switch with Ki-Ki and me so we could all be together. It was close quarters, but cozy, especially since we were sharing it with friends. We couldn't fathom sleeping with strangers in such intimate a setting, though. I took a top bunk, and it reminded me of sleeping in a bunk bed as kid. The beds were fairly comfortable and firm.

-Still jetlagged, some of us were waking up at odd times, and being in the unfamiliar sleeper train probably didn't help. I was awakened that night to a strange rattling sound. Shake shake shake, rattle rattle, crunch crunch crunch. The sound was strangely familiar...and then I realized, Nerds! I cracked an eye open and looked over at Ki-Ki, who was on the other top bunk. "Are you eating Nerds?!" she laughed apologetically.

-Shanghai has a tourist area dubbed "Chinatown" and indeed, it looked similar to American Chinatowns. We had Shanghainese dim sum, complete with several orders of Xiao long bao, which were delicious (although not as juicy as the ones you get at Joe's Shanghai in New York!). One of my favorite things to do while traveling is EAT. And eat we did. Ki-Ki's friend Melody joined us on the tour in Shanghai, and man, that girl can eat. Ki-Ki said that her nickname in college was The Bottomless Pit, and they used to joke that she had a tapeworm. Our tour guide Kevin was astonished by our appetites. "You're hungry?!? Again?!" He would ask periodically.

-I'm used to constant snacking, so I made sure to stock up on Asian snacks from the convenient store next to our hotel: rice crackers, bean curd, and potato chips. I love trying the different potato chip flavors in different countries, like Ketchup in Canada, Roasted Chicken in England, and Thai Curry Crab, Italian Red Meat, and Mexican Tomato Chicken flavors in China--and still many more to sample. I spotted Mango flavored potato chips, but alas will not be trying that one.

-Kevin took Jen and me out on the town Thursday night--the others were too tired (and Grace wanted to blog). We went to the French Concession, an area where a lot of foreigners used to live, and is now a main restaurant and bar drag. We picked a bar with live music--A Filipino band singing English pop songs, like Alicia Keys and Emilia. There was a minimum 400 Yuan charge per table (about $50 US or so), but that got us 4 beers, 3 glasses of wine, a platter of fruit, popcorn, and potato chips. Not too shabby.

-Then around 11 it was on to a club--the first place Kevin tried to take us to was closed, so we went to a place called Babyface. It was similar to any fancy Taipei or New York club--modern, fancy lights, two different rooms with hip hop playing in the smaller room, techno/house in the larger one. There were a lot of Westerners there, lots of smoke and hard alcohol, drunk people, and the main thing I noticed was that people were dressed fairly casually, especially for what seemed to be a fairly chic place. At one point, one of the bartenders stacked glasses up high on the bar, poured some type of alcohol on them and then set the tower on fire, resulting in a glowing blueish light. Then he added something that made it glitter and sparkle. Pretty.

-We ended the night at Karaoke--I had proclaimed my love for Karaoke earlier, and Kevin was excited to take us, even though we were tired at that point. "Can we go to KTV?" I asked. In Taiwan, I was all about the KTV, which was the private rooms where you can order food and drink and sing with just your friends. "You know, Karaoke is different from KTV" Kevin said, "In Shanghai, KTV is mostly for men--the women wear very little" "Oh, like mini skirts and stuff?" Jen asked. "Or sometimes they were nothing," he said. Ohhhh. "Uh, we don't want to go to KTV, then," I said. The next day he explained that KTV was where they entertained a lot of Japanese businessmen. Anyway, I'm not sure if this was really true, but I think I'll just call it Karaoke for the rest of the time I'm in China.

To be continued...we're off to a Hutong this afternoon.


Anonymous said...

Wow...your comments about the French Concession and xiao long bao made me a little "homesick" for Shanghai. (Thank goodness I found a place near by that makes awesome xiao long bao!) Enjoy the rest of your trip!

Rita said...

Um...where do I start?

1) >The warm crepe with egg, tangy and spicy sauce, and the cilantro and scallions and crunchy fried thing in the middle that gave it a satisfying crunch.

Between this description and the photo, I'm dying.

2) Great description of your dash to Shanghai,

3) Great descriptions and I'm dying over all your photos, like of xiao long bao,

4) Whoa about "KTV" in China!!