Oct 28 2010

Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐

Dingtaifeng, the land of xiaolongbao 小龙饱 (small steamed juicy buns, or dumplings). it’s far more famous and delicious than Nan Xiang. DTF’s buns are smaller and lots more expensive, and I haven’t seen a single one being broken. Yes, sometimes the buns get broken at NX. I only visited this one in Taipei at Tienmu SOGO Department Store. Both times, we had to wait: one was 30 and second time was 45 minutes. However their operation was very smooth and attentive. Watching the employees, it happened to be all men making the buns; reportedly they need to fold exactly same number of pleats for each buns, makes me wonder: really no machine could duplicate that task?
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It drawing power is just unbelievable. No matter what time of the day you go, you have to queue up. 3pm in the afternoon? Wait. At 11am on the mid autumn festival 中秋节 (9/22) DTF was a solid 30 minutes wait while the adjacent hall with various eateries was empty.
empty nest Michelin one star

DTF gets a one star from Michelin. Wrestling a star out of Michelin is difficult and this is only some dumplings. Well, I want to go there again, again and again might say something. Well, what do I know about the Frenchies.


Oct 27 2010


A day on the town with friends.

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Zhujiajiao is a quick drive, about 45 minutes from Shanghai. The large parking lot was free.

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Many small commercial alleys, unlike the one above were jam packed and very narrow.

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Foods compete with merchandise. A lock was in place although the yellow sign says its open.

Oct 27 2010

Yangzhou the beautiful 扬州市

江南 jiangnan means South of Changjiang 长江 the Yangtze River?

I’m from Beijing (and loving it), grew up by the wide ChangAn Blvd 长安街 near TianAnMen, engulfed in the sand storm in the spring time, every year. Although we have the Summer Palace where I went often, as with Beihai Park 北海公园, etc. but there is something special neat about this southern city in Jiangsu province that neither BJ nor New York has. The smallness? The humidity? The tempo? Or simply the fact that I was just a day visitor who was still basking in a semi sedated mind after Xiao Pangu? Perhaps exquisite is to describe Yangzhou as magnificent is for Beijing? In that, I feel Yangzhou is like a 工笔画 gongbi painting (traditional Chinese realistic painting the girlscharacterized by fine brushwork and close attention to detail.) while BJ or NY a 写意画 xieyi painting (freehand brushwork in traditional Chinese painting that characterized by vivid expression and bold outline).

The battery in my camera had exhausted after Geyuan, so I had make do with the crackberry, with only 2 megapixel capacity, an ancient quality.

I had been very lucky during the entire trip for no rain dropped while I was out there somewhere, except the following Sunday we spent at Zhujiajiao 朱家角. That Saturday, Yangzhou rained before my arrival and Shanghai poured after I left. The overcast sky made the summer heat less threatening.

We visited Slender West Lake 瘦西湖 first. It’s YZ’s largest but it wasn’t crowded. Caroline and I walked along the skinny lake, it was very tranquil. The boats in the lake were all manned by young girls in uniform.
Back in the 18th century, the Emperor Qianlong was to come .. to please him, the wealthy salt merchants of Yangzhou patched up this white pagoda with salt over night. The day I was there, the pagoda was surrounded by shelves under going renovation. I didn’t see many cranes and exquisite maybe too early but YZ is trying hard to improve itself, and many places showed the progress while few places were eyesores. A new airport will soon be open, now 2 hours’ drive to Nanjing International Airport.
“This new five star hotel has just been opened.” Caroline explained as we were driving along the Grand Canal. I perked up and then saw the name:
Five stars?
Shouldn’t the chain use a different name for its luxury line? What do I know.
Caroline is from Jinan, after graduated from college majored in English she took the job with Yangzhou government. Don’t know if she has the tour guide license (aspiring guides – mostly young girls – need to go to school and pass the exam to be licensed ..), she was adequate at it, perhaps has been doing it for a while. given the fact that she works at foreign affairs office.
If I remembered it right, the admissions from the public counts the bulk of the budget for Slender West Lake 瘦西湖.
Couple more gardens and short visit to the jade market, the Driver Zhao took me back to Zhenjiang train station. By then I was in no mood to wander around Zhenjiang but going back to Shanghai.

Oct 25 2010

Geyuan Garden 个园

Geyuan Garden 个园 in Yangzhou is one of four major/best gardens in China

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Geyuan Garden sits on the north of Dongguan Street in Yangzhou, was rebuilt by General Manager Huang Zhiyun, a salt industry official on a ruin in 1818. It has many bamboos in the garden. The bamboo leaves shape like the Chinese character 个 (Ge, indivudual) hence the name.

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Phyllostachys vivax f. aureocalis, N.X.Ma 黄秆鸟哺鸡竹
Bambusa multiples (Lour) Raeuschel 孝顺竹 (I like this name better)

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There are four small rockeries constructed with distinct colorations representing the four different seasons: 四季假山 Season Rockery.

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Oct 23 2010

Xiao Pangu 小盘谷

The Little Pangu Garden in Yangzhou was one of my GG Grandfather Zhou Fu’s residences. I first learned about it from my cousin Li Yanxing of Hengyang (Hunan Province) when I was researching MD Chow, her grandfather, around 2005. Over the years, we spoke sporadically and I finally got to visit the Little Pangu

Oct 20 2010

Jennie’s honey

Auntie Jennie introduced this New Zealand honey to me:

“UMF” is the property which gives active manuka honey it’s special healing quality. UMF manuka honey with a rating of 16+ has the highest level of antibacterial activity, giving you faster, more reliable results.

Oct 17 2010

The naked ..

It was a hot and sticky night in Ningbo 宁波 (ning bo means Tranquil Waves), a seaside little town in northeastern of Zhejiang province, or 280 km (174 mi) south of Shanghai, with little over 2 million inhabitants. After the museum, I went to the Drum Tower, and basically ate myself to death: two meals plus taro drink in two hours. Then went to check out a sporting store for tennis balls because Sheraton has a carpet court and they provide equipments: two rackets a a bag of used balls. The nature thing to do was to buy a can of balls. It cost RMB38 per can, about US$5.5 (at 6.8 exchange rate). I must have winced. The salesgirl immediately took out a plastic bag loaded with new lose tennis balls with brands I’ve never heard of.
“Wu yuan.” 5 yuan each.
I was somewhat incredulous to see new balls being taken out of the cans. Oh well, I’m only a frog in the well.
South of 余姚江 Yuyao River and 丰化江 Fenghua River where they converge with Yong River 甬江 is the city center. Ningbo is building a subway, and 中山东路 Zhongshan East Road is obviously part of the loop. 和义路 Heyi Lu/Road to my right is the new 5th Avenue where spacious and glittering Louis Vuitton leads the way. Behind the mall’s the water front of Yuyao river. Crossed over ZhongShan Dong Lu is the colossal shopping compound, Tianyi Square 天一广场. Note: the world is flat, really. It gets trite that everywhere you go, you see the same brands back here in the USA, they differ only in currency. American influence is undeniable but how long it is going to be?
It’s the Reagan creed: America’s best days are still to come. It’s exactly how I felt when I first got here, back in 1986. Most corners I turned in the old Europa, were dilapidated remnants of once glorious past. The abundance in the new world was just simply overwhelming. The sunny and easily going Americans simply made me believe the best has yet to come. Merely quarter of century has passed and I think I have to reassess that.
山明水秀 green hills and clear waters – picturesque scenery is little far fetched since there isn’t hills (and I didn’t get to swim in its rivers ..) but Ningbo feels charming and sophisticated, or at least merging toward that direction. Its people are still simple and sincere.

A night market was in rage. Following the music I came up to this show booth. Naked cowboys performing? They didn’t seem to be doing a brisk business the few minutes I lingered there. Maybe I was in the way, so I moved on. Then did I realize that everyone was selling their unique foods in some form of nakedness. There were security guards or police mingled with orderly crowds.
Btw, I couldn’t taste any of them bec I had no empty corner in my belly. Errrrrrhhhhhh … what a bomber.

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Oct 15 2010

By train in Europe

EuroStar London-Paris July 5th: US$74 (one way)
Paris-Strasbourg-Heidelberg-Frankfurt: July 11-13: US$48 (€39)
– TGV Paris-Strasbourg
– TGV Strasbourg-Heidelberg
– Commuter train Heidelberg-Ffm
ICE Frankfurt-Cologne July 23rd: US$60 (round trip)

I like to travel by train. Nostalgia aside, its convenient and relaxing. Getting to the airport and having to endure the screening, it has becoming a trip of its own – a weary one.

Even during the high of summer, the trains, in Germany anyway are not fully booked. Even if it is, one could still sit in the dining car. We took the early AM train to Köln, wasn’t full but we had breakfast there anyway. The ride was little over an hour, so by the time we finsihed our last bite, the tip of the Cathedral (Dom) came into our view.


the slow commuter train fm Heidelberg to Frankfurt

trains in Germany are still mostly empty ..

Oct 14 2010

Trained in Shanghai

Turned on Bloomberg TV this morning, a commercial was being played. A male voice over asking if you know where the fastest train that runs at over 400 kilometer an hour runs. He went on to give you a clue that it isn’t in France (TGV is stale … hmmmm … actually it has been keeping up with the Joneses ..), not in Japan (what’s there?) and not in the USA (does US have a train?) but in China (ha .. can you believe that?). Then the screen shows a train with blue logo CRH Hexie Hao 和谐号 runs, fast, I reckon?

Btw, it was In the Loop with Betty Liu, who was joined by two striking girls – Sheila Dharmarajan, etc., perhaps of Indian descent. Has Bloomberg gone Asia? Why Betty? Did she take a punch? She’s ugly with her nostrils facing the sky, hundred teeth, and pair of eyes more like a erotic dancer than .. oh I got it, it just what the station needs for its manly audience? DSCN0755 Sara Eisen looks like a cheer leader than serious business reporter. Come on .. Whatever.

Let’s go back to the train talk.

I needed to go to Yangzhou but there isn’t a fast connection between Shanghai and Yangzhou (surprise), so I opted the D3002 from SHA (Hongqiao station – Rainbow Bridge) to ZhenJiang (6:48-8:36, cost CNY73, about US$11) and G7151 ZJ-SHA (16:57-18:34; CNY115). Then its about 30 minutes car ride to Yangzhou. There are also buses. The bus terminal is next to the train terminal in ZhenJiang 镇江.

Hongqiao station is a new gray structure. It blinded in with the surrounding well, especially in the misty early morning. One side is vacant flat land, farther down is vertical overlapping highways. But once stepping inside, instantly I felt I became a nothing; I was dwarfed by the open space and the emptiness. Might be it’s early in the morning or the station has filled to its capacity, there wasn’t the expected humming and buzzing of a major train hub. It felt sterilized.

waiting area unfinished business ..

Hongqiao Railway Station 虹桥火车站 has just began to operate in July, little over two months ago. There are signs of odds and ends that needs to be tied. Luggage is being screened at entrance. One young lady who supposed to stare at the monitor was asleep and few others were just chatting or sitting around.
This station connects to subway Metro (Line 2 and 10) and HongQiao Airport. It kills and pains (actually just kill me so I won’t feel the pain) me to see so many metropolis have light rails/subways/trains that connect to their airports (from down town, not from some hicksvill Jamaica!) while New York doesn’t. I still love Noo Yawk but the love comes from knowing I couldn’t afford to live else where.

water gates

At a corner there was a bottled water station, each ticket would get stamped for a bottle. Perhaps a promotion for the company. There is a small room that offers both cold and hot drinking water. Crunching toilets with censor flush but no toilet paper. There were modern young girls dressed to kill and there were peasants who traveled with brooms. The gate opened 20 minutes prior to the departure.
Part of the platforms are in the open air but they are mop-clean.

shiny platformShanghai is clean. There are always cleaners in uniform dutifully performing. It was 6am but a lady in drag was already down there mopping.

The interior of the train is practical no nonsense: comfortable but not plushy as those high speed European trains one accustomed to. It offers both hot and cold water. Train attendants, mostly young women are less than friendly.

The D3002 was originated from Shanghai and departed on time. It stopped at Kunshan 昆山南, Suzhou 苏州, Wuxi 无锡, Changzhou 常州, Danyan 丹阳, then Zhenjiang 镇江 at 08:36, about 237 kilometer. The train stopped couple of minutes at each station except KunShan South station, where it lingered for more than 10 minutes. I was the only passenger in my caboose. A cleaning young girl passed, as she was mopping the floor. Out side of the train windows, there were unfinished highways, rails and highrises, vanishing from my view quickly. Booming is such an understatement.
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At Kunshan, a group of four got aboard, and the loud yapping if not yelling began. Why do Chinese have to talk so thunderously? The mob didn’t start to show up until SuZhou. Once got to WuXi the caboose filled to the brim, feeling like a refugee camp – brought back the fading memory of my youth, taking train rides. The luggage of all shape and color were everywhere and the standing only ticket holders jammed into our caboose’s the narrow pathway. Add to the stress was everyone was talking to someone.

List of train stations I’ve been to in China

Oct 5 2010

A lecture on China at Queens College

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