Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tastes of China

This last month has been rife with things that I've been wanting to do for the past 6 months, and just hadn't gotten around to yet. Going to a tailor, finishing off my restaurant list (didn't make it to lunch at Maison Boulod!), and learning to make chinese food. On Monday I attended a Tastes of China cooking class at The Hutong.  The Canadian chef, Joel, guided us through 3 regional dishes: a Sichuan Chili Fried Lotus Root, a Hunan Braised Pork, and a Steamed Eggplant dish. We chopped rolling cuts, drank pu'er tea, and ate our creations til the late hours of the evening. How delicious. I can't wait to get back to the states and begin building my asian cuisine repetoire. Now I just have to find lotus root back home.

Chef Joel.
photo courtesy of Jane Menon

photo courtesy of Jane Menon

Braised pork....I can't wait to try this one on my own
photo courtesy of Jane Menon

Fried lotus root
photo courtesy of Jane Menon

chef Joel and his group from around the world: the US, Europe, Australia, Ireland
photo courtesy of Jane Menon

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Do the Chengdu

Happy Tomb-Sweeping Festival (Rather belatedly)!

Since Brian and I didn't have any tombs to sweep here in China we went traveling for our last jaunt of these 6 months in Asia. The plan was originally to head to Hong Kong, since we have yet to see that famous city, but Brian was sent to Chengdu for work and so I bought a ticket to head there instead. Chengdu is located closer to the center of China, in the Sichuan province, and is known for its spicy food, teahouses, and giant pandas. It's also surrounded by mountains containing some amazing scenery, making its indirect sunlight and misty days rather iconic.

I realized that I haven't done a Top Ten list in a while. Apologies.

Top Ten Things that we did in Chengdu:

1. Renmin Park and Baihuatan Park - Brian and I spent one whole day simply wandering the streets of chengdu in the general direction of Renmin Park. We'd heard it was good....and it didn't disappoint. Chock full of people, drinking tea, playing cards, rounds of mahjong, kids running around, and.....(this is my favorite) dance gardens. Who would have thought? In the center of the park (aka the Monumental Monument, in their words) is an area that is segment into smaller paved spaces. In each of these a different group would be gathered, playing a particular style of music and dancing traditional dances. Brian and I just sat there and smiled. How could you not?

amusement park rides for kids!

the best adventure playground

they would hang bird cages amongst the trees in this park. beautiful chirping, color, and accent. delightful!

2. Pandas - Just to the north side of Chengdu is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. I read that you should arrive early, and you definitely should. On the misty morning we were the only people in the park and headed straight to the back and the adult panda pavilions. We saw 3 huge black and white beauties lumber out, plop down and start chomping on large stands of bamboo, just watching us with their big black eyes. Very Hanna-like. Then we wandered over and saw a whole group of younger pandas playing and eating, ruled by The Tyrant as Brian called him. They climbed trees, fell out of them, ran around, ate bamboo, and wrestled. Absolutely delightful.

a red panda
The Tyrant (aka show-off)

3. Pet and Plant Street - during our wandering day....loved it.
tadpoles, puppies, kittens, koi fish, birds

4. Lingxiu Hot Springs Spa - A tier of naturally scalding hot spring water down to cool temperatures. You start at the bottom with the cooler pools and work your way up. We stopped for chuar and some beer in the middle, mentally soaking up the misty mountain around us. There was also a strange series of pools, of which Brian and I did not partake. They were labeled Banana Pool, Mint Pool, Pineapple Pool, and Chocolate Pool. Also appropriately colored neon yellow, mint green, and purply brown. Hmmm.

5. Hand-pulled noodles - After the park strolling we happened upon a tiny streetside muslim restaurant. We picked from the pictures on the wall and then sat to watch the noodling-pulling show. This guy was good. His dad was so proud of how good he was...and we were not lax in showing our admiration.

6. BBQ fish in Baguo Town - After a few luxurious hours in the hot spring Brian and I went wandering into the nearby town to see if we could find something to eat. And we could. The specialty of the house was a large fish that we picked out of a tank. Within 10 minutes that delicious fish was slammed on the ground, thrown into a searing liquid, topped with piles of fresh herbs, and placed on our table. I'm still overcoming my childhood dislike for fish, but it was wonderful.Oh, and the owner tried to make us pay 2 kuai to use his plates! nu-uh. Not on my watch. Brian still teases me about it, but I threw out a laughing 'shen me?' in the tone of 'whaaaaat?' And it worked. We saved 4 kuai.

7. Finding the bus back to Chengdu - God blessed us incredibly with buses. In Chengdu going to Mount Emei, we walk into the station to get tickets and ask when it leaves. 'Now' is the reply. We walk into the terminal, miraculously pick the right exit lane and are the last two seats together on the bus. Then, heading back to Chengdu we buy a ticket with 10 minutes to spare, buy some snacks, and once again get the last  two seats together, the bus pulled away 1 minute later. Timing is everything.

8. Mount Emei - This site would be an incredible multiple day hike. However, I wasn't really informed of that before we went. I thought we could grab a bus to the top, see the famous buddha, and then alternately hike and catch buses back down. In one day. Ummm....not so much. We did grab the bus to the top....only to find that it takes over 2 hours to get there, then a hike, then a cable car, then another walk. So, we didn't get to see much of the mountain other than the buddha. However, we met a fun group from Hong Kong on the bus who took us under their wing, helped us buy wicker sleds for our feet, and tried to give us directions. It wasn't a bad experience, but during this day I definitely understood why people travel with tour groups in china. If you don't speak or read mandarin, there is virtually nothing (websites, visitor centers, signage) that can help you navigate. It can be very frustrating...and yet make you feel like a true adventurer.

9. Street food - I still don't really know how to spell chuar. But I know what it is. It's delicious meats, veggies, and tofu shish-kabobed onto wooden skewers and cooked over small charcoal troughs. After a few months in Beijing and our friend Greg removing a lot of the fear of such cooking, Brian and I eagerly sampled chuar and handmade honey candy at every stop that we could. Man, it was good. It was such a great moment to be strolling through these bustling, happy city parks snacking on sichuan spicy snacks.
hand-formed honey candy

10. Intercontinental Hotel Buffet - Before heading back to good ol' Beijing, Brian had another surprise in store for me. We taxied south of the city center to the Intercontinental and lazily enjoyed an incredible spread of cuisine from everywhere. Thai noodles, sichuan meats, french cheeses, american ice cream, Indian curry, and japanese sushi....all in a big beautiful atrium with calling birds and falling water as a backdrop. A perfect way to end our fun weekend.
our awesome hotel river view

Friday, April 22, 2011

Beijing Municipal Planning Hall

I know I keep saying this, but I'm a bit behind on posts. The last month has simply flown the point where I wake up in the morning so disoriented that I have no idea what day it is, what time it is, or if I'm supposed to be at work or not. Add in deadlines at the office and packing and i'm dizzy with activity. All that to say, I have some posts up my sleeve and you will probably be seeing posts long after we return to Orlando on April 29th. Yep, we head home a week from today!!! I've never had 6 months go so quickly.

On to the post:

A little over a month ago a few landscape architect/planner friends, brian, and i all went to see the Beijing Municipal Planning Hall. It is full of models, scenes, and plenty of graphics that my design mind just loved. We missed the 4D experience of the subway system and the 3D movie, but we spent an hour strolling around the massive model of the city. I tried not to get upset at the sprawl and instances of poor urban design and just marvel at the expanse of one of the world's largest cities.

Old Metal Model....pretty cool
Multi-sided exhibition room
The monster model

Marina on the Summer Palace
Jenny on, who knows what.
CBD model
Jenny-zilla Attacks the CCTV Tower!!!!!!

Greg, Brian, myself, and Jenny

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Diana Mini in the Forbidden City

Last Saturday Brian and I finally participated in the primary tourist activity here: seeing the Forbidden City. Prior to trekking to the center of Beijing though, we stopped in Sanlitun to visit the photography store Lomography. There we purchased a fun plastic camera called the Diana pretty much rocks.

image by Lomography
 It's 35mm, takes 2 different formats, can do multiple exposures and overlapped images. Very easy and flexible to use. We got the pictures back yesterday and they're just fun. Everyday images, scenes, and moments became magical under this lens.

Our trip began with a stop at Jingshan Park just to the north of the Forbidden City. Also known as Coal Hill, the major feature of the park is a huge landform where they piled all the fill after digging it from the moat. Great views from the top, centered right on the axis of the FC and the drum and bell towers. It was a bit pollution-hazied day, but still great afternoon light.

Jingshan Park in Spring

View towards the bell and drum towers

Forbidden City from Jingshan Park

We then headed into the FC from the north and simply wandered the rooms, chuckled at the tour groups, and ate Mickey Mouse ear-esque ice cream in the courtyard. Afterwards we had drinks at a nearby hotel rooftop bar as the sunset. We had to keep stopping and saying: Yep, we're in China.

Forbidden City double exposure

Brian was really good at these double exposures

this one is my favorite

Chinese dessert: nuts, dried fruitcakeish form

I inadvertently created an overlapped image on the one of brian waiting for a cab. i love it.