Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Xinjiang Cuisine

Last night, Jeff and I took Beth to one of our favorite local restaurants, which specializes in food from China's Xinjiang province. Xinjiang is home to the Uyghurs, who are Sunni Muslim Turks (and have been at the heart of much of the ethnic violence in western China in recent years.) The food is delicious - spicier than Shanghainese and richer in flavor. They specialize in lamb kebabs (which are cooked over a fire outside), but it is easy to put together a vegetarian meal, which we did last night.

We ate homemade yogurt with raisins, shredded potatoes, green beans with chili peppers, tofu cooked in a clay pot, sesame flat bread, and a cold tomato and onion salad. To drink, we had tea and Tsingtao beer. And, for dessert, we had toffee apples - caramelized apples that are served hot and need to be separated right away before they harden. What a feast! I'll definitely miss this place. Luckily, there are a few Xinjiang-style restaurants in the U.S., so I may have to seek those out. More pictures here: http://hsinchina.shutterfly.com/4632.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hanging with Haibao

The city has Expo fever. The opening day is May 1 and the excitement/anticipation is palpable. The government is making a concerted effort to clean up the city and to keep things orderly, as evidenced by the "no smoking" and "no spitting" signs hung up everywhere and the guards in every metro stop and tourist destination.

The Expo mascot, Haibao, also seems pumped. Haibao is everywhere, from stuffed versions being hawked on the street to the large-scale versions in parks and public areas. (Even our school has a large Haibao at its gate.) Though he looks more like Gumby than anything else, Haibao is modeled after the Chinese character for the word "ren," meaning people. Enjoy this picture of Beth and me with Haibao at the Xujiahui park yesterday.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Up in the Air

Another full day of showing Beth around Shanghai. We started with brunch and people watching in the park in Xujiahui before heading out to PuDong to venture up into the World Financial Center. Completed in 2008, it was briefly the world's tallest building (now the third?) and stands 492 meters high. It's lovingly referred to here as the "bottle opener building," because that's the shape that sticks out in the skyline. There are several options for visiting and we opted for the best-of-the-best: a combined ticket to the 94th floor "sky arena," 97th floor (with a glass ceiling at the bottom of the bottle opener), and 100th floor (with a glass FLOOR at the top of the opener!) The entire experience, from the staff to the lights and music in the elevator was very futuristic. And, it was amazing to see Shanghai from the "world's tallest observation deck." Even on a clear day, it was hard to see through all of the haze. But, what we could see what a jungle of buildings and skyscrapers as far as we could see in every direction. Pretty unreal. More pictures here: http://hsinchina.shutterfly.com/4553.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Beth's Here!

Last night, our good friend Beth arrived from Minnesota for a visit. We're so excited to get to show her around some of our favorite sites and to venture with her up to Beijing next weekend. China must be excited to have her here, too, as the weather was the best we've had in months today. We took advantage by having a very full day, starting with a neighborhood tour, then heading to Nanjing Road and the Bund, then to Yuyuan Old Town, then Taikang Lu, and finally ending with dessert at a bakery in Xiantiandi. Whew!
The first picture is of Beth munching on a cucumber. I took her to our local wet market where one of the vegetable vendors I frequent was so excited to see a new face that he insisted that we both take a cucumber (for free) and peeled them right there for us to enjoy. The second is of the three of us on the newly restored Bund, with the PuDong skyline in the background.
Can't wait to see what we get up to next!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kung Pao Chicken

This is a very common dish at Shanghainese restaurants. It consists of diced chicken, peanuts, and chili peppers (with various other spices thrown in.) It can be ordered in most local restaurants and is a favorite dish at the what teachers have dubbed the "English Menu Place," so named for its partly-translated menu.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Office Space

Better three-quarters of the way through the year than never... here's a picture of my office. I share it with five other 9th and 10th-grade "foreign" teachers (all Americans.) Across the hall, there are another twelve foreign teachers. And, throughout the building, there are similar offices for the Chinese teachers. My desk is in the bottom right corner of this picture - covered in preparations for the next unit. (It's midterm week here, so the teachers have more free time for grading and prepping.)
Look forward to Jeff's office in a future post...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fancy Cakes

Following the theme of baked goods, I thought I'd post a quick picture of some of those fancy bakery cakes that I wrote about yesterday. The decorations on them are always incredibly elaborate, even in the smallest hole-in-the-wall bakery in our neighborhood. Even if it does take some guess work sometimes to imagine what they might taste like, they are fun to admire.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bean Bread

There are bakeries everywhere here. On the block outside of our school, there are probably five. They always have amazing-looking cakes and goodies and lots of interesting pastries. Once in a while, Jeff and I treat ourselves to a loaf of sweet bread to supplement our normal yogurt breakfasts. They're always a gamble, though, as sometimes it's difficult to tell what's in them. We've accidentally ended up with meat - one time with sweet cream - on more than one occasion. I bought this loaf last night, thinking that it must be either raisins, walnuts, or chocolate, any of which would be delicious. I totally forgot about the strong possibility of it being beans, though. (Red bean paste is a popular filling in many sweet treats.) Imagine my surprise when I got a closer look (and taste!) this morning. Still, it's passable and will no doubt be enjoyed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weekend in Nanjing

After weeks of wanting to, we finally made it to Nanjing for the weekend. Nanjing, which literally translates to "South Capital," is full of history, some of it tragic. Yesterday afternoon, we set out for a long walk through the city, stopping for people-watching and coffee breaks along the way (see the dueling Costa Coffee vs. Starbucks stores in the photo album.) Our walk took us to a portion of the old city walls, built during the Ming Dynasty. What was left was open for wandering around and felt very untouched (especially the incredibly steep stairs leading down to the road!) From there, we headed up to Purple Mountain, home of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's mausoleum. Viewed by many Chinese as the founder of modern China, he's interred in a marble tomb 300 long steps up the mountain. Not a bad view for a resting place! We finished that night off with some delicious Korean food.

Today, we enjoyed our hotel breakfast buffet (now the third time since being in China that I've had cereal and milk. Yum. Also, they sprinkled a little cinnamon on the cappuccinos. Excellent.) Following that, we visited the Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre, a difficult but essential stop on any city tour. Nanjing was invaded by Japanese soldiers in 1937 and over the period of a couple of weeks, 300,000 Chinese were killed. The museum pays tribute to them and also is home to a mass grave of thousands of the victims. Though the museum eludes to the difficult history between the two countries, it does urge visitors to work for lasting peace. From there... off to the train station and back to real life.

More pictures here: http://hsinchina.shutterfly.com/4420.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Newly Reopened Bund!

The Bund, the area of Shanghai just west of the river, has been under construction since we got here in August. It's one of the city's most iconic spots and has been getting a face-lift for the World Expo (which is set to open on May 1.) It finally reopened to pedestrian traffic this month and is an awesome expanse of walking paths overlooking the river and facing the PuDong skyline. Jeff and I went on Sunday to check it out. It happened to be pouring rain and incredibly foggy, but was still worth seeing. More pictures here: http://hsinchina.shutterfly.com/4399.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shao Mai

I figured that it's been a while since I'd posted about food. So, here's another treat: Shao Mai, steamed dumplings stuffed with rice and pork, can be bought from street vendors. (This batch came from right outside of our school gates.) They cost 4 kuai (about 60 cents) for eight. They're best eaten warm and served with vinegar.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rainy Days

Someone told me recently that Shanghai has the same average number of overcast days as Seattle. Not sure if that's true, but it's sure felt true recently. Nonetheless, we ventured out into the rain yesterday and Jeff snapped this shot of the sea of umbrellas on Nanjing Road. A little weather is no match for the crowds!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring in Hangzhou

Final trip recap: Before heading  back to Shanghai, we spent one more night in Hangzhou and enjoyed a beautiful Monday off wandering around. We've been to Hangzhou a few times by now, but were able to find parts of the city that we'd yet to explore. These included the Qinghefang Old Street, which was full of street vendors and colorful stalls (including the portrait artists picture above) and the maze-like Xihu Tiandi, which is a series of coffee shops and restaurants connected by bridges jutting out onto West Lake.
The weather was absolutely perfect, leading to one of the prettiest days we've had all year. More pictures here: http://hsinchina.shutterfly.com/4293.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Country Roads

Third installment of the trip recap: Before leaving the mountains, we had a delicious feast (mostly of veggies and tofu) at Mr. Cheng's restaurant. His daughter joined us for the whole meal and had fun teaching us Chinese words and correcting our pronunciation. From there, we hopped on a bus to Hangzhou. The four-hour ride, largely through Anhui Province, was beautiful. Canola fields were in full bloom on both sides of the road, often terraced up the mountains, interspersed with fields of tea.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

On the Mountain Top

Here's the second installment of our trip recap: In Tongkou, we stayed at the Sinotrans Hotel, which was a large, mountain-lodge-y feeling kind of place. It was the perfect launchpad for exploring the mountains, which we did on Sunday. We took a bus to the base of the mountain and then a cable car up. The cable car ride was eight minutes long, traveling up, down, and over multiple peaks. Shortly before we got to the top of Huangshan (the Yellow Mountain), we were completely enveloped in fog. The mist stayed with us throughout our few hours of hiking around the peaks, which made for mystical (pun intended) views of nearby peaks and trees.The sun was starting to peak through and burn off the fog by the time we headed down from the mountain, giving us a few gorgeous parting shots.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Emerald Valley

Weekend Trip Recap Part I: We started our trip with a night in Hangzhou, at the eccentrically decorated Milan hotel (carpeted doors and walls?) From there, we took a bus to the city of Tongxi, at the foot of the Yellow Mountain area. The ride was smooth, with the exception of the three people throwing up the whole way in the seats in front of us. (Something they ate?) From Tongxi, we got on a minibus to Tongkou, which sits near the entrance gate to the mountains. We showed the bus driver our hotel information there. He responded by pulling to the curb and telling us to get out soon after we'd gotten into town. We were confused, as our hotel was nowhere in site, but then we saw that we'd been dropped in front of "Mr. Cheng's Restaurant," with its welcoming "English Speaking Tourist Information" sign. Mr. Cheng himself came right out to help us and before long, he'd gotten us bus tickets for our return trip, driven us to our hotel, and taken us to the Emerald Valley scenic area.
The valley was beautiful. It was the site of some of the filming of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and had great hiking through the mountains, along some of the clearest water I've seen in China. There were sparkling blue pools of water and waterfalls every few meters. Along certain bridges and gates, padlocks were hanging. These were put up by couples who, following tradition, threw the key away so their love will always be locked in place there.
We finished the day with a great dinner (and Huangshan Beer) at Mr. Cheng's. More pictures here: http://hsinchina.shutterfly.com/4024?size=All&startIndex=0 and more of the trip to come soon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Misty Mountain Memories

We're back from our weekend trip to the mountains. The trip was wonderful - excellent weather, fairly smooth transportation, great hiking, good food... I have lots of pictures to wade through and upload, which I'll do over the next few days. In the meantime, enjoy this shot that we took from the top of one of the peaks. It was so misty while we were up there that we got only occasional glimpses of the surrounding peaks. This matched the images that I'd seen in paintings of the area and added to the mystique of the experience.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Off to Huangshan!

Monday is "Tomb Sweeping Day" in China, a national holiday meant for getting together with family and remembering loved ones who've died. (And, quite literally, cleaning off their graves and offering gifts.) It's a national holiday, which means our first day off of the semester. We're celebrating by heading to Huangshan, China's "Yellow Mountain." Huangshan is part of a mountain range in nearby Anhui province that is the subject of many iconic paintings and images.
To get there, we're taking a train to Hangzhou tonight and will then take a four-hour bus ride from there to the town of Tangkou tomorrow. Not a bad place to celebrate Easter!
(Picture stolen from wikimedia.org.)