Friday, May 31, 2013

China 2013 Part X: The People of the Republic

The conclusion of my ten-part documentation of the Great Mother China Homecoming of 2013, featuring Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Suzhou, in the company of Terence Kua (of Terence Travels), and dedicated to the lovely people of the indefatigable Republic (of the People)!  

There aren't many fat people in China, we hypothesized. Maybe part of the reason is having Mickey D sell roast (instead of fried) chicken. The buns taste like pandesal, but you have to admire the generous smother of vegetable. (At five years old, I swore I'd never step foot in China, "because they only eat vegetables there." Later, Mother wrote in my first confession list, "I will eat vegetables.")

Or maybe, the cultural emphasis on exercise - daily dance groups on the grounds of a football stadium, or walks in Fuxing Park, for example. 

Also in Fuxing Park: Family engrossed over a motor boat toy during the Qingming holiday (when locals "clean" their ancestral tombs). 

In nearby Xintiandi, archways and balconies for future outdoor productions of Miss SaigonWest Side Story, or Romeo and Juliet.

The age-old problem still persists, however: relentless public spitting. Display of machismo? It's annoyingly disgusting. It's like peacocks shoving their fancy tails down everyone's throats, like who enjoys eating feather. Also, talking at maximum volume, coming from a culture that upholds the demure, powerless Maria Clara. Also, the in-your-face rudeness, that seeming lack of hospitality that should have remained in the past millennium - but it's a dying trait, I gathered. 

The fashion sense - now that's a trickier discussion. Pingjiang Road, Suzhou: left, a power-dressing couple; right, one of Carrie Bradshaw's nightmares. Bottom is a ninja photo-op in Shanghai's Old City with someone straight out of Middle Earth. And just what's the fuss over Hollister?

Also in Pingjiang Road, this man sells sort-of-rice cakes. He's differently-abled, if we have to be politically correct, speechwise (and now, an atrocious grammatical booboo).    

What's most admirable with the local Chinese, though, is their sense of equality. Maybe years of communism does that to you. Waiters and salesladies address customers with a frankness and directness quite nonexistent in the Philippines, where social strata is strictly, nauseatingly observed.  Check out the Terence: enlivened by a Suzhou canal (left) and wares in Tianzifang.

Also in Tianzifang, propaganda art, huge doggies, and a peek at More Than Toilet restaurant.

Now on to our epic search for xiaolongbao, which Shanghai is famous for. Our first day, we asked the hostel front desk where we might find the best xiaolongbao in the city. We ended up walking for quite some time, passing by this house (captioned in my Instagram account as the one grandfather built with his bare hands, which a lot of my followers mistook for truth.)

We also passed by a rather slummy area. Contrast with the elegance of a French Concession house - if Jean Valjean and Cosette were Chinese...

Taking pictures in the middle of the road, which the rampant disregard for traffic rules afforded us.

We ended up in the Old City, which we'd set aside for the next day. That was when we realized how "untrustworthy" the locals are in giving directions. "Just walk straight ahead and you'll find it" is the most dangerous advice you can follow. Below, my lady friend and her daughter post-Yuyuan tour... not.

We did get our fill (twice) of Dintaifeng - world-famous xiaolongbao restaurant with Southeast Asian branches in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta (meaning, Manila's with the likes of Rangoon and Phnom Penh).

We also tried out Nanxiang in the Old City. That restaurant is the epitome of gustatory segregation (enlarge the photo). It's comfort rooms are smoking areas.

Meanwhile, the local 7-11 sells this fascinating assortment of rubber Check out the general specifications.

Back in Hangzhou, a lot of jolly, free-spirited Chinese tourists!

While in Suzhou, signs warn of falling off canals inhabited by crocodiles (in Ding Yuan) or advice caution and boat-ride courtesy through ingenious translations.

If you're on a budget, the Phoenix Hostel is highly recommended. People's Square is just round the corner, and a metro station, only three blocks away. It's homey and relatively clean, with surprisingly well-furnished rooms that cost us roughly 200 RMB a night. At the terrace, they serve their "famous" egg sandwich and house a morbidly huge rabbit. But they have weirdly built bathrooms.

Finally, it's very, very worth noting that while we were there, H7N9 was just emerging - and the people evidently could not give a damn. That's how the media sensationalizes a disease. "No big deal," apparently. They did have advertisements of a different sort in the metro. Zai jian!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

China 2013 Part IX: The Bitch at the Business Center

This post is dedicated to everyone who makes Shanghai Pudong International Airport look like an architectural giant with a pea-sized brain and zero understanding of courtesy and manners.

April 8, 2013 - We arrived about five hours ahead of my flight (Terence would be taking a 9PM Hong Kong Airlines for Ocean Park). I checked the departures board to see Air New Zealand, American Airlines, and Turkish Airlines, among other beauties, as the night's offerings. So, blessed with intellect, I made my way to the business center to check-in online and procure my boarding pass in advance, as the counters were scheduled to open only two hours before the flight. 

The following is a rough sketch of the exchange that took place at Pudong Terminal 2's business center, starring Me and Business Center Woman (BCW):

Me: Excuse me, I want to go online for advanced check-in.

BCW: (points to computer stall).

(The computer is in Chinese.)

Me: Is there no English?

BCW (in Mandarin): If you don't understand it, might as well not use it.

How... warm. And nice. But of course, I could maneuver my way through a simple sea of Chinese characters. I had my boarding pass printed and took the photo below of that bitch before leaving.

Proceed to immigration. But oh, what's this? The first-line inspectors don't know how to read a web check-in boarding pass? Right. So I had to do some explanation, which reminded me of economics class back in 4th year when we did the papers' stock exchange section for the first time.

I fell in line. My turn. Immigration officer fumbled with the boarding pass - first time, as well, to see it printed on letter size. Some hushed chatter in Shanghainese. More chatter. Officer got out of the counter and convened with supervisor overseeing things from the corner. Officer returned.

And told me that my boarding pass couldn't be accepted because it might be a fake. 


Some nice-guy arguing occurred, after which I had no other choice but to wait everything out at the check-in hall for another two hours. White Caucasian guy behind me at immigration suffered the same fate as well - actually, who knows how many undergo this senselessness everyday?! Later on, it became a game of contending with the snobs at the check-in counter, those non-smiling gibbons. The moral of the story is: Pudong does not recognize self-printed boarding passes derived from online check-in. How... advanced.

And a final warning for those planning to do nighttime airplane photography at Pudong using the ever-dependable digital camera: The lights suck.

 Air Mauritius A340-300

 Singapore Airlines B777-200ER, ever graceful.

 Air China A340-300

 Lufthansa A340-600! The last time we met was in Manila 2005, during the relatively short life of  the Frankfurt-Guangzhou-Manila vv. route. Bonus: One of the remaining United B747-400s bearing the blue-and-white livery.

 Finally! Aeroflot B767-300ER!

 A dirty democracy and the communist.

It's not everyday you see TWO Emirates B777-300ERs!

Postscript: Quite a scene during arrival at NAIA. As the plane taxied for Terminal 3, this unruly Mainland Chinese male passenger just got up and tried retrieving his bag from the overhead luggage bin. Flight attendant had to convey all the necessary emotions over intercom. Truly, Mr. China could not have been more excited to step foot on the gates of hell.

PREVIOUS: China 2013 Part VIII: At Cannon Bay
NEXT: China 2013 Part X: The People of the Republic

Thursday, May 23, 2013

For the 21

I turned 21 three days ago. Guess it means I'm an adult now, but I still don't feel like one, or acting like one, or pretending to act like one.

We had a party at grandma's, like we've done for the past two years - a joint celebration, as I share my birthday with an uncle. Which makes me wonder: How weird is it to celebrate your birthday while your sister's in the labor room shouting her guts out and spewing forth a brand new baby?

I tried getting drunk on Australian wine, but no can do, of course - if there's anything you shouldn't do in front of my family, especially after the brouhaha at grandfather's 85th last year. I did end up in bed for the rest of the night, futilely attempting to plow through the rest of We Need to Talk About Kevin.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

China 2013 Part VIII: At Cannon Bay

Back in March, I entered "Shanghai best secrets" as a late-night assignment for the Google search engine. The top result was a CNN Travel article entitled "5 ridiculously beautiful places right next to the Shanghai metro." Ever felt, when a trip's become near enough to not ignore any longer, that it's somehow one's responsibility as a traveler to go where tourists aren't driven to by their air-conditioned buses? The thrill of discovery is not the most accessible pleasure.

Number two on that list was a farm, so by virtue of country of origin, that was quickly crossed off. Number three was a wetland park beside the Science and Technology Museum, but both of us had already been to Beijing's on separate occasions, so no trip to the museum meant no wetland park. Number four was a wheat field, like are you kidding me? And number five was a tulip garden that, according to the guide, was beside the Expo site, but turned out to be across the river, which really dampened our mood for a bit.

So we went with number one: Wusongkou Paotaiwan Wetland Park. Paotaiwan means "cannon bay," and that's because the park was artificially constructed out of a seaside fortress.

Above: Descriptions and details on stone. Below: Pond!

But really, what you go to this park for is the chance to see the meeting point of Shanghai's puny Huangpu River and China's almighty Yangtze River. Below: From the left, the waters of the Yangtze, and from the right, the Huangpu estuary.  

Trivia: A relatively large amount of Shanghai cut off as a circle centered on the Lujiazui financial district in Pudong will fit on the Yangtze estuary, where it joins the East China Sea, with lots of room to spare. Because everything must be big in China.

Ships exiting the Huangpu for greater seas, and seaside corridors.

A wreck! We asked ourselves: Was the park built around the wreck, or was the wreck built around the park?


Hanging bridge!

The Shell Theater. It plays with echoes and the elements.

The Stone Garden. A layer of dirt or whatever semi-solid had formed over the pools, and I thought it was ice, so I touched it and fed my finger with muck.

A museum (that, one can only assume, receives who-knows-how-many visitors a day).

Shanghai's Corregidor, yea?


Okay, here's a nice heartfelt confession: Our visit to this place fulfilled my lifelong ambition to visit a wetland park. Long live Earth! Next stop: The Serengeti!