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Serenity in the City

October 1, 2014

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

table full of breakfast plates

Every good day starts with a good breakfast. It is difficult to find a truly good American style breakfast while living abroad. Some UAE restaurants would list “American breakfast” on their menus and when it came, it included baked beans and a grilled tomato. NOT American.

Not having any eggs in the house, we got up and walked to “foreigner street” where there was supposed to be a restaurant with a good breakfast. The first good sign was that the menu was on the placemat. It is a weird, tacky thing we Americans do. The second good sign was that the menu indicated I could get refillable coffee. That’s big on my restaurant critique scale. DaddyBird ordered steak and eggs with blue berry pancakes and I ordered the breakfast combo (two eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, toast, and fruit). The blue berries were IN the pancakes instead of just poured on top. My coffee was actually refilled twice and the hashbrowns were so good that I ordered another helping. The service was as good as the food. The review DaddyBird had read that led us here indicated that the crispy bacon would actually be crispy. This was very true. Five stars to Bastiaan’s. We will definitely be return customers.

What to do next? Since this is a holiday week for me, I thought we should do something touristy. I chose Yuyuan Garden. To be honest, I thought “it will be crowded and I’ll be on my feet too much and that will be painful, but I’ll be able to say we did some exploring.”

We hopped on a bus which took us to the metro train which took us to the neighborhood of the garden. It is a bit of a walk from the train to the garden. Along the way were a few beggars. DaddyBird usually drops a few coins or small bills in their cups. This brought him to the attention of a young Chinese man walking the same direction we were. He struck up a conversation with us, one that I began to fear wasn’t going to end. It became clear that he wasn’t just being sociable, but had a shop that he wanted to take us to, not just one shop, but several. We went and it was worth it. The first shop was silk products, but the hook is that they have a “museum” which is actually just an educational display on how silk is made. It was very educational. Silk is rather amazing. After the “museum” came the shop with bedding, scarves, and clothing – all silk. DaddyBird tried on a shirt, but their largest size was just a bit too small. The same with me. I tried on a really lovely jacket, but needed a bit more room. So, they had to settle for selling me scarves which have no size constraints. THEN he wanted to take us to his family’s tea shop. We thanked him, but made our excuses and moved on.

busy pedestrianized street

The area around the Yuyuan Garden is a busy maze of consumerism. There are many shops full of marvelous things, as well as dumpling shops, etc.

We finally reached what appeared to the be garden.

pond and bridge

This is what often appears on the advertisements. We both thought, if this is IT, what a disappointment.

This was not IT. We found the ticket office and the main entrance. The entrance fee is 40 yuan per person ($6.52 / 24 AED). [A bit of advice here, eat before you go in. The garden is large and will take some time to see. We left early, about 2/3 through, because we needed to eat.]

pond and traditional Chinese building

There were plenty of other people in the garden area, but it was still a pleasant and relaxing experience. There were places to sit and enjoy the fish, turtles, birds, and nature. It is an amazing little bit of serenity in the middle of a highly urban and populated city.

The garden is a large area with many buildings, gardens, and winding paths connecting them all. One building housed a few tea shops. If you know DaddyBird and his tea addiction, you know that we went in, sat down, sampled 4 or 5 teas, and bought two boxes of the best teas. Expensive, but worth the experience. Another building housed artworks for sale. They were quite amazing, but we refrained.

As I mentioned earlier, we had to exit in order to find something to eat, so it was back out to the tourist mart area, hustling and bustling.

doll in traditional Chinese robes

We are used to tourist areas where the merchandise is cheap stuff (made in China) and the wares of each store are almost identical to the wares of their neighbors. This is not true of the Yuyuan Tourist Mart. The wares vary from store to store and there are quality items that you might actually want to buy. I suspect we will have little trouble finding Christmas gifts this year.

plush toy dragons

These dragons are pretty spectacular as plush toys go.

entrance to Fangbang street which is full of food vendors

We walked a short way to Fangbang Lu (street) which is known for it’s food vendors. We walked down the length looking at what was available and then came back through to actually make our purchases. I had decided that I wanted to try stinky tofu, so we began with that with the idea that if it was terrible, we could cleanse our pallets with something else afterward.

a plate of stinky tofu

Stinky tofu, we can attest, smells like poo. For DaddyBird’s tastebuds, it also tasted like poo. Mine, however, reacted differently and I found it pleasant and almost pedestrian. Therefore, I ate the bulk of the stink tofu. We followed this up with noodles and bok choy and discovered we were full. There were many other enticing tidbits on offer, so we will have to go back without having a big breakfast first.

I took many, many photos, so click here if you want to see them.

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Shanghai Library

September 21, 2014

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

tall white stone building

We ventured to the Shanghai Library via metro train. We obtained our library cards which is fairly easy to do. We needed our passports with our residency visas, filled out a form on computer terminals near the registration desk. Then took our slip that printed out and our ID to the registration desk and were handed our cards. Easy peasy.

The foreign books and periodicals are on the fourth floor, so we went up to take a look around. They have an impressive collection and plenty of space for people to sit. DaddyBird may be hanging out there occasionally to do research.

All the pictures – click here.

Other pictures from this month – click here.

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Bellagio

September 20, 2014

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

dragon painted on a restaurant ceiling

Located half way between our apartment and my work is a Bellagio Restaurant. The food is Taiwanese and AMAZING. We have already eaten there twice in one week. It is difficult not to just stop in on my way home from work.

See all the pictures – click here.

a bowl of mango pudding, chunks, and ice cream

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The Big “Why?”

September 14, 2014

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

stone house ruins in the foreground, hills in the background open lawn area and large deciduous trees
three story building with ice palace restaurant building with scooters parked in front and laundry hanging from the awnings

Both in the United Arab Emirates before our move and in Shanghai after our move, we have been asked “Why?” Why would we want to leave the wondrous UAE? What brought us to China? The answers given depended on how well we knew the person inquiring, but mostly boiled down to “new job, better job.”

The laws regarding libel in the UAE are such that one can be charged with libel for publishing anything negative, even if it is true. Therefore, I cannot do a side by side comparison to show why we chose to move on and out. I can, however, tell you about my new job and new home city.

  • My salary is higher.
  • Housing is provided by the employer and we were driven directly to our apartment without any time in a hotel upon arrival. The internet was already connected and the air conditioning actually works.
  • Not once have I been warned that I could be fired at the drop of a hat for a minor infraction.
  • My coworkers are happy and cooperative and collaborative.
  • My library has a budget. A healthy budget.
  • I have two assistants to help with the workload.
  • Human Resources has been nothing but helpful and truthful.
  • Visa paperwork processes are being handled in a timely manner.
  • HR arranged for the bank and immigration to send representatives to campus for the convenience of new staff.
  • When I put in a request with I.T. services, they respond and get it done.
  • The cafeteria food is not like any cafeteria food I have experienced before. There are at least 6 different choices each day and a salad bar.
  • The curriculum includes multiple languages, music, art, theatre, sports, and character development.
  • The students are motivated to learn and to read.
  • Shanghai weather is lovely and frequently rainy. It varies from day to day. It actually cools off over night.
  • Shanghai people are polite and friendly. They wait their turn in line. Even crowds in touristy areas are polite. (While in Germany, I got so tired of being bumped into. No one made any effort to avoid collision or said “excuse me.” While walking down a crowded Nanjing Road, not once was I bumped into.)
  • Shanghai driving is crazy, but not aggressive, mean, or vindictive.
  • Our utility bills are WAY lower. There aren’t a bunch of hidden fines and fees related to housing.
  • Public transport is cheap and plentiful. (We traveled 20 stops on the Metro and it cost 5 yuan – $0.81 / 3 AED.)
  • We are serenaded morning and evening with music from the park next door. This morning it is lovely traditional Chinese flute music.
  • The cats, Oliver and Bert, seem to be happier here than ever before. They are frisky every day, multiple times a day. Oliver is living without his calming collar. We can’t explain it. We just appreciate it.

Are there negatives, of course.

  • The air quality is poor and sometimes enough to warrant wearing a face mask. (Although that has not yet happened since we arrived here.)
  • The tap water is not safe for drinking regularly, due to the likelihood containing heavy metals pollution.
  • Moving was an expensive and extremely stressful experience. My head might have exploded if it were not for the help of dear friends.
  • We had to leave our many dear friends behind, but they are welcome to come visit us here!

I predict that the thing that will get on my nerves will be the traffic. It is very difficult to safely cross the street even when there are traffic signals and a clearly marked crossing. The pedestrian simply does not have the right of way and you have to be totally aware of what is going on around you. You need eyes in the back of your head.

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Shanghai Zoo

September 6, 2014

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

carved archway of the zoo depicting elephants

Last Sunday, we went to the zoo, despite the weather prediction of 60% chance of rain. Not one drop of rain, but it was a pleasant afternoon anyway.

a lizard

There were reptiles and snakes and fish. This fellow was quite a poser.

a pond with people in boats like bumper cars

There were several ponds. This one has bumper boats which looks like fun.

open lawn area and large deciduous trees

Large wide open green park areas. Notice how crowded the park is.

mother and baby chimpanzees

There were two baby chimpanzees as well as other young ones.

brown bear standing on hind legs

The brown bear was quite the beggar. He was talented at catching the food tossed to him before it hit the ground.

giant panda eating bamboo

And, of course, we saw the Giant Pandas.

DaddyBird had read some reviews online that said the zoo was depressing, but we do not agree. There is room for improvement – mostly the fault of visitors. There is too much garbage in the exhibits and park areas. There were coins in the alligator exhibit. I do not know if people think it is lucky somehow. The zoo certainly has plenty of space and room for additional exhibits. We didn’t see everything, so will probably go back and take anyone who visits us.

restaurant sign

We headed across the street to Dumpling King of North China for some very lovely dumplings.

bowl of 18 dumplings

 

We had leek and egg dumplings and pork dumplings. The menu was bilingual, so no surprises this time. Yummy and recommended if you are ever near the Shanghai Zoo.

As usual, there are more pictures – click here.

There is also a panda video – click here.

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Cantonese, If You Please

August 30, 2014

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

a plate of fried rice

We followed the suggestion of a coworker and had an early dinner at Bi Feng Tang, a Cantonese restaurant a short distance from my work. I like Cantonese food because there is less use of chili peppers.

cooked lettuce in a sauce

This is cooked lettuce. For those of you Americans who are now saying “cooked lettuce?!?” with a turned up nose, you should try it. Lettuce isn’t just for putting on burgers or in salad. You should cook lettuce more often. It is good in fricassee and it was good in this sauce.

drink glass served with carmel popcorn on top

Our drinks came with caramel popcorn. The container had two parts – the bottom contained the drink and then on top was a separate cup with the popcorn.

steamed pork buns

Steamed pork buns.

steamed buns made to look like pigs

The red bean buns were made to look like little piggies, but contained no pork.

pork buns

Pork buns with squid roe on a bed of onions.

dumplings

Pork dumplings. This filling feast cost us 208 yuan ($34.00 USD, 124 AED). I think it bears repeating.

For additional photos from this week – click here.

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Zotter Chocolate Theatre

August 23, 2014

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

uncrowded metro train

We left the apartment at about 11 am on Saturday to travel by metro and foot to the Zotter Chocolate Factory. This is the best time to travel by metro. Not crowded at all.

building with scooters parked in front and laundry hanging from the awnings

From the metro stop we walked through an industrial/residential neighborhood. We saw lots and lots of laundry hanging everywhere. Some was on the sidewalks and looked more like it was for sale, except that is was usually one pair of panties, a bra, one shirt, and one pair of pants as if someone had just washed what they wore yesterday and hung it out to dry.

tall building labeled Shanghai Fashion Centre

We passed the Shanghai Fashion Centre not realizing that this is where we needed to enter. The chocolate factory is at the back of this complex, near the river.

unpaved street

We reached this street and Google maps was telling us that the factory was down this street. DaddyBird double checked and we headed back to the proper entrance.

Roasted Cocoa Beans

We found the factory and paid our entrance fee (180 yuan, $30 USD, 107 AED) each. The young woman at the counter was caucasian and spoke English. Later we found that she is the daughter of the factory owners. The tour starts with a short film about how the company started, and where they get their organic, free trade cocoa beans. Then it is on to tasting. The above picture is the roasted cocoa beans. Not bad even though they are bitter and have not been sweetened. Unfortunately, they did not sell bags of these in the store.

There were many forms of chocolate to taste. They give you a little ceramic spoon to do the tasting with and you can keep it as a souvenir. Our tour group consisted of our guide and just one other couple, so we got the real personal touch. A bigger group, consisting of several families caught up to us by the end and spoiled the relaxing atmosphere we had enjoyed for most of the tour.

We purchased a LOT of chocolate bars. Apparently, when you purchase over 1000 yuan of chocolate, you get a free insulated bag and two ice packs. Real customer service.

With our bag of chocolate in hand, we were off to find some very late lunch. We had passed a restaurant just around the corner that looked very good, but when we got there, it was clearly shut down for the afternoon. It was 3 pm, after all. We kept walking toward the nearest metro station until we found a restaurant that seemed to be open and serving. It was a hot pot restaurant. However, the menu was all in Chinese, there were no pictures to point to, and the waitress didn’t speak English any more than we speak Chinese.

a menu all in Chinese with no pictures

DaddyBird attempted to use a translation app on his phone, but some of the translations were amusing and irrelevant. We figured out what to mark for a not spicy broth. We marked the items that said “garlic” and “chicken.” We marked three other items, one of which was something about “without stems” which we deduced was probably mushrooms. AND we took our chances. DaddyBird asked for shui (shway) meaning drinking water, but what she brought was a carafe of hot water, so he ordered two beers so that we would have something we could drink.

ceramic bowl of meat and potato stew

We ended up with two pots of food. The first was apparently what had been labeled “garlic” on the menu. It had meat, potatoes, garlic, and onions. Very tasty. The second pot contained chicken and, on closer examination, bullfrog. Yes, we ate the bullfrog. Not bad. Tender meat with light flavor. We also received mushrooms, an egg, and noodles. It was an interesting adventure and very tasty.

We paid 110 yuan ($18 USD, 66 AED) including the two large beers. DaddyBird tried to tip, but she insisted that we take that back.

To see all the pictures, click here.

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