We had rented a motorcycle the night before with the intent of making a trip into the island of Borneo. Since I was a young kid I had always heard of the mystical creatures and plants that grew on this tropical island. Of course a day-trip into just a piece of the island is never enough, and I was a little disappointed to go away not seeing a rafflesia in full bloom (which is trickier than I thought). It is the largest flower on the planet and is supposed to smell like rotting flesh, which is also why it is known as the “corpse flower.” We talked to some local farmers and were shown some wild buds, but since they take many months to mature, then only bloom for a couple weeks, and are worth a small fortune (+4,000 USD), many are stolen or are sold-off before maturing.
Either way, we snaked ourselves around the impressive Mount Kinabalu, passing the Tamparuli Suspension Bridge and headed into the natural reserve to have a short hike up the mountain. Climbing back onto the beastly 4-gear bike, we directed ourselves inland once again visiting hot springs, waterfalls and of course plenty of jungle.
It was incredibly hot during the morning and day, but since the dramatic changes in altitude I had read to bring along a sweater, which I reluctantly did… but thankfully I did, because as soon as the sun started setting it got pretty cold up there, especially going downhill on a motorcycle!
Arriving back in the town of KK that night, after a day of riding almost 300km of mountain roads, we retired back to the restaurant we had eaten at the night before. A great market-type deal located next to the fishing port, I couldn’t recommend it more. A collection of severalteen restaurants clustered together under tents right next to where the fishermen come back and unload their fresh catches. I kid you not, I had one of the most amazing dishes of my life here… buttered and battered prawns. A light and crunchy batter that I can hardly describe in any terms other than simply amazing. The mango and avocado shakes are pretty refreshing too!
Saigon AKA Ho Chi Minh City (locals still refer to the city center as ‘Saigon’, while using ‘HCMC’ for the larger metropolitan area… I just use Saigon because it sounds cooler), boasts a population around 10 million and served as the capital of South Vietnam leading up until the end of the war… so, lot’s of history. Although I wasn’t alive at the time, I have the images of the helicopter evacuations from the roof of the US Embassy branded into my brain… as well as the VPA tank crashing through the gates of the Freedom Palace, which pretty much marked the end of the American occupation of southern Vietnam.
At first glance the traffic is BONKERS. Saigon has 6 million registered vehicles… of which 5 million are motorbikes. Thank god they pay attention to traffic lights… mayhem [somewhat] averted. I’ve traveled my fair share and had prepared for the worst (from everything I’ve heard/read), but the Vietnamese people definitely have some common sense and general understanding of efficiency when it comes to dealing with traffic situations (very much unlike the people I’m currently surrounded by, who are utterly clueless in these regards). The relentless convoy of bikers does offer a challenge to those new to the game, but I found that as long as you went with the flow (which there certainly was, and everyone followed), it wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard others complain about. That being said, I rented my very own motorbike to cruise them mean streets of Saigon! (more on that later)
Day 1 saw the first excursion to get a grasp of the city, walking from my hotel located a good 30min from the city center, getting my first proper Vietnamese meal (a mean bowl of pho… oddly enough at the very same restaurant Bill Clinton visited some 10 years earlier), then visiting the Ben Thanh market and eventually finding myself at the Saigon Notre Dame next to the amazing Central Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel, where I sent a postcard to Mom.
Shengjianbao, a type of Shanghainese baozi (dumpling) with pork, which when cooked melts into a soupy liquid, which effectively makes it a soup dumpling with the soup in it. Delicious.
I had read this CNN article (“Worlds’s Greatest City: 50 Reasons Why Shanghai is #1“), and number 29 suggested Yang’s Fried Dumplings on Wujiang Lu (map). So we hit it up (and who knew it was right outside Windows Underground?!) and goddamn they were good, good thing I read their tip first too: “Don’t dive into these shengjianbao all at once. Carefully suck out the soup before you devour it.”
On our way to Yang’s, while walking across People’s Square, we came across a large group of older people holding photos and flyers, all in smaller groups having heated discussions with each other… yup, we had stumbled upon the “marriage market”.
Parents and grand parents arrange dates (and inevitable marriage) for their offspring (many of which don’t even know). Weight, height, etc, and a sort of life resumé… some even have a price tag. I can only imagine the lady my grandmother would hook me up with.
The “Mission: Lunch” series hits 2010… showcasing some [mis]fortunate Shanghai lunches.
The first 3 images should look familiar; KFC, McDonalds, and Yoshinoya. While the last two are from a tiny hole-in-the-wall hot pot restaurant located at Ninghai East Road & Yunnan South Road (map), which packed with one hot pot spot next to the other. Definitely recommended (if you can read Chinese, or don’t mind pointing at dishes on other tables).
Having the fried chicken from KFC was a first for me… yes yes, I know, I’m almost 30, half -American and have lived in Brooklyn for a decade, and never ever tried the fried chicken. But now I know why.
As for McDonalds, I have that exact meal once a week… it amuses me that I eat more Mickey D’s/Mackers/McDo here in a month than I did in a year in NYC. Let’s just say that as much as I love Chinese food, it’s nice to get something familiar. Not to mention that many KFC and McDonalds restaurants deliver, are open 24hrs, and you can use your metro card to pay!
Then finally to top off the cultural fast food tour there’s Yoshinoya, Japanese fastfood, which has over 85 locations in Shanghai alone. And I can’t for the life of me understand why. It tasted exactly like Asian airline food… blah!
…and on the seventh day God created the potato.
Here is the whole family of Lay’s (乐事: “Happy Things” in Chinese) potato chips in China.
The cucumber ones are on my weekly grocery list, oh my they are über good, while the blueberry flavor tasted like powdered pancake mix, with salt.
As for lychee flavor… after testing out blueberry and mango, I couldn’t stomach the thought of a lychee flavored potato chip, considering I despise lychee anything.
The Chinese relationship with sweets is a strange thing… I bought sliced bread the other day (the entire bag was decorated with American flags, so it had to be decent… right?), and it was sweeter than a croissant dipped in chocolate and covered in powdered sugar.
Week 51, this is the second post in my “Mission: Lunch” series, which will showcase some of the lunches I have had the [mis]fortune of having.
First up was “the spiciest thing on our menu”, a hot beef noodle to which I added some Chinese cabbage at Ajisen Ramen, a Japanese restaurant located in the Infiniti Mall on Huai Hai Road (*update* just found out via wikipedia, that they have over 86 locations in Shanghai alone!)… good stuff (but not spicy enough for me!).
Second and third up are from the company hot spot, where we take new colleagues for their first lunch, definitely a good spot. A Hunan-style restuarant located just around the corner of the office on Yunnan Road (south of Huai Hai Road). Their spicy string beans are mighty good, although I am biased as this is one of my favorite dishes (picture #2). Image #3 shows roughly 2/3′s of the dishes from that day… which included bullfrog (square dish), 2 varieties of tofu dishes (one with shredded pork that was amazing), cabbages, pork, chicken, normal eggs and quail eggs.
The last image is of a pickled pepper sort (very unlike the ones you can find in the US which have no spice-factor whatsoever), from a hot pot spot that were so damn tasty I just had to snap a shot. I was with 2 other guys, and we held a little contest to see how many we could each eat. Contestant #1 had zero (0). Contestant #2 had three (3). While contestant #3 had six (6).
I’ll let you decide which one was me.
Later that evening [after the spicy peppers] I finally knocked in my first 8-ball off a break… which I have been trying to do for years. Yes, it was a good day…. yay me!
Happy St. Nick’s Day (the real Santa)!
Random images from the week… the best damn fried dumplings in Shanghai (so far), meat piles at my local supermarket (Tesco), and among the winnings are stuffed animals or packs of cigarettes!
Just got back from 5 days of shooting a seminar in Hangzhou, a picturesque city just over an hours train from Shanghai.
We were staying in a hotel in the tea village of Meijiawu, where the seminar was taking place. Don’t let the night exposures fool you, it was dark as hell… all of these images were taken with 15-200sec exposures.
For lunch/dinner we had some interesting stuff, it was my first time to eat goat, pig heart + tongue, and bullfrog… not to mention the regular stuff like river eel, pig intestine, tree fungus (delicious!!), and cooked chicken blood.
On one of the last evenings we were treated to a… interesting show which was located on a piece of land that can only be described as a Chinese Disneyland. Fake mountains, over-priced “authentic” food, and all the staff walking around in traditional wardrobe from the various dynasties. The show was pretty ridiculous… although it was nice to see a whole stage filled with beautiful Chinese girls belly-dancing followed by Indian-style dancing in outrages costumes (everything from full-on warrior battle gear to girls dressed as butterflies and lily pads). I will also never forgive my colleague Kevin (aka “King Jian Ren”) for telling me not to bring my camera along! Thanks jian!
The post title comes from the Chinese saying: 上有天堂，下有苏杭 which translates to “Heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below.”