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Back from 21 Superb Days in Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai

Back from 21 Superb Days in Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai

Old Apr 30th, 2007, 12:10 PM
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I too have had no difficulty accessing my email in Chinese internet cafes, once I've located one - except one time in 2001 in (I think) Jiayuguan where the provincial governor had banned ALL internet access. Am loving your report, ek, and wishing I was planning for China this fall instead of Canada!
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Old Apr 30th, 2007, 12:26 PM
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Actually I asked the concierge at the Meridien in Shanghai where I could find an internet point and, after consulting with a few colleagues, he answered that there was one close to the Sofitel about a 10 minute walk east along Nanjing Road. I walked there and could not find it, although I admit I did not try too hard.
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Old Apr 30th, 2007, 01:15 PM
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Huang Ting, in the Peninsula Hotel, features first-rate Cantonese food in an attractive (not glitzy but handsome) setting. Like the other Cantonese meals I ate in China, this one was superb. One drawback to being a single traveler is that you are not able to sample too much from the vast array of tempting dishes you will see on the menus. (Never mind, I did a pretty good job of sampling, but still...)

I had two lunches at Huang Ting during my week in Beijing and sampled from the dim sum menu on both occasions. Each dish at both meals was superb; here is what I ate that first day:

Sesame BBQ pork puffs (my favorite..26 RMB)
Steamed rice flour crepe rolled with minced beef 26RMB
Crystal dumplings filled with baby cabbage and black mushrooms..26RMB

....I am sorry that I have to cut this short, as I am heading to Chinatown for some Shanghai food..more soon and I apologize for stopping and starting so often..
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Old Apr 30th, 2007, 01:17 PM
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Thank you, Kong Lin, that's it, the Chengde Summer Resort. What's your opinion of it?
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Old Apr 30th, 2007, 05:09 PM
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its far away from Beijing,282KM.but its very nice palce to see.
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Old May 1st, 2007, 12:06 AM
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We really liked Huang Ting too. Yum. An excellent meal and very nice surroundings.
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Old May 1st, 2007, 03:19 AM
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I spent the rest of that Friday relaxing and swimming at the hotel. At exactly 6pm, the appointed time, the tailor from the Xin Li Xin Fu Silk shop arrived at the hotel; I tried on the jacket I had ordered earlier in the week and it was perfect!

Dinner that night was at South Beauty again; I left early and browsed around Wanfujing before heading for the restaurant for my 7:30pm reservation. Food again was very good; this time I ordered my main course from the Cantonese part of the menu: Sweet and sour fish which was a white fish that had been cut into a beautiful and elaborate flower shape and drrenched with an orange sauce that was familiar from Cantonese places back home. Good but I do not recommend sweet and sour dishes in China; they are too familiar, with the gloopy orange sauce. My second dish was stellar: Mushrooms and bamboo shoots from the Sichaun selections. A truly terrific vegetable dish.

The next morning Kong Lin and Violet arrived at 7am, as planned, and we set out in Kong Lin's car for the famous Dirt Market, held only on Saturday and Sunday and reputed to offer some of China's best shopping opportunities. The market certainly lived up to its reputation. About a 25 minute drive from the hotel, this is a vast outdoor and covered area absolutely jam packed with interesting temptations. You MUST get there early (before 8am) to avoid the huge crowds that pour in at later hours. Parking is problematic but we managed.

Suffice to say here that this place is amazing and if you are a shopper, it is worth scheduling your visit to Beijing around the weekend so you can attend. Long lines of trucks piled with large stone statues and garden appointments line the entryway. Further inside, rows of stalls and vendors on the floor offer everything from thick strands of red coral to minority weavings to porcelain and bronzes to Mao posters to wedding baskets to shagreeen items and everything in between. Bargaining is fast and cuthroat but prices are generally (with exceptions) much cheaper than you would find at home. Having KongLin and Violet by my side helped, as several vendors told us that they were giving better prices to a Chinese and I believe this to be true in many instances.

Without going into more rapture, I will just say: GO! During our wanderings, I met up with a woman who buys here for well-known antique shops in the US; she had an entire wheeled pallet piled high with goods being dragged by several helpers. On her pallet I spied someting I had been searching for ever since my stay in Seoul: A wooden statue, (about 3'tall) with acupuncture markings. A pair of these were quite pricey in a Seoul antique shop so I was pleased when this buyer pointed me in the direction of another similar statue. I then spent about a half an hour dithering about the price and how I would carry this heavy wooden piece on the train and plane but suffice to say it is now at home on my mantel and I am sorry only that I did not buy her male companion! There are shippers at the market but prices are insane unless you buy a part of a container...shop around for better shipping value.

After several hours the corowds were getting dense and we headed back to the car and across southern Beiijing to Malian Dai, or "tea street."
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Old May 2nd, 2007, 03:24 AM
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Located in Southwest Beijing, Malian Dao is entire street devoted to tea. I expected a narrow lane crammed with small tea shops but the reality is much different. It is a wide street lined mostly with large modern buildings (along with some small shops) which are, in turn, stacked with stores sellling tea and every related accoutrement. Tea City is the most famous and perhaps largest of these buildings and I would describe it as a department store for tea. Within the glossy interior several floors hold counters dispensing every kind of tea, in every kind of form--from flower tea to pu-er tea in huge solid rounds--you can imagine. I was completely overwhelmed. Also on offer are tea sets of every possible description and in every price point. Absolutely amazing! Serious buyers are invited to sit down and taste various brews.

By the time we were finished gawking, it was time to return to the hotel and say goodbye to Kong Lin and Violet. In Violet's honor, I gave her name to my new acupucture statue that now resides in my living room. It was really fun to get to know this young Chinese couple and I recommend Kong Lin to anyone traveling to Beijing in search of a trustworthy general guide/companion. Hopefully he will bring Violet along as well!

[email protected]
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Old May 2nd, 2007, 07:05 AM
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EK et al: Just to reiterate, I second everything you have said about Kong Lin...

Stu T.
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Old May 3rd, 2007, 02:54 AM
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...and he is working diligently and practicing his English as we speak, I am certain!
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Old May 3rd, 2007, 03:21 AM
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I spent the rest of Saurday afternoon at the hotel, swimming, e-mailing home, and packing my bags for the train trip on the following day. For the price of the bubble wrap, the hotel staff enveloped Violet the statue in several protective layers to prepare her for the train trip. (If you plan to shop, you may want to pack some bubble wrap in your own bag for purchases and to form a protective layer; I did bring a small amount and used it to re-wrap the smaller items I had purchased)

I enjoyed another excellent lunch at the Peninsula Cantonese restaurant, Huang Ting, where one dim sum dish costs less than a bottle of water at the pool! Truly excellent food and lovely surroundings with attentive service.

About 7pm I took a taxi which let me off at the southern end of Qian Hai (Front Lake) and I set off on foot (Taxis cannot drive further than my drop-off point) in search of Restaurant Hang Cang, known to locals as "the Hakka restaurant," after the style of cooking. I knew that the restaurant was at the southeast edge of the Lake but as I walked the perimeter in the dark, I saw no likely candidates with signs in English. I did see a two-story wooden building merrily strung with red lanterns that looked like it might be the restaurant...and it was.

Inside, Han Cang was jumping; throngs of people were waiting in the foyer. When I spotted the hostess and told her I had a reservation, she motioned me to sit and wait.
After a while I noticed that newcomers were given numbered tickets, so I asked this hostess for my ticket. She told me that I did not need a ticket, since I was "only person!!" So I had singular status that night!

After about a half an hour I was shown to a (large) wooden table in the cheery rustic dining room. Diners here were a mix of locals (many speaking at least some English) and what appeared to me as expats and the place was jumping !! From the long menu, rich in bullfrog and snake dishes, I chose two dishes that were reputed to be among the house specialties. (A third special is the whole fish, Hakka style but that will have to wait for my next visit). Here is what I ate:

Salt-baked Shrimp. Threaded onto skewers that were, in turn, stuck into a rustic wooden bucket filled with rock salt, these were excellent. The layer of salt is removed with the peel.

Sliced Hakka Pork with Bamboo Shoots. Also excellent.

With a pot of tea, I estimate that this dinner cost approximately 150 RMB.

Hakka Restaurant Han Cang (also known as Kejia Cai..be specific that you want the Hakka restaurant at the Back Lakes)..Southeast bank of Qian Hai, north of Behai Park north entrance. No English sign marks the place; look for red lanterns; the two-story restaurant faces the lake.

By walking back to the main road, it was easy to find a taxi for the ride back to the hotel.

The next morning after breakfast and a long swim, I turned my attention once again to my "stuff" and took the time to scribble into my notebook:

"Once again, wore about 1/4 of the clothes I packed. NEVER wore the 2 pair of "nicer" pants or the pair of "nice" shoes. Wore leather clogs every day with either blue jeans or balck cords. Did it again!!" Thoroughly disgusted with myself and now what was I going to do with the train trip a few hours away??


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Old May 3rd, 2007, 09:57 AM
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I'm reading this report with great interest and in anticipation of our family trip this June. I know I'll have tons of questions for you, especially the shopping parts!
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Old May 4th, 2007, 04:51 PM
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The toboggan sounds like fun. My kids would have loved it. I wonder why we didn't see it last summer? It's not new, is it? Well, it's a good excuse to go back some day.
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Old May 4th, 2007, 06:57 PM
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I, too, am thoroughly enjoying your trip report, ekscrunchy. Anxious to read more...
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Old May 5th, 2007, 03:26 AM
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Thanks..I will try to speed it up this weekend. I am ready to answer any questions whenever you post them..

I am not sure if the toboggan is new; it snakes down the hillside from the entrance. It was kind of a low-tech ride but I did have a blast!
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Old May 5th, 2007, 05:31 AM
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The following day, Sunday, was my last in Beijing as I was departing that evening by overnight train to Shanghai. The Peninsula was most accomodating about allowing me to remain in my room past checkout time; I had to vacate the room by 4pm and my train was leaving at 7pm.

I spent the day relaxing and swimming, with a break for a walk to Wanfujing where a free outdoor concert unfolded in honor of the upcoming Olympics: Singers, acrobats and lots of patter from the emcees.

I had another superb dim sum lunch at Huang Ting, in the Peninsula and, was in the lobby ready to depart the hotel at 5:30pm. This was the departure hour recommended by the concierge; in retrospect I should have departed the hotel at 6:15 because the drive to the central railroad station took only about 10 minutes on a relatively traffic-free Sunday.

My Winter Escapes package entitled me to round- trip airport transfers and the hotel kindly allowed me to substutute airport for railroad station. After quite a bit of discussion between the bellman, the concierge, and the driver, it was agreed that the driver would assist me with my luggage as far as the train tracks. Unfortunately, we arrived so early that the track number had not yet been posted. Both of us struggled under our heavy burdens, from the parking lot, across what seemed like acres of pavement, through security, and up the escalators to the waiting area near the tracks. (If I had been carrying a sensible amount of luggage, this would not even be worth commenting on because it would have been so easy and straightforward; also, a taxi would have negated the long walk from the parking lot)

I waited upstairs above the tracks, frantically scanning the boards for some indication of the track on which the train would depart. Finally, the notice went up with this notation in English: "Z-13 Shanghai; Track 7." This was lucky for me because, stranded as I was with my mountain of luggage, I could not venture around the station in search of English-speaking personnel.

A daunting set of steps leads down to the platforms and, burdened as I was, I was close to tears before a very kind fellow passenger offered to assist me.
Again, once I found my carriage, the perky railroad employee helped me drag the large bag to my compartment. For about $233. US (1800 RMB) I had purchased, after much deliberation, botoh compartments in the luxury soft sleeper, so I had the compartment all to myself. As soon as I stepped into the compartment, I knew this had been the right decision....
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Old May 5th, 2007, 11:42 AM
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The soft-sleeper luxury compartments on the Z train were quite comfortable. There are two berths, along with an easy chair with lacy white anti-macassar and small table. The bathroom wiht flush toilet is in a separate connecting room. There is a dining car on the train, but dinner is included with the ticket price. I would strongly recommend bringing your own food, as the noodle dinner delivered to the car was not very appealing. To say the least. Hot water in a thermos is always available but teacups are not provided, nor is the tea itself, so bring your own if you want to drink tea or coffee. (The train attendant lent me a china cup) Bottled water is provided.

Access to the upper berth is a bit tricky, as there is no ladder, only a tiny fold-down step beside the berths. There is also a flat-screen tv but I did not use it. Music is piped into the car but a dial turns it off easily if you wish.

The train ride was wonderful and I was sorry only that it allowed so little daylight time for sightseeing in April; warmer months would allow more opportunity for scenery viewing.

After a cocktail of duty free vodka (can you begin to understand why my bags were so heavy?) and dinner (thanks goodness I had packed hardboiled eggs), I explored the train a bit. Most of the passengers were Chinese, although an Australian family traveling with an infant occuped one of the compartments close to mine.

I found it easy to sleep on the train; beds are a bit hard but bearable and there are clean sheets and fluffy comforters on each berth.

About 6am, passengers are awakened with breakfast. Orders are taken the night before and there is no choice ("Chinese only. Noodles. No western&quot apart from the selection of tea or coffee; acup is provided for these. The food is not good. At all. Perhaps the dining car offers better quality.

Exactly on time, a few minutes after 7am, we pulled into the Shanghai station where I began to panic, once again, about the task of maneuvering my luggage to a taxi.

more soon...
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Old May 6th, 2007, 11:38 AM
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........As soon as I managed to drag my bags and parcels from the train itself out to the platform, a savior appeared in the form of a red-vested man behind the wheel of a large golf cart who whisked all of my things onto the back, motioned for me to hop into the front, and speedily drove off. Weaving in and out, along the platform, across a street, and down an escalator with bags in hand, this man eventually deposited me at the taxi rank somewhere inside the station itself. All of my anxiety about my bags....vanished! I think the charge was 10 RMB. Although I was in a bit of a daze, I believe it was quite a long distance to the taxi rank and I have no idea how I would have managed alone..again, because I was most unsensibly laden down with...stuff.

I presented the taxi driver with the name of my hotel written in Mandarin characters (I asked the concierge at The Peninsula to do this before departing Beijing) and off we went.

I liked Shanghai immediately. At first glance, it appeared far more accessible than Beijing and, in a way, more familiar. The drive to the Le Royal Meridien was a quick one and soon I was deposited in a double room on the 41st floor. Here I will pause to thank Paulchili who first alerted me to this marvelous hotel. Thank you, Paul!

My room was far more lavish than the one I had left at The Peninsula the day before. Paying $35 to acquire Starwood points allowed me a small discount resulting in a nightly rate of 1650 RMB plus 247 RMB service which equals about 246 USD.
I loved this hotel and the location was perfect, just off pedestrian Nanjing Road East. The floor-to-ceiling windows encompassed an astounding view facing People's Park and Nanjing Road West. (The hotel's bar on the top levels, and some of the higher priced rooms, afford a jaw-dropping view east to the Bund and Pudong.) The indoor swimming pool is among the best I have ever experienced; there is even a large bed draped in white linen to accommodate sun bathers on the adjacent outdoor deck! The spa services here were twice the price of those at the Peninsula, however, so I did not use them.

I took a few minutes to marvel at the room (the bed may have been the most comfortable I have ever slept in; I went as far as contacting the hotel after my return home to inquire about the manufacturer)and at the view before heading out to experience Shanghai, where I would spend the next 5 nights.
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Old May 6th, 2007, 12:42 PM
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ekscrunchy - I am glad you enjoyed your stay at the Le Royal Meridien. We loved it as well. I am following your reports closely and enjoy reading about your experiences. Keep going.
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Old May 6th, 2007, 01:34 PM
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ekscrunchy,
We, too, are staying at the Peninsula in Beijing. I thought it sounded good until your most recent posts. We are staying in JW Marriott in Shanghai. NOw I wish we weren't...
Looking forward to your continuation...
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