Just back from China TR

Jul 11th, 2007, 09:19 PM
  #41  
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Shanghainese,
Thanks for the explanation. I thought it was so strange to have bat pictures on the Forbidden City wood. I had heard of dragons, phoenix, lions, but bats??? Now that makes sense.

Furry Tiles-happy travels. Hope you have a fantastic trip. Your question about pollution-it's VERY bad. It's not like the pollution I expected which was smoggy and black. It's rather a white haze everywhere. It certainly made our pictures not as good. You can see things close up but once you get to a small distance, it turns to white haze. It's more like a really foggy day all the time. Like eternal winter, the sky is always white. The only time we saw the blue sky was in Hangzhou, the cleanest city we visited. It was great!!

3 in our party got sore throats, colds, sinus infections which might have been caused by the irritation from the pollution.

Some have posted that they had irritated eyes, throats, etc. We didn't experience that per se. Maybe more subtle in that it made us sick later.

Our guide teased that the only people wearing masks were the Koreans and Japanese who think the Chinese have too much pollution. I saw some locals wearing masks but they were only the ones who were cleaning up the garbage and trash around.

They said they are giving the Beijing folks 15 days PAID vacation during the Olympics to cut down on the cars, thus the pollution.

They have moved the heavy industry out of the city already. I guess it's the shear amount of cars that is a major problem. The smell of the emissions from the cars are from the old days before we had emissions controls here.

There is construction everywhere which may contribute to the dust count. They say there is a crane every 2 blocks. One thing you will see everywhere is buildings covered in green which means they are under construction. The guide said they thought green looked better from afar.
LostinChina is offline  
Jul 11th, 2007, 11:31 PM
  #42  
 
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Hi LiC, thanks for all the extra info re your experiences with the pollution problem.

A new thread "Tips for pollution health-impact preventatives?" has been started, where your experiences get a wee highlight.

Regards,
Jackie
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Jul 12th, 2007, 06:08 AM
  #43  
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Furry Tiles,
Read your new thread. I added a little more to it.

We flew to Xian from Beijing on Air China. They want you there about 90 min before the flight. That was about right. We had to get our seats once we got there, you can't get them ahead of time, so I was told. The airport was hot, as if no air conditioning. Then they shuttled us over on a bus (standing only ) to the plane. That was quite a bit earlier then when the plane was suppose to leave. I don't know if they had continuous shuttles, or that was the only one. Then they take you to the plane where you walk up into the plane. The plane was similar to the US ones, except it felt like they put more seats in. The space between our seat and the one in front was so little that it was hard to stick the carry on under the seat in front. I asked one of the passengers on a later flight to Hangzhou about it and he said, "Too many people in China". I thought the flight would be early since the shuttle was so early, but I think it was 1/2 to 1 hour late. I hear that is not bad at all. Some tend to run hours late. So we were happy , except everywhere was SO hot.
Just another note. I read somewhere that if you should not drink the water on land, then don't drink the water in the air. So we always asked for no ice in the air also. Service in the air was ok. Similar to what the posts have said here before. The water they served you was from a bottle.
Also, as people have posted, the luggage beats you there. By the time you go to get your luggage it's already there.
I was worried before about luggage overage. It was interesting how they handled this. The guide in Beijing assured us that it would be no problem if we are a little over. She was absolutely right. They didn't seem to have a problem with it, nor did they have a problem with us bringing a little more than one carry on. In the Xian airport later though flying to Hangzhou, they were very picky. The guide there joked that it depends on what type of the day the person had that is checking you in. If they are smiling, you might be ok. If not, watch out. Well, ours wasn't smiling enough it seems since we did get an overage charge. It wasn't too bad though. I was afraid that they simply wouldn't allow the extra bag-I read that somewhere. But they did, just for a fee.
Another aside: If youa re lucky enough to find the western toilets, usually the handicapped ones, you will find that the door is just about right up to your nose. There is NO extra space inside there. Not sure why except just room constraints. The Chinese are so small that it doesn't appear to be a problem. Besides they are using the squatters anyway. Just took some getting used to. Reminded me of the airline bathrooms.
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Jul 12th, 2007, 06:20 AM
  #44  
 
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Your experience with check-in, luggage, bus gate, etc are all very typical. Depending on the plane type, they send one or two buses. And yes, they often leave before gate closing time, as soon as they count all the boarding passes and appear that everybody's on the buses.

The reason flights are often delayed are due to air traffic control, which is run by the military, and they only give commercial flights very limited and strict airways. If there's weather or whatever problem, they usually can't easily reroute the flights. Flights in the Beijing-Shanghai and Shanghai-Guangzhou/Shenzhen/Hong Kong corridors are often late due to that reason.

On the remote routes, they close early, depart early and arrive early most of the time.

Basically all internal Chinese flights use fairly new to very new Boeing and Airbuses, some slightly older McDonnell Douglas. Not sure if they still have Russian-built ones anymore - if they have, that'd be very very few.
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Jul 12th, 2007, 07:18 PM
  #45  
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Thanks for the explanation, rkkwan. That makes more sense now.

In Xian, we saw all the pits for the Terra cotta warriors. It's just like the pictures in the books. Magnificent sight. I remember when Amazing Race (TV show) went to China, they were hunting for clues where the warriors were. The time and meticulous work to put all these warriors and horses back together!! Simply amazing. It was 105 degrees F when we were in Xian. Boiling. It was dry though which was better than the cities coming up.
The guide told us that Xian is known for it's dumplings. I had read that about Shanghai, but not Xian. She was kind enough to drop us at a place famous for their Xian dumplings for dinner. The dumplings were very unique. The duck dumplings were in the shape of ducks. Others were in the shape of fish. Each had their unique takes. At the end they gave many, many regular dumplings to fill you up in case you didn't have enough (I guess). They would not allow any soy sauce or vinegar with the special dumplings so as not to mask the taste. You were allowed anything to eat the regular dumplings. Interesting experience. I thought the dumplings in Shanghai were a lot tastier however.
The guide said that those who see the Provincial Museum with a guide like it better than those who go through it just on their own. It was under construction and there was a strong smell of lacquer throughout the museum. The person (farmer) who dug the original well that found the first head of the terra cotta warriors was there signing books of anyone who bought one. He yelled at the crowd to NOT take pictures of him since the flash from the picture-taking blinded him.
The next day we took Hainan Airlines to Hangzhou. THis time they served a lunch on the plane. THe food was so-so. This one we were actually allowed you to walk right onto the plane from the airport instead of the shuttle and then walking up the steps. It was about the same as Air China. Very tight quarters. I believe it was a bit late also, but again nothing big. THis is where we got hit with the overage fee for our luggage. But it wasn't too bad.
Next was Hangzhou.
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Jul 12th, 2007, 07:28 PM
  #46  
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Just to backtrack for a moment. For all you who have been to Beijing. On the Great Wall, there was a small section where there were a ton of locks all locked on a chain. Does anyone know what that was? Again, I recall on Amazing Race one of their tasks was to find the right key and try all these locks. I had thought the show put that mess of locks and the chain together. I was surprised to actually see it on the wall.

Also, I forgot to mention in the Sofitel, they had another nice spread for breakfast. Again, it was a walk to get there. Most things here were modernistic. The restaurants were Moroccan (Casablanca), Japanese (Koi) and Chinese (Le Chinois). We went to the Chinese one. It was in the conference center bldg. This hotel was like a complex of bldg. The Chinese restaurant was just ok. Here was one of the restaurants they charged us more for their special tea than the dish. The menu was also in French. Another restaurant they had was Azur which was a Modern Mediterranean Restaurant. We liked the restaurants at the Beijing Peninsula a lot better. We were just not a fan of this type of food.

The breakfast was nice, again preferred Peninsula better. They had typical American breakfast. Did have a smaller Chinese section. I remember bowls of wonton which were very tasty. Someone was there to warm it up for you and add soup, etc. There were some buns, don't recall what kind.

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Jul 13th, 2007, 05:59 AM
  #47  
 
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Sorry to hear you had so much smog. I was there May 3-15 and it was perfect, even the guide commented on our luck. There was no smog, not not, only a sprinkling of rain one day in Shanghai.
You made me remember going to Summer Palace at the end of the big holiday week in China, I never saw such crowds anywhere else. I lingered for a few seconds to figure out a problem with my camera, and the tour group was gone! Luckily, I had a Chinese tel. card in my phone, called the guide and found which way they went. We lost 2 more people in the next 30 minutes. No other place was as crowded.
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Jul 13th, 2007, 02:23 PM
  #48  
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Aleta,
Good thing you had the guide's number and a working cell phone! Otherwise, that would have been horrible. Doesn't the tour guide stop occasionally to see if everyone is there?

You really were fortunate with the clear days. It appears that the heavy pollution is more the norm.

Which tour group did you use?
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Jul 13th, 2007, 05:14 PM
  #49  
 
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Ref Sofitel Xian, I believe, at least I was told by my tour operator, there are two Sofitel's on Renmin Sq, one a 5 star, the other not. This may be why some are experiencing different things, they may not comparing the same hotel.
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Jul 13th, 2007, 05:28 PM
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There's only one Sofitel. The other is a Grand Mercure, which belongs to the same hotel group - Accor of France. But one will not confuse the two. The Sofitel is ultra modern, the Grand Mercure is in a Soviet-style building from 1957.

Anyways, checking Tripadvisor, the Sheraton is now rated #1, Sofitel #2 and the Grand Mercure #3.
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Jul 13th, 2007, 07:52 PM
  #51  
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rkkwan is right.The Sofitel was ultra-modern looking. Will be interesting to see how it holds up. Just didn't seem like the construction was something that would last a long time. I might be very wrong though. I just had a long post and somehow it got lost. Will try again. rkkwan-spent a long time on the cell today. Please check your email.

Flew to Hangzhou on Hainan Airlines. I sat next to someone who lived in Hangzhou. I told him Xian was so hot at 105 degrees F. I asked how is Hangzhou? He said HOTTER! It was and also much more humid. Like walking in a sauna each day.

Ohhh, but we finally got to see the clear blue sky. It was beautiful. Hangzhou was by far the least polluted. I took a good look since I knew we wouldn't see the sky again until we returned home.

West Lake was beautiful and so serene. They say it's the Honeymoon Capital and I can see why. I asked the guide if many come and do tai chi in the morning? She said no, since there is an admission fee to get in.

We took a boat ride around, very beautiful. There is a spot where there are 3 lanterns in the water. I think originally it was used to see how high the water was for floods. Now the 3 lanterns are used in the Autumn Festival. They cover the holes with paper and they light up and are reflected back onto the lake. So at night it seems like there is a moon in the night and 3 in the lake. It's hard to explain. I notice I'm quickly forgetting all the interesting stories they told us.

We got to see white peacocks. Their pigeons were also white instead of our usual gray.

Many parts of the lake had huge areas where there were lotus flowers.

Some of the islands are man-made and one island had a lake on the island. So it was a lake on an island on a lake.

They also had ponds with lots of red carp (looked like huge koi fish). Many were feeding them. We fed them Goldfish crackers we had with us. They would all come and fight over the food.

There was a famous poet Dongpo who I think was the person they named a dish Hangzhou is known for. The guide said many people didn't know how to eat pork. So he made a recipe and cooked it for the workers and it was so good, now Hangzhou is known for it.

We ate Dongpo pork at the Shang Palace in the Shangri-La hotel. It was delicious. It's hard to describe. It's pieces of pork in a dark soy sauce based gravy with just as thick fat attached to it, along with what looked like the skin of the pig. Sounds gross, but it's delicious. They came in little ceramic dishes. The fat made it taste wonderful, although it's probably not that good for you. Another dish they were known for was crystal shrimp with tea leaves. Again, very delicate and good. We really liked the Hangzhou cooking. Xian was a bit too spicy for us. Personal taste.

We tried a massage both here and in Beijing. I haven't had many massages before, but I was expecting relaxing. Chinese massages are kinda rough and they hurt! The ones we got in Beijing hurt, but afterwards, my back, etc felt a lot better, didn't ache.

Another dish we missed was the beggar's chicken. We wanted to try it, but you have to give them 6 hours notice. We didn't have the time.

We went by van to Shanghai. Back to the pollution and the traffic. Here is where we encountered more illness and missed some of our tour. When I planned the trip, I left Shanghai for last since I thought we would do the most shopping there. We could buy cheap suitcases and then fly home with tons of souvenirs, etc without any penalty. Our restrictions of luggage was only internally while travelling in China: one suitcase/person, 44 lbs or less, etc. But travelling from China to the States allows 2 suitcases/person at 50 lbs each. So we thought we can buy whatever we want in Shanghai and have no luggage worries. But since we got sick, we didn't have much chance to shop, which was disappointing.

We did see the acrobatic show which was excellent!! I had a choice of seeing it in Beijing or Shanghai. I had read somewhere that Shanghai was better. We were not disappointed. It was very enjoyable. Although you could see the safety lines on the acrobats, you still worried they might fall. Some of the acrobats were so young. Some were extremely flexible. This is a must see in our opinion.

I asked if there was something equivalent to the Silk St in Shanghai. They said there used to be, but the government shut it down.

We did take a cab to Capitaland Mall where the JW Marriott recommended. It was a high-rise, very modern mall. The prices there were way higher than the expensive stores here in the states. We came home empty-handed. We did eat "fast-food" food court type food there which turned out to be pretty good. It was the famous Shanghai shao lung baos. They were delicious. Most of the shoppers were the younger generation. It was VERY difficult to get a cab to get back to the hotel. It was about 8-9 at night. Everyone we saw was already occupied. The shear number of people there make it harder to do everything.

That was about it. We decided to take the Maglev to the airport. It was fun. Extremely quick. Very efficient. Wish we could have that in all our congested cities.

Trip home was long. Had the usual screaming baby in the row right behind us. I got the seat where it couldn't recline. The button was missing. The flight attendant was able to put her finger way in and push something that allowed me to recline some. I didn't dare touch it the whole trip. Lost luggage coming home. Better than going there, but still frustrating.

I hope this helps people planning for a future trip. The posts here really helped me plan for ours!!

Happy travels!!
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Jul 13th, 2007, 09:10 PM
  #52  
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It's me again. I forgot to comment on the breakfast buffet at the JW Marriott. It was wonderful. They had 3 different types of congee which is like rice porridge. They had plain, beef and chicken. I went for the chicken each morning. They also had some pork buns, a little dim sum, some chinese sausage which was really good. It is like a sweet sausage. Sometimes they had some shao ling baos. Then of course the usual American breakfast. They had the long fried breadsticks. I think they had tea eggs, getting confused among the breakfasts. They also had dried pork that goes into the congee.

Just wanted to add that.

Happy Travels!!
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Jul 14th, 2007, 09:31 AM
  #53  
 
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Loved your TR, I like Hangzhou a lot. An emperor cruised from BeiJing to HangZhou via the Grand Canal, and decided to commission the Summer Palace in BJ as a scaled down version of the West Lake area.

I'll dream of Dongpo pork tonight, except sparing a leg for me, DH ate a whole beggar's chicken at lunch. The crystal shrimp is never-frozen fresh water shrimp, I've duplicated the dish with green tea leaves in the US, doesn't taste the same.
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Jul 14th, 2007, 10:05 AM
  #54  
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Shanghainese,
Now I remember the guide saying the the BJ area was a scaled down West Lake. It was nice.

What did the beggar's chicken taste like? I regret we didn't get a chance to sample it. I figured the same shrimp dish in the US wouldn't be the same. We were thinking of trying to find recipes for all this food here. But where would you find all the fat for the dongpo pork, plus the skin of the pig???? Can these recipes be duplicated here in the states? The shrimp as you say doesn't taste the same. Sigh, I miss the food already.
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Jul 14th, 2007, 11:36 AM
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I think Dongpo Pork uses the pork belly. Widely available at Chinese supermarket here.

They put lots of stuff inside the lotus leaves wrapping for the Beggar's Chicken. It's cooked so long that the chicken part seem to have melted with everything else. [Well, at least that's how I remember it, having it in Hangzhou and Hong Kong before.] The best part seem to be when you need to break the mud apart with a hammer.
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Jul 14th, 2007, 01:09 PM
  #56  
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rkkwan,
Interesting that it is available here-ingredients for dongpo pork.

The beggar's chicken sounds gross with the mud, etc. But everyone says it tastes so good. Why do they need the mud?
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Jul 14th, 2007, 02:05 PM
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No, you don't eat mud!

Okay, you have the chicken (can't remember if it's de-boned) with a whole bunch of other ingredients wrapped in lotus leaves. Then they put mud around it and then bake the whole thing for hours.

They take the big piece of mud next to your table. Break apart the mud with the hammer and take out the lotus leaves wrapped "ball". Cut open it and you eat the stuff inside.
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Jul 14th, 2007, 07:07 PM
  #58  
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rkkwan,
THanks for the explanation. Sounds very interesting. I assume the tastiness is given by all the stuff they wrap inside. Wish we had a chance to try it!
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Jul 14th, 2007, 08:27 PM
  #59  
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I approached Tiger Direct one last time and thanks to rkkwan's help, they sent me an email with an address to send returns. They didn't say what they will do, but this certainly is a step in the right direction. I had called Motorola yesterday and their rep said if I had bought it from them directly, he would issue me a full refund. So I asked if he would call Tiger Direct on a conference call. He agreed. We both stayed on the line for 1 1/2 hours and were on hold. The Motorola rep had to go home. So we never got through. Now, I am getting a positive step from TD. Hopefully a refund is next.
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Jul 15th, 2007, 08:25 AM
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The taste of the Beggar's Chicken is very subtle and delicate (beggar's don't have access to alotof seasonings) with a nice aroma from the baked clay and lotus leaves, supposedly the best are from the West Lake. We had the bone-in, I have heard of deboned versions.

rkkwan -- is the clay some special stuff?

Folklore has it a beggar got hold of a live chicken, twisted its neck (getting graphic here), wrapped it in wet clay so he didn't have to pluck off the feathers, and threw the mud in a little camp fire he built and had a feast.

I've never had it in the US. The closest version to the Dongpu Pork I had is the Pork Knuckle in Brown Sauce (the translation doesn't do it justice), you can read about it in the SF Fodorites 5/23 GTG TR, there's another salt & pepper version that tastes more like the HongKong style of roast pork with different seasonings. It's served at the Shanghai House and I'll take you there when you come to SF.
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