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marksfour trip report.. In Search of the Joy Luck moment...

marksfour trip report.. In Search of the Joy Luck moment...

Feb 18th, 2008, 09:58 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 178
Chinese New Year Eve

I had posted our day earlier under “Chinese New Year in Beijing” (Summer Palace & Fireworks) and not wanting to commit a faux pas on the Board, I will not double post. ( I wish I knew how to paste the link.)

However, I do want to mention our Muslim Lunch that day! Go to the Xinjiang Hotel and walk into the front door, walk through the Lobby and right out the back door. You will see an alley that looks like it dead ends up ahead...there is an entry way sticking out on your left. You have arrived!

The small restaurant was filled with people who look like they are from the Xinjiang area, so it appeared to be a popular neighborhood place.

Our D ordered her favorites: Potato dumplings filled with a spicy lamb/onion/ cabbage mixture, a chicken, potatoes with thin but wide noodles in a reddish & yellow sauce (beware the spice called ‘ma’ which resembles a whole black pepper..if you’ve been “ma’d” you may not be able to taste the rest of the meal), an order of naan bread covered with ground red chilis & spices that when dipped into the chicken dish gravy…divine!, separate orders of their famous freshly made yogurt with bits of pineapple and ground nuts (a must to keep the palate cooled), and small spicy lamb kebobs.....you will thank me for this one
marksfour is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 08:58 AM
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Give us more info on the Pearl market- what did you buy- what was the asking price and what did you bargain them down to? What type of Pearls? This will give me an idea of how much of a bargain pearls are there- In Manila they are really a great bargain.
BillT is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 09:10 AM
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Love all the local places you are eating at and describing in this report. People will now be taking this report with them all folded up to China and following in your footsteps

hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 09:52 AM
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Hi BillT- Got a long strand (actually 2 strung together) of round pearls (most of the ones they have out are flatter pearls so you really have to insist for round ones)for $30 US. This price included a better quality clasp too. It took our D 3 booths to find someone who would not let her walk away at that price. We stayed and watched her connect the 2 strands to make one long one so that we knew we were getting the actual pearls we purchased. At a different vendor we picked up just 2 pairs of pearl earrings for $1 a pair. We had to ask them to find us the rounder ones and not the flatter ones.
Now we know their 'bottom line' and I hope this helps with bargaining.

HT-thanks for the kind words. Happy travels!
marksfour is offline  
Feb 19th, 2008, 06:25 PM
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My Bad!
re: Foot Massage place

Dongdan North Main Street is located EAST of the Peninsula Hotel and WEST of the Regent Hotel!
marksfour is offline  
Feb 20th, 2008, 09:22 PM
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Hotpot, Tiananmen Square for Flag Lowering ceremony, Night Market

Hotpot! Where to go for Hotpot? There are many places that have been recommended but we thought we’d see where the Concierge would recommend …he sent us around the corner to the Dong Lai Shun Hot Pot Restaurant. (I would say to look for the large wall poster of China’s famous hurdler Liu Xiang but that wouldn’t be fair.) It is located on the 5th floor of the Sun Dong Au Plaza (a multi-floored corner shopping plaza - one block east of the Peninsula on Wangfujing Street). We devoured our thinly sliced beef, lamb and pork that we wrapped in lettuce and cabbage leaves along with thin mushrooms and a very tasty sauce. There is something to be said about a freezing cold day and sitting in front of a steaming hot pot eating ones fill of tasty food...I was ready for a nap...

...but instead we took the subway to Tiananmen Square to watch the lowering of the flag ceremony. For those of you who have not seen it - at sunset everyday, the soldiers walk out from the gates north of Tiananmen and with precise movements they lower the flag. Whereas the US folds the flag into a triangular shape, the Chinese soldiers twist their flag. We were able to watch the ceremony through the crowd (that was about 20 people deep) by holding up our digital camera and watching through its display window.…get there at least 45 minutes before sunset if you want a front row...we got there 30 minutes early and were standing in the 4th “row”. Amazingly, as quickly as the crowd gathers, it disperses.

Now for the Wangfujing Night Market...my advice for the less adventurous diners...eat first and then find a snack at the market. D’s favorite is the scorpions on a skewer (beware the grilled starfish and the grubs...she said they were overrated...so we took her word for it). There is one Night Market located on the north end of Wangfujing (you will see all the stalls and red hanging lanterns) but there is also a smaller one located a few blocks down Wangfujing. There are stalls with similar foods on skewers but I was intrigued by the very tiny ‘store-front-restaurants’ down this lane. Favorite snack was the popular candied red round fruits on a long skewer!

marksfour is offline  
Feb 21st, 2008, 09:54 AM
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I am really enjoying your report. I am heading to Beijing and Chengdu in April for work/pleasure and am taking note of many things from your experience in Beijing.


akm_tn is offline  
Feb 21st, 2008, 08:26 PM
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Akm_tn - Have a great trip! April sounds like a perfect time to go.

Beihai Park, Kro’s Nest, Beijing University street vendors

At all the major attractions in Beijing we saw many tour groups (the waving flag held by the tour leader is easy to spot) made up of Chinese people. Bei Hai Park was no exception...and it appears that leisure travel is popular with Chinese citizens.

At the center of the Park is an island called Qióng-huá Island with a large white stupa you can see from across the lake. At the Nine Dragon Wall we read that it is one of three walls of its kind in China. It is made of glaze bricks containing 9 dragons playing in the clouds...wish we had a panoramic camera to fit the entire wall in a photo. The park is so large with an equally large lake that one could spend all day there...unfortunately the freezing temperatures cut our visit short.

Now since our D’s friend from Beijing was with us, we asked where she would like to go for lunch...to which she quickly replied...pizza! Now if you really feel like you need to eat pizza in Beijing then go to Kro’s Nest by the main gate of Beijing University (the old gate and beautiful tree lined streets of this prestigious old university is worth seeing). The owner of Kro’s Nest is from Atlanta, and according to our D and her friends, he makes the best pizza. We get there only to find a handwritten note taped on the door saying he is enjoying the Spring Festival. So if you visit Beijing University and don't feel like a pizza, you should grab some meat skewers, hot roasted yams, and what we call 'tortillas with filling' from the street vendors out front...

Aside: D’s friend from Beijing told us that many primary schools are not located close to residential areas (Beijing is that big), therefore many schools have dormitory facilities. She explained that many Beijing students live at their schools during the week and go home on the weekends because the commute to and from school is too long. I asked about homesickness at such a young age and she said, yes both she and her brother initially experienced it but such is life in a big city.

Tomorrow we are off to Shanghai...
marksfour is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2008, 01:35 PM
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Terrific report, can't wait for your impressions of Shanghai!
Shanghainese is offline  
Feb 25th, 2008, 07:07 PM
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Off to Shanghai

We head to the airport at 6:00 am on a Saturday morning with clear roads. The busy Beijing Airport runs so smoothly and we were at our gate within 20 minutes of arriving! (Big US airports could never compete with this.) 2 men met us curbside and took us to the Domestic Flight counter which had no line. I found it interesting that this was a check-in counter regardless of which airline you were flying. Our 2 porters had on large badges that read “Free Bag Service(?)” or something like that, but the word FREE was very large. Once we checked in the men intercepted us and said to us, “Tips?” and kept repeating it until we realized that they were insisting on getting a tip. Which we gave them and then went on our merry way.

Now this is where I was confused…I was surprised by the no line at our check in counter but then on our way to security I saw the hordes of people at the Air China counters. We were flying Air China and I didn’t know why no one else used our line? I know one of you will know the answer.

Going through security was a breeze (we were able to leave our shoes and belts on and laptops had to be removed from carry-ons but not removed from their padded cases) and like I said we were at our gate within 20 minutes of pulling up at the curb. Also, where are the crowds we saw at the check in counter? The gates all seem to be empty.

Our flight to Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai offered wonderful service by the most beautiful flight attendants. We noticed when breakfast was served, the Western flyers around us all ordered Chinese breakfasts (8 steamed jiaozi, cup of fruit, 3 good sized crustless sandwiches, and the small foil bag of pickled vegetables that I had read about on this board) while the Chinese flyers all opted for the American breakfasts!

Shanghai! What a city! Once again the airport is so well organized that we were quickly in the taxi line with our 5 suitcases (remember we are delivering our D to her new college). The taxi ‘police’ sees our bags and send us over to the van line and we are on our way.

I am slightly feeling it…the Joy Luck moment is starting to peek out…this city just feels more familiar, the people seem more relaxed here, even the language sounds different than in Beijing. I am loving this. I see famous buildings in the distance …. it just feels so friendly and I am still in the taxi. I can’t wait to walk the Bund and the French Concession and take note of all the architectural wonders..old and new.

We get to our hotel (Le Royal Meridien) and we love the location. It is on Nanjing Lu, across the street from the People’s Park and a block away from a familiar place for our D - Raffle City). Our room is on the 41st floor and we have a perfect view of the Huangpu River and the Pudong buildings beyond.

I pull out Shanghainese’s report and read it aloud for the 100th time. We only have 2 nights (aka 1.5 days) in this glorious city and there is food to be eaten! Tonight our Chinese exchange student (whom we hosted back home 4 summers ago) and his parents are taking us to dinner so we will only have tomorrow to try some of Shanghainese’s recommendations...

Once we are settled we head down Nanjing Lu to the Bund. What a street! It is Saturday Feb. 9th and everyone seems to be on vacation. I am loving the crowds and the shops and the hanging lanterns and the ambience of this road.....and then we get to the Bund. The first thing I want to do is to peek inside the Peace Hotel to check out the art deco designs but it is all chained up and I am disappointed. But there is still so much more to see. We cross the street and now we are on the river and take pictures of ourselves with the Pearl Tower behind us. Has anyone ever been here and NOT taken a picture with the same background?

On our way back to the hotel along Nanjing Lu, we hear jazz music….a 1/2 block down we see a man sitting on a balcony playing a saxophone and a crowd has gathered below. (How can you tell when a crowd has gathered on Nanjing Lu on a weekend during a Holiday? It’s the part of the shoulder to shoulder crowd where people have stopped moving.) The live music was a wonderful treat.

Tonight...the “feast”...
marksfour is offline  
Feb 25th, 2008, 09:34 PM
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Dinner at Zhang Shen Ji Restaurant

Our “son” from Shanghai lived with us the summer before he entered Tsinghua University in Beijing through an exchange program with our children’s school back home. It has been 4 years since we have seen him and we were looking forward to meeting his parents. They picked us up at our hotel and since neither of us speaks eachother’s language, our D and “son Harry” were in for a night of translation…

Aside: We were told by D that it is the Chinese way not to open hostess gifts in front of the giver so we were prepared for them not to open our gifts until they returned to their home. When we got to the restaurant, they too had gifts for us. Our D told us to wait to open ours at the hotel and our “son Harry” told his parents to open them now the American way. We all laughed and decided to open them right there.

The Zhang Shen Ji restaurant serves traditional Hangzhou cuisine. (Super Brand Mall Branch location West Lujiazui Road, Pudong New Area)
Our hosts had reserved a private dining room for the 6 of us looking across the river toward the Bund. Were we in for a treat. I cannot remember all of the 20 dishes they ordered but will list the ones that were most memorable. The food kept coming and we were in a dream-like state experiencing delicate balances of flavors all beautifully presented. First came about 6 cold dishes, and then came the dongpo pork (a favorite of a famous Hangzhou poet) which were small tasty morsels of deliciously seasoned pork served in a large clay pot, a sweet tasting fish, honey ham with veggies, shredded fish soup, shelled shrimp in a delicate tea sauce, steamed dumplings that are filled with meat and veggies and has a lot of juice within the thin wrapping..you suck the tasty juices out before eating the dumpling, sweet lotus roots, delicious goose feet one ate wearing plastic gloves, little white puffs filled with a slightly sweetened whipping cream, a pastry reminding me of a thinner baklava but tasted completely different and lighter, and the last thing I remember is a fresh melon platter.

After dinner it was impossible to hail a taxi and we didn’t want our hosts to take us all the way back to our hotel since they live in the Pudong area. They insisted on waiting with us but after 20 minutes and no luck, our hosts insisted on driving us back to the hotel. They said taxis are hard to catch in this area at night and they were right.

Back at the hotel and off to bed...but not before the fireworks going off all around the city and at the 41st floor (same location as ekscrunchy’s room!) we are now looking down at this spectacular aerial display...we know we need another week in this city...
marksfour is offline  
Feb 26th, 2008, 03:54 PM
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I do not mean to be nosy but can you tell us what you gave for gifts and what they gave you - your report is so enjoyable. We are looking at a tour in November - do you know what the weather would be like then? Also do you tip everyone like you do in the US?

Thank you!
flycatcher06 is offline  
Feb 26th, 2008, 04:01 PM
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Oh my, your Shanghai portion started well. How cold was the weather inside and outside? Was there still snow on the ground and what did you wear?
Shanghainese is offline  
Feb 26th, 2008, 06:46 PM
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Wonderful trip report, Marksfour

So enjoyed the Beijing section, which brought back so many fond memories of our trip last August.

Quite fascinating to 'see' this amazing city through your eyes from a freezing winter perspective as opposed to our hot and sweaty summer sojourn.

Your detail is fabulous!

"When in doubt, sniff"

FurryTiles is offline  
Feb 27th, 2008, 12:11 PM
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Flycatcher06 - We had brought them some Hawaii items...t-shirts (for the males), chocolate covered macadamia nuts (we heard his mother loves chocolate), some notecards and hand soaps (also for his mother and a CD of Hawaiian music.
They in turn gave us a beautiful box of tea from the famous Fujian area.

Shanghainese - Thank you...still working on the rest of it The weather was still very cold and we had to bundle in our down coats. However when the sun was out it was more comfortable...there was no snow on the ground BUT there was huge bank of snow all along the side of our hotel. The next morning the huge bank of snow was removed...the efficiency of this city is amazing. I also wanted to mention that the trees were leafed out and the grass and hedges were all green! Such a change from Beijing in February.

FurryTiles- Thank you...all of your trip reports were so helpful to us.

marksfour is offline  
Feb 28th, 2008, 08:55 AM
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Hi Marksfour,

I have been enjoying your wonderful trip report and I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

I have a question for you about your great wall trip. You stated your daughter bought your tickets, which included the wall and lunch (as well as the factory stops). Could you please tell me about the lunch you had? Also, how long were you at the factory stops?

Also, do you know where the QingChunJiaRi Intl travel Services is located?


monicapileggi is offline  
Feb 29th, 2008, 11:11 AM
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Monicapileggi - The lunch was actually very enjoyable! It was located in a quiet courtyard and there was only one other table taken. After we ate lunch (many dishes on the fresher, lighter side were served and there was more than enough for our group)our guide said we have about 20 minutes to take the cloisonne 'tour' and shop and then we would continue on. The jade factory stop was only 30 min. which allowed for a short 'tour', some browsing, restroom stop and then we were on our way.

We enjoyed Mari our guide and she gave us a brief history of Beijing, and some interesting Olympics facts (The symbol of the running person resembles the character "Jing" or 'capitol' and it represents Beijing moving forward. Also the 5 mascots are named for their slogan "Beijing Welcomes You" BeiBei, JingJing, YuanYuan, YingYing, and NiNi.)

D found a place to sign up at Tiananmen. Here is the contact info. from the brochure:
address: Beijingshi Laodong Renmin Wenhuagong
email: [email protected]
tel.:010-65124332 I hope this helps.
marksfour is offline  
Feb 29th, 2008, 11:58 AM
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Husband and I awoke early to the stroll in the French Concession...it was wonderful trying to imagine what life was like back in the day...then taxi to the Bund to see buildings we missed the day before. Favorite building of all time - the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. Do not miss going inside this building - you will be taken aback by its beauty.

Back to the hotel just when D was waking up (you know how college students roll) and we grab a quick breakfast across the lane at Jamaica Blue. Off to stroll People's Park...at one time we take the stairs down to cross the street and we are in an underground mall-the first part resembles Shanghai in the 1920's (faux Disney-like manner) then the faux setting is behind us and it is shops, shops, and more shops. We find some luggage and notice it is not easy to bargain here...eventually we get some Swiss Army luggage for $30 each (D got the large one down to $30 and the owner refused to go lower than $30 for the matching smaller one).

We drop our new bags off at the hotel and then we are off to YuYuan and find ourselves in a sea of people. We are trying to get to the entry of the park and the dense crowd seems to be going in every direction but toward the entry. Not making much leeway, we duck into a place for a quick late lunch with Korean items on the menu...BiBimBap here we come! Hits the spot and we are back outside with the masses trying to get inside the park...after much jostling (and claustrophobia about to set in) we sadly give up and decide we will catch a cab to Xintandi to walk around.

We exit the YuYuan Bazaar area and we are now in a new sea of people walking along the road. I try to avoid a group of people who are walking toward me and I sidestep to my left and I am hit by a car. Luckily I do not fall to the ground but rather find myself spinning and manage to stay upright. The car just hit my left hip and left elbow and I was just badly bruised (and a bit shaken since I heard the thud). The driver was concerned and stopped immediately to check on me. I reassured him I was OK and nothing was broken so we continued on our way. (One good thing about being in a semi-frozen state is that the injury is automatically 'iced'.)

Get to Xintandi and it is pretty empty..our D's friend from France tells us it reminds him of some of the back alleys in France while parts remind my husband of SF. All I know is I am loving this dynamic city! There are quite a few places to eat in the Xintandi area but I want to try at least ONE place from Shanghainese's or Ekscrunchy's reports so we go back to the hotel to regroup...by the time we get back I am pretty uncomfortable where the car hit me and as I thaw out it is more evident that I will stay in tonight. (When the college kids want to grab McDonalds to bring up to the room, I am honestly just fine with that.)

As I refold Shanghainese's and Ekscrunchy's Shanghai reports and pack them away, I know we definitely needed more time in Shanghai...so many restaurants have been calling my name and I have not been able to answer!

Tomorrow we take the D-train to Hangzhou...

Hawaiiantraveler- It was liberating when you mentioned not always eating the locals foods 100% of the trip...this way when D's friends requested pizza, Outback or McDonalds as a treat, we happily joined them.

Tower- Husband sure enjoyed the Tsingtao beer..it was his 'bottled water' at meals.
marksfour is offline  
Feb 29th, 2008, 01:29 PM
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Hangzhou and farewell...

Before we left for China I had sent the Le Royal Meridien an email requesting them to purchase 3 train tickets to Hangzhou for us. When we checked in they had them ready for us.

Since we will be dropping our D off in Hangzhou and will be coming back to Shanghai for one night, we stored 3 suitcases at Le Meridien. This way all we had to do was help D with her 6 months worth of things (both winter and summer clothing) in 2 large suitcases.

First off I have to say that I am impressed with the efficiency of all transportation in China (albeit the major snow storms never did affect us). The station is packed and I can’t imagine how this huge crowd of people will get through the relatively narrow doorways to get to the boarding platform. Surprisingly everyone shuffles through and we easily find our Car on the D-train to Hangzhou. There are only 6 rows of seats in our car and the seats are very comfortable. The ride down was most enjoyable (1 hr. 18 min) and seeing old farm houses, new apartments, industry, duck ponds, small farms, etc...such an ecclectic mix was fascinating.

We easily catch a taxi to our hotel, the Shangri-La on West Lake. I am told Hangzhou is beautiful but in the taxi all I can think about is my survival! Yes our driver is that aggressive. We get to the hotel and I am thrilled to finally note all the trees, the Lake, the flowers blooming and the friendliest doorman. Our room is in the East Wing and it is exceptionally large with very high ceilings and it exudes charm. The people here are so friendly and ready to serve you. They seem to anticipate our needs...something that was lacking at our hotel in Beijing. Marco Polo said it was the most beautiful place he’d seen and I agree.

We are here for just 2 nights and I will always remember the West Lake setting...the long beautiful strolls, the tree lined streets, the flowers (some peeking out under some snow), the lake itself, the boats, exploring Solitary Hill Island and crossing the Xiling Bridge, temples that dot the hillside and peak out through the treetops, the ever changing moods of West Lake which seems to change by the minute, by the hour and by the day. Each time we see it we notice something different such as the mountain range beyond. As the morning fog lifts, a new scene is always revealed.

The West Lake is surrounded by a broad shady pedestrian walkway and is lined with old mansions… as we stroll past each one I wonder about the history and the story each house could tell. Within walking distance we also visit the Mausoleum of General Yue Fei, the Xiling Seal Engravers' Society which charmingly sits on the top of Solitary Hill, Hua Gang Park and the Lingyin Temple.

We took most of our meals at the Shangri La and we recommend Peppino’s for great Italian... really! The terrace and view at the Coffee Garden matches the nice Asian/International menu - both are very enjoyable.

Foot Massage #2: While our D is at China Mobile setting up her new phone, I convince my husband that his first foot massage was a rare occurrence and that the Spa at the Shangri La must be most relaxing. I mean Frank Sinatra songs are being piped into the Spa. I convince him to get another one with me in this beautiful setting....Now who knew a max 90lb. young woman could inflict so much pain on someone? Thank goodness H has a sense of humor!

Our last day in Hangzhou we accompany our daughter to her new dorm. We sadly say goodbye to our personal tour guide and interpretor and catch a cab to the train station for our train ride back to Shanghai.

Upon arriving at the station we realize it was the last day of the holiday and everyone is getting back to the city. There seems to be as many people outside the train station as there are inside. We join the masses(!) in the waiting area and meet 2 delightful elderly women from Germany who are traveling with some good sized suitcases. I worry that they will not be able to navigate the stairs and when the 2 doors open and the crowd shuffles through, we are separated and we worry about them. We later see them in the train and they are comfortably in their seats.

Aside> If your suitcase is on the heavy side, do not use the smooth ramps on the side of the stairs or you will be pulled down faster than you maybe able to handle. You are better off lugging them down each stair.

The train ride is bittersweet for us. We are leaving our D in a country that is both physically and culturally far from home but she loves what she is doing. We wonder when and if we will ever see her Chinese and international friends again. We realize our trip itinerary wasn’t the most ideal…but we had to work within our parameters and ended up hitting the urban cities (and of course, not enough time in Shanghai).

Would we travel again in the winter and during the Spring Festival? Absolutely! It is not as crowded, the cold is not unbearable, there are no strong smells, and the fireworks were most memorable. Would we like to try a visit in the Fall or Spring and go to Guilin, Yunnan, Xian, Kunming, Chengdu and all the other fabulous places that I have read on these travel boards? Of course...and next time I will make sure to eat my fill in Shanghai at all the places that I missed...and then some.

Thank you Fodorites for all of your help!
marksfour is offline  
Feb 29th, 2008, 01:38 PM
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PS. Did I ever experience a Joy Luck moment? I am not really sure...I think I have to go back...
marksfour is offline  

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