we only had a few days to go to China so we chose Shanghai because of Disney (previously visited by my sister and her family) and my best friend was there (unfortunately, he was reassigned to Thailand before we got there). sadly, we didn’t get a chance to ride the bullet train; or see The Great Wall or the Terracota Army but we enjoyed our stay nonetheless.

we’ve been to most Disneys and the castle at Shanghai was, IMHO, by far was the “best”. not only is it more aesthetically pleasing but you can enter and climb it. we started with a ride exclusive to that park. if there are three or more in your party and you are keen to repeat rides, you may want to consider their concierge service. moreover, it also includes reserved areas for the parade and fireworks.

we saw numerous bridges and canals that day – we were told that waterways were historically significant. on our tours, we were able to visit a “traditional” water village (my wife and son were able to go a gondola ride on the main canal) which was about an hour away from the city by car. as a contrast, we also walked by the river during the day (we saw the Bund and the things around it) and went on a “scenic” cruise that night (we saw the Oriental Pearl Radio & Television Tower with its “renown” spheres illuminated) – my son is into photography so he really enjoyed it.

aside from the aforementioned places, we also visited a “traditional” home – like the gardens we visited it was designed for introspection and thought. room entrances (at least those accessible from the outside) were designed with “hurdles” as ghosts supposedly had no knees – and there were a lot of “zig-zags” as apparitions could only travel in straight “lines” we noticed a lot of rocks in gardens and asked about it – apparently large ones were difficult to gather from the river and was a sign of affluence.

we also went to a silk factory and a pearl producer – they also educated us and not only gave us an opportunity to purchase stuff. what was important was they taught us how to tell if something was authentic or fake.

we also went to two museums (it would have been three if the other one had not closed). not to be aloof, but yes, we are museum people. i noticed a “lot” of paintings (not just at “traditional” repositories such as these) – my theory regarding affinity for calligraphy as the source seemed to be validated by my guide.

i (and my son) enjoy duck so much that my friend (whose tastebuds i trust) sent me this link:

http://www.smartshanghai.com/articles/dining/the-list-5-place-for-peking-duck-in-shanghai

consistent with what my friend said, one of the five “top” duck restaurants had closed as the food scene is really competitive. we managed to book at my friend’s go-to place. i usually don’t name places but i had the “best” duck i ever ate at Quan Ju De and the meal was “cheap”. i learned that it is referred to there as Beijing Duck and not as it’s sometimes known as Peking Duck as this has something to do with the pinyin transliteration (that is, technically it doesn’t really involve a name change). that said, so far our preferred cuisine is Cantonese – which is supposedly the apex of Chinese food according to our guide which isn’t the primary cuisine in Shanghai. what is the saying about Cantonese: they eat everything on land except cars, they eat everything in the sea except boats, and they eat everything in the air except planes. so i’m generally open and will try something first before saying or decide\ing i dislike it – that said, i don’t like everything but i’m more gastronomically”adventurous” than most.

i’m a big coffee drinker but , unsurprisingly, tea was really good there. just as i’m an advocate for beans, loose-leaf is the way to go. we witnessed a “proper” tea ceremony and my wife bought several tins of tea – they even knew how to package it for Australian customs.

i prefer food to shopping but you can’t deny it is world-class. most “luxury” brands have a “major” presence (some have multiple floors and we even went to a mall with only “exclusive” shops. there were even products that were sold only in Shanghai. thankfully, my wife and son only looked.

we wish we had more time to explore the city “fully”.

we went to a a temple where one half was a tiger and the other side was a dragon – hence the title (subtext aside).

it was mostly raining while we were there (not at all typical for that time of year). my wife presented at Kenting (going there was a long , wide, and straight highway – our driver explained that the dividers can be removed and as a contingency can serve as a makeshift runway), a beach town (which we were unable to enjoy because of the weather and time of year – December isn’t exactly an ideal time), which was still about a two hour drive away from Kaoshiung airport. we were able to go to the night market – we would have enjoyed it more had it not been so windy. we had a cheap meal there – luckily the menu had pictures because we didn’t speak Chinese an they didn’t speak English at the restaurant. that said, most of the cuisine has a pronounced star anise or 5 spice smell and flavour – so if your not a fan of liquorice or aniseed be careful what you order.

the wi-fi at our hotel was very “efficient”. when we left the room that network disappeared. when we were at the lobby it was different, and when we were downstairs at the conference area another one took over. moreover, they had one on the tour bus they helped arrange.

among the tour, we were able to see a “shelled” beach where people are no longer allowed (as some tourists kept taking away the “sand”). we also visited the southern most tip of Taiwan (where you can supposedly wave to someone in the Philippines – it’s a “nice”, if highly implausible story). A very kind stranger got out of his car and helped my wife push my wheelchair up as the road was inclined upwards (it must be because we encountered a lot of Hindu temples).

we spent the last few days in Kaoshiung so we changed hotels. I was delightfully surprised that it was also highly accessible (and in my experience, second only to Australia and well ahead of several Western nations i’ve visited). honestly, i didn’t have great expectations as most Asian countries have what Hofsteder refers to as high cultural (adjective my own) power distance – case in point, ramps in other parts of Asia are quite steep and assumes there is someone at the back pushing the wheelchair instead of being self-propelled (which wasn’t an issue in Taiwan – at least the places i visited). that said, our driver said that a person in a wheelchair couldn’t just hail a cab off the street and special (read as: prior) arrangements need to have been made)

anyway, we were also able to go the night market in the city (it was obvious it was Japanese designed as the architecture and layout reminded us of Tokyo) but were not able to find the stall driver recommended – it’s really difficult when you can’t read or Speak Chinese. serendipitously, we ended up in a restaurant were another Filipina worked so it was easy ordering food.

our driver took us around the city before dropping us at the airport. we were able to visit the temple i mentioned previously. there were a lot of Japanese tourists and i noticed a heap of flights back to Japan at the airport. it was a “hidden” gem – we wished we had a few more days to explore it “properly”.

we recently came back from New Zealand (Aotearoa in Maori) to attend a wedding. no, it wasn’t bloody like the GoT episode – it was just the bride was Vietnamese and her gown was a shade of crimson.

despite also having a tea ceremony after the nuptials, it was not at all stuffy – i found their vows funny and they even had a jumping castle for the adults.

not only did we travel overseas to get there and drive a long way to attend the event but we really wanted to be there on that joyous occasion. unlike some destination weddings it made sense to me. although the groom (who’s my wife’s cousin), the bride’s a Kiwi and most of her relatives are still there. it was at a garden for people to feel more at ease and so that there could be other “fun” activities. it was a balance between fiscally responsibility and meaningfulness – i think most couples spend so much time, money, and effort on just one day instead of being mindful about the remainder of their lives together: there’s even a stat that states the more money that the couple spends on the wedding, the likelier they are to break up.

we also had a little time to do a few “touristy” things. we drove aways for most destinations but being on several OZ road trips the NZ views were much more picturesque. My son took several photos using a proper digital camera of the scenery – to keep the post downloadable, i exported a select few to “smaller” files.

Rotorua – Landscape
Rotorua Nightscape

DISCLAIMER: The copyright of all the pictures is his and these were shared with his permission.

we also saw a geyser:

Rotorua Geyser

while there are kangaroo crossing signs in OZ, NZ have them for cows. i thought the dairy products were already good in OZ, but they were better in NZ as their milk is much creamier (and i could tell as i like my cheese, coffee (although i’m partial to doppio and ristretto, i get lattes in countries that have good milk), and ice cream). That said, vegans close your ears, cows are bred better in OZ for eating.

there were too many photos so in the interest of space and download speed i’ve decided not to share all of them.

we had a chance to witness a Haka performed live – prior to that we’ve only seen it on TV, mostly by the All Blacks prior to a rugby match. we know it was for intimidation and, if possible to avoid conflict. it was also interesting to learn that it is used to “warmup” major muscles so it makes a lot of sense in the sporting context.

because i’ve always been a nerd (it would be a misnomer to call me a John Ronald Reuel Tolkien geek, although both can be socially awkward, because more than just being an enthusiast i can get quite cerebral about the topic. case in point, when Gandalf in the movies (played by Sir Ian McKellen) utters the words: “You shall not pass!’ in the original text it was will not shall – it was a “happy accident” that wasn’t edited out of the film) we also visited Hobbiton.

interestingly, the movie set is in Matamata which translated in Filipino means eye-eye and the whole Fellowship of the Ring was formed partly because of the expanding reach of the Eye of Sauron.

i even tried to read the books (as i was a fan of fantasy novels). alas, i wasn’t able to finish the books (i attempted The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring) as some words were a bit obtuse for me (my excuse was that i was young and English wasn’t my primary language) and the author was a Professor of English Literature at Oxford. i instead settled for the cartoons and movies.

in any case, i want to return for a longer time but their accessibility facilities can still be improved…

last night we relocated to another place for dessert.  As we were about to leave, i went to the toilet.  Unfortunately once i unlocked the door after using the facilities, the door wouldn’t open!  Not exactly ideal for one with claustrophobia.  i had enough composure to ring the mobiles of the people i was with. i called several times, several individuals but no one picked up.  It was not until my son looked for me after several minutes (but it felt like an eternity to me) that i told him i was stuck inside. i was so panicked that i considered climbing out the window without my walking frame but the blinds didn’t want to open (it was hard to know because i was already in a panicked state.  Between me pulling and my wife pushing we were able to open the door.  i’m not going to lie: it was a very harrowing experience for me – generally, i face my fears but that is one i have yet to overcome. i’ve been told that writing about is part of “processing” it.  While i’m generally “cerebral”, fears are by their very nature irrational – it is cold comfort to me despite statistical probabilities not to “catastrophise”.

btw, we informed the remaining staff member of the incident and need to look into the issue.

stranger in a strangeland (2)

November 17, 2018

i’m a sucker for good food.

and most of what I ate was tasty.  It reminds me of Melbourne (where I studied for a year) in that on almost all street corners you could get a decent cup of coffee (kudos to the Italians!), it was like that with food.  Not that the food wasn’t good in Melbourne (like New York, it clearly was influenced by the plethora of immigrants) but the food in Tokyo was something else (they have the most Michelin restaurants in a city in the entire planet after all).  If possible i prefer “cheap” grub (but like my sister says:  “Nothing is cheap in Japan) but i’m known for saving so i can spend for an “expensive” meal – i just value experiences over things.  To paraphrase Antony Bourdain:  good food is often simple food.

over there they seem to like their KitKat ™ (apparently this translates to the Japanese kitto katsu, meaning good luck or surely win   which explain its popularity) .  They’ve got the most assortment of favours i’ve ever seen:  strawberry, apple, Tokyo banana (a lot of their snacks have a combination of this fruit with chocolate), ube (purple yam quite popular in the Philippines) , wasabi (a type of Japanese horseradish), maccha (two variants of green tea – a “sweeter” one for the kiddies and a more intense one for adults),  miso (fermented soybean), sake(there were two variants of the rice wine alcohol:  Masuizumi or plum), and soy sauce.   Those were the ones we saw.  Apparently, there are also cherry; lemon; kiwi; mango; pineapple; maple; cappuccino; blueberry cheesecake; cookies plus; apple vinegar; azuki bean (more commonly known as the adzuki bean); apricot seed; baked potato; chocolate and  grilled potato; white peach; white and yellow peach; chocobanana; banana minis; bitter chocolate; i-stick (frozen dark chocolate);  pumpkin; baby pumpkin; sports drink; strawberry fromage (French for cheese); blueberry fromage, strawberry milk, French Bretagne milk; French salt; salt watermelon; fruit parfait; college tater (which i assume is a form of potato); double berry (a combination of blueberries and strawberries);  anko (red ben paste) and maccha; red bean paste; sweet bean paste; Yubari melon (a type of Japanese cantaloupe); Nasu Kogen (geographic highlands in Japan) milk; soybean powder; strong soybean flour; Houji tea (Houjicha is a roasted, Japanese green tea); jasmine tea; maccha milk; Muscat of Alexandria (a white wine grape variety); and brandy & orange variants. I’m guessing not all were ‘successful’ or that some flavours were only available for a limited time.  My philosophy has always been to try food – if you don’t like something then fair enough, at least you tried it (that’s why it took me awhile to taste rabbit because growing up I had them as pets – forget that they’re technically rodents).  I found the Tokyo banana and “dark” maccha okay but found the ube, wasabi, and “light” maccha too sweet (i suspect they were blended with white chocolate).  i missed out on trying the soy sauce and sake variants because of “quantity” issues.

we tried McDonald’s there:  not because we craved the familiar but because they are prone to localisation.  In the Philippines, they’ve got Fried Chicken (with rice if you want) and Spaghetti prompted (i guess) by the local competitor Jollibee (and as far as i know, the only place in the world where they are ranked second as far as hamburger chains go).  My wife & i had the Ebi (Japanese for shrimp) Fillet and my son had the Chicken Teriyaki burger. For dessert, we tried the Choco Pie (not the “white” one, the other one tasted like the hazelnut spread) and the Cinnamon Melts(it was good and “deconstructed” but i’m a sucker for a decent Cinnamon Roll)).

we ate at two places that our niece recommended: a sushi and a ramen place.  Both were “cramped” and my wife had to feed me (as I needed both hands to hold onto the tables there).  The sushi restaurant was like a sushi train in that there were no servers.  Instead, you ordered your item from a touch screen and it was delivered on one of three “tracks” (i think they must have corresponded to the price).  It was “good” and my son had seven plates.  i had more but “stopped” myself as i’m trained to eat a lot.  It was a “cheap” meal and you could tell as the rice easily separated from the fish (but i prefer sashimi from sushi anyway, although the hallmark of great sushi is supposedly the quality of the rice and not the seafood).  On the other hand. you had to pre-order your food from the ramen place using a vending machine.  you could even order the house ramen to take away – we didn’t as we didn’t want the hassle of dealing with fairly strict Australian Customs.  Both were off the beaten path and hidden away,  prospective patrons were unlikely to just wander off the streets of Shinjuku and the restaurants probably relied on word-of-mouth for custom.

i first had my taste of Uni (Japanese for sea urchin) at the “cheap”sushi place.  i also tried it at an “expensive” place.  Frankly, i’m obsessed with the uni  they serve in Japan.  It tastes different and MUCH better than the ones in the US, OZ or the Philippines (regardless of the price-point).  My working theory is:  since a lot more people order it in Japan so any stock doesn’t have to be stored for a long time so it is much fresher and, therefore, tastier.

i gained some weight because as my wife puts it:  what i had in a day, i’d usually consumed in a week.  She noticed more as she had to push me around.  It was not until i got back to OZ that the difference was obvious to me:  i became heavier there but at least the kilos seemed “distributed”, here i get a “ponch” on my tummy first.

aside from seeing the sights, we try to “eat like locals” when we can – i think it opens your mind further.  As Andrew Zimmern puts it:  “Food is a passport to adventure”.  And to paraphrase the late, great Anthony Bourdain: Travel changes you.

TBC

 

 

 

trivial pursuit

September 18, 2017

for some reason, I’ve always been interested in trivia.  I’ve always enjoyed reading and browsing the Internet. Among other things, I like watching shows like  Jeopardy!, Adam Ruins Everything, and Food:  Fact or Fiction.  One of my most-liked chefs is Heston Blumenthal as I’m intrigued in how chemistry (although I found it boring in high school – it was my least favourite science subject) can be applied to cooking – another of my hobbies.

But I digress.  I’ve recently been made aware of a Google hack: if you type the words “fun facts” in the search bar, a piece of trivia will be returned.

reversal of fortune

August 30, 2017

apparently, lobster was once fed to prisoners then eventually became quite pricey.  In contrast, peanut butter started out as a “staple” of high society before it became common and widely available to the masses.  The course of history and marketing can affect how a food is perceived – a colleague notes how certain meats are considered consumable by humans while others are taboo.

My philosophy has been to try it at least once ( it’s difficult to be prescriptive about acquired tastes).  If you don’t like something then fair enough.  My point is what I might find delicious other’s might find disgusting.   Case in point. I quite like okra but my wife loathes it – it’s reversed for mayonnaise.   We are all different and there’s no one size fits all when it comes to taste.  I’m glad to be Filipino which has made me open to all kinds of fare whether they are deemed peasant food, street food or “delicacies” (like offal, goat, chicken feet, pig ears, etc.).  Some food is “discovered” by necessity.

proxy

May 19, 2017

it is said there are certain dishes that can help determine the quality of food:  vanilla for ice cream, pistachio for gelato, Hakaw/Hagaw for Dim Sum/Dim Sim/Yum Cha , Margherita for pizza,  (Bluefin) Tuna Sashimi for Sushi, Katsudon for Japanese, or Spanakopita for Greek.  I suspect there are many others (of which I’m not aware of) like Spagetti Aglio e Olio for Italian (although I’m a big fan of Tiramisu and order it when presented the opportunity) and Espresso for coffee.  One thing I’ve learned in the end we all have different tastes or palates.

yin-yang

May 18, 2017

we ate out last Saturday night.  On one hand the food we ordered was really tasty, on the other it was a real “pain” going to the accessible toilet (you had to go out of the restaurant and traverse a side street with inclines and “extreme” dips).  To be fair to them (as they were sincerely apologetic) , you can privately contact me for the name of the eatery.  I guess it depends what your criteria for rating is – most architecture isn’t very inclusive,

heads up!

March 7, 2017

i recently watched a travel show which reminded me I eat animal brains.  I’ve tried that of a sheep but prefer pig: every time we have lechon at our house we crack the skull open and seek out the creamy meat – we usually have it with calamansi.  I also like pig ears but cheek meat (what little there is) is the most flavoursome for me.

Admittedly, I’ve never had (and probably never will have)  cow’s brain as I’m wary of contracting mad cow’s disease.