Trip to Oriental Paris – Part 6


I almost forgot about this and thought of doing a closure post but then I just realised that there are still plenty of photos of food in my collection. So, let’s do probably another 1-2 posts on food (this included) before we “head back” home.

One of the juicy advertisement as we head towards our ride at one of the underground trains – the famed Peking Duck. When we were in Shanghai, we did not really had this dish for lunch or dinner but then we decided not to look for the place that serve the dish as well. But a friend of us who went to Beijing for a short trip had the Peking Duck packed and brought it back home.

That small logo at the top of the menu almost caught us – at we thought it was KFC‘s menu for their local dish but then we took a closer look at realised that it is not Colonel Sanders and it is just a logo that was used by one of the smaller restaurants near to our workplace. After all if you can get a crystal clear “imitation” of the Rolls Royce in China, what more of well known international brands and well known fast food dishes.

Don’t be mistaken – they also have the real KFC restaurants in the city but despite it being cheap and easy, we decided not to go for it – a quick look in the inside and things was not looking too good. The queue was long (mostly with over-excited youngsters) and there were very limited tables and chairs inside the restaurant for those who wish to dine in (the area looked small and stuffy too) and with some of us with handful of shopping bags, we decided not to take the risk either.

There is also a Chinese (albeit cheaper) version of Subway in the city. It is known as Starway and they operate in the same manner as the real Subway with the same types of bread with the same options of filing and with the almost identical modus operandi as Subway (the founder must have been an ex-Subway staff). The people behind the counter speak fluent English too so ordering was a breeze. And we often opt for this simple dish of bread with “halal” fillings (halal since they don’t serve beef, surprisingly) instead of walking out far in the cold and get ourselves the more complex noodles for dinner.

Starway bread of the day packed and filled – it’s cheap (less than RMB20), cleaner and surprising very tasty and more than enough to cover our hunger when we end up working late. Unfortunately they don’t provide delivery service though but thankfully the restaurant was not far away from our workplace (it is not crowded too – the locals have not caught on the idea of having bread for lunch or dinner) and we had caring colleagues who were wiling to “ta-pau” for the rest of us who were busy working to resolve the issues so that we all can go back and have a good night sleep (after a couple bottles of beers, of course).

Here’s something I gotten fond of when I order my bread from Starway – cold fresh vegetarian drink and often, 1 bottle is not enough (it never was) and somehow I often felt more healthy drinking this than the hot plain Chinese tea but then again it could be just my imagination because I also had plenty of tea and beer during my stay in Shanghai and I never fell sick (even after I walked in the rain on several occasions)

Thankfully the sense of imitation did not extend to other kind of restaurants. The Korean fast food restaurant was pretty authentic with proper Korean dishes with Korean restaurant setting. Prices ranges from RMB40 to RMB120 and it was not so bad considering the portions was sufficient enough – it was heavy but was not overwhelming to our taste. The only complaint was the entrance to this restaurant – we had to go through a small lift and there was only one that was working, so we were praying for the lift not to breakdown when were inside the lift.

The good old “nasi goreng” – you can get them hot and tasty no matter where you go. This one was not that bad (I had better ones when I was in Ghana – the spicy scrimp fried rice was really, really good) but at least it was rather safe to eat – you know what is in it. I wished they had a good sambal to go with that.

Here’s another dish from the Korean restaurant that we went – more meat than the rest and gravy too. Ha, I already missing the home cooked chicken curry.

We also found a small Thai restaurant just behind the place we were staying – we almost missed it as there was no big sign-board on the front but it only realised that it is a Thai restaurant after we had checked inside (it looked like a bar from the outside). They had the usual Thai wish-list food on the menu but it was quite pricey and thus we decided to go safe by ordering fried rice. It was good but it was no where near to the usual fried rice that we often get at Thai restaurants – it was not spicy enough for our standards.

The Tom Yam that we had was not that good as the Tom Yam we get in Malaysia – it was more watery but it was slightly spicier than the other dishes. It was also missing some Thai ingredients but that is understandable – it may not be easy to get the right stuff in the city. But at least we got something closer to home than the usual noodles and soups. We also found Malaysian restaurant from the net but it was a bit from where we were staying and further since we are going back home soon, we decided to wait out and get real, cheaper Malaysian food once we are back.

To be continued…

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Trip to Oriental Paris – Part 5


(Countdown – 322 days to “doomsday”)

Weekends are rest days and it is the best time to catch up on sleep and when that’s done, for the rest of the day, it is time to go around town.

One of the best ways to travel around the city is to use the ever excellent and efficient Metro service and we were just lucky to have a Metro station close to our hotel. Navigating around the station was not that difficult – plenty of large signs in English and color-coded arrows but for those who cannot communicate in Mandarin, you may have some trouble communicating with the Metro staff but then again, you will not have problem communicating with fellow passengers for assistance.

During our time, there were incidents of Metro trains stalling and derailing causing some injuries to some peak-hours passengers. So when some one proposed that we take Metro to go for shopping, we were a bit apprehensive about of safety. But then, we decided to take some chance – we did not think it was that bad. The journey itself was uneventful but it did gave us a good opportunity to see the Shanghai’s young generation in action. They dress well and almost all is playing games on their smartphones or listening to music. The adults on the other hand looks more stressed up. Everyone is rather quiet and minding their own business.

One of the places we decided to go using Metro this time is an old temple in Shanghai. We were hoping to do some shopping along the way as well.

The first place we went was the Jin’an Temple – it was an impressive structure in the middle of the city and next to shopping malls. It is said that it is the oldest temple in the city – built in 247 AD and was the site for China’s first Buddhist organization in 1912, then during the Cultural Revolution, it was converted into a plastics factory. We arrived at the temple early but somehow we decided not to enter inside the temple – the entrance fees or the modern outlook of the temple or maybe the time we arrived may have been the cause – I am not sure. We took some photos outside of the temple and contemplated on what would be the next move.

We then decided to go to another temple – the famed Jade Buddhist Temple that was built in 1882 to place the 2 jade Buddha statues which had been brought from Burma. The temple was crowded with tourists (they were arriving by the busloads which included a couple of Malaysians) and devotees (mostly old people) by the time we arrived. We went there in 2 taxis – it was easy to get a taxi to the temple but it is a different story when you want to leave – there is hardly a taxi on sight and there is a long queue at the taxi stand. We had to pay to enter this temple as well but if I was not wrong, the charges seemed cheaper.

Despite the actual age and compared to the Jin’an Temple, this temple looked older and a bit run-down. Whilst others decided to do some prayers – some of us decided to walk to the souvenir shops for some cheap Buddhist relics and other souvenirs for home (they were selling jade here as well). We knew some of the items on sale were priced higher than usual but we decided that the extra money that we paid for the items will probably go in the end, towards the temple and the administration cost which we did not mind.

The temple complex was quite extensive with several smaller buildings and it took a couple of hours to walk around the place. If you really look hard enough, there is plenty of things to see here – including decorative footpaths and a rather ancient looking pictures. We feel really warm in this temple complex – all buildings that we went did not had any air-conditioner and there is very little place you can sit under a shade. This caused us to feel very thirsty – so make sure you have plenty of water with you (we did not see any stall selling water here but I am sure there is one but is likely to be overpriced). I packed about 3 bottles of drinking water in my bag but still it was not enough. It was quite late in the afternoon when we were simply too tired (and hungry & thirsty) to go further. We walked out (not before being bugged by the beggars outside the temple – I became an easy target for them) for the nearest Metro station (it was quite a long walk from the temple to the station) and looked for a place to have lunch.

To be continued…

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Trip to Oriental Paris – Part 4


(Countdown – 345 days to “doomsday”)

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here

Yes, still continuing with food post…

When one is in China and is having his food, one thing seemed certain – there is plenty of non-halal food and Chinese tea (of various grade and quality) to go around (although fast food and other foreign food seemed to be in favor at certain part of the city especially at the financial district). And there were also the highly nutritious mushrooms.

I realized now that at almost every dish we had for dinner, at least one would be mushroom dish and although we were wary of possibility of mushroom poisoning (being in China), it quickly became our must-have dish every time we have dinner.

Out of the many mushroom dishes we had, the above dish is our favorite – good enough to be eaten on its own, we had once ordered 2 plates of it. The dish was really simple but what makes the huge difference is the type of mushroom they used to cook and the way they cook it – a simple frying of the mushroom with sweet sauce and the juicy broccoli. When eaten it is almost crunchy with a smoother texture added to it and it is not that oily too. I am trying to find the same dish back home but have not seen one yet.

The above baby mushrooms dish was also good for our taste but the portions of the baby mushrooms was too small for us. The other things in the dish – vegetables and tofu somehow made up for the lack of portion.

Mixed vegetables (can’t recall what else was in there) – Shanghaian style – most of the bowls served is small sized, so when the waitresses serve our food, it is often served almost overflowing as you can see above and that makes it a bit delicate when one who is used to eat with spoon & fork, is picking the food (which is often made slippery due to the corn flour) with chopsticks.

Larger chunks of mushrooms and light soy sauce – another pure mushroom dish that we had but this time for lunch (we decided to pool our lunch money and go for cooked dishes instead). Interestingly it was not that salty despite it was rather heavy with the soy sauce (maybe because we had other dishes that compensated the taste or was it the tea that we were having, I am not sure).

Having plenty of vegetables seemed to be a better idea than having meat from an unknown source or fat laden meat – it was “light” on the stomach too. I rarely take mushrooms when in Malaysia – there are not many Malaysian dishes that goes heavily with mushrooms. The only time I encountered mushrooms (often button mushrooms) these days is when we go for Chinese food for dinner (or when one cooks soup at home).

To be continued…

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Trip to Oriental Paris – Part 3


(The next couple of posts in this series will be on food – my favorite whenever I travel, no doubt)

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here

(My very first dish in Shanghai – I opted for something familiar, rice and chicken with beans and cold salad. It was good but I then realized my mistake – the weather was cold but the food was not warm enough. No wonder others were having the hot bowl of noodles and soup)

One that things that often fascinates me when I travel is the local culture and way of life and one good way to experience this is through the local food. The same goes when friends from overseas come over for a visit to Malaysia (how we love the hot teh-tarik and roti canai banjir by the road side at 2 in the morning).

Over the years, from initially sticking to more well-known food (read fast food from well-known brands); I have learned that one (sometimes) need to be adventures enough to trying the local sampling (beers included) – jelly fish in noodles, oily lumps of mutton, kebabs, locally made plain yoghurt drinks, etc and it is the same thing for this trip. And being in China, one cannot run away from noodles, soup and non-halal stuff. We can find the same thing in Malaysia but there is some difference in taste, presentation and portion. We got smaller portions in Malaysia.

(The morning breakfast was rather tame and safe – a good spread of more western and oriental tuned food at the hotel breakfast buffet)

On the very first day we arrived, we decided to go for a local dish – a bowl of noodles and as the weather starting to cold down, made it more sense to order hot bowl of noodle soup. We walked out and a couple of meters of walk, we stopped by a small shop by the roadside. The interior was clean and because it was crowded and seeing a foreigner in the crowd, I guess, the shop owner led us towards the kitchen and out to a small backyard where the waiters quickly setup the chairs and tables for us (it was a big group).

I dreaded the “backyard” – we all know how dirty some of the restaurants backyard in Malaysia. But surprisingly the backyard was clean and from where I was sitting, I also noticed that the kitchen (where they cooked) was clean as well. I later realized that by local customs, the restaurant normally does not take order for drinks first – they take the order for food and only if we need something to drink, we ask for it. It is not like in Malaysia where you will be asked on your drinks first, then only the food.

We asked for something to drink and the waiter served us warm water – a far cry from the usual iced Milo back home. Other than warm water, the usual drink that is more common here is a pot of Chinese tea with small cups to go around. You can also get iced coffee and cappuccinos, etc from the many convenient stores but it is not so common in restaurants.

(A bowl of hot Noodle soup is one the best thing on a cold day – the portions were indeed more than usual – so is the price – but overall the taste was manageable)

We pay upfront for the food – my colleagues were kind enough to translate the menu for me but still, it all sounded the same. I opted for an easy one on my first day here – rice and chicken (instead of noodles). On the second day, I braved myself for a hot bowl of noodles and soup.

The portion for noodles was bigger than what I had expected. The soup smelled different but the taste was alright (I did not get that raw taste of mono-sodium glutamate). The noodles were soft and somehow felt more slippery than the usual noodles I had. Perhaps it is how the noodles were made here. Perhaps it is just how it is cooked here – damn, I was already missing the noodles back home. But the consoling factor was that this restaurant (and most restaurants) is that they have this small bottle of chillies to be added into the soups and this chilli is really spicy – much better than chillies that we get back at home.

To be continued…

Trip to Oriental Paris – Part 2


Read Part 1 here

(From the airport and towards the city center – it is a long straight road which meant our taxi was “flying” and despite the taxi slowing down at certain places where I saw automated enforcement system, it still felt fast all the way until we reached the city)

I managed to catch “Horrible Bosses” on the on-demand in-flight video and I must say that movie was one the funniest movie I ever seen – the multi-talent and well known cast and well written comedy that is so fluid (but be aware – it is not safe for kids).

We landed in the morning after a smooth flight – despite reports of cyclones, there were no major turbulence in the way. The flight has been a pleasant one too – all the passengers “behaved” themselves and service was top notch (as usual). A quick stop at the immigration was interesting – unlike the usual tough looking officers, the officers here were young and friendly (and yes, they actually smiled and we felt so welcomed – anyone after more than 5 hours flight would have greatly appreciate it too) and after a quick check (no one stopped us at the customs), we walked along looking for taxi. Language was not an issue at the international airport – there is more than enough airport staff who can speak some basic form of English (“yu wan taxi?” was more than enough for us to understand).

Being so obvious me being a foreigner (imagine an Indian in a sea of Chinese), there were handful of hotel agents trying to get us to book the overpriced limousine to the city center but we kept on walking until we reached the taxi stand. We have been advised to take the public taxi on the outside which was cheap (it cost us only CNY156 compared to CNY500++ for a limo) and as reliable as the expensive hotel limo (but not necessarily be safer). We picked the first taxi at the stand and passed the hotel details to the taxi driver who did not speak a dust of English but it was not a big problem. We had pre-printed the hotel address in Chinese, my colleague spoke fluent Mandarin and as backup, we even had the numbers of our contacts at hand, in case we got lost and we needed someone to communicate the details to the driver.

(The local taxis, Volkswagen Santana Vista kind of reminded me of the early Proton Sagas – boxy, bulky and feels less sturdy)

Sitting in a Volkswagen Santana Vista (the standard model for the taxis here), I looked around but did not feel eased despite it being a Volkswagen (the quality looked too close to some run down Chinese cars than to a brand new, quality built Golf). But I was impressed with how the driver turned on his on-board GPS, punched in the coordinates and starts driving. The taxi may feel cheap but it was high tech. The taxi also had this small touch-screen monitor at the back where you can view the map, ads and other information. The road from airport to the city center was well maintained and had far more lanes than the highways back home.

Since we arrived just after the morning peak hours, the road was almost empty and this only meant one thing – our taxi was “flying” on the highway. We were beginning to have doubts if we were going to make it in one piece. We were literally hanging on to our dear life and wished we could have taken the limousine instead. We were saying silent prayers hoping the “runaway” taxi would slow down.

Thankfully God must have heard our prayers – the taxi driver slowed down as we reached the city centre – there was enough traffic on the road to keep the taxi on a safer driving speed. The roads in the city were very clean and most drivers abide by the traffic rules and I also noticed most of them are driving Audi, Volkswagen and other premium European cars as well – not surprisingly China is one of the richest country in the world and certainly an eye opener for me after all that talk of too many cheap cars in China (the same happened when I went to Chennai).

(Clean and inviting – kudos to the local authority for making sure that all is well maintained and clean and plenty of greenery. The weather was really good at this point of the year, so late afternoon stroll walk in the park was tempting)

We reached the hotel after almost an hour drive from the airport – it is a 4-star hotel, so quality, service and cleanliness is top notch and the room has one spectacular view. The only downside of the hotel is the bathroom – it is glass walled and you can see the bath tub from the bed. Certainly it is a “huge” problem when sharing the room with another colleague. Deciding that it is too late or not possible to change the accommodation arrangements, we decided to work on a solution – we managed to close the glass wall with blinders and with another smaller bathroom inside the main bathroom, privacy was almost assured. But still, it is a bad design on the part of the hotel.

There was no time to take a rest – we had our work cut out for the day. A quick shower and a change of clothes and we were off for our appointment. At first we wanted to walk – our destination was not far from the hotel and since the weather was good, it was perfect for a walk but we then changed our mind. We decided to take a cab (cost us about CNY14) and keep the walking later for the day. This time, there was no “runaway” taxi to contend with.

To be continued…

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Trip to Oriental Paris – Part 1


(Part 1 of many parts, I hope)

(The flight was full but I was looking forward to the trip with a good selection of on-demand movies to kill the time. MAS’ inflight service and food was tip-top as usual, something that holds an edge over other airlines)

It literally started with a BANG!

Another overseas trip and I was kind of “ok” of missing Deepavali again. I was packing my luggage and somehow realized that I did not pack my toothpaste (ya, of all things!). I checked my drawer and realized that we have run out “travel sized” toothpaste. The fact that I will be staying in a 4 star hotel where they provide complimentary tooth paste on daily basis or I can always buy one at the nearest convenience store did not occur to me. I looked at my watch – there was 4 hours to kill before I need to head to the airport.

So, I decided to go and buy myself toothpaste and just as I was leaving the house, my son ran up and wanted to follow me (I guess he is already missing me). So there we were after buying that all important toothpaste, in the car chatting and listening to good music when we neared a junction. There was an old beat up Wira at the front. I waited for the car to exit the junction and somehow I kept looking towards my right. I saw there was a gap in the traffic and decided that the car at the front had exited and foolishly pressed on the accelerator. BIG MISTAKE! The bugger did not move at all and all I heard was a loud bang.

Damn! My first accident on my new car and it was due to a simple silly mistake (or rather toothpaste). I came out after telling my son to sit still in the car. First thing I looked at was the other car’s bumper (I was dreadful to see the damage on my car). The damage was not that bad and being a Wira, the bumper clip had come out and I knew that it could be easily fixed. The driver came out – an old man and he looked at the bumper and started to exaggerate the damage – he said the whole bumper had gone under his car but I was not buying it (I admit that it was my fault and I was willing to pay for the damage but not to the extend that I was willing to be taken for a “ride”)

Then I turn to look at damage on my car and I got a shock. Not a scratch at all. At bit of the bumper plastic came out of place but I managed to fix that in back (I later realized that 2 bumper clips had came out as well but it was not that obvious). We exchanged some details but surprisingly the other driver did not take down the most important details of all – my phone number.

As I am rushing for the airport now, I decided to take him to the nearest workshop which I knew. I went over and had a “friendly” chat with the workshop owner and discussed the cost to repair the damage – the whole thing was settled for RM60. I paid the owner the money and told the driver that he will get his “already damaged before this accident” bumper fixed. Then I rushed back to the house, threw the bloody toothpaste into the luggage and went down to put the bag into the car. I double checked my car for any more damage but nothing bad was visible from the front. I need to check this again when I take my car for the next service. But it was painful indeed, very painful.

Made it to the airport in good time and met up with a colleague of mine who was traveling with me. Body wise, I was at the airport but my mind was elsewhere – wondering if I could have turn back the time and avoided the accident. But you know what the most painful part of the whole journey was – I never used the toothpaste that I bought in Malaysia. It was not a good start that I hoped for but for now, I was looking forward to the 5 ½ hours journey and almost a month long stay in Shanghai – the Oriental Paris.

To be continued…