Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tues, Oct. 9 - Arrival

We arrived in Shanghai after about 20 or 22 hours of travel (a zoo at LAX, 4 hour layover in Seoul, etc. etc.). Surprisingly (to me), customs and immigration were a breeze - overall, quicker and easier to get through than the US or most European countries I've flown to.

The flights were Ok; as I expected, they screwed up my vegetarian meals a little (they didn't have an option without dairy), but I was able to get enough to eat between parts of my meal and parts of Louise's meal. The meal for the short (~ 1hr) flight to China from Seoul was pretty good and, I think, vegan.

I think it was probably around 11 AM when we got our baggage and got out of customs. We were met at the airport by Louise's uncle and aunt (her father's brother and sister). We took a bus over to near Jing'An Temple, and then a short cab ride to the hotel. After checking in, and some fairly unsuccessful haggling over the (already determined) price, we showered and tried to take a nap; however we weren't having an easy time sleeping, so we took a walk around instead.

We looked in on a few shops, and then went into this pretty upscale, fairly Westernized (and expensive, by Chinese standards) teahouse. For about $20 US (~ 150RMB), we got a full gongfu setup with a fairly generous helping of a green, but decent tasting Anxi Tie Guan Yin, as well as a scallion pancake and a spicy stinky tofu stew (side note - I'm not sure that stinky tofu or cigarettes are the best things to have in a teahouse, due to the smell, but it wasn't as bad as you'd think).

Eating stinky tofu

The staff insisted that the stinky tofu stew was vegetarian, so I tried a little (my first, and it really is true that it smells worse than it tastes). There were some unidentified bits of something or other (fungus? scallop?) that were questionable, but Louise said the stinky tofu was good, and so was the pancake. So even for being kind of overpriced and Westernized, the place was at least pretty decent.

at Chatea teapot and leaves

Then we hit up this little tea shop which had some kind of cute teaware, but they weren't wanting to bargain, so even though the prices were relatively low by US standards, we passed for now. I still do need to find a little tea set for the hotel, though. We also went into this vegetarian restaurant we happened to walk by, and (much to my surprise), there was a little kitten hanging out behind the counter where you pay; apparently, it is a stray that the people who own the restaurant took in. I can't imagine the health inspection people allowing this at a US restaurant, but the kitten was super adorable, and it made me kind of happy to see it. If it hadn't been a vegetarian restaurant, I would have been a little more worried.

We went back to the hotel and watched some more "Weeds" on my computer, and then it was time to head over to Louise's aunt's house for a family dinner. Shanghai is a crazy city to get around in - cars, bikes (mostly rusty cruiser type bikes), electric bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians all racing around with a lot of near-misses. It's seriously amazing to me that there aren't more accidents over here. I'll try to take some video next time we're in an especially crazy cab ride - in our case, the cab driver was cutting around through rush hour traffic, and at one point, actually went into the bike / bus lane, driving up literally half a foot or less behind bicyclists and honking at them. Louise said it was like the anti Critical Mass.

We finally got close to where we were going, and had the cab driver let us off, because traffic was so bad, and because we were kind of worried he was ripping us off anyway. As it turns out, he probably wasn't - the fare we paid was about what it costs to get out there. We started walking around, trying to get to the place where we were to meet Louise's uncle. This was a little confusing, and no one we showed the address to seemed to know exactly where it was "oh - just go a little more that way and ask someone else". Plus, the disposable cell phones Louise's uncle got for us were still set to display everything in Chinese, so we couldn't figure out how to pick up the phone. Eventually, after some phone calls, and about half an hour late, we managed to run into her cousin and uncle in the street.

Dinner was family style, with all the dishes in the middle of the table, and we ate off of really tiny little glass plates. I guess because it was a special event, there was no rice at all. All in all there were probably at least 15-20 dishes served. We drank beer, plum wine, and coconut milk. Thankfully, they went easy on me with the drinking... we hadn't slept much for over a day at this point, so I was really out of it. Louise's uncle (a man with a scholar's long thumb and pinky nails and a very large mustache, reminiscent of Jeff "Skunk" Baxter) did most of the cooking. Jeff Baxter They were very kind to accomodate me with a lot of vegetable side dishes, including a preserved pumpkin dish that tasted kind of like tangarine, a plate with shitake mushrooms, a cucumber / vinegar salad, and cherries, braised wheat gluten puff, tofu knots, a ginkgo bean and mushroom dish, a soup made out of a special gigantic white mushroom, etc. etc. There were plenty of non-veg dishes as well - crab (in season right now), something made of sparrow liver (it looked kind of like natto), eel, fish.....

By the end of dinner, the table looked more like this:
food on the table

Dessert was a mung bean porridge (very typical Chinese dessert), stuffed pumpkin with egg yolk filling, frozen Lychee nuts, and fried taro balls with egg yolk in the middle (I ate some of this before noticing the egg yolk in the center).
Pumpkin with sweet egg yolk filling

All in all, dinner probably took about 2 hours. After dinner, Louise's uncle showed us his rock and teapot collections, and forced a gigantic teapot on me. It will probably mostly be used for display, but at least I have the pot to use if I have to make tea for like 50 people. We handed out some of the gifts that we brought from the US (chocolates, nuts, and such). At this point, I was so exhausted, I could barely function at all, and we headed back to the hotel.

1 comment:

Imen said...

Happy Halloween!

I have never seen those little pumpkins in China... cute!