Category Archives: travel

Recreate: the egg and cheese

I’ve been a fan of McDonald’s sausage and egg mcmuffin for as long as I can remember, but my discovery of the much superior breakfast hoagie began with the $2.50 sausage and egg from Bui’s food truck at Penn. Bui’s sandwiches were known by many as the hangover cure, but for me it was the cure for just about any type of physical or emotional ailment.

When I started working at a center city office after graduation I moved on to egg and cheeses (with pepper and ketchup, please), partly ’cause it was minimally cheaper and partly due to my unfounded belief that cheese was healthier than sausage. Philly is known for having one of the highest obesity rates in the US, and I was getting ready to join the stats.

But then I left. When I went back to Philly for two days last November, I made sure to stop at the center city cart to grab one (although I hate the lady who owns it, but that’s another story). There it is in all its soft and chewy, sweet and salty glory:

And then I came back to Shanghai. And it took until yesterday, when I was at City Shop buying a baguette, mixed greens, and brie for lunch, for me to realize that I COULD MAKE THIS MYSELF! I’d been caught up by the fact that hoagie rolls don’t exist here (that I know of), but baguettes were just as good, if not better.

So this morning I recreated the egg and cheese using brie and leftover baguette, whipping the egg with a bit of milk and toasting the bread on the pan next to the frying egg. I don’t even know how to describe how satisfying it was, so here’s a picture. (I will get better with food descriptions, I promise!)

I can’t make this a habit though :(

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Hangzhou

From our Feb 26 trip:

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Suzhou, Jiangsu

Having heard the city of Suzhou dubbed the “Venice of the East” and been told off for not having yet paid a visit despite its proximity to Shanghai, Sean and I decided to go on a sunny Friday before winter set in to see what it was all about.

Shanghai Railway Station

We got to the Station at quarter to ten, hoping to get 25rmb “hard-seats” (i.e. second class tickets) on the 10:06 train leaving Shanghai. We ended up getting 31rmb soft-seat tickets for the 10:16 train along with a verbal lashing from an impatient ticket seller. (I asked one too many times for hard seats that were apparently unavailable. His response: Hurry up and stop being cheap, you’re with a foreigner, and it’s a difference of 5 freaking kuai.)

Morning in Suzhou

Once outside the Suzhou Railway Station, we were immediately accosted by two ladies pushing their 15rmb/day bus that would take us to all the sights, with discounted admission to boot. I said no thanks and kept walking; they followed. (As with the stereotypical college alpha male, no in this situation meant maybe, and let me think about it meant yes.) Now we’ve received and successfully rejected these solicitations numerous times before, but these ladies were relentless. I was beginning to think man, I guess it is a pretty good deal…until Sean reminded me of the likelihood of spending the day in jade factories. They finally gave up when we began crossing a big road.

We visited the Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政园), first constructed in the 1500’s and the largest of the classical gardens for which Suzhou is famous. It was beautiful, relaxing, and quite sparsely populated (probably due to the hefty 50rmb admission). We strolled leisurely around, enjoying the greenery and open space, stopping every few minutes like an elderly couple to rest on a bench/in a pagoda.

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Afterwards, we wandered along the quiet canals in that part of town and weaved through old one-story housing compounds where some women played mahjong in the courtyards. Unlike the most of old houses we’ve seen in Beijing and Shanghai, these didn’t sport crumbling brick walls or look in peril of being bulldozed next week.

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Lunch

Lunch was soup noodles, xiekehuang (蟹壳黄), and soup dumplings (汤包) at a little restaurant on dongbeijie. The xiekehuang were crispy and flavourful, but the dumplings, which came out cold, were a huge letdown—especially since the lady taking our order had endorsed them. We sent them back, but they just resteamed them; the skin came back hard, the soup non-existent, and they were overall inedible. After 3 months in the supposed birthplace of xiaolongbao, we maintain that New York Chinatown still holds the tastiest (and value-for-money) soup dumplings.

Zoo-zhou

After lunch, we walked over to the East Garden (东园), which had a big lake dotted with paddleboats. Sean suggested getting into one of those so we could paddle out and just sit in the middle of the lake, maybe take a nap. Romantic and more or less effortless. But we were rejected at the ticket booth, as we had gotten there too late (literally 1 minute behind this dude that managed to rent one). Oh well, our legs were probably too tired to pedal anyway.

So we moved on to the zoo, whose admission was included in the East Garden ticket. For 20rmb (3USD), we obviously weren’t expecting Animal Sanctuary of the World, but we definitely weren’t prepared for its uncanny resemblance to a mental asylum (as I imagine it). Tiny cages, piles of poop, rusted bars, animals that looked like they’d given up on life, and some that looked worse for wear than the beggars outside the train station…

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The squirrel monkeys were the cutest things EVER, though. I could’ve watched them forever. Look:

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The grossest thing? Two giant black snakes that were spooning (ok, kind of cute, maybe) and in the process of shedding their skin. The curled-up sheets of dry, scaly old skin sent chills down my spine. I know it’s natural, but it was also utterly disgusting.

Horrible living conditions aside, the most outrageous thing about this zoo was the amount of crap (i.e. human food) people were feeding the animals. Several cages were littered with food wrappers, and at one of them we witnessed a kid crawl through an outer wooden fence and hand a monkey, which had stuck its hands through the metal inner fence, some sort of cake with half a wrapper still on. The worst part was that there were two zoo employees in uniform standing there, WATCHING. They were amused! No wonder the animals were all crazy.

Suzhou Railway Station

I haven’t quite figured out the causal direction, but working at a railway station must either have a foolproof way of turning a person into a grouch, or require in its job description a terrible personality and unwillingness to help. We got to Suzhou Station at 5pm and soon realized we’d gotten in line for the most unhappy 20-something female employee I’ve ever seen. No smile, no eye contact, her chapped lips barely moving as she mumbled at the customers ahead of us. In a contest of unpleasantness, she would’ve kicked the average Philly SEPTA employee’s ass.

Anyway, we found out that the next train with seats wasn’t until 6:52, and it was a K—older, slower—train at that (we’d only ever been on the new D trains so far). Since it was cold outside, we decided to head into the neighboring two-story KFC for some warmth and grease. We shared a meal of fries (no waffle fries?? preposterous!), popcorn chicken, and a chicken drumstick featured on recent commercials, which was surprisingly about as good as I’d expected. KFC is damn expensive, though. It also has quite the ironic tray lining, which reads “Healthy blood pressure, healthy living.” I’m sure KFC is all for that…

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K-Train Delights

Apart from a half-hour delay reminiscent of Amtrak service, the train ride back was probably the most entertaining part of the day. Total old-school, with steep steps leading you from the platform up to the cabin, a noisy car full of tired travelers…but that’s where the predictable ended. Some noteworthy sights during the cramped one-hour ride:

– A purple bag tied up with string started moving about on the overhead shelf. We discussed worst case scenarios;

– The uniformed conductors, rather than spending their time checking tickets, paraded up and down the aisle selling—get this—wind-up flashlights. Yes, flashlights, for 10kuai only, perfect for kids and the elderly, no battery needed! About 2 minutes later, they threw in a special: buy one get one free. I was tempted. Sean was reminded of Chinese DVD hawkers on the NYC subway;

– A conductor with loosened tie and untucked shirt came around to mop the filthy floor. Very professional, but I’d probably have done the same. The woman across from us in the aisle seat proceeded to spit on the freshly mopped (but still dirty) floor and rub her spittle around under her boot as if she were putting out a cigarette.

– As we were pulling into Shanghai, the conductors switched gears, briefly promoting a wind-up, light-up, musical top (yes, those things that spin). Priceless.

I guess because it was near the end of a (too-)long train ride, it looked like no one gave a shit about anything anymore. We could only sit and appreciate the scene.

A fun day all in all. We’ll be back to explore the rest of the city, but will probably be buying round-trip tickets in advance next time.

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The Walk Home

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On my way home from class, taken 10- and 11-2009.

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Thames Town

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Early in November Sean and I went to check out Thames Town (or “Hameston”, as it seems to have become). It was fashioned in quaint ye olde English style, being one of the new satellite towns designed as part of Shanghai’s “one city nine towns” program (read more about it here). A 1.5 hour trip by metro & cab transported us out of Shanghai and into what felt like an abandoned film set:

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In spite of a banner on its website claiming that “Commercial area is opening”, we came across all but 1 convenience store, 1 cafe, and several wedding costume/photo stores containing any sign of life. Since the temperature had gone from about 25C the day before to a windy 10 on the day, we were left with little choice but to slip inside the two-storey cafe, where we were one of two groups of customers. The fare wasn’t cheap or particularly good, but presentation was loverly:

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[Two groups of Americans came in at various points in our stay, wanting hot chocolate to go. The first group, quite possibly NYU students on exchange, were told they didn’t serve it, but the second (a little older) succeeded in their quest, perhaps because they actually made an attempt at Mandarin, a toneless “wo yao hot chocolate”. They went back outside to wait for their drinks, playing hacky sack to pass the time. Remarked Sean: “One of the things I don’t get about white Americans is why they love wearing t-shirts and shorts in winter weather.” Anyone?]

Although the town was meant to house some 10,000 people, the place was practically deserted, save for a group of youngsters playing a Chinese version of red-light-green-light, security guards in red British guard uniform (minus the hats), and clusters of Chinese people in wedding/English period garb posing for photos, with their respective photo crew. As the wintery gusts mangled my hair into knots, I said a prayer for these women’s backs.

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More pictures:

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The 'Thames'.

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Sean poses with Princess Diana.

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First church funded by the Shanghai government?

Strange and eerie as this veritable ghost-town was, it provided a much-needed break from the rest of humanity back in Shanghai proper, and that quality alone is enough to induce me to make a second trip.

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The Capital

Sean and I recently made a short trip to Beijing, taking an express train there and back. We hung out with some very cool people (though sadly JPhan had to leave the day we got there); checked out some parks and hutongs; hiked the Great Wall from Jinshanling (金山岭) to Simatai (司马台) complete with cable car, rope bridge, zipline, and boat ride; and had both disappointing duck and delicious 东北 food.

Some sights from the trip.

Friday:

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Entrance to Forbidden City by night

Saturday:

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We were very surprised that Bimbo bread made it all the way to China (and on a bicycle too!)

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Sean expresses our shared unhappiness about the continuing demolition of hutongs.

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Serious or ironic?

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Inside the Palace Museum

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Now we can all be emperors!

Sunday:

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Taking the cable car at Jinshanling up to the Wall

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Great Wall at Jinshanling (note the beautiful lack of crowds!)

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My two lovely fellow companions, Sean and Matt

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One of the 20-something towers we passed, this one a little worse for wear than the others

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STEEPNESS. (stepth?)

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Looking out the window of a tower.

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:)

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Nearing the end: looking down onto the rope bridge

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Hour-long wait for a table + hour-long wait for food during which a Happy Birthday remix played on repeat in the background + (200Y not-so-great duck + 8Y/person condiments + 60Y pot of tea) = worst Peking duck experience ever! But a hilarious bonding experience in hindsight, esp. as it was redeemed by dirt-cheap take-out dumplings.

Monday:

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There's no escaping Haibao.

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Don't these look potentially delicious? Like crepes...

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Guards galore at Tiantan (天坛), following the appearance of some Swiss minister who came to visit.

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Tiantan at dusk

There seem to be some very strong opinions about Beijing vs. Shanghai, at least among some of my friends, but I have to say that judging from the short time I’ve been in either city, there is no clear winner. At several points during the trip, strolling down Beijing’s generous streets and relaxing in one of its many pretty parks, I did think that maybe I could live there–until the intense pollution, cab drivers who knew less about the city’s geography than we did, and hints of a long and painful winter to come reminded me that the unyielding crowds, motorbike swarms, and tacky glitz of Shanghai are but mere inconveniences.

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