Monday November 25, 2013
My air pollution app is keeping me indoors in Shanghai. Sadly, I can see that the sky is blue, but I'm looking at it through a brownish haze. The pesky air quality has got me wishing for blue skies and clean air.
If only northwestern Yunnan wasn't so far away. I won't be heading there for a weekend getaway any time soon but we did have a fabulous week there in October. We stayed at two of the five Songtsam Lodges that are all located in Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture way up by Tibet, Myanmar and Sichuan.
With plenty of time, one could visit all the lodges on the circuit and experience not only serious altitude, but also beauty. Traveling for the first time with small children at altitude, we and the other family we were traveling with decided to stick to two relatively low lodges: Tacheng at just over 2,000m and Shangri-La at 3,300m. Happily, aside from being breathless at the top of a flight of stairs, no one had any trouble with the altitude. And the gorgeous scenery and lovely coziness of the lodges made for an amazing holiday.
If you're interested in this gorgeous part of China, I'd highly recommend making a circuit trip with the Songtsam Lodges. The proprietor is a local Tibetan film-maker who chose the five sites where the lodges were built and maintains them in a sustainable, local fashion.
Photos: above - the view of the Songtsam Lodge Tacheng from the rice fields below it. Below - tea time at the Songtsam Lodge Shangri-La. Photos by Sara Naumann. All rights reserved.
Wednesday November 20, 2013
Even though it's still technically fall, the cold has settled in around Shanghai and northern China has been chilly for a while. However, in China's eastern and southern reaches you can still catch the last of the autumn colors.
While I do love Shanghai's platane trees that line many of the streets, especially in the former French Concession, the leaves simply turn brown and fall off en masse - not exactly autumn coloer worthy. The gingko trees in Shanghai do deliver. Find some in the city, People's Square is a good place to start, and you'll start to see their golden leaves soon.
If you can manage to get out to Suzhou or Hangzhou, you're bound to see some beautiful fall color in Suzhou's gardens or around the West Lake in Hangzhou. Better yet, get out into the tea villages where you can wander a bit and cycle in the mountains among the trees.
More about Fall Foliage in China.
Photo: Suzhou's Tiger Hill covered in golden gingko leaves. © Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
Wednesday November 13, 2013
I love Thanksgiving in China. There is always a bird on our table and, yes, it is roasted. But all I do is make a booking. No mess, no washing up, no days of leftovers to store and eat.
To state the obvious: we're in China. The kids aren't off school and there's no football to watch. So on the fourth Thursday of November, I always book a table at Xindalu, the Chinese restaurant in the Hyatt on the Bund. It's well known for its roast duck (Peking Duck as we know it abroad). Happily, with most diners eating turkeys at all the Western restaurants, Xindalu usually has plenty of seats.
Eating roast duck is such fun. First, the waiter rolls out the beautiful glossy golden-brown duck. He carves it up and first serves the crispy outer skin. Depending on where you go - this can be delicious or disgusting. The first time I visited in China in 1998, I was in Beijing alone and decided I needed to try its most famous dish. I got served the duck skin with about an inch of white fat underneath and couldn't go any further with my duck adventure. Luckily, I've learned that all ducks are not the same and the tastiest (in my opinion) are the ducks with just a thin layer of fat under the skin.
As I was saying, first on your table is a dish of crispy skin. Very thin, rice pancakes will then arrive served in a bamboo steamer along with condiments such as plum sauce, sugar, thinly sliced leeks and cucumbers. You make little rolls from your pancake, sauce and skin and munch them up. There's such a beautiful mixture of flavors from the sweet plum sauce, the fresh vegetables and then the crispy slightly salty smoky duck. In my mind, there isn't anything better on the Chinese table. Oh, and use your hands - don't try to do this with chopsticks unless you don't mind also wearing your plum sauce.
After you've dined on your self-made duck rolls for a while, the chef will carve the breast and you'll have delicious lean duck meat to savor with whatever other dishes you've ordered. While ordering a whole duck sounds like a lot, ducks are nothing like their big fat American cousin turkeys that have been grown so large they can feed the entire population of Logan County, IL for weeks. No, one duck can serve about four people who love duck, six who only want a taste.
So consider the duck for Thanksgiving! Celebrate with some wonderful friends, a couple of good bottles of wine, and one mighty tasty duck. Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are in the world.
Photos: Beijing Duck served at Shanghai's Xindalu restaurant. Hungry yet? Photos by Sara Naumann. All rights reserved.
Wednesday November 6, 2013
When you're on a hurried tour through China, you may not have time to dig deeper into the places you're visiting beyond the city tour, the museum and the main temples. However, if you have more time - say through an extended stay because of business or visiting family - it's worth checking out the cultural events in your host city.
Shanghai is home to many societies that present a huge spectrum of cultural events, lectures, talks and tours. Shanghai's Royal Asiatic Society is one. You don't have to become a member to take part in events, just get on the mailing list and see what is coming up, register and pay the guest fee when you arrive at the venue.
On Monday evening I went to an RAS Book Club discussion by Bill Porter, a long-time scholar and translator of Chinese poetry and religious texts. Porter's book Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits was the focus of the lecture where he discussed his experience interviewing religious hermits throughout China.
The RAS has a number of monthly events where they discuss books and movies pertaining to China. Lecture topics range from art to business in China and all subjects in between. Check out the RAS website to find out what events are coming up and learn how to get on their mailing list: Royal Asiatic Society, Shanghai website.