Archive | November, 2014

Exploring Shanghai – Indian food at Tandoor in the Jiujiang Hotel

22 Nov

Another special place that we found after we had such a great experience at the fairy tale castle was on the grounds of the Jiujiang Hotel in the French Concession in Shanghai.  The hotel is part of a conglomerate now – there are hundreds of branches across the country, but initially it was a special hotel founded in Shanghai only used by senior members of the Communist party.

Deng Xiao Ping is said to have told the hotel that it should be open to all people, not just party elite as he implemented his reform and opening up policy.  Now anyone with enough money to eat at one of the restaurants can come in and enjoy.

The grounds are extensive with multiple buildings and restaurants.  I think a couple of years ago I also went to a wedding in one of them (though I went to a lot of weddings of colleagues in a short period and I’m not 100% sure).  Once you enter past the gates the noise and bustle of Shanghai falls away.  There are tailor shops that line one walkway and when we were there one side was under construction where it appeared another Chinese restaurant would be opening soon.

We however, were exploring – looking for what is supposed to be the best Indian restaurant in Shanghai, Tandoor.  We had researched it and heard that it was the favorite of the Indian Consulate and so went to take a look.  The prices initially scared us off, but Li managed to find a Tuan Gou deal (similar to US Group-On) that provided us with a huge set menu at a very affordable price.

The entrance to Tandoor

The entrance to Tandoor

When we entered the restaurant, we were the only patrons for the first thirty minutes – and we arrived around 12:30 on a Sunday.  It made us a little nervous as typically in China empty restaurants don’t have the best reputation.

Empty restaurant?

Empty restaurant?

They seated us near one of the many mirrored walls and we sat back and waited for the food to be delivered.  One of the nice things about pre-set menus is that you don’t have to worry about what to order when you arrive.  It’s already been chosen!  I added a mango lassi (had to have it), but everything else was pre-selected.

The ceiling was covered with hundreds of Chinese characters - the only Chinese accompaniment to a very Indian meal

The ceiling was covered with hundreds of Chinese characters – the only Chinese accompaniment to a very Indian meal

The food was phenomenal.  There were three different curries, a huge basket of lovely warm naan bread, vegetables, tandoori chicken and beef, different sauces, dumplings – way too much food for two people.  As we ate, slowly the restaurant filled up, and around 1:30 as we were finishing a large table of Indians came in and sat down.  It made the restaurant warm and welcoming.

The pakoras and tandoori chicken and beef came out hot and not oily at all

The pakoras and tandoori chicken and beef came out hot and not oily at all

Curries, rice and vegetables

Curries, rice and vegetables

I would go back again just for the naan

I would go back again just for the naan

Enjoying my lassi (and the other dishes

Enjoying my lassi (and the other dishes

I haven’t eaten at every Indian restaurant in Shanghai, but it was the best I’ve had and I would believe the Indian consulate may order from there.  The combination of the story of the Jiujiang Hotel and the excellent food made our afternoon.

Have you searched for something and found it to be even better than you expected?  The empty restaurant almost made us turn around, but we were very glad we stayed.

A walk by St. Paul’s Cathedral…

19 Nov

Since I took my hiatus from the blog earlier this year, there are lots of places that I have visited in the last six months – both for pleasure and business – that I’d like to share now that I have some more time to go back through my memories.  Enjoy!

In June I visited the UK for work.  I was there nearly a week, first flying into London Heathrow and spending not quite 24 hours in London, then heading to Scotland, then back to London for three days of meetings.  Since I was coming from the farthest away, I needed that night in London to balance myself instead of directly transiting to Scotland.

The hotel that I stayed in had a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral – so I decided to take advantage of the summer-like weather and the blue skies to try to combat my jet lag and take a walk – both right after I arrived, but also the next morning before I headed back to the airport.  I wandered around – not quite aimlessly, but tried to hug the Thames and soak in the sunshine.

Here are a few of my favorite shots.

View outside my hotel window

View outside my hotel window

The shard in the distance from another bridge

The shard in the distance from another bridge

St. Paul's peeking from the bridge

St. Paul’s peeking from the bridge

Puffy clouds and classic building silhouettes

Puffy clouds and classic building silhouettes

I really liked this view from under the bridge - a different point of view

I really liked this view from under the bridge – a different point of view

My time in London the weather was amazing – no dreary skies.  It wasn’t a standard visit – I didn’t take the Tube, visit a museum or have afternoon tea, but I managed to have a great time.  As the weather turns cool here and the air quality goes down, looking at these photos take me back to that visit.

I’d like to also call out a Happy Birthday to my father who has always encouraged me to talk the walk by the river or sit in the café in the square.  Happy birthday dad!

Where have you wandered recently?

A fairy tale castle in Shanghai

15 Nov

Shanghai has many hidden treasures – places just around the corner with history dating to pre-Communist days.  Lately we have been trying to search them out – enjoying the autumn weather to find these hidden gems.

First view from the restaurant

First view from the restaurant

One such place that we found was the former residence of Eric Moller which looks like a fairy tale castle, just under the Yan’an elevated highway in the French concession.

Inspired by Snow White?

Inspired by Snow White?

Li found the secret garden when he was looking for lunch special deals – there is a beautiful Japanese restaurant situated in the garden overlooking the castle and so on a perfect blue sky day, voucher in hand, we went to explore.

Beautiful blue sky day

Beautiful blue sky day

The castle was built in 1936 and was supposedly inspired by Moller’s daughter who wanted to live in a castle – but the plaque outside states the castle was inspired by ships and ship-building as Moller was a “merchant prince.”  Either way, it is not something you’d expect in an Asian city today and it appears to have been preserved relatively well, though we didn’t enter inside.  Now there is a Chinese restaurant and event space – we could see people busily preparing for a wedding later in the afternoon/evening as we poked around the grounds.

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Our lunch was absolutely lovely – beef udon noodles in a lunch set under the terrace with a small goldfish stream to the side.  Initially when we arrived there weren’t many people there, but it slowly filled up.  I could feel my breathing slow down as the bustle of Shanghai fell away.

Under the terrace, waiting for lunch

Under the terrace, waiting for lunch

Beef udon sets

Beef udon sets

Finished off with a sweet treat

Finished off with a sweet treat

Have you found fairy tale castles in other places?

 

Friends across the sea

12 Nov

One of the wonderful things about all the travel I’ve done this year was the opportunity to see people that I don’t get to see very often.  As long as I know I’ll be in an area and have a little free time I will reach out to people to see if we can spend some time together.  This year was a new record for me.  I have been blessed with wonderful friends who are now scattered all over the world – I like to say that I “collect people” through my life, like the pearls of a necklace.

In February I got to spend a weekend with my sister in Austin, Texas between two sets of meetings for work.  The last time I was in town she was recovering from a knee injury – this time we enjoyed local barbecue at Rudy’s and took a long walk down by the river.  I would go back again for the barbecue in a second – and the banana pudding!  It was a great weekend.

Barbecue!  They even let us try samples before we ordered.

Barbecue! They even let us try samples before we ordered.

Nobody does barbecue like Texas!

Nobody does barbecue like Texas!

A couple of months later I was back in the States again and got to spend a weekend back in my hometown with my best friend and her kids.  We had hamburgers and ice cream and went to the park.  It was the quintessential American weekend – one of those days that made me wonder why I am still living in Shanghai so far away from friends and family and blue skies.  The weekend also made me thankful that I have the resources to travel and the experience to appreciate going home.

Blue skies at the park

Blue skies at the park

In June I managed to connect with a former colleague in the UK at Paddington train station in London before heading off to the airport.  We had a long brunch and traded stories since we had last seen each other, nearly a year before in Singapore.  She has now retired and looked fabulous – rested, relaxed with a bit of a tan.  I hope when I get to that phase of my life I have that many stories to tell.

At the end of June I was in San Francisco and managed to connect with many old friends – both at the actuarial conference that I attended,

An old friend from Chicago who worked in Hong Kong, visited me in Shanghai and went to the same conference in San Francisco.

An old friend from Chicago who worked in Hong Kong, visited me in Shanghai and went to the same conference in San Francisco.

but also a friend from Shanghai who moved back to Canada and was randomly in town for the weekend when I was there.  That connection even surprised me – we both put a photo on social media of the beautiful day in San Francisco and then realized our hotel rooms were on the same street!

Also in San Francisco I met up with a friend from Shanghai who lives there now.  She spent a day taking me to Fisherman’s Wharf where we had seafood and visited the famous Boudin bakery where I bought myself a sourdough roll.  We rode the trolley and explored the city – I even bought a T-shirt.  Sometimes being a tourist is the best way to see a city.

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In July I had a friend come to me – Carissa from Everyday adventures in Asia.  She was in town for work and I was actually in Shanghai that week and volunteered my spare room.  We stayed up way too late to squeeze in every moment of time together  because neither of us know the next time we’ll have the opportunity.

And finally I managed to squeeze in a quick breakfast with an old friend from Shanghai who was in my first Chinese class at Miracle Mandarin when I was in Jakarta in August.  She’s Indonesian, married to an Australian who has lived in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Australia.  Her daughter was born in Shanghai and they moved a couple of years ago back to Jakarta.  We hadn’t seen each other since, but we connected as if we had seen each other the previous weekend.

We even remembered to snap a photo!

We even remembered to snap a photo!

Friends are that way – even when they are across the sea.  Shared experiences and special relationships come together to make a wonderful, welcoming place for me all across the world.  If you’re in my neck of the woods – I’m happy to welcome you too!

Do you have friends across the sea?

Tea and jazz at The Peace Hotel

8 Nov

Another special thing we did when my mom was in town was treat her to afternoon tea at The Peace Hotel.  When Li and I celebrated my birthday, we had slipped inside the lobby and happened to notice that every Sunday they have a special jazz tea with musicians who had played in Shanghai prior to the Communists taking over.  All of the musicians are in their 70s and 80s now so it seemed like a limited opportunity.

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We booked a table and my mom’s final Sunday in town we dressed up and headed out for lovely afternoon tea.

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It was a set menu – the only choice to make was what type of tea to enjoy.  There were all of the English classics – tea sandwiches, sweet cakes, milky tea and of course – scones!  The scones were my favorite – they came to the table warm with clotted cream and lovely jam.

My favorite - the scones!

My favorite – the scones!

The jazz took us all a bit by surprise.  I think we were expecting jazz more from the 50s and 60s – but instead it was more Big Band music.  They played When the Saints Go Marching In and other classics from the 20s and 30s – more Depression Era Jazz.  Mom commented that it would have been the music that her father grew up with.  Thinking about it after the fact though – that made a lot of sense.  When jazz was evolving, these gentlemen were not playing music in China.  They had other things to worry about.

 

The musicians - still going strong.  They played for nearly an hour without a break.

The musicians – still going strong. They played for nearly an hour without a break.

Given the age of the musicians, I don’t know how long this afternoon tea will last, but it was globalization at it’s best – English tea and American jazz in Shanghai, China.

Where have you had your most interesting mix of cultures?  How does music influence that?  I remember when I first moved to Shanghai my students assumed that I knew every song in English – because it was in English and I was a native speaker.  Have you ever had that happen?

Happy Halloween!

5 Nov
Ready for Halloween?

Ready for Halloween?

Halloween is an American holiday.  When I first came to China it was hardly celebrated at all – in fact, the term in Chinese was still even fairly new (万圣节).  Over the last seven years, it has slowly gained in popularity from just an additional night with some special drinks at bars, to being more entwined in the culture.

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Now there are Halloween parties at schools, costumes available online and in some of the stores and even an office party.  I did have a discussion with a colleague this year as to how it all began, why it was important – and he admitted he still doesn’t see why it is getting popular, but others have embraced it.  The idea of being able to be someone else – whether an ancient Chinese poet, a zombie or a vampire has an attraction that transcends cultures.

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As I mentioned, this year my company went all out and had a party on Halloween evening with different departments acting as teams and competing for the best skit.  I was assigned to the rag tag team of departments that were too small for their own group – and we really went all out.  I was the pumpkin queen for Super Mario who was spirited away by an evil thief and then had to be rescued from a series of monsters including a masked belly dancer, a tree, a flute playing assassin and an Egyptian pharaoh.  Our chief legal counsel was Mario – and he impressed everyone with his jumps and acting so much that our team wound up in second place!  It was a blast.

Mario rescued his queen!

Mario rescued his queen!

I find it ironic that after making Halloween merchandise for so many years for the rest of the world, the treats and favors are now being used by Chinese people themselves.

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What was your favorite costume of all time?  I still remember a Care Bear costume that I wore in first or second grade.  That was definitely up there – though this year’s pumpkin was pretty good too.

Happy Halloween!

Seven years!

1 Nov

Seven years ago today I arrived in China for the first time.  The date is forever fixed in my memory as I took off on Halloween and the flight attendants were all wearing Halloween costumes on the plane.  I landed the next day at Terminal 1 at Pudong Airport (terminal 2 did not exist yet) and looked for nearly twenty minutes before I found the representative of the English language training school who had been sent to pick me up.  We got on a bus and headed into the wilds of Shanghai.

I was scared and excited, spoke no Chinese, but figured I could do anything for a month if needed because I had booked a round trip ticket (just in case things didn’t work out.)

Wow.

Seven years.

Shanghai has changed a lot in the last seven years.  Four subway lines have sprouted into 16; two airports with one terminal each have become four total terminals; the high speed train now connects many more places – only five hours to Beijing!  Visas are easier (and harder) to get and the amount of English language signage has increased exponentially.

Prices have gone up – this has not been a stagnant economy.  Lunch prices have close to doubled, rent has increased, plane tickets, clothing, necessities of daily living are all significantly more expensive.  However, more things are available now as well – and if I want to pay I can have an organic smoothie or imported milk or laundry detergent from another country.

I have changed as well.

From my first month on the ground, I put in the time with my Mandarin teachers and textbooks and didn’t really stop until nearly four years later.  I slowly got comfortable speaking in different situations – ordering food, bargaining, daily life, work, on the phone, in presentations until I can now state my case and even argue.  Humor still escapes me most of the time, but that has always been the hardest for me because of the cultural overtones and word play.

As I found my “Chinese voice” I became more aggressive, more likely to speak up for myself – physically louder and more confident.  I managed a cross-cultural team and discovered that to survive in business I could not be a perfectionist or I would go crazy. I visited most all of the skyscrapers (new and old) on the Lujiazui side of the river and consulted with their HR on what the future of their benefit plans could mean.

I am proud to say that I am still friends with at least four individuals I met within the first week or two upon arrival and have watched them get married and/or have kids and/or switch careers.  I have done the same, switching jobs, meeting my husband and continuing to morph in this magical city.

So, upon this seven year “China-versary” I wanted to thank you all for following my ride, for looking into my jumbled view of the world and hope you stay around for whatever comes next.

I promise you won’t be bored.

 

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