In my debut guest post, I FINALLY write about all of the idiosyncrasies of daily life here in China. Culturally, the US and China are like an apple and an orange and living here with two small children has been quite an adventure. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to expose our children to such different cultural norms and also for their ability to soften and help shape my own perspective and experience of a new culture.
It couldn’t be more fitting for my post to be featured on the Tea Collection Blog – through their line of kids clothing, they aspire to connect people (especially the little ones) to the world and draw inspiration for their seasonal lines from cultures all over the globe. Hop on over (by clicking the photo below) and read away! And while you’re at it, check out their new line inspired by Urban China.
Now I know what it feels like to be cooked alive in an oven – or how it feels to hang out in a sauna for multiple hours. With the hottest temperatures EVER recorded (in the 150 years of documenting), Shanghai was hotter than a witches titty (that’s the third time I’ve used that colloquialism in the last week and I’m pretty sure I’ve used it incorrectly every time) for the entire 12 days we were there. We didn’t exactly choose to visit Shanghai during the hottest heat wave in history, it was based on some red tape. The mister had to process his resident visa up there – we have an excuse.
Us, Day 1: Awww, what’s all the fuss about (with even the BBC reporting on the heat)? It’s hot, sure, but nothing worse than we’ve experienced traveling through Southeast Asia or the Caribbean in the summer.
Us, Day 5: Hot damn, is it okay NOT leave the hotel until dinner time? Ironically for us, though, the sun setting basically gave no reprieve from the heat, 105F dropped to a balmy 95F.
Though we weren’t able to conquer as many sights as we would have liked, we fortunately had enough time there that we were able to knock out quite a few.
The first few days were somewhat geared around kids activities – the results of which were hit AND miss.
HIT: Shanghai Science and Technology Museum – the kids and I were SO impressed with this museum. Around every corner and through every door, new discoveries awaited. Our first stop, naturally, was Children’s Rainbow Land (which is honestly where I thought the fun was going to start AND stop). It was full of hands on exhibits, a sweet play area, and plenty of space to run around chasing rainbows on the floor. After spending well over an hour there, we went for a snack, thinking we’d leave shortly thereafter. While hunting around for a snake exhibit that we never found, we discovered the Animal World and the Spectrum of Life exhibits. Though I’m not really much of a taxidermy animal fan, this may have been the most robust animal exhibit I’ve seen yet (better than the Museum of Natural History in NYC – mainly because it’s China and whereas animals are neatly organized in glass covered exhibits in the US – here they are barely caged in by small wooden fences). The animals were diverse and out in the open, set inside elaborate natural habitats. As we made our way through taxidermy animal heaven and into the Spectrum of Life exhibit, we were just dazzled. With a living forest almost as impressive (though not nearly as technical) as the California Academy of Sciences Rainforest, the Spectrum of Life guided you through a diverse forested landscape, up rock pathways, past waterfalls, and through giant [plastic] insect groves. You should, probably, temper my excitement with the fact that anything that resembles open, green space at this point, makes me feel like I’m trekking through rural Mongolia.
MISS: After our experience at SSTM and because of our oldest’s fondness for anything reptile, we decided to go to Shanghai Insect Kingdom. I thought we’d go see some snakes and lizards. What I was NOT prepared for was a seal in an INCREDIBLY small habitat upon entrance into the “kingdom”, followed by a VERY shallow fish pond (above which there was pathway that you crossed over) FULL of fish – which I can get past – but also home to a Giant Green Turtle who wasn’t even covered by the water it was so shallow and looked like a statue because it had such little room to move around. Needless to say, 5 minutes into our time there, I was in tears. We proceeded to walk through the rest of the space, most of which was okay – insects and lizards and such – but some of which was equally as dispicable – a “petting zoo” with two goats in a metal cage, being fed dead branches by dozens of loud children. OF COURSE, the kids loved it, though I did my damndest to explain why treating animals in this way was NOT okay and that had we known, we would NOT have supported the business.
SO-SO: A playzone in Pudong, Action and Fun, that was one part awesome and one part wasted space. Awesome was the giant slide that the kids rode down in potato sacks. Awesome was a tree house they could climb in. Awesome was the fact that despite the heat, there were only a handful of other kids there at the time. Wasted was the LARGE space with little to fill up the in-between. There was a reading area with nowhere to sit. A toy kitchen with nothing to cook or cook with. A closet with no dress-up clothes. And a play dough table where an employee just sat making things – but not with the kids. But after, we discovered an arcade with a little kids roller coaster, just adjacent to the play space. Add it all together and it’s definitely worth a visit on a hot or rainy Shanghai day.
Because it was so hot, some of our trip was defined by our accommodations – as we ended up spending much of our time indoors. There are four Hyatt’s in Shanghai, so we decided we’d do a Hyatt tour (we successfully completed SIX separate check-ins, including our one night at the Hyatt Hangzhou). The mister started frequenting Hyatt Hotels through business travel and we’ve sort of gotten sucked into their great customer loyalty program, damn freebies!, they get me every time. SO, for all your Hyatt stayers out there in the ethers, I give to you a full review of three of the four Shanghai Hyatt’s.
1) Hyatt Andaz Shanghai – located in the trendy Xintiandi area of the French Concession, this hotel (like the Andaz brand in general) is hip and colorful. We stayed here on two separate occasions and while both rooms were nice by my standard, our first room was spectacular. With mood lighting throughout and a curved facade, it felt like we were on a luxury spaceship. The toilets throughout are Japanese style Toto toilets, which means that they open and close by itself, have seat warmers, and clean your private parts (both front AND back). FANCY. And the breakfast was KILLER. A congee bar to write home about and every other Chinese and American/European style acoutrement you could hope for. Great gym and fancy lap pool made of glass. Plus, the location. Just out the door, you’re able to walk through the tree lined streets of Xintiandi, find any sort of cuisine you can think of, and pass sites of historical significance. I give it a 7.
2) Hyatt on the Bund – ah, Hyatt on the Bund. This was our favorite. Because of the location. And the spa facilities. And the breakfast. Oh, and because of the beautiful rooms with views to match. We upgraded to a suite both times we stayed and the rooms were spectacular. Perhaps the nicest Hyatt room we’ve encountered yet. Nespresso machines, a variety of fresh teas, a bath tub the size of a small swimming pool, and views overlooking the Huangpu River with futuristic Pudong to the left and the historical art-deco buildings of The Bund on the right. I could have sat and stared out our windows all day at the freight ships navigating the river by day and the techno-lighted cruise boats gallavanting about by night. It is my belief that the best views of Shanghai are seen from this hotel (which is also home to the highest open air terrace in the world – Vue Bar, located on the 33rd floor). The one minus is that the pool is indoor and has the relaxed vibe of the spa facilities, so it’s hard to take kids there without feeling like you need to keep them quiet. BUT, on weekends, they set up a play zone just outside, where the kids can fish for rubber duckies and power motorized boats in the pond. This one gets a 9.
3) Grand Hyatt Shanghai – though we have stayed at some we liked, we’ve concluded that Grand Hyatt’s are for old, stuffy people. They are much more formal and just not our cup of tea. We thought we were going to stay here for three nights but ended up canceling our second and third nights so we could soak up more time at the other two Hyatt’s, which we much preferred. The two positives were the pool – it was the only one out of the three that had a more family feel to it (ironically), and the beautiful quartet that plays in the lower level bar, whose music resonates throughout the hotel (it’s a circular column shaped hotel, so all rooms face towards an open column). Scoring lowest, I doth give the Grand Hyatt a 4.
So yea, we’re basically Shanghai Hyatt experts now – definitely going to add that to the resume.
In and amongst our busy days laying low at our hotels, we also did some stuff. Evidenced below, dusk was the earliest we got outside some days (this photo is taken from famous Waibaidu Bridge, China’s first all-steel bridge and a Shanghai icon since 1908).
We strolled up, down, and all around The Bund, an area just adjacent to the ever-bustling Huangpu River and one of Shanghai’s prime tourist destinations. In the early 20th century, it was the center of multinational banks and trading houses and has remained home to some of the world’s most powerful financial institutions.. As such, the buildings that run the length are an eclectic mixture of neo-classical, art-deco, and gothic architecture (among other styles too deep for me to remember). Bottom line is that it’s quite visually stunning. And when you juxtapose the classic architecture of The Bund with the futuristic buildings of Pudong just on the other side of the river, you’ve got yourself a pretty unbeatable combo. Pudong is home to Shanghai’s iconic skyline, as seen in the photo below. The littles favorite is the rocket in the center, Oriental Pearl Tower.
We strolled through Fuxing Park in the French Concession. Not surprisingly, it’s French in style and was erected by yup, you guessed it, the French, in 1909. Groups doing tai chi and men playing mahjong overflowed its gardens. What is mahjong you ask? And why were people doing tai chi in the park? Mahjong is a very popular Chinese card game that I’ve read is a bit like rummy and while women do play, it’s men who you see playing while sipping on tea and smoking cigarettes on makeshift tables on the streets (or in parks). I hope to kick its ass someday. As for tai chi, if you’ve been to any Chinese inhabited area in the world, you’ve probably seen groups of older Chinese people taking to the park for their morning dose of tai chi, but if you haven’t, this is what happens. Small groups (though sometimes large where I come from in California) gather in the early morning, often times in parks but also in open spaces adjacent to the street, and go through their slow, rejuvinating, and mind balancing routine. It’s relaxing just to watch though I often want to join. Public exercise is wildly popular in China – mostly confined to middle-aged to elderly people, in both the morning and the evening, a stroll down the street will greet you with groups of people collectively exercising.
We ate at a few kick-ass restaurants. And many others that will soon be forgotten. The two very much worth mentioning are Lost Heaven and Hai by Goga. Lost Heaven is a culinary and visual exhibit of folk Yunnanese cuisine, found in the western Chinese province, Yunnan. While it may be true that tour groups frequent this restaurant, it surely does not lessen its authenticity (or relative authenticity). It’s GIGANTIC, but a lovely ambiance is still maintained and the traditional decor is beautiful. And the food is oh-so-delicious, with many vegetarian items on the menu – something that we hold at a premium after living in China for six months. It’s conveniently located very close to The Bund and makes for a perfect destination after an evening walkabout. The owner of Hai is from San Francisco, so we couldn’t help but like it. In all honesty though, the view from the terrace is superb and the California cuisine delights were scrumptious. It was quite expensive, but I’d go back for sure.
After mustering the energy to leave our hotel before the sun went down, we roamed through Yu Garden and Yuan Historic area. We had gone to the UNESCO World Heritage Classical Chinese Gardens of Suzhou days before and in all honesty, Yu Garden put up tough competition. Though it’s not nearly as large as the gardens of Suzhou, it had all of the right ingredients to create a classic enchanted atmosphere. A maze of pagodas, ponds, large rock croppings, and sculptures, Yu Garden kept both the adults AND the children quite engaged. There were small passageways galore for the kids to roam about and give mama a small heart attack when they roamed one (or ten) turns too far.
We also went to the circus, Shanghai Circus World. It was okay, though it’s quite well reviewed on Trip Advisor, so don’t let my underwhelm stop you from going. The last acrobatic show we had witnessed was the spectacular House of Dancing Water in Macau, so our point of comparison wasn’t really all that fair. With the exception of a motorcycle stunt, where I think something like 7 motorcycles buzzed around one another in a 15×15′ metal sphere, that made me look away in fear, we left a bit disappointed.
And, we devoured dumplings every chance we got. Ain’t nowhere got better soup dumplings than in Shanghai, where they were first created. If nothing else, go to Shanghai for the soup dumplings. GO.
And I also got an awesome case of travelers tummy that actually wasn’t all that awesome. My first time, EVER, so I really shouldn’t complain. What more, what more? Oh, I ate no less than 20 bowls of congee in 14 days. So in addition to being a Shanghai Hyatt expert, I’m also a congee connoisseur. Who said that living in China as a housewife wasn’t going to contribute to my resume? I’d hire me.
Shanghai was cool but I really hope to experience it again when it is really cool. Cold. As in not scorching hot.
Stir Fry. It’s what’s for dinner. Again. We’ve been in China for 9.33 weeks (though it feels more like 93.3 weeks) and have eaten a varietal of stir fry, oh, I don’t know, 2 million times. While acquiring “western” foods is actually quite easily done, they’re the Safeway varietal that come frozen and in cans – i.e. they’re all heavily processed with less than quality ingredients. The icing on that cake is that they cost 3 to 4 times more than what they would in the US. As such, I’ve basically decided to shop at local markets and only buy things Made in China (hehe, THAT shouldn’t be real hard, huh?) and consumed by Chinese people. It’s been a fun introduction to all sorts of greens and veggies I can’t name, beancurd processed in a multitude of ways, and buying things that I’m only 80% certain I can identify. My typical shopping trip looks like this: tofu, greens, eggplant, leeks, bell peppers, carrots, garlic, ginger, apples, bananas, glass noodles, brown rice, yakult (for the groms), bread, coconut milk, and Tsingdao (beer). Literally. So it shouldn’t surprise you when I say that dinner seems to always end up a different shade of stir fry. I’ve honestly and earnestly tried to find different Chinese dish recipes online, but try as I might, it only ends up feeling like a slight variation of… stir fry.
I have, however, started playing with different raw sauces (blended in Vitamix), made from the standard list of ingredients. Here are a few of my creations:
1)Carrot-Garlic-Ginger Puree, to saute stir fry in, of course.
2)Bell Pepper-Spinach-Garlic Sauce, put over, what’s it called again, oh, right, stir fry.
3) Sweet Potato-Garlic-Carrot Mush over Tofu (with stir fried veggies on the side).
Yup, GARLIC in EVERYTHING.
If you don’t yet own a Vitamix, go now and buy one. Seriously, it’ll be the best appliance investment you’ll EVER make. I promise.
Since starting at a Chinese preschool about a month ago, Safari has MIRACULOUSLY become more interested in things that don’t have flour or sugar in them. Lunch is provided and is always Chinese food, so she’s been forced to try *exotic* things like napa cabbage and carrots… imagine that, CARROTS. I mention this because she has actually been eating dinner, without us having to play the let’s-pretend-you’re-eating-anything-but-what-you’re-actually-eating game or making her her own special dinner. In that regard, China has been a positive influence on the little lady.
While pork and chicken can be found on our table when eating out, I choose to cook mostly vegan at home (Safari is a self-proclaimed “Meat Eater”). If the fish coming out of our backyard bay weren’t suspiciously toxic, we’d be eating mass amounts of locally caught, fresh from the source, seafood as well. But alas, the Pearl River Delta is one of the most heavily polluted in the world (caused mostly by industrial runoff – heave metals and such) and I’m pretty sure we’re already getting our fair share of toxins through the produce we eat. This, among many others, is something I just have to accept while we’re living here. Being exposed to more environmental toxins than usual is something we can’t entirely protect ourselves from. We can filter our water and the air in our apartment, but we can’t grow our own veggies or purify the air outside. And I just have to hope that our amazing bodies can react and adapt appropriately. That and make sure to keep enriching our smoothies with chlorella (helps body dispel heavy metals) and smuggling in clean nuts/seeds/grains (shhhh, don’t tell).
One of our staples is almond milk. We brought loads of almonds with us and have been able to source some decent ones here. I make a batch every other day and use it as a cow’s milk substitute. All you need is high powered blender (have I mentioned the word Vitamix? – though you can use a regular blender as well) and a nut milk bag to strain the glorious liquid through. SUPER easy. Here is a tutorial, from Oh She Glows, if you’re so inclined (she adds all sorts of yummy stuff – I keep ours simple, just almonds and water).
And lastly, after some inspiration from The Vegan Cowgirl, we’ve been indulging in Banana-Coconut-Cashew Ice Cream, regularly (as in every other night).
* Blend 5 ripe bananas, 1 can of coconut milk, a splash of vanilla extract, and 1 cup of cashews
* Freeze overnight
* Let defrost for 30 minutes, re-blend, and ENJOY!
Nothing like feeding your kids ice-cream and feeling great about it. And seriously, it’s good. Like for real good, good.
Oh, and also Coconut-Chia Seed Pudding.
* Mix 1 can of coconut milk with 1/3 cup chia seeds and 1/4 cup of honey, let thicken in fridge overnight and oila!, a delightful, protein infused treat for the kiddos (and yourself).
So yea, stir fry. I’m going to try to work on my cooking creativity – with my western skill set and limited resources. Every night is a what-can-I-make-with-what’s-left-in-the-fridge kind of cooking experiment, which I must say, is sort of my favorite way to cook.