Preparing for Burma

Fancy hotel picnic with REAL BREAD.

Fancy hotel picnic with REAL BREAD.

In Tengchong we got couped up for a few days. Zev came down with a bit of a flu in Tengchong, but things turned around quickly. I’m so glad he’s feeling better. Zev’s fever broke after a night of mumbling in his sleep, the giant rat tiny mouse thumping around our hotel room finally went to sleep at 4:30am, and the electricity came back on later that morning.

The next morning we hit the road. After an overnight bus ride featuring a symphony of snoring and coughing, we arrived in Kunming. We were thrilled to bump into a Carrefour on our way from the bus station to the hotel, and splurged on lots of yummy Western food. We also splashed out on a nice upmarket business hotel. Our hotel picnic featured a baguette, President butter, real American cheddar cheese, and mustard. Le sigh, it was the greatest turnaround ever witnessed. A hot shower and some bread will really mend any problems in life.

Zev wielding a baguette with the backpacks in the shopping cart.

Zev wielding a baguette with the backpacks in the shopping cart.

Greatest picnic ever. CHEEESE, glorious cheese...

Greatest picnic ever. CHEEESE, glorious cheese…

The rest of the day was spent roaming around Kunming, shipping souvenirs home, shopping (got a new iPhone case!), and snacking on boiled peanuts, a fried chicken sandwich, and an ice cream cone. I don’t know what Zev ate, but I conquered those treats by myself…oink oink indeed.

omnomnom

om nom nom

Shipped some souvenirs home.

Shipped some souvenirs home.

The new iPhone cover!

The new iPhone cover!

Tomorrow morning we fly to Burma/Myanmar. So excited! Gotta get packing.

To market, to market, to get a close shave

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We have less than one week left in China before we fly to Yangon, Myanmar on December 11th. We’re looking forward to seeing a new country and getting a new stamp in our passport, but it will be somewhat sad to leave the Middle Kingdom.

We know enough Mandarin to eek by, the people here are incredibly nice, and of course the food has been a real treat.  Our time here has been wonderful, it really jumpstarted our 14-month adventure in a unique way. China was so completely different than any place we had been before.

Mount Haba in the background

Mount Haba in the background

The past week has been a real whirlwind; last Friday and Saturday we were hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge and this week we’re planning our next country. My thighs are still a little stiff from the ’28 switchbacks’ of Tiger Leaping Gorge but the views were breathtaking and totally worth the effort. I think those two days of dusty walking and scrambling up rocky trails were the highlight of my trip to China. These pictures don’t begin to do it justice.

Beautiful views, slightly scary cliffs.

Beautiful views, slightly scary cliffs.

Love these mountains.

Love these mountains.

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Artsy shot – mountain reflection in Zev’s glasses

After visiting Tiger Leaping Gorge and the nearby town of Lijiang, we headed to Dali. The town of Dali iDSC_0104s an old stopover on the hippie trail, and has the laid-back attitude to prove it. It is situated on beautiful Lake Erhai, a glittering lake with fishermen roaming in long dugout canoes. On a recent minibus tour around Lake Erhai we saw fishermen hauling in their nets using a motor, women paving the roads, and marijuana being processed (apparently it is somewhat legal in this part of the country).

On our first day in Dali we headed to the nearby village of ShaPing to see a weekly market. It was a good mix of produce, random sundries, and local crafts. Zev even got his beard clipped for 5 Yuan (about 80 cents). The barber had set up a chair on the outskirts of the market and trimmed up Zev’s beard with a comb and a pair of electric clippers, which were attached to an extension cord plugged in at a construction site about 40 feet away. The barber cleaned up Zev’s neck with a frightening straight razor. The result was a ‘70s style porn star ‘stache. It should grow out nicely, just like Zev’s Chinese hair cut.

Grinding peppers at the market in ShaPing, near Dali.

Grinding peppers at the market in ShaPing, near Dali.

Maybe the most death-defying moment of out trip thus far

Maybe the most death-defying moment of out trip thus far

After Dali we moved on to Tengchong, our current locale, which is known for its’ hot springs and volcanoes. We soaked in the hot springs and walked up some uninspiring hills. The exercise certainly did us good.

We’re excited for a stopover in Kunming before we fly to Myanmar. As far as preparations for Myanmar are concerned, we are emailing hotels and plan to stock up on some basic supplies such as shampoo, sunscreen, etc. which may not be available due to long standing trade restrictions – which are actually in the process of being rolled back. WiFi could also be somewhat intermittent in Myanmar, so our blog updating may be sporadic.

Photos galore

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Layin Low in Shanghai

Not the famous Shanghai ‘xiaolongbao’ soup dumplings, but these pork dumplings were super juicy and delicious!

This isthe famous Shanghai soup dumpling or xiaolongbao, from Din Tai Fun Restaurant. This is the hairy crab and pork variety, surprisingly sweet.

Happy (very) belated Thanksgiving!

Zev and I tracked down a Texas BBQ restaurant in Shanghai and scored some majorly authentic smoked turkey and stuffing to celebrate the holiday, it was a good consolation prize for not being with our family.

Saturday night we went to our second Thanksgiving, this one potluck style and the spread was to die for. There was the juiciest turkey known to mankind(cooked for 11 hours), mac n cheese that brought a tear to my eye, mashed broccoli which is henceforth the only civilized way to cook that veggie, and a spinach dip that I continued to snack on until 2am. 😀

Our very generous hosts (thanks Kate and Josh!) put together a knockout dinner and assembled an endlessly fascinating group of mostly-American expats living in Shanghai. Meeting so many wonderful Americans really chased away the homesickness.

Most of our stops thus-far have been full of must-see cultural and historical sights, but Shanghai’s highlights are shopping, nightlife, and dining.There is a huge expat scene and we’re lucky enough to have three good friends living and working here to show us the ropes. Unfortunately, weather has not been on our side the last several days and we’ve spent most of our days doing laundry, regrouping, and becoming semi-pro nappers, then taking to the city in the evening to enjoy good company and nightlife. In addition to our two thanksgiving dinners, we’ve sampled the local club and music scene.

The Bund was beautiful. One evening we had drinks with a friend at the Vue Bar at the Hyatt. So so gorgeous! Check out instagram for more @elizaq

After having slogged through Beijing in the cold and damp, it’s finally time to dry out our soggy feet and recharge. On Wednesday, November 28th we fly south to Kunming in Yunnan province. It is supposed to be a very scenic region, so we’re excited for the warmer temperatures and time outside. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for less smog!

Yu Gardens in Shanghai, the rockeries and quiet spaces inspire contemplation.

Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou, outside of Shanghai. The classical Chinese gardens were incredible, the style seeks to recreate natural landscapes on a miniature scale.

Xi’an photos (continued)

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We’re doing our best to work through our Internet limitations!

Xi’an

Each of our three days in Xi’an was better than the last. Then again, when you start off with a cold rainy day, one of us with a cold, a budget-negotiation crisis over a new tube of fancy face cream, and a 45 minute search for a restaurant that we ultimately decided has been torn down, it’s not hard to improve.

Xi’an is best known as the home of the Terracotta Warriors, the army of thousands of sculpted-clay soldiers buried along with a Qin-dynasty emperor to protect him in the after life. As with many Chinese ancient sights, there was some initial ambiguity as to what was original and what was a recreation, but we eventually figured out that archeologists have spent the last 35 years digging up shards of the wrecked statues, each of which is a totally unique person, and meticulously gluing them back together piece by piece. Only a fraction of the multi-acre site has been excavated, and it still is a awesome site.

True to our character, Eliza and I very much enjoyed the history and scenery of Xi’an, but what really had us enamored with the city was the food. Day one’s dinner search was a bust, but we have embraced APT’s (my former employer) motto that “if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough,” when it comes to our culinary adventures.

Xi’an is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, and its cuisine is influenced greatly by the Muslim traders who settled there. The Muslim quarter’s narrow alleyways are packed with small restaurants, nut and dried-fruit vendors, and plenty of touristy souvenir shops. We ate dinner in the Muslim quarter Friday night, and we owe the success of the meal to Eliza’s masterful matching of menu items to the must-haves listed in our Lonely Planet guide book.

Xi’an’s signature dish is yangrou paomo, a rich lamb broth soaked up by pea-sized bits of a dense local bread and topped with cellophane noodles and slices of lamb. The tiny chewy bits of broth-soaked bread pushed our chopstick skills to the limit, but was well worth the challenge. Paired with the slippery noodles and flakey, tender, and beyond-delicious lamb slices, the experience was at the same time an exotic adventure and a comforting reminder of home: brisket and matzah ball soup.

Also on the menu were spicy cumin lamb kebabs, braised lamb feet, mistakenly-ordered but surprisingly delicious fried rice (our first fried rice of China, strangely enough) and local Hans beer. The kebabs were served Churrascuria-style, a great way to explore new foods with minimal language skills.

We followed up the meal with fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice from a street stall, which put POM to shame. The fruit stalls sell a pretty wide variety of familiar fruits, but the overwhelming number of persimmons and pomegranates available was a reminder of the seasonality of produce that you barely see in the US.

Not to miss an opportunity to eat, we also indulged in Xi’an’s street food. Most notably we lunched on roujiamo, the local sandwich. We’ve had it a few different ways, but the hallmark traits are a round, dense flat bread filled with meat, fresh veggies and herbs for seasoning, and an extra dash of grease. Our favorite used flakey bread – almost like an Indian roti – with a filling of chopped lamb, chillies, and garlic.

We’re now on the train to Nanjing for some history and seafood. We’re snacking on our last Xi’an treat, a piece of a giant dried fruit and nut cake – think the world’s largest granola bar.

Enjoy the food porn below (and in a subsequent post, due to Internet limitations), and stay tuned for more!

-Zev

Sent from my iPad

China, Week 1

Sorry for the prolonged absence, the Great Chinese Firewall has been wreaking havoc with our blog. WordPress.com is permanently blocked (as is the New York Times, and intermittently, Google), so we are forced to post via email. This means no formatting or slideshows, but we’ll get more flashy post-China (and maybe post Myanmar, our next country, as they have NO internet…). For more info on the Chinese firewall, check out greatfirewallofchina.org.

Thankfully, that has been the extent of our travails in China so far. Everything else is going swimmingly. We spent a full week in Beijing. There was so much to see and do. Beijing is a walking city – as in walk ’til you think your feet are going to fall off.

Metro, walking, metro, walking, eating, walking, metro, eating, collapse = Beijing.

One of the highlights was Tienanmen Square. The government is in the midst of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress, where they are selecting a new leader, so the main area was blocked off to pedestrian traffic and the atmosphere was extremely tense. Security was much tighter than usual (according to our friend who lives in Beijing) and there were many bag searches. It gave you the feeling that some big changes were afoot, and really drove home that we were in a foreign country at a very significant time, politically speaking.

The Great Wall was more impressive than ever imagined – Zev immediately broke out into a chorus from Mulan. Hundreds of thousands of workers/prisoners labored for years on end to create this hulking structure that seems to dance across the mountain ridges, an awe-inspiring sight for even the most jaded traveler.

The Peking duck was delicious. On our first attempt we went to a touristy restaurant where we were rushed in, hovered over, and encouraged to order the most expensive thing on the menu. It was an unpleasant meal, excluding of course the crispy duck skin dipped in sugar… The second time we went to Li Qun, a smaller restaurant in one of Beijing’s famed Hutongs – small alleyway communities filled with small shops, restaurants, markets and traditional courtyard family homes. It was actually the same place we had seen on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations before we left the states. Given limitless resources, our trip would be one giant re-creation of that show. We went with a college friend who is studying in Beijing for the year and had a fantastic time. We ordered the usual duck as well as spicy cumin fried duck wings, peppery sauteed Peking duck bits, and talked international relations. It felt delightfully illicit to chat about East Asian international relations so close to Tienanmen Square.

On November 12th we took an overnight train to a town called Pingyao, an ancient walled city that seems to have retained a good deal of it’s old world charm, something most Chinese towns haven’t managed to do. Our hotel room is incredibly charming. With a traditional kang stone bed, and wooden inlaid windows, it has oodles and oodles of character.

Tonight we head to Xi’an for 3 days to see the terracotta warriors. After Xi’an, we head to Nanjing, Shanghai, Kunming, and Leaping Tiger Gorge.

Follow me on Instagram for more pics (elizaq).