Thursday, October 21, 2010

Xitang 西塘

Write up to follow......

Shanghai Rolex Masters 2010

After Yuyuan, they met up with their friends in a Chinese restaurant in Pudong Jinmao Center for lunch then they headed for the main event of their trip, the Shanghai Rolex Masters 2010 Tennis Tournament. The competition featured an unbeatable line up of men singles player, but unfortunately World Number 1 Rafael Nadal was knocked out early on in the competition. But still number 2, 3 and 4 (Djokovic, Federer and Murray respectively) were still in the semi-finals.

The cab-ride felt like an eternity. Dad struggled to stay awake during the latter part of the journey. His brain kept telling him the stadium would be just around the next corner. But one could tell when the cab was near the stadium. There were people waving tickets along the road. As soon as they got off the taxi, there were ticket-touts offering tickets at RMB100 (official price was more than10 times that). Not sure if the term ticket-tout really fitted.

The stadium was an impressive fair. If you are a tennis fan, you probably know all the results now. But if you don't, you can check here. The thing which left a deep impression was the mad rush to the taxi queue as soon as the second semi-final was won by Roger Federer. Suddenly, everyone inside the stadium was running out of the stadium into a dimly lit patch of land where a temporary taxi queue was hastily put up. Mum and dad were lucky since their friends managed to get to the front part of the queue and they got on a taxi without much wait. Half-way into their journey back, their taxi driver told them that the stadium has run out of taxi and people might need to wait a while for the next batch of taxis!!

Now some action on youtube!!

Yuyuan Garden 豫園

Before the long weekend trip, mum did her research. Yuyuan 豫園 came up as the place to go, also the Xiaolongbao should not be missed. So first thing in the morning she checked with the hotel concierge about the place and was told that it's the must-go place in Shanghai!!

The taxi-ride was smooth with no drama. After the meter ticked 5 times (RMB17), they arrived. They then realized that they have visited the same place about 8 years ago. Can't be a good sign that it didn't register in their mind at all. Your participation in the human-sardine experiment was guaranteed- see how many can be packed into one place. As usual they decided not to go into the attraction and gave up queuing for the Xiaolongbao, which even if you pay a minimum charge of RMB150 per person, you still need to wait more than 45 minutes. (You can eat the same thing in Hong Kong Causeway Bay under better conditions with no minimum charge.)

Then again, this was the must-go place in Shanghai.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Xindalu, Hyatt on the Bund 新大陸

Shortly after checking into their hotel, Ritz-Carlton Portman in Puxi (where Roger Federer apparently was staying as well), they left for their next destination at 9:25pm. Mum never skips her dinner when overseas!! And they had a mission. To take a cab and travel from Puxi to Pudong in Friday's night traffic and arrive at Hyatt on the Bund before 10pm. They made it!!

Just in time for the chef to carve two Peking ducks in front of them inside Xindalu, the Hyatt on the Bund's Chinese restaurant. Yes it was two ducks, but of course it was not just mum and dad dining. Apparently, they stop serving the duck past 10pm in the evening. The duck was definitely well worth the effort. It was served as three separate dishes, crispy skin, skin with meat and meat only. The duck looked tiny and the portions were small. But those were not the distinctive features of the duck. Upon the first cut through the skin, one could see two separate layers, a crispy skinned shell and an internal core of meat. Then dad recalled a scene from a food programme called Rhodes Across China, featuring Gary Rhodes traveling and tasting cuisines in different parts of China.

Before the Peking duck was roasted, water was pumped through a hole poked in between the skin and the meat. The whole duck ballooned up and voila you have a skin shell and a meat core. It's the first time mum and dad had a chance to taste Peking duck cooked this way. And they were not disappointed. The crispy skin dipped with a tiny bit of cane sugar, it was perfect, on par with some of the fame Michelin star dishes they have tasted before!!

Then mum saw another dish featured in the same show, "Pyramid" braised pork with bamboo shoots. But when she tried to order, it was too late. They had run out.

One could see the action packed kitchen in the comfort at their seat. The duck alone makes it a must go next time they visit Shanghai.

Shanghai Expo 世博會 (上海万博)

After disappearing over the long weekend, mum and dad arrived home just before midnight looking exhausted. We knew they were going to watch the Shanghai Rolex Masters Tennis tournament but we didn't expect them to do much heavy lifting. Only when we saw some of the pictures they took then we realized why.

It's the 173th day since the opening of Shanghai Expo and after being in the media spotlight during the opening month, people are all rushing to the site to catch a glimpse of the event before the pavilions close in a few days time. Arriving at Shanghai Pudong Airport in a 90 minute delayed flight, they went straight to the taxi queue with their carry-on bags and got on the first available taxi. The taxi driver must have sensed that they were in a hurry as he decided to pull off as soon as dad shut the boot. Before dad had a chance to get on the taxi, he saw the cab pulled away with one of the passenger door still opened. Thank god, the cab stopped after moving about 5 meters.

The cab ride from Pudong airport to the World Expo site was mostly highways jam-packed full of fast moving vehicles. Their driver proved to be very effective in weaving through the lanes and getting untangled from the jams. When the taxi meter got to RMB 120, the cab driver decided to stop. Unlike taxi meters elsewhere in the world, the taxi-meters in Shanghai tick slowly and it felt like a long ride!! The cab stopped in the middle of a crowded street.

"Where's the Expo?", mum asked in Mandarin (assume that's the language from here on).

"Over there!", the driver pointed across the street.

Behind the crowd, they saw some removable barriers and the ubiquitous port-a-toilets. The ticket booths sat just behind them. It was almost 6pm when they arrived and the queue to buy tickets for the day was short. While waiting their turn, some unknown characters kept pushing look-a-like tickets to them at a RMB 20 discount to the official tickets. These characters kept appearing even when they were at the ticket window.

The security checks going into the proper site were very thorough, on par with going into a flight. Once you were inside, it's like you were in a different world but you were still with the crowd. Mum went into the information center and asked her favorite question. "What's worth seeing? Which pavilion should we go to?"

"Don't bother! Just walk around and browse. You need to wait 4 hours at least for the popular pavilions and we have more than 600,000 visitors today.", the lady at the information center said as a matter of fact.

So they did what they were told and told a few pictures. Friends been telling them that they could use their passports to get priority entry into their respective national pavilions, namely the British and Singaporean pavilions. But seeing the crowd, they decided not to bother. It was a nice walk around the site especially with the repressive summer heat fading into memory. The architectures were eye pleasing.

Their only gripe was when they left the expo site looking for a taxi to take them back to the hotel, they cold not get one. They only realized after lugging their carry-on bags walking aimlessly that taxis were only allowed to pick passengers up at specific expo taxi stand at the exit. So they had to lug everything all the way back to the exit. Uniformed people were uniquely unhelpful in China.

Old habits die hard. While waiting in the taxi queue, 2 Chinese blokes walked under the cordon and pushed into the taxi queue. Everyone was very vocal in their disgust but those two just stood there while the crowd shouted and asked them to go to the back of the queue. Another guy stood next to the queue collecting used entrance tickets, probably so that his cohorts could re-sell them at the ticketing booth!!