jump to navigation

Dinner at Cheesecake Factory – Tysons Galeria December 27, 2008

Posted by hslu in Restaurants.
Tags:
add a comment

TH called when I was stuck in mall traffic at Tyson’s I on the day after Christmas day. I was on my way to meet Maria and we wanted to have lunch there. I finally got in the Mall and got lucky to find a parking spot very close to the mall entrance.

TH wanted to invite my son and us to dinner and meet her second daughter who, with her boy friend, now live in Berkeley, California. she is a high school math teacher and her boy friend is a PhD student at Berkeley. We talked about the time and decided to meet yesterday for dinner because that was the only date available for all of us.

The dinner was at Cheesecake Factory at Tysons II. TH, her husband, her two daughters and the boy friend of the second daughter. Her oldest daughter didn’t come because she was in NY. We got there at about 6;30 PM and they were there already. We waited for about 10 minutes and were led to a table. We ordered some wine and cocktails. Each of us ordered a dish. I had Jambalaya Pasta. Maria had flank steak. It tuned out that yesterday was TH husband’s 55th birthday.

My dish was just so so: the two-colored pasta was under-cooked and there were little sauce to coat the pasta. Shrimp was okay but a little too small. Chicken breast emat was tough and I didn’t remember I had any Andouille sausage. I ceretainly will not order this dish in the future. It wasn’t worth the $16.95 price tag.

Maria’s steak was disappointing too. It was a cheap piece of meat and not worth eating. TH husband’s shrimp scampi was a good dish with several pieces of huge shrimp.

For dessert, I ordered a tiramisu cake to share with Maria. They ordered two birthday- anniversary cheesecakes. My tiramasu cake was quite good and was a good choice.

Before dessert came, I went to the bathroom and found my waiter at the kitcehn area. I gave him my credit card and asked him to charge the bill on my card. It turned out that our waiter, who is in his early 30’s, speaks Chinese as well. That was a nice surprise.

When the bill came, TH wanted to pay for it but later realized that I had already charged it on my card. I told them that it was my hornor to buy them dinner because it was his birthday.

I was going to add about 22% of the bill as tips but our waiter had already added 17.5% to the bill which saved me approximately $

Advertisements

4 Days in Shanghai – Oct 11 – 15, 2008 上海 4th Day; Oct 14, 2008 Part II December 27, 2008

Posted by hslu in Travel.
Tags:
2 comments

4 Days in Shanghai – Oct 11 – 15, 2008 上海

4th Day; Tuesday, Oct 14, 2008 – Shanghai 上海

Part II

The restaurant 和平官邸  He Ping Guan Di is located at the end of a long and narrow (15′ wide or so) alley hidden away from the street. 和平官邸 got its name because the private dinning rooms in the restaurant were named after the Nobel Price Winners over the years. When we arrived at the restaurant; this time we were there a good 15 minutes before the reservation time of 6:30 PM, we were greeted by several young men and women who are in their late teens and early 20’s. They are all tall, well dressed and nice looking. A young girl escorted us through the alley to the dinning area. The 300′ long alley was lit with street level landscape lights, covered with pave stones and lined with trees, shrubs and bamboo plants on both sides. There were stones, benches and house plants. The end of the ally opened to a courtyard in front of a 4-story house. It has several willow trees, wood deck, a man-made flowing stream and small wooden bridges. The courtyard has been converted into a dinning area including a glass house with two private dinning rooms and several tents with 5 or 6 dinning areas. They glass house was decorated with antique Chinese furniture and white silk draperies. Since we arrived early, Maria asked a hostess to show us the residence which was also converted into private dinning rooms. The young hostess led us through the back stairs to Mr. Dai Li’s bedroom and study on the 3rd and 4th floor, respectively. Although the rooms were not large by western standard and the back stairs were narrow, I could image this was a residence of a fairly wealthy and important family in old time Shanghai. I took a peek of the dinning room on the third floor. It was pleasingly decorated with chandelier, antique table and chairs, beautiful Chinese paintings on the wall and some house plants. The room was brightly lit and had a beautiful view of the garden and the courtyard.

imgp0732

Our friend from Maryland arrived first and my brother arrived shortly after that. The others didn’t arrive until probably around 7 PM or a bit later. One of my brother’s friends, who had lived in Shanghai for 6 or 7 years, has already asked his Shanghai girl friend to make the reservation, reserve the dinning room, and order the dishes for tonight. We first met her the night before last at Jesse Restaurant where my brother’s friend invited us to a wonderful dinner. She is in her late 20’s, owns a fashion store nearby and appears to know all the nuance of what it takes to live in Shanghai.

Once we all sat down in the dinning room, our waitresses started serving our dinner. We had several xiao cai and 10 main entrees. I took a look of their wine list and ordered 古越龍山 黃酒 because I like it a lot. We had river shrimp, stewed pork, eel, and steamed fish.  The highlight of the dinner was Foie Gras called  陈年干邑煮鹅肝 chen nian gan yi zhu e tang. The waitress bought in a big tray with sliced foie gras and cups of cream-colored foie gras broth. There was also a bowl of dark rice vinegar for dipping. The broth was quite rich and the flavor of foie gras stayed in my mouth well after it was finished. It was probably made from poaching foie gras in a chicken stock then reduced to achieve the consistency of a light creamy texture. According to our waitress, the foie gras was produced locally instead of imported from foreign country. The quantity was quite generous compared to what I used to get in France or the United States. Although it was tender, moist and readily melted in my mouth; all necessary quality of a good foie gras, its texture was a little on the hard side. I thought the fat content of the foie gras was a little low probably due to the poaching process. The taste was slightly plain, not very buttery and a bit on the bland side. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed at what I had but I thought it could be better.

img_0921155

I prefer my foie gras pan-seared or sautéed with light seasoning then drizzled with something slightly acidic and sweet such as berries, balsamic vinegar and red wine reduction. I guess that pan-seared foie gras requires a higher level of cooking skill than poached one and it would be somewhat difficult to reach perfection to cook for 11 guests at the same time. The restaurant took the easy way out and served foie gras with a broth.

Other dishes such as river shrimp and stewed pork were similar to what we had at other two restaurants. Eel was a good surprise though. Its meat was fresh and tender, not over-cooked similar to what I used to have when I was in the Army near the city of Gao Xiong 高雄 Taiwan. Back then, eel was cheap and readily available at many street vendors in night market. They were usually kept live in a bucket next to the cooking stand. After an order was placed, the owner would prepare the eel right on the spot and then cook it with fresh herb, soy sauce, cooking wine, sugar and a little vegetable. It was a nice treat with a cold beer. The eel we had here was even better than what I had almost 35 years ago; the eel was bigger, meatier and without that muddy taste. It certainly bought back some memories from the good old days.

Similar to the last two dinners we had together, we didn’t drink too much wine and, as a host, I didn’t encourage them either. At the end of the dinner, a small bowl of sweet soup was served. The total bill came to ¥5,650 or about ¥500 per person; roughly $70 USD per person. Before I paid it with my credit card, the waitress asked me if I would like to have a written receipt and how did I like it. The waitress also said that if you spend ¥3,000, you can get a 10% discount toward your next visit. The girl friend of my brother’s friend made an arrangement with the waitress to issue six separate receipts for ¥1,000 each and charge my credit card for ¥6,000 instead of ¥5,650. She then gave me ¥350 cash to make up the difference. I guessed that she can use the 10% discount for her future visits with her clients or friends and the restaurant through the waitress was willing to do something like this to get future business.

After we left the restaurant, Maria and I decided to try massage one more time before leaving Shanghai tomorrow. My brother’s friend, who drove a CRV, took us to 益力保健按摩中心. He and my brother took us inside the massage parlor and the young hostess greeted him warmly because he was a regular customer. He asked her to treat us nicely because we came from the United States and then left with my brother to play 麻將 ma jiang.

We both requested a female massage therapist and ordered a foot massage and a full body massage. The foot massage took almost an hour. It started with soaking our feet in Chinese herb water for 10 minutes. The female therapist then used her fingers to apply pressure to many acupuncture points on our feet. In traditional Chinese medicine, different parts of the foot correspond in actions with different parts of the body as illustrated in this figure. At the end of the foot massage, not only my feet felt warm, but the warmth seemed had traveled to my upper body as well. However, I am not sure whether it did what it supposed to do, i.e., stimulate the qi 氣 I have in my body; hence reduce the chance to have blocked blood flow in certain part of my body.

footmassage_edited

The whole body massage also took an hour. It was different from what we had here 2 days ago. It used massage oil and such techniques as rubbing, kneading, and pushing to manipulate muscles in many parts of my body, especially on my back, arms and legs. It also involved apply pressure to acupressure points along meridians in my body and bending of my neck and joints on my body. I still felt pretty strong pressure on my body because this female therapist was a bit heavy-handed than the one I had before. At the end of the session, I felt warm in my body but I wasn’t comfortable with an oily skin at all. We quickly put on our clothes, paid our therapists and left the place. We then called a taxi and went back to our hotel. After a quick shower to wash away the oil, we packed our luggage and got ready for our flight tomorrow to San Francisco in the morning.

Shanghai was such a fascinating place that I liked it the first time I was here 22 years ago. This time here was even better: nice restaurants to try, new attracting shopping areas such as xing tian Di to Guan Guan, beautiful tall buildings such as Jin Mao Da Xia to visit, and new activities such as massage to enjoy. There are several places near by we have to visit and experience such as 上海大观园, Zhujiajiao 朱家角, Oriental Pearl Tower 东方明珠塔, Chinese Opera, and live entertainment shows we saw on TV.

No wonder Shanghai was once called 十里洋场  shi li yang chang.  The term came from the fact that three small sections of the old city Shanghai was once the colonies for British (1845), the United States (1848) and France (1849). 十里 was used to describe the size of the colonies which stretched for about 10 miles and 洋场 means places for foreigners. Because of the presence of foreigners, Shanghai became a mystique with of luxury lives, expensive foreign products, overpriced restaurants catering only to foreigners, beautiful female entertainers and fancy buildings. With Chinese economy growing at a pace of 10+% every year for the past decade, Shanghai has definitely regained its glory. It is the economic center of China and in years to come will be the biggest port in China.

Pudong is rapidly expanding and seems to be a nice place to visit and stay. In the coming years, I like to persuade Maria to purchase a small apartment here and use it as a stepping stone to introducing China to my children and generations of Lu children to come.

There is an old Chinese saying which says:  落葉歸根 luo ye gui gen, which means the falling leaves return to their root. I believe this is significant and I will seek opportunity to reach this goal in the near future.

4 Days in Shanghai – Oct 11 – 15, 2008 上海 ; 4th Day; Tuesday, Oct 14, 2008 Part I December 23, 2008

Posted by hslu in Travel.
Tags: , , , , ,
3 comments

4 Days in Shanghai – Oct 11 – 15, 2008 上海

4th Day; Tuesday, Oct 14, 2008 – Shanghai 上海

While we were eating breakfast around 8:30 AM at the hotel, Maria asked me about the temple at The Temple of the Town God or City Temple of Shanghai (上海城隍廟 Cheng Huang Miao.) She said that we were there for almost half a day but she never saw a temple. She was right. We went to the market place but didn’t go to the temple. We decided to make another trip to the Temple of the Town God 城隍廟 and see the temple 廟 this time.

img_0875
The temple was a bit hard to find because most tourists at the market place didn’t know where it was. We asked a few people and finally got a half-hearted answer from a guy who looked like a local with a hand signal pointing to the back of a building. We thanked him for his help, fought through the crowd, walked around the corner of that building and saw the entrance of the temple bout 100′ away. Standing in temple’s main courtyard, we saw many vivid carvings on the roof and worshipers praying for good fortune and happiness in front of various halls inside the temple. There were a series of posters aimed at informing visitors the history of the 城隍廟 Cheng Huang Miao, the essence of Taoism and the meaning of a large abacus above the front gate.
According to the posters, the temple was founded in 1403 to honor local official Qín Yùbó, who had been designated Shanghai’s patron god by Hóngwu emperor (1328-98) of the Míng Dynasty. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) (文化大革命wen hua da ge ming), the temple was damaged and closed. In the early 1990s, the temple, the market place and the surrounding area were extensively restored to its current condition.
Also on the posters was the origin of 城隍廟 and a brief introduction of Taoism or Daoism. 城 Cheng means the wall surrounding a city and 隍 Huang means the man-made ditch surrounding the city wall. In ancient China, both 城 Cheng and 隍 Huang were routinely constructed to protect the city. 城隍廟 Cheng Huang Miao is a Taoism or Daoism (道教 Dao Jiao) temple. As early as 3,000 years ago in Zhou Dynasty, Chinese people began the practice of worshipping deity to protect their cities. In the Southern and Northern Dynasties period, about 1,600 years ago, 城隍廟 were erected by people for 城隍爺 Cheng Huang Ye. The popularity of this religion reached its highest level in the Ming Dynasty. It was estimated that back then there were 1,472 城隍廟 Cheng Huang Miao in China. In other words, there was at least one 城隍廟 Cheng Huang Miao in each of every Chinese city.

img_0883_edited
Daoism 道教, along with Confucianism and Buddhism, has influenced China and East Asia for over 2,000 years. Daoism has also influenced some foreign countries such as America and Canada, in recent years. Daoism was founded by Lao Zi 老子 about 2,600 years ago who was the author of Dao De Jing 道德經. Dao 道 roughly translates into English as “path” or “the way.” It basically refers to an unseen power which surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living. The Dao regulates natural processes and nourishes balance and harmony in the Universe. It exemplify the co-existence, balance and harmony of opposites such as Ying and Yang, earth and heaven, moon and sun, female and male, love and hate, harmony and chaos, etc.
The basic virtues in Daoism are compassion, moderation and humility which have been the philosophical and religious traditions governing the lives of many Chinese over the years. The traditional Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, meditation, some martial arts (Taiji Chuan and Qi Qong,) and Feng Shui were all evolved from Daoism. In addition, Daoism also emphasizes respect to and remembrance of our ancestors which has been a common practice of many Chinese families over the centuries. The famous icon associated with Taoism is called Taiji 太極 which loosely translates into “the great ultimate”, some kind of singularity or a primordial state before everything was created. According to Daoism, out of Dao came Taiji. It then split into Ying 陰 and Yang 陽 which are encapsulated in the Taiji icon. From Ying and Yang, everything in the universe was created.

taiji-icon
The Taiji icon consists of two colors: black and white; symbolizing Ying 陰 and yang 陽; the so-called Two Aspects (兩儀  Liang Yi.) The black dot in white implies that Ying can exist harmoniously in Yang while the white dot in black implies that Yang can co-exist in Ying.

img_0900
When we first came into the temple, we didn’t notice that there was a big abacus above the front gate until we saw this poster which explains the meaning of 13 numbers represented by the abacus. They are: 9, 7, 3, 6, 7, 2, 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8.
The number 0 in the middle stands for Dao. The numbers to the right of 0 or Dao are 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8. The sequence 1, 2, 3, 5 comes from the opening sentence of Chapter 42 in Dao De Jing 道德經. It says: “道生一 (dao sheng yi,),一生二  (yi sheng er,) 二生三 (er sheng san,) 三生万物 (san sheng wan wu,) 万物负阴而抱阳 (wan wu fu ying er bao yang,) 冲气以为和 (chong qi yi wei he.)” Based on my understanding of the poster, these numbers mean the following:

img_0898_edited
1     From 0 Dao out comes the ultimate one or Taiji.
2     From Taiji comes Liang Yi 兩儀 or two Yi; the Ying and Yang. I guess here it refers  to  earth and heaven or more appropriately female and male.
3     From Ying and Yang out come three. Here it refers to something new from the    harmoniously co-existence of ying and yang. In other words, with female and male, we have babies. From heaven and earth, we have animals and plants, etc.
5     Out of growth comes Wan Wu 万物 or everything in the universe. , Wan Wu 万物 literally means ten thousand things. Here the number 5 refers to five elements in the universe or Wu Xing 五行. Wu Xing 五行 are Metal 金、Wood 木、Water 水、Fire 火、and Earth 土.
6     refers to 老陽 (lao yang) which means yang changing into yin, or moving yang; and
8     refers to 少陽 (shao yang) which means unchanging yang.
The numbers to the left of number 0 or Dao are: 9, 7, 3, 6, 7, and 2 (Reading from left to right) can be interpreted as the following:

9     老陰 (lao yang) which means yin changing into yang or moving yin,

7     少陰 (shao ying) which means unchanging yin,

36    refers to thirty six 天罡 (tian gang,) and

72    refers to seventy two 地煞 (di sha.)

The concept of using 6, 8, 9, and 7 to infer as 老陽,  少陽,  老陰, and  少陰 came from Yi Jing 易經.  易 yi means change and 經 jing means classic text and 易經 yi jing means “the Book of Change.” This is something that very few people in the world know anything about. I of course know very little and dare not to offer any interpretation here. I guess I would just take what the poster says and that’s the end of it.

Now, let’s see what 36 and 72 on the abacus mean. 36 refers to thirty six Tian Gang Stars (天罡星 tian gang xing) where 天罡 (tian gang) is the first star of the Big Dipper of the Great Bear constellation. 72 refers to seventy two Di Sha Stars (地煞星 di sha xing) in the same constellation. According to ancient Chinese astrology, each of the 36 Tian Gang and 72 Di Sha stars has its own god. Together, they refer to 108 obstacles facing each of us while we grow up. If we can overcome each and every one of these 72 obstacles, a great future, luck and happiness await us in our life.

There is also a very important phrase on the abacus which says “不由人算 bu you ren suan” which loosely translated into English as “Not according to your scheme.” It suggests that no matter how you plot against others, one should realize that heaven has already chosen one for you which is “Good deeds bring fortune while bad deeds bring nothing but evil upon yourself.”

From these posters, I realized that Chinese has been influenced by scriptures like this in their daily life over the centuries. I routinely visited a temple near our house call Bao Jue Si  寶覺寺 with my parents when I was a kid. We went there to pay respect to my grandmother who died when I was 10 years old. We also went there to burn paper money for her and for our ancestors to use in their after lives. Over there, my parents would show us similar scriptures which warned us not to do bad things to others; if you would, “不由人算 bu you ren suan.” That is also why we take our kids to temples whenever there is an opportunity. It teaches them Chinese culture and shows them the custom of paying respects to our ancestors. Growing up in the United States, they are not very familiar with Chinese culture and customs. I wished that we had done more when they were growing up. Unfortunately Maria and my families had already moved to the United States and we only visited Taiwan a couple of times when they began to understand and appreciate their origin and root.

One of halls in the temple is 財神殿 Cai Shen Dian or “the Hall of the Fortune God.” It was a very popular hall and many people including us worshiped there wishing good fortune in our life. Of course, we prayed to have good business at China King for years to come. Before we left the 城隍廟, we burned some paper money for our ancestors and wished them to protect members of our families, bring them safety and guide them in their lives’ endeavors.

img_0904

When we left the 城隍廟, it was time for lunch. Since we would host a banquet this evening, we decided to have something light for lunch. Among many restaurants there, we chose a big self-serve type 食堂. This was a huge place with hundreds of dim sums, various dishes and at least 500 customers in a big dinning room. There were all kinds of dim sums from many regions of China plus at least 40 kinds of desserts. Several waitresses pushed carts around with more selections and drinks. We quickly finished our lunch and called a taxi to Yang Pu district   楊浦區 to meet our agent at 1:30 PM.

For the next 3 hours, our agent took us to see five apartments: 3 in Yang Pu 楊浦 and 2 in Pu Dong 浦東. All apartments were small: from 1,000 to 1,600 square feet and all but one were occupied. One apartment had one bedroom and other four had three bedrooms. The purpose of this exploratory visit was to show Maria what was available in Shanghai and what was like to live in Shanghai. Maria has had many reservations of buying a property in Shanghai: it is far away from where we live and the stability of the communist government can be unpredictable. I told our agent that if we ever ready to buy an apartment in Shanghai, we will for sure contact him and ask for his professional assistance. After the visit, I didn’t think Maria had changed her mind but at least she wasn’t dead against the idea as she used to. At least, it was a good start. I guess that I have to do more to make her change her mind and actively help me to look for a place to buy in the future.

We left our agent and called a taxi back to our hotel. We quickly changed and went back out again. The evening traffic was very busy and it was hard to hail a taxi. We finally got one and told our drive where we wanted to go: “和平官邸 He Ping Guan Di” in 徐汇区  Xu Hui Qu. 徐汇区  Xu Hui Qu is very popular with Taiwanese businessmen. I was told that there are approximately 300,000 Taiwanese businessmen who currently live in Shanghai. These people live in Taiwan but maintain a second residence in Shanghai. Many of them also have mistress in Shanghai, nicknamed “Er Nai  二奶” and travel back and forth between their two residences.

和平官邸 He Ping Guan Di is one of a few 4-star Shanghai restaurants in Shanghai. 和平 He Ping means peace in Chinese and 官邸 Guan Di means private residence of someone with statue. 和平官邸  He Ping Guan Di used to be the private residence of Mr. Dai Li 戴笠who was the head of the secret police for Mr. Jiang Jie Shi 將介石, who was the President of the Republic of China for over 30 years. Mr. Dai Li 戴笠, who was also the head of the fascist organization Blue Shirt Society and Sino-American Intelligence Agency, conducted intelligence and security work for Mr. Jiang. During WWII, his security force grew to 70,000 men and women and was one of the most feared people in China. Dai Li戴笠 died in a suspicious place crash and to date still remained as a mysterious person.

Signet Tour refund December 16, 2008

Posted by hslu in Uncategorized.
Tags:
add a comment

I booked a Thailand tour with Signet Tour 超值旅遊 through my travel agent here in Virginia. The tour was booked in early September, 2008 for travel in early October, 2008.

However, the political turmoil leading to our tour made our travel impossible to proceed. I took the advice of my travel agent and canceled the Thailand tour in mid-September 2008 and changed the tour to the 6-day Kanto tour instead.

As of this writing, I have not received the refund from Signet Tour 超值旅遊 yet. I talked to my travel agent and he said that it is still not here yet. He added that refund from Signet 超值旅遊 usually takes at least 3 months and one of his clients’ refund took almost 6 months to come back.

I simply failed to see why a refund from Signet 超值旅遊 should take such a long time. I am not sure what the delay is and not sure whether the delay is the normal practice or something else. I am not sure whether other tour companies have the same practice as well.

I will give them a few more days and will call the tour company soon.

Mon Ami Gabi – Reston Town Center December 16, 2008

Posted by hslu in Restaurants.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

We went to Mon Ami Gabi (My Friend Gabino) for lunch on Friday at around 2:30 in the afternoon. Reston Town Center is a booming shopping and office center about 6 miles from our house in the town of Reston.

The center has gone through several phases of expansion and has recently added four high rise towers, many townhouses, hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space, and at least six new restaurants in the last two years.

The new restaurants included Busaras (Thai), Community Canteen, Il Fornaio Cuina Italiana, Mon Ami Gabi (french), Passion Fish, and Jackson’s Might Fine Food. There is also a Yum Yum cafe which opens from 6 in the morning till 6 in the evening.

Mon Ami Gabi is a French bistro with very reasonable prices and nice food.  It also serves hamburgers and fries; a bit strange for a French restaurant in a high class area. I guess it is aimed to attract lunch crowd from offices near by.

We ordered three appetizers, a main course, 2 cups of coffee and 2 glasses of wine: A Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.

The appetizers were:

1.   Country Style Pâté with pearl onions, pickles, mustard and some toast.

2.   Warm Duck Confit on a bed of lentils with pearl onions in a balsamic reduction.

3.   Escargots de Bourgogne in garlic-herb butter.

The main course was fresh Spinach and Brie Crepe.

The presentation was very nice but the taste was a bit on the light side. I thought the Escargot and pate could use a bit more salt. Duck Confit was nicely done with tender duck meat and flavorful lentils.

Maria had a glass of 2005 Louis Latour Chardonnay and I ordered a glass of 2006 Louis Latour Pinot Noir. Both were great value for the $6.95 price tag.

Coffee was a bit over priced though: $3.25 each.

Overall, the lunch was a memorable one. we were relaxed and took out time to enjoy the food. We also had the full attention of the wait staff because it was slow time between lunch and dinner.

We will come back with our kids when they come back from NY and San Francisco.

4 Days in Shanghai – Oct 11 – 15, 2008 上海 3rd Day Monday, Oct 13, 2008 December 15, 2008

Posted by hslu in Travel.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

4 Days in Shanghai – Oct 11 – 15, 2008 上海

3rd Day Monday, Oct 13, 2008 – Shanghai 上海

Like previous two days, our first order of business for the day was having our breakfast at hotel’s dinning room on the 2nd floor. The breakfast was included with our room charge and many guests took advantage of the free food because it was always busy when we arrived there. Not only there was a line at the buffet tables but we also had to share our table with other guests. Today was busier than last two days probably because today was the first working day of the week. We had some xi fan, xiao cai, green onion buns, juice, some Chinese cabbage and fresh fruit. After two days of similar stuff in the morning, I thought I could use some breakfast at IHOP now. Well, on the other hand, it would be difficult to have this kind of breakfast in the US, so we should be content with what we had and enjoy this while we could. I guessed that this is what Chinese called 隨緣 Sui Yuan which roughly means “follow the nature’s way” (順其自然 shun qi zi ran.)

Our first stop today was The Confucian Temple (文廟Wen Miao) which was a 15 minute taxi ride in morning traffic from our hotel. Confucius(孔夫子Kong Fu Zi) was The Educator in China. He was a thinker, a philosopher and the founder of Confucius school with over 3,000 students some 2,500 years ago. At that time, China was in a prolong state of chaos, division, and wars between feudal states; the so-called Spring and Autumn Period (春秋時代Chun Qiu Shi Dai). Confucius was thought to be the editor of many classic books such as Five Classics (五經 Wu Jing,) Classic of Rites (禮記 Li Ji) and the Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋 Chun Qiu.) He traveled around China with many of his students, met with emperors of feudal states and provided them with advises of governing. His thinking, philosophy and adage were later collected in the Analects of Confucius (論語Lun Yu) by his students after his death.

img_0842_editedimg_08551

When I was a little boy in Taiwan, I remembered our school had his statue in the courtyard and our classroom had display of his picture. We learned Analects of Confucius論語at a young age. We were told that Confucius’s thinking and philosophy, or the so-called The Confucianism (儒家 Ru Jia,) had profound influences on Chinese culture over the centuries. It also deeply affected those in Korea and Japan as well. His teaching provided the social basis and moral compass of how to live our lives, how to treat each other, how to govern and how to reach social harmony in a family and in a country. My mother has been a teacher for more than 40 years. Upon her retirement, the city of Taichong, Taiwan gave her a bust of Confucius to thank her life-long dedication to education like Confucius did 2500 years ago. I, being a student more or less for 25 years and being a Chinese, have deepest respect to Confucius and have tried to adapt his teaching in my life. In 1999, I had a chance to give a 2-week lecture at The Petroleum University in Dong Ying東營in the province of Shandong, China. I took my family with me for the trip and, at the end of the lecture, visited the tomb of Confucius near by. I told my kids about Confucius and paid our respect to The Great Educator. I also paid respect to Confucius on behalf of my mother. Here now in Shanghai, I had a chance to visit the Confucius Temple, I wouldn’t miss the chance.

The Confucian Temple (文廟Wen Miao) was a small but sacred place. According to the articles we got from the ticket office, the temple was first built about 700 years ago. It has since moved a few times and the current location was established about 250 years ago. The temple was very clean and well-taken care of. The layout of the trees, buildings, hall ways, rocks and streams and pond were well balanced. At each plant, a wooden display describes the type of plant, its origin and its special features.

There were several buildings along the perimeter of the temple compound which served as classrooms. The three-story Kui Xing Pagoda (魁星阁 Kui Xing Ge) was a quite and cool place to read and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the temple ground. The pagoda was named Kui Star “魁星 Kui Sing) because Kui Xing was said to control study among the 28 constellations in the sky. We saw a woman reading at a small library which also used as a study room. An open hall called Ting Yu Xuan 听雨轩was literally a place to listen to the falling rain. A big lotus and lily pond called Sky and Cloud Reflection Pond had several huge willow trees planted around the pond. Inside the pond, there was a 12′ tall rock statue called “Dragon and Tiger Howling.” There was also an exhibition of about 15 stones of various sizes, each showing its unique character along the wall of a long hallway. On the wall, there were a series of 10 to 12 grey stone tablets carved with 279 names of scholars who have studied in the temple. These students have achieved high honors in the imperial examinations which took place in Beijing in the past. In a near-by building, a tea pot museum had a wonderful collection of almost 400 tea pots from various times and places of China.

I particularly like the dui lian 對聯 on the two wooden columns in museum’s main hall:

汲來江水烹新茗 Ji2 Lai2 Jiang1 Shui3 Peng1 Xin1 Ming3
買盡吳山作畫屏 Mai3 Jin4 Wu2 Shan1 Zuo4 Hua4 Ping2

This roughly translates into:

Gather river water to make new tea
Buy the entire Wu Mountain as my work of art

img_0844_edited

Although we are not tea drinkers, such a display of tea pots big and small was quite remarkable. Before we left the temple, we paid our sincere respect to Confucius again. We then left the temple with the thought that this was an ideal and peaceful sanctuary in the midst of a bustling and vibrant city to take a short break during our hectic trip.

Since it was still early to meet my friend from Maryland, we decided to take a taxi to Yang Pu District 楊浦區 and checked out the surrounding area of his apartment. The taxi ride took about 25 minutes because it was on the north east side of the city center.

Yang Pu District 楊浦區 looked like a bedroom community; at least the section close to my friend’s apartment. We walked north toward a busy intersection and found a small local market which resembled the one I used to go with my mother near our house in Bei Tun北屯, Taichong, Taiwan. The small, covered rectangle-shaped market still had a few customers at around 11 in the morning. Many vendors had already closed their stalls and were getting ready to leave the market. Several seafood vendors still had some live fish and eels in the buckets. A few produce vendors were negotiating with customers trying to close a deal before taking what’s left home. Most of the meat vendors however still had their products on the table. I saw some pork bellies (五花肉 Wu Hua Rou,) pork loins (裡脊肉 Li Ji Rou,) small riblets (小排骨 Xiao Pai Gu,) pork butts and pork shoulders. We also saw live chickens and ducks in cages for sale. The market was kind of dark. The concrete floor was wet because some vendors were rinsing their produce in buckets of water to keep its freshness. The air was filled with smell of raw meat and the place looked old and in need of cleaning. A market like this bought back my memory of old days when I was a kid shopping with my Mom at the market behind our village. We left there and walked back to the apartment complex. When we arrived at the entrance, my friend was already there waiting for us.

The complex was very large and had a security office at the front entrance. However, the plain-clothed guard didn’t stop us for question. The 10 year old complex had at least 12 high rise buildings each 15 stories high or even higher. The inside of the complex was relatively clean and the street from the entrance to his apartment building in the back was lined with small trees on both sides. Most buildings looked okay from outside but there were definitely signs of deterioration and discoloration. Some apartments had clothes dried on the outside and the plants in the complex were in need of watering. His apartment was on the 12th floor. It had three bedrooms with two baths and one living room. The living space was around 150 square meters or about 1,550 square feet. He paid somewhere around ¥ 7,000 per square meter in 2003 and was worth at least ¥ 14,000 or more per square meters now. We talked a little bit about life in Shanghai and knew that his father had passed away in June. He enjoyed living in Shanghai and spent most of his afternoon playing Taiwan Mahjong (台灣麻將) with his friends. He again encouraged us to consider buying an apartment soon. He also said that he would introduce us to his agent at lunch and we could talk to him about checking out some apartments tomorrow.

Our lunch was at a dim sum place not very far from his apartment and from his agent’s office. The small shopping place was not busy at all and the restaurant’s business was also slow. His agent was a friend of his cousin and has been in real estate business for at least 15 years. He was probably in his late 30’s and seemed to be a knowledgeable young man. After the lunch, we went to his office which was about 5 minute walk away. The office was small; no bigger than 200 square feet. It was old and kind of dirty. It had an old desk, a sofa, a couple of wooden chairs and a map of Shanghai on the wall near the entrance. I briefly told him what we liked to see and he said that he would call his friends and arranged for us to see some apartments tomorrow afternoon. We agreed to meet at his office tomorrow at 1:30 PM.

We then left his office and took a taxi to Nanjing Lu南京路步行街. Maria wanted to see if there was more stuff to buy before we left Shanghai. We walked around and checked out a few jewelry stores. She ended up in a nice looking store called 朵雲軒 Duo Yun Xuan which sells antiques, Chinese stationary, Chinese brushes, jade and jewelries. After checking out many pieces of jade she decided to buy a piece for herself and another piece for our daughter. I had a feeling that we probably paid too much for them but since we had limited knowledge about jade, we decided to follow the suggestions of the young sales woman and chose two that we liked the best for the amount of money we wanted to pay for. Maria had always wanted to buy some jade and she even went to a couple of expensive antique stores at the Jade Market in Hong Kong. I talked her out of buying anything there because we had no idea whether we would get a real piece of jade or not. 朵雲軒 seemed to be a government store and, according to the sales woman, the store only sells Class A Jade A級玉. i.e., jade without chemical treatment or artificial coloring. In addition, the store would provide a certificate if the jade piece is over a certain amount. We received a certificate for the bigger piece but the smaller piece wasn’t expensive enough to warrant a certificate. It was said among Chinese people that, no matter its size, jade 玉 over the years has been a symbol of avoidance of evil spirit. Well, it was very likely that we had paid too much for the two jade pieces. But if they could even bring an ounce of good luck to Maria and my daughter, it would be worth the extra money.

After we left朵雲軒, we decided to visit Pudong near the Eastern Pearl Tower (東方明珠 Dong Fang Ming Zhu) area. Taxi ride to Pudong was less than ¥ 20; less than $3 USD including tips. Of all the taxi rides we had so far, all taxi drivers were polite and some even liked to talk. None of them had shown any sign of displeasure when we told them the destination; even the ones that was close by. This was a great improvement compared to what I remembered when we came here 22 years ago. Back then, taxi drivers worked for the government and not for themselves. The attitude of a taxi driver, or for that matter any government worker, was: even if I didn’t work, I still got paid. I only worked eight hours a day then it was time to go home. If you wanted to go somewhere near by, you could walk. Only the places further away, like the airport, would be worth my time because I might get a bigger tip. If you had luggage, you needed to put them in the trunk because I wasn’t getting out of my seat. In fact, a taxi driver preferred you have no luggage so that he didn’t have to open the trunk door for you. Now that they worked for themselves, they were willing to work until late in the night or early in the morning. They had no choice because they had to make a certain amount to pay for the rental of the taxi. In addition, they were responsible for the gas and maintenance as well. When they got sick, not only it was a day without income but also a day to cough out the minimum amount to pay the taxi company. Many taxi drivers reminisced the good old days from 2003 to 2007 when Shanghai, for that matter, the entire Asia, was booming and flooded with money. The Shanghai Composite Index reached the all time high of 6000 in October 2007. The housing market was up 20 or 30% a year from the early 2000’s; some areas even saw 40 to 50% annual increase. Foreign capitals fought their ways into China to find government sponsors. All kinds of factories were running top speed cranking out stuff to satisfy the needs from foreign markets. People were more than willing to take taxi instead of bus. Tips were good and taxi business was great. Now the stock market index hovered around 2000; a drop of 75% from the high a mere 12 month ago. Housing market has been in recession from late last year. And factories were letting people go because of slow export business. Taxi drivers now had to work long hours; sometimes 10 hours or longer, for less income. They had to be courteous to their customers hoping for bigger tips. They were willing to take you anywhere even a short distance like from Huang Pu to Pudong. This was capitalism at its best albeit at a smaller scale and it looked like this trend could not be reversed at any time soon.

We got off at the 88-story Jin Mao Tower (金茂大廈 Jin Mao Da Xia,) the tallest building in China a little past 5 PM. The sky was getting dark and the office tower was about to close for business for the day. We walked into the building and saw many people headed home. Several security officers in dark blue uniforms were guarding the elevators and entrances. We got out of there and walked toward the Eastern Pearl Tower (東方明珠 Dong Fang Ming Zhu) which was about 10 minutes away. We didn’t want to visit the tower because we didn’t have too much time to fight the crowd. We instead found a big shopping mall just a stone throw away from the Eastern Pearl Tower called Super Brand Mall (正大廣場 Zheng Da Guan Chang.)

The Super Brand Mall (正大廣場 Zheng Da Guan Chang) is a first class mall. It has at least eight stories, three basement levels, 200+ stores, many chic and boutique shops with European and Japanese names, 40+ restaurants, a McDonald’s, a Burge King, a pizza Hut, a KFC, a Starbucks, a Hooter’s, an Apple store, a Toys R Us, and a full-size supermarket called Lotus in the basement. There may be a few more floors in the back of the mall. The design of the mall was functional with a huge 100′ tall open space near the entrance. We were impressed with the size and the layout of the mall and liked the cleanness of the shopping area. The majority of the shoppers were young students and the supermarket was filled with white-collar office workers on their way home.

We first checked out the supermarket in the basement. It is a full-size supermarket with sections of fresh produce, refrigerated products, meat, seafood, canned food, wine, drinks and pre-packaged food. It is brightly lit with many aisles of fully stocked shelves. It was a far cry from the open market we saw this morning in Yang Pu District楊浦區. We liked the supermarket but couldn’t buy anything this time. I am sure that we will be back sometime soon. The upper floors have many interesting stores and Maria was kind like a kid in a candy store. She couldn’t help but shopped around to satisfy her shopping impulse. I just stood outside of the shop watching shoppers passing by. I liked to watch their faces and observe their actions; whether they were talking to their friends, chatting on the cell phone, reading a magazine while walking, eating an ice cream, or carrying shopping bags on the way out. It was quite apparent that people were happy and enjoy the shopping atmosphere there. We then walked to the 5th floor where most of the restaurants are.

There were at least 30 restaurants on the 5th floor including Shanghai, Beijing, Cantonese, Yun Nan, Korean, Japanese, Italian, Ramen, McDonald’s, Malaysia, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, noodle, sushi, and BBQ. We picked Dong Bei Jia Ren (東北家人) which served North-Eastern Chinese food. We ordered a few side dishes, a couple of main dishes and two bottles of beer. The presentations weren’t fancy, the utensils were ordinary, the ingredients were fresh, the sizes were reasonable and the tastes were down to earth; nothing too impressive to write home about. One dish was kind special though: it came out on a shallow steel pan about 12″ OD. The julienne vegetables was first sautéed in a light brown sauce then topped with an egg crepe. The egg crepe was slightly browned, the vegetables were colorful and the sauce was light with little corn starch. It made a nice impression when a young couple next to our table ordered it. We decided to give it a try and were not disappointed.

dongbeijiaren_edited

After the dinner, we went to Lover’s Lane 愛人街 again which was only a 2-minute walk from the mall. The night sky was clear and the air was a bit nippy because I didn’t wear a jacket. We sat at a bench facing the Huang Pu River黃浦江 enjoying a quiet moment together. The coffee shop we went to last night and the bar next door weren’t busy at all probably because tonight was a Monday night. There were fewer couples strolling the river walk and we also didn’t see the young guy who was here last night playing guitar and signing American songs from the 1980’s. We sat there and talked about our trip so far and felt blessed for being able to visit so many places on this trip. We were fortunate to be able to leave our jobs for 17 days at a time and were physical fit to travel. The cost of the trip has put a dent to our savings but we both have a steady job and more importantly are able to make it back soon. I also thought about dragging Maria with me to Shanghai because I wanted to show her what Shanghai is like after two decades of economic growth. I hoped that our short stay here gave her a nice impression because I had planned to visit here again after retiring from our current jobs. We left the place around midnight and took a taxi to our hotel.

img_0872_edited

Tomorrow would be our last full day in Shanghai. We planned to check out some apartments in Shanghai early in the afternoon. For dinner, I have asked my brother and his friends to reserve a private dinning room for a banquet at a famous local restaurant. For tomorrow morning, we’d think of something after breakfast at hotel’s dinning room.

Letting Someone Go December 6, 2008

Posted by hslu in My Restaurant.
Tags:
add a comment

Last Friday, I had to let someone go at my restaurant. She has been working for us for 2 years and has been a hard worker. However she has a short temper frequently resulting in confrontation with customers and co-workers.

It is never easy to let someone go especially someone who had been with us for a while. However, something has to be done because our kitchen staff has informed me about her short comings. My manager and other co-workers has also raised the issue with me. I started to look for replacement and had placed a classified ad in the Chinese newspaper in North America. We got many phone calls, tried a couple of them and decided to give a woman from Shangdong, China a try . She was pretty good with customer and was able to take phone orders on the first day of work. Unfortunately she was forced out by this employee and decided not to work here any more. I then decided to let this employee go on the next day because she has been a distraction here.

I asked my manager to be with me when I informed her the bad news. I told her about my decision and gave her a chance to voice her side of the story. I gave her her salary, some money for the unpaid vacation, and something extra to easy the pain. I know it is tough out there. And many Chinese restaurants have seen their business down a lot from a year before. I guess the recession in the US has been officially gone on since December 2007. And that’s why we have seen so many people inquiring about our position here.

We now have to find a replacement for this full-time position. It is back to square one again. May use some part-timers to get by in the next few weeks until we have a good replacement later.

I asked my manager to be with me when I let her go because I knew he has been dragging his feet when I asked him to put out a new schedule reflecting the reduced time for this particular employee. He wasn’t able to make up his mind probably because he has been influenced by this employee too. I wanted him to be there in order to see what goes on during a situation like this. Hope he learned something from the way I handled the release.

Over the years, I had to let quite a few people go. None of them was easy. This time, I thought I gave her enough time to improve herself. But in the end, her hostile attitude towards the new hire was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I do not like our restaurant to be a place where open confrontation take places. I want our restaurant to be a place where my employees like to come to work. I like to hear them laugh and talking to each other like good friends. This will make time goes faster and work less stressful.

Well, in each of the incident, I also learned something. I wish her well.

4 Days in Shanghai 上海 – 2nd Day Sunday Oct 12, 2008 December 6, 2008

Posted by hslu in Food, Travel.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

4 Days in Shanghai – Oct 11 – 15, 2008 上海

2nd Day Sunday Oct 12, 2008 – Shanghai 上海

The Temple of the Town Gods 城隍庙 and Yuyuan Garden 豫园 were the first two places we visited in Shanghai. Maria had never been there before but I have been to Shanghai twice. I remembered the first time very well because it was the first time any of my family visited China after we left there 39 years ago. Back in 1986, I accompanied my mother to our home town in Guang Ji, Hubei province. My uncle was studying in Nanjing and he came to Shanghai to greet us. The first place he took us too was The Temple of the Town Gods 城隍庙and Yuyuan Garden 豫园. Back then China was still recovering from the turmoil of the Culture Revolution and the Gang of Four. The country was still a closed country under the control of the Community Party. Private business just started in very small scale in isolated local markets in some cities but vast majority of the businesses were still owned by the nation.

To eat at home or for that matter at any restaurant in China, we had to use Liang Piao 粮票 (Food stamps issued by the government) to buy food or a meal. My uncle had some with him and we had to wait in line to buy some food at a counter. I vividly remember that there were so many people there and, after we got our food (some 水煎包 – pan fried meat buns, rice and something xiao cai), we couldn’t find a table to sit down. We had to hold our plates and wait by the side of a table until the guests at that table finished their food. We then had to share our table with someone else and eat our meal while someone else was waiting for our table. After the meal, we toured the Bridge of Nine Turns and Yuyuan Garden 豫园. The entire visit gave me such a strong impression that I wanted to see that place again. The next time I went there with my parents and my brother in 2001 and the circumstances was totally changed; private enterprise, much better service at restaurants, no more waiting at for a seat and the food was a lot better. There were still many tourists there I enjoyed that visit as much as I did the first time. And I would like to visit that place again.

img_07871
We decided to walk to The Temple of the Town Gods 城隍庙 and Yuyuan Garden 豫园 in order to get some exercise. That turned out to be a mistake because it took longer than I originally thought. And time is something that we didn’t have too much of. Along the way, we saw a lot of constructions because Shanghai was getting ready for the World Affair Expo 2012. As we walked to the 城隍庙, we saw a small store with inkstones display. We looked at the selection of stones and talked to the owner about the price and time to hand-carve one of a pair of inkstones. The price was very reasonable as compared to what we can get from New York. We decided to make one for our son. We picked out a pair of reddish 壽山石with dragon and phoenix design at the top and Chinese inscriptions on the side of the stone. We chose 小篆 as the font and asked the owner to carve the one with the dragon design for Kevin. We’ll save the phoenix one for his future wife. He told us to come back in 20 minutes and he would have it ready for us.

The market place of the Temple of the Town Gods 城隍庙 and Yuyuan Garden 豫园 were as busy as I had remembered. And the still a fun place to visit because I actually didn’t mind the tourists at all. We first walked around the shops and looked at displays in those stores. There were many jewelry stores selling gold, jade and antiques. Other stores including tea shops, candy stores, restaurants, Chinese medicines, chopsticks, Chinese dresses, and local arts. We also looked at many restaurants there and decided to have 南翔小籠包 for lunch later.

The large lotus pond in the middle of the marketplace also caught my attention because of the statue in the pond. It reminded me of the statue in the Me Chou Hu in Nanjing 南京莫愁湖where my parents took me when I was about one year old. This is the kind of statue I want for my fish pond in the back of my house in Northern Virginia.

img_0790_edited1

Yuyuan Garden 豫园 was not far from the shopping area and we wanted to visit the garden before lunch. In Chinese, the word 豫 means happiness, satisfying and tranquility and 园 means garden. The classic garden was completed about 400 years ago in the Ming Dynasty. The garden has old trees, beautiful flowers, pavilions, halls, rockeries, pagodas, bridges, bronze statues and dragon sculptures. It would be a quiet and elegant place without the tourists. As we were walking in the garden, we saw many foreign tour groups including Japanese, Russian, Spain, and American groups with local tour guides. We also saw a group of about 20 young students following their instructor in the garden. Each of the students had a book in their hands and some were actually taking notes while the instructor was speaking. We asked the students about the book and they told us that they were actually taking classes to become tour guides. We asked them where we could get a copy of the book and we were told that the book was their text book and was not available in any book stores. The instructor was in his late 40’s or early 50’s and held a wooden stick for pointing out things for his students to see. We followed the group for about half an hour and never saw him using any notes at all. His voice was loud but clear. His memory was exceptionally good as he pointed out minute details of each point of interest to his students. He apparently knew the contents of the textbook by heart and told the students that many of his details were not included in the textbook.

img_0816_editedimg_0813_edited

According the instructor, the most famous rock in the Yuyuan Garden is the Exquisite Jade Rock 玉玲珑. The rock is about 10′ tall and has 72 holes. The rock is very precious because if you hold a burning incense stick just below the rock, smokes will magically coming out of every hole in the rock. Similarly, when you pour water into the rock from top, water will flow out of all the holes. The Opera Stage is important because it was used to present a Chinese opera to Mr. Nixon when Mr. Nixon visited China in 1972. A small pond about 15′ long and 4′ wide is called Nine Dragon Pond. It was said that there were imagines of nine dragons and only the smartest; such as Deng Xiao Ping, could recognize them all.

We also saw a group of six or seven foreign tourists who dressed up in traditional Qing Dynasty dresses in Yuyuan Garden 豫园. They apparently had a great time and were snapping pictures for each other. Other tourists were lining up to take pictures with them and Maria also posed with some of them. What was funny was one of the guys actually dressed up like a woman because the rental place had run out of male dress and he ended up with a female dress instead.

img_0826_editedimg_0829img_0830

We left 豫园 and headed back to the marketplace for lunch. Maria saw a kiosk where many people watched a young man creating hair styles with just a few pieces of small tools: bobby pins, bun holder, hair sticks and hair scrunches. He was quick and smooth; talking while working and creating a new hair style in less than 30 seconds. He and his two assistants were selling these tools for ¥49 RMB. Maria got in there and asked the young man to work on her hair. He repeated the process and finished the style a little longer than a minute because her hair was a bit too short. She ended up buying the set of four accessories just like many others did.

Our next stop was 南翔小籠包 restaurant in the heart of the marketplace. The restaurant was very busy and there was a line of 20 to 30 people waiting to buy 小籠包 at the take-out window downstairs. The take-out window was adjacent to the kitchen where it had almost 20 people making 小籠包.

img_0832_editedimg_0833img_0831

We saw a family of five eating 小籠包 off the Styrofoam box just off the take-out window. The young father and mother were feeding their small boy with 小籠包. The grandparents were eating by the side of the kid. We asked the young father whether the  小籠包 was any good. He said that he had waited for 20 minutes but the 小籠包 wasn’t that good. We were a bit disappointed by his comment but not discouraged because  南翔小籠包 is such a famous dish we had to try it in Shanghai. Before I came to 城隍庙, I have heard that their food is better upstairs because what they aimed for at the take-out counter is speed and volume, not the quality. That’s why we are going upstairs for lunch. We were led to a table by the window which had a very nice view of the lotus pond and the marketplace.

We chose the 套餐 Prix Fixe meal from the menu for ¥68 RMB which included 小籠包, a Tang Bao 湯包 (the big bun with a straw), a small dish of 雪菜, some Shanghai Dian Xin (fore ground,) smoked fish, and a bowl of soup (some meat in soybean wrap). Added the beer and a drink; the total came to less than $15 for the two of us.

The 小籠包 was very good with a lot of juice inside. The regular Shanghai residents usually will not come here for小籠包 but I thought they were good. The 湯包 had no meat but juice inside. We ate the skin anyway. The soup was light and flavorful and the soybean wrapper was soft and tender. 雪菜 and 燻魚 were both good, just the way I like them. The Shanghai Dian Xin 上海點心 were just okay though. Another bone to pick was that the beer and the drink weren’t cold enough. The meal was filling and satisfying and the view made it so much better.
We then walked to the store and picked up the inkstone. It came out quite nicely and we like them a lot. We then left the 城隍庙  market place and walked to the Bund.
The Bund, a stretch of Zhongshan Road 中山路 along the Huangpu River 黃浦江, has been the symbol of Shanghai for hundreds of years. Way back when I was a kid, we saw many movies made in Hong Kong and Taiwan depicting The Bund as a glamorous place with wealthy businessmen, politicians, movie stars, food, alcohol, gambling, and beautiful women. To a poor country boy like me, The Bund epitomized wealth and good life in China. We admired The Bund and dreamed of coming to here some time in the future.

I first visited The Bund in the winter of 1986 when I came to China with my mother to visit our home town in 瓦雀灣  near Guang Ji 廣濟 in the Hubei 湖北 Province. We flew into Shanghai and my uncle came from Nanjing to meet us. He took us to The Bund to see the majestic stone buildings and the Huangpu River. Back then, The Bund, for the most part, has lost its former glory under the control of the Communist Party. There were no skyscrapers except the stone buildings on the west side of the Huangpu River. On the other (East) side of The Huangpu River, there were small houses, apartment buildings and factories. There were many people but the place was dull and uninspiring. People dressed in Mao’s blue and grey suits and there were few smiles on people’s faces. I bought a stick of 冰糖葫蘆 on the river walk which cost a few US pennies. The river walk was on the other side of the Zhongshan Road which was a concrete levee about 40′ wide and 2000′ long. I got 冰糖葫蘆 from a guy who carried a 6′- long bamboo stick on his shoulder. On one end of the bamboo stick, there was a bundle of straws about 20″ long. On the straw bundle, there were many sticks of 冰糖葫蘆 for sale. Each stick of 冰糖葫蘆 had about six plums (each about 1″ round) covered with red-colored caramelized sugar. I bought the 冰糖葫蘆 because I remembered eating that when I was a little kid in Taiwan. It then gradually disappeared as Taiwan became better off before I came to the US in the early 1970’s. What was interesting was Maria also bought a  冰糖葫蘆 right before we left the 城隍庙  marketplace. Apparently she and I shared the same childhood memories and when she saw the 冰糖葫蘆, she couldn’t help but to buy one to satisfy her craving and fulfill her long lost memories.

img_08351

This time, walking along the river walk, we saw the astonishing progress of China in the past 20 years: the Oriental Pearl TV Tower 東方明珠, the 93-story Jin Mao Tower 金茂大厦 and many other skyscrapers in Pudong 浦東. The Bund has definitely regained its previous glory and became a vibrant financial center in Asia and in the world. We also saw many cargo and passenger ships on The Huangpu River. Tour boats also traveled along this busy stretch giving tourists a unique view of the Bund. I had planned to have dinner at one of the 5-start restaurants Laris at The Bund but had to change our plans because another friend of my brother had invited us to dinner. We then walked cross the busy Zhongshan Road 中山路 to The Bund, found Nanjing Road and then walked to our hotel. Along the way, we visited a few shops and Maria bought some scarf for ¥10 RMB each. We went back to hotel and I called my friend Mr. Henry Wang from Maryland. I told him that we like to visit him tomorrow. He asked me if I want to take a look of some apartments in Shanghai. I said yes. He said that we could go to his apartment in Yang Pu Qu 楊浦區 and he would arrange me to meet his agent. Henry and his siblings had bought an apartment about 5 years ago in Shanghai because they wanted to have an affordable place for his father to spend his golden years. His father was too old to live by himself and they didn’t have time to care for him on a full-time basis. Since the living standard in Shanghai is much cheaper than in the U.S., the siblings decided to buy an apartment in Shanghai and hire a full-time care-taker to care for him. Since he bought the apartment, he and his wife have been back to Shanghai many times. After Henry’s retirement about 2 years ago, he had spent 2 to 4 months each year in Shanghai. For the past 5 years, every time he stopped by my restaurant, he encouraged me do the same. I had always wanted to buy a place in Shanghai because it would be something to maintain a physical tie from China to my son, his children and the generations to come. Being born in the US, my son and the generations of Lu’s children to come may not have a strong emotional tie with my home country and their root, China. I hope this physical property in the best city in China can help to alleviate the emotional gap. We would see him tomorrow at 11:30 in the morning.

We then took a taxi to the restaurant. Unfortunately, I miss judged the distance to the restaurant and the time it took at the height of the afternoon traffic. We arrived at the Jesse Restaurant at least 15 minutes late. Here we met two of my brother’s friends who grew up in the same Juan Cun 眷村 as I and my brother did in 北屯 Bei Tun Taizhong 臺中, Taiwan. I vaguely remembered then when they were kids but I didn’t recognize them because we had not seen each other for at least 40 years.

The Jesse Restaurant is in Lu Wan District. It is a small but busy restaurant and has many franchised stores in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Beijing. The downstairs dinning room had about 8 tables while the smaller upstairs dinning room had at most 6 tables. Reservation is almost mandatory for this small restaurant and my brother’s friend had to ask for a special favor from his contact to get a table on such a short notice. I was told that many businessmen and women from Taiwan liked Jesse’s Shanghai Cai 上海菜 because they are prepared with the best and freshest ingredients available in the region and they don’t use heavy sauces to conceal the true flavor of the ingredients. Actually, Shanghai Cai上海菜 is a term used to broadly describe Shanghai dishes which incorporates many regional cooking styles in the surrounding areas of Shanghai including: Jiang Shu 江蘇,  Zhe Jiang 浙江, Wu Xi 無錫, and An Hui 安徽 etc. However, the really local flavor Shanghai Cai is called Ben Bang Cai 本幫菜 which Jesse is famous for. We had many dishes tonight and the ones that stood out were:  外婆红烧肉,  扣三丝,  水晶虾仁,  and 心太软. 心太软 Xin Tai Ruan literally means heart too soft. It is a specialty of Jesse which is sweet rice powder inside red dates. It was beautifully made and nicely done: red dates with white stuffing inside, not too sweet, soft and tender. My brother liked it a lot.

After dinner, my brother’s friend drove all of us in his Honda CRV to Pudong. We went to the stretch of concrete levee across the Huang Pu River from the Bund. The area is the new Lovers Lane. It has several restaurants, bars and coffee houses. We went to a coffee house where we had coffee, ice cream, cakes, tea, beer and some drinks. The scenery of the Bund in the evening was astounding. We sat there for an hour or so and enjoyed the view and atmosphere a lot. There were many young couples there; holding hands, whispering, talking and smiling to each other, kissing and caressing. Older couples took a leisure walk along the river walk enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and nice scenery. It was very romantic even for an old couple like us. I guessed when you are in love, every where can be a romantic place. We also saw 8 or 10 small hot air lanterns rising slowly in the dark sky from the southwest horizon in the distance. They rose to probably 1000′ and then gradually lost their brightness. There were many tours boats with bright neon lights moving back and forth on the river. In the darkness we also saw quite a few barges with their silhouette reflected from the moving water in the river.

It was a bit windy but not cold. We left the Lovers Lane probably around 11 in the evening.151

We then took taxi to our hotel, went to Nanjing Lu, walk up and down the Nanjing Lu 步行街 until way past midnight before went back to hotel and called it a night.

Menu for our Thanksgiving Dinner Party – 2008 December 2, 2008

Posted by hslu in Food.
Tags:
add a comment

As usual, the Thanksgiving dinner party was at my house.

For the last several years since I moved to Northern Virginia from Dallas, Thanksgiving has been the time for our big family to get together at my place. I planned the menu, bought the stuff, did the cooking and sometimes washed the dishes.

This year was no exception and here is the menu for this year’s party:

2008 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Amusée
1. Cheese Fondue w/Bread
2. Cheese Plate with smoked Salmon
3. Beef Jerky

Appetizer
1. Boiled Half Eggs with Bacon Bits
• Bacon bits, celery, orange zest, parsley and paprika
2. Seared Tuna
• Korean Seaweed, Pickled Cucumbers, Balsamic Vinaigrette
3. Escargot with Garlic Butter and Cognac
• Garlic, butter, salt, parsley, cognac
• Preheat oven to 450 oF, bake for 7 minutes
4. Crab Puff Pastry
• Lump crab meat, Garlic, onion, celery and Cream Cheese
• Bake for 7 to 10 minutes at 375 oF
5. Asparaguses (Cold)
6. 鹵菜 – 豬耳朵, 鴨掌, 豆腐乾, 雞胗
7. 小魚花生, 燻魚,
8. 涼拌小黃瓜, 涼拌黃荳芽, 涼拌海帶

Entrée
1. Roasted Ham w/ Pineapples and Brown Sugar Glaze
2. 紅燒海參 (Roast pork, Chinese Mushroom, Bamboo Shoots)
3. Pan-seared Chicken with Chinese Pickles
4. Shanghai Cabbage
5. 苦瓜炒鹹蛋

Soup
1. Pork Bone Soup
2. 蟹肉玉米湯

Rice and Noodles
1. Brown Rice
2. Vegetarian Noodles – Red Onions, Celery, Cold
3. 心太軟
4. 八寶飯

Desserts
1. Mango Mousse

Fruit
1. Pears, Grapes, Oranges, Strawberry, Raspberry

it was a smaller party because quite a few people weren’t able to come. We also had a home-made pumpkin pie with ice cream which was made by July and Chih-Wei. My brother bought some tapioca and my daughter made beef jerky. I made a 10-lb ham bought from the Honey Baked Ham store across from street from my restaurant. it turned out very good. I didn”t do the turkey because we already had too much food.

A few dishes didn;t come out to my sanctification but some was good:

1. Seared tuna was over-cooked (1st time for me),

2. Crab Puff Pastry didn’t come out right. The puff was too big and the crab meat filling (lumped) was a bit bland and under-baked.

3. 海參 was a bit chewy probably because it wasn’t properly prepared before the cooking process.

4. I am not sure how 苦瓜炒鹹蛋 came out because i didn’t try it.

5. The Pork Bone Soup was good but not as good as the ramen soup I has in Tokyo.

6. I forgot to take out the Vegetarian Noodles from the fridge.

7. 心太軟 wasn’t very good. The Chinese dates came out too darkin color and some sweet rice inside the dates was under-cooked. I steamed it first in electric rice cooker ( 2 times of 40 minutes each) and then in a steamer for 1 hour. I think I should have cooked the sweet rice first before stuffing it inside the dates. I copied the dish I had tried in Shanghai in late october, 2008. I’ll try to duplicate that dish next time.

8. 八寶飯 was good. Jingjing helped me made that. it turned out very tasty just the way it should be.

9. We skipped the mango mousse cake because we had pumpkin pie and ice cream for dessert.

10. Beef jerky was very tasty and a lot of people liked it a lot. It did take a long time to cook though.

That’s it for this year. I’ll try something different next year.

%d bloggers like this: