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Lunch buffet – The Grill Room at Worldgate Marriott Herndon January 18, 2012

Posted by hslu in Food, Restaurants.
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We had intended to try the Japanese restaurant at Herndon Worldgate Center on a Thursday in October 2011 when we saw the “all you can eat buffet” sign at Marriott’s The Grill Room.

Hmm, when did Worldgate Marriott started lunch buffet here? Was it the competition from the Indian buffet or the Chinese buffet in the same shopping center? Or was it from the deep competition from the 15 or 16 restaurants here: TGI Friday, American café, Subway and Qdabo Mexican Grill among others? To attract potential customers into it door, the sign even showed the price: $9.95.

It was a good price for sure, but what about the quality? We had to give it a try. The dining room was very well appointed: clean and quiet, hard wood panel, huge ceiling to floor window for a mice view, dark-colored tables and chairs, clean silverware and nice set up for the salad table and warm food station. There was even a table full of desserts.

Not bad. Not bad at all. The staff was very helpful and when we asked for a dessert that had ran out, the waiter gladly took out some more from the cooler in the kitchen.

We had a great time and we certainly enjoyed the food too. The price was wonderful for the quantity and quality of the food.

Our experience convinced us to give it another try in a future date.

You should too.

Look how much wine I got for $8.

Such a great vale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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北京小館, San Francisco January 17, 2012

Posted by hslu in Chinese, Chinese Food, Restaurants, Travel.
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Yelp led us to this small restaurant in San Francisco not far from the SF Airport

It looked better than tasted

Look, where is Yao Ming?

The restaurant isn’t too bad. Worth going back to.

Street Scenes in Shanghai January 17, 2012

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Just a few interesting scenes in Shanghai

A man was making 油條 "you2 tiao2" the old fashion way

 

燒餅 has been done in a drum oven for hundreds of years in China

A narrow alley way doubles as living space for many houses here.

The guy on the left has a bicycle repair stand at an intersection in Shanghai. The woman had bicycle trouble and the guy on the right is lends a helping hand.

 

Make up while waiting for bus to come

A familiar scene in a Cantonese restaurant in Shanghai

Best in Shanghai dim sumA dog inside of a jewery store

A huge sax inside the Shanghai Paramount Theater

Job posting at the famous Paramount Theater

 

 

A plaque in front of the Paramount Theater (now a Dance Hall) indicating that this is a heritage building

 

 

The host of a street show organized by 靜安區 "Jing4 an1 qv1" or Jingan District.

 

 

城隍廟 in the dark January 17, 2012

Posted by hslu in China, Chinese, Chinese Food, Restaurants, Shanghai, Travel.
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城隍廟 in the dark

Two days after we have arrived at Shanghai, we woke up at 12:30 am and couldn’t go back to sleep.  Instead of staying inside the cramped hotel room with a 32” flat panel on the wall, we decided to go out and get something to eat. The hotel staff suggested a 24-hour restaurant but the food there was so bad that it wasn’t even worth writing about.

Even though it was about 2:30 in the morning we couldn’t sleep because of jetlag, we decided to tour the city after in the dark. Since 城隍廟 was only 15 minutes away according to a sign posted in the lobby of the hotel, we walked south along 四川中路 and explored the city under dim street lights.

Along the way, we walked by a night club called M1NT,a 包子店 just opened for the day and an empty and almost eerie 豫園。On the way back to the hotel before dawn, we also stopped by a 24-hour McDonald’s to get some breakfast too,

When we were about 2 to 3 blocks away from 城隍廟, we saw 10 to 15 taxis lining up around a street corner waiting for the last chance to get a fare before the end of their night shift. But why here? There was nothing here except closed shops. Well, about a ½ block away there was a high-rise hotel with a bar called M1NT and the taxis were waiting for M1NT to close for the day. Based on the p[eop-le walking out of the bar, M1NT was frequented by mostly male foreigners with their young and flashy female companions. These young girls dressed in eye-catching tops, ultra short skirts, dangling earrings, name brand “fake?” bags and 3″ high heels. A mobile food stand was making good business selling street food to these half-drunk guys who probably didn’t know what they were eating at about 3 in the morning.

In front of M1NT at 3:30 AM

Many of the guys were rowdy and drunk but they certainly didn’t forget to flirt with their female companions or a few other women who were standing by trying to make a few more bucks before calling it a day or night. I hues the oldest business in the world never dies.

Across from M1NT, two young men in their late 20’s or early 30’s had already started working at a 包子店 preparing the dough for 包子 and 饅頭. They won’t start selling their first 包子 for at least an hour and a half from now but they had to get the dough started before 4:00 in the morning. The young and handsome guys told us that their first customer usually came as early as 5:30 am and they usually close in mid-afternoon after all the 包子 were sold out. I wished them well and hoped them doing great business for the days to come.


When tourists ask for direction to 城隍廟 in Shanghai, they are actually asking for direction to 豫園商區 near 城隍廟. 城隍廟 “cheng2 huang2 miao4” is a Taoist temple a block or two from 豫園 “yu2 yuan2,”a famous traditional Chinese rock and water garden. 豫園商區 “yu2 yuan2 shang1 qv1” is a business district encompasses several blocks around 豫園 about a mile south of The Bund and 南京路步行街. When we got there, 豫園商區 had long been closed. The lights were off and all stores were closed. The never-ending crowd during the day was finally gone and the over-worked and under-paid workers could finally go home and rest their tired feet.

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The doors of the famous 南翔小龍包 “nan2 xiang2 xiao3 long2 bao1” were closed。Even though the kitchen lights were dark and the team of robo-小籠包-makers had long gone, I could still image them tirelessly making thousands of 小籠包 one after another to satisfy the appetites of an endless line of hungry tourists from all over China.


九曲橋 “jiu3 qv1 qiao2,” or a bridge with nine turns, had no other pedestrians expect us walking under dimmed lights from buildings nearby. The bridge was made with white marble pave stones with beautiful designs which were hidden from view when the bridge was occupied by hundreds of tourists.

Some of the stones have various floral designs with following inscriptions for each month of the year:

一月 水仙 “yi1 yue4 shui3 xian1”– January Lily
二月 杏花 “er4 yue4 xing4 hua1”– February Apricot
三月 桃花 “san1 yue4 tao2 hua1”– March Peach blossom

四月 杜鵑 “si4 yue4 du4 guan1”- April Azalea
五月 牡丹 “wu3 yue4 mu3 dan1” – May Peony
六月梔子 “liu4 yue4 zhi4 zi3”- June Gardenia

七月荷花 “qi1 yue4 he2 hua1”- July Lotus
八月 桂花 “ba1 yue4 gui4 hua1”– August Osmanthus
九月 菊花 “jiu3 yue4 jv2 hua1”- September Chrysanthemum

十月 芙蓉 “shi2 yue4 fu2 rong2”- October Hibiscus
十一月 茶花 “shi2 yi1 yue3 cha2 hua1”– November Camellia
十二月 蠟梅 “shi2 er4 yue4 la4 mei2”– December Wintersweet Flower or Chimonanthus praecox

On the way back to our hotel, the McDonald’s on a side street of the 南京路步行街 was still open for business. We stopped by to get some pancakes and Egg Mac Muffin but they didn’t serve pancakes and their Egg Mac Muffin just tasted different. They didn’t have orange juice either. In a corner of the store, there were about 10 middle school boys and girls in three or four clusters crushing on chairs and tables. I wondered why McDonald’s management allowed this to happen at this store. Were there other kids spending their time at other McDonald’s in Shanghai at this time? If these kids didn’t sleep here, where did they go instead? How come they weren’t at home? Did their parents know where their kids were?Weren’t their parents worried?It seemed to me that this was a problem that begs society’s and McDonald’s attention.

We also walked around The Bund to see what the place was like without tourists and dazzling lights.

A very lonely policeman guarding the bull at The Bund

The Bund at 4 AM

Pudong at 4 AM

By now we’ve been out for about 5 hours and it’s time for a nap before our day got started.

鬥牛士牛肉麵 January 17, 2012

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鬥牛士牛肉麵

While doing business near the Big Thumb Square or 大拇指廣場 in Pudong, we got to try beef noodle soup at 鬥牛士牛肉麵 “dou4 niu2 shi4 niu2 rou4 mian4”or bull fighter beef noodle in beef broth. What got our attention was the name of the restaurant: 臺灣鬥牛士牛肉麵 implying that it came from Taiwan. We wanted to compare its beef noodle with many varieties we have tried in Taiwan, US and China.

The restaurant was small with no more than 40 seats; about 10 sets of wooden tables and benches. The place was clean and the staff of several young girls and boys (in their early 20’s) was efficient and friendly. An open kitchen was located in the back against the back wall. We could see the kitchen staff working through glass panels. There were two or three people working when we were there. They didn’t look like chef to me because they were too young. I guessed the beef broth was done off site probably at a central location. All the kitchen helper needed to do was to cook the noodle and add beef broth according to customers’ order.

We ordered a small bowl of their 招牌牛肉麵 (house special beef noodle,) 滷肉飯 (rice topped with ground pork) and a small dish of 涼拌干絲 “lian2 ban4 gan1 si1” or shredded dried bean curd with celery; all common dishes that we have tried many times. The bill came to RMB 58 or about $9.50.

Well, the beef noodle was very good except the noodle could be a little better: the broth wasn’t too spicy nor was it too hot from the hot pepper oil floating on top of the broth. There was a good amount of soy bean paste in the broth but the taste wasn’t overwhelming. The six to eight bite-size pieces of tenderloin beef was very tender yet still chewy. It wasn’t over-cooked like what we usually get from many restaurants in the DC metro area: these restaurants probably left the beef simmering in the pot a little too long. I actually liked to know how they did it. As good as the beef and broth were, the noodle could be a little better because it was slightly over-cooked and wasn’t Q enough. I thought the protein content of the flour was low and the restaurant probably ordered their noodles from a supplier instead of did it in house. I called this 美中不足 “mei3 zhong1 bu1 zu2,” or a fly in the ointment if you will, too bad.

滷肉飯 was okay and it was nothing special to write home to. 涼拌干絲 was bland and 干絲 was a little tough.

All in all, even though RMB 32 for a small bowl of beef noodle was a little more than I could get from other comparable restaurants in the same general area, I don’t mind go back to 鬥牛士牛肉麵 and try other dishes on their menu.

The restaurant does offer various types of beef and two or three types of beef broth. I might want to order a large bowl next time too.

Shanghai Manhattan Bund Business Hotel (上海曼哈顿外滩商务酒店) January 13, 2012

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上海曼哈顿外滩商务酒店

On our way from Shanghai PVG to our hotel in Puxi in early November 2011, I was able to give out tips to a few foreign fellow travelers on how to ride 地铁 to get around 上海as if I know my ways around here. I was very happy that I could offer some help though. Well, I better be because I have been here close to ten times since December 1985.

The hotel was Manhattan Bund Business Hotel (上海 曼哈顿 (外滩) 商务 酒店) which is only one block from The Bund and 5 minutes from 南京路步行街. It is behind the famous Fairmont Peace Hotel on The Bund. Our room was very small which was barely large enough for a bed, a bath room, a small desk and enough space on the floor for our luggage. But it was clean and everything worked just fine. Wireless internet was available in the room and in the lobby. It has a small café serving coffee and some light snack. The front desk staff and bell captain were both very friendly and the room only cost ~$45 a day. A great value for the location!
We walked around 南京路步行街 and found new stores opening up even in such a high-traffic, extremely busy tourist spot. I was surprised at the invincible force of capitalism in a communist country. A place called 大娘水餃 “da4 niang2 shui3 jiao3” or “Auntie Dumplings,” which I like to try but haven’t had the chance to, had apparently closed its door. Another cluster of small stores had changed to a brand new huge Apple store.

Another area at the intersection of 河南中路 and 南京東路 has changed to a new department store called Henderson Metropolitan. It appeared that it was aimed at higher income clients because we only saw named brand and high class stores in there. There were a few restaurants on the fifth and sixth floors and they had only opened for six days. We checked out the menu at one restaurant and saw their prices comparable to those at expensive restaurants in the US, too expensive for locals and probably 98% of the tourists at 南京東路步行街. We’ll see how long they can last.

As we walked away from the restaurant, a mid-aged woman said to us:

“不要在這裡吃。他們的菜貴的不得了。你想想,他們的租金多貴呀,當然要賺你一票的了。"

In essence, she said that due to high rental rates here, the restaurants had to charge you an arm and a leg to survive here.

我接着说:"他们确实贵的离谱。

I nodded my head in total agreement and said "Where would you go for authentic Shanghai cuisine around here?”
She said: “我在這兒打工的。他們的菜又貴又不好吃。下面的餐館比這家要便宜多了。山西路那邊也有好多家也蠻道地的。"

It turned out that she worked at that restaurant and were equally amazed at the extremely high prices. She told us to check out restaurants along 山西路 or Shanxi Road just a few blocks away.

I asked for a name but she couldn’t remember. We duly heed her advice and walked out of the shopping center with her.

Sure enough, 山西路 has eight or ten restaurants and many of them were still opened for business. We had 小籠包, 餛飩 and 青菜。 Sure enough, the price was very reasonable and it cost us no more than 50 RMB or $7.50 US, for the whole meal。

The Manhattan Bund Business Hotel was an ideal location because it has many shops, restaurants and fruit stands within a few blocks of the hotel.

We could recharge our sim card for my cell phone at a cigarette store. We could get 素菜包子 “su4 cai4 bao1 zi3” or vegetarian buns at US $0.20 each. If we wanted pastry and coffee, an 85oC store is right next to the 賣包子的 “mai4 bao1 zi3 de1”  or the bun shop. But we’d be paying US $1.20 to US $3.00 for a pastry and another US $1.50 for a cup of coffee. A busy but clean restaurant offered 稀飯 “xi1 fan4,” fresh 油條 “you2 tiao2,” 燒餅 “shao1 bing3,” 甜豆漿 “tian2 dou4 jiang1” or sweet soy milk, 餛飩湯 “hun2 dun2 tang1 or wonton soup and 飯團 “fan4 tuan2” or rice ball for less than US $2.50. Apple store was only 5 minutes away. Countless stores offered cloth, pants, coats, fake silk scarf, shoes at bargain basement prices.  High price shops such as Coach and Armani are but a few blocks down the street.

I ahven't seen a stone mill for a long time. We used to have one at home 40 years ago. We used it to grind soy bean to make doujianf. We used it to grind sweet rice to make nian gao. Most of the time, it was my job. Seeing that bought back memories from the old time in Taizhong, Taiwan.

They are about US $0.25 each.

Seeing this sign "十里洋场" made me think about "纸醉金"迷 and the glamorous old Shanghai of the 1930's and 1940's. I wasn't sure how good their food was though..

A worker unloaded 3 bags of rice at the same time at this clean restaurant serving very affordable breakfast. I am guessing that each bag of rice is 50 KG or 80 lbs.

Making 油条 and 烧饼 the old way.

The Bund and the Huangpu River were only a block away. We got to see The Bund at 2 in the morning, 5:30 AM or at 10:30 PM if we chose to. Many people flied kites starting from as early as 4:30 AM. Their kites were equipped with lights so that we could see blinking lights as high as 500’. By dawn, they would take down their night kites and replaced with a kite for day time. In the evening, tourist boats traveled up and down the Huangpu River. At 2 in the morning, there were only barges and ships big and small coming and going quietly.

 

 

We also got to see 南京東路步行街 after midnight. A crowded promenade gave way to a quiet street with only a few tourists who were just coming out of bars nearby. People getting off from their evening shift were finding their ways to go home. A team of at least 20 workers cleaned the street using big hoses such as the ones used by fire fighters. They told us that they’d do this every night. No wonder the place looked clean even with thousands of tourists from China and foreign countries.

Workers clean 南京路步行街 after midnight

 

Workers clean 南京路步行街 after midnight

 

Workers clean 南京路步行街 after midnight

 

An ad company changed an ad which was at least 60’ by 80’ in dimension.  They could do it within an hour with a team of three workers and a team captain. The guy told me that they do this all the time and their business was very profitable because so many business wanted to have visibility here.

The Old

The new.

 

All in all, we liked the hotel even though it was a bit small. I was told that we got a very good deal from either Agoda or Expedia because people who came in without a reservation would have to pay the list price at about US $80 or so for a day. However, I suspect that they would get a bigger room though.

International Space Station January 5, 2012

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When you make less than you’ve been spending over the years, you can run up a huge bill on your credit cards, get loans from your local bankers, or cut back on spending.

The United States has been spending way beyond its means for the past several years. It has been doing all it can to borrow from whoever was willing to lend except cutting back on what needs to be cut the most: entitlements and welfare benefits.

But, to give credit where credit is due, we have to point out that the US has cut back on some programs such as NASA’s manned Space program about 18 months ago.

As you are aware, NASA’s mission under Obama has been changed from “Manned Expedition of Space” to, among others, “reach out to the Muslim world,” because it will help Islamic nations “feel good” about their scientific accomplishments. As you can image, reaching out to Arab nations won’t cost that much money because NASA will be able to afford a few meals of kabob with rice and bread. Furthermore, sending people to the space accomplished little except boasted the ego of the United States plus the prestige that came with it.

In case you are wondering, the unspoken reason for trashing NASA was “The United States is broke.” Besides, the US can hire Russians to do the dirty work, such as shuttling people back and forth from the International Space Station (ISS,) much cheaper too.

Well, there is a small problem though: the Russians aren’t that reliable when it comes to sending stuff into the space.

Over the last year, the Russians had several accidents with their space program and they lost five satellites, a mini-orbiter for Mars   from China before Thanksgiving and a cargo ship to ISS before Christmas.

It appears to me that the US space program is dying and the Space Station may be in danger of running out of supplies.

If Russia continues to have problem with their Soyuz rockets, China may be able to offer some assistance in the not too distant future because China has been testing their version of a Space Station over the past couple of years. Some progress has been made recently and a new, more ambitious space program has been plotted to 2016 even though China is far behind the US and Russia in space technology.

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/story/2011-12-29/china-space-plans/52263672/1

In the mean time, the International Space Station has to do with whatever it has until Russia sends out another cargo ship. Well, just pee into the space for now.

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