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Huang Shan; 黄山游记 – Part II 黄山日出 November 27, 2013

Posted by hslu in China, Travel.
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We woke up at 4:30 and left the hotel at 5 AM. It was pretty cold and we had to use the heavy coat provided by the hotel to keep us warm. The climb was much harder and steeper than we had anticipated and there were a lot of people who had already got up there. My wife couldn’t catch up with me and I had to leave her behind because there wasn’t too much time left before sunrise. We should have left the hotel at least 15 minutes earlier. I made it to the top and there were at least 100 people there already. My wife made it to the middle of the ridge and was albe to get a peek of the sunrise too.

Here are the pictures of Huang Shan Sunrise; 黄山日出. There was no cloud in the sky and the sunrise was breath taking. We were actually the lucky ones because more than half of the tour groups didn’t get to watch sunrise because of clouds in the sky.

T -15:07 to sunrise

T -15:07 to sunrise

T -10:12 to Sunrise

T -10:12 to Sunrise

T - 7:36 to sunrise

T – 7:36 to sunrise

T - 6:19 to sunrise

T – 6:19 to sunrise

T - 3:54

T – 3:54 to sunrise

T -1:54 to sunrise

T -1:54 to sunrise

T -0:00 sunrise

T -0:00 sunrise

T +0:46 from sunrise

T +0:46 from sunrise

T +1:26 from sunrise

T +1:26 from sunrise

T +1:57 from sunrise

T +1:57 from sunrise

T +2:47 from sunrise
T +2:47 from sunrise

T +3:07 from sunrise

T +3:07 from sunrise

川沙的长沙臭豆腐 November 27, 2013

Posted by hslu in China, Chinese Food, Travel.
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川沙 is a bustling blue collar community midway between Pudong International Airport and 张江高科工业园区 on Shanghai Metro Line 2.  The new Shanghai Disney Resort which will open its door in 2015 is not far from 川沙. Many people who lived in 川沙 came from poor villages as far away as Sichuan Province who, along with less educated young men and women from neighboring provinces, took up the roles of cheap labors for the city of Shanghai.

We had visited this place twice and found many bargains not far from the subway station: shoes, clothes, belts, socks, pants and sneakers.

We also liked to explore its wide selections of street food and found this very interesting:

长沙一绝 罗家臭豆腐

The deep-fired stinky dou fu was quite unique because they were crispy on the outside and very soft and juicy on the inside. And they sure packed a pungent smell that’s undeniably stinky. Its sauce was very spicy, tongue numbing with a hint of of sugar. Above all, they came in black in color. You might want to call them “stinky dou fu in black.”

Stinky Dou Fu made by the Luo Family from city of Zhang Sha in Hunan Province China.

Stinky Dou Fu made by the Luo Family from city of Zhang Sha in Hunan Province China.

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The original owner was interviewed by Hunan television station。

The original owner was interviewed by Hunan TV station, china‘s government TV station and various newspapers。

About 85 cents for five pieces.

About 85 cents for five pieces.

 

The owner claimed on national TV that the family prepared its recipe according to what China’s Chairman Mao liked when he was alive.

One thing I could attest to was that they didn’t hide the stinky smell because I could smell stinky dou fu’s pungency even though I couldn’t see the roadside stall around the corner.

Uniquely Hunan and worth trying.

Huang Shan; 黄山游记 – Part I November 26, 2013

Posted by hslu in China, Travel.
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When I signed us up for a three-day tour of Huang Shan; 黄山, in the Anhui Province (安徽省,) I had no idea what I got us into.

Huang Shan; 黄山, literally “Yellow Mountain,”  got its name in the Tang Dynasty not because yellow is its predominant color but because, according to ancient books and Chinese historians, one of China‘s three legendary Sovereigns; Huang Di黃帝 (reigned from 2698 to 2598 BC,) has meditated here. It was said that he later changed into a deity and ascended to heaven. One of Tang’s emperors, 唐玄宗, being a dedicated follower of Taoism, changed the name of the mountain to 黄山.

We wanted to visit Huang Shan because we haven’t been there before and it is not too far from Shanghai. Besides, we wanted to see Huang Shan’s picturesque scenery, legendary pine trees, striking rocks, beautiful sunrise and mysterious sea of clouds with our own eyes. We wanted to see why Huang Shan has been named “The most rugged mountain in the world “天下第一奇山”.

Now, let’s get back to the topic on hand.

We had walked passed by this small travel agent located at an exit of  People’s Square subway station a block west of 南京路步行街 in Puxi, Shanghai many times. The signs out front showed many tour packages to famous tourist destinations in China. They looked interesting and they were super cheap too.

For various reasons we didn’t sign up for a tour until a day before we flew to Taiwan in early September, 2013. We had to decide a few things on the spot: the date tour starts; the price level and the duration of the tour. It turned out that every decision we made was critical and everything worked out well in the end.

The date of our tour: we had three days to choose from: Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Tuesday was kind of rush because we were scheduled to fly back to Shanghai from Taiwan on Monday. Wednesday would be ideal. Thursday was kind of late since we’d fly back to the US early next week. I decided on Tuesday anyway because I wanted to get this over with sooner rather than later.

The price level: there were three price levels to choose from: ¥668 (标准等,) ¥1048 (豪华等) and¥1168 (贵宾等.) We picked $1168 without checking the details of the offering.

The duration of the tour: we could choose to come back on the same day, stay for one night in the city or stay for two nights in the mountain. Well, this was an easy one: two nights in the mountain because it would give us more time to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Well, Tuesday turned out to be the ideal day to go because had we chosen the Wednesday or Thursday departure, we would compete with thousands and thousands of tourists on Friday and Saturday because Friday was a holiday: the Mid-Autumn Festival; 中秋节。Sure enough, we saw first hand on Friday that Huang Shan was invaded by thousands of tourists started as early as eight o’clock in the morning. I could not image how we could navigate the narrow walkways and thousands of stairs in Huang Shan if we had to walk with so many tourists around us. This was called “误打误撞” and I was relieved Friday when we started our three and half hour descend in the morning.

Well, as the saying goes that the devil is in the detail even though I went through the descriptions of the tour package carefully.

When I sighed up for the most expensive package, I thought we would get a bigger or a fancier room or something like that. What I didn’t know was that the least expensive package required us to spend our nights with strangers in a room big enough to sleep eight people of the same sex. Bathroom and shower were provided but they were down the hall and we had to share with the others too. No toiletries were provided. We had to bring our own towels, soap, shampoo and slippers. The ¥1095 package got us in separate rooms but they were smaller in size; four or six to a room, and they had bathroom and shower inside. Towels and soap were on us too.  For us, we got our own room and everything was provided just like any other hotels we’d been to in China. We even got a heavy jacket in case morning got too cold. However, the rooms were old and it showed.

The duration of the tour: We chose the three day (2 nights up in the mountain) tour without giving it any more thoughts. More time in the mountain would give us more time to enjoy our stay, right?

Wrong!

Our tour package required us to walk from the back of the mountain to the front of the mountain. No other person would help us with our luggage. What we bought with us we had to carry it all the way by ourselves. Our tour guide told us in the bus on the way to Huang Shan that if we couldn’t make it to the next hotel, we would have no place to stay for the night and we would have no place to eat either. We simply didn’t know what we got us into over those three days.

It was the most demanding three days we had ever gone through in a very long, long time.

Let's go! I am ready. What are you waiting for? This was the begging of the tour. Just got off from the cable car in the middle of the mountain. The little girl in the background was in our tour group.

Let’s go! I am ready. What are you waiting for? This was the begging of the tour and 好戏还在后面呢!Don’t smile too early . Just got off from the cable car in the middle of the mountain. The little girl in the background was in our tour group.

These are locks which couples bought to symbolize keeping their love for each other locked forever.

These are locks which couples bought to symbolize keeping their love for each other locked forever.
This was the hotel we stayed at the first night. On the day we went there, China's former Communist Party chairman, Hu Jintao, was here for a couple of hours. Mr. Hu is 安徽人。He didn't stay for lunch though. When we got there in late afternoon, we still saw guards everywhere.

This was the hotel we stayed at the first night. On the day we went there, China’s former Communist Party chairman, Hu Jintao, was here for a couple of hours. Mr. Hu is 安徽人。He didn’t stay for lunch though. When we got there in late afternoon, we still saw guards everywhere.

 

 

This part of the hotel was new. It's much nicer than where we got to stay.

This part of the hotel was new. It’s much nicer than where we got to stay.

 

 

We stayed here for the night. It is the older section of the hotel which was built decades ago.

We stayed here for the night. It is the older section of the hotel which was built decades ago.

Over those three days, we walked thousands of stairs up and down the mountain; many o f them on a steep slope that required us to hold on to rails when there was one. At times, we may have to use our hands to climb up the slope because it was so tiring to bring our own weight and a backpack on our backs. I also carried our laptop which added 12 more pounds. Any missteps may end up in the valley thousands of feet below and we certainly didn’t want that. We had never walked for so long in any day of our lives and we were so tired at the end of the day all we could do was getting a shower, rushed to the dining room, got something to eat and went to bed. In fact, we had to arrive at our hotel before sun went down in late afternoon. Once sun set after five thirty or so, we wouldn’t able to see our way in the mountain because there was no light at all.

It was that grueling! But, we proudly declared that we walked from the back of the Huang Shan to the front and we did it with flying colors too. We were what you called “老当益壮.”

On the day of our tour, we had to get up around 4:30 in the morning so that we could catch the first subway to Puxi at 5:30. After we got out of the Exit 2 of the 人民广场 subway station, it would take another 10 minutes to walk to where the bus was. The owner warned us that the bus would leave for Huang Shan at 6:30 AM if we didn’t show up on time. Well, we got there with five minutes to spare but the bus didn’t leave until 6:40 AM.

When our bus started in Shanghai, we had two tour guides because there were two groups of about 15 each: one would stayed for one night in the mountain and our group had the three day package.

Our tour guide told us that there were only a few hotels in the mountain and everything we consumed there; vegetables, meat, fish, water and drinks had to be bought over to the mountain by someone and all the waste had to be carried down by someone. Since meals were not included with the tour package, we could go with the meals package arranged by the tour company at ¥330 per person or we could take care of that on our own, But remember, he reminded us that everything in the mountain was much more expensive because things had to be carried up by someone physically. We chose the meal package and we had no complaint at what we have been given: fresh vegetables and less meat which suit us just fine.
Our tour group consisted of several smaller groups:
There was a mother with her son and his wife. The mother was in her late 40’s and she liked to poise for pictures and she was not afraid of height. Her son was in his early 30’s and he worked for Eastern Airline. He carried a nice SLR camera and liked to take pictures.
A Cantonese guy in his late 40’s was working for a mid-size company in Puxi as a comptroller, He was transferred by his company to Shanghai from Hong Kong and had been there for a little more than 6 months. He was looking for a permanent position at a different company in Shanghai because he liked the city and the new offer looked enticing. His wife was still in Hong Kong though. He was to leave the tour after we got down from the mountain because he was to meet with his wife in Hangzhou on 中秋节。They would travel together to the city of 盐官镇 to watch “钱塘潮“ the next day. it was said that the best time to watch 钱塘潮 was a day or two after 中秋节; August 15 of every year on the Chinese calendar.
A guy who was in his late 30’s worked for Fudan University. He had his young wife, his mother-in-law who looked like in her late 50’s. They also had their five year old daughter too.
A guy in his early 60’s who worked in the area of environmental science for at least 30 years. He had three of his “students” with him. They were all in their early 30’s: a young guy who could eat and two women who usual skipped breakfast because they were careful about their weight. All three were all hired by him and had been working with him for the past several years. he had retired from his position but continued to work as a consultant to the city of Shanghai.
Then there were two of us. It looked to me that we faced serious competition to walk from one end of the mountain to the other because every one of them was in better physical shape than us except the little girl who needed some help from time to time. Even the older woman, the mother-in-law, although looked older for her age, had no problem keeping up with our pace in the beginning. They ended up taking at least two more hours then everyone else to reach to the hotel in the evening. But they made it through even the young father hurt his left leg early.
Our tour guide was a handsome young guy who was in his late 20’s. He lived in the city of Huang Shan and had worked for the tour company for two years now. He traveled back and forth to Shanghai leading tour groups like our every week of the year. He knew many girls who worked at the hotels we stayed at and came to Huang Shan about twice, sometimes three times, every week. At times when he had to lead a tour group out of Shanghai in the morning, he’d sleep at the dorm provided by the company in Shanghai the night before. He’d then stay a night in his home with his Mom and Dad in an. I asked him if he was married or had someone in mind. He said that he was still too young to think about marriage. Besides, he said he was too busy to “泡妞” now. He wanted to work hard for a few more years to save some money so that one day he’d be able to buy a house in Huang Shan however, his Mom and his grandparents kept bugging him  to get married soon.
Huge dining hall at the hotel which was big enough to have three to four hundred guests at the same time. We had dinner here and breakfast the second day after witnessed sunrise.

Huge dining hall at the hotel which was big enough to have three to four hundred guests at the same time. We had dinner here and breakfast the second day after witnessed sunrise.

Of all the people in our group, there were at most six of us who took the meal package provided by the tour company. The two young women usually didn’t come for breakfast because they were on a diet. We had actually no complaints  about the meals because most dishes prepared with fresh vegetables were very delicious, especially after we had walked the entire day. The young guy could eat and he was usually the last one who put down his or her chopsticks after getting to the last piece of meat in each dish.
After the bus arrived at the City of Huang Shan, we stopped by at a local restaurant for lunch. The bus then took us to a dispatch area where we stored our excess luggage and packed everything we need, and the laptop, in two backpacks. A shuttle bus belonging to the operator of the Huang Shan took us to the cable car station. After a short ride to the middle of the mountain, we began our walk to the hotel. It took us about 3 hours to get there. That walk was the easy part because we were
We could either take the cable car to the middle of the mountain for additional ¥80 or we could walk three to four hours to the hotel up in the mountain. Several tourists in our group decided to walk probably because they didn’t want to pay ¥80
The Huang Shan Xi Hai (黄山西海)Hotel has two separate sections. The old section was small and was built decades ago. Our tour group stayed in this part of the hotel. The new section was much bigger and nicer with modern designs and decorations. It had an up-scale restaurant and a cozy bar off to the side of the hotel lobby. After we had dinner at the big dining hall, we wondered around to the bar and had a cup of coffee and a local beer. I took a look of the restaurant, which was quite busy at the time, and the hostess was nice to let me checked its menu. Sure enough, the food looked nicer in picture and the price was very steep.
Wall mural not far from the din

Wall mural not far from the din

Lobby. Water flowed out of the top of the rock.

Lobby. Water flowed out of the top of the rock.

观音

观音

$33  for braised pork 红烧肉 in a clay pot is kind of expensive.

$33 for braised pork 红烧肉 in a clay pot is kind of expensive.

Bamboo shoot in a clay pot will cost you $21 US. It has to be good at that price.

Bamboo shoot in a clay pot will cost you $21 US. It has to be good at that price.

Huang Shan Beer, 黄山啤酒。 I like the way 黄山 was written with  Chinese brush. The three hard boiled eggs were cooked with tea leaves and spices. They need more time in the pot though. The beer was great because the quality of the water was very good. Somewhat lighter in taste though.

Huang Shan Beer, 黄山啤酒。 I like the way 黄山 was written with Chinese brush. The three hard boiled eggs were cooked with tea leaves and spices. They need more time in the pot though. The beer was great because the quality of the water was very good. Somewhat lighter in taste though.

After a good three  and half hour of mountain climbing and some beer, it was time to sleep. There was nothing to see outside because it was pitch-dark out there. It was pretty cold too.

Besides, we had to get up at around 4:30 in the morning tomorrow because sunrise was around 5:30 or so. Our tour guide told us to leave at least half hour before sunrise because it would take at least that long to climb to the ridge to catch a glimpse of the rising sun.

The Scam, Bangkok style November 3, 2013

Posted by hslu in Travel.
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“You have to watch out because there are many pickpockets here.”

That’s how the conversation got started. It was also the beginning of the scam, Bangkok style.

Here is my advice to you: Read this post before you visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

We just got off from a water taxi and were on our way to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. We actually didn’t know where the entrance of the Palace was but someone had pointed to the right hand side at the end of the open market and that was where we were headed to.

The sky was very cloudy; a light shower was coming down but it wasn’t too bad. We heard that the Grand Palace is the most beautiful palace in Bangkok. We were excited.

I turned my head to the voice and saw a middle-aged guy walking a couple of steps behind me. I didn’t notice where he came from but I subconsciously touched my wallet in my pants’ back pocket.

Yeah, it was still there.

This guy was nice, I thought, to remind me. Maybe I should put my wallet in my pants’ front pocket because the Grand Palace was a very busy tourist spot in Bangkok.

The guy looked like a business man: well dressed in a tan-colored uniform of some sort. He was well groomed compared to many other Thai people. His skin color wasn’t very dark and I knew he was part Chinese and part Thai.

I turned to my wife and wanted to walk away from him. He took out a small decal and said he worked for the police department: He was a tourist police. He then showed me a badge in his wallet which looked like a police badge.

20130912_141830

I kind of let my guard down somewhat because he didn’t look like a crook.

He then said: “Are you going to the Grand Palace?”

I said: “Yes. But we don’t know exactly where the entrance is.”

Of course, we were actually heading in the wrong direction but we didn’t know that. 

He then said that the Grand Palace was closed now and it won’t open until 2:30 this afternoon. He explained that some dignitaries were visiting the Palace so that it would not open to the public now.

It was a lie but we believed him. That was our second mistake.

The first mistake was that we thought he worked for the police department and he was trying to help us.

Hmmm.., what should we do?

It was about 12:30 PM and we’d have about two hours to kill. Maybe we could get something to eat first, I thought.

He then suggested that we could get a taxi for 50 Baht to see the Big Buddha that’s covered in gold. He said the taxi driver could then take us to the Royal Cemetery. Although the cemetery was only for the royal family, it was open to the public today: only one day every year and today was the day. He said that we were lucky.

Well, since the Grand Palace was closed now and there were two hours to kill, we could take his advice, see the Big Buddha, tour the Royal Cemetery and come back later to visit the Palace. 50 Baht was just $1.50 US. $1.50 US to see two more places sounded like a good deal.

We agreed to his offer and he got us a tricycle taxi. He then reminded us that only gave him 50 Baht after we arrived at the cemetery. He’d wait for us at the Big Buddha.

That was our third mistake.

Off we went to the Big Buddha which was about 10 minutes away.

Light rain continued but it didn’t bother us too much. We had an umbrella if the rain got heavier.

I  actually didn’t know how tall or how big the Buddha was but I decided that: let’s go and take a look. The worst of the deal was it was a small and unimpressive Buddha. 既来之则安之。大不了,菩萨不大可总是个菩萨吧!看看无妨!

Sure enough, the Buddha was a big one and it was covered in gold. Impressive but the Buddha wasn’t a nice looking one; I said to myself.

The Buddha is big. About 60' tall. It is called Luang Phor To. The name of the temple is Wat Intharavihan.

The Buddha is big:about 60′ tall. It is called Luang Phor To. The name of the temple is Wat Intharavihan.

Well, we finished our tour in less than 10 minutes and our taxi driver was waiting for us.

The Royal Cemetery was another 10 minutes away. When we got there, we asked the driver to wait for us so he could take us back to the Grand Palace. He said he couldn’t park his taxi here. He had to leave.

We gave him 50 Baht and walked into the Cemetery.

It was a quiet and secluded place. It housed the tombs of past kings and other royal family members.

A few people were there sweeping the ground to clean the falling leaves.

We walked around and saw a sign which explained to us what we were seeing here.

A person walked toward us and said that this place was usually closed to the public. Very few tourists knew this place. How did we got here?

I told him about the tourist police, the temporary closing of the Grand Palace and our taxi ride to see the Big Buddha. I said that this was our second stop.

He then said that a prince was actually visiting the Grand Palace this morning and the Palace would re-open at 2:30 this afternoon.

He then said that he was responsible for the upkeep of the Cemetery. He said that he worked for the Royal family and has been at this position for ten years.

He said that he had 10 workers working for him and all the guys we saw here worked for him. They swept the ground once every hour, maintained all the buildings in the cemetery and there were enough work to keep them busy for ten years. He said that the main temple was closed right now because several monks were still chanting inside but they should finish in 10 to 15 minutes.

Initially I didn’t feel comfortable with talking to him but after he talked about his believe in Chinese culture and how he grew up being part Chinese and part Thai in Thailand; his Mom is Chinese and his Dad is Thai, I slowly let my guard down because he seemed sincere and personal.

That was our fourth mistake.

He gave us a personal tour of the cemetery and the main temple and showed us the tomb for King Mongkutthe king profiled in the movie “The King and I.” Our conversation later went back to growing up being a Chinese in Thailand. He said that many Chinese people in Thailand worked very hard all their lives and saved as much as they could. His Mom also saved a lot of money and used that money to buy jewelries such as ruby and emerald because these precious stones appreciated in value over time. He showed us his huge ruby ring which was given to him by his grandfather.

As he showed us around, he continued to emphasize that his ruby ring has gone up in value many times and his wife wanted to do the same but he won’t let her buy jewelries from Chinatown because he could buy it from a wholesale dealer at 30% less.

In fact, she went to this wholesale jewelry store this morning and got a ruby ring and a matching earrings because this place, usually closed to the public, was open today. His wife was happy and he was happy because she got them at a wonderful price.

He suggested that we shouldn’t miss this once in a life time opportunity. The place would not open to the tourists tomorrow. 

My wife was excited and wanted to check the place out and the guy got us a taxi and we were on our way to the wholesale jewelry store. 

That was our fifth mistake.

When we arrived at the store, Royal Lapidary on Sawankhalok Road, the place was open and was busy with many tourists. A Chinese-speaking lady walked up to us and greeted us warmly. She said that she could take us to see what they have in the store.

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Lotus flower bulbs are used as offering to the Buddha..

Lotus flower bulbs are used as offering to the Buddha..

Inside of the royal cemetery.

Inside of the Royal Cemetery.

Impressive interior of the Royal temple.

Impressive interior of the Royal temple.

How would you like this for your front door to your house? Thailand's king really lived like a king.

How would you like this as the front doors to your house? Thailand’s king really lived like a king.

He was the one who talked us to buy the ruby ring. Very slick talker. Walk away from him.

He was the one who talked us to buy the ruby ring. Very slick talker. Walk away from him.

The front door of the Royal Lapidary on Sawankhalok Road, Bangkok.

The front door of Royal Lapidary on Sawankhalok Road, Bangkok.

Royal Lapidary business card.

Royal Lapidary business card.

The ring.

The ring. The real thing looks a lot better than this. The person who posted on the internet said that the stone is real but it was at least 30% over-priced.

Receipt.

The receipt.

Display inside the Royal Lapidary.

Display inside Royal Lapidary.

20130912_151035

20130912_14400920130912_144248As we walked around she said the merchandise on the first floor were cheaper compared to what they have on the second floor. My wife saw a few ruby rings and she decided to go to the second floor.

That was our sixth mistake.

She compared several rings and decided on one which had a large ruby stone with bright and shinning diamonds around it. I asked for a magnifying glass but couldn’t tell whether it was worth the price she quoted to my wife: 127,000 Baht. The original list price was 137,500 Baht; a 7% discount.

The ruby diamond ring looked very beautiful and my wife loved it. Our sales lady said that the company is a reputable company and the ring comes with certificate and guarantee.

We paid for the ring with our credit card and walked out of the jewelry store. The sales lady also offered us a ride on company van to the place we wanted to go. Since it was too late to go back to the Grand Palace, we decided to go to Central World.

Shortly after we walked out of the store, my wife felt unease because everything came together so smoothly: Grand Palace closed for 2 hours, the guy at the Royal Cemetery, the rise of ruby’s value, the usually closed jewelry store, the Chinese speaking sales lady and the 127,000 Baht purchase.

I kept saying to my wife that there was no way they were all in it to scam us. I might not believe the tourist police but I trusted the guy at the cemetery. He was so much into the Chinese culture that he won’t cheat us. We went to Central World, had dinner and went back to the hotel.

Once we got back to our room, my wife googled Lapidary Bangkok. Sure enough, someone wrote a story that sounded just like what we just went through. The person in the story ended us losing some money because she already came back to the US after the purchase.

For the entire evening, my wife couldn’t sleep and regretted her impulse purchase. Early next morning we had our breakfast at the hotel and went to the front desk for help.

The guy at the front desk said that we had three options: 1) negotiate a new price, 2) return the merchandise and pay a penalty, usually around 20%, or 3) exchange for something different. My wife didn’t like any of the options and said that she wanted a full refund. The guy explained our situation to the hotel manager and the manager agreed to help us. The hotel manager called the company and asked to talk to the owner of Royal Lapidary. The owner promised to give our money back and offered to send company’s van to pick us up.

At that point, I decided to hold off my phone call to Visa and see what we could get from the jewel store. We got all our documents ready and went to the store. Our Chinese speaking lady was waiting for us. She apologized for the hassle we had to go through and took us to a conference room upstairs and credited the full amount of the purchase back to our credit card.

She gave us another set of documents which spelled out that Royal Lapidary has agreed to return the full amount back to us. There was even a signed letter and a credit card refund receipt.

She repeatedly apologized to us and said that the owner of the company kept reminding those people not to lure customers to their stores.

She then offered to take us to where we wanted to go using the company van. We decided to go to a subway station because we wanted to visit the Grand Palace.

Once we got off the water taxi, we traced the same route we took yesterday because I wanted to see if I could catch that tourist police in action again.

Lo and behold, I saw that guy again. He recognized me immediately and started walking away from me. I did get a glimpse of him.

We then found the entrance to the Grand Palace and the first thing we saw was the sign that says” OPEN EVERYDAY.”

Wow, what an experience in Bangkok. Fortunately for us, we got all our money back. Although we were disguised by the scam, we liked the way Lapidary handled the entire situation.

Here is the moral of the story: Don’t talk to strangers in Bangkok unless you initiate the conversation.

The sign reads "Open Everyday."

The sign inside the Grand Palace”

The tourist police was the guy in the middle of the picture.

The tourist police is the guy in the middle of the picture.

Shabushi, Bangkok November 2, 2013

Posted by hslu in Food, Restaurants, Travel.
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We came back to Central World 曼谷中央百货购物中心 to have dinner again because it offered so many choices; this time a casual dining.

There were simply too many selections to choose from and we had to walk from one side of the mall to the other before deciding on Shabushi Buffet. It offered shabu shabu (hot pot) and sushi buffet

Shabu shabu was a Japanese style food where we could choose thinly sliced meat, vegetables, noodles, seafood (selections were limited and they came less often,) fish balls and fish cakes to cook in your own hot pot. They came to customers via a conveyor belt and we picked whatever we like and someone would take the empty plates away. Three types of broths were offered at Shabushi: a clear broth (shabu shabu,) a milky broth called miniku and a spicy and sour broth. It also had sushi and deep fried chicken fingers and some kind of fish. But they were just ordinary and not very appealing to us. Fruit and ice cream were available too. Buffet cost 355 Baht per person: about $12 but you only have an hour and 15 minutes to eat. Additional time would cost 20 Baht per every 10 minutes.

We were in there exactly an hour and 15 minutes.

Very elegant. 秀色可餐。

Very elegant. 秀色可餐。

Not sure how much for them though. Looks great!
Not sure how much for them though. Looks great!

A coffee shop on the first floor.
A coffee shop on the first floor.

Most restaurants were on the 6th and 7th floor.

Most restaurants were on the 6th and 7th floor.

 

Rice, meat and vegetables in a hot stone pot: Korean? Kind of like dolsot bibimbap.

Rice, meat and vegetables in a hot stone pot: Korean? Kind of like dolsot bibimbap.

Couldn't believe this restaurant offered so many varieties on sizzling plates.

Couldn’t believe this restaurant offered so many varieties on sizzling plates.

An angry pig.

An angry pig.

Grill your food on a bed of charcoal fire. Interesting! It offered sushi too.

Grill your food on a bed of charcoal fire. Interesting! It offered sushi too.

KFC, McDonald's and other types of fast food were also available. This combo plate was about $5 US. Looked like a good deal.

KFC, McDonald’s and other types of fast food were also available. This combo plate was about $5 US. Looked like a good deal.

More all-you-can-eat buffet.

More all-you-can-eat buffet.

A Cantonese Restaurant.

A Cantonese Restaurant.

Shabushi buffet offered by Oishi. It has multiple stores in Bangkok.

Shabushi buffet offered by Oishi. It has multiple stores in Bangkok.

Conveyor belt moves raw food to customers. You cook it in your personal hot pot.

Conveyor belt moves raw food to customers. You cook it in your personal hot pot.

Oishi is Japanese which means delicious or 味 in Chinese. This small fish cake has a pink 味 in it.

Oishi is Japanese which means delicious or 味 in Chinese. This small fish cake has a pink 味 in it.

I didn't count how many plates we went through. Many!

I didn’t count how many plates we went through. Many!

Deep fried fish and chicken fingers. Looked very greasy to me. Not popular here.

Deep fried fish and chicken fingers. Looked very greasy to me. Not popular here.

Ordinary.

Ordinary.

Open kitchen. You don;t need expensive chefs to do the cooking. The customers do it themselves. All raw food looked fresh because the restaurant was very busy when we were there. Turn over was quick and nothing got to stay in the kitchen, if you can call it kitchen, too long. I guessed that they had to prepare the broths in there.

Open kitchen. You don;t need expensive chefs to do the cooking. The customers do it themselves. All raw food looked fresh because the restaurant was very busy when we were there. Turn over was quick and nothing got to stay in the kitchen, if you can call it kitchen, too long. I guessed that they had to prepare the broths in there.

It spells out the concept of Shabu Shabu style in four languages: English, Chinese, Japanese and Thai.

It spells out the concept of Shabu Shabu style in four languages: English, Chinese, Japanese and Thai.

 

 

Tapas Y Vino, Bangkok, Thailand November 1, 2013

Posted by hslu in Food, Restaurants, Travel.
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We had planned to have a quick lunch near our hotel before heading out to the airport on the day we flew out of Bangkok. Since we didn’t stay too long at the weekend market, we had almost 2 hours for lunch.

We decided to try a tapas place just off the Sukhumvit subway station about 10 minutes walk from our hotel. The restaurant was located on the second floor of the Grand Millennium Hotel.

It was Saturday morning around 11:30 when we got there. We were the only two customers the entire time and we felt relaxed and took time to enjoy our meal.

We ordered the set lunch at 400 Baht per person so that we could have a variety of dishes to try. We each had a glass of Spain’s red wine: 2006 Promesa Reserva at 470 Baht which were great with the food we had. I just wished we had a full glass instead of just a quarter or so.

Our waitress was a good looking Thai girl and our chef was a young man who was in his early 30’s at most. The open kitchen was just on the other side of the narrow and long dinning room. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a picture of him and his kitchen because the camera was lost.

It took us almost 2 hours to finish six tapas. We didn’t order Gazpacho because we just fought tour way through a down pour and wanted some thing not cold.

The garlic shrimp was great! Perfectly done! It looked good and every one of them was tender and juicy. There wasn’t too much butter either. Just a great dish.

We also order a plate of Cinco Jotas (5J) Spanish Acorn-fed Iberian Bellota ham (black Iberian pig) at 650 Baht per 20 grams. It was not cheap but it was worth the price. Great with the wine we ordered. I should have ordered some cheese as well but we simply had too much to eat. By the time we got to the last tapas , chicken wings, we simply couldn’t eat anymore. Well, we actually didn’t like chicken wing that much anyway.

Dessert was Santiago almond cake. Great finish.

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Black Iberian pig: 5 slices. About $4 US per slice. I need another glass of wine, please!

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5J.

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Another restaurant at the grand Millennium Hotel Bangkok.

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Our waitress prepared wine for us.

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Regular menu

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鼎泰丰,曼谷 November 1, 2013

Posted by hslu in Chinese Food, Food, Travel.
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Bangkok World Center is an Upper scale shopping center where every Bangkok tourist have to go. My wife went there to 逛街. I went there to have a nice dinner.

There were many restaurants there and majority of them were Japanese. There were only one Chinese restaurant there and it was 鼎泰丰。I actually didn’t want 鼎泰丰 because I could have 小笼包 in Taipei but decided to compare it with ones in Taipei.

We’d have something else like a buffet tomorrow night.

Well, all I could say was Bangkok’s 鼎泰丰 wasn’t as good as the ones we usually go in Taipei: 鼎泰丰 SOGO 忠孝复习 and 鼎泰丰 the original store.

 

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These were fake But looked like the real thing。

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$13 US. All you can. Very cheap.

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I have never liked Thai food served in the US. Many were actually Chinese dishes in disguise with the addition of Thai peppers, lemon grass, basil and other spices. In general, most dishes were too sweet for my taste.

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Beautiful cup cakes. Very popular in the States. Some cupcake places can have a line of 10 to 15 people waiting to get in once it was promoted by some one on Yelp. We avoid them because they simply have too much sugar and butter for anyone, young or old, who remotely care about their health,

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Not the best presentation I have seen.

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Not as tasty as the ones we had in Taipei. Needed a little more soup inside too. The skin was good.

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Very fresh. Very crispy. Light yet refreshing.

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牛肉面 was a disappointment. it wasn’t as good as some we had at Taipei’s night markets. The taste was too simple and the meat was over cooked.

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Steamed vegetarian dumplings. This one got an A and they were very authentic too.

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very cute. As long as you are alive and healthy, you can have 小笼包 at 鼎泰丰。

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Simple setting。

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Food total was 1195 Baht. Added 10% service charge and 7% VAT. Total came to 1407 Baht; about $47 US.

Food total was 1195 Baht. Added 10% service charge and 7% VAT. Total came to 1407 Baht; about $47 US.

 

马英九 can learn from Obama November 1, 2013

Posted by hslu in China.
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After the roll out on October 1, 2013, Obamacare has become Obamashame. Obama has suffered some setback and Sebilius had to testify in front of the Congress.

But Obama pointed the finger at “Bad Apple” insurance companies for dropping people’s insurance even though he knew full well that it was designed to be that way.

On the day of Congressional testimony, Obama didn’t wait for the TV coverage to begin, he started another hot and sensitive topic to grab attentions away from Obamashame: immigration reform and granting amnesty to 12 million illegals who are already in this country.

马英九 should learn this effective technique from Obama: it is called:

“顾左右而言他”

However, 马英九的问题是 when facing with the attack from the opposition:
马英九 “既不会顾左右,也不会言他”

China, Japan and 钓鱼台 November 1, 2013

Posted by hslu in China.
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Chinese probably will never forget what Japan and its barbaric soldiers did to China during the eight year China – Japanese war from 1937 to 1945. Actually the war last 8 years, 1 month, 3 weeks and 5 days. As many as 1.3 million Chinese KIA, 1.8 million WIA, 120,000 MIA, and as many as 22 million innocent Chinese people lost their lives in the hands of the Japanese soldiers.

What a terrible thing Japan did to China! It was simply unthinkable until this date. The crime can’t be forgotten.

In fact, Japanese first started invading Chinese coastal villages 8 centuries ago in the 1300’s.

During the first four years of the eight year war, other than some economic aids, the world community stood by and watched Japan occupied almost half of China’s territory and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent Chinese people. No nation came to help China because it wasn’t in these countries’ national interest to send any troops to fight with Japan’s soldiers.

The situation didn’t change until the surprise attack of Pearl Harbor by Japan in December of 1941. In order to keep Japanese Army tied up in Eastern Asia, the US began to supply Chinese arm forces with funds and military supplies. It took four more years of fighting and Japan finally surrendered to the western alliance after Japan took two atomic bombs from the United States.

After the war, the US helped Japan rebuild its economy and handed the control of 钓鱼台 to Japan because, among other things, the US felt guilty of what it did to the Japanese people. China promptly voiced its objection but failed to change the outcome even though 钓鱼台 has historically being part of China.

Well, China was severely weakened by eight years of war and America being a bully back then gave these islands to Japan anyway despite China’s objection.

Fast forward 58 years, the illegal hand over of these small islands to Japan by the US, which had no authority to do so back then,  has become a constant point of contention between China and Japan because Chinese’s hatred against Japan is so deep and the pain so severe, the scar will not easily heal.

As two nations trying to find a solution over this problem, an arm race is brewing in Asia. In addition, an economic war has already started.

It is very clear that one thing China will not do is to back down from Japanese hostility even though America is 100% behind thebJapanese position. The US wants to use Japan a pawn to keep China in a corner because America consider China a threat to American’s standing in the world.

What China needs to do is to expand its defense industry, develop advanced aircrafts and other weaponries, manufacture long range missiles and establish a state of the art navy force. Learn from China’s recent history a century ago and never make the same mistake again.

Economically, China needs to compete with Japan head on in areas where Japan currently has an edge. Only by moving China to the top of the food chain will China be able to truly become a rich and powerful nation.

Learn from the mistakes of American’s democratic system and come up with a new political system that is uniquely suited to China. America has promoted democracy to the world over the last century but it didn’t make it right.

Learn from the mistakes of American’s capitalism and the greed of the Wall Street and experiment with ways to enhance the lives of Chinese people. Make them richer and happier because our ancestors told us that “民富则国强.”
Use Internet to find out the crooks in the government, prosecut them, put them in jail and recover the stolen money from foreign banks because “官富则国衰.”

With the sorry fiscal condition Japan is in now and with its national debt at 220% of its GDP, we already know who the loser will be after the arm race.  Let Abe promote the arm race to the Japanese people. Let the sales tax go up to 8% in 2014 and 10% in 2015. Once Japanese people is suck dry, they will suffer the mistakes Abe and previous leaders made. When the citizens of Japan are poor and unhappy, the demise of the country will not be far behind. 

By that time, 钓鱼台 will come back to China.

I am watching and I am waiting.