28 December 2007

Life at Sea

Aboard the Anaconda IIIAfter leaving one suitcase at the hotel in Sydney, and nearly everything else at a hotel in Airlie Beach, Chris and I packed a beach bag with a few essentials and headed out for a 3-day sailing adventure around the Whitsunday Islands...

MeThroughout the trip, we did lots of swimming and snorkeling in some of the bluest, clearest water in the world. It was our first experience with an underwater camera, which turned out to be a lot of fun. The underwater housing protected the camera from water and sand, and it floated!

Whitehaven BeachWith the exception of soft white sandy Whitehaven Beach, where we spent most of Day 3, the majority of Coral Beachbeaches were made of coral and rock, which are beautiful and a little painful. We learned very quickly to walk (more like waddle) backwards in our snorkel fins from the beach to the water, rather than suffer the barefoot-on-coral alternative.

MeNeither Chris nor I had ever gone diving before, but after a practice dive in a protected area near the beach on Day 1, we were able to dive the Great Barrier Reef on Day 2. It was my second Wonder of the World for 2007 (remember the Great Wall of China?). We've both now been sufficiently inspired to get our dive certification.

The passengers on the ship included people from England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US. The only Aussies were members of the crew. The diversity made for interesting conversations, and it wasn't uncommon to hear three or four languages in the same discussion.

Sailing in the WhitsundaysTo say we were living in close quarters on the ship would be a gross understatement. We never got around to taking a picture of our cabin, so you will just have to imagine. It was the smallest living space I have ever seen.

There was a narrow passage leading from the cabin door to the bed, with a small sink and mirror on the right and a bathroom on the left. When the cabin door was open, it blocked access to the bathroom, and when the bathroom door was open, it blocked access to the sink and the bed.

Great Barrier ReefThere was a small shelf above the sink, so in order to spit toothpaste into the sink, you had to bend down and fit your head sideways in between the sink and the shelf until your nose almost touched the back wall. Even so, it was hard not to dribble toothpaste out of the corner of your mouth onto the carpeted floor.

Me, floating off Whitehaven BeachThe bathroom consisted of a toilet and a small spray nozzle. We had been sternly warned by the crew not to use more than 1 minute of water from this nozzle each day, lest we run out of water and have to return to the marina. So at the end of each day, coated from head to toe in alternating layers of sunblock, sweat, sand, and salt, I had to decide whether I would have enough water in my daily allowance to shampoo, rinse, and repeat (no way) or use conditioner (if I didn't rinse it out all the way) or maybe even shave at least once during the trip (ha!).

The room ended in a double bed, which was essentially a piece of plywood attached on 3 sides to the wall, about 3/4 of the way between the floor & ceiling. Whoever was sleeping on the back side had to climb over the person on the front side to get to the bathroom during the night.

Sunset at SeaWe were actually lucky to have only two of us in the room. There was a little space below the bed that could have been fitted with a bottom bunk to accommodate more people, but we were able to use it for storage. Many of our shipmates were living coed with 3-4 people in a room, many of whom had never met before they came on board.

Sunrise at SeaThe living conditions were much more amusing than annoying, and a small price to pay for three days on the High Seas. The food on board was freshly prepared and not too bad, but the portions were small and there was nothing to snack on between meals. Combined with swimming, diving, and snorkeling all day, it was a great way to lose weight.

In addition to the captain, there were 3 crew members on the Anaconda III, Jellyfisheach of whom brought a girlfriend. Two of the girls doubled as cooks, but the third didn't seem to have any particular responsibilities other than to wear the crew t-shirt from time to time. To be fair, I should mention that she did lose her bikini top once while trying to escape a jellyfish, which was pretty well received by the crew and passengers.

There were a lot of interesting people on board, and everyone was friendly and understanding of each other's differences. At any time, you could choose to socialize with shipmates or find a quiet corner of the deck for yourself.
At the pub with shipmates after the tripOn the first day of the trip, we had introduced ourselves to each other and talked about where we were from. At the end of the trip, something came up in discussion about where Chris and I were from, and all around us we heard gasps of "American?? We thought you were Canadian!!" I wasn't quite sure what to think about that, but we were mistaken for Canadians at least three more times before we left Australia. I don't think they're used to seeing Americans in Oz.

Click here for more pictures of Life on the Boat

Click here for more pictures of Life off the Boat

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27 December 2007

Summer in December

SydneyAfter finishing the second (and final) part of my project in China, I flew to Sydney to meet up with Chris for vacation. It was our first time to the southern hemisphere, so it took a little while to get used to the idea of a "Summer Christmas Sale"...

There were brightly colored metal Christmas trees all around, shining in the summer sun, and kids waiting in line to sit on Santa's lap, in a dusty outdoor sandlot surrounded by palm trees.

Wildlife WorldI had a little bit of work when I first arrived, to prepare and conduct a best practices workshop in loyalty marketing, segmentation, and analytics. The couple days I was working turned out to be the only days it didn’t rain while we were in Sydney. Wildlife WorldHowever, the city desperately needed the rain, so it was hard to complain. In between rain drops, we managed to do some shopping and sightseeing, including visiting Sydney’s Wildlife World, where we saw wallabies and koalas up close.

After a few days in Sydney, we took a 2-hour train ride to the Blue Mountains in nearby Katoomba. It was similar to any number of sleepy little mountain towns you might find in the U.S., except the mountains weren't as high and the bushwalking (hiking) trails were peppered with rainforests.

Fog in KatoombaThe afternoon we arrived in Katoomba, it was raining and cold, but we found a warm, dry place to stay the night. The next morning, we were able to squeeze in a short bushwalk during the three early morning hours when it wasn't raining.

Fog in KatoombaA thick layer of fog blanketed everything, making the empty rainforests even more eerie and mysterious. Adding to the mystique were the many powerful waterfalls rushing down the mountain side, which you could hear all around you.

Fog in KatoombaWe saw lots of Cockatoos and even spotted a lyre bird in the bush. Unfortunately, it didn't open its tail for us.

After a few hours of exploring the spectacular, soggy, muddy rainforest, it started to rain. We tried to find a shuttle bus or taxi to take us back to the center of town. However, we had just missed the tourist bus and it wouldn't be back for an hour. We started walking toward town--up a steep hill, in the cold spitting rain--hoping to find a taxi along the way.

We never found an available taxi, but about 30 minutes into our uphill climb, someone who had reserved his own taxi (apparently one of only two Chris on the train to Katoombataxis in all of Katoomba that could handle a wheelchair) stopped and offered to give us a lift.

This was very fortunate because, in addition to being cold and tired of walking, we were also in danger of missing the train back to Sydney where we would catch our flight to the Whitsunday Coast a few hours later.

Click here for more pictures around Sydney.

Click here for more pictures from Wildlife World and Katoomba.

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18 December 2007

Best Bucket of Chicken in the World

Bucket of White ChickenOne evening, just before I left China to go home for Thanksgiving, a few of my Chinese colleagues took me to a restaurant they referred to as the “fancy chicken" place. Although I had heard many good things about the restaurant before we went, I was wholly unprepared to discover the most delicious chicken I’ve ever tasted…

I should qualify this just slightly. You may have read in an earlier post how I found the most delicious crazy chicken parts (organs, tail, knee bone, etc.) at a Japanese Yakitori place in New York. To be fair, Yakitori Totto is still in the lead for crazy chicken. At Fancy Chicken in Shenzhen, it was the normal chicken parts that were truly remarkable.

Eel SoupAs with most restaurants where I dined with my Chinese colleagues, I didn’t have many decisions to make. I only had to help them choose whether to order a white chicken or a golden chicken (I eventually convinced them to order one of each), and to confirm I was willing to try the restaurant’s famous eel soup. They negotiated amongst themselves to work out the remaining details and then took care of all the ordering.

Eating Chicken with Plastic GloveEventually our bucket of chicken arrived, along with a few other dishes for us to share. In the Chinese tradition of not eating anything with your bare hands, we were each given one plastic glove to aid us in devouring our chicken parts. For me, it was a little tricky to eat chicken off the bone with only one slippery plastic hand, although it was certainly easier than when I first tried eating bite-sized bone-in chicken with only chopsticks and my teeth (see Chinese Food - The Bad).

Competing for the Best Chicken PartsTypically when we share dishes, everyone has an opportunity to take whatever they want as we spin the center of the table around. In the case of Fancy Chicken, we decided whose turn it was to take a piece from the chicken bucket via rock-paper-scissors. Luckily for me, no one cared about the breast, which is my favorite part. I was able to claim all the breast meat I wanted, unopposed.

Golden ChickenIt had actually been against my colleagues’ best judgment to order the golden chicken, but the picture on the wall looked to me so much like a familiar whole roasted chicken that I wouldn’t give up until the group conceded to order one. As it turns out, it’s pan-fried in hot oil to get the golden color and crispy skin, so it tasted like a fried chicken.

In the end, it was the pale, soft-skinned, unappetizing-looking chicken that really stole the show. It had been steamed whole, without any spices or seasonings except a touch of salt. The result was a chicken breast more juicy and flavorful than anything I had tasted before. They must start off with fresher, more delicious chickens in China. Otherwise, I don’t know how they could get this result with such a simple preparation.

When I returned to China for my final two weeks on the project, I tried to make it back to the Fancy Chicken place again, but we had such a busy schedule that it didn’t work out. Fortunately, I still have the delicious memory of this lovely pale chicken, which turned out to be my third favorite thing in China.

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27 November 2007

Saying Goodbye

Summertime treats in ChinaAfter 10 weeks in Shenzhen, it was finally time to go home. I arrived in China thinking it would take 8 weeks to finish the project, but even after extending my stay by two weeks, the client wanted me to stay another four…

In the end, I convinced everyone that I needed to go home for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I promised to support them virtually for a couple of weeks and then come back to Shenzhen for two weeks to finish up.

Dinner PartyThe client decided to throw me a farewell dinner party to ensure I left China knowing how much they appreciated me and how much they wanted me to come back.

Although I didn’t realize it at first, as the guest of honor, it was my duty to share a bottoms-up toast with all 30+ people at the party. When the client made a point to ask me whether I wanted “pure wine” or red wine mixed with Sprite, it seemed like an easy decision. However, after a couple of toasts with full glasses of pure wine, I got their point and switched to small glasses of wine spritzer for the rest.

Click here for more pictures from the dinner party.

Singing KaraokeAfter the dinner party, a few of my colleagues and clients took me out for karaoke, which is extremely popular in China. The song choices in English were generally limited to cheesy old love songs, so I opted for the only two songs from this decade—Sexy Back by Justin Timberlake and Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani.

I have to admit, in hindsight, these are not the best songs to sing to your clients and colleagues, especially the uncensored versions available in Chinese karaoke machines. Fortunately, I couldn’t keep up with most of the words anyway so I was only singing profanities and/or suggestive content about half the time.

Click here for more pictures from karaoke.

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19 November 2007

Chinese Food - The Ugly

Organs & intestines at a street vendor in Hong KongContrary to popular stereotypes, most Chinese people don't like weird foods. Shenzhen is known as a town that pushes the limits, where you can find poisonous snakes and dogs and turtles available for dinner. However, most Chinese people have been afraid to eat anything wild or exotic since the mysterious SARS outbreaks a few years ago...

I think when uninformed Americans think about what they might eat in China, their biggest fear is that they will unknowingly eat a dog or cat that someone is trying to pass off as beef. What they don't realize is that such a thing is much more likely to happen in the United States than in China.

DogChinese people have too sensitive of a palate to ever mistake dog for beef. When they taste a dish, they not only know what animal they're eating, but which part of which animal. They eat more different kinds of green leaf vegetables in China than I have ever seen in my life, yet they can tell which vegetable they are eating, too. Can you tell whether the cooked "greens" you are eating are collard greens, kale, turnip greens, or mustard leaves? I know I can't.

It would be silly for a restaurant in China to serve the wrong meat intentionally, since it would undoubtedly be sent back to the kitchen. The customer would demand to get what they ordered, and would probably negotiate a discount on the price of the correct dish because they had to wait for it (the Chinese are unbelievably good negotiators). Even if the customer agreed to eat the wrong dish to avoid sending it back to the kitchen to be thrown away, they certainly wouldn't pay for it.

Half of a DogNo, in China you get what you order. You may just have more things on the menu than you're used to. For a Chinese person, criticizing a restaurant for serving dog is like complaining about a restaurant that serves pork in America. Not everyone likes pork, and certain religions forbid consumption of pork, but Muslims in America count themselves lucky if a restaurant will honor their request to leave the bacon out of their salad. They don't typically complain about the pork chop on the menu, they just don't order it.

I am apparently less reasonable than the average Muslim in America. As soon as my favorite local seafood restaurant hung a dog up in the glass box usually reserved for roasted ducks and chickens, I had to stop going there because it gave me the creeps.

In the end, even though weird things are available, it's actually hard to get Chinese people to eat them. A French colleague who was in Shenzhen for a short time went to dinner one night with one of our Chinese colleagues who ordered head of rabbit. The rabbit apparently looked very strange (to the Frenchman), sitting on the plate with its little rabbit teeth and no ears. It must have looked even stranger as its face was being chewed off by our Chinese colleague.

Head of LambHowever, for two weeks after that, I tried to get someone to take me to the same place and order the rabbit so I could take a picture. Apparently that one Chinese colleague was the only one who would eat it, and several other Chinese colleagues didn't even want to witness it, so it was hard to convince the group to go there for dinner.

Although the Chinese don't typically eat entire animal heads, they do tend to eat more of the animal than we eat in America--especially ears, internal organs, and feet. They don't seem adverse to eating brains either, because they say it makes you smarter. However, I've never witnessed the eating of brains.

Chicken FeetI actually like pig's ears and most chicken organs, although I wouldn't go out of my way to find them and I wouldn't want to eat them often. I don't care for pig feet (which the Chinese call hands) or chicken feet, although I think it's more about difficulty than taste. The small amount of meat in a pig's foot is so tightly attached to the bone that I haven't figured out how to get enough meat to make it worth the trouble. Chicken feet are even more difficult, since you have to take a bite and then sift through bone and cartilage in your mouth to find the edible parts. Unfortunately, without more practice, I can't really tell which parts are edible.

I can understand and actually admire the practice of eating the whole animal, since it's less wasteful, even if some of the parts seem strange or difficult to eat. I can even try to become more tolerant of people eating what I would consider pets, as long as I don't have to eat them, and as long as there are no monkeys involved (too close to cannibalism for me). However, the one thing that Chinese people love to eat, which really bothers me, is shark fin.

Shark Fin and Chicken SoupShark fin is very expensive, and so if you are able to serve it at a business dinner or wedding it is a sign of wealth and high status. It is also supposed to be good for you--something about how sharks never get cancer. However, unlike the Chinese approach to every other animal they consume, only the shark fin is eaten and the rest of the shark is thrown away.

I actually ate shark fin once. It was part of a set menu at a very nice restaurant in Shenzhen, and the colleague who ordered it wasn't aware of my moral objection to the Chinese cruelty to sharks. It wasn't impressive. It had an interesting texture but no real flavor of its own. It was served in chicken soup, so it just tasted like chicken.

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18 November 2007

A Taste of Guangzhou

Something delicous at Lei GardenGuangzhou (pronounced Gwan-Jo) is about an hour by train from Shenzhen and is reputed to have the best Cantonese food in China. It's also reputed to be one of the most dangerous cities in China, where you're advised not to answer your mobile phone in public, lest it be grabbed out of your hand by a passing hooligan...

Waiting for the train to GuangzhouI only wish I had made it to Guangzhou sooner. I would have happily braved the dangers of the city and made the 2 hour round-trip commute at least once per week to experience the bliss of dining at Lei Garden Restaurant.

Layered pork dishThe Cantonese are known for their delicious soups, which they cook for hours. I tried a duck soup and a corn soup. Both were exquisite. I also had a pork dish with alternating crispy and succulent layers of perfectly cooked meat, with a side of wasabi mustard dipping sauce.

Roasted DuckThen there was the Cantonese version of roasted duck wrapped in thin crepes (a little different from Peking Duck), which was absolutely delicious. The servers even sliced the duck and rolled the crepes for us, making it very easy to enjoy.

Carrot pastry & Mango cream desertOne of the best parts was dessert. Sweet desserts are almost as difficult to find in traditional Chinese restaurants as dishes containing raw lettuce. At Lei Garden, we enjoyed three different deserts. We started with a pastry filled with grated white carrot which was surprisingly good and not too sweet, then moved to a slightly sweeter mango desert with a light cream sauce and ended with a refreshing custard-like desert with mango and grapefruit.

Mango Grapefruit CustardAlthough the food in Shenzhen is never boring and is often quite good, it's nothing like the really great food I discovered in Guangzhou. Admittedly, the best restaurants in Shenzhen are only a fraction of the cost of the one in Guangzhou. But who can really put a price on the happiness one feels after indulging in a truly great meal?

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03 November 2007

Chinese Food - The Bad

Soup with hacked up pork ribs- tastes better than it looksNow that you've heard about the good stuff, you might be thinking you’d like to visit China, to try all of this wonderful food for yourself. Before you come, there are a few things I should warn you about…

To start with, eating in China can be quite difficult. Being able to pick up a piece of food with chopsticks and get it into your mouth without dropping it is an important skill, but that’s only the beginning. Although meats are usually cut into bite-sized pieces before they are served, they aren’t carved up in the way you might expect.

Soup with hacked up chicken parts and mushrooms - this one is actually quite deliciousImagine a chicken, for example. You might think of cutting it into parts like breast, thigh, wing, or leg, or you might take out the bones and cut the meat into small pieces to use in something like chicken noodle soup.

Now forget all of that and assume the whole chicken has been laid on a cutting board and hacked into random pieces with a large butcher knife. Then, imagine those random pieces have been put into a bowl of ramen noodle soup with vegetables. How might you eat such a thing?

Keep in mind, your only tools are your teeth, a pair of chopsticks, and a ceramic spoon. Chinese people never touch their food with their hands, unless of course they are trying to make a bungling foreigner feel better by pretending they sometimes need to use their hands, too.

Szechwan Fish in PotNow imagine you are trying to eat a whole fish with lots of little bones. It’s not your own personal fish on a dry plate, mind you. This is a large fish swimming in a pot of soup, sauce, or broth that is being shared by the entire table. Each morsel you are able to fish out of the pot comes with 2-3 bones, so you have to chew very carefully and then try to remove the small bones from your mouth with slippery plastic chopsticks.

Crab (very high difficulty)Now imagine you need to eat a whole cooked prawn with the shell-on, or a bite-sized chunk of beef still firmly attached to the bone. Chinese people would put the whole prawn or meat-with-bone in their mouth, and then do some sort of magic in there and spit out all of the inedible parts.

I think the only Americans who have a chance of mastering this technique are the ones who once learned to remove the stem from a cherry and tie it into a knot inside their mouth to impress their friends at college parties.

TissuesAs you were imagining some of the above scenarios, you might have guessed things could get a little messy and require extra napkins. Unfortunately, they don’t use napkins in China. In 10 weeks, I’ve been to maybe 5 restaurants that offered napkins. Most restaurants, upon request, will provide facial tissues or toilet tissue to use as a napkin.

Typically, these are scented tissues. So every time you wipe your mouth, your nose will be filled with some strong fragrance that clashes with whatever tasty Tissuesmorsel you happen to be chewing.

One additional problem with the tissues, pointed out by a French colleague who was in Shenzhen for 2 weeks, is that if you have a rough beard, the tissues are virtually useless.

Another problem with the food is that it’s all mixed up. The traditional way of eating is to order lots of dishes that everyone shares, which I really like. Unfortunately, you only get one bowl and one small plate of your own, so it’s very hard to keep different dishes from mixing together (especially soups). It’s especially bad if you take too much of something you don’t like and have to figure out a place to put it so it doesn’t get mixed up with the good stuff.

Shrimp in shell that has been sliced in halfSoups might be eaten before, during, or after other dishes. Sweet dishes are just as likely to be eaten at the beginning or middle of a meal as at the end. In a hot pot, they wouldn’t think twice about putting a whole fish and some boneless beef together in the pot, so you might have to sift through the fish bones to find a small slice of beef.

Beef ribs and Tofu - dishes that taste much better than they lookA colleague of mine once started off drinking some sort of thick yogurt drink with dinner and switched to beer halfway through, using the same glass. To be fair, this was the same colleague involved in the head of rabbit story I will tell in a future post, so the yogurt/beer example is probably a little extreme.

Trying to explain what you want to eat, to a Chinese person interpreting an all-Chinese menu for you, is harder than you might think. I’m pretty flexible, so I started off by asking for any dish with regular meat that is easy to eat. However, when a Chinese person doesn’t understand what makes things difficult or strange, it’s hard for them to suggest “easy” or "regular" foods.

Typical lunch at Chinese fast food - sliced duck with bonesRequesting boneless meat might get you preserved meat or scary-looking sausages. Requesting pork that is boneless and not preserved or smoked might get you a pork cheek or pork belly, which may be a little different from what you had in mind.

In the end, I finally learned the “Lio” trick. When the meat ends with the Chinese word Lio (pronounced Lee-yo), it always comes from a regular part of the animal and is cut into little strips with no fat, skin, or bones included. Lio actually means leaf, and only describes the shape of the cut. However, it just so happens the only meat that gets cut into a Lio is the good stuff.

Within my first 8-9 weeks here, I was able to adjust to the local eating habits and overcome the majority of food-related challenges. Here's how you can shorten the adjustment period if you ever find yourself in China:

Lunch at a Chinese Muslim place that only serves water to drinkTip # 1 - use your hands to peel a shrimp, or to pick fish or small chicken bones out of your teeth. Chinese people couldn’t care less how you eat your food, even if it’s not the way they do it.

Tip #2 - no matter how odd it feels, you sometimes need to just spit the bad parts out onto your plate, even if the bad parts are big chunks of beef bone. Everyone else is doing it. You would miss out on some really tasty experiences if you avoided all difficult foods, and there's definitely no napkin to spit it into.

Tip #3 - memorize the Chinese words for "regular" Beef (Niu-Lio), Pork (Jew-Lio), and Chicken (Gee-Lio). It comes in very handy when you want something easy to explain and easy to eat.

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02 November 2007

Chinese Food - The Good

My new favorite shellfishSome of you may be wondering how I made it through more than two months in China without telling any stories about food. The problem is that there are so many stories, I hardly know where to start. I suppose I should start with the good stuff…

I never would have imagined how much variety exists in Chinese food. They have more vegetables here than I’ve ever seen anywhere, most of which can’t be directly translated into English because they don’t exist in the Western world. They also have more delicious animals from the sea, some local but many imported from all around this part of the world.

Morning Tea aka Dim SumUnlike American Chinese restaurants which all have the same list of popular Chinese dishes on the menu including Beef with Broccoli, Orange Chicken, Szechwan Beef, Hunan Chicken, and Sweet & Sour Pork, every restaurant here is from a different region of China, specializing in a different kind of food.

Szechwan food is very spicy, and it’s important to watch out for the tiny dried flower spice that completely numbs your tongue when it touches it. At good Szechwan restaurants, the flower spice has been used during cooking, to add a really interesting flavor dimension, but then it’s removed before the food is served so you don’t get a mouthful of tiny flower buds and completely lose your ability to taste.

Team dinner at Cantonese RestaurantHunan food is also quite spicy, but with really great flavors which are generally less painful than Szechwan. Cantonese food from Hong Kong is generally not spicy at all and has some interesting flavors and lots of variety, but tends to have a high degree of difficulty because of all the bones you have to sort through, using only your teeth and a pair of chopsticks (more about that later). It is possible to find low-difficulty Cantonese food if you know what to order, and they have lots of tasty soups. In Beijing, the roasted duck is really delicious—and boneless.

Chinese FoodNorthern China is known for its dumplings, which are sort of like little misshapen raviolis filled with mushrooms, or pork and vegetables, or dozens of other options. Taiwanese food also has dumplings, but they are completely different—very thin skin with soup and other little delicious surprises inside.

Aside from authentic Shanghainese food, which you can't find in Shenzhen, the only major cuisine I haven't tried yet is from Guangzhou, the third largest city in China, which is only an hour from Shenzhen and is reputed to have the best food in all of China. I'm having dinner there tomorrow night.

Seafood RestaurantThe seafood here in Shenzhen is really fresh. Even small seafood restaurants have enough tanks of live fish and other sea creatures that they could be mistaken for pet shops. In the States, you might be able to pick a live lobster from a tank. In China, you can select live fish, shrimp, scallops, and oysters from the tanks, along with dozens of other sea creatures, and have them prepared any way you like. I’ve even discovered a new shellfish that has become my new favorite. It comes in a long narrow shell and tastes a bit like a cross between a clam and a mussel.

Bad attempt at Western spaghettiThe most amazing part is how cheap all of this great food is. You can have a delicious feast with your friends for 20-40 RMB (less than US $5) per person, and if you really want to splurge you could spend up to 80 RMB (less than US $10). For lunch, you can get an individual meal for 10-15 RMB (less than US $2). Of course, you can always find bad western food at significantly higher prices.

Seafood restaurantThe Chinese can appreciate a wider range of subtle flavors than almost any group of people I know. They are obsessed with freshness and are actually quite difficult to impress. I’ve seen them detect stale vegetables in a bowl of soup and send it back to the kitchen, or complain about something that I thought was quite delicious, because it was only 50-75% as delicious as it could have been if it had been prepared properly.

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