at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Category: China (Page 2 of 16)

Shanghai: Tale of Two Towers

Shanghai, a place to see what China has become and perhaps wants to become, and what China is, for the most part, not. At least, not yet.

What China is not, for the most part, but Shanghai is: The Shanghai most visible is that rising back forward to glory days, drawing on the allure of its past and combining it with a new drive.

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Shanghai: Of Temples and Tangbao

Shanghai is a particularly popular place for people to go and then tell you that they have seen China.
If not to tell you that they have seen the future, and it is China.

In large part, however, Shanghai is not China.

What is most visible in that city has roots in Chinese drive and motivations, but it is as representative of the whole as if you took 5th Avenue New York and put it forth as the USA.

There are connections, though, and they are nicely found in the temples I decided to visit and let you know about.

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Rural Hunan. Mao Zedong still watches over...

So, You Want to Travel to China? Prepare and Expect This…

Big problem when you have gone somewhere – even lived there – often and long as I have with China?

You forget what it is like when you have decided to go to that strange exotic place for the first time and don’t really know what to expect…

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Lung King Heen (view from entrance)

Lung King Heen: 3-Star Chinese Family Eating

Foodies are still made fun of, but food is one of the great pleasures (and mere necessities) of life.

This alone would make it something to consider – and try – in any attempt to learn to be at home in this world, and at home in distinct places.

But then, there’s even more when an “Other” and the different ecology of a different place – as also reflected in the local markets – come into play.

When power dynamics and psychology make something both strange and simple, less-than-fancy… or luxurious…

Street Food, Sensory Overload

Street food, and the whole culture surrounding it, may easily be one of those things that make East Asia so particularly fascinating.

It is diverse, it makes for quite an assault on the senses (sometimes even just from the lights), it is oh-so-different.

Sure, sometimes you’ll catch a bug or outright food poisoning, some of the conditions in which the food is prepared – and some of the foods themselves – may not be so particularly appealing, but that just makes it all the more interesting.

We focus so much on those exotic things and potential problems, though.

If one picks well, however, chances are that street food will be safer than quite a lot of restaurant food; at least you can see for yourself how it is prepared.

Trends and Value

Street food has also become a (foodie / hipster) trend in ‘the West’, as well.
And in East Asia, some street food even gets good enough to warrant a Michelin star…

Still, we tend to focus on the strange, exotic, and potentially dangerous, just to – knowingly or unknowingly – keep in line with the view that sees Chinese food as cheap, lower-class fare.

Japanese food may be easy to find and comparatively cheap nowadays; you may still find some people who declare raw fish nothing but appalling, but Japanese has established itself as great and worthy of high prices.

Saying “French” will not even let you think of mere food, but of cuisine.

Chinese, though?

Chinese is greasy take-out, sketchy street food, Cantonese will eat anything.

As Krishnendu Ray points out in “The Ethnic Restaurateur,” China has not yet seen enough of a rise (in power and status) to change the perception of its food/cuisine.

Lung King Heen (view from entrance)

Lung King Heen (view from entrance)

Lung King Heen

And then, there’s something else entirely.

Lung King Heen, the world’s first Cantonese restaurant to be awarded 3 Michelin Stars (which is the best rating there is), one of the world’s very best restaurants

Unsurprisingly, the experience here is very different; elegant, calm, and unobtrusively cared-for. Luxurious, in other words.

Reservation

I tried to visit for lunch, when they have Dim Sum on the menu.

However, when I tried to reserve a table, only one in the middle of the week (on our very first day in Hong Kong) and for dinner was available for online reservation.

It was some two months in advance…

(They might well have had tables, anyways, but I just didn’t want to short-term try this.)

So, reserve well in advance, if you can.

Changing to come in a party of three rather than two people, and back again because our #3 couldn’t come, after all, would not have been any issue, though. And they make sure to send reminders and ask if everything will work out as planned.

Location

Hong Kong’s ifc mall is well-known and popular – and fancy – enough to be part of a visit to the city, and you can get right into the Four Season’s Hotel through that mall.

Lung King Heen is one of the restaurants in this hotel, officially at 8 Finance St. (but best reached going to Hong Kong or Central stations and walking the covered walkways into the mall, then following the signs to the hotel adjacent to it – or basically, in there).

The view offered is very nice, out away from Victoria Harbor, towards the west; the décor is elegant as one would expect, without overdoing it towards the kitschy or the cold.

The Food

The main theme of a restaurant, of course, should better be what you get to eat.

Presentation has become the name of the game in many 3-Star restaurants, to the detriment of actual food. Sure, the experience and the taste sensations are what is meant to count; if you just want to stuff yourself, you can go to any fast-food place.

Here, Lung King Heen was able to shine.

We ordered the (smaller) Chef’s Choice Appetizer Selection, including jellyfish which was quite tasty (and something to mention on the theme of trying things),

Lung King Heen Chef's Appetizer Selection

grilled eel (quite sweet from the sauce, but nice; very different from the Hunan home-style eel we’ve eaten quite often),

Lung King Heen Grilled Eel

lobster and sea urchin rolls (which were fine to my wife but too rich for me, in the sea food / fat / sea -way of the urchin),

Lung King Heen Lobster and Sea Urchin Rolls

which were brought out as first course.

Yes, we managed to overdo it there, already.

For a refresher in between, we had a hot-and-sour soup…

Lung King Heen Hot-and-Sour Soup

… which had a pretty strong flavor, but with nuance as well. Good choice, I think, for something quite typically Cantonese and in-between other courses.

Main course was decided to be Sichuan-style pork, which was too chewy for my taste (even if my wife says it’s as it should be), but very nicely aromatized in a distinctly Sichuan-style way that is, for once, not overdoing it with the typical spices, but elegant.

Lung King Heen Sichuan-Style Pork

Second main course-dish were wok-fried spicy prawns, with the perfect kind of spice and wok-flavor.

Lung King Heen Spicy Wok-Fried Prawns

These were quite a revelation to me; I enjoyed them immensely and am still waiting for more chile pepper use in more of the great restaurants, of which they were a fantastic example.

But, by this point, we couldn’t really eat anything anymore.

It was all simply but elegantly presented, and it was all not so little. Not like in some avantgarde restaurants, where the amount of food seems to correlate inversely with the price to be paid…

Our waiter only told us at the finish, and that sums up the approach there pretty well, that “We consider ourselves a fine family dining restaurant.

Indeed, there was a family eating at the next table; and we wished we’d had our friend (who hadn’t been able to come) accompany us and help finish off all the food. (Although for three people, we might have ordered even more.)

Taking out left-overs, as it turned out, is acceptable even here. Part of the family thing ;)

The Service

Perhaps the most noticeable difference to any other, cheaper and simpler, place to eat was with the way the guests are treated.

Of course.

As we’d also experience on the last leg of our flight home, happening to get upgraded to business class, unobtrusive pampering is the luxury you get if you have the money.

Tim Ho Wan’s 1-star may be alright for the food; I’d have no problem comparing my mother-in-law’s cooking to that even of Lung King Heen (Hey, I like it!), but the atmosphere and the service do set it all apart. A lot.

The waiters give their recommendations when and if appropriate, explain what it is they brought, are there should you look like you need them, but are unobtrusive otherwise.

Hardly do you even notice when the tea pot or your glass is refilled, but you won’t ever have to wait long for that – and the jasmine tea we had was one of the best we ever tasted, by the way.

The Price

Of course, there’s the question of expense.

3-star eating doesn’t come cheap, and all I want to say is that we’d ordinarily live off the money we left there for one to two months of buying groceries.

Here, though, I do find that “you should spend your money on experiences, not things” does work out (which I do not think does as unequivocally as often presented), as it was a memorable experience, and something quite different from our experiences so far.

Hot on the heels of finally having celebrated our wedding in China, it was more than just worth it (and in that context, it was also nice that it was just my wife and me).

Their website: http://www.fourseasons.com/hongkong/

Haikou Construction Tilt-Shift

Construction in China, Child’s Play

Visiting China, living like a Chinese, celebrating a wedding – it just had to involve some home purchasing aspect… :-p

The background, if you need it:

You may have heard about the challenge in finding a wife that the surplus of men in China faces.

You may have also heard of the phenomenon of “leftover women” who are considered too old (at around age 26), too independent, too highly educated, earning, and demanding, to find a husband.

But, there’s still more:

Finding a partner is still seen as more-than-essential in the clear life paths Chinese society seems to push everyone towards.
And an equally-as-clear part of that path, though one you may not have heard of if you haven’t delved deeper into social issues in China, is that it is the husband(-to-be) who is seen as having to provide most of his future family’s income (and hence, to have a high salary already), to go into the marriage having a car and a house/apartment.

Well, we didn’t and wouldn’t be able to get a place in China, but the in-laws did and the relatives with a good income are after the next apartment purchase.

Of course, we had to go and check it out – and I used the chance for some fun with photography. Which strangely turned out fitting for a theme of child’s play (which always looms in the background of discussions about marriage prospects and the gender imbalance in China)…

Haikou Market Vegetable Pile

‘adventuring’ into Haikou Markets

“Cities are all the same nowadays,” you will often hear.

Global trade has led to many brands (seemingly) being everywhere, and many an inner city has come to look basically the same as any other, it is true.

[vrview img=”https://www.zhangschmidt.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/20160812_185333.jpg” ]

The beginnings of globalization in the Columbian Exchange (as in, when Columbus “discovered” the Americas and species of “Old” and “New World” started to spread and mingle) made global food offerings similar even sooner.

Yet, differences also remain, and nowhere are they more obvious than at local markets…

Such “wet markets” are particularly interesting in their regional differences, which speak to the extent to which different places are still shaped by their different ecological conditions, resulting in different offerings.

Unsurprisingly – in spite of all the talk of globalization and uniformity – on Hainan, this includes a much stronger presence of fish, shellfish and seafood.

Here, even the markets in Hunan, where carp and eel would typically be the major, if not the only, fish on offer, are already distinctly different, even though one may think of them all as Chinese markets – and of course, in Europe, things look different yet again.

(I have a whole series on markets over on ChiliCult, my blog about hot spices and the world to be discovered through them.)

Haikou (Xinbu) Beach Running With the Sunrise

Culture(s) on the Beach… in Haikou, Hainan

Going to the beach is not exactly a lesson in cultural identity and intercultural issues – except that, as the summer of 2016 came around, with the burkini ban in France, beachwear did show its political, cross-cultural side.

While this debate was raging, we went to the beach in Haikou, Hainan.

This being China, things were a bit different from what one might expect, here, too.

Haikou, Binhai Beach

Haikou, Binhai Beach

One, we first went to Binhai Beach – but only for night walks in the sand. After all, who’d want to get burnt by the hot days’ sun?

Haikou, Binhai Beach Walk

Haikou, Binhai Beach Walk

People do also come here during the day to paddle in the water a bit, but it’s nothing like the international tourist behavior one finds on beaches with lots of, well, international tourists (which one could already find in Sanya, on the Southern coast of Hainan).

Then, we also got invited (by relatives) to go stay by the beach, in the Hilton Haikou Meilan.

Supposedly five-star, apparently expensive, it is a palace by the sea in an area that seems to be getting newly built up – and remaining old and pre-modern, and falling to pieces, all at the same time.

(I say “supposedly five-star” because the rooms were not quite as clean and well-managed as a 5-star hotel’s rooms should be. The breakfast buffet was good though – in our opinion. The others had to complain that it didn’t have everything they thought there should have been…)

Haikou (Xinbu) Beach, Early Morning

Haikou (Xinbu) Beach, Early Morning

Hardly anyone is visiting the beach there, either, and even the hotel pools were hardly being used.
It was still, if not all the more, interesting to be the one person who went out on the beach in the morning to go for a run there:

Tropical City Contrasts: Haikou

China’s tropical island paradise, Hainan, may easily be one of the most interesting places for getting to know the craziness that is China.

Especially if you look at it with an awareness of Chinese history, it is quite paradoxical – and all the more interesting for it.

Hainan, after all, used to be one of the places where people who had fallen out of the imperial court’s favor were sent into exile; Sanya’s coast was considered the end of the world.

Su Shi (Su Dongpo), one of China’s great poets and polymaths, for example, ended up here.

He is memorialized in (the area of/beside, to be exact) the Wugong Ci, the Five Officials’ Temple/Memorial in Haikou.
There, among other things, he is shown as this exile who still did great things even in this backwater hellhole of a place, introducing the poor backwards islanders to agriculture and learning of a higher kind.

Su Shi (Su Dongpo)Statue in Sugong Temple

Su Shi (Su Dongpo)Statue in Sugong Temple

Islanders who otherwise collected tropical fruits, for example. Of which Hainan still offers a lot of kinds and for which, certainly with my wife and me, it is now one of the favorite holiday destinations … and by the example of which, in my opinion, one can learn quite a bit about this our world, i.e. do some at-home-making:

Where there are fruits, there are markets.

Even as malls and entire cities seem to be getting ever more the same no matter where you are, at least with all the same global brands advertising their wares, local markets still have some ‘color’ reflecting their location.

In China, and in a place such as Haikou, particularly so…

But then, even as Haikou is much less popular a beach vacation destination than Sanya on the opposite, Southern coast of Hainan, there are also beaches.

This being China, you may visit them very differently from how other people do if you go with Chinese and like a local… and with a “real” visit to the beach (in more Western terms) being different yet again. See more on that here.

Haikou Beach Running

Finally, of course, with the rising popularity, the usual Chinese housing boom has come.

In my travels, this was a chance both to see how locals proudly present their latest property purchase to relatives – and a chance to just have some fun with photography. See more here.

Haikou Construction Tilt-Shift

Haikou Construction Tilt-Shift

Writing Buddhist Temples of Beijing with Juliet Bredon's Peking (1922)

Back to Beijing’s Buddhist Temples

We feel that everything is changing ever faster, and that maybe it’s better that way, too – but there are also many things that seem hardly changed and all the more interesting for it.

The Buddhist temples in Beijing do all that and more.

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Page 2 of 16

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