Written by koshkha on 26 May, 2011
If you don't eat meat, eating in China can be a nightmare. There is absolutely nothing in the Chinese psyche which seems to be able to deal with the idea that a dish can't be made better by throwing in some meat. Even when you…Read More
If you don't eat meat, eating in China can be a nightmare. There is absolutely nothing in the Chinese psyche which seems to be able to deal with the idea that a dish can't be made better by throwing in some meat. Even when you take care to order what looks like it's vegetarian – a tofu dish for example – there's still a very good chance that the chef will look at it as it swirls around the wok he's been cooking meat in all evening and think "I know what would make this SO much better" and then chuck in a handful of minced pork. You, sitting with your chopsticks in your hand, trying desperately not to give offence to your hosts, will then spend most of the evening trying to scrape mince off your dish whilst nobody is looking. Even if you eat fish (as I do) being confronted with the fish you are about to eat being plucked from a tank and brought to the table, flopping about in a carrier bag to prove it's not only fresh, it's actually still alive, is quite enough to put you off eating.I used to go to China quite often for work. I would leave home with my suitcase stocked with 'safe' food to eat in my room when the whole ritual of Chinese restaurant life got too much. Many was the time I'd excuse myself as 'too tired' and then order a cheese sandwich from room service. Only twice did I ever get the chance to just relax and eat everything that was put in front of me and that was on the occasions when kind and understanding colleagues took me to Buddhist restaurants.China may have no official state religion but many people practice a form of Buddhism and they are told that they should not eat meat before visiting a temple. The first special Buddhist restaurant I went to was in Guangzhou. My local female colleagues took me to a tiny local restaurant which was located close to a temple where absolutely everything LOOKED like meat but wasn't. I was thus introduced to the Chinese are of faking it. No men went with us – eating vegetarian just isn't considered 'manly'.It wasn't a fancy place. The menus were written on the walls and there was no translation. I told my colleagues not to bother asking me what I wanted and said I'd happily have a try at everything they put in front of me. They'd watched me shrinking into myself and looking really tested by the food all week so they pulled out all the stops and ordered a ton of food, safe in the knowledge that no critters would be dying for my dinner. The waitress brought a large pot of tea and we started off by washing our chopsticks by pouring tea over them. My hostess explained that these type of retaurants aren't always the cleanest and this was how they made sure the chopsticks were clean. I know what you're probably thinking – what the heck's the food going to be like if the chopsticks aren't safe, but I really didn't care. It was all going to be cooked and you don't hear too much about tofu food poisoning.We started with a soup and this was followed by multiple courses of oddly textured tofu. There was mock chicken, mock pork, mock duck, mock beef, all served in a variety of different sauces. The funniest dish of the night was mock king prawns steamed in aluminium foil. These looked exactly like the foamy pink prawn sweets we bought as children and tasted........well, exactly like king prawns. I ate like a woman with two stomachs and my colleagues loved that I ate so well. All week they'd worried about my diminishing appetite and suddenly it was back in full.My second Buddhist restaurant was in Shanghai and was part of a chain of such restaurants. My hostess on that occasion was a colleague who was taking Buddhism classes in her spare time. It was a plusher and much fancier place but again the food was fabulous, the choices were extensive and I could eat everything I saw. In each case the bills were considerably cheaper than in standard restaurants.So my purpose in writing about these places it to reassure vegetarians or those who prefer not to eat meat that you CAN find edible, tasty food in China without resorting to living off McDonald fries. You may have to ask around to find these Buddhist restaurants, and you may struggle sometimes to believe that what you're eating really isn't meat, but I thoroughly recommend finding a mock-meat Buddhist restaurant. I've eaten in such places in Malaysia, China and Singapore and never had a bad meal yet.Close
Written by Bill Pfeffer on 14 Mar, 2009
Is it possible that the residents of Guangzhou will never again see blue sky or that the children might grow up and never view the horizon, or expect sunsets to be anything but the fiery orb that now burns through the layers of the smog?…Read More
Is it possible that the residents of Guangzhou will never again see blue sky or that the children might grow up and never view the horizon, or expect sunsets to be anything but the fiery orb that now burns through the layers of the smog? As I stared out the hotel window at the soccer field across the street, the onerous yellow haze of pollution obscured the grounds and it seemed as if a wildfire had just swept through the area. So far, this was the smoggiest city I’ve ever been in, with many other people saying that Beijing is much worse. We were grateful for the occasional cleansing rainstorm that provided a respite of relief, and despite frequent use of eye drops, we found ourselves constantly blinking and clearing our throat. In two months, we’ll be in Beijing just prior to the Olympics, so it will be interesting to see if rumors of the pollution in this metropolis hold true. After reluctantly leaving the fresh air of Yangshuo, we arrived in Guangzhou on an overnight sleeper bus, an uneventful trip that passed by quickly. Overnight sleeper buses are my least favorite means of transportation, with complete strangers laid end to end and stacked in two layers, with your personal space about the size of an REI mummy sleeping bag. Unfortunately, each sleeping bed is sized for the tallest Asian, so if you’re longer than five feet, ten inches, your ankles will run out of room and you’ll end up lying flat in a crouched and uncomfortable position. Something I call horizontal fetal. The best I can expect is to doze off periodically while humming along to my U2 collection on the ipod. Just when you finally nod off, expect a pit stop where zombied passengers alight and absently wander around while considering whether or not to ingest the marginal food on display.Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, has been an important trading port since 200 BC. Once trafficking in tea and opium, it’s now a mega industrial and manufacturing magnet, with an escalating population approaching 7 million. Skyscrapers are everywhere, with erector set cranes poking into the sky like a flock of mechanical storks. Western style consumer stores and malls are commonly found, and glassy high-rise buildings dot the horizon, all in a headlong rush towards modernization and 21st century commerce.We were staying at the Westin Guangzhou for three nights, where we frugally cashed in hotel points for very luxurious accommodations. Conveniently located a block away from a brand new subway station, the two-line metro affords quick and easy access to the other sites in town. So what’s to do in Guangzhou?A worthwhile outing is a visit to the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, a 2000-year-old gravesite discovered in 1983 by workers who were excavating a hillside for an apartment complex. Fortunately, this remarkable site was undiscovered and therefore not plundered, and today appears the same as it was when they buried the ancient king Zhao Mo. Nowadays, the gravesite has been made into a fascinating museum, with artifacts from the site preserved and displayed, including the impressive burial suit, composed of thousands of jade tiles sewn together with silken threads. Other display cabinets feature gold jewelry, carved trinkets, and other relics found in the tomb, all neatly presented and explained. Also shown are the somewhat macabre bones of the unfortunate servants and virgins who were sacrificed at the gravesite to accompany the king on his journey to the other side. The actual burial site, with its dirt catacomb chambers locked behind thick wooden doors and supported by giant metal hinges (parts of which are still intact), have also been preserved, so you get an extraordinary impression of what the archeologists discovered and how it was meticulously dug out. Well done, and highly recommended.We also took the Metro down to Shamian Island, a uniquely preserved tree-lined historical district set along the Pearl River. We spent the day wandering around, ducking into an occasional teashop, window shopping, watching the locals play checkers, and appreciating the fine historical buildings. This peaceful oasis contains many British and French colonial structures which were built in the 1850’s, with many converted into upscale restaurants, hotels and shops.It was delightful to watch the young kids on recess parade around the square in ordered lines and circles to the accompaniment of a blaring soundtrack from one of the school windows. To the chorus of the boom box, the kids all shouted in unison and hopped around the yard, energetic and fresh, perhaps practicing their alphabet, or counting to ten? Waterfront cafes and outdoor beer gardens completed the scene, while on the paths that fronted the Pearl River, singers sang out their songs and locals practiced their dance moves to the accompaniment of impromptu amateur bands. Just a few blocks inland from Shamian Island, the colorful shopping street of Xia Jiulu offers hours of entertainment as we wandered the pedestrian street and poked our heads into the stores offering discounted clothing. Nearby Haizhu Square also offers discounted merchandise, while close by, the densely packed Beijing Lu is crammed full with local merchants and shoppers eager to barter. Cheap, authentic food is available everywhere. We spent another day at Yuexiu Park, a sizeable stretch of urban greenery in the center of Guangzhou, with wonderful gardens, shaded paths, lakes with boat rentals, and families out having fun. Within its grounds, you’ll find the popular "Five Rams Statue," a tribute to the eternal founders of the city, as well as the Guangzhou City Museum and the Guangzhou Art Gallery.My wife is able to communicate with the locals despite her limited vocabulary, although she still hasn’t been able to acquire a pill splitter from a pharmacy despite heroic efforts. I thought that displaying a pill, then indicating a chopping motion with your hand, would be sufficient, but it isn’t. We haven’t had any problems getting around, although it helps that we’re not on any strict timetable, which allows time to figure out connections to our next destination. The Chinese are an impatient lot and you need to be wary of their annoying habit of cutting into queues instead of waiting their turn in line. This can occur at a busy ticket counter, at the railway station, or at a taxi line. When you get off the train in a busy metro area, people hurry from the platform to stand in line for a taxi. Generally, the line is well behaved, with taxis arriving at the front of the line and picking up the next available group. However, inevitably, people cut in at the front of the line, rather than walking to the end. In America, this would cause pushing and shoving and a probable fight, but here, people shrug and accept it.While you’re trying to purchase your ticket at the train station, don’t be surprised when people cut in, pushing money at the agent while demanding a ticket. I try to form a ring of protection around my wife when she’s standing at a counter, to out flank and block out anyone thinking of cutting in. Still, in China it’s acceptable behavior, so don’t get too upset, just smile and invoke the universal words of "sorry" or "excuse me."Another thing we found curious are babies that don’t wear diapers. Instead, the baby pants are slit around the crotch from the front to the back, so that when they do have to go to the bathroom, mom, or dad just sets them down, spreads their legs, and lets them go. We suppose it’s better for the baby in that there’s less diaper rash, but the first time you see it, you have to wonder.Overall, China is interesting, and people are very friendly, although English is not widely spoken or perhaps the Chinese are too shy to speak it. Fortunately, we had seven months of Asian travel under our belts before arriving here; otherwise, I think our frustration level would be high. China is the land of big cities and billions of people, but the transportation systems are wide spread, inexpensive, modern, and very easy to figure out, although it helps to have your destination written out in Chinese characters. After our stay here in Guangzhou, it’s a two-hour express train to Hong Kong where we’ll spend a week. No, I would not add this city to our must see list of places, but if you have a decent place to stay at an affordable price, then certainly plan on a few days before continuing east to Hong Kong. Visit the king’s mausoleum, wander around Shamian Island, poke around the busy shopping streets, and indulge in the many food offerings. Lonely Planet notes that Guangzhou is "quite special among China’s major urban centers" and that it takes "some time to grow on you." Perhaps this sprawling metropolis will grow on you too. Now, if they could just do something about that yellow sky.Close
Written by AgedToPerfection on 31 Jan, 2007
I realize that an airline is not actually a destination. However, I felt tremendous anxiety before boarding and would have appreciated a review to allay my fears.China Southern Airlines provides the only direct flight between LAX and Guangzhou. While a direct flight appeals to me,…Read More
I realize that an airline is not actually a destination. However, I felt tremendous anxiety before boarding and would have appreciated a review to allay my fears.China Southern Airlines provides the only direct flight between LAX and Guangzhou. While a direct flight appeals to me, flying on a Chinese government-run airline did not. I had heard horror stories about the cleanliness, the food quality and the lack of service on this route, all of which run high on my list of important factors when choosing an airline.But I had no choice. Our tour group traveled together via this route so I had to tag along. As we waited in the terminal to board, my husband and I struggled to understand the announcements broadcast over the China Southern PA system. I could discern neither English nor Mandarin, despite the fact that the attendants spoke both. Dread descended on us.We had chosen to pay the extra cost of premium economy (formerly business class) for the simple need of having extra space for a trans-Pacific flight. We found out that premium economy passengers could also take on 75 pounds per piece of luggage. The extra allowance benefited us greatly.Our seats proved roomy, although they did not recline to a supine position. Not even close. In the seat pockets, we found an amenities kit, complete with blindfolds and earplugs. We put these to great use and as a result, managed to sleep over eleven of the fifteen hours of the flight.The food, surprisingly, tasted good! I had expected some indistinguishable brown mass of Chinese food. Instead, we received bistro-style meals served on ceramic dishes with real flatware. The prosciutto ham slice over a stuffed slice of papaya, accompanied by a chilled prawn, topped my list of favorites. For breakfast, I could choose either cold cereal or hot congee. Ever faithful to my mom’s homemade congee, I chose the cereal.We also tried mulberry juice during beverage service. I never tried it before so I figured that if silkworms enjoyed dining on mulberry bushes, I would have to do the same. Mulberry juice, I found, tasted like a blend of grape and prune juices. I enjoyed it very much.The restrooms needed a little attention because whenever I visited, the paper towels slot always had tissues in it instead. Tissues do not do a good job of drying hands. Also, I didn’t find out until after we had landed in Guangzhou that the aircraft boasted a huge wheelchair accessible restroom on the other side of the plane. I did use it on the way home.Finally, when we landed in Guangzhou, the pilots received applause for a supremely smooth landing. The flight attendants did not speak much English, I heard that the food in coach tasted terrible, and the bathrooms did not receive a cleaning every thirty minutes like they do on Singapore Airlines but my anxiety about China Southern Airlines has disappeared. Close
Written by romaunt on 13 Jul, 2003
There were two ways that I traveled through China. When I first arrived in China, I decided that I didn't want to stay in the big city. Guangzhou was too big and too much. I thought that if I was in a smaller town, I…Read More
There were two ways that I traveled through China. When I first arrived in China, I decided that I didn't want to stay in the big city. Guangzhou was too big and too much. I thought that if I was in a smaller town, I would be able to wander around by myself and enjoy the peaceful nature of China. So, I spent one night in the hotel and hopped on a train the following afternoon. It is much easier to purchase a train ticket through a travel agent then at the train station. The station is so big and the vast amount of people can overwhelm anyone. Plus, the Chinese tend to ignore you unless you speak Chinese or they can speak English. I guess that it is easier for them to pass you off then to try to deal with the language barrier.
With ticket in hand, I went to the train station. There I waited in a crowd of people that are all stuffed in a small room and then all swarm together into the train depot. They push, they shove, they yell, they scream, they step on your toes, and they all wait to all squeeze through the doorway at the same time. After the cattle call of passengers, I then had to find the car and the cabin that I would be sleeping on. A nice fellow travel saw the confused look on my face and showed me the correct direction. When I arrive in my cabin, I was happy that I paid a little extra for a bottom bunk. There are three levels of bunk beds and a total of six people in a small cabin space. The nice thing about having the bottom bunk was that I could store all my luggage under my bed and be able to keep an eye on it for the whole night.
They provide linens so you don't need a sleeping bag, but just remember to bring a sweatshirt because it gets cold. I also packed myself some snacks that I purchased at the local grocery store. There is a snack vendor that goes through the train selling various items if you can't find snacks. Popular dinner meals seemed to be instant noodles with green tea. The train has hot water and sometimes cold running water. Plus, if you are at the train station before your departure time then you can pick some food up at the vendors by the bridge. Amazingly I got a good nights rest and rather enjoyed my ride on the rails. No one spoke English, but the fellow passengers seemed friendly and gave me welcoming smiles.
Now at the end of my week in China, I decided to take the cheaper way back to the big city. I purchased a bus trip from Yangshio to Guangzhou from a local travel agent. There are plenty of travel agents on the main road and make sure to shop around for the best price. The funny thing was that I arrived at the travel agent and then he passed me off to another woman. This woman didn't speak English, but managed to use hand signals to let me know that I was to follow her to the top of the road. At the top of the road, we waited and waited and waited and waited. I was wondering what was happening because my bus seemed to be late. She made some phone calls and yelled at some people. Then finally she flagged down a bus and away I went.
I got on the bus and it was filled with people. There wasn't a bed for me and they didn't know where to put me. This was a sleeper bus because of the long ride ahead and I figured that a bed would be nice. I didn't think about the fact that the sheets were not clean and I don't know the last time when they were washed. I sat in the front for the beginning and no one on the ride spoke any English. There were some hand gestures and plenty of laughing. The driver stopped after an hour or two and we all had to pile off the bus. They cleared off a bed for me and threw my bag onto the sheets. Then we waited at some odd restaurant that served a form of meat on a stick (deep-fried or in ball form). For about an hour, we all stood around waiting for the driver to eat and relax before we could get back on the bus. Finally, the show was on the road again and the night was spent speeding down the highway towards Guangzhou.
At the end of our journey, we were dropped off at a bus station. I didn't know what was happening but they motioned that the ride was over and it was time for me to leave. I knew that this wasn't the train station that was supposed to be the final stop of the ride. I knew that I would be staying at the hotel by the train station and didn't know my way around the city. The travel agent had told me that the final stop would be the train station. Well, I guess he told me what I wanted to hear and not what was to be. So I wandered off the bus and I was easy prey for the vulture taxi drivers. I was stuck and had no idea where I was in the city. Lesson learned . . . spend the money and take the train! The train is much nicer and a more comfortable travel.
Written by thewanderingpoet518 on 29 Aug, 2005
The Liurong Temple was built in 537 A.D. and named by a famed writer/calligrapher during the Song dynasty 500 years later. It is said when the man gazed on the six Bayan trees inside the grounds, he quickly wrote two characters liu and rong describing…Read More
The Liurong Temple was built in 537 A.D. and named by a famed writer/calligrapher during the Song dynasty 500 years later. It is said when the man gazed on the six Bayan trees inside the grounds, he quickly wrote two characters liu and rong describing these trees on stone slabs that are supposedly still inside the temple gates.
The temple is also famous for the Flower Pagoda (or Hua Ta), which rises about 200 feet straight up. Once again, I stayed below and waved to those who went up. Please note: There are no railings anywhere on the outside of the tower.
Three Buddha statues are housed at the temple, one each for the past, present, and future. While we were there, a monk performed a Buddhist blessing ceremony for those of us who wished one for our new children. The monks asked for a small donation; some of us gave $5, which was a huge donation to the monks.
The island economy tends to cater to the adoptive parents. All the shops offer cute little dresses, squeaky shoes (imagine a dog's toy on the feet of a toddler running around your house), and various authentic Chinese souvenirs. One shop in particular really went out…Read More
The island economy tends to cater to the adoptive parents. All the shops offer cute little dresses, squeaky shoes (imagine a dog's toy on the feet of a toddler running around your house), and various authentic Chinese souvenirs. One shop in particular really went out of its way to sell to my wife, and it worked. She got bargains without even trying to barter for 3 straight days.
Adopting parents will buy a special gift to give to their adopted child each year up until the child turns 18. This day is called Gotcha Day, which is the day the parents first were handed their child. Most people wind up buying an extra suitcase just for the gifts.
In addition to the shops, there are some amazing restaurants and one little grocery store called The Friendly Store, where we discovered Mint Sprite, Salmon Lays, and the most incredible Kit Kats ever--orange-flavored, not white chocolate dyed orange, but creamy, dark, chocolaty orange-flavored Kit Kats. (Gimme a break--sell those here!)