Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Cross Cultural Encounter

After a day of wandering around the city of Chang Wan, we decided to head for the Restaurant district for a light informal supper. We spotted a brightly lit place with all the earmarks of a restaurant in the throes of a grand opening (Balloons, large flower displays with broad ribbons inscribed in Korean, etc). As we studied the picture menu, we were invited inside by smiles and gestures.
After we were seated, we asked “Does anyone here speak English?”. An 11 year old girl who was hovering nearby volunteered, “Yes.” She immediately became our interpreter and guide. Her vocabulary was extensive and stretched well beyond the usual, “How are you?” and, “How old are you?” Another sister, possibly two years younger, joined us periodically, undoubtedly to practice her English too. However, every time she opened her mouth to speak she would collapse in giggles. They, in turn, were joined by their baby sister who was dressed in a pretty pink party dress, complete with a pink crown.
She wasn’t the least bit shy and babbled happily in Korean, not at all perturbed that no one was responding to her.
Eventually their Father joined us, concerned that his children were annoying us. Quite to the contrary, we were thoroughly enjoying his family. Very soon he joined us too, lifting the toddler onto his lap.
Suddenly the toddler became unusually quiet and developed a look of deep concentration. She reached out her index finger and tentatively stroked Mal’s forearm. She collapsed into shrieks of toddler delight, looking toward her father for approval. Her Father, embarrassed by this seemingly presumptuous act, started to apologize. He then realized that Mal was charmed by this spontaneous act of exploration and was encouraging her to continue. Soon father and daughter were both lost in their own small universe where the child was learning that there are some men, mostly non-Korean, who have hair on their arms and that it is sometimes considered a sign of great strength and courage.
Given that the arm in question belonged to Mal, out of two isn’t bad!

The Masan fish market

Old Port in Masan 4-6-2008 4-17-00 AM

A lesson in Korean 4-6-2008 2-58-14 AM

I'm watching you 4-6-2008 2-59-37 AM

Korean Fish Mongersette 4-6-2008 3-01-33 AM

Live Prawns 4-6-2008 3-03-48 AM

One of the many advantages of visiting countries by sea is that we always have fresh fish available to us in the most of the restaurants. In Asia, at least in the costal areas, fish are kept alive in aerated fish tanks until they are prepared for consumption. We decided to visit the Masan fish market, in Korea, to learn more about how this is accomplished. Like most markets in the world we found rows of vendors displaying their wares, except that in this case, the wares were very much alive and swimming. Most of the vendors were female and we were greeted with smiles, broken English and much laughter. This is a place where everybody appears to be happy and there is a shared sense of camaraderie. Everywhere was spotlessly clean and the market had a wonderfully sweet smell of fresh fish. Live fish don’t have much of a fishy smell. I say fish, but actually there was an abundance of seafood too; crabs, oysters, shrimp, prawns, mussels, whelks, octopi and squid to name a few. There even was a lonesome frog for sale.
Water is piped in from the nearby harbor so that the water tanks can constantly be replenished. Open gutters, covered with grills, return the excess overflow. Open gutters paint a bad image, perhaps, but like the whole market, the water that flowed through these gutters was clean and sweet smelling. I suspect that the vendors have another method of disposal for their fish waste. A hint of one bad fish here could spell doom to the whole market.
So how do the fish get from here to their destination alive? I noticed that every vendor had stacks of Styrofoam boxes in every size. The large restaurant cooler sizes are filled with seawater and fish, and are delivered by truck. Smaller individual purchases are put in sealed plastic bags, similar to how a goldfish is transported in the U.S. Other fish are killed and wrapped and taken home for prompt consumption. Octopi and shell fish etc., which don’t need moving sea water to stay alive, are packed in crushed ice, of which there was plenty.
The fish market covers approximately five or six city blocks and there are stalls of spices and herbs, fruits and vegetables around the periphery to allow for the convenience of one-stop shopping. We arrived slightly before nine o’clock on a Sunday morning when the market was still quiet. We had no difficulty losing ourselves here for two and a half hours. This early in the morning the vendors had time to spare and enjoyed interacting with us. We were taught the correct Korean pronunciation for many of the fish. These lessons usually involved three or four vendors who insisted on being party to this activity, much to everybody’s enjoyment.
By the time we left the market was busy and we realized that we had been there at the best time of the day to allow for these fun filled interactions.

Food in Masan

At the fish market 4-6-2008 2-57-35 AM

At the fish restaurant 4-5-2008 5-55-09 AM
At the Masan Fish Market. All thise fish are confusing 4-6-2008 2-55-42 AM
Our Korean Meal 4-5-2008 5-55-02 AM

Our first adventure with food in Korea was interesting. Mal’s olfactory senses found us a restaurant where we had to remove our shoes and sit cross legged on the floor. Nobody spoke a word of English. We used our picture card, pointed to a fish and indicated that they should choose our meal.
We were each given our own dish of chili sauce with a teaspoon of wasabi tucked under the lip and another of sesame sauce. Shared accompaniments were chopped sweet green pepper, chopped garlic, sliced green chili pepper and peeled chestnuts. We had a small serving platter of chicory with a vinaigrette style hot and sweet dressing and a slaw of cabbage and sliced cucumber dressed with a white hot and sweet sauce.
The first course consisted of two large prawns, two raw oysters on the half shell, dried cooked baby octopi and a pancake whose main ingredients were eggplant and zucchini.
The main course was an elegant platter of thinly slice raw fish that had been happily swimming in a fish tank when we first sat down, steamed mussels in a broth, and the grilled head of the aforementioned fish. These were accompanied by a plate of red leaf lettuce and sesame leaves, which were palm sized , looked like a stinging nettle and has a mild mint flavor. Our waitress showed us how to tear up a leaf, dip the raw fish in the chili sauce and place on the leaf and add any, or all, of the accompaniments folding it into a small edible packet.
Our last course was a freshly made egg custard which the waitress spooned into the remaining sesame seed sauce.
The entire meal was splendidly delicious. Had I realized that it was going to be a surimi style lunch I might have rejected it. Confronted with a choice of raw fish or hunger, I chose to eat the fish and I’m glad I did. I was even enjoying the fish head until the eye fell out. I generously offered the rest of the head to Mal!
All of the restaurants that we saw had fish tanks filled with all manner of live fish and shell fish, guaranteeing that all fish is 100% fresh. Would I go out of my way to eat this in New York? Probably not.
We chose beer again as our beverage. Asian restaurants don’t seem to carry a large selection of wines and I would assume from this that it is not well liked, except that Carrefours, a well know French department store that we found in China, carries an international line of fine wines. Even Wal-Mart there has a wine aisle, but I noticed that many of these were labeled “The Great Wall of China” vintage. We had already tasted a bottle of this brand with dire results.
Our appetites had not yet recovered by six thirty in the evening and so we chose to eat a simple meal in a modern Korean restaurant with high tables and chairs. We ordered a chicken dish containing sliced carrots, mushrooms, scallions, onions, potatoes and hot red peppers. It was served on a bed of with transparent rice noodles. I thought that the Irish were the only people crazy enough to eat potatoes and noodles together! The dish came with a large, heavy duty pair of kitchen scissors. Was it to further cut up the already pieced chicken? The answer was provided by the waitress. I was trying to serve myself some noodles, hot pot style, when she approached our table, borrowed my chopsticks lifted some noodles and elegantly chopped them off. Mystery solved.
This meal, like all our meals in Asia, was interesting, tasty and a complete gastronomic success.

A Farewell to China

Yesterday we left Qingdao. It was a sad farewell. Contrary to my expectations, I fell in love with China. In all of the ports we visited I found happy, gregarious and caring people. The young children, with their good looks and spontaneity, are especially charming. Heiner, a fellow passenger, who has a salt and pepper beard, and a head of dark brown curls, appears so extraordinary to them that, in Heiner’s words, “their eyes widen with surprise and they cover their mouths and start to giggle. When I smile and wave they giggle even harder. If I imitate them and cover my mouth and giggle too, they burst into peals of laughter that is so infectious that even the accompanying adults laugh.”
Mal and I frequently seek the non-tourist areas of the cities we visit. Here the shop assistants speak very little English, and our Chinese is limited to please and thank you. The Chinese naturally use hand gestures, so, with much giggling and laughter we communicate well and shopping is a pleasure.
Even the restaurants are fun. In Northern china there is a cuisine called Hot Pot. Raw, thinly sliced food is brought to the table and the diners immerse it in a simmering highly seasoned broth until cooked. The first time we stumbled into a Hot Pot restaurant we had no idea how to order or cook the food. The restaurant was large and filled with many six to eight person tables of dark suited business men, as well as other couples like us. Realizing that we would need assistance, the Hostess allocated two young waitresses to our table. I am not sure who had more fun, our waitresses or Mal and I.
We’ve had lots of similar, and equally enjoyable, experiences. In our wildest dreams Mal and I never imagined that this trip would be so much fun. To add to our enjoyment Heiner has a video camera and movie making software. His wit and humor, combined with his highly skilled ability to manipulate his images, and his uncanny ability to find the right music for each occasion, frequently leave us rolling with laughter.
As Qingdao started to recede, a handsome sloop came scudding out of the Olympic harbor. It was a perfect day for sailing.

China Pictures

The Chinese loved to get into our photographs 3-31-2008 3-55-35 AM
You have been warned 3-17-2008 7-05-46 AM
Kindergarten Outing 3-30-2008 3-33-52 AM
Mal and Friends in Qingdao 3-31-2008 3-55-01 AM

Mei....The Wind 3-17-2008 6-55-53 AM

Our next dinghy. Now taking orders for 2009 3-30-2008 4-14-48 AM

Sailboat with Qingdao and the Statue Mei in the background 4-2-2008 8-51-07 AM

Even the Statues are smiling. 3-31-2008 7-46-51 AM
Getting Ready for the 2008 Olympics 3-18-2008 2-25-21 AM

Impromtu Chinese concert at the new Olympic Center 3-30-2008 4-05-03 AM
Its all in the technique 3-30-2008 5-52-35 AM

Jonathan Lito and Mark having some fun with Lifeboat Drill 3-13-2008 5-06-44 AM

Are you sure Issac Walton started this way 3-30-2008 4-18-30 AM
Bethoven in Qingdao 3-30-2008 4-00-21 AM
Breakfast at Tiffany's 3-30-2008 8-40-24 AM
But i know my new car would look terrific with these decals 3-30-2008 5-06-22 AM
Even the Manhole Covers are ready for the game 3-17-2008 6-54-15 AM

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I woke up on the 27th March to a day that could only be described as a perfect 10; clear blue sky, low humidity, buildings whose glass sparkled in the reflected sunlight and sidewalks remarkable for how clean they were.Welcome to modern Beijing. Any one booked for the August Olympics is going to be pleasantly surprised. Even the public toilets have attendants imbued with a single minded intensity to ensure that these facilities remain clean.I hope that western visitors come forewarned about the standard "floor"model. Our hotel, hoping to avoid this 'sticky' problem, cleverly installed toilets whose height is halfway in between!
Mal and I spent most of the day walking, hopping a taxi only to take us to one of the Hutong districts. These are areas of old Beijing that have survived centuries of crises in the city and now find themselves threatened with extinction in the twenty first century by something mistakenly considered progress. Here we found the last redoubt of the once ubiquitous rickshaw, now used solely to transport tourists. Our guide book recommended these as the best way to explore the area.
During the seventh century Beijing was built on a system of grids. Within each grid there is a labyrinth of small streets and lanes. These are created by small, single story houses which surround a shared courtyard.The back doors open onto the narrow lanes, or hutongs. Most districts still carry the name of the craft or skill that they were formally associated with such as millinery, weaving etc. Normally passed from generation to generation, I saw some evidence that these houses are being purchased and renovated by young ambitious Chinese.

Commercial Beiling appears very prosperous. All the cars, including taxis,look brand new. Mal suspects that older models are banned because they are more likely to contribute to pollution. People are fashionably dressed,especially the young, and there is an energy about the city that is infectious.
There is little evidence of the rebelliousness that caused the tragedy of Tiananmen Square. I suspect that full employment, because of the Olympics,leaves people either too busy or too tired at the end of the day to have time for adverse politics. Not that all is well. The army is omnipresent throughout the city and there is still serious censorship. I was watching CNN news when my screen went blank. It frustrated me that the stations on either side of this channel were working perfectly. Suddenly CNN returned,thankfully, because I was giving myself a bad case of Nintendonitis with the remote control. Later, when it happened again, I realized that the trigger was the mention of Tibet. All the news about Tibet is censored. This censorship extends to the newspapers. A story, as reported by the International Herald Tribune, is distinctly different to the same story as reported by the state run China News.
Please appreciate how wonderful it is to live in a free world - in spite of all the warts - and the National Enquirer!

Beijing Pics

Hutong Backdoor 3-26-2008

In a gardern just outside the Forbidden City 3-26-2008 3-48-57 AM

Some Hutong lanes were built just wide enough for a man on a horse 3-26-2008 7-26-32 AM

The dining room in a wealthy Ming period courtyard home 3-26-2008 8-14-24 AM

Tiananmen Square. Did we mention what a perfect day it was 3-26-2008 3-17-48 AM

A feeling of peace pervades this temple courtyard 3-26-2008 7-39-48 AM

A group tour in Tiananmen Square 3-26-2008 3-19-29 AM

A Rickshaw in the hutong district 3-26-2008 7-17-01 AM

Chairman Mao 3-26-2008 3-24-57 AM

Downtown Beijing 3-25-2008 10-53-39 AM


Most of the cities that we visit have two distinct personalities: old towns filled with centuries old Chinese residences, store front retail shops,butchers, green grocers with neighborhood flavors and idiosyncrasies peculiar to each area, and new towns, less than twenty-five years old,filled with modern hi-rise buildings, built to meet the demand of new industries and the prosperity that these industries have generated.
Dalian is different. It is two cities merged into one. In the nineteenth century, Russia took a small fishing village and turned it into a thriving port, Port Arthur, to house their Pacific fleet. One day in 1904,completely out of the blue, (Oh goodness me!) the Japanese attacked the Russian fleet. Next day the Japanese declared war and the Russo-Japanese conflict became official. China eventually regained the port and it remained Port Arthur for many years until they decided to merge it with a neighboring city. They named this megalopolis Dalian.
There are many beautiful beaches that stretch on either side of the port leading to a thriving tourist industry. In the summer Chinese and Russians gravitate here en masse. We don't visualize the Chinese or Russians in swimsuits having fun but if we did we would realize how alike we are.
Mal and I hired a driver to take us to the "Old Town", hoping to explore the old city. Imagine our dismay when we found ourselves at the foot of a large mall. Unlike its U.S. counterpart this mall extends vertically as opposed to horizontally. The format is similar to some large U.S. hotels. There is an atrium in the middle with upscale retailers filling the peripheral areas.
We decided to abandon the mall and seek greener fields in the city streets.Before leaving I suggested we visit the "W.C.", (a term the Chinese undoubtedly adopted from the Brits), on the grounds that they would be modern and clean. I found beautifully tiled walls, polished stainless steel cubicles, automatic proximity faucets and hot air hand driers. Inside the stainless steel doors were pristine, white porcelain toilet bowls....set into the floor. Billions of Asians have used this arrangement for centuries so I doubt that it is going to change, and, in fact, I've grown accustomed to it. What seems a little odd, although it really shouldn't, given that this is a very modern mall, is that these toilets are self flushing, and like their U.S. equivalents, they don't give any warning before they flush!
Oh, yes. No toilet paper. There was a vending machine that dispensed small packets of tissues for a few cents, but, what every Asian woman, and at least one westerner, knows -- always carry your own toilet paper.

Food for Foodies

Mal and I followed Alex’s advice and ate in the, “Made in China” restaurant in the Hyatt hotel near the Forbidden City. What a delicious meal. The cuisine is local to Beijing.
The nibbles, which accompanied our aperitif, were pickled fava beans smothered in an unfamiliar green herb, and pickled pieces of lotus and turnip served with pieces of dried fish.
Our main course consisted of duck livers served with scone-like pancakes,(sorry, don’t know how else to describe them) scallions and hoison sauce, a pie made with shortcrust pastry, filled with ground lamb, seasoned with cumin and cardamom, and pork in brown sauce (menu description) with cashew and macadamia nuts.
The sommelier, Heiko Roeder from Nuremberg, helped us choose our wine; a superb organic Sauvignon Blanc from Argentina. It was a little more fragrant than we are accustomed to, and was a perfect complement to the spicy food.
We rounded the meal off in the Lobby Bar by sharing a dessert of Crème Brule served with a compote of plums, accompanied by cognac and aged port.


Getting a haircut in Shanghai

On the way to the haircut

Shanghai is like no other city in the world. Home to 17 million people it is the largest economic and transportation center in China,and yet it is breathtakingly beautiful. Mal and I stayed overnight in a hotel close to the "Old City" or "Nanshi", as it is known by locally. The city is so diverse that even a week spent here would hardly be sufficient to do it justice. Perhaps the easiest way to understand the multicultural aspect is to look at its history.
1,000 years ago it was a small fishing village.
In the 13th century it became a recognized town, frequently attacked by Japanese pirates.
In the 16th century a wall was built around the city to ward off the above pirates.
In the 1842 the city survived the opium war.
In the late 19th century /Early 20th century the city became a glamorous, if risqué, international port, home to people from all over the world.
In 1916 the city dismantled the wall.
In 1921 the Chinese Communist Party was formed in the French Quarter.Mao Zedong was present.
From 1937 to 1945 the port was occupied by the Japanese.
From 1945 to 1949 it was ruled by the Guomindang Nationalists.
In 1949 it reverted to Communism.
In 1965 The City gave birth to the Cultural Revolution.
In 1990 the city entered its "skyscraper" period. There are 3,100high-rise buildings. At one time the construction was so intense that it caused a shortage of building cranes throughout Asia.
Most of the newest skyscrapers are in Pudunk, an area along the north bank of the river Huang Pu river. They represent, collectively, the best designs of the world's top architects. Each building is a strikingly beautiful work of art.
Mal and I had arranged for the hotel's car service to drive us back to the port. Unlike our inward journey, our outward journey was in a modern minibus, with a driver who spoke English. Even at 7:00 at night we had to struggle with downtown congestion, so it wasn't until we were speeding up a ramp onto an elevated highway that I experienced the full impact of the city's beauty. Many of the skyscrapers were lit up against the night sky, some in abstract design, and others silhouettes of their buildings. The display was dynamic, quietly sliding through a rainbow of colors,consisting predominantly of green, purple, red, blue and gold turning the city into a symphony of color and light.
As we sped away, I watched this panoply of color and design until it receded into the distance, knowing that I would probably never see this extravagant display again.

The tale of the peek-a-boo toe

Envrionmentally Friendly clothes dryers

Happiness is a new customer

Shoe repair while you wait, Qingdao style

We only had one day to spend in Qingdao, so Mal and I decided to hire a guide and a driver for the day. In his haste to leave the ship Mal caught the toe of his shoe on the underside of the metal gangway. In one of those strange occurrences in life the shoe made contact with a sharp piece of metal at exactly the right angle, and with exactly the right force, that the stitching joining the top of the shoe to the front and sides got cut leaving a two centimeter hole. These are Mal's, "long distance," walking shoes and their loss would be significant. When our guide asked us how we would like to spend our day, Mal tacked on a request for a shoe repair shop that could possible repair his shoe while he waited.
A mention of the sad plight of the shoe didn't arise again until late in the afternoon when we were returning to the ship. "Ah yes," said our guide, and directed our driver to exit the highway. We were immediately plunged into a world of narrow cobbled streets and alleyways awash with overhead laundry.After squirreling around for five or ten minutes we were suddenly treated to a chorus of the Chinese equivalent of, "Eureka". There, on the sidewalk,was a little old shoe repair lady, complete with sewing machine, and surrounded by her neighbors and friends. Mal was offered a small stool to sit on and the offending shoe was removed and replaced by a brocade slipper.
Twenty minutes and one dollar twenty-five cents later Mal's shoe was returned to him looking like new. There was no evidence that it had ever been damaged.
Our guide explained to the group that we were going around the world by ship, so after the shoe was returned to Mal, there was much bowing and nodding of heads. They asked our guide to tell us that they were very happyto be of service to such distinguished guests.
Your distinguished guest
Anne Marie

Shanghaied On the Way to Shanghai

Heiner - Who learnt what is meant to be Shanghaied 2-26-2008

Typical of many ports that we visit, the commercial terminal for Shanghai,Luojing harbor, is a distance from the city. We were advised that we were approximately 20 miles away from the city center, and that transportation might be difficult to find.
We didn't realize that the miles were "Irish Miles", where "a mile or so down the road" is Irish lingo for a distance measuring anywhere from 1 to 10miles. As for getting there, we had several candidates willing to arrange transportation for us. The first person who approached us appeared to speak English, always a plus, and seemed nice. He offered to get us a taxi that would take us to the city for a total of $30.
The taxi left a little to be desired, especially the clutch. The taxi driver spoke and understood little English. Mal had carefully written the address and telephone number of our hotel on a piece of paper which he handed to our driver. He immediately became a little distressed and called his dispatcher. At the same time he kept telling us, "No go Shanghai."After a very animated conversation in Chinese, he handed the phone to Mal.It appeared that the original agent's command of the English wasn't so good afterall. He thought that we wanted to go to Jaiding, a large town much closer to the port. The dispatcher, who spoke excellent English, told Malthat a trip to Shanghai would cost US$70. After much negotiation the price was reduced to $60.
Problem solved, or so we thought until Heiner's GPS showed that we were actually heading away from Shanghai. Any attempt to learn why this should be was answered with, "No go Shanghai". Mal assured Heiner and me that the dispatcher knew that we wanted to go to downtown Shanghai and there was nothing we could do but have faith.
An analogy might be arriving at JFK and asking to be driven to Greenwich Village only to have the taxi head toward the Riverdale section of the Bronx. I muttered to myself, "Shanghaied, by golly, in Shanghai."
Eventually we arrived literally at the feet of the dispatcher where we changed to another car and driver. Our new driver, needless to say, took us directly to our Hotel.
The explanation lies in method that the City of Shanghai uses to cut down traffic congestion in the city. There is a finite number of license plates issued, and these coveted plates are allocated by lottery. Our driver's "Nogo Shanghai" was an effort to tell us, "I don't have a license plate that allows me to drive in Shanghai."