Sunday, May 20, 2018

Letter from Shanghai :-)

Dear Andrew

Day 1
I hope you are having a pleasant trip, on your own, back to Laos.  It isn’t everyone who can say they flew all the way to China, only to be denied entry to the country because they didn’t bring the correct identification with them.

Yes I know you have 2 versions of your APEC card; an interim one without China on it, and the final one with China permission on it.  But really, trying to enter China without the China permission – that was simply not going to go well for you.
aprc card

I did think all the immigration police we met were very kind.  There was the nice young man who went and got us a tray of food while we sat (with obligatory guard) for ages in the immigration ‘holding pen’ watching all the other travellers passing through immigration.  And the other young man who escorted you down to the Air Asia desk to buy a cheap fare back to Bangkok, a mere 4.5 hours flying time away.  And by the sound of your messages, the one who sat by your side until you boarded your plane in departures, was also very nice.

After I left you at the airport I got a taxi into Shanghai.  Of course I had expected to be doing that closer to 2:30am rather than 5:30am – but you can’t always plan for you husband not bringing the correct documentation.  So by the time I got to the hotel nearly an hour and 160 RMB later,  I didn't really feel like having a nap.  So I had read, then a shower, and put on clean clothes to go and visit the my colleagues in the China company office. 

You would have liked the clean streets and wide open spaces of the upmarket business district.  And you would have enjoyed looking in the supermarket (including seeing some Whittakers chocolate)  Being a bit tired, I grabbed some bits from the supermarket for dinner and made it through to the end of the day.

Day 2

Dear Andrew

I’m sure you would have liked the view from our/my apartment balcony – but you can look out over Vientiane, now that you are home again.  I am surprised with the amount of low-rise accommodation.  The high rises are there, but there is some distance to them. 
shanghai skyline
In a conversation this evening I was told that while the official population is capped at 25 million people, there are unofficially 28 million people living in the environs.  But in the limited areas I have been, there was not ultra-high population density.  In fact central Hong Kong has a much more crowded feel than central Shanghai.

I walked down to the Shanghai Museum – it is shaped like a Chinese eating vessel.  You would have particularly liked the free exhibition of items from Tate Britain currently on short-term display.  The ceramics were also nice, but I was disappointed that the bronzes gallery was closed for renovation.  So I guess you didn’t miss the Bronzes, by not being here.

shanghai museum

And I wandered onto the shopping strip along Nanjing Road.  Apart from the increasing number of people about, I could have been anywhere in the world looking at the international brands…Apple, Zara, H&M….

I have managed both days so far to wander around with food spilled on my clothing.  Yesterday I poured coffee down my blouse and basically wandered around all day like that.  Of course travelling by yourself, your non-existent companion doesn't worry about that.  Today while enjoying dumplings I managed to squirt meat juices on my blouse – but only a greasy mark of about an inch – much easier to camouflage than the foot print sized coffee stain yesterday.  The various dumplings here are delicious. 

Having no one to eat with, I have booked myself on a Food tour.  You would enjoyed walking to 5 five different cuisines.  And the last one with a lamb and cumin dishes from the North Western areas would really have appealed to you.  Of course you would have enjoyed the free flowing beers and shots of baijiu, the Chinese national liquor.  While your roast chicken sounded pleasant, Sichuan, Cantonese, Ningbo  and Uighur cuisine was a more interesting option.  The tour started at 6pm I finally got back to the apartment after 10.  Quite a nice evening ‘by myself’

shanghai food
Day 3

Today I finally made it down to the Bund, where it was a bit misty.  While you would have enjoyed watching the boats and people, I quite enjoyed being able to walk where I wanted and leave when I had had enough of people and boats. 


I headed off to the former French concession area and walked until I couldn’t walk anymore.  By the end of the day my phone said I had walked over 21km – maybe you wouldn't have liked that.  But it was a shame you missed the tree lined streets and nice looking houses, boutiques, and restaurants.  

It is also good you are not here because you wouldn’t have liked the electric bikes which arrive silently, then the drivers go where they want regardless of the traffic signals.  No amount of your glaring and sending dirty looks, would have dealt to that issue.

Having seen the Bund in the morning light it was also on the agenda to see it again in the dark with the lights from the new Pudong area illuminated.  I know you would have enjoyed it because you were exceedingly jealous when I face-timed you and gave you a view on video feed.  Pictures were probably not quite like actually being there.  But if you cant bring your documentation, you have to miss out on such fun experiences.  

shanghai night
shanghai night 2
Day 4
I had a relaxed morning with a bit of neighbourhood exploration before getting on the metro to the airport.  I was going to change to the Maglev train, but at 50 rmb vs 5 rmb for the same journey, I decided to forgo travelling on the fastest passenger train in the world.  Maybe if I return to Shanghai, I might do it next time…  

Efficiently through the airport, and onto the flight down to Kuala Lumpur.  I had an “Andrew” moment at KL airport while trying to work out how to walk to the nearby Tune hotel where we have stayed before.  I wandered up and down the terminal for nearly 30 minutes before I realised I was in KLIA terminal and the walk was from the KLIA2 terminal.  But a quick ride on the shuttle train between terminals and in 2 minutes I was off to the hotel.  An overnight sleep and then up at 4:30am for the 6:30am flight back to Vientiane.  And back to work before 10 am.

I am looking forward to the trip you are planning for us to return in July.   I don't think you will bring the wrong ID on a trip again Smile 

lots of love

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Osaka and Hong Kong

We headed through to Osaka briefly before our flight to Hong Kong.  We basically ate and wandered around.  Not unpleasant at all.  Andrew was fascinated with the large Ferris Wheel – maybe because it was red I think.

And then a brief time in Hong Kong – but enjoyable as always.  We stayed in Kowloon for a change, so it was nice to check out some less familiar territory. 

We went to the very good Museum of Hong Kong history.  Initially I was a bit underwhelmed by the geological and dinosaur displays.  But once you moved into the ethnographic displays it becomes fascinating.  They have done it really well detailing ethnic groups and recent & not so recent history.  We ended up spending quite a bit of time here.

Sarah was brave, leaving Hong Kong island to come over to the ‘dark-side’.  We had a very nice meal together at a modern French Bistro :  Scarlett.  The food and wine (and company) were very good, but the Pimms we all had to start with was a major disappointment.  I guess you shouldnt expect a French restaurant to make a English drink :-) 
At the other end of the dining scale was our first night meal. We decided to stay close to the hotel and ended up at a local spot near Temple market.  Crowded tables of locals and a couple of pairs of foreigners suggested it was a good place.  Rough and ready it delivered good beers, delicious lemon chicken with a healthy side dish of broccoli and garlic. 

hk food

Of course a sign of bravery in any restaurant is seeing one of the chefs cooking in front of burning woks – without any shirt on Smile

hk food2

Kyoto April 2018

We travelled between Tokyo and Kyoto on the bullet train, shinkansen.  Kyoto station is quite an architectural statement – big and modern.  And then at the very top a green outdoor area with views over the city.

Kyoto station

We had a apartment for our stay, about a 7 minute walk from the station.  There was a metro station nearby so we were ideally set for exploring Kyoto.

Our 1st day we visited the food-hall of a nearby mall and there we picked a random restaurant and had an outstanding lunch.  One local speciality (attributed to nearby Osaka) is Okonomiyaki, a cabbage pancakeThe staff member prepared the mixture at the table, shaped it on the grill built into the table and very seriously told us NOT to touch it.  She repeated it again, looking at Andrew.  10 minutes later she came back and turned the large cake over.  Again she told us very seriously not to touch it. Our other noodle dish we had ordered was prepared in the kitchen and put on the grill beside the pancake.  The final touch was the waitress came back and offered us dried tuna shavings (thank you, no said Andrew) and mayonnaise and a barbecue sauce swirled over the top of the pancake.  VERY good and we returned here once more while in Kyoto.

On our first day we walked to the Kiyomizu-dera temple.  The temple was heavily shrouded with construction materials, but the views from the temple back over Kyoto were lovely.

We took a couple of photos of us  (awwwww…Smile )

At the bottom of the temple were the sacred waters, here people were lining up to catch some of the flow.  It grants wishes – so there were very long queues.  

The crowds outside the temple and nearby were rather overwhelming.  This caused us to change the way we toured for the rest of the days in Kyoto.  The next days we got up early, visited our main destinations before the crowds and returned to the apartment for a rest before doing something in the afternoons.  It was a very good strategy!

crowds One morning we headed to Fushimi Inari shrine.  It is an icon of Kyoto and highly photographed.  Being there with limited people was definitely an advantage. 
Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari2

The temple is associated with foxes and there were many, many fox statues dotted around.  Many of these were wearing the red bibs.  
Fushimi Inari.3jpg
One day we visited the Nishiki Market, where there was no shortage of foods laid out.  And quite a few tourists to navigate around.
Nishiki Market
In need of  coffee we found an old-school Japanese cafe, Otafuku coffee.  Located down the stairs from the street, there were about 6 small tables and 4 seats at the bar.  One man was running the show.  Coffees were pour over, no machines here.  

The one thing we didnt know was available when we ordered (and later regretted) was the delicious looking cheesecake and another dessert.  The coffee took a while to come (brewed with care) and we watched with a tinge of jealousy as every other table being presented with a delicious looking sweeties. 
We  had found on day one a great looking cafe a couple minutes away from the apartment.  We duly arrived at 9:15am (they opened at 9:00) we then proceeded to wait 45 minutes for 2 drip coffees.  Admittedly the coffee very good, but the wait was not so great.  Initially it was nice sitting in the spring sunshine on the roadside, but that wore a bit thin.  If a troupe of nursery children, being pushed in trailers, had not gone by and provided some cuteness, we would have walked away – regardless of whether we lost our money or not.  If you have time to spare Murmur coffee house has good coffee. 
Another morning we headed to the Bamboo Forest.  A nice walk and a circuit down by the river
We joined a free walking tour of the Gion district.  We stayed for 10 minutes and the we ‘disappeared’.  The tour leader was good but we aren't good at walking around like sheep, and we wanted to explore in our own way.  In the small streets we did see two genuine Geisha moving between appointments. The influx of tourists has prompted the need for signs explaining what is acceptable behavior in these areas.

And 2 little quirks to finish…note the hand washing above the toilet – a real space saver!  And the brutal translation for what we would call reading glasses…

Tokyo in April

Another Lao New Year and another chance to have a short break without using up too much annual leave.  Cherry blossom season had just finished but there was still plenty of spring growth and blossoms to see.  Being spring it was also relatively cool and we spent most of the trip in our puffer vests.

The journey between Bangkok and Tokyo was relatively painless and only a couple of 'Andrew incidents' the 1st when he got a little confused in the lounge and followed me into the ladies toilets instead of heading in the other direction to the Gents. 

Arriving in Tokyo we made a beginners error and left the airport without activating our sim card and without having a clear idea how to get from A to B.  On the Tokyo metro you REALLY need clarity because it can be more than just a little confusing.   As a result we arrived at 9:30pm and got to our destination just before midnight having taken a couple of random trains back and forth before we got sorted.  The journey should really have taken about 30 minutes, not 2 hours.  It was the only time we were truly lost during the trip and the only time no one went out of their way to help us.  For the rest of the trip if we stopped for more than 20 seconds to look at the maps on our phones, someone would volunteer to help us - people were unbelievably helpful.

Maybe the travel pressure was why Andrew forced his way through the metro turnstile in the wrong direction?  The station worker looked a bit panicked at the thought of having to explain in English what the problem was.  But together we got him turned around and through the correct turnstile.  Then there was the time in the coffee shop when Andrew looked around and threw his sugar packets in the 'rubbish tin' I had to point out to him it was an umbrella stand as we quickly exited the shop with our heads down.

This trip we based ourselves in an apartment that was a 12 minute walk to the Tokyo central station.  We only had 2 days in Tokyo and walked around the imperial palace and other gardens and checked out a few stores.  The main focus of our time seemed to center around food and we did eat very well.

We had been recommended a restaurant near to the apartment.  Crumbed and briefly deep fried, the beef was brought to the table where you could heat the small strips as you like them.  The beef was unbelievably tender, and the dipping sauces were delicious.  We both could have ordered another set, but that would have been a bit piggy Smile
beef restaurant
The absolute dining highlight of the whole trip was lunch at Le Sputnik, a 1* Michellen French/Japanese restaurant.  When you book you are asked if you have any food allergies etc, and then the menu is 100% chef’s choice.  And it was a delightful 8 course lunch, together with wine pairings, delivered in a relaxed manner over 2.5 hours.  Andrew rates it as one of his best meals ever.  The wines were eclectic, but every single one was outstanding and they came from France, Portugal, Greece and a surprisingly good Japanese red.  The food included sashimi, foie gras, fish on burdock (pictured below), and a ‘main’of Venison.  It was fantastic and highly recommend it to anyone. 
Le Sputnik

After the meal we wandered away, well-fed and very happy.  We determined this was our wedding anniversary meal as tomorrow (the actual 9th anniversary) we would be travelling. 

In the nearby neighbourhood we spotted a restaurant selling wines from Georgia and took a look at the famous Louis Bourgeois sculpture, “Maman” a 30 foot high spider.
In the evenings we used our local supermarket to produce quick meals – generally we ate rather well during the day we only needed a small top up at night.