Monday, June 28, 2010

New Friends in the City

I decided too late that I could go to TBEX and the event was sold out. I was looking forward to meeting all the travel bloggers in New York. Of course, I found out that there was some disorganization and I could've crashed the party without anyone noticing.

Fortunately, I made plans Sunday night to meet at least one visiting travel blogger--Jen from Solo Travel Girl. I was especially interested in meeting Jen because she was one the first regular readers of this blog.

We met up in Chinatown and found a small dumpling and noodle shop on Mott St., Wonton Garden. It felt like a Mainland noodle shop with a nice selection of dumplings, wontons, and noodles (unfortunately, they didn't have Lanzhou la mian). I was surprised by the amount of food they served for $5--those were big dumplings for any restaurant. Afterwards, we headed down to the Whiskey Tavern on Baxter for a drink.

I was surprised that Jen brought me a gift: homemade mango chutney. After trying it on fish and rice, I can safely say that it tastes amazing. The jar Jen gave me will not last two weeks for my wife to try when she returns from China.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Drinking Independently

Wednesday night I attended the Indy Spirits Expo at Touch in New York. I was given tickets by Dave at Orange V vodka, whom I met a month earlier at the Micro Distillers Odyssey. I tried Orange V again and was impressed that it tastes like real oranges mixed with high-quality vodka.

Unlike the Micro Distillers Odyssey, the Indy Spirits Expo didn't have any seminars and fewer distillers attended (it was mostly sales reps). However, there were more spirits to sample this time around. I was disappointed that there weren't more cocktails being served--since the Micro Distillers Odyssey was part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, there were plenty of bartenders mixing creative cocktails. The Indy Spirits Expo was also more crowded than the previous event--fortunately, I was able to show up an hour earlier than most attendees.

I discovered a few new spirits that were interesting and impressive. My first sample was Calisaya, an Italian liqueur distilled from cinchona bark--it was a bit sweet and would be great mixed with some neutral spirits. I also found some flavored vodkas from Hamptons Vodka--the chocoraspberry really tasted like chocolate and raspberry. The distiller mentioned that he has a deal to begin distributing these vodkas in Shenzhen.

I was happy to find two spirits made in New Jersey--Love Potion #9 and The Spirit of Liberty. The Love Potion was much sweeter than the Calisaya, but had a pleasant, smooth flavor. The Spirit of Liberty is a bourbon cream liqueur--it's smoother and a little lighter than Irish cream that uses Irish whiskey. I was also told that The Spirit of Liberty has a longer shelf life than Irish cream and doesn't need to be refrigerated. It even comes in a bottle shaped like the Statue of Liberty.

The most creative of spirits at the event would have to be the Scorpion Mezcal. I'm not a fan of tequila or mezcal--my stomach turns at the mention of it--but I had to give this a try. I was surprised to find that it had a pleasant aroma and a small scorpion at the bottom of the bottle (I was told that it is edible, like the worm in a tequila bottle). I took a sip and my stomach didn't turn--it was a smooth spirit.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Farewell Food

I was informed of some sad news from Shenzhen. My wife is going to spend a few weeks there on business and is planning to meet a few of our friends who are still there. She was looking forward to eating at our favorite Xinjiang restaurant, which was across the street from our last apartment. However, J. informed us that they closed. We're guessing the closure was not due to a lack of customers--they were usually busy. J. says a lot of the restaurants on the street have closed (we didn't ask about the sex shop or prostitution shop that were neighbors of the Xinjiang restaurant).

It's not the first time a favorite restaurant has unexpectedly closed in Shenzhen. When we first moved to Nanshan district, there was a great Xi'an restaurant just outside our complex gates. It was also crowded for dinner, but shut after a holiday. It was a confusing closure. Usually, when a business closes, it is immediately gutted. This restaurant still had the tables set up--with decaying garlic still in bowls on each table. There was never a sign about the closure, and we never saw the owners or staff again. Almost a year later, nothing changed inside that storefront.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Window to a Wall

My favorite part of my first trip to the Great Wall was the quiet--once I got past the third signal tower at Mutianyu, the crowd thinned out. The cool wind blowing through the mountains was a welcome relief from the choking heat and humidity of Beijing in August.

Inside the signal towers, I let my sweaty shirt dry as I caught my breath. And during those breaks I was able to meet a few friendly Mainland tourists who spoke just enough English to match my Chinese ability at the time. It was a more difficult hike, but much more enjoyable than the following year when I visited the Badaling tourist trap.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dragon Boats

If there's one regret I have from my time in China, it's that I never went to a dragon boat race. I was always busy or in the wrong part of the city. My first year, I was in Hong Kong and wanted to go to the festivities for Dragon Boat Festival, but the weather prevented me from venturing far--it was definitely the worst weather I experienced on my trips to Hong Kong.

The only part of Dragon Boat Festival I experienced was the consumption of zongzi--the glutinous rice snack in a triangular shape, wrapped in a leaf. I enjoyed zongzi much more than mooncakes, but they still weren't the best holiday snacks. This year, my wife's friends gave us some homemade zongzi--filled with meat and vegetables. They were better than the ones we used to buy in Shenzhen, but I still didn't like the gooey glutinous rice.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Theme and Such

This blog is almost five years old (it will be in a little over a month). When I began, it was because I wanted to write book, TV, and movie reviews. I wasn't even contemplating a move to China at the time. And then I left for Shenzhen three months later.

So, now I have a new reader-friendly theme. The first one was boring and I was lazy about changing it because I really didn't know how to use the editor on Blogger effectively. The second one was better, but was still lacking. This one is a great improvement, but I still want to make a few changes and need to find where the code is to change those parts.

After browsing some of my older posts, I decided that it would be a good idea to start tagging a few posts as "waiguoren's picks" so new readers can find some of the better posts among the more than 600 that are currently here. Please be patient, it will take me some time to find my favorites.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Strangers on a Bus

A post over at the Art of Backpacking got me thinking about encounters with strangers. Unfortunately, in a city like Shenzhen it was difficult to find kindness in strangers--it was usually overshadowed by the behavior of China's least friendly city. However, one encounter still stands out (there was also another encounter much earlier in my adventure in Shenzhen).

I was on my way home and had to switch buses. As I was used to having a metro card, I didn't check to ensure I had enough cash on me to take the 2 Yuan buses. Of course, I didn't have my metro card that day. As I got on the second bus I searched for my change and came up with only 1 Yuan. I was sure that I must have a coin stashed in a pocket of my backpack, but only came up with two quarters left over from my trip to the US. The only other money I could find was a 50 Yuan note, which was no good on an exact change bus. I also knew asking for change for a 50 from the passengers would be futile (a 5 or 10 would be easier). (On a slightly related note, I once had to pay a ticket girl with a 100 Yuan note for a 2 Yuan bus ticket and was amazed that she had enough change.)

One passenger saw my plight and offered me 1 Yuan. She was very kind and spoke decent English. She was also surprised when I thanked her in Chinese and began a small conversation for the twenty-minute ride home. I gave her the two quarters that were in my backpack. She told me I should get a metro card, and I explained that I have one but my wife had taken it that day.

I thanked her again as I stepped off the bus and felt better about Shenzhen for the rest of the day.

Friday, June 04, 2010

June 4, 2010

Photo taken August 2006.