Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: china

Where in the world is Annie?

Ummm…I haven’t updated the blog in more than three months. But I have my reasons (excuses). A lot has happened within the past three months, the most important event being…I moved (back) to China. Yes, moving as in relocating, settling down, and looking for a job in China. All to be with the man that I love the most in the entire world, after looking for him for 30 years.

Yes it sounds cheesy I know. I’ve somehow always known that if I get myself into a new relationship (and this is a very serious relationship), I would let the entire world know, especially after I’ve been single for 9 years after my previous and only romantic involvement. So far I’ve received nothing but blessings and happy wishes, and I’m grateful for the support from my friends and family, who encourage me to pursue happiness, even if it meant moving halfway around the world. And oh, it’s been tough getting all the logistics straightened out, but I’ll spare you the details. At least I’m in China now – that’s the first step, although I’m temporarily unemployed.

Then again, in some sense it’s not that bad because it’s almost like going “home” – back to the country where I was born. It’s strange how it worked out. My parents immigrated from China to Canada 22 years ago and I’m now going all the way back to where it began. Though not permanent, I anticipate staying here for at least 5 to 10 years. My heart has always been attached to this familiar yet mysterious land, and now that I finally get to immerse myself fully and experience the REAL China, I’m beyond excited. It’ll a brand new stage of life and a challenge for me, but at least…I won’t be facing it alone!

The forest-like campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, where I am temporarily staying.

So where EXACTLY am I? I was born in Guangzhou in the southern part of China but that’s not where I came back to. The answer is…*DRUM ROLLS*…WUHAN in the province of Hubei in south-central China. Even 6 months ago I wouldn’t haven’t imagine myself moving here but alas, here I am now, calling Wuhan my new home. What adventures await Annie in her days to come? Only time will tell…

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A short update on Chinese New Year

I have disappeared into the abyss…no not really. I’ve been travelling in Asia since the beginning of December, as I’ve mentioned in this post. Surprisingly the plan has been followed mostly successfully and I’ve dropped by most of the cities that I had wanted to visit, except for Lanzhou.

I intended to blog during the travel period but I guess I had underestimated how packed my schedule would be and how busy/tired I would be. But I will return soon, I promise!

Today is Chinese New Year and I would like to wish everyone (who celebrates it) a very happy Spring Festival (another term for Chinese New Year) and peace and health in the upcoming year! I will continue to post updates after I return to Canada, which is in 10 days. Ciao for now!

Chinese New Year lanterns in the central commercial area of Qingyuan, one hour north of Guangzhou (my hometown) in the Guangdong province of China.

26 days in China, part 8 – Hong Kong

The final stop of the 26-day China trip was Hong Kong, perhaps the most prosperous city that I had ever been to. I must have mentioned before that I have a love-hate relationship with Hong Kong – love because of its friendly people, convenience and efficiency, and diverse cultural scenes; hate because of its “I’m not part of China” mentality (Taiwan has grounds to say that, but not you HK). But I’m not here to talk politics. With two days in Hong Kong, I wanted to discover parts of Hong Kong that I had not yet seen in my previous visits, and indeed my explorations brought me quite a few surprises…

Most people go to Victoria Peak to get the best view of Hong Kong, and I had thought of going there (I don’t even remember if I had ever been during any of my past trips to Hong Kong), until I discovered the sightseeing elevator in a “guide to secret places in Hong Kong”. From the 17th floor the glass elevator takes you all the way up to the 56th floor amidst all of the other tall buildings in the Wan Chai area – what an experience!! Here you aren’t just looking AT skyscrapers from a distance – you ARE part of the densely packed skyscrapers and you just feel like you are soaring and excelling through them. It was so fascinating that I made the journey twice, along with a family with several kids who did the same, heh. Oh, did I mention it was free? 😉

During the day I travelled through the Central-Mid-Levels Elevator, an elevator system designed to transport commuters uphill or downhill in the Central area on Hong Kong Island. At 800 m it is the longest outdoor covered elevator system in the world. A lot of elevators on this trip, huh. The elevator has breaks at various points along the route at different neighbourhoods around the area where I was able to stop and explore. Hong Kong really is the city of skyscrapers, no doubt about that. On the left is a church banner that says: “Jesus says – my peace I give you.” The one in the back says: “Do not be anxious about anything. Be joyful in the Lord.”

Final destination Hong Kong meant that I got to see the last group of Bordeaux friends, Ting and Sharon. Had a nice time catching up with the ladies over afternoon tea and our conversations made me realize how tough and hectic life in Hong Kong could be. Take care my dear ladies!

The thing I enjoyed the most this time in Hong Kong was travelling across Hong Kong Island on the old trams, also known commonly as the “ding ding trams” because of the sound they make. It was a cheap and convenient way of sightseeing when you’re not in a rush, and not being in a rush is very important because the trams are rather slow, shaky, and often crowded. As I was staying in a hostel on Hong Kong Island, the tram stop was two steps away and I found myself using it often not only to get to my next destination but also to immerse myself in the everyday life of the city. In fact, the trams were a nice contrast to the running pace of the crowds in the subway during rush hour.

One evening, I managed to get a front seat on the top level of the tram and saw Hong Kong Island from the driver’s eyes. Passing by lit up streets, people crossing the road to get home, and trams coming the other way, life never felt more ordinary. It was then that I played the role of philosopher and began to think about the eternal question: What is the meaning of life? But then, who knows? Who really NEEDS to know?

Philosophy aside, I managed to make a trip to Stanley, an area to the south of Hong Kong Island that is known for its expat communities. Hong Kong is a wonderful place to travel to, but it’s easy to get weary from the extremely fast pace of the city. On new year’s eve, I hopped on a mini-bus from Causeway Bay, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong, and within 20 minutes arrived at Stanley, a touristy but much quieter place to enjoy my evening. The ambience of the entire place made me feel relaxed and I almost thought I wasn’t in Hong Kong anymore. Combined with a gorgeous sunset and magnificent night views, it was a perfect end to my 2016.

This time around I also wanted to explore some of the nature that Hong Kong has to offer. After finding out that Dragon’s Back in the Shek O area (southwestern region of Hong Kong island) is a popular hiking route, I decided to hike it on new year’s day, and my local friend May – with whom I spent the first day of the year in 2016 as well – offered to accompany me! I gotta say, the views from the top of Dragon’s Back were amazing!

Oh yes, it was windy! You could clearly tell from my flying hair in this photo with May, heh. The climb was quite easy, and the best part was the two of us catching up on things that’s happened within the one year that we haven’t seen each other. May would be the last friend I saw before leaving Hong Kong and returning to Glasgow the next day, but I will see her again very soon, during the summer in the UK, where the travels will continue!

After the descent from Dragon’s Back, we ventured into Shek O village, which was a short ride away. There I passed by a house with some nice decorations hanging above the front gate, including Santa who seemed to be having a jolly time parachuting. Christmas may be over, but Santa is always welcome any time, anywhere!

Hopewell Centre, Central-Mid-Levels elevator, Stanley, Shek O – all new places for me, not too bad for two days, huh! I know Hong Kong is full of interesting places and I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg, but that’s what happens when I spend no more than 3 days there every time. Oh well. At least since Hong Kong is so close to my hometown I’m sure I’ll come back again 😉

26 days in China, part 7 – Kunming

We’re nearing the end of the “26 days in China” series with two more posts to go. One destination that was a spontaneous addition to the itinerary was Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province. As I travelled to different cities along the east coast of China in search of friends whom I have met either in Bordeaux or Glasgow, I felt a bit regretful that I wouldn’t be able to also see XQ, who was living in Kunming, as Kunming was in the southwest and kind of out of the way. Then one day I thought: I’m in CHINA, which doesn’t happen often – it would be foolish to not make a trip to see XQ in her hometown. Who knows…I might not get another opportunity. I had around 12 days to spend in Guangzhou anyway, so what the heck, why not. There and then I decided that it’d be worth it to take two days and head to Kunming to see my dear friend as the flight was only 2.5 hours one way and was rather affordable. Alas, a new destination was added, and I couldn’t wait to see the “Colourful Clouds of the South”, a beautiful name for Yunnan (which itself directly translates to “Cloud South”).

With limited time, I was only able to get a condensed tour of the city of Kunming, guided by my friend XQ who had returned to Kunming from Glasgow just a few months earlier. We first headed to Cui Hu Park (literally “Green Lake Park”) in central Kunming for a relaxing stroll around the area. “Leisure” would be the word that I’d use to describe Kunming as everywhere I went gave off a relaxing vibe. There was no rush like in the big cities, everyone went about their business at their own pace, and it just felt…nice.

A curious sight that could only be experienced during the winter is the migration of the red-beaked seagulls at Green Lake. Apparently these birds come to the south in December because of Kunming’s warm climate, and flocks and flocks of them dwell around Green Lake, so many that they’ve become a tourist attraction themselves. People have taken advantage of this migration and started businesses of selling bird food around the lake, and a common activity was indeed feeding these seagulls either with the special bird food or just with white bread. Throw a piece of food and a bird would target it and catch it mid-air as if it was a trained expert. They almost never miss!

Never would I imagine that seagulls would be of any interest to me, especially since they’re usually a nuisance, but I have to admit that I was quite awed at seeing perhaps THOUSANDS of these seagulls all swimming on the lake. Now, here’s one that landed quite close to me…hi there!

Scattered around Green Lake Park were pavilions and public areas where people assembled in small groups to sing, play music, or just hang out. In fact, outside the perimeter of the park, there was a series of what I called “free outdoor concerts” where groups of different musical styles performed for people passing by. Soft rock, 60s Chinese jazz, classical, opera…you name it. Many of the performers sounded quite professional, and I was rather impressed. I particularly liked this small group of musicians consisting of a vocalist, a flutist (I play the flute myself), and an elderly gentleman who was just…observing the flutist?

Aside from music, there were also other forms of artistic activities taking place. My favourite would have to be the man with the gigantic calligraphy brush writing on the pavement with water, as if the road was an open ancient scroll. This was right up my alley because I have developed a keen interest in Chinese calligraphy and even took lessons several years ago. Every stroke was laid down so firmly and aesthetically, and every character was constructed with so much precision. What gorgeous penmanship, even when magnified!

Moving away from Green Lake, XQ took me to another landmark of Kunming – Dian Chi, or Dian Lake. This wasn’t a city lake like Green Lake, but one on a rather large scale, stretching onward for tens of kilometres beyond the city limits. To experience Dian Chi to the fullest, we had to head southwest from Kunming to Xi Shan, or the West Mountains. It was said that “If you don’t visit the West Mountains, then you haven’t REALLY been to Kunming”. Not sure if that’s an old saying or a slogan for publicity’s sake, but that matters not. Upon arrival, a cable car took us to the top. The view of Dian Chi was amazing especially as we were moving up slowly and could take our time to enjoy the moment.

Of course, the second part of the above “saying” is, “If you don’t go to the Dragon Gate when visiting the West Mountains, then you’ve pretty much visited in vain”. Uh huh. In fact, the cable car took us all the way to the Dragon Gate, which was a series of temples, caves, tunnels, and stone steps along the cliffs of the West Mountains. At the peak of the mountain stood THE Dragon Gate, as written on the stone tablet above the gate in front of a temple. Having travelled up to the top via cable car, we were glad that the part of the journey that was on foot was DOWNHILL as we passed by people walking up in the opposite direction, sweating and panting as they charged onward. Normally I’d be up for the hike but on that particular day, I preferred to just take it easy with XQ ^_^

Time for food! As a host, XQ certainly kept me very well fed during my stay in Kunming. In addition to introducing me to some local eats, XQ took me to a special restaurant that serves Dai-style food. Dai is one of the many ethnic minority groups of Yunnan province and I am perfectly happy to admit that I’ve never heard of more than half of the things that were on the menu – still quite excited to try them! During dinner I found out that another friend from Glasgow, Mrs. Cai, was also in Kunming and was joining us for the meal. Selfie time with the food before our chopsticks touched the plates!

If I were to choose, I would say that Kunming gave me the best new dining experience during the entire China trip. I only chose five dishes to represent the whole experience but trust me, there were a whole lot more. Top left: Dai-style dish, stir-fried bajiao (banana?) flower. This is one of those things that I was hearing about and trying for the first time, and though it may look like chicken, it was meat-free, colourful, crunchy, and delicious! Bottom right: Dai-style dish, pork belly and cheek platter, so greasy yet sooooooo sinfully tasty. Top left: Breakfast food item, er si (no idea how to translate this) with soft shredded pork. It was like a bowl of really good noodles with a slightly different texture soaked in excellent broth, except they were…not exactly noodles. Sliced flour? Rice cake shreds? Middle right: Miao-style sour daikon and beef slices. Surprisingly the daikon complemented the beef extremely well, and the whole thing was made perfect with a bowl of rice. Bottom right: Definitely not leaving Kunming without trying the “Over-the-bridge” rice noodles, an iconic favourite of Yunnan province. The noodles were soaked in steaming broth with an assortment of side items including pork slices, crispy pork rind, scallions, and leafy greens. THE BOWL WAS SO HUGE it might as well have been a wash basin…

Two days was not nearly enough time to experience all that Kunming has to offer, not to mention the other more well-known places in Yunnan province – Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-La, and Xishuangbanna, just to name a few. I hope that the “Colourful Clouds of the South” will await my next visit and hopefully my good friend XQ will still be there to show me around!

26 days in China, part 6.3 – Eating in Guangzhou

Warning – do not read this post if you:

1 – are hungry.
2 – cannot handle the sight of strange things that Chinese people eat (e.g. a cow’s internal organs).
3 – dislike good food.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way (I trust that none of the three listed items applies to you), let’s get onto the Cantonese food edition of the Guangzhou mini-series!

I had written a post awhile back describing my food experience in Guangzhou during a particular visit, but one could never get enough of Cantonese food. There’s a Chinese saying whose literal translation is “Eating in Guangzhou”…it doesn’t exactly sound too impressive, I know, but it embodies the view (or I’d say FACT) that Guangzhou is the best place to EAT in China. Whether it’s because we, the Cantonese, eat the weirdest things you could imagine, have the widest variety of cooking methods and delicious dishes, or are obsessed with delicacies, many would agree (though some do debate) that Guangzhou is well worthy of the title of the best city for food in China. You could go on with historical and cultural explanations of how it came to be, but I’ll show you with photos and in the process of doing so, make myself drool…

I’m going to start with dim sum – again, even though it’s already appeared in the previous post – because it ain’t a post about Cantonese food without some dim sum. With my friend LS, I went to Tao Tao Ju, one of the most locally well known dim sum restaurants in Guangzhou with a history of over 100 years. Here we have the classic shrimp dumplings (ha gow, middle), spare ribs (bottom right), chicken buns (top right), pork dumplings (siu mai, top middle), and spring rolls (top left)…

…followed by beef rice noodle rolls (top left), crispy pork puff (haam shui gok, bottom left), and “boat congee” (right), a variety of congee that originated from old Guangzhou. The great thing about dim sum is that each dish is small so that you could order a whole bunch and try a huge variety of it. Don’t forget my tea!

Next up we’ve got a lovely bowl of beef brisket noodles. Perhaps they are not as popular as the wonton noodles, but the beef brisket noodles would be a close second, I would say, in terms of popular noodle dishes. A good bowl of noodles consists of tender beef brisket, al dente noodles, and very importantly, a flavourful soup base. You could be that this bowl was entirely empty with not even a drop of soup left when I was done with it.

Now we come to something that some people might consider strange – steamed pig intestines. I’ve mentioned before that this is one of my favourite things to eat though I admit, it doesn’t sound too appetizing and not everyone could stomach it. Once you get over that fact that they’re intestines and have gotten used to the chewy texture, though, you just can’t get enough of it!

At the same restaurant, we ordered stir-fried thin beef slices with choi sum, which translates to…cabbage stem? Anyway, this is one of those green Chinese vegetables that I always miss when I’m in Europe because it’s not commonly found other than in large Asian supermarkets. The beef slices are new to me in that I’ve only ever eaten them hot-pot-style before and didn’t know you could stir fry them – and it turned out very good! I’d like to try that at home one day too.

My mom and aunt, as the true locals, specifically searched for a good restaurant that served only “lai” noodles, which are very thick rice flour noodles. They are usually made in a thick, mushy soup/congee-like base. I wasn’t a fan of the traditional thick consistency, so I ordered a variation that came in a clear soup based with the “four treasures” of Xiguan (old Guangzhou), which were fried fish skin, fish balls, and fish skin dumplings (I don’t remember the fourth…)

For a simple, delicious, and filling breakfast, I liked to get the congee and rice noodle roll combo. Here with my mom, I got the noodles stuffed with beef while she got the one with pork. I liked this place in particular because the taste kind of reminded me of the type of noodles that I would get on the street carts as a child, which no longer exist. Some nostalgia is always welcome!

I decided that I was not leaving Guangzhou without having at least one portion of cow offal – internal organs – and because there was so much other good food to eat, I ended up having ONLY one portion. This would be similar to the pig intestines – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I said to my Scottish colleague that she shouldn’t find this TOO repulsive considering that they have haggis (chopped up sheep’s liver, heart, and kidneys encased in sheep stomach), and she kindly remarked that at least they have the good manners to mince it up. Hmph, I’m not convinced that it makes a difference, especially since in my opinion, cow offal served in bulk taste so much better than haggis!

This final one isn’t as much of a “Cantonese” item as it is a dose of nostalgia, like the rice noodle rolls. As children, we often drank beverage, whether it was pop or soy milk, in tall glass bottles. This isn’t as popular now as it used to be, but some food joints still serve drinks in these glass bottles. For remembrance’s sake, my mom and I got some glass-bottled soy milk and toasted to the olden days in Guangzhou, when it was only her and me by each other’s side in this small neighbourhood. Cheers to the fond memories!

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