Well, after some ambitious New Years resolutions and high hopes that 2018 would be the year of productivity, I am just now recapping the rest of our December in China and it is already mid-March. Oh well! It may have been months ago but it feels like just yesterday we were exploring the markets of Xian and the stylish streets of Shanghai. Here are a few of my favorite moments from our Chinese adventures.
Biking on Ancient City Walls
We usually like to avoid “super touristy” attractions. It’s just a personal preference so we can avoid the large crowds and the high price tags. But I gave in when we were in Xi'an and were presented with the opportunity to ride bicycles on the 14th Century fortification walls. I mean come on! How cool is that?? Usually, with such ancient structures, you are not even allowed to touch or breathe on them, let alone ride a bike. And of course, we really cheesed it up when it came to choosing which bike to ride. I was actually able to convince Shane to ride a tandem bike with me. After a shaky start (mostly my fault because balance is not my friend, we spent the next two hours cruising along high above the streets of Xi'an. It was so much fun and such a unique way to explore a portion of the city.
The Most Incredible Night Market
The title isn’t an exaggeration. For years I have been watching these travel channel shows that take the host to these amazing food markets around the globe. Those nitty, gritty markets stocked with mystery meats and unusual foods. How long has that meat been sitting out? Who knows, but against better judgment, I would still probably eat it. It all looks so intriguing and delicious. The Xi’an’s Muslim quarter night market is the food market of my dreams. Xi’an is believed to be the city at the start of the Silk Road so there is a lot of different cultural influences seen in the food and culture. Wandering this market is like stepping back in time, you get the sense that it hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s loud, chaotic, and very crowded. The best dish to order from a street vendor is hands down, lamb skewers (aka “chuan” in Chinese). You can easily spot these vendors, just look for the lamb carcasses hang from metal poles near the stands. Go up and order however many skewers you would like, and watch as they shave meat from the carcass, skewer it on a wooden stick and cook over an open flame. The meat is so tender, perfectly seasoned and juicy.
The French Concession
Arriving in Shanghai you can immediately tell that you have entered the “metropolitan” China. The whole city feels more like a European city than any of the other Chinese cities we visited. One of the neighborhoods that displays these European influences more than the rest is the French Concession where we stayed for the week. This neighborhood is the perfect blend of my two favorite things: French design and Chinese food. It was like we stepped into Paris with the wide tree-lined avenues, classic French architecture, and cute bistros on every corner. But, the traditional Chinese aspects shone through with cheap, delicious dumpling and noodle joints. I could have my French cafe Americano and some Chow fun (Chinese rice noodles) on the side. Ahhhhh heaven ☺️
Chinese Snow White
The last time I went to a Disney park was when I was in middle school. Fifteen plus years later I made it back to the most magical place on earth, only this time when Snow White was singing in Chinese. Shanghai Disney opened up only a few years ago and boasts some of the best rides of all the Disney parks. Shane is an avid Disney fan and was super stoked to go, me on the other hand...a little apprehensive. My image of Disney as an adult was less magical and the thought of screaming, crying children while waiting in long lines made me anxious. On top of that, we had read some reviews that crowds are usually INSANE and the bathroom lines are so long that people resort to just peeing and pooping in bushes. I’m sorry, what?!? I guess you could say I am a Scrooge when it comrd to Disney theme parks. So preparing myself mentally for the worst, I ended up having an absolute blast. The park was fairly empty (December being the semi off-season) and the rides were delightful, especially the Tron rollercoaster. I think all the shows being in Chinese actually made the experience even better. Phil Collins Tarzan soundtrack in Chinese? Amazing. But most of all, seeing the joy on the little kid's faces when they saw their favorite Disney princess or Mickey was well worth it. I think my favorite part of the whole day was when we rode the seven dwarves mine roller coaster. Sitting behind us was the tiniest little girl and her mom. She definitely was too young to be riding the ride and I was afraid that as the ride picked up speed she would freak out. Quite the opposite, as we were zipping around corners I heard the cutest squeals of delights and laughter. I glanced back and the look on her little face was the most precious thing. Absolute joy. Look out mom, you might have a future adrenaline junkie on your hands.
The Great Instagram Illusion
If millennials have mastered anything at this moment in time, it would be the power of social media. Shane and I are certainly guilty of being snap happy millennials, and we frequently use Instagram to scout out the coolest looking locations a city may offer. In some ways, it’s a great tool for finding places off the beaten path and hidden gems within a city. But the flip side is that the exposure often ruins some wonderful places. Sure this hidden courtyard is beautiful, but wouldn't it be better if it weren't full of twenty-somethings desperately trying to get that perfect gram? We have had this internal battle many times during our travels and even a slight break down when we went to Hong Kong. It’s such a colorful, vibrant city that every picture you take is Insta worthy. You’ve probably seen the pictures of the colorful basketball courts or the densely packed apartment courtyards that everyone and their mom seems to take. We decided to set a day aside to seek out these Insta famous spots which are all over the city. When we got to our first site (the colorful basketball court) it was an eye-opening experience. The courts are surrounded by apartment buildings where the tenants look out their windows to see a hundred people setting up tripods and posing. It’s probably one of the strangest (and most annoying) things to watch on a daily basis. When we arrived, we sat around for twenty minutes watching the silliness and Shane, realizing we were there to do the exact same thing, had a slight meltdown. But to be honest, it turned out to be a lot of fun trying to find these “insta” spots. Wandering around local neighborhoods looking for them allowed us to explore some parts of the city we never would have seen otherwise.
Christmas Dim Sum
It wouldn’t be a complete trip to Hong Kong without getting some dim sum. A MUST DO for anyone visiting Hong Kong. Growing up, dim sum was my family’s version of Sunday brunch. No eggs and bacon here, instead ladies come around pushing carts of steamer baskets full of small bite size portions of delicious Cantonese treats. Most of these dim sum establishments are not what you would call fancy and the service isn’t always the friendliest. Just like Thanksgiving in Kyoto, we were spending Christmas abroad away from friends and family. What better way to celebrate our loneliness than to stuff our faces? Just kidding, about the loneliness part not the stuffing our faces part. Fook Lam Moon is probably the fanciest and most expensive dim sum restaurant I've ever been to. Those of you that are avid dim sum-ers may be shocked at this. But the service was excellent and they had all the greatest dim sum hits (har gow, chicken feet, shumai, pork dumplings, char siu bao...). We went overboard in what we ordered and ate so much that we had to waddle out of the restaurant.