Saturday, June 30, 2012

Trip to China (Part 7) – the largest city in China, Shanghai

After Hangzhou, we returned to Shanghai 上海. According to my research, Shanghai is the largest city in the world by population with over 18 million residents and also the busiest port in the world in terms of cargo tonnage. Shanghai, as a global city, is a major financial and business center in China.

Shanghai is located on China’s eastern coast at the mouth of Yangtze River that pours into the East China Sea. It borders Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces to the west. In history, Shanghai was a fishing village until Song Dynasty when it was upgraded to a market town in 1074. During Qing Dynasty, Shanghai became an important trade port in Yangtze Delta region.

In the 18th century, United Kingdom had a trade deficit with China since British purchased goods from China such as tea and silk while Chinese did not buy much from UK. To reduce the trade imbalance, British started selling opium to China. Soon many civilians in China were addicted to opium and their health became very bad. The government of Qing Dynasty sent the official Lin Zexu 林則徐 to ban the opium trade with UK, and this caused the First Opium War 鴉片戰爭. Because China lost in the battle, the Qing government was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 which allowed British to dictate opening the treaty ports, Shanghai included, for international trade.

Later on, China was forced to lease out lands in Shanghai as concession territories to UK, USA, and France where it became 英租界, 美租界 and 法租界. This is called “Shanghai International Settlement” which lasted until the end of WWII.

Due to the special situation, Shanghai became a large city and home to many foreigners. In 1930s, it was the most important financial center, the largest and most prosperous city in the Far East.

Do you know the official abbreviation of Shanghai? In China each province has its own abbreviation. For example, the abbreviation for Jiangsu 江蘇 is 蘇 (Su), for Zhejiang 浙江 is 浙 (Zhe). Four most important municipalities including Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Tianjin are also granted with an official abbreviation. For example, the abbreviation for Beijing 北京 is simply 京 (Jing). So what about Shanghai … if you live in Vancouver, you have probably heard of or been to the restaurant “Shanghai River” 滬江 in Richmond. The hint is very obvious already. Answer: 滬 (simplified character 沪; English: Hu)

It is nice to know the abbreviations since they appear on all motor vehicle license plates in China. The ones I saw most during this trip were starting with 蘇A, 蘇B, 蘇E which represent Nanjing (the capital city), Wuxi and Suzhou respectively, and 浙A for its capital city Hangzhou. Another one I saw a lot on the highways which I got no clue was 皖? It actually represents 安徽 (Anhui), a neighbour province to Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

Here’s the skyline of Pudong in the day and evening. Shanghai downtown is separated into two districts by the Huangpu River 黄浦江, the last tributary of Yangtze before it flows into the East China Sea. Pudong 浦東 is a new district on the east side of Huangpu River 黄浦江. It is now an area with all the financial centers. The airport we landed is Shanghai Pudong International Airport 上海浦東國際機場 which was opened in 1999. Puxi 浦西 is a historic center of the city located on the west side of Huangpu River.

To bring us back mentally to the prosperous Shanghai in 1920s, our tour guide sang us a song “浪奔 (登登登) 浪流 (凳凳凳) 萬里滔滔江水永不休”... haha, a very famous Cantonese song from a super popular classical TV drama 上海灘 (The Bund) released in 1980. This TV series is about an action and romantic story set in Shanghai during the International Settlement period.

The real show we watched in Shanghai is a performance by Shanghai Era Entertainment which we saw the spectacular combination of traditional Chinese acrobatic arts and modern technology! Although the performance team was all Chinese, the production team including creator /visual director and composer/music director was from Canada. It was a full house 坐無虛席. After the show when everyone was coming out to look for their groups, I saw lots of flags … flags of local tour groups and foreign country flags for the Caucasian groups. It was like a gathering of 八國聯軍 (Eight-Nation Alliance).

Next morning also the last day of the trip, we visited City God Temple of Shanghai 上海城隍廟. In the old days, City God Temple referred to a Taoist temple here. Now it refers not only the temple but the surrounding area with hundred stores and shops such as Chinese restaurants, Chinese boutiques, Chinese medicine herbal stores, Starbucks, Dairy Queen and Haagen Dazs, etc. It was full of tourists, both Chinese and foreigners.

There was a very long lineup to 南翔饅頭店 where the famous steamed dumplings or little basket buns 小籠包 can be offered. What is special about 南翔 Nanxiang? How come it’s called 饅頭 (mantou) not 小籠包 (xiaolongbao)?

Today’s little basket buns were originated from 南翔 Nanxiang, a town located in Jiading district 嘉定區 where is a suburb of Shanghai. In 1871, a man named 黃明賢 created the little basket buns in his store next to the famous park, Guqi Garden 古猗園. Due to its popularity, it has expanded into downtown Shanghai including this one in City God Temple area.

Before Song Dynasty, 饅頭 (mantou) meant both filled and unfilled buns. Nowadays, mantou still describes both filled and unfilled buns in Jiangnan while it only describes unfilled buns in many parts of China. So 小籠包 (xiaolongbao) is considered a type of mantou called 小籠饅頭 (xiaolongmantou) in Shanghai.

According to Wikipedia, the name mantou is cognate to manty and manti; these are filled dumplings in Turkish, Persian, Central Asian, and Pakistani cuisines. In Japan, manjū (饅頭) usually indicates filled buns, which traditionally contain bean paste or minced meat-vegetable. In Korea, mandu (饅頭) can refer to both baozi (包子) and jiaozi (餃子). In Mongolia, mantuu are basically the same as the Chinese mantou.


The folk handicrafts are very nice. I especially like the snuff bottles with beautiful Chinese inner painting (the use of a special paintbrush at a 90-degree angle to paint inside glass or crystal objects).

China has 55 ethnic minority groups that occupy 8.5% of the Chinese population and the guy with white cap in this photo must be one of them. The blue sign “Jiujiaochang Road” clearly indicates the direction of north (N) and south (S), I think the design is good as it makes the directions very clear.

I was not surprised to see Muslim restaurant in Shanghai airport since there are 10 Muslim ethnic groups in China. To name a few: Hui 回族, Uyghur 維吾爾族, Kyrgyz 柯爾克孜, Salar 撒拉族 and Uzbek 烏孜别克族. Now Muslims are found in many regions of China. It is believed that Islam was brought into China more than 1200 years ago. But the greatest movement of Islam into China was in Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368) when the Mongol conquest of Central Asia and Persia, brought millions of administrators, generals and scientists into China. No wonder I saw quite a few 清真館 (Halal restaurants) there.

Overall, this trip was nice and enjoyable. The tour guide and bus driver did fulfill their responsibilities. Everyone in our tour group was friendly. One girl was about the same age of mine and we became good friends, hopefully we will stay in touch. A beautiful senior woman 靚婆婆 (age 79) told me that I’m the same age as her granddaughter before she left … but I think I might be much older than her granddaughter though. I am especially thankful for those who helped to take care of or entertain my mom when I was busy taking photos in the trip J

Monday, June 25, 2012

Trip to China (Part 6) – Hangzhou West Lake

After the visit to Nanjing, we were heading to Hangzhou 杭州. It was supposed to be a 2 hour bus ride from Nanjing to Hangzhou. Let’s give a brief introduction of the city …

Hangzhou, the capital and the largest city of Zhejiang province, is at the south end of Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. It is about 100 km southwest of Shanghai. The city of Hangzhou was founded during Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC) as Qiantang County 錢塘縣, more than 2000 years ago!

Hangzhou is famous for its beautiful natural scenery with the West Lake as the best-known attraction. Even the famous Italian traveller Marco Polo who came to China during Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368) described Hangzhou as the finest and the noblest city in the world. No wonder we always hear the Chinese saying: 上有天堂 下有蘇杭 (heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below) to express Hangzhou is a paradise on earth. But our Nanjing local guide said when he asked the Chinese Malaysians “上有天堂”(heaven above), the reply was “下有地獄”(hell below).

Here’s the photo taken when we were travelling on highway. There are lots of rice fields alongside, it is believed that rice was first domesticated in the region of Yangtze River valley in China.

The traffic was getting very bad after an hour on highway. It started to rain. Since all the vehicles were stuck there, two lanes became four lanes as many cars were trying to cut into the lines. Wow! The driving technique there is something we will not and never be able to learn! We thought there must be an accident, in fact it was a road construction that caused the terrible traffic jam. Not only the lanes were doubled, travel time was doubled too … 2 hour ride became 4 hour ride. So we were late for the show “Night of West Lake” which presented the culture of Hangzhou West Lake by five acts including the King Reviewing the Soldiers, Prosperity of Qiantang, Butterfly Lovers, Elegance of Qiantang and Oriental Buddhism. We missed the fist two acts though, but still everyone enjoyed it very much!

Next morning, we visited Meijiawu Village 梅家塢 where is the plantation of organic dragon well tea 龍井茶. West Lake Dragon Well Tea 西湖龍井茶 is considered the finest green tea in China, it is also ranked the first in top-ten Chinese teas for its four wonders - green colour, fragrant aroma, sweet taste and beautiful shape. There are many dragon well teas in the market, but the best and authentic ones should be from the mountains around West Lake such as Shifeng 獅峰 , Longjing 龍井 , Yunqi 雲棲, Hupao 虎跑 and Meijiawu 梅家塢 where the climate is mild with plentiful rainfall. Once again, it’s easy to memorize … 獅龍雲虎梅 (Lion Dragon Cloud Tiger Plum). Lion 獅峰 is ranked the first among them.

To be more specific, dragon well tea leaves are picked during different periods based on Chinese 24 solar terms. The best tea is picked before Qingming 清明 (Clear and Bright in early April), which is called Mingqian Tea 明前龍井. The tea leaves picked before Grain Rain 穀雨 in mid-April are fairly good and are called Yuqian Tea 雨前龍井.

Somehow I recall Hangzhou local guide said each house in this area has solar energy installation and I remember seeing houses with solar panels on the roofs.

The most famous attraction in Hangzhou is West Lake 杭州西湖. In history, West Lake has influenced poets and painters for its natural beauty and it has been among the most important sources of inspiration for Chinese garden designers. It is also where many romantic stories and legends such as "The Butterfly Lovers" 梁山伯與祝英台, and “Legend of the White Snake" 白蛇傳 took place. West Lake Scenic Area covers 60 square kilometres of which West Lake itself occupies 5.6 square kilometres.

There are ten best-known scenic spots on the West Lake named as the "Ten Scenes of Xi Hu" 西湖十景:

Dawn on the Su Causeway in Spring (蘇堤春曉)
Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲院風荷)
Moon over the Peaceful Lake in Autumn (平湖秋月)
Remnant Snow on the Broken Bridge in Winter (斷橋殘雪)
Leifeng Pagoda in the Sunset (雷峰夕照)
Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds (雙峰插雲)
Orioles Singing in the Willows (柳浪聞鶯)
Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond (花港觀魚)
Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon (三潭印月)
Evening Bell Ringing at the Nanping Hill (南屏晚鐘)

Did you notice the long arched stone bridge in one of the above photos? It’s called “Broken Bridge” 斷橋, where Lady White Snake 白娘子 and scholar Xu Xian 許仙 met each other and fell in love according to the very famous Chinese folk story 白蛇傳 “Legend of the White Snake”.

The pagoda in another photo is Leifeng Pagoda 雷峰塔, a five story tall tower with eight sides located on Sunset Hill at the south of the West Lake. Originally constructed in Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (AD 975), it collapsed in 1924 and then was rebuilt in 2002.

Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond 花港觀魚 is one of the top ten West Lake scenes. It was built between the hills and the West Lake 800 years ago in a private garden of an official in Song Dynasty. It's called the Flower Pond (or Flowery Pond) since a clear stream from Huajia Hill (Flowery Hill) 花家山 ran through here and down into the West Lake.

The bottom right photo is the sign “花港觀魚”written by Kangxi Emperor 康熙皇帝 in 1699. How come the bottom part of 魚 (fish) was written as three strokes of water radical (氵) not the four strokes of fire radical (灬)? Because the fish here is for viewing not for cooking as they only live in the water, not on the fire (never cooked). 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Trip to China (Part 5) – the Southern Capital, Nanjing

On the fifth day we visited Nanjing 南京, the capital of Jiangsu province. Nanjing had experienced the darkest history in WWII when brutal massacre was conducted by Japanese Army there. Our tour guide mentioned about Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall 侵華日軍南京大屠殺遇難同胞紀念館 which was not included in our trip so that we would not lose appetite to the “great” cuisines!

As everyone knows, the national capital of China is Beijing. Beijing in Chinese means Northern Capital while Nanjing in Chinese means Southern Capital. In history, Nanjing was capital of the Six Dynasties, capital of Ming Dynasty and capital of Republic of China.

The period of Six Dynasties was between the end of Han Dynasty 漢朝 (206 BC-220 AD) and the beginning of Sui Dynasty 隋朝 (589-618). They were Wu 吳 in Three Kingdoms Period (222-280), Eastern Jin 東晉 (317-420), Liu Song 劉宋 (420-479), Southern Qi 齊 (479-502), Liang 梁 (502-557), and Chen 陳 (557-589).

Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of Ming Dynasty 明朝 proclaimed Nanjing as the capital in 1368. At that time, Nanjing was the largest city in the world (1358-1425). Zhu Di, the forth son of Zhu Yuanzhang and the third emperor of Ming Dynasty moved the capital to Beijing in 1421.

In 1912, the leader of Chinese Nationalist Party, Sun Yat-Sen, overthrew the Qing Dynasty and created the Republic of China with Nanjing as the capital. Chinese Nationalist Party was defected by Chinese Communist Party in 1949, since then Beijing became the national capital.

Because Nanjing has served as the capital of China several times in the history, it is considered one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals in China 中國四大古都之一.

Here’s Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum 中山陵 situated at the southern foot of the Purple Mountain 紫金山.

Let’s start going to the tomb! There are 392 steps which seems time and energy consuming to climb. In fact, the flat steps make visitors comfortable to walk and I only spent 15 minutes to reach the top! Some women even wore high heel shoes to go up. The slope grassland in front of the tomb was decorated with “辛亥百年 1911-2011” since it was 100th anniversary of 1911 Chinese revolution which was started on October 10, 1911 led by Sun Yat-Sen to overthrow Chinese imperial system which had existed for over 2000 years.

Once I reached the top, I went straight and entered into the mausoleum. Since I didn’t take photos inside, I only recall seeing a huge statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. There should be a flag of Chinese Nationalist Party on the ceiling which I didn’t pay attention. When I got out from the mausoleum, I was totally attracted by the view … it was very spectacular with the area surrounded by forests! Did you notice from the picture that you cannot see any of the steps from the top? Wow … what an amazing design!

On the way back to the bottom, I saw a hole on the traditional Chinese bronze tripod which was caused by Japanese bombardment in December 1937.

There is another historical site at Purple Mountain which we didn’t have a chance to visit – Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum 明孝陵. It is the tomb of Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of Ming Dynasty, with the Queen Ma. The construction of this mausoleum was completed in 1405, existed for over 600 years! Ming Xiaoling is one of the biggest imperial tombs in China and the location was carefully chosen according to Fengshui 風水 principles. The design and scale of Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum had a great impact on subsequent Ming and Qing imperial tombs in Beijing, Hubei and Hebei.


Nanjing has been the center of education for more than 1700 years, the largest imperial examination site in ancient China “Jiangnan Gongyuan” 江南貢院 was located along Qinhuai River in Nanjing. This institute was founded in 1168 during Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) to host imperial examinations at the county level. The academy became the site of examinations given by the central government throughout Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911). There is a Confucius Temple 南京夫子廟 in the neighbourhood where the scholars used to pray for success and worship Confucius. The temple has been destroyed and reconstructed several times. In 1984, it was rebuilt in Ming and Qing style.

Nowadays, this area is a popular tourist place with many stores and restaurants. Instead of shopping, I would rather look at Qin Huai River 秦淮河, Nanjing’s mother river. As a branch of Yangtze River, it is the largest river in Nanjing and also the birthplace of the old Nanjing culture.

We stayed at Glarun Jinling Hotel 國睿金陵大酒店 for a night. Some hotels in Nanjing are called Jinling XXX (金陵XXX) because Jinling is another name for Nanjing. In ancient China, this city was once called Jinling.

Next morning during breakfast, we chatted with other people from our tour. One couple from Vancouver told us they had bad experience in an inn when they travelled to England. The worker went into their bedroom without their consent. Then an old man from our group said he also experienced something strange in Glarun Jinling Hotel. He told us that the bathroom was transparent. No wonder, I think he didn’t realize that he could put down the blind for the bathroom! He also told us that his friends in Hong Kong would not greet him by saying “Hi” or “How are you?”, they liked to greet him by saying “You’re still alive!” 乜你仲未死呀!

After breakfast, we visited Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge 南京長江大橋 (constructed in 1960-1968). It is the first double-decker, double-track highway and railway bridge designed and constructed by Chinese without any foreign support due to the withdrawal of Soviet experts following the Sino-Soviet Split. It's been considered a great construction since Chinese experts had to overcome many difficulties and obstacles to complete the bridge. If I’m not mistaken, the local guide said many Chinese donated their woks (kitchen utensils) for the construction of this bridge. The upper deck of the bridge is a highway with a span of 4,589 meters. There are sidewalks on either side of the highway. The lower deck holds a twin-track railway with a length of 6,772 meters and a width of 14 meters that allows two trains to run in different directions.

In this trip, I found out that Nanjing is a vibrant city with enriched culture. It will also host the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Trip to China (Part 4) – Wuxi Tai Lake

The next destination was Wuxi 無錫, an old city in the southern border of Jiangsu province. Wuxi is about 42 km northwest of Suzhou and 126 km northwest of Shanghai. It borders to the north of Zhejiang province and lies to the north of Tai Lake. Because of its fertile soil and mild climate, Wuxi is known as “Land of Fish and Rice” 魚米之鄉.

Here’s the entrance of 黿頭渚, the best place to view Tai Lake. How to read 黿頭渚 in Chinese? If you pronounce it as gwai tau zyu in Cantonese or gui tou zhu in Mandarin, which sounds like turtle head piglet 龜頭豬 … it’s WRONG! The correct pronunciation should be yuen tau zyu in Cantonese or yuan tau zhu in Mandarin which means turtle head islet. 黿 means an Asian giant turtle. The park was given this name because its islet surrounded by water on three sides looks like the head of a large turtle.

The branches of trees were empty in October, they are cherry trees given by Japan and the blooming season is in spring. The best time to view cherry blossoms here is from end of March to mid April. There was no lotus flower in the lotus pond as the blooming season is in summer. Still I could see the beautiful layout of this park with the pavilions, bridges and ponds.

Tai Lake 太湖, the third largest freshwater lake in China, provides abundant source of fish, shrimps, crabs and pearls. Tai Lake, now the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, was the border of Wu and Yue kingdoms more than 2000 years ago.

Next morning while we were still in Wuxi, we were driven to pearl jewellery store which the pearls were all from Tai Lake. Then we were taken to the purple sand teapot museum 紫砂博物館. You may think the teapots are in purple colour, actually it can also be in black, brown, red, yellow, and green. There are different types of purple sand clay with varying colours and the different coloured clay can be further mixed to create new colours. Interesting! For those who want to enjoy the highest level of Chinese tea culture, they may need a purple sand teapot which can preserve and enhance the taste, favour , aroma and colour of tea because of its special texture (the porous nature of purple sand clay allows the teapot to absorb the essence of tea). But the teapots are expensive though … the more delicate and unique its design, the more expensive it is!

It was halfway through our trip already and everyone was quite satisfied except the meals. The title of this tour was called “九天七晚上海江南豪華美食遊”–9 Days 7 Nights Shanghai Jiangnan Deluxe Tour with Great Cuisine, so everybody was expecting delicious meals! Food was okay, although not very tasty or nicely presented. Each day we had breakfast buffet in the morning, lunch and dinner at restaurants where each table of eight was served with a huge bowl of rice, ten dishes including meat, poultry, seafood (mainly fish, sometimes shrimps also), veggies (sometimes we had Chinese carrots), egg and tomato (everyday’s standard dish which many people were getting sick of it), a big bowl of daily soup, watermelon as standard fruit, a pot of hot tea, 2 bottles of local beer and 1 big bottle of Sprite. The portions were quite big so there was always leftover. Imagine 10 dishes + 1 soup + 3 drinks + fruit for 8 … wasn’t it great in terms of quantity? We only paid CAD 49.00 for 7 days local transportation, meals and accommodations, which means 7 bucks a day. If I only had $7 for a day’s meal in Canada, I think I would buy hotdog with pop at Costco for breakfast ($1.50) + hotdog with pop at Costco for lunch ($1.50) + soup combo with coffee and donut at Tim Hortons for dinner ($3.75) … haha!

One evening the title of our dinner was called “乾隆宴”Qianlong Emperor Banquet. Wow … this sounds amazing! Then the tour guide explained the supper did not contain the finest dishes of ancient palace, we would enjoy the ordinary dishes which the emperor had during his visits to Jiangnan.