Tuesday, April 29, 2014

An American Girl’s Day Off

In the movie Ferris Beuller’s Day off, Mathew Broderick plays a high school senior who plays hooky and samples the best of Chicago in one day.  When I learned that I would have a free day last Thursday, I asked myself,
            “If Ferris lived in Shanghai, what would he do?”  I made a list of the things I have wanted to do since I moved here and geared up for my day off!

Frommer's helped me plan my free day! If you are going to be an expat (or already are), I highly suggest grabbing a copy of this or a similar book

9:30 AM- I realize it’s time to get moving.

After catching up with my shows online, I rolled out of bed and stumbled to my dining room to find this view.

To quote Ferris, there is no way I could POSSIBLY be expected to handle school on a day like this.
It was time to explore!

10:25- I finally catch a cab and head to my first destination, the K11 Art Mall

For the past month or so, I have wanted to catch the Monet exhibit at the K11 Art Mall, but I heard the lines were awful.  I figured that if I visited on a weekday morning, the exhibit wouldn’t be as crowded.  Fortunately I was correct!

I was quite pleasantly surprised that I only waited 5 minutes to enter the exhibit. The show was worth the 100RMB admission.

The exhibition included some paintings by some of Monet's impressionist friends.  This portrait of the artist was painted by Renoir.
The paintings on display spanned Monet's lifetime and included caricatures, portraits and landscapes.  At first I was concerned that I wouldn't see any of his Water Lilies paintings.

I was thrilled to see some of his Water Lilies in the second room of the exhibit!  Unfortunately, no photography was allowed so I had to snap this on my iPhone and run.
After I was finished with Mr. Monet, it was time for a pedicure.

12:03- I make it 3 minutes late to my pedi appointment.

Fortunately, Jack and Chu at American Style Nails were able to squeeze me in for a much needed pedicure.

I was so excited to get a pedi!  Life has been pretty busy lately, so I was glad for the chance to catch up with Jack and Chu.
If you are looking for a good, cheap, hygienic pedicure this is the place to go!

1:15- I take a trip to the top of Shanghai.

During our 22-month stint in Shanghai, Chris and I had yet to travel to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center, aka the bottle opener. 

Many people call the Shanghai World Financial Center the bottle opener because of it's shape.  
After a 94 floor ride up a psychedelic elevator, I took an escalator to the 100th floor to get a good view of Shanghai.

Unfortunately, fog had rolled in during the early afternoon so my pictures weren't as good as I would have liked them to be.  I did get this decent picture of the neighboring Jin Mao tower. 

If you have a fear of heights, don't look down!
Even on a dreary day, the skyline was beautiful.

My tour included a cocktail that tasted like cough syrup.  The view was spectacular, however.

When you visit the bottle opener, make sure you get your sheet of coupons for the shops on the first three floors of the tower.  I love how one can use this coupon to get a discount on PM2.5 masks. 
The trip to the top was fun, however this activity is better for a clearer day.

2:50- I have high tea at the Jasmine Lounge in the Fairmont Peace Hotel.

After all of my sightseeing, I was a tad hungry so I headed to the Fairmont Peace Hotel for tea.  I had a lovely time listening to sitar music and stuffing myself with lovely little tea sandwiches and pastries. 
The Peace Hotel was beautiful on the inside and out.

The marble floors, murals, and moldings provided an ideal setting for tea.
The folks at the Jasmine Lounge got out the fancy china for tea.

I was full after my first course of savory finger sandwiches.

In spite of the fact that I was already full, I had  to try the deserts!  I was so stuffed with scones, cakes, and other goodies at the end of my meal.  This is an experience that is best for more than one person.

The price of the tea experience was a little hefty, but I am glad I had high tea at least once.

4:05- I head home to take the dogs out and study a little bit of Chinese.

I couldn’t be completely irresponsible.  The little guys need food, and I had Chinese class the next day.

I WILL learn this language.  I WILL learn this language.
6:00- I catch up with some friends at Sushi’O

The only bummer about this day was all of my friends were working or traveling, so I had to have my day off solo!  Fortunately, I was able to meet some friends for dinner at Sushi’O!

After all of my exploring, it was great to catch up with friends.

I even managed to eat a Philharmonic Roll and edamame after my tea feast.  
8:30- I finally make it home, double-check my lessons for the next day, and head for bed.

While this adventure was fun, I was exhausted at the end of the day.  I highly recommend making and executing your own Ferris list!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Five Fun Things To Do In Chengdu That Don’t Involve Pandas

While the main event of our trip to Chengdu was visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, there was plenty of other fun to be had during our three-day trip.  Here are some great ways to explore all Chengdu has to offer without the panda-monium.

Catch a Sichuan Opera performance
Sichuan Opera was definitely a memorable experience.  For 80 minutes the audience was entertained by acrobats, puppets, fire breathers, mask dancers, fire breathing mask changing puppets, and more.
Unfortunately there was a strictly enforced no photography rule at the Opera.  If people tried to sneak shots with their cameras or cell phones, ushers would interfere with high powered laser pointers.  Fortunately, I was able to sneak a few pics. 

The performers wore fascinating masks that would spontaneously change colors. Legend has it that the good performers used pins to change different colored  layers.  Some actors used battery operated masks.

For one act, we were entertained by hand puppets. 

Many of the puppets were quite beautiful.

I was extremely impressed with the fire breathing mask changing puppets.
Accompanied by a soundtrack that resembled clanging pots and pans and the odor of gasoline, Sichuan Opera is an experience that should not be missed.

Eat spicy hot pot
            Hot pot is a dining concept similar to fondue.  I have to confess I’m not a spicy food person AT ALL!  However, the spicy hot pot at Tanyoto Hot Pot restaurant was amazing.   
I appreciated how I was able to have my own pot of bubbly soup!
The soup was full of spice! The key to surviving this amount of heat is to include vinegar in your dipping sauce.
The waitresses must have thought Chris and I were hot pot newbies.  They kept approaching us after every 3rd or 4th bite to see if we were melting due to spiciness.  It was hilarious!

People watch at the Temple of Marquis Wu/ Jinli Street/ Wide and Narrow Alley
            One of the best parts of exploring cultural streets you never know what you will encounter. 
Sichuan Opera Characters were ready to pose with visitors. 

Feeling an excess of wax in your ears?  Have a rest and get your ears cleaned. 
Street food is a must when wandering culture streets. 

Chris said that this bowl of cold, spicy noodles was his favorite meal of the trip.
Worshipers of all sizes offered prayers at the Temple of Marquis Wu.
Like father, like son.

This man offers large, green incense sticks in hopes of eternal youth.

Check out the statues and restaurants at Lan Kwai Fong /Stroll along the Jing Jang River
            Our hotel was located next to Lan Kwai Fong and across from the Jing Jang River, so we spent a misty Saturday afternoon snapping pictures and enjoying the area.  
Lan Kwai Fong housed all kinds of Western inspired statues.
Chris rubs the statue's head for good luck!
I was surprised to find this structure was dedicated in 2013. 
The contrast of the old and new architecture was breath taking. 
Feed the carp at People’s Park
            Chris and I had to kill an hour before we headed to the airport, so we took a quick walk through People’s Park.  In the center of the park is a large carp pond where visitors may feed fish with baby bottles.
For 8 RMB (about $1.25), you can feed carp with a baby bottle attached to a stick.

The carp loved sucking food pellets out of the baby bottle.

Chris and I would have loved to see the Giant Buddha at Leshan, but unfortunately we ran out of time.  We had a great time, but after three days of fun, it was time to return to the daily hustle and bustle of Shanghai.  Exploring Chengdu was a great way to celebrate Qingming!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Qingming 2.0: Complete Panda-monium

Before and during my time in China, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do on this side of the world before moving to our next destination.  One of the items on my list was to hug a panda.  Chris and I did a little research, and heard through the grapevine that one could hold a panda at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding for a donation. So for this year’s Qingming holiday, we planned a trip to Chengdu, China so I could hug a baby panda. 

When we first arrived at the panda sanctuary around 8:15, there were very few people around the entrance much to my surprise.  I thought the park was closed until we saw other tourists enter.  
After Chris purchased entry tickets (58 RMB/ 10 USD), we jumped on a tram inside the park and headed to the panda nursery so I could get my snuggles.  Fortunately, our hotel had made a reservation for our meet and greet so we wouldn’t have to wait in a long line to make a reservation.   (Bookings go quickly, so I highly recommend anyone interested in the experience book tickets in advance.)

When we arrived at the nursery, we learned that we wouldn’t be able to hold the pandas for another hour, so we spent some time checking out some of the sanctuary’s other residents.

There are currently 76 Red Pandas living in the sanctuary.

Red Pandas have a reputation of being a wee bit naughty and aggressive.  These two bears were tumbling all over.

When I first saw these pandas, I thought they were foxes. 

Many Red Pandas love snoozing in the trees.  I don’t know how that can be comfortable.

After our time with the Red Pandas, we headed back to the nursery to make our obligatory monetary donation and prepared for the main event.

We learned that we would need to wait 45 more minutes, so we checked out the baby Giant Pandas in the nursery.

Most panda babies in the sanctuary are born between August and October, so the cubs in the nursery were between seven and nine months old.  At this stage many cubs spend their days learning to climb and tumbling around their playground.

This little guy loved hanging on…and out!

Many of the cubs had spectators cheering them on as they scaled the trees.

This log smelled fun!

This little guy called down to his friend to join him in the tree.

He’s almost there.
Okay, now that we're up here what do we do?

The mother pandas also have their own pens in the nursery.

This momma cracked me up.  She buried herself in bamboo and enjoyed her breakfast.  Adult pandas eat around 50 kg (100 lbs.) of bamboo daily.

After milling around the pens for 40 minutes, it was time for the main event!  The cuddle experience started after a brief talk about the baby Pandas’ first few months on Earth.  We then suited up and learned how the event would transpire.

Chris geared up for cuddle time.  Humans had to wear plastic gloves and surgical gowns to prevent infecting pandas with human diseases. 

I was so excited to hold eight month old San!  To keep San happy, her handlers kept feeding her honey dipped bamboo sticks. 

San was 15kg (30 lbs.)  of furry panda!  Her fur reminded me of soft wire.  I was very careful not to touch her ears.  (Pandas don’t like ear rubs.)

When cuddle time was almost over, Chris sat down and we snapped a family portrait.  I wished I could take San with us, but I thought the dogs would have had an issue with another creature in our house.

Chris also had a nice snuggle with San.

In return for our donation to the Panda Sanctuary, we got a cool swag bag! 

After cuddle time, we hiked around the remainder of the research base to check out some of the other Giant Pandas.

This panda, Yun Zi, was born in San Diego and then shipped to the base.  China has a panda leasing program that loans pandas to foreign zoos.  As part of that agreement, all cubs that are born outside of China must be returned.  Since Yun Zi learned English as his first language, he had to learn Chinese commands after he arrived in Chengdu.  The guides claim that Yun Zi is a bilingual panda!!  For more on Yun Zi’s story, click here.

Since pandas only absorb about 20% of the nutrients they need from bamboo, their diets are supplemented with panda cookies that contain corn, oats, and soybeans.  This big guy loved playing with his cookie

Many of the pandas loved hanging upside down.
This guy had a great time while hanging in there! 

After all of the excitement of the morning, I felt like this guy.  However, we had other sites to see after the park.  So we boarded our tram and headed back to the front of the park so we could continue exploring Chengdu.

Word to the wise: if you plan on touring the base, start early.  When we left the park around 1:30, the line to enter was farther than the eye could see. 
A visit to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was definitely worth the trip!  I highly recommend it for panda lovers of all ages. 

For more information on the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, check out their home page.  Happy snuggles!