Hong Kong and China, Part II (2005-09-04 to 2005-09-18)
We decided to save money by getting me a flight from Shenzhen instead of Hong Kong; this also provided an opportunity for me to meet Leo, in whose Hong Kong apartment I had been staying for five days. He spends most of his time in Shenzhen, which is why his Hong Kong apartment was available. We had a lot of fun together, and had a wonderful lunch (see the meal log).
The plane from Shenzhen took me to Wuhan, which was just as oppressively hot as Hong Kong. There I met Hong Feng, the main free software activist in China. We only stayed overnight; in the morning we took a 6-hour train ride to Wudang Mountain, which is considered the center of Taoism. An important Taoist temple is there, which claims to have been founded by a prince who was the reincarnation of Laotse. (In ancient times people felt there was nothing wrong in inventing such relationships to give more importance to themselves.) Hong Feng told me that Taoism today mainly consists of holding ceremonies to dispel evil spirits, and divination; the temple offered lots of opportunities to pay for offerings to various gods in the court of the emperor of heaven. This is a far cry from the lofty but perhaps meaningless philosophical ideas of Laotse.
The road to the temple is fairly new; the first time Hong Feng went there, as a teenager in 1988, he had to hike for miles into the mountains. This remoteness protected the temples from being destroyed during the cultural revolution of the 70s.
We departed early in the morning to visit the temple, which was quite extensive and beautiful. While I was there, a large green mantid flew onto my bag and stayed there. I was delighted to have this friend and showed it to everyone I met.
After leaving the temple, we stopped at an old stone bridge, and my friend flew away. I was rather sad.
Then we drove quite a ways to a cable car lift which goes up to the highest peak, which has a temple on it too. The cable car ticket cost the equivalent of ten US dollars, which is a lot of money in China; the train ticket from Wuhan was cheaper. Well, I guess tourists can afford it. However, as we came close to the top, we saw men carrying heavy loads up the old footpath (which Hong Feng had climbed on his visit). After we exited the car, Hong Feng spoke with one of them, who said it took four hours to carry a load up.
Why do they do this, instead of using the cable car? It seems outrageous to make people work so hard, and so inefficiently, as to spend 4 hours doing what a machine can do in 15 minutes. Surely the cable car operators could send these loads up whenever no passengers are waiting to ascend. In Merida (Venezuela) there is a separate cargo cable system which parallels the passenger cable system; it was built first, and used to lift the material to build the passenger cable lift.
On Sep 12, in the afternoon, we took the train back to Wuhan. The next morning we flew to Shanghai, and I gave a speech that afternoon in a "software park" where some 200 software companies have their offices. I was not surprised to get a few "how do we make money from this" questions at the end, but I think my explanation about custom software vs proprietary software satisfied them.
Then we had dinner in a seafood restaurant whose buffet must have offered at least 100 different dishes. After I had become quite full trying small portions of some 30 dishes, and finishing it up with a green tea mousse cake and some kiwi fruit juice, and just as we were about to leave, I discovered the second counter of food, fully as large as the one from which I had obtained all but the dessert. So I sampled 6 of them. I hope that restaurant is still as good, whenever I get back to Shanghai.
On Sep 14 we visited the city of Suzhou. What is fascinating about Suzhou is that it has many "gardens", actually estates built centuries ago by rich officials. Some of the monuments on Tiger Hill are a thousand years old. In my first visit, I saw two of these gardens, and I have been eager to return ever since to see others.
Sadly, Hong Feng had pain in his foot which made it hurt to walk--a result of eating seafood the night before. He limped through the Lingering Garden, then after he discovered that the necessary medicine to relieve his problem was probably not available in Suzhou, he decided to skip Tiger Hill. But he told me he would make arrangements to return some day. The Lingering Garden was also graced by women playing traditional Chinese music, and a performance of traditional Chinese opera--not the harsh Beijing style that has become slightly known in the West.
That evening we stayed in the hotel to have dinner; one of his former students came over to help him and push his wheelchair. The meal in the hotel was marvelous also, but I noticed that all the bottled water sold by the hotel was made by Coca Cola company, so I explained the boycott (see killercoke.org) to the hotel's manager.
The next day it was on to Beijing. There I met up with Gong Min again, from the Co-Create Software group. I stayed there for two whole days, and with two speaking engagements each day, I had no time for sightseeing. I did have time for marvelous food, though. One of the appearances a sort of speech/interview together with Hong Feng at sina.com, a large web portal. I spoke about free software and education, while he described his Hackerdom Training Program where people learn to be good programmers by working with and on free software. sina.com wanted to webcast this, but it turned out that they normally use only proprietary formats. I insisted that they could make a video only if they do it in Ogg/Theora format. So they made arrangements to do that, and their CTO said they will start using it regularly from now on. That alone makes the event a considerable success.
The last event was a visit to a meeting of the Beijing GNU/Linux User Group. It turns out to consist mostly of foreign expatriates, and meets in a restaurant called "steak and eggs" which features the food that an "ordinary" restaurant in the US would have. When I saw this, I said, "I'll be glad to stay for a while and talk with you, but I intend to have dinner somewhere else." After half an hour of answering questions, some 25 of us went to a Chinese restaurant where we had peking duck, bean thread with cabbage, and various other delectable things.
The following morning, we visited a department store to look for shoes for me. I have a strong fear of slipping and falling, ever since I broke my elbow doing just that in Finland. I found some sneakers with velcro straps, which I hope will work out well. Then it was off to the airport. My flight was scheduled for the worst possible time, since we had to leave the city before 10am and it arrived in Shenzhen at almost 4pm--meaning no chance to have a nice lunch. And since today is a major holiday, the autumn moon festival, everyone is busy with family. Leo was going to meet me at the airport and have dinner, but his girlfriend demanded he go to their family instead. Someone from sina.com had a friend in Shenzhen, who came to meet me at the airport so that at least I would not have trouble getting to Hong Kong. After a bus, a taxi, the China border, a bus, the Hong Kong border, another bus, a subway, and another bus, I arrived at Leo's apartment with a bag of junk food that I expected to hold me for the night. When taking the bus that went to Hong Kong, it wasn't clear where to buy the ticket, because the tickets were sold after passing through the border control. People outside were selling tickets for about $90. Fortunately I knew they only cost $5.
However, when I finished writing the Hong Kong immigration card, in parallel with standing on line, I stuck the pen back in my pocket. It picked this moment to leak. I noticed, once in the apartment, that my arm was covered with ink smears. The bottom of the shirt pocket is permanently stained. I can't decide whether to consider it ruined.
Here are the meals I had in Hong Kong and China.
I've represented the four tones as yi yí yî yì.
Sep 6 dinner (Saikung)
- Lobster and noodles in cheese sauce
- Razor clams in black bean sauce
- Steamed garoupa with scallions
- Giant prawns with spicy salt
Sep 8 dinner (Yung Kee restaurant)
- Mini sea cucumbers fried in salt and pepper
- Roast goose
- Frog with gluten (also some black mushrooms)
- Double-boiled mushroom soup
Sep 9 lunch (Guangshifang Restaurant, Shenzhen)
- Kun-yum tea
- Round pea pods, cooked rather crisp, in a white sauce with dried onion.
- Wood ears (a variant), soft, in a sour and spicy sauce.
- Seafood rolls, with interesting rough-texture outside, but too much mayo inside.
- Fish balls in curry with coconut milk
- Sticky rice in a sort of yellow gravy, with mushrooms inside
- Turnip cakes were not great
- Beef brisket with turnip.
- Roast goose
- Little spare ribs on taro rectangles
- "Crystal rolls" dessert: egg custard, with soft crust of little tapioca-like balls
- Steamed dao bao fish (a flatfish, very fatty inside)
Sep 9 dinner (Wuhan)
- Mellon cookies: brown crispy on outside, like rice cake inside, a little sweet. Eaten with sweet condensed milk
- Lotus root
- Green vegetable (woju?)
- Soup with long egg noodles that were too soft.
Sep 10 lunch (Wudang)
- Small ferns, peppers, and shredded pork
- Chopped pieces of chicken and big meaty local mushrooms
- Cabbage and bean curd
- Steamed fish that tasted too fishy.
Sep 10 dinner (Wudang)
- Baby bok choi and fáng xièn mushrooms
- Pork and local bamboo stalks
- Soup with pork balls, cabbage, and rice noodles
Sep 11 lunch (Wudang)
- Pork-filled dumplings with think skins
- Si-gua vegetable (seems like a kind of squash) with wood ears
- Chinese-fried potatoes, too spicy for me to eat
- Local type of cabbage with fried bean curd
Sep 11 dinner (Wudang)
- Fried noodles were ok.
- Lotus root was good.
Sep 12 lunch (Wudang)
- Cold beef slices in a spicy sauce with coriander
- Thin local mushrooms in a somewhat similar sauce
- Local bamboo again
Sep 13 dinner (Shanghai, buffet)
- Slightly cooked pea pods
- Slightly cooked celery
- Chicken-leg mushrooms
- Bâi-ling (hundred belles) mushrooms, taste almost like a mollusc
- Concubine mushrooms
- A piece of pork rib in pungent sauce
- Concubine chicken (boiled, with interesting sauce on it)
- Jellied beef (5-spice flavor)
- Small toast with chopped whitefish and bricks of tobiko with wasabi mayo
- Dish of lobster chunks with sweet sprinkles, in shredded cabbage
- Sliced abalone
- "North pole" mollusc
- Mussel in interesting sauce
- Lettuce, corn, shrimp and other seafood.
- Jellied lamb in brown sauce
- Japanese oshitashi
- Snail meat with cucumber pieces (a little spicy)
- Broiled squid
- Small whole fish with roe, in soy/oyster sauce
- Smoked salmon wrapped around asparagus
- Jellyfish salad with carrots and white cabbage
- Soy-marinated pine-tree mushrooms (tall and thin) with corn and peas
- Pieces of bamboo shoot
- Glass noodles with slivers of fish, in sour sauce
- King crab meat on mashed potato, with a piece of tomato and broccoli
- Mushroom soup
- Sweet white wood-ear with lily seed soup
- Black beans
- Pork tongue slices
- Green tea mousse cake
- Kiwi fruit smoothie
- Bacon-wrapped scallions
- Soy-sauce/pepper chichen
- Peculiar fried doufu (partly liquid inside) surrounded by flakes
- Scallop filled with cheese
- Tempura made from a small fish full of roe
- Sweet bean paste surrounded by vegetable jelly
Sep 14 lunch (Suzhou, Garden Hotel near the Lingering Garden)
- Thin mushrooms with coriander (very good this time)
- Cashews covered in sesame seeds and sugar
- Cucumber pieces in a white sauce with garlic
- Giant pork meatballs (with a little crab and other things at the center) in broth with slivers of omelette and slivers of a white vegetable. Chinese people poke a chopstick thru the meatball to pick it up, just as Americans struggling to use chopsticks often do.
- Shrimp in a delicate oil-based sauce that comes from another dish made of small chunks of crabmeat and of crab eggs.
- Thick soup containing lake algae and small white lake fish, as well as small clouds of egg white
- Asparagus, celery, and lily bulbs
- Thick wantons stuffed with chopped vegetable and chopped egg, in a little broth
Sep 14 dinner (Shanghai)
- Shrimp balls covered with toast cubes.
- Fried seaweed
- Soup with some dried pork and little shreds of dòufu and dried seafood
- Bean jelly slices in three flavors.
- String beans with pork and garlic
- Gourd and boiled almonds
- Scallops and hundred-belles mushrooms
- Little dumplings filled with meat (and juice)
- Pork intestine and bok choy (I asked for it, thinking it was rib bellies)
Sep 15 dinner (Beijing)
- Sauteed vegetable with garlic (a kind of lettuce which is stalks and thin leaves).
- Sauteed wojù with peppers (another kind of lettuce, according to my friends, which is much thicker than western lettuce.
- Fried chicken wings
- Shrimp dumplings (not very good ones)
- Tall cylindrical pork, shrimp and crab meat dumplings (very good)
- Fried breaded chicken wings, a little spicy
- Chrysanthemum tea
Sep 16 lunch (Beijing, Cháo Tài Seafood Restaurant, Chaozhou style 55 Zhichun road Haidien district)
- Gòng cài with garlic and pepper
- Broiled eel (almost Japanese style)
- Sizzling beef steak in slightly peppery sauce, with onion
- 1000-year egg (best I've had)
- Pickled cabbage root
- Slices of jellied pork
- Soft-boiled almonds with celery and huái san and cucumber
- Scallop with breadcrumbs and glass noodles and scallion
- Fried dòufu covered with pork ball, and tiny pieces of mushroom
- Sea cucumber roll with pork and surimi
- Flaky rolls containing roast pork and sweet sauce
- Lotus-seed moon cake
Sep 16 dunner (Beijing, East Ocean Restaurant)
- Lóngjîng tea
- Cashews baked in a paste that is sweet and has spices (saffron?)
- Sliced goose neck, somewhat salted and spicy
- Half-sour sliced radish (daikon)
- Pork balls covered with glutinous rice
- Braised beef with beef broth full of shreds of something.
- Salt-preserved fish, but it wasn't salty, tasted more like eastern European smoked fish, except that it was juicier.
- Wood ears in sauce
- Radish balls
- Pork bone soup, with radish chunks to absorb the flavor (we put on plastic gloves to eat the meat off the bones, and were given straws to suck the marrow)
- Whole wûchang fish
- Snail meat with diced vegetables
- Catfish slices in flaky pastry with curry-ish flavor
- Little cakes of durian covered by crispy rice
- Cakes of crushed peanuts covered by rice cake.
Sep 17 lunch (Beijing)
- Cold, fried ji fish
- Sliced daikon with very strange feel, pickled in sweet dark vinegar
- Fluffy-breaded lamb meat with dipping spices
- Fresh egg rolls filled with diced vegetables
- Peking duck
- A bowl containing two kinds of thick soup
- that don't mix. One has egg drop, one has tiny pieces of spinach.
- Pork and Sìquan pickles noodle soup
Sep 17 dinner
- Lóngjîng tea
- Fried cashews, rather spicy
- Sweet and sour "squirrel" mandarin fish
- Sour cabbage with fên si
- Pork with fên pi (ribbons, like fen si)
- Corn kernels with pine nuts
- Peking duck
- Minced beef and egg white soup
- Sizzling rice with vegetables
- Big pork ribs (but I didn't get one)
- Shredded potato, stir fried.