A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair is quite a sign to see. There are acres and acres of display buildings, random food on a stick, and events. While we didn't get Journey tickets, they were playing the night we were there and we could hear them from by the stadium.

Highlights of the fried crap on a stick we ate/saw (and other foods): bucket 'o cookies (we just got the mega cone) deep fried fruit on a stick (actually, pretty bad) fried pickles pickles on a stick lefse (potato dough with cinnamon sweetness rolled up in it) fried cheese on a stick ginormous hot dogs mineapple pie on a stick nut rolls pork chop on a stick alligator on a stick corn on the cob (drenched in buttery goodness) fried rice balls deep fried beer and of course, a local favorite, deep fried cheese curd.

Even though we walked around a lot, I'm pretty sure all the crap we ate cancelled out any benefit the walk might have provided.

Fried Cheese Curd

Fried Cheese Curd

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

San Fran

We had some time between connecting flights, so we first explored the airport as we waited for a friend to call and let us know where to meet her. The airport has a cute little airplane museum and library. There's also a "zen lounge" where cell phones are banned.

After waiting, we headed down town. We stopped by a little art fair and had Alicias tamales off a cart. They were some of the best tamales I've had. One of the artists at the fair suggested we catch the bus to Haight Ashbury, so we did.

Apparently, this is the "hippie" part of town. That's ok, I found the Anarchist Bookstore so I was happy. There were also record stores that actually sold vinyl, and of course the "dispensaries" that the area is famous for. It was artsy and neat.

We didn't have much time there though, we had to catch the bus back to the airport. We were about 60 seconds away from having our seats given to the people on standby for the flight, but we made it!

Airport museum

Airport museum


Art fair

Art fair


Haight and Ashbury

Haight and Ashbury

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Last Day in China

Today was our last full day in China. We slept in a little too late, so we had to rush to get Chinese breakfast. Chinese breakfast consists of congee, steamed buns, pizza bread, and some other flatbread. I'm pretty sure that congee is last night's rice + extra water, left in the rice cooker over night. It's really bland, boring, and not that great. The steamed buns were a favorite, as usual, and the pizza bread was really good. Next, we headed over to the lake. We rented a covered paddle boat for an hour (less than $7 total) and headed out. Sort of. Mostly, the boat turned in circles and was difficult to steer, but we had fun anyway. We watched the birds and fishermen and just generally enjoyed the scenery.

Around the lake is the Nanjing City Walls. We walked by the wall until we found the place where you can climb up it and walk on top of it. First though, there is a little museum that details the history of the wall. At least, that's what I think it was about based on the maps and pictures. There was only Chinese, so I just made up what I thought it might say. On top of the wall was pretty cool. We could see for quite some way and we had it all to ourselves. The walk was grassy, but much MUCH easier than the Great Wall. That's good, because going down stairs still hurt my calves. (I'm good for up stairs or down ramps though.)

The wall ends rather abruptly into a neighborhood. Fortunately, the neighborhood is near Purple Mountain, which was our next hike. First, we had to refresh though. We grabbed drinks. The vending machine also had a squirt gun in it, which came filled! I think I had a little too much fun squirting people with it. We didn't hike to the top or take the cable car, but we did wander the side of the mountain. It was serendipity that we stumbled across a Chinese lute player playing in a gazebo. She was just practicing, but she was pretty good. We also stumbled across something important. I don't know what kind of mausoleum or memorial it was, but it obviously held somebody worth making a big deal out of. However, not somebody important enough for English signage. Just as it started drizzling, we decided we were done and it was time for food. A cab dropped us off on a food street, but as it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, not a lot of places were open. We ended up at "Cheese Club." There were many cheese and non-cheese items on the menu. The mozzarella sticks were the same as you'd get anywhere. I also discovered that I'm not a big fan of warm kiwis with bananas and pineapple in a sandwich.

After going back to get cleaned and packed, I grabbed a quick Chinese takeout dinner. Veggie fried rice takeout in China tastes exactly the same as veggie fried rice takeout in the US. (Of course, it is 1/8 the price, but otherwise the same.)

Our last real adventure in China was Kung Fu lessons. How do you go to China and not do martial arts? This guy my friend knows took Kung Fu from a true master who studied at the Shaolin Temple. We were invited for a "trial class" at this guy's apartment/studio. We kicked, punched, balanced, hopped, and had a great time. I wish we could have stayed more, but we had to catch a train.

The sleeper train to Beijing was nice. We had soft sleeper bottom bunks, which basically means we had seats with a cover on it. That's better than the top bunks which were luggage racks with covers on them. The beds were plenty long and had room underneath for our luggage. The room came with slippers, personal tvs, lighting, and other amenities that I didn't use because I passed out from exhaustion. The bathroom had western toilets, but as everybody in China puts TP in the trash instead of down the toilet, it was not pleasant by morning time. Just before we got to Beijing, the train attendants came to wake us up and take out the trash. Since the dining car was closed, I'm glad I brought snacks. We did finally make our way through the crammed subway to the Beijing airport and grab food. The Thai food in China (at the airport) looked the same as Thai food in the US. It was spicier and the pad thai had basil in it, but otherwise also tasted very similar. Immigration and customs exiting was a breeze. We bought waters after though, and they got confiscated as we went to get on the plane. Surprisingly though, my mega pack of batteries didn't get confiscated either upon search or metal detector, and China is a "no more than 2 batteries in a carry-on" country.

The plane ride was interesting because we went through a typhoon that even made one of the flight attendants sit down right in the middle of the aisle. Also, we arrived in San Fran before we left China.

Chinese breakfast

Chinese breakfast


Boats on Nanjing Lake

Boats on Nanjing Lake


On top of City Wall

On top of City Wall


Path through Purple Mountain

Path through Purple Mountain


Chinese Lute player

Chinese Lute player


Some kind of memorial

Some kind of memorial

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Welcome to Nanjing

Here's about all the Chinese I picked up on the trip: Bei means "north", Nan means "south" and "Jing" means capital. Beijing is the northern (and current) capital. That makes Nanjing the southern (and previous) capital.

We started off the morning at the Massacre Museum. It's free, and worth going to once if you are in Nanjing with nothing better to do. At the entrance, they take your bottles of water, so get them finished before you go in- you won't be able to find them in the massive bottle collection on your way out. The first area had a Vietnam memorial-style wall with names. Next was some diorama-style displays of what Nanjing would have looked like during the "War of Japanese Aggression." (The displays have mannequins in the style of the NY History Museum, many of which are white/blond.) Most of the rest of the main museum building was text (in good English, although very nationalistic) and photographs with a few artifacts. A lot of the signage was repetitive. There was a nice display with the theme "thank you foreigners for witnessing the atrocities and helping out." In general though, it was Chinese-centric, as can be expected. For example, it referred to the Chinese-led forces that ended the anti-Japanese war (also once referred to as the anti-fascist war, but more commonly known as World War 2). Towards the end of the main building, they had a computer area with books to the ceiling, my guess is so that you can find out more (if you know Chinese) about specific ones of the 300,000 that died during the Nanjing massacre part of the war. What detracted a bit from the museum was that there was a gif shop in the middle and at the end of the building which sold standard junk (bracelets, playing cards, etc) that was completely unrelated to the event. After the main building, there are gardens and statues, but also a pit of bones just lying there for you to see (the bones, not just the pit). I'm guessing that there's nothing culturally odd about having a pit of exposed bones for everybody to stare at, but it was an odd cemetery in my mind.

After the low of the Massacre Museum, we went over to see where my friend worked, which was in a Disney-themed area. Quite the contrast.

For lunch, we had what my friend affectionately called "Muslim noodles." The halal restaurant was fabulous! We got to see the guy kneading the dough, tossing the dough (think real pizzeria, but noodle-style), and pulling the noodles by hand right before he tossed them into the pot to cook for us. The noodles were delicious, although I couldn't finish mine. 1- the plate of food was HUGE. 2- I'm pretty sure I ordered noodles with a touch of cabbage and a thick coating of chili oil. By the end, the grease and the spice were doing me in.

Our next cab driver was particularly adept at swerving in and out of the traffic. The previous cab drivers we'd had all drove reasonably smoothly. This one, however, was jerking around so much that the more-prone-to-motion-sickness member of our party was thankful for drammomine. It was the first time I really missed seat belts. (Nobody in China wears seat belts as far as I can tell. They're not even available in most of the cabs we took.) One other thing I noticed was that everybody is walking in the streets even though there are nice, flat, wide sidewalks. I was told that is because people don't want to get run over by all the vehicles. (Hah! That's not counterintuitive at all.) Actually, there are almost always nice wide bike lanes on the sides of the roads, so I don't get why they're all up on the sidewalks, but I did see plenty of vehicles on sidewalks, so I guess it makes some sense.

Next stop was the Confucius Temple. It wasn't that different from the other one we went to, except that at this one we got to ring a huge bell. It was pretty and there were people praying here too.

Right outside the temple was a large shopping area. Most of it was made up of generic stores that sold shoes, clothing and other goods in the same way you would see stores in a shopping mall in the US. Part of it was the "market" though, where you could bargain for souvenirs. We all bought a ton of stuff for people, negotiating prices down, but not getting deals. I'm not going to accept the first price anybody says, but I'm also not really into getting into an intense bargaining war over 15 cents. One interesting thing I noticed was that a lot of the stalls were selling rocks. Not rocks in anything or carved into something cool, just plain rocks. They all kept them under water as if they'd go bad otherwise. Apparently, it's a good luck thing. Interesting.

After shopping, we went out for dinner at a Nanjingese place at the big mall. The food was "point style." We walked up to a buffet-like display, held up our table number, and pointed at the dishes we wanted. Choices included duck face, taro balls, various stir-fries, steamed buns, whole lobsters, random veggies, soups, asian pears, and much more. We skipped the duck face, but did end up getting a lot of other things, most of which were pretty good, even if overly greasy. One thing on my bucket list is to buy a cool item of clothing off somebody who is wearing it. I tried to buy the sweet name tag off some waiter, but got turned down. Oh well.

We had heard a lot about "KTV" before the trip, and I was told to try it. Since it was at the mall, we went over there next. KTV is karaoke, but not like I'm used to. They give you your own little private room where you and whoever you came with can sing and hang out. Nobody else gets to see/hear you and you don't get to meet anybody new. On the other hand, you get to sing as much as whoever you're with will allow. While you're enjoying your own little party room, you can order food and drinks from a little convenience store that they have. You can walk up to it or they will do your "shopping" for you and bring it right to your room. It was cute.

We finished the day at Jimmy's, an expat bar down some back alley where my friend's friends were all hanging out. Caution: while expat bar does translate to pizza and western toilets, it does not translate to "no smoking."

Nanjing Massacre Museum

Nanjing Massacre Museum


Reflecting Pool at Nanjing Massacre Museum

Reflecting Pool at Nanjing Massacre Museum


Halal noodle tossing

Halal noodle tossing


Confucius Temple

Confucius Temple


Prayer Tree

Prayer Tree


Duck Face

Duck Face

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Tianjin and the last emperor

We got up early, checked out, and attempted to get a cab to the train station. Maybe it was because it was rush hour and raining and there was a higher demand than supply for cabs, maybe it was because we wanted to go more than just a few blocks, or maybe it was because we didn't speak Chinese. Whatever the reason, no taxi driver would take us to the train station, even with the unwise promise of "big money." So, we lugged our luggage through the soak to the nearest subway station, crammed our soaking selves onto a train, and made it to the train station just in the nick of time to catch our train to Tianjin. Had we walked a bit slower and taken another 2 minutes, we would have missed the train and had to catch the next one.

The train ride was very short. We didn't even really get to dry off. We did get to dry off when we got to Tianjen as we had a place with a friend's friend to leave our luggage and change shoes. Lesson learned- when traveling in countries with cloth money (like US) it is smart to put some spare money in your shoe in case you get robbed. In countries with paper money like China- don't. Water+real paper= not whole bills. Near where we dropped our gear, we stopped for brunch at Mr. Pizza (slogan: Love for Women). The pizza wasn't super great. The sauce was pretty similar to ketchup, but at least it had stuffed crust.

After brunch, we headed over to the historic district to find the home of Pu Yi, the last Chinese emperor. On the way, we grabbed dessert/snacks, which weren't that good. Pu Yi was the last Chinese emperor. At one point, he was deposed and moved to Tianjen, where his many supporters came to pay homage. Later, "against the will of the people" and "as a puppet of the Japanese" he was back in power. Then, "the party that was good for the people" took over. Or at least that's what the highly-politicized video they showed at the visitors center said. It made a big deal of how he "went against the people" and was in jail, but then "reformed his ways, realizing that the communist party was right for the nation" and became a regular citizen. I'm no history buff, but I'm pretty sure there's more to it than that. Otherwise, why would htey make a documentary about him? Yes, in some of the restored rooms, there were guys putting on pants and changing. Some Russian station was actively filming a documentary in the part of the home we could visit, while we were visiting it. Their area wasn't shut off or anything, we could just walk right by the camera.

When we were done with Pu Yi, we went over to a shopping area to find a tall building that would let us see the view of the city from the top. Apparently, we walked right past it and to another tall building, the Tianjen World Trade Center. It had a cool bridge next to it. Also, they let just anybody get up to the 36th floor, which has a decent view. It was pretty hazy out though, so it was good the view was free. On the way back to the bus, we had to walk through the big shopping street again- OR- take a very cool trolley they ran up and down the street. There were several times I thought we'd have to award the trolley drive points for hitting people as he barely missed. It took significantly less time to get back up the street with the crazy trolley than walking would have though.

Next, we headed to the Confucius temple by the big ferris wheel on a bridge. The temple was pretty cool. We got to see/hear a bit of a service and explore the incense-filled grounds. Next to the temple was a shopping area where they sold all of the religious gear one might need before going to the temple. Amongst the incense and fake money were ladies folding origami boats out of paper. Some of these ladies had large trash bags full of paper boats. After walking under the ferris wheel (no time to ride it and we already got our hazy view of the city), we headed to one other shopping area. This market had all of the standard tourist crap, but was also reasonably authentic as there were many Chinese people shopping there too. Popular items included rock bracelets, cell phone covers, and t-shirts with poor English on them. I bought my sister one that said something about loving family, but it was incoherent and not all of the words were words (wth, for example). I honestly don't think most Chinese people care what the English on their shirts say as long as it's English. I even saw a Chinese guy walking around with a t-shirt that said "Black Power" on it and had a fist pictures. Hmmmm. Also at the market were plenty of fried food vendors. This time, I tried some deep-fried tofu on a stick with spices which was decent. We got a cab back to the train station, but the cab driver (like the one who took us from the train station to the city) took a long way there and circled the final destination, jacking up the cab fare. The convenience store at the train station had noodles, cookies, chips, and other snacks, but not any real food. I passed out on the train to Nanjing, but I heard it was about 4 hours. Upon arrival, it was just late enough that we caught a subway train downtown, but the subway closed before we could transfer to the one that would take us to our friend's house. Fortunately, we were had to surface right by 2 food places that were still open. Unfortunately, those were KFC and the Golden Arches. I'll just say that Golden Arches served me sweet and sour sauce when I asked for sauce with my fries, and that the flavor was the same as Sweet and Sour sauce in the US, except more watered down. The thickness was the same.

We grabbed a cab to the apartment and zonked out.

Tianjin

Tianjin


Inside Pu Yi home

Inside Pu Yi home


Tianjin

Tianjin


View from Tianjin WTC

View from Tianjin WTC


Trolley

Trolley


Temple Outside

Temple Outside


Lion at temple

Lion at temple


People praying at temple

People praying at temple


Fat idol

Fat idol


Religious shopping area

Religious shopping area


shopping street

shopping street

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)