sunnuntai 29. maaliskuuta 2009

Sweet indulgence

One of the things Shanghai offers that you rarely (ok, never) get to enjoy in Finland is champagne brunch. (Or maybe we have those in Finland too, but I doubt.) It is utter indulgence, and that is just what makes it so great. It is free flowing champagne and abundant selection of delicious food. And friends. And an opportunity to use all those silk dresses that you have had tailor-made here. And, above all, it is a lazy, indulgent Sunday afternoon.

Here, many *****-hotels (and propably 4*, too, but why bother) offer Sunday brunch with either no champagne, one glass of champagne, or endless flow of champagne. We, naturally, opt for the latter. There are few hotels, where you can have the cool Bund / Pudong view while brunching away, but this time our hosts had chosen an inland establishment, Le Meridien.

They all offer a great selection of foods, but of course there are differencies in the selection and quality. Comprehensive selecton process is required before you can say you Le Meridien brunch seemed to have a sort of a modern air to it. They had an excellent grill stand, sushi, loads of sea food (from hummer tails to tuna Nicoise and from gravad lax (hmmm... I wonder what is the correct english term?) to oysters), good salads, quiches, roasted meets, asian delicacies, antipasties, cheese table, soups, fruits and desserts. Have to have desserts. Even though usually when it is time for desserts, you would be better of not eating anything anymore. It is like Christmas, in that sense.

In Le Meridien they also had a girl dressed-up like a nurse, except in pink and giving out medicines, except it was booze. I did not find that very classy. And who, in the name of Dom Perignon, wants vodka if there is champagne?
It is way too challenging to stuff down all those delicacies and enjoy at least a few glasses of champagne.

'Cause let's be honest: that is why we are there for. You can usually get champagne free brunch with about 100 RMB less.


Le Meridien champagne brunch on Sundays 12-15, 458 RMB (~50 euros) per person.

Nanjing Est Road 789

Next time I plan to check what are the Shanghai Hyatt's offering. All three Hyatts in this village offer spectacular views to the river.

Other options:
- J.W. Marriot
- J.C. Mandarin
- "Tables" at the Portman-Rizt Carlton. Many people like this, but to me, the room was a bit dark, food selection was not that impressive. For example the signs telling which is which food were misplaced, and all in all it didn't left that high quality impression.

keskiviikko 25. maaliskuuta 2009


Someone please tell me why on earth there are candies that taste like jalopeno or pop corn?

And someone please tell me why on earth I bought them?

maanantai 23. maaliskuuta 2009

More names...

I know it hasn't been long since I pondered about the "english" names of the locals, but I have got to tell you this to emphasize my point. Recently four people have joined our company. Namely, Kiro, Subrina, Marine and Harway. All pretty words, but hardly pretty English names. But hey what do I know? Though, I am not to only one to raise an eye brow or two for this.

sunnuntai 22. maaliskuuta 2009

Please have a look ma'am

We went to Hong Kong with another couple few weeks ago. It was only a long weekend, Thursday through Sunday, but boy, was it just what I needed! I was slightly stressed before the trip. I was not myself, I could feel it. Hong Kong was lush and green compared to Shanghai (although now the spring is kicking in in Shanghai, too), sun was shining, and I left the laptop home and switched of pushmail. I also considered dropping my passport accidentally to the sea so I could stay few extra days. I love Hong Kong. I love many places. I don't know what to do if I need to stop travelling.

Banana flower (or so I was told)

Climbing up the wall...

Hong Kong is buzzing city. A little on the noisy side, but not nearly as noisy as Shanghai. And it is clean. Not as clean as Singapore, but sooo much more cleaner than Shanghai. And it is so international! The people on the streets of Hong Kong are colourful and look interesting. People also seem more open, and more active than in Shanghai. I mean, Shanghainese are highly active and many of them work really really hard. But for example the sales assistants, waiters /-resses, and other service people seemed different, more interested in their work, more service-oriented than most of them do in Shanghai. I don't know why.

We stayed at Kowloon, but of course visited Hong Kong island. For you who don't know HK, Hong Kong island is the side which has the financial center, the high-rise buildings, which form the signatory Hong Kong view. Which you can see, not from Hong Kong island, but from Kowloon.

If you like a good steak, I would recommend the Steak House in the Intercontinental Hotel. The service was magnificient, and food was excellent. We hadn't reserved a table, but we asked for directions to the restaurant from the hotel lobby, and when we arrived at the restaurant door, they told us our table is ready. They asked the name of our "host" (in Chinese dinner parties you pretty much always have to have a host, I have understood) and used it through out the dinner. You get to choose from 8 different salts and eight different beef knives (although this might be a bit of a show-off). The signatory Hong Kong view was gorgeous, as it always is. Unless there is haze. And then again, it still can be rmarkable through the haze / fog. Anyway, go there. It is not pennies we left there, but it never is in that kind of places. And it was totally worth it. After dinner, have a drink at the Aqua bar, which has an amazing view from the top of the 1 Beijing Road. They also serve food, there is an Italian kitchen and Japanese kitchen.

The indian-looking tailors and hawkers were there, on the streets, as before. You can hardly walk 5 meters without someone offering you fake handbags, Rolexes, Guccis and Pradas. Have a look mam. Tailor made suit, sir. Have a look. I may have gotten used to it a bit, since it didn't seem as aggressive as previously. It is funny that they actually offer you fake goods, in most placed they just offer "Gucci" and "Prada", but in Hong Kong they are honest :o) Fake Gucci, mam, have a look.

We didn't see our favourite hawker. Can you believe I have one? We met him first in 2005, and he was the only one of them who actually remembered we had said "no thank you" to his offer. The next day when we saw him and I was readying myself to say the word ("NO!", incase you didn't get it). "No worries", he said, "I remember you, I never offer twice if I know someone don't want it." My jaw dropped. What a great hawker. If I would buy copied goods, I would certainly buy from him. Then, few years ago (2007, I think) J. was back in Hong Kong, and the guy STILL remembered him. I was kind of looking forward to seeing him again, but we didn't see him. Maybe he has found another line of business. I hope he's doing well.

We went to Macau on Saturday. Actually the guys went in the morning, we enjoyd of few hours of girl-time, did some shopping and went to Macau later in the afternoon. Macau was like a smaller version of Las Vegas, except there were a lot more Chinese. And many of the casinos were kind of apart from each other, where as in Vegas you can see most casinos just walking the strip. (In the evening, that is, othervise the sun will grill you to death before you have had time to see them. I've only been there during the summer, winter is a different matter.) Anyway, I would go back to Vegas any day, and I would go back to Macau any day, too. I gambled mind boggling amounts. Eight euros, in total. AND I was just on the verge of feeding in MORE money, when we left for dinner. Saved by the dinner bell, I say!

It takes an hour by ferry to get there, the ferries leave every hour, and the terminal was just below our hotel in Kowloon. Tickets were about 150 HK dollars, which is about 15 euros, one way. Only complain is that you cannot enjoy the fresh sea air, but are forced to sit inside. And, coming back, the sea-road was slightly bumpy. It made it fairly difficult to gulp down the bottle of champagne we decided to share with my friend (despite of the disapproving looks from our gentlemen(?) companions). Note to self: rough waters and champangne from bottle don't go well together.
Picture altered to protect the innocent and to demonstrate the feeling with the Moet and the rough sea.

In Hong Kong island, they have these escalators, world's longest. People use them to get to / off work. What a fantastic way to cut (car) traffic on the narrow streets down the hill! There is only one line of escalators, so in the morning they go downwards so people can get down from the hill and to the offices, and some time before noon they start going upwards, and continue like that until the next morning.

You can get of the escalators in several points, and the area surrounding the escalators is magnificent! There are stylish, cosy, comfortable, modern, all kinds of restaurants near the escalators, and we were practically screaming from exhilaration and happiness! If only we had time to ferret through all of them! (The guys again didn't really see what is that big deal about it, but then, they often don't get these really important things.) We tried some, of course, but there were so many more left. Also food market is near, and we bought some kiwi-berries. The first I have ever had: tasted like sweet kiwi, but you can eat the whole thing, peels and all.

Did I mention I love Hong Kong?

They also had an interesting umbrella fashion there:

And demonstrations. That is not something you see in the mainland China every day... There were people in front of many banks, and from below photo you can see they had warm feelings towards the bank management. I am not sure, but we concluded from the posters that those people had lost their savings, and somehow thought the banks had stolen their money. I am not sure we can blame the banks for the entire economic downspiral we in (we also need to blame the Americans). Perhaps those people didn't realize, due to last ten years of stock price development, that there actually is a factor of risk involved with investing to stocks... Anyway, it was good to see that at least you can demonstrate in Hong Kong (at least if the subject is in private sector..?).

We of course visited the Victoria peak, and went up and down with the 120 years old tram. The picture doesn't replace 100 words, 'cause it doesn't tell how steep the hill really is, but the tram staid on rails, once again.

I warmly recommend the peak, you can see to the other side of Hong Kong island, too. I just so love the greenness of it.

On Sunday, we went to Disneyland. It was a disappointment. If course, if I had done any preparations and actually looked it up, it would not have come as a surprise, but there was only ONE (ONE!!) ride. One lousy roller-coaster. The rest of it was for kids. Or true Disney-lovers. You know, I've read my Donald Ducks where the next guy, but I've already seen it all in Los Angeles Disneyland. Which, by the way, also had many good rides! The weather was great, so we enjoyed the Hong Kong Disneyland for few hours, but to say it was "the happiest place on earth", no way. There was just no love between the two of us. I could have used the time in the city so well, too!

But no hard feelings even for Disneyland, as those four days were a great break. When we came back I didn't subconsciously clench my teeth together in my sleep anymore... I still love Hong Kong.

Go and see for yourself. Cathay Pacific had a really good offer: the four days and three nights package was 3090 RMB per person (considering that, I am puzzled where all my money went?) and the hotel (Royal Pacific) was on a very good location. Our rooms were a little outdated, but we had a view of the sea, and we hardly but slept there. There were other hotels available in the package, and I would have chosen one of them, but we booked too late and they were already full.

keskiviikko 18. maaliskuuta 2009


Do you know what that thing in the photo is? The ugly plate on the right side of the photo.

Care to even guess?

Could it be...

...a small portion left of a prison wall? only standing wall of a warehouse taken by a tornado? (Or some other grazy storm, I am not an expert.)

... an old, abandoned billboard?

...a slightly rusty climbing wall?

Nah, maybe not. I'll give you a hint. It has a purpose. It is being used all the time, even as we speak. It is on the "backyard" of the factory, where my other office is. It is beside a road coming from a river.

Maybe it is a huge backpane for equally huge dartboard (tikkataulu)?

Or, perhaps, it is a huge metal wall set up in the midst of "nowhere" to stop or mislead all the evil spirits before they reach our factory. Oh, you knew it right away? Why didn't you just say so! Because that's what it is. As you surely know (I don't even know why I bother to tell you this), the evil spirits live in (on?) the river. For reasons unknown to me, they like to get off the water at times, and try to reach our blessed site of employment. But aren't we just LUCKY someone was smart enough to set up a wall like this. Phiu. I don't know whom to thank for it, but indeed the person should be granted a medal (Valkoisen Ruusun Ritarikunnan risti, ihan vähintään).

I have been wondering how long we can fool the evil spirits so that they don't go and learn to go AROUND the wall. I find it hard to believe they would be that stupid, but I try not to voice my concerns. Who knows when the evil spirits are listening... I don't want to be found guilty of such a treasonous leakage.

Btw: Does anyone of you know if they can READ?

Where some westeners believe number 13 will cause you bad luck, for Chinese, number four (4) is evil. In Chinese, it sounds similar to the word "death", or "si" in mandarin. No one wants to have a phone number ending with four. Prices usually end with eight, never with four.

Due to this, there is no 14th, 24th, or 34th floor in our building. Maybe they have had some symphaties for westerners, as we also don't have 13th floor at all. I am not so particular about these number issues, but if it makes someone happy, what's that to me? Go ahead and skip all the fours.

But what I don't get is why we still have 4th floor?

(Apologies for the high quality pictures. I have excuses. First one was taken in a hurry with a mobile phone (and if the sky is grey, then the sky is grey, that cannot be helped) and in the second shot you can see my concentration reflecting from the mirror like elevator panel. There isn't much room to take photos, and the mirror kind of makes it a little difficult... Lame excuses, I can hear you say to yourself. But I ain't got any better ones right now.)

On a completely different note: can you but just love the spring?

torstai 12. maaliskuuta 2009

Friendly service

Who wouldn't want something special and meaningful that is worth your money? I certainly would! Well these guys provide exactly that AND "friendly service and product" to you.

Unfortunately the shop was closed, and we never found out what services and what products they have. But it must be special. And meaningful.

If this rose your interest, just go to Beijing, call to the car rental company in the tourist map, ask to get Sabrina for guide, and ask her to take you to see the most famous Hutong. Or, just find out in which hutong are Bell Tower and Drum Tower. This is to say, that I don't remember the name of the hutong we went to.

sunnuntai 8. maaliskuuta 2009

Touristing in the Capital

In Beijing we had 2,5 days to take it all in, which meant we had to use time efficiently. And we did: walking and sightseeing from 9 am until 10:30 pm the first day, 8:30 am 'till 00:30 am the next day. I can tell you I slept like a baby. But then again, I usually do.

Who said in Beijing you cannot see the sky?

From my Lonely Planet China book I learned that spending a day in Beijing is equal for you lungs to smoking 80 (yes, eight zero) cigairettes. Personally I have never (never-ever) smoked. Now by spending couple of days there I was off to a good start... (No, not for real, I still dislike smoking). But, I am not sure how many cigarettes Beijing meant to my lungs: certainly you could see the haze if looking far to the horizon, and at times there was something black inside your nose (I'll spare you from the rest of the details) but still generally, the air was actually very clear and sun was shining. Maybe we got lucky. Or maybe the recession + Olympics have closed some industrial polluters... Who knows.

We decided to spenf the pther day in the car and go see the Great Wall of China. As you may know, it is some 80+ kilometers away from the city, so we needed a transportation. As we had one in our group who was not willing to join any group tours, we had to get a car. W asked from the hotel of the options they could offer us. They sáid it is 1400 RMB, which we considered too expensive (as to what should be the going rate for a car and a driver for one day). So, intead we opted to do what stupid people do: we called to the company who had an add in the tourist map. We don't want any lunch, tickets, tour guides or anything additional. We just want a good car and a driver. And they said:

"Ok, ok. 700 RMB. You'll have a car and driver for your use the whole day. You can go anywhere you want to."

Well, the next morning when they arrived: the first thing we saw was that there was a guide. A nice girl, but a) we didn't really want a guide b) we sure as heck were not going to pay for it, and c) she wasn't too knowledgeable of the tourist attractions in Beijing.

But off we went, and decided to start with the Olympic stadium, the famed Birds Nest. At that day, some seven months after the Olympics (on a beautiful Sunday morning, but still) the site was still very busy. There was nothing going on, but there were many (Chinese-many aka seriously many) Chinese-looking tourists (and us) there to admire the famed Bird Nest, and the glowy Cube. It was 50 RMB to see the Nest from within, but we skipped. Empty stadium chairs were lower on the list of "must sees" compared to the Wall.

The Nest is prettier from farer away...

We also saw the glowy Cube, and the dragon-shape-reminding 7-star hotel (the head showing in the picture, the rest of the body is hiding behind the Cube.) I don't know who want's to stay there, in the midst of "nowhere", away from the city center, but maybe I am not in the target group, and therefore cannot understand this.

When we started towards the Great Wall of China, the guide told us there is no time to see both the Wall and the Ming Tombs. (The Ming Tombs held the remains of 13 of the 17 Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors, if my memory serves me right.) Nooo, no no no. We agreed that was what we wanted to see. Yes, but the drive to the Wall takes 90 minutes, it is another 90 minutes to the Tombs, and we need some time to see them. I figured we would need two hours at the Wall, one would need to cover the Tombs, and we would be fine. After a short exhange of arguments (in a friendly tone, of course) we agreed to decide later, when we see how long the Wall takes, about the Tombs.

But before long, the guide ligthly mentioned that now we would be going to the silk factory. Come again? We don't want to go to the silk factory! You are taking us to the silk factory, but we don't have time to go to the Tombs? Come on. You must be kidding me. Well, you can imagine that there were some words after that. The girl was determined to take us there, even I told her we hired a car to take us where ever we want, not where ever they want, I told her we are not going to buy ANYTHING, no matter where they take us and they better take us to the Wall as soon as possible. There were various reasons why we should stop there:

"We just need to stop there for twenty minutes."

"We just need to stop there for ten minutes."

"We always go there."

"It is a nice place."

"It is just part of our job to take you there."

And finally my favorite:

"Government pays us 100 RMB for gasoline money to promote Chinese culture if we take tourists there ."

Nice try, but the poor girl did not consider she was talking to:

a) people who live in China

b) one of whom is naturally leery about anything and everything

c) one of whom is an internal auditor, and suspiciousness comes with the job.

Well, J. then said: "We have had it. Take us back to the hotel. Now."

The guide swiftly called her manager, and what do you know? We can go to the Wall, without silk factories or others stops. I felt bad for the guide-girl, who propably thought we were the most stubborn, horrible tourist that had happened in her way, but then again I felt bad for us too, as we felt scammed, we had to fight over such a stupid issue, and for the next few hours we were not that trustful about the driver and the guide.

My friend later on commented, that for the duration of the negotiation I had a wide smile across my face. Maybe I have earned yellow belt in this avoid face-loosing came, 'cause I sure as hell wasn't feeling very smiley...

But we arrived at Mutiany, which is one of the locations you can go to see the Wall. It is supposed to have one of the best views and not be quite as touristy as Badaling (but almost). We were lazy, so we went up to the Wall by this:

And we came out sliding slates in this:

It was fun, though I went down after a German lady, who wasn't exactly a daredevil...

The views were quite nice, and we walked several watch towers, good hour and half. Sun was shining, and all was well.

Except that I don't think I had realised (history teacher might not appreciate this) the whole Wall is really "new". It has been totally re-done. I think all of us expected that there would be something authentic left of it... But at least not in Mutiany.

There were hawkers offering drinks and snacks every 100 meters or so, and there were tourists there, but it wasn't crowded or anything, like I have seen in some photos.

I cannot but wonder how do you run a marathon there? I have to see if it is actually going on the Wall the whole way, as at least the stint we saw, was up and down, up and down, stairs and slopes and more stairs. I admire anyone who runs a marathon there. Truly. I humbly knee in front of thee who master it :o)

torstai 5. maaliskuuta 2009


I have been a bit pre-occupied, so I haven't managed to deal with the photos of our Beijing trip yet, but they are coming, I promise.

Meanwhile, a piece of censorship for your enjoyment:

Who knew you cannot call a beverage by the name of a late statesman.