Thursday, August 30, 2012

Honks and hugs

Tuesday in Kunming dawned extremely smoggy.  We are not sure why, but this is the most smog that we have seen here and it is not at all fun to be out in!!!

Michael had to make a final trip to KIZ  and I needed to purchase the all important suitcase so we headed out in opposite directions.  I walked back to Carrefour and into the business and tourist district of Kunming.  As it was fairly early, the streets were not very crowded and I was able to get some good, fast exercise.

I passed a crowd of people and realized that they were lined up waiting for the bank to open…..

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I am sure that these officially dressed men would have been happy to give me a massage or further diagnose my ailments…..DSC06546

I remembered this fountain from our first trip…..

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….and I once again passed these benches that are built to be very far off of the ground.  Most Chinese people cannot sit on them with their feet on the ground!!!

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Just outside the entrance to Carrefour, there is a vendor selling all sorts of dried fruits, nuts and other things that I was too scared to ask about…..

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I returned to the hotel, finding that Michael had arrived about 20 minutes before me and we spent the afternoon working, reading and relaxing.

We had a dinner engagement with our friend Jai-lin and were to meet her at KIZ at 5:30.  We hopped into a tax at 5:00 and thought we would have plenty of time…..NOT.   The traffic was completely stopped and at 5:25 we had only driven a few blocks.   I called Jai-lin and we changed the plans so that the taxi would take us straight to the restaurant.  We handed the phone to the driver and, after a 5 minute conversation, he seemed to know where we were headed.

As we drove further out, the traffic became worse and worse.  This was the typical five o’clock congestion, but was exacerbated by the continuing road construction going on in the city.  Several times our driver stepped out of his vehicle and stare pointedly down the street apparently willing the traffic to start moving.  On one occasion, he saw an opening on a side street and we took a rollicking 30 second detour which allowed us to move 3 cars further along. 

He was definitely NOT stoic about the trip and made all sorts of grunts and comments as we would drive for a short distance and then grind to a quick stop.  At one point he even slammed the steering wheel with his fist…..I worried for his blood pressure!!!!

After about 90 minutes in the car, he indicated that we should call Jai-lin again for additional directions.  After speaking to her he turned into a large Apartment Complex area, stopped and asked two pedestrians for directions and soon found the restaurant.

Jai-lin arrived about 10 minutes later and we began one of our favorite Chinese rituals…..the eating of a hot pot!!!

Each table had an electric burner in the center and soon a pot of boiling broth was placed on the burner.

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Next came a plate of fish, meat and vegetables containing everything from lettuce to mushrooms to lotus root…..

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The waitress got the pot started by adding the skewered shrimp…..DSC06555

….which quickly came out bright pink and perfectly cooked……

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The only problem at this point was figuring out how to peel them without getting completely messy, but they were so good that we really didn’t mind messy fingers!!!

This scoop was filled with a substance that made fish balls and the waitress expertly rolled the balls out of the scoop and into the pot…..

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We each added our favorites to the boiling broth and proceeded to dip out and eat whatever the scoop (or our chop sticks) came out with…..

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It was a wonderful meal and we thoroughly enjoyed the food as well as catching up with Jai-lin.

As we were leaving the restaurant two fun things happened.   First of all, there was a young boy (maybe 6 or 7) who was completely engrossed in who we were.  At his Dad’s urging he finally came up and “talked” to us, with many smiles and bows.

Secondly, I spotted this contraption sitting in the corner.  Although this is not a good photo, I was interested to realize that it was a locking umbrella holder.  When you enter the restaurant you place your umbrella on the rack and lock it with the provided key.  After eating, you use the key to unlock your umbrella before you exit the restaurant…..a great idea!!!!

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We then walked about 15 minutes to arrive at Jai-lin’s apartment.  Her Husband, Shu, was working out of State and couldn’t’ be there but we got to meet Jai-lin’s Mother-In-Law and, most importantly, her one year old son, Hen…….

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Hen was a sweet, happy little boy who was a little worried about who these very strange looking and sounding people were!!!!  I think that he would have warmed to us if we had stayed a bit longer.

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We spent about 30 minutes with Jai-lin and her lovely family and then headed back to the street to catch a taxi to the hotel.  The taxi stopped at the side of the road and cars impatiently honked as we said our good-byes and gave our last hugs!!!

On the way back we passed numerous work crews who were busy installing shrubs and trees along the newly renovated streets with many of them using a flashlight to see what they were doing.  We were shocked to see that most of these workers were women!!!   I wonder just how long they work into the night?

We did a bit more packing and then settled in for our final night in Kunming!!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

You MUST be two hours early….

This morning we made our return flight to Kunming, but not without some nerve wracking moments…..

When we changed our flights, we were told that it would cost us 300Y and that this amount had to be paid two hours before the flight or they would cancel our tickets.  This meant that we had to pay by 5:30am.

With that in mind, we set the alarms for 4:00am, dressed quickly, packed and checked out of the hotel.  Then the problems began…..

As our taxi left the hotel we noticed something unusual…..he drove VERY slowly!!  Most drivers sent us swaying back and forth in the back seat as they careened from lane to lane, but this gentleman carefully and slowly drove down the street.  

The next problem arose when we arrived at the entrance ramp to the highway that goes to the airport and the entrance was blocked!!!   We proceeded slowly along the street, hitting every single stop light until we came to the next entrance….it was blocked also!!! 

While looking to see what speed he was traveling, I realized that the “Check Engine” light was on….not a good sign either.  As we traveled further, we noticed that there was an acrid smell in the taxi and that the motor was pulsing and not keeping a smooth tempo…..oh great!!!

We finally found an entrance to the elevated road and as the driver slowly ground thru the four gears, our collective stress levels grew as well!!!

We limped along with cars passing us right and left and with much relief saw a sign indicating that the airport was only 6 kms ahead…..maybe we could make it!!

We gratefully exited the taxi and entered into the airport, also known as the next circle of hell!!

There were no attendants at any gate and the only person that we could find to ask only pointed to one of the unopened desks and told us to wait.   We stood at the first of the line until  the gate attendants arrived at 5:35….ie, we had already passed the time to pay for our tickets.  

When Michael presented our passports to the attendant, she looked at them and said  “you changed your tickets…..why?”.  At this point, I thought that Michael was going to have an Aneurism.   Instead of saying “none of your business”, he muttered something about beating the Typhoon and she told us that we needed to go across to another area to pay for the ticket, and of course, there was another line.

I asked one of the men there when the counter opened and he said six!!!   Oh well, there was nothing more that we could do.  We stood in that line and finally a woman came over and opened one of the other windows.  We were told to move to that window and in the move, at least one person jumped to the front of the line.  An additional window was opened and yet more people ran to the front….the Chinese do NOT understand the meaning of forming an orderly line.

The end to our saga came with the the obtaining of boarding passes, purchasing of Starbucks coffee, tea and muffin and taking off (almost on time).  It was quite a morning!!!

The rest of the day was fortunately uneventful and we ended the day on a fun note with the spotting of a Beagle that looks just  like Jenny’s dog, Marley.  Just as Michael started to take the photo, a schoolboy came by to pet her, making for a perfect picture……

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Notice that she is straining mightily on the leash to get to the all-important social interaction…..just like a little-girl Beagle.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Enjoying The Bund!!!

To start with, let me say a bit more about the bathroom in this wonderful hotel. This control panel sits next to the toilet and controls how hot the toilet seat is, how warm the tile floor gets, and where exactly the Bidet cleans. I was too scared to see what the “oscillating” button stood for!!!!

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This morning we had the taxi drop us off at the Bund District and we enjoyed a long walk along the Promenade. These were our views from across the Yangtze River…..

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We enjoyed taking photos of each other……

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….and two young men offered to take one of us together……

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We were stopped by one family and the Father indicated that he would like to take a photo of us with his Daughter. We smiled happily as the little girl looked bewildered, wondering why she had to stand with these very strange people!!! As we walked away, we laughed and said that “we were a photo-op”!

At one end there was a huge statue of Mao Tse-Tung……

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I loved this building, with it’s “flower petal” top…..

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The view changed as we moved further down the walkway…..

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This interesting building is the Oriental Pearl TV Communications Tower…..

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After we had walked the entire shorefront and run out of “Bund”, we grabbed a taxi to the Jade Buddha Temple.

Once again the center was filled with smoke and incense burning worshippers. Most would bow three times in each direction of the courtyard.

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These containers were used to burn out the incense once it had been used and the odor was amazing. We also saw a number of people placing pieces of paper and small boxes into the flames. We assumed that they were prayers that were being burned and sent up to their god.

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As before, each of the smaller rooms contained one or more Buddha’s…..

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….including some very angry looking gods…..

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It makes me glad that my God is a God of Grace!!!!

To quote the sign, there was a “Reclining Buddha and Gift Shop”……

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….and finally, after paying an additional 10Y each, the Jade Buddha. You were not allowed to take photos, so this one has been stolen from the internet….

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We stood in this chamber for a long time and watched the worshippers as they came in. There were two attendants in front of the Buddha and they would sell bottles of a yellow fluid to the worshippers. The worshipper would hold this bottle in their hands and pray to the Buddha and then give the bottle back to the attendants. They would open the bottle and pour the contents into a bowl in front of the Buddha. As we looked, we could see a hose running from the back of the bowl so that the fluid could drain out.

We walked thru another store and visited the Happy Buddha. Supposedly, if you rub his tummy, you will have good luck……

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As I was looking in one of the chambers, I finally looked up and saw the beautiful ceilings in the chamber…..DSC06485

In other areas of the Temple, there were red flags hanging all around……

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….including this one silencing the lion…..

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There were several cool drums….I would have loved to hear this one…..

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Our taxi back to the hotel had something that we haven’t seen before in China….a GPS. It allowed him to take some different, smaller roads and we enjoyed the trip knowing that he knew where he was going!!!

We returned to the hotel for a brief few minutes and then went out again to visit a Tea Market. We enjoyed doing a bit of shopping and, although we didn’t find any “tea stuff” to buy, we did find a beautiful vase that will make packing much more interesting!!!!

While we were waiting for the taxi, the concierge commented that there was a Typhoon that was supposed to make land on Monday so we decided to try to change our flights so that we would leave earlier. The concierge worked VERY hard and was able to make the change for us….it is good to have that off of our minds!!!

After a short rest in the hotel, we went out for our final meal in Shanghai. There is a building called “Three on the Bund” and it houses eleven very fancy and expensive restaurants. Michael did a little bit of research and found that we could go to “Mercato” and not spend our last penny, so he booked a reservation there. Mercato is run by Chef Jean-Georges who has been awarded THREE Michelin stars.

We had high expectations and were NOT disappointed.

The restaurant itself is rather rustic…..

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….but the drinks are wonderful. Here is our first line-up, including the spiciest bread sticks that you have ever tasted!!!!

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When we arrived at our table, we were served this lovely bread and thick Extra Virgin Olive Oil……

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We ordered two appetizers. The first were these wonderful grilled Asparagus spears wrapped with cheese and bacon….

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and the second was this MAGNIFICENT home-made Ricotta Cheese with a Strawberry purée…..

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I really wanted to pick up this plate and lick it clean!!!!

The main course was a grilled chicken served over a bed of onions and potatoes….

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The two sides were Broccolini……

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….and fried Polenta cakes…..

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My after dinner tea was served in this VERY heavy iron teapot….

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After we had finished our wonderful meal, we took another stroll along the Bund Promenade. The buildings had all been transformed with lights and made for a gorgeous walk……DSC06518DSC06525

The view across the river had changed to this…..

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….and brightly lighted cruise boats motored up and down the banks…..

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As you can see from the photo, the crowds were even larger than they had been in the morning and everyone was taking copious photos. There were even lots of people with tripods set up.

With much sadness, we left our evening paradise and returned to our hotel for one last night in Shanghai

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Search for Steamed Buns….

Saturday morning dawned cloudy and rainy, with occasional thunder!! We decided to worry about the weather later and instead headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Just as a side note, we are both getting VERY tired of eating buffet breakfasts…..six weeks of them in one summer is just too much!!!

At breakfast I started watching a little girl with her Parents and Grandparents. As most of you know, our beautiful Daughter-In-Law is Asian and this little girl reminded me so much of the photos that I had seen of Amber as a child. As I watched her interact with the others, I became more and more convinced that she was a “little Amber”.  I am sure that her parent’s were wondering why these “round-eyes” were staring at her!!

When it was time to leave, the rain had not stopped, so we grabbed our umbrellas and caught a taxi to the Shanghai Museum, a beautiful building…

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We got in one line, although we weren’t sure that we didn’t need to buy tickets somewhere else first, but since no one in the line were holding tickets, we decided to try it anyway. After a short wait, we walked thru the metal detector, past the entryway guard and we were in the museum, still not having paid!!! We are not sure why there was no charge, but we did not complain.

The interior of the building is as nice as the outside, with an open atrium and galleries all around the outside edges….

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Most of the visitors were heading to the left and up the escalator so we went the other direction….right and into the Bronze gallery.

Many of the pieces in this gallery were very old and intricate, but I was once again drawn to the shapes of the objects…..

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There were MANY objects that were fashioned into animals of some sort….

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This water basin had various animals in the bottom of it, but I was more interested in the little girl telling her Mother what animals she saw…..

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This Yak piece was interesting, especially with the Tigers climbing up the sides of the pot…..

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….and I thought of our son, Brian, when we came across these bronze drums….

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The next gallery was calligraphy.  The introduction to the gallery gave the following explanation…. “Chinese written characters are pictographic symbols of spoken words.  Calligraphy is the art of writing characters in an expressive manner employing the use of a brush.” 

The pieces were beautiful, although completely lost on us…..

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The next gallery took us to Chinese painting.  Most of it was done on silk and many pieces had Calligraphy incorporated as well.   I really liked this large painting of bamboo….

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There were a couple of interesting things about this gallery.  The first was that the display cases were all darkened and would light up as you approached the painting.  It was a bit disconcerting at first, but we soon learned to look for the sensor and to be sure to stand there.

The second was that I realized that people around us knew who these artists were, much as we would say “Oh look…there’s a Monet”.

Most of the pieces were done in one color of ink, mostly black and many carried the seal of the painter (see the red stamps)……

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However, there were several gorgeous pieces that had additional colors added….

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Next was the Jade gallery and once again there was room after room of jade pieces.  The most amazing ones to me were the pieces that displayed fine and delicate carvings.

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The woodcarving room was Michael’s favorite and many exquisite carved and Lacquered pieces were shown.  This pieced was a mirror stand and we would have loved to put it into our suitcase!!!

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When I looked at this next room, my eye immediately went to the stand at the back.  Cant you see quilt’s hanging there…..

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Michael is desperate for one of these “brobdingnagian” chairs but I cant see him sitting in them to watch TV at night.  The chair in the middle is actually a folding chair…..

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This red lacquered table and chairs was intricately carved.  Michael’s comment was that you wouldn’t want to sit for long on those chairs as the carvings would “etch” into your skin!!!

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OK, enough wood work. Let’s get to something important….like textiles!!!!

I thoroughly enjoyed the Ethnic Costume and Textile gallery, starting with the dragon that welcomed us in…..

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….these wonderful “tie-dye batik”pieces…..DSC06297

…..this funky hat with a “fishing pole” attached……

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….and this example of “extreme” beading…..

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I loved the colors in this dress…….

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…and was very glad that I couldn’t smell this outfit since it was made of Salmon Skin!!!!

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On to the ceramics gallery but by this time we were officially “museumed-out”.  A quick run thru gave a few more images…..DSC06322

Most of the pieces were traditional blue and white,so we found this brown and white painted piece to be very attractive…..

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We left the museum and caught a taxi to the place that I was dying to go…..Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant.  The only problem was that, when we arrived, the line looked like this…..DSC06424

There were several hundred people in line so we reluctantly decided to give it a miss.

Just down the street was the City God Temple so we followed the signs and walked there in the rain.  We stopped at one booth and asked where to buy tickets.  The person pointed down a corridor so we started walking that way.  The guard at the end of the walkway said that we needed tickets and pointed back up the corridor…..but where?????

Then we saw this tiny window and sure enough, that was the ticket counter….

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Even though it was pouingr rain, the central courtyard was crowded with worshipers……

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Around this center courtyard were buildings that each contained a Buddha of some sort and a shrine……DSC06340

The worshipers go into each of the halls and bow and pray to each of the gods….

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There was a lot of construction going on so you couldn’t really see the main Buddha, however here is one of his attendants.  I swear that he is holding a fire extinguisher!!!….

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I have always loved the architecture of the temple buildings, especially the roof lines…..

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Leaving the temple, we caught a taxi to the Dongtai Road Antique Market.  In this photo, Michael is showing his approval, Chinese style….

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Now we had been warned that the definition of “antique” was flexible and could mean something was one year old or 100 years old.  The market was composed  of several long streets with small “junk” shops out on the street…

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…and more serious shops in the buildings.  They were very interesting and you could buy lots of fun things.  This store had old typewriters, cameras and movie cameras…..

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We walked down one long hall and found the most interesting things…..

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In some places it was so dark that we couldn’t really see what was there until the camera flashed…….

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We had, once again, managed to arrive just after lunch and many of the shopkeepers were taking their afternoon rest……DSC06383

….and yes, this man is working in his underwear only……

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We ended up purchasing one small item and then headed back to the hotel to ask them for another place to get steamed buns (we knew them as Soup Dumplings).  The concierge told us that Nanxiang was the best and when we told him that the line length had deterred us the first time, he said “oh no.  Don’t stand in the line.  Go upstairs and there is no waiting”!!!

So we hopped back into a taxi and returned to the Restaurant with the long line.  We climbed the stairs and found that there were still a lot of people waiting but the hostess came up to me and asked if we would be happy with a “Set Menu” rather than ordering for ourselves.  Since we wouldn’t have known what to order anyway, we said yes and she immediately sat us at a table.

The steamed buns are an interesting phenomenon.  A mixture of meat and aspic is wrapped in a dumpling skin.  When the buns are steamed, the aspic dissolves, with the resulting soup being trapped inside the bun.  Here is a video of some of the buns being made.

 

I loved this photo with the little girl looking fascinatedly in the window….

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OK…enough about making the buns, lets get on with the eating.

The buns arrived at the table in a bamboo steamer basket….

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You would pick up a bun with your chopsticks and dip it in a small bowl of vinegar….

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Then comes the tricky part.  You bite off just a small bit of the dumpling to allow the steam to be released from the bun…..

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In this photo, you can see the meatball inside the dumpling and also see the broth coming out…..

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Once it has cooled a bit it is easily eaten.

We were also served a Giant soup dumpling that contains only soup.  You do not eat the dumpling wrapper with this one, but instead sip the soup thru a straw….

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We were also served two other types of dumplings.  The first was a fried dumpling with shrimp inside….

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…and the second was filled with an egg substance…..

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Next came a mushroom and vegetable  soup….

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The final course were two sweet dumplings to finish up.  One was a sweetened rice while the final one was filled with ground almonds….

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As we left the restaurant, we passed the window that everyone was standing in line for…..the “outer sell” window……

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We returned to the hotel and enjoyed the rest of the evening…..day two in Shanghai….another success!!!!

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