Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung

Yup, I know that is a mouthful. And to top it, we had to wait for more than 20 mins to get a table for 2. But boy, was it worth it!

The first time I had Xia Long Bao was on the last day of a trip to Hong Kong a few years ago. And the taste lingers. Xia Long Bao are steamed dumplings that have warm broth inside along with the more usual shrimp/meat mixture. The sheer mix of flavours and textures that this gives your mouth is crazy. I love it.

Din Tai Fung is the Taiwanese mecca of Xia Long Bao. And since they make it so well, they have now spread everywhere in Asia including to Singapore. On Saturday I went to their outlet at the Paragon Mall in Orchard.

Thanks to Martin for suggesting this place and accompanying me for an awesome meal.

For a useful lesson on how to eat Xia Long Bao, click on the above photo.

Arun Veembur

I will never meet Arun Veembur – and it is very much my loss. Arun was an intrepid traveller who died earlier this week in a tragic accident while trekking near the remote city of Dali in the Yunan province of China. He was just 28.

Arun started out as a journalist with an english newspaper in Bangalore. On a trip to India’s north-east, he came across the story of the Stilwell road (Ledo road), the tough mountainous road that the british built in the backdrop of WWII. And was hooked. Soon he gave up his job and went to Kuming the chinese outpost where he spent the next few years. He was researching for a book on the Ledo road and in the years that he was there became a bit of an institution.

More on Arun:

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/35518/bangalorean-dies-china.html

http://newshyderabad.wordpress.com/2009/11/11/young-writer-and-intrepid-traveller-dies-in-china/

http://www.dalichina.info/

Chinese accountability

On my first visit to China a couple of months ago, I realised that everything we have all heard about China is pretty much right. The main point being that it has awesome infrastructure (clean, wide roads, for god’s sake – how do they do it!).

But the real eye-opener was the undercurrent of government accountability  that one noticed. A couple of simple examples illustrates this.

At the Shanghai international airport, every immigration officer’s desk has a little widget on it (a little screen with two small buttons next to it), kept facing the traveller. Once the immigration officer processes your visa, they press a button. As soon as that button is pressed, the little screen lights up and asks you to ‘rate’ your experience with the immigration official – was the official’s work satisfactory or not? In effect, the traveller is treated as a ‘customer’ and you are being asked to rate your ‘purchase experience’. Presumably the results of this go into the relevant immigration officer’s appraisal systems and therefore is of importance to them.

Now, Roads. I went to Hangzhou, China’s 6th largets city (ie. not it Shanghai or Beijing). The roads across this city were wide and clean and the only roads in India which I can compare these to are in Lutyens’ New Delhi.How can a relatively small city in China consistently maintain all its roads at a quality comparable to the less than 0.5% of India’s best roads? The answer I thin is again, accountability. Having good roads is important for a country and its citizenry and therefore is important for its local government. Remember, city roads are made and maintained by the local government of the city and clearly they believe they need to do this job well.

Popular discourse in India & the west seems to suggest that China is ‘un-democratic’ and even ‘dictatorial’ and therefore does not represent the aspirations or needs of its people. Maybe. But there is no doubt that somewhere in the Chinese system, there is a regard for the the ordinary man that one misses sorely in India.

Researching Holidays Online

ASIA

 

Here is why I love the business I am in – because it piggybacks on the biggest thing in Travel since the Wheel (ok – mild exaggeration, but still…)

The Internet has become the most popular medium for Chinese travellers seeking information about their trips, according the latest Nielsen China Outbound Travel Monitor. The Nielsen survey found that travellers will search for conventional destination information ahead of their trips (61 percent of leisure trips taken), and then turn to online travel discussion forums (48 percent) to fine-tune their plans. This suggests that opinions and comments about travel experiences posted to online forums are nearly as likely to influence travellers’ decisions as the destination websites themselves. Conventional travel agents were approached on only two in five travel occasions.

The Nielsen survey also found that travellers were much more likely to recall seeing Internet advertising for travel destinations, compared to seeing travel advertising on other mediums. Close to 70 percent could recall seeing travel advertisements on the Internet, with only four in 10 recalling seeing a travel advertisement in a magazine or newspaper, at a travel agent or on TV and radio.

Read the full article here..

Bruce Lee and Me by Brian Preston

And, as is usual with life, I have just read another travel book that forces me to contradict the position I took in my last post. I now realise that there is another way to get a good travel book. Which is to have a good travel theme (plus of course, the obligatory, good writer).

Preston explores the world of oriental Martial Arts in this book. Which is a cool subject to write about, since it probably meets all of the criteria of your average avaricious publisher. The subject is of interest to many people across the world (“more people interested means more people buy the book, you dummy”), it involves travelling to ‘exotic’ places, has multiple situations that allow the writer, and therefore the reader vicariously, to careen from undisguised scepticism to wide-eyed wonder within the same page and offers the writer numerous opportunities to take digs at himself (a travel-book staple these days, methinks).

And for all of those reasons, it works. Read it.

Using chopsticks

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I must have been about 4 or 5 years old, when I sat with my father in a darkened movie hall watching a grainy-white documentary that showed strange men using sticks to pull up strings off the table to stuff it in their mouths. And I loved it right away. By the time I got to my teens, I could not think of anything more sophisticated than insouciantly picking up my roast pork with chop sticks while holding a conversation with an extraordinarily gorgeous Japanese lady. Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way (the Japanese lady part that is) – but I still think it is way cool to eat with chop sticks. So, a few years ago, I decided to learn how to do it.

It is pretty simple really. Here is how you do it.

You grasp the chopsticks within the fingers of your right hand (ie. if you are genetically left-handed; otherwise, hold it in your left hand). Then push them into a bowl of noodles (always a bowl, never a plate). The chopsticks will immediately come off your fingers. Next, you hold them a bit more steady and try to dig out the noodles harder. The whole caboodle will come out of the bowl and fall on the table. Keep repeating this till your companions at the table (in my case, a wife and two incredulous little boys who could’nt understand why they were not allowed this kind of fun) ask you to go away. Do this for about a month. You will crack it. I did – so I know you can too.

Yup, now I can hear the question. Is there a simpler way of learning to use chopsticks? Unfortunately, No. But, the good part is, this will seem really simple when you realise you need to use chopsticks and the chinese soup spoon simultaneously to get the sang-froid look. That, my friend, is another story.

Click here for all my posts on Chinese Food>>

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(Both photos in the post, courtesy: http://www.chinatownconnection.com/how-to-use-chopsticks.htm)

India & China – 2.6 billion people

As many of you would have figured out by now, I am besotted by most things Chinese, starting with Beijing Roast Duck. It is one of my ambitions to spend two separate periods of 6 months each, wandering across India & China. One to re-discover my own country. The second to figure out what is to me the most intriguing other country on earth.

I just found a site which focuses on only Indian & China. Called http://www.2point6billion.com/, it has certainly piqued my curiosity and I intend to dig into it over the next few days.

But I have been writing a fair bit of stuff on India and China in this blog. Here are my posts on Indian Food & Chinese Food. And, here are all my posts on India and China.

(One among the 3 trillion videos in cyberspace on India vs China. I selected it for its pretty anchors).