Thursday, 29 March 2012

China Videos Part Nine - Chengyang Village

Chengyang Village in Sangjiang, Guangxi is famous for having the wonderful Wind and Rain Bridge.
The village has changed a lot since we first visited it 10 years ago, but once you walk away from the bridge area and discover the village, you do get a sense of a very tranquil place.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Guizhou Province - Xijiang, Basha and Zhaoxing

We’ve never been to Guizhou before, it’s pretty much off any tourist trail in this part of China, especially for first timers who bypass it to/from Xi’an/Guilin and vice versa.
But it is defiantly well worth a detour. It’s one of the poorest provinces in China, roads are bad and poorly maintained, villages are far apart and a little isolated. But this makes the end result so much better. Plus there are a lot of minority villages here, which was the whole reason for coming.

Our wonderful hosts saw us off at the kind of bus stop in Hongjiang for the one hour trip to Huaihua, where we caught the train to Kaili, laden with fruit and warm goodbyes we were ready for our next adventure.
Luckily in Huaihua, we had enough time to grab some noodle soup from a small eatery close to the station. As with a lot of cheap places in China, they were using the same thin mass produced and cheap rice noodles. Not so yummy, but the stocks were always good.  As with everywhere in the world, food around train stations is nothing to write home about, but I am a people watcher and these places provide me ample opportunity for me to indulge in this past time.

When we first went to China over 10 years ago I don’t remember the shear quantity of small eateries that there are here today, or maybe I just never paid as much attention to it as I do today. But I’m happy for it.
There is nothing special about Kaili, apart form it is a good base for visiting the minority villages in the area.
It does however have an awesome night market, which thankfully stretched up the street adjacent to our hotel. This was a good place to get some cheap eats and watch the world go by. We ate well that night.

The journey to Xijiang, one of the largest Miao villages in China is pretty amazing. Roads that wind their way up and down and around mountains, giving you excellent views of the countryside below, as long as you don’t suffer from car sickness that is.
The inhabitants of this village or small town have made a very good job of restoring parts of the village, although a simple stroll from the main clean street will bring you to the real Xijiang.

Just wandering around the less developed part brings up many surprises and we met many a lovely person, who were probably wondering why two foreigners were in this part of town when everyone else was down below in the nice clean part.
Surrounding the village are rice fields and rivers, which mean that food is in good, supply here.

Guizhou is not known for its culinary delights, but it does have a sour fish soup called Suantangyu (酸汤鱼).
Quite by chance we managed to try this here at a small eatery on the main street. Quite by accident we had two perfectly innocent fish killed for our enjoyment. The chef even brought them through the front of his small joint to show us, still wriggling in the blue plastic bag before he knocked them on the head and begun chopping them up for the pot.
Suantangyu is basically a hotpot with a sour stock. The fish were already simmering away in the cauldron of fire when it was brought to our table, and we only had to add the other ingredients as and when required. Rice was served separately and made a great vessel for soaking up the delicious stock.

It wasn’t the best meal we had on this trip but it was one of the more interesting ones, the sour notes of the stock were from the tomatoes and were rather a surprise. I’ve never used the good old tom as a souring gent before. Interesting.
Xijiang like other minority villages include in the entrance fee a cultural performance. This one was really like no other except this particular group of Miao have a very bizarre duck dance. Sadly I do not have any video evidence of this, a shame as it was really funny. But with them grabbing people from the audience to make fools of them, we left pretty quickly, as being the only two non Chinese we knew where this was heading. I found a video of a similar thing here. Enjoy.

The road trip to Conjiang was long and dull. We followed the river, but passing through what seemed like an endless building site for 6 hours was not very fun at all.
Basha itself is an interesting village. It’s only 7km’s uphill from Conjiang, but it could be several centuries away.

It’s an amazing place, the people still live and dress as they have always done. They are clinging onto their culture here with full force. Thankfully.

With luck we met up again with a Chinese couple on the bus, who we met in Xijiang briefly. For the life of me I cannot remember their names, but they were pretty cool, except he had this thing that he didn’t like westerners because we called Tibet, Tibet and not Xizang, as it is called in Chinese. But apart from that we were aok. They were to be our translators for the next few days. And boy were we glad to have them.

They basically found us all somewhere to sleep and had arranged dinner for us as well in a simple hostel in the village.
Today another animal bit the dust before our very eyes. This time a chicken. I’m pretty sure it knew it was getting to the end of its time. It must have seen some of his mates or loved ones go into the pot over the last few months, that his all was resigned to it. It was quick and I’m sure it felt no pain as the cook wrung its neck.

I cannot remember what we ate, but there were a lot of dishes all cooked in the local style we were told. The chicken tasted lovely and it had lived a good life to provide us with a good evening. It would have been proud.

Basha is one weird place. As I said it has a feel about it of being centuries old. It is one of the last remaining villages in China where the men are allowed to carry guns. The ancient rifles are carried with pride over the shoulder, although I am really not sure how effective they are these days, as I’m sure they are just for show. But this is China so anything is possible.

The village below is still how I imagined it was 100 years ago, except for the sight of electricity and satellite dishes not much has changed.

The people still wear their traditional clothes, even the men, which is a big surprise, as I’ve found it’s normally only the women who keep to their traditional dress. But not here. 

Most of the men still have their hair long as they used to have in Imperial China. It was good to see that modernization was being kept in check here.

Zhaoxing is by far the most quintessential minority village in China. The largest group are the Dong and they lead a lovely life here in this relaxing town.
The town has a couple of large streams running through it, with wooden houses and shops either side, with bridges to cross and wooden Drum Towers to see it is peace in China. If you can ever imagine such a thing.

Slowly this will change with the opening of a new motorway in the hills above Zhaoxing and several miles away a new train line is being built.
One day soon this small peaceful village will see more tourists, progress and will loose its charm, but for now it is a sheer delight.

The villages surrounding the town are well worth the hike. An hour or so will bring you to a couple of villages where the only people you will encounter during the day are the scores of children and the old people watching over them.

Zhaoxing was one of the highlights of our trip to China, not a lot happened there, but this we liked. Its minor isolation has kept the peacefulness preserved, but with everything in China today, progress is forever advancing at a furious rate.

We loved Guizhou and really want to return here one day. Not sure when that will be but soon. Next stop Guangxi.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Foto Friday # 95

Me and some friends diving together off the small island of Moorea in French Polynesia. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

China Videos Part Eight - Basha

A small Miao village in Guizhou. It is only 7km's from a large town, but it feels like centuries.
This is also one of the few remaining, if not the last ethnic group still allowed by law to carry guns.

Monday, 19 March 2012

China Videos - Part Seven - Zhaoxing

This was one of the most peaceful villages we visited in China and one of our favourites. It was so amazing just to wander around this Dong village.
It is miles from anywhere, not that hard to get to, but does take a little bit of effort, but the rewards are endless here. The village is famed for its drum towers which are in perfect condition.
I will follow up with a write up on Guizhou later this week. I hope.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Monday, 12 March 2012

Tapped and Packed

I'd been recommend to visit Tapped and Packed by a few people ever since a shout was put out for more coffee shops for me to try. I was hoping for some closer to home, but these things are never as you want them.
Tapped and Packed have two stores one number 26 and the other 114. Neither of them are on the same street, but you'll have to goto their website to find out where exactly they are. More fun that way.
I had some urgent studying to do for an interview I had the next day. I needed to remember what sights are in which Indian cities, so I thought a trip into busy central London and away from the sereneness of Stoke Newington was the best thing to do. You could see I was slightly stressed and not thinking straight.
I went to 26, which just happens to be literally in front of Koba where we were a few weeks before sampling some fine Korean cuisine.
There is no sigh mentioning Tapped and Packed, just a large 26 glaring out at you like a beacon. For some reason this never hit me, I walked straight passed it, hit the corner and it dawned on me that I was there. Was a million miles away.
It reminds me a lot of Fernandez and Wells but with a slightly less industrial look and feel about it. Tapped and Packed has a few more seats and some nice seats against the side wall with nice mini tables   to the side. Reminded me a little of the Middle East in that way.
I was here to relax and study. Fat chance. The place has a good buzzy vide, with plenty of foot traffic, so i gave up trying to remember which city the Jamal Masjid is in and enjoyed my flat white and a baguette of chicken and a lemon thyme mayonnaise.
The flat white with its wonderful latte artwork, drunk well. Nice smooth roasting of some fine beans made this one of the nicest flat whites I've had in a while.
The lemon, thyme mayonnaise and chicken baguette was nice. It was nothing spectacular, i was a little saddened that it was not warmed or toasted, but the choicken was soft and juicy, the mayo was more lemon than thyme. But it was pretty good. Sorry no photo, as I'd ate most of it before i thought of taking a snap.
They have a wide range of other baguettes and some salads and soups on offer, which all looked pretty good on the eye. But it's the coffee that this place will drag me back time again and again.
On the interview the following day. It went well. Hopefully I impressed them enough to offer me the job. I'll find out next week no doubt when we are in New York.

Tapped and Packed on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 10 March 2012

We're in New York

Yup that's right, we are in New York for a week of eating, drinking and sightseeing, although more on the first two than the latter for me.
Maybe not the best time to go away as I've no job and not much hope of finding another, but who cares.
Live for the moment is my new motto, much to my wife's dismay.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Foto Friday # 93

Vietnamese coffee in the old imperial city of Hue in central Vietnam. There is something about the sweet condensed milk and the strong nutty tasting beans that makes this perfect. Also it is a delight to look at as well.

Monday, 5 March 2012

China Videos - Part Six - Xijiang

Xijiang is the largest Miao village in Guizhou. Even though it is very commercial and a lot of things are in place for the tourists, it still remains a simple Miao village with a emphasis on rural life.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

K is for Korea @ Koba

There wasn’t really any doubt as to what cuisine we were going to eat for the letter K. I made a half arsed attempt to look for something else, but really let’s be honest it was only ever going to Korean.
The difficulty lie with which restaurant we were going to sample this wonderful cuisine and what to have.

As none of really had eaten Korean food, apart from a couple of bits and bobs here and there, it was and well still is a bit of a mystery.
Out of all the restaurants I’d read about Koba kept getting the better reviews for its bar-b-q, which really as a newbie to Korean food, I think this had to be a major thing on our collective first visit.
The plush restaurant is very modern, lots of dark colours, moody lighting and a youngish crowd. The vibe was nice and easy, vibrant but calming.

Between 6 of us we had quite a good selection of starters and 2 bar-b-q combo’s. The highlight of the starters were the fried pancake and the fried chicken. The pancake was crunchy and crispy and was very well seasoned.

The bar-b-q which was the highlight of the night, turned out to be a fun thing. Thankfully Koba have an exhaust shaft above every bar-b-q, otherwise the entire restaurant would have been chokey smokey.
For large groups the combo bar-b-q selections turned out to be pretty good value. We did find it slightly annoying that the staff literally cooked our meat for us, maybe they thought us novices didn’t know how to cook Korean bar-b-q for ourselves.

I’m not sure of the quality of the meat, as the marinades over powered the beef and pork. Not to say that the marinades were not good they were. Nice and hot. Just how we like it.

I do have one quibble about Koba and that was the amount they charged for the kimchi. My little knowledge of Korean cuisine extends to kimchi. As far as I am aware, it comes with every meal, and I feel it should be a free accompaniment, not a £5 side. 

All in all we had a great night with lots of good banter and good food. I would imagine however that a modest bar-b-q joint in Korea would be a match for Koba on its food, but for London I think this is probably as good as it gets.
Oh and love the name of the beer, and no there is not an S before that H.

Koba on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 1 March 2012

What We Ate for Lunch : Hainan Chicken of sorts

I was going to take this into work yesterday, but as it was my final day, I felt I had to have for one final time Singapore Fried Rice from the take away opposite. It was disappointing to say the least. A bit like working for that company for 18 months. Can you sense the bitterness in me.
Anyhows I have had a yearning for Hainan chicken for a while now, no idea why, but this urge was brewing so I thought I would quench it.
So a small poussin was poached for half an hour in some simmering stock that I had left over from my daily noodle soups.
Once cooked the chicken is plunged directly into some iced water. This keeps the skin a little flabby and jelly like, as my Singaporean friend says it has to be. Whose to argue.
The stock therefore seasoned with a little salt and mirin vinegar makes a perfect soup, and  with the rice (cooked in some of the stock) makes a great quick and easy lunch.
It's a shame I never had this yesterday for lunch as it would have been more memorable than my Singaporean fried rice I ate.
My last day was a day of two halves. I was so glad to leave, but very sad to be leaving some good people behind. It was all a bit emotional.
But my new life starts now, all i have to do now is find another job. Easy huh?