Saturday, April 4, 2015

Travelogue: Asia Pacific - Part 1

Of late, we haven’t written anything about places or shared pictures on this blog. I am aware of the fact that Wikipedia/Wiki-travel are the best blog posts ever and hence I will try to write about my personal experiences rather than giving you the history or geography of the places, things that I enjoyed or liked the most.

Taikoo Hui Tower2

I stay in Tianhe district (a picture of my workplace above) in Guangzhou. People tell me that it is one of the nicest (I think they mean expensive) areas to live in Guangzhou. I work very close to 3 big malls – Grand view Mall, Tee mall and Taikoo Hui. My favorite pastime is ‘Mall walk’. Unlike India, where a lot of time is spent on ‘Sutta/Chai breaks’ during the day, I’m not asked (or forced) to participate in such activities (don’t ask whether that has lead to an increase in productivity). People have tea kettles (cute ones!) at their desks and they keep pouring different kinds of tea into their mugs, the range being from ‘Herbal Chinese tea’ to ‘Energizing Raisins tea’. Inside Taikoo Hui Mall, there is a beautiful book store. I have never tried to figure out its name but I have learnt that there is only one. You can read books there for free and it is quite beautiful (and different). I mostly go to the toddlers section as I’m trying to learn Chinese though the only sentence which I say comfortably is,

‘Wo bu hui shuo zhong wen’,
which means, ‘I don’t know Mandarin (Chinese)’.

Just the way I have heard for Japan, I see children reading comic books here too and there are some really famous ones. There are books and magazines of all genre in this store and once in a while, I also look at my ‘favorite’ magazines like ‘Vogue’, ‘Elle’, ‘Marie Claire’, etc. Fortunately, all of them are in Chinese, so I just look at the pictures and form a story about the dating or fashion tips the magazine tries to enforce on its readers.

Magazines

I have tried Cantonese food in Guangzhou and it is quite nice and at the same time, cheap. I’m a vegetarian, so I find either one or a maximum of two dishes in the local places. I’m the first one to order whenever I go with my colleagues (because I have to choose from the limited options you see). Cantonese food has two important elements in it – the sauce (soybean sauce/chilli sauce in general) and thin cakes made of rice. The cooks steam vegetables or meat inside the rice cakes and mix the items with the sauce. I have also experimented with some Taiwanese and Japanese food (they are quite popular in Guangzhou). Japanese dishes are generally cooked on large iron plates. They add oil on the plates, after which the basic ingredient is added (vegetables or meat) and finally some spices are sprinkled and the dish is cooked till it is ready to eat. I like the simple clear soups and porridge out of the many Taiwanese dishes. We get a variety of food in Guangzhou, that way it is quite an amalgamation of Asian culture. I’m very fond of the Korean Kimchi rice, the actual dish has an omelet placed on top of rice and colourful vegetables on the side but I ask the cooks to not prepare the omelet for me and instead add some extra vegetables. Another beautiful item that I’m introduced to here is the ‘Fragrant hot pot’. One can choose the vegetables one wishes to eat and they add a special sauce (I smell garlic there) and dried chillies to the vegetables and cook it for you. The list is endless, all I can say is I have never craved for Indian food here. I remember before I came here, people asked me, ‘How will you survive in China being a vegeterian?’. 

I like Zhuziang New Town (an area in Guangzhou) a lot. People say that most of the expatriates stay there and one can meet a lot of English speaking people. I have been there a couple of times too, mostly for official work and I really like the Italian food parlours located one after the other. Guangzhou is very green and I feel so good sitting on the wooden benches under the trees, having coffee and breads. There is the famous Canton Tower there too but I have never climbed to the top. It is quite an expensive affair – 150 Yuan.

I went to a small city/town named Foshan with my colleagues. We travelled for about 45-50 Km from Tianhe. It looked like those countryside towns (Pearl river flows closer to the city) with an easy and relaxed life, everything being accessible at walking distances. We went to some parks in Foshan and were surprised to see McDonalds and a couple of such foreign chains. I was surprised to see people flying large, colourful kites; they were different from the ones we fly in India.

I travelled to Dafushan Forest Park once too. But one time is not enough, I want to go there at least 3 more times. Dafushan has lakes, mountains and parks everywhere. We indulged in some barbeque there. I even tried cooking a ripe banana and it tasted good. China makes everything in house – which includes soft drinks. I tried their Coke which is called ‘Asian Sarsae’. It smelt herbal. I hope people don’t do experiments like ‘cleaning their wash basins or soaking their fake teeth’ in this carbonated drink.

People gathered to barbeque

Barbeque can lead to fire ;)

I have been to Chen Clan academy too. Apparently, it is one of the largest families of this country and the academy is built in the memory of their ancestors. The academy is historic and beautiful as it is and on top of that, they teach you Chinese paper cutting (Jianzhi) and much more. I will have to go there again because I haven’t learnt anything yet.

I also went to some old Chinese streets (Beijing road is one) and their associated market places. If you bring an average Indian woman here, she would run into each and every store and ensure that the man with her is annoyed and the man ensures never to bring her again Smile with tongue out. From electronics to accessories, candies to crockery, there is so much these streets offer.

Beijing Road

Colourful Candies

I have had chance to travel by a high speed train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. Believe me, the ride is so fast but at the same time pleasant. The distance is roughly 150 Km and the train covers it in 2 hours sharp. My wish is to take the bullet train once, from Guangzhou to Shanghai/Beijing maybe.

Not getting into the political side of things but being a ‘one-party’ country has its own advantages (not saying it has no disadvantages). Children are educated for free till Middle school. Every citizen is paid the same amount once they retire. Having everything in-house ensures there is a job for everyone. If Government decides to build a road for the benefit of the country, no one can raise a voice even if a 100 houses are to be crumpled. I’ve heard that people are not made homeless. The Government is reasonable enough to give them another house along with a lump sum amount to have supported in the development of the country.

I would say that I haven’t explored even  1% of the city but so far it looks lovely and promising for economic growth. One can live here for decades if one has a family. There are museums, monasteries, zoos, monuments, parks and most importantly a very rich culture & history.

I wanted to write about Taipei and Hong Kong too but it seems that this post is getting too long. I enjoy discussing places and food. So all my travelogues will be mostly that Smile. Till I write the Part 2, Sayonara!