Jumped into a taxi at approximately 9:52pm tonight after a great dinner at Home Plate. The driver was wearing earphones — white, iPod style. Can’t ever remember seeing that before. Then he suddenly starts shouting.
WE WON!!!!! CAN YOU FREAKING BELIEVE IT?! AAAAHHHAHHAHHH!!!
Scared the crap out of us, until we noticed he was on the phone. The Beijing Jinyu Ducks had just defeated massive overdogs Guangdong Southern Tigers to win the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) title.
NIU-BI NIU-BI, LA LI LA, NIU-BI-II …
124 TO 121!
MARBURY SCORED 41 POINTS!! IT WAS CRAZY — HE FOULED OUT IN THE LAST MINUTE …
YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, WE’VE BEEN WAITING THIRTY YEARS FOR THIS!
BEIJING GUO’AN JUST BEAT TIANJIN 3-1, TOO! BOTH IN THE SAME NIGHT!!! AND THERE WASN’T EVEN ANY FIGHTING … EVERY TIME WE PLAY TIANJIN THERE ARE A TON OF FIGHTS…
THERE’S NO WAY I’M GOING TO BE ABLE TO SLEEP TONIGHT!!
I didn’t pay much attention to the CBA until the last couple of weeks, when Beijing made it into the finals, and afterward Stephon Marbuy was filmed bawling uncontrollably for several minutes in the locker room bathroom. (The whole Marbury story is worth reading.) Then Beijing went up 2-0 on the road, lost Game 3, and went up 3-1 in Game 4. I wanted to watch Game 5 but completely forgot about it.
Our driver had obviously come prepared, though. He kept up his shouting the entire twenty minute ride. I think he would have done it even if he had been sitting alone. Definitely one of my most memorable taxi rides ever — right up there with the one around 2006, when the Wuhan driver picked me up from the Hankou train station, found out I was American, then begged me to get the US military to come and invade China.
It was also probably the first time I saw a sports fan react to his team winning a championship without knowing what what he was reacting to. I hope he goes home a little earlier than usual tonight, so that he can turn on his computer and relive it all: the final buzzer, Marbury collapsing in a heap and crying, Marbury being tossed in the air by his teammates while he’s still crying, and everything else. Fun stuff.
Something to check out on my next visit to Wuhan is the “Chu River / Han Street” area (chuhehanjie, 楚河汉街). Basically, they took the point where the tunnel under the Yangtze River comes out in Wuchang and extended the road across the Sha Hu, the large lake in the middle of Wuchang between the (even larger) East Lake and the river. In the section of the road between the two lakes they squeezed in a canal and a Jianghan Lu-style walking street, complete with the Euro-style architecture and narrow streets of the foreign settlement area in Hankou.
It appears to have opened on October 1, 2011 and is not even on most maps yet; Google’s satellite view show the area in the early stages of construction. Could end up being just a cheesy shopping center, but it looks much more ambitious and clever than Wuhan Tiandi (which was disappointing and mostly empty the last few times I visited, though I hear it’s now more lively due to a lot of new apartment and office buildings going up around it).
More links and pics, mostly in Chinese:
The last link, which is in English, boasts that the street will have “the biggest Starbucks in Asia, the biggest McDonald’s in China, the Nike global image store, and a Michelin Restaurant!” I will definitely be hitting the McDs and Starbucks but will skip the Michelin restaurant (doubt they can beat reganmian, mianwo, shaokao, and all my other Wuhan street food favorites) and get my “Nikes” from the guys in the dark alleys around Jianghan Lu.
Arrived in Wuhan on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago after a comfortable soft sleeper train from Beijing. On our nifty private TVs in the sleeper car they played the Karate Kid remake with Jacky Chan and Jaden Smith. The Beijing portrayed in this movie is ridiculous — the temperature is never remains mild through month after month of training; it rains all the time; the streets are narrow and the buildings rarely more than two or three stories tall; the city is lush with trees and greenery; repair guys speak fluent English; parents can call their kids, find out where they are, drive to pick them up, then take them to the music conservatory — all in 20 minutes; and, best of all, and groups of 12-year-old Chinese mini-hoodlums roam the streets and beat up smaller foreign kids in public parks with impunity.
We arrived at the “new” Wuchang train station, which, besides being a lot bigger and having a Dicos greeting me as I exited the platform, is still pretty crappy. Apparently 800 million RMB was not enough to provide more than a dim light in the main hall or unclod the drains that prevent the taxi stand from being submerged under a giant puddle of water.
There’s a bigger shopping area inside the station, though most of the shops were for Zhou Hei Ya and or one of the many copycat brands attempting to pass itself off as Zhou Hei Ya. Surely duck’s neck is number one gift for visitors on their way home.
In the taxi over to Hankou I noticed that the flagfall has jumped from 3 to 6 RMB. Still a lot cheaper than most other cities, though. First stop was the unnamed alley between Zhongshan Dadao and Tongyi Lu for my preferred reganmian and mianwo. Then walked through a misty Wuhan rain to our normal hotel on Jianghan Lu. The entire southwest corner of Zhongshan Dadao and Jianghan Lu has been wiped out to make way for a stop on the the Number 2 metro line, due to open sometime in 2012.
This spot is already jam packed with people on most days; a subway line right in the middle is going to make it easier for thousands more to come in. Should be fun.
The headlines in all the papers were about Hu Jintao, who had just passed through the day before to stare intently at dry dirt with groups of old men. This ritual, which I think is approximately 5000 years old and invented by China, was all it took to bring the months-long drought to an end. The heavy rains started the night before, and though we only felt light rain during our two days here, it was the beginning of several weeks of major floods in and around Wuhan. On the bright side, we were spared Wuhan’s normally oppressive June heat.
Most of the afternoon was spent walking around and enjoying some of our favorite snacks, such as the spicy chicken wings at BT Wings and the bubble teas at Di Kou Le. We also went to a more recent find, Chen’s Zhajiangmian.
I hesitated the first time we passed this place, thinking that zhajiangmian was a Beijing specialty that I never really liked. But this place was packed, and the signature dish was way better than anything I’d ever eaten in Beijing. Highly recommended.
Will save the evening’s adventures for my next post.
I’ve had numerous discussions with Nator, ODB and Uncle Ronald on the unique offerings in Asia by the jewels of the American fast food crown – McDonald’s and KFC. From time to time, I’ve been tempted to sample a green tea- or taro-tinged dessert or a Peking duck flavored burger. Recently, an offering from our dear Colonel (HK branch of the Kentucky Colonels) has both inspired my taste buds and a new report. Behold – The Extra Cheesy Pizza Pocket.
When I first encountered the Pocket, I was walking by a KFC in Kowloon, saw a banner advertisement and thought it was a brand new offering. But Youtube tells me different – here is a puzzling (and slightly disturbing commercial) from April 2010. So, the Pocket has clearly been popular enough to stick around for over a year on the KFC menu. In fact, when I went to KFC to try it, about a third of the other customers had one. This is clearly a popular item. Does it succeed? Let’s consider.
The Pocket is a pretty simple composition – fried chicken, tomato sauce, “mozzarella” cheese, some extra nacho cheese-esque sauce. And pineapple. Wrapped in a tortilla. On paper, this is an exciting concept. On paper. In real life, it’s about as successful as you would expect marrying fried chicken to pizza. Have a look at the picture below. Not exactly bursting with fried chicken goodness. Sadly, I won’t be recommending the Pocket to friends. The fried chicken in a tortilla concept works, that’s almost impossible to ruin. But the tomato sauce is about a hair removed from ketchup and combined with the terrible runny cheese and canned pineapple (I know the commercial says fresh), it is almost inedible. Sorry, KFC, as much as it breaks my heart to say it – this one’s not for me.
Not a failure pile in a sadness wrap, but not so great...
Free coffee every morning from 8 to 8:30am in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and a few other cities. McDonald’s is smartly taking on Starbucks, by offering a full line of coffee varieties at 50% of Starsux prices.
Apparently the free coffee is not boosting McDonald’s breakfast menu sales, but that’s probably OK by maidanglao. Getting the word out is worthwhile. They’ve been supporting the free coffee campaign with TV ads that note the new coffee product line.
I live in downtown Shanghai, and it’s a common to see pedestrians tenderly gripping a cup of Starbucks, green queen logo facing outwards. You never see someone nursing a McD coffee like this. Will be interesting to see if McD’s can break thru the shallow snob barrier.
McDonald’s price cut for 4 of its set meals made international news last week in the New York Times and elsewhere. Layoffs are underway, and not just in Dongguan and Shenzhen. Intel is closing its Shanghai plant, laying of 2,000 workers.
Less than a year ago, one of the economic concerns to me in Shanghai was rapid appreciation of the RMB and inflation. Now it seems unlikely that the RMB will gain anything – if it doesn’t actually give up some gains its made since 2005 – and deflation may be on its way? The Coffee Bean chain in Shanghai is peddling its mugs with a promotion of getting a free “cuppa” with the purchase, and the bilingual encouragement of “Don’t let the economy get you down! 不要让经济风暴打垮你”, and bars like the Mexican Adobo offering a daily Economic Recession Happy Hour, with beers for 5 yuan and hard liquor for 7.
The Shanghaiist reports about a KFC outlet in Hong Kong serving food out of the trash. Apparently the staff, eager to to get home early, would stop kitchen operations, throw away all leftover food, and start cleaning up before the restaurant closes. Unfortunately, if an unlucky customer would enter the establishment at that time then he would be served food right out of the can. For a short video and some pictures check out the above link.
This gives a whole new meaning to the words Junk Food.
Ever since Michelin announced they were adding Hong Kong and Macau (as a unit) to their expanding list of restaurant-reviewed cities, the burning question was “what will the Frenchies make of Cantonese food?” The answer? Quite mixed. They have a lot of homework to do before the next edition. From the day the guide was published, they definitely got mouths flapping debating the guide. But they also seriously undermined their credibility by doling out stars to several question mark eateries. Here’s the complete list of starred restaurants:
- Lung King Heen
- Robuchon a Galera
- Bo Innovation
- L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
- Shang Palace
- Summer Palace
- T’ang Court
- Tim’s Kitchen
- Fook Lam Moon (Wan Chai)
- Hutong (What the F? Seriously. What the F.)
- Lei Garden (IFC) (Again, what the F?)
- Lei Garden (TST) (Ditto)
- Ming Court
- Regal Palace
- Shanghai Garden (I’m not going to pull punches. Flat out bribe.)
- The Golden Leaf
- The Square (I’m in between either “What the F” or “Flat out bribe.”)
- Tim’s Kitchen
- Yung Kee
- Imperial Court
- The Eight
- Tung Yee Heen
- Bilingual – Nice to see them at least make the effort of having the guide in both English and Chinese.
- No stars for Nobu and Spoon. They avoided giving recognition to two of the most over-hyped places (both basically high-end chains) that serve very mediocre food. Good on Michelin.
- One star each for Hutong and The Square. Are they mad? Did money change hands?
- Not enough Japanese restaurants. Sushi Hiro doesn’t even get mentioned?
- Serious mis-steps with the Bib Gourmand. This was where the Michelin Guide should have really shined in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a veritable treasure trove of cheap no-frills places that serve outstanding eats. And they flag up Cafe Siam? Lian at IFC? That place is gar-bage. Crystal Jade? 1/5 Nuevo on Star Street? I’m sorry, but not even close. This is where the criticism of no (or not enough) Chinese judges is truly vindicated. Chinese judges would’ve been much more on-the-ball with finding better spots to highlight with the Bib Gourmand than the chain restaurants at high end malls that got their plaudits. Where’s Lan Fong Yuen for milk tea and other Cantonese diner specialities? No place serves Bib Gourmand worthy roast meats? No hidden treasures at any of the da pai dangs at the wet markets?
If the point of a guide like Michelin is to get people talking and debating where to eat and who serves the best this and that, then mission accomplished. If the point was to become a guide locals use and respect, well, try again next year.
I stuck my head into the not-yet-opened Hong Kong Fatburger this afternoon and had a brief chat with some obvious non-locals with an authoritative look who informed that the shop should open by Saturday November 8th. The inside of the shop has really filled out and it looks basically finished.
Calendar circled, fasting begun.
UPDATE: Given that the shop is now open, the Drudge-style siren has been removed.
First Bear Stearns going out of business. Then Lehman Brothers going bankrupt. AIG is teetering. Even Iceland is in trouble. I’m not going to lie to you – those hurt. But this news from today is end-of-days-book-of-Revelations hurt.
Hong Kong’s Krispy Kreme franchisee announced plans to enter liquidation and immediately close five of their seven stores. The two remaining locations at the airport will remain open for the time being, at least until creditors meet on November 12. After that, it’s not looking good.
Does this situation not scream for government intervention?
I know that Nator and I will hold close the memories of eating several Original Glazed while sipping some surprisingly decent coffee at the Mong Kok location.
It’s not all bleak for Krispy Kreme in Greater China. Earlier this month, the mothership in America announced plans to open 35 stores in mainland China over the next five years. Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin are first with, hopefully, others cities to follow (Wuhan?). Fortunately, Krispy Kreme awarded the franchise to Korea’s Lotte Group (the franchisee in Korea and Japan), rather than the bozos that ran Krispy Kreme Hong Kong into the ground.
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