bargaining

Feb 22, 2014

A beach vacation for non-beach people

Do we join Fish Club?

Real China and resort China intermingle in Sanya
Sanya is pretty touristy, but occasionally you get glimpses of the “real” China.
Outdoors at the Mandarin OrientalPeter and his dinner at the Mandarin Oriental
Outdoor dining at the Mandarin Oriental is a fabulous experience.
I get a late-night pizza at Surf CircusPeter at the bar at Surf Circus
The pizza at Surf Circus isn’t the greatest, but it is late-night satisfying.
Me with Sissi, the server at the Dolphin
My new friend Sissi, from the Dolphin
Out on the boardwalk, trying some fishThe real beer kegsThe house band at Baile Bar
Baile Bar, on the boardwalk, rocked nightly.
In the rose tub at the hot springsFish nibblers at the hot springs
The pools at Nantian Hot Springs are relaxing and fragrant. The pool on the right is filled with those fish that nibble on your dead skin!

Greater Sanya, as seen from a cab, is certainly still a part of the China we know and love, but the beachy areas exist solely on Planet Resort. We were there between the slight lull between the January 1 New Year and the start of Chinese New Year on January 30, so things were a bit sleepy, which is just the way we like it.

Beforehand, we had decided that the theme for the trip was: “Try the seafood, you might like it.” That lasted for a few days before we decided that we didn’t like it, and didn’t need to work so hard on our vacation. The one exception being the tasting menu during our fancy-pants night out at the Mandarin Oriental, where Peter described feeling like Little Lord Fauntleroy dining seaside on rock crab, turbot, red snapper and crème brûlée

Instead, we just relaxed. There are virtually no turkey sandwiches in China outside of this little strip of paradise, so we gave in to our western cravings and oscillated between burgers at the Dolphin Sports Bar & Grill and pizzas at beachfront bar Sanya Surf Circus. Sometimes — many times — we hit both places in the same night. By the end of the trip, I was on hugging terms with Dolphin waitress Sissi, whom we saw was beloved by most everybody in the place.

We watched a crop of new police recruits goof their way through a boardwalk inspection. (I’d totally watch a sitcom about beach cops.) We traded English and Chinese vocabulary with masseuses. We ate junky and satisfying beach food. We got way overcharged on coconuts, but bargained sharply for a cheap pair of flip flops.

We met Teana, the MO bartender, who spent a lovely evening talking with us and fixing up extravagant cocktails. She’s Sichuanese, and right away we bonded over love of hot pot. Her English was so good that I thought for sure she had studied abroad. Nope, she picked it up solely through hotel work. “I was nervous the first time I spoke with a foreigner,” she told us. But she made herself do it, over and over, and now she’s quite fluent.

We visited the Nantian Hot Springs, and spent a day hopping in and out of scalding pools of various flavors, steeping like tea and absorbing the supposed health benefits. Emboldened by Teana’s spirit, I powered through some challenging chats that I might have brushed off with an embarrassed, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”

Our 10 days lazed by gloriously, though it still felt like it was over in a snap. But that was OK. We were refreshed and restored by the sunshine in January. And ready to get back home.

More hot springsMore hot springsMore hot springsA regular swimming pool at the hot springs

Oct 8, 2013

Shanghai: Crusing through the most populous city in the world

Ready, set, go! … And then, go home

Looking at the Bund from the cruise
Me and my dadBusy Shanghai
The European-style architecture on the Bund

Shanghai was the last stop on our mad dash across China, but we mustered our remaining strength to make a go of the country’s (and the world’s) most populated city. The verdict in our family is split on whether Shanghai is Manhattan with a different skyline (says mom) or some sort of spectacular future city (says dad). (I did go pick up bagels on a Sunday morning at a brunchy spot with a line out the door, so there’s that.) But the international hustle and the bustle made an interesting contrast with the sleepier western China that Peter and I know and love so well.

Now, Shanghai is big, right? And we had limited time. But with an hour-long river cruise, we floated right past the Bund and the Pudong new town, checking off two major tourist sights. The Bund is the area of the city where all the European banks and trading houses set up shop in the early 20th century. These days it’s a stunning strip of preserved Euro-architecture that houses expensive restaurants and boutiques. Pudong is the riverfront area that if you’ve ever seen a photo of the Shanghai skyline, that’s what you’re looking at. It’s a collection of crazy new architecture that includes the Oriental Pearl Tower, named for it’s two globular bloops along its height; and the Shanghai World Financial Center, which looks like a bottle opener. Reportedly, you can buy a functioning Bottle Opener replica in the building’s gift shop.

We were also able to squeeze in a quick walk around the French Concession, an area of trendy shops and hipster people-watching; soup dumplings, a delicious Shanghainese specialty that you simply must try; and some hard-core bargain shopping. We braved 艾敏临时珍珠, a multistory market in the Jing’an District that houses hundreds of booths. The sales people are incredibly aggressive salesmen, and consider incidental eye contact an opening of negotiations: “Need any watches? 500 kuai … 400 kuai … hey! Don’t walk away!” My mom played the game well, however, picking up some souvenirs at, like, a tenth of the original price. (“Hmm … I don’t know,” was her big gambit.)

And then, just like that, three weeks was up and my parents had to go back to America. (Peter helped me stay cheery-not-teary, after their departure.) Peter and I were lucky enough, however, to have a couple more days. We relocated to a hostel downtown, and basically soaked up the neighborhood — the trip had us pretty beat by this point. Our temporary home, Le Tour Traveler’s Rest Youth Hostel, was in a laid-back, urban-chic residential area. We had Lanzhou noodles around the corner, bagels down the street (there it is!), felafel also down the street, and Burger King a short walk away for one late-night emergency fast food fix. It was chill for a day and a half, and then it was time for us, too, to return home. Our summer of traveling was finished, and it was time to prepare for the exciting school year ahead.

Oct 11, 2012

Summer vacation: The tour of the harbor

A two-for-one deal

Boating in the harbor

“Just walk out by Zhan Qiao pier and find a guy,” was the gist of the directions we could find. This was echoed by the clerk at our hostel, who added, “You should bargain with them, too.”

What was our mysterious quest? A boat ride!

As instructed, we found a guy holding a big poster with photos of people having fun on a boat. Thirty RMB per ticket, he told us. “两个一起, 30块 [both tickets for 30 bucks],” I countered. This was the very first bargaining I’d done in China! And it was a great success!

In the van
On the bus, we scored the coveted in-the-aisle seats

A small, crowded bus took us out to a busy dock, where a bunch of tourist boats were porting and starboarding. The boat tour is a big thing to do in Qingdao.

And it’s a gorgeous view of the city. From the west side, we sailed east towards May 4th Square, checking out all of our favorite landmarks, on the seaward side.

Round-trip, our journey was about a half-hour. Afterward, the bus brought us back to the center of the old town, and one of the ticket-takers directed people into the nearby shops. We had already acquired our tourist trinkets, however, so we quietly went our own way.

A boat ride in the harbor

Click on the photo above for a full slideshow of our day on the water.

We want more pizza!