This is the day I have waited for since I landed in China. I got up early and finished packing my bags. I had weigh them a few times and adjust the goods in each bags so I wouldn’t exceed the baggage weight limits. I was hoping to leave one suitcase behind but apparently I bought too much stuff in China and brought back lots of full luggage! After I had a very relaxing morning, I brought my stuff to the lobby at 12pm and checked out of the hotel. We waited thirty minutes, met our driver and loaded the van. There was only four of us left out of the group, but we all had enough luggage for about eight people. We packed it Tetris style and drove an hour to the airport. When we got to the airport, I said goodbye to Steve and Alisa, John and I went through Customs and security. We all surprisingly were on the same flight to Chicago which I was very happy about it and made the 13 hour and 30 minute flight a little more bearable. We got through the checkpoints, had a small bite to eat and made our way to the plane. This flight was super full and it felt like they were herding cattle. We all boarded the flight, took our seats and prepared ourselves for the flight. Unfortunately we didn’t sit together and because the flight was packed, the seat next to me was filled. We left the Shanghai at 4:30pm on Tuesday September 30, and arrived in Chicago at 5:30pm on September 30th. Yes it sounds weird, but I was 12 hours behind in China. Once I got to Chicago, I went through customs, collected my luggage and said goodbye to Alisa and John since this was their final destination. I rechecked my bags, and found my way to the next gate. On my way there, I stopped at Garrett’s popcorn and picked up some popcorn and then I went to McDonalds and had a cheeseburger, fries and a Coca-Cola. Even though I despise McDonald’s, I for some reason found joy in my first meal back in the states. I gobbled up my fast food, found my gate for Philadelphia and sat around for two hours. When I thought this day could not get any longer, my flight was delayed. I finally boarded at 8:15pm but we didn’t take off until 9pm which put me into Philly at midnight. When I finally got home at 1am, my dog was so excited to see me and the feeling was mutual! I began to unpack and sort through all of my stuff. I started getting tired around 2:30am and went to bed with my dog laying by my side.
This morning I woke up and felt like a million bucks. I don’t know if it was all of the tea, the dumplings or just getting some rest, but I felt a lot better! I We all met in the lobby at 9:15am and took the Subway again. Since we rode the subway last night, we all seemed to feel extremely confident in our skills and almost felt like a bunch of locals. We got off the subway and finally made it to our destination but got a little lost in the interim. We all had decided to take a Chinese cooking class so when we got there, all eight of us chefs were so excited and jumped right in. The cooking class showed us how to make two types of dim sum items, sweet sesame balls and this dough ball filled with sesame paste. Both were very good and we were all very proud of our Chinese concoctions. Our teacher was an elderly Chinese woman who did not speak English, yet somehow we were able to communicate enough to make our items look like hers. Food is the universal language and I was amazed that just by using gestures, we could quickly learn another cuisine. It was quite an amazing feat to watch all of us maneuver through this small space and accomplish everything in two hours.
After the cooking class, we started chatting with Mike who spoke very good English and was the owner of the company. He found out we were chefs and not only did he give us a traditional Peking Duck recipe, but he also gave us a VIP tour of their new culinary facility. We were all blown away by the new high tech kitchens and culinary facility. After that we all split into groups and did our own thing. A few of us ventured off to a government owned restaurant supply company that Mike had recommended. This was a really neat place that had four floors of culinary and restaurant items. I honestly bought way more that I should have, but there were some really interesting items there. Unfortunately this place was not in a very popular area, so after we were done shopping it was quite difficult finding a cab. We must have stood out there for at least twenty minutes before one decided to stop. After we all got back to the hotel, we were all hungry and ordered some Pizza Hut pizza. Can you tell we were starting to miss home? About thirty minutes later the two large pepperoni pizzas arrived and boy were we excited. We sat down and ate our fair share of doughy cheesy goodness. It was not very good and the large pizzas looked like mediums, but we were still happy to be eating something that tasted like pizza!
After our pizza experience, we all said goodbye to Minh and Goli since they were leaving at 8pm and then the rest of us went to another shopping district called Tianzifang. It was a quaint little shopping district that had a variety of restaurants and shops. It had a small French flair to it and had a different vibe to it than the rest of the places that I had visited. We walked around for a bit and went to a New York style pizza place for dinner. Yes, I had pizza twice in one day! We all were tired of Chinese and missed having a variety of cuisines….. Don’t judge! This place honestly did a great job with their pizza considering they are about 9,000 miles away from New York. I stuck to my NY roots and had two slices of cheese pizza and was impressed with the overall quality of it. I am sure they must have to get some of the items shipped to China since cheese, flour, yeast and tomatoes are not abundant items in China. After dinner we continued to walk around and found our way back to the hotel. When we got back, we said goodbye to a few others who were leaving early in the morning and then I started packing to go home.
This morning, I got up and felt like death warmed over. After I showered, I met everyone in the lobby at 9am and told them that I wasn’t going with them on the tour. Thankfully two others stayed behind and I hung out with them at breakfast. Since I went to bed the night before hungry, I had to eat something. After breakfast I went back to the room and took a nap because last night I woke up at 2am with my throat on fire and searched my bags for some kind of something to soothe my throat. Thankfully I bought some gummies in the store a few days ago to bring home as a gift and those did the trick. After my nap, I met up with Minh and Goli who are from LA and were both affiliated with Ai of Orange County. They have been on the trip with me from day one and have formed a really great bond with them and the rest of the group. I was starting to feel a little more alive and needed some more cold medicine since I exhausted my original supply, so we ventured to the Super Brand Mall. I went to this mall in 2010 and love all ten stories of it so I had a good feeling that I would be able to find more cold medicine there. After a twenty minute cab ride that only cost us not even five US dollars, we started to explore the mall. We first went to Watson’s which is like our Walgreens here and I had no luck finding any sort of cold medicine. Everything was obviously written in Chinese so that didn’t help the situation! After I struck out in Watson’s, we went to the Lotus Supermarket and low and behold, I found the goods. I went to the drug counter and called over the lady. Then I grabbed my throat, coughed and told her I needed medicine. She picked up a box, grabbed my passport, I paid and was on my merry way! I was so happy that I skipped over to Minh and Goli who were running around the rest of the store buying up all kinds of Chinese goodies. After we all checked out we walked around the mall some more and stumbled upon a Hooters. Minh was excited, so we went and had a small taste of American food in Shanghai. We ordered some naked medium wings, curly fries and cherished the amazing ranch that they gave us to dip our wings. The food wasn’t exactly the same as it is in the US, but it was as close as we were going to get!
After lunch we explored the rest of the ten floors and made our way back to the hotel. We had some time until the rest of the group came back, so I took another nap. After my two hour nap, I showered again to wake up and met the group downstairs so we could go to dinner. I was very happy to go to dinner because we were going to on of my favorite places in the world, Din Tai Fung. I ate here in China in 2010 and have been craving their famous Chinese Shanghai Soup Dumplings since. We courageously took the subway and made our way to the dumpling mecca. After a quick wait, the eight of us sat down and gorged on a scrumptious variety of Shanghainese cuisine. We were all in heaven and I immediately felt alive after eating such an amazing meal, plus drinking a pot of tea helped sooth my nasty cold. We made our way back to the hotel and discussed our plans for our last day in China.
We all met in the lobby at 10am and I was very grateful that I got to sleep in since I was still not feeling too well and I was getting worse by the hour. Our first stop of the day was the Shanghai Museum where we explored only one of the four floors of artifacts. What I got to see was very interesting and I was able to learn a few tidbits about Chinese currency and the furniture from the various Chinese rulers. Since I was already sick, I decided to go to the tearoom on the 2nd floor. When I got there I ordered a pot of Oolong tea. This is one of my favorite teas since it brings back memories of eating Chinese food in New York when I was a kid. The tea definitely soothed my raging sore throat and it hit the spot. A few others joined me and as we sat and finished the entire pot, I checked the time and realized it was time to meet our host in the lobby. We piled onto the bus and went to our next stop, the silk museum. When we arrived to the front of the museum, I was unsure what we were walking into since it looked like a four story building and not your typical museum setting. When we walked in the door we were greeted in typical Chinese fashion and we went into one of the side rooms. There we watched a presentation on how silk is made and saw the difference between real and imitation silk products. We also watched a woman unravel the pods of the silkworm and even stretched some silk fabric that was being used for a silk comforter. This was a really cool experience.
After the museum we went to lunch and I was very excited for this. Our lunch consisted of this amazing Sweet and Sour fried whole fish, Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Pork Buns and lots of other amazing Shanghai specialties. Shanghai food is a lot sweeter and they are known for their famous Shanghai soup dumplings. These dumplings are a unique mixture of pork combined with soup base so when they steam the filling separates from the water incorporated into them also creating a clear soup. They are delicious! After lunch we visited the Shanghai gardens and visited one of the historic shopping areas. This shopping experience is unlike any other because the price on the product is not what you pay. If you are tourist and do not know any better, most people will pay that price; however if you know the secret, you can haggle them down to lower than half the price. Since I have briefly visited Shanghai in 2010, I knew better and negotiated my way on lots of items! This is definitely an art form and must be practiced to entirely benefit from the art of negotiation.
You must show interest in the item, ask questions, and then start the haggling process. Just when you can’t get them down any lower, then you walk away. At that point they ask you what do you want to pay and bam, you start wheeling and dealing! You can tell I enjoy this and yes, the car dealers in the area fear me!
After shopping we ran, yes ran to get on the 5pm ferry. It was 4:57pm and thankfully we made it. This is the first time I have done a river cruise in China and it was a really neat experience. By this time, my cold really started to settle in and I was hating life, but the views of Shanghai from the river were amazing. Then as the sun started to slowly set in the west, Shanghai could be seen in a totally new light. As each minute passed and the sun started to slowly disappear, the lights of the buildings began to flicker giving us an entirely different view of the city. Seeing the city switch from day to night was an entirely breathtaking view. When the boat docked, we got off and went to the Bund area. This is an area that depicts the European architectural influences within Shanghai and overlooks modern Shanghai. The two architectural areas combined into one area are a sight to see and seeing it at night adds to the mystical beauty that the city holds. While the others went off and took pictures, I stayed behind and talked to our host Golden. We chatted about his life in China and I realized how lucky I was to be an American citizen. Golden told me all of the lies that the government has told and even asked me if I saw the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. I told them that they were real and I remember watching them on TV when I was a teenager. He seemed shocked about how much I knew about the event and became even angrier at his own government. I then asked him about how the Chinese government ruled with fear and then began asking him about the sentencing for a Chinese thief. He said that if someone is caught stealing a pen or a small item, they are sentenced to at least 15 days in jail and if someone steals a big item like a car or truck they can be sentenced to at least 7 years. I found this an amazing little factoid of knowledge. I have never committed a crime, but I know from friends that if someone is caught stealing a small item, they do not get 15 days in jail. Now I know why everyone in China minds their own business and follows the rules. I would too if I permanently lived here!
At 8 a.m. everyone checked out of their rooms and met in the lobby. The 12 of us boarded the bus for a tour of Wuhan. The first stop was the Yellow Crane Park. There we walked around a bit and took pictures. Some members of the group were adventurous and climbed to the top of one of the structures, but I decided to hang out at the bottom since my cold started to get the better of me.
After about an hour of sightseeing, we got back on the bus and went to the famous Wuhan museum. There we saw a lot of relics from one of the tombs we visited in Beijing, and it was cool to see the different pieces in each city and then put the puzzle together.
Then, we toured an exhibit featuring lots of artifacts from Napoleon, and I think this was the best part of the museum. After that we went to lunch. As we toured throughout the area, I was very impressed at the size of Wuhan, which was described to me as the New York City of China, but I think it’s a far cry from it! Our lunch consisted of a variety of dishes popular to Wuhan such as whole-cooked freshwater fish, spicy fried pork, sautéed spinach and fried pork stuffed lotus root. We were in our own private dining room, and it seems that this is a standard practice in China. Instead of the typical open style seating, each group gets a mini private banquet area equipped with our own servers.
After lunch, we went to the train station in Wuhan. I happily can say that this experience was so much better than my train station experience in Beijing. No one got lost and we even negotiated our way to the platform prior to the train’s arrival. We were treated like VIPs again, and we were all very grateful since we had so much luggage to haul. Thankfully our bags were a lot lighter, since we used most of the items we brought with us for the expo in Wuhan.
We boarded the train and began our journey to Shanghai. This trip took almost six hours, which was longer than the trip from Beijing to Wuhan, even though that was greater in distance. This was due to the fact that this train only went 187 Km/hour instead of the 304 km/hour that our last train did and this train stopped more and stayed at each stop for more than 2 minutes. When we finally made it to Shanghai at 10 p.m., we met our host. His name was Golden, and he was our translator for the last leg of the trip. We loaded up our bags and got to the hotel around 11 p.m. It was a really nice hotel in the heart of Shanghai, and I was so very happy to finally be getting into bed.
When we were called to get our awards, the interpreters told us to go, because we could not understand the language. As we walked onto the stage, everyone started clapping and the President of the China Hotel Association handed the plaques to us. When she got to me she recognized me, smiled and gave me a huge hug. She was so happy to see me and vice versa. The South Korean president also walked over to me to give me a hug.
After the award ceremony was done, the South Korean team came over to me and greeted me. Then they started taking pictures with me, and as I tried to leave, other people started jumping in wanting to get a picture with me. The rest of my peers were laughing, and so I started laughing as they kept grabbing me and placing me in the middle of their pictures. I finally was done taking pictures and then we started to leave.
As I was leaving I met the president of the South Korean chapter, and we exchanged business cards. Then, she asked me to take more pictures with her team. I finally finished up with them and caught up with the rest of the group. The first load of people already left so while we were waiting for the van to return, the South Korean president came outside. I waved to her, and then she came over wanting to take more pictures with the Americans. It was such a funny sight as we all yelled Kim Chee instead of yelling cheese for each picture! Who knows what might come of this since she is not only the president of the Korean Food Association, but she is also the Director of the Korean International Culinary Institute. Our van arrived and we headed back to our hotel.
When as we got back to the hotel, three of us wanted to venture off to Carrefour. This is the French version of a Wal-Mart supercenter. We found one that looked close to our hotel. They wanted to walk it, but I did not feel like getting lost in Wuhan again, so we took a cab. Driving in China takes talent since the road is filled with buses, cars, scooters, bikes and, oh yeah, pedestrians! Cars will change lanes without notice or they will drift into your lane for no reason. Then you have the scooters that travel much slower and the cars go around them. It is total chaos and you have to have your guard up every second you are behind the wheel. So being a passenger in a taxi, is like being on a roller coaster, because you never know what lurks behind the next corner!
After a short, yet very scary drive we made it to Carrefour. Carrefour is the preferred store for the Chinese so there are a lot more local goods. This Carrefour had a variety of tea, dishes, random beverages, bagged chicken feet and whatever else your heart desired! We took over an hour to explore the two levels and purchase our goods.
After a few hours of sleep, we were supposed to meet in the lobby at 7 p.m. for dinner. Somehow only five of us made it to the lobby, and apparently everyone else slept right through their alarms!
We decided to walk down the street and try to find something to eat. We discovered a building called K11. There we stumbled across a very quaint Spanish Tapas place, so we decided to give it a try. When we all sat down, we were served bread with olive oil and had forks. This was the first time in almost a week that I had seen a fork. Yes, a fork! We very happily ordered and ate a variety of Mediterranean dishes like tuna tartare, seafood pizza and duck carpaccio. After our meal, I went into McDonalds and got a small hot fudge sundae! It felt like a long time since I had American food.
Our plan called for eight of the chefs to share PowerPoint presentations and cooking demos with about 100 tasting portions each half hour starting at 9 a.m.
Steve, the director at the Art Institute of Kansas City, showed a PowerPoint on Southwestern Cuisine and prepared pork taquitos. Things started off great with his demo, but then he realized the people just wanted to eat! He finished frying the taquitos and started to plate the first portion. Then, the crowd shifted and attacked the tables to taste the samples. After he ran out of food, the people wanted to take pictures with him. Then the news showed up and also wanted a piece of the action!
As he was being interviewed, I started to prepare myself for the chaotic situation. I helped him clean up, and then I started my demo. I started cooking, and then the news turned their attention to me. They asked me questions like, “have you tried Wuhan’s most famous dish? What is your favorite site in Wuhan? How many times have you been to China?….And they wanted to know all about what I was making. They were interested in learning about the grits, since they don’t eat grits here.
After the interview, I started cooking and people lined up throughout the area. It was amazing–every time I sautéed or got a little closer to the finalized dish, I could see the crowd push a little closer. I finished my dish and Leran, our host, helped with managing the crowd. I have never seen so many hands reaching out trying to get a taste of American food. After I was done, I started to clean up and then media asked me more questions.
When I finally got back to the hote at the end of the dayl, I was way too excited to go to sleep!