A kid again…

Just when you think you’re all grown up…your parents come to visit and suddenly you’re a little kid again, jumping up-and-down with excitement. My parents are currently on their 16 hour journey to Shanghai and I can barely sit still I’m so psyched. Living abroad for almost 2 years makes time spent with my family a novelty. And unlike our last visit together (now over 7 months ago), this time we’ll have two full weeks to relax.

Just sitting here waiting for my parents...

After a few days at my apartment in Shanghai, we’ll be headed north to capital city, Beijing where we’ll stay at a traditional “hútòng.”From there we’ll trek to the Great Wall of China, and (weather pending), I intend to face my fear of heights and zip line off of it.

But what I’m looking forward to doing the most with my parents is simply eating (shocker, I know). I’ve gone from “kind of liking” East Asian food, to craving the stuff daily. I’ve even mastered cooking some local dishes with the boyfriend (our “eggplant, chili, soy, garlic, chives, ginger, pork” dish is heavenly). What’s even better is that the different cuisines of China’s various regions all offer up completely different flavours, so there’s never a want for variety: Shanghai-nese, Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan,Uygher…and the list goes on.

Anyway, I can’t wait to spend time with my parents in some of my favorite local restaurants, chowing down different dishes and giving my folks a taste of “real” Chinese food (bullfrogs anyone?). Granted my Chinese speaking skillz are still limited (my breadth of vocab is on par with a four-year-child), but I DO know my food lingo…along with my beer lingo, wine lingo and dessert lingo. 🙂

I won’t be blogging during their trip, but you can check me out on my new favorite toy, tumblr. As if the world needs any more micro-blogging sites in the already saturated market of…yeah, whatever, I’m sold.

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Shamrocks in Shanghai

Tonight I’m tossing the chopsticks aside and going out Irish style. But in a city where there is about a  1 in 500,000 chance of spotting a ginger (let alone any real Irish folk), this might seem like a bit of a challenge. To this I say…Pashaw. There is nothing impossible in Shanghai…a city where I lunched on homemade apple pie and jambalaya yesterday from a restaurant that called itself the Southern Belle (emulating the home cookin’ of America’s South…and seriously, not bad food considering the cooks were two Chinese guys that didn’t speak a lick of English).

Okay, so granted the Huangpu River isn’t dyed green today….and there is a total lack of paper shamrocks adorning windows…and about a 99.9% chance that my local watering hole has never heard of Guinness.  But shamrock-coloured beer, 1/2 priced pours and free-shots for green wearing patrons? Yes, indeedy! Because holiday related drink deals are universal, my friends…whether that’s a “Píjiǔ” you’re drinking or an American bur.

Last year my St. Patrick’s Day was spent in London, a city that celebrates this holiday almost as hard as the Irish (and arguably, just as crazy as Chicago-ans, minus the river dyeing, but definitely inclusive of the street puking). But embarrassingly enough…my St. Pat’s was spent in the, um…library. Seeing how I blew it last year, I feel that my St. Patrick’s Day in Shanghai must somehow serve as vindication for the 2.5% Irish blood coursin’ thru me veins. So bottom’s up…luck of the Irish to ya…and remember to tip your bartenders, folks…wherever you may be.

More Bad News for China’s Big Cats

Some more tragic news about tigers in China this month…(and somehow this blog is regularly churning out posts about tigers and I’m not sure how this happened since I’m not particularly an avid animal rights activist, and yes…I do wear fur). But anyway, since my last post on the dwindling tiger population on account of the Chinese taste for a little something called “tiger tonics,” there have been 2 very disturbing events in the news involving these big cats.

Emaciated Tiger at the Xiongshen Tiger Zoo

Last week Shanghai Daily reported that a tiger-keeper at the Shanghai zoo was attacked and killed by a male Bengal tiger while the keeper was cleaning the tiger’s cage. Was the tiger deranged? A natural-born killer? A beast? The answer is no. It was simply starving.

The staff at Shanghai zoo admitted that the animal had not been fed the previous day or the morning of the killing because, according to staff, they don’t feed the tigers every day in order to “help with their digestive systems.” So basically this zoo denies food to a full-grown male tiger (who in the wild will consume about 20 pounds of meat or more per day) for a few days to help with a little heartburn? Rrright. And I bet that zoo keeper hadn’t had anything to eat in the past two days either. Wait, he had? GASP!…but what about his digestive system!

Unfortunately, this story was just the harbinger of a far more devastating tiger tale to come. Today it was reported that at least 11 Siberian tigers were found dead in a zoo in Shenyang, Northeastern China. The cause of their demise? Starvation. The Times reports that two years ago the zoo ran out of money to support the tigers and so the animals were only fed a meager meal of one or two chicken carcasses over the past few weeks. Come on! These are tigers here, not a bunch of heroin chic models. Chicken bones every few weeks will cause death by starvation even for the Nicole Richie’s of the world, let alone 200 pound beasts.

This story just pains me because it was so easily preventable. With only 20 wild Siberian tigers left in China, surely animal protection groups would have paid top dollar to have these animals fed and transported to more humane conditions.

Oh, but wait…under China’s “Property Law” zoo owners have the right to keep their animals under the conditions that they deem fit and animal protection authorities have no right to interfere. Moreover, the “Wild Animal Protection Law” does not stipulate any punishment for irresponsible private zoo owners who abuse their animals. (Seems like China might want to amend their “Animal Protection” law to…you know, something that might actually protect animals).

So why is this “Year of the Tiger” in China just so downright horrible for real tigers? I think this comment on the The Times online post sums it up nicely:

Very tragic and preventable. I’m sure there are a plethora of zoos elsewhere that would have been happy to take care of the tigers and pay for their transport. But the demand for rare animal parts [in China]…trumps all other concerns, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, I think he’s right. The great demand for tiger tonics and tiger trinkets within China simply outweighs the demand to save these lovely animals. Hopefully, with all the recent coverage that this issue has been receiving by the foreign press (New York Times, The Daily Mail, The Times), China’s authorities will be pressured to step in and make sure that these cats are around for the next Year of the Tiger in 2022.

I Like My Jungles Air-Conditioned

Our hotel snapped from the City Centre Park in KL (Petronas Towers behind)

Our recent trip to Kuala Lumpur was the epitome of tropical jungle meets business-class luxury. Think palm trees and room service, balmy breezes and heated bathroom floors, meat on a stick and lunch served poolside on a silver platter.  As the boyfriend spent the days bustling from one meeting to the next, I kept myself entertained in the wonderful playground-for-adults that is the Mandarin Oriental. But when the pool, gym and spa got “boring” (which didn’t happen, but what if…), there was always the lush tropical utopia of the City Centre Park which sprawls before the palatial hotel. With its fountains, lakes and full outdoor track (which I jogged around everyday), the park provided the perfect outdoor escape… (as if one needs to “escape” the plush palace of the Mandarin Oriental, but again, what if…).

But amongst all this verdant lavishness, we were still able to catch a taste of the city’s true authenticity when friends of ours, who have been KL residents for the past 5 years, took us out for some traditional Malaysian eats at a local outdoor spot. Here the satays were spicy and delicious, the Tiger beers cold and the grilled steaks exquisite (and cheap!).

And then it was time for us to say goodbye to this 4-star jungle and return home to chilly Shanghai…or was it? In an unexpected turn of events, we suddenly found ourselves on a small plane flying first class to the Island of Langkawi off the Malaysian coast.  Our new diggs? A little ole’ place called “The Datai.”

Langkawi Island is basically a slice of paradise floating in the Andaman sea. And the Datai…well, this place puts a whole new spin on “4-star jungle.” Located inside an ancient tropical rainforest, this resort intertwines nature and luxury so seamlessly that one can peer at the monkeys swinging from the treetops via the comfort of one’s king sized mahogany bed with 1,200 Egyptian thread count. I know this because it’s exactly what we did.

The Datai

Lobby

dusk

And for the tree-huggers out there (and at this point in the environmental crisis, we should all strive to be one), the Datai isn’t just an upscale cash-cow carved right out of the rainforest to the detriment of  its natural inhabitants. Taking the utmost care and precaution (like using herds of elephants for construction rather than noisy trucks and polluting machinery) the Datai has created the delicate balance where nature and man can meet in an eco-friendly environment. It’s just that man might be sipping on a cocktail in his bathing suit while doing so.

After sunset meals on the beach, monkey spotting from our hotel room, and dips in 3 different pools and the Andaman sea, it was time for us to say goodbye to our jungle with room-service and return home to chilly Shanghai…or was it?

Well, this time it really was. But we’ll always have the memories of this wonderful, luxurious vacation in which I popped into the jungle for a few days and didn’t chip a nail. 🙂 Photos coming soon.