Bridging the communication gap
One of my favorite moments was a certain waitress who took great pride in her abilities in English. She overheard me mention that I wished I could get my hand on some chicken fingers ( a battered piece of chicken breast usually served with a dipping sauce such as plum sauce). She came to our table beaming, and repeated chicken fingers and nodded yes. So I also nodded yes to indicate that I would love some. My mouth was watering at the thought of sinking my teeth into something I recognized. She returned with a big bowl of chicken fingers .... deep fried "chicken feet" claws and all... I could only smile and nod because she was so happy that she had been able to help me.
Guangzhou's subway is cheap, easy to use
Guangzhou already has a good subway system, and it will get better as it's expanded.
It's very useful if your hotel is located next to a subway station. I always stay at a hotel located next to Ximenkou station, just one stop away from where the two main lines intersect.
When riding the subway it is best to use the one yuan coins. You should always at least have some 10 yuan notes with you which can also be used in the token machines. Most rides are either 2 or 3 yuan depending on whether you go a distance of 3 or 6 stations. I seldom paid more than 4 yuan to go anywhere I wanted to visit in Guangzhou, and that's a nice little savings over taxis which start at 7 yuan.
The subway is still relatively new, clean and well maintained. The frequency is about 3 minutes and it's not impossible to find a seat.
Popular tourist stops accesible by subway line include Chen Jia Ci (Chen Family Academy) and Yuexiu Park. On rainy days the subway is wonderful for reaching underground shopping emporiums. My favorite one is located at Martyrs Memorial Garden (Lie Shi Ling Yuan), where there is also a JUSCO supermarket that attracts local celebrities.
CONTINUE...GUILIN.... THE ELEPHANT´S TRUNCK... Is one of the most visited places in Guilin. The cruise on the Li Yuang River is an experience you must see, this trip goes beyong your dreams. The peace and freshness inspired to good things and romantic moods.
True Mango Madness In A Fancy Guangzhou Restaurant
"Truly Mad About Mangos"
"Fu Li Gong Jiu Jia" is a fancy Chinese restaurant without an English name. It is located in western Guangzhou's Liwan district on Zhongshan 8 Road. It's typical of large seafood restaurants in China, with 3 floors and huge dining areas for the masses.
At the entrance of the this restaurant, as you exit the elevator, dozens of aquariums with crustacean sensations awaiting your fateful order are on display.
I had been to this restaurant before, but as a guest rather than a host. Therefore I was actually looking forward to the opportunity to make my own selections from the restaurant's dinner menu.
In fact I knew what I wanted to order from the menu based on a previous glance at the page showing chef's specialties during last month's dim sum excursion.
Yet before all of this lovely culinary activity could begin, I had to undertake the challenge of finding a table suitable for this fortuitous feast. The hostess smiled as I said, "Baituo ni dai women qu...bu chou yan de jiefang qu!" (Please take us to the liberated 'no smoking' area!)
The idea of having a non-smoking section for gourmet diners is still a revolutionary concept in modern China. One way to solve this annoying problem involves reserving a table inside a private luxury suite named after a fragrant flower but of course this would require an extra expenditure as well as a phone call in advance.
The hostess must have thought I was joking as she led my party to a table next to three chimneys and an active volcano. When I escorted my guests back toward the exit, one of the restaurant's managers suddenly intervened in the manner of a Silk Road trader reducing the price of a camel after a buyer walks away. We were taken to another table far from the air pollution, indeed fulfilling the same request that the hostess stated was impossible due to the restaurant not having a non-smoking section.
I was ready to order after having a lengthy discussion with the waitresses gathered around our table about the virtues of Yangzhou fried rice over its southern cousin from Fujian. I added steamed dumplings as an appetizer and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce as a vegetable dish.
The main entree would provide the evening's entertainment as I finally announced that I would be making a selection from the list of chef's specialties: "Furong xiangmang chao Ao dai" (Stir fried lotus fragrant mango Australian scallops)
Squeals of delight ensued as my two female guests applauded this choice, which also featured the lucky number "68" as its auspicious price.
The waitress taking down our order nodded her approval as well, but after further contemplation she decided it would be prudent to check if indeed this expensive delicacy could actually be prepared. She added that the reason for her apprehension was the fact that this particular dish had not been ordered for quite a long time.
If you have ever looked up to the sky on a pleasant day and suddenly saw dark clouds on the horizon, you'll understand how I felt at that moment as I sensed a storm was imminent inside this fancy restaurant. I thought this place had every kind of marine life that any Chinese could deem edible. I tried to speculate on the impending excuse. Did the grouper swallow the scallops?
Sure enough, the young waitress emerged from the kitchen with her shoulders lowered as if she was toting two heavy buckets of ice cold water. "I'm sorry sir", and as she began her apology I guessed aloud that perhaps it was a strange lack of scallops that left the chef without the crucial ingredient to prepare his own specialty. Imagine my surprise when the waitress said that it was not a shortage of seafood which led to this calamity but instead the missing morsels were mangos.
The middle of July is the height of mango season in China. In many Hong Kong hotel restaurants, one can often find special "mango madness" promotions during the summer months which feature gourmet dishes all prepared with this distinctive fruit.
"Mad About Mangos, part 2"
In Guangzhou the price of mangos usually reaches its seasonal low in mid-July, as supermarkets (like the one across the street from this restaurant!) stack large pyramids of mangos at prominent displays in the produce section.
"No mangos?" I repeated in amused disbelief. In order to salvage hope, the waitress suggested that we substitute hami melon instead.
In Chinese restaurants, the lowly hami melon is usually served after a banquet as part of a complimentary fruit platter with watermelon and oranges. The cheap hami melon has never been included as an ingredient in Chinese gourmet cuisine, therefore I took exception to her idea and it was quickly dismissed. The other dishes I ordered would suffice so I told her to just delete this entree.
My guests were more compassionate, and perhaps a bit hungry, so in order to lighten the mood they suggested we add a simple order of "flying crepes" instead.
Known in China as "fei bing" or "Indian style pancakes", flying crepes have become a staple of fancy restaurants and shopping mall food courts in recent years with the attraction being the fact that the cook actually flips the crepe up into the air during the early stages of preparation. Later he stuffs it with a variety of fillings for its concluding presentation as it's sliced and served hot for eager customers.
The decision of what to stuff inside our flying crepes thus became the topic of another lively discussion as my guests suggested everything from peanut butter to something called "pork floss" as well as a variety of fresh fruits such as pineapple or bananas.
At the mention of fruits, I couldn't help blurting out my preference for mangos and offered a sarcastic grin to the waitress. Without any hesitation she exclaimed "Good, we can do that!"
Then, in a manner that was clearly not intended to be funny, she added: "Will that be one order of mango flying crepes?"
"Mad About Mangos, part 3"
I couldn't believe my ears. Surely she must be joking. "How is it possible to make mango flying crepes without mangos?" I asked, as I had no desire to eat crepes stuffed with some kind of artificial mango flavored syrup instead of fresh fruit. The waitress then assured me that only the ripest mangos are used in flying crepe preparation.
I promptly reminded the waitress that just five minutes ago she had informed me of the lack of mangos for the chef's specialty which I had tried to order.
"That's right, we don't have any mangos for the seafood dish you ordered but we can still make your flying crepe using fresh mangos"
she said in all seriousness.
I then sensed an onslaught of dialogue with logic remarkably similar to the famous Monty Python dead parrot sketch. Yet before I could embark on my Chinese John Cleese impersonation, the waitress further explained to me that mangos from the flying crepe department can not be used in the kitchen. The flying crepes are actually made in a separate facility inside the restaurant but opposite of the kitchen at a glass enclosed space along the dining room wall.
This begged the solution that I then dared to propose: "Why can't the flying crepe cook simply give a couple mangos to the kitchen chef in order to prepare his specialty?"
"Because they are two different departments...same restaurant but two different departments" she repeated for clarification.
"Are you trying to tell me that it's impossible to use a couple mangos from your restaurant's crepe department in a more expensive chef's specialty dish?" I asked incredulously.
My Chinese guests actually sided with the waitress and told me that they understood the restaurant's explanation. "This is China; you just don't comprehend China's national situation" one of my guests stated in Mandarin, then she smiled and pleaded to me in English: "Please don't argue this topic any further."
I really wanted the waitress to just give us 3 orders of mango flying crepes and then direct the pancake man to hand over the mangos to the kitchen chef without making the miserable pastry, but my guests opposed that idea as well. Maybe that manager who took initiative to seat us away from smokers could somehow find a way to facilitate the mango acquisition, but my guests didn't want me to create another disturbance.
In my mind at that moment I oddly imagined that I was that man in front of the row of tanks at Tiananmen Square in 1989. My two Chinese guests, (both beautiful women by the way), were pulling me off of Chang An Boulevard and I was disappearing into historical oblivion for trying to boldly stuff the big tank's gun barrel with a bloody mango.
One order of mango crepes came, and I did not pursue the topic any further as persuaded by my charming guests. However the next morning I did resolve to write this entire experience down word for word on hotel stationery and later immortalize it on the world wide web.
I'll never forget the night that I was truly MAD about mangos!