Shanghai and Bangkok, May 2013

Sorry it took so long to write this up. After getting back from the trip we had Summercon setup and the conference all weekend and a ton of work needed for a production deadline on the project I'm working on.
A few months ago we decided to take a trip to Shanghai to visit my aging grandmother, given the choice of either May or October. We ended up choosing May because my mom would be there and I later found out that I had a wedding to attend in October. After a few weeks of coordinating wth my mom and sister, we finally got the tickets booked and where set to go. Our flight left Newark with a single stop in Toronto. Newark is a pretty shitty airport, both to get to and to fly out of. The security line was retarded long, spanning pretty much the entire width of the terminal, but we ended up getting expidited because we were going to miss our flight waiting in the line, eventhough we got to the airport an hour and a half before departure. I watched some Mrs. Marple on the plane.

The Toronto airport, on the other hand, was pretty nice. It's kind of funny to imagine what the place would have been like had the Maple Leafs not shit the bed leading the Bruins 4-1 in the waning moments of the third period. Also, apparently you can't drink until 11am. So we had some breakfast and passed the time until 11am, had a few drinks then boarded the flight. The flight had some overpriced alcohol which turned out to be free anyways because it was an international flight. Here's a bizarre picture of a cigarette ad which sort of makes it look like cigarettes for pregnant women. A nice thing about Air Canada is that they have Clamato juice to make caesars. We were told that since the winds weren't in our favor, we'd be flying over Alaska instead of the North Pole, which would cost us about 30 minutes of added flight time. It was a pretty uneventful flight, I watched a couple of movies but couldn't get much sleep.

The Shanghai airport, for some reason, had these fire escape masks everywhere. No idea why you'd need one in an airport. After making it out of immigration and customs, I was met by my mom and my uncle Nai You, who drove us to our hotel. The Howard Johnson's was an "all suites", so every room had a kitchen and living room:

We went to eat at a restuarant in a Sheraton and came back to have a few drinks at the hotel's wine bar, called Mr and Ms Wine. Amy really like the Breaker Bay sauvi blanc. It was kind of funny, because the first person who served us spoke English pretty well. After a few glasses, he left and this other guy was our bartender. His English was not so good, but he was trying. At some point I just spoke in Mandarin and said that I could understand a little but spoke even less. He was relieved to be able to struggle with English and we managed to pick out some more wine, though it was my turn to struggle, with words like "dry", "tannins", "oakey", etc. At some point Amy asked if there were any bars in the area that he liked to go to, and then it got really tough. He kept asking us for the "requirements", as in, a place that serve expensive drinks, a place that has a lot of people, a place that serve good drinks. But she wanted to know what places he liked to go, and just kept going in circles.

The second day, we tried out the hotel's complimentary breakfast (there were cats outside) which was oddly only complimentary for one person. Then we met up with my sister and mom and went to the fabric market. It was a real gloomy day out. Across the street from the market, we stopped to get a cup of coffee and the shop had all these pictures on the walls. I wanted to pick out some fabric to get some dress shirts made because my mom knew a highly recommended tailor (inexpensive) that could make me some shirts and Amy some dresses. I wanted to pick out some real wacko fabric patterns just because I could. These are patterns you normally wouldn't be able to buy a shirt in. For lunch, we took a trip out to an all natural vegetarian place that Li Ping, our friend Alex's mom, knew about. Place was pretty quaint, had some interesting decor, and all the food was natural, nothing was made to look like something that it wasn't (like faux meat).

We then took a walk down near where my uncle Nai worked. We passed through an area with a lot of art. And a lot of sculptures (a lot more pictures later) More, More, More + another angle, More, More, Mercedes SLK made of bricks, Field of sculptures, Interesting (and very expensive) tea set. When we got to the building that my uncle works at, which was a new office that they recently moved into, we took an elevator up to the half floor which the office sat. A pretty good view from the office. After that, we walked back to my grandmother's apartment to chill out and get measured by the tailor. I tried to take a panoramic shot of my grandmother's hallway balcony. For dinner, we trucked over to some place I can't remember the name of for a family dinner, hosted by my other uncle Nai You. I have a kind of funny panoramic picture of everyone trying to take panoramic pictures. Here's some of the lighting outside of the restuarant. That evening, me, Amy and my sister met up with some friends to go drinking. We met up at this place called Laboratory, which seemed like a place geared towards expats and foreigners. The slogan says: "Whether classic or innovative, Lab is aiming to make a glass of cocktail to touch you", it's not so clear in the picture. It had some weird seating areas and some interesting decor and a nice bar. We then decided to take a trip over to a place which is owned by my sister's (and her friends) chef friend, Brad. I met Brad the first time I was in Shanghai, he was the chef at a place we visited often in 2006 called New Heights which was on the Bund. He now runs his own place as well as the chef, called Goga (after "Golden Gate"). Brad wasn't there but we sat around for a few cocktails anyways. At some point the bartender told us all the drinks were free. Apparently, Brad saw us on his CCTV cameras and called to tell the bartender he had our drinks. Was awesome of him, we would be back at this place.

On day three, we got up early again and took a road trip to Hangzhou, which is about a 2 hour car ride from where we are in Shanghai (keeping in mind that Shanghai is very big). We drove by some sort of amusement park that also had roller coasters, but it didn't appear to be open. When we got near Hangzhou, you could tell that the architecture and the style of houses started to change. Here's a bunch of other random pictures along the way: a gigantic train station, outskirts of Hangzhou, truck filled with some kind of drink?, some dude taking a picture of a pothole, lead car of a marraige procession. We went to several sights in the area, the West Lake, a temple, some carvings, several old houses (that are all rebuilt), way too many pictures to post here but you can look through the photo album for all the pictures. Here are some highlights:

Back in Shanghai, we went to a local place just around the corner from my grandmother's apartment for dinner and some Bijou. After dinner, me, Amy and my sister, Candice, stopped at our hotel for some wine at "Mr. and Ms. Wine".

Managed to catch a bit of the San Jose/Los Angeles game on my laptop before we had to head out on the fourth day. We met up with my family, went and got a cup of coffee at Wagas, and walked back. There was a Lamborghini Murcielago parked in front of the hotel. Then we walked back to my grandmother's (view from the hallway) and waited for lunch where we'd meet my uncle near his office. (Random: alley way and the Doubie Love store). The place we went to lunch was a personal hotpot restuarant called Mahota. It uses the freshest vegetables and claim to use the best pork ever. In all honesty, it was pretty damn good. We get a bowl of various veggies and a serving tray, you can then go to a table to mix your sauces (your choice) and rice if you want it. The pork comes out in a personal tray, and you can setup your hotpot with whatever you want. After the lunch, we went back to the park with all the sculptures to take another look around because we were sort of in a hurry before. Bunch of pictures of the sculptures:

After relaxing for a little while at my grandmother's, we got ready to take a trip back to Goga's, this time for dinner. The taxi dropped us off in front of the place, which had a phone booth with wifi. The place next door was this Greek restuarant that looked to be hiring English spreaking staff. My uncle brought a bottle of white desert wine to drink later as we looked over the menu. There weren't any appetizers, just main courses, so we weren't sure what to get. Thankfully, Brad came out to greet us all and said he'd just feed us a chef's sampling. Lots of really great small dishes started to come out one after another. These tacos were unreal, so were the lamb chops. The view from the deck of the restuarant was also pretty amazing. Michael and a couple of other friends of my sister showed up later and we went into the back room to end the evening with cocktails. I got pretty sauced and was apparently doing a little dance in the taxi ride back.

So the night before, we got a picture of the address of Appia, my sister and brother-in-law's new restuarant, because the next day we were going to fly to Bangkok. We checked out of the hotel and got a ride (thanks to uncle Nai You) to the Shanghai airport, where we would board a Shanghai Airlines (China Eastern) flight to Bangkok. The flight itself is maybe 5 or 6 hours, and on top of that add a couple of hours of waiting at the airport, immigration, etc. Unsurprisingly, it was raining in Bangkok, it rains all the time this time of year down there. We jumped into a taxi and took a ride to Bangkok proper, finally arriving at Appia, a traditional Roman restuarant. The place looked wonderful, it was bustling with (what I was told were local celebrities) people and smelled of good food. We greeting Jarrett, who was running around and pretty busy, then took a seat at the bar and got some wine, then met the head chef, Paulo, and some of the staff. The bar has a view right into the raoaster and prep area. Pretty soon, the food started to come out. Some Bruschetta, vegetarian so Amy could eat it, and a really awesome meat and cheese plate. The assortment of various cured meats was really something else, and the cheese wasn't bad either. We got a sampling of some of the wine but skipped on their selection of beers. Finally, some home made pasta, probably some of the best pasta I've had in recent memory, simple and fresh. At some point in the evening, a wine dealer came in with a case of his selected wines. We got to sit in and sample his wares. At some point, Jarrett helped get us into a cab and took us back to their new swank pad. Three bedrooms, huge living room and a TV room, etc.

The next day was spent lounging around and getting some rest. We spent most of the time in the swank pad. We went out just down the street to meet Jarrett for lunch at this place called Greyhound. It was a nice lunch place that served burgers and sandwiches. The entire area was in this sort of covered outside area with a lot of other random stores, cafe's, and stuff. After getting back we made some drinks, they also had a separate light bar with some rum and whiskey. Jarrett had spent most of the day running errands and running things over at Appia while my sister ended up having to spend the majority of the day at their other restuarant, Soul Food. There was some water leak that needed to be dealt with. So it was mostly me and Amy, watching TV, reading, and hanging out with their dog Chauncey. Pretty unventful day, and we ordered a pizza.

We started the next day early. Chauncey needed to go to a friend's place to be taken care of because we were going to be gone for several days. By the time our rental Honda CR-V arrived, we were already packed and ready to head out to the mountains, to Khao Yai, a national park north of Bangkok. I snapped a few pictures along the way but there wasn't really anything that interesting. At some point we stopped for some water and snacks. Amy bought some instant ramen for me and was given a free gift of some weird flavored Doritos. That bag literally had 3 chips in it, yes, 3. Something you can see all over the roads were pictures of the King of Thailand, no idea what his name is. We also drove by a really awful looking car accident, a giant golden buddha, before finally arriving at the mountains. The drive through the mountains maybe lasted 30 or 40 minutes. There was a lot of restuarants, houses, wacky structures, and resorts. We stopped near our destination for a taste of the local food. A surprisingly long drive through seemingly uninhabited woods, the road opened up with a couple of parking areas and a drive way. The parking areas were all manned by security (either that or they were there to direct traffic). When we pulled up to the lobby of the Muthi Maya Forest Pool Villa Resort, they took care of our luggage and parked the Honda somewhere. The lobby of this place is really spacious, all open-air design, and a little area where there's a library. After getting checked in, we hopped on a cart that drove us to our personal villa. The villas are approximately square shaped that's divided into 4 quadrants. One's a living room/TV room, one's a bedroom, one's a dining room, and one's a bathroom. There's also a smaller bathroom near the entrance that has a shower as well, but the big bathroom is pretty nice, with a hot tub and everything. All the rooms are connected by large sliding doors and the living room and bedroom have doors along the back of the villa facing the personal swimming pool (here's a view outside of the bedroom and one toward the back doors). The back also faces a golf course. Candice and Jarrett had their own identical villa which was connected to ours via a small gate. I tried to take a few panoramic shots of the pool but had varying success. My HTC Sensation doesn't have as nice a panoramic shooting feature as the iphones or Amy's Samsung Nexus. That evening, I think it was Saturday, there was a free cocktail hour in front of the resorts large pool. I don't think there were all that many choices, but it was bottomless champagne and wine at the very least. The hours between 6 and 7 (when the cocktail hour was) is just around the time when the sun started to set, so we got to witness an awesome sunset to dusk while catching a bit of a buzz. The dining/bar area is completely open, much like the rest of the resort's facilities; makes you wonder what they do during monsoon season, I guess they could setup temporary walls or something. We ordered food for dinner and drank some of the bottles (six) that Jarrett had brought up from Bangkok. I made the mistake of ordering seafood, which wasn't exactly bad, but not all that fresh. I guess it's difficult to ship that kind of stuff to the mountains, and that brings up an additional question of how they can serve sushi, being that the main restuarant for the villa part of the resort was a Japanese restuarant.

The eighth day of our trip was another relax day. I got pretty hammered the night before but still managed to get up early enough to catch the last period of the Penguins getting shut-out by the Bruins in game one, then I took another nap. Amy went to get free breakfast then went to the spa while the rest of us ordered more room service, which we ate in front of our pool. As with most days in Thailand this time of year, ominous looking clouds were over the horizon, and it soon started to rain (those are Mangosteen fruits that we bought off the street the day before). It started coming down so suddenly that all of our dishes got caught in the short deluge. For dinner, we went out to a local restuarant to eat Thai food, it was an open-air place as well. We got a bunch of stews, fresh basil salads, roasted chickens and I think at least one kind of curry (or what looked like curry). The place was dark so couldn't really take any pictures. At some point during dinner, a huge swarm of insects started to take over. They weren't biting insects, 4 winged, couldn't tell what they were, looked similar to may-flies but without the tail. They must have just all hatched or something, and are attracted to the light, which got all the lizards out for feeding. The restuarant had to turn out a bunch of lights because they were getting into our food. We finished the night by watching TV and drank wine at the pool.

Our third day in Khao Yai was going to be our last. Me and Amy had a flight that leaves Bangkok at 1:30am and arrives in Shanghai around 7am, which meant we'd need to leave the resort around 8 or 9pm. We checked out of our villa and moved our stuff to Candice and Jarrett's villa, where they will be staying a few extra nights (and why not? place is beautiful). I got up early again, haven't acclaimated myself to the 12-hour shift in time from the states, early enough to watch a bit of the Blackhawks/Kings game, before spending a bit of time in the morning sun by the pool. I got a better look at the golf course behind the pool as well as a short-lived red ant vs black ant war. When everyone was awake, we went over the main resort area to get some complementary breakfast. Amy mentioned that the spread wasn't as good as the day she went to breakfast by herself. Maybe it was because it was near the tail end of breakfast or maybe because it was a weekday. There were maybe 7 or 8 other groups of people there, not very busy at all. All over Thailand, you see these (presumably) feral cats, who beg for food. I also took the chance to try out some panoramic photos of the main pool area, the golf course behind the dining area, and a shot from the second floor. After breakfast, we got into a car and took a ride over to the hotels part of the resort, called "Kiri Maya", and they have a golf shop. This is the area where the spa is that Amy went to day before, which was kind of off to the side. So we rented some clubs (Jarrett brought his own), I got some shoes, and we all got caddies and hit the course for 9 holes. I can't remember how much it all was, but none of us except Jarrett had actually played any golf on a course; I had hit balls on a driving range before, so I knew how hard it really was to hit a golf ball square. While Jarrett was mostly breezing through the course, the rest of us had to settle with short baby-step advances. Not that it really mattered, it was a beautiful day and the course looked amazing. Here's some dude's house right up against part of the course. It showered briefly but that was to be expected and we took that time to get a few beers down while waiting for it to pass. Wasn't long until we were back at it; here's some more pictures or the beautiful course surrounded by mountains. We had lunch at Kiri Maya, which unlike the Muthi Maya restuarant, was Thai food. Food was really good, soup, salads, and I got beef skewers (I can't remember the names of any of these dishes, they're all in Thai). After getting cleaned up back in the villa, we went to the resort's bar for some drinks. I'm pretty sure the drinks menu was the exact same one from the Kiri Maya restuarant, but Amy ordered the same thing (basil vodka gimlet, I think) but the thing came out neon green and tasted of mint. We suspected it was a mint julep, but the bartender swore it was what she had ordered. When it got time to order another round of drinks, Jarrett decided it was best to go to the bar to supervise. After dinner, me and Amy bid our farewells and hopped onto a van that would take us to Bangkok's airport. The line for the China Eastern check-in was really long, but it started moving along pretty quickly once it got moving.

We got to the Shanghai airport after the red-eye flight and my mom and Nai You were there to pick us up and before long, we were back in the streets of Shanghai proper. We stayed at the same Howard Johnson's that we stayed in the first leg of the trip, but this time we were on the 16th floor which afforded us a slightly better view of our surroundings. After a long needed nap, we went over to my grandmother's apartment for a late lunch and we got to try on some of the clothes that we had bought all that fabric for on the beginning of the trip. The shirts were nice fitting though the french cuffs were a bit weird and the collar stay slots were a little small, but I was pretty happy with the shirts. Amy got dresses made that were copies of some J. Crew things, I guess they turned out ok, the patterns were definitely pretty neat. We then got into a cab to venture over to Nai You's part of the city. Here's a small luncheon shop that makes take-out, it was insanely busy. This was the back of the front passenger seat of the cab we were in. Soon, we were in a part of Shanghai with lots of condo buildings. I know I took some pictures of this the last time I was in Shanghai, but it's really hard to describe the sheer scale of a "lot". I'm talking seas of buildings like this, literally as far as the eye can see. So we hung out a bit with Nai You's family, and he showed us the progress he has made scanning like a thousand old photos spanning probably 60+ years of family and extended family, including wedding pictures of my parents and grandparents. Here's an old family picture that he scanned. We then went to dinner at yet another personal hot-pot restaurant, didn't think it was as good as the Mahota but there was a lot more on the menu. Nai You then drove us back into the center of town where we'd pay Brad and his restuarant Goga one more visit before finally departing back for the states. Brad was awesome, he hooked us up with some small plates of food, the ones that Amy thought were the best. We got a few more drinks before getting a cab back to the hotel.

We checked out the next day for what would be the final time. Walked back over to my grandmother's apartment where the bulk of our luggage was. Here's a picture I took on the way, check out those people napping on the street. Since Nai You was more than gracious in driving us literally all over the place, we got another family member, Tseng Long, to drive us to the airport. Some parting pictures of Shanghai:

All in all, the Shanghai airport, at least at the terminal side, sucks. It's so long that if you're on one end, you have to walk a really long way to get to anything. All the restuarants, stores, and bars are in the center of the terminal where you enter from the hub building. With so few accommodations, the restuarant/bar we were in was a ghost town. They have "free" wifi, but you have to sign up for an account in order to log in, the process involves getting your password SMSed to you. Here's a panoramic shot of the other terminal. Something else that I noticed on the trip was literally every airport we were in had HSBC advertisements plastered all over the jet bridges. Our flight was on a Boeing 767-300, and what's that guy doing to that baby? Despite the crappy airport amenities in Shanghai, Air Canada's flights are pretty righteous. The IFE's, although there was a selection for CBC News that never worked, had a lot of movies available, for free (with ads at the beginning that you can fast forward through). Oh, and the games didn't work either. But it had enough stuff to entertain a 12 hour flight. It was daylight (and a day ahead) by the time we landed in Vancouver and the airport had a lot of interesting decoration, some of it was pretty large. It seems everyone on our flight was going to hang out in Canada, this was the line for U.S. connections, like 2 other people there. The attendant that checked our passports (this was essentially the U.S. immigration) mentioned that the Islanders were going to be moving to Brooklyn when he saw our addresses. Compared to the Shanghai airport, Vancouver's was a playground. We had a few hours to kill so we went to a "Vino Volo" and sampled almost everything in their selection. Then the flight to Newark, which we arrived at maybe midnight.

So we opted to drive to the airport and left our car at an offsite parking service called Newark Airport Long Term Parking. We made an appointment and got a code which we used to get into the actual parking lot. A valet parked the car and moved our luggage into a van, we paid up, the van dropped us off at the airport. When we got back, there was a van already waiting for us at the offsite parking pick-up area and we were in my car, which was already running and warmed up when we got to the lot, in a matter of minutes. Really awesome service, and a bit cheaper than taking a car service to the airport. As for the trip itself, it was pretty hectic at times and numbingly relaxing at other times. Shanghai and Bangkok are both very interesting places. Shanghai, being mindbogglingly large and populous, is actually really clean, as far as the streets go. There's street sweepers and people going around picking up rubbish all day. The air... well, not so clean. I suppose I could get used to it, but at some point it did kind of irritate my sinuses (an ailment that would follow me back to the states). Bangkok on the other hand, also a lot of people, is kind of a dirty place. There's puddles of some sort of liquid and trash on the streets but the air quality is so much better than Shanghai (probably better than Brooklyn). It's great to see my family, and being able to see my grandmother, as well as hang out with Candice and Jarrett. I regret not being able to see their other restuarant, Soul Food, but maybe next time we come to visit.

Highlights of this trip to Shanghai: Goga and, uh..

Highlights of this trip to Thailand: Khao Yai, Appia.


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