vvChina 2007
vThree Stars Accompanying The Moon

August 8, 2007

We arrived in Shanghai following a very comfortable Business Class flight from San Francisco.  Hai-Xiang picked us up at the airport and we went immediately to have dinner with his parents, after which we fell into deep sleep, awaking at 4AM revved up and ready to go. So we waited for first light and set out walking until the appointed time to meet up with Hai-Xiang to do a few errands and head for the train station, as we had reservations that day for the 36 hour train ride to Chengdu.

August 12, 2007

In Chengdu, a city of 15 million people, China's 5th largest city.  A beautiful place with wide streets and buildings of a reasonable height, greenery all around, people generally looking content and well fed...although none of the very very fat people we see so much of at home.

We are here in Chengdu as I got very sick on the train from Shanghai and was unable to go onto the train for our trip to Tibet.  This was a real problem as new tickets are not available… fancy new train, high travel season etc.  I e-mailed my congressman and Arthur Sackler, the only two people I could think of with high-level Chinese connections.  Sam got right on the case, so we felt we would eventually get tickets, as this is such a from-the-top-down country, but for the time being it meant we stayed in Chengdu.... and I am happy to say this turned out to be a blessing.  We are having a wonderful time being hosted by various extended family members of our Chinese friend Hai-Xiang foremost hostess being the fabulous Dan-mei. Dan-mei went to medical school, and then into the restaurant business. She owns one of the top five restaurants here, a magnificent place.... 200 employees, 4 floors built around an interior garden with waterfall, fishponds and bamboo and balcony outside dining.  The menu is incredible. All the dishes are described as to their health giving properties.  As Andrew is working to change how medicine is taught in medical schools, and Myra and Drew Goodman and Earthbound Farms are bringing "organic" into the main-stream, and Eric Schlosser is educating the public through his excellent writing about food, Dan-mei is bringing her medical training to changing the way people relate to food and their diet from another view point.

The variety of food available at her restaurant is staggering, the mushrooms and the fruits and the fish and veggies etc.  A feast for all the senses. You can eat Braised Pigeon with White Fungus and Paw Paw, or Cuttlefish Stewed with Bolete.  Or perhaps the Wild Fungus Mountain Treasure Pot.... or Braised Chicken with Sea Cucumber, Date and Astragalus Root. Maybe Aged Duck Stewed with Topaz... You can have Soft Shelled Turtle, Duckling, Eel or Snake cooked in a variety of manners.  And all kinds of fish of course, in broths or whole or in more ways that you can imagine... fish heads, fish tails etc.    And those old favorites, Ox Penis, Tendon in many forms, or Griddle Cooked Deer's Sinew with Mushrooms.  All of the above with any and many sorts of vegetables and noodles.  And also all the Chinese dishes of pork and beef...delicious little appetizers with sweet potatoes....  The menu goes on and on, presented in the form of a large book with photographs and descriptions of each dish.

Dan-mei is also head of the Chengdu restaurant association. She must be all of 40 years old, and runs as tight a ship as I have ever seen. Everything polished, from the banister to the presentation of the dishes to the faces of the employees... Dan-mei has never been to the states, and it is difficult now for Chinese people to get visas because we suspect that these visitors may just not go home, as has so often been the case.  However, we are hoping that our congressman can help get the visas so Dan-mei can come to the USA in the spring, and who knows, perhaps one day she might open a restaurant in America.  I think this restaurant and Chengdu in general may call for a Beneficial Plant Research Association Field Trip.

We were to go to Tibet right after arriving in China, and as I mentioned, I got sick on the train to Chengdu so we made a stop over here, and yesterday Dan-Mei managed to secure tickets for us on the over-booked express train to Lhasa. . We leave this evening for a visit to Tibet, and then shall return here to meet up with Hai-Xiang's parents and go to spend a few days in the national park called the Sea of Bamboo.

We have been well taken care of. One or another of Hai-Xiang's family often provides us with car and driver so we have been able to take in the recent archeological wonders uncovered right here in Chengdu in 2001 and in 1992...evenings we of course have to go out to eat some more.  Last night we went out with Hai-Xiang's brother's best friend from their growing up years.  Hai-Xiang had not seen the man for 25 years.... he is now a kung-fu master who runs kung-fu school, and he promises to take us on our Return to Chengdu to meet his master, who is 117 years old and still going strong. After dinner he took us to see the Sichuan Opera, which was a delight... We have been to a wonderful spa for massage, where I felt straight out of an old oriental painting of women in a bathhouse.  And we walk walk walk all over town for hours each day...walk and eat.  Our hotel is across the street from Dan-mei's restaurant, ...makes for good daily dining. My writing as well as my talking is becoming broken phrases as though I am Speaking slowly to someone with a small grasp of English...amazing how quickly this pigeon takes over.

And at the moment I sit in Starbucks...surrounded by Chinese people on cell phones...talking or sending text messages.  How the Chinese got along before cell phones is a real question.  It is nice and cool in here unlike the humid bathtub outside...the temperature is usually around 85 to 90 degrees, with a little cooling in the evening.

Time to head for the train station and Tibet.


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