Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Shanghai Tea House & Food

I'm posting a few more photos of our trip, if you don't mind.

The top one is of the Huxingting Tea House, where we spent a pleasant hour sipping Chinese tea and eating traditional snacks. The tea house is situated in the heart of Old Town, on an island in the middle of an ornamental lake. From the bridge that leads to the tea house, we watched big bright orange carp swimming in the lake.

The second photo shows the tea I drank — the traditional green variety, with very large leaves. It was a mouthful! It took practice, but I eventually learned how to drink loose tea without swallowing all of the leaves. By the end of the trip, I was quite accomplished.

The snacks that accompanied our tea are in the third photo, and included thousand-year eggs, salted almonds and gummy fruit candies possibly made from lichees.

We were lucky to eat many delicious meals in Shanghai, and began every day by eating breakfast at our hotel, where we could choose from Chinese or Western style dishes. I often ate duck, congee, thousand-year eggs, coconut in coconut milk and — best of all— Shanghai steamed buns, filled with all sorts of good things: barbecued pork, shrimp or red beans. Very tasty!

There were a few items on restaurant menus that I wish I had been brave enough to try, but will have to save for my next trip to China. They included: bullfrog, duck's lips, pig intestines and many other such delicacies. I know that my brother, who could best Anthony Bourdain in an eating contest, would gladly have sampled everything. He will be deeply disappointed in me, I'm sure. Next time!

And there will be a next time. I hope to return to China in the not-too-distant future and see Bejing and Xian, and other cities that have a long, distinguished history. Shanghai is like modern cities in Canada that are only a few hundred years old, while Bejing is more like historic cities in Europe, with their far-reaching past. 

I am very grateful to have had my first glimpse of China.

Monday, October 27, 2008

City of Contrasts

Shanghai is a city of contrasts: a heady blend of East and West, old and new, rich and poor, all bumping up against each other. I loved seeing the traditional Chinese temples and silk clothing mixed in amongst the modern highrises and trendy fashionistas. 

Shanghai is booming, as it gets ready for the World Expo in 2010. There's construction everywhere. Today, some 18 million people live in this huge city. They expect the numbers to rise to 71 million during Expo. Wow! That's a lot of people.

The first photo shows a street scene of Old Town, where vendors sell food and goods, such as tea, silk clothing, fish, pearls, and knock-off wallets. People here live in small apartment homes, close together. As we walked down this street, we saw children playing, a dog wandering, a man tending his homing pigeons and laundry drying on bamboo poles. We smelled savoury food cooking and heard a chorus of voices as people tended to their chores. And — at the same time we took photos of them — they took photos of us!

The second photo shows the skyline of modern Shanghai with its stunning highrises. The tallest building in the world stands here. Don't look down! We were tempted to go to the top of one of the tall buildings to get a bird's eye view of Shanghai, but, alas, my fear of heights overtook my curiosity.

The mix of Shanghai old and new was surprising to me, but it seemed to be harmonious and working well. Fascinating city! 

More to come soon...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Back from Shanghai!

I had an amazing trip! Shanghai is a wonderful city and I'm thrilled I was able to get there. I'll be posting some of my impressions over the next week (as I get over my jet lag and my brain clears) but to begin, here are two photos. 

The top one is a view of the river promenade called the Bund (pronounced BUNT), which was minutes from my hotel. The walkway is on the Huangpu River, and many people stroll here every day. There are tourists, locals, street vendors and performers all jostling for space on the crowded path. From the Bund, you can look across the water and see some of the famous Shanghai highrises. It's a big, busy city that reminded me of New York in a lot of ways.

The second photo is of rush hour in Shanghai: on bikes! Many locals use bicycles or motorized scooters to get around. The photo doesn't begin to show the sea of bikes we encountered each evening at rush hour. They fill the streets! The Critical Mass organizers in Vancouver would be inspired.

More to come soon...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Shanghai Bound...

This is a quick note to say I'm leaving for Shanghai this week and will be away from my computer until the end of October. I'm accompanying my husband (aka "The Big Guy") to a conference, and am planning to research a new book (and sightsee!) while he's at meetings. I may try to post from China, but it remains to be seen if I am tech-savvy enough to accomplish that. Regardless, I hope to have lots of exciting things to report when I get back. Until then...


Friday, October 10, 2008

Fall Books

I love fall book season! There are so many new titles I'm looking forward to reading. I've got two enticing fall releases sitting on my desk right now, but I haven't cracked the covers yet. I'm waiting to read them on a long plane trip I'm taking next week.

One is is a YA novel called Sister Wife, written by my good friend and talented author, Shelley Hrdlitschka. It's the story of an isolated rural community called Unity, where polygamy is the accepted way of life, and young girls are expected to marry much older husbands. There are three main characters (all girls) with varying points of view. I can hardly wait!

The second is an adult novel titled, What They Wanted, by Donna Morrisey, author of Sylvanus Now and other fine books. I loved Sylvanus Now, which was the story of a Newfoundland fishing village and a man who was desperate to hang on to the old ways. It was a deeply moving story, and this new one is a sequel to it. Apparently, some of the characters leave Newfoundland to work in the Alberta oilfields.

Canada is rich with stories, and I feel very fortunate to have two intriguing ones sitting on my desk. I'll wait until next week to begin them, but it's going to be hard.

Happy Reading, everyone!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Growing Appetites: A Wonderful Night!

Wow! What a night! I am so impressed by Merri Schwartz and the team of chefs, servers and local growers who put the Growing Appetites evening together. The food was even better than I'd imagined! Mmm... Some of the tastiest dishes were pumpkin canelloni, squash and chorizo soup, and roasted apple tortillas with honey cream cheese icecream.

I was touched by the generosity of all the people involved — the chefs who donated their time and energy to cook the food, the hardworking and extremely proficient servers, the local farmers and vinters who supplied the food and wine, and finally, the kind folks who paid for the tickets to attend the dinner, and also took part in the silent auction.

The best part (aside from the food) was seeing some of the charming young students of the Growing Chef's program. They bravely read out the menu for each course, and spoke a bit about being involved in the program. Fred Lee and Margaret Gallagher of the CBC, and MCs for the night, interviewed the kids with real tenderness. It was lovely to watch.

Consider attending next year's fundraiser, or perhaps volunteering your time in the classroom, helping kids to grow their own vegetables, and then cook with them.

I applaud Merri Schwartz and wish her continued success with this wonderful program! It was a privilege to be a part of it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Growing Chefs!

Tomorrow night is the first, annual fundraising dinner for a wonderful new program called Growing Chefs! 

Merri Schwartz is a talented, young Vancouver pastry chef who creates the tasty desserts at Quattro on 4th and she's also the energetic founder of the Growing Chefs! program. She's organized local chefs to volunteer their time in Vancouver schools to teach children how to grow their own vegetables and then cook with them. She's a firm believer in sustainability and eating locally and, with this program, is educating kids to do the same. 

I've been a big fan of her program ever since I heard about it — being both a former primary teacher and a local food enthusiast — and I can hardly wait to go to the fundraiser tomorrow night. The feast, named Growing Appetites, will be held at the cooking school, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, and will feature the delicious food and wine of local farmers and vinters, prepared by the chefs of our city. Wow! My mouth is watering. If you'd like to read more about the event, go here. Check out the menu!

I'll let you know how the evening goes. Til then, I'm fasting... and counting down the hours...

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Word on the Street Recap

Here's a photo taken by local author, Jacqueline Pearce. As you can see, the sun was shining brightly on Sunday for our city's Word on the Street book bash. Library Square, in downtown Vancouver, was a sea of festival tents, with authors, illustrators, publishers and performers showing off their newest works.

There was a large and enthusiastic turnout of people, many of whom brought young children. Thanks to everyone who turned up to hear me speak in the Kids Tent about my new series, Who Lives Here? You were a wonderful audience! 

I remember when Word on the Street began, and it was small and had a few growing pains. Now, all evidence points to the fact that it has blossomed into a big, exciting literary event that truly celebrates books and their creators.

If you'd like to see more photos, please go here (from the Cwill BC blog — Children's Writers and Illustrators of British Columbia). It was a fantastic day and thrilling to catch up with many writing and illustrating colleagues I hadn't seen for awhile.