May 08, 2002 GMT
A Close Shave!

Today, the Globeriders begin arriving in Shanghai. Helge Pedersen, Sterling Noren, James Hay, James Harding, David Stafford and John Shelton depart Vancouver, BC, on Air Canada. Roy Cox and Frederick (Rick) Wetzel depart San Francisco on United Airlines. Ian Wood arrives from Bangkok, David Wilde from Hong Kong, Michael Matthews and Bryan Clague from "parts unknown". I look forward to meeting many of my fellow travelers for the first time. Since most of them won't arrive until later this afternoon, I'll rewind to yesterday....

My fourth day in Shanghai. After three days of feeling like a tourist, on day four, I felt like an expatriate. Ted and I spent the day hitting a shopping mall, shot some pool in an outrageously ornate but smoke-filled "health club, had a fiery dinner at a Shichuan restaurant, a few beers at a karaoke bar, and called it a day. Since the high points of the day were lunch and dinner - let's talk about food!

Those who know me will confirm that I love international cuisine, in copious portions. My wife, Aillene, is an excellent cook, as is my mother. All of my family worked in the "food service" business at one time or another. My brother is a graduate of the CIA (that would be the Culinary Institue of America in Hyde Park, New York). I enjoy cooking myself, and we often entertain at home. When we have time for watching TV, my favorite show is Anthony Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour" on the Food Channel. China is a "foodie" heaven. The Chinese have been traders and merchants since long before Marco Polo's journey, and brought a wealth of spices, cooking techniques and styles back to the Middle Kingdom. On the flight over, the on-board magazine had an article on Chinese cooking - it contained a great quote - "The Chinese eat anything that points its spine to the sky". Good thing that our branch of the vertebrate family learned to walk upright early on!

There are restaurants here that seat thousands of people, with portions of the parking lot reserved for buses filled with eager patrons. Imagine the frenetic chaos that must reign in a kitchen where the most important goal is to get each dish (and there are many) to the table at its peak of freshness and flavor? The menus go on for page after page, and ordering is a long and complicated affair that sounds, to the untrained ear, like the prelude to a fist-fight. The notion of a romantic, hushed dinner here it totally foreign. The dining rooms are huge, brilliantly lit, with tables that seat 16 people, and a continual torrent of noise, laughter and happy conversation. I could fill volumes detailing the fine dining we've enjoyed, but, I find the food halls far more intruiging as the subject for a short photo essay.

Let me note that I've been in all manner of eating establishments in Mexico, Israel, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, Germany, Italy, France, Great Britain, Ireland, and Italy. So far, the only place I've ever suffered the trials of "Montezuma's Revenge" has been in the States - three times, all at fast food restaurants, which explains my aversion to anyplace that asks - "Would you like to super-size that?" I hope my good fortune overseas continues. The "fast food" here is plentiful, cheap (by US standards), and comes in a stomach-boggling variety of smells, colors, textures, and ingredients. You've read enough, below are some few shots from the food hall at the Carrefour's shopping complex in Shanghai. But first a single-shot lesson in dining etiquette:


[I don't know if this custom was picked up from the British, or something that evolved internally; at the table in China, the proper way to place your napkin is oriented like a baseball diamond (as opposed to "square" to your lap), with "home plate" in your lap, and "third base" up on the table held in place with a small plate. Makes a lot of sense really, but, extreme caution should be excercised when picking-up "home plate" to wipe your mouth, else you will score a "home run" of sauce, food, and cooking in your lap!]

And now, the food hall at a shopping mall. These are common in every country I've visited to far in Asia, although in Japan, they tend to take the form of a floor of restaurants, as opposed to an open food circus:







[The meal on the left costs about USD$1.90, the one on the left $2.40. Inexpensive by our standards, but, probably not to the average factory worker here, who earns around $150.00/month]

I saw a crowd around one of the kiosks - the universal sign of a good place to eat. As it turned out, they were watching a master at work shaving noodles into a giant steaming wok. Guess what I had for lunch?


[First, the dough is pulled, folded, and pulled again and again to bring out the gluten and make it nice and elastic.]


[Then, its rolled into a loaf, from which the noodles will be shaved.]


[The action begins. You can see the target in the lower left, a wok the size of a cauldron, where all good noodles go.]


[Even close-up, you can see he's workng so fast, his hands are literally a blur of motion. He's using a knife with a blade the size of a paper-back novel.]


[I finally had to resort to a flash to catch this single airborne noodle flying to its fate. You can barely make it out - that white curl in the lower left. The portions were huge - it took him about 10 seconds to shave enough for one bowl, yet from what I could see, all his digits were intact.]


Posted by Mike Paull at May 08, 2002 05:45 AM GMT

Bourdain's got nothin' on you. Say hey to all the gang for me.
the rev.

Posted by: wayne on May 8, 2002 05:24 PM GMT

we are greatly enjoying your commentaries, you should be copyrighting them. ML King did that and his family is now getting the benefits.
We had a 17 day tour in China in Sept of 2000. One of the things we noticed most was the absence of birds and bugs, a consequence of wide use of pesticides.

Posted by: Nairn McConnachie on May 8, 2002 06:59 PM GMT

mike: it is wonderful to be able to enjoy china through your eyes & taste buds! i feel like i am there with you everytime i read one of your updates! keep them coming! my daughter heather has passed her "due" date and has not made me a grandmother yet this week. the hummer is packed and waiting for a phone call so i can race to bend oregon. i will keep you posted. i am in the process of buying deshka landing from sherry and jerry so we will have a place to stay in alaska! you could hire on as a cook and we could do fresh sushi! linda

Posted by: linda north on May 8, 2002 07:04 PM GMT

You're off to a wonderful start. Mike, thanks for keeping the rest of us up to date with you Mild Angels! May the wind be at your back and troubles be few.

Posted by: deb on May 15, 2002 08:24 AM GMT


Great updates on your progress. It's nice to be able to see what you and my dad Jim Harding are up to on the trip. If I didn't have to finish college, I would be right there with you guys. Instead I am taking the tour over your site. Thanks!

Posted by: Robbie Harding on May 17, 2002 06:20 AM GMT
Sorry, due to heavy form spamming, Comments are OFF.

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