Chefs Whites are the New Black

At what point in our culture did chefs become as famous and watched as tv and movie stars? I guess its pretty obvious, the starting point is the day Food Network hit the air and Mario was trundling around in his orange clogs, Emeril was shouting bam, and, well, Rachel Ray was making a fool of herself (then again, its very hard to even mention her name amongst those of 2 excellent chefs).

The New York Times recently examined the phenomenon of chefs and reality tv. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what the article is saying, while also being thankful that this "trend" is unlikely to ever hit China, where I doubt it could ever take hold. The strange thing is these chefs seem to be making these tv appearances just to make them, for their (extended) 15 minutes of fame. In reality, while they are getting their name out (and their restaurant's name as well), those who have the serious cash to eat at their establishments will have already heard of them, while Joe Public isn't dropping $100 per person and up to eat at the restaurants of these "celebrity" chefs. Further, the more concerned they are with their growing empire and public persona, the less time they spend doing what they are most famous for, feeding people. Beyond that, where does public interest come from? The reality shows these chefs are appearing on are only vaguely about cooking and none will improve your own skills in the kitchen? What is with the interest in what goes on beyond those swinging double doors that lead to a restaurant's kitchen?

The Rain in Shenzhen?

I know its October and so this story of black rain in Shenzen is well past its "sell by" date, but now that Al Gore is a Nobel Peace Prize winner (since the environment and peace have a clear connection, eh?), why not give it a reprise?

When I saw the story it shocked me, not so much because of the black rain (it is a sad state of affairs when black rain falling isn't something shocking, but such is China's environment), but that it happened in Shenzhen, while I've been living here, and yet I had no clue about it. It seems this problem occurred away from the city center, however Nanshan is still within the SEZ. This is really surprising because at least during my experience here over the last 6 months, environmental conditions in Shenzhen are better than almost all other large cities in China. I've heard horror stories about the situation outside the SEZ, where factories are abundant, but that is far from the case inside the SEZ.

Beyond that, though, even if it is a freak occurrence, the fact you have black rain falling should come as a huge shock and lead to massive changes instead of being covered up.


Live from Macau: Photo Edition V

Live from Macau: Photo Edition V

Shanghai Surprise(s)

Other than a brief stop in Shanghai a few months ago, my national day soiree was probably my first lengthy experience in that city in 2 years or so. It was strange to see last time that some old favorites like the hotpot restaurant at Shanghai Stadium is long gone, while Bourbon Street bar where once (or even twice) a crazy night was had is still standing. This time, however, it was about discovering new places and creating a new bit of "history" to be looked upon fondly in the future. While photos will have to wait for the future, 2 important observations can be made now...

1. It's gotten a lot of pub, and I often wondered whether deservedly as most western food in China is shite, but City Diner is amazing. The idea of having a good burger had been evilly placed in my head and it was a required meal before I left the city. I went into City Diner with a healthy doubt of what I'd be met with, but came out converted. while the menu tempted me with many of its options, I knew going in that I was having the burger, and it was a good choice. A large thick burger, lots of toppings, and a good bun, this isn't just the best burger I've had in China, but probably one of the best I've ever had. I would place it as the 3rd best I've ever had, close behind an unhealthy, since childhood addiction for Hackneyburgers and the Kobe beef and Foie Gras deliciousness that was the Rockit burger, before the idiotic ban. This place is not like any diner I've ever been in, I'd call it more of a gastropub (China's first?) and a definite hit. Just be warned, the service can leave something to be desired at times.

2. On a cab ride home going down Nanjing West Rd, I passed a very familiar sign from my travels through Europe, a red square with 4 Chinese/Kanji characters and 4 English letters, it was Muji. In Europe, its a one stop shop for stylish and reserved clothing, stationary, and household goods. In Japan, you can even buy cars and prefab houses at Muji. I've come across smaller stores in Beijing and Shanghai before, but they always carry strictly women's clothes and seem to stray away from the Muji style, however this was the real thing. I've bought a few favorite pieces of clothing at Muji, though in Europe, it is not exactly cheap. However at the Shanghai branch, prices were surprisingly reasonable, with much of the (men's) clothing below RMB200. For those in the US who haven't traveled abroad and experienced Muji, don't fret, Slate says its coming soon to your shores.


Remembering the Roar...

I've been away from this blogging game for awhile, but golden week can't serve as an excuse for my failure to post on this particular story. The reasoning is more internal, trying to deal with the event in a composed, normal way and not react like the typical fan. There are few events that could force me back to Chicago from China and the majority are all family related, but if the Blackhawks ever made it to the Stanley Cup finals, I'd be hard pressed not to make the trip back. Good ol' Dollar Bill, William W. Wirtz passed away on September 26, a story that is now 2 weeks old. As a lifelong Hawks fan who experienced many a night in the old barn on the west side (remember the roar being the salute given to it during that final season when it was on its last legs) and the UC, Wirtz was always a villainous character to me as well as many Hawks fans who would curse his name for being a tight wad, refusing to put home games on tv, as well as a number of other injustices. The man basically ran an NHL Original Six franchise, once one of the league's strongest, into the ground, with the franchise being named the worst in professional sports by ESPN, failing to be able to give away tickets, barely getting the stadium to half capacity, and putting out a team that has consistently failed to make the playoffs (and hasn't won it all since '61).

It's easy to recite the bad, but there was also some good, as strange as it sounds to Chicagoans, he was a strong advocate for hockey and played a crucial role in shaping the NHL during his reign in Chicago and also was involved with a large number of charitable organizations.

If I was at the UC for the season opener, I don't think I'd be among the fans who booed the moment of silence for him, but a part of me can understand the fans who live and die with the Hawks that did. For me, its time to move on, the move by Peter Wirtz to step down instead of ascend to the top spot was a class move. Rocky Wirtz's takeover and his proclamations so far serve as a fresh start that hopefully will lead to the franchise moving in the right direction. Though still cursed with some old problems (Havlet going down in the first game of the season), the future looks promising for the Hawks, and the fans deserve it.

Live from Macau: Photo Edition IV

outside the seafarer's temple
on the public square
religion and gambling face off
on the steps looking out at the crowds
kids graffiti

Live from Macau: One Up on Vegas...

Macau, the small configuration of islands and a peninsula off China's south coast that was long held (and neglected) by Portugal, is coming on strong. In recent years it has even overtaken Las Vegas in gambling earnings. The opening of the Macau outpost of over-the-top Vegas casino, the Venetian, is sure to help Macau expand the lead over Vegas even more. Along with the local casinos, Macau opened up to Vegas exports and currently boasts a Sands, Venetian, Wynn, and coming soon, an MGM Grand (to be opened by mid-December). Vegas hosted the NBA All-Star Game, Macau's going to host exhibition games between Cleveland, Orlando, and the Chinese National Team to take place in 2 weeks time. There is also the upcoming tennis duel between Federer and Sampras, as well as Macau's famous grand prix, unique to Macau and another famous gambling spot that begins with M, Monaco.

While there is the gambling, beaches, and a very interesting, real fusion cuisine, what is most attractive about Macau, to me, is its uniqueness. While Hong Kong was a British colony for so long, it is hard to see or feel a Britishness there. However, Macau is oozing with a Mediterranean vibe, a relaxed Iberian lifestyle. Due to basic abandonment by the Portuguese, the islands were in a state of disrepair when the Chinese took over in 1999, but things have already started to pick up and the rough edges do a lot to add something to the atmosphere.

For those interested in a trip, here are some tips:
1. From Shenzhen, the best option is the boat, which will get you to Zhuhai Customs in about an hour (or if you're a foreigner with a multientry visa, head into Hong Kong, the boat will take the same amount of time, but HK Customs is a lot faster). Boats from HK leave from the HK/Macau port near Central, in Shenzhen they leave from Shekou. There are also buses from Huanggang Customs.

2. Avoid a taxi and just take a free casino bus, even if you don't intend on gambling at the casino, it's a good way to get into town. If you're going to the town center for some sightseeing, the best options are probably the Emperor or the Grand Lisboa.

3. If you're entering Macau from Zhuhai, consider spending a night there and getting up bright and early the next morning to avoid the huge crowds.

Golden Week Tales

Having just returned from my first ever experience of a "golden week" its been difficult to get back into the flow of things, especially the habit of blogging, something I wasn't so good about even before golden week.

During the golden week, the rich head to Europe, Egypt, anywhere far, far away (or do the smart thing and stay at home), the middle class heads to south or southeast Asia, and everyone else travels around China (or does the smart thing and stays at home).

After originally planning on just taking it easy and exploring some nearby sites in the countryside, hoping for a bit of piece and quiet, I did the exact opposite and headed to the packed metropolis that is Shanghai. Shanghai, a city that is crowded enough when the entire country isn't on holiday, was insane during the holiday. On top of the insanity that was golden week, Shanghai's calender was chock full of interesting events, including: the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics (and all the international and Chinese celebs that came to town for that), Yue Festival and Talib Kweli's debut performance in Shanghai, and the F1 race that could have been the crowning of Lewis Hamilton.

That said, I was still able to have a wonderful time in the city (that I hate) and of course got some good street shots. The worst part of the trip was leaving out of Pudong, Shanghai's beautiful and still relatively new international airport. While the upstairs part of the terminal is all glistening and nice, the downstairs area where my flight was boarding out of resembled a run down old Chinese train station, with the amenities and (lack of) seats to go along with it. It was a startling end to what was otherwise an overall great trip to a place I don't usually enjoy going to.