FALLING IN LOVE WITH CHINA AGAIN
Each time I return to China, there is a new area to explore, a new landscape wonder to gawk at, a new cuisine to sample, a new modern hotel to enjoy, and new adventures to write home about. Our annual golf/sightseeing trip did not disappoint us. I gathered up 18 of the best natured and most seasoned travelers of my friends, and together we savored and enjoyed each of the itinerary points Eric Dao’s Air Travel International organized for us and the daily different food offerings planned for us by guide Chef Frank Chang of Santa Clara’s China Stix Restaurant.
Our three hour plane ride from Taipei to Guizhou Province via Southern Air was an introduction to a new interaction of native travelers between Taiwan and China. Whichever country they called home, sadly, they all acted the same – impatient, pushy, with inconsiderate shoving of fellow travelers as we all tried to exit the plane. Not a good experience for visitors to come across entering into China, but certainly a prelude of what to expect when in large crowds of bustling cities which are claimed small by guides if they number only a million or so citizens.
Although Guizhou Province is not popular on the tourist site, our group agreed it can be called one of China’s best kept secrets, and we predict it will soon be discovered not only by a growing segment of native travelers within China, but by travel companies bringing in travelers from all over the world. Guizhou has spectacular scenery of karst mountains, multitude of natural waterfalls, and a view of colorful ethnic minority tribes life styles and customs. Our visit to the Huanggoushu Water Falls Scenic Area was a wonderful beginning stop, known for its many impressive falls. Huangguoshu Falls was spectacular and deserves its title as the largest in Asia with its 74 meters height and 81 meters width pouring into the Baishui River in Anshun. Most exciting for us intrepid travelers was the challenge to walk to the top of the falls, so our brave group of seniors could claim the fame of walking behind the rushing waters of the falls to Water Curtain Caves. The lady greeting us as we started the slippery hike behind the falls was a most welcomed salesman of plastic raincoats, which we needed and bought gladly for the cost of 3 raincoats for $1.70. Hats off to the wet, worn and weary Roger Engs, Bert Whys, Calvin Wongs, Wilson Fong, Wendy Wong and Matt Franklin, Steven Gees and Aaron Wongs.
China always has the most fascinating large developed caves, and Dragon Palace Caves was equally as spectacular as we rode a boat to view colorfully lit rock formations and stalactites in five successive water eroded caverns connected by an over 3000 meter long underground stream. On to Xinyi, we see the magnificent Huajiang Gorges where miraculously poor minority tribes eke out a living still farming by hand, digging back breaking furrows with age worn tools and hard working black water buffalos.
Waterfalls and more waterfalls were the theme of our sightseeing in Guizhou area. We saw the famous Nine Dragon Waterfalls, luckily by ascending up the mountain on a scary but hardy cable car. Driving through the Mailinghe Valley we see through a foggy mist the tops of Ten Thousand Peaks Forest with its cone shaped mountains. We agree with the China Geography Magazine that rank this as one of the six most beautiful peak forests in China. This forest spreads out like a fan from the Yunnan-Guizhou borders at an altitude of over 2000 meters. Riding in our bus down the multi-turns of the winding road to the valley below, we see the patterns of the farmland, some divided in circles called funnels where underground springs caused the land to form sink holes. Once in the valley floor, we change to open-air shuttle busses that easily move on the narrow dirt roads separating each plot of farmland and carry us to a small farming village, a scene straight out of Pearl Buck’s Good Earth. We see elders smoking water pipes, grandparents giving toddlers bowl-like haircuts, and schoolchildren running through the narrow furrows of the rice fields home for lunch break. This Guizhou Province area is a spectacular sight with its jagged peaks overlooking the valley of cultivated rice and vegetable fields. It is said there are over 100 waterfalls falling to deep valleys to create spectacular limestone waterfall clusters. The ever-imaginative Chinese named one area Nine Dragon Waterfalls because it consisted of 10 tiers, each one supposedly representing a dragon.
A special wonder of China one day was seeing the champion hometown San Francisco Giants winning the final World Series Game against Detroit.on the bus TV screen while we rode in one of the most remote parts of China. We grateful fans agreed that no matter how backward the China frontier lands seem, technology has come to China!
The popular tourist site, the Stone Forest, of late has been so inundated with native visitors of China and other Asian countries, a whole city of a million people has grown up surrounding it in just the past 5 years. The newly-opened Stone Forest Golf Club, designed by Schmidt Brain Curley, is a 54 hole golf course. Imagine how we fledgling golfers felt trying to concentrate on our game with the 270 million year old Stone Forest as a backdrop. Taking pictures from every hole was just as much fun as hitting the ball, but my tall handsome young 6 foot tall caddie kept me focused on the game, with his helpful hand instructions since again, the caddies spoke very little English. This, our group exclaimed, was a most unique site for a beautifully manicured golf course to be located surrounded by formidable tall limestone rock formations. I told my golf foursome of Phyllis Gee, Aaron Wong and Bert Why, forget the score and absorb the beauty of the scenery.
Coming back to the realty of China’s crowded cities was our last tour stop in Shenzhen, the border town between China and Hong Kong. Here you’re met with polluted skies no longer blue like in Kunming/Guizhou areas, hordes of people, modern buildings, multitude of honking cars and crowded highways. Our one salvation there was shopping in the high rise Luohu Shopping Center with its five floors of China-made fashions, jewelry, craft items and home goods. After all, isn’t everything made in China nowadays? Chinese are great innovators of new products, but also very proficient of copying the latest styles of European designers. So-called “knock-offs” of your exclusive designers wares are ever present among the hawkers who try to draw you into the hundreds of booths in this China shopping center.
China’s wonders never cease, whether it be in their economic development, fast growing economy of working class, or its magnificent scenic sights yet to be discovered by the outside world at large. If I return in five years, I know the roads, hotels and infrastructure will have improved as the government well knows it needs to be prepared for an ever growing onslaught of world travelers who will want to see, as I have, the wonders of this fastest growing industrial country in the world – yes, CHINA! I will be back!
Ever think about returning to the place of your forefathers? We visited the Toishan area on a Ancestral Adventure in Search of Our Roots with members of the Wong family. Tune in next time for a chronicle of our Wong village visits to the homes of the fathers of Calvin, Ira, Ivan, and Vernon Wong and Denise Deal and the grandfathers of Wendy, Scott and Jason Wong and Libby Deal.
THE SEA – A NEW CULINARY WONDER OPENS IN PALO ALTO
Cupertino’s Alexander’s Steakhouse is a well recognized favorite among Silicon Valley connoisseurs of fine dining and one has to plan ahead to get a reservation at this very popular restaurant with its selections of the finest beef offerings including Kobe beef.
The owners, sensing the need for a seafood-focused fine dining restaurant, have brought to Palo Alto gourmet foodies, The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse in the convenient El Camino Real corridor building which once housed Trader Vic’s and Dinah’s Shack Restaurants.
Recognizing the reputation of its Chef Yu Min Lin, who defeated the most famous Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, in “Battle Black Fish” on the popular Food Network program in 2008, I chose to sample his cuisine for a special Wong birthday celebration of my daughter Kelly, her husband Gary, and my grandson Justin Matsuura. Although the restaurant had only opened two weeks before, the efficient staff welcomed our group of nine with ease while leading us to an attractive private dining room to the side of the attractive white Caesarstone bar top surrounded by small tables and white leather barstools in a softly lit bar area. The upscale contemporary design of the 148 seat dining room is soothing to the eye with its color scheme of light blues and grays with mirror accents. Diners in the main room can see the busy activity through the windows facing the kitchen, with some tables actually lining the window wall to really see the chefs in action.
With beautiful Chanile Chang, president, welcoming us, General Manager Tim Halsted proudly giving us a private tour of this large facility, with a hidden 200 person capacity banquet room and the lovely outdoor patio which will be ideal for our peninsula sunny days, Chef Lin telling us of his philosophy of food presentation and preparation, and our very gracious and knowledgeable waiter explaining all of the unique offerings on The Sea’s menu, our dinner celebration was a special treat from beginning to end.
Oh yes, the food, you ask? Of course, we chose the best of the seafood, including Hamachi Shots with truffled ponzu and avacado, Mini crab cakes, fresh oysters and Togarashi Tuna Tataki with radish, avocado and spicy garlic for our opening appetizers.
Our favorite entrees that night were seared silver hake, wild from North Atlantic, seared mero and big eye tuna, both wild from Hawaii, and grilled king salmon with chanterelle mushroom, applewood smoked bacon in champagne sauce. All succulent, flavorful and done just right for our Asian tastes. A nice finish was the plate of sweet pastry cookies, guava mango jelly candies and the coveted strawberry cotton candy on a stick for a gracious ending to a perfect night.
I predict this will be a favorite spot for fine dining Peninsulans of all ages as my three generation family of diners have already asked, “Po Po, when can we return again?”
Now that’s the best recommendation anyone can get, this grandma agrees.
The Sea by Alexander’s Steak House – (650) 213-1111; www.theseaUSA.com.