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Monthly Archives: January 2012

There are things I mean to eat in LA.  The things I just love that I must have every time in town.  Partially for nostalgic reasons, In-n-Out is on that list for me.  I spent way too much of my high school years there learning every in and out of the menu (har har har).  There are better burgers in LA, but it’s still a pretty delicious option.  I didn’t have a chance to go this time.  There was too much to do, too many other things to eat.

Imagine my surprise then, when I’m going to get my fix in China.  Not real In-n-Out mind you.  It’s China.  That means that I went to a knock off In-n-Out called Cali Burger that just opened in Shanghai.  Apparently it was supposed to open months ago but the real company caught wind and objected to the blatant rip off, down to the exact menu and decor. They also are rumored to have stores opening in seven countries.  Get on that international trademarking American companies!

The glass of wine is hiding just outside the edge of this picture. Everything else looks about right though.

They ended up changing the menu and decor slightly so they could open.  The protein style burger in lettuce and “wild style” (animal style) fries are just straight up on the menu.  There are also the welcome additions of wine and bourbon spiked vanilla milkshakes.  I guess that was more exciting than it should’ve been, the milkshake just lightly smelled of bourbon.  They did get the right “too thick to drink out of a straw” consistency down.  The fries were actually better than In-n-Out.  I appreciate that they use real potatoes back in America but they always tasted slightly undercooked and pasty to me.  The thousand island special sauce was missing pickles which did detract from the fries quite a bit for me.  It was also quite a bit more expensive than in America.  Otherwise, i’m quite amused and pleased by my fake In-n-Out experience.

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I have been in Shanghai about a week now.  It’s a very urban and modern town.  That generally means two things for me: things are really expensive and shopping seems to be the primary activity.  This is fantastic if you are here on vacation and need custom tailored clothing, I hear it is very cheap.  I can’t really fit much more in my backpack though so I’ve not been partaking in much shopping.  The most interesting place I’ve been this week has been the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Centre.

The museum's hidden inside a normal looking apartment building in the basement.

You can tell a lot about a culture through their art, which is one reason I enjoy museums so.  However, you can tell even more from the propaganda posters of a politically charged country.  I was surprised that such a museum existed to show what could be sensitive things in my mind.  It was evident very quickly how big the gaps in my knowledge of late century Chinese history are.  The posters ended up surprising me because the style, and even the people depicted in them, was so Western to me.  Broad jawlines, bold woodcuts, it seems propaganda on both sides of the ocean were more dependent on time period than culture.

I really enjoyed the same style of space age and science theme that ruled American pop culture of the time.  The Shanghai Lady inspired art is the most strongly Chinese styled propaganda to me.  On the weirder side, I am amused by the rather suggestive looking posters of a strong Russian and strong Chinese man holding onto each for brotherhood. The large collection of rubber Chairman Mao statues is a tad unsettling as they set them all in one place on a wall.  The gift shop has a fantastic collection of reprints of their posters, little read Communist books, and a few other antiques of the period.  If I was headed back home right now, I’d definitely be lugging some artwork.  This slightly hidden museum is definitely worth a stop if you are ever in the area.

Part of my decision making process for where to go involves being in places where I can see festivals and holidays.  Chinese New Years is a lunar calendar based holiday that occurs every year in January or February.  There are all sorts of traditions and festivities that are supposed to go on for 15 days.  My family celebrates in America on one night with what I call a Noah’s ark of meals.  The table is laden with just about every type of meat you can imagine in a feast that could last for days.  I decided pretty early on in my trip that I would swing by Asia early (as it would not be warm enough otherwise) so that I could finally see how things are celebrated.

Hot pot feast time.

I decided to go to Shanghai to visit my college roommate who used to come home with me to celebrate with my family.  Now I get to visit her and see the awesome hot pot festivities she set up in her house.  It certainly is a different holiday when it involves a room full of young people boisterously eating out of a communal pot and watching an awful state run tv gala.  The real highlight of the night had to be the fireworks that would be rather illegal back home.

Snap. Crackle. Pop.

The firework vendors were telling us how high fireworks were going in tens of meters.  Most American fireworks, even where legal, can barely hit three meters (ten ft).  We started off with some ground fireworks that made loud popping noises.  Next we hit the fireworks that went high enough to 30-40 meters up in the air.

We watched some fireworks explode off the window we were watching out of. So much for fire safety.

Last we ran around with some sparklers, to have some slightly safer firework fun.  Then, our firework load spent, we retired upstairs to watch the rest of the city go nuts.  I wish we had more.  I think you always wish you had more fireworks.  At least we could still enjoy everyone else’s.  You could see multiple firework displays in every direction.  I’m not sure how much money and time these people were spending on fireworks.  It went on for hours!  I’m pretty sure these random guys on street corners could put many small American town fourth of July shows to shame.

I am told the fireworks would go on all week, but they mostly happened on two days so far.  New year’s eve (which was Sunday) had hours of fireworks.  A few nights ago, there was another prolonged burst of fireworks to celebrate the day of wealth and the day when stores would open back up again.  I wish more American holidays involved multiple day firework fun that was less concerned with safety.

Raw Ham Chicory

I had a two hour layover in Japan and took the opportunity to wander around the rather clean airport and gawk at all their fake food and hello kitty merchandise.  Someone needs a new translator.  I don’t know if raw ham sounds nearly as delicious as prosciutto.  Although I did learn that chicory is another name for endive.  I always just thought chicory root was the only part we used as a historical cheap replacement for coffee.

I really spent the majority of my time chasing food across Honolulu.  I got some good tips from my friends who grew up in the state.  I also sought out help through Couch Surfing to find a food guide.  Both ways paid off handsomely as I ate the best week out of my travels so far.  I grew up eating Hawaiian food as there was a large community in Torrance, home of various Hawaiian and Japanese companies.  King’s Hawaiian, biggest maker of Hawaiian sweet bread, is based there.  I could eat that stuff forever.  It makes the best french toast that they serve with coconut sauce.

I have a love of old school vintage signs. They are usually for wonderful old school places.

My friends’ food lists led me to places such as Like Like Drive Inn (why is it inn and not in?)  They served variations of things I already love eating, like loco moco with fried rice.  Regular loco moco is rice topped with two hamburger patties, fried eggs and gravy.  I also ate meat jun, a dish I first had at a Korean restaurant in Burbank.  I had no idea that was Hawaiian.

Guy on the bus: "Do you like meat?" Me: "What kind of question is that... yes." Guy: "You need to go to Helena's!"

My favorite thing to eat on this trip must have been the abudance of poke, raw cubed tuna mixed with flavorings.  I’ve always wanted spicy tuna bowls to exist, as they are my cheesy favorite type of sushi.  I think I could eat this every day if I had to.  My favorite single dish I got somewhere were the short ribs at Helena’s.  The restaurant is great and the stories online are amusing.  The place was run by an old woman named Helen who ran it til the day she died.  She sent her son off to USC’s business school and he came back with grand ideas to expand and revamp, but she said no and kept him as an apprentice in the kitchen.  She may be gone now, but he carries on her soul in the kitchen.  And that soul makes some amazing short ribs, they are crunchy on the outside and fatty within.  I also tried poi at this place, it was cold, sour, and I just could not eat more than a few bites.  It would probably be a good idea to go to this place with more people to try more things.  I went alone and just ended up very full.

Macky's shrimp truck is delicious.

There were so many things to try that I barely fit them in the week I was in Honolulu.  Sadly I don’t have a picture of when I went to Alicia’s market, as I was too busy finding a strip of grass in the sketchy industrial neighborhood to eat it on.  I really enjoyed making it out to the north shore to try a shrimp truck.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I received plump flavorful shrimp on top of a pile of rice covered in sauce.  I also tried to go to every shave ice place I’d heard of.  My favorite ended up being Waiola’s, which was conveniently close to Waikiki, where all touristy places to stay at night are.  They’ll put a scoop of ice cream in the bottom of your cone, cover the cone in soft snow like ice, and then cover the whole thing in multiple syrups.  I wish this was in California instead of the Asian shaved ice I’ve had up til now.  I much prefer my ice with ice cream and colorful neon syrups instead of red beans and condensed milk, although they carry that too.  I barely fit in all the eating I wanted to do.  It’s been the best single eating week so far on this trip.

I stopped in America for the holidays and decided to take at least one more American stop.  Originally I was going to visit friends, however they all turned out to be the opposite direction if I was heading to Asia next.  So I decided to go to Hawaii.  It was a place I had never decided to go because I was too busy going to more exotic locales.  What better time to visit a state where I love the food and the weather?

I flew into Honolulu on Oahu.  I learned right before I left that Oahu is not the biggest island, which is fittingly just known as Hawaii or Big Island.  I really ought to write about more of my first impressions of a place, they are often proven pleasantly wrong later.  I was instantly appalled by my entry into Hawaii as the bus whisked me into Waikiki.  The street was packed with American chain restaurants and tourists.  I could not even see the sand, too many people were on it.  I later realized this was partially due to my arriving on the first beautiful weekend they had in a month.

As I later went on a bunch of hikes around the island and met people who lived there, the island became much more beautiful to me.  I could see what natural beauty had attracted so many people to visit there in the first place.  I just wish the culture was not mostly immortalized by cheesy exhibits inside hotels and by having every tourist facing person wear a bad Hawaiian shirt while saying Aloha and Mahalo to you.  I’m glad they have a fantastic bus system and wonderful beaches and hikes.  I ended up walking to many of the places I’d like to see.  Random tip about the bus system there: They don’t really check when your transfer for is very often, so you can just use your transfer as a return pass later.

The scenery is definitely beautiful.

I strayed from my normal activities of not doing much at all and finally went to go do something touristy.  I felt like it would be unpatriotic to go to Hawaii and not visit Pearl Harbor to pay my respects.  However due to my own lolligagging and eating, I got there late enough that I did not have time to take the two hour tour of the Arizona memorial.  I was rather excited about this later as you could see the people packed on the boat like sardines.  The exhibits in the area were rather interesting and I learned quite a bit about World War II that I did not know before.  I enjoyed taking a somber day of remembrance but I did find it a little weird to see so many tour groups of smiling Japanese tourists.  I guess they’re just everywhere on this island.

The Arizona memorial from afar. I was too lazy/late to sit through two hours of squishing onto it with everyone else on the tour..

My favorite place I went to on the island was the North Shore.  There were way less people on that side of the island and it was only a two hour bus ride or 45 minute drive away.  My understanding of distances is skewed because I lived in LA, where a 45 minute drive is what you need to get anywhere.  My favorite spot was Shark’s Cove, where I saw many people snorkeling.  I quickly realized how shallow the water was in the cove and just wandered around.  I’m not sure why you would snorkel if you can just walk in the waist high water.  I really enjoyed seeing all the fish and sea life swimming around my feet. I’ll save the snorkeling for one of my later stops.

Nothing says I’m trying to escape consumerism and live a simpler life like making the next leg of my trip Las Vegas.  Originally I was supposed to be in Hawaii already, however a good friend decided to have a post New Year birthday party in Las Vegas.  This is where you celebrate the virtues of a RTW flight and change date and time as I need them.  Sidenote, this also comes in handy when I mess up military time, miss my Brazilian flights entirely and don’t have to pay any change fees.

Las Vegas is a city I went to a lot in college, kind of like how I used to visit Mexico about once a year.  It was an escape with the excitement of a week or weekend full of bad ideas.  I can’t say I’ve sought out that type of drinking debauchery since then, so I have only been to Vegas once in the past few years for work.  Luckily this was also not the kind of college like trip where we shove eight people in a hotel room in an attempt to bring the cost down.

The highlights of the trip for me were the off strip excursions for food.  I finally got to try Lotus of Siam, which I have heard great things about for years.  It was quite tasty Thai.  My Malaysian birthday friend noted that they got the high temperature wok taste down.  The general consensus was that Jitlada in LA does do a better authentic Thai.  The actual birthday dinner occurred at Ichiza, a fantastic izakaya with a multiple page menu and specials covering three of their four walls.  The options are overwhelming and everything we had was fantastic.  We went for the honey toast, which I had never heard of before.  It is a chunk of loaf white bread that is cored out, the insides made into croutons before being put back in, and the whole drizzled in honey and topped with vanilla ice cream.  Other highlights were the fantastic raw fish (hamachi and uni) and the tea rice.  It was nice to revisit Las Vegas and get off the strip to see it in a slightly different light.  I am quite excited to go back into warm areas soon.