Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Travel List 2015

Hello All and welcome again!  We’re officially in the last days of 2014 and 2015 will be here before you know it. Did you get everything that you wanted this past year? Did you meet, accomplish, or exceed your goals? Well, here’s hoping that the year ends on a positive note for you!

As for me, I had a great year and I’m looking forward to an even better one! While I haven’t figured out my professional or personal goals for the 2-0-1-5, I’ve already got some trips planned and in some cases, paid for (yeah…priorities). So, here is my travel list for 2015:

 1. Harbin, China
In exactly three weeks, I’ll be headed up north to Chinese Siberia for a weekend getaway. Now, extremely cold weather or better yet, cold weather is no friend of my mind; but, for the past three years I’ve wanted to make the very cold trek to Harbin to see this:
Photo Credit: Harbin Snow and Ice Festival Times of India
 That would be the Harbin Snow and Ice Festival, home to hundreds of ice sculptures. This event is held every winter in the capital of Heilongjiang province. People work for weeks in sub zero temperatures to create these magnificent works of ice art. Besides the ice sculptures, I plan on taking in some of the Russian architecture (the city is close to the Russian border and Russian influences can be seen around the city) and then the Tiger Park-an open air free space for Siberian tigers to roam. I also plan on wearing 10 layers of clothes…

Winter Break Plans
The good thing about being a school teacher, especially for a government-run school, is the ample amount of February vacation. For the Chinese Spring Festival, I’ll be off for a total of 25 days (including weekends) which are mostly paid! During my winter break, I plan on seeing three countries in southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

    2. Thailand
Photo Credit: Thailand
 Thailand has been on my must-see list for over a year now and after some changes and setbacks, I will be officially landing in Bangkok by the end of January! Thailand for me will involve lots of sightseeing, eating, and finally some much needed beach relaxation. I plan on starting my 8 day tour in Bangkok and then heading southward to one of the islands or beach resorts (either Phuket or Ko Samui). Since I love, love, love Thai food, I plan on having four meals a day (with coconut mango sticky rice)! I’ve heard the food there is cheap, delicious and safe (even the street stalls which is the opposite of China)! I also hope to see some elephants since they are my favorite animals!

   3.  Cambodia

PHoto Credit: Wikipedia Cambodia
       After eating my way through Thailand, I plan on going eastward for tranquility and prayer in Cambodia. Now, Cambodia is special to me since my eldest nephew’s father is from there. He managed to escape the Khmer Rouge as a very young boy and found safety in America.

 From the moment that I landed in Asia, I knew that I needed to go to Cambodia; not just for me, but for family ties. I wanted to see this land for myself and then, pass the images, stories and moments along to my family, especially my nephew.

I don’t have a lot of travel plans for Cambodia. I plan on spending just two or three days in the capital city of Phnom Penh where there will be sight-seeing and museum visits. I will then move on to the beautiful city of Ankor Wat for three days to take in the temples and sights of the area. I hope to be up before sunrise during one of those days since the view is said to be magnificent.

      4. Vietnam
Photo Credit: Halong Bay, Vietnam Mr.
 After my time in Cambodia I will continue eastward to Vietnam. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Vietnam, but I’m the type of person who likes to see and experience things on my own. I plan on starting things off in the bustling city of Ho Chi Min and then moving northward all the way to the capital of Hanoi, stopping at other small cities and places along the way (including Halong Bay in the picture above). I plan on being in Vietnam for at least 7 days before I head back to the good ol’ P.R.C.
 5. Xi'An, China
Photo Credit: Terracotta Warriors

Photo credit: Xi'An
Just like some of the other places mentioned above, Xi’An has been on my must-see list for a long time. Xi’An is home to the famous Terracotta Warriors which are hundreds of stone carved statues, each one made with intricate details of a solider from that time(apparently, no two are the same). The statues were made 2300 years ago and they were demanded by the emperor of that time, Qin Shihuang. The purpose of the statues was to protect the emperor after his death.

I plan on being there for just a weekend in the springtime. Besides the terracotta warriors, I would like to walk around the city and take in a museum or two before heading back late Sunday to Shanghai.

 6. America
Grand Central Station, New York City
Just like last year, I plan on going back to the U.S. for at least a month, or longer depending on how things go. I will probably be in my hometown the majority of the time and of course, a few days in good ol’ NYC. I also plan on going to another place or two to visit friends. I’m still weighing out my decision to stay in China for another year, so at this time, I’m not sure if this trip will be a vacation or repatriation. Stay tuned to find out my answer…

Other Tentative Plans
While the list above are places that I will definitely be going to, the following are places I would like to visit, but depending on time, and most importantly money, I may or may not see this year.

  7. Taiwan 
Photo Credit: Taipei 101 Tower
Taiwan is a place that I never gave much thought too until earlier this year. A small island that is or isn’t part of the P.R.C  (A sensitive subject in China; however, the majority of the people I've met from there proudly view themselves as Taiwanese only), I decided to put this place on my travel list after hearing nothing but positive remarks from other travelers (and locals).

According to my sources, Taiwan is clean, efficient and many of the people speak English (I believe it’s a part of their school curriculum). I’ve also heard the food is to die for with loads of cheap, clean and delicious market stalls.

If I’m able to go to Taiwan, I plan on going for a week or maybe 9 days in the Summer (or the Fall if I return to China). Hopefully, I’ll be able to see this island paradise in all it’s glory!

    8.   Indonesia
Photo Credit: Bali, Indonesia Wikipedia
Another place I’ve heard mixed reviews, but mostly positive, Indonesia has been on my travel list for a few years now after reading and seeing “Eat, Pray, Love.” I hope to go for at least a week at the end of Summer, or during the October Holiday (Once again, depends on if I return and funds).

Well, it's time to get going/finish planning! Hope I inspired you to save and plan for a trip for the new year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Travel isn’t Colorblind…So Get Out and Get Yours!

I was recently enjoying a relaxed Saturday morning complete with a full breakfast of Southwest scrambled eggs, bacon and spiced chai. I had my laptop right beside me revved up and ready to peruse the internet for websites and articles of interest. I was praying that the internet gods would shine a light on me and allow me to log onto Facebook and other China blocked websites with relative ease. Fortunately, I was granted partial, not full access and before things totally cut out, one of my favorite Black travel bloggers had a link to an article by another Black travel blogger about the lack of black faces in the mainstream travel media.

I was curious, so I found the article and read it through comments and all. The article was discussing the recent White House Travel Blogger Summit (I never knew such a thing existed until that moment); an event that invited the top 100 people of the travel media in the U.S. The goal of the summit was to encourage American youth to become global citizens through volunteering, studying or working abroad.

According to this travel blogger, there were no black speakers invited to this event since all the photos the blogger saw were of white people (According to a commenter on that blog, this was false since the commenter  was in attendance at the event and it turned out there were a few Black speakers present). 

To be honest, I wasn’t blown away by anything the travel blogger had to say, in fact, it sounded like the same ol’ song I’ve been hearing on repeat for the past few years-The lack of black faces in the mainstream and it isn’t fair right. I guess I’ve become numb to such kind talk and instead of being

angry/upset/annoyed etc. I just feel meh…

I guess the reason for my apathetic feelings is because  I don’t expect the rest of the world to play fair /equal/accepting; not even the highest place in America. With a half Black president in the White House, some would come to the conclusion that the event would be more diverse, with a large number of Black speakers in attendance.  Obviously, folks haven’t been watching this administration that closely or they wouldn’t be acting this surprised (that’s something for a whole other blog post).
And while the point of this summit was to get the American youth interested in being a “global citizen,” I’ve come to the conclusion that they were probably trying to appeal to a certain demographic which happens to be…

White/Middle to Upper class/ College bound/enrolled/ or graduated…

Now, before anyone gets carried away, I’m not accusing the leaders of this summit of being racist. What I’m pointing out is the simple fact that a global traveler in America, especially the notion of being a “global citizen” is often times assumed to belong to the face of a White (Liberal) American. Now, historically, this was true, but in the recent decade, I’ve seen a number of Black travelers/ study abroad students/ and travel bloggers in growing numbers. However, other people may not know or realize this or if they do, they may not care to acknowledge it. I will also say something that’s been my experience while traveling:
Some may not be too happy about it...

 As someone who has traveled for a few years now, I’ve learned that travel (especially one that involves trans-Atlantic or farther), when it comes to other Americans, is something reserved for White people. While something as simple (or complicated depending on how you look at it) as travel shouldn’t be exclusionary, or have a racial undertone, I’ve found in my experience the opposite to be true.

 I’ve encountered the funny looks, comments and even downright rudeness for entering travel spaces which were apparently reserved for enlightened, liberal, colorblind white folks (yes, I’ve always laughed at the irony). While the majority of Americans I’ve met have been cordial or even excited to see another American, I’ve noticed a fair number of people (especially in Asia) weren’t too keen to see me in “their spaces.”

Luckily for me, I never let those people deter me from my travel path. If I encountered someone of that kind, I would cordially excuse myself/busy myself and keep it moving. No amount of ignorance was going to keep me from enjoying my well-earned vacation or working abroad experience.

So what am I trying to say?

Black people…please realize that life isn’t fair. Instead of moaning about things/people/ institutions being too exclusive, start forging your own path. Stop waiting on the media or the government to give Black people a voice, because... “that ain’t gonna happen cap’n!”
 Lastly, if you see another Black person in the travel world who’s product/service/writing has inspired you or helped you, pay it forward and support that person (I will emphasize if you agree with them, not just blind support based on race).

I guess what I’m trying to say that if you’re black and you’re interested in travel, currently traveling, thinking about a career in travel media or, are firmly in travel media, my advice would be to seek out other like-minded people on that path.  If you want to study or work abroad, find alumni from your high school, college or university who have been/are currently abroad. If you want to get into travel media, start making moves and network with other people in this arena if your goal is to expand your brand or, be successful in this business. 

Send your support to other Black people who are doing the travel/study/work abroad thing. Comment or reblog their posts; purchase their podcast or merchandise; simply spread the word about these other Black platforms to give them well needed (and hopefully) deserved exposure.  

So dear readers, realize that you have the power and stop begging for scraps. It’s a new day, a new world and a new time out here and the determined/innovative/hard-working are going to get the spoils.

Well, that all for now, tune in next time to hear about my upcoming travel plans for 2015!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gemma Restaurant….Italian Style Food in Shanghai

Hello and welcome back! This blog post will be another food review (seems I’ve been writing a lot of those lately); specifically, my adventures in Italian food. There is currently a food and beverage explosion going on in Shanghai with a slew of new restaurants (that are not Chinese cuisine) opening up just about every week. 

I was interested in this restaurant after reading several favorable reviews on expat websites and magazines. I was also craving a good pizza and Italian style dessert and according to the reviews, I would be in good hands. Ironically, one of my foodie friends was also interested in this restaurant, so we invited some more people along for a nice group outing. 

Another reason I wanted to try this restaurant was the location. Gemma’s is located in the trendy Former French Concession (or FFC for short) right on Donghu Lu. Donghu Lu is also home to a slew of popular restaurants and nighttime entertainment venues all of which are a stone throws away from my home. So, I had no real reason to skip out and miss this opportunity.

First Impressions:

When I arrived at the restaurant, it was the late evening and it was very, very quiet. There were only two or three other tables of people; but, things picked up as the night went on.  From the moment I arrived, the service staff was very attentive and they helped me with my belongings and seat(I may be off crutches but I walk with a noticeable gimp after all). Overall, the restaurant looked clean and very inviting. The tables were set nicely with wine and water glasses and silverware. Instead of a closed off kitchen, the kitchen was nice and open so you could look at the cooks preparing the food. There was even a nice, big wood fired oven for cooking the pizzas. I was very pleased with the set up and I couldn’t wait to see the food choices that Gemma had to offer.
Watching the pizza magic happen

Food and Drinks Menu:
I was shocked when the waiter placed a menu in front of me as soon as I sat down which is not so common in Shanghai. Typically, a restaurant will give you one menu per table and one must request additional menus or, you and your guests share the one menu and you patiently wait your turn to look at it. 

Gemma’s specialty is its pizza (hence the nice oven) so it was no shock that they offered 10 different pies. Customers can choose from a list of pizzas labeled Red (tomato), White (alfredo), or Green (pesto) list.  You can also build your own pizza and pay for the toppings individually.
Besides pizza, there were several antipastis and a selection of desserts.  There was also an extensive wine and beverage list (for those non-wine drinkers).
Pizza List

Salad Antipasti list

After a bit of deliberating,  we ordered two different salads from the antipasti list: The “Rughetta “ salad which was a mix of arugula, shredded parmesan, radishes and chives and the “Delle Alpi” which was a mix of lettuce, cherry tomato, shredded carrot, fennel, radish, cucumber  pine nuts and pomegranate seeds (wooo that was a lot!).  In terms of drinks, I settled for water instead of wine and the rest of my group ordered a variety of different drinks.

For the main course, we would try two different pizzas: one from the red list and one from the green list. We got the “Serafina” which was tomato sauce, mushrooms, stracciatella cheese, and prosciutto.  For the second pizza, we ordered one that was simply called “Pesto” which was pesto sauce, stracciatella cheese, arugula and prosciutto.

First Bite:
Before our antipasti arrived, we were given a side order of bread that consisted of long crunchy breadsticks and regular baguette. The breadsticks were nice and crunchy and they paired well with a little olive oil. The baguette was also equally good; nice and soft on the inside with a crisp exterior.
After having a couple of portions from the bread basket, the salads arrived at our table. 
Bread basket!
 The “Rughetta” looked simple, but it was truly love at first bite! The arugula and cheese tasted fresh and a little olive oil gave it an even better flavor. Apparently, the “Delle Alpi” was just as good (I never tried it). We polished the salads off in a matter of minutes just before the pizza main courses arrived. 
The "Delle Alpi" salad

The "Rughetta" simple yet tasty
 The “Pesto” pizza arrived at our table first.  Hot and presliced, the pizza was accompanied with salt and pepper,  olive oil and chili oil, one of my favorite oils for pizza. Each member of the group took a slice and after those first few bites we agreed it was delicious! The base was cooked well and the crust was chewy, but not too soft.  The pesto sauce was tasty and the cheese had a nice and creamy flavor. You could just taste the authenticity of the ingredients which were far superior than the waxy stuff that appears in some other pizza restaurants in Shanghai. 
The "Pesto" Pizza...such a beauty!
After several moments, the “Serafina” pizza arrived and we dove into that one. Upon the first bite, we noticed that the base seemed a bit too doughy, almost like it was not cooked through. This gave the pizza an overall “O.K.” and we equally agreed the “Pesto” pizza the clear winner. 
The "Serafina"...not bad, just need a bit more time!
After our meals, we decided to go all out and order desserts. Each of the people in the party ordered something different: Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Chocolate Mousse and for myself, I ordered the Nutella Calzone with vanilla gelato.
The Panna Cotta

The Tiramisu

Chocolate Mousse
After a 15-20 minute wait (which was more than reasonable) the desserts arrived and everyone was pleased with their choices. In fact, some of the choices (the tiramisu and the panna cotta) were maybe a bit too rich. My Nutella calzone was delicious. It arrived nice and warm filled with almonds and Nutella on the inside. It was a big portion so I would recommend splitting it next time.
The Nutella Calzone...I could have this again!

Overall Thoughts and Score:
I would give Gemma a solid 4/5. The only reason why it lost was a point was due to the undercooked “Serafina” pizza; otherwise, I really enjoyed the food and service here and I wouldn’t hesitate to come back again.
I admit that this restaurant is a bit on the pricy side (I ended up pay 190RMB with no drink) so make sure to have enough cash.

 Next time, I’ll make sure to order another kind of “Green” pizza and I will make sure to split that Nutella Calzone with a friend!

Thanks again for reading and tune in next time!

20 Donghu Lu,
near Huaihai Zhong Lu

Metro: South Shanxi Road (Lines 1,10)