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vegan's guide to chinese hot pot


Hot Pot chain: Pick out any and as much veg, herbs, tofu, noodle (and meat, if that’s your thing) as you like into a tray, pay by weight, and get it cooked up with flavouring of your choice. This one’s a sesame broth, and only cost me ¥15 - the equivalent of 3CAD for a big bowlful of fresh, flavourful leafy greens and mushroom. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this will cure what(ever the hell) ails me!

ps. Still not sick of noodles!

looking for coffee in xi'an



Sometimes, when you travel, you run out of Nescafé. There’s no black coffee to be found. You hate those 3-in-1 sachets. You’re a pissy person when you don’t get your daily dose of caffeine within an hour of waking up. You bike by a ritzy café district, and decide that if you don’t get a coffee now things may not end well for anyone you interact with. You gotta treat yourself to that espresso that costs half of what you’re paying for accommodation (and you’ll order a second one, inevitably).
Oh, well.


relocating in xi'an

After a debilitating weeklong illness and remaining confined to our room (albeit lovely room, plus ensuite -thank goodness) at Warriors Hostel, we decided that although we weren’t well enough to hop on another night train just yet, it was time for a change of scene. We had barely seen any of Xi'an anyway, and our wallets would appreciate the change of accommodation. So, this morning, Ryan’s tummy still funny and my head still fuzzy, we bid our goodbyes to the lovely staff at Warriors Hostel, our broken toilet seat, and the flowery panelled ceiling that we had stared at all week, lying immobile in that damn bed thinking up our own burials with terracotta warriors. For a “fresh start” in Xi'an we booked a room with Haoji Apartments, a family run business letting up rooms in standard apartments of local Chinese people in the outskirts of the city. We pedalled around asking anyone and everyone for directions (thank goodness for the directions in mandarin provided by booking.com), when finally a lady gestured for a young man on the street to walk us to the place. We wouldn’t have found it on our own. There is no signage in English, and the Chinese characters aren’t even visible from the main street. We entered, hesitantly, an apartment complex, led to the first building, and tentatively rode the elevator to the sixth floor, as specified on booking.com. I waited around for a while as some people crammed their motorbikes into the elevators. Finally, I made it to the sixth floor and found the “office” of the apartment rental, a small room with a computer desk, a bed, and a naked toddler playing on an android phone. We were led to our room, bikes as well (up the elevator, crammed in with all the other residents of the building), and made our grand entrance by breaking a glass table in our room within the first couple minutes of getting in. Heavily apologetic, the incident was brushed aside by the kind owners and the shattered glass was brushed off the floor. We insisted on paying for a replacement, in turn getting the Bing translation for “don’t take it to heart, no problem.” So here we are, in a room of an apartment, our bikes propped up against the extra bed, sharing the bathroom with neighbouring Chinese families, in a relatively run down condominium in Xi'an, a spa in the next room, and some offices on the floor above us. There are 3D pink flower stickers on the walls. Where are we? What is this place? This trip doesn’t stop getting ridiculous.

venice of the east





Cycling through the ancient town of Suzhou I came upon PingJiang street, a bustling stretch of fancy bars and street eats along a magnificent little canal. A particularly pleasant spot for people watching, in the breeze of Suzhou’s already poetic air.

couples' retreat garden


Many people told us to visit the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou, that it would be worth it, that it’s the most beautiful, a must-see when in the Venice of the East. Unfortunately, however, we are still backpackers, and we couldn’t justify spending 90RMB (18CAD) to see a garden to which hoards of Chinese tourists flocked. The vibe wasn’t appropriate. Instead, we followed Goats on the Road’s advice and cycled over to the Couples' Retreat Garden a few streets away. Tucked away by a small canal, we knew this was a garden we’d have to visit, quieter than the others and much less costly. Standard entrance was 25RMB (and a half-off discount with my ISIC student card). Despite some groups of microphone-led tour groups, it was infinitely more peaceful than the other sites in Suzhou.
We even spied some cheeky lovers hanging out in some of the more secluded areas of the property. Suzhou truly is a city of romance. The Couple's Retreat Garden, especially, is a place to tread lightly, to speak softly, to listen to the cicadas hum and the birds chirp and forget about the outside world.

if you're looking for the herds...


Upon arrival in Shanghai we thought, “hey, this place isn’t as busy as it’s made out to be!” That was, of course, before witnessing the hoards of Chinese flocking the streets of the Bund in the evening. If you’re wondering where all the people are at, a safe bet is that they are, along with thousands of others, promenading along the elevated riverside walkway, roping through the sky scrapers and flashing lights of the fancy Bund district, vaguely reminiscent of la Seine river in Paris.

tree-lined streets of shanghai






eating vegan in china


Finding vegan food when travelling is never impossible, but takes a little bit of extra work for sure. In China especially, there seems to be meat in everything. I found a fantastic webpage that has little blurbs explaining in mandarin phrases like “I’m hungry but I don’t even eat a bit of meat,” “I don’t eat eggs either,” and “I’m allergic to dairy products.” I usually whip out my phone and flip through the screenshots I took of those three, elucidating a more incredulous laugh every time I tack on another food restriction and mostly a fervent head shake that I won’t be able to eat at the given food stall. I’ve been interpreting this reaction as, loosely, “girl you’re screwed.” Though we both laugh it off, my hunger still rages as I saunter away and pick up (yet another) banana from a grocer nearby. I feel like I’ve accidentally fallen into one of those once-trending “30 bananas a day” diets.
For lunch yesterday I finally found a woman who didn’t wave me away and got this noodle dish for 12yuan. I had a suspicion that the broth was meat-based, however the rest of the ingredients appeared to be veggie (I’m thinking noodles, kelp, cucumber, and peanuts). I might be very, very, very sick of noodles by the end of this trip!