I haven’t been back to Guangzhou, my birthplace, in over a decade. When I was younger, my family used to return every five years or so to visit relatives during the summer (bad time to go unless you’re a fan of the heat, by the way). Since they have mostly immigrated to America and sold off their homes in the mainland, there hasn’t been much reason to go back. This was my first trip to Guangzhou without my parents, but the wave of nostalgia I thought I would have was noticeably absent.
China is changing at such a rapid pace that every time I return, it feels like an entirely different place. My mom’s ancestral home has been torn down to erect new apartment buildings. If you’re lucky, the government will displace you to a new home in a well-developed part of the city. Few street vendors can be seen anymore since the major crackdown right before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in an effort to improve the image of the country. Sadly, that’s one of the things I miss most. Ordering fish ball skewers dipped into hot sauce from metal carts, sipping Mexican coke for 1RMB a bottle before recycling them into a plastic crate, or shopping for stationery with my cousin as vendors lined all sorts of pretty pens, notebooks, and art supplies along the road. All vestiges of a past China.
After watching an online video about nagashi somen, Tie and I knew we had to try it on our most recent trip to Japan. It’s a dining experience where somen noodles flow down a bamboo shoot for you to catch with your chopsticks and dip into a savory sauce to eat. Because the noodles are cold, it’s usually only available during the summer months of May – September, where diners sit on a deck overlooking a waterfall for a refreshing meal. We just made it at the beginning of May, even though the weather was still slightly brisk.
I was inspired to do a self-guided photography tour of Hong Kong after watching one too many old DigitalRev videos on YouTube. After doing some research online for interesting places to shoot, we embarked on our adventure (which ended up taking about two days – Kowloon on the first and Central on the second). I wish we had explored the neighborhoods instead of just snapping a pic and moving onto the next spot. Maybe next time when we have more than 2-3 days in HK. My feet started hurting after a while since we were walking to and fro each place, so bringing comfortable shoes is a must. Now on to the list!
The next day we were originally supposed to go to Haikou, which is north of Hainan. We got up early and headed to the railway station, which was quite far from our resort. Just our luck, it turns out that even when traveling within the same country (in the same province!), we needed our passports to buy tickets and we had left them in our hotel safe. Darn it! Went all the way there for nothing. So instead we rode all the way back to the hotel and came up with a contingency plan for the rest of our time in Sanya.
On our second day in Sanya we went to Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park (what a mouthful). It was only 11 minutes by car from our resort so we took a cab. At the park, our taxi driver purchased a group ticket for us and two other strangers who hopped in for a carpool to the entrance. Cabbies would always offer to buy tickets because they get a kickback (price is the same for us), but what we should’ve done is held onto the physical ticket instead of letting the two strangers hang on to it. More on that snaffu later. It was just the beginning of what would become a long, long morning.
Tie and I decided to visit Sanya, Hainan (part of China) from of our love for Hainanese chicken. As it turns out, the best Hainanese chicken is found in Singapore, which is an adaptation of the original dish, Wenchang chicken. More on that in a later post. Nonetheless, Sanya is often regarded as the Hawaii of China. Now, having been to both, I can say that the two are totally different aside from the tropical climates. I haven’t been back to the mainland in almost a decade. Like most of China, Mandarin is the common dialect in Sanya. It felt strange being regarded as foreigners since Tie and I either spoke English to each other or spoke Mandarin with a Cantonese accent. But it was easily the most memorable leg of our Asia trip, as it felt at once familiar and like unexplored territory.
When I was looking for a place to stay in Sanya, I checked American Express Fine Hotel and Resorts (FHR) and decided on the St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort. I decided to use FHR for our booking due to the many benefits that were provided: fourth night free, complimentary room upgrade, daily breakfast for two, and the additional benefit this property provided was a free private one-way airport transfer. We decided to use the private airport transfer for when we arrived. It feels great not having to figure out transportation to your hotel after getting off from a long flight. When we landed, after going past immigration to the arrival area, our driver was waiting there holding a sign with my name on it.
It was time to embark on our journey aboard the Singapore Airlines A380 in Suites Class. Suites Class is Singapore Airline’s First Class tier aboard their Airbus A380 where all the seats in the cabin are suites. If you want to read about the planning process for this flight and how we managed to get seats in the Suites Class, you can read my previous post on it here.
Not sure why we don’t do this more often, but taking cooking classes in a foreign country is a great way to learn about their culture and meet fellow tourists. We fell in love with Indonesian food during our stay in Bali, so I’m glad we got a chance to prepare some common dishes. Prior to the trip, we booked a morning class at Paon Cooking Class, which lasted from 8:30AM to around 1:30PM. I recommend the morning class because it includes a market tour (afternoon one doesn’t), so you see where the ingredients come from and taste some locally grown fruit.
I’ll admit, the main reason I wanted to visit Singapore was because I saw the Fung Brothers eating at the hawker stalls there. I think one of the most fascinating things about Singapore is that it is truly a city of immigrants. Malaysians, Chinese, Indians practicing a range of religions from Islam to Buddhism to Christianity. This diversity also lends itself to a diversity of flavors in Singaporean cuisine. Here are some of our recommended foods!