Thursday, February 26, 2009


Left the hotel really early (before 6 am) to catch the first Airport Bus out from in front of Melody Hotel. There were actually 2 buses, both leaving at almost the same time. I supposed they had factored in the fact that there would be more people taking the early flights. The time taken to reach the Airport was about 40+ minutes only because the roads were almost empty!
Took the 7-plus A.M. Shanghai Airlines flight to Beijing Capital.
Upon reaching Beijing Capital Airport, it was too early to check in the luggage for my onward SQ flight. It would be too rush to go downtown Beijing and return back to the Airport in time for the flight home. Instead chose to visit the closer computer mart where there was a direct Airport Bus to-and-fro. Drop off all my luggage at the deposit counter of the Airport and headed off to catch the Airport Bus.
The computer market was massive, several buildings in the area with floors after floors of shops. I spent less than 2 hours there including lunch at a chinese fast food joint before heading back to the Airport. Managed to get about 10+ Wii games including Wii Sports.
Along the way, caught sight of the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube from the bus. The Water Cube looked spectacular too under daylight, reflecting the sun rays!

Some skyviews of Beijing taken from the flight Xi'an-Beijing:

The flight home was on a spanking new airbus with large LCD screens and even power sockets for charging your devices or to plug in your notebooks. I had the entire row of 3 seats to myself which I fully used all of them for a good night's sleep!

Some photos taken from the SQ flight during and after take-off:


No specific plans today except to get a set of Wii from the computer mart which I went to enroute to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Took my own sweet time savouring the breakfast spread of the hotel which were more than adequate yet not too lavish and wasteful like those at 5-star hotels. A nice spread of chinese and western stuffs, only thing lacking was toast bread.
A must-do today was the 灌汤包 at 老海家, having missed it two days in a row. Today 110% cannot miss out anymore...........'cause going there in the morning, no chance that it will be sold out or closed this time 'round!!

My chinese breakfast spread, the plain porridge was extremely fine and smooth.

The alleyway leading to the hotel entrance on the left side.

This particular Starbucks - most memorable for me!

The street adjacent to the main street of the Muslim Quarters with lots more good food!

These were Persimmon Cakes with different stuffings, freshly made, freshly cooked.
There was a shop along the main street that sold these in vacuum-packed which could last a week to 10 days.

Having tried both 贾三's shops and now this 老海家, must say this last one is the best of them all. Here you could actually see them making the dumplings at close range and the helpers were all females that do multi-tasking such as serving, making the dumplings and cooking noodle dishes etc. This place was definitely very "yin" (阴) or feminine. The 8-treasures porridge (八宝粥) was by far, the best of them all! The prices were also lower than at 贾三. This shop is more family-like while 贾三 veered towards commercialised fast food type of operations. The essence of 灌汤包 is all about the insides - the meat fillings and the right amount of steam retention in the dumplings that translate into 汤 (soup) that make these little things so lovable. 老海家's dumpling skins were thicker, some may like this, some may not. So just let your own taste buds decide.

After that dumpling sampling treat, was trying to check out the local CD stores for Bibi's records but no luck, also could not locate the music shop near the university area mentioned on some city guide which was said to carry imported western CDs. Eventually wanted to head to the computer mart for the Wii when along the way, a phone call came which had me scrambling to find a shop to top up the depleted SIM card value and to do an about-turn heading back to the hotel as my dear local friend had just finished the first part of the driving test and meeting up back at the hotel. I was late rushing back to the hotel, she was already waiting at the lobby for quite a while! We headed out for a lunch at the basement eatery just round the corner of the hotel which serve great value steaks. Thereafter she accompanied me to the computer mart to pick up the Wii. Prior to that was trying to locate a bank that would do foreign exchange of SGD to RMB. I was quite surprised that only Bank of China would take SGD, even ICBC could not do it and they were like the 2nd or 3rd largest bank in China! The procedure to do the exchange was very tedious, not only forms to fill which had to state reasons for exchange but also they were doing some checks on my passport as well. Finally a manager had to endorse the form before the counter staff could proceed. Lesson learnt: Do all your forex before you come here, use credit cards whenever possible because most places can only take Unionpay card or local credit cards only. I am not so sure if Visa card cash advance will work here using a foreign-issued card. My suspicion: it may not.
I was rather apologetic to my dear friend for having to wait so long while I was doing this.
After happily getting the Wii (minus the Sports disc which was the only game I wanted), arranged with her friends to go to Partyworld KTV for a singing session which I had no plan to sing anything but ended up breaking my long-standing fear of doing karaoke and belted out a couple of English ones that must be quite a torturous earful for those in the room. The rest of them were all well-seasoned K-singers, including 2 who were like professionals who had been vocal-trained who unbelievably belted out Faye's "Bored" amazingly well!

Brent and Dathy

This is Sophia, equally "crazy" fella but.........surely a friend indeed!
How can I put it? If you had to select a person to fight a war, you will not go wrong taking this fella with you.

These two were the vocal-trained singers!
Brent is from New Jersey, here on a 6-months teaching assignment which he had chosen instead of a well-paying job back home. His peers were rather baffled by his choice but I believed he had chosen wisely. I mean how could you give up an opportunity to immerse in the local life of the most populous country on this planet? The experience alone is truly priceless.
After the K-session, parted ways initially with them and the two of us were heading to Muslim Quarters for dinner when Sophia called to say that Brent would be joining us instead. Met Brent at the front of the Drum Tower and headed to 老海家 again for the same which I had in the morning. This time ordered different meat stuffings. It was Dathy's treat!
After dinner, she helped Brent flag for a taxi with the destination written in Chinese and informed to the driver. We then headed back to the Muslim Quarters where she picked up a packet of vacuum-packed Persimmon cakes and packets of Prune Juice powder for her secondary school classmate 李海, who is currently working in SG. That was to be my last night in Xi'an before saying au revoir very early next morning. I had grown to like this place very much, definitely THE CITY which had left me with the most impressions.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


In the late morning went to check out Walmart across the street from the hotel. This had been a habit of mine for many years - checking out hypermarkets such as Walmart, Carrefour, Makro etc. in places where I visited where any of these existed. Just like checking out McDonald's in every city is a very good guide to the rough cost of living in different cities, checking out the hypermart is also a good gauge on the general standard of living and purchasing power of different places. It is very interesting to see the merchandising mix of these hypermarts in different countries. The Walmart that I visited in Xi'an was rather small in size as compared to the typical size of a hypermarket. The most interesting thing I saw was the price of a bottle of beer (on speciall offer) was cheaper than a 1.5 litre mineral water!

After that Walmart "tour", went over to the computer market area via local public bus. This was yet another "bad" habit of mine accumulated over the years. Again it was to see the merchandising mix as well as the price parity between different places. Heading further southwards was the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. I was there previously to watch the night musical fountain but this time around I wanted to mount the pagoda itself and also to see the temple (Famenshi 法門寺) as well. Lucky I made the decision to re-visit Xi'an a 2nd time, otherwise I would have missed out this place totally. Definitely worth visiting, for the great views atop the pagoda and the buddha relics inside the pagoda which I managed to take some very good detailed shots of the relics. I also spent quite a period of time at the highest level, alone with no one else around (it was near closing time). The feeling of peace and tranquility was unspeakable. I even laid flat on my back quietly taking in the view of the ceiling of the pagoda roof.

Statue of Tripitaka at the entrance to the temple.

The entrance to the pagoda.

Buddha relics (舍利子)
Buddha's footprint in stone tablet.

Views from the pagoda:

This was on the ceiling at the uppermost level of the pagoda. I took this while lying flat on my back on the wooden floor. The words were commemorating Tripitaka who went to the West to obtain the buddhist scriptures.

The pagoda at dusk.

For dinner I went (yet again) back to the Muslim Quarters hoping to check out 老海家灌汤包子店 which was closed the night before. Could not believe it, it was closed early again! Really frustrating. Ended up checking out the main 贾三shop instead. It was a bit different at this main shop, no need to place your order at the cashier's counter. Order was placed with the waiter or waitress. Also there was some disparity in taste between this main shop and the branch which I ate last night. The main shop's dumplings, although smaller and not as much meat fillings as that at the branch, they did taste better. The 8-treasure porridge was much much better than the branch - thicker and sweeter. Of course accompanied by the standard fare of prune juice drink 酸梅汤.
After that was attracted by the Hot and Sour soup in another small shop. However this was a big mistake in judgement - I asked for chilli! The soup was already pepper-hot (very) and so the chilli made it burnt my taste bud like a volcanic explosion! My lips were dancing after finishing the small bowl of soup. I did like the pepper-hot taste of the soup though. I recovered by drinking hot tea to "kill" the burning sensation in mouth.

Was curiously attracted by the long queues at this shop and the shop name "South East Asia steam cakes". Did not knew anything like this ever existed in South East Asia hence simply joined the queue and bought a pack to find out what it was.
It was steamed glutinous rice with red bean paste, sweet stuff. Probably adapted from Thai, Burmese or Vietnamese.
The Drum Tower in night-glo.