International Wine Guild Blog

Our Partners in China

Filed Under: NewsClaude in Hangzou

I recently returned from a 3 week trip to Hangzhou, China (about 110 miles SW of Shanghai) where we are working with the Hangzhou Wine Culture Center to teach IWG courses and seminars in China. I was there from June 28 through July 18. I posted a daily blog on my trip, which you can still go and read.

I did a 'train-the-trainers" session and certified five new Guild instructors. They are shown in the picture, from left to right, is Joyce Wu, Sara Chen , me, Dr. Marcus Lim, Jane Soon and Heren Huang

They have been very busy and have already taught two Guild Certification Seminars since my return. The green jacket is their uniform as an instructor - Dr. Lim is an avid golfer - the green color matches the Masters jackets.

Visit their website!


Claude in Hangzou

The Silk Market

Filed Under: Claude in Hangzou

Hangzhou is famous for it’s silk market – it is over 1000 years old.  Marco Polo bought silk there to send back to Venice to be sold throughout Medieval Italy.

The silk market is not much to look at, really. In fact, if you didn’t know what it was you could easily drive right past it. Picture 1 shows the entrance.  It has the classic triple opening gate – with one wide center opening and a smaller opening on either side.

Once you pass through the gate you can see that the street, which is fairly wide for an old street, has small shops on either side of the street for 4 blocks. See picture 2. If you look at the picture the small rectangle of white light that the street is headed towards is the end of the market.  The silk market is only one block wide.  So this one street is the entire silk market.

The street is blocked to automobiles, but scooters, regular bicycles, and the classic three-wheel bicycle have access.  The street was crowded with people going in and out of the shops looking for something silk – from material to every conceivable form of clothing (pajamas, dresses, suits, scarves, blouses, shirts, everything).

The red bicycle on the right hand side of picture two is one of the 10s of thousands of bicycles identical to this one provided by the City of Hangzhou for people to rent and ride.  It costs 8 yuen (roughly - $1.15) a day to rent.  There are stalls all over the city and you can rent it for the day or by the hour (first hour is free if you rent it for 2 or more hours), you just take to any of the city stalls to return it.

You see them everywhere.  People use them for their daily transportation, or rent them in the parks, like West Lake, to drive around the park.

Each shop puts out manikins every day (the market is open from 8am to 10pm, seven days a week) showing what they have to sell.  Picture 3 shows several shops.  The shops are about 20’ x 20’ and some, but not most, are air-conditioned.  However, the AC doesn’t help because the doors to every shop were open.

The manikins were ‘western’ not oriental.  However, that day I was the only ‘westerner’ in the market.

I asked Dr. Lim if it was a Chinese tradition to have the entry door open to a business (even the hotel leaves it’s entry doors open all day long) and he said it was not a tradition, but if the doors were shut the shop would not be very ‘inviting’ and people might suspect it was closed.

I was amazed just how similar each store was, and was curious as to how they could all remain in business.  Dr. Lim told me that they all do a huge internet business, all over the world, and that several shops, each showing different products, spread out in different parts of the market were often owned by one extended family.  These families had owned a silk market concession for generations.

Picture 4 shows more shops, the one closest in this picture specializing in children’s clothes.  Apparently you learned to judge which shop to go into by the manikins out front.  There is a second space immediately behind each ‘showroom’, with access from a door in the in the showroom (often hidden from sight) where they store products to replenish their stock when someone buys something. Ms. Soon, the HWCC GM is in the foreground of this slide, on the right. I do not have any pictures standing directly in front of a shop because they did not want their shops photographed.

Note that the manikins are all about 4”-6” taller than the customers – and there are not very many blond Chinese.  Even allowing for what their hair stylist could do.

In the last picture, picture 5, is a stature, in the middle of the market, showing two women hanging out silk to dry as they would have 500+ years ago.  Immediately behind the statue is a shop selling bolts of cloth – except their bolts are round whereas US bolts are 1’ foot long so you can unroll cloth one foot at a time.

Although there were a great number of people in the silk market it was fairly quite – no merchants hawking their products, not like other markets.

Claude in Hangzou

HWCC Office and Classroom

Filed Under: Claude in Hangzou

The Hangzhou Wine Culture Center (HWCC) office and classroom is located on the 15th floor of the Tian Xing Building; my hotel room is on the 29th floor of the same building. The HWCC is a trade association that offers professional wine education to it’s membership, other members of the trade and the general public. Its membership includes importers, distributors and retail shops (wine shops and restaurants) as well as the general public. 

(Note: The trade is organized quite differently in China as compared to the US or Europe.  To an outsider it is very confusing and would require a many page blog to describe.)

As you get off the elevator, the HWCC is located in the southeast corner of the 15th floor. What you see as you get off the elevator and move a couple of steps towards the office is shown in picture 1. When you walk through the glass doors you can see down a long hall, about 40’ long, with the logo of the HWCC visible at the end of the hall.  See picture 2.

There are two doors visible in this photo.  One on the left and, a little further down the hall, one on the right.  The door on the left leads to the classroom and the door on the right to the office area.

Before going into the classroom or office area, let me continue down the hall to the receptionist area and waiting room. Seated at the receptionist desk, in picture 3, are the administrative assistant (on the left) and receptionist (right).  Neither speak much English.  However, Dr. Lim worked with them for weeks before my visit to learn a few phrases in English.

The banner behind the receptionist desk describes the IWG program being offered by the HWCC. The banner is shown in more detail in picture 4.

To the right of the receptionist desk is a waiting room. About a 12’x20’ space. It was also used as a break room during classes and a place for staff to sit and talk – which happened almost every day during lunch.

Next to the waiting room, and to the right of what you can see in picture 5 is the VIP room. Picture 6 and 7 show the open door leading to the VIP room from the receptionist area and, in picture 7, inside the room itself.  This is where the staff could meet with important guests. The door is usually kept closed. It is about a 12’x12’ room.  The toilet is off the VIP room.

If I go back to the main entry hall, the classroom was on the left as you walk into the office. Picture 8 is the view of the classroom as you walk through the main entry door into the classroom.  There are twelve individual student desks.  The white bowls you can see on the desks are the spittoons.  The IWG materials, including the history charts, can be seen along the back wall of the classroom. The room is about 30’ wide and 40’ long. There are only 12 seats in the classroom because that is, by custom, the number of seats in a college classroom.

Picture 9 shows the instructor desk.  The ‘white board’ against the wall is glass that has been etched (or sandblasted) on the backside. The glass works quite well when you write on it with a dry erase marker. A screen lowers from the ceiling to show slides.  They use a digital projector quite similar to the ones we use in Denver.

Picture 10 is a close-up of the IWG notebooks at the back of the classroom. 

Going back out to the entry hall, the door on the right as you enter the office leads to the office area.  Picture 11 was taken just inside that door.  There are three private offices and six offices in an open-office layout in this room. The door to Dr. Lim’s office can be seen in this picture, the door to Ms. Soon’s office can barely be seen on the left side of the picture. To the left of Ms. Soon’s office is Ms. Wu’s office – the marketing manager.

Picture 12 is another view fo the open office area.  The desk closest to the camera was reserved for me while I was there.
Picture 13 shows Dr. Lim’s office and picture 14 the view out his office window.  You can see the farmland mixed in with the urban growth.  The building with the blue roof is a high school.


Claude in Hangzou

The Wetlands Preserve

Filed Under: Claude in Hangzou

Although the Xixi villa is in the Wetlands Park – the actual wetlands park is not a part of the estate grounds. So we took a small electric bus (for 12) about 2 km south of the villa to visit the actual wetlands.

There is a small sign leading to the walkway that follows the bank of the river as it meanders through the wetlands.  It is almost like a jungle.

 Picture 1 shows the path going into the wetlands on the ‘boardwalk.’  The plants are from 4’ to 7’ tall and it is just about impossible to look through them to see any water.

I have a series of shots I took as we walked along the ‘boardwalk’ through the wetlands.  The water, as best I could tell, may have been about 2’ deep through these wetlands. 

  Picture 2 shows a glimpse of water off in the distance  - between the lotus in the foreground and the plants and trees in the background.  The surface of the water is so covered in plants you could almost mistaken it for land.

  Picture 3 shows a more open stretch of the river with a pedestrian bridge in the background.  You can also see some white lotus – of a species that is smaller than the pink lotus I have previously photographed. 

  Walking a little further, picture 4 shows another bridge.  The purple flowers in the picture are blooming cattails.
  Picture 5 is a close-up of a cattail bloom.  White buds and when they open a vivid purple bloom.

  Picture 6 shows a different scene of the river and other plants.  The plants are about as dense and varied as any place I have ever been.

  Picture 7 is a picture of Ms. Soon and Dr. Lim, my hosts for this trip.  I took a picture of them and then each of them wanted a picture with me.  As Dr. Lim was taking a picture of me with Ms. Soon, a person walked up to us and in very good English, spoken very carefully and slowly, asked if they could get a picture with me as well.  Then 4 or 5 others also asked.

Dr. Lim suggested, and I agreed, it would be the polite thing to do so I became a photo opportunity.

Dr. Lim asked, and was told by the people requesting a picture that they had never seen a ‘westerner’ before and wanted a photograph.  He also said to me that he was willing to act as my agent – we would charge 5 yuen (74 cents) a picture; he would get 10%. 

We sometimes think that Americans are isolated from the rest of the world, and in some ways we are, but we are nowhere near as isolated as the average Chinese.  Keep in mind they have controlled access to the internet and international TV. In fact, there are 12 channels on the TV – all various channels of CCTV, the government owned and controlled television company. From China I cannot directly send out this blog – apparently China blocks access to facebook and twitter.  I can email it to the states where it is put up on our blog.  In fact, I cannot directly access our website from China.

In picture 7 Dr. Lim is wearing a shirt with the logo for the English football (soccer) team.  We stayed up that night to watch the finals of the world cup – it began at 2:30 AM.  For those of you that missed it – Spain won, 1-0 – at 4:30 AM.

  As we were leaving I could not resist taking this classic picture of a clump of cattails – picture 8.  My last shot was of a blooming lotus – it is my favorite picture of a lotus taken on the trip. See picture 9.

Claude in Hangzou

Hongzhong’s Villa

Filed Under: Claude in Hangzou

On our day off yesterday we visited the Gaoshiqi’s Villa, which is also called the Xixi Villa. On our way to the villa we stopped at a real Chinese fast-food restaurant.  Picture 1 shows the lunch we had. 

The lunch was a bowl with rice, cabbage and spicy pork; the large bowl in the foreground.  The pork was actually seasoned with a lot of cinnamon and not ‘spicy’ as most of us use the term. The three small bowls in the center were peanut sorbet (furthest away), peanut soup (left) and black rice (right).  They were dessert.

The bread you can see in the picture, to the left and in the background, comes with a story.  It is called ‘minister’s’ bread.  If you remember the story about the general trying to save the city of Hangzhou during the Song Dynasty (see the Song Dynasty Opera blog), and the fact that the general (and the Emperor) were betrayed by a minister.  Well, it seems that the minister and his wife were captured by the people after the fall of the city (and Empire), tried for treason and executed. 

The wife was convicted of treason as well.  The way they were executed was to be tied tightly together and then boiled in oil!  So, this bread is divisible into two pieces (you can see the indentation for where they split apart in the photograph), and it is deep fat fried.  The two pieces represent the minister and his wife. This dish has been served for almost 900 years.  Obviously the Chinese have long memories.

The bread is fairly bland, it is served with a savory (not sweet) fruit sauce (the small dish located between the bread and the peanut soup in the picture).  They had not told me the story about the minister’s bread until we had some to eat.

Thirty minutes for lunch and then back to the car and off to the villa.

This ‘house’ was built between 1657 and 1664. It is a classic example of architecture from the Qing (pronounced Ching) Dynasty. The villa is really a compound that consists of a series of separate buildings of which only a few still remain.

The villa was constructed on a wetlands and uses the river and water features as an integral part of the overall impression provided by the estate. The wetlands were formed as the river snaked back and forth across the plains creating a series of tightly formed horseshoes  (‘U’s in the river). This is an ancient lazy, slow moving, tributary of the river that runs through Hangzhou.

Originally the estate was out in the country, but it is now adjacent to the city of Hangzhou on the extreme west side of the city, about a 45 minute drive due west from the hotel, which is on the east side of the city. It is only about 3 miles from West Lake. The estate and thousands of acres of the land around it are all now a National Wetlands Park, the only wetlands in an urban area in China.

Only a small part of the estate has survived – some of the public buildings and a couple of the gardens associated with those buildings.

The true story about the person who built the estate is interesting.  It seems that Gaoshiqi (or Xixi) was a very learned man who could never pass the exams to become a minister for the country, and so had moved out to this ‘country estate’ to live his life in peaceful surroundings.  In many ways his estate mirrored the West Lake, on a much smaller scale.

The reason he could never pass the exams is because the Qing Dynasty Emperor, and all of his senior ministers, were Manchu (Manchurian), not Han. Therefore, no Han was allowed to pass the exams and Gaoshiqi was Han.

In 1664, while on a patrol of Southern China to inspect the country, the Emperor visited the estate.  The Emperor became entranced with the beauty of the estate as well as the character and honesty of Gaoshiqi.  During his visit the Emperor named one of the buildings – the ‘Bamboo Window’ (building) and arranged for Gaoshiqi to retake the exams under the direct supervision of the Minister of Education – a private exam.  He passed that exam and would eventually become the Emperor’s most trusted Senior Minister.

Becoming a minister meant that Gaoshiqi would have to move to Beijing, near the Forbidden City, and only be able to visit his country estate on the rare occasion of a ‘vacation’ from Beijing.  However, the Emperor would accompany Gaoshiqi on several subsequent visits to the estate.

Like all Chinese estates, this one is a grouping of buildings not a single ‘house.’ For example, buildings might include a ‘greeting room’, one for dining, one for afternoon naps, and so forth.  Each building functioned just as a individual room in a modern house would function.

Groups of rooms would form a compound surrounded by walls and several compounds formed the entire estate. This would also include very private compounds that guests never saw.  Having many individual buildings, and several walled compounds, would mean if someone attacked the villa they would have a very small chance of getting to the owner unless there was a traitor on the inside that could tell them exactly which building, in which compound, he was when they attacked.

Picture 2 is the ceremonial entrance to the estate.  This would be the gate where Gaoshiqi would have greeted the Emperor on his arrival.  There is a path you can see on the other side of the gate that actually leads to the entrance to the villa.

The entrance to the villa is a smaller, more discrete, stone gate leading to a path through a bamboo grove. The bamboo walls of the path are shown in picture 3.
The bamboo are on both sides of the walkway and keep you from seeing anything of the estate until you are practically at the front door; which is seen in picture 4.


Immediately behind this door can be found an entrance garden and the first building – the ‘first greeting building’, shown in picture 5.
There are many interesting things to see, some of them quite remarkable – such as the Chinese version of a Bonsai tree shown in picture 6, which is in a passage way between the first greeting building and the building behind it.  .
Servants would take the passage ways, the guests would enter the building, walk through it and exit through another set of doors opposite the entry doors.

There are a number of buildings in this first compound that are similar in design and shape to the one in picture 5.  As you move through several of them you reach the Bamboo Window building, which would be where the minister would actually greet visitors, onto a ‘back deck’ that opens up to the view seen in Pictures 7 and 8.

If you walk along the path to the bridge shown in picture 7 and look back to the Bamboo Window building you can see the entire Bamboo Window building, this is picture 9.

Let me spend a minute and explain the concept of naming buildings in China.  On an estate the owner would name, or have his close friends and advisors be given the honor of naming, each building.  If you were lucky your ‘boss’ would name a building. Having the Emperor name a building (whom you could never presume to ask to name a building) would indicate a very important person of the highest status. It was quite rare for the Emperor to name a building on someone’s estate.

As you continue on down the path you can see another group of buildings and another pond that is separate, but adjacent, to the pond beside the Bamboo Window building. See picture 10. You can see several lotus in bloom in this picture

Finally, on the opposite side of the ‘Bamboo Window’ building is another small public-private garden.  A public-private garden would be one for very special guests; it was in the public compound but a private garden. This is shown in picture 11. 

  The large rock in the center of the picture is called the ‘heart of the river’.  It is a large rock found in the river that was formed by the currents of the river over thousands of years – there are 4 or 5 similar rocks, but none this large, around the estate.

It was a beautiful estate, with remarkable gardens.

Claude in Hangzou

A Traditional Market

Filed Under: Claude in Hangzou

Final exams for the Advanced Wine Course occurred today. Everyone passed. Overall, I would say that the students being trained to be Guild instructors to teach in China have the same skill level as instructors in the US. No more, no less. The exception would be Dr. Lim, who has more than 15 years experience teaching at the university level.

It has been interesting finding everything needed to teach Guild professional courses in China.  INAO glasses, carts, tools, 3-ring binders, even printers.  Everything.  We have had 12 years to develop materials – they will have done it, to teach 3 Guild courses, in 5 months and another 6 courses in another 6 months, after I come back in December. Plus the added problem of translation into Mandarin. Although there are other programs available in China, we will be the only one where the materials and exams are in Chinese (Mandarin).

They are not finished yet. I am teaching the Certified Wine Instructor (CWI) course as the last course before I head home.  It starts tomorrow and runs for 4 days.

We will have a big graduation dinner, for the faculty and staff, at the end of the CWI course, and will present diplomas at that time.  The tailor is coming to get measurements for the green jackets tomorrow so they will, hopefully, be ready in time for the graduation dinner.

We actually finished the Sommelier Practical Exam early, by about 3:30 pm, so Dr. Lim, Ms. Soon and I went to a market on our way to dinner. (They decided to have exams in the afternoon rather than the morning.)

I have been to two ‘markets’ in Hangzhou now, so this gives me the opportunity to compare ‘tradition’ and ‘new’ markets. The traditional market is somewhat similar to markets I have been to in Europe, particularly an indoor market in Florence.

You arrive at the tradition market (which is right around the corner from the seafood restaurant we ate dinner at a few nights ago and are going to again tonight) by going down an alley filled with people selling food and other items. These street vendors, shown in Picture 0526/1, are the ‘black market.’  Apparently you are not suppose to sell food on the street – only in the markets.

Looking at the quality of some of the food I saw being sold – you would not want to buy anything from the street vendors.

You enter the market by going through a passageway and turnstile about midway down this alley. I am sure the market was marked in some way but I did not see a sign for it. Inside are over 100 stalls with individuals selling every grocery item you might be interested in.  They are grouped by product: one section of the market was for live fish, one for dead fish, one for vegetables and fruits, one for eggs, one for pork, and one for poultry. There was also a spice market – with one vendor. Beef and lamb was not sold in this market. Picture 0523/2 is what you see as you enter the market.

There might be twenty vendors for one group of products, or just a couple.  Apparently, the stalls are ‘owned’ by families. Some families own several stalls and might sell meats and produce. My entering the market created quite a sensation – apparently I was the first ‘westerner’ to every enter this market.  The market manager, as well as several vendors told us this as we walked around looking at things.

They were not real excited about me taking pictures – so I used my iPhone; which does not have a flash like my digital camera and is therefore less obtrusive. We just walked along the walls, not through the center of the market. You have to pay attention – electric motor scooters are driving up and down the isles picking up orders for deliver, or delivering fresh products to the stalls. They drive like it’s the Indy 500.

Our first stop was the stalls for live fish; they ran down one side of the building. There must have been 20 stalls, all showing fish in small red tubs. Unfortunately, the lighting made it almost impossible to take photographs of the fish in the tubs because the light reflected off the surface directly into the camera.

However, I was able to get one clear picture, picture 0508/3 are turtles, cleaned and gutted, ready to be taken home and steamed for dinner. 

You can see some of the red tubs used for fish in the foreground and background of this picture.  Again, no prices are listed; you haggle with the vendor over price.

Next we walked by the fruit and vegetable section of the store; picture 0510/4.

You can see the small stalls in the picture – each about 10’ long.  Some families owned several stalls, others just one. Picture 0511/5 shows a bigger stall that specialized in all kinds of melons. The watermelons looked good.

As we continued on, we next went by a small group of stalls – only 4 – that specialized in already cleaned and gutted fish, crustacean, octopi and jellyfish. Picture 0513/6 shows one of these stalls.

This was not an air-conditioned space, and it was summer, yet there was no fish smells, or any smells for that matter.  They really did bring in fresh fish every day, or any meat, vegetable or produce.

By this point in our journey through the market, we were being followed by a group of small children, but every time I turned around to take a picture of them they scattered.

We walked through a door into a separate room where the pork vendors sold their goods. Again, several stalls, with every possible cut (and a few you have never seen before) of pork.  See picture 0518/7.

Each vendor, as we walked by, would hold up a nice cut of pork to tempt us to purchase it; including heads, feet, legs, everything.  There were, literally, startled expressions when they realized I was a ‘westerner’ walking through the market.

We walked out of that room and down a passageway along the back of the vegetable stands to another, smaller room, where you purchased poultry. 

This is shown in pictures 0520/8 and 0531/9.  Poultry is sold alive, like the ‘better’ fish.  When you purchase one they will de-feather, gut and dress it on the spot for you to take home. Sorry, no pictures of that process.

The last stall we went by on our way out of the market was the spice stall, picture 0524/10. 

Lots of loud voices hawking their products, trying to out yell each other, was what you heard entering or leaving the market. Tomorrow I will send pictures of a ‘new’ market.

Claude in Hangzou

West Lake - Part 2

Filed Under: Claude in Hangzou

We decided to take one of the small ‘human-powered’ boats around the outer lake and the islands. It would give us a better chance to see some of the ancient pagodas and more of the lovers causeway.  We could also see, close up, the three ancient stones to hold the monster (dragon) in the lake.

Our boat driver was a little melancholy – we were his last group of customers because by Chinese law he had to retire from being a boat driver AT AGE 50.  (Sometimes interesting stories happen by accident.  It was random choice that we picked this particular boat.)

His son was inheriting his job.  He had been a boat driver for 28 years and inherited the boat and job from his father.  Picture 1 shows the boat, boat driver (in the white shirt), his son (in the blue shirt seated on the boat) and the weeping willows.  He had just returned from taking his son on a practice trip around the lake. The son stayed on shore when we went for a ride.

You can see the rocks he is standing on, the entire shoreline of the lake and every causeway is edged with rocks like these to keep the shore from eroding. Rocks cover the entire bottom of the lake as well, forming a very stable lakebed. 

He used a single oar to row and steer the boat.  He told us that most people would just go around in circles if they tried to row the boat with one oar because it took a great deal of skill to row and steer the boat, at the same time, with a single oar.

The first thing he did was pour us hot green tea.  We drank green tea throughout the entire boat ride.

We passed by one of the six bridges that are evenly spaced along the entire length of the lover’s causeway. See Picture 2. These bridges allow boats to go to different parts of the ‘private’ lake.  You can glimpse more lotus plants through the arch of the bridge.

He told us that the ancient tradition was to walk with your wife on the causeway in the day and your lover at night.  He also added that it could be the wife with a lover, not necessarily the husband. But it was from this (ancient?) tradition that the causeway got its name – lovers causeway.

The arch of these bridges is a classic Chinese design.  Most ‘westerners’ (their term for any non-Asian foreigner) are familiar with a Roman arch – which is an arch equal to exactly half of a circle.  This arch goes beyond the halfway point.  The concrete ‘handrail’ was added in the 20th century, the rest of the arch is over a thousand years old.

The lovers causeway is very wide – about 50’ and each bridge is about 25-30’ wide. Most of the other causeways were about half this wide. In the private lake they were even narrower – about 10’ wide.

Moving out into the lake we could see the three islands, the white snake pagoda (not it's real name - but what everybody called it) and the three stones to hold the monster in the lake. Looking back towards the shore you could see that there were many small pagodas on the surrounding mountains; placed there to view the lake from a distance. 

Picture 3 shows a small pagoda off in the distance and a boat identical to the one we are in, in the foreground of the picture.  You can see the boat driver using the single oar to row and steer simultaneously.  The line of bright green trees between the lake and the ‘mountain’ is the lovers causeway.

The white snake pagoda can be seen in picture 4. This is the pagoda that keeps the white snake from seeking out a prince, as told in the Song Dynasty Opera.  It has been ‘holding down’ the white snake for over a thousand years, and keeps her from swimming around the lake, looking for another prince.

Originally constructed over a thousand years ago, the pagoda has collapsed three times – twice due to earthquakes and once due to fire.  There is some question among the locals as to whether or not the pagoda, after these disasters, is still holding the white snake down.

If you remember from my blog on the Song Dynasty Opera, one of the scenes of the opera was the human form of the white snake, with her best friend the green snake, meeting her prince charming on the broken bridge – the actual bridge is shown in picture 5. 

The bridge has never been ‘broken’ it is just that snow covers the top of the bridge in winter making it look like two unconnected arches. The myth of the white snake and the prince has been important to the history and culture of Hangzhou for over a thousand years.

Near the white snake pagoda, are a group of three carved stones sitting out in the outer lake, fairly close to the north shore.  Picture 6 shows the pagoda and in the lower left-hand corner of the picture is one of the three carved stones.

A close-up view of one of these stones is shown in picture 7.

On the evening of the August 15 full-moon festival, also called the festival of 32 moons, the small upper openings of each of the three carved stones are filled with candles, with reflectors behind each candle and a paper ‘window’ across each opening.

Five candles make five reflections on the lake, so there are ten of the 32 ‘moons.’ There are three stones – so the total for all three stones is 30 moons.  The real moon and its reflection make the last 2 – all together: 32 moons.

The tradition is that the stones rest on top of the lake monster keeping it from escaping from the lake.  They must be doing a good job because apparently no one has seen the lake monster in the past eleven hundred years.

The stones serve another purpose as well.  They are indicators of the depth of the water in the lake.  If the water begins to rise on the stones it is an early warning that there might be flooding in Hangzhou.  They have served this purpose since 950 AD when they were first constructed. 

Think for a minute how good the Chinese engineering was at the time – these stone carvings were constructed and put in place before the lake was filled. They have a precisely located water line and various flood lines before any water was put in the lake.

The three islands in the middle of the outer lake were built up out of the material removed to form the lakes.  This is also true for all of the causeways, and there are lots of causeways, as well as other, smaller, islands.  Two of the islands, with the city in the background, can be seen in picture 8.

The lakes range from 6’ to 16’ in depth.   The shorelines quickly drop off to about 6’ in depth once you are about 3’ from shore and the center of the lake is about 16’ deep. A thousand years ago it would have taken a great number of laborers years to scrape out the dirt and line the lakebed with rocks.  Everything was constructed by hand.

The lake draws its water from the Qiantang River and the flow of the river is such that water in the lake is completely replace every 32 days via underground pipes – also built in 950 AD.  I will say that there are no dead fish or other odors in the lake. Not even gasoline or oil smells – only human-powered and electric boats are allowed on the lake.

There are no dead fish smells because there are no fish, to speak of, left in the lake.  It was fished out many years ago.  However, there is a famous restaurant I was told about located on the shore of the lake that has been open for over one hundred years and boasts that it only serves West Lake fish.  They bring fish in from all around Hangzhou and put them in a holding pond in the lake for a couple of days.  So ‘officially’ they are all West Lake fish.

The Qiantang River runs beside, and through, Hangzhou and connects to the Yellow River.  You can see the river from my hotel room. It is considered a ‘small’ river – because it is not very long.  It is quite broad, maybe as much as 800 to 1200 feet wide as it flows through Hangzhou.

I took a picture of the skyline of Hangzhou from the center of the outer lake.  This is shown in picture 9. 

There is nothing remarkable about this picture; in fact, it is difficult to make out all of the buildings because they are so small.  However, there is one amazing fact – none of these modern buildings existed prior to 1985.   It is expected that Hangzhou will grow from its current population of 6.5 million to over 9 million in the NEXT 5 YEARS. There is an enormous amount of construction occuring all over the city.

There are many bridges on the lake.  One of the ‘ancient’ bridges is very small. It is shown in picture 10.

It is a ‘new’ ancient bridge because it is only 900 years old. Apparently that new-ancient explanation makes sense in Chinese. The causeway to the bridge, as well as the bridge itself, is only about 4’ wide.  It is located next to the ‘singing willows lane,’ our last attraction to visit on West Lake.

We walked along the ‘singing willows lane’ for about 200 yards.  It is shown in picture 11. 

This is a beautiful stone walkway running along the East (city) side of the West Lake. There are willows on both sides of the path, with new ones planted every year. Millions of crickets live in the trees and they are constantly chirping – ‘singing.’  They did make an incredible sound.  I won’t say it was peaceful, but it was pleasant, and considerably louder than expected.

The singing willows lane led us past our rest place to get a small snack and get out of the heat – an Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop. It has been in Hangzhou for about 10 years. However, it was not like any Häagen-Dazs I have ever seen.  It was a sit-down restaurant complete with waitress and menus. Häagen-Dazs is considered a very ‘up-scale’ dining experience.

The entrance to the Häagen-Dazs, shown in picture 12, looks like your average H-D, so does the counter right inside the entrance.  However, if you make a right turn once you enter, a hostess in the dining room can seat you.  The dining room is shown in picture 13. It is an all glass room – including three walls and the ceiling. I would not want to pay the air conditioning bill for that room.

You can see one of the waitresses standing in the middle of the picture – wearing the red outfit with a silk scarf and red hat. 

They served ice cream drinks like I have never seen before as well.  The one I order ‘Green Tea Fantasy’ is shown in picture 14. 

The glass was about 14” tall. The total cost for three ice cream treats - $45! The same price we paid for a 7-course seafood dinner for 3.

If you are wondering what restaurant was next door to Häagen-Dazs it is shown in picture 15.  You can just make out the sign through the trees.


Claude in Hangzou

West Lake - Part 1

Filed Under: Claude in Hangzou

On July 2nd, the day after we completed the Certification Seminar, we had a day off between the Certification Seminar and the Advanced Wine Course. Dr. Lim declared it a student ‘holiday.’ Of course, that means it’s a holiday for the instructor as well.

Dr Lim had arranged for Ms. Soon and Ms. Chen to take me to West Lake. Ms. Chen was there because she was a ‘local’ from Hangzhou, and if she talked to the merchants they would hear her accent and know that they could not demand a high price. Ms. Soon is actually from Malaysia and I am obviously not a local.  Both Ms. Soon and I would have been treated as ‘foreigners.’ In fact, anybody not from Hangzhou would be treated as a foreigner – even if they were from another part of China.

Ms. Soon and I took a taxi to the West Lake, about 30 minutes from the school. A taxi ride is about the same in most countries.  In China the driver is enclosed in a thin plastic cage, separating them from the customers.  It is also common for a customer to sit in the front seat because the cage only enclosed the driver’s seat on the back and right side since the Chinese drive on the same side of the road as we do in the US. No tipping.

However, weaving around the bicycles and electric scooters, as well as the multitude of pedestrians that walk in the streets, as well as on the sidewalks, can be a little nerve racking at 45-50 miles per hour.

West Lake is a phenomenon that must be seen to be believed. It is a man-made lake originally designed to be the private ‘garden’ for a few (3) wealthy families as well as the original drinking water supply for Hangzhou.

What makes it unique is that it is about 5 km (3 miles) by 4 km (2.5 miles) in size and is divided into three ‘zones’ and surrounded by ‘mountains’ on 3 sides. There are also three pagodas along the shore, and three stone statues to keep the ‘monster of the lake’ from escaping, as well as three islands (man-made) and three ‘ancient’ bridges. 

Apparently three is a “lucky number” for West Lake.

It was initially constructed about 950 AD and is famous all over Asia. Marco Polo talked about it in his book on China. It is a major tourist attraction. All of the books I read preparing myself for this trip had lengthy descriptions of West Lake. In fact, it was at West Lake that I saw the only other ‘Westerners’ I have seen in Hangzhou.  A couple, from England, judging by their accents, probably on ‘holiday.’ I did not get a chance to talk to them.

I was told that the Lake was kept as private property until the early 20th century when it was given to the City so everyone could enjoy it.

Ms. Chen presented me with a ceremonial fan, with a picture of West Lake on one side and a poem about the lake on the other. It was a gift rather formally presented – from student to teacher. 

It is a beautiful fan, which I ended up using as we walked a partway around part of the lake.  There are paths all the way around the lake – but it was 102F and 100% RH, not the best weather for walking great distances.  Still, we walked for over 3 hours before stopping for a rest.

The fan is shown in Picture 1 – it is about 24-27” across.  A close-up view of the right-hand side of the fan is shown in Picture 2, as this was the portion of the lake we walked, or boated, around.

The outer lake is to the East, which is towards the bottom of the fan.  This is also the City side and the new lake development area. The City of Hangzhou is along the bottom of the fan. There is not as much to ‘see’ in this part of the lake. Towards the center of fan there are a group of three islands, as well as a causeway and bridge to a fourth island. 

If you drew a line going across the causeway and then connected the two larger islands with your line and then drew the line to the peninsula on the left (North) shore, the area between your line and the city would be the outer lake. 

From the line you have drawn to the long thin causeway (over 3 km long), also man-made, shown about in the middle of the fan would be the ‘inner’ lake and the area west of the long causeway – called lovers causeway – would be the ‘private lake.’ The private lake with many man-made causeways criss-crossing it is at the top of the fan. These are the three zones of the West Lake – outer (or external), inner and private.

It is the private lake that is most spectacular and I had an opportunity to see – or at least I saw a small portion of it.

The second picture of the fan, the close up of the South shore, shows this part of the lake in more detail. The large island with the causeway ‘points’ westward (upward) to the small part of the lake we walked around.  It includes a small group of pagoda and a section of the lover’s causeway.

Ms. Soon and I met Ms. Chen at a ‘famous’ ‘new’ landmark just at the place where the highway – the big yellow road on the fan – intersects the ‘Lover’s causeway on the South shore – the right hand side of the fan.  The ‘famous’ landmark was a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant: the most popular American restaurant chain in China.

I did not take a picture of the KFC – it looks much like a KFC anywhere. However, across the street from it is the tomb of the Prince/General that tried to protect the royal palace at the end of the Song Dynasty.  This is the Prince killed in the battle scene of the Song Dynasty Opera I talked about in my last blog. The entrance to the tomb is shown in Picture 3.  It is a classic example of architecture of the Song Dynasty of about a thousand years ago.

Turning around, Picture 4 shows the walkway to the lake; the KFC would be immediately to our right in this picture. The large stone gateway seen in the picture is the ‘entrance’ to the Lake – three stone openings.  A small ‘viewing’ pagoda can be seen in the background, through the gateway.  This pagoda is new, constructed in the 1970s.

Walking past the viewing pagoda there are several paths around this part of the lake that have been carefully designed so as not let you see all of the lake at one time. Then, as the path turns, sharply left or right, it opens up to a unique vista.

One of the first vistas is a bridge on a small man-made causeway leading to a small island.  This is shown in Picture 5.  It looks exactly like we all imagine China to be like. The ‘mountains’ are in the background.  They would be foothills to us – but keep in mind China is next to some of the largest mountains in the world, the Himalayas, so we should allow a little poetic license.

You turn another corner and you are walking past a large group of lotus plants that are beside an ancient pagoda. The lotus plants are enormous.  A few were just beginning to bloom.  The pagoda and lotus are shown in Picture 6. All of the ancient buildings around the lake are empty – there is no furniture to indicate how they were decorated and furnished.  All that is known about them is how they are believed to have been used.

The path we were walking on had probably been tread by Marco Polo – he was the ‘governor’ of Hangzhou for a period of time, some 800 years ago, while he was in China. And, according to his own writings spent a great deal of time on the 'private' lake.

We followed the path to another vista.  Picture 7 shows a small man-made stream (since it is man-made it probably should be called a canal) with a sleeping pagoda next to it and an incredible array of plants along the banks – weeping willow can be recognized among the array of plants.  The Lake, as well as Hangzhou, are famous throughout China for their weeping willows.

Moving on down the path, now surrounded by trees, it opens up to another vista and you can now see that the bridge we first saw actually leads to a small island with another pagoda – in this case a dining pagoda. And more lotuses, with some in bloom.  See Pictures 8 for the bridge and pagoda and 9, of blooming lotus.

Because mountains from this angle do not frame the bridge, it looks quite different.  The lotus plants are kept from expanding beyond certain portions of the private lake, but in ancient times they probably covered this entire portion of the lake.  They are huge, 30”+ leaves with fist sized bulbs, the pedals of a flower can easily be as big as your hand.

As we continue following this path, it passes by another narrow canal, shown in Figure 10. This one is designed to allow someone to leisurely paddle down in a small boat, with the weeping willows brushing across you hands and face as you moved down the canal.  It continues for about 3/4 of a mile, but because of the willows and other plants, it is impossible to see – or be seen – for more than 20 or 30 yards in either direction. 

The black pole with the lantern on top that can be seen in this picture is a reproduction of the lanterns that were beside this canal, about every 50 yards, for it’s entire length.  Not hard to imagine how beautiful it would have been at night illuminated by candle light.

I will continue my trip along the West Lake in my next email. 

I want to spend a little time talking about dinner that night.
We went to an ‘up-scale’ restaurant specializing in southern Chinese cuisine. We had eight dishes: (1) stir-fried fish with garlic, peppers and chives, (2) thin-sliced pork in gelatin, (3) glutinous rice and mango wrapped in port strips (think bacon), (4) lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice in a sweet sauce, (5) Hong Kong shrimp, (6) Hong Kong fried rice, (7) spicy frog legs in vegetables and stir-fried lotus root, and (8) soy milk soup with river prawns and dumplings. 

There were five of us for dinner, including Mr. Cheu – the importer who has been running all over Hangzhou trying to find wine for our classes.  He has been amazingly successful, finding more than 80% of the wines. Amarone and Kabinett in China!

Picture 1. The fish with garlic, dinner picture 1, was very tasty, lightly fried and, as you can see, laid out flat to stir-fry.  You eat this by ‘cutting’ off a piece with your chop sticks and then pick the meat and skin off the piece you have put on your plate, or in your rice/soup bowl.  It is common in China for people to serve each other – so members of the dinner party might ‘cut’ off a piece of fish and give it to me to eat.  Eating with chopsticks I am doing OK, serving myself is another story.

The thin-sliced pork in gelatin is basically identical to any similar dish you would see in Europe.  It was not very flavorful and served cold.  It is also shown in dinner picture 1.  I was surprised at the lightness of the flavor.

Picture 2. The glutinous rice and mango wrapped in port strips (like crispy thick bacon), picture 2, was delicious.  The pork strips were baked crispy and the rice was slightly sweet because of the mango and fat from the pork.  Again, all of us at the table would take bites off the dish with our chopsticks. 

The idea of serving yourself with ‘serving chopsticks’ is not common in China – more common, from my experience, in Japanese cuisine.  So everybody takes individual bites from a serving bowl or dish using their own chopsticks.

Picture 3. The lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice was also quite tasty; this dish is shown in picture 3.  The lotus has an herbal, earthy, flavor and the glutinous rice is slightly sweet.  The sauce was only moderately sweet, so the dish was not cloying or overly sweet at all.  The size of the pieces also made them easy to pick up with chopsticks. It was also a cold dish.

Picture 4. Hong Kong shrimp, picture 4, are your basic stir-fried coconut shrimp.  However, they are slightly different in that they were breaded in panco with just a few pieces of coconut and lightly stir-fried.  Legs were left on because it is common to eat the legs and shell of small (river) prawns.  The sauce was soya based – and tasted a little like ranch dressing, although more tart than ranch dressing.

Picture 5. Stir-fried rice is similar around the world, see picture 5.  However, this has little soy sauce in it and the egg is duck not chicken.  So it had more (stronger) flavor.  Serve it with a spoon; eat with your chopsticks.

Picture 6. The spicy frog leg in vegetables and stir-fried lotus root, shown in picture 6, was also delicious.  Very good frog legs, cooked just right and a little spicy; another Hangzhou specialty. You hold the leg with your chopsticks, eat the meat off and spit out the bones (either on your plate or on the table).  This was an up-scale restaurant so nobody was spitting bones on the table.  One of the vegetables was a thin sliced stir-fried potato – basically a spicy Chinese potato chip.

Picture 7. The soymilk soup with river prawns and dumplings is shown in Dinner Picture 7, the last picture.  It was very much like eating milk toast – with shrimp.  Again, the shrimp are whole – so you bite off the heads and spit them out, bite off the legs and spit them out and then eat the rest.  Optional: don’t bite off the legs – eat them as well. By the end of an evening you can have quite a mound of fish, frog leg and shrimp bones and shells on the table in front of you.

We drank a unique beverage, but the container did not photograph well at all.  It was water with baby lotus rootstalks, carrot slices (long ways) and whole chestnuts in it.  It was served warm – tepid, not hot.  Slightly sweet and herbal at the same time and surprisingly good with the food and refreshing.

This is the first dinner that contained several dishes similar to what you would find in the US in a Chinese restaurant.  However, the Chinese version was subtler, in each case, except the fried rice, in flavor and texture than the American version. The fried rice had stronger flavors – but not as much soy sauce.

Claude in Hangzou

Lunch and Traffic

Filed Under: Claude in Hangzou

Yesterday we went to a restaurant owned by one of the faculty taking the class. The restaurant specialized in ‘western’ cuisine. The students practiced their sommelier service at the restaurant for half a day.

Picture 1 shows Dr. Lim practicing his opening skills doing the vintage port service.  Seated is Ms. Soon, the GM of the school.  We used the restaurants serviettes and water glasses and brought the cart, wine and tools.

We had spent part of our most recent ‘off-day’ trying to find a service cart we could use for sommelier service. Dr. Lim and Joyce Wu, the Marketing Director, were going to go find service carts, plates and ‘western’ cutlery.  They asked if I wanted to come with them, of course I said yes. So they took me to the ‘plate and knife’ market – the hotel and restaurant supply market.

In China they like to put all of the merchants selling one kind or group of similar products together in an area. Sometimes it is all in one building. In this case there were at least 100 stores in a 4 square block area, competing with each other for a customers business. We drove all the way across Hangzhou to get to the market.  I will show some of those pictures in a blog about the City I will do at a later time.

  Pictures 2 and 3 were taken standing on the sidewalk and shooting down the street one way and then turning and shooting the other.  Every store you see, in both directions, and for the next 3 blocks, sells nothing but hotel and restaurant supplies to the trade.  The owners and works in the store (often family – or extended family) life in the apartments staring on the 3rd floor above the stores. The second floor is storage for the showroom.

We went into several stores looking for a rolling cart to use as a guerdon as well as plates, cork plates and western cutlery. I took pictures in several stores, and frankly, you can hardly tell them apart.  The next couple of pictures were taken in the store from which we ended up purchasing two carts.

Picture 4 shows a large table with place settings and serving pieces.  If you look out the door of the shop  (in the back of the picture) to the store across the street you can see that they have a similar table set up to entice customers to go in their store. Picture 5 is a shot across the store of display tables. This store was larger than most.

There are no prices on anything, so bartering is the method of determining what price to pay. So I got to see some Chinese bartering – which is understandable even if you don’t speak the language. 

Some of it I was able to understand because Dr. Lim and the Marketing Director would occasionally talk to each other in English – a language less than 1% of the population in Hangzhou speaks, so it was a way they could talk to each other without the shop owner understanding.  The ease with which they went back and forth between English and Chinese makes me believe they had done this before.

She gave him a price she thought they could purchase the two carts for and he began a conversation with our salesperson.   He kept pointing out scratches and dirt on the cart, looking for anything to help support the price he wanted to pay. We even began walking towards the entrance, but were called back.  Eventually we purchased the two carts, plus delivery for one of them, for close to 300 yuen - $44.

This group of students has studied very hard, probably more than 5 hours a night, is what Dr. Lim told me, to prepare for the daily exams. All of them speak English, but it is still difficult to take a technical course in a second language.

After practicing sommelier service for 3 hours at the restaurant we had a 4-course ‘western’ meal; served in courses with a different wine with each course.  It was the first time that most of them, including the restaurant owner, had experienced this way to eat a meal.  Normally in this restaurant, ‘western’ food is served ‘Chinese’ style with everything being served at once. So I had to do a short talk on western table etiquette.

Our first course, called an appetizer that was really a salad, we had a seafood salad, shown in 6.  This was followed by mushroom soup – picture 7, and the main course – a steak, shown in picture 8.

The steak course generated some conversation for two reasons: (1) there are two starches on the plate and no vegetable and (2) the pasta was so spicy it overpowered everything else on the plate. Dr. Lim, who is also a graduate of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School of Singapore, talked about these issues with the Chef and students.

Dessert was a piece of cheesecake with a red date sauce top layer and chocolate. See picture 9. Yes, it had a tomato as a garnish – this generated some conversation as well. Following dessert was a fruit plate, shown in Picture 10.  Ending a meal with a fruit plate is classic for summer in China.

I have not been editing the pictures I am using with this blog, except the next one.  I have been intrigued with the stop light system they use in Hangzhou. It is one of the best I have ever seen, anywhere.  So I took a series of pictures as we sat in traffic and combined them into the sequence shown in the next picture showing the stop light sequence.

The stop light system uses arrows pointing each direction.  #1 shows all red: L turn, straight and R turn.  However you can see the number 2 next to the straight-ahead arrow. It is counting down the seconds, and began at 10. When it reaches 0 the light turns green, as in #2.  Next the right turn signal turns green - #3. In #4 you can see both the straight ahead green arrow counting down and the left turn arrow counting down. In #5 the straight ahead and right turn arrows have turned yellow and the left turn is still counting down.  Finally, in #6 the L turn is green and everything else red. This will then sequence back to #1.

This is one of the few intersections that has an arrow for a right turn, you can turn right on a red light in China just like the US, however, you do not have to stop before making the turn. So cars go flying around the corners merging into the traffic.

Claude in Hangzou

Advanced Wine and another dinner

Filed Under: Claude in Hangzou

We are about one-third the way through the Advanced Wine Course.  Teaching a group of Chinese students how to pronounce German and Italian wine terms, when you are instructing in a third language – English – is an interesting experience for everybody. It usually means I lecture for 2 or 3 slides and then Dr. Lim translates it into Mandarin. If it is not too complex then I lecture for longer and Dr. Lim translates key components when we take breaks.

It will be considerably easier on the Chinese students when Dr. Lim has the opportunity to translate everything into Mandarin. He is doing the translation very carefully, because each Chinese character can have 5 or more meanings.  The context of the sentence often determines the meaning of the word.  He is consulting with some Mandarin experts to make sure he is creating an accurate translation because the IWG/HWCC translation may become the standard for China.

Chinese is written with characters, which are known as ?? [??] (hànzi). The characters were originally pictures of people, animals or other things, but over the centuries they have become increasingly stylized and no longer resemble the things they represent. Many characters have been combined with others to create new ones.

There are more than 23,000 actively used Chinese characters, given the multiple meaning of each of these characters; they represent over 120,000 words in Chinese.  This is about as close as any language comes to English – which has a vocabulary of about 200,000 words.  However, most Chinese, like most people that speak English, use a vocabulary of about 1,500 words (or characters).

What do words we know look like in Chinese?  Picture 1 is the list of 5 Grand Cru Chateau of the Médoc and Graves from the 1855 (and 1973 update) Classification listed in Chinese. Can you guess which is which?

Almost every restaurant we went into had a menu that showed pictures of each dish, or certainly the ‘specialty’ dishes of the house.  I took some photographs of the menu at this restaurant and a sample of them is shown in pictures 2, 3 and 4.

Dr. Lim picked the following dishes for dinner:

(1) fresh cucumber in vinegar and sesame oil (picture 5);
(2) pickled mustard plant (picture 6);
(3) sweet and sour chicken (picture7);
(4) spicy boiled river prawns (picture 8);
(5) steamed Gui (pronounced ‘Jui’) fish soup, with fish heart and liver, pork and vegetables in a fish and soy stock (picture 9); and
(6) steamed spinach with diced ham, garlic, duck egg, and with diced ‘ancient’ (duck) egg (picture 10).

Although all of the diners might confer, it is not unusual for just one member of a party to order for the entire group.  This makes sense when you consider the fact that all dishes are eaten communally.  With the possible exception of rice, no one orders a dish that only they will be eating.  Everything is eaten communally.

Fresh cucumber in vinegar and sesame oil is a classic cold appetizer. Light and refreshing, it has a very light touch of sesame oil to offset the vinegar. In the US I have seen this dish usually sliced across the cucumber so the pieces are round and the skin is not removed. I could not find out if this preparation or the preparation I am more familiar with is the most common here in China, both fabrication techniques seem to be used. The dish is shown in picture 5.

Pickled mustard plant, shown in picture 6, was the second appetizer dish. It was a nice combination of vinegar from the pickling and slightly spicy from the natural flavor of the mustard plant. This was also a cold dish, very crunchy as well.

The black and red can in the background of this picture was ‘herbal tea.’  Although it had a hint of licorice it was basically a can of sweet green tea – apparently sugar is considered an ‘herb’ in China.  It was chilled and a nice shift from all of the hot green tea we had been drinking.

Although these two dishes were ‘appetizers’ that does not mean they were served first.  Chinese food is served as it is cooked, so the dishes come out in no particular order.  Your table might get a couple of dishes, then dishes go to other tables, and then a couple of more for your table.  This continues until all the dishes you have order have arrived.  They all might be brought to the table within 5 minutes, or it might take up to 30 minutes, or more.

A copy of your order is left on the table and the food runners check off each dish when they bring it to the table.  Customers will check the order sheet to see what dishes are still to come.

Rice is traditionally served last, if it is ordered at all.  Of course, everybody in a group begins eating as soon as the first dish arrives.  Taking bites from each new dish as they are brought to the table and are still hot (or cold).

Sweet and sour chicken, picture 7, is the first main dish I have been served that is also commonly served in the US.  However, the preparation was far more complex that what I have had in the US.  The chicken was cooked twice: first it was baked, then de-boned, and then cut into small pieces, about 1”x1.” Next it was deep fat fried (flash fried really) to create a thin crust on the outside of each piece.  There was no breading.

Each bite was a combination of crunchy and tender textures that created a very nice taste contrast.  The sweet and sour sauce was neither as sweet nor as sour as the same sauce served in the US.  It was also a much darker color.  Probably the best sweet and sour chicken I have ever eaten. I was told that this was a dish that most ‘westerners’ liked – I would agree.

Spicy boiled river prawns with scallions was a dish we have had variations of in previous meals I have written about.  See picture 8. Slightly spicy you eat the sweet flavored prawns as I have discussed in previous blogs: bite the head off, bite the legs off (if you don’t want to eat them) and then suck the meat out of the remaining shell.  Each diner creating a pile of shells and heads on their plate or the table in front of them as they consume bites of prawn.

The specialty of this restaurant is the steamed Gui fish soup, with fish heart and liver, pork and vegetables in a fish and soy stock.  Our dish is shown in picture 9, the dish is also pictured at the top of the page of the menu shown in picture 2.

At least one soup dish is served with most dinners; sometimes 2 or 3 are part of the same meal. It really depends upon the specialty of the restaurant and what you want to eat. However, every meal I have had included a soup bowl as part of the customer’s set-up whether you are going to eat a soup or not.  This is because the soup bowl actually has several purposes, it can be used for rice or soup, a place to rest large bites from serving dishes if you do not have a plate; even a place to put bones and other bits you spit out while you are dining.

Each person can ladle their own soup or the ‘host’ (or hostess) can ladle the soup for each diner – actually serving each diner.  This allows the host to parcel out the ‘best’ pieces to the special guest.  Which explains how I ended up with the heart and a piece of fish liver as the ‘special guest.’ It would be easy as an American to assume that they were giving me the pieces they didn’t want to eat but this is not the case.

Long before we arrived at the restaurant, Dr. Lim had talked about this dish, and what were the best pieces to eat.  It is a big mistake, traveling anywhere in the world, to assume that how your culture views eating specific items is the same as how other cultures view it.

In a fish dish like this one, the fish is served whole; you can see the head and tail in the picture. If the head has been larger it would have been removed because it is often served as a separate dish.  Fish head dishes are a specialty of Hangzhou and can be very expensive.

This is a freshwater fish, very mild, with fairly firm texture and a slightly sweet taste.  One of the reasons this is a popular dish is because the Gui fish does not have many small bones. Picking out small bones from a piece of fish is as difficult as it sounds when you are using chopsticks to pick out the bones.

To remove bones you would place a bite of fish in your soupspoon and tug on the bones with your chopsticks.  When you removed a bone you would place it on your plate (or the table in a less fancy restaurant). After removing the bones you would eat the bite directly from the spoon.  Then you could scoop another piece of fish out of your soup bowl with the spoon and repeat the process. 

If you see a particularly nice looking bite in the serving bowl you could use your chopsticks to grab it instead of taking a bite out of your soup bowl.  You did not have to wait for your soup bowl to be empty to get more from the serving bowl.

If you had a really big piece of fish or a piece with large bones you would place the piece on your plate, pin it down with the spoon in your left hand, and pull the bones out with your chopsticks. Since the piece of fish is not in the soupspoon if you perform this procedure you would pick up small pieces of fish with your chopsticks to eat rather than put them in your soupspoon.  Chinese eating etiquette is much more complex than I had imagined or previously learned back in the States.

The fish heart is about the size of the first joint of your thumb and tastes like a piece of muscle – which it is.  Actually, very little taste but considered a ‘special’ piece because there is only one heart in the entire dish.  Liver is liver, and fish liver can be a strong flavor; in this case a little overcooked because it had been in the pot a long time.

The last dish, shown in picture 10 was the steamed spinach with diced ham, garlic, duck egg, and diced ‘ancient’ (duck) eggs.

This was a very light dish compared to some of the other ones served in this dinner.  The base was a vegetable stock, with a little bit of pork stock added, making it slightly salty.  The spinach was steamed to just the right temperature and the pork pieces made an interesting color contrast compared to the spinach.  The white pieces in the picture are either garlic or pieces of duck egg.  The ‘ancient’ egg is difficult to pick out – they were dark gray to black in color.

The stock/sauce with this dish was light enough that you could easily taste each component of the dish. 

To eat this dish you pick up the 3”-4” long pieces of spinach with your chopsticks and eat them (in one bite if possible) then pick up individual pieces of pork, garlic, egg and ancient egg to add to your mouth while chewing the spinach.

At the end of a meal it is customary to leave a few bites on your plate (or in a bowl). To ‘clean your plate’ implies you did not get enough to eat and the host will then feel obliged to order another dish or two so as not to lose face with the guest. Always leave a few bites on your plate - even if there is food still in the serving bowls and dishes.

The Chateau answer:(a) Margaux, (b) Lafite, (c) Latour, (d) Mouton, (e) Haut-Brion.

Claude in Hangzou

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The International Wine Guild Wine School

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Sommelier Courses and Wine Classes from the International Wine Guild Wine School

The International Wine Guild Wine School

Copy the code below and paste into your website or blog:


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