Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fuchun - My favorite Xiaolongbao

It shows my fantastic lack of consideration that after one hundred fifty posts or so, this is the first proper posting about xiaolongbao, a Shanghai specialty and a favorite snack of mine. It's a small dough wrapper, filled with a mild pork and soup filling, and then steamed - it's usually served on the steamer, and the "xiaolong" of the name means "small steamer." It comes with a sauce, which is generally diluted Chinese black vinegar - a flavored variety that is a thousand times tastier than distilled white vinegar.

But I'll leave a general update for later. Take it for granted that xialongbao is probably the one positive contribution Shanghai has made to world cuisine. This post is about my favorite place to buy them: Fuchun Xialong. It's a restaurant I first learned about through the Chinese-language review site Dianping. It's located near Jiangsu Station, or about a ten minute walk West from Jing'an Temple/station. The address is 658 Yuyuan Lu, and the nearest cross-street is Zhengning Road.

The insides are really nothing special, there's a big sign behind the counter and you either order at the front desk and get a receipt, or tell one of the waitresses the order. It basically feels like an average every-day sort of restaurant, or maybe half a step up from that:

There's no English, but it shouldn't be hard to convey a desire for xiaolongbao! It's four kuai (about fifty cents) for six of them. There's a fairly lengthy menu with noodles and so forth, however every time I've been, every table is ordering xiaolongbao, and then maybe something else as well. Here's a look at the menu:

But most important is the xiaolongbao! The reason why I like Fuchun's variety is the skin, which is excellent - delicate but not easily breaking, which would let the soup out. The insides are also very good, perhaps a bit on the sweet side. The only thing I don't like is, while I like the vinegar strong, at Fuchun it's a little weak - it isn't really a problem, it just means I smother it in the dipping sauce a little more than I usually would. Sometimes I take the xiaolongbao to go and add Chinese vinegar at home, which is even better. Here are a couple of the xiaolongbao, lying in their steamer:

I order more than my fair share of xiaolongbao, and Fuchun's are my favorite, but I'm not confident enough to say it's Shanghai's *best* xiaolongbao. I haven't yet been to Ding Tai Fung, an upscale Taiwanese chain I've heard mentioned as Shanghai's best. I also see that Fuchun is a mere ninth in Dianping's top-rated Xiaolongbao restaurants. Writing this update has inspired me, I'll try the places that are supposed to be tops, and perhaps report back later.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Shanghai Eagles Baseball!

Baseball is the only sport I care about, and honestly I don't care all that much. Every year here I've briefly considered signing up for the online baseball channel MLB.TV, but I've never really gotten around to it. I keep remembering that I didn't even bother to plug in the rabbit ears of my TV when I lived in Oakland - they were purely ornamental.

However I at least understand the basic rules and points of strategy, which is more than I can say for soccer. So after reading about the free baseball games in Eastern Shanghai on Micah Sittig's short article, I decided to head over to the stadium and catch a free game.

It's not quite as easy to get there as the article would suggest - yes, it's an easy ride on a brand-new subway line to Gaoke Road Station. And as a sideline, I was very impressed with the tranfer station, it didn't require a ten minute hike like a lot of other Shanghai transfer points.

However, it dropped me off in the middle of god-knows-what. I wrote down simple directions off a map before leaving my apartment, they had me walking through a weird desolate area with a lot of construction going on, as shown to the left. I instead asked a policeman that happened to be nearby, he told me to walk down Gaoke Road, make a right on Dongming Road, and then another right on Yunlian Road. It's about a ten or fifteen minute walk, located in a larger Sports complex much like the one the Shanghai Sharks play in.

There's a Kedi Convenience Store along Dongming Road, it's important to stock up on supplies here because the stadium doesn't sell anything. Not peanuts, not cracker jacks, no baseball hats, no jerseys, no foam "#1" fingers. Not even water or beer, although most of the fans were sporting 22s of Malt Liquor (no really). It seems kind of nonsensical until you see the stadium:

It's a very small stadium, even without considering that those red and white flags limit most of the stadium off limits to fans. It was maybe a hundred or so people in the stands, all either players, foreigners, or their friends. It also ended up raining really hard. It didn't stop the game but it explains the umbrellas out in force.

The small size and the low-key feel gave the whole affair the feeling of a high-school game. I have to admit, this extended to the level of play. I saw one of the ugliest plays I've ever seen at any level. The man on first was caught attempting to steal by a pitch out. The catcher made a pretty good throw to second base, but the throw got past the tag, past the second baseman backing him up, and then past the center fielder. Also, the pitcher for the Shanghai Eagles threw entirely fastballs down the center of the plate - looking at the teammate tracing him on the speed gun, all the pitches were in the 70s. Wow.

The pitcher for Tianjin threw sidearm, with pretty good movement. I was a little surprised throughout the game, there were several players with strange batting stances and the like. But really there wasn't much that different to the baseball I'm used to, aside from the Tianjin team bowing to the Umpire before stepping into the batting box - the Shanghai team didn't. I remember this from watching a Japanese baseball game once - maybe they have a Japanese coach or something. Oh, also the teams had a group huddle before starting their half of the inning.

The Shanghai Team had numbers and Chinese-character names on their uniforms, strangely enough Tianjin didn't have any easy way to identify who was who. Anyway for those with an interest, here's a copy of the team's lineup. It was given to me by the team's mascot, on the right. Players are as young as 16, and as old as 36, with most in their 20s.

All in all the game was fun if extremely casual, I'd recommend it. The league has a split season, from April 11th to May 11th, and then from September 5th to September 14th, with a playoff from September 20th to October 12th. Unless Shanghai gets into the playoffs, they will only host games for the first part of the season. Games are listed on Upcoming.org - to make it easy, the only regular-season home games left are May 2nd and 3rd at 2:30, or May 4th at 9:30 am.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Holgas and Toy Cameras in Shanghai

A very small update here, following up on my earlier post about Buying Photographic Equipment in Shanghai. One thing I didn't mention is Holgas - they're a toy plastic camera that were originally produced for the Chinese market, but really didn't do very well over here. Instead they caught on amongst hipsters in foreign markets.

They use the somewhat uncommon 120 size film, which is twelve shots per roll if shooting square pictures, with the film being three or four times larger than conventional film. Also, the lens is really basic, it makes the outside of the picture look blurry and dark. There's no way to choose aperture or shutter speed, the only control is the ISO of the film. So they only work on bright sunny days, or when used together with a flash.

I always thought the cameras were silly, however they're very cheap and I was impressed with the artsy black and white shots my friend took. I got one which I mostly use to take street scenes, when I'm walking around town. It's fun, I like the square format, the light weight, the way they draw attention to the center of the frame, and just that they're very casual and easy to use. With my glass-lensed version, plus Fuji Superia 100 film, I get really crazy colors:

I haven't seen any Holgas for sale around Shanghai, even in the camera markets - I purchased mine off taobao. However, looking around taobao the other day, I came across the Snaps Shop, which sells Holgas, in all the different variations and colors. It also sells Diana+s, the various Lomo cameras, and a few other interesting film cameras. I was interested in purchasing the new 35mm version of the Holga, the Holga 135BC. But it goes for about $60, more than twice what I got my Holga GN for, so I skipped it. Anyway, the shop is located at 497 Huaihai Road, Room 1, a couple blocks west of Huangpi Nan Lu Station, a very central location. However, there's no storefront, there's a buzzer at the front gate and they'll let in customers to their second-story shop. The place is open from 1pm-8pm.

Holgas (and Dianas), use medium-format 120 film, just a quick word on that. The film is available at the camera stores on Wulumuqi Lu (near Yan'an) and at the camera malls. However, recently I haven't seen any speed available except for ISO 100 - which on a Holga really requires a bright sunny day to be useful (they're about F13, and 1/100th of a second). So faster film might require ordering off of taobao.

The film can be developed for 5 kuai/roll, cheap, same as 35mm film. However, prints are 5 kuai for a print at Frontier, or 2.5 kuai for a tiny print at Weima. The film is too large to work with my lower-end scanner, and quality scanners are expensive and hard to find in China. Also, the black and white developing and printing is substantially more expensive than color.

There's some Chinese B&W 120 films available, even though they cost about 50 cents / roll maybe they're not great for toy camera. They tend to require very exact exposures, which is difficult to achieve on a toy camera.

Update 3/26/2009 - These places still work, but let me provide a few more.

Really the cheapest way to get a Holga is to buy one off US EBay. Most of the sellers are from Hong Kong, and will ship the camera to the PRC. Hong Kong's currency is vaguely pegged to the dollar, so the US's recent exchange rate problems make it cheaper.

As said the in replies, Lomography has a store on Jinxian Lu, next to Chun - it's a quite a bit more expensive for a Holga, but actually for the Diana or the 35mm Holga, it's not so bad. There's also a second Snaps Shop, near Duolun Lu.

In the Xing Guan Camera mall (near Luban Lu), there's a Yi Qian Camera store, which sells some Lomo type cameras. It's also a decent place to scan film, I'll probably have an update before too long about that topic. It's on the third floor, straight ahead but to the right of where the escalator gets off. The shop to the left is my favorite place to get film in Shanghai.

And near any tourist attraction in Shanghai, there's cheesy toy cameras.