I often hear local people saying that they have a Chinese stomach, this especially reflected when they travel out of China, instant noodles and zha cai became the reserve grain in their luggage. For me though, I like all kinds of food as long as they are tasty. For breakfast though, I have special preferences. I’m not saying the croissant or pain au chocolat aren’t good, I just miss those vendors which pop up on every street corner in the morning, and the smell of deliciously frying dough, steaming savory dumplings, boiling wontons and noodles, cooking rice, baking bread, and roasting treats wafting over me like a warm, comfy blanket. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water.
I stumbled across this place randomly, it’s located on the junction of Hangda Road and Paomachang Road, it serves Quzhou food and snacks. Their Steamed Pork Bun土猪肉包子 (2RMB) and Qingmingguo 清明粿 (4RMB) are the best of the places I know. The people who work in that area—whether they are white collars, bartenders, bakers or fancy restaurant owners—they will always gourmet meal to go for the baozi and Qingmingguo.
Qingmingguo is a type of steamed dumplings served during the Tomb Sweeping Festival. The dumpling skin is made of wormwood, rice and glutinous rice, and filling is the mixture of preserved vegetables, minced pork, chopped bamboo shoots, mushroom and chili. Though they don’t open till 10am, just in time for lunch, I could eat four of those!
Find it: Yuan Wei Tang / 原味堂
Add: 14 Hangda Road 杭大路14号
Tel: 0571 8106 1020
Hours: 10am – 10pm
This is absolutely our secret! I’m sharing it with you guys for the first time. Any of you ever had Tofu baozi? They’re very rare in Hangzhou. The white and tender tofu, fragrant spring onions, red pepper wrapped in a thin skin, it’s so delicate that you can see the tofu juice and feel the temperature. If you poke it, the juice will flow out. This is the unique local Jiande snack "Tofu baozi". I had them in Jiande when I spent my summer holiday there during my childhood, it has been the lingering memory, and I never forget that taste.
There is only one place you can enjoy this delicious doufubao, it’s a small shop near Gan Qi Shi on Lianhua Street. It only costs 2RMB each and you need to go during the business hours as there is always a queue of people waiting for it. Take a bite, let the tofu and juice explode in your mouth, but be careful, it’s super hot inside!
Find it: Jiande Doufubao / 建德豆腐包
Add: 264 Lianhua Street 莲花街264号 (甘其食隔壁)
Hours: 7am – 1pm, 5pm – 7pm
This is a snack from Quzhou, Zhejiang. Usually you will see an old man making them. The filling is made of minced pork, spring onion, and preserved vegetable. After he rolls the whole thing into a ball, he used his palm to flatten it, then patted with a little water so it could stick on the wall of the charcoal stove. Just 2 – 3 minutes later, it’s ready to eat. Mmm… it smells so good, it tastes even better. Only 2-3RMB each.
Find it: Qu Er Ye / 衢二爷
Add: 52 Yile Road 益乐路52号
Hours: 7am – 9pm
Find it: Gu Pu Liang Shi / 古铺良食
Add: 42 Xueshi Road 学士路42号
Tel: 0571 8535 7119
Hours: 8am - 2am
Fried dumplings (Shengjian Mantou) also known as the shengjianbao is a type of small, pan-fried baozi which is a specialty of Shanghai. It is usually filled with pork and gelatin that melts into broth when cooked. They are a cousin to xiaolongbao in terms of their pork filling mixed with a jellied stock that turns into hot soup during the cooking process. However they have a much more rugged exterior featuring a crisp bottom and a fluffy bao top. Shengjian mantou has been one of the most common breakfast items in Shanghai since the early 1900s. As a ubiquitous breakfast item, it has a significant place in Shanghainese culture.
And if you like Shengjian Mantou, for sure you will like Guo Tie. It’s slightly different than traditional dumplings, I would like to say these dumplings have been dressed up because they are all stuck to the pot by a layer of golden, crispy cornstarch flakes. Guo Tie is the pretty cousin of dumplings… It is not fried dumpling or pot sticker, it is Guo Tie!
Little wontons, or xiao huntun, are made with flour and egg wrappers crumpled casually around a tiny nub of pork. Unlike big wontons, little wontons are made with paper-thin wonton wrappers that will be labeled "extra-thin" on the package. Little wontons are always served in soup and are typically eaten for breakfast or as a snack. The wontons float gently in a savory broth that's chock full of garnishes, such as tiny dried shrimp, Sichuan-style pickled cabbage, thinly-sliced egg crepe, slivers of dried seaweed, cilantro, and scallions.
Find it: Tangkou Lao Qi Shengjian / 堂口老齐生煎·老汤面
Add: Downstairs of Taihe International, 168 Chaohui Road 朝晖路168号钛合国际楼下
Tel: 131 1678 7867
Hours: 6am – 12am
Find it: Drum Tower Fried Dumplings / 鼓楼正宗煎包店
Add: 70 Shengyouguan Road 佑圣观路70号
Find it: Baomei Dim Sum / 宝美点心
Add: 108 Chengtou Lane 城头巷108号
Tel: 133 5710 6391
Hours: 6am – 1:30pm
Xiaolongbao, the broth-filled Shanghainese steamed pork dumplings, is inarguably one of the great culinary inventions of mankind. Xiaolongbao is traditionally filled with pork. One popular and common variant is pork with minced crab meat and roe. More modern innovations include other meats, seafood, and vegetarian fillings. The characteristic soup-filled kind is created by wrapping solid meat aspic inside the skin alongside the meat filling. Heat from steaming then melts the gelatin-gelled aspic into soup.
Here is everything we know about the art of eating xiaolongbao. We ask you to give it a shot. Treat xiaolongbaos with the respect it deserves and it will pay many dividends.
➊ Carefully grasp the top of the xiaolongbao with your chopsticks so as not to puncture the skin, and place it on a spoon.
➋ Give one of the sides a small bite, or puncture it with a chopstick, allowing the soup within to fill your spoon.
➌ Sip the broth and take time to consider its delicate flavour, before taking a bite of the juicy bao itself.
Find it: Din Tai Fung / 鼎泰丰
Add: 3/F, Mixc Mall, 701 Fuchun Road 富春路701号万象城3楼
Tel: 0571 8886 9511
Hours: 10am - 9pm
Find it: Xie Ting Feng Steamed Crab Bun / 蟹庭丰蟹黄汤包
Add: Booth 8, Building 12, east of Jia Lv Jing Yuan 嘉绿景苑东园12幢8号商铺; 373-5 North Zhongshan Road 中山北路373-5号; 259 Fengqi Road 凤起路259号; 120 South Jianguo Road 建国南路120号; 74 Xinshi Street 新市街74号
Hours: 7am - 8:30pm
This is one of my favorite breakfasts. It’s a brilliant combination of a baked pancake and a fried crispy dough stick. In the case of shaobing and youtiao, what seems stupid simple is actually quite delicious. The fried dough stick is crisp and airy, and, if fresh, hot enough to scald your lips. While it's mostly devoid of flavor, there's an ever so subtle saltiness, that, when combined with the outer shaobing, works wonderfully well. I've eaten this more often than I'd care to admit, but most of the time I would wash down with a cup of soy milk, you should give it a try too!
Find it: Taoyuan Village / 桃园眷村
Add: L1, Grand City Plaza, Tiyuchang Road and Yanan Road 体育场路与延安路交叉口国大城市广场L1; 1/F, Powerlong City, 3867 Binsheng Rd. Binjiang 滨盛路3867号滨江宝龙城一楼外围4号门与5号门中间
Hours: 7am - 11pm
Find it: College Breakfast / 学院早餐小吃店
Add: Booth 107, Building 62, District 3, Cuibai Road 翠柏路翠苑三区62幢107商铺
Tel: 182 6815 6694
Hours: 6:30am - 1:30pm
Find it: Fengtan Road Breakfast Booth / 丰潭路早餐店
Add: Junction of Fengtan Road and Zhengyuan Street 丰潭路和政苑街交界口
Hours: 6:30am – 11am
Jianbing Guozi is the perfect on-the-go breakfast; it takes about 2 minutes to make, it's delicious, and costs the equivalent of about 3-5RMB. But the best part is there are jianbing stands all over the city every morning of the year, rain or shine, so you never end up waiting in line for too long! They are always easy to spot since all you need to do is look for a big queue of people!
The jianbing ayi ladles a thick glutinous batter onto a hot, flat griddle which is then spread into a thin, savory crepe. An egg or two are cracked and smeared across the top as they sizzle and fry into the batter. Then, she adds the youtiao, in north China, they use baocui, it’s more crispy, then sprinkles on cilantro, spring onions, and puts on the sweet and chili sauce, I normally would skip the sweet one. She folds the crepe in half, you have it and it’s ready to go.
Find it: Lao Zuo Jidan Bing / 老做鸡蛋饼
Add: Yugu Road, near Zheda Qiushi Village 玉古路近浙大求是村底商
Hours: 7am – 10am, 3pm – 7pm
Find it: Tianjing Jianbing / 天津煎饼果子铺
Add: 426 Tiyuchang Road 体育场路426号
Tel: 180 6979 7180
Hours: 9am – 9pm
Find it: Wang Lao Da / 王老大蛋饼店
Add: No. 9, Building 51, Liushui Xiyuan, junction of Zhaohui Road and Jianguo Road 朝晖路与建国路交叉路口流水西苑51幢底商9号
Tel: 0571 8558 4556
Speaking of Cong Bao Hui Er, or Shallot Stuffed Pancake, Hangzhou natives certainly know it well. It is a popular dim-sum through all streets and lanes of Hangzhou. Cong Bao Hui Er is made of ordinary materials with simple cooking methods. It is a bit like a crepe with a fried dough stick, shallots, sweet or spicy sauce and pickled in between. We remember one year at the West Music Festival, among with all the other international cuisine booths, this little Cong Bao Hui Er was the best seller of the year, now you know why.
Find it: Wang Lao Da / 王老大蛋饼店
Add: No. 9, Building 51, Liushui Xiyuan, junction of Zhaohui Road and Jianguo Road 朝晖路与建国路交叉路口流水西苑51幢底商9号
Tel: 0571 8558 4556
Hours: 6am – 9:30pm
Find it: Grandma Sun’s / 孙奶奶葱包烩
Add: 391 South Zhongshan Road 中山南路391号
Hours: 7am – 5pm
Inspired by the skills of martial artists Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, 18-year old Tim Vukan and his friends were intrigued by this ancient art. After seeking guidance and training from Ving Tsun Gong Fu instructor Jan Hantelman, a connection was made for life. He shared with us stumbling across a tiny Chinese bookshop and discovering hundreds of books detailing the very art he loved. Intrigued by the images he found within the pages, he often went back to look around. It was here that he found the book that would change his life: Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. Being the only book he found written in German, it became a part of him, attached to him day and night. After watching a live performance from the Shaolin monks in Hamburg he knew it was time…
After six years of intensive training and teaching in Hamburg and Münster, Tim took the plunge and moved to Dengfeng, Henan to practice directly at the source. Home to many academies and thousands of students, he chose to study at Wushu College where a little girl took him by surprise: “The best teacher I had was a nine-year old girl. She taught me high kicks and how to perform very difficult techniques. She taught me to be honest and kind to people.”
What was the most difficult part of your course?
The most difficult part was we had to train very hard every day no matter what condition our bodies were in. Training started at 5:30am and continued all day until 6-7pm. After three weeks of intensive training, I couldn’t walk up the stairs and suffered from heavy muscle tension pain in my legs. Once I was lying in bed, I felt calm and peaceful until the loud Chinese march music woke me up in the morning and it started all over again. This pain is necessary to understand your body. If you want to perform Shaolin Gong Fu and to reach a high level we must go further to feel what it means to have focus.
In Chinese there is a saying 先苦后甜, which means after hard and bitter work there will be sweetness. It means that we have to work hard if we want to achieve something. Everything we do is to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and to learn how to control our body and our mind in different situations. Our body is sometimes weak. Learning Gong Fu is a way to train our minds to tell our body what to do and when to stop. I learnt jianchi 坚持 – it doesn’t matter if we fail or succeed, it is more important to go on. Our body and mind each have their own language and we are able to control our body with our mind. If there is a strong mind and a clear heart, there is a strong body. Many diseases are based on an imbalance of our body and our mind. If we stay focused in the moment, we can prevent illnesses and have a happier life! Gong Fu is a way to choose health and happiness in your life.
After Henan, Tim moved to Yangshuo, Guangxi province to continue with taiji quan classes. There he met a woman who was offering taiji sword lessons and became her student, learning taiji next to the Li river. She taught him many things like Chinese cooking and the art of bartering. He felt happiness getting to know a culture which he had always wanted to learn more about.
During his travels in 2004, he really enjoyed Hangzhou. Growing up in Hamburg, he was a part of nature. In Hangzhou, he found he could still have that in the beautiful mountains and bamboo forests surrounding the city. From the beginning of his martial arts career, he often came into contact with Chinese medicine. In 2005, he decided to start studying it. In ancient times, masters of Gong Fu were often also doctors of Chinese medicine – it was a natural progression. Zhejiang Chinese Medical University offered him a place.
We hear a lot about the pressure of education in China, did you feel a lot?
The Chinese education system can be very challenging for foreigners. First to master the language and then to get used to the way of teaching. Asking questions doesn’t have much space in classroom; it’s very different to the west. Chinese students are not used to communicating with their teachers, only listening to gain information. This caused a lot of pressure while studying. Preparing for a test required memorizing and repeating facts instead of putting the theory into our own words like back home. Every culture has its own specialties, especially when it comes to education. Now, I often meet young people in the clinic telling me about their life and study and that it made them sick. Young students are often overwhelmed with pressure. I start telling them my story, hoping to inspire them to find their own way to learn.
You’ve founded your own company, how has that been? Do you have good support?
I founded Wushan TCM, a Chinese medical network, with the goal to connect the east with the west and to offer Chinese medicine education to students and current practitioners. There are live webinars and recorded online courses about the theory and practice. I also arrange local treatments for foreigners with Chinese medicine and take care of the language translations and clinical arrangements. I work in cooperation with Chinese medical doctors whom I’ve met during my studies and practice over the past twelve years. I want to help people to come to China and to gain their individual experiences.
You’ve studied tai chi, TCM and lots of other ways of healing. What would you say is the best medicine?
In our modern times a practitioner has to have knowledge from both western and Chinese medicine to offer the patients the most accurate and suitable diagnosis and treatment. Even though western and Chinese medicine are very different from each other, they can be combined in many different ways. While western medicine is treating the illness, Chinese medicine is treating the symptoms of the patient and finding the source. An example of how they work in harmony would involve undergoing surgery for an external injury (western) followed by Chinese medicine to strengthen the patient help to recover in a more comprehensive way. Both medicines have their limitations and their benefits.
I won’t say that TCM is the best medicine. I believe Chinese medicine can help a lot of people, where western medicine cannot. Above all, the best medicine is when people take better care of themselves and gain more understanding of how we can keep healthy and prevent illness. It’s about our lifestyle, our emotions, our living and working environment, our family situation, our nutrition and so much more. I want people to gain more sensibility about their lives and what makes us ill.
What plans do you have for the future?
I would like to combine my life in China with the life in the west. At the moment, I am preparing the German natural license test to be allowed to work and to treat in Germany with Chinese medicine. In the future I want to offer more lectures, seminars and tours in Hangzhou and to give more students the great opportunity to learn from professional doctors. More and more foreigners are interested in coming to China to study TCM. I want to help them however I can. The world will become more connected. Let’s become a part of it!
Tim Vukan has been studying and practicing Chinese medicine for more than ten years at the Zhejiang Chinese Medical University in Hangzhou. He founded Wushan TCM in 2008 to connect Chinese medicine practitioners and students by offering Chinese medicine online courses and training tours to enable an authentic education in the theory and clinical field of Chinese health cultivation methods. To learn more, visit the website at www.wushantcm.com.
I first visited Georgetown, the capital city of Penang Island, Malaysia, in 2008. This was just before Georgetown gained Unesco World Heritage designation. I vividly recall the beauty of the decaying historical buildings dating back to the late 18th century British colonial rule. The multi-coloured shop houses with peeling paint stood stoically, telling countless stories of the centuries gone by.
In 1786, Britain established Georgetown to rival the Dutch trading port Malacca in a bid to gain control of the important trade routethrough the Straits of Malacca which connected Europe, the Middle East and India to the west with China, Southeast Asia and Japan to the east.Georgetown began attracting Chinese, Indian and Malaysian merchants and settlers. Each group broughtalong their language, food and religion making Georgetown a very special mix of cultures living together in harmony.
Georgetown’s Unesco World Heritage zone is a compact, easily manageable area that you can walk around in two to three hours. Start at the grand KapitanKeling mosque, built in 1801 by Indian Muslim settlers with its Mughal-style domes and Indian-Islamic minaret, from where the call to prayer can be heard five times a day.
Then wander around Little India with Bollywood music blaring from shops and colorful silk saris on display. Tantalizing skewers of tandoori meattempt you to stop and nibblewhile tables piled with samosas and Indian sweets are hard to resist.Then further to the north, near the coastline are the British colonial buildings that now house banks, western bars and restaurants.
Turn a corner and head towards the Chinese area with colourfulclan houses, temples and shops. Bustling hawker stalls line the streets, selling Penang’s famous street foods like CharKwayTeow, Chee Cheong Fun and HokkienMee. The Chinese community has roots from Hokkien, Cantonese and Hakka and they here are a linguistically talented bunch who easily switch between conversations in Cantonese, Mandarin, their own Chinese dialects, English and Malay.
By the time I visited in 2008, much of the historic area had fallen into disrepair. Then came the Unesco World Heritage designation breathingrenewed life to Georgetown and historic buildings were restored and converted into cafes and boutique hotels. Previously, Georgetown mainly offered budget guesthouses and one very top end hotel. Now, there’s a growing range of boutique heritage hotels for visitors to choose from.
Campbell House was one of the first boutique hotels to open in Georgetown, and work on converting the building into a hotel began even before the Unesco World Heritage listing was announced. The owners, wife and husband team Nardya Wray and Robert Dreon, both saw the potential in Georgetown and had faith in its future. Nardya has a personal history with Penang, having been born in Malaysia before moving to UK andthen often returning to Penang to visit family.
Robert and Nardya bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience, both coming from successful careers in London’s luxury hospitality industry.The couple embarked on restoring the hundred-year-old corner shophouse, completely gutting the building down to the original beams and structure.Working tirelessly over three years, they lovingly restored the building and filled their dream hotel with antique furniture sourced from around the region.
Campbell House offers eleven suites, each with an individual character representing a different element of colonial Malaysia, such as the Colonial Room with a four poster bed or the Sari Room graced with a headboard made from sari silk.
The rooms are luxuriously appointed and feature modern fixtures and technologies like flat screen TV’s, Nespresso machines, chilly central air-con, rain head showersand newplumbing. You may be staying in a heritage hotel with antique furniture, but you will not lackfor any modern comforts.
Campbell House is located on Campbell Street, right in the heart of Georgetown and makes a great base for exploring the city. The next street over is LebuhChulia, one of the main roads of Georgetown, where you’ll find many bars and street food.
Leaving behind the chaotic colourfulstreetlife and stepping into the peaceful tranquility of Campbell House, the first thing you will notice is the lovely lemongrass scent. Then the friendly receptionist will get you checked-in and pull out a map to show you where to find the best food and attractions.
Respecting the original architecture, there are no elevators in this three story house, but the hotel staff will use a clever pulley system to get your luggage to the top floor. Smoking is not permitted indoors, but you can do so on the rooftop terrace.
As is the tradition in Malaysian houses, guests have to leave their shoes in the public area before proceeding upstairs to the rooms. This ensures that the living areas are immaculately clean and you get the warm feeling that you are an honoured guest in a private house. Each guest receives personalized attention and you can even make special requests for breakfast to suit your dietary needs. The library invites guests to lounge and chat with each other and we had many lively conversations with our fellow travelers there.
Rooms are cleaned twice a day, and atnight they will leave iced tea and some sweet treats in the fridge. The soft and fluffy king-sized feather-topped bed is so comfortable, there seems to be a magic spell around it because as soon as you lay down you almost immediately fall asleep.
Breakfastis served in their Italian restaurant from 8am-12pm, so guests can leisurely sleep in or go out for an early morning walk before temperatures get too hot and still have ample time to return and enjoy breakfast.The breakfast spread includes a basket of freshly baked bread, a selection of housemade jams like coconut, orange marmalade and pineapple, a large platter of fresh fruit and a choice of entrée such as Eggs Benedict or Welsh Rarebit.
Their Italian Restaurant, Il Bacaro, draws on Robert’s Italian roots and offers an alternative to local cuisine. As much as I love curries and fried noodles, sometimes you just crave a fine Italian meal. It’s become a trendy dining destination for travelers and locals alike.
Georgetown is a city you can come back to again and again and never grow tired of.The Unesco World Heritage designation came just in time to save many heritage buildings from demolition. Though developmentis bringing about changes, its soul and authenticity still remains, just a scratch beneath the surface. The introduction of a heritage hotel like Campbell House means you can now visit Georgetown and stay in style and comfort.
Campbell House is a World Luxury Hotel Award winner and is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for B&Bs in Georgetown. Rooms range from 600-800RMB per night.Air Asia flies from Hangzhou to Penang, transferring in Kuala Lumpur.
The Hyatt Regency welcomes Raul Avendano, a 31-year-old chef from Chile, to “spice up” their restaurant and buffet. This South American hottie creates a flavor so refreshing it will whip your taste buds into shape and wake you up from a world of slumber. This talented chef started his career in the hotel business studying administration, but after one year he decided it wasn’t for him. He changed majors to be in the kitchen and everything fell into place.
“When I put on my uniform and take my knife, I feel different. I get this intense feeling, just taking the raw ingredients and transforming them to something incredible.”
Raul has been cooking in top hotels all over the world. After four years traveling in Mexico, he moved on to Macau to open a new branch of the Banyan Tree. He was also the chef in the pre-openings of Dubai’s exclusive beachfront bar and restaurant Zero Gravity and the Grand Hyatt Casino Hotel in the Bahamas.
His Mexican Flautas are a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with Latin cuisine. Succulent chicken breast cooked in a tomato base and wrapped in a crispy flour tortilla, topped with sour cream and fresh salad. Next, we tried the Pork Loin Roulade with onions, garlic, dried cranberries, nuts and apple sauce, pan seared and finished to perfection in the oven. This was served with roasted potatoes and a chorizo-like sausage. If that wasn’t tantalizing enough, the final surprise was the Green Lamb Chops marinated with lemon and served on a bed of creamy quinoa risotto that really got our tongues tingling! We managed to have a chat and find out ‘more’ about the man himself for all you readers of MORE Hangzhou.
So Raul, you have quite the resume! Can you tell us which of your experiences have been the most rewarding so far?
A great place for me to work was Dubai. It was challenging at first because of the religion and restrictions. In Chile, we like to cook with red wine and experiment with new ingredients and spices, but there I could not use alcohol or pork. But, the supply of fresh meats, vegetables and spices was endless and we had good contacts with the suppliers. In the end, I really honed in on other techniques and flavors. It was a memorable time.
We all know how difficult it is to get certain ingredients here. Why did you choose China?
The fascination came from when I was a kid, you know. Growing up, I loved the Chinese movies with Jackie Chan, and I was amazed by the different culture and, of course, the food! Then I worked Macau and I learnt so much! I thought “I’m here! I’ve done it.” China is a place that people from the west think they know until they arrive here and it all opens up. It’s a whole new world. After I left Macau and went back to South America, I thought… “Something is missing in this kitchen… the woks!” Working on a line with these tools and producing a different taste was incredible, and I am happy to be back working with a talented group of individuals.
What’s the greatest difficulty you have here?
It has to be the language. I’m learning slowly but it will take time. I always say “I have no problems, just challenges,” and because I have no problems, I have more time to find solutions. I love working in this team. To these chefs, it isn’t just a job, it’s their passion and that’s what make this food very special.
Where did your motivation come from? Did your mum cook at home?
Oh no, my love for cooking comes from my Dad’s side of the family. My aunt and my Grandmother, they have good taste. My teachers too, they really inspired me to do more. I hope the people in Hangzhou can be open to try new flavours and enjoy eating my food as much as I enjoy creating it.
If you would like to join the taste fiesta, then head down to the Hyatt Regency hotel for their Latin Festival which lasts until April 10th. The buffet, which includes the dishes we tried, will run you 348RMB from Sunday to Thursday and from Friday to Saturday 368RMB (both prices have a 15% service charge).
Raul is in the process of creating a whole new a la carte menu that will be available after the festival with other dishes of Latin taste to tease you too! For more information on this, go ahead and contact the hotel or pop by for a sneaky peak at Raul himself hard at work in Café at the Hyatt. Buen Provecho!
To be honest, this is not exactly how I saw my Saturday morning going. After a good deal of persuasion, I had given in and decided to come to CrossFit Qiantang to see what all the fuss was about. Standing in a room full of about twenty-five athletic-looking sorts limbering up, little did I know that I was about to experience what would be one of the more intense twenty minutes worth of exercise I had done in my life.
In the car on the way to the gym, after having signed up for the class, we found out what the WOD (workout of the day) was. That day it would begin with 150 Burpees, a movement which involves going from standing to lying, to standing and a jump to finish. Then, 100 Wall Balls, requiring you to throw a medicine ball to above a line high on the wall. These two exercises were to be completed as a team, shared and in rotation. The final part, 5x200 meters, would be an individual effort.
After stretching and warming up, we were put into teams of three, our team name placed on the board, thereby riling up the competitive spirit in each and every athlete present. As the countdown began from ten, the crowd erupted, and as the music got louder, the tempo in the room sky-rocketed and the anticipation became unbearable.
Then, the room exploded as the battle for supremacy began, each team pitted off against each other in an effort to achieve the best time. During the next twenty minutes, I found strength in me that I didn’t know existed as my team and trainers (and even the opposition!?) spurred me on to reach the finish line in as fast a time as possible.
So this was my experience of CrossFit, a way of working out that has taken countless countries by storm and is now rapidly spreading through the mainland of China. For a better explanation of what CrossFit actually is, I spoke with the founder of CrossFit Qiantang, The General. Summing up my experience perfectly he told me, “It’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone. CrossFit is fun, but at the same time it can be brutal because it pushes you to your limits. The purpose of CrossFit is to train at your threshold area, which means you need to push your margin out.”
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit has three core fundamentals: constant variation, functional movement and high intensity. The first, constant variation, aims to improve your overall fitness, offering new and completely different workouts each time, using muscles you never knew you had, in contrast to a more focused improvement that some sports or traditional gym training offer: “We want every single one of our athletes to have a great general, broad fitness, which means they are prepared for the unknown,” said The General. In addition, you only find out the WOD after having booked the class, so if it’s something you don’t like, there’s no backing out: “You have no idea what you are going to be doing that day, just like real life. Life is unpredictable... CrossFit is the same thing.”
Functional movement involves using non-artificial movement – many gym machines promote a movement that is not entirely natural, whereas functional movements are more daily-life based and can therefore be used more in everyday situations.
High intensity is fairly self-explanatory, the benefit being you can put in less time but get more benefit. Rather than spending countless hours on a treadmill, CrossFit can condense this into around fifteen or twenty minutes of actual workout time (not including warming up or down), and yet offers results to match and even surpass longer, less intense workouts.
Why do CrossFit?
Aside from obvious health benefits, the most valuable thing CrossFit can offer is community. Looking lost on my first time in the gym, I was warmly received by trainers and members alike, as they approached me to introduce themselves and confess their great love for CF. Jenny had been CF-ing for around six months and was quick to praise the social aspect CF offers. She’d been working out in traditional gyms for years, rarely meeting anyone new: “I would be next to a guy on a treadmill every week for five or six years and have no idea about his name or who he was. Coming to CrossFit, there is a real feeling of community; everyone is very friendly and a strong bond is formed.”
This bond can only serve to improve your workout input as when you are making that final push, those around you shouting your name are sources of admiration and inspiration, team members who want nothing more than to see you do that extra rep, sprint that last 100 meters. They expect nothing less than 100%, and that is exactly what you should give them.
Furthermore, CrossFit supports and encourages its members to leave their comfort zone behind and do things they never thought they were capable of. The General explained, “The vast majority of people in this world only want to do the things they can do well… we like to give you something that you’re not good at… just use four or five hours a week to do this and your life will change completely.” So rather than doing something which comes easily to you, something you’re used to and can handle with relative ease, why not improve yourself by doing something you’re terrible at. Makes sense, right?
Some go to church, others go to CrossFit
For most, CF is more than just a workout. It’s way of life, a way of thinking that seems to make people want more from themselves. For one member, Adriana, CF was the missing piece of the puzzle, and after discovering it, her life came together, leading her to quit her job and become a shareholder in the company. Like many of the members here, you too may find yourself starting a new chapter of your life. Discover a new you, meet new friends. There’s really no excuse, so go on down and meet the CrossFit Qiantang family.
Give it a shot
For those of you thinking of joining, the first step is to sign up for one of their trial classes, either on Saturdays at 10am or Wednesdays at 8pm. The Saturday morning class will include members, so you’ll have a chance to meet the whole gang, something I strongly recommend, whereas the Wednesday evening class will include prospective members only. Also, many different membership schemes are available depending on your availability, ranging from a one-off drop in fee to a five-times-weekly membership.
Etienne Jeanne, guitarist with gypsy jazz band Three of a Kind, has been living in China for almost ten years. His Russian bandmates are based in Paris which means he mostly gets to play with them when he returns to France in the summer. This year however they are recording a new project in April and are hoping to embark on a world tour next year. I asked Etienne some questions about the band and the musical genre of gypsy jazz.
How did you meet your bandmates?
The three of us met in Paris in 2002. I had just moved to Paris when I was 18 in order to start my career as a professional musician, and met Aliocha and Vladi separately while doing gigs in Paris. It was the beginning of the "gypsy jazz revival" at the time. They were performing in an old Russian cabaret every week. I went to jam with them and found we had a strong connection right away so we decided to form a band. We've remained friends ever since.
How do you define gypsy jazz?
Gypsy jazz is a musical genre developed by the late great Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in the late 30's, on the initiative of Hugues Panassié and Charles Delauney who wanted to build and promote a unique type of European jazz. That is why the Hot Club de France were the first "strings only" jazz quintet ever, innovating jazz music with a totally new sound never recorded before.
Is gypsy jazz the hardest genre to play on guitar?
It definitely requires strong guitar skills to play gypsy jazz, but not only that. A certain knowledge about jazz and gypsy culture in general, and an acuity for improvisation are also important.
Do you think there is a large audience for this type of music?
There is undoubtedly a large audience for gypsy jazz as this type of music is getting more and more popular. When I started to play this music, it was kind of a geek thing known principally in France and a few countries around (England, Germany, Holland, Italy), and now there is a Hot Club in every major city in the world, such as San Francisco, and even in Beijing! This style of music is pleasing to the ear, non-aggressive, and visually strong as you can see guitar players and violin players going crazy on their instruments! Plus it involves the guitar, which is the most popular instrument in the world, so people tend to identify themselves with it even more, especially metal guitar players.
What's the best thing about playing to a live audience?
Two things; the reward of an intense practice at home for years when people are clapping their hands, and the freedom to re-arrange our tunes, improvise, and make people surprised with a brand new show each time. To record is to leave a trace in time, to play live is to feel carefree again.
Where's your favourite place to play in Hangzhou?
I personally like to play in JZ Club because the venue is well adapted for live performances. There are many other places in Hangzhou offering the possibility to watch live bands, but not enough in my opinion. That is why I still need to work in Shanghai regularly since there are more opportunities. Fingers crossed about more musicians coming to Hangzhou in the next few years.
Has Chinese music had any influence on the music that you play?
Chinese music had an influence on the way I write originals indeed, we also cover a few songs from the early 30's Shanghai jazz repertoire.
Which bands are you following at the moment?
In the field of gypsy jazz, there are a lot of good musicians upcoming from all around the world although I think this type of music is precisely the legacy of Django Reinhardt, and hasn't really improved yet. People tend to copy the "authentic gypsy style" too much instead of working on their own interior music, which I think wouldn't have been the wish of the creators of this revolutionary musical genre.
If you would like to see Three of a Kind playing live, you can check them out at the venues below.
April 2nd @ ABC Café (Starts at 7:30pm)
1/F, Changjian Mansion, 415 Huanxing Rd, Binjiang, 滨江环兴路415号长建大厦1楼
April 8th @ Amigo (Starts at 9pm)
8 Yugu Rd, 玉古路8号
April 17th @ JZ Hangzhou (Starts at 9:30pm)
6 Liuying Rd (Nanshan Rd) , 柳营路6号（靠南山路）
April 22nd @ Reggae bar (Starts at 10:30pm)
131 Xueyuan Rd, 学院路131号
April 23rd @ Schänke (Starts at 9:30pm)
Room -3 and 2-2, Building 32, Qingchunfang, Qingchun Rd, 庆春路青春坊32幢1-3室和2-2室