China Lace Dresses

I had a stack of China related posts ready to write while I was there. But, then things got c-r-a-z-y.  One thing I wanted to talk about were the custom clothes I had made in China. I had two suits, four shirts made, but I was really excited about these lace dresses.

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As you may recall, I spotted these laces while in China at the Silk Bund Spinning Market. I paid about$15 usd a yard for them and was feeling a little taken to the cleaners. But, I felt better after spotting the same lace in white in Xiamen and they were asking double the price before negotiating. I felt especially good after coming back from China and finding these laces at A Fabric Place for $85 to $110 a yard.

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Anywhoo, I decided I wanted to have dresses made rather than sew them myself when I got home. I went online and picked these two styles for inspiration.

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Valentino

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Dolce and Gabbana ($3,500)

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Second view of DG dress

I’ve never really sewn with lace before and wasn’t all that amped to try anytime soon. So, going to a tailor to have them made in China would also be part of the experience. I also decided to wait until Xiamen instead of Shanghai because of the prices. I knew the labor costs would be half since Xiamen isn’t saturated with Westerners having clothes made.

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In Xiamen one of our guides, found a brother, sister and mom  who worked out of their home. I showed them the dresses on my iPad and from the September editions of Vogue magazine. They took my measurements and got to work.

Essentially, there is no pattern. They marked my hip, waist and bust measurements right on the fabric.

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From there, they draft, again, on the fabric.

If you can imagine, they had appliqued the neckline lace. Something, I just would not have the patience to do.

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I went in for about two fittings on the three dresses and here are the results. I had the cream and purple made into the Valentino cap sleeve style. I asked for a side zipper because I didn’t want to ruin the lines of the lace.

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I always knew I wanted to wear the cream dress for our rehearsal / welcome dinner. And, Liz looked so cute in the purple version, that she wore it that night too.

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Now, on me the cream lace dress is about four inches too long. It would be better just above my knee. The purple proportions are fine.

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I’m not tall (or thin) enough to get away with this middy look.

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I thought about hacking some off the bottom and reapplying the lace. But, I’m not going to do that.

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And, I think it looks prettier with the lace detail (unlike above where it’s turned under). I’m also not going to cut it at the waist, shorten from there, and sew it back. It’s just not in me.

Anywho, Liz wore the purple version that night and looked smashing.

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I haven’t gotten to wear the red one yet. Man, red takes terrible pictures.  We just finalized details for a post-wedding party his parents are hosting. I thought about wearing it then, but it seems a little fancy for a Sunday afternoon gig.

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Overall, I am thrilled with the dresses. They are really beautifully made and I wouldn’t have gotten around to sewing them any time soon. Plus, it was an experience having someone else interpret your idea of a dress. I think being a sewist myself made me super patient with the process. I also knew I needed to give them photos of what I wanted and NOT deviate. Between the language barrier and time, not having a photo is the way to get what you don’t want.

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My interpreter this year, Ashley (below)  was fascinated by the whole process. But, she too could not understand why I would want to get dresses made when there are H&M and other stores all over China. I also got to bore her pants of with wedding details. Weddings are BIG business in China. Since I was always online ordering stuff for the wedding, she was my one woman focus group.

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What is different this year, is she didn’t think I paid too much. Three years ago, my interpreters thought my custom clothes were expensive. But, the economy in China has changed since then and this didn’t seem too high to her.

I’ll post about the suits and shirts another time, I think this post is long enough!

Back From China

Hello Everyone!

First, thank you for all the congratulations on my recent engagement!!! We ended up taking a las minute trip over the Labor Day holiday weekend to see my parents in Florida.

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Pass A Grille Beach in St. Pete, FL

Sitting on the lanai, (thank you Debbie Cooke, I had no idea what that thing was called) by the pool, we read every single comment out loud. There was a lot of squealing of delight on my part :-) It was so fun to hear from long time internet friends, real life friends and from those of you who delurked.  I am sincerely overwhelmed and touched by your outpouring of congratulations. Jordan, for sure, knows there is a whole community rooting for us!

Two weeks week ago (the Tuesday after Labor Day), I left for a two-week business trip to Shanghai and Xiamen in China. My colleagues and I were incredibly busy with work meetings and work meals.

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But, I had to get back to the South Bund Spinning Market while in Shanghai.

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Long time readers may remember that the market is mostly for buying custom made clothing.

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For instance, this dress is a knock off of a dress worn by Kate Middleton. Their price, pre-bargining, custom fit, $100.

This Burberry copy was $80

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But, I was focused on buying laces. My plan was to buy fabric in Shanghai and have it sewn in Xiamen. Prior experience told me construction prices would be half.

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These guipere laces are stunning at stall no 398. They are similar to Prada and Versace. And, after bargaining, $15 a yard. I may have overpaid. But, you lose perspective!

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They’ve been turned into three lace dresses (cream, red, and purple), one of which I will wear for my rehearsal dinner.

Here is the cream lace mid construction

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If I lived in China, I would have everything custom made. Period.

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I also bought several meters of each of these laces to make my wedding veil. For 20 yards I spent about $20. I want a finger tip, one layer veil edged in lace. I saw them going for $300 US. That, is bananas. I’ll use the savings for my shoes. The first and last are my top contenders. I will use the second and third to practice.

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I am now back home after 40 hours of travel from Xiamen to Shanghai, Shanghai to Detroit and Detroit to Baltimore and, incredibly jet lagged (hence my 4:00 a.m. posting)

I’ll get the four shirts, two suits and three dresses I had made on the dressform and post some about that process and the food I ate. Oh, China has changed since I went three years ago and I’ll bore you with my thoughts on that too!

Magical Thinking and Big in China

Well. Not *really* big. There were plenty of women taller than me or the same height. But, buildwise? I am HUGE. I went from a medium here at home to an Extra Large in China.

As mentioned, I only took one pair of shoes with me to China. Good, comfortable walking shoes purchased days before I left.

They started coming apart at the Baltimore aiport. By Day Four, I was seriously worried about them lasting me until the end especially because we had a trip planned to the Great Wall (never made it). I managed to get a quick repair on the street for 8 RMB (a little over a $1 US). Please don’t think I found this guy on my own! I showed my shoes to the concierge and he walked me outside and up the street to this man.

He operated out of a cart and hand stitched the sole back to the upper leather shoe.

I loved his sewing machine complete with a stool for customers to sit on.

And, since I had a new traditional Chinese dress, I thought newer shoes were mandated. Especially because our college-age interpreters made a face when I told them I was going to wear my red shoes.

I bought these in a European size 40 (about an 8.5 to 9 in US sizes). I had to visit two stores before I found one that even carried my size! And even then, the sales clerk looked really doubtful. These shoes are beautiful. But, cotton. I’m almost afraid to wear them! They were $10 US on sale.

Elizabeth accidetnally left her suit behind in Shanghai and needed a new dress in Xiamen. They had her size. In an Extra Large. Some dresses we looked at and before we could ask for our size, the poor sales clerk would just shake her head ‘no’.

I also indulged after falling in love with this shift dress. Also, an Extra Large. An XL with unmatched plaid. I have got to pay more attention in the store.

Cute, no?

Part of our tour in Beijing included a stop at a traditional Chinese medicine doctor.

For 20 RMB (about $3 US) you can get a 10 minute massage.

This doctor’s specialty is reading pulses. They say they can diagnose anything through your pulse.

He felt my pulse and told me through the interpreter that I had bad circulation which was impacting my sleep and aggravating my tendinitis. I asked for a little something to help with weight loss. I mean, if we’re engaging in magical thinking, I’ll take a pill that helps me lose 10 pounds. He told me I didn’t need to lose any weight but I needed to take a two $90 a month supplements of 20 pills at each meal to help my blood circulate better.

$180 a month for some ground up roots and seeds. I passed.

Well, this post generally concludes my travel blogging for China. Overall, it was a pretty amazing trip. And, it truly came at the right time for me. I welcomed the distraction. I left home in the middle of summer and now it’s cooling off and feels like fall. Time to start thinking and blogging about sewing again, eh? Thanks for following along this series and all of your comments of support. I’m always a little conscious of blogging ‘off topic’ and I’m glad you let me turn this blog into my travel journal.

Other Random China Bits

Helen and Queenie

** Unless I have some crazy revelations, this should be my next to last travel post about China. I tended to write outlines up each night while I was gone (have to do something with all the jetlag and no access to sewing blogs!) and revised and organized on my 14 hour flight back into the US. I probably should have strung my posts out through the week. But, I’m an instant bloggerfacation kind of girl.

One of my surprises about Xiamen is that they too have a fabric ‘mall’. Unfortunately, I know neither the name nor the address. When we got to Xiamen we were assigned interpreters from the local college. They were the cutest things. Sweet and helpful. My first day there I let them know I needed to have my qipao altered, Liz needed a dress made and I needed some garments copied for my boss. We found this mall on the second go round. They were shocked that I made my own clothes. Not that they had stuff made. They just shopped at the mall. Typical teenagers, right?

Again, similar set up as in Shanghai. But, the fabric choices were limited. More suitings and shirtings than fine silks and fun prints. There were also several dressmakers and tailors who operated seperately from thier fabric.

On the basement level I was in search of the quipa pattern book I spotted in one of the shops. Unfortunately I couldn’t find one.

But, I saw this woman making strings of beads and beading fabric in another room. Watching her made my eyes hurt.

This woman was sewing all of the little jewelry bags that we get pieces in.

I did find someone sewing uniforms and was puzzled. I kept thinking, ‘why don’t they just order uniforms?’ But, then I realized that this *i*s where our uniforms come from! It was eye opening.

But, I did stumble upon several supply stores and stocked up.

Zippers were half a yuan each (don’t hate me) about 8 cents each. Yes. 8 cents. I bought two dozen in black and took their assorted package. Oh. Definitely wishing I had bought more of the assorted zipper packs. These are all 22 inches long.

Buttons were also 10 cents each in Xiamen. I exercised great  control I think and bought these plus a gross of plain white shirt buttons. The gross was about $5 US.

And, the things I got which made my heart soar took true trans Pacific cooperation. While shopping in the supply store I saw they had industrial serger feet. Now, we all know that Gigi has been sewing it up in Florida binding any and everything. I  know I want to buy an industrial machine within the next year or two. So, I asked how much the feet were. $4 each. Say *what*?

Apparently, ‘Great Knives’ are made in Taiwan — visible from Xiamen’s shore.

I emailed Gigi that night (her morning) asking her what feet I would want to buy so I could stock up there. To the rescue, she sent me a list of feet to look for and for the binders, she even saved me the mental (well cell phone) calculations and listed the widths in metric! In *metric*

Since I bought so many feet, they sold the binders to me at $2 a each. $2. And the regular sewing feet for the industrial? 50 cents each.

I also bought sewing machine needles for $1.50 for a pack of 10. And, they say ‘Shanghai Shaggong Sewing Machine Company’. I would have bought them for that alone. Not pictured, two of the biggest rolls of elastic you’ve ever seen for little and nothing.

It was also on this trip that I experienced my first squat toilet. My mom warned me. Katharine in Brussels warned me (omg K. Thank you for telling me about the spitting before I got there). But, it’s something to behold the first time. If you think you won’t use one. Then, you just just don’t have to go badly enough. To be honest, in a skirt, it’s far more sanitary that a sit down toilet. But, I was not coordinated enough to work it out with pants.

BTW, it was hotter than hell in Xiamen

The only makeup I wore for ten days was Neutorgena sunblock. Which, sadly, dried white in my eyebrows and no one told me. I only realized it when I started uploading my photos, LOL.

Stop Staring At Me

When I went to China, a Caucasian colleague who lived in Shanghai for several years warned me that I was going to be stared at. She went through it and I would go through it. What she didn’t tell me is that I would really be STARED at. I’ve been to New Zealand where I didn’t see another black person for a solid week. When my mom and I went, some kids looked at us. But, I always thought that had more to do with not being from some of the small towns we visited rather than being black. I’m used to being one of the few black people around. I’m totally not used to double takes.

More often than not I was just stared at. But, I had small children point at me and grab their friend / mother / grandmother. I had people taking cell phone camera pictures of me. At the Forbidden City in Beijing, I had people take pictures near me so they could get me in the background.

At the Bund in Shanghai

I watched my (incredibly sweet and delightful) college-age interpreter touching / rubbing the skin on my knee after I dozed off in the taxi. When she realized I was awake, she said ‘so different’. Totally innocent. But, still kind of annoying.

At Nanpatu Temple in Xiamen

But, mostly, I had people ask to take pictures with me. A lot. Like, at least twice a day but no more than five times a day every day for 10 days.

This woman brought her child up to me and kept rubbing her skin and touching her hair and pointing at me. That went on for a good five minutes before Elizabeth was like, ‘let’s go’.

In Xiamen

Some people were really sweet and would say, “So beautiful!” despite my being in a constant state of sweating for 10 days.  I started my trip with being amused by it and happily taking photos and waving back at people who were looking at me.  But, by day 10, it was just pretty freaking old. I was pointing and staring back. If they tried to take my photo without my permission I would turn my back or hide my face. And if they did the cell phone camera thing, I would take their picture right back or on my worst day give the finger.

Elizabeth is wearing my blouse. So freaking hot we were blowing through our own clothes at record pace.

Our interpreters told us that people were saying, ‘foreigners’ in Chinese as we walked by.  Which is an interesting concept to me. I say ‘tourists’ when I’m at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore or in DC. I think being a child of immigrants I’ve thought the word ‘foreigner’ as a mean comment. Elizabeth studied in France and we had a whole conversation about the translation and use of the word foreigner. My mom got mad at me when I referred to an occasional date a few years ago ah ‘the Italian’. Well, I really called him ‘the Anti-Semitic Italian’ but that’s another story.  Elizabeth also had people ask for her picture. But, we both felt I got the brunt of it. I started calling her ‘the one with Yellow Hair’ .

I understand that over 30,000 Africans were educated in China. With a population of a billion, that’s a drop in the bucket. I know it also speaks to where black people vacation (another cruise to the Caribbean?) but, by the end, I felt a lot like a sideshow. I know it’s not considered rude to stare in China. But, you can’t tell me it’s not considered rude to take someone’s photo without asking. Or pointing. Because every time a kid pointed, their friend / mother / grandmother admonished them.

It’s just a totally homogeneous society, I realize it didn’t come from a bad place but, I’m quite happy not to be stared at anymore.

How Not to Look Like a Hummingbird


At first, while fabrc shopping, I thought I would get my own fabric and make a ‘qipao’. But, I realized I didn’t want to be decked out in all embroidery. I thought I would look like a hummingbird. But, Helen and I saw these two beautiful, simple, classic designs that I started thinking maybe I would get them made.

When I was told each dress would be about $45 I realized it could be years before I got around to making one (and really. was I seriously going to make a traditional Chinese dress??) and I might as well give it a go. When they told me it would be ready the NEXT day, I was sold.

They took just a few simple measurements and asked how tight I wanted it. I told them loose figuring it was better to have have it taken in later (which I did in Xiamen) rather than struggle with a dress that was too tight.

Helen and her husband picked my dress up for me and delivered to my hotel since I had meetings that day and they thought the 50 RMB delivery fee was too high. For this dress, I had them move the side slits to a CB slit.

One of the things I found frustrating about China is the bargaining and ripping off of foreigners. In Xiamen the first tailor (admittedly at the hotel) wanted 400 RMB to take in my two dresses. The dresses cost 650 RMB. The next tailor I found in the garment area? 40 RMB. About $5. Isn’t that some BS?

I’m currently not a fan of sheath dresses on me. I’m too bottom heavy for it. But, I couldn’t resist this simple design in black. The red insert is a phoenix which is the symbol of the empress. I was born in the year of the dragon and figured that design was what I wanted.
But was told by everyone that dragons are for men.

Did I mention I only took one pair of shoes with me to China? Try not to shake your head at me. I did buy better shoes for the the second time I wore this dress.

The second dress was actually the first one that caught my eye. All the topstitching in hand done.

The cap sleeves are a bit limiting, but I love, love the color combination and fit.

Elizabeth had her dress made in Xiamen for about $30 for dress and jacket (not including fabric). Hers took four days to make.

It took a great deal of self control and FABRIC choice overload to prevent me from having another two made while we were there.

Here it is at my BEST dinner in Shanghai at Lost Heaven with our friend Fred. Have I already mentioned how great it is to have friends all over the world? Shanghai couldn’t have been easier to navigate thanks to Fred and Helen / Hai.

I think, if I lived in China, I would sew far, far less. The finishing techniques used I aspire to. The speed of garment production and the cost would really make sewing my hobby versus my primary way of clothing myself. If you can ever have something custom made (and not by you!) I highly recommend it! I love, love, love my dresses.

Shanghai by Bicycle

As in Montreal, I’m now totally into bicycle tours to see a city. First, it’s so fast for getting around. You see everything around you up close (including pink scooters). You’ll get off the main roads, travel the side alleys and still manage to work off all the extra calories you’ve taken in. And, with jut two full days in the city, and limited touring time, Elizabeth and I wanted to make the most of it.


Everyone bikes in Shanghai. It’s eyeopening.

I’ve never seen so many bicycles on the road nor amenities for cyclists. Real parking. Real biking lines. Roadside bicycle repairs. And no helmets to mess up your hair :)


Babies and children on the backs of bikes. Or, inbetween their parents legs on the scooter. People rode side saddle on the backs of bikes and scooters.

In Shanghai, we used China Cycle Tours for a 3:00 pm. to 10:00 pm night tour. This gave me enough time to go fabric shopping at the cloth market in the morning and let the humidity and heat cool off. Plus, Shanghai is beautiful at night.

We went through Wen Mia, the only Confucian temple in Shanghai; Xintandi which is a former Jewish settlement and now eight acre shopping center (think small streets of Prague); the Dong Tai Road antique market, and the Bund.

The Bund makes NYC’s skyline look like a nightlight.

It’s remarkable simply the way a city of 20 million moves people around the area. There are totally separate bike lines all over the city. There is bicycle parking everywhere. And, I mean everywhere you look. Scooters, cars, bikes and pedestrians truly share the road. Absolutely common form of transportation and moving cargo.

We wanted to do the same in Beijing, but our flight was delayed and the traffic was awful and through idiocy of mine, we were delivered to the wrong hotel. Well, not my total idiocy. We were  at Holiday Inn Express Temple of Heaven. But, I had the information for Holiday Inn Temple of Heaven. Apparently, two different places. So, no bike tour in Beijing.

The best part though? My new bicycle parka!

I became obsessed with getting one of these after seeing them in a photo there. It covers both you and the bike and has holes and cuffs to keep our hands dry over the handle bars. It has little clips to attach to the bike to prevent it from riding / blowing up in your face. I will obviously be making a pattern of this very very soon. I actually kind of want it to rain so I can wear it out :).

Fabric Shopping in Shanghai

Last month when I posted that I was coming to Shanghai, reader Helen emailed to let me know that she was moving back to China and would take me fabric shopping in Shanghai. I actually couldn’t believe my brilliant luck! I never cease to be amazed by the kindness and generosity I’ve experienced from women I’ve met because of the online sewing community. I mean, she doesn’t even *know* me and she was willing to babysit me for a day!

Helen and her patiently awesome husband Hai picked me up from my hotel at 8:30 am so we could beat the crowds at the South Bund Soft Spinning  cloth market. Helen wore houndstooth BurdaStyle.com shorts. They were so well done with piping and pockets that I truly assumed they were ready to wear. It never even crossed my mind that they were home sewn! Her blouse is La Mia Boutique. She and her husband are honestly what made me love Shanghai.

I got goosebumps when I saw the sign for the cloth market. And the market? It’s a freaking cloth MALL. Not one mall. But, like three malls on one corner. After catching my breath we got to work. The market we went to had three floors crammed with stalls. There are other markets for wholesalers. This one is definitely for the retail customer.

While most merchants do speak a little English, having a native speaker by your side is infinitely helpful. Most of the stalls have garments already made up in the fabric available and will sell you that garment or tell you how much it costs to have the dress made for yourself. There is a bit of repeat around the material. And, all the retailers have a lighter for you to test the fabric.

I bought a very respectable five pieces of fabric. Enough to fit in on my carry on. I also bought some other items I’ll post later. Including what I like to think of as the ‘I’m not dating the Vegan’ silver fox fur earmuffs and coat collar.

I mostly bought silk. I have great access to shirtings at home but silks. Awwww. They make my heart beat! Here’s what I got:

Teal coral print on cream silk

A print so large I don't know what I was thinking! I loved the colors. Loved.

Stretch silk charmeuse panels. I bought three panels.

Silk cotton blend with solid cream lining (not shown)

Everything was about 35 RMB a yard which is $4 to $5. I learned an important lesson about about bargaining while at dinner the next night from a Singaporean woman. First she said, the prices at the market don’t fluctuate much. There are many many foreigners that come and the shopkeepers know what we can afford. She, a native Chinese speaker said that she can get the Chinese price (which I think would be half of what I paid) but, she has to bargain like a Chinese. Which means she yells, stamps her feet, insults the product and gets upset. Essentially, you have to wear them down. And she asked me if that’s what I really wanted to do over some fabric. And she’s right. It wasn’t worth it to *me*.

It’s definitely cheaper outside of Shanghai. But, in Xiamen where a friend had a dress made (more on that later) the fabric was less but the selection was extremely limited. Think mostly home dec. Oh, like shopping at JoAnn!

Gam Bei! Or, What I Ate in China

Sadly, despite my best laid plans, I lost no weight in China. Quite frankly, I probably put some on despite biking and lots of walking. I don’t eat pork and shellfish (only finfish for seafood actually) for religious reasons, so I figured between that and not being so adventurous I would eat less. Not so much because the food was amazing.

My favorite meal was a peanut soup in Xiamen from Huang Ze He Peanut Soup Shop. It was surprisingly good — warm, crunchy and delicious. I went here a few times for breakfast the five days I was in Xiamen.

They serve them with these pork buns (I pulled the pork out).

Dumplings are huge in China, especially in the Shanghai area. Most were pork, so I never got to taste them, but they looked amazing.


Did you know that 5 percent of Panama’s population is Chinese? About 150,000 people. I know this because I sat next to the head of their trade office at dinner one night in Xiamen.

What I couldn’t get enough of was the bowls of noodles. I could (and did) eat these every day. And even better? You can easily get seitan (wheat protein), And tofu is totally common there. Trena told me to adopt a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. I’m not sure what the base was. But, I figured this was good enough. I did have some very very good meals at Buddhist vegetarian restaurants in Xiamen.

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I had about five business banquets to attend. Those, were really bad for me. Despite the language barrier, most of my dinner companions picked up on what I was and wasn’t eating and would start to tell the waitresses to bring me something else. It was mostly the shellfish I shied away from. I ended up eating a lot of bamboo shoots. A. Lot.

My favorite was when I sat at dinner and saw that they had me listed as ‘Muslim’. Not vegetarian. But, Muslim. At first I thought it was because there was no Chinese translation for vegetarian. But, there is. Not a problem really. But, they also didn’t serve me any wine!! You HAVE to have wine to get through business banquets my friends! I ended up drinking watermelon juice. Not bad. But, not wine.

And, that was a HUGE lesson for me. You drink ALL the time at Chinese banquets. You have a toast at the beginning of the meal. And, then, during the meal, you go around and people come around to you to give smaller personal toasts. I was warned about they clear white shots. But, I didn’t listen. I won’t lie. I spent a lot of mornings in a haze. The regular toast is “Gan Bei” which literally means ‘dry glass’. Dry glass and a sweaty brow I say.

No trip out of the country is complete without one trip to the local McDonalds. It’s always fun to see what they make differently. I’d also like to point out that everyone inside was skinny. Unlike a US McDonalds. And, they clear your table for you.

I actually had breakfast here a lot. I could get an egg McMuffin with no sausage and a hot cup of coffee for less than $5.

It was totally fun for us to go to restaurants and look at the menus. Between the English translations and the photos, there was always a good giggle or gag available.


A few fine examples:

At the first restaurant we ate at after landing in Shanghai, the guys next to us had the special.

Fancy, overpriced Mochi became my favorite treat in Xiamen. I think they are going to be the next cupcake or macaroon. These were $1 US each.

At one place in Xiamen, you picked your noodle / soup topping for about 8 RMB ($1.10) a bowl. There are a lot of things looking at you!