Vancouver Trip

On April 9th, 2024 both my wife and I hopped on a flight to Vancouver to visit some friends and family. I got an excellent deal from Expedia for TD paying $1035 CAD for 2 return trips and a rental SUV for the week. We ended up getting a fancy Nissan Rogue for the trip.

We did not do any sightseeing other than Port Moody. Our primary purpose while staying in the City of Vancouver is to sample the Chinese food in Vancouver. This means hanging out largely in Richmond and doing some dim sum.

On the fourth day of our trip, we took the BC Ferries to Vancouver Island, visiting Nanaimo for two days, and spending our final two days in Victoria. We finished the week-long trip by taking a return ferry to Tsawwassen terminal, which is close enough to Richmond for us to get another good Chinese B.B.Q pork meal at HK BBQ Master, which I highly recommend!

Our rough schedule looked something like this:

  • Day 1 – Fish & chips along with ice cream at Port Moody; visited Natalie’s beautiful home on the hills, and gave Zoey (her cat) a nice rub; and then to Burnaby to stay at our cousin’s place and got introduced to Maple our new, small canine friend;
  • Day 2 – Lunch, snacks & dinner in Richmond; love the pineapple bun with its tasty, thick, cold butter; savored the lamb served at Hao’s;
  • Day 3 – Dim sum at Kirin restaurant in New Westminister and catching up with Agnes; followed by dessert at La Foret Jubilee with Natalie joining us;
  • Day 4 – Ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay at Nanaimo; did some hiking and scenery;
  • Day 5 – More scenery in Nanaimo and shopping at The Old Country Market at Coombs; What goat on the roof?
  • Day 6 – Drive to Victoria with a stop in Chemainus to inspect the murals, hike on the Kinsol Trestle bridge, with a late lunch at OEB Breakfast, and dinner at Finn’s;
  • Day 7 – Hiked the Beacon’s Hill Park with a huge breakfast at Blue Fox Cafe; met a couple of new friends, one named Lynda at the cafe; visited the Butterfly Gardens; drove along the Malahat scenic views; experienced high tea at Pendray Inn and Tea House; and finally dinner at the Pagliacci’s.
  • Day 8 – Took the ferry back from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen just in time to do lunch at HK BBQ Master; say goodbye to Derrick and Maple; and back on the afternoon flight to Toronto; Darci welcomed us back home at 2:00am on the following day!

The most memorable part of the trip was of course getting to meet up with our family and friends. The best food from this trip had to be from HK BBQ Master, in my opinion, with an honorable mention of the Banh-mi sandwiches that Derrick got for us from his famous Vietnamese sandwich vendor.

What would we do differently? I think knowing what we know about Nanaimo, we would probably skip all of Nanaimo1 and reallocate the days to be one more in Vancouver and an extra day in Victoria. We would also switch the order of our visit to Vancouver and the Island. This way we can spend more time during the weekend with our friends and family.

With this trip and our visit to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, we have completed our tour of all of the provincial capitals in Canada. Checkbox checked!

Below is a summary video produced by Carol of our trip.

Produced, Directed, and Edited by Carol
  1. I decided to visit Nanaimo out of curiosity based on the Gweilo 60 YouTube channel that I follow. ↩︎

What is the Chinese Government?

Recently I have been faced with questions and accusations on how corrupt and dictatorial the Chinese government is to its population. Most of these comments come from people who have not visited and experienced China. Their conclusion largely stems from the feeding of Western mainstream media.

I provide this post as a source of “alternative” information so that anyone can get a quick introduction of what is the Chinese government and how is it being run?

Take a look at this TED talk by Eric Li. He quickly summarizes the differences between the Chinese government that are based on merit versus one that is based on votes practiced by the West.

Eric Li’s TED Talk: A tale of two political systems

Once you finished the above video, I encourage you to read the following answer to the Quora question included below. You can click on the question to go directly to the Quora site and gain additional insights from the other answers. I just happen to particularly like this one.

Don’t people in China wish to live in a democratic country?

Answered by YN Chen on Quora on Nov 5, 2023

I am a Chinese, have studied in the UK and traveled to many countries.

For me, China is democratic – probably even more democratic than western countries.

Of course, I am referring to the original meaning of the word democracy – the power of the state belongs to the people and the people have the right to rule the government.

Nowadays, democracy in the west often refers to multi-party competition, where the ruling party are elected by universal suffrage.

But this approach has some significant problems. As voters are ordinary people who has no specialized knowledge on managing the country, the core competitiveness of the election process becomes the ability to publicize public opinion, personal affinity, and persuasion, which have little to do with whether they can actually formulate and implement policies well, but are more relevant to the resources of the society and the media operation behind them.

In the west, the rule of the people is in a single choice question of political preference, and the frequency of being able to make a choice is once every four years. If you are the minority voter, you will not be able to get a satisfactory result in those four years.

In contrast, China’s “democracy” works like this:

  1. A huge system of officials that everyone can enter by studying and taking exams – from the smallest local township government to the central government, all within the same pyramid-tested promotion system. For Chinese graduates, it is a very common career selection to pick an official position related to their major from an open government list, take a test on logic and issue processing skills, and become a government official. All newcomers need to start from the basic positions and get enough practical results before they are internally elected with promotion.
  2. The criterion value of the government affairs is “people first”. The most important judgment dimension is whether they can improve the life of the majority and satisfy the people.
  3. Public opinion monitoring and feedback mechanism. All levels of government have set up channels to receive public opinion, such as emails, petitions reception, or social media. For every actual problem, the government must give feedback or specific plans within a period of time; and after a period of time, they must do regular follow-up visits to ensure that the problem has been solved satisfactorily. All this is counted in the KPIs of government staff. If the people are not satisfied with this government’s response, they can complain to a higher level of government, which has absolute power over the next level of government, and the government department complained against will be penalized and monitored.

In China, the rule of the people is in the government’s “people first” evaluation criteria, and in the mechanism of feedback and resolution of specific issues that are highly valued. However, if your opinion is detrimental to the interests of the underprivileged, or if you are not looking for a solution, but simply venting your negative feelings and trying to get more people to share your negative feelings, then your opinion might be refused or ignored, or be deferred in to future considerations.

I think this is why people say: in the west, you can change the government, but you can’t change the policies; however in China, you can’t change the government, but you can change the policies.

Of course, both mechanisms have their own drawbacks. For example, since the core competence of universal suffrage is the ability of influencing public opinion, so having control of the media and enough money is almost equivalent to having a high probability of obtaining the highest power in the country; in China, it is very difficult to make the complex internal promotion completely transparent, and it is not easy for the people to monitor inefficiencies and corruption inside the system.

But for me and at least 80%+ Chinese people, the current one party Chinese government is still very satisfactory.

As for the so-called “Communist Party is not the same as government”: in fact, the CCP is not the same as the Soviet Union type of “communism”, for example, China has its market economy system and is running well. Actually when there is only one political party, the notion of party advocacy would be extremely weakened. In the case of China, people would tend to feel that the Chinese system is more like a parliamentary system even within the government. China is a country with a secular culture, and ideology discussion is not really that important, what matters to this government council is simply about insisting with the people-oriented value, and making people living in better lives.

To be honest, I think that the vast majority of the world’s people don’t care about politics.

People care more about their own lives – whether they can live healthy and happy lives with the people they love, whether the society is fair, safe and free, whether they can enjoy their civil rights as a human being, whether their problems can be solved and whether their dreams can be realized.

Also, I agree that China is better for ordinary people, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs to live in, but not for the extremely rich guys. If you are a rich tycoon or celebrity and has no interest in benefiting ordinary people, then the Chinese government might supervising you with very strict rules, you will have more freedom and power in the West.

But as for me, China is not bad.

Finally, to get a deeper dive, I recommend the following book:

The New China Playbook: Beyond Socialism and Capitalism (by: Keyu Jin)

Fenggang to Toronto

We spent the remaining days of November in Fenggang and then took our flight home via Tokyo on December 1st.

Not much exciting happened in the remaining days other than relaxing and going about what locals do. Effectively, we enjoyed the native life in Fenggang County (县), Dongguan City (市), Guangdong Province (省). I fell ill, so there was zero energy in me to do much travelling. Our original plan of visiting Shenzhen had to be scuttled.

We completed some final banking businesses, and also learned that our access to our Chinese banking accounts may be difficult through our Nihao Mobile numbers, but it was a bit too late to make this change. If we had to do things differently next time, we would probably get a number from one of the big three mobile operators in China, which are: China Mobile (中国移动), China Telecom (中国电信), and China Unicom (中国联通). The primary reason is that Nihao Mobile numbers cannot be active outside of China, but the others can be roamed in Canada and receive SMS messages for authentication services, which are essential for banking applications. We will get this fix on our next trip, which we plan to go at about the same time next year.

Our last leg home was on a flight through Air Canada. Every time I fly this leg from the Far East to Toronto, I swear that I will not be flying on Air Canada ever again on the same route. However the cheap the fare was, it was not worth the hassle. The disorganized boarding process, the narrow seats, the low quality of the food and sometimes adversarial cabin service, and finally the baggage handling delays, all would make me regret in saving a few bucks. Cathay Pacific all the way next time for sure, or one of the Chinese airlines.

Below are the remaining and final videos from Carol documenting our Asian Trip. It has been a blast.

November 28th: Grocery shopping
November 29th: Sampling more restaurants from Fenggang
November 30th: Sampling all the wontons from different restaurants
December 1st: Coming home via Hong Kong and Tokyo

Discovering Dongguan (东莞)

On November 25th, we spent an entire day in Dongguan city near 星河. We began the day by leaving our hotel, which is Dongcheng International Hotel 东城国际酒店. This is a beautiful, brand new hotel. We had a room on the 28th floor. The window view is not as spectacular but the rooms were spacious, modern and clean.

The first event was a delicious dim sum organized by Carol’s cousins at a restaurant near by. We had a room to ourselves with a private washroom. Now that is classy. The dishes were similar but different from the dim sum dishes that we are use to in Toronto. This event will prove to be just the start of many tasty events to come.

We walked off the dim sum meal at the Keyuan Museum (东莞可园博物馆). This is an old out door garden museum from the Qing Dynasties in the (1800’s).

We then got some Douhua (豆腐花) dessert at a local store hidden from the main streets. This is followed by fresh out of the oven BBQ Goose (燒鵝), and then we parked ourselves at another dessert place eating more Chinese desserts and chicken.

We then walked it all off in the central area of Dongguan City, and waited for the building lights to come on at 7pm. This is followed by another delicious dinner, and we finished the night with a trek around 东莞33小镇, a lively area with plenty of eateries and night life activities.

Dongguan is a newly minted first tier city in China, and we were shown that it has lots to offer.

Our day in Dongguan

Enjoying Shanghai

The last couple of days (November 23th and 24th) we spent our time touring the futuristic Shanghai and visiting a very good family friend whom we have not met for about 13 years.

Check out Carol’s videos attached below for the foods that we tasted and the places we went to.

The most lasting impressions were how modern Shanghai has become with its modern infrastructure and metro systems. With the help of Baidu, and WeChat and its mini programs, we can literally goto any place of interests without depending on a tour group. I love the flexibility in which modern China now offers a tech savvy tourist.

Of course meeting up with an old family friend is always heart warming, especially when she took the time to cook many dishes for us. I wished we could have stayed longer, and spend more time to catch up. I would have love to meet her grandchildren but they were at school still when we visited. With our multi entry Chinese Visa we hope to come back often, and perhaps next time stay in Shanghai for longer than a day. I think a four or five nights stay may have been more ideal.

On the 24th, we had another Shanghai 小笼包 breakfast. We simply cannot have enough. We then discover Carol’s paradise, a 4 stories food market filled with munchies and other eateries. If it was not for our time constraint, we could have spent hours there.

We had to take the train back to Dongguan (东莞) where we have plans with Carol’s cousin on the next day. In hindsight, we should have taken a flight instead. However, it was good to experience the “people” at the crowded station, and on the train. Even with the updated modernity of China, people’s social behaviour and tolerance I think is still the same as twenty years ago. Always rushing, demanding, and quite loud. Barging in front of the queue without regard to anyone else is still a sight that is commonly seen.

Our full day in Shanghai
Our last Shanghai breakfast and our transit to Dongguan (东莞)

Our First Night in Shanghai

On November 22nd, we took the G100 high speed rail from Hong Kong to Shanghai.

The trip took approximately 8 hours in total including the time of the stops. There were several stops, including some other big cities, like Nanchang (南昌), and Hangzhou (杭州).

The seats were really comfortable on the train, but the washrooms could use some extra care. Carol took the advantage of ordering take out on the train! This is not ordering from the train’s cafeteria. You can literally order food from restaurants on up coming stops, and have the meals delivered to your seat! You cannot do this on an airplane. Talk about advancement in creature comfort.

When we arrived, I was very hungry so we dashed straight to a near by mall on Nanjing Road (南京路) and have my favourite Shanghai food. You can watch Carol’s video below to see what I mean.

Checkout our train ride and the huge Shanghai train station

Back to Hong Kong

On November 21st, we went back to Hong Kong to conduct some more banking business but primarily to meet with relatives that we have not seen for many years.

We woke up at around 7am in Fenggang and arranged a DiDi ride to Lo Wu Control Point (羅湖管制站) a border crossing between China and Hong Kong. The one hour ride ended costing us around ¥140 (~$27 CAD), which I thought was not too bad, but relatives told me that we got cheated and should have been around ¥100. Oh well, live and let learn.

The border crossing again was uneventful, and we took the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀) where we met with Carol’s uncle and aunt. We had dim sum. It was good to see everyone in good spirits, and catch up on how everyone is doing in the past 10+ years.

We then went back to Mong Kok (旺角), where we completed some banking business which we thought was completed last week, but apparently there were some missing procedures that require our signatures. Banking in both China and Hong Kong is super strict and filled with rules, policies and procedures. If you seek to open an account, be prepare to spend hours in doing so.

In the evening, we met up with my cousin which we also have not seen for more than 10 years. During those years, he got married and had a son. It was good to see his family and his super cute three years old son. I personally had a really good time reconnecting with them.

Finally, we closed off the evening with dessert with Carol’s cousin in Causeway Bay (铜锣湾). We found a nice little dessert place near SOGO right next to the MTR station. We had some good laughs while eating our dessert.

We are blessed to have many family members in Hong Kong and the warmth of reconnecting with them never fades.

Heading to Hong Kong and Greeting Relatives

Back to Fenggang (凤岗)

On November 19th, we partake in our first Chinese high speed rail experience. We took the train C7005 from Guangzhou (广州) to Pinghu (平湖). I purchased the tickets on The purchasing experiencing was quite easy, but we had a little issue when passing through the ticket gate. Our e-tickets were tied to our passports and the agent was not able to find our tickets on their system. Based on our Japan experience, we arrived with ample time to resolve the issue. I had to show my invoice and the ticket number for her to let us pass. However, on the train when the conductor came to check our tickets, our passports and our e-tickets were validated correctly.

Types of trains we took on C7005

The train was a C class express intercity train with a travelling speed of around 150km/h. It took us about an hour from Guangzhou to Pinghu and another 40 minutes of DiDi ride (Uber like service) to get back to Fenggang.

The next day (November 20th), we stayed at Fenggang to do some banking business and to visit Carol’s ancestral village and her father’s empty flat. At night, Carol’s cousin treated us to another excellent Cantonese dinner. Before we finished our dinner an old acquaintance dropped by. We knew them when they visited us in Canada. They ended up footing the bill. This world is such a small place.

Banking in China is … interesting. I will not go into details but make sure you have all your documents in place, and be prepare to wait a very long time to create accounts. Also be sure to inform the banking personnel that you are not a tax payer in China. If you don’t, things will not work out well for you. Another ironic thing is that in a world of smart phone payments, the bank only accept ¥20 cash for the cost of the debit / bank card, so make sure you have that handy. Be sure to remember how your name is spelt and make sure it matches with your WeChat account.

Make sure you choose a reputable bank that has the ability to transfer cash to and from other countries in the denomination of your choice. The first bank, DRC Bank (东莞农村商业银行股份有限公司), will only accept US dollars as the form of wire transfer, and a physical signature is required for the receipt of the transfer, so it is kind of pointless for a wire transfer. The second bank ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – 中国工商银行) took a lot more effort to create the account, but is ultimately more flexible, and they have more branches through out the country. My conclusion is that there is not much trust between the head office of the banks and their retail branches. Everything has to be post-approved by head office and the people at the branches are simply data collectors and do not have much say or agility.

Below are the videos representing the two days.

Transiting from Guangzhou to Fenggang
In Fenggang and visiting Carol’s village

Touristy Guangzhou

On November 18th, we started out with another local breakfast. It was a delicious breakfast with super friendly service and a super cheap price. Checkout our breakfast below:

So you can see from the above, we had breakfast for two people for less than $7.50 CAD. In China, there is no tips culture. This is the way I like it. What they advertise is exactly what you pay. With WeChat Pay, the transaction is completed in seconds, and you have an electronic record.

Expensive prices for the Guangzhou Tower

Afterwards we headed out to the Guangzhou Tower. You cannot get more touristy than this. We did not go up the tower, since I did not feel like spending ¥150 for the elevator ride up. Check out the prices from the previous picture. Click on it to enlarge it so you can make out all the pricing options.

We did however walk around the area and cross the 海心橋 (Haixin Bridge). We figured out how to rent a bike with our WeChat and 美团 (Meituan) apps, and rode along 二沙岛 (Ersha Island).

After our ride, we took a DiDi ride to a famous wonton noodle place that is frequented by locals called 吴财记面家. However, the line up was way too long. We waited for 30 minutes and still no seats or food. Even for take out, we still have to wait. We decided to give up on this place and just ate some place at a local mall near by. No noodles can be that good. Could it?

The area where we spent most of our afternoon and evening.

We took a stroll around 沙面岛. This place contains many of the old European style buildings just before World War II. The area is now taken over by the government and serves as a huge park and tourist district consisting of many shops. We also notice that there may still be some residents on the island. The area is huge as you can see on the above map, and it is a very picturesque place. We spotted many photographers and amateur models there taking the opportunity of the excellent lighting conditions of a very clear dusk.

We spent the remaining evening picking our seafood of choice at a nearby fish market called 黄沙水产交易市场. We took the live catches to a neighbouring restaurant where we had another scrumptious, finger licking good seafood dinner.

We then rode the subway hotel bound. However, not return trip will be complete without a detour for desserts! We found a place close to our hotel. I am so glad that we found this place. It turned out to be the best dessert place on our Guangzhou tour.

Once again, checkout out Carol’s video of our day.