Inside Shanghai’s Happy Kitchen: Meet Chef Shiyin Wang

 “When moving to Shanghai, I found that fast food or street food, is very different from the way we would make it at home.  It tends to be a lot greasier, contains a lot more MSG and processed flavours.” 

Over coffee, Shiyin Wang  is telling me what inspired him to start Kaixin Cooking, a company that offers healthy Chinese cooking classes. Dressed in a black button-down shirt, he is the picture of professionalism. His responses to my questions are intelligent and thoughtful.

Shiyin after a cooking class.

He says that despite the tendency of many restaurants in Shanghai to use meat in vegetable dishes, Chinese food is naturally vegan: “They are using a lot of vegetables, they are not using many animal products, or none at all.”

Having lived in the USA from the age of five, Shiyin moved back to his city of birth five months ago. His interest in cooking was sparked at a young age, since his parents’ busy careers meant he was often responsible for preparing his own breakfast: “I would add eggs to ramen noodles at different times to test what is the best result,” he says with a smile.  

He tells me that meals he eats with his family mostly consist of whole foods and natural ingredients. 

Learning that many people, especially expats, want to explore Chinese cuisine but cannot always find enough healthy food options around the city, he spotted a business opportunity:  “I wanted to teach a class that was more about the kind of cooking that I did growing up.”

He says that the principles in The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen, greatly influenced his health philosophy.  These are “eating whole food, mostly plants, and not too much.”

Inside the kitchen: Ingredients for cooking class.

On the subject of diets, he feels that many people conflate being healthy with being slim.  Having followed the Keto diet before, he explains that although it has useful principles like avoiding processed sugar, it was not a sustainable diet for him: “I was craving vegetables and I felt that the diet wasn’t really allowing me to eat things like tomatoes, Brussels sprouts or things that just have some carbs, but to me seem very healthy.”

Quitting Keto and returning to the recipes of his childhood meant eating a balanced set of vegetables and a wide variety of foods again. “It just made me feel better,” he says.

We discuss the advantages of living in China.  He mentions challenges faced by minorities in the States:  “My experience in the US was that there is an extreme pressure to assimilate into being American…There is always this feeling that anywhere I go I sort of have to think about:  Is this person treating me a certain way; or thinking about me a certain way; or do they have some assumptions about me because of the fact that I am Chinese?”

Living in China, he does not feel this burden anymore: “I could just be myself and be anybody that I wanted to be,” he says

His face lights up when he tells me about regular visits to his family in Shanghai since he was 12. Reconnecting with them is another advantage to being back: “Every time I would visit as a kid they would just show this unconditional love for me. I realized as I was getting older I was kind of taking that for granted without being able to really understand who they were and how their lives were.It was really nice to come back to Shanghai being able to be with them again.”  

We move from the topic of family to friendships.  He tells me how a group of friends he had whilst living in Los Angeles helped him push his cooking skills to a higher level. At the time, he worked as a researcher at a solar energy company: “I really enjoyed the job at the solar energy company and I wanted to also explore having dinners where we would talk about the environment, eat healthy food, attempt to eat food that is sustainable.”

These gatherings taught him to deal with technicalities such as keeping food fresh and cooking multiple courses in large quantities.

“My friend group there really challenged each other to improve our cooking.  When you challenge yourself, that’s when you learn the most,” he says.

Shiyin says he loves hosting dinner parties since they are a way for people to connect.  He chose the business name “Kaixin”, which is Mandarin for “happy”, because this is the emotion he wants people to experience when cooking and eating together.  

“I feel like the cooking itself really bring people together. I feel like there’s something about the cooking itself that puts people more relaxed and gets them to open up a little.”

Inside the kitchen: Winter-melon soup

For more details on the cooking classes, connect with Shiyin on WeChat:

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Our Common Homeland a heart warming fusion of music and visuals

“This drum was used in wars to encourage soldiers. In some worship rituals it was used to communicate with God. It is a token in our Chinese culture.”

This is how the Chinese drum is described by chief percussionist of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra (SHCO), Wang Yinrui.

One can also add that the Chinese drum was instrumental to the creation of an atmosphere of burning flames in A Dance of Fire, composed by Huang Lei and Huang Ke.

Hitting these instruments with military precision, the Shanghai Drum Culture Art Troupe were spectacular to watch: Their lightning-paced arm movements seemed perfectly choreographed.

Instruments played by SHCO members, such as the djembe, African flute, bongo drums and tabla, fused into their rhythms, creating a suspenseful work of art.

Teaser of A Dance of Fire performance.

The illusion of fire was enhanced by a visual presentation of flames, under the artistic direction of Tang Ping.

A Dance of Fire forms part of a four chapter musical production, Our Common Homeland, which premiered in the Shanghai Grand Theatre on Novemer 5.

Showcasing the talent of mainland China’s oldest large scale Chinese orchestra (SHCO) and 31 guest musicians, the first two nights attracted an estimated 2500 audience members.

According to SHCO head, Luo Xiaoci, “Chinese instruments are open to a dialogue with a wide variety of musical instruments from around the world” in Our Common Homeland.

One such dialogue takes place in The Ride of Waves by Huang Lei.

This intriguing collaboration was brought to life by Yu Bing on the Chinese pipa and Enrique Sáez Palazón on the Spanish guitar.

Award winning flamenco dancers Liu Xiao and Liang Daiqingan accompanied them on stage.

Bing got to explore fiercer dimensions on the pipa, an instrument with strokes that are usually gentler when played the traditional way.

Teaser of ‘The Ride of Waves’.

Also, according to Bing, Flamenco leaves more room for improvisation.

“The normal process we are used to, the composer gives us the score and tell us to follow the notes completely. But when a performer performs this work, he is flesh and blood,” he said in this interview.

Audience members, old and young, remained mesmerized by the fleeting visuals progressing through the different chapters – From Origins of the Universe to Lights of Civilisation.

Landscapes from Egypt, Mongolia, China and Russia, as well as the inside of a night club are but a few to mention.

The musical genres included world, folk, electronic and rock.

Other composers whose works were performed were Tan Dun, Wang Yunfei, Ravi Shankar, Tang Jianping and Yi Latu.

SHCO has traveled to Europe and Mexico before and according to Global Marketing Manager, Andrea Xu, they plan to take Our Common Homeland overseas as well.

“The following performance date and location are still in discussion,” she said.

To see other clips by SHCO, click here and here.

A somewhat spooky mic

A dozen aspiring artists performed at the Halloween version of Very open mic on October 30 at unCaffe Bar.   

Referred to as Very spooky mic, it did not differ much from the usual format, although the host, Giuseppe Daddeo encouraged those who felt like it to use a ‘spooky’ theme in their performances.

Only three performers took him up on the challenge. 

Patrick Shiefen from New York, USA, opened his dramatic performance with the lines:

“Brett Kavanaugh and the like better be prepared for the afterlife, because he may be living in a man’s world, but Death, Death is a woman.” 

Throughout the performance he made various references to Santa Muerte.  

Patrick.

Singer/guitarist Guilherme (Liam) Vargas Castilhos from Brazil worked two Halloween-themed songs into his performance.  

The venue’s lack of a musical stand caused some comic relief during his cover of Science Fiction from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.    

No stranger to holding up mics for perfomers, Giuseppe assisted Liam by holding up his score.

 Liam told me later that “Giuseppe is a very good host” and was good at making performers feel comfortable. 

Giuseppe holding the score for Liam.

Tonnee Williams from Ohio, United States had a more tongue-in-the-cheek approach towards the ‘scary’ theme.  

Before her performance, she pulled up her hoody and said:

“I am a gangster”.  

She then proceeded to reading a poem on a theme she described as “scarier than STDs and AIDS” namely “being an adult.”

Tonnee.

In addition to the artists, another 30 people attended.

 Wenting Qi from Jiangxi province hoped to see a few stand-up comedy acts.

On this night, Paul Yao from Henan province was the only comedian performing.  

Wenting did not expect there to be so many musical performances, but she said:

“The whole atmosphere was lively so it’s good.” 

Sharpay from Shanghai said:  “It’s my first time to be in an open mic event, which was very nice.”

However, she said that she wished the organisers had offered games as well.    

“Otherwise it’s gonna be a bit boring,” she said.

William Carter from Florida, USA, attended specifically to see what musical talent Shanghai had to offer and concluded that “they were all pros.”  

“I thought it was an entertaining night out.  

Everyone seemed really passionate about what they were sharing,” he said.

The audience.

A very open performance community

“Take off your clothes… take off your job… just be yourself.”

This is how host Giuseppe Daddeo greeted participants at the Very open mic night on October 30 at unCaffe Bar. 

Very open mic is organized by Giuseppe, Alexandra (Sasha) Arbuzova and Monica Missera.  

Organisers Monica, Sasha and Giuseppe.

It originally started off as a poetry open mic, but later the organisers decided to open up the event to a wider range of performers, such as musicians and comedians.  

“Consider it a platform where you can be yourself, showing the part of you that’s been hidden if you have a daytime office job in Shanghai,” Sasha told me before the event.

Pianist, singer and songwriter Jonny Wildman from the Isle of Man, UK, did exactly that through performing his comic ballad “I hate my job”.

Consultant by day, he was encouraged by his friend, singer/guitarist Josh Pemberton to give the Very open mic a try.     

“I want to put myself out there a bit more, it sometimes just takes a push in the right direction, you know?”

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Jonny and Josh.

“I came here (Shanghai) to teach and save up enough money to pursue my dream of being a musician,” said singer-songwriter Vanity Ladner from Alabama, USA. 

Together with her guitarist husband Thomas, they form the duo Muse to Sirens. 

Vanity and Thomas.

When asked what made them come back to perform at Very open mic for a second time, she said: “We really like the community. It is very welcoming and accepting. It is the place where we feel the most comfortable expressing ourselves.”
 

On the topic of audience, performing poet Patrick Schiefer from New York, USA said: “A good open mic, for me, has a lot to do with turn out. If people come. Not just performers. But also people who want to listen and take it in.” 

Patrick and Giuseppe.

According to Sasha there are usually 12-15 performers per night, with a total of 30 to 50 people showing up.

Patrick further said that “a good and open host” is part of the reason why this open mic is so successful. 

He recently had a bad experience at another open mic night: “Before introducing me, the host said he hated poetry. So it was kind of awkward for me,” he said.

 
“I think the people that run this (open mic) do a particularly good job organising everything,” said singer-songwriter, Wells Hamilton from Tennessee, USA. 

“…they find these spaces and set them up for everyone and are very welcoming.  It is very organized in terms of setting lineups and transitioning between acts,” he said. 

Wells.

However, as is the case with most live performances, there will always be glitches.

 “Giuseppe held the mic for me once” said singer/guitarist Josh, who is originally from Crewe, UK. At his very first performance, the venue lacked a second microphone.  “Really, bless him (Giuseppe). He was there for a good 10 minutes,” said Josh. 

On the night I attended, the venue had no music stand. Giuseppe assisted singer/guitarist Guilherme (Liam) Vargas Castilhos from Brazil, by holding up his score for him. 

Liam.

The Very open mic is hosted twice a month.  According to Sasha performers can sign up a day in advance to secure their preferred time-slots.  However, participants can also sign up on the same night.  “For the late sign ups we have the last part of the event – Free Flow Open Mic,”she said. 

   For more information, visit the Very open mic meetup page:

https://meetup.com/Very-Open-Mic-Shanghai-Edition/

Re-enacting the 1930s at the 2018 Qipao Festival

Hundreds of visitors gathered on October 1 for the 2018 Shanghai Qipao Culture and Art Festival at the Shanhai Film Park. 

Many people unfamiliar with Chinese culture may not have heard the word qipao before.  

However, if presented with these images, most will recognise this iconic garment which is closely associated with China.

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Li Zhang posing in front of a 1930s advertisement of Shanghai girls in qipao.

Qipao (cheongsam in Cantonese), played a big role in the struggle for gender equality in China.  After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, various feminist movements started rebelling against Neo-Confucian gender segregation.  Symbols associated with oriental beauty, such as bound feet, long hair and two piece female garments were criticised.  More women were encouraged to cut their hair short and wear men’s one piece garments, known as changpao.  Women were not allowed this privilege during the Qing Dynasty.

By the 1930s, qipao in its many forms and variations was very popular in China among women of all ages and social status.  Some styles were loose and wide, others more form fitting. They also varied in length.    

The Shanghai Film Park is the ideal photography spot for those who want to re-enact this interesting period in history, as it boasts various sets replicating the old Shanghai. 

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Friends (from left to right): Fung Liu, Marleen van Wyk and Li Zhang.

Some women went through great lengths to attend the festival for this exact reason.  

‘I am here to take pictures’, said Zhu Ai Min, who traveled from Hangzhou to attend the festival.  

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Zhu Ai Min.

With a 1930s style train slowly approaching in the background, a group of ladies dressed in multi-coloured modern-styled qipao took  pictures on the tracks.  

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The Siping Street Fashion Club.

“We are the Siping Street Fashion Club.  We bought our clothes at our own expense,”said one of the members, Li Ping.  

According to her, the team regularly gathers together in scenic areas to photograph themselves wearing various fashion items.

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The Siping Street Fashion Club.

Mrs. Shao from Shanghai brought along four qipao for the day.  

While her husband photographed her in front of various replicas of French Concession mansions, she said: “Qipao is a symbol of Chinese culture.”

Mrs Shao.

Li Zhang, from Anhui province was wearing Qipao for the first time on this day.  She said: 

“Qipao is tailored to flatter the female body.”

Li Zhang

Fung Liu, from Hebei Province,  found this ticket booth to be humorous.

Fung Liu

Whilst posing for pictures, she said:  “Qipao makes you feel confident and beautiful, because you are beautiful.”    

I doubt many people would disagree with Fung!

Han Fenglian,Shen Yuying, Kong Jinghua, Marleen van Wyk, An Miao Xue,Jia Lijuan, Wang Yixuan, Hu Aixiang, Huang Yahan (PRC politician) and Ma Shuyuan (Order not confirmed).
Li Zhang and Fung Liu.
Fung Liu
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From left to right: Fung Liu, Marleen van Wyk, Mrs. Shao and Li Zhang.

Affordable film and wine gathering in Shanghai

‘If you have kick-ass wine, why the hell aren’t you drinking it?’ Asked self-described wine lover, Patti McAlpine’, after the screening of 2016 documentary ‘Sour Grapes’, on Thursday October 4, at Brut Eatery (Zhaojiabang Lu Outlet). Organised by bottlesXO, the event was attended by an audience of 25 members.

Over glasses of complimentary wine, the audience got to follow, what is described by the organizers as, ‘one of the world’s biggest ever wine scams’.

‘Sour Grapes’ recounts the tale of Indonesian wine collector, Rudy Kurniawan, who charmed his way into American wine collector circles with his phenomenal wine palette and wine collection.

Over time, Rudy started flooding auctions with forged bottles of vintage Domaine Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis.

When caught out, all located forged bottles, still containing drinkable wine, were destroyed.

McAlpine was not the only member expressing their discomfort with the destruction of Rudy’s counterfeit wine. Some attendees even felt sympathetic towards Rudy.

One member, wishing to remain anonymous, remarked that ‘Rudy exposed the system for what it is: Wine collectors not even enjoying wine and being wasteful’.

At this event however, not a single drop of alcohol went to waste. In fact, the very last bottles of wine were given to the remaining audience members to finish up.

According to Marketing and Events Intern Alexandria Petre, BottlesXO regularly hosts wine themed film screenings around Shanghai. She ascribes the popularity of these events to the lack of gatherings ‘where you can drink good wine at an affordable price and enjoy a film’. At this event, for an entrance fee of 60 RMB, attendees got a light meal and one free glass of wine.

Petre urges wine and film enthusiasts to sign up in advance for events. ‘We typically have to cap (events) at 25 because venues available aren’t large enough to accommodate more…’

For information on future events, you can follow BottlesXO on WeChat.

 

Simple Dreams and Days Festival 2018

Hundreds of festival goers braved the Shanghai autumn sun to watch the Taiwanese musical act ‘Fine 乐团’ perform at the annual Simple Dreams and Days Festival, on Wednesday October 3.

thumbnailAlthough a large chunk of their music available online are Jazzy in character, today’s performance had more of a pop/rock vibe.

See a snippet of their performance here.

Other bands in Wednesday’s line-up included rapper ØZI and R&B performer Akin.

Hosted by the Taiwanese festival brand Simple Life, Simple Dreams & Days Festival 2018 kicked off on Monday October 1, and will end on Sunday October 7.

More musical performance acts to look forward to this week include ‘Little Wizard’, ‘SIXI’ and ‘Sweet John’.

In addition to fine music, festival goers can also enjoy a wide range of snacks and meals being sold.  A waffle ice cream is yours for 30 RMB, and a coconut 20 RMB.

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For shopping enthusiasts there is also a selection of fashion and cookery products on offer.

 

The event is hosted at Camp 3399, near exit 5 off the metro station Middle Longhua Road.  Tickets  can be purchased at the door for 150RMB, or online for 120RMB.  Doors open at 13:00.