Just Back From... a Girls' Trip to China


San Diego resident Jessica Beattie and her cousin Emily Peterson spent two weeks traveling through Beijing, Shanghai, and X'ian, on the lookout for tailored clothes, tea, and authentic food.

Great local meal... Kong Yiji in Beijing. It was the only truly local, non-touristy meal that we had the whole trip, and it was absolutely worth it! Emily and I found it in a New York Times article and had the aniseed-flavored kidney beans, braised rice, and the scallion-oil yellow fish soup. We ordered everything through hand gestures. [PHOTO]

Our favorite part... The South Bund Fabric Market in Shanghai, without a doubt. [PHOTO] The market has row after row and booth after booth of gorgeous, handmade winter dress coats, suit jackets, traditional robes, and slacks. The craftsmanship was impeccable, and everything was at bargain-basement prices—a shopper's paradise! After honing our haggling skills, we had oxford shirts and trench coats made to order for pennies on the dollar. [PHOTO]

Wish we'd known that... Not all restaurants and shopping venues have Western toilets. Eek!

What we should have packed... No regrets here! Emily and I were expert packers on this trip and brought only one bag each. I suppose we could have packed less, but I'm thrilled I brought granola bars and bite-size Snickers to keep me sated between meals.

Worth every penny...The Peony Aroma spa in Shanghai. It was recommended to us by a Brazilian expat we met in a convenience store. (Always talk to the locals!) For about $35 each, we had 90-minute full-body massages—the perfect way to end any long day. [PHOTO]

Fun surprise... A tiny tea parlor in Beijing. We were attempting to go to a steak place one night, but the storefront looked deserted, so we strolled down the street. A few shops down, tucked away, was the shop. The curator spoke no English and we knew no Chinese, but he begged us to come in; we happily obliged and experienced our first tea ceremony. [PHOTO] He heated the electric kettle and poured water over the host cup full of oolong tea leaves. He pointed to maps and spoke passionately about the tea (we assume!), and we laughed and drank and had a grand time. We walked out with a stash of loose-leaf green tea and a great memory.

Overrated...Suzhou, about 90 minutes or so outside of Shanghai. It's commonly known as "the Venice of China." There was a lovely garden, but the air quality was poor, and the canals were full of brown water and crumbling homes. [PHOTO]

Moment when things got tense... When I was adjusting to the time difference. The beginning of the trip was so tough—I was literally waking up when I would normally go to bed, and vice versa. I think there were moments when Emily wished she could have gone out to do some exploring, but couldn't because I was out cold.

We're still laughing about... Our trip to Lotus Thai in Beijing. We were wandering around looking for a place for dinner when we spotted a hotel and decided to get a suggestion from an English-speaking concierge. He said that if we wanted Thai food, we should "turn left, walk to the KFC, and go downstairs." What?! KFC? But those were the exact directions. Thinking of it as an adventure, we forged ahead. Sure enough, we spotted the KFC several blocks later and realized that it was next to the entrance of a gigantic underground mall. Of course, the concierge had not said anything about a giant mall! The mall had several stories full of brightly lit, high-end shops, plus an indoor skating rink. [PHOTO] It was a wonderful find! And there, on the bottom story, was Lotus Thai.

Hotel we liked... The Beijing International Hotel. It had the most comfortable bed of the three hotels we stayed in across the country, and its proximity to great shopping and sightseeing spots like Tiananmen Square was perfect for us.

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