An Inland Beach Vacation (1/8) – What’s an Inland Beach Vacation?

An Inland Beach Vacation (1/8) – What’s an Inland Beach Vacation?


When it comes to vacations, Hong and I like to play hard.  This type-A couple does detailed research, plans jetlag-defying itineraries, and packs our days with activities to maximize our valuable vacation time.  As such, we have trouble seeing ourselves on a “typical” vacation as depicted on American TV – sandy beach, cabana under the sun, and margaritas.  We got a little bored the last time we were in Maui, and I actually dread the thought of an all-inclusive resort.

We joked about “beach vacations” as a thing for the lazy people.

But then we were enlightened with a different perspective – doing nothing from meal to meal is more than acceptable, as long as the focus was on the food itself.  What if we plan a trip focused on our gluttonous desires as the priority?  We could stuff ourselves silly, deal with the food coma in a nice hotel room, and repeat.  Like the Corona commercials, we could find ourselves a “beach vacation” without necessarily involving sand or water.  A few regional cuisines came to mind as worthy of such a trip, and Xian, China was on the top of our list.

Xian, one of my favorite cities in China

During our month-long trip around China thirteen years ago, Hong and I spent 1.5 days in Xian.  It was barely enough to get a rough idea of what this city had to offer, but it made a lasting impression.  Years later, in New York, Xian Famous Foods (a dinky underground stall in Flushing expanding to a tri-borough foodie sensation) solidified our love for the Chinese Muslim cuisine and therefore this ancient capital.  The more we talked about this, the more a trip plan was in order.

From San Francisco, the most direct flights to Xian connected in either Beijing or Shanghai.  We picked the latter and made a stopover out of it to add diversity to our taste buds.  Since this was a “beach vacation” and in theory did not require an organized itinerary, we invited folks to join us.  Three of our parents signed on.  A pair of local friends also jumped in with enthusiasm, but unfortunately had to cancel last minute due to logistics challenges.  The kiddos, who weren’t exactly invited or interested in the destination, tagged along as well.

Shanghai, with the 632-meter Shanghai Tower

So this beach vacation turned into a big family gathering of sorts.

Having a first breakfast (as opposed to, of course, a second breakfast) with parents at Renaissance Yu Garden Shanghai


General Observations

China is a developing country, so in many ways it differs from the US, Japan, and the European countries.  There are negative stereotypes about its people, hygiene, and environment, and we were frequently reminded of such during the visit.

This Shanghai night market wasn’t too presentable in the wee hours of the morning.
Garbage collection involved dumping overnight food waste directly onto the street…

However, the hope in a developing country is that it is still developing.  Things change rapidly.  Compared to the last time we were there, it almost seemed like a different country.  Train stations could still be crazy crowded but it was no longer chaotic.  Public transit and its ridership had become more pleasant than what I’m used to in America.  My mom even commented on how certain public smoking problems had greatly reduced since just a year ago.

Plaza in front of the Xian train/bus station.  Lines were long over the holiday weekend, but orderly.

Many people were impatient, unfriendly, or rude.  I asked a number of people for directions and it was hilarious how unhelpful some of their responses were.  It was like many people’s experience visiting New York for the first time.  On the other hand, we also encountered some individuals who were incredibly sweet and generous.



Aside from hotels (American chains), I didn’t come across a single business that would take VISA, MasterCard, or Amex.  Not even the McDonald’s at the Shanghai airport.  It was incredibly frustrating for a credit card nerd to run around counting cash for ten days.  Think about all those triple points I could’ve earned… on the $4 meals and $1 cab rides!  What a loss!

I hate cash but I also love traveling China… what gives?

Though it wasn’t a symptom of the country lacking modern financial instruments.  In fact, China has its own version of credit cards, which are widely accepted.  It’s also got its own phone payment apps, cab hailing apps, online train & bus booking systems, etc, that work exclusively with China-based banks.  For a foreign visitor, though, this can be rather frustrating.



Now that Ting had graduated from the completely clueless phase of life, flying became less daunting than it used to be.  However, Xuan also entered the stage of having an opinion on everything, and her preference in travel was to stay in the hotel all day, every day.  Sightseeing, eating out, or even taking a stroll was like pulling teeth.  Additionally, these two Bay Area girls also had zero tolerance for heat, and Xian exceeded 100 degrees on some of the days.

Miss Trouble #1 and Miss Trouble #2

No trip of this Hou family is complete without a post-diaper lavatory shot.

Eating spicy cumin lamb with Xuan.

Traveling with preschooler/toddler turned out to be physically less demanding than traveling with toddler/infant, but our control over schedule, destinations, and routing also reduced.  It would have been frustrating if we were exploring a new city, but thankfully we were on a “beach vacation” with relatively little on the agenda.

Alright!  Let’s eat!

Shanghainese scallion pancake!



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