How I ate Shanghai.
I was really incredibly lucky. I was going to Tokyo and decided I should also go somewhere I hadn’t been while I was out. I was deciding between Taiwan and Shanghai and invited my friend Alan and we settled on Shanghai because it just seemed a little more exotic than Taiwan. I just pretty much randomly picked to go first week in October but it turned out Alan was between semesters for his school so he had that week off and it was also golden week for China and most people are off that week. That included my friend Dennis who recently moved to Shanghai and so Dennis showed us around the entire time.
The first day was pretty crazy. Starting Friday I got up 8am or so and went to language practice, followed by work. Then I went to some art event that night after which my friends wanted to go clubbing. We ended up clubbing till 3am and I didn’t actually get home until 5am. I hadn’t packed yet since I thought I was going to be home much earlier so I got to sleep at 6:30am. I get up an 9am and it’s off to the airport. 10.5 hours to Narita and I didn’t sleep. Transfer to different flight to get to Shanghai, another 3 hours. Meet Alan and Dennis at the airport. Get back to our hotel, take a quick shower and then go clubbing again till 2am!!!
The second day I met up with my friend Scott who now has his own company in Shanghai and we went to lunch.
Followed by tea and snacks all afternoon.
I had a new life experience here. The place where the teahouse is is called Shanghai Old Town. It’s a place for tourists, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. Being Golden Week it was PACKED. When I say packed, paths through the complex were like morning in a crowded subway station. But, the area directly in front of the teahouse was just FULL. To get from across the bridge to the tea house we literally had to push our way through the crowd. Given my 7 years in Japan, I expected that with such big crowds, anything as famous as the Huxinting Teahouse would have a very long line to get in. It certainly would in Japan. But, when we finally got there it was at least 80% empty. When I asked why I was told "because the people outside can’t afford the tea". That’s a first time experience for me to be in a place where the difference in incomes are so great. On top of that, by Tokyo standards the tea was not that expensive. Prices ranged from about 25RMB to 100RMB. About $3.30 to $13.30 at current exchange rates. Those prices are for an entire pot of tea, not just a glass.
Anyway, We followed tea by more food.
Another interesting thing for me is that last picture. It’s a pre-wrapped wet towel. Not a paper towel, a cloth towel. That’s something I miss from Japan living in the states. In Japan most restaurants give you wet towel to wipe your hands BEFORE you eat. Well, in Shanghai many restaurants gave us the wet towel but it was wrapped like something you’d buy at a retail market.
After that Dennis took us to the ERA Intersection of Time – Circus. It was amazing. Not just the acrobatics but the presentation that went along with it.
We would have gone out clubbing that night too but Dennis’s family was planning an outing that started at 6:30am the next morning so we called it a night.
It turned out they charted a bus to Wuxi and Suzhou and took the whole family, about 20 people in all to see different sights. The first stop was the Lingshan Giant Buddha about 3 hours away. It was seriously huge.
Click the second picture to see how huge. It’s a recently created place finished in 1997. If there is history here I didn’t find it out. There was some talk of it being 1000 steps from the entrance to the summit but we didn’t count. Still, it was easily 10-15 stories worth of stairs over all and it was a pretty hot summer day. Mom and friends smartly took a tram to the top. We walked
After that we had lunch
And then it was on to the Lingering Garden about 2 hours away
The Lingering Garden is supposedly one of the 4 most famous gardens in China. It was built in 1522 and is like a maze of corridors that open up to various open spaces.
Then we were supposed to go to an embrodery museum but it was closed by the time we got there so instead those of us with some energy climbed this tower a couple of blocks away (11 stories)
Then after a short drive, dinner
The second to the last picture above is duck tongues. Yum! They actually were pretty good but a lot of effort to get all the meat off.
It was about a 2 hours drive home which was then followed by more clubbing. This time we were in the French Consession area of Shanghai where there are lots of clubs and bars so we bar hopped through about 5 different places. One we got propositioned by a hooker. One we saw a live filipeno band, 3 sexy girls, 3 guys doing Western covers. One we sat with the waitresses and flirted while they shewed off some scam artists with rented babies. Dennis also taught me my first drinking game.
The last day we tried some Beijing Kaoya (Peking Duck)
We were there for the Beijing Kaoya but the menu at this restaurant was seriously huge. It was a large hard bound book and it must have had 40 pages with tons of dishes
After lunch we did some shopping, then over to the Pudong area where all the famous buildings are.
Being Golden Week it took like an hour and a half or maybe even two hours to get through the line to the top of the tower but it was worth it. The view was really amazing. Shanghai just seems HUGE! I’m not sure why it seems bigger than Tokyo. Maybe because from the Pudong area, as far as you can see there are tall buildings here and there. It’s as gawdy as HK but more spread out. Maybe it’s more gaudy with the light up boats and animated boardwalk.
Then it was time for dinner. We chose a Sichuan) place
It was funny because it was a pretty big restaurant and I was fine with sitting where they originally put us but they had an area of the restaurant that was at a glass wall that overlooked the river outside with a spectacular view. Our friend asked about it and we were told there was a minimum price for sitting over there. 800RMB. Given there were only 4 of us that’s 200RMB each. For us that really isn’t that much money, about $27 US each but for Shanghai, well, that meant the 4 of us had to order a TON of food! We actually failed to reach 800RMB. I think we at least passed 700.
We tried to do some clubbing after that but the two places we ended up at were hip-hop and neither Alan nor I are really into hip-hop.
I was seriously hoping I was going to like Shanghai as a possible place to go live. I’ve been studying Mandarin and as my Japanese experience tells me if I actually want to be able to speak Mandarin I’m going to have to go live somewhere that uses it.
Unfortunately Shanghai doesn’t seem like the place. I had a great time for vacation but it didn’t seem like a place I wanted to live. It was dirty, many people were rude, it was hot and muggy. Dennis pointed out sometimes you can’t use the restrooms they are so gross. The Great Internet Wall of China was blocking sites from my hotel room.
Somethings were interesting like it seemed like traffic laws were more of a suggestion. Our bus driver and all the taxis we took would drive down the wrong side of the street whenever it suited them. One cab driver took us the long way around to earn extra money. Scott said sometimes the driver will refuse to go where you ask him to go.
Oh well, maybe Taiwan
Scott claimed that up until a few months prior you’d hear people honking their car horns constantly all over the place and that it didn’t matter where you where you’d hear it all the time but that recently a new law was passed making it a finable offence to honk your horn when you don’t absolutely need to and that basically the city quieted down very soon after that.
I’m a little disappointed I don’t have more pictures to show of Shanghai proper but to be honest, nothing really stuck out except the Pudong area as picture worthy. It wasn’t like HK with it’s amazing skyline or its buildings towering over everything. I kept looking for images that would really say “this is Shanghai” but nothing really stuck out for me or I didn’t get the chance to take a picture. A few things I might have taken pictures of if I had more time. Traffic was interesting. Like I said, traffic laws seem to be more like suggestions so there were some amazing traffic jams but it was hard to get a picture that conveyed that. Another was the amount of bikes. There were lots of roads where there were like 4 lanes in the middle, with barriers on both sides and outside those barriers a separate lane on both sides for bikes but for some reason I never got a good shot of that. Otherwise most areas didn’t stick out. I could have taken the picture and claimed it was from anywhere and so I really didn’t get that many pictures of “Shanghai”. Maybe next time I visit.
Still, I had an incredible time, especially thanks to Dennis. We were so lucky he was there. He speaks Mandarin (as well as Cantonese, English and Japanese) so he was able to talk to the locals and he really hooked us up. The circus, the tour, the clubs, the food. We wouldn’t have seen one tenth the stuff we saw if it wasn’t for Dennis.
The clubs in Shanghai were great. Large, roomy, places to sit and talk. A far cry from Tokyo’s tiny clubs or SF’s boring ones. I’ll miss those.
Dennis’s friends were also amazing. Wendy, Elisa and Summer are reason enough to go back to visit.