Shanghai, Day 1:
We had an easy check-in and flight to Shanghai and arrived in the metropolis about 12 noon. Our new guide, David, met us and was even wearing a corduroy jacket like Uncle David! David is 47 and has a 17 year old son. Like our two past guides, David will be expected to buy an apartment for his son. We have now seen this tradition throughout three different cities and can imagine it is similar throughout the country.
David offered to take us around the neighborhood by our hotel. We are staying in the French Quarter and there are many local bars, restaurants and shops right near us. We walked through little quaint streets and David took us to a local restaurant for lunch. Mom and I are usually pretty adventurous eaters but I wasn't prepared for what I was about to see here. They brought out seven or 8 dishes and most seemed pretty average for here: vegetables, soups, salad, and some BBQ pork. However, the chicken with the head still on it, beak and all, was not so pleasant. Don't get me wrong, I know where all the meat I eat comes from and I could never be a vegetarian but I don't like when it resembles its original form, especially containing the head. Mom was adventurous and tried everything from the mussels, to shrimp but my stomach seemed a bit unsettled and I politely picked away at a few things so as not to offend David.
After lunch, we walked around the area and after about 45 minutes arrived at a little street full of pubs and restaurants similar to Stone Street, with all outdoor tables. We had some wine and french fries because I needed to fill up after my unfulfilling lunch. It was great people watching and a lovely little area. I can see us coming back here another night because the cab ride back to our hotel was not even $3.00! Tomorrow we are headed to the Bund and "New Shanghai".
Shanghai, Day 2:
We met David in the lobby and headed out for our first official tour of Shanghai. Even though only 10% of the population is religious, with the majority being Buddhist, they seem to LOVE to bring us to Buddhist temples. We headed to the north part of the city to the Jade Buddha Temple; it was really pretty in the center of the city with similar architecture to other temples we have seen. There were some monks chanting in prayer that we observed who immediately after their ceremony were all on their iPhones or other smart phones. A bit of juxtaposition inside the temple and chanting to smartphones. The main attraction at this temple is, just as its name states, the Jade Buddha. We waited in a crowded hallway upstairs until we made our way into the room. It was really impressive but I think I am Buddha-ed out at this point.
After the temple, we headed to the JInMao tower. This is one of the tallest buildings in "new Shanghai" across the waterfront from The Bund. Since this is the low season for tourism, we haven't really waited in many lines....until now. First of all there was a never-ending line outside the building to get in one door of the lobby but David just walked past it and went in another door and jumped into the queue. We all felt really guilty, especially since we ended up in the center of a cruise ship tour group and it was obvious we had jumped the line. Oh well, they all do it here and I guess as Chen said, we didn't waste as much of our lives in this line as we could have. This building is where the main scenes of Mission Impossible 2 were filmed and even though I've seen it, the details are vague and I will have to re-watch again when I'm home. We waited in another long line inside until we took an elevator to the 88th floor and got an incredible view of the entire city. The smog in China is really gross and was far worse in Beijing and Xi'an but seeing it from overhead like this was a different perspective. Unlike when you are at the Top of the Rock or Empire State Building, where you can see all the way to Staten Island on a clear day, the view of the outskirts were very vague and hazy due to the smog. Another LONG line to take the elevators back down and we were all over it.
We drove back to the old side of the city and had lunch at a local restaurant. Following lunch, we walked along The Bund, which is a beautiful waterfront area with old British buildings lining the streets. The architecture along here feels similar to walking the Thames in London. After that, we headed to another part of the old city where there was a gigantic open air market. Meandering through the markets you find a gorgeous and tranquil garden in which you forgot about the crowded marketplace outside the walls. This garden was built by a wealthy official for his elderly parents to enjoy and has vast gardens, ponds and different buildings. Apparently the family didn't even live at this location and just visited here during the day and then went back home. Must be nice!
Our tour with David for the day was finished and we went back to the hotel. We got ahold of one of Dan's friends here and Shanghai who had helped pack up Dan's place. Danny met us at the hotel and then we took a cab to Dan's apartment. Until two weeks before he left, Dan was in a really bad apartment that kept troubling him. He finally found this one that he loved and then two weeks later was sent back to America! We got to see it, sans Dan! We brought his bags back to the hotel and then Danny took us to a local restaurant called "Paul", We had 7 or 8 different dishes including eggplant, steak, carrots, spicy chicken and seafood rolls. The entire meal including 2 large bottles of beer was 230 yen, or about $36!! Quite the deal! The last stop of the night was back to The Bund. Danny and our Dan both said it was a must see at night and they were right! The lights here are amazing, and a bit cheesy, but nonetheless amazing. The Pearl, the tower that looks like the CN Tower, lights up like Epcot Center!
It was a truly unique experience to have a friend of Dan's give us his local tour and hear his perspective on things. The young generation is definitely different than that of the older Chinese.
Shanghai, Day 3:
Our only scheduled sight today as the Shanghai National Museum and it was well, a museum. It did have some interesting Chinese artifacts but after 3 hours it was like any other museum. We had the afternoon free, so we found out from David how to walk back to our hotel and made out on an adventure. We walked around the People's Square, which is a park outside the museum. Mom saw a Zara across the street and we headed over. Surprisingly enough, it was the first shopping I had done since we got here.
After the store, the three of us trekked across the major road to Renmin Park to go to a restaurant David had recommended. He said, "many young Westerners like to go there". It was really good, we had soup, salad, mom had dumplings and Pat and I had a lamb meatball wrap and we each had two beers. Not many Chinese people drink beer, especially during tea time in the afternoon, but we're on holiday and would do it anyways. After lunch, we headed to a nearby Marriott whose lobby is on the 35th floor and had a drink in their lobby. We all had a cocktails, mom had her Manhattan and Pat had her mojito. To walk off our day drinking, we continued down one of the main streets back to our hotel. Along the way we passed shops similar to what you'd find on 5th Avenue in NYC. By the time we got back to our hotel around 5:30 we were exhausted and everyone read for a while. Mom found some interesting reading material in the hotel binder which was titled, "Safety, the best wishes from the world over".
Some of the highlights include:
-Follow no strangers to the fun places
-Advise your visitors, if any, not to overstay
-Close the door when you leave
-No excessive drinking
-Dry nothing on the lamp
-Be alert against any knock on the door from strangers
-Use internet properly
-Hands off from the fire fighting equipments
Shanghai, Day 3:
Today we had an early wake up call to catch our 7:55 bullet train to Hangzhou, a nearby city. Today and tomorrow we are going on day trips to cities north and south of Shanghai. Originally, these city were nicknamed the north garden and south garden of Shanghai because of the beautiful gardens in both places.
The train station was extremely busy and like always, no one knows how to stand in an orderly line. Luckily, unlike Amtrak in the States, you get assigned seats on trains here. I would not want to be fighting with people who don't let ladies go first and have no problem pushing you out of their way. The bullet train was fast, really fast, the top speed we saw was 302 km/hr. However, also unlike Amtrak, the ride was as smooth as can be.
We had a new local guide who met us at the train station when we arrived in Hangzhou. The city is divided into two sides, east and west. The east side is a typical busy city center with tall buildings and heavy traffic. Then you cross the border to the other side and you are transported to a green space with pagodas, parks and a giant lake. The city has grown so fast in the last 30 years that the traffic is ridiculous. To attempt some sort of control, there are rules of who can drive during rush hour on certain days. Monday-Friday between the hours of 7:00-8:30 and 5:00-6:30, you can only drive your car one day. For example, if you license plate ended in a 1 or 3 you would be assigned Monday, 2 or 5, Tuesday and so on. You can drive your car on the other days but not during the rush hour times. If you get caught by either police or cameras, you get a hefty fine and points on your license. On weekends between the hours of 8:00-5:00, cars ending in odd numbers can drive on Saturday and even numbers can drive on Sunday. Our guide explained that this system is frustrating at times, but in the long run saves a great deal of time for commuters.
We began our day with a boat ride on West Lake. While on the water, in the distance on the one side you could see the congested city but then on the other all you saw were expanses of green mountains. After the lake, we headed to another temple. Yes, another one. Luckily, this one was quite different and had carvings of buddhas in the rocky cliffs that lead to the entrance. The temple itself was similar to the others we've seen, but the scenery surrounding make it worth the stop. Next, we had lunch at a local hotel. I know I wasn't alive in the 70s but from what I have seen, this hotel seemed to be frozen in time. Literally. Unless it's trendy here to recreate the era consisting of the pool with turf surroundings or wicker furniture galore, I'd say this hotel has not been updated since its inception. Never the less, the food was pretty good when you avoided the decor.
After lunch, we headed out to the countryside to see a tea plantation. People in China love their tea, all day, everyday. Unlike at home, no one uses tea bags here and rather just loose tea leaves. With a pinch of leaves, you can refill your glass or bottle up to 5 times within two days. Late March and early April are the prime time for picking, and we got the grade A batch for the year. I don't know if I've mentioned this but everywhere we go, with our tour guides we always are "forced" to go to these places where they sell things. Whether it be the pearl and jade factories in Beijing, the clay factory in Xi'an or the tea plantation in Hangzhou. The guides always present it as a very educational experience and leave out the part that they are going to try and sell you everything in their store after they've taught you something for five minutes. Some places have been better than others but some definitely feel like you're sitting in a QVC studio and you can't escape the pressure to buy.
After the tea plantation we made our last stop at a pagoda built in the 12th century. Pat and I climbed to the top while mom watched from below. Blowing out her knee walking down 12 stories of extremely narrow steps did not seem like a good way to end the trip. The view from the top was really pretty and a nice break from the climb we had just accomplished.
We caught an earlier train and David met us at the station back in Shanghai. We arrived back just in time to be stuck in rush hour traffic for a while before arriving back at the hotel. We rested for a bit and then went out in search of one of the bars Dan frequented that featured American bar food. He explained that it was next to the Gucci store up an escalator. Apparently the Gucci store on Nanjing Road we were thinking of and the one he was thinking of were different because there was nothing above the Gucci store. We ended up at a different American Cafe called Malone's, which was similar to any Champp's back home. They had all the typical bar menu apps and then burgers, wraps, etc for main courses. Mom and Pat had burgers while I had a California chicken burger with guac.