Travelogue China 4: Shanghai

SHANGHAI
28-29 August 2014

With a name translating to “high sea” for its coastal positioning, Shanghai is a city of 26 million people (bigger than Beijing) concentrated on 80,000 square km (the size of Suzhou) so very crowded. Driving into the city from our 3 hour commute from Hangzhou, we could see right away that Shanghai is very different to the other cities we’d seen.

Having a long and mottled history all of its own, Shanghai had been one of the 4 dragons of China (alongside Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore) for economic and trade reasons during wartime, where neutrality was important for continued prosperity. This sustained external interaction has left Shanghai with a dialect all of its own, Shangainese, influenced by Japanese and English, but most of the local people speak Shanghainese and Mandarin (like the rest of China).

Predictably, first order of business on arrival was lunch, which we enjoyed at a stunning traditional restaurant on The Bund (waterfront of sorts), with very tasty food that was very flavourful with seasoning.

Having little perspective, we didn’t realise how well located our restaurant was until after lunch when we had free time to explore and take pictures. Directly above the restaurant was the People’s Heroes column, which was also the perfect vantage point to view across the bay at the skyline that included the distinctive dusky pink Pearl of the Orient Tower and, to me at least, looked like a much bigger version of Hong Kong.

The cool thing was that the next item on the agenda was to head over to that side of the river and go up one of the skyscraper towers to see the exact reverse panorama! The buildings are so so tall that many of then disappear into the clouds! We took the 45 second elevator ride to the 88th floor and could see for miles through the ceiling to floor glass walls. A nice touch was a voucher for a commemorative item – a pearl that was shelled right in front of us. Mine and Mother’s were almost identical (and completely different to our tourmates’!), so I gave mine to her to make a matched set of earrings.

We then had an hour or 2 to wander around the Shanghai Museum, which had some awesome exhibits on jewellery, traditional dress, currency and seals… but, disappointingly, the calligraphy exhibits were closed for renovation and I think these might have been the highlight.

Having not eaten for a whole four hours, we were rushed off to dinner (at 5.30!), in advance of our river cruise from Qin Huang Dao Road Wharf. We were well in time and waiting patiently with our tickets in hand when the gates were opened to let us right to the boat. Bizarrely, there was a mad rush and seemingly disproportionate jostling to squeeze through the turnstile. I had an old biddy with her elbows in my back (my very lower back as she couldn’t have been taller than my armpit), who sprinted off (relatively speaking) after she cleared the ticket check. All only became clear once we were on the boat – the oldies were rushing for a window seat in the cabin! If only they’d said – we had no interest in being inside with the spectacular views and photo opps on the upper deck.

Mr Lee told us that Shanghai is like a lady,who dresses up and puts on all her make up at night to look her absolute best. Well, it must take a lot of electricity to power the commitment to neon that makes this lady pretty! But the effect is well worth it – the taller than tall buildings and distinctive landmarks make for a stunning backdrop for our photobook!

It was well after 9pm when we checked into our hotel, the Four Points Sheraton, which was just as palatial and lovely as we’d been experiencing on the rest of the tour.

… and had the best breakfast buffet by far.

… to fuel us for the lightest itinerary (for some) so far, just shopping.

Fortunately, it was a later start as I’d gone to the bar across the road (the Blue Frog) with some of our tourmates and we’d nattered away until 1 in the morning (not hard to do since we’d only gotten out after 10). And very fortunate that Mother and I are dab hands at shopping (practice does make perfect after all!) so could operate on instinct while in (mental) energy-saving mode.

This shopping expedition was to AP Plaza. Although indoors like the Beijing markets, this one was all on one level. Mr Lee led us into the market to a central hub, where he set us free with a meeting place and time. Rows of shops tentacled from the hub and the centre was as huge as to be expected and followed a similar inventory pattern as the others (handbags, watches, luggage, souvenirs etc), which made it very confusing to retain direction as everything looked the same.

Miraculously we not only fulfilled our list – and stuck only to our list! – but we also managed to find our way back to the central hub… where we found several of our tourmates already waiting. We’d all managed to get this far, but nobody knew how to get from here to the bus! We moved together, set off splinter scout group, left people as markers… everything! But 10 minutes later we were no closer to the exit! Of course, it was as soon as we called Mr Lee to come and retrieve us that we stumbled across the right path.

The next (shopping) experience was more conventional. A downtown CBD, with wide pedestrian paths flanked by tall buildings housing every brand name store imaginable, this was less of the experience that we were looking for on our Chinese adventure, so we skipped the stores completely and (unintentionally) walked the length to get to the station where the slowly snaking trolley bus (decorated as a train, even with a soft “choo choo” periodically) to just soak in the vibe and do some people watching. We were fascinated by a series of really long queues, moving painfully slowly. On closer inspection, these queues were for shop windows selling ‘moon cakes’. Those must be something really special to warrant the wait, which must’ve been well over an hour for the people at the back.

The rest of the afternoon was at leisure, so we attempted to use the hotel business centre to do online check-in for the next day’s flights (unsuccessfully) and buy excess luggage allowance (successfully)… and then faced the daunting task of packing, strategically so that our (substantial) luggage fitted into the total and per-bag weight and size limits.

All packed and ready, we nipped across the road into the mega shopping complex to look for something light for dinner. We popped our heads in at a few places, but ended up with the most unlikely of choices – take away moon cakes from the supermarket. Wow! What a great choice! So so good, with a pork centre similar to a sausage roll in a crispy flaky pastry casing. No wonder all those people were queuing like their lives depended on it!