A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

Shanghai surprises

sunny 28 °C
View Just a big holiday on ClareAndTom's travel map.

We’re not sure what we were expecting Shanghai to be like, but the city we found surprised both of us.

As we stepped off the train into the bustle of Shanghai, we noticed the warmth of the sun – our first experience of pleasant, dry heat instead of humidity since we started this trip: we had left the tropics. We also couldn’t read a single sign. Aagghh, this was going to be tough – would we find anything to eat?!

Initial panic over, we went down to the (thankfully bilingual) metro and travelled to our hostel. We needed some fuel before attempting to book our onward train tickets to Beijing, so went in search of Shanghai’s famous soup-filled dumplings. We found some at a place which is supposed to do the best in town, and twelve yuan (£1.20) bought us four tennis ball-sized dumplings each. It’s important to bite through the dough crust carefully to avoid losing any of the tasty soup inside, or scalding your mouth with the boiling liquid. By his third one, Tom had become a touch complacent and bit down too hard, spraying oily soup all over himself and Clare’s (just washed) skirt. Luckily the old lady sharing our table had left by that point as we don’t know how to apologise in Mandarin.

The day got a bit worse when we found out that we couldn’t get the hard sleeper train tickets we wanted to Beijing. On the plus side, it did mean we were going to get the spangly new bullet train there instead. The Shanghai Museum didn’t cheer us up a huge amount, but the walk along the Bund munching on egg custard tarts certainly did.

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We really liked the Bund, with its grand art deco buildings contrasting with the modern skyscrapers across the busy river. We’d been expecting smog in Shanghai, but were treated to clear skies and a beautiful sunset as we watched the skyline light up.

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Walking back along the neon lit shopping strip of Nanjing Road, we felt we could almost be anywhere in the world until we came across a number of uniquely Chinese sights. Public ballroom dancing and group karaoke were quirky and amusing; a shopping mall fronted by a fish tank full of sharks and turtles was bizarre. Similarly weird were some of the dried and vacuum packed food items on sale at the Shanghai No 1 Food Store, including sea cucumbers and chickens’ feet.

Struck by how westernised Shanghai seemed, the next day we went searching for something of old China in the suburb of Qibao. The collection of mini museums and restored old buildings was interesting enough, but more fascinating was watching the noisy crowds of Chinese tourists out enjoying themselves. They didn’t seem interested in the museums (we had those to ourselves), but were mainly concerned with buying souvenirs from the tacky stalls and eating their way through all manner of unusual delicacies, mostly on sticks.

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In the afternoon we visited the French Concession, a leafy area of town home to some trendy shopping areas in old residential blocks, known as Shikumen. The Shikumen Open House Museum was an interesting look at how people had lived there in the 1930s. We were tempted to stay in the fashionable area and have a drink, but had read about the real ales on offer at the Boxing Cat Brewery. After our first proper beer in a couple of months we ended the evening with a tasty Sichuan meal.

Our challenge on the morning of Clare’s birthday was to find our way into the Yu Gardens. These were built in the 1600s but have since become buried in a shopping bazaar. We eventually got in and spent an hour or so wandering through the maze of carp-filled ponds, bridges, statues and pagodas.

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After tasty dim sum for lunch, it was time for Clare’s birthday surprise. Tom had booked a night in a posh hotel on the Bund: so posh that the taxi driver was amused and found it hard to believe we were going there with our grubby rucksacks. We checked into a lovely room with floor-to-ceiling windows giving fantastic views across the river.

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In the evening we got a ferry to the opposite bank (no bridges in Shanghai) and walked to the Jinmao Tower. It took three lifts to reach the table we’d booked at the 87th floor Cloud9 Bar. We enjoyed some celebratory cocktails with even better views than we got from our hotel room. It was weird to be looking down on the enormous buildings we’d been looking up at the previous day. Shanghai wasn’t good for Clare’s wardrobe as a clumsy waiter spilt our second drink over her dress. She wasn’t too damp though, and the very apologetic staff waived our bill, so we didn’t mind too much.

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Dinner was back on the Bund at Lost Heaven, a restaurant specialising in food from China’s border regions – some of the areas we’d be visiting in about a month. The meal was good, and we had our first bottle of wine since leaving the UK.

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The following day we had our first lie in in ages, and were enjoying not being in a hostel. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, hiding the tops of the skyscrapers in haze – we’d been lucky to see the city when it was sunny. The heavens opened as we took a taxi to the station – perfect timing for our escape on the bullet train to Beijing.

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Posted by ClareAndTom 19:58 Archived in China Comments (5)

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