Shanghai January 8, 2010Posted by jorkat in Shanghai.
Happy New Year! This is the final post from our trip to Shanghai back in early-November. We just returned from a week-long trip to Japan which I’ll be writing about shortly.
After safely arriving in Shanghai after our debacle at the airport which you can read about here, we found our hostel and got settled. It was about 4pm so we still had some time to explore our surroundings and find a nice place for dinner.
There’s nothing quite like going into a completely foreign place and figuring stuff out. It can be frustrating at times, but with patience and the right attitude, it can be very satisfying once you acclimatize yourself to the unfamiliar surroundings.
We had done a little bit of research on Shanghai prior to our arrival, and when I say we, I mean Katie. As with previous trips, I made all of the travel arrangements, figured out accommodations and most importantly in this case, got our tickets for golf on Saturday. That was an experience in itself, but I won’t bore you with the details. Just imagine calling Ticketmaster in China and trying to convey that you live in Korea and want to buy golf tickets for an event 6 months from now – with someone who can’t speak English. Somehow we managed to figure it out and secure our tickets.
Shanghai is the largest city in China, and one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, with over 20 million people. Located on China’s central eastern coast just at the mouth of the Yangtze River, the city was originally a fishing and textiles town. The opening sentence of the Shanghai section of our Lonely Planet travel guide describes Shanghai as the “Whore of the Orient”. This may explain why Tiger has flown halfway around the world to play here 3 out of the past 4 years. Zing!
Shanghai grew in importance in the 19th century due to its favorable port location. The city flourished as a center of commerce between east and west, and became a multinational hub of finance and business by the 1930’s. However, Shanghai’s precipitous rise was interrupted with the Communist takeover in 1949 and the subsequent cessation of foreign investment. In 1990, new economic reforms resulted in intense re-development, culminating in Shanghai becoming the world’s largest cargo port in 2005.
The city has evolved into a tourist destination renowned for its historical landmarks and its modern and ever-expanding skyline including the Oriental Pearl Tower. Shanghai has established a reputation as a cosmopolitan center of culture and design and is now the largest center of commerce and finance in mainland China. With such a diverse mix of cultural history and modern development, Shanghai has been described as the “showpiece” of the world’s fastest-growing major economy.
Our first destination was the popular French Concession. This is one of the more popular tourist spots for foreign tourists and we could immediately understand why. It was an eclectic neighborhood with a nice mix of trendy retail and restaurants along with your typical old-school Mom & Pop establishments. Both sides of the streets were lined with beautiful trees which gave it a nice cozy feeling as you took in the unique sights and sounds around every corner.
We eventually settled at a nice Irish Pub with a street-front patio and a large group of men huddled around a game of checkers. We kicked back and relaxed with a beer while we reflected on a crazy day that almost didn’t materialize. We then took out our maps and planned our course of action over the next 48 hours.
After some more wandering we came across a crowded Mexican restaurant with a cool outdoor patio that practically spilled on to the street. After a brief pause to acknowledge the guilt of being in China and craving Mexican, we succumbed to our hunger. This now brings the grand total of Mexican restaurants we’ve eaten at in different Asian cities to 3 (Beijing, Seoul & Shanghai). I guess I’m still a little scarred from our first authentic Chinese food experience back in Beijing, and didn’t want any similar occurrences (read: bowel movements) while walking on a golf course for most of Saturday.
After a long day of unexpected twists, we headed back to our hostel to get some much needed sleep. Much to our delight, there was a 24-hour massage parlor located immediately next door. We popped in for a dirt-cheap couples foot massage in order to physically and mentally prepare for another grueling day of walking. For those of you who missed it, you can read more about our day with Tiger here.
Upon our arrival back in downtown Shanghai after an incredible time following Tiger, we went for dinner at a place called Simply Thai. I had beef with chili peppers and coriander which I think is arguably one of the most polarizing spices out there. Often referred to as cilantro, most people either love it, or claim that it smells like a dirty J-cloth. I’m in the former group. I can’t wait to take full advantage of the cheap thai food as soon as we arrive in Thailand. Although with our track record, we’ll probably end up eating mostly Chinese food.
On Sunday we tried to cram as much as possible into one day as our flight left was leaving at 9pm that evening. Katie was intent on visiting the famous Yuyuan Garden & Garden and sample an authentic tea house. Seeing as we had spent the previous day on a golf course, I was more than willing to oblige. We arrived at the closest intersection to the garden and did our best to look like tourists with our hands full of maps and lost looks on our faces. This strategy paid off as an old man approached us and asked us what we were looking for.
When traveling in foreign countries, I’ve noticed that we become much more skeptical of strangers and their advances. I don’t blame anyone for keeping their guard up as tourists are typically prime targets for would-be scam artists or locals just trying to make a quick buck. But so far we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers and their willingness to assist and show outsiders what their culture/country is all about. They are proud people who aren’t out to make any money and simply want to provide you with an authentic experience. This older gentleman was one of those people. His name was Kahn and he was a retired English teacher. He ended up giving us a guided tour through the entire garden and described details that no travel book or tour guide would provide.
He steered us away from the obvious tourist traps and took us to an even better tea house than the one our travel guide recommended.
Outside of Nestea I’m not a huge tea enthusiast, but this stuff was incredible. We sampled over ten different varieties and each one was better than any tea I’ve ever experienced.
It was now nearing lunch time so we headed for the trendy Xiantiandi district to grab a bite and wander around the area. We had a cool lunch at a place called Kabb’s which featured make your own Bloody Mary’s. They provide 3 shots of vodka, tomato juice and all the fixins (Worcestershire, Horseradish, Salt & Pepper) and you get to put it together as you please. No rimmer, so Katie was a little disappointed, still delicious though.
Afterwards we found a nice patio and had a few beers while doing some people watching before starting our trek home. As you’ll see from the pics below, this area has a new distinctly European feel to it. So much so that we had to constantly remind ourselves that we were still in the heart of Communist China. As the afternoon slowly faded to evening, I went inside to use the bathroom and watched Phil sink his putt to win the HSBC Champions event we had attended the day before. Even though Tiger didn’t win, it was a fitting end to a memorable weekend.
Finally, one last thing I wanted to share with everyone. I don’t know when it happened. Maybe it’s been going on for awhile and I just never noticed. Regardless of when this affliction materialized, I think everyone will agree that it’s a little disturbing. It seems as though my wife has a fascination with laundry. She stops to take pictures so often that sometimes I don’t really pay attention to the object of her desire. But when I was going through all of our pics from Shanghai, I came across a disturbing trend of pictures featuring wet clothes. Have a look for yourself. Viewer discretion is advised.
Stay tuned for our upcoming Japan mailbag. I’ll be answering questions from readers about our recent week-long trip to Japan. Feel free to submit your questions in the comments section of this post.