Breathe

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
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Trip End Aug 27, 2010


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Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Saturday, April 24, 2010

With a little help (in the shape of written Chinese directions) we managed to communicate our destination to a taxi driver who took us to the nearest metro station. The metro is very clean and efficient, not unlike the Japanese systems. Having navigated the Japanese subway systems, the Shanghai version seemed remarkably straightforward and we made our way to our intended stop without too much trouble. However, navigating the streets was to prove to be a little tougher….luckily a lady named "Julia" happened to be going our way and kindly showed us the way to the hostel. The huge room at the Koala International Hostel seemed more like a hotel room than a hostel, and came complete with fridge, microwave and hotplate.

With bags stowed it was time to explore a little and, at the very least, find some money and maybe something to eat. We took a walk around our immediate neighbourhood and found what we needed i.e. ATMs that accept foreign bank cards and a grocery store. The latter was huge and had everything you could think of in terms of essentials (e.g. Cadbury's chocolate) and some things that you wouldn’t want to think of (e.g. pigs trotters).

With a bag full of groceries we returned to the hostel and, not brave enough to venture into one of the local restaurants, settled for a stir fry in our room for dinner….at least this way we knew that what we were eating….

Armed with maps and our Lonely Planet guidebook wearing its new Harry Potter disguise (stashed in the backpack for emergency backup) we set forth for our first full day in China. Rumour has it that if Lonely Planets are discovered by customs officials they are usually confiscated (something to do with Lonely Planet showing Taiwan as a separate country), but ours had made it in, we just have to avoid it being confiscated while we’re here.

Our first mission was to book our tickets out of Shanghai, and so we headed straight for the train station and succeeded in getting soft sleeper tickets on the Shanghai to Xi’an train for the following day. We had then planned to go to the “Tourist Information Centre for International Visitors” thinking that this would help us to plan our time in Shanghai and China more efficiently; wrong. We had trouble finding it and when we eventually did the centre was of little help, although they did write down for us in Chinese “We do not eat pork or beef. We like to eat chicken and seafood.” (at least, this is what we hope it says!) to help us eat more easily in restaurants. The tourist information office is located in an area of Shanghai that is very much geared toward Western tourists and having seen barely a single western face all morning, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by them and bars and restaurants serving western style food. The whole area was very new looking (to the extent that they were still adding the finishing touches to some places) and we had the feeling that this whole area was created purely for the World Expo which will begin on May 1. In fact, this furious DIY seems to be everywhere we go … they say that the Queen of England thinks that the whole World smells of new paint, and we get the idea. So, will Shanghai be ready for the opening of Expo? Probably not, but wherever we tourists are “encouraged” to be sure as heck will, come hell or high water (if you pardon the three Gorges pun)… and since Expo runs for six months there’s probably time for the glitter to be added.

Next on the agenda was shopping and so we made our way to Huaihai Road, one of the famed shopping streets. However, we got side-tracked en route. Derek spotted a sign for a snooker club and as it was rather clean and surprisingly smoke-free the rest of the family agreed to this little indulgence. It worked out well; Derek and Sarah played snooker, Alex practiced his math as score keeper and Lauren spent an hour trying to entice a cat to come out from under a chair so that she could pet it!

These days it seems that 90% of the products you can buy in Canada are “Made in China”, and with such a strong international reputation for shopping, we had put two and two together and assumed that we would be able to shop for all sorts of stuff at great prices; wrong again. We strolled along Huaihai Road looking for the great shopping we had heard so much about – we were on the hunt for new shoes for the kids, as they’ve been wearing the same shoes since we left and have both somewhat outgrown them. Unfortunately though Louis Vuitton and Cristian Dior don’t do a great line in kids shoes! Disappointed with the shopping, we eventually made our way to People’s Square and took some obligatory photos. People’s Square is as the name suggests a square in a park in the middle of the city, with lots of flags and Chinese music being piped through the speakers.

We finally found the courage to eat Chinese, though it wasn’t like anything we’ve ever eaten in Chinese restaurants before. The restaurant was huge and absolutely packed, though I think we were the only western faces in the place, which we took as a good sign. With a little help, we placed an order and waited to see just what we’d end up with. At 59 RMB (about $8.50), including three large beers, even if we didn’t eat too much it would be a good experience! A large pot was brought to us and placed into the hole in the center of the table upon a hotplate. The pot was divided in two with a very spicy looking liquid on one side and a more harmless looking broth on the other. Then came our varied ingredients to add to the hot pot; small, but whole, fish, small (Quails?) boiled eggs, noodles, tofu, cabbage, fish balls, seaweed, bean sprouts and something that looked suspiciously like brains???? We probably had the etiquette all wrong, but we threw various ingredients in, waited a while and tucked in, adding more ingredients every now and again, though we decided against the “brains” … for today! The Szechuan broth was incredibly spicy, even for Derek and so we concentrated on the less spicy broth and had an excellent dinner.

It was night time when we left the restaurant and we found ourselves back on Xichang Road, the road that connects the main shopping streets on Huaihai and Nanjing. The street was packed with people and lights…..looking up and around in the city there are lights everywhere; it’s very much a city of lights.

On the boat from Japan we had spent time chatting with the mother of one of Alex’s new friends and had asked her advice on where to shop in Shanghai for kids stuff and she had kindly written it down for us (in Chinese). So, armed with our little piece of paper we set off to find kids shoes. We emerged from the metro at Qufu Road to find the real Shanghai (as opposed to the glossy veneer that the government wants tourists to see), we wondered down street after street occasionally showing our piece of paper to people who would point us in the right direction (at least we what we hoped was the right direction). Arriving at a building that had kid-like advertising on the 3rd floor, and knowing that the place we were looking for was on the 3rd floor we ventured inside. We stepped into the elevator and pressed the number 3, on the third floor, the doors opened and we were staring at wall and a large pile of garbage blocking the only doorway! This was not the sort of place we wanted to be. A quick exit from the building ensued, then around a couple more corners and the streetscape changed from run down, dirty narrow roads to wide open roads with large markets and stores as far as the eye could see and we soon located our intended destination.

The place that had been recommended was a Chinese market and despite the hustle and bustle and feeling very out of place, we found a children’s shoe store and found some appropriate shoes for Alex. Derek started negotiating a price, but the owner seemed unwilling to negotiate too much, despite what we had heard and insisted on about $20 for the shoes. This is more than we would pay for unbranded shoes in Canada, so we left the store without the shoes….so much for cheap prices in China! We spent much of the day shopping with a similar result….prices in Shanghai are similar if not higher than prices in Canada! With little to show for our efforts, other than an appreciation for the other side of Shanghai, we headed for the hostel to collect our bags and find out what Chinese trains are like. At this point it is probably worth noting that the “fog” referred to in the last blog entry has not really let up (although the sun did kind of break through today). The lack of oxygen is definitely noticeable as a clear explanation of why people are continuously spitting up in the streets all the time … better out than in. Unfortunately, we aren’t a family of spitters (trained that out of Alex weeks ago) ... we just hope that the short timeframe of our visit here is on our side. If you want to get an idea of what it is like, check out the photo of a car just after it rained.

Cities the size of Shanghai can take time to get around, even when using the metro and this evening was no exception; the lines to get tickets were incredible and the trains themselves were packed. The congestion and lines to get tickets created yet another time crunch to get to the train station. We were held up even further when the security guards decided they needed to check some items they had seen on the x-ray in one of our big packs. Derek managed to convince them that it was a can of half used bug spray that they were after (who knew you can’t take insecticide on to the metro) and we were on our way again. Making our way to the train station and through the long lines of people waiting for trains, we located our platform and train carriage with just a few minutes to spare. Bring on the Terracotta warriors…
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Comments

Marps on

The "brains" looking stuff might be (it was for us) scallop - but may have also been a mix of scallop and shrimp - it was delicious out of a hotpot!

delsar
delsar on

Not sure which bit of the scollop/shrimp would've made up the brainstem part? I know they're good at knock-offs here, but ...

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