Love Affair with Everywhere--Shanghai, PRC

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Flag of China  , Shanghai Shi,
Friday, March 18, 2011

NI HAO!!! (Hello in Mandarin)

After a quick pitstop home to unpack, do laundry and repack, I was off to Shanghai, PRC. It is my first time in China...really, its only my 3rd country in Asia.

I have to say, I have never been enthused by the idea of China. It is not on my list of tops to make sure I see before...well, 30, but here I am in the metropolis of 22 million (growing daily) in Shanghai in the People's Republic of China, or Mainland China. Due to some flight issues, I ended up being here a day or so before starting what would be an incredibly busy, but productive work week.

There really isn't much to see here in terms of 'sightseeing' and it definitely is not a walking city, but I ventured off to find something to see/do in the day and a half I had. Shanghai is an interesting place. Very commercial and an odd blend of East and West I am told that I will enjoy Beijing far more, if I ever make it back this way, as it is the cultural, historical and political hub on this fast growing nation. But for now, I am in Shanghai, so let's see what I can do to make the best of my time here.

As usual, we will start with location. I chose to stay downtown on Saturday and Sunday, and big surprise, I chose the JW Marriott as my hotel for the weekend. The JW was the first skyscraper to shoot into the sky in Shanghai in 2003. The hotel boasts 360 degree views from its lobby and executive lounges on the 38th and 60th floors respectively, the Guinness Record for the Highest Library in the World (that is said to have a secret passage to a balcony--I never found it) and each room overlooks the city of Shanghai.

The hotel lobby is located on the 38th floor of the building, which in itself is quite interesting. The hotel is located directly opposite People's Square, Shanghai's cultural district and on Nanjing Road--a popular stop for avid shoppers. While I enjoyed this hotel (as always), next time I will likely choose somewhere along the Bund or close to it.

There is a metro system, but taxis are rather inexpensive, so I would recommend this method of travel from place to place. The meter starts at CNY 12 (US $1.80), but doesn't move fast, so most places within 5 km will cost you between CNY 13-15.

So, I already mentioned there isn't much to see here, but there are a couple places I would recommend a visit to if you happen to be in the area. The first is Yuyuan (Yu) Garden. This garden is a beautifully preserved and maintained santuary in the heart of the Yu district. The madness and noise of Shanghai seems miles away the second you enter the grounds. Entry is CNY 30 and the crowds tend to gather early, so go as early as possible so you can stroll around the gardens at your leisure. Thanks to jetlag and possibly the rainy weather, I was one of the first visitors on Sunday morning. After the last 3 months on the road, I could've spent all day in there, it was immensely peaceful. I sat on the ledge of one of the buildings for a long while just admiring the old architecture and thinking how cool it must have been back then and wondering if some of the older cities and villages in China still look like this. I couldn't believe how quiet and serene the setting was. I caught myself wishing the whole city was like this--then maybe I would have felt like I was in China.

Check out the pictures to see for yourself how truly beautiful this garden is.

Unfortunately the weather was cloudy and rainy the whole time, but I wasn't about to let a little rain stop me from trying to explore some of the lesser known parts of the city. I ended up walking around and making my way to a market nearby. I didn't see any tourists really, and since it was raining, business for the shops was affected--they were more than happy to give me a 'good price', a 'friendship price' for anything I was ready to buy. I never seem to learn to keep a little space in my luggage. There were some beautiful artifacts I would have loved to add to my house, but space did not permit. If you are looking for souvenirs, the area around Yu Garden is a great place to find some Chinese pieces. Unless you are ok getting ripped off, don't shop inside the garden zone. It is likely your driver will drop you outside the gates of the Yu Fashion street. Go somewhere along there and bargain your way to a fair price. The tea sets are particularly beautiful or you can get your name (or someone else's) name engraved into a stamp or Chinese calligraphy...or chopsticks always make a great gift!

From Yu Garden, you can make your way to the fabric market--if you are interested in having some custom clothes made. Allow some time for this if this is of interest as it does take a few days for them to make them. The market is a lot of fun to just wander around and see all the designer 'knock offs', but fun to know that in no time and a fraction of the cost, you can have the same look! And you can pick your fabric.

One thing to mention is that while Shanghai is a major metropolitan city, many people do not speak English, especially the taxi drivers. It is highly recommended that you grab a map with both the English and Chinese directions (so you know where you are going, and more importantly, so you can point out where on the map you want to go to the driver). I was given the business card of the hotel before I left. While I didn't pay much attention to it when the concierge handed it to me, I was grateful I had it when I got in the cab and the driver didn't know what the Marriott was so I just handed him the card and we were on our way.

After the fabric market I decided to head back towards the hotel to see the surrounding area before heading outside the city where my work team was located. Directly opposite, in People's Square, is the People's Square Park where you will find early risers doing Tai Chi, the Shanghai Grand Theatre and the Shanghai Museum. Behind the Theatre is the clock tower.

It is worth a wander around, even if it is a rainy day. Grab a coffee/tea to go at Gourmet 360 and set off..

For you shoppers and trendsetters out there, a visit to Xintiandi (pronounced Shintandi) is a must. It is an old part of town that now houses some of the hottest fashion shops, restaurants and bars in Shanghai.

There is also a Jade Buddha temple I wouldve liked to stop by, but there was no time.

Finally, no trip to Shanghai would be complete without a visit to (or at least overlooking) the Bund. The Bund is a walkway along the river housing some of the finest restaurants, shops are bars in the area. There are many places you can go to check out the Shanghai skyline. We held an event at the Hyatt on the Bund one night and decided to head up to Vue Bar for a  quick drink beforehand. The view was breathtaking--the pictures attached do not do it justice. Don't just go to the bar area, go up the stairs one more level and you will be outdoors (covered) with lounge beds and a jacuzzi and a phenomenal view of the skyline. I am also told the Grand Hyatt is worth a visit -- well, maybe just the 88th floor.

With exception of the Yu Garden and the Bund, Shanghai was not as impressive as many of the cities I am lucky enough to fall upon, but I did enjoy the city and hope to visit other parts of China and of course, Beijing and the Great Wall, the next time I make my way East...or West depending on how you look at it.

Next stop: Hong Kong....I am told I am going to love this city, so I am really looking forward to it!

Til then, I hope you will enjoy the post and pics. Feel free to comment or add your own experiences. If you are directed here from my fb page and wish to comment or 'like', please do so on the fb link rather than here so I can see who you are :)

XIE XIE (thank you in Mandarin) for reading :))

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