I arrived back in Shanghai from Hangzhou on Sep 10 to meet up with Rhoda, Yna, and Joy who were flying in at midnight from Manila. The train’s terminus was at the South station rather than the nearer Central station so it took some time before I got to the East Nanjing Metro stop. That was the most stressful train ride I had as I discovered that my economy ticket had no seat number as the section was full. That meant looking for a vacant seat or standing for the full 3 hours to Hangzhou! Fortunately, a nice young Chinese lady and a train attendant helped me out. I was adviced to head to First Class where there would surely be availbel seats and where I can just pay the fair difference. I mad a dash to the front cars and made it in the nick of time just as the doors were closing. Phew! Lesson learned: don’t buy your train ticket an hour before the trip and don’t assume that not having a seat number means that it’s free for all.
East Nanjing Rd was packed will people as always— a shock after the serenity of Hangzhou. I had already searched out East Asia Hotel when I first arrived in Shanghai on the 5th so I wouldn’t have any trouble looking for it. The hotel is easy to find but not so the entrance as it’s in a corridor inside the Shanghai Fashion Store as the hotel is directly above it. With it’s colonial facade, beautifully lighted at night, you would have expected that the inside would be just as nice. The room was quite all right, not very cramped could be a little cleaner. The twin beds were large and comfortable enough. Well, after living off dorm rooms and hostels, I guess any hotel room would look good to me. It certainly did not to my sisters when they checked-in at around 1 in the morning. No amount of sleepiness could mask their eekiness and yuckinesss about it. What can you really expect from a $48/night room at a tourist center in Shanghai? We promptly moved out the next morning and transferred to Park Hotel which Yna and Joy booked.
It was only around 11 so I went to Decathlon at Pudong to buy some outdoor gear. It was a long trip on the Metro and got lost finding the store as I exited on the wrong side of the sation which had me going the opposite direction. I was in the middle of a high-rise residential blocked when I realized I must be in the wrong area! Fortunately, a white guy came along who pointed me to the right direction. I had to backtrack about a kilometer until I was back at the Metro station and finally saw the store looming about a block away. The multi-story building was a sports haven. I stuck to the first floor which housed all the outdoor stuff. Like a child gone wild, I was snapping stuff even if the only brand they carried was Quechua which was quite cheap. Just as I was about to check-out, I did a double take on the yuan-peso conversion and was shocked with the amount—it wasn’t so cheap after all! I returned about 2/3 of my basket and just ended up with a couple of socks and a shirt. Walking back to the Metro I realized my mistake—I had added a zero which resulted in the staggering amount. Oh well. I was never really good at Math. Well, at least it saved me from buying a lot of stuff (like the plastic lanterns) at a whim.
Back at East Nanjing, I had lunch at the Shanghai First Food Center food court where I had pan-fried dumplings (shengjian) at the stall where people were queing all the time. One thing I have learned in Shanghai is: if there’s a queue there must be good food. It’s unbelievable how people patiently line-up at a particular stall even if the same thing could be had just a few steps away. The difference in taste is always worth it. Or maybe all that queueing has made you so hungry that it tasted good even if it tasted *^#@. I couldn’t get a seat so I had to eat my dumplings standing-up.
Spent the rest of the day just walking around the East Nanjing area. In front of a mall near the Radisson, a large crowd was watching a show by one of the Pacific islands participating in the exp0.
I headed to Huanghe Rd for dinner. Listed by Lonely Planet as a food street, dozens of brightly-lit restaurants (some more patronized than others) lined the narrow street. Tucked between the much bigger restos was the Yang’s Fried Dumplings with its bright pink neon light. At the entrance is a counter where you pay for your order. Seeing that I was speechless and maybe because I looked so excited about the dumplings, the middle-aged lady manning the counter whipped-out an English menu and pointed to the dumplings. I order a hot and sour soup with rice noodles (RM 7) to go with it. I showed my receipt to the guy dispensing the shengjian (RM5 for 4 pcs) beside the doorway then showed it again to one of the waitresses for my noodle soup. Took a seat at the second floor and started on the dumplings while I waited for my soup. The dumplings were more scrumptious than the all others I had. The bottom was perfectly pan-fried with enough stickiness of the dough for texture. Hot oil kept spurting out as I bit on the dumplings turning my table into a mess littered with table napkins. I had yet to master the art of biting and sucking the juice out from these tasty morsels. Dipped in vinegar, it was heavenly! The food was really good so it wasn’t surprising that there was a line in front of the restaurant.
I took the back road on the way back where I passed a small outdoor shop that had some good brands (Osprey, Black Diamond, etc.) in stock but they were really expensive. Their Black Diamond trekking poles were about 20% more expensive than the one I bought at Conquer. Everything I needed to do the for the day was over and done with. I just had to wait for my sisters to arrive which was no easy task as my phone’s roaming was blocked. I told the surly receptionist to let me know once my sisters check-in. Waiting outside the hotel was out of the question as you either get propositioned for massages are sold stuff. They finally arrived at past 1 am and we promptly went out in search of food. Everything was closed and the nearby 24-hour McDonald’s didn’t have any food. Strange. There were a lot of kids hanging out and some were even sleeping. We ended-up at the bistro of Le Meridien where we shared some noodle soup with dumplings and a club house sandwich.
Day 1 at Yuyuan. The next day, we moved out of East Nanjing Hotel and went across the street to Park Hotel at West Nanjing. It was really a step higher than the former hotel. The lobby was spacious and there was real customer service. Joy got a free upgrade from a standard to a deluxe room. The historical hotel was really nice and the rooms were spacious and spotless. Unfortunately, there was no free internet. We just dumped our bags in the rooms then took a cab to Yuyuan for Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. It wasn’t 11 yet but there was a really lone line already. We hadn’t had breakfast yet so we went to Ning Bo Dumplings just across which was a little crowded but we managed to grab a table. We almost ordered the entire dimsum on display at the cart. We must have seemed like gluttons as beside our table was a group of 6 Chinese who were just having some soup and tofu. It was my second time at Ning Bo and I still couldn’t get enough of the soup-filled boazi.
Just outside Nanxiang, a long line had formed in front of a stall of hopia-like snacks. It was too much for Yna and Joy to resist who promptly lined-up and bought a box of assorted snacks. We had no idea what the fillings were— some were filled with pork, some with mushroom, and another with seaweed. We like the former the best. Rhoda bought a bag of freshly-roasted chestnuts.
It was a weekend and Yuyuan was really packed with people and the rain didn’t make things any easier. I would have to give plus points to my sisters, though, as the crowd and the rain didn’t bother them the slightest bit. At a large store selling packaged snacks we bought some to bring back home. It was a mistake as it meant lugging the bags around. We must have been carried away with all those people grabbing packages and the sellers pointing to little snacks wrapped in colorful paper and exclaiming, “velly goood!”
At a strip of some special stalls that had the distinction of being famous crafts and art makers if the sign was to be believed the Shanghai Sisters had seals made. I thought it rather expensive at RM120 for a large one but it was supposedly carved by an award-winning engraver judging by some certificates posted at the stall. A few stall down, I bought some traditional leather puppets. The lady at the next stall selling metal cut-outs urged me to buy showing me a newspaper clipping of her and her father. The craft didn’t seem to be particularly interesting so I just made the excuse that I would call my sister to check it out. I felt a little guilty not buying from her as she was the translator for the puppet stall. There were quaint colorful hand paintings but they were quite expensive.
While waiting for the engravings to be finished, we went to the Yuyuan Stage to have our photo taken in costumes with a backdrop of old Shanghai. It’s rather touristy kitschy but what the heck! It makes for a great souvenir and a whole lot of fun. We had to wait a while as there was a young Chinese couple having their picture taken. They really looked good.. well wadda expect… they were Chinese so they had to look good in Chinese get-up. We were handed costumes to wear—- Rhoda and Yna in tight cheongsams and me trousers, shirt, a hat and scarf. Mine was easy to wear as I only had to put them on over my clothes. Rhoda and Yna had to completely change clothes. Joy kept asking the costume woman if they had “big size” while pointing to herself. The woman motioned putting on a jacket and we all thought she was going to let her wear the jacket worn by the guy who was having himself photographed. Our turn came and they had Joy sit at the carriage. They gave her a shawl, took a colorful cheongsam from a rack and put in top of her lap to cover her legs and a small handbag to hold it in place and viola! Joy had a costume. I really admired their ingenuity in coming-up with it. Everything was meticulously staged. We were even given shoes to wear! We each paid RM 120 for our copies of the framed photograph which we had to get at the 4th floor. There was another set-up on the rooftop this time with an imperial China backdrop and costumers but we declined it. The view from the rooftop was beautiful with the skyline dominated by the upturned eaves of the shop roofs while the darkening sky threatened to dump rain. While waiting, we stepped into the Yuyuan Stage which had been converted into a tea house that shows performance sometimes.
The seals were ready by the time we returned to the stall and we headed to the Mid-lake Pavilion for some tea and to take shelter from the rain. The nine-turn bridge was a little crowded and people were snapping away photographs in spite of the wet weather. We took a nice spot near a window overlooking the lake and had various teas with names like “Iron Goddess” and “Bountiful Riches.” I liked “Iron Goddess” the best as it hinted slightly of honey. There were some little snacks to go with the tea.
At the Cultural Street, Yna bought some dolls of the different Chinese minority groups while Joy and Rhoda went crazy over some pendants. I headed to the music store I passed before on my first visit to Yuyuan. I bought a drum and a clapper (gu). The pipa and the erhu and the gongs were all quite expensive so that will have to be bought at another time. Rhoda was so inspired with our tea at Mid-lake Pavilion that she snapped up some tiny tea cups at one of the tea shops.
Still heady with the aromatic tea we had, we dropped by at Song Lin Tea Garden to buy well… some tea! They had all sorts of tea and it was fun to browse around. There were a lot of interesting stuff such as tea leaves packed in squares and rounds which I had never seen before. Some were really expensive. The lady at the store was very accommodating and spoke good English so it was easy to communicate with her. We tasted the Dragon Well Tea, Litchi Black Tea and the Milk Tea which were all very good. We watched how she served the tea so we could replicate it at home. She first poured hot water on the tea leaves on the pot which she then used to wash the tea cups. She refilled the tea pot and then poured it into the tiny cups for us to sip. I also observed this at the Mid-lake Pavilion and I was aghast that the tea was being wasted. But the lady said that the first “water” isn’t good and that it’s the second one and the succeeding ones that should be sipped.
Joy got small boxes of pre-packed Black Litchi tea which the lady in shocked dismay said that it wasn’t the same quality as the one we tasted which came from jars. Joy insisted it didn’t matter as it was only for give-aways. “Baaaaddd quality…. baaaaddddd quality” she kept on insisting while slapping her right hand on the air. “This one… goooood quality,” she pointed to the one she was letting us taste. It was amusing to watch her. About half an hour later, we left loaded with boxes of different teas— Oolong, Litchi Black Tea, Milk Tea, Eight Treasures Tea a clear glass tea pot and a ceramic tea strainer. I should have bought some Dragon Well at Hangzhou where it came from as it was only RM20 for 100g while it was selling RM100 at the tea shop.
It was a little difficult hailing a cab. On the curb a private car doubling as a cab offered to take us back for RM 30 which was more than double the RM 12 we paid to get here. We insisted on RM 20 but he shook us off. As we waited, he came back and told us to get in as the traffic police was shooing him away. He figured he might as well give in to our RM 20 rather than leaving empty-handed. He was nice though and cracked jokes.
The Shanghai Sisters had tire of Chinese food as we were going to have Pecking Duck at a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant the following day. Or maybe they were shocked at the Shanghai First Food Center food court with its hordes of people. We had dinner instead at a resto on the same level. It was untypical Chinese as it had none of the round tables, glaring fluorescent lights, and noise. Instead, there was soft lighting, smartly dressed servers, and quiet booths. Even the menu was a little different. The food was delicious and the prices reasonable. Best of all, it was Yna who paid for it.
Bonding at The Bund. East Nanjing Rd was as crowded as ever and it was a challenge to walk the entire length of the road to The Bund. It looked like a scene from the People Power rallies in the EDSA days when people would walk along EDSA. It was especially a challenge to my sisters who aren’t really used to walking that far. I kept telling them we were close already. There were less people on the walkway by The Bund and we hanged out for a while taking pictures. The Bund is really beautiful lit at night and looking at the buildings along East Zhongshang, it almost feels like you’re in Europe. Gazing towards the Pudong, the iconic Orient Pearl TV Tower soared to the sky like a space ship while tourist ferries cruised the Huangpu River. We initially planned to cruise the river so we can take in the sights by the entire length of The Bund but it wouldn’t fit in our schedule. By the time we walked back to the hotel it was almost 11 and the streets weren’t as full anymore. Haagen Dazs, where we were supposed to have some ice-cream, was closed already so we just bought some local ice cream at a convenience store. I had some mochi and green tea ice-cream.
Day 2: The Renmin Loop and the Grand Metro Tour. We woke-up early the next day and Shanghai was in a light shower. Like a tour guide, we did a circuit of the Renmin Loop to see the Shanghai Museum, Grand Theater, and other architectural sights. We had breakfast at Starbucks at Raffles City which was packed with people seeking shelter from the shower. The mall had opened by the time we finished so we went around a bit. Joy’s shoes were soaked so we looked around for some sandals at the stores at East Nanjing but they were mostly selling rubber shoes so it was decided she just buy a pair at Decathlon where we were heading to later anyway.
We took the Line 3 metro to the Xintiandi station but somehow never made it to Xintiandi itself. Should have taken the South Huangpi station as it’s actually closer. Walking to Xintiandi, my sisters entered a plus-size store and ended up buying clothes. By the time they were through it was time for lunch so we took a cab to Quajude for its famous Pecking Duck.
It was a bit of a challenge communicating with the servers as the only who could speak English was the one who took our order. Since rice is always served last in a Chinese course, asking the rice to be served together with the main courses took a lot of effort. “Where rice? Now… serve rice… now,” Joy tried vainly to tell one of the waitresses. We had Peking duck, fried rice, mandarin fish, vegetables, and some dessert. It was all very good especially the duck with its crispy skin wrapped in freshly-made pancakes. We noticed that the Chinese make the wraps by putting the pancake on their palm rather than on the plate. It actually makes for easier wrapping.
Nobody would take us to the South Xaanxi metro station where we would catch Line 2 to Pudong. And we discovered why. It was just a couple of blocks away! No wonder, the woman cab driver seemed annoyed when we told her where we wanted to be dropped off. She practically shooed us away. The station was opposite the Art Deco-style Cathay Theater.
We were heading to Lujiazui for the viewing deck at the Jinmao Tower. From Lujiazui it was a long walk to exit to the side where Jinmao was. Yna was joking that we were having a tour of the metro station and we better hurry up as we had only done Lines 1 and 2 and still had 7 more lines to try. Hahahahaha.
We got a bit lost looking for the viewing deck at Jinmao and when we did we headed to the line not knowing that tickets had to be bought. Yna and Joy stayed at the line while Rhoda and I went to the ticket booth and saw the price—RM 150. It wasn’t an amount we were willing to spend so we just left. All that effort for nothing. Heheheheh.
I think we spent more time at the metro station than at Jinmao. We took line 2 to Longyang for Decathlon. I did tell them that the store was just outside the exit of the station but what I did not tell them was that there was a walk of about a hundred or so meters. Hahahahaahhaha! At Decathlon, Joy finally got her sandals and Rhoda changed from wedge shoes to slippers. I could hear their feet breathing a sigh of relief. I bought a 40L backpack, a base camp bag similar to TNF’s, some hiking shirts and socks and other stuff for less than RM400!
Back at East Nanjing, Yna went to Bao Xing Toy Store, Rhoda looked for a pay phone, and Joy and I went to Shanghai No. 1 Department Store where we all met up an hour later. There was nothing really nice to buy at the department store as it was mostly Chinese-made stuff, the kind that you’d probably find in Divisoria. We rested a bit at the hotel then went to Huanghe Rd for Yang’s but they were cleaning-up when we got there. I guess the dumplingsmust have all sold out as it was only 8pm and too early to close. We went to East Dawning, a Chinese fast food across the corner of the hotel. It was brightly-lit lively place with a lot of young people chowing down on cheap Chinese eats. They must have been shocked as we ordered so much food—- mini dumplings, fried rice, maki roll, soup, chicken wings. It was surprisingly good and had none of the fast-food flavor you’d expect.
It was a long and tiring day but we had so much fun even. Rhoda and I had to pack our things as we were checking out the next day and just retaining Joy and Yna’s room. I had a drum to pack which fortunately fit in the basecamp bag I bought and loads of other stuff. Next day is Expo day before heading to the airport in the evening for the flight back home.