It’s strange how some places you grow into liking, whereas with others you immediately know whether you love it or hate it. Shanghai was a place that we loved immediately. Well, almost immediately. We first had to get used to the floor to ceiling glass faced ensuite that sat in the corner of our bedroom.
We arrived mid afternoon, and we’re starving, so went out in search of that token chinese restaurant that all cities have. Shanghai had loads of them! We wandered up to Yuyuan Gardens, through a hectic little street market.
There were some exotic things on offer, but nothing that would stop our craving for dim sum. For what had been the majority of the walk through local streets, we turned into the Yuayan Gardens that was a modernised version of an ancient chinese City, complete with all the traditional stores, such as McDonald’s and KFC. We found a busy little restaurant that served only steamed buns, differing in ingredients on each of the floors, but the traditional pork steam bun we love was not available. Instead we went around the corner to a little restaurant next to KFC and, using our iPad translator, ordered an array of steamed morsels of deliciousness. Satisfied and full, we wandered back to the hotel Shanghai Chi Chen Boutique Hotel, to lay down and dream about more dim sum.
We woke the following morning with hunger pains and quickly went to a small hole in the wall we spotted the previous evening that sold only steamed buns. We soon learned the chinese characters for Cha Siu Bao and with the assistance of another customer ordered a few. This would be our staple breakfast in Shanghai.
We opted against the metro and wandered out along the river towards the main area of town. We had all seen the images of Shanghai, a cityscape with some of the tallest building in the world, Oriental Pearl Tower and Jin Mao Tower, but we didn’t expect to see British Colonial Architecture facing the steel and glass metropolis. It is quite a beautiful walk along the water, watching the the enormous ships navigating the river that reflected the red ball of Oriental Pearl and colonial arches of the Port Authority Building. Adding to the diversity was a giant inflatable Snowman on top of the Peninsular Hotel.
We followed a city walk that was guided by the Lonely Planet, passing over one of the oldest steel bridges in China, past the Russian embassy, an Art Deco building that would not be out of place in a Ghostbusters movie and to the Post Office. The post office is said to have a great view over the city, but it was under renovation, so instead we left one of the fanciest post offices we had seen and headed towards another part of town, through the main thoroughfare of more Art Deco facades that resembled an mini Wall Street.
By this stage we needed three important things, a toilet, some dim sum and a Tsingtao. The most important would be the toilet, but it had to wait as we stumbled upon a busy little restaurant that served only dim sum and beer. After a delicious snack, we headed to some public toilets. China’s reputation for public ablutions is not very credible, however, these ones on the edge of Peoples Square were pretty impressive. There was a marble floor, and even a staircase for the ladies,
Toilets aside, we wandered through the park, watched some old men playing… something… and continued onto another restaurant chain, for some, er more dim sum. At least it wasn’t pizza. Again, satisfied with our snack, we wandered slowly further towards a more bohemian part of Shanghai, the French Concession.
Shanghai was filled with brilliant shops (if we weren’t carrying so much from Hoi An, there would have likely been a lot of purchasing) instead, we just wandered the leafy streets to our destination, Dr Wine. It was a Sunday afternoon, that seemed very similar to a Sunday spent in London, so we decided to do what we would normally do, and kick back with with a board of cheese and salami and indulge in a couple of Vino’s. We were quite away from home, so jumped on the metro back to the hotel. It was all very uneventful, if it wasn’t for when we left the subway station near our hotel, we were confronted by a mass crowd of older chinese ladies filling all corners of the intersection to do what all ladies of the older generation in Shanghai does best, salsa dance.
Armed with some more Cha Siu Bao, we wandered out the streets of the city with the intention of booking train tickets to Beijing. One and a half hours later we were at the foyer of a hotel, being told there will be no tickets, as we had no passports. Shoulders were shrugged as we wandered out for some more adventures. We followed another walking tour of the old town, just half a block away from the fakeness that was Yuyuan Gardens but a world apart. The tiny alleyways crept alongside the decrepit buildings, hanging on to the past, but knowing the inevitable that they too would be torn down to make way for glass and steel. The faces of the locals still there, seemed to show the same defiance as they went about the daily duties, washing, cooking in a hidden restaurant, or returning from the market with the daily groceries on bicycles that just fit between the narrow walls.
It was such a contrast to the neighbouring Yuayan Gardens. We decided to wander through the streets some more, in the direction of a restaurant had searched endlessly for, all the way back in Kuala Lumpur. But there were a few detours to take in. The first, was the aptly named Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market. Do we need bother to go into details on that one?
The next was slightly unexpected. As we wandered across the road from the cricketing crickets, we entered the Dogtai Road Antique Market. Why did will fill our backpacks with ridiculous items in Vietnam. We would have bought so many random things from this place, but decided against it. Not due to the logistics, but we knew that with our time in the city thus far, we would definitely be returning. And that was before we made it to an old faithful (not in China, but Malaysia.) Crystal Jade.
Now look, this isn’t a high flying or michelin starred, and it is not one of the hole in the wall restaurants that you happily stumble into. Its in a fancy shopping centre and has the ambience not to dissimilar to Pizza Hut, but the food is great. Really great. And not overly priced – although it was more expensive then the time we ate there in Malaysia (yes a chain). Just thinking about the Dan Dan Noodles moistens our mouths.
It was a great way to end our too-short-of-time in the city so we decided to stroll through the neighbourhoods all the way back to the hotel. We went the back way and established that 2 blocks from our hotel was another part of the Old Shanghai that was refusing to budge to the construction companies. We hope these areas will preserve and we have the opportunity to wander through them in the future… when we return!