Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Eating My Way Through Shanghai

This past weekend some friends and I went to Shanghai. Because I wanted to. So I made some people come with me.

We caught our train Friday evening after my harrowing experience attempting to register for classes in a sketchy wangba. Since I was in Shaolin the previous weekend, I wasn't able to be at the train station when the tickets went on sale, so I wasn't able to buy sleepers. Boo. But it was ok. I got us soft seats, which are like airplane seats but with more legroom. Granted it's not the best way to travel 12 hours overnight, but my only complaint was actually the freezing temperatures in the middle of the night. I packed for Shanghai, not the Arctic. During the trainride we drove through my roommate's hometown, which she pointed out to me. It had a giant nuclear reactor in the middle and extreme smog/pollution/death as far as the eye could see. Really, quite pleasant.

We pulled into Shanghai about 7am on Saturday. Luckily my roommate was with us to negotiate putting 3 people into rooms that were potentially meant for 2. (They had 2 towels, 2 toothbrushes, etc, but the bed was definitely big enough for 3). This was substantially cheaper, so we were quite happy (if only equivalent US hotels cost me $7 a night). The hotel was pretty funky. There was fruit in the floor, and the whole interior was done up in art deco colors. The best part, however, were the bathrooms. There were decorative white rock piles beneath the sinks, but best of all the shower had a large window that looked out over the bed. It was like this in every room. The frosted glass part of the shower really was not high enough to cover much (unless you were wicked short I suppose) and then the writing down the side totally defeated the purpose whatsoever. Please reference this picture. My words do not do it's absurdity justice. I suppose it was a nice way to get some daylight into the bathroom?

After we found a hotel and everyone showered and everything, we finally headed to brunch around 10. For brunch we went to Winter's Dad's Best Friend's restaurant. The connection is really not as ridiculous as that sounds (think about it) and its pretty cool that we've got connections. From the restaurant we went to the Old Town area. Since Shanghai is a pretty young city, Old Town has nothing on it's Kashgar equivalent, but it's still definitely worth a visit. However, the guidebooks don't lie: avoid this place on the weekends if at all possible. It was a veritable mass of people. We window shopped for a bit and tried some local delicacies, including baby squid/octapus thingy on a stick (full body - see picture), dragon's beard candies (shredded sugar stuff with peanuts) and chou dofu. For the non-chinese speakers, chou dofu means "smelly tofu." This is no lie. Every time we approached a chou dofu stand I first thought that we were approaching an overflowing sewer (not uncommon in Beijing - but would have been shocking in Shanghai) and then I thought I was going to puke. I did eat it though, and no vomit. It was pretty tasty once you added sauce - and ran away from the smell. Shanghai is most famous for it's Xiao Long Baozi. Baozi are like dumplings, but with thicker skin. This particular kind is filled with soup that you slurp through a straw before eating the baozi. See picture. We did not try, although we all sincerely wanted to, the ovaries and digestive tract of a crad.

In Old Town we also visited the famous 9 corner bridge, which crosses a pond filled with bajillions of incredibly fat koi fish. Then we went to Yu Yuan, a gorgeous gorgeous garden that some officials decided to build themselves one day. It took 18 years to cultivate the plants to perfection. I think it was destroyed twice, once during a war and once during the cultural revolution, but it's looking pretty top notch these days. The pictures were pretty much non-stop and it proved an excellent place for a rest in the sun for a bit (we were pretty tired from our journey, and Shanghai is about 70 degrees to Beijing's 40). Immediately after this rest we went back to sampling Shanghai street delicacies: tofu w/ quail eggs, black corn, glutenous rice balls with stuff on them, fruit concoctions. I was not messing around when I titled this post.

Next up: The French Concession. The French Concession is this lovely neighborhood that never actually had that many French people in it, but today still has excellent coffee, and a baguette or two if you search hard enough. This is also where Sun Yatsen hid out for a while after the whole Yuan Shikai debacle. So obviously we wandered the area for a bit and wished we lived in the neighborhood, and then settled down at a coffee shop for afternoon tea.

Post delicious tea we walked/wandered Shanghai until we reached the trendy district of Xintiandi. It was my oh-so-missed ethnic food for dinner. Indian/Malaysian/Thai. No words really. This meal was indescribable.

We wanted to see the Pudong side of the river (with all those crazy buildings) lit up at night (like you do in every media about Shanghai), so at about 10:15 we grabbed a cab over that way. We pull up, and walk down Nanjinglu (the Time's Square of Asia) which is suspiciously dead, except for creepy Chinese boys asking us where we're going and if they can come. We hit the bund, walk up the stairs all excited, and find it dark. Dark! Zhendema!? I interrogate a street vendor and learn that they TURN OFF THE LIGHTS at 10:30. It's now just after that. I'm all about energy conservation, but since when has CHINA conserved energy? It was quite dissapointing, but I'm getting over it knowing that it's on every postcard ever made, and I can look at those whenever I want. And it was just as impressive by daylight anyways.

Sunday was Ji Ah's birthday, so we went to fancy brunch. When I say fancy, I mean fancy. Like, 4 course, western silverware, attentive but not hovering waiters, NAPKINS, bread basket fancy. Since I usually go out to eat at 5 kuai (60ish cents) noodle joints, this was absolute luxury and so so so worth it. The resaurant overlooked the bund and the Pudong area, and it was gorgeous. Our table was right near the window. It was the most relaxing and wonderful and WESTERN thing I've done since arriving in China.

After lunch we strolled the Bund for a bit and then took the Tourist Tunnel across to the Pudong area. Let me say that the Tourist Tunnel is easily the best 30 kuai I've ever spent. You ride in what we fondly dubbed "Wonkavators" (after how I would imagine the great glass elevator to look) through a glorious laser tunnel a la the Chicago Airport Light Tunnel. It was amazing. There were even blown up people. I live in China, and I've never seen anything so tacky in my life.

On the other side we checked out all the crazy buildings including the tallest building in Asia, and the Pearl TV Tower (the purple and silver tripod that looks like it's the girly version of War of the Worlds - think about it, it's eerie). We wandered around the area and took in some more snackies - ice cream and smoothies and the like, before we had to take the subway to the train station and head home. The Shanghai subway, by the way, is beautiful. I highly recommend it.

So, that was pretty much my trip. I would elaborate more if I didn't have some shengzi to take care of (boo). Comment or email me your life stories!

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes when I read your posts I read the chinese words and actually think I know what they mean. I think I'm losing my mind. Just thought I would share. I miss you!! We should chat soon.