China, Part 4

Getting there: Dragon Air from Beijing

Where we stayed: Hengsheng Peninsula International Hotel – hotels are more expensive in Shanghai than Beijing, and this wasn’t our best find: the whole hotel was smoky (even though we were in a ‘nonsmoking’ room, luckily the window opened), it was difficult to communicate with the staff, it was in a super shady area that had questionable happenings at night (!), but then again it did have a good gym, free wifi, and was a few blocks from the nearest subway. It wasn’t in the middle of a tourist area, so you could say it gave us some of the local flavour.

Tips: 1. Shanghai is very different from Beijing and some areas (the French Concession) have a very European feel still, and the subway is super convenient and easy to navigate. 2. Watch for pickpockets and swindlers on the Bund. We went here once and then stayed away. There are also some very destitute people begging for money here so be prepared. 3. Nanjing Road has a lot of good restaurants in the building levels above street level – and they’re also cheap. 4. If you look foreign, be prepared to be approached in many areas by people trying to sell goods – watches, bags, etc. 5. We visited the M50 arts area for a very different experience – it was a great little area at the time.

Email diary:

March 13, 2008: Greetings from Shanghai!

Hey Everyone!

I hope this email all finds you doing well. Greetings from Shanghai- we’ve been here for 2 nights now. Shanghai is a very different city from Beijing. Beijing is very traditional, very dusty and dry, very smoggy, with really bad traffic. Shanghai has a lot more tall buildings, bright lights, shopping everywhere, tourists, and is dirtier than Beijing. This city is kind of a very strange mix, though- there are a lot of sections that feel very European, but then there are huge skyscrapers too. Hard to describe, really. Lots of tasty dumplings here, too.

Our first afternoon in Shanghai, we spent exploring the really touristy areas of the Bund (which is along the Huangpu river- the first picture attached is taken there- this is the famous Oriental Pearl TV tower). This is where I met Mr. P, as he introduced himself, who offered to give me a Canadian twoonie in exchange for 14 RMB. Amazingly, I didn’t even fall for that, and left Mr. P with all of my belongings still intact. We haven’t visited the Bund since that night- I was accosted by all sorts of people who of course know I’m a tourist, whereas lucky d2 blends in as a local. Then we went over the Nanjing Road which is near the Bund and is a shopping/restaurant/hotel strip that has a pedestrian mall at one point (the second picture is Nanjing road all lit up). We had dumplings and soup here, and also picked up a tasty egg tart on the way home. Back to the hotel for a good sleep after walking through the shady ‘massage’ district that is a couple of blocks behind our hotel. Yesterday we were met in our lobby by a girl who works for a company that works with a client of d2’s. Their office is less than a 5 minute walk from our hotel, coincidentally, so we went there and met with someone d2 has met on his trips here, got a tour of the office, and then S and Mr. Wong, the driver, drove us around Shanghai all day to their various retail outlets. This company sells Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Converse, and some other major brands here in China. The way it works is that various distributors sell the brands almost in franchises – it appears that Nike doesn’t have its own stores here- it’s the distributors that have the stores. Which explained to us why we’d see 2 Nike stores on the same block as each other or in the same mall. At one of the stores, we managed to get a nice staff discount, so we bought a few things. We also went to an area called Old Town which is near a temple and beautiful old garden (the third and fourth pictures are Old Town and YuYuan Garden that is there). There was lots of bargaining in stalls here and street food. Some did not smell so tasty, trust me on that one. After that, we drove to a couple of more stores on the Pudong side of Shanghai- this area is across the river from the Bund and it houses the financial district of Shanghai. They are building the tallest office building in the world there at the moment. Mr. Wong and S dropped us off at the hotel again, we had some dumplings and fried rice for dinner on Nanjing Road, then back to the hotel for some zzzzzzzz’s.

I haven’t mentioned much about the traffic in China except that it’s really crazy. Crazy actually is an understatement. There are a lot of cars on the road and there don’t seem to be many rules in the way of lanes and lights. Yesterday we saw a police car with flashing lights that was stuck in traffic- no one would let him in, and Mr. Wong even passed him on the wrong side of the street and then cut him off. This is fairly typical. It’s really surprising that you don’t see many accidents here. Pretty sure I couldn’t last more than a few seconds in the driver seat here!

Ok, that’s about it from here. We got up late today, so we’re just getting ready to head out for a run before we try our hand at taking the subway system here to an area called the French Concession. I read that part of why Shanghai looks so European is that the English and French had a large presence here during the opium trade. We drove through this area yesterday and there are lots of nice trees and lots of French names on shops. It’s quite an interesting dichotomy. There’s an artsy area that we’re going to visit there as well. I’ll send pictures tomorrow!

lots of love,

dpr

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