A grey smog blanketed the city when we arrived. Shanghai has a serious air quality problem! But we were there for just a brief stopover so we weren’t too worried about our health.
From Pudong International airport we hopped on board the Maglec, the world’s fastest train. It hurtled along at speeds of 430 km per hour and arrived at Longyang Rd in less than 10 minutes. After this exhilarating ride, we transferred to a Metro line to reach the central city where we had booked into the Marriott Hotel. Our room was comfortable and best of all there was a swimming pool where we could cool down!
Over the road from the hotel was a tea shop. I love Chinese tea; it comes in so many varieties. When I poked my head around the door I was immediately invited to sit down by an attractive young lady to take part in a tea tasting ceremony. I had to laugh because part of her sales pitch was sheer flattery. ‘You are beautiful madam,’ she said.’ I would like you to be my friend!’
I was easily persuaded to buy some rounds of puerh tea’
Walking Shanghai’s streets was an adventure in itself. Along Nanjing Road, its main shopping street, you have to be careful not to be bowled over by the occasional motorbike driven along the footpath
It was so hot I needed a sun hat so we went into a Department Store where I was talked into buying a rather fetching lacy number. I saw the very same hat for about 1/5 of the price at a roadside stall later on!
You could have some amazing meals in Shanghai but it would cost you a packet. In any case, we love casual meals and finding places where the locals go.
We found a food hall in a flash department store. It was packed with families and young people out for dinner. The waitress went to find a waiter for us who spoke a tiny bit of English which mainly amounted to “Hot, or not too hot?”
‘Not too hot,’ we said and our order duly arrived.We shared a huge and indeed not too hot chicken dish, a platter of braised Chinese greens and a bowl of long fat noodles.
Another day, after perusing our Lonely Planet Guide for the best place to eat dumplings, we headed for the HuangHe Road Restaurant and ordered their tasting plate of 2 pork, 2 vegetarian and 2 shrimp dumplings sprinkled with sesame seeds.
I looked surreptitiously across the room to watch how a local tackled his dumplings. After a brief wait to allow the scalding hot liquid inside to cool down a little he poked a small hole into each dumpling with a chopstick and slurped out the juice. Then he proceeded to eat it with chopsticks. I soon discovered this was easier said than done as they are slippery morsels. But they were delicious!
We had another tasty meal at a restaurant we found in the Lonely Planet whose name now escapes me.
Here the green beans fried with a little pepper and dried shrimp and the sweet and savoury pork were very tasty. The Schechuan chilli chicken turned out to be a plate heaped with little red chillies from which I picked out crunchy chicken bits and fried peanuts with my chopsticks. I was somewhat disconcerted when my partner pointed out that some of these were chicken feet! The total bill, including a large bottle of local beer, was only NZ $12.
By the end of the second day, my eyes started to smart painfully and my vision became blurred. The pollution had got me after all! We found a pharmacy where the lady at the counter took one look at my red inflamed eyes and handed over a bottle of eye drops. They worked like magic and within hours my eyes had settled down.
Getting lost and found in Shanghai is half the fun. We thought we were heading in the right direction for the Shanghai Museum by walking through a park where old men were playing chess and a group of oldies were enjoying exercising in a playground designed especially for senior citizens. What a cool idea!
But the museum we arrived at was the Shanghai Urban Planning museum. We decided we might as well have a look so paid the entrance fee and entered an exhibition hall full of historical photographs and a wall to wall mural depicting life in an old Chinese village.
After that, we did manage to find our way to the Shanghai Museum, a very distinctive building shaped like an ancient bronze cooking vessel. It’s round dome and square base symbolises heaven and earth. There is no entrance charge which may partially have accounted for the long queues but it was so worth the wait.
Instead of trying to see all of the 11 galleries we focussed on just two.
On display in the ancient bronze, the gallery was 400 exquisite bronzes from the Shang and Zhou dynasties some used for utilitarian, many others for ceremonial use. The ancient ceramics collection of 500 pieces was equally awesome and stretched from as far back as the Neolithic age to the Qing dynasty.
Another of our favourite places in Shanghai was the 400-year-old Yuyuan Gardens created by a government official during the Ming Dynasty for his parents to enjoy in their old age. Although it was crowded with tourists the size of the garden (it is spread over 5 acres) and its winding layout meant that we could still have a relaxing meander admiring the pavilions, the halls, rockeries and ponds, bamboo, and some very old trees.
It was a special surprise to find a Fashion and Art exhibition from Dunedin in the Yu gallery. Shanghai and Dunedin are sister cities, they have built strong bonds of friendship and the Yu Yuan Garden is the big sister of the Lan Yuan, Dunedin’s Chinese garden.
The Bund was also a must see in Shanghai. We made a leisurely walk along the boulevard. Across the water, we had a great view of the city’s skyline which is apparently quite spectacular when it is lit up at night.
Over the road stood more than two dozen stately colonial buildings, in various architectural styles, in which consulates were housed and European merchants conducted their business during in the early 20th century.
Today they are mainly used as financial institutions or hotels including the well-known Peace Hotel. At one time it was used by the Gang of Four as their headquarters during the Cultural Revolution.
There is so much history in this city, such fascinating contrasts between the old and the new, and so many places to find a great meal. I would love to go back and do some more exploring. But one downside was that compared with Singapore, our usual Asian stopover, there are very few signs in English which can make it more difficult to get around. And yes, the pollution is also a worry.
By Lyn Potter
Lyn is an Avid Traveller (both local and international), always with a camera at the ready.