My return to Shanghai

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 31, 2011

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Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Thursday, December 23, 2010

We took the train the previous night from Beijing into Shanghai. We rode on the T103 line which departed Beijing 10:09PM and was scheduled to arrive in Shanghai at 11:00AM. On this trip, we were unable to fully book a section of the cabin for all six travelers. Instead, we purchased tickets for 3 middle beds and 3 top beds located conveniently next to one another. My attempts to study before the lights were turned off proved to be futile, as the entire cabin was dark before 11PM. Liz and Forrest were able to practice their mandarin with one of the passengers in their section of the train. The gentleman they were having a discussion with had a strong resemblance to Jon Gosselin, with his curly frizzy hair and light shade of eye color.

Our train made a couple of stops during the night while on its way to Shanghai. The last stop before the big city was the city of Wuxi. There were several Vietnamese travelers in our cabin and they disembarked at the Wuxi stop. Once we had arrived in Shanghai, I quickly took in a deep breath of air and told everyone, "This smells familiar!" The scent was much cleaner than the Beijing air and had a slight notion of seawater as the city was located on a river and relatively close by to the ocean. We gathered our items and emerged from the train station to several walls of buildings and skyscrapers. Our initial goal was to purchase Stacey's ticket home as she would depart from Shanghai on Sunday morning while the rest of us would continue to Hangzhou. We quickly discovered the tickets were purchased through an automated machine where you would select your destination, time of travel and numbers of passengers then you would insert your bills or run your bank card. We had some difficulties in acquiring Stacey's ticket but we were able to purchase 5 tickets for the rest of us to travel to Hangzhou for Sunday morning. We decided to have the hostel help us with Stacey's ticket purchase.

We entered into two taxis with myself accompanying Jeff and Stacey while Liz would accompany Forrest and Dee. I was quite ecstatic in recognizing key features of the city where I had stayed in for about a month four years ago. My old hotel near the Shanghai Railway Station had been renamed from Zhongya Hotel to Grand Mercure Zhongya Hotel, slight change but noticeable. Our taxis brought us onto the elevated freeways and made our way to the Phoenix hostel near People's Square. No more than 10 minutes later we had arrived to our hostel centrally located on Yunnan Nanlu.

The hostel itself was quite easy to check into and we received room 4031. The hostel's first level was a restaurant where we would be required to walk through in order to access the elevator. Upon inspection of our room, I had taken the lower bunk while Jeff had taken the bed above mine. I quickly noticed one of the support beams giving way and notified Jeff not to place his body weight in that weakened area of the bed. It was sight to see the wood support bend so far, but we had worked out a plan in order to avoid the area. The room contained 6 beds, 3 sets of bunk beds, 6 individual lockers and a shared bathroom within the room.

After taking a short break to drop off our luggage at the hostel. We made our way by foot to Yu Garden and the Old City. We started south on Yunnan Lu and by stroke of luck, turned east onto Huaihai Donglu which turned into Remin Lu and discovered the Old City. On our walk their, we took some photos of the "Pineapple Tower" aka the Westin Hotel which was directly in front of us. We arrived into the Old City about 15 minutes after we had departed from the hostel and found ourselves in whole different world than what Beijing had to offer. The Old City was designed to draw in tourists from all parts of the world and give a feel of what the former Shanghai street environment consisted of. At its present state, the Old City is a mecca for tourists and shoppers looking for gifts to bring back home. Our main goal here was to dine at Nanxiang Dumpling house. Liz had recommended us the location, and I had previously stood in line for these exact xiaolong baos four years ago. This time instead of lining up outside and wolfing down the dumplings, we would go upstairs and take our time to dine in with a proper table setting. We ordered several types of xiaolong bao, but the crab meat was definitely the most satisfying stuffing of them all.

After lunch, we headed downstairs to the Yu Garden. We slowly made our way to the garden while snapping up a lot of photos as the area was very scenic. In front of us was the tea house in the middle of the lake with the Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center looming in the distance from Pudong. We purchased our admission tickets to the garden but quickly became distracted and started looking for more street food. Not entirely full from lunch, Forrest and Dee quickly purchased more xiaolong baos. However, this time the buns were supplied with straws so one can slurp up the delicious soup inside. The same dynamic duo also purchased some potato slices and street snacks. Liz went traditional and got herself a milk tea, while Stacey and myself went over to Dairy Queen for some frozen treats. I ended up with a 28 kuai banana split, it was not a bad deal considering one scoop of ice cream from Haggen Daaz is 35 kuai.

After we filled our bellies some more, we finally made it into the Yu Garden. The garden itself is considered one of the finest in all of China for its classical design and for its presentation. Considering it is also in the middle of a city which contains more than 20 million people, the garden is well preserved. It represents a break from the hectic life of Shanghai, where the city is trying to steal away the title of China's financial hub away from Hong Kong. The greenery inside calms the soul and spirit and brings one back to normalcy. Visiting the garden in the off season, allows one to thoroughly enjoy the park without the noise and crowds which can become chaotic and bothersome in the summer.

After Yu Garden, we split into two groups: Liz, Forrest, Stacey and Dee went back to the hostel first while Jeff and I stuck around the Old City in search for a towel. Jeff had forgot to bring a towel for the trip and had hoped the hostel would provided one. However after arriving they did not have any towels forcing him to go and search for one. We ran out of luck at the Old City and took the subway back to People's Square. Jeff and I ended up wandering over to Raffles City, which is much superior than the one in Beijing. We also took a peek at Nanjing Lu before heading back to the hostel. Jeff ended up purchasing a small maoyi (towel cloth) for 8 kuai at a store near the hostel. He had returned to the dorm with success.

We finally regrouped at the hostel then headed out in search for Liz's second recommendation of a must try while in Shanghai. The restaurant was called Xiao Nan Guo and apparently located on Nanjing Xilu, meaning Nanjing Lu west of People's Park. Nanjing Donglu refers the shopping district that makes Wangfujing look like a joke. The address Liz had in mind was 699 Nanjing Xilu, so we promptly utilized Shanghai's subway station and we arrived two stops later. The subway system, by the way is very efficient as it actually drops you off where you want to be in the city. Compared to Beijing's subway system which is old and overcrowded, Shanghai's subway system is modern, spacious and very clean. We got off on line 2's Nanjing Xilu and emerged next to a Gap. After getting our bearings and viewed the surrounding streets, we decided to head west along Nanjing Xilu. Once we had walked several blocks, we noticed the numbers on the streets were increasing from 700 to 800, we had apparently been walking in the wrong direction. The address of the restaurant was 699 Nanjing Xilu, and we were walking towards the Ritz Carlton. To complicate matters, Liz had said it was located near a big established hotel, which I assumed to be located near the Ritz. We tussled back and forth on the issue, going from east to west and west to east many times, until we actually walked towards the address and discovered it was not there at all. We gave up on going to the restaurant and began our trek to Nanjing Lu in hopes to find a restaurant in that area to dine in.

Along the way, we noticed a Nissan Skyline rumbling along the road and found a Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, and Porsche dealership. We also found a Dunkin Donuts shop which did wet our palette. Nevertheless, we pressed forth and began on the west end of Nanjing Lu. It was a sight to behold with neon lights and signs lining vertically along the building's edge. There were many people packed onto this expensive strip of property, many of them tourists, other were hawkers attempting to draw in some business. It has been said the most expensive commercial rent is here on Nanjing Lu. We ended up eating at a lowly dining spot which feature xiaolong baos. The xiaolong baos at this particular restaurant did proved Liz's point: Nanxiang's xiaolong bao is superior to all others. After a quick wolfdown of the dinner, we set off in an easterly direction to reach the Bund.

We had noticed some of the lights on Nanjing Lu had began to turn off at 10PM which seemed relatively early. The same situation occurred in Beijing at Wangfujing where all the lights and shops seem to close up at 10PM as if there was no more business to conduct after 10PM. We pressed forward and finally reached the Bund at 10:05PM. From there we also noticed the lights of the skyscrapers on the Pudong side had also been turned off. I was quite steamed about this, but I had encountered the same situation four years ago. This time, I had led the group to an eerily quiet Bund with no lights on. After realizing there was not much to be seen here, we hailed two cabs and continued our adventure over in Xintiandi.

Four years ago, I remember Xintiandi to be a bar district which caters to Westerners. Flash to the present, it is still the famous Westerner bar district in town. Xintiandi was a recent development in order to draw in expats into this section of Shanghai. We stopped off at Starbucks to warm up and get back some of our energy through caffeine, then we went bar hopping. This was the first time we saw the alcohol prices in Shanghai and it was not very pretty. A pint of beer was 65 kuai, 85 kuai for a mojito, and spirits were even more at Paulaner Brauhaus. I ended up with a glass of Hennessey as and ode to my grandfather who can very much hold his own even at his old age. This bar had live music and a small dancefloor but it also served some snacks such as french fries, chicken wings but mostly alcohol. It was quite strange to see a Chinese girl dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing while serving tall pints of beer, but then I realized I was in Shanghai, one of the most metropolitan cities in the world. Our next stop, was at Rendezvous because they were playing more modern songs to our liking. We did not receive a table at this location and ended up at the bar drinking margaritas. We stayed long enough to watch some dirty old men flirt with girls who were probably half their age on the dancefloor. It was quite nasty and frankly replusive. They also started to sing "Jingle Bells" to a more  We called it a night and went back to our hostel.

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