Let's go for a wander

Trip Start Mar 08, 2011
Trip End Jun 11, 2011

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Now that we have been in China for a few days, there are slight differences compared to Hong Kong. For example, waiting in line is completely optional.  In Hong Kong, when waiting for the MTR or elevator, a single file line is formed and you enter when it is your turn.  In China you can form a line, but that just makes it easier for locals to cut in front of you at the last second.  Also if you ever find an unpleasant taste in your mouth, just spit it out onto the ground.  Considering how crowded it is here, we have become good at dodging the flying luggies.  Also if you find yourself hungry, you can enjoy a snack anywhere (in Hong Kong eating is stictly forbidden on transportation) and just drop the wrapper on the ground, that's why they pay people to clean up after you.  China still feels clean despite this, but not at the level that Hong Kong is (which is why I am so impressed with Hong Kong).

We (Amy) decided to sleep in today till noon, which was fine with me as I was able to catch up with the happenings in the NCAA tournament.  Congrats to the Michigan cagers for beating Tennessee by 30.  We finally were able to mobilize around 1pm.

After last night's subway experience, we are now experts, so we decided to take it to the Jewish Refugee Museum.  Apparently Shanghai gave out 30k visas to the Jews living in Austria in order to escape Nazi Germany when most countries would not accept them.  They came to the northern part of Shanghai and built the Ohev Moshe Synagogue.  Tracy (her English name) was our tour guide for the Museum.  She was clear to point out that she knows very little about Jewish history, she only knows the history of the building.  Luckily we have a some knowledge to fill in the gaps.  The museum started in the synagogue, then we were taken to the second floor where the women would sit.  In this section there were quite a number of videos about the refugees.  We decided to watch an interview with a lady who was born in Shanghai after her parents left Germany, but moved to the Bronx before she had any recollection of what happened.  She talked about what she had found through research about her parents.  We then went to the third level to see art and pictures of the time period.  There were two more sections of the museum, outside the synagogue, which had more exhibits about the time period.  There was a list of names on one of the doors, and Tracy asked if we knew of any others as their resources were limited.

It was close to 3 now and we were starting to get hungry.  We had wanted to go to Xiantandi, the French Concession area, to walk around.  Nearby was a microbrewery that my friend Laura recommended, the Boxing Cat Brewery, so we decided to have a late lunch/early dinner there.  The beer was very good, much better than I was expecting.  We stuffed ourselves as this would probably be our only meal for the day.  After lunch we walked around the area looking at the various shops and alleyways where people lived.  It was starting to rain so we didnt stay too long.

It was starting to get dark, so we got back in the subway to head to the Shanghai World Financial Center to go to the 86th floor for a drink.  We had to transfer to a different train at our normal stop and headed to the other side of town.  Finally arriving, we leave the station and see the SWFC in front of us.  Only problem is we could only see half the building as the clouds from the rain were covering the rest.  Figuring that we wouldnt be able to see too much, we decided to just turn around and head back to the hostel.   This worked out well as we were running out of clean panties, so this gave us an opportunity to do laundry before transfering to our first hotel of the trip as our tour starts tomorrow.  While waiting for the laundry, we had a couple of Tsingtaos in the bar while watching one of the transporter movies on the tele.  Pretty relaxing day which was necessary as the next ten will be constantly on the go.

(Amy here) Sunday morning we got up bright and early at 10am because we had to pack up and check out by 12noon.  I have learned that one advantage of not bringing a lot with us (in terms of clothing, etc), means that it hardly takes any time to pack up!  Before we packed, I enjoyed the homemade breakfast in the hostel general room and brought Dave back some toast.   We then transferred to our tour-booked hotel that happened to be 2 blocks away!  Just worked out that way luckily but was really convenient for us. The Nanjing hotel is closer to Nanjing road and very nice, we have a double room with teapot, and a full bathroom and tub.  We were a bit disappointed with the size of the closet though, good thing we don't have much to hang!

After dropping off our bags we decided to head out for the afternoon.  We first stopped at UCB Coffee because I had wanted a coffee to go but it turns out this was a fancy sit-down coffee shop.  So we sat down and I enjoyed some UCB coffee while Dave enjoyed chocolate bubble tea and some dumplings since he didn’t really have breakfast.  While having coffee we were overlooking Nanjing Road and spent a good deal of time enjoying the tourist show.   My favorite was when a woman bent down to clean her 3-year old son’s bum in full view of everyone and then threw the dirty tissues into the street.  Good thing my friend Melissa isn’t here!  Anyway, while enjoying our view I spied a chopsticks shop and convinced Dave to check it out with me.  We’d had our eye out for some souvenir chopsticks and this was a whole shop of them!  After several rounds inside the shop and back and forth discussions we (I) decided on an excellent set of 2 that come with their own stand that are the shape of ducks.  There’s a story in the box about how ducks mate for life and how two chopsticks are like two ducks in love, never separated.  Well, that was all the convincing I needed to purchase this set.  Since we were still one block away from our hotel we decided to drop our new purchase off before heading to the Metro for more touring.  We were headed to Yuyuan Gardens.

Now we’re finally getting the hang of the Metro here and it’s so cheap, our most expensive ride has been like $1.25US for the both of us. Anyway, the Yuyuan Gardens are only one stop from where we are now so we were there in no time. Once off the Metro we were hit with a huge tourist area and lots of signs for where to go.  Apparently this is also a huge shopping area in addition to the gardens, specifically for jewelry (Asia pearls are very popular). We passed some unique shops, like one with only traditional Chinese instruments and stopped to hear one of them being played. We followed the signs to the Yuyuan gardens and paid the entrance fee to get in. Once inside, we leisurely enjoyed the views of the halls (the ornate temple-like structure are meeting halls) and the stone structures in addition to the koi ponds. We didn’t have a tour book or guide to learn many specifics about the history but enjoyed exploring on our own. Along the way we passed a traditional tea house and a lady opened the doors as we were passing by and invited us in. We were welcomed by a lovely foursome who immediately started talking to us. Turns out they are from Paris and they are Jewish also. They were headed to the Purim party at the temple we visited yesterday and invited us to join them. We would have loved to, except our tour group is meeting at 6pm and we wouldn’t have made it back in time. What a shame as a Purim party in Shanghai would have been great! Anyway, back to the tea house. There was an expert tea-pourer steeping the teas and then pouring them in specific order. They also had a list for which teas cured specific health issues you may have. We enjoyed tasting several and Dave’s favorite was the sweet oolong while my favorite was the Jasmine. Our French friends bid adieu and we followed shortly after to continue touring the gardens. After all the tea I needed a break and there were toilets hear the exit. I promise I won’t post about every bathroom experience, but this was the first automatic flush squat toilet that I experienced so it definitely goes in the blog. I’ve gotten the hang of the squat but the automatic flush threw me for a loop and was quite a surprise I must say.

Once we exited, we spilled out onto an even more crowded tourist square with rows and rows of shops and food stalls. We were overwhelmed!  We started circling and saw the Nanxiang steamed bun restaurant which Dave seems to think is famous (he claims Anthony Bourdain ate here, and here is his proof). Their line to eat a sit-down meal was super long but an even longer line was the to-go window where you could enjoy a dozen or so steaming dumplings to-go. We hopped in the to-go line and a short 20 minutes later we received our piping hot delicious pockets of soup and meat. I will say that waiting in that kind of line was also an experience – lots of pushing, shoving and claiming our space as non-Asians.  Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed the dumplings and they were well worth the wait.  Pretty soon, we are going to turn into a giant dumpling if it’s true you are what you eat!

After washing the dumplings down with bubble tea we decided to slowly head back to the train by stopping in stores that looked interesting to us. In one corner shop I found a fan that I liked and I negotiated down to 30% of the asking price which I was pretty proud of myself for doing. I still probably overpaid!  Flush with the adrenaline from negotiating for goods I wanted to buy more.  We headed into a tea shop and after several cups of tea and rounds of negotiations we are the proud owners of a porcelain tea set and two packages of local tea.  The set comes in a solid box with the pieces wedged between a Styrofoam mold so fingers crossed by the time we ship it home it makes it in one piece!  After all our purchases we needed a break so we just took the Metro back to the hotel to relax for a bit before meeting our tour group for a 6pm introduction meeting and optional local dinner.

At 6pm we met our group in the meeting room of our hotel for an introduction meeting. Robert is our group leader, a local from Beijing who used to be a tour guide there but about a year ago started with Intrepid. We went around and made introductions, and we are the only Americans. Most of the group is made up of Austrialians, with one Brit, one Canadian and one from Jamaica. After the group session Robert promised to take us to a local dinner and boy did he. We walked precisely one block from our hotel and ate at a restaurant we'd been eyeing on our walks here. He had prearranged a group dinner with as close to western-style shanghai food as possible (stir fried beef, boiled chicken and lots of veggies). We tried the fish and the other local deliciacies including the local beer which included a 24oz beer for $1US! Robert also told us that he ordered for us off of the Chinese menu because the English menu charged higher prices. Go figure, we've probably been getting scammed this whole time here. Well, now we have Robert so all is good! After a lovely dinner of getting to know our tour-mates we headed off for a 'wander' around the neighborhood with some of them. It was a cold night but not as windy as Thursday night when we trekked to the Bund so we went as a group and I could actually ask a trusted source to take a family foto which was nice. We then headed to a local brewery that Tracy and Anna had visited yesterday and enjoyed a round of steins while getting to know the crew. Afterwards, we decided to call it a night by way of the convenience store across the street for some sundries. We did locate a Snickers bar so crossed another off the Scavenger Hunt list. Early to bed for the 9am meeting in the looby tomorrow!

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Mom on

You can forget reimbursing me for the kennel and car inspection and the storage fees. With all the goodies you are buying and shipping home, I'll just keep whatever I like the best.

Ted B on

How is the beer in Asia?! Sounds like you always manage to find a daily fix somewhere!

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