Five days of dumplings and other stories

Trip Start Aug 12, 2011
Trip End Jan 31, 2012

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Where I stayed
The Phoenix hostel

Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Friday, August 12, 2011

Shanghai! We arrived Friday night to a hot and sweaty Shanghai still getting used to the weight of our packs. When we woke up the next morning the air-conditioning gave us a (very) false sense of acclimatisation - when we walked onto the street it felt like a stinky sauna. Either side of our central Shanghai hostel there were a variety of hole-in-the-wall style eating houses, fishmongers and fruit vendors. The streets were characteristically narrow with motorbikes and pushbikes whizzing by without respect for any kind of traffic signals. A green light and zebra crossing means it is slightly less dangerous to cross the road, maybe.

We found some noodles and then spent the day around the People's Square and Bund district in a jet lagged haze. While sitting resting our feet on Nanjing Rd East, a beggar boy was fascinated by our iPhone. We let him play on the phone and it was amazing how he could figure out which bits of the screen to press to get to and play the games. We made it down to the
Bund water front and checked out the Pudong skyline, with it's spire that gives the appearance of having skewered a few olives. We had walked a little way along the promenade and then got caught in a heavy rain storm amongst some concession-style buildings in a narrow alleyway - Bladerunner style! Mim perched in a random window ledge to avoid splashes from speeding taxis and Simon pretended he was on the run from an android assassin.

Sunday saw us more energised and ready to face the Shanghai museum - the building shaped like a serving dish or a mirror according to who you ask. Another unpredictable downpour found us buying a flimsy umbrella from a street hawker, wet enough and not yet haggle-savvy enough to beat the price down too much. The museum had loads of amazing material, the best being the bronze work from throughout China's history including manufacture and chemistry of the various alloys.

One of the standout places we went to in Shanghai was the insect, fish and bird market. The insects available were mostly crickets which we later learned may well have been being procured for cricket fighting matches! We also saw fish of all shapes and sizes, lots of interesting little birds, tortoises and some squirrels. There were all sorts of containers to carry home your cricket - small straw baskets, little decorated wooden boxes and custom made ceramic dishes to feed the crickets.

Fuxing Park in the French concession had notable European influences by way of old couples dancing to Chinese retakes on classic songs (including "Click go the shears!"), kids having rollerblading lessons, groups of old men smoking and playing cards, whilst others flew kites. It was very pleasant just sitting and watching this scene, trying to stay awake in the warm humid afternoon.

Yuyuan garden. The next day we walked across a bridge with nine zig zags past a tea house
amongst hordes of tourists. The lake we walked across with its lotus flowers and schools of koi didn't need the smoke machine producing mist for any extra atmosphere. Surrounding the lake was a market lined with queues awaiting the best steamed buns in all Shanghai. We relented and sat down to these famed dumplings before heading into the Yuyuan garden. The Yuyuan garden was a classic- gingko trees, immaculate grassed gardens with fruit trees, bamboo thickets glimpsed through the elaborately carved window shutters of the temple buildings and tea houses dotted amongst it all. The crowds were formidable even on a Monday; and as is so typical of functioning temples it was nestled cheek-by-jowl with markets and busy neighborhoods, muffled but still audible over the garden walls.

After one of us who will remain nameless left her iPhone at the hostel, we got a foot onto the metro train before realising and scurrying back, packs on, drenched in sweat. A taxi was called - and so ensued 40 minutes of white-knuckled amazement. There are no rules. If you want to cross four lanes of freeway traffic with your horn on, you can. The driver squeezed through every gap in the traffic (irrespective of lanes) and beeped through every hold-up - Shanghai style. A few years older with a few more grey hairs we flopped onto our plane to Zurich.
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