Day 23 - Shanghai Arrival

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

If it's Sunday it must be Shanghai. A lot of travelling and still the big trip to Hong Kong to go. It is nice to be able to sleep in a real bed again though. A much nicer hotel than in Xi'an. I like the view out of the window too…Quite a lot higher and not overlooking a building's roof right beside us – There is scenery here – Big buildings, lots of cars…Welcome to Shanghai.

I slept well last night on the train. It is actually quite comfortable. True, the bunks are not huge and a lot like what you might see in a dormitory but they are clean and cozy. The air conditioning, of course, helps since outside it is so hot and humid all the time. We have been getting up early on the trains. Mother insists on not shutting the curtains as she has a bit of agoraphobia so the sun comes up in the morning and wakes me up (particularly being on the top bunk). That is fine, I am pretty rested since we also have been getting to bed quite early as well. Last night the television turned off at about 10 PM allowing us to sleep. I have not even been really reading at night other than checking out where our next stop is. All the preparation we did for this trip really has paid off and made the trip much easier. Having everything documented in a single place makes it simple.

Breakfast was some more of the wonderful (!) tasteless buns (which I gave a miss) – Lovely looking white steamed buns with absolutely no flavour (or filling). I munched on some of our pomegranates instead (sharing them with our English friend who has never had them before – “yes, you eat the seeds…”).

Approaching Shanghai

As we approached Shanghai more and more high-rise buildings began to rise out of the flat, wet land. We could see people living in small huts on the banks of their rice paddy fields with the modern buildings in the distance. It was quite a contrast. The, what we might call, “poor” alongside the “wealthy”. Welcome to China. There is a lot of lush vegetation but not a lot of trees with all of the human activity all around. We do not see a lot of factories, really, either here. There are a number of small, very old, towns around Shanghai that are criss-crossed with canals used in the past (and today) to transport goods. Passing by these places I do hope we will be able to see a bit of this older Shanghai as Shanghai itself is largely quite modern. Smog, for a change, seems to be a bit less here.

Arriving in Shanghai

Shortly after arriving at 11:30 we left the train and were surprised to be met on the train platform itself by our guide that was very helpful. Our hotel (Central Asia Hotel) is only a short distance from the train station – only about a block or so. Our guide seems quite friendly and helpful but is determined that we stick to our schedule so we quickly walked the short distance and checked in. The lobby of the hotel is quite impressive with high ceilings and marble floors. We were quickly checked in and shown to our room but we did not have time to enjoy the view for more than a few minutes before our guide whisked us off to our first destination.

View from Hotel Room

Shanghai appears to be a city of large roads and modern buildings. Everywhere we travelled along these massive expressways elevated quite high off the ground. Specific buildings were pointed out to us as we travelled along hurtling through the traffic. That is a bit unkind, actually, our driver here is quite good and appears to not want to kill us outright (see Beijing, above).

We were hungry. A bit of haggling and we were off to eat. Supposedly. The driver did get lost for a bit but figured it out eventually. It turns out that the first thing on our (somewhat rearranged) agenda was a visit to a silk factory (Shanghai Tianhou Silk Agent Co., Ltd.). Of course, as is with these things here, it has an attached restaurant for it's visitors. Climbing up the outside staircase and entering the restaurant we were shown to a smaller side room where it was obvious they had put the western tourists as there were no Chinese in the room. The food was sufficient and the service was laughable. I will not dwell other than to say I can get better Chinese food in London. Oh well.

The factory, on the other hand, was very interesting. Mother has been telling me since we started that she really wanted to visit a silk factory to “hear the worms munching on the leaves”. Well, we did not see the worm's eating area but we did see the bit where they unwind the cocoons of the silk worm onto spools. A noisy room with warm water in a trough running under the unwinding machinery. The cocoons are placed in the water by the workers and the silk thread is fed onto spindles (the worms are dead).

Extracting Silk

Extracting Silk

We learned that in some cases, worms form a “mother and father” cocoon, that is, where two worms are close together and the two cocoons are intertwined with one another. It is impossible to extract the silk using the machines so what they do is that they take the cocoons and stretch them over a loop of metal. Silk is quite workable (as well as strong) so this is not too difficult (after the cocoons have been soaking). Stretching of the cocoons continues until they stretch these felts into thin sheets that they layer one on top of another to make into a duvet. Very nice. I was talked into buying one (posting it home by boat as I was not going to traipse around Shanghai and Hong Kong with it, never mind my luggage allowance!). The duvet's are supposed to be very warm and comfortable. To be honest, I think they just sounded really interesting and I wanted to give it a try out.

View through the Windscreen

We only passed through the shop picking up a few modest items before packing back into the car for another long trip across town. Construction is everywhere. Massive buildings – A lot more impressive than Beijing. A lot like something you might see in a Science Fiction movie. There is a lot of money here but I can't help thinking of some of the things we had seen from the train on the way here…

Interesting Buildings...

Our first real sightseeing opportunity of the day was to visit the “Old City”. As the name implies, this is the older market area of Shanghai but it has now been re-created. We got out of the car just off of the Bund which is the main road that runs along the western side of the Huangpu River which divides the city into two: The old to the west, the new to the east, in an area called Pudong. We walked along a busy market road with basic stalls set up on the side of the road. The road itself was a hive of activity with pedestrians walking every which way and bicycles slowly picking their way through the throng. The occasion car bullied it's way through the crowd.

Old City

On our left was the re-developed old city, “Yu Yuan Old Street”. Tall dark wooden traditional Chinese buildings tower over the narrow alleys all around. Shops selling mostly souvenirs abound and the whole place is crawling not only with tourists but also (it was good to see) a large number of local people. We passed through an archway to enter the main part of the bizarre itself. The alleys are open to the sky and looking up there are banners hanging from the buildings advertising various items for sale and the whole place is quite sanitised and terribly crowded.

Yu Yuan Old Street

On our left we passed by the Nan Xiang Steamed Dumpling Restaurant which has a queue outside of it. We were told by our guide that Shanghai is well known for it's dumplings and this restaurant makes some of the best in the city. The queue is for people waiting to purchase these delights. Evidently the queue is always there. Must be pretty good…


After passing through the alley we entered into a large open area where we could really see the buildings all around us – All made of this dark wood and about 3 stories high with the traditional Chinese ornate decoration. A large pond full of koi (goldfish) is crossed by a bridge that zigzags across the length (supposedly to keep out the devil but in this case I suspect it was more of a tourist thing).

Yu Yuan Old Street Shopping

In the middle of the pond is the Huxin Ting (Heart of Lake) Tea House which is, according to our guide, a very old and famous tea house. It is a bit incongruous sitting on stilts in the middle of the pond. Around the courtyard are some disappointingly familiar names: Starbucks and Dairy Queen. Mind you, it was difficult to see even that with the number of tourists around. This area is always busy, according to our guide. It is definitely an experience, I will say.

Yu Yuan Gardens

We crossed over the bridge for our next destination: The Yu Yuan Gardens. These are not the most impressive gardens in the Shanghai area (we are told that the gardens in Suzhou are much more impressive). A series of small buildings, covered walkways and low walls are surrounded by large decorative rocks (meant for meditation – a few were pointed out for their being quite famous) as well as various plants and more koi pools. This garden was created by a high official in the 16th century in honour of his father. A full-size opera stage impressed us as did the large decorative dragons undulating along the tops of the walls.


It is a veritable catacomb of paths around the place and with the number of people we got completely confused and largely at the mercy of the guide to get us around. Very pretty. All I can say is that the official must really have loved his father…and spent a lot of the people's money on this place. It is really all very overwhelming and beautiful.

Yu Yuan Gardens

I would love to visit the garden when it is less busy to find a corner to sit and just spend some time contemplating…As it was, we are in a hurry. Time's a wasting and we have a schedule to keep…

Feeding Fish in Yu Yuan Gardens

Passing back through the alleys Yu Yuan we returned once again to The Bund to be picked up by our driver. He drove us past the more famous part of The Bund – The area of the old colonial buildings. These are old colonial-style buildings built by banks and other big business in the 1800s. They are generally no longer occupied by the banks that originally built them they are still a poignant reminder of time gone by. These buildings occupy several blocks that remain largely untouched on the west side of the road with a park on the east side right on the river.

The Bund

Opposite the old is the Pudong area – Decidedly, the new part of Shanghai with the famous site of the Oriental Pearl Tower – A thin tower that actually looks a lot like a string of pearls with two large pearls then a few smaller pearls at the top connected with thin strands of concrete. Quite amazing. Very much “Blade Runner”.

Oriental Pearl Tower

We were dropped off at the Monument to the People's Heroes which is the northernmost part of Huangpu Park and very near an old metal bridge that crosses a small creek that heads west away from the river. The park itself is a large concrete promenade lined on the side with trees and gardens perhaps intended to shield the pedestrians from the noise of the street. There were a lot of people wandering along the path including a number of hucksters selling their wares – It seems that the new thing is wheels that you can attach to the bottom of your shoes to turn them into something like a pair of roller-skates though I can't think that it is terribly safe. The star of the park is undoubtedly the view of the river and shore opposite with the Oriental Pearl tower shining like a beacon amongst the many tall buildings all around it. The building immediately in front of the tower is the world trade centre with a world globe at each end. Not a large building but quite interesting.

There are a few statues in the park including one of Chen Yi in a small plaza along with a frieze of dynamic figures that appear to be running towards the future. The plaza is no where near as busy as the promenade along the river.

Our guide took us to a “tea house” which I would have given a miss on my own…Obviously a tourist mecca we were shown to a table where we sampled various teas. I did manage to spend a lot of money as well. There was a pretty looking tea that was a bunch of leaves that, when soaked in water, turn into flowers. The tea tasted nice too. They demonstrated how tea is supposed to be made (hot water, not boiling, though they did use different temperatures for different teas) and the appropriate tea making equipment (very small tea cups and a nice pot are essential). I do know a bit about this with my visit to a friend's family home in Hong Kong where we had been shown how to make “kung fu” tea (I still have a large bag of it – unopened I am afraid to say – in my flat in the UK) so called as it packs a bit of a punch (it is very strong).

The light was failing as we drove through the city once again to our hotel. A long day. Our guide indicated that our train tickets would be left with the hotel tomorrow so that should not be a problem but she bid us good-bye as the next day and a half we are on our own! I must admit that I am looking forward to that. I also appreciated that she did not try to sell us a bunch of “optional extras” as the other guides in Beijing and Xi'an had done. I suppose that despite it's size there is really not a lot extra to do here in Shanghai so perhaps there are not so many extras available to choose from? Whatever the reason we are indeed on our own.

Crashing for a few minutes on the beds we reluctantly headed out for something to eat. Having no particular destination in mind we passed over the busy street beside the hotel via a pedestrian overpass that was not exactly the most modern (or clean) structure in the world into a shopping centre. Finding nothing terribly appealing (McDonalds only ONCE on this trip, I say!) we headed out onto a side street. Skipping across the road we found a local fast food place with lots of picture menus (all that we have been using to really decide to eat somewhere). The lady behind the counter was very friendly and we ordered quickly. Spring rolls, a chicken and green beans dish along with a pork dish (for me). It was all a bit greasy and very much reminded me of a fast food place in Canada or England complete with Formica tables and plastic booth-style seating. Not the fanciest (we could have gone next door for that) but far more interesting culturally, I think. Seeing how people here really eat…A few funny looks but generally we were ignored. Great.

It is Sunday so mother made a phone call to Canada to let them know that everything is all right. These phone calls are important both for those in Canada but also us to let us know what is happening and taking a bit of time to address the homesickness. I have no one to call but that is all right…Mother is here.

Hey, some Kung-Fu thing on television…Who needs English anyway?

Day 24 - Suzhou

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