Day 25 - Shanghai Departure

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Thank goodness we are on the train. Sorry to spoil the suspense of whether or not we would make it. What do you mean you had no doubt? Well, if you knew the trials we faced today…It was a bit touch and go for a while there. Why? Hum, where to start…

It was raining. Miserable. What a way to spend our last day in Shanghai. Honestly. Just steady rain not drizzle but an honest rain. It was not to last.

People's Square in the Rain

We wanted to see a bit more of the city itself so we took the subway to People's Square. This is in the middle of the city and is largely a park area with various museums and art galleries scattered throughout. There are paths that lead pretty much everywhere and anywhere (causing us a bit of confusion) as they meander through various gardens containing lovely flowers, trees and bushes. The buildings are impressive monuments to the Chinese economy and government – Very modern yet quite un-imposing – inviting even. The Shanghai Grand Theatre was such that I wish we had found it earlier so we could have perhaps arranged a visit to something playing in it (does not matter what, really, just for the experience of going – I am sure it would have been interesting).

Neither of us was interested in visiting museums or art galleries though which is a pity considering the rain (the entrance fees were astronomical anyway)…We both had umbrellas as we wandered around taking pictures here and there. Our mood was not improving as we gave up on the wandering and stopped to have a soft drink at a small stall just a short distance from the Shanghai Museum (with some very cool looking statues out in front of the building). At this point we were snapping a bit at one another and generally not very happy about the situation.

Shanghai Museum

Heading south from the People's Square we made our way back towards the Old Town (thank goodness on the first day in our hotel we had picked up a decent map of the city or this would have been an impossible task). I had noted a few interesting things to see along the way and after a few blocks we came across one of these sights. On the street are some small stalls selling various pet supplies: Food, cages and the like. Looking down a small opening between stalls we could see a large area behind. Interesting. Walking through the opening we were in a large area behind the street stalls with aisles containing more and more shops. What were they selling? Well, crickets and other bugs, for the most part though other pets such as fish and turtles were also on offer. I was most amazed with the men selling crickets. The crickets are in a small bamboo container about the size of your fist. These containers are on the ground and buyers look into each container while hunched down to see if they want to buy – occasionally listening to see if they like what they hear. It is the singing that the crickets are bought for. Of course, other bugs for sale included large locusts and even massive cockroaches. I loved the whole thing and very surreptitiously took a photo.

The Photo

Our presence was pretty much un-remarked despite our being the only tourists in the market – We stuck out like a sore thumb. Standing around and watching for a few minutes we eventually made our way out of the market back the way we came.

Further down the road we took a sharp left in an attempt to find the Old City (street names and directions were becoming a bit problematic even with the map). I spotted some fruit at a fruit stall so decided to give Persimmons a try. Mother made an ugly face but I had to give it a try. Hum. They are not all that nice. Look fantastic but do not taste all that great though pretty bland anyway.

The whole area is quite run-down and very much like I would imagine an old city to look like here in China. The run-down stalls lean out over the street which is littered with the detris of a large city. People selling things from baskets attached to bicycles, cars pushing their way through the chaos, buildings in some state of demolition or construction, people going about their business…obviously, it was all wet as well. Have I mentioned the rain?

We were getting a bit lost. There were no more signs in English and things were getting a bit desperate. I was about to pick up the mobile phone and call our guide (who had left us her phone number in case of any problems) but we saw the entrance to Yu Yuan in the distance (hard to miss with those tall wood structures quite distinct from the run down squalor around us). It was not much different than when we visited the other day (wetter, obviously).

We made our way to our target: The Nan Xiang dumpling restaurant. Seeing the queue the other day when we were with our guide of people waiting for dumplings made me wonder why they were so desperate to have them so I had to give them a try (seeing the tourists go into the upstairs restaurant did not appeal in the least – we had to do the local thing!). The queue was not that long as we snaked our way under the eaves of the buildings attempting to keep reasonably dry.

The Queue

What would happen is that the workers in the restaurant would bring in several stacks of trays that would then be steamed in the take-away area. During this time the queue did not move at all while the dumplings were being cooked. When the chef considered them done the queue then moved forward quite quickly with everyone paying their money for a tray of the dumplings. It is not actually that many – 20 to a tray but they are not that big. I loved watching the workers in the other room making the dumplings as they rolled out the dough and deftly filled the dumplings with filling then placed them in the steamers. They have had a bit of practice I bet…

Workers Making Dumplings

Our time at the window was here…and they ran out of dumplings so we had to patiently wait while another batch was steamed for us. About 15 minutes later we were in business. The lady very expertly dumped the tray into a Styrofoam container as I took it from her to slop some sauce on it (a light soy sauce of some kind). The dumplings were VERY fresh. I handed mother her container as we made our way out of the courtyard (and rain) under the eaves of the restaurant to sit along the seats lining the area. The dumplings were amazing. I have to admit they are the best I have ever had. Anywhere. They are extremely tasty. The liquid of the filling surrounds the meat and fills the insides with juices. So fresh. So tasty. Almost worth the trip to Shanghai alone…

The weather was not letting up. We both needed to relax so, dumping our empty dumpling containers into the rubbish, we headed over to the Huxin Ting Tea House just across the pond from the dumpling restaurant. The teahouse is quite lovely. When we arrived we were about to be shown into the back room that was similar to what we had experienced the other day with our guide – Tables set up for tea tasting and, obviously, selling. We were not interested in that – Only a good pot of tea.

We took seats against the window (looking out over the pond) and ordered a pot of tea each. Some lovely crackers came with it were also very pleasant. And this is the way it was for the next few hours. I continued to hope that the rain would stop but it never appeared to let up while we both got more and more anxious about catching our final train to Hong Kong.

Waiting for the Rain to Stop

Despite the rain, we could wait no longer. 3:00 and the train was to leave at 5:09. We were a long way away from the hotel and, as luck would have it, the nearest subway station. We made our way quickly to the Bund (the main road beside the river) to try to catch a taxi. No such luck. There were none to be had despite trying for a good five minutes. There was nothing for it but to make a dash for the nearest subway station about half a mile to the north (Nanjing Road East). The trip was horrendous. The rain was now coming down in buckets. As we quickly walked (ran?) along the Bund the puddles were massive and the rain coming down the steps of the pedestrian overpasses was like walking through a waterfall. This was not an ordinary rain (perhaps we should have noted the time of year). My umbrella was now leaking (mother according this to my habit of touching the underside of it with my head all the time) and the only part of me that was not wet was under my chin where I was clinging on to my digital camera. Getting closer to the subway station we were less concerned about keeping our feet and legs dry so began slogging through massive puddles the pedestrians were slowing walking around trying to avoid…The clock was ticking. People were stopped everywhere watching the weather around them. The city appeared to be stopped. Except for us, of course, as we attempted to find a subway station we had never before visited. Eventually we found the station and made our way out of the rain. The floors were covered with water and mud. The air conditioning here was a curse as we were so wet. We squished our way with waterlogged shoes onto the subway train and made our way back to the train station and our hotel.

If only it were that easy.

Leaving the subway at the train station it was only about a block to the hotel. But, looking out from the exit of the subway station there was an awful truth: To the right down the back alley was the hotel with a massive lake in front of the side entrance to the left was the street. Cars were causing massive waves as they plowed through the water that must have been 2 feet deep in places. The pavement (sidewalk) was not much better. How were we going to get our luggage through this? Even walking we were up to our knees in water as we slowly made our way along the wall to the entrance to the hotel. We will never be able to catch a taxi in this never mind walking…

The Pavement (Sidewalk) and Road Near the Hotel

Picking up our luggage where we had left it at the concierge we considered our options. I scouted ahead a short distance down the street to confirm that actually directly between the hotel and the station was relatively shallow water so we could wheel our luggage that way. A mad dash. Mother crossing against a light I anxiously waited in relative dry under an overpass waiting for the light to change (in previous days this crossing is manned by several workers who have barriers that they stretch in front of pedestrians to prevent them from crossing the busy street against the light – this time they had disappeared – probably to somewhere warm and dry…). I met her at the entrance to the subway station which is attached to the train station. Or so it would seem. This was a big mistake for us. Clambering down the stairs with our heavy luggage (getting heavier every day) we entered into the busy subway station and searched for how we could get into the train station right beside it. We wandered up and down the station past the many shops in the concourse looking for the entrance but it was not there! Despite being attached there was no direct access to the train station from the subway station! Amazing. We had to face up to facts: We would have to leave the dryness (well, lots of water and mud on the floor but it wasn't coming from the ceiling) of the station and once again venture out to go next door to the train station the main entrance being only about 30 m away. Oh dear. So, lugging our luggage back up the stairs again we were once again in the rain. We were at the back of the train station with no entrance to be seen. Some muttered swearing ensued. Back down the stairs we went to the other side of the subway station, where we had started, and low and behold, a 30 m dash to the entrance.

After entering the station it soon became apparent that we were at the wrong area of the train station. The Hong Kong trains left from a secure part of the station accessible from outside yet another 30 m down the way. Time was ticking. Oh dear.

Another mad dash through the rain and we finally made it to the “International Departures” (though Hong Kong is part of China now…) area of the train station and proceeded quickly through the customs section. I had been worried about our passports that mother had been carrying in her jeans' pockets (which, of course, were soaked to the skin) but they were only a bit moist and perfectly acceptable to the uniformed guards. Picking up a cart we quickly made our way to the train. Straw mats had been laid down in an attempt to soak up the water but our trying to race the cart along meant that we were dragging them along with us…A helpful officer helped us out and we finally got onto the platform where our train was waiting.


For this part of the journey, the longest of all of the train trips (both in time and distance) we had splashed out and purchased all four bunks in the compartment (no toilet this time, shared facilities…erk). This is just as well as I proceeded to (1st) change into dry clothes then (2nd) hang up my soaked clothing throughout the cabin (including underwear – pride has no place above being dry!). We were very glad we had made it to the train on time. With 45 minutes to spare.

Drying Clothing - Exhausted Traveller (SW)

Leaving the station the rain pelted the train. A monsoon. This is the time of year and we should have known it. This is the second monsoon on this trip so far, the first one just missing us as we left Japan as it hit Tokyo to the north.

Leaving Shanghai

I am spending my time re-packing my luggage which is in a bit of a state. Mother is not bothering as she sits on her bunk doing her Sudoku (that is the way she passes her time, I pass my time reading tourist books – riveting, I know).

Mother and Her Sudoku

Perhaps another persimmon…“yummy”. It is getting to be a bit of a joke – I bought about half a dozen of the persimmons from the fruit stall so I sort of feel compelled to eat them rather than throw them away but they are not exactly appealing to me…mother offers no solace as she dislikes them as well…“yummy”…(ugly face)…The world passes by our window.

The night comes quite early tonight.

Day 26 - Hong Kong Arrival