Not really ancient as everything seems to be a reconstruction of the old water town. Nevertheless, Qibao, the nearest river town to Shanghai, still made for a nice morning wandering. Upon exiting the subway, I was surprised with the enormous modern mall on the opposite side of the street. But like many ancient streets or towns in Chinese-speaking countries, Qibao is tucked somewhere amidst all the concrete. Indeed, after 10 minutes of following my google map, I espied the entrance and joined the crowds cramming the narrow streets.The river looked rural enough making me forget that about 500m away was the huge mall.I mostly made my way around eating and eating and eating. Qibao was small in sights but definitely big on food.Getting ThereFrom the Nanjing East Rd station, I took Line 2 to Jing’an Temple. Transferred to Line 7 for Zhaojiabang Rd then another transfer to Line 9 for Qibao station. From Exit 1 took a left turn, crosed the street, turned right until the end, then left. The entrance is on the right side.The entire subway ride took about an hour.FeesNo entrance fees! The town is entirely free to enter. You will need to pay to get into some small museums, though.TipCome hungry! Time your visit with the puppet show at 1pm.
So it seems it’s Re-visit China Year this year. After my Macau trip last July with a sidetrip to Hong Kong, it’s Shanghai this time. My first and only trip here was way back in 2010 when 3 of my sisters and I went to experience the World Expo. I really enjoyed that one especially since I arrived ahead of everyone else and went to Suzhou and Hanjou for a few days.I’m all alone this time and it was a conference on sound archiving at the venerable Shanghai Conservatory of Music that brought me here. Oh yes, they also paid for my airfare and the hotel during the course of the conference. Like all conferences, I arrived for a few days ahead for a little wandering around.I haven’t had much of a sleep since my China Eastern flight was at 4:55 this morning (pleasant flight by the way) and after finally making it to my hotel, it was almost 12 noon and I was hankering for some dimsum. I just dropped off my luggage and went to the Shanghai Food Hall along the Nanjing Pedestrian Street which I passed by going to the hotel. Got 4 pcs of pan-fried dumplings at Yang’s Dumplings at the 3rd floor foodcourt and wished I had gotten 8. It was soooo good!Still hungry, I went to what looked like a promising noodle restaurant on the same floor and ordered a noodle soup with spicy pork and a fried pork rib. It was cheap and very satisfying.Headed to the Shanghai Museum for some Chinese art and jostled my way with the tour groups to see some ancient ceramics and bronzes. I was expecting to see some rain drums among the bronze artefacts on display but there were none, unfortunately. At the top floor was the Chinese National Minorities Gallery that had impressive displays of traditional clothing and acessories. The museum wasn’t very big but at least it was for free.Spent the rest of the afternoon looking for a jacket at H&M at the pedestrian street then had dinner at Shen Da Cheng where I had a huge bowl of noodle soup with pork and pickled vegetables.
We went to the Expo on our last day at Shanghai. Our flight back home was still at 12:20am so that left enough time. We also booked an extra night at the hotel just so we have a place to go back to, rest a bit and take a shower before heading to the airport. That turned out to be a very good idea as by the time we were through with the expo (and we barley scratched the surface) our feet was killing us and all we wanted to do was lie down and hang our legs.
We took Line 2 from the Metro station just across the hotel . Exiting at the Metro station, we merely followed the crowd that looked like the wildebeest migration in the African savanna heading to the gates which was about a 10 minute walk. It didn’t help that it was raining and we were all rushing to beat the crowds which turned out to be an exercise in futility. We entered the gate and started looking for the ticket booths. Turns out, the ticket booths were at the parking lot across the street fronting the gate. Our effort and initial success of falling into a quickly-moving line were all laid to waste as we had to exit again and buy the tickets. Thankfully, there wasn’t a line and I quickly bought 4 for us. We saw the main entrance where there was hardly a crowd which made us wonder what was that mad line we found ourselves in earlier.
We quickly made our way to the control gates which was filling-up with people and finally entered the expo site! Since we didn’t have much time, we went our separate ways— Joy and Yna were together while Rhoda and I went on it alone. They all headed to the European section while I made my way to the African Pavilion which was just nearby.
The African Joint Pavilion is a really large space with mini pavilions inside of the different African nations. Some were really pretty and had very interesting exhibits. I really like those that presented their music and dance traditions. The real highlight of the pavilion was the stalls that were selling all kinda of crafts. I naturally gravitated to the musical instruments and bought a couple of drums and an mbira (thumb piano). There were also lutes and bigger drums that were more professional but they cost thousands of Yuan.
Out of Africa and into the Caribbean.
From the Caribbean, it was time to explore another dream destination– South America!
I think of all the pavilions I went to, Chile was the one that really let on with the Expo theme of “Better City Better Life.” Rather than simply presenting a pavilion where you wander around at your own will, you follow a path that takes you to a journey on what living in a city is all about. Multi-media presentations that flash all around you and voice-overs communicate ideas such as neighborhoods, building relationships, cityhood, and others. You feel like you are part of a dialogue that explores these concepts. I liked it a lot as it was very thought-provoking and the visuals were arresting and highly creative.
I was still at the Peruvian pavilion when my sisters texted me that they were all waiting at the Estonian pavilion for lunch. The narrow corridor that snaked all around the pavilion was crammed with people. I would have wanted to check out the food and crafts stalls but it was way too crowded.
As I hurried to the European section to meet up with my sisters, I passed by these pavilions which had really loooooooooooong lines of people waiting to get inside. I never got any of the stand-alone pavilions of any European country as there were always long lines of people so I had to content myself with pictures of their pavilions from the outside. I did manage to get inside the joint pavilion which housed the smaller European countries such as Albania. Unfortunately, San Marino, which I only knew about from the stamps of that nation, was closed.
We all met up for lunch at Bulgarian Rose near the Estonia Pavilion. We had mushroom risotto, sausages with baked beans, and a mousakka-like dish which our server said was authentically Bulgarian. In fact, the entire restaurant was staffed by Bulgarians. The food was delicious and quite filling.
Joy wanted to go to the gourmet and shopping complex that was listed on the map so we all agreed to meet there about 2 hours later. I headed to the joint pavilions nearby as I have totally given up on being able to enter any of the big pavilions.
Aside from the stand-alone pavilions, there was a South America Joint Pavilion. There seemed to be joint pavilions of each continent. This is probably to accommodate countries who are unable to build their own pavilions. The advantage of course is that you get to see lots of countries under a single roof. The joint pavilions also had less people.
At the South America joint pavilion, I bought pan-pipes and rattles from Columbia.
The Philippine pavilion with its theme “Performing Cities” had a nice facade but that was all there is to it. Inside, was a stage where a Muslim group was performing to a crowd. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a moving line heading inside the pavilion. Unfortunately, except for the ongoing performance, there wasn’t much on showcase. t was disappointing really as there was very scant information about the country and the visuals were sorely lacking. A wall on one side read that the cities are what the citizens make it up to be. It was a good concept but I guess like everything else about the country, it remains just a concept.
A large part of the pavilion was taken up by the Travel Cafe which was serving, of all things!, lumpiang shanghai! C’mon! I know the brains behind the menu probably wanted to show Pinoy linkages to the Chinese but how can lumpiang shanghai ever compete with the real thing?!!! There were also stalls selling some fancy jewelry and other stuff. The Pinoy teacher I met at Hangzhou days before was right. He was embarrassed by the pavilion.
It really was a shame as compared to the other Asian pavilions, ours was really paling in comparison.
Heading to the gourmet and shopping area, I passed by the Oceania Pavilion for a look. I was actually hoping to score some musical instruments. The exhibits looked more like booths rather than mini pavilions unlike those in the African Joint Pavilion. It kinda looked more like a product show as those exotic-sounding juices that were supposed to have health benefits were all on display.
Very interesting were the different traditional wear that were displayed. But the real eye catcher was the guy in traditional wear and face decoration (I think he was from Papua New Guinea) standing on one of the booths playing a pan pipe. Tourists were all jostling to have their pics taken with him.
It was a short walk to the gourmet and shopping complex where we were all supposed to meet. Except for the big Expo souvenir store, it was just a bunch of small restaurants. Either I was still full from lunch or my feet were simply too tired but I ignored the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant outlet. As I sat on one of the many empty benches, I realized that we had not specifically pointed out where we would meet in the huge complex. My phone was not roaming so I simply waited knowing that Joy would text one or another. And she did: we were to meet at the Saudi Arabi pavilion where Rhoda was. They were both at the Oceania Pavilion and would take the shuttle bus. I couldn’t figure out the shuttle service and seeing that the line for the electric taxis was long, I opted to just walk. It wasn’t really far and at least I would get to see the Asian area of the Expo.
The line at the huge Saudi Arabia pavilion was really long. The highlight is supposed to be the world’s biggest IMAX. Joy, Yna, and I spotted each other at the bus stop in front of the pavilion.
Rhoda arrived several minutes later and it turned out when she texted Joy and Yna that she was at SA, she meant South America whereas the two translated it to mean Saudi Arabia. Oh well. We took the shuttle bus to the gate from which we entered the pavilion. It was almost 5 pm and floats were being readied for a parade. There was also a crowd of people waiting to be let in as the entrance at 5pm is much cheaper.
We took one of the taxis waiting in line outside the gate. The driver seemed pretty annoyed when told to drop us off at the metro station which was less than 10 minutes away and that included making a long u-turn. As we turned to the street where the metro station was, he said something in Chinese and threw up both hands on the air. I took it to mean, “You lazy bums! You could have walked it!” Our feet was killing us and there was still a long walk inside the station to get to the trains.
Back at the hotel, I detoured to Yang’s and Early Dawning for some dimsum and fried rice for dinner. Yna wanted to go out and do some last-minute shopping but no one was interested. I just wanted to lie down, burp, and let all the blood on my feet and legs circulate.
We really had a good time at the expo in spite of the crowds and the rain and one day was simply not enough as it was a mad rush from one pavilion to another.
How To Survive the Expo
1. Put it in your mind that there will be lots and lots of people and if you intend to visit the really popular pavilions, put on your most Zen-like patience, line-up, and keep your cool. The crowd seemed to be 99% Chinese and the more popular pavilions were those of the European countries, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, and India. Everyone seemed to be going gaga about having their Expo souvenir passports stamped from the pavilions visited. Some don’t even bother to really go through the pavilion. They simply head to the stamping desk.
2. Either go really early or go after 5 pm when the ticket is cheaper, the weather cooler, and the people less. However, some of the pavilions will be closed by then.
3. It is technically possible to visit all the pavilions in 1 day but that would mean being like the hordes of people who simply want a stamp on their Expo passport and not seeing anything at all except the pavilion entrance and the stamping desk. I suggest 3 days.
4. Bring an umbrella and a backpack for your all the stuff you’re going to be buying at the souvenir stalls in the pavilions.
I arrived back in Shanghai from Hangzhou on Sep 10 to meet up with Rhoda, Yna, and Joy who were flying in at midnight from Manila. The train’s terminus was at the South station rather than the nearer Central station so it took some time before I got to the East Nanjing Metro stop. That was the most stressful train ride I had as I discovered that my economy ticket had no seat number as the section was full. That meant looking for a vacant seat or standing for the full 3 hours to Hangzhou! Fortunately, a nice young Chinese lady and a train attendant helped me out. I was adviced to head to First Class where there would surely be availbel seats and where I can just pay the fair difference. I mad a dash to the front cars and made it in the nick of time just as the doors were closing. Phew! Lesson learned: don’t buy your train ticket an hour before the trip and don’t assume that not having a seat number means that it’s free for all.
East Nanjing Rd was packed will people as always— a shock after the serenity of Hangzhou. I had already searched out East Asia Hotel when I first arrived in Shanghai on the 5th so I wouldn’t have any trouble looking for it. The hotel is easy to find but not so the entrance as it’s in a corridor inside the Shanghai Fashion Store as the hotel is directly above it. With it’s colonial facade, beautifully lighted at night, you would have expected that the inside would be just as nice. The room was quite all right, not very cramped could be a little cleaner. The twin beds were large and comfortable enough. Well, after living off dorm rooms and hostels, I guess any hotel room would look good to me. It certainly did not to my sisters when they checked-in at around 1 in the morning. No amount of sleepiness could mask their eekiness and yuckinesss about it. What can you really expect from a $48/night room at a tourist center in Shanghai? We promptly moved out the next morning and transferred to Park Hotel which Yna and Joy booked.
It was only around 11 so I went to Decathlon at Pudong to buy some outdoor gear. It was a long trip on the Metro and got lost finding the store as I exited on the wrong side of the sation which had me going the opposite direction. I was in the middle of a high-rise residential blocked when I realized I must be in the wrong area! Fortunately, a white guy came along who pointed me to the right direction. I had to backtrack about a kilometer until I was back at the Metro station and finally saw the store looming about a block away. The multi-story building was a sports haven. I stuck to the first floor which housed all the outdoor stuff. Like a child gone wild, I was snapping stuff even if the only brand they carried was Quechua which was quite cheap. Just as I was about to check-out, I did a double take on the yuan-peso conversion and was shocked with the amount—it wasn’t so cheap after all! I returned about 2/3 of my basket and just ended up with a couple of socks and a shirt. Walking back to the Metro I realized my mistake—I had added a zero which resulted in the staggering amount. Oh well. I was never really good at Math. Well, at least it saved me from buying a lot of stuff (like the plastic lanterns) at a whim.
Back at East Nanjing, I had lunch at the Shanghai First Food Center food court where I had pan-fried dumplings (shengjian) at the stall where people were queing all the time. One thing I have learned in Shanghai is: if there’s a queue there must be good food. It’s unbelievable how people patiently line-up at a particular stall even if the same thing could be had just a few steps away. The difference in taste is always worth it. Or maybe all that queueing has made you so hungry that it tasted good even if it tasted *^#@. I couldn’t get a seat so I had to eat my dumplings standing-up.
Spent the rest of the day just walking around the East Nanjing area. In front of a mall near the Radisson, a large crowd was watching a show by one of the Pacific islands participating in the exp0.
I headed to Huanghe Rd for dinner. Listed by Lonely Planet as a food street, dozens of brightly-lit restaurants (some more patronized than others) lined the narrow street. Tucked between the much bigger restos was the Yang’s Fried Dumplings with its bright pink neon light. At the entrance is a counter where you pay for your order. Seeing that I was speechless and maybe because I looked so excited about the dumplings, the middle-aged lady manning the counter whipped-out an English menu and pointed to the dumplings. I order a hot and sour soup with rice noodles (RM 7) to go with it. I showed my receipt to the guy dispensing the shengjian (RM5 for 4 pcs) beside the doorway then showed it again to one of the waitresses for my noodle soup. Took a seat at the second floor and started on the dumplings while I waited for my soup. The dumplings were more scrumptious than the all others I had. The bottom was perfectly pan-fried with enough stickiness of the dough for texture. Hot oil kept spurting out as I bit on the dumplings turning my table into a mess littered with table napkins. I had yet to master the art of biting and sucking the juice out from these tasty morsels. Dipped in vinegar, it was heavenly! The food was really good so it wasn’t surprising that there was a line in front of the restaurant.
I took the back road on the way back where I passed a small outdoor shop that had some good brands (Osprey, Black Diamond, etc.) in stock but they were really expensive. Their Black Diamond trekking poles were about 20% more expensive than the one I bought at Conquer. Everything I needed to do the for the day was over and done with. I just had to wait for my sisters to arrive which was no easy task as my phone’s roaming was blocked. I told the surly receptionist to let me know once my sisters check-in. Waiting outside the hotel was out of the question as you either get propositioned for massages are sold stuff. They finally arrived at past 1 am and we promptly went out in search of food. Everything was closed and the nearby 24-hour McDonald’s didn’t have any food. Strange. There were a lot of kids hanging out and some were even sleeping. We ended-up at the bistro of Le Meridien where we shared some noodle soup with dumplings and a club house sandwich.
Day 1 at Yuyuan. The next day, we moved out of East Nanjing Hotel and went across the street to Park Hotel at West Nanjing. It was really a step higher than the former hotel. The lobby was spacious and there was real customer service. Joy got a free upgrade from a standard to a deluxe room. The historical hotel was really nice and the rooms were spacious and spotless. Unfortunately, there was no free internet. We just dumped our bags in the rooms then took a cab to Yuyuan for Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. It wasn’t 11 yet but there was a really lone line already. We hadn’t had breakfast yet so we went to Ning Bo Dumplings just across which was a little crowded but we managed to grab a table. We almost ordered the entire dimsum on display at the cart. We must have seemed like gluttons as beside our table was a group of 6 Chinese who were just having some soup and tofu. It was my second time at Ning Bo and I still couldn’t get enough of the soup-filled boazi.
Just outside Nanxiang, a long line had formed in front of a stall of hopia-like snacks. It was too much for Yna and Joy to resist who promptly lined-up and bought a box of assorted snacks. We had no idea what the fillings were— some were filled with pork, some with mushroom, and another with seaweed. We like the former the best. Rhoda bought a bag of freshly-roasted chestnuts.
It was a weekend and Yuyuan was really packed with people and the rain didn’t make things any easier. I would have to give plus points to my sisters, though, as the crowd and the rain didn’t bother them the slightest bit. At a large store selling packaged snacks we bought some to bring back home. It was a mistake as it meant lugging the bags around. We must have been carried away with all those people grabbing packages and the sellers pointing to little snacks wrapped in colorful paper and exclaiming, “velly goood!”
At a strip of some special stalls that had the distinction of being famous crafts and art makers if the sign was to be believed the Shanghai Sisters had seals made. I thought it rather expensive at RM120 for a large one but it was supposedly carved by an award-winning engraver judging by some certificates posted at the stall. A few stall down, I bought some traditional leather puppets. The lady at the next stall selling metal cut-outs urged me to buy showing me a newspaper clipping of her and her father. The craft didn’t seem to be particularly interesting so I just made the excuse that I would call my sister to check it out. I felt a little guilty not buying from her as she was the translator for the puppet stall. There were quaint colorful hand paintings but they were quite expensive.
While waiting for the engravings to be finished, we went to the Yuyuan Stage to have our photo taken in costumes with a backdrop of old Shanghai. It’s rather touristy kitschy but what the heck! It makes for a great souvenir and a whole lot of fun. We had to wait a while as there was a young Chinese couple having their picture taken. They really looked good.. well wadda expect… they were Chinese so they had to look good in Chinese get-up. We were handed costumes to wear—- Rhoda and Yna in tight cheongsams and me trousers, shirt, a hat and scarf. Mine was easy to wear as I only had to put them on over my clothes. Rhoda and Yna had to completely change clothes. Joy kept asking the costume woman if they had “big size” while pointing to herself. The woman motioned putting on a jacket and we all thought she was going to let her wear the jacket worn by the guy who was having himself photographed. Our turn came and they had Joy sit at the carriage. They gave her a shawl, took a colorful cheongsam from a rack and put in top of her lap to cover her legs and a small handbag to hold it in place and viola! Joy had a costume. I really admired their ingenuity in coming-up with it. Everything was meticulously staged. We were even given shoes to wear! We each paid RM 120 for our copies of the framed photograph which we had to get at the 4th floor. There was another set-up on the rooftop this time with an imperial China backdrop and costumers but we declined it. The view from the rooftop was beautiful with the skyline dominated by the upturned eaves of the shop roofs while the darkening sky threatened to dump rain. While waiting, we stepped into the Yuyuan Stage which had been converted into a tea house that shows performance sometimes.
The seals were ready by the time we returned to the stall and we headed to the Mid-lake Pavilion for some tea and to take shelter from the rain. The nine-turn bridge was a little crowded and people were snapping away photographs in spite of the wet weather. We took a nice spot near a window overlooking the lake and had various teas with names like “Iron Goddess” and “Bountiful Riches.” I liked “Iron Goddess” the best as it hinted slightly of honey. There were some little snacks to go with the tea.
At the Cultural Street, Yna bought some dolls of the different Chinese minority groups while Joy and Rhoda went crazy over some pendants. I headed to the music store I passed before on my first visit to Yuyuan. I bought a drum and a clapper (gu). The pipa and the erhu and the gongs were all quite expensive so that will have to be bought at another time. Rhoda was so inspired with our tea at Mid-lake Pavilion that she snapped up some tiny tea cups at one of the tea shops.
Still heady with the aromatic tea we had, we dropped by at Song Lin Tea Garden to buy well… some tea! They had all sorts of tea and it was fun to browse around. There were a lot of interesting stuff such as tea leaves packed in squares and rounds which I had never seen before. Some were really expensive. The lady at the store was very accommodating and spoke good English so it was easy to communicate with her. We tasted the Dragon Well Tea, Litchi Black Tea and the Milk Tea which were all very good. We watched how she served the tea so we could replicate it at home. She first poured hot water on the tea leaves on the pot which she then used to wash the tea cups. She refilled the tea pot and then poured it into the tiny cups for us to sip. I also observed this at the Mid-lake Pavilion and I was aghast that the tea was being wasted. But the lady said that the first “water” isn’t good and that it’s the second one and the succeeding ones that should be sipped.
Joy got small boxes of pre-packed Black Litchi tea which the lady in shocked dismay said that it wasn’t the same quality as the one we tasted which came from jars. Joy insisted it didn’t matter as it was only for give-aways. “Baaaaddd quality…. baaaaddddd quality” she kept on insisting while slapping her right hand on the air. “This one… goooood quality,” she pointed to the one she was letting us taste. It was amusing to watch her. About half an hour later, we left loaded with boxes of different teas— Oolong, Litchi Black Tea, Milk Tea, Eight Treasures Tea a clear glass tea pot and a ceramic tea strainer. I should have bought some Dragon Well at Hangzhou where it came from as it was only RM20 for 100g while it was selling RM100 at the tea shop.
It was a little difficult hailing a cab. On the curb a private car doubling as a cab offered to take us back for RM 30 which was more than double the RM 12 we paid to get here. We insisted on RM 20 but he shook us off. As we waited, he came back and told us to get in as the traffic police was shooing him away. He figured he might as well give in to our RM 20 rather than leaving empty-handed. He was nice though and cracked jokes.
The Shanghai Sisters had tire of Chinese food as we were going to have Pecking Duck at a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant the following day. Or maybe they were shocked at the Shanghai First Food Center food court with its hordes of people. We had dinner instead at a resto on the same level. It was untypical Chinese as it had none of the round tables, glaring fluorescent lights, and noise. Instead, there was soft lighting, smartly dressed servers, and quiet booths. Even the menu was a little different. The food was delicious and the prices reasonable. Best of all, it was Yna who paid for it.
Bonding at The Bund. East Nanjing Rd was as crowded as ever and it was a challenge to walk the entire length of the road to The Bund. It looked like a scene from the People Power rallies in the EDSA days when people would walk along EDSA. It was especially a challenge to my sisters who aren’t really used to walking that far. I kept telling them we were close already. There were less people on the walkway by The Bund and we hanged out for a while taking pictures. The Bund is really beautiful lit at night and looking at the buildings along East Zhongshang, it almost feels like you’re in Europe. Gazing towards the Pudong, the iconic Orient Pearl TV Tower soared to the sky like a space ship while tourist ferries cruised the Huangpu River. We initially planned to cruise the river so we can take in the sights by the entire length of The Bund but it wouldn’t fit in our schedule. By the time we walked back to the hotel it was almost 11 and the streets weren’t as full anymore. Haagen Dazs, where we were supposed to have some ice-cream, was closed already so we just bought some local ice cream at a convenience store. I had some mochi and green tea ice-cream.
Day 2: The Renmin Loop and the Grand Metro Tour. We woke-up early the next day and Shanghai was in a light shower. Like a tour guide, we did a circuit of the Renmin Loop to see the Shanghai Museum, Grand Theater, and other architectural sights. We had breakfast at Starbucks at Raffles City which was packed with people seeking shelter from the shower. The mall had opened by the time we finished so we went around a bit. Joy’s shoes were soaked so we looked around for some sandals at the stores at East Nanjing but they were mostly selling rubber shoes so it was decided she just buy a pair at Decathlon where we were heading to later anyway.
We took the Line 3 metro to the Xintiandi station but somehow never made it to Xintiandi itself. Should have taken the South Huangpi station as it’s actually closer. Walking to Xintiandi, my sisters entered a plus-size store and ended up buying clothes. By the time they were through it was time for lunch so we took a cab to Quajude for its famous Pecking Duck.
It was a bit of a challenge communicating with the servers as the only who could speak English was the one who took our order. Since rice is always served last in a Chinese course, asking the rice to be served together with the main courses took a lot of effort. “Where rice? Now… serve rice… now,” Joy tried vainly to tell one of the waitresses. We had Peking duck, fried rice, mandarin fish, vegetables, and some dessert. It was all very good especially the duck with its crispy skin wrapped in freshly-made pancakes. We noticed that the Chinese make the wraps by putting the pancake on their palm rather than on the plate. It actually makes for easier wrapping.
Nobody would take us to the South Xaanxi metro station where we would catch Line 2 to Pudong. And we discovered why. It was just a couple of blocks away! No wonder, the woman cab driver seemed annoyed when we told her where we wanted to be dropped off. She practically shooed us away. The station was opposite the Art Deco-style Cathay Theater.
We were heading to Lujiazui for the viewing deck at the Jinmao Tower. From Lujiazui it was a long walk to exit to the side where Jinmao was. Yna was joking that we were having a tour of the metro station and we better hurry up as we had only done Lines 1 and 2 and still had 7 more lines to try. Hahahahaha.
We got a bit lost looking for the viewing deck at Jinmao and when we did we headed to the line not knowing that tickets had to be bought. Yna and Joy stayed at the line while Rhoda and I went to the ticket booth and saw the price—RM 150. It wasn’t an amount we were willing to spend so we just left. All that effort for nothing. Heheheheh.
I think we spent more time at the metro station than at Jinmao. We took line 2 to Longyang for Decathlon. I did tell them that the store was just outside the exit of the station but what I did not tell them was that there was a walk of about a hundred or so meters. Hahahahaahhaha! At Decathlon, Joy finally got her sandals and Rhoda changed from wedge shoes to slippers. I could hear their feet breathing a sigh of relief. I bought a 40L backpack, a base camp bag similar to TNF’s, some hiking shirts and socks and other stuff for less than RM400!
Back at East Nanjing, Yna went to Bao Xing Toy Store, Rhoda looked for a pay phone, and Joy and I went to Shanghai No. 1 Department Store where we all met up an hour later. There was nothing really nice to buy at the department store as it was mostly Chinese-made stuff, the kind that you’d probably find in Divisoria. We rested a bit at the hotel then went to Huanghe Rd for Yang’s but they were cleaning-up when we got there. I guess the dumplingsmust have all sold out as it was only 8pm and too early to close. We went to East Dawning, a Chinese fast food across the corner of the hotel. It was brightly-lit lively place with a lot of young people chowing down on cheap Chinese eats. They must have been shocked as we ordered so much food—- mini dumplings, fried rice, maki roll, soup, chicken wings. It was surprisingly good and had none of the fast-food flavor you’d expect.
It was a long and tiring day but we had so much fun even. Rhoda and I had to pack our things as we were checking out the next day and just retaining Joy and Yna’s room. I had a drum to pack which fortunately fit in the basecamp bag I bought and loads of other stuff. Next day is Expo day before heading to the airport in the evening for the flight back home.
Sometimes, in the middle of a trip, you make a sudden decision of leaving a place to spend more time somewhere else and upon arriving at your next destination, you suddenly smile, nod, and congratulate yourself for making the right decision. Hangzhou is one of those places. I cut short my stay at Suzhou and decided to spend the extra day at this lovely city. When I stepped off the cab I had taken from the bus station and caught a glimpse of West Lake, I knew I was going to like it here.
The driver had to backtrack a bit and ask for directions before we found Mingtown International Youth Hostel as it was in a side road on the south side of the lake. The hostel was swarming with people so fat chance that I would have a dorm room at least half-empty so I optedto upgrade to a double room. From my experience at Biktime at Shanghai, I realized I’m not really comfortable sharing a room with strangers. After a day spent walking under the sun, it’s a pleasure to simply enter your room , throw your stuff around, and just plop into bed without having to mind other people.
I boooked one of their promo rooms described in the counter-top flier as having a “wood ceiling “for RM145/night. It was in another building reached by a flight of steps and across a laundry area. The room was big and had a large comfortable double bed and a small desk. A window opened to the courtyard below which was a little problematic when evening came as I could hear people talking outside. One particularly annoying sound was that of a Chinese girl who was speaking English with a really bad accent and she just kept yakking and yakking and yakking. I have nothing against non-native English speakers speaking the language but she really had an awful voice and accent. I guess somebody must have told her to shut-up because at around past 11 pm (and there was a sign that reminded people to be quiet by 11) she shut-up. Above the bed was also a skylight which was covered by a curtain you could roll back. I really liked the room. The common shower and toilet were okay and at least there was a place where you could do your laundry and hang them out to dry which Itook full advantage of.
China has many West Lakes but the one in Hanzghou is THE West Lake and the scenery around it is officially referred to as the West Lake Cultural Landscape. Most famous in the landscape is the Ten Poetically Named Scenic Places of West Lake which were identified by the dynasty kings. Strolling around West Lake, it is not difficult to understand how these places were designated what with the Chinese propensity for beautiful scenery and poetry. The place is absolutely beautiful and is meant for leisurely strolls and contemplation.
Armed with a map, I walked to Leifeng Pagoda from the hostel, a distance I had greatly underestimated. I was all sweaty and my feet killing me by the time I got there. I caught an electric trolley to Yue Fei on the other side of the lake. I had hoped to have a late late lunch at Louwaliou Restaurant but when I got there around 3:30 they were closed and would re-open at 4pm. To kill time, I went to the Xiling Seal Engraver’s Society compound which had nice resting pavilions and small gardens and shops selling seals. I checked out one shop that had intricately carved seals. They looked expensive so I didn’t dare ask.
Nearby is the Site of the Imperial Palace of the Qing Dynasty. There wasn’t much to see as the entire site is gone except for a few glassed-in covers of the archaeological diggings of the original site.
Just as I was about ready to faint from hunger or start fishing at the lake, it was 4pm! I rushed to the cool confines of Louwaliou and ordered a plate of fried rice and the famous Beggar’s Chicken so-called because a poor man once caught a chicken and since he had nothing to cook it with, he wrapped it in some leaves and clay and baked it on the ground. A waiter motioned me to a trolley where the chicken was. He cracked the clay in which the chicken was cooked (supposedly for hours) then unfolded the plastic then finally the lotus leaves which wrapped the entire chicken. Secretly, I was afraid that the head or even just the neck would be intact. I would have had to look away and ask the waiter to remove it. Thank god, it wasn’t there. The chicken was really really tasty with a salty-sweet tang and a melt-in-your-mouth softness. The lotus leaf and plastic, the juices were all sealed in.
Louwaliou has a 150 year old history at West Lake so it’s very famous and food is supposed to be very delicious. The prices are also befitting that of an emperor— RM 168 compared to RM 55 at another hundred-year old restaurant I would later visit at Qinghefang in Hangzhou. With my stomach all puffed out, I had to burn-off all those calories and what better way than to walk the entire circumference of the lake back to my hostel crossing the Bai Di causeway. It was very very very long walk which took me almost 2 hours. About a hundred meters from the restaurant, was Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake Pavilion which was surprisingly quiet given the number of people at the lake. As its name suggests, this was supposed to be prime spot for some moon viewing in Autumn
At the far eastern shore of the lake is the stone bridge referred to as Lingering Snow on Broken Bridge. Near the end of winter, the snow melts on the bridge thus breaking the what would have otherwise been a straight line of snow. Viewed atop one of the temples or mountains, it gives the visual illusion of a broken bridge.
By the time I made it back to the hostel and have burned not only my lunch but a few fats as well. I again underestimated the distance. Dusk had fallen, lunch was just a wisp of memory and my feet were killing me. I could have been the 11th Scenic Spot and called Backpacker With Aching Feet. The view around the lake was magical, though.
I was at the lake early the next day and the park was brimming with people doing tai-chi and dancing using fans. I took one of the tour boats (RM 40) thinking they were hop on-off boats. Turns out, you could only do the route once. You could stay as long as you want on Santanyinyue though and just take any of the boats to the final stop. There was a commentator inside the boat but it was in Chinese so I just stayed at the deck to enjoy the sights and the sun.
Santanyinyue is an island in the middle of the lake and is one of the Ten Scenic Spots and lays claim to “The Flags Mirroring in the Water” which refers to three small stone pagodas on the water which is lit with lanterns at certain times of the year. The island itself has 4 pools with a central pavilion that has been turned into a souvenir shop and teahouse and is linked to the rest of the island by bridges. With so many tour groups, it was hard to appreciate the tranquility of the island, let alone, get a nice shot. The pavilion fronting the stone pagodas in the water was just thronged with people. Judging from my entire West Lake experience, the place seems to be overrun by local Chines tourists. It is interesting though how they dressed as the most of the ladies are dressed-up with make-up and some in heels and dresses in spite of the heat and humidity.
I took the boat back to Gu Shan island and went to Yue Fei’s Temple on the other side of the road away from the lake.
Heading back to West Lake, I crossed the road to a pretty park which lead me to the start of the much longer Su Di causeway.
Lunch was at Louwaliou again where I had a bowl of rice, a plate of fried beancurd skins, and Dong Po pork which shocked me with it’s size. It was just a small chunk of pork served in a small cup. For RM28, it was expensive! It was very good though and is supposed to be one of Hangzhou’s signature dishes.
At the Zheijang Museum I went through the galleries that had exhibits of ceramics, jade, and celadon but I couldn’t understand anything as there were no English captions. The complex was nice though. On the main road ringing the lake I headed to the Shangri-la to look for the staircase to the Baochu Pagoda on top of the hill overlooking the lake but couldn’t find it. I just walked along the road and whenever I point to the map showing Mountain Where Rosy Clouds Linger to anyone they smile and just point to where I’m going. I had already passed the entire complex of Shangri-la but there was no path to be seen. I figured I might as well try to climb from the Baopu Taoist Monastery. I just kept walking along the street until I saw a small pathway on the other side of the road that led to what seemed to be a temple. I walked in and found myself in a small complex housing different galleries showing pre-historic times. It looked to be an ethnology museum. There were no English captions so I couldn’t make anything out of it. I again pointed to the map and the guard just pointed to the right and signaled me to just keep going. It took me past 2 temples one of which I suspected was the Baopu Taoist Temple with its yellow walls and Yin Yang sign on its entrance arch before I finally saw the market that pointed to the pathway. By this time, I had walked the entire length of the road from Yue Fei’s Temple to near the Bao Di causeway! I had yet to ascend the hill and my feet were already killing me.
It was about a hundred steps under a canopy of trees to the top of the hill where the a reconstructed Baochu Pagoda was perched. It was fenced in and it was just a stone replica and not a real pagoda you could go into. It was quiet on top and there weren’t many people. There wasn’t much of a view from the top as the lake was quite hidden by the trees and shrubs. I followed the sign that led to the Sunrise Trail.
It was a pretty walk and the trail was shaded by trees.
About 15 minutes later, I came upon a small pagoda where a middle-aged man was resting. I climbed the steps and took a break. A few minutes later, some Germans came up from another path which they said originated from Yue Fei Temple. The name didn’t ring a bell (hello! it was the path I was looking for). I stuck a conversation with them as the guy who was with his girlfriend, his mom, and his sister, said they were planning to visit the Philippines when they learned I was Filipino. They then continued on their way while I continued with mine.
I finally reached the Baopu Taoist Pagoda with its yellow walls. I went inside but there didn’t seem to be anything going on. I saw a white guy ascending some steps and decided to follow him. On top, I realized I was back on the trail! Rather than backtracking and then going all the way down to the main road, I took the trail again. I came upon some signs and decided to take the one that pointed to Yue Fei. Steep steps led down until I reached a junction where some a sign pointed to the intriguingly named Yellow Dragon Cave. There were lots of time to spare and I wanted to see a cave so I followed the sign. The steps led all the way down past some pretty scenery such as a bamboo forest until I reached what seemed to be a theme park for folk art. Yup. Yellow Dragon Cave was the Folk Art Park or something like that.
Oh well, at least I get to see some Hangzhou art. I paid the RM30 fee and followed the singing which led me to a courtyard where there was an opera going on. People were laughing so it must be some sort of a comedy. The opera ended and I wandered around the park. Pools displayed sculptures of scenes from Chinese folk tales. I entered an air-conditioned gallery which was supposed to feature Chinese classical music but it was empty except for a guy who was reading a book. There were instruments on stage, though. I took a seat and let the cool air wash over me.
Leaving the park, I realized I had to backtrack all the way up! Going up the steep steps, I silently berated myself for being too adventurous. Back on the main trail, I followed the sign that pointed to Yue Fei and promised myself to ignore all detours. I finally reached what seemed to be the end of the trail. Steep steps led down on a forested area. A middle-aged man running down the steps past me by. When I reached halfway down, he was on his way up. I think he was doing his exercise routine. I finally reached the bottom of the steps. On the other side was another set of steps leading up with a sign that pointed to some peak. I was a bit tempted to ascend but my aching feet told me otherwise. I followed a long street lined with small houses on the right and a red wall housing a complex on the left. When I reached the main road only then did I recognize Yue Fei’s Temple! That was the path I was looking for. I started out on the other end and returned by backtracking.
I crossed the road to the Su Di causeway and should have stopped and waited for the trolley to bring me back to the hostel. Maybe the heat had gotten into me and I had forgotten how tiring walking the shorter Bai Di causeway was the previous day. I decided to walk the Su Di causeway. I remembered how pretty it was when I passed by it on the trolley. Indeed it was pretty with willows and trees lining the road. I kept telling myself that I’m gonna find a nice spot to just sit and watch the lake and rest my feet. I was already 3/4 on the causeway and saw the entrance to a park or rather saw a throng of people entering a park. I bought a mango sherbet, found a nice bench overlooking the inner lake and cooled myself with the sherbet.
The park was also home to Gu Villa which was the getaway of a rich Chinese merchant. It had a nice garden and a long bridge along a lotus pond. Exiting the villa, I decided to just walk all the way back to the hostel again. Night had fallen by the time I reached the exit of the lake leading to the hostel.
Walking along Xixu Street, I stumbled on a Chinese-Muslim eatery which I suspected to be Uighur. The tell-tale sign was the women who wore head scarves the stack of flat bread. The picture menu also featured food that didn’t look Chinese at all. I ordered a bowl of noodles which was steaming hot and had a hot and sour taste similar to Thai soups. It seemed to be a family-run eatery. The teenage-boy who was serving was talking to me but we both couldn’t understand each other. His language also didn’t sound typically Chinese. On the way back, I passed by a French bakery for some pastries.
The next morning, after a quick breakfast of the flat bread I bought at the eatery last night, I was ready to go further afield. I was through with walking my feet off so I decided to finally ask the front desk about the bus route. The girl handed me a stack of papers compiled in a plastic folder and in it were all the destinations with the bus stops and bus numbers listed! Aaaarrggghh! I wanted to bump my head. I could have saved all that time if I had asked the first day I arrived. Taking the bus to Leifeng Pagoda, I realized how far I had walked the previous days.
It was kinda surreal riding an escalator to the steps of the pagoda and then an elevator up and then a few flight of stairs to get all the way up. Well, at least, the old people won’t have too much trouble with this pagoda.
The pagoda is actually a replica as the original had already fallen down centuries ago. You can view the excavated foundations of the pagoda in one of the lower floors. On the upper floors are galleries that tell the history of the pagoda and the legend that surrounds its. One of the floors has large intricately carved 3-dimensional wooden murals depicting the legend of a woman who was kidnapped and later saved.
The top of the pagoda has killer views and looking down at West Lake and the surrounding area you begin to wonder why you climbed all the way up to Baochu when taking a really great photo could be had with nary a drop of perspiration on your brow.
At the bus stop outside the pagoda, I took the bus to the Lingyin Temple which was some distance away. The terminus of the bus was a few meters from the pagoda so we walked the rest of the way. I would have wanted to take the cable car ride up to the North Peak but the girl at the information counter outside the temple couldn’t point me to the right direction. The temple complex is huge and if it weren’t because “I’m already here so might as well go the next mile,” I would have just stayed put in one of the temples. One interesting temple was filled with statues of different muscular and warrior-looking deities. Another had a maze-like display of different figures which seemed to be the entire pantheon of Chinese gods. Being one of the most important Buddhist temples in China, it was expectedly filled with people lighting joss sticks and praying.
Near the temple was a monastery that didn’t have a lot of people. But just like any other temple complex, it requires stairs, and there were lots of them, to get to the different temples. The path was very shady and pretty though and there was even a small waterfall running down in one portion. It was very quiet especially on the temples at the top. With the surrounding hills and forest, it was very peaceful you almost felt like a monk. There was also a traditionally preserved village outside the entrance to the monastery but I didn’t want to pay another RM40 just to enter it.
More interesting than the pagodas were the carvings and statues on the cliffs around Feilang Peak. That they were first carved in 951AD make it even more awesome and astounding. They reminded me of the river carvings on Kabal Spean at Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I especially like the carvings that were inside the caves and on the side of the cliff 0verlooking the river.
Steps all the way up led to the top which featured a—–souvenir stall selling incense and Buddha figures! Ahead of me was a Chinese guy who kept on muttering to himself. He took the trail on the other side then turned back. Branches with thorns partially blocked the trail. Not wanting to backtrack, I saw that I could squeeze out on one side. I looked back and there he was following me together with the the couple who were also with me on the way up. I skirted around the blocked trails and soon was back on the main trail.
I had a lunch at the resto inside the park which had good food at reasonable prices. I took the bus back to town and slept the afternoon off at the hostel after doing my laundry.
In the evening, before heading to Qinhefang for some souvenir shopping, I dropped by the Orioles Singing in the Willows park. The pathway lined with willows leading to the lake was really beautiful. This area is really one of the most scenic.
Crossing the road and the square, I headed to Qinhefang, a pedestrian-only street lined with Song Dynasty architecture that have been converted into shops.
One of the rally interesting ones was a colorful shop that was stocked full of all kinds of souvenirs, curious, and knick-knacks. I bought a patch and a pin. The more interesting finds were the stuff that was hanging from the ceiling. They had some Tibetan drums and lutes but the prices were prohibitve (RM 2800 for one lute I asked).
Stalls selling Chinese snacks were everywhere and I was surprised to see the original versions of some of the stuff being peddled back home such as belekoy.
What made some of the food shops specializing in certain products unique was that they were making the snacks fresh. One shop which was selling something that looked and tasted like peanut squares had 2 men pounding a sheet of the snack and rolling it. Really fun to watch.
But my best food experience was dropping by a tea house with the waiters in traditional clothes. I had a bowl of some kind of a sweet greenish thick soup made of sesame seeds. The server merely poured some hot water on a bowl which held some dried stuff. It was good but really sweet.
I took a short detour from the main road and found myself in a nice quiet street with hardly anyone there. That’s what I like about Qinhefang. All it takes is a few steps and you’re away from the crowd.
Rounding out a corner, I found myself on the other end of the main road and stumbled on two “heritage” brands, Honeymoon Dessert which serves Chinese dessert soups such as Waterchestnut Soup and a restaurant that was about a hundred years old.
Strangely, I ditched the dessert but headed for the restaurant where I had dumplings and a dish of fish that was really good. The fish was strange though as the meat looked like strips. They had a picture menu and the woman suggested the fish which she said was very good.
Even if you’re not buying anything, Qinhefang is a nice place to just meander along and peep into some of the shops and cafes. Some of them, such as the medicine shops and restaurants have been around for ages and carry the distinction of being some sort of a heritage brand (they have plaques on their walls announcing this). I especially like the medicine shops with their white-uniformed attendants and rows of cabinets from which come out exotic ingredients. Unfortunately, the museum of the Hu Qing Yu Tang medicine shop was closed already. Only the shop with its beautiful ceiling of delicately carved wood was open.
As a cultural street, lots of shops were those of master craftsmen such as this one who does whole buildings and pagodas made out of bronze! In fact, the entire store, from the entrance all the way inside were made of bronze. There were replicas inside and they were amazing. The prices for the sculptures were of course expensive.
My most treasured moment was stumbling on a Pintang performance. The traditional story-telling performance featured a middle-aged woman with a zither and clappers. She was mesmerizing to watch as she was full of energy and even if I couldn’t understand a single word she was saying, her actions, delivery, and facial expression were enough to keep me entertained.
My best souvenir from Hangzhou was my own seal with both my name in English and Chinese carved on it. It cost RMB 60 plus RMB10 for a small can of red ink. It took about 5 minutes to carve. There was an English-Chinese dictionary of names. Mine had two scripts but and the girl read my Chinese name aloud. I chose the second one because it sounded closer to my English name.
Heading back to the hostel, I decided to walk through the lake side from the Orioles park though it was past 10pm already. The pathways were well-lighted and there were still a lot of people in the park. The lake was beautiful as light shimmered on the tranquil water. I sat quietly on the boat dock and just let the scenery take over me. It was perfect.
I am back in Shanghai from the gardens of Suzhou and the lake of Hangzhou. The train ride from Hanhzhou had a bit of an adventure (see the Chinese Train Experience below). But all turned-out well and here I am refreshed, renewed, and excited to back once more.
I first arrived in this vibrant city past midnight of Saturday after my flight from Manila. The first thirty or so minutes of the flight was a little unnerving as right after take-off as the plane was climbing steeply it hit some turbulence and rocked a bit. It was weird—turbulence right after take-off. The seat-belt sign went on a few times with the plane shaking a bit but at least there wasn’t any dives. Nobody seemed disturbed. We arrived ahead of schedule and I was out of the airport a little past 12. and took one of the cabs at the taxi line to Biktime Hostel at Xianjang Road (RM 230). My reservation was there and I went up a flight of stairs to the dorm-room. I took the only vacant bed in the 4-bed room and the people stirred a bit when I entered. I just plopped by pack down, took off my shoes, and slept.
I woke-up around 7 and only then saw my dorm-mates. On the top bunk was a chubby Malay-looking guy who was awake already. The other bunks were occupied by a young European couple.
I took a quick shower and fixed my stuff. Forgetting something, when I returned to the room, the guy, who was clad only in boxers, was up and had a hard-on poking from his shorts. I think I he was about to do a little loving to the girl as he was standing by her bunk. Hehehehe.
Biktime is a couple of blocks from the East Nanjing Metro and the pedestrian section of the road. The interiors have a charming bohemian feel ( I think a lot of hostels consciously try to do this) but the dorm room was small though the bed was comfortable. The showers could also be better and they should add at least one more Western-style toilet as there was only one for the entire floor!
I was leaving for Suzhou the next day so priority was to get my train ticket at the main railway station which was a quick ride away on the Metro. Shanghai’s metro system is simply fantastic with 10 lines serving various parts of the entire Shanghai area, not just the center. The ticketing, the traffic flow, the trains, are just perfect. On my way to the East Nanjing station, I grabbed a quick breakfast of fried dough sticks and what looked like a perfect square of bread deep fried at a roadside stall. When I bit into it, I thought it was hash browns, a few more bites and then I realized it was rice!
The Chinese Train Experience. At the main railway station, machines were dispensing tickets and as I would experience later on the train to Suzhou and the train from Hangzhou to Shanghai, there is a lot I need to learn about riding trains, especially in China.
First mistake was thinking that economy was the hard seat. So I bought a business class ticket for RM65 for the 35 minute trip. Finding my way around the massive station was easy enough as electronic boards announced the train number, time, and the waiting area. About 10 minutes before departure, the platform for getting to the train is announced (thankfully with an English translation) and the electronic board lights up. People start to queue and once the gates open, there is a mad rush for the train.
I get into one of the cars and look for my seat number. It is only when someone comes to claim my seat that I realize there is a car number. It turns out I was at car# 2 which was economy. The train attendant who is dressed like a flight attendant looks at me and tells me I am at car#7. I rush through the corridor to get to my car. If economy had airline-type seats, business had airline business class type seats. The leg room was wide and the seat was big. I looked weird with my large pack and dressed in shorts and shirt mixing in with what loooked like a business crowd. The RM65 for the 35 minute ride was probably the most expensive I have ever paid for land transportation.
Where’s My Seat? The train ride back to Shanghai this morning from Hangzhou was close to being a nightmare. I arrived at the Hangzhou station a little past 9am. I had asked the girl at the hostel to write on a card the destination and time in Chinese. There were almost 30 ticket booths and I was pointed to either booths 22 or 23. I showed the girl the card. She said something in Chinese which I nodded to and paid. The waiting lounge was full and I stayed behind a group of Europeans. A uniformed lady was urging the people to go upstairs. I showed her the ticket and she pointed up and made sitting motions. She did the same to the Europeans. I took it to mean that there were seats upstairs. So I went up and there were seats. I went down and back to the line 15 minutes before the 10:02 which was departure time. Finally the gates opened and we all rushed to the train. I went to car#2 (which was on my ticket). So where do I sit? I noticed that my ticket had no seat number but there were Chinese characters. I figured that the characters probably stood for a number. I asked this pretty young girl what my seat number was and she looked at my ticket and said “you have not seat.” My worst fear had come true! I had no seat on a 1 hr and 20 minute ride! “Why wasn’t I given a seat?” “You bought a ticket that had no seat,” she said. “But I paid the same amount.” She loooked puzzled and told me to wait while she looked for someone to ask. I saw a train attendant and pointed her out. They spoke and the train attendant explained that there was no seat but I could go to first class, look for an empty seat and pay an additional RM 12. I really couldn’t thank the girl enough as she was very very helpful and didn’t let up until she could help me. I had less than 5 minutes to rush from car #4 to car#13 which was first class. I went to the platform and made a mad dash for it. I hopped on to the #13 and explained to the train attendant my predicament. She asked me to just choose a vacant seat which I did as soon as the train started to move. Seveal passengers were still heading to other cars. A few minutes later a wel-dressed mother and daughter arrived with the mother giving me the evil eye. “Are you seated here?” She nodded haughtily. I stood up and tansferred to the next seat. She said something to her daughter and placed a magazine for her to sit on. Thankfully, no one else came to claim my seat. I paid my RM12 to the nice train attendant from car#4 and settled in. Looking back, maube that’s what the ticket seller was telling me, that there was no more seats at economy.
Lesson learned: Ask someone not to just write the time and destination but also that there should be a seat.
That was my experience with Chinese trains. Anyway, back to my Shanghai Day 1.
Shanghai Day. After purchasing my train ticket, I was back at Line 1 and got off at the People’s Square station (RM 3) . Exiting the subway, when I emerged from the station, the first sight that greeted me was the public toilet where you drop a coin to use it.
Lonely Planet Shanghai guidebook on hand, I followed the walking tour and started at Renmin Square.
First stop was the Shanghai Museum that stood out in the center of Renmin Park. There was a long line as security was quite tight. Bags had to go through an ex-ray machine and even my bottle of water was inspected. The guard asked me to take a sip just to make sure it was really water. The museum has different galleries which were all laid out very nicely and had English captions. But most important and impressive of which was the one housing its bronze collection. Bronze has always been integral in human history and just as what the Chinese did with pottery through their masterful handling of porcelain, so did they too with bronze.
A large gallery displayed Chinese scroll paintings some of them painted on rice paper while others on silk. I have always enjoyed looking at Chinese landscape painting with their unique take on perspective and depth and their delicate brushstrokes. The exhibit on the different Chinese ethnic groups also seemed popular. The ceremonial masks from Tibet and those of other highland groups were elaborately carved and designed and were truly works of art. People were queuing at to the Russian exhibit on Catherine the Great so I skipped it.
The imposing and modernist Shanghai Grand Theater looked like it was ready to fly off the ground with its roof of upturned eaves similar to the traditional roofs of houses during the Song Dynasty. It’s all-glass facade reflected the sky for an airy and light feel. On their line-up was Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nebelung.”
Opposite the theater was the Shanghai Government Building which looked so staid and so typical of a government building. Turning right at North Huangpi Road, there is Tomorrow Square with its glass tower reaching up to the sky. It also houses the Mariott Hotel and is beside Ciro’s Plaza which it totally dwarfs.
Detours away from the beaten trail are always fun. Leaving Huangpi I crossed the street on the side of Tomorrow Square and walked to the Bird, Flower and Fish Market at Jiangyin Rd. In spite of the skyscrapers towering above the quiet street the atmosphere was old Shanghai. Locals went about quietly with their business while the sound of birds and crickets filled the air. Store fronts displayed birds and crickets in cages while other had large aquariums of colorful fish. One large shop had cricket cages of all kinds from simple wooden ones to more elaborate lacquered types. I should have bought one of the cricket cages which looked very cute.
Back at the main road and on to West Nanjing, on the right is the Shanghai Art Museum with its vine-covered walls. Entrance was through the side. On the lawn opposite the doors, there was a large tarpaulin of someone and flower stands were being arranged around it. There seemed to be an event so I didn’t go in. It’s a pity that the centerpiece of the museum, the clock-tower was appropriated as the entrance of Kathleen’s, a restaurant on the top floor, rather than the museum’s.
Beside the art museum grounds ss Barbarossa which seemed like a nice pit stop with its shady and leafy grounds but it looked like you needed to be in decent clothes and I was just in my sweaty shorts, t-shirt, and sandals. Continuing along the road, opposite is the Grand Theater which was Shanghai’s best theater in the 30’s. It’s wedged between some shops but I could imagine how nice it must have seemed before.
I also saw this nice building that seemed like an apartment block as washing was hanging from its balconies and windows. I took a picture of it at it looked so typically Asian:)
Yuyuan Gardens and the Search for Xialongbao
From Renmin Park, I took a cab to Yuyuan Gardens (RM 12) in search of Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant which is reputed to be THE place for xialongbao , those delicious steamed dumplings with broth inside. It was past 1 already and I was really hungry and disoriented. I was in search of a garden and was avoiding the entrance to the bazaars so I ended up at Taiping Garden instead. Ahout to faint from the heat and hunger, I bought 2 pieces baozi at Wa Nun Diang and made my way up to its restaurant hoping to grab a seat and order a proper meal. It was crowded and the line at the counter where you place and pay for your order was long. I left and ate my delicious baozi on the street. It was very savory as the filling was mushroom. Invigorated, I somehow found myself to the gardens. Apparently, the entrance to the garden was through the bazaar which I had been avoiding all the time.
It was very crowded in the bazaar and the streets between the shop buildings were narrow. Following the signs, I found Nanxiang and there was a looooonnnngggg line. I instead made my way to Ning Bo Dumplings, pointed to some dumplings displayed at cart and a baozi that had a straw and got a seat. I had my first taste of xialongbao and it was delicious! The baozi with a straw was really tasty and fun to eat. You had to sip the broth through the straw then eat the baozi.
The bazaar was crowded with people and it was quite hard to browse at the shops. Souvenir stalls crowded each other out for space and buyers. I resisted the temptation to buy some stuff as I was heading to Suzhou and Hangzhou and didn’t want to lug so many stuff around with me. I had learned my lessons last year when I bought so much stuff in HCMC then had to carry it around with me all the way to the Mekong Delta, across the border to Cambodia, and then on to Bangkok. There was a small store selling musical instruments such as drums, cymbals, pipa, and erhu. I took note of the store (#36) so I could go back to it.
Just outside the garden and the bazaar is the City God Temple, a fairly large complex and that had a lot of people at lighting joss sticks inside. There was RM5 entrance fee to go inside but the temple wasn’t really interesting unless you’re a big fan of Chinese temples with giant-sized effigies.
After the hectic scene at Yuyuan, I crossed the park and made my way on foot to The Bund. From where I stood I could see the Orient Pearl TV Tower so I figured it wasn’t going to be much of a walk. About half-an hour later, I was at Shanghai’s most beautiful strip. It seemed so surreal as along East Zongshan Rd European colonial buildings massively stood while across the Huangpu River modern skyscrapers reached for the sky. The pedestrian walkway was expectedly crowded. While taking my picture with the Oriental Pearl Tv Tower behind me, a young Japanese couple stopped and the guy offered to take my photo. They probably felt sorry for me as I was holding-up my camera taking a self-pic. The Bund would have made a really nice walk but the sun was out in full force.
Leaving The Bund, I made my way back to the pedestrian strip of East Nanjing Road passing by the side of the Peace Hotel. If it weren’t for the Chinese script,the pedestrian part of East Nanjing Rd would have looked like the Las Vegas Downtown Strip. Hotels, department stores, malls, and shops lined the street while small electric train-like shuttles brought people up and down the kilometer long street. There were so many people it was difficult to walk on a straight line. Every meter or so, people would come up and hold-out small printed cards showing watches and clothes and ask you if you wanted to buy cheap shirts, Rolexes, and Iphones. Others would offer “massage with sexy ladies.” Sexy and well-dressed women would come-up and try to strike a conversation apparently offering the famous Shanghai Tea Scam that’s written in every guidebook.
For dinner, I had shengjian and fried rice bought at the food court at the second floor of the Shanghai First Food Store, a massive area with a ground floor selling probably every Chinese snack. Unlike xialongbao whichisi steamed, shengjian is pan-fried on a large black pan. Actually, I first had some dumplings filled with spinach and pine nuts at Wan Nun Diang also at the food court but it wasn’t very filling so I bought the dumplings and the fried rice.
Later in the evening, I met up with Rover, a local from Batou in Inner Mongolia. We went to the Bund which was beautifully lighted in the evening but was even more crowded. So we ended up at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at Xintiandi. A small area of renovated shikumen, Xintiandi, had a self-conscious atmosphere where people were dressed-up a little bit more while they sipped or dined al fresco. It was a nice place that was a big change from the pace and crowds at People’s Square but it all seemed too artificial to me.
It was past 11 when we left Xintiandi and decided to just walk back to East Nanjing which took from 30-45 minutes. Crossing the metro stations, people were rushing as the last trains were departing. It was almost midnight, when I got to East Nanjing. The neon lights were off but the pedestrian section was brightly lit with street lamps. People were still walking up and down the street with several coming-up to me and selling “massage with sexy lady.” When I got back to Biktime, my dorm mates were asleep already and the bunk above me was empty which meant that the occupant had gone home already.
So that was Shanghai in 24 hours.
After a 35 minute train ride, I disembarked at the massive train station in Suzhou and made my way to the taxi line. The heat was sweltering and the line was long and people were trying to squeeze past everyone. Thankfully, taxis were plentiful and there wasn’t much of a wait. A middle-aged man was shouting at one of the guards who initially ignored him but with the way the guy was shouting he probably couldn’t help himself and answered back. They were still at it when I got to my cab.
Winding my way to around the town, disappointment was my initial reaction. I was expecting parks and greens as I had come to Suzhou for its well-known gardens. Instead what greeted me was a small industrial town with factories and buildings. When the cab turned to away from the main road and entered a small arch, the surrounding seemed better as I started seeing swaying trees and areas of green. The driver finally stopped just outside a small compound and pointed to a building. I doubted him and insisted we were at the wrong street. He pointed to the number (which was correct) but still I insisted as I didn’t seem to see any hostel. I got down and showed the address to the guard and he pointed to an entrance on the side. I paid the driver the RM 12, got my pack and entered the building. It was indeed the Suzhou Lohas Youth House. It was a really nice place with a large common area and bar with billiards and free internet. Better yet, I was all alone in the 4-bed dorm room and was only paying RM25/bed. It was like having my own single room. The staff at the counter looked like they were still in college and spoke good English. I dropped my pack in the room and headed out to the gardens. It was almost 10 am and I was determined to max out the day as I was heading to Hangzhou the next morning.
Disoriented as always, I walked to the direction of the zoo so I had to backtrack a bit and walk to the opposite direction. I passed by several dog grooming shops and there were lots of locals walking cute dogs. They seem to like dogs here.
Lion’s Grove wasn’t difficult to find as it was on the first corner and near the tourist office where I got a map. Besides the sheer number of buses parked outside and the hordes of people on tour following the flag of the tour guide is a bigger beacon than any street sign. The garden was laid out in 1342 by a monk who named it after his teacher who lived in Lion Rock Mountain which explains the interesting man-made hill made of stone that you climb up and go around like a maze. It was actually quite difficult to get out of it so I just climbed down some parts rather than go through the maze. The garden is huge with lots of pavilions and pools. Unfortunately, not even the immense space of the garden could quite accommodate the many tour groups and the ir noise which detracted from the atmosphere the garden was supposed to invoke.
Between the main pavilion and the pond was a stone boat which was placed there to link the land the sea. It was meant to be an element that provides transition between the two. Here I am seated at the stern of the boat with the pond behind me. If you’re wondering how I get that picture, a Japanese tourist asked me to take his picture so of course, I asked him to take mine.
This other one is on a stone pathway leading to the exit. Nope, this wasn’t taken by another solo traveler. I simply put my camera on some stones and put it on timer mode.
At the garden exit, restaurants lined the road and I entered one which seemed to be run by a family with the mom doing the cooking. I had some braised pork and sweet and sour fish. The servings were good for 2 people and the food was really tasty. The road ended up at the main road from where I turned right to a pedestrian lane where the Suzhou Museum with its white walls is. Unfortunately, being a Monday, it was closed. On the opposite side were souvenir shops selling fans, silk, and other items. I entered a shop selling stuff made out of indigo colored cloth with white designs. I was poking around the shop and could easily have pocketed some of the smaller items as the guy manning it was asleep and snoring loudly. A few meters down the road was The Humble Administrator’s Garden, one of the largest classic gardens and which was built in 1509.
There were less people here maybe because it was noon time and the tour groups were having lunch. The garden was really big and as you enter, you are greeted by pond filled with lotus. At the center of the garden is a large pool with two islands connected to each other by a zigzagging bridge. My favorite pavilion was the one that had attached small pavilions on each corner of the main pavilion. The glass walls were blue and white and with the light streaming inside, it was very beautiful.
Outside the garden is another garden displaying hundreds of pretty bonsai trees and plants. I accidentally wandered in here as I was looking for my way out.
Since the other gardens were too far away to walk to and the heat was really getting in to me, I negotiated a pedal driven tuktuk (I don’t know if that’s what they call it here) for RM 150 to bring to the Master of Nets, the Lingering Garden, the Kunqu Opera Museum, and to the Temple of Mystery.
It seemed quite logical to go to the Lingering Garden first as the map showed it was the nearest but the driver brought me to Pungjiang Street first where the Kunqu Opera Museum is. Pungjian is a preserved traditional street where houses and shops still retain the traditional architecture. As we made our way along the narrow street, the driver would fold the tuktuk’s canopy at certain parts just so we could pass.
There was no one at the museum except for a bored security guard who looked surprised when I came in. The front part of the museum has displays of window carvings showing scenes from the opera and a big statue of a Chinese opera master. The real gem is the traditional opera stage at the central courtyard which was built during the Ming Dynasty. Overlooking the courtyard were corridors lined with tables and chairs. I can imagine how fun it would be to watch the antics of the Monkey King at the beautiful stage while sitting under the stars. in the courtyard Opposite the stage was a small air-conditioned theater where shows are apparently held. It was a little modern with sound systems but the seats were still the old set-up of wooden chairs and tables. Suzhou, being the historical home of the Kun Opera style, I was a bit surprised that the museum seemed quite neglected. Nearby was a row of stalls selling some souvenir items and antiques of dubious progeny and authenticity. I bought a tiny pair of shoes carved from bone. There were other interesting stuff such as folding slabs carved with love-making scenes from the “Pillow Books”, opium pipes, and some bronze figures; but they weren’t fascinating enough for me to part with my yuan.
It was a short ride to the Master of Nets Garden. This was just a small one but my favorite maybe because there were no tour groups, just people visiting the garden on their own. According to my Rough Guides China book, it is considered by many to be one of the finest gardens and I could see why. The pavilions were simply lovely with their fine lattice work and delicate interiors. One particular spot I liked was an low artificial hill made of stone that had steps leading to a study.
As you go in them, especially in pavilions used as studies, you get an insight into the contemplative nature of Chinese scholars. One study had beautiful views of the pond and the surrounding greenery. Alone in a pavilion I can’t help imagining myself in a richly-embroidered robe bent over a scroll and practicing my calligraphy.
We had to go through the main road with all the buses and the cars to get to the Lingering Garden which was a long way off. I pitied my driver as the sun was blazing hot and I was heavy and he had to pedal amongst the motoized vehicles. Fortunately, there were some lanes reserved for bicycles. We were in the busy commercial area where malls, modern shops, and big hotels were. Finally leaving the main road past a condominium development project which had traditional architectural details, we reached the garden. I was a little disappointed at this one as I expected a really nice garden that would encourage you to linger, as its name suggests. The buildings were nice though but the layout of the garden was pretty bland compared to the others. However, there was a pavilion where an opera performance was though it seemed a bit amateurish and at the pond a prettily made-up girl dressed in a flowing robe played the pipa while a guy rowed the boat.
The driver dropped me off at the pedestrian street of Guanquian Jie where two other smaller gardens were supposed to be within walking distance and where the Mystery Temple is. After all the greenery, it was a bit of a shock to be surrounded by shops this time. I guess every tourist town must have a pedestrian street for tourist retail therapy. Guanquian Jie ran perpendicular from Renmin Lu to Lindun Lu. There were more modern stores selling street fashion, KFC and Mcdonald’s though than souvenir shops. The only interesting ones were the food shoppes which werre selling a variety of snacks. One side street had two food stalls of which was selling something that looked like large spring rolls filled with vegetables. .
There was quite a wait so I transferred to another stall which was selling a crepe-like snack. It tasted quite good really.
The Mystery Temple is surrounded by a park with resting locals and a row of shops. It has always been the scene of a bazaar showcasing various wares and traveling performers. So it’s not surprising that it’s located on the center of the pedestrian commercial center.
It was a short walk to Punjiang Street. It was dusk already and most of the tourists were gone. Much of the foot traffic were of locals heading home or just hanging out at the many stone bridges. One woman was at the canal and seemed to be fishing with a long bamboo pole.
I dropped into a small cafe-store that was selling unique postcards and serving tea. There were lots of little bars and cafes where it would be nice to just sit back and watch the world go by. It was a pity that most were empty though.
I met up with a Filipino who’s been teaching in China for four years. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant a few hundred meters from the hostel. The entire first floor was a smoking area so we were brought to the second floor where we had a small room that had a table for six. It was an experience dining in your own private room. I mentioned to him that I used to teach college in English years ago. He looked at me in surprise and told me that the girl he had been texting earlier had been looking for an English teach to handle a class for the next few days. He called her and told him about me. I was to give my resume and go for an interview the next day and if I pass, they can extend my visa, teach, and eventually go permanent. It was a tempting offer that I couldn’t take of course.
Back at the hostel, there weren’t much people still. I hanged around at the bar with a college kid from the UK who was traveling back to Shanghai the day after next for his flight back home. I went back to my room close to midnight only because UK kid said he was heading to bed. No one had yet checked-in at the dorm so I still had it all to myself.
I still hadn’t fully explored Suzhou but what the few gardens I visited were really beautiful and gave me some understanding of Chinese landscape aesthetics. I like how they planned the gardens around the elements of the earth and how they are linked with each other. Going around the garden, you stumble on pockets of silence where you can just sit and ruminate away from the madding crowd. I guess that’s what Chinese gardens are all about—finding your own space.