We left for Shanghai on a very impressive high speed bullet train which took us the 110 miles in under 50 minutes. From what I understand, it was only traveling at half of its top speed, which makes me wonder why we don’t have high speed rail in the US. It’s definitely my new favorite way to travel. It’s like traveling by plane without all the hassles. It’s also a little bit cheaper, and the seats are more comfortable.
When we arrived in Shanghai, Vicky’s dad had already arranged for someone to pick us up from the train station and take us to a restaurant to eat before going to the hotel because we got there right in the middle of rush hour. So, we stopped in a random underground parking lot outside of the city (the train station is about as far outside of Shanghai as O’Hare is from Chicago), and after a quick elevator ride, I found myself inside the nicest restaurant we visited during the trip. The people who picked us up from the airport were business associates of my father-in-law, and I guess they wanted to impress him with a great meal with a bunch of Shanghai specialties.
Finally, after eating a fantastic meal filled with dishes chosen by everyone else based on what they thought I would like (which was very welcome after the less than great meals we ate in Hangzhou), we headed for the city itself through some very thick traffic. It was okay, though, because I got the chance to check out a bunch of the architecture (albeit from a car window) along the way. At one point I asked how old some skyscrapers I saw were, and our host (for lack of a better term) told me that they were really old, built about 25 years ago. I laughed and said that, in America, most of our tall buildings are much older than that and that it’s a big deal for a city to construct a new building. She said that new buildings are made all the time in Shanghai and the rest of China because there is much less red tape than in the US and because construction costs are much lower. She would know because she works for a company that produces elevators.
Our hotel was located right off of Nanjing Street, a famous pedestrian road with a bunch of restaurants and shopping centers, so that’s where we spent a lot of our free time during our stay. Some of the highlights of Nanjing Street are the first arcade I visited during the trip, a nice bookstore in which I bought “Catching Fire”, the second Hunger Games book, to read on the plane back to Harbin, a giant, multilevel food court, and an interesting encounter that took place outside of an ice cream shop.
When in Hangzhou, we met up with my wife’s friend who was in town visiting her parents for a few weeks during a vacation from school in Europe. Another of her friends and one of Vicky’s classmates from high school was also visiting Hangzhou at the time, so we all spent one afternoon together. Both girls were really nice and were willing to try speaking English with me as much as possible. Anyway, one of the nights in Shanghai, Vicky and I decided to get some ice cream at a place on Nanjing Street. After eating, we sat and relaxed inside the shop for about 20-25 minutes before getting up to leave and continue walking along the road. Right at the moment we left the shop, the girl we met in Hangzhou was walking by and recognized us. We were absolutely surprised considering the chances of that happening are astronomically low. Not only did she happen to decide to visit Shanghai after Hangzhou, but she also decided to check out Nanjing Street (remember that Shanghai is the biggest city in China with more than 23 million people – almost 3x that of New York City, so there are plenty of places to see). In addition, she happened to be there the same night as us, and we didn’t go there every evening. Also, she was walking by the ice cream store right as we decided to leave (and our decision to leave at that moment was entirely arbitrary). Anyway, it was our last night there and we were heading back to our hotel to rest for the flight the next morning, so we only chatted and walked with her for a couple of blocks before sending her on her way with a bus pass we had bought earlier and no longer needed.
Other cool places near our hotel included a cheap convenience store right across the street which we bought breakfast from every morning and a small mall that was completely filled with board game shops. I mentioned these a bit more in my minipost on board games in China, but suffice to say that there are tons of places in China to play and buy board games. We also took a cab out to Leihuo arcade in a different section of town, which is supposedly the best arcade in all of China. While it was full of tons of games and had a very strong selection of King of Fighters players, I generally enjoyed the other, more Japanese-style arcades full of music games and bright lights, than LeiHuo. I’m sure, however, that I would go there all the time and level up my KOF if I lived in Shanghai or was visiting for an extended period of time.
One of the days we were in Shanghai could almost count as visiting another whole city since we drove out about an hour and a half to Zhujiajiao Ancient Town, a small village with a river winding its way through. It was filled with quaint shops selling everything from touristy plastic crap to original artwork and homemade food. We took a ton of pictures and videos there, and we rode a boat piloted by an old lady who asked us if we wanted to listen to her sing while she rowed. It was a pretty cool place, and the food we ate was delicious. Near the end, we almost got lost because we were wandering for quite some time.
Although we had to deal with some inclement weather, we did quite a bit of travelling by foot while in Shanghai. One of the trips we made three times was to the river which separated the downtown financial district from the rest of the city. We took pictures and videos from both sides and even rode through a cool, psychedelic tunnel under the river at one point. The skyline of the financial district is probably the most famous view in all of Shanghai, with the Oriental Pearl Tower as the main focal point, and let me tell you that the view did not disappoint.
On one of these expeditions (I can’t remember which), I declared that I just had to eat KFC and Pizza Hut in China at least once each. I had heard that they are much different than in the US and that they even qualify as restaurants you would take someone out on a date to. Well, here’s my quick review of both. First, KFC: Aside from some different menu choices, there’s not much interesting about it in China expect for the fact that KFC is everywhere. It seemed to be even more common than McDonald’s is in the US. Pizza Hut, on the other hand, was amazing! It’s a high-end restaurant that not only features strange and interesting pizza, but also has steak, wine, and a huge menu full of other Chinese takes on Western food. We ate a pizza with steak, corn, and bell peppers with stuffed crust and a black pepper spicy sauce instead of a tomato-based traditional pizza sauce. I liked it so much that I ordered the same thing again when Vicky and I went to Pizza Hut later in Harbin.
Another cool area we went to was the Yuyuan Temple and the surrounding garden. It was cool to see people praying at the small temple and to walk through some of the same places that ancient Chinese dignitaries would have gone to relax. We also visited a touristy shopping area that looks like those you might see in a Chinese movie – small alleyways with people hawking their wares, quaint little restaurants and bars, and lots of bicycles and motorbikes parked outside.
Of course, Shanghai was not the the end of our trip, so we had to yet again hop on a plane, this time to head back to Harbin for the next part of our stay. One of the coolest parts about this trip was riding the Shanghai Maglev – the first train of its kind to be available for commercial use in the whole world – to the airport. It was very similar to the bullet train we took to get into Shanghai, but it uses even more advanced technology despite being slightly older.
Stay tuned for Part 3 – Harbin!