Rain, rain, go away!
Wed 28 Feb 2007 - Thu 1 Feb 2007 15 °C
My first evening in Shanghai was short-lived, mostly spent getting into the city, finding Fergus, and drinking cocktails with a chef from Three The Bund and a supply agent from Germany, which was all fantastic in itself, but not really enough to write about. My first day, however, was packed full of interesting things, intrigues, and... well, rain.
A couple of friends from Xi'an were in Shanghai and had been for a couple of days, on the end of their New Years travels to Qingdao. Since I hadn't seen them before I left for Guangdong (they left the morning I arrived back in Xi'an), I met up with them at their lodgings at the original Jiaotong University here in Shanghai. Finding them entailed blindly guessing at the fare for a couple of stops (I worked out later that you could press what stop you wanted to go to just as easily), getting lost with how many Metro exits there were, and giving my umbrella a fair workout. I did, however, meet them at exactly the time we had agreed upon, which made me feel much better about the whole "getting lost thing". Our first stop was a steamed bun shop just down the road for a mid-morning snack, and then the convenience store across the road for umbrellas (they had forgotten theirs).
Our first real stop was the Jade Buddha Temple, which was about a twenty-minute walk from the train station Metro stop, over a massive footbridge, a little bridge over the Wusong River, and past a restaurant that still seemed to think it was New Years (it is, actually, technically, until Monday and the Lantern Festival) and was letting off a long string of very loud fire-crackers. The temple itself was also lovely, made a little quieter from New Years tourists and somehow older and more mysterious by the rain that didn't stop falling. There were a few main halls at the beginning, opening with three huge Buddha statues to which people were fervently praying, other gods all along the walls, and also a bell that people prayed to, along with the obligatory incense burning in the courtyard, despite the rain. The Jade Buddha itself (which cost another Y10 to see) was spectacular, though it is unfortunate that photography was strictly forbidden. It's a large, reclining Buddha, in this huge room with smaller Buddhas carved into the ceiling, encrusted with jewels and gold - quite a sight to see, and it apparently weighs more than 1000kg!
After wandering through a bit more of the temple (mostly to stay out of the rain for as long as possible), we went back to the Metro, though on the walk there I had to finally lay to rest my poor umbrella. It had treated me well for two whole years (I bought it in Vancouver on my round-the-world trip), but unfortunately just could not withstand the wind and rain any longer. I left it on the sidewalk, and we hoped that someone would pick it up and made use of it until it finally tore apart, never knowing that it was from halfway around the world (though, probably made in China).
Next on the list was The Bund, one of the most famous streets in China. (Though, really, can you think of any others?) By that point, however, we were decidedly hungry and tired (and more than a little wet - my shoes were soaked through and filled with water by the end of the first walk to the Jade Buddha Temple), so we decided to walk from People's Square down Nanjing Donglu and get a nice Cantonese lunch at a restaurant in the Ramada. Of course, given the rain and our poor understanding of map scale, we overshot by far too much and decided that lunch at a Portuguese restaurant that we just happened to pass would be much better suited to our tastes. It was a Macau Portuguese restaurant, so there was a lot of fusion-type stuff, but it was pretty standard fare for pretty standard prices. We spent as long as we could there, and after our meal I wrung out my socks in the bathrooms (literally).
Once we left the restaurant, we were blessed with clear skies and no rain, so there was nothing hindering us for the rest of the day. We wandered down to The Bund, as promised, walked along the promenade, and looked over at the Pudong skyline. It struck me then how interesting a juxtaposition the two banks of the Pudong river really are: on the one side, you have The Bund, which is all old, 1920s French architecture, and on the other, you have the modern Pudong high-rise office buildings jutting into the skyline rather impressively. The Bund is my favorite part, though, and walking down the promenade I was much more focused on that side than Pudonng.
We kept walking and decided maybe we would make our way down to the Yuyuan Gardens. (An aside: In English, this is a pretty redundant name, as the "yuan" in Yuyuan means "garden".) We didn't make it, though, because our feet were tired and we came across another park, the Ancient City Park, where we had a wander around, poked at a frog, and found a coffee shop to rest our feet again. It was mostly killing time, because we had eaten lunch late, and yet it was too early for dinner, so we sat around in the Black Orchid coffee shop inside the park and played with the candles, complained about Celine Dion, and watched the goldfish in the pond.
We did make it to the Yuyuan Gardens after resting our feet, but by the time we got there the actual gardens were closed and all that remained were the bazaar markets. Here, "bazaar markets" should be read as "tourist traps". It wasn't as bad as all that, of course -- well, it was, but the lighting displays that were on for New Years (and some that looked year-round) were just so cheesy that laughing at it and finding both Starbucks and Dairy Queen within the old Ming Dynasty gardens was just as enjoyable as if there were real bazaar markets (à la Great Mosque road in Xi'an). We wound our way through everything eventually, down Old Street, which was filled with more markets and tourist trinkets and souvenir shops, and back up to the closest Metro station, about a half hour walk back to Nanjing Donglu.
We made a pit stop on the way to dinner, back at Fergus' place, for me to pick up a fresh set of shoes and some money. I forgot the money after all the palaver with my shoes, but it worked out all right in the end - I came back for the money after dinner. Dinner was lovely - on a really nice restaurant and bar street called Hengshan Lu, we found a Middle Eastern restaurant called 1001 Nights. By the time we got there, it was just time for the live belly dancing to start, which was definitely a highlight of the evening, even if the music was a little too loud to accommodate mealtime conversation. It worked out all right, though, because we were so ravenous and the food was so delicious that we didn't need to talk through the twenty minutes it took us to eat the whole meal. The whole meal included falafels, a salad (both shoved into warm pita bread), a stew-type thing with gorgeous lamb and vegetables, and two sets of kebabs. It was absolutely divine after a long day's walking.
After an annoying stop back at Fergus' for money, we took the train quickly out to Pudong to catch the lights on the Bund. Since there's a power shortage in China, most of the lights in Shanghai turn off at 10:30pm (along the Bund and Pudong shoreline are the most noticeable, though). We made it to the shoreside Häagen Dazs at about ten, which was later than any of us would have really liked, but it gave us enough time to take a few photos and sit down with our ice-creams and enjoy the view for fifteen minutes before the lights shut off all at once. Which was amusing to watch, at any rate. We hung around at Häagen Dazs until a little after eleven, since I had been told the Metro stops at midnight, but this was clearly false by the time we got to the shuttered-up Liujiazui station, so we had to catch a taxi back into Fergus' place first (just that leg of the trip was Y25!) and then I said goodbye to Luca and Sarah for the last time (they left the next afternoon) and they went ahead to their hotel.
Needless to say, I collapsed that evening and couldn't think of waking up until 10AM the next day.