Walking, walking, everywhere!
Fri 2 Mar 2007 - Fri 2 Mar 2007 16 °C
I was once again the lone traveler for day two of my Shanghai travels. In some ways, traveling alone gives you the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want, but there are also definite downsides. You can't comment on things to anyone else ("wow, look at that view"; "what were they thinking?"; "which way were we supposed to go now?") or get help making decisions on where to go or what to do next, and eating meals alone at restaurants isn't exactly the most fun activity, especially when you find yourself reading the Lonely Planet Shanghai guide from cover to cover just for something to do. However, I feel I make the best of it, mostly by being a good map-reader, taking time to make decisions, and talking to myself.
My first stop was the Jin Mao Tower 88th Floor Observatory. An absolute rip-off at Y70, but these things usually are. And anyway, I had money to blow, and I figured it may as well be on something like a great view of Shanghai from high up. Of course, there are things I could complain about - the haziness, the expense, and the other tourists - but it was interesting to look out over Shanghai from that vantage point. Shanghai is a huge city, not only population-wise (at the largest city in China, it is home to the same number of people as the entirety of Australia) but also in how much land it covers, and the amazing thing is that there are still development zones all over the city. A lot of the old city is being left alone now, but especially on the Pudong side there is lots of construction (right next door to the Jin Mao Tower is the site of the World Financial Center to-be). From that high up you can see the low-rise of the Bund and the high-rise of Pudong, and the rows upon rows of apartment buildings (some towers, others just six or seven stories tall) in complexes that are color-coded and the very vision of Chinese apartment life. I'm sure it's more spectacular on a clear day, but it was far better than the day before, when rain clouds obstructed the tower from view almost entirely.
Having started a little later than imagined, I lunched as soon as I got out of the Jin Mao Tower, over at the Super Brand Mall near the Riverside Park. The Super Brand Mall itself was something to behold - a real mall, in the sense that most Westerners understand it. I've been to lots of department stores in China, and buildings that seem more like shopping alleys packed into a lofty building, but not a real mall. This was a real mall, with all the brand names; not necessarily top-end brands (there's a mall like that in Xi'an), but middle-class brands like Quicksilver, H&M, and Mudd. The food court was standard: McDonalds and Hungry Jacks, Starbucks, and some other Asian food restaurants. I opted for the Thai restaurant, which was mentioned in the Lonely Planet city guide, and had my first Chinese Pad Thai - much more shrimpy than I like, but still very tasty.
From the Super Brand Mall, I made my way to the Riverside Park, where I wandered along the promenade looking over at the Bund daytime view. It was an interesting view, with the boats carrying advertisements and all, but nothing quite so spectacular as in the evening with the light show. Thinking of light shows, I finished my wander at the northern end of the Riverside Park and decided to check out what the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel was all about. The Lonely Planet city guide describes it as "a strangely pointless attraction", and notes that the flashing lights are "extremely under-whelming, unless of course they manage to induce an epileptic fit in one of your fellow travelers." I don't think I could agree more. It's definitely under-whelming, and sort of a waste of Y30, but I suppose you have to see it to believe it. It doesn't take very long, and the lights are too bright to make you feel like you're anywhere but a stupid tunnel going under the river, and even though they try to tie it together with different sections ("heaven and hell", "magma", "fossils", and "space lights" are the few I can remember), it doesn't really work and left me wondering "... what the hell was that for?"
After that fiasco, I took one of the walking tours in the Lonely Planet backwards from the exit of the tunnel. It is harder than you can really imagine to piece together a walking tour backwards, but only in knowing what you're supposed to be looking at. The map was easy to follow, but the instructions on what to look out for, what to take photos of, it was difficult to piece it all together. In any case, I managed it, and it was a lovely walk called "Beyond the Bund" that touched on a lot of old, untouched architecture from the early twentieth century. Since the writing of the edition that I have, a lot of the buildings have been marked as Heritage Architecture buildings and have plaques on them, which will undoubtedly be in the upgraded versions of the book, but I had to piece it all together myself. I saw some gorgeous pieces of architecture, a lot of which were banks, but there were a few buildings that used to be brothels and clubs, and there were also a couple of churches along the walk. A really enjoyable walk, but it didn't really feel like China most of the time - much like most of Shanghai.
After the walk, I ended up at Yan'an Donglu, which was the street I needed to be on to find the Shanghai Museum of Natural History. The Lonely Planet guide described it accurately as a "dusty museum" in a "drafty old building with bad lighting", but I'm not sure whether they meant to put it down or not. I found it a really enjoyable place, a building that obviously had a lot of history, and a museum with interesting and different displays from other natural history museums I've been to the world over. Definitely, as I noted to myself, the best Y5 I've spent in China. There were, as the book says, "a scary assortment of pickled and stuffed animals", but it was fascinating in its scariness. The main hall was the best by far, however, with huge, towering dinosaur skeletons found in Sichuan, a woolly mammoth skeleton from the Yellow River, a mummy section with two corpses from the Ming dynasty, and a section called "The History of Early Man" or some such title, documenting the history of human evolution, the rise of civilization, and the separation and distinctions between races. The latter was definitely most interesting, even if I couldn't understand it (as it was all in Chinese, but for introductions to different sections), and had the most creepy pickled animals - human fetuses from one month so six months old.
After gathering myself from museum foot, I wandered back up to Nanjing Donglu to look for a cafe to kill some time. The one in the Lonely Planet was a bust, so I found another one and sat around for a while (and did the aforementioned reading of the Lonely Planet city guide in full), had a mug of hot chocolate, and decided on my course for dinner. My feet were not holding out very well; when I got back, there was the biggest blister on my little toe I have ever seen, and I had been limping from hurting my right foot somehow since about halfway through the walking tour (I was about to cry from pain walking back from the museum), so I decided I would have an early dinner near home and call it a night. Nearly an hour in the coffee shop and I managed to make it all right to the Metro, changing lines, and a ten minute walk from the station to the restaurant I had picked out on Huaihai Lu.
I had Italian for dinner, a nice grilled sandwich and a glass of wine and coffee for a reasonable Shanghai mid-range price (ie, not Y12, but not Y200 either), and decided that I wasn't really disappointed I didn't have any Chinese food in Shanghai because... well, to be honest, I haven't found much Chinese food here, and what I have seen has been fast food crap which is inevitably bad fare. I did get decent order-in the first night with Fergus, but I wouldn't have liked to take my chances by myself when there were decent recommendations in the Lonely Planet anyway. Dinner was nice, I did some more reading of the Lonely Planet guide, and managed to let my foot rest enough that it was all right to take the walk back to Fergus' place. It was a good thing, too, because a taxi would have been annoying and expensive, and the walk was nice. It had been a really nice day, weather-wise, so it was still warm in the evening, and the streets were all lit up with shopping centers and advertisements, so it was good to get out and have a wander.
Then I made it back, uploaded my 80 photos from the one day (Luca took all the photos from the first day), and rested my feet up good.