A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: alexifer

Moved Blogs!

This is just an entry to let everyone who was previously subscribed to my Travellers Point blog that I kept in Xi'an that I have now created one for my time in Beijing.

It's at http://inthejing.travellerspoint.com and you can subscribe over there if you'd like!

'Til then!

- Alex

Posted by alexifer 01:53 Comments (0)

上海 Shanghai - Day Three

A little bit of shopping...

sunny 17 °C

Woke up very late on the last day - nearly 11AM by the time I woke up. I had inadvertently locked Fergus out of his place, so about an hour after I fell asleep I had to wake up again. Thankfully, I didn't feel all groggy and sleepy, so we stayed up talking and had a nice relaxing Japanese grapefruit and vodka concoction in a can that he had brought home, talking about China and Shanghai and what our plans were for the next day. Of course, as plans are wont to do, they didn't remain, and had to change through the day, but in the end it was for the best, and today was far less stressful than I had anticipated.

After messing around for a while, showering and packing up the last of my things, putting Band-Aids on our various battle wounds (my blisters and Fergus' thumb stitches), we made our way out to Yuyuan Gardens, braving the crowds for what are apparently the best steamed dumplings in Shanghai. When they're in season, apparently, crabs are the biggest thing in Shanghai, and the Nanxiang Dumpling House at Yuyuan Gardens has the best crab meat dumplings and other fare in Shanghai. Of course, there are always massive crowds even without the dumplings, and we had to wait in line for half an hour to get a table that we had to share with five other people. In the end, it was nice and communal, and the food was well worth it.

What we ate was delicious, but it sounds absolutely disgusting, so prepare yourself for gross-sounding names. The specialty are crab brain soup dumplings, which are divine; they're filled with crab brain soup, and the trick to eating them is to bite a small hole in the side, suck out the soup, and then shove the whole thing in your mouth. I can't remember the name of the dumplings, but we made up a cross-cultural phrase that plays on the "don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs", only replaced "eggs" with the name of the dumplings. There were also shrimp balls, with crab something-or-other inside, and triangles made with spring roll wrappers that had tofu and crab ovaries in it. They sound gross, yes, but they were absolutely delicious.

Then we had a wander from Yuyuan Gardens, over to Xin Tian Di area, which translates to New World, roughly. It's sort of like the Rocks in Sydney, where they've kept lots of old buildings and done them up with cafes and restaurants and a live music venue. It's a smallish area, but the buildings were all built close together, so there are lots of little alleys, and it's home to some of the best and most modern restaurants in Shanghai. The architecture is called Shikumen, which has something to do with the stone and brick architecture. Short buildings, but gorgeous, and a nice walkthrough.

From there, we walked down the main shopping street of Huaihai Lu (where I had had dinner the night before; much better during the night with all the lights on, though!) and back to Fergus' apartment for last minute-type things. Somewhere in there I got all my shopping done, and my foot started to hurt, but it all worked out in the end. Fergus helped me to the Magnetic Levitation station, and my bags were manageable from there, with the aid of carts and everything. At the airport, I found that my bags were overweight and had to contend with that, but it turned out all right in the end, as my parents had given me some extra emergency money. Smooth sailing from then, though; I've been on enough flights that I really feel comfortable catching flights. And the Chinese customs officer was the smiliest customs officer I've ever had to deal with!

The flight home was good; nothing really went amiss and I saw a couple of movies - The Prestige and A Night At The Museum, both of which were all right, thought the first was a little dark for an in-flight movie - and finished up a book I borrowed from Garth in Guangdong. I didn't get any sleep, but by the time I got back to Sydney, my energy was back, just in time to show off all my photos to the family!

Posted by alexifer 19:53 Archived in China Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

上海 Shanghai - Day Two

Walking, walking, everywhere!

sunny 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.

Posted by alexifer 19:51 Archived in China Tagged postcards Comments (0)

上海 Shanghai - Day One

Rain, rain, go away!

rain 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.

Posted by alexifer 19:49 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Last Few Hours in Xi'an!

Just before handing the modem back

overcast 8 °C

Well, I'm off! I woke up this morning to return the modem, so I thought I'd post a little something letting everyone know what's going on. Here's the plan, Stan!

1. Return modem at about 9AM. Receive Y300 deposit back, yay!
2. Kill a little time maybe, until an early lunch time at 11:00.
3. Make tracks to get myself into the city with all my bags (Malcolm is going to help me) and to the airport link bus stop for the 1PM bus.
4. Get to the airport around 2PM, one hour before my departure time.
5. Check in and wait around for my 2:55 flight.

Then there's the flight, which will be nearly two hours, and that's sort of boring so I won't bother talking about how that will go (find seats, eat peanuts, etc.)

Then in Shanghai, the friend I'm staying with is unable to meet me at the airport, but he's given me good instructions as to how to get into the hotel he will be working at. It requires taking the Magnetic levitation airport express train (whee!), transferring to the Metro, and then taking the train a couple of stops into the center of Shanghai, where he will be waiting for me outside the hotel.

That, or I decide my Y300 deposit money would be better spent than saved and I get myself a taxi to the hotel because my bags prove to be too heavy or annoying. ;)

Two friends from Xi'an are in Shanghai travelling at the moment, and really only one viable day (tomorrow) crosses over, so I'm going to give them a ring tonight and arrange to meet up. They're staying in the campus accommodations at the Shanghai Jiaotong University, which is pretty cool! It also seems they have the internet in their room, so they are well set up. ;) I found online that there's a nice river cruise you can take down the Hungpu river for Y120 for a 3.5 hour trip, so I thought I might do that with them seeing as they have already done all the other things on my list. ;)

Then there will be museums and shopping streets and the Jin Mao Tower view, and the Bund (I have procured a walking map that shows you where you can see the Bund best from the opposite side; there's a Starbucks and Hagen Daaz that you can just sit in for hours, which sounds pretty awesome to me! Other than that there's a historical park in the old section of the town, and old residences of Sun Yat-Sen and Zhou En-lai, and another pretty park in the French Concession area. There'll be plenty for me to do and see, fill up my days with.

If there's nothing (or if this sniffle I seem to have acquired plagues me more than necessary), I'm sure my friend has the internet at home, so I'm sure I'll be able to post something just before I come home.


Posted by alexifer 16:56 Archived in China Tagged preparation Comments (1)

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