Okay, so I left off last time when Moriah, Devy, and I had boarded the plane headed to Shanghai. Because of our detour to Macau, we only had two days in Shanghai. However, Moriah had been there before and knew all the best spots so we were able to fit in all of her favorites.
Night 1 (continuation of the last post): When we landed, thankfully my mother had sent me some Yuan so I had cab fare to the ship. We grabbed a taxi and to our delight, found that the back of the front seats had a screen on it for touch screen games. Moriah and I happily figured out Chinese games for the entire forty-five minute ride back. We passed through the city and it was not what I had expected at all. The city is enormous. The skyscrapers are all lit up at night and huge TVs decorate the main intersections, like times square, but bigger. As usual, we were all nervous that we wouldn’t end up at the right place. We had the port name written in Chinese for the driver, but who knew what that actually said? Finally, we saw the lights of our ship and it felt like coming home. Stepping out of the cab was absolutely freezing. We rushed onto the ship and got changed for a late dinner, seeing as it was already like 11 PM. Once we were changed, Moriah recommended that we go to Shin Tan Di, one of the trendy neighborhoods in the city. When we got off the ship though, the passport checkers wouldn’t let Devy out of the port because he had forgotten the copy of his passport (yes, apparently you need both your actual passport and your copy). So, he headed back and Moriah and I went out on our own. Thankfully, we had a guidebook with everything also written in Chinese so that the taxi driver knew exactly where we wanted to go. (For the rest of the trip we would forget the book and try to pronounce things. And we would try and say it exactly the way we had been told and the drivers would have literally no idea what we were saying. And then when they finally called someone and figured it out, they would then repeat what sounded to us like exactly what we had been saying over and over again to them. The lesson here is that inflection and accent are everything.) So, Moriah and I ended up in Shin Tan Di, which was also not at all what I was expecting. In the US when you think “trendy”, you think modern. Here though, the whole street was cobblestone. It was lit by tall tapered street lamps and the restaurants that lined either side of the pedestrian-only street were softly lit and crowded, even for the late hour. It was one of the coolest towns I have seen on my entire trip. We walked the length of the street and saw a million trendy bars and restaurants as well as some historical sights like the building where the communists would first meet when the party was just taking off and the oldest synagogue in Shanghai. We had a really hard time finding a restaurant we could actually afford, but finally we settled down in a little Italian café and shared a big salad. Even though the night was pretty low key, I was glad to be able to experience one of the most famous districts in Shanghai right off the bat. It really set the bar for the rest of my time there.
Day 1: The next morning, Skipper, Moriah, and I met up to go exploring. At first we had our hearts set on getting some good old fashioned Starbucks coffee, but the driver had no idea what we were saying (we were later told by a very nice Chinese man that in China Starbucks is referred to as the “US Embassy”). Instead, we headed to the Yu Yuan Gardens in the heart of Little China. Weird, since we were already in big China, but yeah. The cab ride there was short and also full of enthralling Chinese touch screen cab games. As soon as we were let off, we couldn’t figure out which direction to go to find the entrance to the gardens. And this is when we met the aforementioned little old Chinese man. He pointed us in the right direction and, when we asked how it was that his English was so superb, he explained that as a youth he had longed to move to America one day but as the eldest son, it was his duty to stay behind and take care of his very elderly parents. I imagine they were quite elderly indeed because this guy was at least 70. He said that his siblings lived in the States, but it was never to be for him and he had only been once. It was kind of sad. Anyways, in a genius marketing move, he told us that he was headed to his tea shop which was right on the way to the entrance to the gardens and that we could follow him and stop in at his shop on the way. With all day and no other plans, we followed eagerly. We followed him closely through the crowded cobblestone streets and passed huge pagodas (“Don’t take pictures!”, he said. “These were all built recently. Not impressive.”) We maneuvered around candy stores, souvenir shops, and at least three “Us Embassies”, Dairy Queens, and Hagen-das’. His shop was on the upper level of a pagoda, actually right across from a very famous and expensive teahouse that was in the middle of a koi-filled pond, the only point of access to which was a picturesque bridge. He sat us all down and told us that he would perform the tea ceremony for us, for free. He showed us many of the same teas I had seen before in Hong Kong, but this time also showed us the Jasmine tea. This tea actually comes as sealed flower buds. As you immerse them in hot water, they slowly bloom and reveal their color. It was beautiful. He also had an adjoining pearl shop and while the others drank more tea, I resisted buying anything. His fluency and kindness paid off, both Moriah and Skipper bought tea and he pointed us in the right direction for the gardens. Once inside the gardens, I realized why Moriah had recommended them. They were originally built during the Ming Dynasty to be the private gardens of a very rich man. And, they were gorgeous. Pagodas, hidden passageways, blossoming trees, narrow stone walkways, bridges, and weeping willows whose branches slowly traced ripples in the green ponds. The gardens stretched on forever, and in each pagoda lay another priceless artifact. We wandered through them for at least two hours. We had almost reached the exit when we came across a room full of ornate costumes. We learned that you could pay about a dollar to rent the costumes for fifteen minutes to take pictures in. Eagerly, we paid and were each dressed in a bright robe finished off with a fan and enormous headdresses. Then, we went out into the gardens and did a bunch of ridiculous and probably ethnically insensitive poses. The other tourists couldn’t get enough of us, though, and they insisted on taking a million pictures of us and with us. It was really fun. When we were finally done in the gardens, we remembered that the nice guy from before had pointed out a restaurant that he said had the best dumplings in all of Shanghai. When we had passed it before, at lunchtime, there was a line down the street. Now though, we figured it would be emptier and we headed over. Indeed, it was less crowded. Though, we still had to wait to be seated for about 20 minutes. It was well worth the wait. Not really knowing what we were ordering, we got few orders of dumplings and I got adventurous and ordered some sweet bean cakes and dumplings made of purple sweet potato. Everything was so delicious that literally, my mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. Also, we got to see the people making the dumplings right in front of us. The way they handle the thin dough and crimp the little packages was really impressive to me (and no one else). You better believe that I will be making dumplings upon my return. After a late lunch, we headed over to a market famous for its knock-off designer bags. However, after much shopping and arguing, we unfortunately found the prices to be much higher than just buying the real bag off ebay. But, I wont bore you with the details of our superb bargaining and how many times we had to walk out of the stores, only to be lured back in. I thought it was funny though, because the purses were shown to you only when you were escorted into a secret back room and huge suitcases full of bags were wheeled back to you for your perusing pleasure. It was very sketchy. After our long shopping fiasco, we decided to try out one of the restaurants we had read about in our guidebook. Our driver vehemently assured us he knew where he was going, but dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and then high tailed it. We were able to find another restaurant, but I guess that goes to show that when your taxi driver doesn’t speak English, you really never know where you’re going to end up. That night, we met up with our friend Jaime who was celebrating the birthday of one of her friends that actually lives in Shanghai. He was an American guy who was sent to Shanghai on business four years ago, and had taken a great liking to the city. It was really nice for us all to get to know him and get to see Shanghai from his point of view for the night.
Day 2: The next morning, we all had an agenda. And none of it really had to do with Chinese culture. (To be fair, we had spent the past, who knows how long, getting to know Chinese culture.) Moriah wanted to find her way to an H&M to repurchase some clothes she had bought and then lost in Hong Kong. Skipper wanted to get to a Sephora to buy some make up that she had left in a hotel room in Beijing. And me, I just wanted a quarter pounder with cheese. Skipper and Moriah tried in vain to describe H&M and Sephora to the driver, but when Skipper drew the golden arches, his face lit up. He took us to McDonalds, and it was the same as in the states, except that the burgers are smaller and the mcflurries also come in strawberry. I liked both of those changes. Also, luckily, one of the ladies working there knew a place with both a Sephora and an H&M and she wrote us directions in Chinese. The next driver had no problem getting us there. Skipper got her make up, Moriah got her clothes, and I was feeling that burger for the rest of the day. By the time afternoon hit, though I could have easily spent more time shopping, we realized we really had no idea where we were and how long it would take to get back to the ship. On ship time was looming, so we decided to head back early. About a half an hour and much nerves later, we boarded and passed out.
The only thing I found disappointing about my time in Shanghai was really my lack of time there. Because I had chosen to do some independent travel, I sacrificed time in Shanghai, which I found to be one of the most fascinating destinations of my voyage. If I were to restructure my trip, I would certainly plan for more time there. However, with what little time I did have, I was able to cross off my list everything that Moriah had suggested we do (and that we could actually afford). Now, back on the ship, I was already preparing for Taiwan. We would arrive there in two days, my last international port.