Shanghai 31.12.03 – 04.01.04

Wednesday – New Year’s Eve
In-town check-in, now that’s the way to go. Without the burden of heavy baggage you can have lunch in town thus avoiding a) having to lug suitcases all the way to the airport and b) paying airport food prices. Comfort for price, it was good value.

Flight was good, we had 3 seats to ourselves and read all the newspapers onboard. Shanghai airport was big but empty, as if waiting for planeloads of passengers that haven’t quite arrived yet. Bus trip into town was fairly long, in addition to the driver there was a matronly conductor who would shout out the names of the stops. We had to take a taxi from our stop to the hotel but it was only a short ride. We stayed at the Mayfair, on the west side of town, it was probably brand new because part of the hotel was still being renovated and the health centre wasn’t opened yet. And because it wasn’t in the town centre it was nearly half the price of say, the Shangri-la. For what we saved over just one night, we were able to cover taxi fares for the entire trip.

Dinner was new and fabulous food. Cold appetisers of marinated duck’s tongue and chopped greens. Hot dishes of mini chicken kidneys and beans, pork knuckle in soup (not fat at all, yummilicious!). We were completely stuffed by then but could not resist ordering dessert – deep fried pumpkin cakes that were just so light and melt-in-the-mouth. One bite and the fullness in our stomachs was quickly forgotten.

Stayed up for New Year’s Eve of course, but in the comfort of our hotel room. I had a half bottle of champagne I’d brought from home so we had a toast. It was nice.

Thursday – Yuyuan Gardens
The Yuyuan Garden itself is a private garden that dates back some 400 years and is now open to the public. The surrounding buildings are in the same style as the gardens and have been converted to shops and restaurants. Man, how many people can fit into that space?

Lunch was at this tiny dumpling place inside the complex – buy your ticket, give the ticket to the servers and the food arrives to your seat minutes afterwards. Steaming hot dumplings and savoury beancurd soup. Despite the “cosiness” of the establishment, ie 8-9 people around a table that would otherwise sit 4, there was no shortage of willing customers. People must know the food is good, the take-out section had a permanent line snaked out from the tiny serving window all the way down the other side of the building.

In the afternooon we visited a quaint teahouse situated in the middle of a small lake, the architecture and furnishings suggest times past. The dried tea leaves came in a small ball that expanded in the glass like a pretty shy flower opening up.

Early dinner at “Old Shanghai”. Fried glutinous rice cake with hairy crab roe, chinese cabbage with dried scallops, crystal prawns. The most expensive meal of the trip, but still good food. There as a wedding banquet at the restaurant, funny thing was the bride and groom totally disappeared toward the end of the meal and the wedding cake was cut by the waiters into large chunks which were deposited at each table. The guests just used their chopsticks to get a piece of the chunk, no new cutlery was laid out. Then at the end what looked suspiciously like 2 kitkat bars were given to each seat and the bride and groom’s bounty was taken by another guest who swooped to their seat and pocketed the bars to herself. Bizarro behaviour if you asked me.

Friday – Zhou Zhuang
Around 1.5-2 hours by bus is the water village of Zhou Zhuang, literally meaning Zhou’s village. It dates back more than 900 years and is basically built alongside the banks of crisscrossing rivers and canals. The operative word is quaint, just about, the small houses on the river side have been converted to restaurants and shops, the bridges well trodden by visitors, boat cruises with boatmen and women who sang while padding. It was a pleasant way to spend the day, except it was marred by the aggressive and at times annoying sales tactics of every single person who wasn’t a tourist.

The entrance ticket included visits to the museums, ancestral homes and historical momuments around the village. At the far end of the village we found a shop owned by an artist, one of the very few who were not pushy. More reason to linger at his shop.

Hotpot dinner at the restaurant near the bus stop back in Shanghai. Chilly night, we were glad to find somewhere nearby. We chose the chicken and mushroom pot and the pot was as big as a wash basin! We had a bowl of soup each before we started. Dishes were priced individually but there was no service charge and drinks were free. I had 2 large bottles of beer and she had a tankard of soya milk. Tried some new dishes, including sea cucumber (like thick seaweed) and cactus (surprisingly good). Staples like beef and lamb were fresh and melt-in-the-mouth. Yet another memorable meal.

And a fabulous day topped off with a visit to Xintiandi, the swanky nightlife/bar/cafè area. Bar prices were comparable with other major cities around the world. And on that Friday night it was buzzing.

Saturday – around town
Early (for us) start, so we could fit in as much as we could. Taxi to the imposing Jin Mao Tower which stood heads and shoulders above everything in the city. Visited the sky lobby of the Grand Hyatt, went all the way up to the top floor observation deck. View could have been spectacular if not for the smog, they really have to watch the air pollution there.

Lunch at Yunan Street South, a food street full of different restaurants. Initially we wanted to go to a really local dumpling place but we got distracted by the smell of lamb kebabs from a Tibetian food stall. Had to wait till the kebabs were ready, then they were gone in a flash.

Lunch proper was chicken, big bowl of noddles, wonton and soup. That, plus a beer, came to only RMB26.50. Who says cheap food can’t be as delicious? For dessert we bought candied apples from a stall that sold all sorts of candied fruits, the apples were small and sour, which complimented the sweetness of the sugar coating perfectly.

Walked to Huai Hai Road, Shanghai’s version of Oxford Street. Department stores and international brands at one end, flea market at the other. We bought some tissue box covers, a scarf and were seriously looking at binoculars and rucksacs. Although we were crap at bargaining, we still bought our stuff for relatively cheap prices.

Dinner at a place called Yang’s Kitchen, a longer walk than expected away. It was situated at the end of a dark alleyway that led of the main road, not a place we would have known if not for the guidebook. Had the most yummilicous pumpkin and lily salad for starter. For mains we had crispy aromatic duck (yes! just like the ones in Chinatown), stewed pork, dumplings and eight treasures rice for dessert. What is it with meals in Shanghai? Don’t think we had any duds.

The evening ended with a “romantic” walk along the famous Bund. In reality, too many people to be really romantic but the atmosphere was nice enough.

Our taxi dropped us off at the opposite side of the road for some reason, so we took the opportunity to take a walk around the hotel. What did we find? A supermarket. And true to tradition we paid a visit and couldn’t resist buying food and grocery.

Sunday – in the neighbourhood
In the morning we went back to the Bund to see what it was like during the day. Then returned to Huai Hai Road to buy desserts to take home. For lunch we had shrimp noodles at that shop.

The time left before our flight was spent at the park opposite the hotel. Kids playing badminton and adults social dancing in the playground painted a perfect, idyllic picture. Our final meal was a snack of savoury soya milk, then it was off to the airport.

A good trip.