Friday, July 27, 2012

Shanghai, China 2012

  Wandering the streets of Shanghai

The Bund at Night!
After leaving Hong Kong, we jumped a flight to Shanghai.  While Hong Kong is a very large city, Shanghai is larger.   If the locals told me correctly, it sits at roughly 23 million people.  That's a lot of people!  Almost three times as large as New York City.  The buildings are giant shinny and modern skyscrapers made of glass.  It reminded me a little of what a current day emerald city would be like.  We were extremely lucky to have stayed at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai in one of these highrises on the 78th floor.  The great thing about the highrise the Hyatt is in is that it looks like a wine carrier with a handle on the top, so we never had a problem finding our way home!

One of the many difference between the mainland of China and the city of Hong Kong is that the people in the cities of China are not as used to seeing westerners, so we ended up feeling a little bit like celebrities.  I'm almost certain that there is a picture of me hanging someplace in a random family home in China.  It was rather odd that almost every 20 to 30 minutes we were stopped by groups of locals to pose for pictures.  Phillip was the most popular of all of us!  Nicole and I really just looked like his groupies.

Nicole and I posing for yet another photo! 

While most people just wanted photos with us, a few people really wanted to walk around the city with us an practice their English.  The two girls in the photo to the left came with us to a local tea tasting and translated the entire process of the specific styles of tea, as the local stop keeper served the many different tea courses.

Yu Gardens
After our traditional tea tasting, we headed over to the Old City.  We worked our way through the thick crowds of tourists and venders to the Yu Gardens and Bazaar.  The Yu Gardens and the city temple are surrounded by newer imitation buildings that are designed to look similar to the City Temple design.  You should skip right past those and head to the entrance of the gardens and temple.  Once you pay the 10 RMB (roughly around $1.60 U.S. dollars right now) to get in, you will immediately be relieved of a majority of the tourists.  The area is very calm and peaceful. It was easy to find a little corner and just let yourself get lost to explore the nearly 500 year old buildings and gardens.

Yum!  Dim Sum.
After a long afternoon of tea tasting and gardening, it was time for some food!  Shanghai is very well known for it's Dim Sum, so we headed out to find a local spot.  I've had Dim Sum a lot of times in the states, but there are so many different flavors available in Shanghai.  I've learned that they can put almost anything into one of those little guys, and no matter what it is, it tastes fantastic! 
Afternoon at the water village, Zhouzhuang
The following day we had our hearts set on getting out of the city and seeing a local water town called Zhouzhuang.  The trip is rather far due to the over populated roads and it not being available by public transportation, so we hired a driver to take us out to the area. This specific water town is very popular, so there are large crowds and lots of activity, but the scenery is beautiful and worth the trip.   Especially if you want to see countryside on the drive there.

After a few hours of wandering the streets to see ancient bridges and hundreds of year old high ranking authorities homes, we grabbed a short canal boat ride back to the entrance and headed back to Shanghai to the French Concession area.  This area is a mix between French and Chinese, which I must admit seems like a very odd mix, but honestly the area was quite unique.  The city has many different neighborhoods of concession areas representing different countries, however the French Concession seems to be the most popular.  We didn't spend much time in this area, but we did have a great meal at one of the local restaurants.  Before heading back to the hotel, we headed over to see The Bund and the beautiful night time skyline of the city.  (see the picture above)

Dajing Road Food Market
Wanna buy a chicken?
On our last day in Shanghai, we took a morning walk through of all of the Old City area.  There are some amazing things to see in this area.  I am a huge fan of farmers markets in the states, so of course we meandered through the back streets to see the Dajing Road Food Market.  The things you will see in the street markets of China are unlike anything you would ever see at a street market in the states.  Tanks and cardboard boxes full of fish and other live seafood flop around while sharing space with cages full of live chickens and woven baskets of unique fruits and vegetables of vibrant colors.  Locals cooking and selling giant Dim Sum items squeeze between these vendors creating a rather stinky odor that I just don't know how to describe.  It's like nothing that I've seen (or smelled) on any of my other travels, but I loved every second of it!
Fresh Vegetables & Fruit
I wouldn't suggest buy any of the raw foods and eating them right there on the street due to the fact that the water used on them in that area is probably unsanitary water.  As a rule of thumb throughout China, you should avoid drinking the tap water or eating anything that you think might not be prepared with water properly.  I've heard a few horror stories about people who were not cautious about the things they were digesting, and ended up in the hospital.  It's actually very easy to manage while you are there.  Cooked foods are generally safe when you are eating them in restaurants, however street venders are probably not the place to be picking up a bite of food.  In addition to that, you should ALWAYS drink bottled water! Follow these simple guidelines and you're good to go!

Shanghai is the most populated city that we visited in China.  It never seems to sleep.  You can be out at midnight on Wednesday, and the subways and streets are still loaded with people.  We happened to be there in June, which is the peak season for most of China due to summer break, and you could definitely tell.  With that many people and all that summer heat and humidity, the smog was very thick.  If you plan on visiting, I would pick a cooler month.  The humidity seems to hold the smog down close to the city which can take a toll on your lungs if you are not careful.  Regardless of that tiny obstacle, we had an amazing time in Shanghai and I highly suggest a visit by anyone who is interested.

Next..........Xi'an and the amazing Terracotta Warriors!

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