Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Bizarre and the Bazaar

It's much less effort to walk ten kilometres of the Great Wall than to spend an hour standing around clothes shopping. Oh my sore feet! At least the pain in the hip [pocket] was only mild, this being China.

We were both feeling much better about China after a good rest and late morning! The hotel is very clean and the rooms appear fresh, but I do have my concerns. There is a switch on the light control board labelled Smallpox. It turns on the downlights, but what else might it do?

Even if the hotel could be a site for biological terrorism, it is convenient. We booked our flight on the 27th to Guilin in the Shanghai Airlines office in the lobby. The flight was picked to depart from Pudong Airport, giving us an excuse to catch the Maglev.

A branch of the Shanghai Sightseeing Bus group is also just over the road from us, so we booked a day trip to Zhouzhang tomorrow. I also wanted to see the gardens of Suzhou, but combining this (an easy train ride) with a trip to a canal town looks troublesome, so it's on the list for a future visit.

After the booking we engaged in that most exciting of activities, crossing a Shanghai street. Still alive, we bought tickets on the light rail back to People's Square. We just don't get how the single trip tickets work. We ask to go to People's Square, but have to exits to change to the subway at Shanghai Station. At that point the tickets are eaten by the gate. We then need to queue and buy more tickets for the subway. I'm certain that we are doing something wrong, but what?

Watching the locals board the empty subway carriages at Shanghai Station's subway is hilarious. They prime themselves when the train pulls up, then sprint (well, they would sprint if they had room to do so) and push inside as soon as the doors open, in order to grab the precious plastic seats. Anything to "win" against other people I suspect.

From People's Square we walked south, then east, our objective being the Shanghai Old Street and Yuyuan Gardens. We turned off into one narrow, busy street with a number of "Islamic restaurants". A beggar dragging a monkey tied by the wrist asked for money. The poor monkey looked unhealthy with raw red patches. It was an awful sight.

On impulse we had lunch at the Xin Jiang Yi Li Can Ting Islamic restaurant and asked the waitress to recommend some dishes. We thought we had ordered too much, but ended up just eating too much. Delicious roast mutton melting off the bone, served with red onion and carrot. Chicken in a red stew, like a curry, strongly flavoured. A rice pilaf with carrots and stewed in mutton broth, so full of flavour. The second best meal in China after the Leshan river fish.

Shanghai Old Street is a tourist trap lined with souvenier stalls, but we couldn't resist purchasing some momentoes, prices haggled far down. Noisy, busy, but still quite fun.

Depsite the many tour groups the Yuyuan Gardens provided a respite from the noise outside. I love the way there are so many hidden paths to follow in a Chinese garden, the framed views, the water, stone and bamboo. It was wonderful to sit down and relax.

Outside the Yuyuan Gardens we braved the crowds once more, but there was no way we would fit on the famous zigzag bridge to the teahouse - it was packed. Instead we walked onwards to the Bund and then down into the sightseeing tunnel.

The tunnel underneath the Huangpu River is super tacky, but fun. A cable car on rails takes you through a light show complete with lasers and those inflatable figures that flap around outside of car yards.

We emerged near the Oriental Pearl Tower, the symbol of modern Shanghai. B was wondering when she would get a chance to go shopping. I told her that we would catch a subway under the river to Huaihai Lu, so we walked in the direction of the station. Then, opposite the Pearl Tower entrance she saw a magical sign: Sephora. Then Zara. Her two most favouritest shops in all of Europe.

My feet were ready to collapse by the time we had dinner. I didn't really enjoy the food at the Yunnan restaurant, but the lime juice and B's apple pearl drink were delicious. The shops were shutting by the time we finished, so it was back to the hotel, past the amazingly tall architecture of Pudong.

Canals await tomorrow!