Shanghai: Ni Hao WOW!

48 hours to “do” Shanghai.  It was an aggressive plan.  But it’s all we had.  It’s not like I’m a spontaneous person to begin with; I do love planning and organizing a trip down to the last minute but usually there is wiggle room – a back up suggestion in case something doesn’t work out.  2 days doesn’t leave any wiggle room.  It was a short flight from Haneda to Hongqiao, about 2 hours and 15 minutes and when we mowed our way through customs, I started to frantically search out our tour guide.  The hotel assured me she’d be waiting to whisk us off to our first destination: lunch.  But it was China, and well, there was no one waiting.  People shouted at us from the various counters:  “you want taxi?” “what hotel?” “where you go?” “where you GO PEOPLE?” After a few nasty looks and a snippy response from me they moved on to other freshly minted tourists.  Next came the tricky part.  You just never know if your iphone is going to work when you travel to a new country in Asia.  And if it does work, what freaking number do you dial?  It’s not like I bring a list of country codes with me.  I scrambled through all my printed emails trying to find a valid number for the hotel.  Miraculously I found one, Tom punched in the numbers and someone answered at the Westin Bund.  After a few minutes of speaking very clearly and fairly loud, the hotel reported back that the tour guide and driver were at the other terminal and would pick us up in about 20 minutes (make a mental note of that 20 minutes, it comes in to the story later on).  Tom hung up and said not to worry, they were at the other terminal and would be here shortly.  20 minutes later, Linda appeared breathless and apologetic, begging us not to say a word to the hotel or complain in any way as it would be disastrous for her.  Admittedly, I’d spent the past 20 minutes thinking of all the bad things I was going to say about this tour guide to the hotel concierge but when she actually arrived begging me not to I assured her that I wouldn’t say anything.  “So, I’m sure the concierge told you where we want to go today,” I asked Linda as we were driving out of the airport.  I had custom tailored the afternoon with the concierge over the past few days.  “No, he said nothing about it.” Hmmm… the concierge told her nothing about it.  OK.  Thankfully I had all my printed emails which I usually bring with me for proof when people fuck up so I whipped them out and handed them over.  “It’s all there.  You can read through it.”  Our first stop was Ding Tai Fung in Xin Tian Di.  A dumpling shop that in 1993 the New York Times rated it one of the top ten restaurants in the world.  And it’s a dumpling shop.  But it’s heaven at the end of your chopsticks.  We learned the proper way to eat soup dumplings, flip them over, bite a hole and let the soup ooze out on to your spoon.  Plop the dumpling in your mouth and slurp up the soup.  Amazing.  And as the dumplings cooled, we were biting holes and slurping right from the dumpling in one fell swoop.  We became dumpling experts.  I don’t think the bill was more than $100 for five of us and we left feeling like stuffed dumplings ourselves.  Xin Tian Di is part of what was once considered the French Concession.  It has been restored and gentrified but it’s a cool combination of east meets west.  I had to keep reminding myself that we were in China.  It could have been in downtown NYC.  We had time to walk up and down the main strip and then Linda had us back in the car to get to the next stop on the Shanghai Express; Taikang Road Art Center.  This colony of artists twists and turns with galleries and studios in narrow, pedestrian only alleys, ripe with the day’s laundry strung up over your head.  We peeked into as many as we could with Linda pulling us forward as though we were running a marathon.  I so wanted to stay and wander, get lost in those alleys.  But we had to keep moving.  The last place on our list for the day was the fabric market, better known as The South Bund Soft Spinning Material Market.  This place is not for the reticent.  It’s truly overwhelming.  Four floors of various sized booths with fabric and materials, samples of clothes, people trying to get you into their booths.  It’s not as bad as the silk market in Beijing but at least there, the items are already made.  The only choice you make is your size and your price.  Not so here.  Our destination was a suit maker for Tom.  We followed Linda through the market in search of a reputable seamstress her colleague had mentioned.  I was gray on the whole thing but tagged along behind.  She brought us to one of the bigger booths that actually had clients being measured.  Definitely a good sign.  Tom jumped right in, looked through books of pages torn right out of GQ and Esquire and found the style of suit he liked.  Next, he paged through book upon book of suit fabric choosing three that he liked.  He wanted three but weren’t sure what they would charge him. He asked for cuffs and real buttons on the sleeves.  They measured him and quoted him 700 yuan per suit (about $100).  We knew you are supposed to bargain, but seriously, how could we?  We explained our time constraint.  It was 4pm on Friday afternoon and the suits would need to be delivered to the Westin hotel by 10am Sunday morning.  Sure, no problem.  The clerk followed us to the handy ATM machine in the building where we turned over the 2100 yuan and told them we’d see them Sunday.  A leap of faith but not a huge one.  It was time to get back in the car and make our way to the hotel to check in.  The Westin was an excellent choice as it is literally three blocks from the Bund which reminded me of La Croisette in Cannes.  Ok, maybe it’s been a long time since I’ve been in Cannes but again, I had to ask myself, was I in Communist China?  Friday night we had reservations at M on the Bund, a five minute walk from the hotel.  The view from our table was stellar.  Here is a photo we took from the deck: If you’ve been to Hong Kong, you might think it’s very similar.  I would agree.  I love cities that are split in two with a river running through it.  If only NYC had paid more attention to Jersey City.  That’s another blog.  After dinner we cruised along the Bund – lots of people taking photos of Sophie and Annie.  That was strange but there really weren’t a lot of foreigners.  We walked down to Nanjing road and became part of the sea of people until the heat, the smell and the sweat got to us.  We quickly turned and walked back to the hotel.  In Shanghai, it’s important to look both ways before crossing.  Red lights are a suggestion and most two wheeled vehicles (scooters included) blow right through them.  Tom did his best impression of traffic cop the entire time we were there.  One woman even ran over his foot with her scooter.  She was not intimidated by him in the least.  Saturday morning came quickly and we were meeting our friend D’anna who relocated from Tokyo to Shanghai a year before for breakfast in the hotel lobby.  We chatted non-stop over breakfast, bringing each other up to speed with our lives.  We were off to the Expo for the day and she suggested we make a brief stop at the Underground.  Intrigued, we gladly followed her lead which introduced us to Mr. Ju (probably the wrong spelling) D’anna’s driver.  Her husband’s company doesn’t let them drive in China.  Must be the red light thing.  The underground is literally underground (it connects to the subway) and is a huge market that is a combination of knock offs and custom made clothing shops.  D’anna (or Shanghai Tai Tai as the sales girls liked to call her) knew her way around that place like it was her kid’s elementary school.  She brought us to her watch guy, her luggage guy, her ski jacket guy… and proceeded to negotiate like Henry Kissinger.  My girls were in awe.  An hour later we had a good-sized pile of treasures in our new duffle bag and we were off to the Expo.  Mr. Ju dropped us off and we said goodbye to D’anna.  The World Expo.  A once in a five year opportunity.  In China no less.  I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  I read the articles about the 5 hour lines, the public peeing in those lines, the heat, the crowds.  I knew what to expect and we went anyway.  My plan was to look around, go into the American pavilion (I heard you could cut the lines with a passport), visit some of the themed pavilions, have lunch at the french restaurant, buy a few souvenirs and then leave.  Not one of those things happened.  Well, we looked around.  That was about it.  And we took some photos but after awhile the girls were in such a foul mood it wasn’t worth taking pictures.  It was hot (about 92) muggy and the second largest crowd to date (that would be 520,000 people).  We didn’t even see the US pavilion let alone go inside.  We wandered aimlessly, walking around the 5 hour lines, staring at the people in them.  Who would stand in line for 5 hours for a 10 minute presentation?  And what if you picked the wrong one!  After three hours of spinning our wheels we left.  We had an idea to return to the area we had lunch in yesterday but we couldn’t remember the name in Chinese and when we dialed the hotel phone number (redialed it actually from Tom’s iphone) it said the number was out of service.  We had no choice but to return to base and get more info.  We dropped our bag and grabbed the name of a restaurant near by.  It was past 2 and we were starving.  The woman at the door asked if we had a reservation.  We told her no, but the Westin sent us.  She said they didn’t have any western food.  We said, no the Westin.  She said no, she didn’t have any western food.  We gave up and got in the elevator.  Surprisingly on the 4th floor of the building there was a gorgeous empty (why did we need a reservation?) restaurant with people waiting to serve us.  We had another fantastic chinese lunch and wondered how we would ever be able to eat dinner at 7:30.  Back at the hotel, the girls rested in their room, Tom watched TV and I snuck out for a massage at the hotel spa.  Somehow we managed to make our 7:30 at Jean Georges.  I was still incredibly full but it was Jean Georges and I was excited to eat his food.  Again the place was gorgeous, the view amazing but the food was just ma ma hu hu (i learned this is the way to say so so).  The next morning, our last before flying out at 2pm, we were planning on visiting Yu Yuan Garden but Sophie woke up not feeling well – what is the equivalent to Delhi Belly in Shanghai?  Anyway, we spent the morning in bed.  The suits were delivered at 9:50 a.m. and they looked like suits!  The airport arranged for a car service back to the airport.  As we approached the terminal, I mentioned the airline we were on which he completely ignored.  He pulled over the first chance he got and opened the door.  Looking around I didn’t see any specific airlines, only a departure door which we entered and looked for our flight.  It was strictly domestic Chinese flights.  The nice lady at the counter told us we were at the wrong terminal and that the free shuttle bus was downstairs and to the right.  The bus was packed – standing room only and it stunk.  I couldn’t actually say what it was that it smelled like but probably just too many hot bodies in an unventilated area.  After the first ten minutes I started to worry that we were on the wrong bus.  What airport had two terminals ten minutes apart?  And then I remembered the piece of information from the beginning of this long and winded story – the terminals were literally 20 minutes apart.  I was seething thinking of the many bad things I was going to say to the concierge about the terrible service but of course once we arrived, I forgot all about it and checked my bags and went through immigration.  Shanghai; been there done that.

1 thought on “Shanghai: Ni Hao WOW!

  1. Lisa,
    I just read your latest two postings. Love them! It was so great to see you here in Shanghai. Your visit gave me a little sanity in my insane world.

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