Shanghai Surprise

As I mentioned in a previous post we were offered a chance to visit friends who have relocated to Shanghai for a three year work assignment. We had already planned on visiting our daughter, son in law and grandkids as well as do housesitting in Australia so we figured why not make a side trip. Normally we fly Toronto to LA to Sydney which is about 5 and 15 hours of fly time plus usually more for the layover which basically makes it a 24 hour trip. Shanghai is 16 hours direct from Toronto and to Sydney another 11 hours but spread out over a week vacation in between made it sound too good to pass up. Plus we were getting to stay in Shanghai with friends, at their house, who would know where to go, when to go, and just as importantly where not to go. Plus, plus China now has a special free visa for travellers to Shanghai who are staying in the area for no more than 144 hours, you must register in advance and be traveling on to another country. Usually a visa can cost around $300 so it was a nice bonus to take advantage of. So adding up all these pluses made our decision pretty easy.

Shanghai is China’s largest city with close to 24 million people (Canada has about 36 million). It’s been described as easily China’s richest city and the leading trendsetter in fashion, design and the arts, Shanghai is the best city in the country for dining and shopping. It’s a modern metropolis, legions of futuristic skyscrapers, glitzy restaurants, bars, hotels, competing with rival Asia cities such as Hong Kong, and Singapore.

We arrived at Pudong International Airport and it took a little extra to clear customs because our visa required us to go to a separate line. We were first, the agent gathered our paperwork and told us to wait while she went away. Then other travellers came, some really not sure if they should be in this line and another agent grabbed their paperwork or told them to go to the main customs line. We waited and waited for about an hour before they came back and started to process people. Well I guess ours was on the bottom because it sure looked like everyone after us was going through ahead of us but we eventually got through after about two hours…welcome to China. Our friends Doug and Shelline were waiting (and waiting) at the walkway after we claimed our bags, she had made a sign like you see drivers holding so we easily found them. Once outside they called our driver, ya I forgot to mention their house comes with a driver, who drove us back to their place. It’s a gated community with other expats who work in the Shanghai area living there. It has a huge fitness facility that includes tennis courts, soccer fields for the kids, a swimming pool, café and restaurant. Their home is beautiful; two storey, 4 bedrooms, living room, dining room, etc., everything you’d expect not in China…we were very surprised. After a lot of socializing and Linda and Shellie catching up it was time for bed after a long trip.

With so much to see in less than a week we had to plan our attractions. Being both a modern and an older city we had lots to choose from and the weather was supposed to be clear for the entire time so we could do anything. We decided on The Bund, Yuyuan Garden, the Pearl Tower, Zhouzhuang Water Town, and one of the fake knock off markets. Some of the attractions are in the same areas so it wasn’t going to be too hard.

The Bund is an area along the Huangpu River which divides the city into east and west parts, but also assembles the splendid attractions of the city. Situated on the west bank of the river, the Bund is the symbol and highlight of Shanghai. New finance and commercial houses as well as grand buildings built in 1930s in the European architectural styles cluster along the Bund. At night bright lights add to the happy atmosphere as people stroll along the wide riverside promenade. You can walk forever along the river looking at buildings built by the British or French on one side and seeing the modern Chinese buildings on the other. Ships and boats can be seen going up and down the river all day and night too.

On the same side as The Bund located a short walk away from the water is the Yuyuan Garden. In existence for 400 years it occupies an area of 20,000 square meters. The pavilions, halls, rockeries, ponds and cloisters all have unique characteristics and be strolled through easily. Jade rock, spring bamboo, and koi in the ponds are some of the natural scenery inside the garden. There’s an admission fee of about $10 Cdn.

We also spent time on the east side of the river and went to the Oriental Pearl Tower. This 468 meters high tower is the world’s sixth and China’s second tallest TV and radio tower. Its unique architectural design makes it one of the most attractive places anywhere, it’s especially beautiful seen lit up from The Bund side at night. We took the elevator to one the middle spheres where there’s an indoor observation deck and one level down is a glass bottomed deck for more daring/foolish in the group. The tower tour cost about $40 Cdn but is well worth it considering the view from up there. Here’s where you really see just how populated Shanghai is, apartment building after apartment building in all directions. One thing to keep in mind is the air pollution in Shanghai is horrible, levels in the 100’s are normal. Sometimes the views from the towers or on the ground are minimal because of it. Many people wear various masks to protect themselves but most don’t.

The Zhouzhuang Water Town is one of many canal type towns near Shanghai. Small shops and restaurants line the rivers as gondola type boats guide tourists along. Bridges here are distinctive and old, built during Ming and Qing Dynasties. The old town is thoroughly connected by 36 delicate spans in different shapes and styles, from wooden to stone to marble. The restaurants are traditional Chinese, not North American Chinese. Here you’ll find fully skinned chickens, duck, pork, organs from all types of animals on display. The smell of cooking oils is pretty strong too and it takes a bit to get used to. The trip was about an hour and half Shanghai so we also got to see more Shanghai life.

Our last trip was to fake market. Here you can buy almost anything in some knock off form or another. Shoes, purses, watches, even golf clubs and much more can be found and bought once you haggle a price. We’re not really shoppers so we got off easy but it was fun to chat up the local sales persons. There’s many of these markets around and some get shut down by the government periodically just to show they’re trying to control counterfeiting.

We did eat local sometimes but it was hard to not crave the more traditional back home food most times. The four of us did go for a nice dinner one night on The Bund. The rooftop restaurant, M on the Bund had an awesome view of that lit up skyline which is a must to see if going to Shanghai.

I titled this blog Shanghai Surprise because we were surprised. We were expecting overcrowded walkways, pushing and shoving at the shops, every Chinese cultural stereotype imaginable but it wasn’t that way at all. Oh the roads were an incredible synchronicity of chaos, cars and scooters all making up their own rules and constantly honking at each other but all moving along…sort of. The people were very polite and the service was excellent. Being a big city the prices are higher than what you may expect but similar to any world class city, we’d definitely recommend Shanghai to any global travellers.

Lastly we want to again thank Doug, Shelline, Hannah, Abby, and Nate for letting us stay in their home, take advantage of their tour guide knowledge and making us feel so welcome. Also to our driver Jackie for getting us everywhere in one piece.

Happy trails… Mark and Linda

p.s. sorry about the lack of pictures, this website wouldn’t let me upload some??

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