Shanghai: Chic like Paris, sophisticated like New York, and forward like Tokyo
Shanghai Travel Blog› entry 8 of 14 › view all entries
When we arrived at Shanghai Pudong Airport we decided to take the MagLev, Shanghai's bullet train into the city where our hotel was and I'm glad we did. It was fairly easy to find at the airport and after we bought our tickets and boarded, we stowed our luggage and took our seats. As I sat there I felt an uneasyness over my luggage being out of sight. It was only a few seats behind me in a luggage bin but I've become pretty paranoid about being robbed. Go figure. There was an electronic display above the doorway leading to the next car indicating the trains speed in kph and as the train accelerated out of the station it started to rapidly climb. The sensation is that of seamless, smooth, fast and very quiet acceleration and within a few short minutes we were hitting over 400 kph which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 mph. It felt like being in a very low flying plane. As soon as the train hit about 425 kph though it started to decelerate and within a few minutes we were at the train station in the city.
We still needed to take a taxi to our hotel so we left the train station and got in the first one in line outside. This guy, like most we've encountered, spoke absolutely no english, and the problem was compounded by the fact that hotel and street names, or anything else for that matter, are very different in Chinese. For example, the hotel we stayed at in Dongguan where I was robbed is called the Cinese but is known to the locals as the Fu Ying--which is loosly translated in Chinese as, 'You Will Be Robbed and Your Life Will Be Filled With Misery During Your Stay Here"--so if you say or show a taxi driver the word 'Cinese' he won't have a clue what you're talking about, and it's the same with street names. We tried saying 'Purple Mountain Hotel' several different ways, each time getting progressively slower and more drawn out, then pointed to the words on our itinerary, and tried combining the two methods in kind of a, 'puurrr...ppplle..........mounnnn....tinnn....hooooo....telllll as I pointed at each syllable. Still, a blank stare. Unfortunately, by this time the driver was already driving, to where we weren't sure, but I couldn't imagine it was going to be our hotel. We used our fail safe option; Nelson. Nelson had given me one of his cell phones to use and programed his name, in english, into the address book, so after a few failed attempts, I found it and called him. I told him the hotel name and address and handed the phone to the driver. 'Yes' in Chinese is 'Hah' and fortunately I heard a long string of them from the driver, who then closed the phone and handed it to me.
A few minutes later we pulled into our hotel, which like a lot of things in the Pudong district of Shanghai is really tall, glassy and brightly lit, and very new. Until 1990, Pudong, across the river from the older section of Shanghai was basically nothing at all. Then the communists opened it up to development and man was it developed, to the extent that the area is sinking under the weight of all the new buildings. We were escorted up to the executive level on the 26th floor of the hotel to check in and when I handed the hostess my Certificate from the PSB she stared at it blankly, then asked me for my passport. I wasn't too worried since the airline treated the Certificate as an everyday occurance so I felt reasonably comfortable with it being a legitimate means of identification, but I still wasn't to keen on sitting there as this girl tried to figure out what she was holding in her hand. After several phone calls in Chinese to someone, somewhere in the hotel, she asked me if she could make a copy of it, which of course I agreed to. I didn't care if she wanted to copy it in caligraphy, I just wanted to get to my room.
That night Alan and I took a taxi to a restaurant, called The Grape, across the river in the French Concession, which, like the British, American, and Japanese Concessions were granted as areas for each nationality to live, so, as you might expect, each has a very distinctive flavor. The Grape is Shanghaiese cuisine, or a combination of Chinese with a Shanghai influence. Down in Guanghou where I went to the US Consulate it's Cantonese, and for good reason, Guanghou used to be named Canton. The Grape is a favorite of locals and expats and is in a former cathedral. It kind of reminded me of that bar in Star Wars where Harrison Ford's character walks in with his Wookie friend and there are beings from all over the galaxy eating and drinking. There were people of quite a few different nationalities there and the food was, at least from what I could tell, very authentic.
When the waitress came over to take our order I pointed at a particular fish dish and she told me no. Not, 'I really wouldn't suggest that' or 'I might recommend something else', just, 'no'. When I repeated 'no?', she again said, 'no, too salty, english no like'. Ok, well then how about this, as I pointed to another picture? Again, 'no'. I'm looking at Alan like, um, would you like to try your luck at this? I looked at her and said, 'no?' 'No, too many bones, you no like'. We finally settled on three or four dishes that all three of us could agree on and ordered a couple bottles of TsingTao. The food was brought to our table very quickly and was absolutely spectacular. I mean, this was one of the best meals I've had in a long time......well, er, except for every meal Joan makes....... I wish I could describe these dishes but the TsingTao's kept coming and it's all a little vague at this point, but I will tell you that one dish came with a whole fish on it with some kind of sauce that was out of this world. Speaking of TsingTao's, bottles of beer at this restaurant are 600 ml, or almost 2 regular bottles each, and every time we'd order another bottle the waitress would look at us very skeptically and say, 'yeahhh??', like, are you sure??, offer a brief, nervous laugh, then leave to get our beer. I couldn't quite figure that one out. The total tab for this wonderful meal was about 300 RMB, or about $45.
After dinner we walked over to a hotel called the Mansion. The hotel was a very old, European-style hotel with a lobby that was crammed with antiques. It was like stepping back to 1920 as you walked over the threshold. I ordered a Cuban Partagas and a Port. It's so strange seeing only Cuban cigars on a menu or in the humidor that she brought over. It all felt so illicit. The cigar was great and the port delicious. The total tab for this was 450 RMB, or about $65. I couldn't help but compare the cost of the cigar and port to the huge dinner and 6 big beers we just had. Regardless, each were very, very enjoyable and I'm glad I experienced both.
As I sat enjoying my cigar and port, Alan leafed through a book of photography on Shanghai and noticed a saying that has been used to describe this city, and I've chosen it as the title to this entry. I've only been to New York, so I can't make a comparison, but I wouldn't be surprised if the description is apt. Shanghai is absolutely gorgeous, dazzling even, and I'd love to come back someday.