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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Shanghai Bund
CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30
The Bund, Shanghai, June 20-29, 2003

China Flag A LAST LOOK

June 20-29. SHANGHAI  Shanghai has a unique and controversial history of international influence which makes it a very different place from the rest of China.  Unlike Hong Kong, its southern competitor and the city to which Shanghai most often compares itself, it was not colonized by the British for 100 years and the Chinese people are not Cantonese; they are Shanghaiese. But, Shanghai did have its Western colonizers that established the still surviving Bund area, the French Concession, and other foreign residential areas.  Combined with some striking new buildings and the pleasant absence of Beijing-style communist garbage, the old foreign established areas of Shanghai contribute to the city's international feel without letting you forget that Shanghai is part of China.  The new areas of Shanghai rival other modern cities and, while Shanghai is still in for more changes, it is already a city among cities.  After days of strolling the abundant shopping areas, lounging in cafes and eating some delicious food we have concluded that Shanghai is the place to be in the PRC! 

We stayed in a comfortable new hostel in the old Bund, only a block from the riverfront.  The Captain Hostel under-billed itself by using the term hostel.  While it has a backpacker-style dorm the rooms are nice and modern and it was probably the best place we stayed in China.  The unfortunate timing of our visit put us in the middle of the rainy season so we forewent any excursions to the nearby historical sites of Hangzhou, Suzhou, Putuoshan, with their pagodas, temples, lakes and canals, and just enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of Shanghai with its good food and plethora of cafes.  

Shanghai has a seemingly never-ending array of shopping centers; the glitzy shopping area of Nanjing Lu with neon lights galore, the subdued book district of Fuzhou Lu, the kitschy tourist focused area around Yu Yuan Garden, the new hip Xintiandi, and the malls of Pudong, to name a few.  We did our share of exploring these areas and watched the well but casually dressed Shanghaiese shop, shop, and shop.  The merchandise in many areas would make you forget that you were in China with international brand names, electronics, and cosmetics but on the fringes there were always the industrious vendors selling things from their handbags (umbrellas, watches, etc) or easily moved tables selling the latest movies on DVD.  They had Matrix Reloaded before it hit the theaters in China.  

The food was a wonderfully welcomed change to our month long diet of shish kebab and noodles.  Shanghai has a wide variety and we found ourselves having tacos in the French Concession, eating a wonderful fusion lunch at M on the Bund, munching on burgers and lasagna in Xintiandi, and frequenting a tasty Dim Sum restaurant down the street from our hotel.  All a bit more of a strain on our budget than the Xinjiang shish kebabs but worth the extra splurge.  The American chains were all there as well and we had a couple of meals at McD's and a nice sit down meal at the new (and crowded) Taco Bell Grande.  A step up from the informal McDonald's the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains have taken a more upscale approach to dining in China with hostess seating and wait staff.  The food quality was a bit better as well.  

With mostly rainy days to kill we found ourselves in a different cafe almost every day whiling away the hours.  At the end we were even bringing the laptop since that was no great attention grabber in Shanghai.  The Starbuck's that we frequented on the spacious and green People's Park even had a wireless connection available for its customers.  The city had a surprisingly wide range of cafes considering the Chinese are a predominantly tea drinking population.  The prices were fairly comparable amongst the ones we went to but they were not backpacker cheap.  Starbuck's probably offered one of the better values given its knack for great locations like People's Park, Xintiandi, the Pudong riverfront, available power outlets, and relaxed atmosphere that allowed to hang out for hours and hours.  It seemed like a cop out to spend so much time in a chain that looks the same in Shanghai as it does in San Francisco so we did try several other nice local cafes but still found ourselves coming back to Starbuck's because it was the most convenient and there were so many.

One of our main objectives to traveling all of the way from Urumqi to Shanghai was to be in an easy spot receive and sign off on our taxes.  Unfortunately, that did not happen in time but we were still able to load up on cash without any trouble.  We withdrew our money from Citibank, took the money and receipts to the Bank of China, changed the yuan back into dollars, and had the money distributed in Amex traveler's checks.  Changing from dollars to yuan and back to dollars may not seem like a good deal but with the really good exchange rate at Citi and the commission free spot rate we received from the Bank of China it was pretty painless.  We spent one day investigating the process before we tried it out and the people at the Bank of China were surprisingly helpful.  So many more people speak English in Shanghai than  anywhere else in China that we had traveled that it made things so much easier.  The woman we initially talked to at the BoC asked us if we were Americans.  When we said "yes" she said we sounded like "Voice of America".  Apparently VOA is a popular way for the Chinese to polish their English without having to pay for cable TV. (It was pretty popular in Kashgar as well.)  When we returned the next day to complete our transaction a man quickly waived us to his window.  He was new to us but already knew all about our exchange plans and spoke English very well.  It all went very smoothly.   

The only other errand we had to take care of before we could really relax was our train tickets from Shanghai to Beijing and then on to Mongolia. The CITS office was predictably stiff in their service.  When we initially asked about the ticket to Mongolia they just told us to come back the next day.   When we looked a bit shocked the woman behind the counter sort of rolled her eyes and picked up the phone.  A few minutes later an English speaking fellow emerged from the back room.  He made some calls to Beijing in order confirm availability and make a booking but he was unable to actually issue the ticket.  For this special bit of talented paperwork processing we had to return the following day and talk with the official international ticket specialist.  Even in capitalist Shanghai the apathy of communist China still finds a way to shine through, just in case we were forgetting exactly where were traveling.

Once we had our logistics sorted out we were left with days of journal writing and exploring the various corners of the city.  One thing we treated ourselves to was a trip up to the observatory in the Jin Mao Tower, an 88 story hotel/office building in the Pudong area.  Along with the syringe-like Oriental Tower it was one of Shanghai's more distinctive buildings.  In comparison, however, the Jin Mao was significantly more appealing.   We originally wanted to chill out with a coffee in one of the Hyatt's swish cafes but they charged an obscene fee for "non-guests" so we thought the overpriced tickets to the observatory were the less painful option.  It was just like the observatory in any tall building, lots of buildings with some info on what you are supposed to see from each side.  The weather wasn't very good but we could still see quite a ways across the old and the new of Shanghai.  From the middle of the observatory we could look down into the middle of the Hyatt hotel, all of the way down to around the 36th floor.  We had looked up from the slick bar on the 36th floor when we were in the hotel and the curved balconies that lined the sides made the ceiling look like a long coil. 

On another afternoon we took the subway all of the way out to where the soon-to-be-running Maglev train station was being built.  We had hopes of seeing a test run but no such luck. The Maglev would service the new Pudong airport and the new space age station seemed appropriate for world's first public transport Maglev train.

In order to balance out all of the new Shanghai with some of the old we spent a morning wandering around the Yu Yuan Garden area.  The surrounding shopping area is quite a tourist magnet with endless shops of souvenirs and detracted from the garden's serene ambiance but still maintained an old traditional look.  Even the Starbuck's (yes, another one) wasn't so conspicuous.  We ducked into a tea house in one of Fangbang Road's old wooden buildings to sip some Chinese tea.  We ordered the tea served in a Fujian-style tea set, complete with the simple but elegant Chinese tea ceremony presentation.  The eastern region of China is well known for its tea growing and a visit to Shanghai wouldn't be complete without a proper Chinese tea.  The server, in traditional dress, swiftly poured the water over the tea from a standing position and shifted the tea from one small container to another and finally into a set of small tea cups.  

At the end of our 10 days in Shanghai we were quite sorry to be leaving.  There was plenty more that the city had to offer and we were very sure that we would find our way back to the city at some point.