After knowing each other for barely two months we chose to fly across the globe to experience a smallish Chinese town together. Welcome to Shanghai, population 24 million. The jet lag is unavoidable; D suffers from an inability to sleep or nap outside of normal evening hours. I however, am the opposite, a gifted napper and no stranger to R.E.Mming on long-haul flights.
I felt like we had landed on the Asian interpretation of the Planet Krypton.
Our first morning there we decided to see the Yu Gardens and grab lunch. En route, D was tagged as the next victim of two adorable English-speaking girlish women. This is where knowing each other for only two months will play against you. I didn’t want to turn down D’s enthusiasm for a tea festival, but it didn’t sit right with me from the beginning. Of course we followed them to the back room of a totally weird small street kiosk. Turns out, we had a great time. We might have walked away with the world’s most expensive tea that never was, but we laughed it off and found these chics totally entertaining. D’s scam radar likely didn’t go off because they were grabbing his arms and calling him strong.
The second day in D blamed a wicked hangover on jet lag but really we were out until 4 am at a Shanghainese night club filled with expats, not complete without a fire code violation, at least in the U.S. Bartenders coated the bar in lighter fluid and juggled flaming bottles.
Out for drinks one night we got a tip on some counterfeit goods from a vendor named Nancy. Turned out her place was scheduled for a customs raid that day. I’d imagine she was a really negative Nancy that day.
Shopping is a drug in Shanghai and we tapped those veins like veteran addicts. D bought seven; count seven pairs of Rx glasses from a vendor in a fashion mart. Guiltily, I bought some amaze fur accessories that would make a convert out of any PETA advocate. As many will tell you, the tailors are second to none. D had two custom sports jackets made that were ready in a day and a half, that’s so fast you’d think they were using a sweatshop, wait…
Having travelled to a few major Asian cities, I’ve made the observation that they are a people who appreciate social order and unofficial rules of the street…well, order except when it comes to standing in a queue. Then it’s ‘cut in front of the American and pretend we don’t know what we’re doing’. The city has what feels like an unofficial curfew, likely in the name of energy conservation, with lights out at 10 pm, but before then there are so many LEDs it’s lit up like outer space.
For $30 we got an hour massage that began with hot tea and ended with soup. It’s like they get me. Walking out, D turns to me and asks ‘how was your guy, mine was pretty rough’. Never has he more enjoyed a man’s touch.
Apparently, just being American makes one celebrity in China. On multiple occasions we busted locals and tourists randomly taking our picture. One girl even went as far as to quietly creep next to me and flash the peace sign as her friend snapped a photo. I mean, I love my fans and would have more than accommodated their photo opp.
If you happen to stay in a high-rise hotel, don’t be surprised if one day you can see 30 miles and the next you can’t see across the river. This can be attributed to the smog, so thick and dank that it might ruin a day of touring.
Any smog filled day is a great day to enjoy the hotel you splurged on! We took advantage of the amazing pool at the Shanghai Ritz-Carlton that also has crazy large hot tubs that put the Playboy mansion to shame. Our morning in gave way for a work photo shoot.
The Obvious and the Avoids
– Go shopping – not the high-end malls with the same stores as any mall in America, but the fashion marts where you can get knock off sunglasses to custom cashmere coats, dress shirts and even new luggage in which to pack all your new duds.
– Splurge on a hotel – long days touring make clean beds and nice showers all the more necessary. The hotel breakfast was our biggest meal of the day, so choosing a hotel that has a restaurant was a huge plus. And when jet lag kicks in, they are open the earliest and latest.
– Obvi take a romantic walk along the Bund at night. Pudong side is better explored daytime because there is less scene unless you really like malls.
– Take a day trip to one of the water towns an hour or so outside of town. Just be sure to find out ahead of time when the last train departs back to the city. In Shanghai the train schedule is only presented in characters so you must know the character for the city where you are traveling. Not surprisingly, the further you get from a major city the less modernized and even fewer English speakers you will find. You won’t be able to refer to Google, WiFi will be scarce, but most importantly Facebook will not be available to pass the time while you’re waiting because you missed your train. Be prepared by screenshotting the train timetables ahead of time or have them in writing, courtesy of the hotel concierge, it will help if you do need to ask for directions.
– Obviously tour the Yu Garden but avoid the famous xiaolongbao at the Nanxiang Bun Shop Restaurant unless you want to buy an angel wings necklace and try them somewhere with better food and less of a line.
– Taking a taxis over high-speed trains to the airport
– Forgetting your allergy meds will be an immediate regret– the smog is unlike any other.
– Don’t fall for the well versed English-speaking girls inviting you to a Tea Festival even if it is entertaining.
– Leaving the hotel without an address card. Because Mandarin is so sensitive to the inflection of pronunciation, when cab drivers don’t speak English it is can be difficult to communicate ‘Wes TIN’ over ‘WEStin’.
– Bringing ham sandwiches into the US – the dogs at customs will track you down and agents will make you discard your ‘Ham Sam’ along with your pride, prior to entering the U.S.
I haven’t written one tweet to date, but if I had to summarize Shanghai via Twitter with 140 characters:
Where food falls short, high rises and shopping more than makeup. It’s crowded. Everything is really new, unless it’s really old.