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New Year’s in Shanghai

We’re back! Our feet hurt from days of walking, our bank accounts hurt from shopping and food, and our brains hurt from all the fascinating things we’ve seen. All in all, a great little vacation. You can see LOTS more photos here.

Day 1 – February 16th
After work, we headed to the Zhangjiagang bus station. It was almost deserted. Either we were one of the very last buses out, or all the travelers had left the day before. We left Zhangjiagang on the 6:30 bus, and drove about an hour and a half to Shanghai. The Shanghai bus station is surprisingly easy to navigate.

We made our way to the subway station (also very easy to navigate with good English maps) and took the tube to People’s Square in the middle of downtown Shanghai. The tube costs about 50 cents per person, so it’s quite popular.

It was raining when we arrived, so we hurried down Fuzhou Road to our hotel, the 24k International Hotel. It was listed as a 3-star, but that might have been a little optimistic. There was nothing wrong with it, but it was fairly small and unexciting.

After we’d settled in, we (Sam, Nichole, Steve, Adam, Paul, and Jamie) went down the street to Pizza Hut for dinner. Later Steve recommended a bar called the Blue Frog, a well-known and slightly swanky place with a decent selection of Western beer (the holy grail of imported goods, second only to antiperspirant). We had a few beers there, and decided to call it a night.

Day 2 – New Year’s Eve – February 17th

After a quick breakfast at Starbucks, we went book shopping. Fuzhou Road (where our hotel is) has many of the city’s best bookstores. We spent hours wandering about, and found quite a few interesting books. We ended up buying some light reading material (Ivanhoe, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Les Miserables), some textbooks for learning Chinese, and some books on historical Chinese clothing (for all the SCAdians out there).

Afterwards, we headed towards the Bund. The Bund is the western waterfront, and is lined with many historical art deco buildings from when it was a European area. It also has the best views of the newer Pudong area across the river. It’s one of the most famous parts of Shanghai.
Shanghai
Shanghai
(This guy was sitting on the Bund, playing his accordion (fairly well, too). When I asked if I could take his picture, he nodded and launched into a frenzied and horribly mispronounced version of Jingle Bells. He sure as heck got some money.)

From there we headed to Nanjing Road, the single largest shopping street in China. It’s 3 1/2 miles long, and has every imaginable sort of department store along its length. It’s amazing in daylight, and come nightfall it’s got enough neon to make Vegas hang its head in shame.

Our fellow teachers Jamie and Paul were staying in a hostel just down the street from us, and there was a bar upstairs. We decided to start our evening’s festivities there, and it’s a good thing we did; we discovered that it was one of the best bars in town.

From there we went off exploring some of the other bars in Shanghai. We explored some of the better bars, and some of the… worse ones. I won’t say much more about this subject (liability lawsuits, mothers, and so forth); use your imagination and it won’t be too far off.

With the arrival of the new year at midnight, the entire city exploded with fireworks and firecrackers. Americans sometimes think they know a thing or two about firecrackers; but the Chinese go far beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. It seemed that everywhere we looked, someone was setting off strings of firecrackers dozens of meters long, with a combined sound closer to an incredible roar than individual explosions. Add to that hundreds of thousands of fireworks and roman candles being set off on almost every street, and it was breathtaking. Any self-respecting pyromaniac will move to Shanghai and never leave.
Shanghai

We wandered for quite a while that night, and ended up on Nanjing Road at about 3:15 AM. It was utterly deserted, without another human in sight. I don’t know how many people on this planet can claim to have seen the busiest shopping street in the largest country on Earth deserted, but it can’t be very many; we came back on other nights and it was bustling.

Day 3 – New Year’s Day – February 18th
We ate breakfast at a lovely little French bakery we discovered just around the corner from our hotel. Croissants, doughnuts, and all sorts of other goodies that we hadn’t found anywhere else. We headed down to the Bund, which was utterly packed (being New Year’s Day and all).
Shanghai

We were waiting for Jamie to meet us there, and we stood up on the railing on the side so we could be seen. Apparently that made us interesting, because a family came over and wanted their picture taken with us. We obliged. Then another and another family wanted photos. We eventually were causing quite a scene, with about 30 or 40 people standing around us watching and taking photos. It must have been a mob mentality; when people saw the first family taking pictures with us they thought we must be some sort of celebrities, and it snowballed from there. Eventually Jamie found us and we left.

We wanted to go across the river to the Pudong area, where most of the new major businesses are found. We opted for the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, a subway-like thing running underneath the river. Little did we know what we were in for. We’d heard that it had some strange lights and odd decor. A more accurate description would be that it was a combination of an early 80s music video, Christmas tree lights, Disney’s Space Mountain, and an acid trip. It was just about the campiest thing I’ve ever seen, and it was delightful.
Shanghai
Shanghai

Once we crossed the river and recovered from our epileptic seizures, we headed off to the Jinmao Tower.
Shanghai
The 4th tallest building in the world, it’s the best place from which to view the big picture of Shanghai. However, it’s not as visually striking as the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the big spaceship-looking thing prominently featured in photos of Shanghai. Inside the Jinmao is the Grand Hyatt Hotel, with a 30+ story internal atrium. I took lots of pictures from the top of the Jinmao.
Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai

We returned to the People’s Square area for dinner at a Mexican restaurant we’d spotted the previous day. From there, we headed to the Captain’s Bar for a few beers, but everyone was tired from the day’s walking, so we headed home soon after.

Day 4 – February 19th

After breakfast at the French bakery, Jamie and Steve went back to Zhangjiagang. Nichole and I’d concluded that we probably wouldn’t be able to afford going to Nanjing as well as Shanghai, so we compromised with spending one extra day in Shanghai. On today’s agenda: the Old Town Bazaar.

Shanghai’s Old Town is what people think of when they imagine a Chinese shopping street: hundreds of little shops, all brightly decorated, selling everything under the sun. Art, silks, carpets, carvings, clothes, swords, monkeys… you name it. And of course, a Starbucks or four. Being the day after New Year’s, all the families were still in town for the holidays, and they decided to go shopping. I’ve never seen such a mass of humanity in my life. I was quite worried about pickpockets, but I was pleasantly surprised: at the beginning of the trip I put an empty bait wallet in my back jeans pocket, and I still have it.
Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai

Wandering through one of the side streets in Old Town, who do we stumble across but Lee, one of the other teachers from EF. He’d come down a day after we’d left, and he didn’t have a cell phone. What’re the odds of running into one man in a city of well over 20 million people? We traded contact info and went our own ways.

We spent most of the day wandering through the Old Town, and it was an enlightening experience. It is sadly common in China that you have huge skyscrapers 20 yards from 100-year-old shacks which are quite literally falling down even through they’re still occupied.

Dinner was pizza at the Captain’s Bar again, and I took some pictures of the Pudong skyline at night.
Shanghai
From there, we decided to explore some more unknown bars, and off we went. We found a bellydancing bar, though sadly we didn’t go in (maybe next time). We found quite a few utterly nondescript bars, and had one fairly bad experience at the Dun Di Bar, which charged us over 7 times the going rate for beer (and it wasn’t even a particularly nice bar). Caveat emptor.

Day 5 – February 20th
Get up, eat breakfast, get on bus home. Relax.

-Sam

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Mean Aunt Pat | February 27, 2007 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Wow! What a vacation!

    I can see why you are interested in doing more of this.

    I got out of helping Mimi and Gary pack by being sick in bed with a cold. Finally starting to feel human again. Also the bruises from the earlier kickboxing accident are about faded.

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