Suffocating Heat, Ice Cream, and Tea: Summer in Shanghai

So at the end of my trip I found myself back in Shanghai for the Expo. I’ve detailed my experience there in a previous post, so I won’t go into much more detail.

But, fact of the matter is that Shanghai is disgusting during the summer. Temperatures are in the 80s and 90s, with 60-70% humidity. That means it’s hot and sticky and so, tempers run short. I would recommend to avoid Shanghai at all costs in the summer, unless you have a masochistic quality to yourself, enjoy sticking to passersby, or are a crocodile. Continue reading

The World Expo, or Disney Epcot Shanghai

I got the lucky chance to get a sneak peek into the Expo before it opened. The Shanghai World Expo officially opened the first of May; it’s already had about 17 million visitors out the the projected 70 million. That’s a lot of people.

Some background on the Expo would be a good idea I think:

  • The first World Expo (or World’s Fair) took place in London in 1851,  mainly as a way for Britain to show off how awesome and powerful it was (this was the height of British Imperialism after all). It has long since left that behind and now is touted as a way for countries to come together and share their respective cultures with each other.
  • The Shanghai World Expo is, to date, the largest World Expo in its history. The grounds for the expo span 2.6 square kilometers, which is larger than most small to mid size cities (my dad likes to compare the Expo grounds to the city of Alhambra in northeast Los Angeles).
  • Hundreds of thousands of people visit the Expo each day, so it can get extremely crowded. Lines for the more popular pavilions have taken over 4 hours to get into the building. Many of the pavilions have a shorter wheelchair line.
  • Food is everywhere in the Expo, but again, expect long lines during lunch and dinner time. I’d recommend either bringing your own food or waiting until non-peak hours to eat.
  • Shanghai is disgustingly hot and humid in the summer. Temperatures can climb into the 90s. But the Expo grounds have cooling mists installed everywhere that supposedly lower the temperature inside the grounds.

When I went, the Expo wasn’t opened yet, so many of the European pavilions were closed or not yet finished (which was cutting it close, as I went the week before the Expo officially opened). I got to take photos of the outside of many a pavilion though, and got to go into the China Pavilion. To be honest, the inside of the the China Pavilion is not that spectacular; I’d say just take a picture of the outside and avoid the 6 hour line in front (there is a reservation kiosk for the pavilion in the Asia section of the Expo, Zone B, but they only allow a certain number of reservations a day, and that also has an unreasonably long line). 50,000 people also attended the Expo with me, and already there were reports of food shortages in the restaurants. This problem most likely would have been fixed by now.

The Expo is divided along Shanghai’s Huangpu River; 2/3 of it is located in the Pudong District, while 1/3 is located on Puxi. Pudong has all the big pavilions, so expect lots of crowded areas. When I went, my father jokingly recommended that I take a page out of Chairman Mao’s book and “push when others pull.” Basically, he told me to first go where others don’t want to go and then go to the more popular places, when the crowds die down. So, I recommend taking either the free ferry or the line 10 subway across the river to Puxi, which is much less crowded and, to be honest, more interesting. Puxi’s pavilions are not sponsored by countries, but are either corporate pavilions or pavilions dedicated to the Expo’s theme of “Better City, Better Life.” So there are pavilions dedicated to sustainable development as well as general world history.

The Pavilion of the Future

Inside the Pavilion of the Future

My favorite pavilion on Puxi was the Pavilion of the Future. It’s all about sustainable development; how to improve housing and lower the carbon footprint of the world. They also had an exhibit on the upper floors that deal with the history of industrialization around the world. All very fascinating.

On Pudong, I really enjoyed looking at the UK Pavilion (who doesn’t? It’s like a giant spiky fluff ball) and the Poland Pavilion.

The UK Pavilion

Poland Pavilion

Of course, the China Pavilion is also in Pudong. It’s architecturally impressive, although I found the Macau Pavilion next to it to be much more adorable.

The China Pavilion

The Macau Pavilion: It's a Bunny!

Do you see what I mean?

Of course, there are lots of other pavilions to look at and visit. I would recommend starting at the Africa Pavilion first. There’s a 95% chance that you won’t have to wait in line (my dad likes to say that this is because Chinese people don’t think Africa has anything to offer, so the locals stay away. Totally false). Expect long lines at the European Pavilions and the US Pavilion.

I think the ugliest looking pavilion goes to Japan, it looks like a pink (or purple, when it decides to change color) beached whale with harpoons embedded in its back. I think of a pink Moby Dick that Captain Ahab finally conquered (I’m waiting to find the old captain dancing in joy around the pavilion).

I couldn't take a picture of it properly, so here's one from online

I wasn’t able to go in, since the pavilion was closed. Maybe it has some redeeming qualities inside. I hear that their toilets are amazing.

All in all, the Expo did remind me of Disney Epcot, although not as superficial as the latter. But the ideas are similar: create a mini-country that tells people unfamiliar with your culture what you’re all about, provide a taste of the country’s most popular foods, and sell a couple of authentic souvenirs. The theme of “Better City, Better Life” is also reflected in the “Imagineering” that goes on at Disney’s theme parks.

I’m going back to the Expo at the beginning of July, after I tour the Yunnan province. Expect updates soon. 🙂

New Tour Itinerary

So I just got word from our English Department Director that he’s completed a tour date for 7/21. It’s a 9 Day 7 Night Tour of what we call “Classic China Highlights.” Basically we go to the major cities of China, namely Beijing and Shanghai, and also some smaller cities like Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Wuxi. Airfare is included in this tour…all for a lovely price of

$1427!

I think you can afford it. I mean, buying a plane ticket to China alone is $1500 if you buy on your own (good luck with that). And you get a nice guided tour of the cities, which I’ve all talked about in previous posts. It’ll be a lovely time.

We’ve got a pdf up with more info at our website, I’ll paste it here: http://bit.ly/baP3dJ

Return to Shanghai: Miles of Walking

After Hong Kong I returned to Shanghai for another 2 weeks before heading back to Los Angeles. I spent my time there wandering around Shanghai by metro and on foot. If I haven’t mentioned it before, the Shanghai metro is extremely easy to navigate, and the crowds of people on the subway are manageable. My biggest pet peeve was that there are clearly marked lines on the station that tell you where to stand, so that when the train pulls up the people getting off won’t be blocked by masses of people. Of course, some Shanghainese people ignore these marks and stand right in front of the door, blocking the people getting off the train and preventing others (like me) patiently waiting in line. I know that in cities like New York (FYI: I lived there for 3.5 years), the subways don’t even have markings on the ground and getting on and off the subway is a mad free for all, but here in China they’re trying to create some sort of order to the chaos, and Chinese people just don’t understand the concept of a line. No one’s going to steal the train from you. If you miss this one there’s another train coming in about 5 minutes. I would know, I missed a train once.

I took line 10 (a newer line on the metro) to Xintiandi, which is a redeveloped shikumen area in the eastern part of Shanghai in what’s known as the French Concession. This area was in the list to be demolished, as the buildings, built in the shikumen style (mid-18th century stone buildings built closely together forming narrow alleyways), were crumbling from years of neglect. In comes an American developer, who sees this area for its beauty and decides to change it into a “lifestyle plaza.” Thus, the area’s buildings have become cafes, bars, nightclubs, and shops, mostly catering to young Shanghainese folk and expats. While I found the architecture to be charming (I loved the back alleyways), the stores and restaurants I thought were overpriced. I later came back to eat with my dad and 2 others at the famed DingTaiFeng (there’s one located near me in Los Angeles, I don’t think much of that one) and the food, while very good, was quite expensive. 4 chicken soups, 3 appetizers, a basket of the restaurant’s signature Xiao Long Bao, and  a dessert of red bean “xiaolongbao” set us back about $200. That’s a lot, especially for Shanghai. And especially because I can get the same meal in Los Angeles at my favorite Shanghainese restaurant for about $30.

Shikumen Alleyways

A Lovely Fountain in the Main "Street" in Xintiandi

Later, I ventured out of the area (Xintiandi is actually only 2 blocks) and headed north. I whimsically picked that direction by the way; it looked like it would have more things to do. Little did I know that I ended up on Huahai Lu, one of the busier shopping streets in Shanghai. The streets had the standard large department stores and Uniqlos lining the street, but it also had some designer brands scattered throughout. I saw the Cartier building, a large glass building that reminded me a little of the LV building in New York, and then, coincidentally, the LV store. I wasn’t in the mood to shop (it started raining), and so headed back to Xintiandi to take the metro home. Little did I know, after what I feel like had been a mile of walking, that Line 10 actually closes early. Watch out for that. I had to then make my way back to Huahai Lu, where the next station, on another line, would take me home. Needless to say I was upset, although I accidentally stumbled upon a lovely lake just slightly off the beaten path between Xintiandi and Huahai Lu.

You can't find this in Los Angeles.

Afterwards, I decided to go home. All in all, I think I walked about 3 or 4 miles that day. Needless to say my feet hurt. A lot.

Next: Day trip to Suzhou and Wuxi to visit my ancestral home.

Sculptures, Cows, and Still Getting Over Jetlag

I’m not going to bore you with all the minute details of what I did in Shanghai. Most of it was meeting people in from the Shanghai branch, meeting family members that I didn’t know existed, and eating. Lots and lots of eating. Eating the food my aiyi prepared, eating at restaurants with relatives, eating with my parents at little restaurants down the street from the apartment.

If you’re ever in the Changning District, make sure to head over the Dingxi Lu. The section around Yan’an Xi Lu is basically a restaurant row, very busy most of the time, and has affordable, clean food. It also sports a series of bars, ranging from nice Belgian beer bar Kaiba to pretty lively dive bar with disgusting bathrooms (hint: you squat) C’s. For food, I recommend this congee place, on the left side of the street, or HaoYouHui (translates to “Good Friend”), which is above a Taiwanese bakery/cafe chain 85°C, which is also an amazing place to pick up some Asian buns and milk tea.

What else did I do with my time at Shanghai? I’m a big fan of art galleries and museums, and Shanghai has some pretty modern art spaces for contemporary Chinese artists. I got a recommendation from Alex, our branch manager in China, to check out Shanghai Sculpture Space. So I did. And I must say, this place is spectacular, if not a little weird.

A note though, don’t go when it’s raining. I did; it was a bad idea.

Shanghai Sculpture Space used to be a factory; it’s been converted into a contemporary art space in the same vein as Beijing’s 798 Factory. A lot of the pieces are outdoors in a courtyard type area, while the converted buildings house galleries that are free to the public.

A Computer Abacus: The sculpture's about the size of a speedboat.

Violin, or is it a cello?

I think they've moved this into the Expo grounds

I do have more pictures. They will be uploaded onto the company’s Facebook page. I might start a Flicker for the company, but does anyone know if that’s necessary?

I spent another day roaming around the Shanghai Museum, located at People’s Square in the more traffic laden areas of Shanghai. The museum houses the best of China’s historical relics. The galleries are easy to navigate; the exhibits nicely arranged. The only major hassle is getting into the museum: admission is free so expect long lines for individuals who want to get in. I saw a line reserved for tour groups that was faster than my snail’s pace of a line, though I also saw non-tour groups go through that line.

Outside the Shanghai Museum

I wish I knew the importance of the yaks

Some Tibetan masks from the Ethnic Cultures Gallery

Other than that, I went shopping. Shanghai is the style capital of Mainland China. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much to suit my tastes, other than a few items from Uniqlo, Japan’s answer to The Gap. This is not to say that shopping is horrible at all; I just have an unusual taste in regards to fashion.

So after those lovely few days in Shanghai, I hopped onto a plane to Taipei, Taiwan.

Airlines, Crazed Drivers, and Sleeping at Odd Hours

I got the chance to spend a month in China this past April. I hadn’t gone in about 2.5 years, so this trip was long overdue.

I took a morning flight from Los Angeles with China Eastern Airlines, the airline works with my company, and so I was upgraded to business class, which is always nice. The service on board was pretty good, better than what you would get on an American airline. The attendants were all young Chinese women, all in their 20s, and all quite polite. I only say that the service was “pretty good” because it’s a lot better than what you would get on American and European airlines, but not as good as the service I’ve gotten on previous trips to Asia.

So what did I do on this 11 hour flight? Well, I have a penchant to fall asleep right when the safety video turns on (honestly, that video can cure insomnia). Thus, when I woke up, I found that it was already lunchtime, and was served the meal I picked out of their menu: a pork dish that I found to be surprisingly good. I ate that while attempting to watch Rachel Getting Married, one of the movie choices that China Eastern has for their customers.

After finishing the movie, falling asleep again, getting woken up for dinner, watching another movie on my laptop, eating yet another meal, and watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on the video monitor, I finally arrived in Shanghai. We landed at about 5:30 PM, just in time for rush hour (note my excitement, please). I was met with people from the company’s Shanghai office: Christina, who works in accounting, and a new hire, Xiao Lu, or “Little Lu.” Xiao Lu is our new driver; he transports our customers to and from the airport to their hotel. We piled into the company minivan, quite spacious and the first time I’ve seen a Buick in years, and headed towards the company apartment. In Chinese rush hour traffic. With crazy Chinese drivers.

An important note: if you’re thinking of driving in China, please don’t. I don’t want anyone to risk a car accident.

Chinese drivers cut. They honk. They back up on the highway. They have no regard for pedestrians. On the one hand, it’s an incredibly horrifying experience sitting in the passenger seat of a Chinese car (I recommend sitting in back, behind the driver). On the other, it’s especially mesmerizing to see your driver maneuver a minivan through certain vehicular maiming. I’m a pretty good driver, and I would rather set my hair on fire than switch places with Xiao Lu.

We arrived at the company apartment on Yan’an Xi Lu, a very major street in the Changning District of Shanghai. There’s nothing much in Changning; it’s mostly residential, although there is a lively evening scene of mainly locals and some expats. The rock club Yuyingtang is located close by, next to the Yan’an Xi Lu Metro Station. This club, alongside Mao Livehouse, is one of Shanghai’s premier rock venues, so if you want to check out some local rock bands, that’s where you’d go.

Anyway, when I got up to the apartment, I was treated to a nice home cooked meal left by our aiyi, our housekeeper that comes a few times a month. I must say, it was a delicious meal, I got a taste of this delicious broad bean called zedou, I don’t know what it’s called in English, or Mandarin for that matter. The bean is a local Shanghainese dish. I wish I had a picture of these beans, but I’ve just got to say that in the month I was there, I asked our aiyi to pretty much make that every day. It’s that good.

After filling myself up, jetlag set in and I basically crashed into my bed and slept…until 6 AM when I woke up.

To be continued in a later post…