China and Cambodia: Part 6

And then it was our very last full day in Shanghai. So we decided to do what had worked so well for us before: art and food.

We started off our day at the Minsheng Art Museum in the west side of Shanghai. It’s an an interesting area with lots of galleries/exhibition places. It was like an even more exclusive version of M50. There were public art pieces everywhere.

The museum, funded by a bank, shows contemporary artists. They had two shows on. One of them was one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. Puppets and video installation! The work was by Zhou Xiaohu. He built these life size puppets from found items (pre-made masks) and had them act out Buddhist fables. We spent 20 minutes watching the video installation of these creatures dancing and talking about these fables. It was surreal and poignant. This was a show that resonated with the crazy in my head. We also saw the actual puppets themselves. He also had these amazing pieces where he used objects like feathers, bones, and tools, that he arranged in such a way that the shadows reflected onto a wall made it look like handwritten calligraphy. Incredible.

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After our visit to the museum was done, we took a break at a cafe nearby. It was nice to people watch at this arts area. We also found a copy of TimeOut Shanghai that had amazing illustrations.

Then it was time to head to the Shanghai History Museum. It’s located in the base of the famous Oriental Pearl building in Pudong, the land of the crazy skyscrapers. I had never actually set foot in the area; I’d only seen it from across the river at the Bund. So it was kinda exciting being amongst the skyscrapers (and yes, I grew up in Chicago. Shh). At the train station, we went to a bakery and I got a Portuguese egg tart and a mango custard danish. Holy cow the mango custard was amazing.

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When we got to the Oriental Pearl, we were amazed to find this huge line stretching around and around, all to go up the tower. It was interesting how the ticket sellers and guards were surprised when we said that we had no interest in the tower, just the museum.

The museum was a fine collage of different exhibits. It starts off with a history of transportation. We started with sedan chairs, carriages to cars and buses. As we walked up through the museum, there were lots of dioramas, showcasing life in Shanghai at various points in history. Some dioramas were life sized recreations while others were tiny tabletop models. It was neat walking through their recreation of 19th century Shanghai with all the model shops, etc. There wasn’t the most clear narrative of the history but we enjoyed spending time there.

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel for one last meal with family. We had a little time to kill before our appointed time so we hung out in a public park near the train. Part of it was hilly and labyrinthine, which was cool. There was a flute player amidst the trees which was a nice touch. We found a little bamboo forest too. As we walked to meet my family, we also found a street with some nice street art. Aside from the day at M50, I hadn’t really seen much.

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We ended up a hot pot place. It was a bit challenging meal. We had split the pot in two: one side was mild while the other was spicy. Very spicy. I didn’t want to dunk the meat in the mild side since my companion was a vegetarian. (She was fine with it but I was committed!) So any meat got cooked in the spicy side. HOly cow, was it spicy! I eventually had to stop and drink my juice to calm the war on my tongue. Alas!

After dinner, we had a little misadventure. When we had the reservation made at the hotel for us, we received a receipt that was mostly in Chinese with only the date legible. I saw that it was a date earlier than we needed but I asked and was told it was fine. However, when we checked in around midnight, we had to explain that no we were staying 7 nights, not 6. Unfortunately, the lady who checked us in did not have great English so it was a bit difficult. But we got to a place that made sense. She showed us a price that made sense to add to the price we were paying. We made sure that we understood what was going on. We weren’t go to just agree.

So when we got back to our room on the 6th day, we found that our key cards didn’t work. We went downstairs, knowing what had happened. Then the fun began. It was the same woman but the story changed. She said we had to pay more for the extra night. We tried to explain that we had already paid and had a receipt to show for it. We ended up with a friend on the phone who was a native speaker. The lady kept changing her story. First it was only 400 RMB for the extra night (about $60) and then it changed to 500 Rmb (about $75). It wasn’t a lot of money but it was the principle of the thing. We didn’t know if our bags were still in the room. It was incredibly frustrating. I wanted to leave but my rational side prevailed. If we got our stuff and left, we would still pay more at another hotel. It was Friday night after 9pm. Eventually we paid the 500 RMB and found that the room was exactly as we left it. Thank goodness.

As soon as we verified that nothing had been taken or even moved, we got in a cab and went to the Bund. We were going to have a fancy drink in the fanciest part of town. We wandered a bit trying to find a place with a view. We ended up in the Peace Hotel, which had a beautiful art deco feel. But no room with a view. Eventually, we ended up in the Waldorf Astoria. It was beautiful. No view but it felt right. We got a table in this wood paneled gem. I ordered $30 glass of champagne. I enjoyed every single drop. There was a singer, beautiful and tiny, with a pink shirt and black pants. She wore amazing tassel earrings. It was what was needed after our frustrations at the hotel.

That glass of champagne was worth it.

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 5

That morning, I was determined to have more red bean paste. We stopped at the bakery where we had the egg bean paste thing. This time I chose poorly. One of the things was filled with dried chicken (I thought it tasted like dry lotus paste – awkward) and another with pork. Sad panda.

We decided to go on a little journey on the far side of town to Qibao. It’s supposed to look like what a river village would. So we took a few train changes to get there (saw some amazing surreal vegetable and fruit advertisements). I tried what I think was a red bean and chocolate bubble tea from a kiosk in the train station. It was pretty good.

Qibao was amazing. The bridge was beautiful. You saw boats hanging out in the water. Old buildings surrounded it. It was worth the side trip. It also had great tourist shopping; it was less chaotic than Yu gardens area. We had fun looking at the vendors, bought some canvas shoes. And there was a food area! There were lots of meat on skewers but the heat of the day made me want for something refreshing. We bought pickles from a vendor sold them from vats. I also got this tasty gooey red bean paste thing. We hung out in a tiny cafe next to the water to cool down from the heat. I watched amazing ice cream concoctions being made but I wanted to wait for the real prize that afternoon.

Qibao

Skewers

After we felt sufficiently cooled down, we decided to wander a little bit more in the area to see the little museums. We found the Shadow Puppet museum that we had to go to. Sadly, we were not there on a day with a show. It was tiny but we saw the intricate shadow puppets. Not a lot to read but it was a cute little pit stop.

Then we decided to head back to the French Concession for one last hurrah. My goal: ridiculous ice cream. Before we explored the warrens of the Tianzifang, we found a little market that sold fruits, veggies and meat. We got several fruits including: dragon fruit, clementines, and these lychee like fruits. I tried eating one of the lychee like fruits and it exploded over me. 🙂

Then it was time to find my crazy ice cream. It was ice cream with cotton candy and fruit pebbles. It has to be one of the most insane things I’ve had. I’ll admit the sight of it was better than the actual taste (the ice cream was akin to soft serve but not quite). But it was worth the experience. We wandered around a bit more, taking in the other ridiculous things to eat.

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Panda egg tarts

Then it was time to head to the train to meet my family for dinner at their apartment. We ended up in the food court of a mall where the train station had an entrance. Again, we saw amazing food experiences but we had to pass them up since we were going to dinner.

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 4

The following day was our day trip to Hangzhou. It’s a city about an hour by train from Shanghai. The attraction there is West Lake, considered one of the most beautiful sights in China. Naturally, we had to go.

To get there, we had to get to the Hongqiao train station on the other side of Shanghai. It was about a forty minute train ride. I love riding the public transit of cities; I feel that I get a better sense of the city that way. I love seeing the people; I love the advertisements you see in the stations.

Once we got to the train station, we had to figure out how to buy tickets. Unfortunately, since we were not Chinese citizens, we could not buy tickets from a kiosk. We waited in a long line and eventually got tickets to take us to the Hangzhou East Train station. It’s further away but it had more frequent trains. Soon we boarded our train and were zooming through China to our destination.

It was pretty cool to see the area outside of Shanghai. I had never been anywhere else in China. I saw people working in the fields, I saw large towns with amazing architecture. It was rather lovely. The train was pretty awesome too. Somewhere there was a hot water spigot for tea or soup preparation. That’s amazing. I wish we had something like that in more common areas in Chicago or the US at large.

Once we got to the station and waited in the cab line, we debated where to go. The guidebook was surprisingly vague about where to go in West Lake. We ended up choosing something randomly that we thought we could ask the driver to take us to.  It may have been the farthest point on West Lake from Hangzhou but that’s okay. It was neat to see tiny glimpses of the area as we drove to it. Mountains surround it on three sides.

And then we were finally at our destination. We understood why it was so popular with the Chinese. The combination of the lake, the mountains, pagodas in the distance. This was a marvelous place. We bought some popcorn with the intention of feeding it to creatures we saw. However, we would soon learn that none of the fish or birds were interested in the popcorn. Very strange. But we saw this amazing pond with 100s of koi, swimming in bulk. We walked along the causeway taking in all of the nature. Lotus blossoms, trees, occasional astonishing birds. We watched the boats go out on the water and saw the amazing party boats shaped like dragons and other mythical creatures.

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We decided to hire a boat to take us out on the water. We climbed into a wooden boat where we tried to talk to our boatsman/captain. He paddled us out and around. We got an even better view of the area including a pagoda that is apparently on the RMB bills. Very neat! I’m not entirely sure if we were ripped off. The ride was only a half hour instead of the expected hour. But the language barrier made it hard to figure out what was going on. Then again, it was a small amount of money. It was still worth the brief excursion on the water.

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We continued to wander around the lake. I saw lots of people eating fresh watermelon so I naturally desired it. For about a dollar, I got a container of fresh watermelon with toothpicks. It was absolutely refreshing.

On our journey, we came across the Tianfeng Pagoda on the water. We decided to check it out since we were there. It was a very tall pagoda. There were several flights of stairs just to get to the base of it! There were seven more floors to get to the top. But it was worth it. (Every tower must be climbed!) The view was astonishing. You could see the mountains, the lake, and the actual city of Hangzhou! What a glorious place!

As the day continued, we realized how hungry and hot we were. We hadn’t really seen places to sit for food. We did have some walking lunches but we sometimes elected for sit down meals because of the heat and humidity. We studied the insufficient map to figure out where we were. We had planned to walk to the nearer train station to go home since it was about .5 mile from Hangzhou (supposedly). We learned that the lake is really really big. But we eventually figured out where to go and found a little place offering coconuts. And air conditioning. We went in and had the most refreshing coconut of our lives. It wasn’t coconut water; it was a jellied coconut served in the shell. It was what was needed after hours of walking. And we had WiFi.

That’s when I got messages about the impending super typhoon that was on its way to Shanghai. Not something you necessarily expect on a trip. We had been alerted to it a few days before by my mother but hadn’t gotten a lot of information. All I could determine was that it was going to hit Taiwan first and make landfall on mainland China at some point. Shanghai would get the last wave of the storm. I was a bit worried that we might have some issues leaving for Cambodia but that was the extent. Still it was strange to get messages about the typhoon from concerned family members while in a coconut shop in Hangzhou.

After our stay at the oasis, it was time to get to the train station. I was concerned about getting tickets on a train back since it seemed to be filling up per the website. We tried walking but the map got very difficult and ended up taking a cab.

The experience in the train station was something out of Monty Python. A sign told us that the foreign friendly line at teh station was aisle X so we dutifully stood in line. Just as we got to the front of the queue, the woman at the front put up a sign in Chinese and waved us away. Apparently, it was closed. Very frustrating. We waited there for about 5 minutes hoping she (or her replacement) would help us but to no avail. So we waited in another line. THen it closed. Another line. Same thing. Eventually we got in a fourth line. This time as we stood at the front, a Iranian adult son and father asked if they could cut in front of us to get a ticket thing figured out. We obliged (common bond of travelers in foreign lands). The ticket lady helped them reprint tickets. THen it was our turn. She took one look at us and said, “No, you have to go to the FOreigner’s line.” (At this point, it had reopened). We were spitting mad. So my friend pointedly said, “You helped the Iranians. You can help us.” The woman didn’t respond but took our passports and eventually gave us tickets. However, we had 15 minutes to get to our train. We had to get through security, find our gate, and get on the train. And we did. The train was once again a smooth breeze, easy, air conditioned and hassle free.

Once we got back to the hotel, I decided to venture on alone for some dinner. I was hungry and keen to find some good eating. It was tricky since a lot of the places around the hotel were open during the day. They were not many sit down places. I found one but it served American style food that was not for me. I was in China and I was going to each Chinese food.  After a little walk, I found a place with a crab on the logo. It was sit down place. It was perfect. The menu was a placemat where there were pictures of animals. You chose the type of animal you wanted. The waitress tried to help me through it. Through miming, we decided the size (small). She even creatively asked me how spicy I wanted it. Thanks to the guidebook, I indicated a small amount of spice.

And then I received the most magnificent plate of crabs, chicken feet, and tofu. It was amazing. More food than I had hoped for but totally worth it. I wasn’t sure how to eat the small crabs so I watched people around me. After a few minutes, I realized I was gnawing on the distinctly wrong part of the crab. But it was still delicious. The sauce was amazing. The crabs (once I figured them out) were succulent. The chicken feet were a nice complement and the tofu was delicious. I did accidently ate a pepper that made my face go completely red. One of the waiters rushed over with cold tea that helped a bit. That’s when I used the phrases in the guidebook to order white rice! It was honestly the best meal of the trip despite or even because of my misadventures. 🙂

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That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 3

On our third full day, we decided to check out some markets in Shanghai. We had read about an antique market. There was also a Flower, Fish, Bird and Insect market near the antique market so we were especially keen to go. When we got there, we found the Flower market first. It was surprisingly loud. Several vendors sold crickets in little wooden cages; the sound was the 100s of crickets singing(?). THe market was true to its word. There were lots of birds, including parrots and even house sparrows. There were various fish and amphibians. It was pretty neat. THe market was a pet market for people of Shanghai. Cute fuzzy scaly winged creatures!

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Cricket baskets

Then we decided to find the antique market. We wandered around a construction site; there were bulldozers everywhere. Then we realized looking at the directions in the guidebook; we were where the market used to be. All the bulldozers were taking out the remains of the neighborhood. This we knew was pretty typical. Things changed quickly in Shanghai. One local told us how he saw a store open in the morning to bulldozed a few hours later with no warning. I should also mention that my guidebook was from 2013…so not exactly up to date. (The subway in the map was our guide but had several lines missing!). So we skirted the place and found two holdouts.

After our adventure with the antique market, we decided to head back to the French Concession for some exploration and shopping. We ended up in the very posh area called Xintiandi. It has lots of very upscale stores and restaurants; it’s meant to mirror the other area of the French Concession, Tianzifang. It has echoes of historical architecture but it’s like a reinterpretation. On the way from this fancy area back to Tianzifang, we found a vegetarian place where we had incredibly fresh food including skinned cucumbers, vegetable dumplings, and a salad of bananas and dragonfruit.

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Xintiandi

 

We wandered around Tianzifang again, taking it all a bit more. We got another dumpling from the dumpling shop with all the characters. This time it was shaped like a penguin with custard inside. It was prettier than it tasted. It was fun but that was the last time we got a dumpling from the place.During our time there, I accidently ended up trying a $3,000 embroidered shirt and then a $500 shawl. Eep!

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After trying on such expensive outfits, we decided to check out the Shanghai Liuli Art Museum. It was opened by  Chang Yi and Loretta Yang and features art glass all over the world. They had a special exhibition of Toot Zynsky. She pioneered this fiber optic glass form and made these vibrant vases. Very cool. My friend described them best: “It’s like the glass version of Georgia O’Keefe.” In their permanent collection, Loretta Yang displays her ethereal pieces influenced by Buddhism.  The outside of the building is this beautiful LED light flower that fades from color to color.

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Liuli Shanghai Art Museum

Then a downpour came upon us. We ended up hiding under the awning of a local hospital. So it was naturally more museum time! We found a cab that took us to our next destination (and a personal favorite): the Shanghai Propaganda Museum. I had been there before on our first trip because propaganda. It’s a lovely gem of a museum. It is housed in the basement of an apartment complex but worth going. It has a collection of posters starting with the Shanghai girl posters to the present day. You’ll see how the styles and ideology changed. And some of the images are truly spectacular. Lots of space babies, babies riding wheat, even a poster on Einstein!

Afterwards we walked a bit around this residential area of the French Concession. We stopped at a cafe channeling retro France with old school refrigerator and 1960/70s movie posters. We had a snack of pickles including pickled apples. Very refreshing! I had a red bean tea latte that was tasty. IT had red beans in the bottom!

For dinner, we had dinner at a Yunnan restaurant that was amazing. I’ve never had minced meat that was so delicious before! Everything was amazing. We ended the night hanging out in a Carrefour because grocery stores in foreign countries are a lot of fun. We bought lots of haw snacks, a sweet red plant based candy, that we devoured quickly.

A great day!