THE ORIENT EXPRESSED: SHANGHAI– DISCOVERING THE OTHER CHINA

Travel Dates: July 16 through 18, 2011

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 Shanghai is part sprawling, Jetsons style uber-metropolis and part retro-chic former European outpost. It is about as un-China as one can get, and still be in mainland China. Our tour-sponsored hotel for the first two nights, The Crowne Plaza Fudan, is in the Pudong section, the sleeker, more modern side of the Huangpu River, but we’re transferring to The Salvo Hotel across the river and near The Bund for our final three nights. It’s worth mentioning that the former hotel is a four star worthy Crowne Plaza — it’s kept in pristine condition, and the rooms and public areas are spectacularly decorated. It is, though, off the beaten path for what visitors to Shanghai really want to see/experience.

Mr. Wu, our guide for this leg is nowhere near as helpful or as enthusiastic as the ones we’ve had so far; I suspect our flat-out refusal to visit the “very popular” silk “museum” may have contributed to his surliness. After picking us up at the airport Saturday night in a comfortable, air-conditioned coach, he showed up Sunday morning to escort us to the Shanghai Museum in a dirty, tiny, Montessori school cheese bus with temperamental AC. There was a curious, hand-written sign on the “bus” (a van, really) to assure us that “THIS BUS HAS BEEN DISINFECTED”, we suspect from lice.

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Upon arrival at the museum, Mr. Personality hustled us through the entrance gate and metal detectors, told us we had 90 minutes of free time, and he disappeared. So much for our guided tour.  The museum was lovely though, both inside and out, as these pictures will attest.

Mr. Wu returned at the appointed time with news that the AC had been fixed, probably because we were all shooting him with hate stares and because Dick, who felt by now like our collective “Dad” demanded he get us a better bus. Mercifully, T. and I only had to deal with him for half a day, after which the organized tour part of our trip came to a close. We made sure to take a group picture, and then parted at the Yu Gardens Bazaar in the Old City.

The Yu Gardens Bazaar is pure sensory overload.  Yes, it’s at once a garden, at its peaceful inner perimeter, and a bustling bazaar on the outside.  It’s super-crowded, very touristy, and jam-packed with everything everyone’s been trying to sell us in China so far. Want pearls and jade? Check. Silk scarves, bangles, Buddhas? Check. And of course, that knock-off Gucci, Prada, or Louis Vuitton bag is yours for a fraction of the cost of the real McCoy, not to mention iPhones, iPods, and Rolex watches. These wares are not sold out in the open though, since the recent promised gov’t crackdown. For these items, you have to be willing to follow one of the many guys with pictures or flyers depicting their “high quality” designer goods, or those simply sporting this season’s must have Burberry satchel on their shoulders, looking perfectly natural. We’ve not been brave enough to follow the knock-off scent yet, but I can feel my resistance ebbing away.

Anyway, after making a few purchases at The Bazaar, sharpening our haggling skills in the process, we jumped on the subway back to Pudong. The Shanghai subway is gorgeous, clean, well-lit, air-conditioned, and cheap. It’s about a twenty minute ride back to the Crowne Plaza, but then we proceed to misread the map and walk about a mile in the opposite direction. Eventually we make it back by taxi, I konk out, and my beloved goes foraging for food.

 

 

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