Building on the Bund

Travel Update: Shanghai, Day 0

Today we travelled to Shanghai. It was a doubly big day because Amelia arrived in Shanghai at the same time. More on that in a minute.

We kicked off our morning with a stroll through the streets. Kat ate her leftover pizza from the night before, and I got some street food.

Street Food for Breakfast
Not pictured: Me realizing, some time around the third bite, that the meat was quite spicy.

Kat was thirsty for some good tea. Now, you’d think that this would be an easy order to fill in China, but for Kat it is a challenge. No one seems to stock rooibos tea – Chinese tea shops often stock popular European teas (such as Earl Grey), but rooibos is from Africa. The Chinese appear to have no interest in Africa, tea or otherwise. Which would be fine, as Kat also enjoys a selection of European teas. Unfortunately, Chinese tea shops use the wrong kind of milk (or so Kat tells me). Apparently it is common to use condensed milk or unpasteurized milk (with added preservatives), which changes the taste dramatically.

For this reason, we went to Starbucks in search for familiar tea. This was a bust, as the Starbucks we went to vaguely listed “International Tea” without additional information. Kat ordered it, and discovered it to be a rather poor Earl Grey with the above-mentioned wrong milk. She was not impressed. Neither, it seems, were the other patrons. The Starbucks was full of Westerners sadly nursing their cups in dark and quiet corners. It was the saddest Starbucks that we had ever been to.

Kat was also on the lookout for pants, so we went on a brief shopping trip. Now, the thing that I should mention about Xi’an (and, I have been told, urban China generally) is that the locals stay up late and get up late. Most stores open at 10:00am (or 10:30am) and stay open until 10:00pm, or even later on weekends. Thus, at 9:00am, the only stores that were open were our Starbucks and a Wal*Mart just down the road. We went to the Wal*Mart, but it was just a grocery store (and it only sold the wrong kind of milk).

Jujube Milk
Kat loves jujubes, so this made her conflicted.

Eventually, the time came to take a cab to the airport. We had a brief lunch at a coffee shop near our terminal, and then relaxed for a time while we waited for our flight.

Kat Reading
Kat brushed up on her Mandarin while I wrote a blog post.

We had an uneventful flight to Shanghai. Upon arriving, I realized that my phone had drained all of its battery on the two-hour flight (this is despite being on airplane mode; I still have no idea what caused it). To compound things, we could not find Amelia at the domestic arrivals gate. She had arrived an hour before us, and the plan was to meet there. It turns out that we were in opposite terminals of the airport. It is a very large airport, so we were not thrilled about this.

Luckily for us, both Kat and Amelia had working phones (albeit phones that got charged ludicrous international roaming rates – thanks, Bell and Telus!), so we met in the middle, which just so happens to be where the Maglev train is. This took a few phone calls, since the Maglev boarding area has two entrances (remember, it is a very large airport) and we had arrived at opposite ends. Amelia almost got boarded on to the train by a rather insistent staff person, but ended up heading back to the pre-boarding area that Kat and I were trapped in.

A Joyous Reunion
It was a joyous reunion.

Now reunited, we boarded the next train together and took off for downtown Shanghai. I should note that the Maglev train is pretty cool. For about CAD$9, it travels 32km in 8 minutes, capping out at a speed of 430km/hr. This, I think you will agree, is very fast.

Maglev Train
I can see why pre-Internet nerds were so fond of trains. No offence, old nerds.

We sprung for the ritzier $18 First-Class tickets. This was completely frivolous, as the train was practically empty at the time and we would only be on board for 8 minutes, but we wanted our first moments in Shanghai to be classy.

On the Bullet-Train
Maybe “classy” was the wrong word.

Upon arriving in Shanghai, we hopped in a cab and headed to our hotel to check in. Checking in is very important in China. When you fill out your visa application, the Chinese government asks you to list your accommodations so that they’ll know where you are at any given time. It doesn’t matter if your plans change, though, because every hotel takes your passport at the point of registration and informs the central authority (whoever that is). For this reason, many hotels cannot take foreigners, as they are not equipped to handle the government’s people-tracking regulations.

As an aside, our PhD friend from two days before told us about an acquaintance of his who eloped while working in China. After a few days his employer called and asked him where he had gone. He declined to answer. An hour later his employer called back with a history of his movements and a photo of him eating at a coffee shop nearby from the day before.

I guess China’s investments are paying off.

Visitor's Registration
China: Pretending that they don’t already know where you are since 2004.

After checking in, we went hunting for a place to have dinner. We found the nearby Shanghai Grandmother Restaurant. We took that to mean that they hire grandmothers from Shanghai for authentic local meals, so we went in. Actually, just in case your sarcasm detection gauge is mis-calibrated (this is the Internet, after all), we went in because it was close, unfamiliar and moderately classy.

We ordered prawns, a whole fried squid, a stew, a kind of fish that I hadn’t heard of before and some pig knuckles. It was all very good, although the pig knuckles were too intense for my taste – they’re all skin and fat, so they’re very, very rich. Amelia quite liked them, but I only had a bite.

Shanghai Dinner, Day 0
Just like grandma used to make.

It soon became clear that each main dish was intended for more than one person, and that we had ordered way, way too much. We got the extra packed up. We didn’t hold on to it for long; some time after leaving the restaurant, we ran in to a homeless woman and her child. The child ran up to us and reached his tiny little arms up to the plastic bag I was carrying. He couldn’t have been older than three. I was bewildered for a moment, but then Amelia whispered into my ear: “Give him the food.” This snapped me out of it, and I handed him the bag.

I hope they like pig knuckles.

Anyways, we wandered down to the main strip of the Bund, which is an area on the side of the Huangpu river opposite the downtown. This is a historic district, lined with impressive Western buildings going back to when Shanghai first became a hub for foreign commerce over a century ago.

The Bund
Our hotel is just one block behind one of these banks.

We didn’t come for the old Western buildings, though. We came for the skyline across the river. It did not disappoint.

Shanghai Skyline
Shanghai’s city motto: “Our skyline is better than yours. Also, we light up our boats”

At this point, Amelia and I headed back to the hotel to get some sleep (Amelia was still adjusting to the 15-hour time zone difference) while Kat stayed up to wander around the Bund some more.

Tomorrow will be our first full day in Shanghai, as well as Amelia’s birthday. Stay tuned for excitement and adventure.