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Paulo59 Jan 3rd, 2009 02:09 PM

OK. So this is my first fodors trip report. I have gained so much from all of you who write these reports so thank you all. I know for this particular trip which brought us to Shanghai, Hanoi and Hong Kong, I obtained tremendous input from shaghainese, ekscrunchy, rkkwan, cicerone, Bob (rhkkmk) and many more from this site. I have often added my insights and thoughts to other people’s questions and threads on this site when I thought it would be helpful so I hope you won’t all hold it against me for waiting this long to write my first report.

On this trip we (my partner, Jay and I) traveled to Shanghai, Hanoi, and Hong Kong from November 14-30, 2008. I have seen many reports on Hanoi and Hong Kong so I will write this one on Shanghai and if I somehow find the time and get the nerve I will later add thoughts about Hanoi and Hong Kong. I hope at lest one person enjoys this.

We flew from LAX to SFO to Shanghai (PVG) and arrived in Shanghai around 6 pm. There is a structured taxi service at the airport so we just got in the short line and caught a cab into the city to our hotel, Le Royal Meridian in the Puxi area near People’s Square. You can take a MAGLEV train from the airport to Pudong but unless you are staying in Pudong you will then have to switch to a subway or take a taxi to get to your hotel. We were not eager to lug our baggage onto another subway and figured out that the taxi was pretty cheap anyway so we just took the taxi direct from the airport. I think it was like 160 Yuan or $23.

As many others have reported here, the Meridian is a very pleasant hotel, only about a year old with modern comfortable rooms, many with amazing views of either the People’s Square or the Bund. We had used Starwood Points (1,000 points) to get a Deluxe room for only $225/night which was to have a Park view. The preferred Bund view rooms are not available using the points but when we checked in I asked about our view and was told we had a nice room. I then said we had wanted a Bund view but it was unavailable, that this was a first visit to Shanghai and we had heard so much about the Bund view and was there not any way we could get one. The nice girl at the check in desk hesitated a moment then said well since it is your first visit. She then promptly upgraded us to a Deluxe Bund View room on the 37th floor. We got to the room which was pleasantly decorated in modern style and a reasonably good size room but then we saw the wonderful view from the window and were thrilled. We spent some part of every evening looking out our window watching the Bund buildings and those in Pudong light up in the evening. It was a real treat. I would say the hotel would be worth staying in regardless given the other views would be interesting as well and the location was great and rooms were very nice but having the Bund view was wonderful. You can get this same view by going to the rooftop bar any night you want by the way. Of course, drinks are very pricey there compared to anywhere else in Shanghai…but really the same prices you would pay somewhere in NY or LA. But do go to the bar at least one night at this height, the bar provides an amazing view and as a hotel guest you will likely be seated right by the window. We were both nights we went.

So after checking into our room we decided to get something for dinner. We were lazy and decided to eat at the Le Bistro restaurant in the main lobby which was a big mistake as it is a buffet (with lots of interesting choices of food) but we had not really thought through the price of the buffet and this turned out to be one of our most expensive meals in Shanghai and not even close to the best meal. For the two of us including one beer it cost over 600 Yuan ($90). Oh well. Live and learn.

The next morning I got up early to find some good coffee. As I walked out of the street level lobby, I heard some music playing and wandered around the other side of the hotel building onto Nanjing Dong to the source. Our hotel expands outward as it goes higher so it creates an overhang with a small square underneath it. In that area were about 40 couples dancing to ballroom music playing out of a boom box. It was such a charming sight to see these mostly middle aged couples thoroughly entranced by the music and dancing their hearts aware seemingly totally unaware or unconcerned at least that people like me were just standing watching them on the sidelines. What a nice treat for my first morning in Shanghai. Throughout the trip we saw people dancing, exercising, playing cards, mah jong and chess in the public spaces throughout the city. Much like NY, the Shanghainese must not have much private space so they seem to really use their public spaces. It was very heartening and enjoyable to be wandering the city and happen upon one of these sights.

A bit later we decided to have breakfast and since our breakfast was not included in our room rate, we followed the advice of another Fodorite and went directly across from our hotel to the Jamaica Blue Mountain Cafe. It’s a small café that serves lunch, a few pastries, all sorts of specialty coffee, and an inexpensive breakfast menu. One day we had the Big Breakfast which included eggs, bacon and coffee for only 45 Yuan another day we got the breakfast sandwich which was the eggs on a ciabbatta bread for a few Yuan cheaper. Not amazing but it suited our morning appetites. In the end we went there every morning for breakfast.

Nanjing Road is one of the main pedestrian walkways in Shanghai with all sorts of shops ranging from those selling Chinese treats and specialty food to knives and scissors (which seemed to have specialty shops of their own all over Shanghai) to standard department store fare you could buy anywhere in the world. Walking in one direction you would reach the Bund in about a 15 minute pleasant walk. On the weekend days and weeknights after about 6 pm Nanjing is packed with people. Negotiating your way along the road was a fun adventure trying to figure out how to weave your way through the crowds. It struck me as similar to rush hour crowds in Tokyo when you are in or near the subway stations and one wrong step will cause you to be drawn along with a crowd going the opposite direction you intended. But it was fun.

One note is that you will be constantly approached by men and women trying to sell you something. The typical rant was “Bagga, DVD, Watcha…” and in and our case (we are two guys) it was often followed by people saying, “Massage” or “Lady Massage” and then if that did not work, “Sexy Massage” and then ultimately, “Bang bang…” as if we did not understand what “sexy massage” meant. It was very funny. I don’t think they did this massage rant to woman or to couples but be prepared if you are a single guy or two guys. It was best to totally ignore them or they would continue without end. They would continue long enough even if you said nothing. This was only a minor irritation. I did not feel accosted by it even though every day we walked in this area on Nanjing it would happen. All of the people said it with a smile on their faces, no harm or insult or bother intended. This did not really happen in other areas of the City.

We like to mostly wander when we travel. We will see some of the more prominent tourist sites and museums but spend most of our time wandering around cities to get the feel of the city, the people, and the culture. So on our first wander in Shanghai we walked (about 20 minutes) from our hotel to Taikang Road area in the French concession direction. First off the unique artsy Taikang Road that is so often described in guide books and by other fodorites is completely gone. Yes, gone. A victim of Shanghais constant urban renewal. We searched for it several times only to realize that there are new skyscrapers in part of it and the other part has been gutted (the inside while maintaining the facades) which appears to be part of an effort to create another Xintiandi type area. Oh well. But we did walk along Dong Tai Road nearby which is a very pleasant old street to wander with tons of little shops mostly selling antiques and memorabilia from the People’s revolution period. This area and the adjoining streets have maintained its local atmosphere with very low buildings with small shops and dusty alleys. It truly feels like old China here. You’ll also find small butcher and grocery shops selling all kinds of produce that you may not recognize with 6 or 7 different types of eggs for sale and a wide range of butchered meat including things like pigs feet and a wider range of items which I could not even guess what they were. We then wandered our way just a few blocks further to Xintiandi which is a series of warehouse type buildings that have been converted into an outdoor pedestrian mall with a few shops and lots of restaurants, a bit like a Quincy Market in Boston. We were hungry by this point so we decided to try to find Din Tai Fung (DTF) which is known for its xia long bao (soup dumplings). DTF is in the 2nd floor of the small mall at one end of Xintiandi. It’s a very clean, simple setting sort of similar to the design of a California Pizza Kitchen or something like that in the U.S. but with amazing service and yummy food. I know other fodorites have searched all of Shanghai for the absolute best soup dumplings in the city and there are discussions on this site about which are truly the best but honestly after tasting the food at DTF we decided we did not need to keep searching. I have to admit that I am a bit skittish about eating unusual animal parts as well as spicy food so this is not at all to discount the many very special local restaurants you can find in Shanghai that both Eksckunchy and Shanghainese mention in their posts here. So I am sure there are better dumplings and dumpling restaurants that will give you a more unique local flavor, but we loved DTF. The food is great, the service wonderful and they have locations in several parts of the city so it was a pleasant, easy place to stop for lunch. Be warned that at many of these dumpling shops, you will wait in long lines. DTF is no exception but they help things along by giving you a number and the menu when you check in with the hostess so you can sit in the many seats outside the restaurant or wander a bit until your number was called. And meanwhile one of the nice hostesses will come by to take your order in advance of being seated so that once seated your food will be served quite promptly. The menus all had lots of pictures so it was pretty easy to decide what to order and to point at the menu. Our first day we ordered 5 pork dumplings, 5 crab and pork dumplings, 5 shrimp and pork shui mai, and some fried rice. YUM!!!! They were all great. I am not really a big fan of crab (I know, I know…crazy boy) but I did like these dumplings (although we did order without the crab at other places later in the week). It was just the right amount of food for us. Including 2 beers the total for both of us was less than $20 U.S. The soup dumplings are described all over these fodor sites but honestly they are delicious. You can use a soup spoon to pick up the dumpling and bite a bit out of the corner so that it cools just a tad before you dive into it. The soup inside is quite hot otherwise and you can easily scald your tongue. After waiting a few seconds for it to cool, the combo of the dumpling, the rich buttery soup, and the meat inside the dumpling is quite heavenly.

Following lunch we wandered Xinitandi a bit. It has a very pleasant, upscale feel, and the building design is charming. It takes very little time to cover the whole place as a tourist site but we did decide to stop in here a few times during our stay for lunch or pastries (see below). We happened to be in Shanghai during cold weather of November so my guess is that during warmer weather this place is hopping with young Shanghainese as well as tourists as it is one of the few areas in the City with outdoor restaurants amassed in the same area. So it would seem to be a fun place to go in the evening. I will also note that we wandered into Paul’s which is a French pastry shop which we have also found in London. Paul’s offers delicious desserts and rolls with wonderful buttery crusts and pastry. And if you want a real Espresso or Cappuccino made the way the French do, this is the place. The staff is also quite charming. It was a bit disarming at first when we arrived to a chorus of cute Shanghainese girls speaking in French… when I answered and tried to create a short conversation in French they giggled and said they only knew a very little French. Very sweet.

We were still a bit tired from the long trip to Shanghai so we went back to the hotel for a rest and to book dinner at the Whompoa Club as it was Jay’s birthday that night. I decided to go out for short walk on my own that afternoon just along Nanjing Road to watch the crowds. While walking this area we had grown accustomed to what we called undercover hawkers who would start out by just trying to get you to chat in English by saying hello and where are you from etc. but soon quickly switching to try to convince you to come see their shop to buy bags, watches, DVDs etc. After one day it was pretty easy to note and therefore avoid these people. But on this afternoon, I decided to go on a short walk by myself when two relatively demur girls in their twenties said “Hello” when passing by. So I said “hello” back. They responded by asking if they could practice their English by speaking to me. Sad to say but from all my travels, I am a bit wary. But then I thought, hey why not, I am on a very public street with literally thousands of people… what can happen. So I said yes and Michelle and Wen-Lee proceeded to introduce themselves and started asking me all sorts of questions about where I was from and then more questions about the U.S. etc. They suggested that the Chinese like America and Americans as did virtually everyone I talked to on this trip which was a very pleasant surprise. It was a very pleasant conversation and their English was remarkable but after about 10-15 minutes I thought ok time to move on. Jay was expecting me back at this point so I said I had to go and thanked them for the conversation. They then asked why and stated that they really wanted to talk some more and maybe we could just go get coffee somewhere or dinner. I was not sure where it was going so I decided to end it there and thanked them again. This same exact sort of conversation happened the next day, again when I was out walking on Nanjing on my own, again two girls I would guess in their twenties, again very well spoken and again ending in asking me to go for coffee or dinner. I enjoyed both experiences getting to talk to locals and really did not assume anything was wrong but just watched where the conversation was going and stayed on the main street in that area. Everyone I’ve told about these experiences has different opinions ranging from that they were actually prostitutes to that they really did just want to practice their English. Maybe I am naïve but I still feel that they could just have been nice girls out for the weekend afternoon who thought a free cup of coffee or better yet dinner with a pleasant foreigner might be great fun.

The Whompoa Club is one of the handful of restaurants you can find in the charming old buildings along the Bund that offer a view of the river and Pudong which is lit up at night. We arrived early and decided to stop in one of the other places in the 3 on the Bund complex. BTW it is a relatively unobtrusive rehabbed older building not a big modern complex. There was construction all along the Bund while we were there so it was not that easy to find. So we went to the New Heights bar/restaurant and had a drink on their terrace outside overlooking the Bund, the river and Pudong. It was beautiful. The entrance to Whompoa is quite striking with rich red walls and art deco furnishings that are really very beautiful. The dining room is decorated much more simply however. We did have a view but to be honest the view from the Heights bar was better. After dining at Whompoa, we decided that stopping at the Heights for a drink was a great way to get this view without paying the high prices charged by most of the restaurants in this complex. Dinner at Whompoa was good (and again I will have to note that I am not very adventurous so many of the specialty dishes did not appeal to me… please don’t take this as a judgment of any kind...I am just skittish) but it was very expensive compared to anywhere else we went in Shanghai. I would say it was good but to be honest we found that many of the simpler restaurants in Shanghai offered food that was quite good at substantially lower prices. You will have to ask Shanghainese or Ekscrunchy whether it offers something special (beside the nice view) that many of the other less expensive restaurants in Shanghai do not offer.

Note here that we found that even nice restaurants in Shanghai had very reasonable prices compared to anywhere you would go in the world for dinner. In fact, had we not ordered wine with all of our meals, I would guess that most or our meals probably would have only cost about $30 to $40 total for both of us without wine even at nicer restaurants and often half that at the simple restaurants. The only challenge is that wine is very expensive here and we do like our wine. We did not find many inexpensive wine options in Shanghai so on average our wine cost anywhere from $55-$90/bottle. Oops… Way more than the food cost.

On our second day in Shanghai we walked along Nanjing Dong to the Bund. It’s a very pleasant walk most of the way on the pedestrian Nanjing Road and then the last part brings you back to city streets near the Bund. Along the way we saw all sorts of unusual specialty shops like shops just selling scissors or knives. You take an underground walkway to get over to the Bund which had a very wide pedestrian walkway along the river. You’ll see lots of locals and Chinese tourists wandering along the Bund taking photos, walking their kids, flying kites etc. It’s a very pleasant area to just walk. You can also see the beautiful old buildings on the Puxi side and the amazing skyscrapers across the river on the Bund. It’s amazing to think that virtually all of the skyscrapers in Pudong were built in the past 10 years. While wandering a local guy stopped to talk (and apparently to cut out a profile relief of me for a small fee --- oh well). It was another interesting conversation about America in which he expressed his excitement about Obama being elected. When I asked why, he said he is a young man who will bring new ideas and approaches and that was very important as the U.S. is the leader of the world and most important to the future of the world.

After wandering the Bund a bit we took the crazy psychedelic tunnel ride across to Pudong. It’s a very strange idea but also a pleasant way to cross the river. We did not spend much time but we found Pudong to be too much like a city of empty spaces filled with extreme skyscrapers. The view from the waterfront back to Puxi was pleasant but otherwise we did not see much reason to hang out here and were glad we decided to stay in Puxi. Since we had seen the views from our hotel rough top bar and from the Whompoa Club we decided to skip the going up into any of the towers in Pudong and instead grabbed a cab headed for the old city and YuYuan Gardens.

BTW taxis were so cheap in Shanghai that we ended taking them everywhere and never used the subway. The most we ever paid for any taxi was about 24 Yuan or $3-4 and many of the taxi rides we took were only 12 Yuan (less than $2).

The taxi from Pudong to Yu Garden was 22Y and took about 10 minutes. The Yu garden complex is a crazy maze of shops that are hard to navigate and can be extremely crowded so I would suggest not going on a Sunday when all Shanghainese are off work. There are all sorts of unique shops so it’s probably good for trinkets and mementos. I found my way to one of the Chop Seal makers and had them make me a chop. A neat memento of the trip. And of course, always bargain…. I ended up paying less than half the price originally offered by the seal maker.

…ok loosing my steam. I will take a break now and come back and write some more later. Have a good one!!!

moremiles Jan 3rd, 2009 03:03 PM

You brought back nice memories of my trip to Shanghai in Oct. and I loved that hotel, esp. the exec. club which had gorgeous views of Pudong and great brk and canapes/drinks in the eve. That location was good too-kind've like the Times Sq. area and very lively. My friend and I(both female) never got any offers of massage though-in fact my friend, who is Japanese, never even got the watch offers like I did!

Paulo59 Jan 3rd, 2009 03:30 PM

Thanks. The massage offers always made me laugh. I don't want to give people the wrong idea. I think the area was very wholesome (not at all seedy) and pleasant and one of the best areas to stay in Shanghai. We also like the French Concession a lot and would reccommend staying there too.

rhkkmk Jan 3rd, 2009 08:12 PM

paul, i love this report....thanks for sending me an e mail to look for we plan to visit shanghai in the near future, we will use this as an outline as we travel much the same way as you and jay do.....i love to wander and watch and enjoy... sounds like i better go pretty soon...

i know gpanda will love this as he is going in 2009 and needs lots of direction in planning anything...

i'm anxious to

btw, i would love to read about all the other places you visited if your fingers hold up...

happy new year...


Gpanda Jan 4th, 2009 02:23 AM

Thanks for the report. As Bob noted we're going to Shanghai in September and your report will be very helpful. You'll also be glad to know that the the report was sufficiently timely, no penalty.

Paulo59 Jan 4th, 2009 09:52 AM

Now that it looks like I passed the penalty phase, I promise to write more soon but feel free to post specific questions.

ekscrunchy Jan 4th, 2009 11:08 AM

Oh, Paulo, this is such a great report and it brings back so many good memories! I like your travel style a lot--just wandering around and taking things in..

You made me laugh about the watch/bag people--at first I thought they were telling me to "watch your bag," as in: Be careful of pickpockets!

I LOVED DTF!!! Loved it!! My life since then has been a continual search for xlb that approach half of the quality I found in Shanghai! I also thought the Whampoa Club was pricey, and I did not even think the food was all that great. Next time I might go to one of those Bund places for drinks and eat elsewhere..

About those girls--I got approached by pairs of girls in Beijing and Shanghai. I also liked just chatting. The funny thing was, at the minute I asked to take a photo and held up my camera, they skedaddled away.. Of course each one may have their own agenda..I don't want to tar everyone, right?

Thanks so much for writing--I remember that trip so fondly and hope to go back someday..maybe next time to return to Shanghai and then head to Yunnan or Sichaun province..

I have to go now because I am kind of on the lam here from the enforcers...I have a big penalty hanging over my head!!

Gpanda Jan 4th, 2009 11:27 AM

Head, torso, legs, house, family, friends...the penalty is going to be huge. March approaches.

Paulo59-well under the wire. One gets a fewe eeks for jet lag and some more for the holidays.

Paulo59 Jan 4th, 2009 12:16 PM

eks...where are you located? I heard there is a DTF in Arcadia (just outside LA). I plan to get there soon.

ekscrunchy Jan 4th, 2009 12:51 PM

(Notice that I have chosen to ignore the post above yours for the moment..obviously no credit has been awarded for TWO, yes TWO complete reports filed in 2008; I am set to appeal and therefore cannot reveal too much on the record) NY.

I can't wait to read the rest of your report, Paulo!!

moremiles Jan 4th, 2009 01:03 PM

You are right about the feel of Pudong, however, we went over for a drink at the new Park Hyatt(highest hotel in the world) and had a cocktail in their lobby bar on the 87th fl. with views over to the Bund which were spectacular-until the clouds roll in anyway.

Paulo59 Jan 4th, 2009 02:21 PM

Shanghai -- Part 2

Continuing with Day 2 in Shanghai – we spent a short time wandering the shops in Yu Bazaar and then wandered around Yu gardens for a bit. It’s not the best Chinese garden I have seen but it was a nice quiet respite from the city and market noise. There were very few people in the garden which you pay a small fee to enter. After leaving the garden, we considered going to Nanxiang dumpling house for more XLB but saw the line winding a long way out from the restaurant out to the market. And it was a real line in this case, not just getting a number and waiting. So we decided to wander some of the side alleys surrounding the gardens and then headed for the DTF location just outside the garden complex in the mini-mall building across the street. The side streets and alleys surrounding YuYuan are teeming with every day street life. Wandering here for an hour or so provides a different insight into the lives of locals as you watch the neighbor ladies chatting in the alley, or doing their laundry and washing dishes in the street as the only plumbing available seems to be outdoors along these alleys. You’ll see many tiny bars and make-shift street restaurants cooking up a storm for locals who would sit on stools in adjacent shoebox size rooms or just stand to eat or drink nearby in the alley. Full of life and almost frozen in time, the alleys are so unlike most of the rest of Shanghai which seems to be speeding toward the future.

After our adventure in the alleys we found the DTF which we had gotten a discount coupon for when we ate at the DTF in Xintiandi. So this meal was even cheaper. The mini-mall (Dragon Gate Mall) here is new and appears to be undiscovered by the throngs of shoppers in the adjacent Yu Bazaar so it was very quiet here. Although we did not have to wait long at all to be seated at this DTF location, it gave us a few moments to peer through the floor to ceiling glass panels in the waiting area to watch the almost medical like precision that the chefs use to make those heavenly dumplings you are about to eat. This DTF was prettier than the other location with an immense aquarium the full width of the wall in the main dining room filled with stunning bright red fish that seemed to form abstract paintings every few minutes as the schools swam in one direction or the other.

Leaving Yu Bazaar area was a bit harder than we imagined as it was rush hour traffic time and this old area of the city is quite densely developed and has lots of construction going on too. We made the mistake of thinking we should walk a bit further away from the Bazaar to hail a cab as the traffic was barely moving in the area nearby and we thought we’d be stuck sitting in traffic for a long time. But this not so brilliant move brought us on a mini-adventure as we ended up going from intersection to intersection and walking further and further til we ended up crossing the underpass by a main highway nearby and finally found an empty cab willing to stop.
BTW cabs are not allowed to stop within a certain distance (maybe 20-30 feet??) from an intersection so you have catch them before or after the intersection and its sometimes not so easy to figure out where to stand when you are in heavy traffic areas with lots of intersections. In any case it cost us another 12Y to get the cab back to our hotel having had a very pleasant and full day.

That evening we had not made dinner plans and had heard great things about Restaurant 1221 so we decided to go there. It’s out in the suburban part of the city so you have to take a cab and along the way it does start to seem pretty far but it only took about 25 minutes in the end mostly due to heavy traffic. As the cab dropped us off I had a moment of wondering if the driver had just gotten tired of fighting the traffic and was just dropping us in the middle of nowhere. The restaurant is way down the back of a long alley and barely visible from the street but a totally safe neighborhood as far as we could tell and a charming restaurant once we opened the doors. This was one of our favorite meals in Shanghai. Again I am sure there are many more authentic and unique Shanghai restaurants with more elaborate specialty menus but the food here was delicious, the service was very pleasant and helpful and it was very inexpensive. The dining room is one large room that is relatively simple but it has a very friendly atmosphere. And although there were clearly lots of ex-pats here there also were lots of locals too. We were so hungry and the menu options looked so good we did not know what to order at first but the waiter offered to make us half orders of several dishes so that we could get to taste many different things. So we had beef and onion, pork noodles, chicken with asparagus, braised pork, and crispy duck. All were half orders and it was more than enough food. The food itself totaled only 138 Y (about $20 total for both of us) but of course we bought a really expensive wine that ran up the price quite a bit. Everything we ate was delicious. There were many more adventurous items on the menu but we were very pleased with what we got and would rank it as our favorite in Shanghai for the combination of food, service, friendly atmosphere and price.

On our 3rd morning we wandered our way through to the People’s Park watching locals play poker and Mah Jong, practice Tai Chi etc. It's a very pleasant park for a walk or a short break anytime. While walking a young couple said “hello” and wanted to chat and we had a very pleasant talk with them for maybe 10-15 minutes this time with no sense that it was leading anywhere. But then they casually mentioned they were going to this famous Tea Ceremony which clicked in my head as some kind of scam that other fodorites had warned about. So although they worked admirably to convince us to join them at the Tea Ceremony we said we had an appointment and proceeded to walk on to the Shanghai Museum.

As we approached the Museum 2 twenty-ish kids (1 girl, 1 guy) were posing for a photo in front of the museum as their friend was making a great display of taking their photo. Since we are always wishing someone would offer to take our photo while we are traveling instead of having all these photos with only one of us in them (almost always of Jay as I am the amateur photographer), I offered to take the photo so they could all be in it. This turned into an excellent conversation starter again with brilliant English skills on their part and very pleasant conversation for about 15 minutes until once again they said they were going to the Tea Ceremony and we should join them. I almost died laughing. We had been so taken in by this scenario of looking like they wanted a photo taken of themselves and the friendly banter afterward. We had no idea it was leading to anything. So funny. So fair warning when you are anywhere near the Shanghai Museum that the Tea Ceremony is likely to be the objective of those very friendly well-spoken Chinese kids.

So we proceeded to the Museum which is very pleasant and worth at least a quick viewing. There’s a large variety of ceramics with explanations in English describing the period they’re from and how it relates to the cultural and industrial development of the time. There’s also lots of old Chinese art and a neat floor that had costumes representing what seems like thousands of tribes that are all part of China’s ethnic minority make-up. The costumes were quite good. Each was very colorful and unique and despite the fact that I would not normally imagine myself enjoying such an exhibit, I really liked it.

After the Museum we hopped in another taxi headed for deeper into the French Concession. We decided we should take the taxi pretty far out and then wind our way back maybe walking all the way back to our hotel. We had not really spent any time shopping and are not big shoppers but we do find it fun to wander the shopping streets of many cities to watch the people, see what’s different about what they are selling, and just soak up the atmosphere. The French Concession is perfect for this. Most of the streets are lined with pretty trees (oak maybe?). So we took the taxi to the Okura Garden Hotel which we decided to pop into to check out since we were there. Although older looking in style, we thought it was quite charming and would consider it a great location and nice setting to consider if we took another trip to Shanghai.

Note on taxis: Bring a card with your hotel name on it and with the names of the various places you may want to go to that day in Chinese. I am sure your hotel will provide this for you. None of the taxi drivers we had spoke any English and some of them were not that familiar with street addresses in certain parts of town either although since we had maps and had mapped out where we were going, we were able to show the approximate location of where we were going on the map to those taxi drivers who did not know the city as well. BTW… we did not find a huge difference between the levels of safety in the design of the various taxis. You will notice that they seem to be in very prominent colors and that other fodorites have noted that you should aim for the turquoise and light green ones. These ones did seem to be the newest but the white ones were only a bit older. But even though they were newer all of them seemed to have cloth covers over the upholstery in the back seat that covered the seat belts so you do not have access to the seat belts anyway. We finally realized later that the many Shanghainese seem to sit in the front seat beside the driver where the seat belt was accessible. The maroon taxis were much older but really not a difference we felt worth noting. And as you might imagine driving in Shanghai is a bit crazy. Although I doubt Bostonians and New Yorkers would be phased by the driving style, they do go fast and the traffic lights and regulations appear to only be considered guidelines by most drivers. Same as in Boston, right Bob?

---will post the next installment of the Shanghai saga soon...

Shanghainese Jan 5th, 2009 02:52 PM

Paulo59 -- Thanks very much for this terrific report, you have a keen eye and write about the details with unique style.

Sorry we missed each other by a day in Shanghai, glad you and Jay enjoyed yourselves and didn't fall for those clever scams.

Paulo59 Jan 7th, 2009 03:19 PM

Thanks for your kind words Shanghainese. I promise to write more soon.

rhkkmk Jan 7th, 2009 06:16 PM

very interesting

Paulo59 Feb 26th, 2009 01:22 PM

Part 3 Shanghai Report:
Unlike most of the newer hotels in Shanghai which tend toward contemporary design (many of which are quite stunning), the Okura is one of the few older hotels in Shanghai built in the 1920s art deco style and remodeled in 1989. It has a more opulent style reflecting the period and the private club it once was with touches of Japanese style. We thought the lobby was quite charming and would consider it a great location and nice setting to consider if we took another trip to Shanghai. We spent most of the day wandering the French Concession walking across Maoming Road and down Nanjing Road, a pleasant street lined with beautiful trees and a mixture of small boutique shops housed in the ground floors of the classic, if somewhat worn looking French architecture with apartments above the shops. This neighborhood was charming, offering a different window into the life of the Shanghainese, appearing more like a middle class neighborhood. The traffic flow, with many more people on bikes here, the more human scale of the architecture (since there are no skyscrapers here), and the trees all conspire to create a more restful, easy pace, very different from the denser, older neighborhoods around Yu Markets or the hyperactivity of the recently developed skyscraper neighborhoods that command most of new Shanghai. We wandered down Nanjing poking our heads into a few boutiques (note most shops throughout the French Concession cater to women) all the way down to Yandong Lu, a pedestrianized area which has the sense of an up and coming neighborhood with new shops and restaurants. Then we wandered our way all the way back to our hotel stopping in one of the many large malls along the way just to check one out.

After walking all day and having not very memorable Thai food at Simply Thai in Xintiandi for lunch, we were a bit lazy and wanting something different to eat that night so we went to the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Favola. We had some decent pasta, Tagliatelle Bolognese for me, and Amatriciana for my partner, and a small pizza as an appetizer. It was all good and met our pasta cravings but not quite memorable. Again it would have been quite inexpensive if we had not ordered that bottle of wine.

On our last day in Shanghai, we caught a taxi out to the Jade Temple (about 17 Yuan cab fare). The taxi ride winds through some of the less appealing neighborhoods of the city until you arrive at the temple with adjacent souvenir shops and hawkers. We found the surrounding neighborhood unappealing as it quickly transforms to high-rise apartments and what appear to be corporate offices but the Temple was charming and definitely worth the trip. There are a number of large, bronze Buddhas and wonderful tapestries set in a series of old temples. We got there in time for the procession of monks that wander through the complex chanting around 10 am daily and found our way upstairs to see the Jade Buddha. This Buddha is made of white jade and is quite beautifully carved in a very sensual style. Barriers restrict you from getting up close, as you can with the bronze Buddhas in the main temples, and no photos are allowed, but it was a very unique sculpture which touched me in a way that many other Buddhas have not and seemed to have a strong affect on the worshippers who come from all parts of china to see it.

From the Temple we caught a taxi to the M50 art district. This series of lofts and warehouses is full of contemporary Shanghai art all open to the public. You can wander through many of the lofts without a soul in sight. We found some of the art quite interesting and some not quite evolved enough. We quite enjoyed the experience and it was a great way to spend an hour or so but we found the prices comparable to what you would find in similar places in the U.S. (although below prices you would find in Manhattan). We hopped back into a taxi and decided to go back to DTF in Xintiandi one more time since it would be our last chance for dumplings. Then we walked back to the Meridan, a nice long walk, and just relaxed and checked emails etc. the rest of the afternoon. BTW, the cost of using the hotel’s business center to access the internet was crazy expensive at 5 Yuan per minute.

Our last night, we decided to try Shanghai Uncle as we had heard so much about it. It’s located in the Westin Hotel near the Bund. It was a very strange evening. This below street level restaurant has over-the-top décor with vibrant red walls and gold chain draping from everywhere. It’s a massive room that seems to be designed like a large hotel banquet hall. All the waiters seemed to be inexperienced young guys, all very nice but with very little English skills and very little sense of service. We ordered one of their top menu specialties, the flaming pork, but never got it. When we finally were able to talk to someone who knew a bit more English they explained that they ran out of it but no-one ever told us that as we waited for this dish to arrive after finishing all our other dishes. We had veal with garlic (which was mostly mounds of garlic and just a bit of veal) green beans, and cod with scallions, all of which were pretty good. But this place was more expensive than other places with similar food and the atmosphere and service did not match the price. Not a bad experience, just maybe not worth it. We closed the night with a nightcap from our perch in the rooftop bar at the Meridian to try to memorize a mental picture of this fun, colorful, diverse and ever-changing metropolis that is Shanghai today but might become something very different as soon as next year.

Shanghainese Feb 26th, 2009 02:54 PM

Bravo, enjoyed the last part very much. Btw, have you tried the DTF near LA?

rhkkmk Feb 26th, 2009 06:16 PM

thanks paul for the wonderful report....see you in LA next month...

Paulo59 Feb 28th, 2009 11:01 AM

Thanks, Shanghainese. Yes. I actually went to DTF last Friday. It's in Arcadia. It was good but not quite the level it is in Asia. The dumpling texture did not seem quite right to me. The Arcadia location is also more of a hole-in-the- wall whereas the ones we went to in Shanghai were quite nice. The service was also far more sophisticated/better in Shanghai. But still the soup dumplings were worth the effort of driving out to the boonies.

Thanks Bob..see you in LA.

Gpanda Feb 28th, 2009 12:19 PM

Thanks for the detailed report. It will help on our September trip to Shanghai. Bob is NOT coming!

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