Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shanghai In a Day

It was difficult to wake early on Saturday morning, but with the world's largest city to explore, we had no choice! Our first destination was, disappointingly, a Starbucks but at least it is interesting to see the differences between that one and others I have seen in the UK and the USA. For reference, a coffee there is in the region of 30 Yuan. I had a sort of bread and butter pudding (very tasty) and was amused to see the 'sophisticated' bookshelf in the corner. They have clearly mistaken quantity for variety, for it featured entire shelves of identical beautiful copies of War and Peace and other classics, for which there were no fewer than 10 copies of each! I also spotted on the wall a photo of the 'original' Starbucks in Seattle. It just so happens that I had a photo of the same on my camera, taken from a near-identical vantage point...

We wandered around 'til we reached the People's Square, absorbing the sights and sounds of Shanghai.

Here, we found a really cool lake with what I think were lotus leaves - circular leaves about 2 feet in diameter with a 10cm wall around them, floating perfectly designed for floating on a lake, but for what benefit I am not sure!

We then hopped on a tour bus and were whisked around Shanghai, trying to work out what the heck it was that the 'English' narration was saying. I can't say I learnt anything about Shanghai but I had wanted to see the electric trolley bus wires up close for some time, and this gave me a good opportunity.

We stopped off at one of the most touristy areas of the city, and amid the big crowds we found ourselves in a tea-house. Not sure how, because none of us really liked tea, but we soon found ourselves ordering 'for the experience'. 10 teas were offered, claiming to heal anything from diabetes to a weak chest to hangovers. So we got mixing!

This tea-shop was also in the middle of the lake, populated by Koi carp... and turtles?

Another key tourist destination was Yu Garden, though I had not heard of it and had visited more than enough temples in the past week, but went along anyway. It was mostly scenic garden and traditional buildings, but I liked the quite Shakespearian stage in the concert arena, complete with 'acoustic roof'.

Lunch was nearby, an eclectic collection of lukewarm stereotypical Chinese snacks from an unconvincingly modern and clinical canteen.

The boys then split from the girls; they went shopping of course and we wandered over to a bar which, amongst other things, was owned by a film star, was unable to serve alcohol until after dark, and had a (thankfully western-style) toilet which could only be accessed from something akin to a mirror-maze...
We took Iolo to the only Hollister outlet in this end of China, since he is a big fan and I had never been in one before. All I can say is that whatever money the brand has invested in marketing, it must be well worth it, because the shop had such a distinct feel and the clothes were exorbitant!

A quick shower and change in the Hotel and we set out to the waterfront, right on our doorstep, which was the reason I'd chosen this Hostel (as well as the good price, the rooftop bar, the twin rooms, proximity to a world-famous club etc...). Visibility was not quite as good as yesterday as low clouds scudded across the tops of the skyscrapers opposite, and we couldn't see the Cloud 9 Bar.

We then taxied over to a highly recommended (Ken Hom recommendation in fact) Taiwanese restaurant, famous for dumplings. These small morsels were literally bursting with flavour, drenching either the inside of your mouth (if you were lucky) or your clothes, face and hands (if you were otherwise) as soon as you bit into them. Pork and crab was a delectable combination.


By this time, the heavens had opened and we had a real electrical storm overhead Shanghai, with big flashes of lightning at least a couple of times per minute. After procrastinating in a department store with the strange strapline 'Black: comme les garcons', we bought a couple of cheap umbrellas and went cab-fishing. Two catches later and we were back in the Hostel rooftop bar, enjoying the lightning and getting in trouble for putting my feet on a chair (in order to use my knee as a bipod, right?).

Our real destination for the evening was M1NT, the most presitigous club in Shanghai, and just a 5 minute walk down the same street from our hotel. Using Shanghai's amazing Magic Number service (a freephone number which will give advice, directory enquiries, translation and cab-driver-briefing service in any common global language), we had secured a reservation earlier in the day. To my concern when we arrived, it was clear that this club was VERY exclusive, I didn't conform to the dress code (I was wearing 1 of my only 2 sets of trousers, some lightweight wind trousers and white socks and trainers, all quite grubby with a small bit of blood on) and Iolo didn't conform to the age requirement! However, when they saw that a tall and very pretty blonde German girl had her name on the guestlist, her 'entourage' of us other 4 ragamuffins were ushered past the very well dressed oriental girls who were being kept waiting, bypassing all the checks! So much for a bit of positive discrimination...
Now I'm not one for spending my evenings intoxicated and jumping up and down to repetitive eardrum thumping while yelling in the ears of friends or strangers. But M1NT was absolutely stunning. Firstly, you are met by a 20m shark tank full of small sharks (who I can imagine probably like bass, but not of the kind in good supply here, nor the stobes, but at least they get about 20 hours off per day). Then you realise just how good the DJ (DJ Spenny) was at producing House music at such a high quality. Then there were the dancing girls. And the drinks. And the general ambience of a very exclusive venue (small trains of staff, carrying expensive champagne in each hand, regularly made their way through the thrumming crowd to a lucky table of businessmen smoking cigars). Topped all off with the natural strobes of lightning outside (and did I mention we were on the 24th floor of a skyscraper?) and it was an incredible evening. If only I can find more places like this, and you might yet make a party animal of me! And I was up WELL past Colin-time!

Shark tank!

You  see the dancers multiple times, since this is a 1 second exposure, and the strobe light was much more frequent than that...

Iolo was clearly in his element!

It was sad to see, however, upon exiting the club the rows of old ladies begging for a few coins. It's really not a kindness to oblige, but it's even more hard when they look like such sweet old people, forced to live rough because there is little in the way of social policy to look after them, and with the 1-child policy there is potentially only 1 working person looking after 4 grandparents! But that's probably why old ladies are being use - because they are successful beggars. So we steeled ourslves and walked on.
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  1. What an update! Brilliant sites you've been to see and I'm glad that you're taking the "try anything" approach :)

    Can't wait to read the next update, especially as I assume you have now moved to a different country too! Was awesome speaking to you on Skype, we do need to do that more I think :)