26 February 2009

Shanghai, China - Oct 2008

On an impulse I sent a message to Sumitra on 28th Sept...what if I want to go with you on the China trip leaving Delhi on 10th Oct? I didn’t think she could pull it off considering I was returning to India only on 2nd Oct. She had only 7 days and moreover it was the Chinese National Week and the embassy was shut till 7th, but she was quite hopeful. So fingers crossed, I sat and waited for the visa.
Well I guess crossing one’s fingers works...coz there I was at the airport for the flight to Shanghai where I met some 20 other women all dressed in shades of pinks (as with all WOW trips).

I was walking with Uma at the Shanghai airport. As everyone made their way to collect their baggage, she was like I don’t have any baggage...only this backup that I am carrying. I was like...wow this woman travels light! I wish I had a snap of hers as we were checking in at Beijing on our way back home. She shopped and shopped and bought gifts for everyone including her building chowkidar I think!
As I looked around I saw Vidya with a trolley bag and I thought ...looks like they all travel light...when suddenly I see her pulling a biiggg suitcase from the conveyor belt :-)
Little did I realize at that point how valuable that suitcase was...with its MTR’s and snacks...without which us vegetarians (vegiterraneans as per Chi / vegetables as per Mary) would have probably starved.

The Shanghai airport was quite impressive. In fact the infrastructural facilities across China were excellent…and made me thank my stars that they have a problem with the English language. Otherwise all the BPO and IT work would move there.

Shanghai is also called the Paris of the Orient for it is supposed to be very fashionable. One day around and I would call it the Land of Duplicates. You can get a duplicate of everything here, including the Guide – as Chi herself pointed out as she was not a native of Shanghai really but from some province in Western China!

After check in, Sumitra wanted to go pick up some local wine for our WOW evening later. That was when we got our first shot of the LANGUAGE PROBLEM. We tried everything to explain Rum, Gin, Vodka, and Rice Wine to them. This included enacting drinking and giving a tulli look. But it didn’t really help. Finally she picked up some local drink.
And this was in Shanghai, which is supposed to be quite cosmo!!!

Our first meal in China was a dinner at Shanglin Teppanyaki. Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle (teppan) to cook food, frequently with the teppan located in the center of the diners' table. I guess I was too excited with the whole concept and clicking snaps that I paid less attention to the food. Someone even commented the vegetarians are too busy clicking snaps while the non-vegs are too busy eating the food! There was some complaining but I enjoyed this meal. It took about 3 days for the food to get on my nerves!

After dinner Chi took us to this place where she said you get the GOOD DUPLICATES of all brands...she was sooooo convincing and so even though we were tired we agreed...guess she wanted us to loosen our pockets there before we saw that the stuff is being sold by even street vendors at every corner in China. Whoever shopped here later realized that it was expensive and we still didn’t know that in China one has to bargain like crazy and drop the prices by 90%!!!

Next day began with a visit to the Jade Buddha Temple followed by the Shanghai Bund. The bund means the Shanghai skyline. Chi was so proud of it and many people liked it. But I thought – this could be anywhere in the world. In fact that is what I felt about Shanghai as a whole. While most people preferred Shanghai, I personally liked Beijing more. People felt that Beijing was soooo dead, Shanghai was alive. I agree but that is the case world over. The financial capitals be it Mumbai, New York, London will always be bustling cities. But it will be the smaller towns (not that Beijing was small) which will have a character of their own.
Post Chinese lunch – food still good (read tolerable!), we went to Yu Garden. At the entrance we saw 2 imposing lions very similar to the ones outside our hotel. Infact later we realised that statues of lions are seen at the gates of all the imperial palaces, official residences, temples, tombs. This represents a male lion on the left with the right paw on a ball - the symbol of unity of the Chinese empire and a female lion on the right with a cub under the left paw - a symbol of offspring. The garden itself was a very quiet and elegant place with old trees, beautiful flowers, ornamental ponds and flower walls. There was a very interesting stone carving of a dragon that sat on a wall.

Next was a visit to a tea shop for a tea ceremony – basically they make you taste different kinds of tea. The dried flowers teas are quite nice - it was quite amazing to see the chrysanthemum flower open slowly as it was infused with the hot water.

After shopping and testing our bargaining skills in the bazaar that has developed around the garden, we went for some more sightseeing which included a visit to a silk factory.

Post dinner (Imp note: food still good!), we went around Shanghai to see it by night as Shanghai is said to come alive at night. The highlight was the view of Shanghai from the Shanghai Grand Hyatt Hotel on the 88th floor of the Jin Mao. There is a very interesting building right next to it - the Shanghai World Financial Center building which looks like a beer bottle opener! It was made like that with an aperture at the top to reduce the stress of the winds.
Here I managed to win over a Japanese fan – he seemed to be impressed with my photography skills as I experimented with clicking Parul’s snap with a top-down view of the atrium. We both were literally leaning over the window and believe u me the results were quite good :-). He even wanted a snap with Parul and me!!!
That day Chi was wearing a really short dress...and as she modeled and walked in her stylish way towards the entrance, one man literally followed her making a movie with his handy cam. She just turned, smiled and said to him "you have to pay me for that!"
I guess Chi thought we still hadn’t had enough of Shanghai so she took us to a posh part of Shanghai, the French settlement area called Shin Ten Tee for coffee. And it was like we were actually in Paris or somewhere with the outdoor cafes and stylish boutiques.
All this was not really a part of the itinerary but Chi just wanted to show off Shangahi.

Apart from the usual stuff next day like the Shanghai museum and Nanjing Road, what the vegetarians loved was the Indian Lunch (yippee) and what bought smiles to everyone’s face was the ride to the airport on the sleek and fast Maglev train - it rocketed to 300 kph in two minutes flat and as the LED continuously blinked and informed us of the speed…we reached the max speed to 430 kph. It was an amazing experience as even at that speed, the train was sooooo smooth.

With this we bid adieu to Shanghai and Chi who in her typical dramatic style said…Chi not cry and you not cry!