Sunday, August 19, 2012

2012 Asian Adventure - Shanghaied!

Getting There (Day Zero)

I think it's about time for me to tell you all about our summer vacation.  This year, as many of you already know, the Wife and I went to China, Nepal, Bhutan, and India.  It would be our most ambitious trip as a couple and it would also turn out to be an incredible experience.

Our flight left early Thursday morning taking us first to Chicago before boarding a flight to Shanghai.  The flight to Shanghai was 14.5 hours long, the longest flight I've ever taken to date.  To my surprise the 14.5 hours went by quickly, possibly because of the two Excedrin PM I took part way through the flight allowing me to sleep through a lot of it.  Possibly because of the book I took to occupy my time.  Possibly the individual video screens we each had with a large selection of movies, television shows, and music to occupy our time.

The two flights, the first two of the thirteen flights we would take on this trip, went incredibly smooth.  the only incident was when the Wife's pants got caught on an armrest while exiting the Chicago flight and tore a hole in the leg of her pants.  Not a major disaster but she'd bought the pants for this trip and it was the first ... and the last .... time that she wore them.

We arrived in Shanghai around two in the afternoon.  This was my first time across the international date line and I didn't really know when I was.  Turns out I was in tomorrow even though I was really sure I was in yesterday.  Very confusing.

In China we were going to be with a tour group.  After going through a rather painless customs process we met up with our guide, Malinda (She used an English name to make it easy on us), FD and ED (a couple from Virginia), and PT and KK (a Mother/Son duo from Utah).

A quick bus ride got us to the hotel.  Along the way Malinda pointed out buildings along the busy skyline of Shanghai.  It was raining, foggy ... or smoggy ... most of the way to the hotel.  It was monsoon season in this area of the world and I kind of expected the rest of the month would be like this - views through rain spotted bus windows.  Turns out I couldn't have been wronger ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

A Shanghai view through a rain spotted bus window.
As we approached the hotel Malinda pointed out a Buddhist temple not far away and, since we had the rest of the afternoon and evening to our selves, suggested that we could visit it on our own if we wanted to.  After checking in and settling into our room, and seeing the drizzle had stopped, we took Malinda's advice and headed to the temple.

Jing An Si - The oldest religious site in Shanghai.
Shanghai is a modern city.  There is new construction everywhere.  The crane is said to be the national bird of China and the number of construction cranes sticking up amongst the tall buildings sure makes it obvious why.  The hotel was on a busy highway but getting to the temple was easy with the rather massive crosswalk system they have on many of the intersections.  Navigating the area was easy as most signs were in both Chinese and English.  The city was in constant motion, not much different from New York, but there was this sense of scope that felt bigger than any place I'd ever been before (Shanghai, with over 23 million people, has about four million more people than New York).

We reached the Jing An Si , the oldest temple in Shanghai, bought our tickets and explored the temple.  We were ready to take off our shoes but we noticed that no one else removed their shoes.  I think this is a result of China being a secular communist country - they have forgotten or actively disregard the old religious ways.  The temple was beautiful and I took lots of pictures.  The show piece of the temple was a fifteen ton silver Buddha near the top of the temple.

15 ton Silver Buddha statue at the Jing'an Si.
As we left we noticed we were among the last to leave - the temple had closed fifteen minutes earlier.  We walked back to the hotel buying water in a store along the way.  I noticed they had ice cream, Magnum brand, the same ice cream I ate in Spain - but the flavor was in Chinese.  Didn't know if I wanted to buy it just to find that I didn't like the flavor (I was torn ... what to do?!? HA!).

We ate dinner in the hotel.  They had a pretty good Chinese spread.  While they had western silverware I decided to see if I could handle chopsticks.  To my surprise they turned out rather easy to use.  The hardest thing to eat was rice.  For the rest of the trip, in most cases, I preferred using chopsticks to forks and spoons.

After dinner the wife went back to the room and I, following another suggestion from our guide, went up to the fortieth floor of our hotel to look at the city.  It was still a little drizzly and the cloud/fog/smog layer hung low over the skyline.  Shanghai's buildings are magnificent.  They are all different and at night each one competes to be to most spectacularly lit.  Even the elevated freeways are lit with blue light.  The lighting and the haze gave the cityscape a futuristic yet dystopian air that reminded me of Blade Runner.

Hazy Shanghai from the 40th floor of our hotel.
The rest of day zero was spent watching television (CNN international, BBC, Al Jazeera, and a few channels in English with French or Spanish subtitles - an eclectic mix) and trying with mixed success to sleep.

Day One

Our first full day in China started with a good breakfast buffet and meeting the rest of out tour group.  Along with the four we'd already met we were joined by JQ, SH, SU, and NM from San Diego.  We would meet the three remaining tour group members, JE, SE, and EM from Philidelphia, whose flight had been delayed, at our first tour stop of the day.

Our first stop was the Shanghai museum.  Readers of Homer's Travels may know that we are not museum people.  After a brief introduction, our guide gave us free time and we toured the museum, starting from the fourth floor and working our way down.  We went a lot faster than the others.  There were a lot of beautiful carvings, calligraphy, and jade.  I think that's my issue with museums: there is too much to take in all at once and I just go into overload.  We did manage to buy the first of many travel magnets here.

Shanghai Museum Art.
After the museum we went to the Yuyuan Garden.  The bus dropped us off and we followed our guide through streets lined in shops and vendors.  We reached the gardens and crossed the zig-zag bridge.  The bridge is a zig-zag because the Chinese believed that ghosts could not bend their joints easily which made it difficult for them to turn corners.  The zig-zag bridge helped keep out the ghosts.  Another feature of Chinese architecture are high door thresholds.  Ghosts could not bend their knees so they could not step over the high thresholds.  The higher the thresholds the high the status of the home owner.  The gardens were beautiful with intricately carved buildings, walls, and roofs.

Yuyuan Gardens.
Lunch took us to a restaurant on the Bund.  This restaurant was my  first experience with a table lazy susan.  The food was placed on the lazy susan and we each loaded our plates as we spun it around.  It took some practice - you have to time things right so that dishes didn't get away from you.

This is as good a time as any to talk about my food experience in China.  In China our guide ordered most of the food.  She admitted that it was Americanized Chinese food which mostly meant Chinese food with less spicy heat.  I always found that I liked something on the table.  There were a few things that were too spicy for my taste but in general I was fine.  What was missed by many at the table is the lack of salt - food was a bit bland when the spice was reduced - and a definite lack of sweet.  Most of their dessert were fruit plates.  We ate a lot of watermelon in China.  It was good watermelon but it wasn't chocolate.  Many of the hotels which catered to the international traveler offered sweeter western desserts so we weren't too deprived.  So my fears of having food issues in China, and the other three countries we would visit, turned out to be unfounded.  I've come a long way.

After lunch the rain picked up again and we walked to the edge of the river and looked at the Bund area across the river.  Despite it being a rather famous area in Shanghai, we really didn't spend much time there.  I think our guide considered it too touristy and expensive.

Our next stop was a silk factory where we learned how silk was made and where they tried to sell us expensive silk rugs and comforters.  That is the cost of these types of tours.  To reduce the prices tour companies make deals with factories - bring us your tours and we will buy you tickets for the more popular  attractions in the city.  It's a necessary evil ... and frankly seeing them spin thread from the silk cocoons was kind of cool.

The afternoon ended with a trip to a more common shopping area - a popular area for the non-foreigners - in old Shanghai.  The district had narrow, crowded ways that you could not drive down.  The wiring above your head insured employment for the electricians.  We walked around the area taking in the sights and smells (lots of restaurants) before we were given some free time to shop on our own.

Crowded Shopping district of old Shanghai.
Back to the hotel to freshen up and then we went back out to a dinner at a former slaughter house called the Bull Market.  JQ and I successfully threw a dish off the lazy susan as we attempted to discover just how fast we could spin that thing.

We got back to the hotel pretty tired.  It was a full day.  Everything was so new - a new country, a new city, a new language, a new group of people to make friends with, and a whole slew of new experiences.  Shanghai was a perfect place to acclimatize ourselves to all the new stuff.  There wasn't anything important to miss in your traveler's stupor but enough to make things interesting at a pace that let you make the necessary adjustments.  Normally the tours start in Beijing.  Beijing would have been too much on the first day.  Shanghai was just right.

I slept pretty hard this night though for some reason I would not wake up rested.  That would take a few more days I'm afraid.

Pictures from days zero and one (06/22 - 06/23/2012) can be found in my 2012-06 China Google Photos album.

Our 2012 Asian Adventure continues ...

6 comments:

  1. Fatastic pictures,I went thru the first 2 sets, colors are so vibrant. Don't know how you remember all the things you write about when you saw so much and were gone a month, looking forward to the next chapter.

    MiL






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    1. MiL: I took notes. Mom gave me a small journal for Christmas and I wrote the highlights each day. I also use the original itinerary and my pictures to jog my memory.

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  2. I love Magnum bars! I first had them in Barbados and then the next time I saw them was in Scandinavia while on our h'moon.
    Because they had various languages I was able to tell they are gluten free so I was a v. happy girl.
    They sell them here now. It is bad! :D

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    1. JaG: They're awesome aren't they. I ate my fill walking across spain. I've seen the adverts on TV so they sell them here too. Haven't bought one here yet though. Watching my boyish figure ;-)

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  3. Traveling is so exhausting! Wonderful but tiring. I'm glad you had a good start to your trip, even though your wife's pants didn't survive. I HATE ruining clothes that I haven't even gotten to know! Going with a tour group sounds like a great idea for China!

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