So one may say that you can’t flog a dead horse and in that one would be correct. However, returning to Shanghai was something of an adventure. Not only because this time had the promise of 2017, but also because this time we took company.
We saw the new year in in Fuzhou, our sleepy little city. After a dinner fit for a king and a couple of “Gam Bei”‘s with the Chinese bloke on the next table, we set off to an area called 芍园一号, literally translated as The Peony Garden – we didn’t, however, go to World Beer, are you surprised?. We’ve been there before for numerous nights out, as one of the local bar shareholders is an ex-teacher. Slowly swelling to a number of around 30 English teachers, we were too many non-Chinese for any of the bars to hold. After traipsing around we finally found a little area in a bar called Tiny, where we could see in our New Year with a beer in hand. At 0006 we finally realised that the Chinese care little for the Western renewal-of-the-calendars, and thus we started our own countdown with many of the Chinese locals at the bar joining in. By 3-2-1 we had almost all of a heaving Chinese bar locked in a countdown, either in our language or their own. Auld Lang Syne was slightly more difficult to translate.
The next morning after a sleep of about three hours we jumped on a train heading for Shanghai. Luckily, the high speed trains being as smooth, straight, and efficient as they are, we managed to sleep a fair amount of the way, thus waking in Shanghai with little more than an aching temporal lobe. Our travelling companions had flown out the previous evening, but with their flight getting in at 0100am they had not yet seen any of Shanghai. Neither had they kissed a flight attendant at midnight; Callum and I were thoroughly unimpressed.
We met them at the hostel and managed to wangle a room for the two nights of our stay, even though the hostel had mentioned that they were already fully booked. Leaving our kit and caboodle there we headed off to find some breakfast; none of us had eaten and it was past lunchtime. With strict instructions from our companions that no Chinese food was to be consumed during our trip we found lunch at an arty little European cafe a stones throw from Nanjing Road East metro station. Boasting European delicacies such as lasagna, salt and pepper chicken, and cream of mushroom soup, we were happy to feed our hangovers there. The toilets were also not bad; western style with toilet roll AND soap – we had hit the jackpot.
From here we led our companions down to The Bund; the old and majestic side of the Huangpu River. After many a selfie, we headed on to Fuzhou Lu again to get our heads in some bookshops. Although I promised I wouldn’t buy ANY I ended up with three. That’s not bad going for me. By now we were all gasping for a beer, and so we introduced our old friend Captains Bar to the Fuzhou Crew. The view was amazing; the sky a hundred times clearer than we had had the week previously as well as being warmer and with no rain, we were happy to enjoy a glass of red wine here.
Following this, our appetites had sparked up again, not without good cause; it was around 7 pm. On Fuzhou Lu there is a Mongolian restaurant called Khans Mongolian Bistro. None of us had eaten Mongolian before so we decided to venture inside. As we opened the door the warmth and smell hit us; a spiced meaty smell, with the feel of a warm cup of mulled wine on a cold winters evening. We settled on a table, a hard wooden bench under a hard wooden table. On the wall facing me there was a Mongolian mural depicting their way of life – fabric huts, mountains, goats. I am now sad that I didn’t get a better photograph of it. On the table there was a glass of beautiful pink roses, and four place settings with chopsticks and a spoon. Although Mongolia and China overlap somewhat, the food is very Middle Eastern in its composition. It was beautiful. We drank from a bottle of wine that looked like a prop from a movie, and we graciously turned down a glass of the local “milk wine”, a vodka type drink that isn’t made from milk at all but has a milky aftertaste. Filling ourselves on spiced meat, fruit-rice, and fried cheese, we headed out and back to the Bund for a late night walk and look at the view. Walking in a new direction we found a geometric war memorial, a statue of an unnamed man-with-cape, and a hotel lit up for Christmas before heading sleepily back to the metro and the cosy call of our beds.
Day two began with a hunt for some breakfast. We had heard that the French Concession was an amazing place to visit and so headed off expecting a cafe, much like the one we had visited yesterday. Alighting the tube we walked around a part of China that did not look like China; there were no high rise towers, there were few glass fronted shopping malls, the streets were lined with London Limes. The air was chill and fresh. All of the restaurants, however, served only Chinese food. Hunger pushed us into the tiny doorway of a room called The Farms. The menu was vast considering the room was cluttered and could therefore only seat 6 people. A little white dog with pink ears and a pink tail greeted us happily so we decided to stay. A burger and a twinings tea later, and we were all happy to continue on our exploration of the French Concession. We had not realised until this point, however, that the area we were expecting to be the size of an English High Street, or an American Block (or two) was actually a sizeable chunk of Shanghai’s urban area, a good few miles in each direction and incredibly spread out. After a quick google and a bearing-check, we headed back to the metro to find a more European looking strip.
We were not disappointed. Getting off at Hengshan Road South we walked through to Dong Ping Road. Although it was not “littered” with European shops and restaurants it did provide us with a French looking (and tasting) La Creperie, where we ate some delicious sweet (and savoury) crepes and enjoyed an afternoon cider. Feeling full and merry we left to look around some more of the French Concession, with its incredible plaster buildings and avenues of trees. Walking inquisitively through open doorways had led us to an art studio owned by a professor at Shanghai University, and also to a secret gambling alleyway with blacked out windows and pristine poker tables.
Heading back to Peoples Square, we had intended to visit the museum in the centre. However, we had partaken in a fair bit of walking around, and the day had slowly slipped away – the museum was unfortunately closed.What we did find in the park at Peoples Square was row upon row of umbrellas, all different and all holding a paper describing various people in Chinese. Some even had pictures. No one could tell us what was going on, and we were not allowed to take photos. We could not understand why the park was so packed, not only with umbrellas, but also with people. We decided that this was some kind of advertising of people to others, however, none of the people being described seemed to be there. We gathered a lot of interest walking around, trying to decipher the Chinese Script, with many people asking where we were from, and what we were doing in the park. A little research suggested that it was a dating event, where people attempted to meet others by advertising themselves and their loved ones, like we would on dating websites. Numbers were exchanged and people set up on dates. Both humbled by its simplicity, and also a little confused by the alienness of it all, we took a few sneaky photos and headed back towards the Metro.
Here, we took a train across the river to see The Financial Quarter – PuDong – up close in the darkness. A few photos later, and once we had decided that a trip up to the top of the Pearl of the Orient was a little out of our budget, we headed through the Metro in search of an Indian restaurant one of our companions had decided she wanted to visit. We had seen one earlier in the day that was shut down, and so we pinned our hopes on this one, being close enough to walk to. We took a Metro to Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, with the belief that it was just through the park.
The park was beautifully lit, with streetlights either side of a wide pathway, contained on either side with pristine streams of water that made me wish I could paddle in them. Every so often a greenhouse type structure would emerge on either side, with locked doors, and we supposed that these were exits to the subways below. With no road noise, and in the twilight of the city, it was an eerily beautiful place. After walking for almost an hour by thickets of trees, passing a few joggers and a couple of club-houses, we finally reached the strip of shops we needed, however we could not for the life of us find this Indian restaurant. Walking into the English Bar that held the same address, we were informed that it had been gone for a good few years.
With a grumpy and hungry companion we found a Mexican restaurant instead. Ordering a plate of nachos to share, she slowly cheered up when she tasted something foreign and familiar. The portions here were ENORMOUS – Callum’s burrito was half a foot long and stuffed so full that he had to eat it with a knife and fork. You could easily fit three cricket balls inside, were it not for the mince that was already there. On the walls sat portraits of Frida Khalo and Salvador Dali, the place was clean and western.
We left happily, heading back for a tube after realising quite how far away we were from being on the correct side of the river. With the metro closing at half past 10, we raced through town and hopped back across the water. A walk down the main shopping street at East Nanjing brought with it many surprises. A con-man shining Callum’s shoes and trying to wangle 200RMB for it (little did he know that we had an almost fluent Chinese speaker with us and she abruptly told him where to go), three Michael Jackson impersonators of varying talent, and a bucket full of singer-guitarists littered the streets. We finished up sipping cocktails (and Cointreau) in the Herry’s Bar equivalent in Shanghai, complete with spelling mistakes on the blackboard and a mural of a naked woman in a top hat.
We realised as we left that the metro would be closed and so we looked for a taxi. Asking if he knew the address of the hostel we hopped in and began on a semi-tipsy ramble about the differences between Fuzhou, Shanghai, including the Taxis. Our conversation spanned the world in Taxis, commenting on Taxi Drivers in Thailand, in Japan, in the Western World, including a running commentary on this poor chaps driving and comparing it (not too brutally, but equally not particularly tactfully) to taxis all over the world. As we alighted outside of our hostel, he had a beautifully wide smile on his face. Of course, we were in Shanghai and not Fuzhou, Chinese people speak English here; he had heard and understood everything that we had said. Good thing we had left him a tip.
Our final day began early, eating breakfast at the hostel so as not to repeat the grump that happened yesterday. Our companions were happy with the breakfast provided, and Callum and I even managed to fit in a quick game of American pool. We left with the intention of visiting the museum in Peoples Square, and made it today. There was unfortunately, no umbrellas out today, and that made our journey to the museum a little easier. The museum happened to be the one Callum and I visited last time, so I went in with our two companions whilst Callum went in search of coffee. The exhibitions were the same, yet no less impressive, and we whiled away 45 minutes in there before being informed that there was one last Indian Restaurant that they would like to try before getting on the train. Only around the corner they said.
We found it, finally, and we were not disappointed. With beautifully painted walls, and smelling of cumin and curry powder, we were quite at home. The curry was amazing, creamy enough, spicy enough, and with enough meat for it to be called a curry, we feasted -again- until we could not breathe (so that’s a little of an exaggeration but you get my point). Our Indian loving friend was happy. She had achieved her goal of finding an Indian Restaurant in Shanghai. By West Nanjing Road metro station, called Masala Art, it was a western-style Indian restaurant, complete with Indian waiters that spoke, not only Chinese and Indian, but also almost perfect English. By now we were in need of getting on our train home, and sped across Shanghai before boarding our slow and sleepy 6 hour train ride home.