Days 2 & 3: Shanghai

Day 1 is here. The next two days were all about getting acclimated.

Day 2 (January 3)

I woke up hungry with a plan of finding the breakfast buffet, heading to the gym, showering and then exploring. Instead I ran into two people from our group, Lorie and Noe Noe, at breakfast. They invited me to join them after breakfast to begin touring People’s Square  and other sites of interest. We started by wandering the streets and pedestrian mall near us. I’ve never seen so many tiny stores selling just one type of item with the different stores seeming to be grouped by industry. So, instead of a massive Home Depot, one store would sell fixtures, one store wiring, one store plumbing, one store just electric outlets, etc. I have not been to any city that has an equivalent crush of people. There is a never ending stream of people inviting you (clutching at your arm to take you) to stores selling “real” fakes. ‘Please follow me’ down this dark alley to get a really great fake.

Because we were scheduled to tour the Urban Planning Museum and the Shanghai Museum with our group, we went to the Shanghai (Modern) Art Museum. Their main exhibit was called Super Generation @ Taiwan, which was a mix of traditional and digital art. I became quite aware that I was in some place very different from the USA in touring this exhibit. If you’ve ever seen a dog cock its head sideways with a questioning look on his face, then that’s likely the expression I was wearing in this museum exhibit.

On our walk through People’s Square, three young female students from a nearby university asked to practice their English with us. After a brief conversation, we planned to head back to our hotel. The more we tried to the leave, the more eager these girls were to take us to observe a very special tea ceremony just a short walk from our hotel. We apologetically declined. I’ve since learned that this is a very popular tourist scam to separate new visitors to Shanghai from their money. Indeed, I found news articles pointing out that several tea shops participating in such scams have been closed by police.

Noe Noe and I went to a local food court for lunch. Not speaking Mandarin, I pointed to bowl that I thought contained tuna, salmon and some type of white fish. However, what I received I think was some type of fish skin, perhaps Spam and liver from some type of animal. The press of bodies in the food court was hard to describe. There were numerous tables with chairs attached for eating. Behind each chair was a queue of people with a tray containing food waiting for seat to eat. One kind lady caught my eye and made sure that I was able to sit in her former seat. Noe Noe and I were long separated but she eventually found a seat at a table relatively near to mine. Like me, she was uncertain what exactly was in her meal. But in each case, the soups were good. For dinner we found a place where we could sit down to eat and be served. I ordered jasmine tea expecting something like you’d see in the USA but instead it was a very special jasmine tea with flower. In general the tea seems to cost as much as the main entree.

Day 3 (January 4)

This was the first official day of the FDIB program. Our scheduled plan was to first tour the Urban Planning Museum (unfortunately closed) and then tour the main Shanghai Museum. We spent about 2 hours at the Museum before heading on a 1.5 to 2.0 mile walk down Nanjing Road on a quest for the Dragonfly spa. My roommate, Carol, had used this chain when she’d been to Beijing in the past. While we started out with 10 people on this quest, only 5 of us walked the entire way to the spa. The neighborhoods changed dramatically over the distance we covered. The area near the spa would not have looked out of place in Beverly Hills or 5th Avenue in NYC. Indeed, it was near the Ritz Carlton where President Obama recently stayed. I chose the 2 hour Ultimate Massage – 1 hour full body & 1 hour feet only (cost $40 USD). I had a very tiny girl with incredibly small hands. Chinese massage is conducted fully clothed (they give you a soft pajama outfit to change into) and filled with deep tissue work and pressure points. The foot massage was outstanding. I have many new techniques to try at home.

We rushed back to the hotel to catch the bus with our group to Old Shanghai. In some ways Old Shanghai reminded me of attending a Renaissance Festival – lots of small stalls, high prices, people hawking their wares, the need to haggle, fried street food, and an usual and eclectic blend of modern items such as the neon display made of Pepsi cans and the ever present blue blob that is the mascot for the 2010 Expo. We had dinner at a historic restaurant where Bill Clinton, among other dignitaries, have apparently eaten. All of our group meals are family style. Our guide orders for us and food is placed on a large lazy susan at the center of the table. Generally one dish will have enough for one bite for each person at the table. With multiple appetizers and entrees, there is plenty for everyone.

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After dinner we headed to the Bund.

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It’s been cold in Shanghai at night, perhaps 30 degrees Fahrenheit, so we only took a very brief tour of the area.

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