Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shanghai-An Experience Lost in Translation

Last week I got to have the experience of visiting a country everyone is always curious to visit-China. It was by far one of the most interesting, and different places I have been to for obvious reason, but also for the not so obvious.

Saturday/Sunday: I left two Saturdays ago for China. My flight from Athens was at 2:30 pm on Saturday, and I arrived in Shanghai at 3pm the next day. My trip there was pretty uneventful. My connection was in Amsterdam which wasn't too bad because the airport there is beyond nice. It had a sushi bar at every terminal, so it automatically won me over. My flight from Amsterdam to Shanghai was especially uneventful because I slept the entire flight (was exhausted from the Peloponnese trip). I was only awake for about an hour and a half, therefore I was very refreshed when I got there. Customs was actually quite simple, although I quickly realized that everyone around me was wearing masks because of H1N1 (welcome to China). Once I got through customs, my mom was eagerly waiting for me at the exit. I was really happy our rendezvous went smoothly (my mom obviously was on a separate flight from the states). Our first adventure was to take the fastest train in the world to the center of the city called the Maglev. The train goes up to 400 km per hour, which is crazy. The train actually hovers above the track with some super high tech magnetic force (sounds super space age to me). The ride was unbelievable. All of a sudden everything outside the window turns into a barely clear blur. The trip itself is only 7 minutes, because, well, it goes super fast obviously. After the train, we hoped in a taxi to our hotel. We stayed at the Pudong Shangri-La in the business district of Shanghai. The people at the hotel definitely showed Asian hospitality. Our hotel room had a nice view of the river that goes through the city, and we were even served a pot of tea which I loved. After refreshing and a bit of unpacking we decided to go to one of the hotel's many restaurants. For our first night we decided to eat at the Shanghainese/Cantonese restaurant called Gui Hua Lou. I wanted to try everything. I decided upon salted duck for an appetizer and curried prawns for my main. It was very good. We then decided to go to the famous bar at the top floor of the hotel called Jade on 36. It was a great place to spend the end of our first day because the bar has an amazing view of the city's skyline. The architecture is so futuristic, it looks like the buildings are from the 22nd century. Shanghai rivals Las Vegas with its lights. Not only are things lit up, but they are flashing and changing colors every second. It is quite a wild scene at night. After soaking up the beauty of the night, we were beyond tired and fell asleep before goodnights were even said.

Monday: Was a packed day. Free breakfast buffet came with our room, and it was probably the best thing that has ever happened in the world of buffetness. It was incredible. There was a Japanese breakfast station, America, Malaysian, Dim Sum breakfast, Chinese, etc. Basically a station for every region of the world. My favorite was the pork buns in the Dim Sum station, and the Japanese station where I got teriyaki cold salmon with rice and seaweed "to go" packets (had only had them once before in San Francisco, so good). I was a very happy camper. After stuffing our faces we started on our day. We decided to go to the Bun Sightseeing tunnel, which is literally a little tram in a tunnel that goes under the river connecting the two main sides of the city. One the way there, however, we saw Hooters. Yes, communist China has Hooters. Anywho, the Bund sightseeing is basically a mini Disneyland/light show/super Asian extravaganza. The tunnel is filled with blow up creatures, and a crazy light display. If you have ever seen the original Willy Wonka, it is just like "ride" they take around the chocolate factory. When we arrived on the other side, we decided to walk along the Bund (which an upscale strip along the water). We went to numerous art galleries, and checked out the various super nice restaurants and bars that make up the Bund. We then walked the an area called "Old China." This is where the picturesque Chinese buildings are which are stunningly beautiful. In the main square we learned that Shanghai is going to host the world expo in 2010. The city was under a bit of construction getting ready for it. The mascot is this Gumby like creature named Haibao (he can be seen all over the city). We then went to the Yu Garden, one of the most famous Chinese gardens in the city. While waiting in line however we saw a guy wearing a UVA hat, turns out he actually went to William and Mary and now lives in Beijing. Small world. We also saw a guy selling baby turtles. I was hoping it was for pets, but I also learned that they eat them...I will just think they are to be pets. The garden was amazing. It was very big and every path was just a beautiful as the next. The ponds are filled with koi, and I basically felt as if I was walking through the movie Mulan. It was wonderful. The gardens are also extremely peaceful, even though there are other tourists walking around. On that note I must say that we were beyond lucky with the weather. It was about 80 degrees and dry the entire week we were there. After the garden, we went to the Huaxtung tea house, which is a famous teahouse over the water next to the garden. We decided to have a tea ceremony to get the full experience. We had a woman who taught us all about the different types of teas and then gave us a tasting of all of them. I really enjoyed the ginseng. The best part was the tea was unlimited, so we probably stayed there for about two hours relaxing and drinking all the teas. After drinking our weight in tea we started to walk to an area called the French Concession famous for its beautiful buildings in the old French colonial style. Along the way we stumbled upon a farmer's market. It was unlike any market I had ever been to. There were eels, crabs of all shapes and sizes, baby pools filled with huge swimming fish, dead and alive ducks, chickens and all sorts of poultry, baby chicks, and other unidentifiable food/animals. Parts of it were a bit hard to handle. The market was packed, it was incredibly hard to just get around. After an unforgettable market experience, we continued are walk to the Concession. However, along the way we got a bit lost. We must have also looked lost because a guy came up to us with British accent wondering if we needed help. The guys turned out to be visiting his parents who live in Shanghai (he works in London) and was going to a restaurant close to ours. He was super nice and we just walked with him the French Concession. Always fun to make friends while abroad. After our help, we walked around the French Concession before our dinner reservations. We went to the nice shops and stores, and then took a break at a nice little cafe/bar called The Fountain, which not surprisingly had a wonderful view of the picturesque fountain in the main square. We had dinner at a restaurant called Crystal Jade which is in the Xintiandi district of the French Concession. The restaurant is famous for its dumplings with broth inside and pork buns (yes!). It was wonderful. We also got peking duck which was to die for. It was delicious. Afterwards we were full and tired and decided to taxi back to get some sleep. However, before sleeping I learned that facebook, twitter, youtube, etc. was all blocked. Guess that is what happens in communist China. Anywho, Monday was a great, full day.

Tuesday: We got up for the amazing breakfast, however, I think jet-lag caught up because after breakfast we found ourselves taking a two hour nap. Once we got up, again, we decided to go to the famous People's Park. At the park we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, basically the Chinese MOMA. I thought it was really interesting. First of all, because modern art is often critical of social movements and the government, ALOT of modern art is censored aka nothing about the government/political can be shown in the galleries. When you think about this, if this were true in the U.S., the MOMA would be a very empty place. Nonetheless the art was really interesting. A lot of commentary on personal struggle and numerous works on the pressure to become "westernized" which was really fascinating. After the museum we went to a cafe/bar in the park called Barbarossa, and relaxed for a little bit. Afterwards we decided to walk the famous street called Nanjing Dong Lu, famous for its lights. It was insane. Everything was lit up and flashing. Although I have never been to Las Vegas, I imagine it Nanjing Dong Lu is just as flashy if not more. We continued along the street until we reached the Bund. For dinner we decided to eat at a sushi restaurant called Sun and Aqua. I had the most amazing tuna belly and sea urchin. I had a roll that was sea urchin and salmon roe, amazzzzzing. I also had sushi foie gras, which I had never seen before. It was also amazzzzing. After dinner we decided to go to one of the nice bars along the Bund called Bar Rouge. It has a rooftop bar that had a great view of the city. We stayed there for about half an hour before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Wednesday: We got up again for the amazing breakfast and then headed to the Shanghai Museum. It was one of the best museums I have ever been to. It had exhibitions on Chinese furniture, vases, jade carvings, bronze work, sculpture, calligraphy, and Chinese paintings. It took us about 2.5 hours to get through the museum. If you ever go to Shanghai, it is a must see. We then decided to go back to the French Concession to walk around some more. We strolled around soaking up the atmosphere. We even walked by a Montessori School! At the end of the walk we went back to the Xintiandi district, which is probably my favorite part of the city. At about 8 o'clock we decided to taxi back to the hotel. We ate dinner at the restaurant we have our breakfast for their dinner buffet. Which was amazing. I had the best peanut satay I have ever had. It had a sashimi bar (yes, not sushi, but sashimi, it had sushi too), amazing Indian food, basically it was an ethnic food lovers dream. They even had traditional hand pulled noodles, which are literally pulled by hand. It is an amazing thing to watch. After dinner we went back to the room to relax, and we watched a movie called "Bottle Shock." It is about Napa Valley beating the French wines for the first time in history. It was a really good movie and I totally recommend it to anyone. Then it was time for sleep.

Thursday: Per usual we had the breakfast buffet, but afterwards I was treated to a relaxing massage at the fitness center. It was great, especially since I have been having a lot of charlie horses at night due to a mix of my tendinitis and the stairs in Athens. After a little pampering, we went to the World Financial Center. It is the 2nd tallest building in the world at 492 meters (the first is in Taipei). It also looks like a tall bottle opener which is a bit amusing. To get to the top you take an elevator that zips you right up there. Once on the top floor (the 100th floor), there is a "skywalk" that has see through spots to look alll the way down. There is great view of the city, but sadly due to the horrible smog in Shanghai it really limits the view. It was a crazy experience, you ears are popping like crazy as you look out into the 2nd largest city in the world (population wise apparently). Also, there was leader of some area region taking a tour so there was tons of paparazzi, although we didn't know exactly who the guys was due to nobody being able to tell us in English. After a very vertical experience, we decided to take a walk along the river on the business district (Pudong) side. Along the way we got snacks at Starbucks (haha). We then walked to the Shanghai aquarium. I love aquariums. It was a really good one to. They had the fish split up into regions of the world. The Chinese exhibit was especially interesting. However, my favorite was a display of real shark eggs at different points in time of development. The last one looked like it could hatch at any moment, it was fascinating to see. After a good two hours, we went back the the hotel. I went to the gym for a bit which felt amazing (I sadly couldn't go early because I had a bit of a sinus infection). I then went to the health club to enjoy the hot tub and sauna. To top it off I was treated to a relaxing facial. No complaining there. After a bit of rest and relaxation, we washed up and headed to the dinner buffet once again for out last dinner in central Shanghai. It was just as good, if not better than the buffet before (same food, but just amazing). After dinner we sadly packed our things, and got things organized for our trip to the suburbs of Shanghai for my mom's law conference the next day.

Friday: We had to wake up at 6 am, to get to breakfast at 6:30. I was so sad knowing it was my last time at the buffet. Best buffet ever. At 7 we met up with my mom's colleague and we all took an hour long taxi to the suburbs of Shanghai where the conference was being held. Once at the hotel, I went to the room while my mom worked and took a nice long nap. I then woke up around 11ish to meet my mom at the conference for lunch, and the conference had good food too. They had very traditional Chinese food for us to eat, which was quite good. We sat at a table that had a spinny circle in the middle so everyone could wheel around the food, pretty cool I think. Afterwards I went to listen to the conference. It was a Chinese and American joint conference on environmental law and regulation, and because of the language barrier everyone had to wear headphones in order to listen to the translators. Quite interesting. Once the conference was over, we all joined together again for another good dinner. I got to talk to some of the Chinese students which was really cool too, although I'm pretty sure I confused a couple people over where I actually go to school (between Athens and Duke I mean). After dinner, my mom and I went back to the room (we were far in the suburbs, 40 minute taxi from the city) for one last packing job since we went back to our respective countries the next day. We did watch some of the World Series though which was being shown in China for the first time. Yay for witnessing sports history. And we watched a movie called Cheri, another movie I highly recommend, and the newest 30 rock (always a fantastic idea). The next morning we sadly taxied to the airport to begin our return trips back.

Overall: Going to China was unbelievably fascinating. It is hard to explain what it is like to be in an extremely modern city, trying to be Westernized, in a communist country. How do you even begin to explain? Furthermore, the Asian culture is so rich in history and tradition. Everything about it is so unique, and you seem to learn about it everyday and be surprised by it everyday. My advice: discover China, it is beyond worth it. You simply can't compare it to anything else.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Halloween back home (they don't celebrate it in Greece in case you were wondering). I really missed pumpkins, kids in costumes, and apple cider. I also greatly miss the leaves changing colors, and envy those who are seeing it now.

This weekend I will be in Athens, however, I have two Duke friends (Michael and Jackie) coming to visit which I am really excited about. Saturday I have a school trip to Delphi. Sunday my roommate, Laura, is running the Marathon (THE marathon), and Sunday night we are all going to see Beyonce in the new olympic marble stadium. Should be a good weekend.

Also, bummed about Virginia elections. urg

I have put all my pictures of China on facebook, however, I will put the highlights in a post right after this. Enjoy!

Anywho, I love comments, so keep them coming please :)

I miss you alll so much.
Love always,

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