In front of the Pudong skyline.
|How Shanghai will look in the near future.
|In the French Concession area.
October 21, 2006
We hopped on board the ‘train’ at the airport that goes into the center of Shanghai – a bit over 30 kilometers away. This also happens to be the fastest
train in the world reaching a speed of 431 kilometers per hour. Seven minutes later, we had arrived.
If this isn’t one of the most impressive concrete jungles in the world, I don’t know what is. And I say ‘concrete jungle’ in the nicest possible way. Talk
about a skyline with pizzazz! It makes me realize how much American skylines lack in flare. Why is that? The tallest buildings in our skyline are just
kind of ‘blah’. San Francisco has the Bank of America building as the tallest building in the skyline. I don’t mean to diss my former ‘second home’ (as
that was where I worked before I left for this trip) but the only thing that makes it stand out in pictures is the fact that it’s…well…the tallest. The real
gem of our skyline is the second tallest building – the Trans-America pyramid. And that is just a building that is shaped like a triangle on top. We have
no colors and the extent of fun shapes is one building that comes to a point at the top. The best that it gets is during the holiday season when the
Embarcadero buildings are outlined in clear lights. Shanghai is now making me think that my own city’s skyline is boring. This is a sad day.
I can’t even describe the colors and shapes of the buildings in Shanghai. And it is nowhere even close to being completed! I can’t even imagine how it
is going to look when it is all done. This also brought to mind how long it has been since I have seen a real skyline. I have been to some big cities along
the way…but nothing like this. Beijing is a complete contrast to Shanghai. Beijing is built ‘out’ while Shanghai is built ‘up’. Beijing has the history;
Shanghai has the lights. Beijing is filled with temples and parks; Shanghai is filled with chic restaurants and cafes. Many people who love Shanghai
aren’t really fond of Beijing. Those who love Beijing don’t see that Shanghai has much to offer.
Regardless of how different these two cities are, there is one thing that they have in common: art student and teahouse scammers.
As I was wondering around today, a couple of Chinese people started chatting me up in a park. We walked and talked for at least ten minutes. They
were a nice couple from Xi’an. The conversation then took a turn. The dialogue went as follows:
Chinese Guy: Well, we were supposed to meet our friends for tea last night but weren’t able to make it. We are actually going to go to the tea
Jen: Aha! I see exactly where this is going. Bring it on, my brotha…
CG: You should come with us.
J: No. I don’t think so (said in a very sweet manner).
CG: You don’t want to see what a tea ceremony is like?
CG: But it would be really good since you are from an English-speaking country and we could all speak English.
J: Do you know what?
J: (In an overly sweet tone…) I actually met these two girls in Beijing.
J: Yeah. And they actually gave me the same exact story and then they stuck with a big fat f*cking bill!
J: (I did a 180 and walked in the opposite direction.)
This is really scary to me. Not scary in a ‘dangerous’ sense. But scary in a ‘trusting’ sense. If I hadn’t fallen victim to this in Beijing, I would have for
sure taken the bait once again. And I realize it has nothing to do with being naïve. It just has to do with this innate sense that we have to trust people. I
have always taken pride with my keen sense of instincts when it comes to sizing people up. All of these instincts have been challenged while I’ve been
in China and I don’t like it. And I don’t like that so many other people are getting scammed in this way. I have a personal mission to get this warning
out to anyone and everyone who will be visiting China in the future. I can’t even imagine how many foreigners will get duped in a couple years when
they flock over here for the Olympics. As a side note: I am currently working with my bank to reverse the teahouse charge from Beijing. I figure if
these people could have gotten arrested on the spot for what they were doing to me, then I have a right to declare the charge ‘fraudulent’. I have to
wait a week or so to see what the outcome is going to be.
Enough about that (I really should let it go).
I finished off my night by taking a boat ride along the Huangpu River. It made me appreciate the tall buildings and bright lights even more. Both sides
of the river have completely different, albeit impressive, skylines. There was just one downside of the boat ride that I can think of. We were taken
over to the dock (which was across a bridge, etc.) by a bus. When the boat ride was over, however, there was no bus. We were left to find our own way
home. This wouldn’t have been so bad if I knew that was the case and I would have made a beeline for the row of taxis. But by the time I realized it, all
of the taxis were gone and a couple of the late-comers refused to drive me over to The Bund. How rude! But I finally found a taxi that would take me.
And of course it was then that I realized how close it was and that I could have probably even walked it. But it was late and I didn’t have a map (or a
clue, for that matter) so a taxi was the smart way to go.
October 22, 2006
In contrast to ‘The Jeffersons’, I’m going to be ‘Movin’ on Down’ tomorrow night. This morning I sought out a hostel that is close to the Bund. Prices
are expensive out here and I don’t want to spend $50 for a room that I am not spending any time in. For that reason, I am going to be sleeping in a
dorm room. Yes, a dorm room. I will be going from 4-star to no-star. From turn-down service with a chocolate on my bed to feeling lucky that I have
a personal locker to put my stuff in.
After I got that squared away, I headed out towards the Shanghai Museum. On my way I out there, I stumbled across a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I hadn’
t seen one of these since Tel Aviv! I was still full from breakfast so I didn’t make a stop but it is already on my mental-itinerary for the next couple
days. My oh-so-delectable chai tea latte is waiting for me. Who says globalization is a bad thing!?
In the meantime, my next stop was the Shanghai Museum.
I felt right at home there. Literally.
This museum housed Chinese paintings, jade, ceramics, coins, etc. It felt like being in my house I grew up in with the exception that everything here
was an actual antique.
I remember one of our family friends telling me and my sister that we should keep everything after we sold our house. Not only was it impossible (due
to space), but most of it was completely undesirable to us. After being in China (and Japan earlier this year) I have to admit that I have developed
more of a liking of this stuff. After being at the source of where this stuff was created, I can now see the beauty of it.
My sister and I ended up selling off about 90% of everything, leaving us each with 5%. I am looking forward to pulling it out of storage as I know I will
see it in a different way. It says something about traveling that I have more of a tie to those things now (after being in some Asian countries) than I did
after twenty-eight years of living under the same roof as them.
While on this trip, I find myself mostly having thoughts of my mom come to mind. I mostly think of her when I know that she would love a certain
city or when I would love to be able to tell her about certain things that I have seen. But today it was my dad that came to mind. I was too young when
he passed away to know anything but the basics about him. I started to think about questions I would ask him if I could…
What made you so interested in Oriental art?I don’t really know if he would have appreciated the last question but it would have to be asked.
Why did you never travel to Asia considering your interest?
Why in the world did we have to have a huge Buddha sitting there in our entryway looking at people as they came into our house???
From the museum, I headed to the ‘French Concession’ area of Shanghai. I didn’t really know where to go so I stayed on the main street. Though it
was busy, I still enjoyed it as there were far fewer people there than on Nanjing Road.
I did have a funny experience. In an effort to update my threads, I headed into Benetton. I found a pair of pants that were right up my alley…and as
luck would have it, they were also on sale. There were many sizes to choose from, and of course the sizes were completely foreign to me (Ha! Get it?).
I went to try them on and the girl told me that I couldn’t try them on. Huh? How could I buy the pants if I didn’t know if they fit? But then I figured I
misunderstood her as this interaction was done through charades. So I tried again. No dice. And no pants for me as I left the store. Who doesn’t let a
person try on clothes? Especially at a chain store. And one that has dressing rooms, for that matter. Weird.
On my way back home, it only made sense that I would go into the museum-like Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center considering the
recent/future growth of this city.
Okay. I’m lying. The only reason why I ended up there is because I thought it was the Shanghai Art Museum. I only realized that I had goofed after I
walked in and read the sign that said ‘Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall’. In my defense, there was a big sign outside promoting an Italian
contemporary art exhibition that was taking place. Who wouldn’t think it’s an art museum?
To be honest, when I saw this place mentioned in my Lonely Planet, I had no interest of checking it out. Actually, I thought “There’s a place I don’t
need to go.” That is why sometimes these ‘oops’ moments turn out to be a positive thing as it turned out that I really enjoyed it. My mouth literally
dropped when I went up to the third floor to see what is in store for Shanghai in the very near future. It is absolutely unbelievable.
To see what has happened here over the past twenty years is startling. In goods ways and in bad ways. I’m a city girl so I love the skyscrapers and
colorful lights. But I also find it sad that almost every bit of Chinese tradition has been/is being wiped out to make room for all of the new buildings.
All of the people that have only known Shanghai as their home are being displaced. I guess it happens, to a degree, everywhere. But here it is just
thrown in your face much more. In the end, it will be pretty incredible to with what has been done in such a short period of time.
However, not so incredible was the Italian contemporary art exhibit. Let me first state that I just don’t get this contemporary/abstract ‘art’. And I use
the word ‘art’ very loosely. Nine times out of ten it seems like it’s more of a matter of what obscure thoughts the ‘artist’ was thinking as they were
stoned out of their mind. A person could only come up with their thoughts of the symbolism with the aid of drugs. I surely had no idea what this had
to do with urban planning!
All of these museums and all of the walking made me thirsty. It was time to go to the chic ‘M on the Bund’ to give my feet a rest and my taste buds
some wine. Couldn’t beat sitting on the terrace overlooking the Bund and Pudong…even if the Pudong did disappear behind a curtain they like to call
After getting freshened up at my hotel, it was off to see a show that Shanghai is renowned for: The Shanghai Acrobats. It is really amazing what these
people are capable of. And I say ‘capable of’ because I am assuming they can normally do these acts flawlessly. But on this night, they were messing
up all over the place. One guy tried jumping through a hoop three times and was never successful. He wound up with the pity cheer. I was utterly
embarrassed for the poor guy. Especially when the guy right after him jumped through it with such ease. Ouch. That has to hurt. I just had to wonder
what their punishment is after the show is over. For some reason, I doubt it would be the positive reinforcement they would get at home. I actually
used to fear for the Chinese (and Russians) back in the day in the Olympics when they would mess up because I truly thought the government was
going to beat them down when they got home. Even though I wanted America to win, I was always scared for people from the communist countries to
My night would get wrapped up eighty-seven floors in the sky at Cloud 9 at the Grand Hyatt – which is in the Jin Mao Tower (the tallest building in
Shanghai). Talk about swankety-swank. I figure that I might as well live up the city life while I’m out here! There was just one problem. By the time I
left, all public transportation had ceased. How can a city have sooo many millions of people and not have a metro that runs past midnight??? Of
course there were taxis. But of course I forgot to bring the business card of my hotel (assuming I was just going to take the metro). It was a bit of a
challenge getting home…but I eventually did.
October 23, 2006
Before checking out of my 4-star digs, I headed out to the Yu Yuan Gardens. This might be the only part of Shanghai that feels at all ‘Chinese’. This is
one of the few parts of Shanghai that is exempted from being demolished. And I’m sure it has nooooothing to do with the tourist dollars that come
into this place (as there were nothing but tour guides with flags leading their groups through this area). I will have to admit that it’s a bit hard to see it
as old and traditional when Starbuck’s and Dairy Queen are sprinkled into the Chinese architecture.
I didn’t take too long to browse through the gardens. I see gardens as similar to temples: once you’ve seen a few (or in my case, five or six), they
pretty much are all the same after that. I just figured I should see something ‘Chinese’ while I am in this city.
And I didn’t waste my time looking at any of the shopping since I have already purchased my threshold for what I can carry onto a plane. Now I
wanted to head to the Xintiandi area of Shanghai.
But before I did that, a man came up to me wanting to know if I spoke English. The difference was that this time it was a white man who was probably
about seventy years old. I figured he needed directions but I was wrong as he was looking to provide me with help (as he saw me fumbling around with
my map). It turned out that he’s from Los Angeles but also bought an apartment out here as he is married to a Chinese woman. I told him the area I
was looking for and he offered to show me how to get there. On our way, he asked if I wanted to stop by a bird, fish and bug market. I told him that I
would pass. But as we got closer, he asked again. This time I thought ‘Hey, why not?’ First we saw some birdies. He told me that the little old woman go
outside with their birdcages in the morning. In the same way that people take their dogs out, these women take their birds out. They hang the cages on
a tree for about an hour or so for their birds to kind of be free in their surroundings. Well, free in a cage in their surroundings. Then we got to the
bugs. Many were in clear plastic cases. Others were in cases that were not transparent. And others were in tubes. I asked if these are for people to eat.
Nope. People buy these insects for ‘fights’. I guess insect fighting is big over here. And these people take it seriously. They were inspecting these bugs
as if they were inspecting a diamond. I actually really enjoyed seeing this as it was definitely a ‘local’ thing.
Afterwards, good ol’ Myron could read my mind as he suggested going to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Xintiandi. Of course I wasn’t going to pass
this up! I saw why different friends had recommended coming to this place. Originally, I thought it was an ‘area’ of Shanghai. It turns out that it is
more like an outdoor mall (though that term does it no justice). The most accurate description of it that I can give is that it is a cross between my
beloved Cape Quarter in Cape Town (only ten times bigger) and one of the ‘city-like’ areas that you stroll through in different hotels in Las Vegas (i.e.
Paris, Monte Carlo, etc.) When Myron and I sat to have our drinks, I would learn that he is actually buddies with my hero – Herb - that created this
coffee chain (he has since sold it). I would also learn that Myron played football ('American football', that is) at UCLA. And in slight Al Bundy-style,
he would reminisce about some of his proud football accomplishments. After a little while, we said our good-byes as it was time for me to ‘move on
down’ to my hostel.
I actually really like my hostel. I met some of my bunk-mates and they are very cool and trustworthy. That’s nice considering I am always wary of the
Lunch was now overdue and I decided to use a recommendation from a friend’s sister. It would be a nice change going somewhere recommended but
not by Lonely Planet. Plus it happened to be in the part of the French Concession that I didn’t make it to the other day. It was a chic little restaurant
on a small lane (this area is known for these) linked to an Inn and surrounding my people’s homes. The food was great and the atmosphere was even
On my walk home down a tree-lined street, I decided this was one of my favorite areas of Shanghai.
Now it’s time to go back to my former hotel and pick up my train ticket to go to Hangzhou tomorrow. I leave in the late afternoon so I still have most
of the day to enjoy Shanghai. Now it’s just a matter of how I want to wrap up my evening tonight and my day tomorrow. I guess I will just have to wait
In the meantime, it is time for me to put this computer away as I just finished my latte at The Coffee Bean. Yes, another one. After all, it’s not
everyday that I can come to The Coffee Bean!
October 24, 2006
Not surprisingly, my final morning in Shanghai would be spent at The Coffee Bean. After exchanging a couple emails with my friends Lauren and
April, Lauren asked if I could call her. Since other people sitting near me were conducting business on their phones, I decided it wouldn’t be too tacky
to call somebody from my computer (gotta love free wireless and Skype!). I was greeted to such a familiar sound from back in the day – “Good
afternoon. Bernstein, this is Lauren.” A greeting that I used to sometimes hear several times a day when I felt like harassing her from my end of the
office to hers. After catching up for a few minutes, she conferenced in April - another former Bernie employee who is back in Philadelphia (I was
going to call it ‘Philly’ but had to stop myself as I don’t know if it’s one of those ‘all wrong’ terms like when people call San Francisco ‘Frisco’.) I could
not believe how normal it felt to be talking to my girls. Just like the good ol’ days of conferencing each other while at work. Just more evidence that
you can be on the other side of the world from your friends and it doesn’t change anything. The last part of our call was spent trying to recruit them to
come to South America. Even though they sounded more than interested, I know not to hold my breath.
It was time to move my party from The Coffee Bean down to The Bund. I had to go one last time. (I will take this moment to say that when other
friends were telling me about what to do in Shanghai and ‘The Bund’ came up, I always assumed that was the name of the river. I have come to learn
that it’s just the name of the promenade along the Huangpu River.)
I then made my way across the river to the Pudong area and went out on a very high note regarding my last dining experience in Shanghai. I had lunch
at a restaurant called Element Fresh. So delish!
And just like that, it was time to head to the train station. I think I was in denial as I never really gave it thought that I was leaving Shanghai. It’s like
having a friend move away and just giving them a normal hug the last time you see them instead of the big bear hug that they deserve. Maybe it’s
because in both cases you subconsciously know that it’s not good-bye for ever. Just ‘till next time’…