Friday, April 29, 2011

Big Bus and Beyond

Since we have been in Shanghai we have seen and done a lot.  We have settled into our apartment and daily lives here and it is starting to feel like we actually live here and are not just on vacation.  With that said, it seems like when you get comfortable in a place you don't get out and do the touristy attractions because since you live there you can do it later.  Well, Joel and I are trying to avoid that by planning something new to do or see every weekend.  Whether it is leaving the city for a new destination or finally checking out the temple down the street from us.  I thought I would share a few pics that we have taken since we moved here, just around town and a few randoms.

We did take the Big Bus Tour of Shanghai, which was not worth the money.  Save yourself the 45$ if you ever come here and just buy yourself a good guide book and hop in taxis.  Much cheaper and you will get the same experience.  Needless to say, we did see quite a bit of the city.  It took us to all the major points of interests including the Jade Buddha Temple.  It was interesting to see.  We happened to be there on the female Buddha's birthday so the temple was filled with worshipers praying and lighting incense.  It is a bit of a tourist trap, with gift shops and such but it was definitely worth stopping to see.  Pretty sure everything worth seeing becomes a tourist trap....because everyone wants to see it.  Anyway, we are heading to the beach this weekend, I will let you all know how we like it!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Weekend with Mr. Gary

A few weekends ago Joel and I were lucky enough to be able to spend a few days here in Shanghai with one of my dad's best friends from growing up, Gary.  He was in town for work so we decided that we should meet up for brunch.  We met him at his hotel, The Waldorf Astoria on the bund.  For those of you who don't know Shanghai very well, the Bund is a famous part of town right on the river with beautiful old architecture, five star hotels and fancy restaurants.  It is a great place to stroll at night after a big meal and to take in the sights and sounds of the city.  The buildings here are left from when the British settled here, and haven't changed on the outside.  The building codes are different here so you don't see many high-rises.  Its really a beautiful part of town.

We went with Gary to a restaurant called M on the Bund.  It was a beautiful day out so we were able to sit on the terrace overlooking the river with views of the financial district of Shanghai on the other side.  Our delicious brunch turned into shopping on Nanjing road, a famous pedestrian mall here.  We spent most of our time shopping at a 7 story toy store so the "boys" could find some fun things to play with.  They both ended up buying toy helicopters (Gary's for his "son"), which I had to hear about non-stop for the next couple of days.  Actually Joel still hasn't stopped talking about his, even buying another one to take with us to NYC to fly in Central Park, which he got stuck in a tree and spent an hour throwing things at it to get it down just to find out it was broken.  Anyway, I digress.  After shopping, we had planned a dinner with some American friends we have made here so we talked Gary into coming with us.

Before dinner we had a little bit of time to stop by and see Gary's hotel, which like all of Shanghai's five-star hotels was totally over the top fancy.  We had a drink at the famous Long Bar in his hotel.  The bar, while being very long and totally deserving of its name, is not just famous for being long but also because back in the day when people came to the bar they would sit in ranking from one end to the other.  From wealthy and powerful to not wealthy and powerful I guess.  It is more interesting when you see just how long it is.  I wonder how the people in the middle decided where to sit....

After knocking back a few drinks we went to meet Emily and Jason in Xintiandi, an outdoor pedestrian restaurant and shopping center.  The center itself has very interesting architecture.  It is located in repurposed shikuman houses or stone gate houses, which are built on small alleyways.  We went to a restaurant called Din Tai Fung which was really good.  They have xiao long bao, which are soup filled steamed dumplings.  Delicious.  Not sure how the soup stays in there but it does, and it is wonderful.  Joel and I have had these dumplings a lot since being here and I would rank this restaurant as the second best we have had, but I will come back to that later.

After a wonderful dinner of great food and conversation we said goodbye to Emily and Jason and took Gary to a good old fashion house party.  Joel's cousin Anna lives here, have I mentioned that before?  They met for the first time here, which is weird right?, and we have really enjoyed her.  She invited us to meet some of her friends, so we went over for some wine and beer, and even got to see some amazing dance moves (show me how to Dougie anyone?).  I think Gary had a great time; maybe he can comment and let us know?  We finally got Gary back to his hotel around 1am and headed home to prepare for another full day of activities in the morning.

The next day we met Gary at 10:30 to do some more shopping.  He brought with him an interpreter because we were heading to brave the fake market.  There are many fake markets here in Shanghai and I think all over China and they are exactly what you would think.  Giant markets selling fake goods.  Not just handbags though, things I still don't know why you would copy like OPI nail polish and computer cords and stuff.  Strange.  Joel and I did buy the full set of How I Met Your Mother complete with Chinese subtitles.  They also sell art work and beautiful scarves here which I bought a ton of.  Gary decided that he wanted some new glasses, and found a pair he liked but didn't have his prescription with him but for the Chinese that was no big deal.  Why not get a full eye exam in the middle of the fake market, from a machine that looked older than me?  So that is exactly what he did.  And you know what?  He said they turned out great!  The nice guy who sold them even delivered them to the hotel that same day.  What great service.

Gary getting his eyes checked

After the market we took Gary to our #1 favorite xiao long bao place ( I told you I would come back to it), called Nanxiang Steamed Dumplings in the Yuyuan Gardens.  The Yuyuan Garden is another great place to see ancient Chinese architecture.  See my pics, but it is exactly how I would picture old Chinese buildings.  The dumplings in this restaurant are famous, with a full time line always out front.  There are three different levels to the restaurant with the dumplings getting more expensive the further you go up.  The bottom is just a pickup window, the second a cafeteria like setting and the top a real restaurant.  We went to the top (there isn't that big of a price difference) and had the set meal for three so we could try everything.  It was so good, maybe I will talk Joel into going there for dinner tonight...

After dinner we headed back to the Long Bar for a few more drinks and some Cuban cigars.  They are legal here so don't panic.  Plus I didn't have one but I did try it and it was gross.  Although I felt cool trying it with Joel's glass of scotch (also gross).  Then we said our goodbyes to Mr. Gary.  Oh, I forgot to explain that all the Chinese people Gary works with here call him Mr. Gary so it's not actually weird.  Hopefully Mr Gary will grace us with his presence again during our stay here in Shanghai so we can get into some more shenanigans.

Stayed tuned, still more to come from Shanghai!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Now that I officially can access my blog from China, I thought I would take my next few posts to catch you all up on all the goings on here in China.  We have seen a lot, made a few friends and even taken a trip outside the city.  We had a few weeks to settle in here before Joel officially started work so we took advantage of the time to have some fun.  A Chinese friend from Joel's office told us about his favorite smaller city outside of Shanghai that we should visit (if you consider 1.5 million smaller) called Hangzhou.  So off we went, it probably would have been smart to look up what to do and see there first but we love adventure so we booked a hotel and headed for the train station the next morning.

The train station definitely exceeded our expectations.  It is the newer station here and it was very clean and well organized.  We had no problem buying our tickets and figuring out where to go.  We bought the first class express train tickets, which came out to about $20 American.  The high-speed express train makes about a four hour trip take less than an hour.  Joel, being the little kid he is at heart, was so excited about the train he couldn't stop talking about it.  I was more excited about getting to see some of China's countryside, but that never happened.  Every so often I would think, ok we have been going for x amount of time, we should be out of the city by now.  Nope.  That is one of the crazy things about the part of China we live in I guess.  It is just really heavily populated.  I'm not sure how far you have to go from Shanghai to see open land, maybe one day I will discover it and let you know.

So we arrived in the Hangzhou train station, which is how I would picture a China train station.  Run down, sort of dirty with Chinese people hassling us to stay in their hotel, or to buy a map, or to take their taxi.  FYI- these are the people you should avoid as a western traveler in China.  Luckily we had our hotel already and eventually found a real taxi to take us there.  It was about a thirty minute ride to our hotel, right on the famous lake there, aptly named Westlake.

Walking into our hotel we were pleasantly surprised.  The lobby was updated nicely and it was very clean and everyone was friendly.  Now, I say surprised because when we had booked our hotel the reviews made it sound like a slight upgrade from a crack house but we figured for $60 bucks a night we could scrap it and move to the Hyatt if it really was that bad.  Our room was a slightly different story,  the carpet hadn't been changed since probably 1972 and the bathroom was sort of scary, but the bed linens had been changed (thank God for that!).  Let's just say that we were glad to be only spending one night there because neither of us were brave enough to use the shower.  We really had the best view though, overlooking the lake and the walkway around it.  That made up for everything I think.

An action packed video of our room

After checking into our room and unpacking (just kidding, our clothes never touched anything in that room), we wandered around and had a snack at an outdoor restaurant on the lake.  For some reason popcorn is a specialty in Hangzhou and they had it everywhere.  We spent the whole day just exploring the lake and the area around our hotel.  That night we splurged on tickets to their famous show called Impressions Westlake.  It was amazing.  The guy who did the Beijing opening ceremony for the olympics was the director and mind behind the whole project.  It is sort of hard to explain it, it was outside, on the lake with the stage set about an inch under the water.  We sat on bleachers next to the lake and for $1 you could rent a giant down coat, which I did because it was cold.  It was a beautiful performance of lights and movement telling an old Huangzhou fable.  I found a youtube promotional video of it.  Click on the link, it is worth the four minutes of your life.  One of my favorite shows we have seen.

Impressions Westlake 

So the next day we woke up, and wandered the lake again.  This time we bought tickets for the sightseeing boat which takes you to all the islands and around the lake.  Click on my pics to see everything we saw.  In Hangzhou I'm not sure they are as used to foreigners as they are in Shanghai.  I had a lot of people taking my picture.  Joel and I were even asked to pose with someone's child.  I just wander what they will do with those pictures later.  Show them to their friends and be like "you won't believe it...I saw two blond people!"  Lol, its weird but something I am getting used to here.  After sightseeing and lunch we had a few hours to kill so we rented a small motor boat and Joel drove us around the lake.  It was fun, not sure how safe our boat was but we survived and that is all that matters.  Then we headed back to the train station and went "home".

So, all in all we had a really nice time.  We also learned that we are brave enough to explore China on our own and to me that bodes well for our future here.  It will also make us fantastic guides for those of you coming to visit.  So goodbye for now, don't worry, lots more to come in the future!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hello my faithful followers!

Thanks for sticking with me while I try to figure out how to get around China's firewall!  I have so much to share with you all...not even sure where to start.  Joel found out within a few days of us living in China that he had a business trip to NYC April 6th.  So I of course had to tag along.  So here we are, after less than a month in China back in the states.  It doesn't feel too different, all big cities are inherently the same I think, but is still exciting to be here.

So I thought I would start my return to blogging by telling you some impressions I have had so far living in China.  Here are just a few things I have learned...

Pro- Everyone is really nice and helpful...
On our second day in China Joel and I set out for Ikea to start getting some stuff for our house.  We, being the innocent new foreigners, set out thinking we could get a cab and just say ikea.  Like, doesn't everyone one in every language know the word Ikea?  Apparently not.  After attempting to get in 3 different cabs and explain that we were going to Ikea our efforts were stifled by the language barrier.  So we were going to give up and wait for another day when we could take someone with us who spoke Chinese. Just as we were heading home, a cab driver who had seen what was happening to us pulled over and flagged us down to get in his cab.  He tried to call someone to help us translate but they didn't answer so he drove us to the Marriott, we all went inside and the concierge was able to translate for us.  I mean, how nice is that?

Another Pro- Some things are very inexpensive...
Not everything is as cheap as we thought it would be but the things that are inexpensive are very inexpensive.  We have shopped the markets several times and always come home with really fun things for way less than you could get them in the states.  Joel is obsessed with these little toy helicopters and can buy then for just a few dollars.  He also had some really nice suits made for only about $100 a piece in the fabric market.  Some restaurants are also very inexpensive.  You can go out for a really great dinner for around $10 or $15.  Joel said the best meal he has had there was a huge lunch that cost him $1.50.  So that's pretty cool.

I'm going to mark this next one as a pro and a con- The food...
I think that this is mostly a pro, like I said before the food can be very cheap.  And its (mostly) delicious. Not really at all like American Chinese food.  We have tried so many new foods that I can't even list them here.  Our favorite so far has been the Dim Sum.  My mouth is watering thinking about it!  Now another pro to the food there goes back to most big cities being the same.  Like any big city you can eat food from a different country every night if you wanted to.  Except Mexican...they do have a few sad attempts for us Expats to recreate it, but its not the same.  (insert long nights dreaming of green chili)  The con in this column is that the Chinese eat some things that, trying to be tactful here, are very strange to us westerners.  Now this doesn't have to be a con because you can mostly stay away from these types of things.  But several times we have gone out to eat with Chinese friends from Joel's work or our landlords and couldn't avoid some of the things they ordered for us.  We would feel rude to not at least try it.  Like jellyfish for example.  Not for people with weird food texture issues.  They also eat parts of chickens and other animals that we would normally throw away.  Like chicken feet and tendons.  That really isn't for me.  Now, forewarning to my next few sentences... skip to next paragraph if you are weak stomached or have an affinity to collect dogs. (five is not too many!)  Joel saw a man on the street who had just hung a dog and was skinning it to cook for dinner.  Like a little white fluffy ellie dog.  I haven't seen dog on any of the menus but it is something they eat. Ok, moving on.

Con-  Let's just vaguely title this as habits...
(And I will be stereotyping here because these do not apply to everyone.  Just the majority of the public that we encounter everyday.)
The Chinese hack and spit anywhere and everywhere, even cute old ladies.  I was told that some even have things to spit into in their office although I don't know if that is very common.  Smoking is more common here than anywhere I have been before, in the States and some places I have been in Europe smokers are at least conscious of the people around them, but not here.  They will sit down directly next to you and light up.  (I know from personal experience)  Also it seems that the Chinese aren't really sure how to form a line, or how to wait in line, or really what a line is at all (I have been elbowed out of the way by someone who looked like the Chinese version of my grandmother).  Things are much more chaotic,  and not as organized to us Westerners.  It took us about four hours to get our cell phones set up (thank goodness we had our American friend Adam with us who speaks Mandarin), several days to get our internet set up and still haven't figured out the TV.

So all that being said we are actually very happy in China so far, come visit if you want to see so for yourself!  So I will end this ridiculously long post by sharing some very happy news with you all.  I think I have figured out how to keep updating my blog from China!  We head back in the morning so I will test my new found knowledge then.  So goodbye for now,  miss everyone!  Pics in the next post, promise!