Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wonderful Day in Shanghai

Today is Friday and in an hour we leave from Mimi's father's place to go to the train station, where we will take an overnight train to Beijing. Yesterday was by far my favorite day so far in Shanghai. After the Chinese tour of the Water Village on Wednesday, which to be honest was a bit slow-paced and uneventful, I was in the mood to do some serious exploring. It turned out to be quite an epic day...

Our day began with our usual morning breakfast excursion down the block to the street vendors. I forget if I posted about this already, but pretty much every morning I've gotten the same thing. It's so delicious. Basically this amazing guy makes crepes from about 6 in the morning until maybe 10 or 11. He must make 200-300 crepes a day because there has been a line no matter what time I've gone (and he makes them really fast). Basically, he spreads this dough across a big flat circular griddle and then immediately cracks and beats up an egg on top of the dough as it browns. He then sprinkles hot chili flakes, some delicious sauce, scallions, and a pickled veggie on top. He then takes a giant fried crispy thing and lays it across. Finally, he wraps it up and cuts the whole thing in half. It's so good! Here is a picture of my man in action:

After breakfast, we went back to our room at the hostel and waited for our train tickets to be delivered. Mimi's father insisted that we get the tickets through "his guy" and for a small fee (about $1) they deliver the tickets directly to you.

Having been unable to get over my fascination with Shanghai's skyscrapers, we decided to spend the rest of the morning walking around Pudong. Pudong is across the river in Eastern Shanghai, and its basically a soulless, modern neighborhood of ostentatious skyscrapers and Western-style hotels. The only reason to ever go there is to stand next to the buildings and look up. The two main attractions are the Jinmao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center, the latter of which is currently the third tallest building in the world. I think I mentioned it before; it's the one that looks like a giant bottle opener.

Determined to flaunt our DIY spirit, we decided to see how how high up we could get in either of these two buildings without paying the outrageous $20-30 admission to the observation decks. The Shanghai WFC was a no-go. To get into any of the elevators you needed some sort of badge or swipe card. So we crossed the street to the Jinmao Tower and we were pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a Hyatt which began on the 54th floor and had a bar called Cloud 9 on the 87th floor. From experience (I used to sneak into hotels in Times Square with my friend Ben Gross when I was 14), I knew that fancy hotels will never deny you entrance even if its obvious you aren't staying there. The staff is trained to be polite and courteous no matter what. This proved true at the Jinmao Tower and we were able to enjoy quite a view from the 54th floor lobby of the hotel. We were very bummed to find out that Cloud 9 didn't open until the afternoon and that "the elevator is closed until then." I had my suspicions but decided not to make a scene.

We then walked down to the river promenade to catch the view of the Bund across the river. The Bund is a series of waterfront buildings that are neo-classical in style and were mostly built in the 1920s and 30s.We also wandered around a really stupid Western-style grocery store so Mimi could show me a $9 can of tomatoes and a $10 box of Lucky Charms. Because you can't get stuff like that anywhere else and because white people are apparently stupid, Western-style food staples are retardedly expensive.

At this point we were pretty fed up with Pudong and wanted to wander somewhere totally new to both of us. I found a blurb in the Lonely Planet book about a street called Duolun Road in kind of a weird neighborhood that offered some antique shops and a bit of character compared to the various downtown neighborhoods. It turned out to be my favorite place in Shanghai! After taking the amazingly efficient Shanghai subway to the right neighborhood, we eventually found Duolon Road. The antique shop mentioned in the book turned out to be really amazing. The elderly owner has been collecting vintage maps of China and Shanghai for years, not to mention binders and binders of original Mao and other Communist Era propaganda posters. There was lots of other weird junk such as vinyl records, typewriters and old clocks. But the store was very expensive so we just bought two tiny pins as a memento.

It's time to go to the train station. I will finish this post tomorrow!

I wasn't able to finish my post about Thursday last night, so I'm picking up again right now. I'm currently on the overnight sleeper from Shanghai to Beijing and can look out the window of my bunk as I write this. More about the train voyage in the next post!

So, after checking out the antique shop we decided to wander a bit more around the neighborhood. We were very happy to find a little back street with tons of fruit stands, noodle stands, dried fruits and fish, buns, and pretty much everything else you could think of. It was a real neighborhood, with a bike repair shop to boot. We had some delicious spicy cold noodles with this bizarre spongy tofu and scallions mixed in. A huge bowl cost about forty cents and was totally delicious. As pretentious as this may sound, I've found that much (but not all) of the street food we've had has been better than some of the more expensive ($4-6 per person) veggie restaurants that we've checked out. We got a real kick out of this back alley neighborhood and it really made my day.

After wandering a bit more and buying some random candies and snacks for our train trip, we took the subway over to the outskirts of a neighborhood called the French Concession. We had a bit of time to kill before we met Mimi's dad for dinner at a Schezuan restaurant so we wandered around and ended up finding a really cool sculpture garden behind some buildings.

Now I must tell you about dinner at the Schezuan restaurant. Schezuan cuisine is notoriously known as one of the most spicy styles in all of China. I had been telling Mimi all week that I wanted to try some type of fish while we were in Shanghai, but I had always been too afraid to order it for myself. How do I know what to order? Will it be fresh? So we decided to have Mimi's dad pick out a restaurant that he knew would have good fish. He said this was one of the best places for a dish known as "Spicy Fish Head." You can see from the pictures below that this dish was a true beast, but that didn't stop me and Yuheng from devouring a good portion of it. Basically, the dish is a giant fish head with two different hot chilis poured all over it. To top it off, the whole thing is sitting in a giant pool of hot chili oil. Unsurprisingly, there wasn't much room to maneuver around the spice. We also had some amazing bamboo shoots and sauteed cabbage, which helped to cool us down from the spice. Mimi had Ma Po Tofu which actually tasted even spicier than our fish. But she handled it like a true pro.



I have to say though, that the best thing about this restaurant was the positively hilarious English translations of some of the dishes. I'm going to eventually make a whole gallery of photos from the menu (as well as another gallery of signs from all around China), but some sneak previews include, "Stir-fry grandma dish for a short time," "The cattle is mingled with the dry boiler," and "Acid pepper Layu great speculation." After much deliberation, however, I decided that my favorite dish title was the slightly more subtle but infinitely more mysterious "Hunan Chicken Bandits."

Now, I realize how incredibly long this post has been and that if you are still reading this that you are primarily reading this to perhaps live vicariously through me. Yes, I do feel a bit guilty. I'm cruising the streets of Shanghai eating Spicy Fish Head while you read this in your cubicle. I'm sorry!!! That being said, if you are still with me, buckle your seat belt. You'd think after such a long day like this, it would be time to turn in, especially given the dinner and the requisite recovery period. But Yuheng thought it would be fun to go buy some Cuban cigars from his "his guy." It turns out, "his guy" is actually a bad-ass woman who has a cramped, illicit cigar shop in the back of of a labyrinthine housing complex. The coolest part was that when we showed up at the front of the building, a guy sitting on the stoop hopped to his feet and led us into the building. I felt like I was on The Wire, only we were buying a box of contraband Cuban cigars in a back alley in Shanghai. I felt really bad-ass, to say the least.

After getting his product, Yuheng decided to call it a night and went home. Mimi was bent on getting foot massages, however, so after learning that an hour-long massage only costs about $3, I obliged. It was actually the first foot massage I've ever had, and after about 12 hours of walking, it really hit the spot. And I mean HIT the spot because a good portion of the massage actually consisted of a woman punching my ankles and calves. It sounds painful, but it actually felt great. After it was over, I could barely walk and was utterly ready for bed. We took the bus back to our hostel and crashed. One of the best days I can remember!!


  1. great stories! looking forward to hearing about beijing...

  2. Making my cubicle-day much more enjoyable!