Thursday, 18-12-2014. Day 120.
Towers, Bunds, Dumplings.
As had become our habit on these trips, we woke early and enjoyed the free hotel breakfast (not as good as our first Chinese hotel, but much better than the second) before we met Candy in the lobby to start our tour of Shanghai. Our first stop would be the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and we were in a slight a hurry to get there before the crowds arrived and the lines got long.
Oriental Pearl TV Tower
The Oriental Pearl Tower is one of the most distinctive buildings on the Shanghai skyline. It's more than 450 meters tall (which is by no means the tallest building in Shanghai—both the nearby Shanghai World Financial Center and Shanghai Tower are taller) and is comprised of a number of different-sized spheres, or "pearls" linked together with a series of columns. In total, the tower has 15 different observation levels.
We journeyed by high-speed elevator up to the Sightseeing Deck at 259 meters, which gave us great, 360-degree views of the surrounding city.
The Sightseeing Deck is known for its glass floor, so you can stand on it and look down to enjoy some dizzying views of the ground immediately beneath the tower. One floor up from the Sightseeing Deck there's a revolving restaurant (we didn't eat there).
When we were done on the Sightseeing Deck, we took the speedy elevator back down to the first floor, where the Shanghai History Museum is conveniently located.
Shanghai History Museum
The Shanghai Municipal History Museum showcases the history of Shanghai from its early agrarian days through its occupation by a coalition of foreign governments and revolutionary eras to its growth into a modern metropolis.
Candy showed us where the entrance was and let us wander around by ourselves. We thought this was a little strange, based on past guide experiences, but we enjoyed the museum all the same. There are a lot of interesting displays, some featuring notable achievements, some featuring the challenges of government by foreign powers, and some featuring scenes of daily life.
The museum has a large number if of dioramas, life-style scenes, and installations (some eerily life-like) about what life was like in Shanghai throughout its history. As we wandered around the museum (which was really quite large), people, especially Chinese grandmothers, would try to be sneaky and snap pictures of Jackie with their phones.
As we left the museum, we saw that the line to get to the Pearl Tower Sightseeing Deck was very long, making us glad we went early. We re-connected with Candy and set out for the obligatory sales point on our tour, the Tian Hou Silk shop.
Tian Hou Silk
Immediately upon arrival, Candy handed us off to our Tian Hou Silk guide, who gave us a brief lesson on the life cycle of the silkworm and the two different types of harvested silk before we were taken to a room with a machine that spun the collected silk into thread.
This was followed up by a demonstration about how they make their silk comforters and even got to "help" make one. And then the selling period began. We actually kind of liked this stuff and the prices weren't bad, at least for the comforters. If we weren't traveling the world, probably would have bought one or two of their comforters. Instead, we took a business card with the web address (tianhou-silk.com) on it, but that turned out to be a squatter site and so far searches have come up fruitless. Oh well.
We hooked back up with Candy and she took us to our lunch at Hingziji Restaurant, which was just was okay. It was our least favorite of all the tour-imposed restaurants. From there we walked through the Yuyuan Tourist Mart, a busy shopping area that showed off classical Chinese architecture with shops that sold a lot of Chinese-style trinkets—and a good amount of Western brands—until we came to the gates of Yuyuan Garden.
Yuyuan Garden (also known as Yu Garden) is a relatively huge chunk of land covering about five acres in the heart of Shanghai. First built in 1559 as a private residence for a government official, the family's obsession with the garden eventually drove them into financial ruin.
The garden is very calm and serene, and, as one would expect from a garden, there's a lot of plant life and a few different ponds and "rockeries," including the magical Exquisite Jade Rock.
There are also a large number of buildings with interesting names like "Jade Magnificence Hall," "Nine Lion Waterside Pavilion," and "Chamber of the Ten Thousand Flowers." We didn't get to explore many of the buildings we would have liked to—Candy had us on a schedule ... and we had to get to The Bund.
Not to be confused with the 1930s-era German-American pro-Nazi organization, The Bund is a 1.5-kilometer length of land that runs along the Huangpu River. It was where a lot of the foreign interests did business back in the occupied days, and, as such, many buildings constructed in various European styles can be found along this stretch of the river.
There are 52 buildings along the Buns that were at one time owned and operated by various foreign governments and corporations. Today, however, all are Chinese-owned.
Incidentally, this is where 36 people died in a New Year's Eve stampede only a few weeks after we'd visited.
We walked along the entire length of The Bund, then started back. It was, as usual, getting cold in the evening, and we were not looking forward to walking all the way back to the car. But we only had to go about halfway before it showed up on the side of the road. We were happy to see it and move on to the French Concession.
The French Concession was billed as a great area with old French-style architecture. And it was that, but essentially it was an upscale shopping district. At least that's all we saw. Reading up on it later, we learned there are a few neat historical places, like Sun Yat-sen's former residence that would have been nice to see, but our guide did not guide us there.
Instead, after a brief look around, the tour was over. We went back to the van and started back to the hotel. On our last night in China, we wanted to go out in style, and Shanghai has a number of Din Tai Fung locations, so we were determined to find one. We asked Candy to help us, but she was not at all helpful (she'd never heard of Din Tai Fung). So we did what we do well—we figured it out.
Using Google Maps, we found a few likely locations and picked the closest one. Our experience with taking taxis to new destinations in China wasn't the best, so we called Uber. Yeah, I know. But their drivers are usually equipped with GPS devices, so if necessary, we could just give them coordinates to the restaurant.
[Side note: in China, there's a sub-service of Uber called the People's Uber. These drivers use red cars—the cars are even red on the app. Although she didn't know about Uber, Candy told us "those red taxis" don't obey the rules and are dangerous.]
Our Uber driver turned out to be great. He arrived quickly, knew where we were going, and even even spoke a little English. He got us to our destination with no problem for just over $5 U.S.
As it turned out, the nearest Din Tai Fun was in a mall back in the French Concession. We went inside, got a table straight away, and had a fabulous meal. It wasn't quite as good as Singapore, but it was pretty close. And not only were the dumplings good, but the staff made the girls a little dumpling pig. We took him back to the hotel with us, but by the next morning he was just a puffy ball of dough.
To get back to the hotel, we hailed a taxi. In complete contrast to our Uber experience, it was a terrible ride. After a few minutes, it was pretty clear this guy didn't want us in his taxi. He adjusted the flexible screen between him and us to seal himself off from us as best he could and turned up the radio so he couldn't hear the kids talking in the back seat. As soon as we could see the hotel he pulled over and stopped the meter. So rather than make the poor fellow tolerate our presence any longer, we got out and walked the few blocks to our hotel and started prepping for the morning, when we'd be checking out and, after eight days, leaving China.
- Irascible Taxi Drivers: 1
- Dumplings Eaten: 40
- Quadcopters seen: 1
- iPadographers: 4