Today I want to tell you all about my recent trip to Shanghai! This might be a long one, so you might want to pour a glass of wine, or beer, or straight up tequila! I much prefer whiskey, but hey whatever your fancy (I don’t judge, you do you). Now get comfy, and take a trip with me!
China’s National Day holiday is October 1st, and so it being a holiday, we got some days off of work! Exciting right? Well yes and no. Yay for time off work for vacations! Except here you pretty much have to make up for all of the days you miss because of the holiday. So it really isn’t a holiday, so much as a rearranging of work days. Tricky, China. So instead of working for 5 days and then having 2 off for the weekend, we worked for 14 days straight and then had 7 off. Truthfully? I kinda like it. It sucks when you are currently on day 7 and you start to pull your hair out slowly when you realize you still have 7 more left. Especially when you go out on the town on day 6, stay out late and still get up at 6 am. Before you get about shouting at me that it was my own fault that I was tired because I didn’t have to go out that night, you are right. I didn’t have to go out, especially when I knew that I would have to be up bright and (horribly) early. My sensible side says, ‘By George, you’re right! I will never again do anything fun without first weighing all of the pros and cons. Someone get me a yellow legal pad! I need to list!’ However, my fun and much larger side says, ‘where is the fun in that!? If I stayed in all the time and never went out simply because I thought that I would be a little groggy the next morning, then i’m not actually living at all am I? You remember the nights you went out and made poor decisions, you wont ever remember the nights you stayed in and looked at pictures of kittens online’. Ha! Take that sensible side! Although, I do love pictures of kittens. (Also, if you want to read about my first night out, you can right here: https://cmazzone90.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/lets-paint-the-town/). So anyway! The light at the end of the two week work tunnel, was the entire week off to go run amok somewhere! Which is just what I did.
So myself, my neighbor and another teacher from our school hopped a train to Shanghai for three days. Never mind that traveling is expensive and I still have yet to receive my first pay check. So i’m essentially just chewing away at my loan payment money. Psssh whatever loans. You can’t tell me how to live! We arrived in Shanghai and found our way to the right subway line, and I fought with the other teacher who came with us over who would carry my bag. Now before everyone things the worst of me, I wanted to carry it myself, but he refused to let me. I was using a big duffel bag that I wear on my back like a backpack because it is the only smallish bag I have. It really isn’t hard to carry on my back. It got me around Eastern Europe like that just fine. But our companion refused to let me carry it. I understand that he was just trying to be a gentleman, but I wasn’t struggling with it and he already had two bags. So let’s be practical here. It also disturbs my independent American woman mentality. Picture a lone bird whose feathers are indignantly fluffed up in agitation, squawking something about feminism, that was me. Kinda like this:
But I digress.
The journey from the train station to our hostel was a pretty easy one, but then again no hostel will ever be hard to find compared to searching for two hours for our hostel in Budapest. I still haven’t forgiven Google maps for that “2 minute walk”. We stayed in the Le Tour Traveler’s Rest Youth Hostel, which is based out of an old towel factory. This made for a really cool layout and lots of exposed brick and wood floors. It also had a nice little rooftop bar. The only complaint I have was that the bar ran out of Guinness, and while that makes me a sad beer drinker, it also isn’t the end of the world. I can’t speak for the conditions of the dorm style rooms and community bathrooms because my friend and I stayed in a private room, but those rooms were in very good condition and they had their own equally swell bathrooms.
We ate dinner that night at a little restaurant near our hostel called Aura. It was a western style restaurant, and it was here that I had my first western food since coming to China! I ordered creamy pesto pasta with chicken and it was very, very good. If I could eat pesto everyday and not turn green and die, I would. After dinner we went… wait for it… swing dancing!! I’ll let you guess whose idea that was. I hear about the event before we left for Shanghai, and knew it was destiny that it was happening on our first night in Shanghai. I coerced my companions into going with me, and as much as I would like to say that we all went and danced the night away, I am the only one who knew how to swing dance, so the ‘fun having’ was very one sided. I drank an old fashioned, felt classy and danced with a German sculpture installer who lives in Shanghai. The only problem was that he knew salsa, while I know swing. Needless to say we probably looked really stupid, but all that matters is that we had fun! The highlight of the night was watching this older couple swing dancing with one another. They were having so much fun and were so obviously in love with each other, that I could not stop smiling and hoping that that is me someday.
Day 2 began with my neighbor and I going to a little cafe on the corner of the street for coffee (real, delicious, non-instant coffee) and some pastries. We would frequent this same cafe the next morning as well. I never expected to get a really good croissant in China, but damn were they good. Then we jumped on the nearby subway line to go to the City God Temple of Shanghai. Now, if I wrote a step by step guide on our time in Shanghai, you would get bored and frankly, I would get bored writing it. So i’m just going to give you the highlights! The temple was located in a big market area, with lots of shops and tons of street food. For those of you who don’t know me. I. Love. Street. Food. Here in China though I have to be careful because my delicate American stomach will probably revolt at some of the things that I would buy on the street. It has been so hard not to scarf down everything I see, but I would prefer to not spend the following few days confined to a bathroom. I can think of very few foods that are worth that…. that being said I can actually think of some, which is a little disturbing.
The temple is a Buddhist temple and when inside you could buy a ribbon to write your name on and tie it beneath the statues of the ‘fairies’ that protect those who were born in your year. I am a horse in the Chinese horoscope, so I bought a ribbon and tied it here beneath the ‘fairies’ that protect the year of the horse:
After we ate lunch and did a little shopping, we took the subway back to the hostel. Shanghai is a really big city, in case you didn’t know. Like 14 million people big; New York City is 8 million. It is huge and crowded on a regular basis, but this being a huge holiday and traveling time in China, it was crazy crowded. So much so that the city closed the subway stop at the most popular road (East Nanjing Rd) after 4 pm. My friend and I were leisurely walking through the subway about to transfer to our train which just happened to be at the stop at East Nanjing Rd, when a person with a megaphone makes an announcement. I of course didn’t understand, but I soon figured it out because everyone just started running. It was run, or get smooshed, so we ran. Turns out it was 3:55, and there was only one more train leaving from that station. So we kicked our butts in gear and managed to cram our way into the last subway train. Welcome to China!
We had dinner at a little soup dumpling restaurant near the hostel. Soup dumplings are sort of a Shanghai specialty, and there is definitely a knack to eating them. I found this out the hard way. Whatever you do, don’t just bite into them. That is how you end up with soup up your nose and all over the table. You have to bite a little hole in the top and drink the soup out first. My neighbor and I took a taxi back to the Bund after dinner because we heard rumors about a fireworks show in honor of National Day. However, after fighting through the crowds on Nanjing Road and waiting by the water for half an hour, nothing happened. So we gave up and went in search of beer. I spotted an Irish Pub on the way to the river, so we wandered until, like a beacon shining in the distance, we saw it. Something I have noticed in my travels thus far is that almost everywhere you go, no matter what country you are in, you can find an Irish Pub. It is oddly comforting.
We bought two of the most expensive pints of Guinness I have ever had, excluding Geneva, Switzerland. I understand that it has to travel a long way to reach me all the way here in China. So I am grateful to be able to have its dark, yummy goodness, regardless of the price. It was also my neighbor’s first Guinness! I can’t help but feel like I may be corrupting her. It was at this Irish Pub, while enjoying our pints, that the trip took a turn for me. I cannot say that it was a turn for the better because the trip up to that point had been really fun! I also, definitely, can’t say that it took a turn for the worse. The trip just altered its course. This is because of the gentlemen that we met at the Irish bar. Two Americans and two Englishmen who were kind enough to invite my neighbor and myself out to a brewery the next night.
I don’t know if you have noticed yet, but I like beer. There is something about drinking beers at a brewery that makes it even better. So I naturally, enthusiastically said yes. A Chinese brewery and a chance for good beer and not Tsing Tao? Yes, yes, yes and more yes. Sorry Tsing Tao. So the night proceeded with a few Foosball games, which quickly turned into American vs. England Foosball games. I’m pretty sure American won, but England might have a few choice words to say about that. The night then ended with an exchange of phone numbers, good-natured insults about America and England and promises to meet at the Boxing Cat Brewery the following night.
After our caffeine and bread fix this morning, my neighbor and I headed to the French Concession. The other teacher who accompanied us had long since decided that he didn’t want to follow us around, and he was off doing his own thing. I can’t really blame him, after the French Concession we spent a large part of the afternoon searching for an H&M. The French Concession was another tourist area with lots of little shops and restaurants. My favorite restaurant being the Bathroom Restaurant. I am totally guessing on the name because I didn’t see one. I just saw the line out the door and the international ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ symbols above the door. I, naturally, assumed that it was another restroom, but my neighbor told me that it was a restaurant from Japan that is very popular in China. At this certain restaurant everything you eat is shaped like… well uh.. it’s shaped like poo. There I said it. I have absolutely no idea why this is so popular. Ok no, I do get it, but i’m not sure if I would be able to eat a poo shaped …. anything. That being said, i’ll try anything once. We didn’t have the patience to wait in the line for the feces fascinated restaurant, so we left the French Concession and began what would turn out to be known as the great H&M search of 2013.
Let me cut this long story short. My neighbor’s phone told us that there was an H&M not far away.
Lies. All lies.
We walked for two hours and nothing. Eventually, it got to the point where it wasn’t even about shopping anymore, it was purely principle that we find this damn H&M. Which we did, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was a different H&M than the one we were originally trying to find. But they are all mostly the same, so we rejoiced in at least finding one. To top it all off, it started to rain just as we arrived at the H&M. It was magical. After shopping we traveled back to the hostel to meet with our lost companion and have dinner at a hot pot restaurant. If you have not had hot pot before, It looks like this:
You have a boiling pot of oil or soup in the middle and then you are served raw ingredients which you cook yourself and dip into sauce. At this particular hot pot restaurant I tried cow tongue, pig stomach and fish tofu for the first time. The cow tongue was quite flavorful, the pig stomach a little chewy but you get that with intestines, and the fish tofu was oddly textured but overall not bad. Dinner ended with a discussion on what time we would be leaving for the train station the following morning. Our companion was shocked that we were planning on going out to a brewery that night because he wanted to leave at 7 for the train station. Except our train didn’t leave until 10. As in three hours later. I was not in any way trying to be mean, but there is no way that I was getting up at 6:30 to inevitably get to the train station and sit there for two hours twiddling my thumbs. I also explained that if there was anything I learned in college it was how to stay up late and get up early. I mean… I uhh.. learned a lot of valuable, marketable skills and endless knowledge at college as well. Ok the coast is clear. That was close! So eventually we agreed to leave around 8 or 8:30.
After dinner, my neighbor and I went off to meet with our new found friends! We reached the Boxing Cat Brewery without much trouble, and let me take this time to say that I highly recommend this bar if you are ever in Shanghai. The atmosphere was nice and so was the decoration, but the beers were the best part.
From left to right: Right Hook Helles’, Donkey Punch Porter, Simcoe Single Hop, Pumpkin Ale, TKO IPA and the SvJ Title Fight Ale. There was not a single beer on the sampler that I didn’t enjoy. True it wasn’t the best beer since sliced bread became liquid, but it was much more than I expected to find in China. Another thing I enjoyed about the Boxing Cat Brewery was their upstairs game room that had a pool table and a Foosball table. Of course, we played a few more games and threw around more country based trash talk. It is very hard to find Foosball tables in bars in the US, and so I love that they are more common here. I fancy myself a decent player, although I have been knocked down a few pegs a time or two. The worst of which was when one of my German exchange students sprained his wrist and beat me one handed in less than ten minutes. But I have grown since then!
Over all, this was the best night in Shanghai so far. Good beer, good company and good laughs; really what else do you need?
I think this post has lasted long enough as it is, so I will end here. “But wait,” you might say, “You are leaving Shanghai in the morning, don’t be lazy and just finish the post now!” Well first off, calm down. Second, I sorta, may have decided to change my ticket and stay another, ok two more, days in Shanghai. This decision was made purely so I could see more of Shanghai and had nothing to do with four, fun loving gents who were planning on visiting more breweries and who offered me the extra bed in their hostel dorm room. Definitely had nothing to do with any of that! So my shenanigans in Shanghai did not end here, there is another two days of (considerably more) mischief in store for you. So I hope you enjoyed this post about my adventures in Shanghai. There is more to come, but for the time being,
Goodnight from China.