Walking tour of Shanghai, Nanjing St East, The Bund, Yu Yuan Gardens, Crab Soup Dumplings, Urban Planning Museum and Shanghai Acrobats
25 May 2016
Today Jing is taking us on a walking tour of the city – and the weather is fine. I am pleased with how things have turned out because I had been uncertain what we would see on the tour and it is the things I still had left that I wanted to see that are on the programme.
On the way out of the hotel we go a different direction from that I had gone previously and headed along a street that quickly became dubbed Engineering Street – it was filled with little shops full of metal and motors and things that the males in our group got excited over. We were familiar with people hanging their washing out the windows everywhere, but we were very surprised to see permanent hanging structures on the street corners for the community clothes drying. Walking along was difficult because there was bamboo scaffolding all over the place, shops spilling out into the street, people, dogs, bicycles and scooters everywhere.
We walk down Nanjing Street East – sometimes described as the Fifth Avenue or Oxford Street of the East. It was nice to have a bit more time than when I had raced through with Jamie on the way to the Evening Cruise. We also walked the whole length, hearing more about the history of the area from Jing as well as getting insights into the fashion preferences of young Chinese. Western fast food chains such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut, ‘Kung Fu Chicken’, Starbucks are all overly represented. Many Chinese equate these with western food rather than western fast food. Jing tells us that when she went on a date when she was about sixteen, her beau took her to Pizza Hut and it was seen as very posh (and expensive).
I discover that it is Jing’s birthday coming up and she will be 29 – she is concerned about being nearly 30. She personally isn’t that concerned, and her parents are not pushy, but it is still very common in China for women over thirty to be referred to as ‘Miss Leftover’. She says that it is common for random people to ask her how old she is and then say that she’d better hurry up and that she must be being too picky. I ask her about the older people with umbrellas open that I had seen in the park on Sunday and yes, they were parents sharing the ‘resumes’ of their children in hope of finding them a suitable spouse. Even though there are 60 million more males than females in China, most of these live in the countryside and so in the cities it seems to be exactly the same complaint as for women elsewhere: that it is very difficult to find a suitable man as they are either already taken, gay or ‘undesirable’.
Jing says she has her dream job as she loves to travel and she gets paid for it. And when she is not travelling for work she is travelling for pleasure. She has been to Australia and New Zealand, and to Africa. She lives ‘in her suitcase’ these days and just has her other things at her parents house as it is not worth renting an apartment.
We walk along the Bund and hear that many of the buildings were banks and other financial and/or trading companies. Shanghai has several stock exchanges and has aspirations of being bigger than Wall Street – and even has a statue of the bull. With the new Pudong Financial District on the other side of the river now, many are returning to being upmarket hotels and restaurants. We hear that the Peace Hotel (where I listened to the Jazz) was originally called Sassoon House, built by Sir Victor Sassoon, a business and real estate tycoon who lived in Shanghai. It also used to be the Cathay Hotel. The Bund Signal Tower was built originally to provide weather information to ships on the river.
I had previously wondered about the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, not sure about how many sights you could see from a tunnel particularly with water as murky as this river. Having finally decided that it must just be a handy tunnel to enable sightseeing on the other side of the river, I was somewhat surprised to discover from Emily that it was one of Shanghai’s top five attractions and features a bizarre, trippy audiovisual show as you move through the tunnel.
At the end of the Bund we reach the Yu Yuan Gardens originally developed in 1577 during the Ming Dynasty. Yu in Chinese means pleasing and satisfying, and this garden was specially built as a place for the parents of the government officer who built the gardens to enjoy a tranquil and happy time in their old age. We have the rest of the afternoon free and most of us go in to explore these beautiful Classical Chinese gardens.
In the middle of the gardens are lots of tea houses that now house a variety of restaurants. There is one in the middle of the lake reached by a zig-zag bridge that has been frequented by lots of famous people. Jing pointed out restaurants that had English menus. Emily and I felt the need for dumplings and after queuing to get a table in one of these restaurants, discovered that they didn’t have dumplings. So we left in search of somewhere else – trying a crab dumpling place that was popular with locals but we couldn’t work out how the system worked to get anything. Eventually someone pointed us upstairs (where they had an English menu). This was a perfect spot to sit and we share some cold local TsingTao beer, some crab and shrimp dumplings, and some very interesting crab soup dumplings that you drank the soup with a straw before eating the dumpling.
We then set off to find the subway to go to the Urban Planning Museum – we considered walking there but decided it was too hot. However, once underground we walked for miles to get from one line to another and figured we had just about walked the distance anyway. We knew we were to exit at People’s Square but hadn’t figured on there being over 20 different exits to choose from! Eventually we found a sign to the museum and followed the tunnel to find ourselves in a replica 1930s street (underground). Somewhat surprisingly we had to head up an escalator to enter the museum. It was a fascinating place to visit with lots of photos of old streets and buildings, a huge map on the floor, and mock-ups of different areas including the new Xintiandi development that we hadn’t had time to visit. In this area they have renovated the old shikkomen houses to form a modern lifestyle living area with shops and restaurants all round. Best of all though was the scale model of the city of Shanghai (I think it was a mix of actual and planned) that took up the whole 4th floor space. It really gave you an idea of the scale of the place and the massive developments. We finished our visit with a drink on the top floor overlooking the People’s Square.
We were heading out that evening and had been instructed to make sure we ate first, so Emily and I wandered down the pedestrian street again and found a place that looked safe enough to risk having a salad. Then hot and sweaty, we headed back to the hotel thinking we’d have enough time for a shower and hair wash before we were due to meet in the lobby. But there was no water at all! A grumpy and grubby group met at 6.30 having improvised a number of different bathing techniques. To make matters worse we were headed to the upmarket Ritz Carlton Hotel to watch a performance by the Shanghai Acrobats. But we did have to catch a local bus to get there and thankfully it wasn’t busy (perhaps they had been warned that a bunch of smelly tourists were coming).
The Shanghai Acrobats were absolutely amazing – breathtaking stunts in a show a bit like Cirque du Soleil does China. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take any photos but we were still buzzing about the performance next morning. (I’ve stolen a few photos I found on line to give you a quick glimpse).
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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