Published: August 23rd 2010August 23rd 2010
So I got to go to Shanghai, China for work. China is one of those places, like India and Africa, that can just seem daunting to try to arrange the details, get a visa, figure out where in the vastness to go, navigate in not only a foreign language but a different alphabet. And so I feel lucky to have had so many opportunities like this one as a result of my job.
Now all that being said, it seems I will have to go back to China again to see more of the country. Sometimes with all the work opportunities come early mornings, late nights, preparatory work, and struggles to keep on top of other job responsibilities marching forward without you back home, it can be difficult to get good tourist time. So here’s my attempt at telling you what I did see and experience in my few short days in Shanghai.
First off, it is HOT in August. I’m sure this is an obvious statement, and I thought I was prepared for the heat coming from Atlanta, I actually really wasn’t prepared to be out in it. Maybe I forget that I spend 90% of my life
in air-conditioned buildings. Or maybe it is the smog capturing the heat in the city, but I cannot remember ever being as hot as I was our first day in Shanghai. Our kind Chinese hosts arranged tickets to the Shanghai EXPO, and off we went in the morning thinking we may beat some of the heat and crowds. WRONG. I’ve always marveled when I visit Asian countries at the prevalence of people using umbrellas in the sun. It just looks funny to me as an American where this doesn’t happen. Even during all my time in Manila, I never considered needing an umbrella for the sun. Well, I wanted one last Sunday. My shirt and skirt were soaked through before we had crossed the threshold of the gate. The sun was oppressive. The shade was a slight relief, though the sweat still poured. Wow and gross.
Enough complaining, on through the EXPO we went. First stop, the Coca-Cola pavilion. We were lucky enough to get to bypass the line (4 hours long we were told that morning!), and get in straightaway. It was interesting although having spent some time at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, it was not
as cool to me. In China, people are somewhat opposed to cold drinks. It is not a part of their culture, and a big challenge for Coca-Cola is to educate people that the best way to drink a Coke is COLD. I’ll tell you, I didn’t need any convincing. The cold Coke they served in the pavilion may have been one of the best ones I’ve ever had. Perfectly chilled to complement my sweaty face, shirt, skirt, legs, etc. I don’t even drink caffeine anymore, but I surely didn’t care. I was drinking that Coke. So glad I did - I felt refreshed and it perhaps gave me a renewed sense of humor (for a few minutes anyway).
Next we went to figure out what to do. I wanted to see some of the country pavilions (as opposed to corporate), so we took a ferry across the river to another area. I haven’t paused to mention how huge and impressive the grounds of the EXPO are. Right in the city, acres and acres were cleared and the site was built. Huge elevated walkways with umbrellas (thank you for that!), misty water spouting from the ground and from the overpasses.
I’ve always found those misty sprays disgusting. Not that day - I welcomed the wetness for a slight respite from the heat. The pavilions are absolutely massive, each one its own design and “temporary.” They will be razing it all after the EXPO, which seems nuts as these are really unique and awesome structures. Each country tries to convey something about their world to the rest of the world. The Saudi Arabia pavilion was like a semi-circular structure with palm trees growing out of the top. China had the tiered levels that one might expect. India had a circular top with grass and flowers growing in patterns. And on and on. The site is lovely in a way as it weaves along the river on both sides with the free ferry going back and forth. The space accommodated the massive crowds well (500,000 people every day for 6 months). That is, until you tried to go into a pavilion. The day we were there, the PA system made announcements like “The wait for the USA pavilion is in excess of 4 hours. Please abandon your plans.” We weren’t about to wait 4 hours for anything. The rumor was Saudi Arabia’s
wait was 8-9 hours! What?! And do people wait in these lines? Why yes, yes they do. They bring these little compact stools, umbrellas, and patiently wave fans back and forth for hours. Kids wait with parents. I can’t imagine an American child waiting in that heat (yes, the lines are outside) for that many hours and not completely melting down. I didn’t see any meltdowns. I did see some awesomely hilarious fashion faux-pas (if you ask me), so that was fantastic. In case you didn’t know, people do still sport fanny packs. And apparently it is OK for women to wear ankle-high pantyhose with shorts or skirts and sandals. I’m sorry, but noooo, that is not OK! Suffice it to say I didn’t see fashion as a priority with this mainly Chinese crowd.
We went to Nepal (no line!). Well, the reason there was no line was that there was actually no building beyond the façade. So you walked through this façade basically to come upon a circular ramped structure that took you up to a religious sculpture where everyone threw coins in, and then down you go. That was that. And then we thought we’d see about
China, and somehow walked right in. The China team at work thinks we must have somehow found a secret entrance, because China lines have been 6,7,8+ hours every day. But, we did just walk right in the entrance. Inside it was very crowded and very huge, but we were in and it was air-conditioned. Each area of China was represented including Tibet. Beautiful scenes and light displays, traditional Chinese-looking structures, different food offerings, people dressed in traditional fare, and much eye candy in general.
And that was it for the EXPO. We couldn’t handle anymore and certainly weren’t waiting in the lines.
The work trip was productive and informative. Note: when trying to present to a mostly Chinese audience, it will likely be difficult to get anyone to engage with you, answer any questions you pose back to them, and do much else other than watch you quietly. Please don’t get me wrong, totally nice people and good conversations outside the meetings, but not really a self-confidence booster when “on stage.” Apparently if there is someone of higher authority than you in the room, one doesn’t speak.
They took us out for a wonderful traditional Chinese restaurant -
Hong Qiao Restaurant - that had separate private dining rooms and really old décor. It was a beautiful building. I tried dragon fruit, dumplings, and all sorts of other things I don’t really know what they were. They had pre-meal peanuts where you crack the shell and eat the nuts inside. They had a wonderful sweet flavor, but they were not boiled peanuts, so I’m not sure how they did that flavor infusion while maintaining the crunchiness. Really yum. One funny moment was that I ordered a “bottled water” and they brought me this big Budweiser. I was so confused, as I had also ordered a local beer along with everyone else, but for some reason, there was this little show about bringing me a Bud. I laughed and thought they must think I wanted a Bud because I was American. But no, they said, you ordered it. I said no with confusion. Only to find out that “bottled water” and “Budweiser” sound the same to them ☺. Haha!
My last note is about our final meal in Shanghai - we went for Indian at Bukhara with one of our other work colleagues who is originally from Mumbai. He
ordered everything for us, and it was the best or 2nd best Indian I’ve ever had (1st place may go to the place in New Delhi). We had things I’d never had before, some awesome yogurt dishes, chicken and fish dishes, dahl, nan, handkerchief bread (can’t remember the real name), 4 types of dessert (favorite was a carrot dish with ice cream). It was incredible, so I was surely not lacking for good food in Shanghai!
There are more photos below