Day 9: Downtown Shanghai

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December 25th 2011
Published: December 25th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Good morning and Merry Christmas! This morning we said goodbye to our villa and our hosts (including the resort owner and Mr. Chen and Mr. Na who have been with us since Beijing) and climbed back onto the bus to head to Shanghai. At least traffic is a lot better today on Christmas.The trip that took us 4 hours into Zhangjiagang several days ago should now take about 90 minutes back into Shanghai.

Shanghai is a bustling city similar to Beijing but more modern and Westernized. The pollution here is also quite bad as witnessed from the window of our 53rd floor hotel room. We arrived in the afternoon and decided we had time to do one thing today and chose to visit the Yu Yuen Gardens and Baazar.

This is a famous spot for shopping small stalls over an expansive area. It's a fun place to visit because almost everything is negotiable (and what isn’t negotiable is usually only $10 yuan, or about $1.50). Of course, I am a target and as soon as we were out of the cab people were coming up to me trying to sell me watches and handbags. Whenever I spotted something I was interested in, I would casually point it out to Liang and walk away. He would then get to work negotiating the best possible price. If they won’t budge you just walk away- almost every time they will stop you and give in to your price!

We had lunch at a “food court” type area that is set up like a cafeteria. There is a huge variety of foods to chose from, you get what you want and pay when you exit. I tried at least three different tofu dishes. Tofu is really big here (no surprise). I always thought tofu was tofu was tofu. Not so. Tofu can be made an astonishing number of ways. Yesterday I even had it shredded like noodles- amazingly good!

Right after lunch we started our shopping. An old abacus for our office (Liang has trouble using a real calculator), some scarves, silk wall art, and two very cool old locks. They are like padlocks- one in the shape of a fish and the other in the shape of a turtle. That was our splurge purchase but they were in an antique shop area and well worth their price (still less than $40 for both). Not only do they each have keys but you also have to move the body parts of the animals in a certain way to get the locks to open. Very cool.

On our way out, lights were lit outlining old Shanghai with new Shanghai as a backdrop. American Christmas music played on the radio as we watched sidewalk vendors making tofu. I was even wished a “Merry Christmas” by a local- surprising since many Chinese don’t even celebrate Christmas (though about 6% of Chinese are Christian). In fact, the very same Santa ‘cling’ is on the store windows from Beijing to Zhangjiagang to Shanghai. Its obvious that the commercialization of the season was forced, but everyone seems to be in the spirit nonetheless.

Following a light dinner and a short rest, Liang and I took an evening walk down Nánjīng Road, one of the world's busiest shopping streets- even on Christmas Day. The street was bustling with residents, tourists and vendors selling everything from Santa hats to sparklers. There were even large groups of randomly assembled people following a "conductor" singing in the streets. On the sidewalks, we dodged trollys and bicycles, and crossing the roads we weaved in between cars. Even at 10pm on a Sunday the city is alive with people!

Our stay in Shanghai was very short and tomorrow we head back to the airport to fly to Shenyang- Liang’s hometown area. First we will visit Liang’s Dad’s Father for one night, where I will most likely not have internet access. Then we will visit Liang’s Mom’s family for several nights, where I should be able to resume posting. Until then, Merry Christmas!


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