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Published: October 11th 2013
A before breakfast run on one of the many machines on the 21st
floor treats us to great city views, even though the air is still smoggy. The pool looks spectacular: it has glass sides that look straight out to the City. The steps leading up to the gym and pool levels are also made of glass, which is a bit unnerving.
We have a better look out our room window this morning , to find that the floor-to-ceiling windows project out, giving an almost direct view straight down. Just think how much fun that would be in an earthquake!
Breakfast dishes up a few more treats. This time we get banana and fruit smoothies, milk is served in bottles (harkening us back to NZ milk bottle delivery times), and the boys track down chocolate milk. Plus all the other huge range of foods at the ¥190 (A$35) buffet breakfast (free for us as this was part of a package).
Elva is outside and comes in to find us at the foyer, with a slightly worried look on her round, light-brown face. But upon catching sight of us she breaks into a broad smile and calls the van over.
She has typical dark hair gathered into a pony tail, with an atypical broad nose, almost Polynesian looking. The first item on the itinerary is a visit to the Shanghai Museum. We pull up outside but there is a long line waiting to get in. Elva explains we have an option of lining up for a while, or buying an audio tour for ¥40 to get a VIP entry and skip the line. We decide to go to the next stop, and come back to the museum later.
The Yu Yuan Gardens is tucked away behind the extensive old-style shopping area. We get through large crowds to find there is no line for the gardens. Interesting. Inside, there are numerous buildings and pagodas, artificial rock creations everywhere, a lots of pools of water with fish in, but not much in the way of green stuff. This is definitely not a botanical garden. Some people may find the rock creations interesting, but to me the only remarkable thing about putting a bunch of rocks together is that the rice-based mortar has lasted 400 years. The ‘rooms’ and viewing lines are clever, but I find the compressed space and busy-ness of
all the rocks to be not peaceful. It does however, provide a lot of photo opportunities, like the fish all chasing a feed, and Liam being the target for yet another tourist photo by some Chinese. What is it about him?
Elva explains some of the history of the place as we walk through. She has good pronunciation of English, with regular breaks in sentences while she searches for the right words to use. She has the unfortunate habit of raising her tone as she explains things (rather than talking in a level speaking voice), which makes it difficult to listen to for long periods. But this has been one of the most valuable parts of the tours: having someone explaining what you’re looking at. If we’d gone in on our own recognisance, we wouldn’t have found out or understood a tenth of what we’re looking at.
We exit from the gardens and wind our way through the crush of shoppers, back to the van. We exit from the gardens and wind our way through the crush of shoppers, back to the van. Then it’s on to the Silk Factory. The store is empty apart from a group
of attendants – which I’m impressed with seeing as they could be on holiday. We are first shown the life cycle of the butterfly, get to handle a cocoon, then the in-house guide shows us how the silk is extracted from the cocoons. Each display and step is simple and interesting – ending in us helping stretch out a web of silk to form a layer of a 1,000 layer quilt. We decide to buy a pure silk quilt, a ‘doona’ as they call it, identifying us as Aussies, although we’re more accustomed to the term quilt. Queen size, 2000 layers, medium weight) is ¥780 (A$141). It is plain white. If you want the fantastically coloured covers that’s more in the thousands. The visit doesn’t include any explanation of how the covers or clothing is printed, dyed, embroidered or woven. After, there is a large clothing shop, where Joseph and Liam each find a nice silk shirt.
Then onto the Bund and the Huang Pu cruise. In travel guides, the Bund had left me the impression that it was something special. If the day hadn’t been incredibly smoggy then yes, it would have provided great views of
the buildings along the river, but the bund itself is just a wide walkway, elevated above the river and road on each side. There are no shops, an occasional building, and really not much else to speak of. May be it’s the kind of place to have a run along in the early morning.
We’re early for the boat, so walk along the Bund a bit and back, then Elva finds us and we get on the boat. It’s a three storey river cruising boat, which cruises down the river a little way, turns around and then goes back. Along the way you are treated to a wide range of cleverly designed buildings, where people have taken the opportunity to create large-scale visual art as part of the building forms. It would be worth getting a book on the architecture of Shanghai.
We have lunch at a restaurant with the plates selected by Elva (I have the business card for the restaurant but haven’t interpreted it). The dishes are presented nicely, but today has been a bit uninspiring, and we’re not in the mood for a fancy lunch. The dishes include goose, roast duck, broccoli in a fish
sauce, steak pieces, fried noodles, and buns stuffed with pork. The buns are very moorish.
We drive past the museum again, to find the line has grown to twice the previous size. Again, we opt to skip it, and Elva and the driver take us to Tianzifang.
Tianzifang is interesting, with loads of tiny shops selling a wide range of clothing, souvenirs, arts and crafts and the like in little alleyways. Elva is ahead of us and keep moving through the (literal) crush of people, so we can’t stop. This is one of those moments when you need to get a better idea of just why we’re here: is it to get a historical lesson on the area, or is it to shop? We don’t feel like we have the time to stop and shop. This is one of those little lack of control problems that comes in with organised tours – or maybe we a just lacking initiative today. Anyway, with the alleys being so packed you have to squeeze past everyone, Elva offers to take us to another area in the French Concession. There are less people there, but this area is all restaurants so not
We have one more check of the museum but still a long line. Elva says entry is free, plus with the Chinese having their holidays means it will be a long wait. Kylie and I decide to skip it, and maybe try ourselves in the next two days.
Back to the hotel, where we quickly shove our keycards into the lift to get our floor selected. Because the lobby is on the fourth floor (floor ‘L’ for those superstitious Chinese who don’t like having a fourth floor because the number four when spoken sounds like the word for death), the hotel has secured the lift so you have to enter your keycard to get to your floor. If you aren’t quick, the lift (which is quick), will take you wherever it feels like, and then you have to wait awhile until it resets to your floor. This is especially problematic when the lift is full with people each trying to scan their keycards and select their floors. Safely back in our rooms, we watch some movies, then head out to the Yu Yuan Gardens shopping area where we find a pizza hut at the northwest corner of
the shopping area, that serves very nice pizzas (although service is sporadic, with dishes coming in at widely varying times).
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