Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shanghai, China- Romeo + Juliet in the monsoon

Hong Kong—Day 2
After being jet lagged and then up until 9 AM in Macao, we refused to give in to sleep, instead exploring the city, which for Andrew meant stopping at 25 consecutive watch stores.
In the evening, a dinner appointment with The Kaiser. In Hong Kong the restaurants have no inventory, but the food is fresh as it gets. Rich: explain.
Outside the restaurant are a series of seafood vendors who have any seafood you could think of in small tanks. Anywhere from GIANT fish that would cost you $1,500 US dollars, to lobsters, to shrimp, to minnows.
You pick out your meal, still swimming and wriggling, and then take it to over the restaurant which cooks it and serves it up.
On our way home, Andrew and The Kaiser started talking about watches and pimped out cars, which was my cue to finally fall asleep, which takes us to …

The Shanghai Report
Shanghai- Day 3

Shanghai airport, we're  picked up by our guide, a local 23 year old girl named Palace.
We drop our bags off at the hotel, and go for a walk along the Shanghai river, surrounded by high rises, chatting with Palace (between Palace and The Kaiser, you’d think everyone was descended from royalty.) She walked between us, each of us holding umbrellas which shielded us from the typhoon battering the coast, as she alternated asking Andrew and myself questions about American culture.
It felt a little bit like Elimidate, which I contend I won, having debonairly taught Palace about Homer Simpson and the subtle differences in the meanings of “Wooohhoooo” and “Doh!” What can I say, I’m a smoothie.

Shanghai- Day 4

We began our morning late. The typhoon slowed traffic dramatically, and it took Palace an extra couple of hours to make it to our hotel.
Our first stop was a Chinese garden from the sixteenth century. It’s not really a garden in technical American terms, more like a carefully arrangement of small buildings, trees, and statues that offers a very tranquil and peaceful environment.
In the Chinese tea garden
The architecture is quite elegant, far more curvy than what we see in the West. Criss-crossed bridges spanned the myriad of ponds. Why? The Chinese believe such bridges protect them from ghosts, which cannot cross criss-cross chasms. (probably cause they get tied up in the tongue twister)
Chinese garden in Shanghai
The famous Tea House where a  striking ceremony was performed for us, especially the moment when two teas were thrown into a clear pots of hot water side by side, each blossoming somehow into beautiful flowers (magic?) The Chinese refer to these teas as Romeo and Juliet.

The teas- Romeo and Juliet
Later a monastery to see the famed Jade Buddahs- six foot tall Buddah statues brought from Burma in the 15th century made of, you guessed it, quartz.

Chinese Silk
A silk factory, where we got a first hand look at how silk is produced.
1) Famers make sure that the silk caterpillar feeds on mulberry leaves. The joke here in China is that the farmers make sure the caterpillars are better fed than their own children.
2) When it is nice and fat, the caterpillar spins and envelopes itself into a cocoon. The material that the cocoon is made from is actually the silk.
3) Once the caterpillar is done creating the cocoon, the cocoon is opened and the caterpillar is, tragically, killed. The cocoon is then dipped into hot water, where the end strand of the cocoon exposes itself and the thread is connected to a machine which unwinds the entire cocoon to make silk thread.

It takes thousands of cocoons and dead caterpillars to make a silk shirt, so you members of PETA have something new to protest. (Reminder: remove all silk products in being before beginning)
With our itinerary for the afternoon done, Palace offered us to take us back to our hotel, or to the Fake Market. “What is a fake market?” you might ask. Well, it’s a market with real Louis Vutton and Coach bags, being sold at prices so low, you’d think the bags weren’t genuine. Or something like that.
We first went to look at the clothes. Armani jackets, suits, Dolce Gabana, Prada. While big name brands are meaningless to me, as there is a zero percent chance I’d ever pay $600 for a pair of Prada dress shoes, Drew was begging them to find shirts where the Armani logo was displayed more prominently.

Negotiating Chinese Style
One thing I’ll guarantee, the next generation of sports agents will be Chinese. “How much for these pair of sandals?” we’d ask.
“$1,200,” comes the reply.
If they think you want something, they’ll quote you a rate so astronomically high, that when you finally manage to lower the price from what approximates Japan’s GNP, all the way down to merely mega rip-off, you’ll think you’re getting an amazing deal.
“What a great negotiator I am,” you’ll brag to your friends, “I bought these sandals for $400!” -- blank stare from your friends …-- “Well, they wanted $1,200 originally …” – another dubious stare by your amigos as you defend your sanity -- “It’s one of those things you had to be there for.”


That evening we went to an acrobat show, that was, simply put, spectacular. I have been to one Cirque Du Solei show, and this, for entertainment simply crushed Cirque. I couldn’t believe what they were capable of doing. Andrew, who promised to fall asleep during the performance, was riveted.
I mean, imagine balancing serving trays, with a couple wine glasses separating each tray, six layers high … ON YOUR NOSE.
And that might have well been the least impressive act.
Nose balancing, amazing! is there a string?
Leaving the show, our van decided to stall in the middle of a super busy Shanghai boulevard. To start the car, we got behind it on this monsoony evening, in our nice clothes, and push started the van. On our third attempt, the driver remembered that he had to turn the key to start the engine. Tragically, by that time, we were already outside our hotel.
Our driver received no tips that evening.

Leaving Shanghai- Travel Day
The Chinese government had to be pleased of the impression we had of China so far. There is no doubt we were getting an overly sanitized view of the country, but regardless, it was pleasant.
However, little chinks in the armor always appear if there is something to hide when you stay somewhere long enough. I therefore relate to you a conversation that we had with Palace, our Shanghai guide.
Palace: “China is a wonderful country. The government gives us freedom of religion.”
Me: “Really? What about the Foulon Gong?”
Palace: “No, government says is evil religion. You cannot worship Foulon Gong.”

It’s all about control. The hearts, the minds. That’s what it takes to keep power.

Now back to our travels.

We rode the Magnetitron Train to the airport. The train travels faster than the speed of light, as it experiences no friction levitating above the tracks, connected magnetically so it doesn’t fly off into space. Running parallel to the highway, we passed fast moving cars like they were at a standstill. Zoom zoom zoom.

Shanghai Bullet train 430 km/hr!!
The plane we took to Wu Han (in Central China) it turns out was made for midgets. Either that, or we got downgraded from coach to sardine. More on central China next time!


  1. Replies
    1. Joanna, here is a link to read more about them. Basically the Chinese govt declared war on them seeing them as a threat somehow ... :)


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