I have to admit that while the scenery and the experiences in rural and small(ish) town China was amazing, after 5 weeks it was great to get to Shanghai a truly international city, no more being stared at or photographed, slightly less gobbing and people with headphones. The comforts and ease of international citys though, come at a cost, literally. Our daily budget, which we had been well below over the previous months, was in for some serious testing here.
We had checked into the ETour hostel right next to Peoples Square and within reasonable walking distance of most of the major attractions. According to booking.com the hostel was a well located, had a nice ambience and apathetic and disinterested staff, it lived up to the write-up perfectly.
The thought crossed our minds to stay for dinner then the budget demons kicked in and we headed off to find something closer to our price range. Having missed the pub meal in Chongqing I was still hanging for a good beer and western food, so we headed to West Nanjing Road stumbled upon the Goose Island Brew Pub, what can I say- it was worth the wait, really nice craft beers including an excellent IPA and quality pub grub.
After spending the morning updating our blog and attending to some business issues we headed to the fashionable French concession and in particular the traditional ‘longtang’ (alleyways) of Tianzifang and Xintiandi. Both areas have been converted to trendy festive retail precincts. Tianzifang, despite the souvenir stalls, has a sort of cool, rustic, bohemian vibe while Xintiendi is full gentrification, hip brands and bars.
Returning from Zhujiajiao we headed to the fashionable French concession and in particular the traditional ‘longtang’ (alleyways) of Tianzifang and Xintiandi. Both areas have been converted to trendy festive retail precincts. Tianzifang, despite the souvenir stalls, has a sort of cool, rustic, bohemian vibe while Xintiendi is full gentrification, hip brands and bars. Fortunately, for our budget, we did Xintiendi last and the idea of paying 14USD for a pint of Pauliner didn’t appeal so it was back to the Hostel for a Lawson’s microwave dinner and 1USD Tsingtao’s.
We learned that my brother, Doug was going to be in Shanghai on Monday, the day after we were planning to head for Beijing, we looked at options and decided that we could do a side trip to Suzhou and be back Monday afternoon still leaving 3 days to see Beijing. Belinda was also keen to see Chinese acrobats which was also available in Shanghai. The next morning we headed out to find the acrobat theatre and buy tickets and after a little running around scored 2 tickets for the evenings performance. We then headed to the train station to buy tickets for our side trip to Suzhou and onward to Beijing.
We felt that a cocktail would be a lovely way to end the night, we found a trendy looking place and ordered. However after waiting more than 25 minutes still no cocktails, we walked out and back to the hostel. Well almost to the hostel, there happens to be Bar Constellation just around the corner so we popped in. This is a very cool, speak easy style whiskey bar, and it is serious- over 100 whiskies that I could count, and damn good cocktails as well.... Our daily budget was in for some serious testing in Shanghai!
On Thursday we caught up for lunch with Ilma, a work colleague from my HASSELL days, It was great to see their new office, catch up on all the HASSELL gossip and see that her and her family and the Shanghai team were doing well. Ilma took us to very nice establishment restaurant next door to the office where they served seriously good Beijng classics... inside an old rail dining car!
At the corner of Peoples Square is the rather grand Shanghai Urban Planning exhibition building where we headed after a dumpling lunch the next day. The exhibition is surprisingly interesting, even for non-architect/planning types, explaining the history of planning in Beijing as well as the future plans. It also houses a very impressive and vast model of the Shanghai that is kept up to date with each new building being added as it was built.
Heading back toward the subway Bea noticed a small hole in the wall restaurant called ‘Mutton Noodles Only’. No real confusion over the menu. As it turned out it had only been open about a week and a half. It was owned by a young guy from the province just west of Shanghai and this was the speciality of his home town. It was really really good, simple, thin but firm textured, wheat (I think) noodles served in a fragrant and tasty mutton stock with a hint of chilli and ginger. Slow cooked mutton was served on the side that you then mixed with the noodles. The young owner was really stressed about the business but with simple food this good he deserves to survive. As we continued on to the Metro, Bea recommended it to a group foreigners looking for a place for dinner.
On our final day in Central Shanghai we headed back to RAM this time to see the exhibitions before continuing on to the M50 Art space, a area of old mills that had been repurposed as art galleries, working spaces, studios and creative outlets. The space had an attractive bohemian ambience with wide range of artistic endeavours being pursued and exhibited. One exhibit that caught both mine and Bea’s attention was the work of Liu Dao an eclectic collaboration of writers, painters, multi-media artists and tech-geeks exploring the convergence of art and technology.
We continued our art appreciation day by heading back into the leafy suburbs of the old French concession on the edge of which, in the basement of residential tower block B is an unusual exhibition of Communist Propaganda Posters that included descriptions of the historical circumstances behind them, really fascinating.
There is however a limit to the amount of art one can absorb. Trying to interpret contemporary art can really strain the brain so we headed to the Camel sports bar to watch Fremantle play Richmond. Trying to interpret Fremantle game plan is even more of a brain strain than contemporary art.