An April 2002 trip
to Shanghai by Jenn966
Quote: A four day first time visit to Shanghai that was the beginning of 2 weeks in China made me realize how much there is to do and see!
The Bund: The walkway on the Huangpu River offers great people watching (by you and of you), as well as a glimpse of the European architecture of 19th and early 20th century Shanghai
Nightlife: Reflecting its emerging role as the business gateway to the mainland, Shanghai is home to ex-pats from many nations and has the busiest nightlife in any big city on the mainland
Yu Yuan: Beautiful gardens and pavillions that were once home to government and business leaders of Shanghai, The Garden of Contentment is a peaceful Haven in a bustling city
The Shanghai Museum: With displays ranging from costumes and ornaments of the ethnic Chinese to 3000 year old coins, the Shanghai Museum has something to interest everyone
Plan ahead: There's so much to see and do in Shanghai that having at lesst a list of the things you want to see and do will allow you to fit more in.
Get out of the city: The Grand Canal of China and the Water Villages along its banks provide a glimpse of old China.
Eat: China isn't just about "Chinese" food, and even if it were, there are so many kinds to sample you could eat a different cuisine for lunch and dinner for days without repeating. And, the same multinational population that brings such spark to the nightlife has made Shanghai the home of a wide variety of ethnic restaurants.
Shop Whether you are looking for Chinese antiques or imitations of the latest catwalk styles, Shanghai is sure to offer it. Bargaining with merchants, even trying it in department stores, can make the bargains even better.
Hotel | "Okura Garden Hotel (Hua Yuan Fandian)"
Built in the early 1990s on the grounds of the French Club, the hotel’s facilities reflect the heritage of its Japanese management company. The largest restaurant is Japanese and there is a branch of the Mitsukoshi department store in the hotel lobby. Many of the front desk staff speak Japanese as well as Chinese. English is the other common second language.
The hotel has devised an interesting system for helping guests communicate with the desk staff. Colored dots on nametags indicate the language spoken (blue for English, red for Japanese); the number of dots is a relative guide to fluency (1 dot is "basic", very basic it seemed; 2, average; 3, excellent). The desk staff was efficient and the concierge was very helpful in providing recommendations for meals and evening activities.
The rooms in the hotel were large, but not overly so. The room fit two full-sized beds, two dressers, a writing desk and a table with two small chairs and did not seem cramped. The bathroom was average size. The sink basin accommodated the many toiletries two women need for business meetings, sightseeing and dinners out. There was a large tub with a good shower. One bottle of water per day per person was provided. Nothing indicated that the hotel filtered its water; we brushed our teeth with the bottled just in case. The bathroom was stocked with two each of many amenities: shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, shower gel, cotton swabs, toothbrushes, mouthwash, sewing kits, shower caps and (my favorite) palm-sized loofahs to use instead of washcloths. The supply was replenished daily.
The hotel was immaculately clean. In a country where it seems that nearly everyone smokes, the "no smoking" rooms did seem to truly be non-smoking. I couldn’t detect even a lingering odor. Our room overlooked the garden, which is quite lovely both from above and walking through on the way to get coffee in the morning.
The hotel has a good, but somewhat expensive, business center where you can access the internet. Telephone calls to the US ran about US$1 per minute for direct dial.
The Shaanxi Nan Lu subway stop is located on the opposite end of the garden from the hotel, about a 3 minute walk. We used taxis to get around, taking a hotel card for the driver to bring us back.
I enjoyed my stay at the Garden Hotel, but if I were not traveling as part of a group, I would probably opt for less expensive accommodations.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 28, 2002
Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai
58 MAO MING ROAD S
Shanghai, China 200020
Our group ate in one of the private dining rooms, located on the second floor of the building. The tables were already set with cold appetizers laid out on the ubiquitous revolving trays when we arrived.
The food is mostly Sichuan in style, a bit heavier in texture and far spicier than Shanghainese cuisine. Just how spicy is something I am apparently not a good judge of; a dish I thought was a bit hot had my fellow diners gasping for water and mopping their tearing eyes! Among the dishes I especially enjoyed were spicy eggplant and roasted chicken or duck. Bok choy, a type of cabbage, must have been coming into season. This was the first meal at which I had it, cooked so that the edges were soft, but the middle still crunchy, and served in a delicately flavored light broth. We were also served some great noodles at the end of the meal.
The service was attentive and one of the highlights of a meal at Meilongzhen is the serving of tea from a pot with a spout that is several feet long. When they really want to show off, waiters will stand halfway across the room and send a fountain of hot tea toward your glass. I never saw them miss, nor did any bystanders get so much as splashed!
When dining in China, don’t expect to be served rice with your meal. It will be brought if you request it. Rice with the addition of chopped vegetables, dried fruit and/or nuts may be presented as a special last dish. Small bowls of plain white rice were traditionally presented to diners at the end of a banquet, but not to be eaten. Instead, it signified the quality and quantity of the meal, from which the participants would be so full that they couldn’t eat even a bite of the rice.
Dining at Meilongzhen is an experience that is definitely recommended to get a glimpse of life at the upper reaches of Chinese society.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 28, 2002
Mei Long Zhen
Lane 22, 1081 Nan Jing West Road
Shanghai, China 200041
+86 (0)21 6253 5353;
Restaurant | "Dragon and Phoenix Restaurant"
Entering the Dragon and Phoenix Room is like walking into a piece of cloissonne. It seemed as though every square inch of the room, from the ceiling to the walls to the large columns throughout was decorated or carved. The tables are fairly large – 10 or 12 of us sat together. Sadly, we did not have a table that looked out onto the Bund, but even so, there was plenty to look at in the room to prevent me from being too disappointed with that.
The food was good, although I don’t remember any particular dish standing out as especially excellent. There were appetizers (first cold, then hot), followed by several dishes, including fish, chicken and vegetables. A plate of fruit was brought out last as dessert, but we were too full to do more than nibble at it but that point. Tea flowed freely, and sodas and bottled water were also available. The service was acceptable; the size of our group may have caused some of the delay in bringing out the first dishes and in responding to requests for beverage refills. Our waitress didn’t seem to speak English well, but she was able to get another server to help decipher our requests.
In typical "group" fashion, all dishes were served family-style and placed on a lazy susan in the center of the table. One plate of each dish was given to each table.
Your place setting will probably include a spoon over a small dish or cup; use this to serve a portion from the common plates onto the plate or bowl that should also be at your place setting. Your chopsticks should be used to eat from your personal plate, although no one seemed to mind much when we’d dig into the food with them. If you aren’t comfortable eating with chopsticks, most restaurants we ate in were able to provide forks and spoons.
The setting of the restaurant makes it particularly memorable. Do try to get a table by the window so that you can watch the activity on the Bund while you eat, should the décor fail to keep your interest.
Dragon & Phoenix Room
20 Nan Jing Dong Road
Shanghai, China 200002
+86 (0)21 6321 6888
French food in China may seem a bit unusual, but the hotel was built on the site of the French Club and we hoped that the cooking would be inspired by the ghosts of those days. While the menu is not exclusively French (several pasta dishes are included), we all thought the food was excellent, including my French classmate who ate with us!
The restaurant décor is elegant, but the staff was far from stuffy. One of us had planned to stay in, and was dressed very casually, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone. Further evidence of the staff’s customer-friendly attitude went on display as we neared the end of our meal. The couple sitting next to us was clearly celebrating an important event; there was a huge bouquet on the table, and they were dressed very elegantly even for this restaurant. What the event was became clear when a parade of staff members approached the table, with the man in the lead bearing a cake topped with lit candles. On arrival at the table, they burst into an animated version of "Happy Birthday." We joined in the singing. In the US, such displays are usually at casual eateries. Seeing it done in such lovely surroundings, and with such a beautiful cake, was fun.
Our meals were well cooked, and we had a variety of dishes. Appetizers included a pate terrine and a lovely and light chicken soup. Our main courses were elegantly presented: two different steak dishes, a pasta with vegetables and roasted duck. After watching the crepes suzette show at another table, we decided we had to have it ourselves. One of the waiters pulled his cooking cart to our table and began the preparation: decoratively peeling the skin off an orange, juicing it, swirling batter in a buttery pan and, the final touch, flambéing the crepes with a shot of Grand Marnier. They were delicious!
Certainly not the place for everyday dining, but if you are looking for a quiet, elegant place, either to impress someone special (business or pleasure) or to treat yourself to fine French cuisine, the Continental Room is a good place to do so.
33rd floor; Okura Garden Hotel 58 Mao Ming Nan Lu
There was nothing especially eyecatching about the décor of the restaurant, but I think we were shuttled into the back room reserved for group dining. The service was pleasant and told us what each of the barbecued meats were as they brought them to the table. However, it seemed to me that Latina is more about food than atmosphere, at least at lunchtime.
There are two components to the dining experience at Latina. First, there is a buffet that includes some salad and other raw food, a number of Chinese and South American style hot dishes and a selection of desserts that ranges from flan to a scrumptious rice pudding – it was worth leaving some "room" to eat it. The buffet is help yourself, and, if you plan to eat vegetables, get them first. Once the meat starts coming, you may forget about your need for roughage.
Once you are back at your table, it’s time for the second part of the Latina experience. A roving group of waiters will begin coming to your table with a variety of meat that is simply mind boggling. There are a variety of beef cuts, each with a different texture; roasted pork that will melt in your mouth and wonderful chicken. There are also some less enticing (to me, anyway) selections: skewered chicken heart, anyone? A card at your plate indicates to the waiters whether you can be tempted to have just one more taste: green side up says "bring it on". Switch it to the red side when you’ve had enough. Be careful, or you may end up like Mr. Creosote, the man in the Monty Python skit who just has to have that "wafer thin" mint …
59 Mao Ming South Road
Shanghai, China 200020
+86 (0)21 6472 2718
Attraction | "Bourbon Street Bar and Restaurant"
There is good live music there several nights a week. The night we were there, the style was (mostly Chinese) pop/dance music. We were there an a Sunday night and the place was packed with a mostly local crowd. Very popular with university students, the club has a large dance floor that was usually crowded. Beers are about $4 or so, and here, as in many places in China, Heineken is very popular. There is a full bar with a variety of drinks (be careful of anything with ice, though, including blended drinks!) Food is available as well and the restaurant has had some favorable reviews of both the food and the atmosphere, but we were more interested in drinking, dancing and overall making merry!
Between band sets, a DJ played dance music while three girls danced on stage in go-go outfits. During the first break, a friend said, "Hey, I’d like to do that." Another member of our group decided to arrange it, and that’s how we met the club owner – a Canadian ex-pat who decided it would be fun to let an American girl dance in the club. They found a costume to fit her and during a break later in the evening and to the delight of the crowd, dance she did!
I’d recommend Bourbon Street for a fun night dancing, whether on stage or off. FYI, other members of my group went out to a place called Malone’s (255 Tong Ren Lu. Tel: 6247-2400) and had a great time there, as well.
Nightlife-wise, Shanghai seemed to be a more "jumping" city than Beijing. If you are traveling to both cities and are interested in clubbing, you might want to plan your evenings accordingly.
191 Hengshan Road
Shanghai, China 200030
+86 (0)21 6445 7556
Attraction | "Yu Yuan (Garden of Contentment)"
The garden is comprised of several individual sections, each surrounded by a dragon-topped wall. Most of the time, the top of the wall appears to be covered with a decorative, rounded design. What you will realize upon seeing the first dragon head is that these half-circles represented the dragons’ spine and scales!
About 30 or so pavillions dot the garden and you can peer into most of them. While the furnishings are not necessarily original, they are either from or in the style of the period in which that particular building was constructed.
The gardens themselves are enchanting. They seemed to be rather Japanese in style to me, but perhaps the battle over who first started pruning trees to make miniature landscapes is one of the causes of tension between China and Japan. You will see exquisite bonsai, lovely flowering trees and, perhaps if you are there in the right season, some flowering plants as well. I visited Shanghai in early April, and what looked like azaleas were blooming. There are several water features and you may see small children feeding the koi who live in the ponds.
Across from the entrance to the garden is an old teahouse that is still in use today. Our guide told us that it is the morning meeting place for a group of senior citizens who come to the open area to perform their taichi in the morning and share a cup of tea when they are through. Sounds like the equivalent of the diner where my grandmother used to have breakfast with her friends after Mass in the morning!
A strange counterpoint to the peace of Yu Yuan is the large shopping area that surrounds the garden. While it is probably very "touristy," we certainly enjoyed browsing through the wide selection of merchandise, both Chinese and Western. Fresh water pearls seemed to be widely available, as were silk scarves. Burberry knock-offs were everywhere, and could be had at bargain prices. Purses could be had for $10 that I’ve seen at $35 or $40 from NY street vendors, and the NY vendors won’t bargain as much. We usually could bargain off about 50% of the original asking price for most goods. English is not widely spoken, but every merchant will punch prices into a calculator. You’ll be able to tell from the expression whether your counteroffer is in the right range.
YuYuan Garden/Yu Garden
Center of Shanghai's Old City
The canal was built to link the city of Hangzhou, south of Shanghai, with the capital in Beijing. Parts of the canal were constructed as early as 500 BCE. 1200 years later, the southern end of the canal was built. The final stage of construction took place during the Yuan dynasty, in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Over the centuries, it served as the main means of shipping grains, coal and other goods (and sometimes the imperial court) between the northern and southern regions of China. Legend is that the fattened ducks that are still a special part of Beijing cuisine bulked up by following grain barges on their journey north, reaching the capital at peak size!
Today, several of the villages that dot the canal have become popular tourist attractions from Beijing. Zhou Zhang is the most frequently visited, but our local tour guide arranged a visit to Zhu Jia Jiao, which is a bit closer to Shangai and a bit more off the beaten path.
Our bus parked in a large parking lot outside the city and we entered, not knowing exactly what to expect. A series of small canals links the different parts of the town to the body of the Grand Canal. Bridges, some built thickly with boulders, others more delicately constructed of wood and smaller stones, traversed the canals that are lined by picturesque buildings.
By one of the bridges, we came across bowls of small fish and turtles for sale. Our first thought was "dinnner!" Then we learned that one would purchase the animals and release them into the canal to bring good luck. A couple of people tried it; whether it brought them good luck, I don’t know. It isn't esepcially good luck for the animals: I'm pretty sure that the fish and turtles would be caught again just downstream, to be sold to another tourist!
There is some shopping available. One of the people I was with bought several bolts of gorgeous silk cloth. However, there were not the usual variety of street merchants and shopkeepers pleading for you to look at their wares.
As in many places in China, a part of my mind wondered if I the whole place wasn’t a "scam" built to attract tourists. But if it is, it’s certainly a well done one. Should you have an afternoon to travel outside of Shanghai, a visit to one of these villages is a worthwhile stop.
Zhuo Jia Jiao Water Village
As is my habit, I decided to see the museum from the top down. The fourth floor housed, among other things, a display of some beautiful items of the ethnic people of China. The vast majority of Chinese people belong to the Han ethnicity, but a wide range of other cultures have been recognized by the Chinese government as having "special" cultural significance. The Shanghai Museum and the Museum of Ethnic People in Guilin celebrate the differences in dress, music and culture of the diverse ethnic groups. The costumes and jewelry on display are very different in this section are very different than those of Han manufacture seen elsewhere.
Other special collections include a large display of jade items and one of pottery. Chops, or seals bearing the carved name of the people who owned them, are shown in a carefully designed exhibit that demonstrates how they changed over time. Coins and weapons are similary shown.
I enjoyed the display of furniture, most of it from the 16th and 17th centuries. There were two rooms of furniture that had been set up to represent a calligrapher's workshop and the reception room of a noble house. Other pieces are shown individually, allowing you to examine the handicraft up close.
Cameras are allowed throughout the museum. I didn't even get a reproaching glance for using my flash. The museum is relatively new, and I think the curator and staff are happy to see people taking pictures to share the experience and encourage others to visit.
More information about the ethnic minorities can be found here (I apologize for any political agenda, but it has a good description and lots of pictures).
201 Renmin Avenue
Shanghai, China 200003
Hamilton Square, New Jersey