A May 2005 trip
to Shanghai by Re Carroll
Quote: Touted as China’s city of the future, Shanghai is worth a visit for the sci-fi buildings and neon-light extravaganza. Don’t expect to find solitude, as Shanghai is home to over 20 million people, as well as a growing tourist crowd.
Shanghai is also a city for architects, with incredibly modern, sci-fi-looking buildings competing for space and adulation from visitors. I found myself walking with my eyes on the sky while ogling buildings that would have fit into "Lord of the Rings" or other fantasy movie sets.
For me, a few days was enough to visit the highlights. The highest of these was The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the tallest building in China and among the tallest in the world. Between the crowds and oppressive humidity, I found Shanghai overwhelming. No matter what time of day or night, it was an obstacle course getting through the crowds.
Shanghai is a place that you should see when in China, but I found it lacking compared with the cultural sights in Beijing or the relaxed charms of Xi’an and Suzhou.
Although part of Nanjing Lu is advertised as a pedestrian mall, there are traffic lights at a couple of cross streets, so watch where you walk. Colourful, little tourist trains run the length of the pedestrian area and cost 2y one-way.
Day and evening cruises are available on the Huangpu River from a number of berths along the Bund. Daytime is nice, but a night cruise is especially colourful, with the neon displays.
The Oriental Pearl TV Tower is open for viewing from various levels, with costs ranging from 35y for the museum and the ground-floor shops to 100y for a ride to the top. Views from the top are often obscured due to smog, and even on a clear day, the grime on the windows detracts from the view.
We found Pudong airport’s duty-free expensive compared to stores on Nanjing Lu. If you are leaving China and want to change yuan to another currency, make sure you have your original receipt showing the initial conversion rate; otherwise, the airport bank will not change your money.
The metro is clean, bright, and air conditioned, and tickets cost 2y. There are currently three lines, with many of the main sights accessible via Line 2: Peoples Square, Middle Henan Road (Nanjing Lu, Bund), and Lujiazui (Pearl Tower). Keep your ticket, as you’ll need it to exit through the turnstiles.
Although Shanghai has two train stations, most trains depart from the main one, also served by metro line no. 1.
Shanghai has two airports – Hongqiao, which handles most of the domestic flights, and modern Pudong, for international flights, including those to Hong Kong and Macau. Surprisingly, Pudong was one of the very few places without crowds. Both airports are served by shuttles, city buses, and taxis.
For a memorable ride, take the Maglev to Pudong. Reaching a top speed of 431km/h, this magnetic levitation train makes the 30km trip in 8 minutes and is a surprisingly smooth ride. Tickets are 50y one-way, but those with an airline ticket valid for that day pay only 40y.
The reality was a different story. The building looked old and dirty, and the front desk staff seemed to have exchanged their uniforms for wrinkled shirts hanging out of their pants. Our room was on the sixth floor, and stepping off the elevator, we were greeted with dingy hallways, dirty carpets, and peeling wallpaper. The room was a bit better – clean, but with a drab and depressing decor that looked like it was from the ‘70s – brown bedspreads, thin brown blankets, brown carpet, and green floral wallpaper that was separating and peeling from the walls. The twin beds were as hard as a board, and we had one thought in mind – get us outta here!
We’d paid at the airport and couldn’t get our money back, so decided we’d stay one night and find something better for the rest of our time in Shanghai. Fortunately, the sheets were clean, as was the bathroom, although the facilities were a dull beige that looked in need of re-glazing. The bathroom had the usual toiletries and thin but acceptable towels.
Although there was a small TV, air-conditioning, and a mini fridge to store cold drinks, this was not a room that we wanted to spend much time in, so we hit the streets ASAP to find better accommodations. After much searching, we were able to book The Nanjing for the following night.
We stayed out late exploring, and it was dark by the time we walked back from the Bund. Although the neighbourhood was rundown and the streets were dark and almost deserted, they were safe, and we felt comfortable walking alone.
Unfortunately, a good night’s sleep was not to be had even though there was no traffic or other noises. The beds were just too darn hard to be comfortable, so we decided to have an early breakfast and check out. After the sumptuous breakfast buffets that we’d had throughout China, KIND was a joke. We were given little coupons and directed next door, through a dingy alleyway to a skuzzy-looking restaurant. Thinking positive, we found a semi-clean table and sat down to a breakfast consisting of one piece of bread topped by an egg fried in oil – definitely not appealing, but consistent with the lack of quality we’d come to expect from KIND.
To be fair, there were a few decent things about the hotel. The staff was pleasant and the room deposit was only 100y. This didn’t make up for the poor quality of the room or breakfast, though, and, overall, I wouldn’t recommend KIND unless you had exhausted all other options.
Note: The hotel is also called Kai En Hotel.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on July 4, 2005
117 Hong Kong Road
(021) 632 93330
It was obvious that Nanjing was a much better bet than the previous hotel as soon as we got to the front door. A white-gloved, uniformed doorwoman greeted us as we entered a gleaming marble lobby filled with bamboo furniture and a huge vase of fragrant fresh lilies.
Room prices went from 380y for an A category room to 520y for a C, and suites were more. We wanted to check out the room before committing ourselves, so were escorted to the third floor, where an older but clean room awaited for 300y with twin beds and a marble bathroom. The drawback was the very firm mattresses, so we asked if they had other rooms available.
The only rooms left were C category, which they’d let us have for 400y. What a difference – it was still twin beds, but they had very comfortable mattresses and were covered with cream-coloured duvets. The room was huge, with all the standard amenities, plus a mini bar, in-room safe, and large satellite TV. The bathroom was small but spotless, with thick, bright yellow towels embossed with the hotel’s name. The shower was great – lots of hot water and a showerhead that could be adjusted for a massage like flow.
The hotel offered room service, Internet access in the rooms as well as in their business centre (10y for 5 minutes, then 1y per each additional minute), laundry service, and a travel agency. We used the agency to book airfare to Hong Kong and were pleasantly surprised at the very small commission – 20y per ticket.
Breakfast wasn’t included, but for an additional 20y (25y on weekends), we gorged ourselves on their buffet – dim sum, eggs cooked to order, toast and jam, tea eggs (eggs hard-boiled in black tea – colourful but bland), plain and fish congee, excellent prawn and ginger dumplings, marinated octopus, lots of noodle dishes, pastries, and according to Jim, the best coffee he’d had in China. The restaurant was on the main floor, with lots of huge windows letting in the sunlight, and the staff was very attentive.
Not only was the hotel head and shoulders above KIND, but Nanjing’s neighbourhood was interesting and colourful. Outside the door to the left was modern Shanghai in the form of Nanjing Lu with shops galore. To the right was old Shanghai – small, family-owned restaurants and stores where we could grab a beer or water for less than 5y.
The Nanjing accepts major credit cards. This is a very good budget to moderately priced (depending on room category) hotel that I’d not hesitate to recommend.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 4, 2005
200 Shanxi Rd. S.
86 21 6322 2888
Although there were a few servers pushing carts laden with bamboo baskets of food, the majority of choices were available in a cafeteria-like style. Various vendors formed a continual line of kitchens with choices galore. One place had soups only, but there had to be close to a dozen kinds to choose from. Seafood was one of the most common foods on offer: crab, clams, huge prawns, snails, eel, and many types of fish. Noodles, skewers of meat, tiny headless pigeons, rice, egg rolls, fruit, dumplings of every type imaginable, steamed vegetables, egg rolls, and spare ribs: we were in a daze trying to pick from the multitude of choices. We finally settled on five items – steamed pork dumplings, duck and rice rolls, fruit, steamed spare ribs, and buns with pureed vegetables (we think… whatever, they were good).
After paying and getting our chop sticks, the next trick was to find an empty table. Although the restaurant seating area was huge, much of it was already filled with a noisy, lively crowd, like parents with toddlers, groups of laughing teenagers, and elderly ladies who held up the line at the cashier as they argued over who would pay.
Drinks were available from uniformed servers pushing carts laden with beer, teas, pop, and fruit juices. These were paid for separately, and prices averaged 9y.
All the food was excellent, especially the thinly sliced duck and rice wraps with a sweet hoisin-type sauce. The spareribs were coated with a black-bean sauce and were so tender that the meat almost fell off the bone. The pork dumplings were made with rice paper noodles, while the vegetable buns were of a heavier, pasty dough that was very filling. We saved the fruit for last, and the sweet, juicy chunks of fresh pineapple, mango, and watermelon made a perfect dessert. The total, for our very filling lunch, was 46y (about $6).
The restaurant is a lively, noisy place with an almost fast-food atmosphere. This is definitely not the place for a quiet, romantic meal, but it is a good place to try dim sum, China’s answer to fast food.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 4, 2005
Shanghai Designated Tourist Distributed Restaurant
The restaurant had two levels, with a half-dozen tables on the main floor and more up one flight of stairs. It was not at all fancy, with white plastic tablecloths and hard-backed wooden chairs and tables. There was an English menu, as well as Chinese, and surprise, the prices seemed to be the same for both, not necessarily a common occurrence.
The menu was interesting, although I wasn’t in any hurry to try sautéed large intestine with onion, stewed pork tendon with meat, silver carp head with chopped peppers, or even braised yellow eel in brown sauce. More palatable offerings, at least to us, included fish in chili sauce, salt pork spareribs, and lamb with spring onion. After much debate, we settled on spicy beef and bean curd noodles with braised cabbage. Anticipating a spicy meal, we also ordered a couple of Tanjin beers.
Although our order was taken by a pleasant young woman, the food was delivered by the smiling chef who brought the dishes out as they were cooked, rather than waiting until everything was ready. Consequently, the noodles were the first to arrive, and they had a pleasant tang, although were definitely not spicy. Within 5 minutes, the beef was delivered to the table, along with small, individual bowls of rice. The beef was served in a large raku pottery bowl that I was tempted to bring home – it was gorgeous! Jim was more interested in the bowl’s contents, a spicy broth loaded with thinly sliced beef, noodles, and enough chilis to keep us warm for days. This was when the beer came in handy – to extinguish some of those internal flames. This was definitely a double-napkin meal, one for the lap and one for the brow.
We managed to plow our way through a good portion of the food, although there was still a lot left when we finally conceded defeat and left the table. Our total bill came to under 60y, including the beer.
The restaurant is open daily from morning to late evening, and it seemed like these poor people never slept. Entrées were priced between 15 and 30y. I don’t remember seeing any signs for credit cards, so your best bet here is cash.
187 Shanxi Road
"Hello, do you want to buy a watch?" was the most often heard greeting along Nanjing Lu and The Bund. It seemed like everyone had watches or purses to sell and were not shy about advertising it. Most didn’t actually have the merchandise with them, but wanted to take you to where their bounty was offered. Jim was looking for a fake Rolex, so he decided to see what one young fellow had to offer. He wanted us to follow him from the bright lights of Nanjing, down a side alley to another much smaller and darker alley and then into a slummy-looking building. Belatedly, caution kicked in, and we decided we didn’t really want the watch badly enough to head up the numerous flights of stairs to wherever his supplier was waiting.
That didn’t mean we were out of luck, since there were still hundreds of people with items for sale. Eventually, Jim found a fellow in front of the Peace Hotel who had the watches with him (reminiscent of the cartoon where the man rolls up his sleeve to display copious watches). The initial asking price was 100y per watch, but the name of the game in China is bargain, so they offered and counter offered as a small crowd gathered to watch the action. The promise of a big sale (10 watches) brought the cost down to 20y each, a figure both parties were happy with, so the deal was struck and we had souvenirs for most of the family.
Normally, paying full price is unheard of when dealing with street vendors, at markets, and even smaller shops. On the other hand, a vendor at Yuyuan Garden Bazaar had a large selection of ties, and Jim was quite interested in one with tiny panda bears on it. At a cost of 10y, the price was unbelievable, and so was the fact that it was "silk." Ready to bargain, if only to save face, Jim was surprised to find that the vendor wasn’t interested and wanted 10y firm per tie. Even the trick of walking away elicited no response. The lure of the cheap tie proved impossible to resist, so he went back and paid full price, knowing he was still getting a good bargain.
A word of caution on pearls and jade: you’ll find them on sale everywhere, but their quality runs the gamut from fake plastic to authentically exquisite. Unless you are an expert at determining authenticity, treat it as a souvenir and don’t spend a lot of money.
No matter where you go, China is full of bargains. Make sure you bring along extra money for all the impulse "must-have" purchases that you’ll be tempted to make.
Abbotsford, British Columbia