Last week was Chuseok, a Korean holiday that’s roughly equivalent to Thanksgiving. Sara and I both had thee days off school (plus a weekend, equaling five total days). What do we do with five days off? Why, Shanghai, of course!
We stayed in a fun little hostel called The Phoenix, located right in the city center. We were a block away from People’s Square (not the infamous Tienanmen; that’s in Beijing), and a 15 minute walk from several famous architectural or historical districts. We were surrounded by giant, modern-looking sky scrapers (including the 4th and 13th tallest in the world). We were a short walk from the Bund, a popular river walk where one can catch impressive views of the Shanghai skyline. We were also not far from the French Concession, an quaint historical district.
Shanghai is also… freakin’ huge. It’s the largest in the world by population in the city proper, the size of New York City and Mexico City combined. It’s also the most developed city in China.
Despite being located in the highly-developed, exorbitantly wealthy, flashy, glittery city center, the 10×10 block area around our hostel had a much more of a old-school China feel to it. There were open air markets, corner shops, and street vendors plying all sorts of bizarre goods and foods. Across from our hostel, one of the fish markets was selling shrimp the size of a hot dog bun.
On our first day, we spent most of the day walking around. We tour the Yunnan Gardens and Temple, a Taoist temple not far from our hostel. The detail of the artwork in the temple was amazingly intricate. The old school Chinese architecture was fascinating. They all have the tiered roofs with the flared corners, just like in the movies. After exploring the temple, we walked to the Bund and took in the Shanghai skyline.
It also happened to be Chinese National Day while we visited there. Like Chuseok in Korea, it’s the major holiday for the year in China. The throngs of people were overwhelming. In fact, they got so thick that the army actually began to commandeer various intersections just to direct traffic. Crazy! Oh, speaking of weird things that would never happen in the States, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are illegal in China. After talking to someone at our hostel, she informed us that you could access a mirror site for Facebook at f2.prx.com, but this only worked for the first two days before it was shut down.
Later that evening we found a street with tons of street food vendors on it. We met a group of Mexican tourists who had just purchased some fried snake. The shop owner killed, cleaned and cooked the snake right in front of us. The group shared it with us. The snake was a little tough and very bony but tasted fine. Then again, I’m pretty sure anything tastes good when you batter and deep fry it.
We spent the next few days exploring more temples, strolling through parks, and eating more street food. We attempted to go to a water town, which is a traditional Chinese village that’s over 1500 years old. When we got to the train station, however, the ticket vendor informed us we needed our passport to purchase a ticket. Oops. So we explored elsewhere instead. We checked out the Jing’an Temple and the Jade Buddhist Temple. Both were amazing. I was fascinated by the beautiful wood and the woodwork in each of them.
We also found an incredible kebab stand at the end of our block. The guys who owned it were Middle Eastern. You could buy lamb kebabs and flatbread. The line stretched around the corner. We went and saw a Chinese acrobat show, too. Sara can share more, but I’ll just mention that I never knew people could be so bendy! It was pretty crazy.
On our last day, we tried preserved egg. It’s a food that I’ve wanted to try since I first learned about it. Preserved eggs, or century eggs, are made buy burying an egg in a mixture of clay, ash, lime, salt, and rice hulls for several months. The severe alkalinity of this mixture makes the yolk turn grey, and the white turn a translucent, mottled brown. The outsides are often etched with crystalline patterns that resemble frost or snowflakes. They taste like… eggs… at first. Then they slowly begin to taste more and more like rotty fart. Yeah, I think I prefer snake to this. But hey, I’ve always wanted to try one. Now I have. No need to do that again!
In a comedy of terrible mistakes, we missed our flight home by 5 minutes. I’m not going to go into the details too much, but basically, I misread the departure time, and we (being so used to European travel) arrived only 1 hour early instead of 2, and got a little lost in the airport. We ended up catching a flight to Seoul and taking the KTX (high speed train) back to Ulsan. We finally crashed into bed around 2:30. I had to wake up and teach the next morning. Yech. Fortunately, the airline should refund us for the flight we missed, so that’s something at least.
Shanghai: 3 (one point for each of us)
So, overall, we had a good time. Saw some crazy stuff and ate some crazy food. We had a few misadventures, but those were outweighed by the adventures. We enjoyed Shanghai, but really want to do Beijing soon.