I left the Lakeside Inn this morning and was driven to the airport in a hired car that was blasting what sounded like a Chinese Destiny’s Child (Feat. Timbaland). It was a surreal ride to Guilin’s airport, zooming past the lush green mountains to beats reminiscent of early 2000’s pop music. Guilin is truly a magical place and I am left perplexed by its copycat ways (see Guilin’s versions of the Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, and Louvre pyramid). I tried to get one last glimpse of some mountain goats before leaving Guilin, the forest of Osmanthus trees, but none were in sight.
As there is hardly any traffic in Guilin, I made it to the airport with more than enough time to spare and had some breakfast. Only in China can you get congee at Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was actually pretty tasty. I had the duck and century preserved egg congee with a savoury donut – your quintessential Chinese breakfast.
The flight to Shanghai was only about 3 hours but it seemed like I had been traveling all day and to top it off, I had some complications taxi-ing to the hotel… surprise. So, I had had someone at Lakeside Inn write down my Shanghai hotel address in Chinese and instead of Nancang Street, the address was written as Nancang Road. The taxi drove me to No. 118 Nancang Road and where I was expecting the Rayfont Hotel, was a shoe store in the French Concession. I had to Chinese-English tell the driver that I was not staying at a shoe store and finally a nice woman (and my saviour) determined that I really wanted Nancang STREET. Even after this revelation, the driver still didn’t know how to get to Nancang Street and it was another ordeal to tell him that I couldn’t call the hotel because I did not have mobile service in China. He reluctantly called the hotel for me and finally I arrived at the Rayfont.
The long drive from Hongquiao airport into downtown gave me a glimpse of the city from the elevated highway. At first glance (if you ignored all the Chinese writing), you could be in New York City. Some buildings even reminded me of the architecture in downtown Vancouver. I am now even more perplexed by China. Only a 5-hour bullet train ride from Beijing but so vastly different. Beijing is old meets new but Shanghai is just new.
For my first adventure in Shanghai, I took a short subway ride to People’s Square. I had no idea what to expect and chose it based on its close proximity on the metro. It seemed like a good place to start. I exited the metro to find bright neon lights and giant department stores. The Shanghai guide app I downloaded told me there was an excellent Xiu Long Bao (XLB) place called Yang’s Fried Dumplings in the area, so I followed my stomach. I thought it was appropriate to have the Shanghai specialty for my first meal – soup-filled dumplings. These XLBs were even more of a treat because they were deep-fried. This place must be pretty popular, not only with tourists, because there was a large queue. For 6 Yuan, I got 4 golf-ball sized XLBs and they were absolutely worth the wait in line. I ate them with bright red chili flakes in oil (which made my lips numb) and vinegar. I have never been able to eat an XLB without burning my tongue with the hot soup inside. I haven’t had too many XLBs in Vancouver but these XLBs were by far the best I have had.
People’s Square is pretty touristy and the large department stores hold mostly international brands. One department store, Raffles City, felt like I was in a Las Vegas mall. I passed by a Mister Donuts (a Japanese donut chain) and couldn’t resist a Pon de Matcha (green tea donut) for dessert. This area was a good taste of Shanghai before I headed back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest. I look forward to exploring more of this NYC-Tokyo-Vancouver-China hybrid city… and eating more XLBs.