I arrived in Shanghai around 9:30 AM on the 17th of January. I had arranged a place to stay with an expat couchsurfer from the U.S.A. named Kyle. We met up and seeing as he seemed a decent fellow he showed me around Shanghai for the morning. Kyle does freelance translating from German to English and is also trying to start a business offering running tours of Shanghai. It seems like a pretty cool venture.
As I was heading to Vietnam in the later sections of my trip I knew that I had to use some of my time in Shanghai to procure a Vietnam visa. Unfortunately for me this necessitated a trip to Pudong– a large area teeming with huge skyscrapers and ugly rundown shops (if it weren’t for the skyscrapers it would be reminiscent of Cleveland). I caught a ride on the Shanghai metro and after about 30 minutes ended up in Pudong. Unfortunately, there were basically no signs pointing out where the Vietnam consulate was located, so I spent the better part of 45 minutes walking around trying to locate my destination. Here are some of the beautiful sights which I witnessed on the walk:
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the visa office until 11:45 AM. The Vietnamese are extremely lazy (apparently) and start taking their 12 PM lunch break at 11:45 AM, so I was forced to leave the office and return at 2 PM when they re-opened. I hadn’t eaten breakfast and I was pretty hungry, so I decided to take the opportunity to find a bit of lunch and wander farther downtown toward the skyscrapey section of Pudong.
The walk was pretty far, probably the better part of 45 minutes, but I managed to find a small noodle shop selling greenies and la mien noodles. The shop had a TV which I initially sat facing away from. In between the slurps of the noodle patrons I began to hear some familiar noises emanating from the electronic device: ‘knyuck knyuck knyuck,’ ‘whooop whooop whooop whoooop whoooop whoooop,’ ‘slap, bang, doink.’ I slowly turned around, slightly startled, only to see my good old entertaining friends ‘The Three Stooges” (dubbed in Chinese, of course). I videoed a clip, but uploading anything in China is cumbersome and to be entirely frank I am too annoyed with the Great Firewall to have a go.
So I continued onward, gazing out at some of Shanghai’s most famous buildings…
I returned to the consulate and discovered that they only had a normal processing option of 4 days and an expedited processing option of one day. The internets had assured me that there would also be a 2 day option, but I found this to be a lie. Instead of the 430 RMB processing fee I was expecting I got hit with a RIDICULOUS 630 RMB processing fee. Of course, this only meant that I would be spending less money on tourism in Vietnam– win-win, right? (Can you feel the sarcasm?)
After I got done with the ridiculousness that was the overcrowded little office, I headed off to explore Century Park. I had no idea what Century Park was, and when I discovered it was an amusement park I was not very enthused. But along the way I got to see some really cool things in Shanghai:
After exploring for a while in the deep cold of the riverside, I hopped a metro and crossed over to Nanjing West Street, an area filled with many neon lights, monolithic shopping centers, and the widest variety of street peddlers and western restaurants I have ever seen in China. As shopping doesn’t really interest me much, I headed away from Nanjing West Street until I came upon the Bund.
The Bund is a famous strip of land along the Huangpu River, separating the main sections of Shanghai from the Pudong office-y district. The Bund is a historic arrangement of banks, consulates, newspaper offices, and trading shops leftover from the colonial era. I found it to be unimpressive. What I did find to be impressive from the view of Pudong from the shore of the Bund. When I arrived it was still light out, and kind of hazy:
But after I walked around Nanjing West Street and experienced some of the cool shops, Pudong was lit up and ready to be photographed!
In the time in between these pictures I also met several Chinese girls who wanted to hang out and chat, as well as some dude from Iran who was telling me all about how terrible his life is and how he is hoping to build a business in Iran so that he can leave to do better stuff in Canada. Good luck, buddy! I also was offered several escorts from the street peddlers on West Nanjing Street (look two pictures up– do I look like the kind of guy?) as well as watches, condoms, sex toys, and anything else you can imagine.
Actually, by this point in time my the rubber on my shoe was beginning to separate and I did find a street shoe fixer cobbler dude to fix it for 2 RMB…. I had to talk him down from 40 RMB first though. It was laughable.
Employing the use of my Kindle, I tracked down a Vegan friendly restaurant called the “Godly Vegetarian” located only minutes from Kyle’s. Using my excellent navigation skills (hahahahahahahaha) I tracked down the restaurant and enjoyed a vegan pepper steak:
I went back to Kyle’s place and ended up reading/chatting for the rest of the night before sleeping at midnight.
The next morning I woke up at 9 and headed to the Shanghai train station to see if I could change my train ticket from Xiamen to Guangzhou as the person that I was meeting had to leave earlier and I wanted to get moving. Things did not go well at the train station as there was, in fact, no English queue and I was very confused by what was going on. After over an hour of wandering around and some random Chinese stranger helping me out I did eventually get the ticket exchanged, free of charge, and by 11 I was free to expend my energies on other pursuits. I figured that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the Vietnam consulate in time for their 2 hour lunch extravaganza, so instead I went off to try to find a restaurant called “Vegetarian Lifestyle.”
Good vegan food doesn’t happen in Kaifeng. It doesn’t really happen often in China. So, when I finally did manage to sit down at Vegetarian Lifestyle after a 30 minute wait for a table, I was really impressed with their menu. For 53 RMB (10x the cost of my meals in kaifeng) I was able to eat 5 baozi filled with mock crab meat, an appetizer of asian pear slices, hot tea, and a bowl of mock lamb, daikon, and chestnuts. It was spectacular!
And the restaurant had a good sense of humor, too!
The rest of the afternoon was kind of a wash. I went back to Pudong and picked up the visa. No problems there. I then headed out to try to find the Jade Buddha temple, but I got lost and frustrated. It had started snowing a bit and I was freezing cold, so after a bit more wandering around I went back to Kyle’s around 7 PM to spend the rest of the night in warmth.
My plans were changed, however, when Kyle showed up from his babysitting gig with a German friend of his named Florian. Florian is a German photographer living in Shanghai with an American woman who has a Chinese-American child from a previous marriage and cute little German-Chinese newborn. Quite the combolation of craziness, eh? Florian decided to take us out to a nearby bar in the French Concession named ‘Rhumerie Bounty,’ a location serving flavored rums themed around pirates.
We shared a bottle of ginger infused rum and chatted about our experiences in China. It was a pretty fun time and at the end of the night I was happy to have met Florian.
The 19th was my final full day in Shanghai, and I chose to spend it exploring the French Concession. The French Concession was occupied in the colonial period by…. bum ba da bum! THE FRENCH! It contains a variety of architecture which I found to be uninspiring, as well as a bunch of other standard Chinese things. However, what I was interested in was the Shanghai Propaganda Art Center. Tucked away in the basement of a small collection of apartment towers lies a treasure trove of Chinese propaganda posters from the 1950s onward. Most of the posters are rather bland– just slogans about Chinese superiority and Chairman Mao advancing the people, but every now and then there were some really great pictures (technically I was not allowed to take pictures, but I snapped as many I as could discreetly).
I spent several hours at the museum. I thought it was a real treasure. Certainly if I cared more for Chinese history I would be interested in delving more deeply into the propaganda images, as I once did with Momotaro and Japan’s usage of propaganda during the Showa era– but really I just enjoyed these images for what they are: remnants of the past.
Afterward I headed to TaiKong Road– a restored area filled with lots of small alleyways and cute little artsy shops. TaiKong Road is a hipster’s paradise, and although I found it interesting it just wasn’t my scene.
That night Kyle’s friend Justin stopped over and we went out for dinner at a Yunnan food restaurant. Justin has a really great job in Shanghai and he treated me to dinner and drinks afterward. The food was some of the best that I experienced on my entire trip during the Spring Festival, and I felt really fortunate to meet Justin and hang out with him for the night. He was really kind, generous and lovely. We hung out for the rest of the night and then around 6 in the morning I headed out to brave the cold Shanghai snow in an attempt to depart for warmer horizons in Xiamen…
In other news, I’ve recently started cooking for in my apartments and I am trying to get fit through P90X (Josh and I are doing in nightly). Due to three months of NOT training, I will not be ready for the Zheng-Kai marathon on March 28th, but have not given up my ambitions for running a marathon in the near future. Stay posted!