For all the tequila in China

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The last few days I’ve been wandering in and around Shanghai. A’s been pretty busy with her conference, so I’ve been pounding the pavement on my own most of the time.

A typical day goes like this: Up around 6:30ish, wander up to the 31st floor for the breakfast that’s included with our room. It’s not very good (despite the nearly $20 pricetag they’d charge for it normally), so we usually just have some fruit. Then I get some scallion pancakes and sometimes dumplings from a food stand on the street for under a dollar.

Then I have to figure out what to do with myself, never having made an actual plan the night before. The first couple of days, I explored neighborhoods within walking distance of the hotel. I don’t really enjoy pushy salespeople or bargaining with them to get to a fair price, so I haven’t done much shopping, just looking. I’ve been keeping my eye out for a souvenir shot glass, but haven’t seen a single one. I wonder if shots are taken from teacups…

After having gotten a decent feel for the nearby areas in Shanghai, I started looking at options for day trips a bit farther out. I considered trying to go to Yellow Mountain or to see the terra cotta warriors, but both of those really would’ve required at least one night and therefore more advance planning. Next time.

Yesterday, I wound up taking the metro out to a suburb area, to see Guyi garden & restaurant for “the home of xiaolongbao” soup dumplings. The only English I saw there was the “no smoking” sign. The staff didn’t speak any English and there were no picture menus, so after looking lost for a bit, I pulled out my dictionary app and pointed to “recommend” and then waved at the menu of 4 options and got pointed in the right direction. I wound up with 20 of the top listed dumplings for 25yuan (a little under $5). Everyone else I saw had some sort of soup as well, but 20 dumplings were pretty filling.

At one point, a waitress came over to my table, picked up the teapot, and poured some into a plastic bag. She then tied it closed and added it to someone’s to-go order. A few minutes later, I saw the guy who’d sat down across the big round table from me pour some into a soy sauce dish and dip a dumpling in it. I followed suit. Not soy sauce — vinegar! I’m glad I hadn’t asked for a teacup for it (which I’d thought about doing!)

After lunch, I came back to the city center. It was raining so I had some overpriced coffee and then went to the Shanghai Museum, which was free and not crowded despite the rain. Lots of impressive bronzes from hundreds of years BC, plus a bunch of Ming and Qing dynasty ceramics (vases, etc), and giant stone Buddha sculptures.

Today’s adventure took me farther out of town, on muliple buses without numbers (just destinations written in Chinese!). I’d had the hotel concierge write down the name of the town in Chinese, so I had a slip of paper to show people when asking directions, which was very helpful. Attempting to follow the directions I’d found online, I took the metro to the South Shanghai train station and then tried to find the bus, but it wasn’t the direct one. I took it to some town (end of the line) and then had to transfer. These buses had 2 people working on them — the driver and a money taker for tickets. The ticket taker on the first bus walked me over to the 2nd bus I needed. Very helpful!

When I finally wound up at Zhujiajiao, I think it was nearly 3 hours after I’d set out. Oof! When I got off the bus, though, a girl who also got off at that stop said, “follow me.” She and her friend (who I thought at first was her little brother, but who turned out to be her 19 year old classmate) seemed friendly. They kept breaking into giggling fits when trying to think of English words. I wandered around the water town with them for awhile, accompanying them to buy some dried turnip, and taking pictures of the canals and bridges along the way. I asked if I could take their picture but “we shy!” followed by more giggles. They asked if I was hungry. I was. “KFC?” “um…” “rice noodles?” “yes!”

They weren’t hungry, I guess, so they wandered off on their own after they’d made sure I was squared away with ordering food. I figured they were tired of me following them around, but when I was about half done with my soup, they came back and hung out some more. “we don’t have to go back until 3” (it was a bit after 2). We chatted a bit, shopped a bit (the boy bought a beaded necklace, then the girl saw some drawings for 10yuan and asked if I liked any of them). I tried to say no, that she didn’t need to buy me one, but she bought one anyway. Then it was 3pm and she handed me the picture and the boy gave me the necklace (putting it on my wrist) “for remembering.” I thanked them and asked if I could buy them some ice cream or something. They laughed and smiled and then they were off. The guide books warn about scams of people wanting to practice their English and then leaving you with a bill for an expensive meal, or trying to get you to buy art. They didn’t prepare me for this.

After the kids took off, I wandered around on my own for a bit, doing some shopping of my own. The shop clerks weren’t pushy, so it was nice to be able to browse.

Around 5, I decided I should figure out how to get “home.” I backtracked to where we’d gotten off the bus and saw a bus/train station across the street (I think that’s what the boy had meant by “upstairs”) As I was trying to figure out which bus I might need, a ticket-taker woman leaned out of a bus that was pulling out of the station, smiled, yelled, “Shanghai?” and waved for me to jump in as it slowed down a bit. So I did. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to stand out as a tourist!

The bus was direct to people’s square (walking diatance from my hotel), was only 12yuan, and took under an hour even with rush hour traffic. The metro + 2 buses I’d taken out there had added up to 14yuan and 3 hours. All in all, a good day!

Tomorrow A and I will head to Hangzhou, and then Sunday we fly home. Hard to believe the trip is almost over. I really wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy China, but I really have!

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