Shanghai, November 26-30, 2009

We perfect our Shanghai experience with a dinner in Closed Door Cafe at our B&B. We have tuna carpaccio and artichoke salad for starters, vegetable risotto with pesto and scallops (Tomi) and halibut in bean sauce with grilled radicchio (Tei) for entrees, downed by Alsace Pinot Blanc. For dessert we have vanilla pannacotta with roasted pineapple and rosemary. Then it is time to return to Singapore.
It is tropical thunderstorm when we leave Singapore, but it is Fall in Shanghai. And we love it. There are many warm and cozy wine bars, and breweries, and we love them all. Streets are wide and not crowded. Nice. The atmosphere is relaxed and still cosmopolitan. Shanghai is the largest city in China and one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, but still it has been able to preserve the small, or at least a medium town feel. It is busy preparing for the World Expo 2010, and construction is going on everywhere. We may even return for the Expo.

Just prior to our trip the weather in Shanghai was unseasonably warm, and the temperatures still are quite mellow. However, the local people dress up for the weather as it should be, which is from +5 to +10 degrees of Celsius. We go around in T-shirts, and feel warm.

We stay at Quintet Bed and Breakfast in the French Concession neighborhood. The area mainly consists of two to three stories high Shikumen residencies, which host either homes or small boutiques or galleries. Streets are lined by trees, which at this time of the year have all yellow leaves, or no leaves at all.
The breakfast variety at the B&B ranges from oatmeal with honey and raisin, French toast, to Mediterranean scrambled eggs, and herb roasted potatoes with a choice of eggs. All served with yogurt and honey and fruit, or choice of sausage and bacon. And freshly squeezed fruit juice, and coffee or tea. We probably didn't mention that Tomi's luggage never arrived in Shanghai, actually we were told right away at the baggage claim that it never left Singapore. That bag contains all our cosmetics and Tomi's clothes. So today Tomi still wears his office attire from yesterday. On our way we happen to find a Patagonia store, the first one I've seen in Asia, and buy him a T-shirt. Luckily, the B&B provides us the basic cosmetics, not only shampoo and soap but also toothbrush and toothpaste.
There are more cars in Shanghai than in Hanoi but less motorbikes, and definitely much less honking. The public transportation system, particularly the trains, are superb and easy to use. We are not sure whether it is because of the weather or the pollution that the city is under heavy fog.
Yuyuan Garden, a classical Chinese garden, is our first destination of the day. We don't quite find it, but get lost in the surrounding bazaars. It is full of people trying to sell us watch and handbag replicas at every street corner, and some of them even follow us for a few foot steps, and then give up.
It is not only foggy, but at 2pm. it is so dark it feels like night is falling. It also gets cold when the rain starts. We have a long way to our hotel and despite the ever worsening weather we walk all the way. We pass (now closed) food establishments that did not pass the city's food safety inspections.
However, this is perfect weather to find oneself at some cozy place like a German brewhouse Paulaner. The service in the restaurant is very attentive, perhaps too attentive. We have noticed that it is very common in SE Asian restaurants (not in Singapore, though!) that the server, or several servers, waits by our table until we are ready to order. Tomi's luggage finally arrives while we are back at B&B watching Das Parfum on DVD. The evening plan is to taste some beers at Boxing Cat Brewery. We have Wild Mild (dark, 2.5-3.6% ABV), Right Hook Helles (lager), brewer's choice (pumpkin wheat), and TKO IPA. All beers are unfiltered and taste great, but brewery's water is terrible. We wish they don't use that for beers.
Visit to Shanghai Zoo is in our program today. In order to get there, we take the metro line No. 2 to Beixinjing Station, and have a long walk, first through a residential neighborhood, and then following a busy street. On our way we find Le Fournil, a European and/or American style bakery/coffee shop, that sells American microbrews out for less than 2 euros per bottle. We have coffee and a muffin in house.
Just in case you wonder, there is no visual illusion in the picture on left: the sidewalk really narrows down. The hand and arm warmers attached to the handlebars of motorbikes come handy this time of the year. We ourselves could have used some gloves today.
Shanghai Zoo is not the best Zoo we have seen, and except for a baby gorilla, animals don't look happy. A lot of hard work is being done to improve the animal exhibits plus to make the place more enjoyable for visitors. The Zoo has ample space and their goal is to preserve the spacious atmosphere: the place is popular among locals to have weekend picnics (even in this chilly weather!)
The animal selection is quite ordinary, ranging from apes (chimps, orangutans, and gorillas) and an elephant to sun bear and polar bear, plus many others. The gold fish exhibit is quite stunning. This is also the first time we see giant pandas in action, and what are they doing? The same pandas are always doing: either eating bamboo or sleeping.

To our great grief and grievance visitors are really misbehaving: they are feeding animals, although there are clear signs asking not to, and some people are throwing things or even spitting on bears to attract their attention.

Again tonight we are (positively) surprised by the quality of service in Shanghai. First at Anna Maya's Vegetarian Cafe (we have roasted beetroot salad, mushroom soup, and vegetable dumplings with some organic white wine and kiwi tea), and then at Amokka/La Strada, and especially its cozy upstairs non-smoking lounge (we have pizza with eggplant and salami, and a bottle of malbec) We finish the night watching The Namesake by Mira Nair on DVD. Another nice thing about this cozy B&B is that they have relatively good of selection of movies for almost every taste (probably because the cable tv does not work, yet)
First in the morning we visit Propaganda Poster Art Centre. This remarkable collection of Mao era posters is in exhibit on the ground floor of a housing complex. It is a private collection, and the owner is seemingly proud of it, even if he tries to do his best to hide the excitement when talking about the items he owns. We buy a poster catalogue and a vintage "Little Red Book of Mao Selected Works" from 1968 as souvenirs.
Our next destination is People's Park. This is the place for local people to gather to meet friends and play card games. One section of the park consists of a small amusement park for kids, with rides and all. Still, we don't understand what the people in the English corner are doing with the posters hanged in cloths lines. Some people really want to talk to us, too. We take it as some sort of demonstration, only that we don't know what for (or against) and it does not seem too passionate. As we soon find out, it is the most peculiar activity taking place in the park, namely a huge matchmaking happening every weekend, when parents take their grown-up children there to find them partners.
Before going out for dinner at Larsho we watch The Final Cut on DVD. Larsho is a new fine, but not an upscale food establishment at the top floor of the Golden Eagle Mall that serves creative Sichuan dishes. We have:
  • Salad made with ground daisy
  • Chilled orange flavored mashed potatoes
  • Boiled sliced catfish in chili oil
  • Beef in ginger and spice sauce
The server scoops 80% of the chilies from the catfish dish but still there are plenty left. Neither of the meat or fish dishes are super hot, though, but they have a strong taste of vegetable oil, which is not very appetizing. It goes without saying that the potato mash is Tei's favorite.

On our way back to the B&B we visit a couple of bars, the first one being the Crossroads across the street from Hotel Hilton, which is not so surprisingly a local meat market, and the second one quiet bar with a couple of couples.

Finally, we enjoy the tranquility of Closed Door Cafe at our B&B for a glass of red wine and some hot tea.
Our last day in Shanghai starts with a visit to Taikang Rd. in French Concessions recommended by our hostess. We have a nice walk to the area following her instructions, but we never really find the place. It is getting chilly so we promptly hop into plan B, and get a taxi to Oriental Pearl Tower.
We don't spend much time up in the tower since it is too foggy to see much, but we spend even more time in the exhibition downstairs that tells Shanghai history, from Opium wars to transportation and trade to living and architecture. And it does not tell it in words but pictures and almost life-size models. (see the pictures on right)
Before returning to The Bund through quite a psychedelic sightseeing tunnel we have lunch at Paulaner Brewhouse, the only place with a smiling face we've seen so far. We walk a long way back to the B&B. We stop at Manabe coffee house for some Japanese charcoal roasted coffee and green tea cappuccino.