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Amber: Hey everybody! Welcome back to Amber and Victor’s Chinese Buffet. But today we have a different guest. Not Victor. We have JP.
JP : Hi everyone. This is JP .
Amber: Welcome to the show, JP .
JP : Thanks!
Amber: And I am Amber. And today’s segment is a special feature.
JP : Okay.
Amber: Travel feature – ‘Panda Express’, where we pick a destination within the country and we feature it. And today is not a destination that’s off to be in track. However, we will tell you some things off the beating track in the glorious city of Shanghai.
JP : Ooooh, Shanghai! You know, we happen to know a little bit about this town.
Amber: That’s right. And that’s why JP is here today because JP and I are both ex-Shanghai-ers.
JP : We are. Used to hang out there all the time. Skipping around. Highfiving.
Amber: So today, we are going to talk about travelling to Shanghai and give you guys some tips on things to do and things to see.
JP : Okay.
Amber: Now, probably one of the most famous destinations in Shanghai that a lot of people probably will go to is The Bund.
JP : The Bund. I’ve been there… you know, you can count the number of times on my hand.
Amber: It’s a must-see but it’s very chaotic kind of a place to go. What exactly is The Bund? Well, for those of you who don’t know, the Bund is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai where it’s all along the Huangpu River, the heart of the city and there is dozens and dozens of historical buildings. Actually, these buildings are all interestingly not Chinese. They were built by numerous banks and trading houses from Britain, France, the US, Russia, etc.
JP : Right. In the time of the concessions, this was a very important financial center.
Amber: That’s right. It was the headquarters of many, if not most of the major financial institutions that were operating in China at the time. So, what this has brought to Shanghai is a very interesting array of architecture all in one place from all over the world. It basically stretches one mile of the bank of the Huangpu River and it ends at the Huangpu Park, which is famed for something not too nice perhaps. It’s famed for once having at this park, having a sign that said ‘No dogs or Chinese’.
JP : Oh yes.
Amber: It gives the insight to the times of the day at that time. Now directly across from the Bund is another kind of interesting spectacle because it’s kind of the contrast of the old China versus the new.
JP : Right. You have all those modern office buildings and the towers and high rises and the lights right at night.
Amber: Yeah. It’s basically what the new financial district is. A lot of famous buildings. For example, The Pearl Tower. Love it or hate it. Personally, I hate it. But it’s very bright, very colorful, neon blinking lights. It’s definitely something to be seen at night.
JP : Absolutely. And the two of the very tall buildings in Shanghai – the Jing Mao Towers over there and in the world financial center, which is… we call the Bottle Opener because it has kind of a cut-out section. It looks like a bottle opener.
Amber: Yes. It does. And you know, when you look at that skyline, it’s incredible to think that it was all basically built within the last 20 years.
JP : That’s right. That’s how fast developments have been going in China.
Amber: 20 years ago, it was basically just farmland.
JP : So when you go to the Bund, you go to the riverside. You’ll probably cross over a lot of constructions because they are building a subway line right there right now.
Amber: Yeah. Right now it’s a little bit of an obstacle course.
JP : And the subway line of course is in the streets, so it’s between all those historical buildings and the riverside. Remember to tell your taxi driver that you’re going to 外滩 (Wàitān), which mean The Bund in Chinese.
Amber: Yeah. In Chinese, 外滩 (Wàitān). Okay now, another interesting part of the 外滩 (Wàitān), The Bund, which I kind of recommend going into, you can go into some of these older buildings on the historical side of the Bund and take a look at the architecture. One is really cool is the Peace Hotel.
JP : Oh, the Peace Hotel.
Amber: Yeah, which is definitely a realm like an era gone by the days when Shanghai was known as Paris of the East, and I heard you can get up on the roof there. And that’s probably the best view of the Bund and it’s away from the milling crowds as well. Probably nicer than walking on the Bund.
JP : Right. Now the last time I checked, the Peace Hotel was closed for renovations and it has been closed for a long time. But, I definitely think that they are going to be open by 2010 World Fair, I think. That’s going to be open for then. I was lucky enough to see a jazz band play there in the year 2000 when I came to China. It was pretty cool.
Amber: Cool. Just like days gone by.
JP : Yeah.
Amber: The jazz in Shanghai. And the fact there is some jazz from that era in Shanghai is another topic for another podcast on another day.
JP : There is plenty of jazz to talk about.
Amber: Okay. So personally, one of my favorite ways to experience Shanghai is by bicycle.
JP : Yes. We know Amber. She is the queen of the bicycle.
Amber: Yes. I used to scoot around quite a bit. But, you can see a side of Shanghai that you might not normally see. So, you can try renting a bike, but I’d say you can just borrow a bike. There is enough bikes to be had. Steal a bike. Just put it back after. I’d probably put it back. But there is some interesting things you can see if you want to see Shanghai by bike. So yeah, you can take a tour bus if you want to see the regular Shanghai but we’ll tell you few tips to see on other things. Now, one cool district in Shanghai that I liked the most, especially by bike was the Hongkou district.
JP : Okay.
Amber: Now, this district is just across the Suzhou Creek and there is some really neat old buildings. In this area is the old Jewish quarter.
JP : Right.
Amber: So, back in World War II, some 20,000 Jews from Central Europe took refuge in this area. So, an inch of the heart of Shanghai, there is a lot of synagogues, remnants of the 1940 ghetto that it once was.
JP : Right. There is not a lot of Jewish people left there now but you could still see some of the architecture and some of the buildings. And it’s interesting because Shanghai is a living city and people live there and they do want to build a subway line through that neighborhood and they’re saying, “Oh, you’re going to destroy these historical buildings.” It’s kind of an interesting controversy that’s going on right now.
Amber: Now, another really cool building in the Hongkou district used to be the old Slaughterhouse.
JP : Okay.
Amber: Yes. And this building has now been redeveloped and it’s called 1933. Kind of an odd name but I suppose that’s when it was built. Yeah, you go into this building. It’s been redesigned into this fashionable design center. Much to people’s dismay or joy, there is even an American apparel in this building.
JP : Yeah. I remember when you went there.
Amber: Yeah. But it’s very cool to walk around in because the architecture is amazing and there is basically all these ramps and different rooms and… I was trying to picture cattle or pigs walking through there. It was hard to picture because now it’s kind of posh. A very neat building to see. Definitely should be on your list to go-to.
JP : Okay.
Amber: That’s the biking. I think another really good way to see Shanghai is by walking around.
JP : Okay.
Amber: And one really cool area that you have to see by walking around is the Old French Concession.
JP : Okay. But the Old French Concession is huge. There is a lot to see there!
Amber: That’s right. But basically it is these winding tree-lined streets, trees that were planted by the French. Imported from Europe many moons ago. And basically, it feels like Chinese-fied Europe because a lot of the old buildings are very European in architecture, but very Chinese now.
JP : Right.
Amber: Anyways, it’s a good place to go shopping. If you like shopping, there is tons of small boutiques, restaurants. Not expensive. Just very local but very nice atmosphere.
JP : Yeah. Also, it’s a great place to go to happy hour. There is a lot of bars with rooftop terraces and outdoor seating.
Amber: Yes. The French Concession was also the scene of JP’s and mine’s favorite massage joint. Many hours of entertainment we had in the massage. And not like the happy ending kinds but just enjoyable massages. Although I’m sure you can get that as well. Also in the French Concession, I think you shouldn’t miss is Song Qingling, the former residence. Now if you don’t know, she is a woman who revered to rule China because she is a loyalist to the communist cause. She was from a very famous Shanghai family, the Song family, and she married the founder of the Chinese Republic Sun Yat-sen in 1915. So, her villa is still there. It’s still intact. It was actually built by a Greek sea captain originally in the French Concession and it was her residence from 1948 to 1963. And basically it’s a total relic of these days gone by because it has not changed in all these years. Basically, it’s a two-story house. In the garage, there are two black Sedans still to this day, one of which was presented to her by Stallone in 1952. And there is lots of relics from her life and photographs, things like that. Okay so, that’s pretty cool but there is another option. If you yourself just prefer to sit in a historical house and drink, JP, maybe you will like this better. Because you can go to her sister’s place. Maybe she was more of the wild party, I don’t know. But this is on 东平路 (Dōngpíng lù) because this one is also been transformed, however not into a museum; it’s been transformed into a bar-restaurant.
JP : Is that Sasha’s?
Amber: Yes!
JP : Okay. I’ve had plenty of drinks at Sasha’s.
Amber: You probably didn’t even know it was her house, did you?
JP : No, I didn’t. But my friends and I definitely used to go there a lot and there is a pizzeria attached to it, right?
Amber: Yeah. It’s really great place to go and there is an outdoor patio and you can experience the Shanghai expat scenes, I’d say at this place.
JP : Definitely. Hey, while we are talking about the French Concession, let’s talk about 泰康路 (Tàikāng lù).
Amber: Right. This was probably one of my favorite places personally to hang out. It’s basically these old alleys that have been somewhat gentrified but the nice thing is, there is still a lot of Chinese people that are living there. There is a lot of art galleries. There are like cafes and restaurants, that sort of thing.
JP : Right. It is a really cool mix, you know. Funky places to eat and shop and hang out and also Chinese people brushing their teeth.
Amber: Yeah. For example, I used to sit in this one place and read a book and have wine and then at night, an old man would walk by in his boxer shorts, in the middle of summer where little kids will be playing around you. It’s an interesting mix.
JP : Because it’s their neighborhood, right?
Amber: Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t feel contrived. Of course, it’s more of a posh because it is in the restaurant streets of 新天地 (Xīntiāndì).
JP : Okay. There are no people in their pajamas running around there.
Amber: No. They don’t let the pajamas in, somehow. They keep them out, which I think is to its detriment. But, it’s a very main tourist site that you’ve probably heard of in Shanghai where they’ve taken this district of houses. They are traditional Shanghai house and they restored it, made it into a pedestrian street and it is extremely expensive. It’s near to seed for the architecture but it feels a lot Disneyland-ish.
JP : Yeah. People love it and tourists love it. There is always people just wandering around, walking slowly taking pictures.
Amber: Yeah. But I think definitely if you can get to 泰康路 (Tàikāng lù), it’s not that far from 新天地 (Xīntiāndì), you’ll probably think it’s even cooler. More earthy.
JP : Yeah.
Amber: Okay. Now, there is a lot of cities in Shanghai but, maybe you want to see some perks.
JP : Okay.
Amber: I think there is a lot to see in Chinese parks, so I do recommend a trip to any big park.
JP : Okay.
Amber: So, the parks. There is like People’s Square. They have a park, 人民公园 (Rénmín gōngyuán).
JP : People’s Park, right?
Amber: Yeah. There is Zhongshan Park. There is a lot of parks actually in Shanghai. And the thing that’s going to a park in China is that it’s not just nature. In fact, maybe the nature is sort of like…
JP : It’s secondary, right?
Amber: Yeah, secondary. And what’s really going on in Chinese parks is a lot of action, put it that way.
JP : Yeah.
Amber: But there is a lot of activities like, one thing I really love to see is the dancing. A lot of old people go to the park and sort of ballroom dance.
JP : Right. These are in your neighborhood parks where there are little plazas that they have. You know like Fuxin Park. That’s a great place to see people dancing. But really, in any neighborhood you can see people doing tango or…
Amber: Yeah. Any old place.
JP : Waltz.
Amber: And I’ve even seen in parks some older people took KTV, karaoke machine. They had like a generator, even and they were singing karaoke in the park. Blasting out on top of their lungs. Oh, the peace of the Chinese parks! Actually, there is a lot of other things going on in the park. If there is a lake in the park, chances are you’ll see these big plastic bubbles and people rolling around in them like hamsters. It’s pretty cool. It’s a sight to see.
JP : That’s something.
Amber: Tai chi of course. That’s kind of elegant and beautiful and peaceful.
JP : Right. You have to go in the morning though.
Amber: Yeah. And oh, even in the 人民 (Rénmín) Park, the People’s Park, you will see on Sundays there is parents soliciting matches for their children with big placards of advertising the stats of their child because they’re trying to find a mate for their children.
JP : Yeah. And the customers are always other people’s parents. I don’t think if you want to find your own mate, you don’t go there alone.
Amber: Yes. The parents are matchmaking their kids because their kids are too busy working. So, they are doing this as a service to their children. Another thing I really loved to see is in the summer you’ll see, often times there will be someone who is painting Chinese characters on the ground with water.
JP : Oh yeah.
Amber: So, they elegantly paint a Chinese character and then it disappears in the sun. It’s quite cool.
JP : You know, there is one place that I went to a bunch of concerts are at. This was on a museum on 莫干山路 (Mò gàn shān lù), which is another one of those warehouse districts that was…
Amber: Kind of up and coming art gallery area. 莫干山路 (Mò gàn shān lù). It’s pretty cool. Is the art Chinese more, JP, or is it like Western art or…how does it work?
JP : Well, there is definitely Chinese artist but I think it’s a mix.
Amber: A mix? That’s kind of cool. Another area which is basically the opposite, 徐家汇 (Xújiāhuì).
JP : Okay.
Amber: 徐家汇 (Xújiāhuì) is… I’m not recommending anyone to go there. However, there are reasons to go there.
JP : Right. I mean If you’re a fan of big crowded cities and flashing lights, and some people are.
Amber: Yeah.
JP : Well then you go to 徐家汇 (Xújiāhuì) and you can buy a lot of electronics there.
Amber: Yeah. It’s a place where a lot of people. There is a big electronics market. So, if you do want to buy any sort of computer items, etc…
JP : Look for the giant flashing globe.
Amber: Yes. There is a few of those in Shanghai. If you ask anyone where 徐家汇 (Xújiāhuì) is, you’ll be directed because a lot of Chinese people really love 徐家汇 (Xújiāhuì) because it’s very noisy and exciting.
JP : 热闹 (rènào)
Amber: Yeah. Now of course speaking of shopping, there are the fake markets, which I have dragged JP to a few in my day. If you want fake items – watch, bag, DVDs…
JP : Purse.
Amber: Yeah. There is a lot. There is one in the Technology Museum stop in Pudong and there is also one right off of Nanjing Lu.
JP : Right. Nanjing Lu.
Amber: Yeah. And then there is that Pearl Market in the Hongqiao district.
JP : Oh, that’s right. Yeah.
Amber: So, get some cheap stuff. Make sure when you bargain, go at least knock 80 percent of the price that they quote you.
JP : Right.
Amber: Do not be misled into paying full price. No matter how angry the sellers act, they are only acting.
JP : Yeah. They are acting. Definitely.
Amber: Yeah. Now, food. JP, your favorite topic. You should take it away. Tell us some good places to eat in Shanghai.
JP : Well, I know your favorite place was Southern Barbarian and that was on… what was that? Changle Lu and Mao Ming Lu.
Amber: Yeah. This is a place which has Yunnan food from the Yunnan province of China. And the really special feature about this restaurant was… one thing for sure that was special because it did not taste like Chinese food, which you may or may not be looking for. But it is Chinese. Just a different region. And they have like fried goat cheese and mint salad. It’s delicious.
JP : The Yunnan provinces are in the far West of the country.
Amber: Yes, next to Vietnam. But, the specially good thing about this restaurant is that they have Brooklyn lager and many, many imported beers that you’ve never seen anywhere else in China. I don’t know if this guy smuggles them in his suitcase, but it’s pretty delicious when you’ve been in China for a long time to have one of your micro brew favorites.
JP : Yeah, absolutely. The owner is a pretty nice guy. There is a restaurant right next to Southern Barbarian. It’s called Dishuidu and that’s Hunan food. And that’s actually a chain there. There are several branches of Dishuidu. It’s known to be spicy. Everyone says that it is delicious to eat there. There are some people that tell me that there are better places for Hunan food like on Muchulu and stuff like that, where you can get the fish heads and the chili sauce or whatever. Hunan food is but Dishuidu is definitely…
Amber: A standard.
JP : Absolutely.
Amber: Yeah. Another one for spicy is Dongbeiren. Dongbei is the northeast part of China. It’s also a chain. There is a few in Shanghai. But you can get a lot of really unique food and what I really liked about this restaurant is they open your beer with chopsticks. Have you ever seen that done?
JP : I have.
Amber: In anywhere else? No. I was like, I got to learn how to do that. It’s a good party trick.
JP : Actually, I saw somebody do that in Wujiang lu, that 小吃 (xiǎochī) street where people…
Amber: Snack street.
JP : Yeah, snack street.
Amber: That’s cool.
JP : Yeah. We bought a beer at the groceries store and we went into the restaurant and said, “Could you just open this for us?” and they were like, “Sure.” They took out the chopsticks…
Amber: This is ancient China people. And then you proceed to walk down the street drinking it.
JP : Yes, we did.
Amber: It’s allowed.
JP : Yes, we did.
Amber: Okay. Another huge highlighter in Shanghai is of course the 小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo), the soup dumplings. They are everywhere.
JP : Right.
Amber: The really famous one is in 新天地 (Xīntiāndì) branch. What’s it called, JP?
JP : It’s called 鼎泰丰 (dǐngtàifēng), I think.
Amber: Yeah, it’s delicious soup dumplings. probably the best I had.
JP : But that’s a Shanghai specialty though. I mean, you can get that anywhere.
Amber: You will find it.
JP : Right. And you can get it much cheaper, like in a hole of a wall.
Amber: Exactly.
JP : It doesn’t seem that clean.
Amber: Yeah. But usually it’s okay.
JP : Yeah.
Amber: We survived. Hopefully you will too. From the Western food perspective, Shanghai has a lot to offer. I mean, you can find almost any country’s food there. From a culinary standpoint, you’re pretty blessed. But one place that I think is a good reference point for a lot of tourists, you might just be craving some air conditioning, smoothies, raps, salads…
JP : Minimalist furniture.
Amber: Yeah. And it’s pretty quiet. It’s called Element Fresh. It has a few branches as well. The branch near my old house was on Huaihai Lu, near Donghu Lu. And the food is really good and it’s a good change, in case you just need a break from Chinese food.
JP : Right. And I was just getting Bloody Mary there. They are delicious because I think their tomato juice is fresh.
Amber: Yeah. It’s really ranks in standard. It’s good quality food. Okay. Well, that’s about it for our trip to Shanghai. We hope you all enjoyed it and we hope that you get a chance to visit all these places and report back. And we’ll put down the names of all the places we mentioned on the lesson notes for this podcast so that you can have a reference. Anyways, everyone can also come to the site and share their Shanghai experiences if you’ve been and we will be glad to hear it from you.
JP : Right. That’s chineseclass101.com
Amber: Yeah! So, we will see you next time on the Chinese Buffet.
JP : 再见 (zàijiàn)!
Amber: 再见 (zàijiàn).