Last weekend (the weekend of the 12th) was the birthday of one of my American friends here in Huzhou and so we (we 20-something American kids in Huzhou) had planned to go to Shanghai to celebrate his birthday.
So this would be my first time actually visiting Shanghai. Landing at the airport, being picked up, and going directly to Huzhou doesn't count.
The others headed for Shanghai Friday evening, but I instead would meet up with them Saturday. The reason being is that I first headed to Hangzhou to go see Jin Song... my girlfriend.
Yes, that's right, I have a girlfriend here in China. She is my “friend” from Hangzhou that I mentioned in some previous posts.
Anyway, I met up with her first, and then together we met the rest of my friends in Shanghai on Saturday.
Shanghai was pretty cool. The transportation was SOOOO much better than in Hangzhou. Reason being, Hangzhou is a city about the size of Chicago, with only buses and taxis to get around. And although Shanghai is actually bigger than New York City, it is spread out further and has a solid subway system in addition to the taxis and buses.
Not to mention, Shanghai has the world's only actively running maglev train track. It runs about 30km (about 19 miles) and goes from the Shanghai Pudong airport to some subway station whose name I forget. Since it's a maglev (magnetic levitation) the thing can go REALLY fast. The whole trip takes about 7 minutes, so it AVERAGES 160 mph (257 kph). And at its fastest the thing is moving at 270 miles per hour! (420 km/h). By the way, I was told that the trip taks 7 minutes, but that if you were to take conventional means (like a taxi) it could take you 45 minutes to an hour, due to both distance and traffic)
So, I had to ride that! And I took a video of it while I was on. I wasn't sure how the video would turn out, but you can really get a sense of the speed from it. The video is about 7 minuts long and we reached top speed (270 mph) at about 3:15 into the video, and that whole minute (3:00 to 4:00) we were going at least 250 mph in that stretch. I've uploaded it to youtube so you guys can watch it.
Something else about Shanghai. You can be in Huzhou (a Tampa-sized city) for a couple weeks and not accidentally see another foreigner (American, Canadian, or European). In Hangzhou, when walking along the street, you'll see a foreigner about every 8 to 10 minutes or so. In Shanghai, however, you won't go a minute on the street without seeing other westerners. It's a very international city. There's really nothing special about that per se. It's just, I have been living in Huzhou for two and a half months now, and I have gotten used to doing a “Oh look, another foreigner!” when I happen to see one.
Also, since it is more international, they do have some Christmas decorations up around Shanghai, here's some pictures
This last one actually reminds me of an episode of the simpsons. There was an epsiode where Homer makes friends with a guy owns a toy shop and is explaining to Homer some of the weird toys he sells. One of them is a Japanese toy, a robot Santa Clause, who the shop owner says the Japanese refer to as “Annual Gift Man.” Anyways, in Shanghai, they have a display of a giant robotic Santa Clause and it reminded me exactly of the one from the Simpsons.
So anyways, Saturday night, for my friend's birthday, he had been craving Mexican food, so we went to a Mexican restaurant he had heard about in Shanghai. It was a fairly nice place, and judging from the clientele, certainly seemed to cater to foreigners. Also, you know you're eating a restaurant that caters to foreigners when the menu is ENTIRELY in English... as in there is NO Chinese on the menu. (I didn't even realize that at first, until Jin Song mentioned that she didn't know what these foods were because the menu was in English. By the way, her English is actually pretty good, but when you start talking about Mexican dishes that Chinese people have never heard of, let alone eaten, she was pretty much in the dark.)
Anyways, there was a problem when we arrived there: we did not have a reservation and they didn't have any open tables. However, they were very accommodating and offered to seat us in a lobby area. I guess we didn't think about what that meant exactly, but that's exactly what it was. In the waiting area, the lobby, they have some sofas and a coffee table, and they cleared it for the 6 of us to sit and eat there.
It was actually a bit surreal. We “kids” (all 20-somethings) we sitting around the short table eating dinner in the extra space, while all the “grown-ups” went into the dining room to eat. It was actually kind of funny in retrospect, but it essentially was like a “kids” table. Anyhow, it was a Mexican restaurant that catered to foreigners, and as such, it was kind of a “fusion” Mexican restaurant, or what I like to call “yuppy-Mexican” (Kind of like how P.F. Chang's in the states isn't really like Chinese food, they call it “fusion” cuisine, but it's really just yuppy-Chinese food). The food here was kind of expensive relative to other restaurants, and the portions a bit small. Anyhow, Jean (Jin Song's English name) and I ordered some tacos, which actually weren't terrible, but the rest of what we all ordered was a bit disappointing in terms of what you'd call good Mexican food, coupled with the price and portions.
The next day for lunch we ordered food from a different Mexican restaurant in Shanghai, not as high scale. The ingredients themselves did seem to be more authentic, less “yuppy” but we didn't have a menu when we ordered. And so, when we ordered beef tacos, they were a mini tortilla (a taquito) with... just beef. That's it. Just beef. No lettuce, no tomatoes, no onions, no cheese. Just beef. And not like a lot of beef, a sprinkling of beef that was fairly dry. Anyways, it would seem that if you want good Mexican food, and you live in China, you will be SOL.
I actually feel worst for Gino, the guys whose birthday it was, because he was the one who had been anticipating getting some good Mexican food all week in Shanghai (in Huzhou, you couldn't find a tortilla to buy if you wanted to).
One thing I also took care of in Shanghai was mailing out the postcards to some of the kids I know back home. That was actually something I could've done in Huzhou, but I would always forget, or when I'd remember, I didn't have a Chinese friend around to help me explain what I wanted to do at the post office. Anyways, at a post office in Shanghai, Jean helped me get the proper postage I needed to mail them off. One thing that was kind of different, the stamps there are not self-adhesive. You have to walk over to the counter and paste it yourself with glue like this:
Finally, the last thing I did do in Shanghai... For Christmas next week, we Americans are going to get together for a Christmas dinner and everyone will make something and bring it. I deciced to make baked ziti! However, in Huzhou, you can find tomato sauce, yes, but the only Italian noodles they have are spaghetti, and forget about the cheeses. So while in Shanghai I bought some ziti, mozzarella cheese and ricotta cheese in preparation.
All in all I liked Shanghai, certainly the availability of western foods was much more highly accessible, and the subway system made getting around fairly easy. Maybe next time I go, I will buy some tortillas to try and make my own tacos. Also, Pizza was available in many places, and while most cities (even small cities like Huzhou) in China have a McDonald's, Shanghai even had a Burger King. Mmmm, flame-broiled hamburgers....