In April, we stayed collectively for a period of three weeks in China – clocking two weeks in Shanghai. I’m not sure if the time was sufficient to make me get a deeper understanding of the city, but, I’ve always felt the minute you choose to stay in an apartment over a hotel, scout for a local grocery store, and travel by the local subway; you’ve got a unique opportunity of sampling local life minus the touristy frills. If I’d have to chalk out an ideal day and what I’d do on it, this is what it would be.
Count your Boats before they Float
Our apartment, in Pudong Avenue, faced the river front. Sunrise was pretty early at 6 am and with the blinds open, it was hard to stay asleep after 6:30. With Basil away at work, I utilized my time planning our 8 day Beijing-Xian-Guilin trip or tried to catch up on my reading. Breaks included dreaming and trying to count the number of boats/ships that floated by. Our window was nothing short of a live feed. Not surprisingly, I managed to do none of the writing work I had intended to.
Starting your first meal with sugar is probably not a great way to start your day. But, with most convenience stores tempting you with sweet breads and cakes, it’s not always possible to resist temptation. We discovered a bakery, 15 minutes from where we lived, that sold breads, desserts, and biscuits. I’m not sure if it was just us, but, most local baked items are sweeter. Even some breads with stuffed meat seemed unusually sweet.
Hop on a Metro
The subway is probably the best way to travel around the city. But, then, if you’re like Basil – you might choose to walk. I’ve lost count of how many times we walked and why we skipped the metro. The Shanghai metro is fast, relatively empty (barring peak hours and weekends), and truly convenient. We didn’t use local buses or cabs because of the communication gap. It’s always handy to keep the name of your location – written in Mandarin – for easy reading. It takes some effort pronouncing local names written in English.
Find your ‘Tea’
I remember, on my first trip to Hong Kong, I burnt my tongue after sipping green tea. I’m not sure whether it was my burnt tongue or my inexperience in tasting authentic tea that made me dislike Chinese tea. Over a period of time, especially after Basil’s China trips, I ‘acquired’ a taste for Chinese tea. And I was thrilled by the different types of tea extracts. I’d say no trip to Shanghai/China would be complete without spending at least a good hour – sniffing or even tasting tea samples – in a tea shop.
I generally don’t attribute ‘luck’ to a given event. But, on a trip, it’s fun to try local customs. Sadly, neither my aim nor luck was in my favour – with coins rebounding and falling far away from the container they had to fall into.
I’m not sure of the complexities of the forces at work outside our planet. I’ve jumped sides and find it best to describe myself to be ‘agnostic’. Yet, I find Buddhist temples to be soothing and calming. It’s probably because of the whiff of incense, chants or people in deep prayer.
Take a Walk
Shanghai is filled with gardens, parks, and even the main roads are lined with trees. At 5, the weather is perfect to forget whatever it was that you were doing and take a walk outside. Most parks close by 6 pm.
Head for the Local Market
Local markets are teeming with fruits and veggies. It’s also a good opportunity to sink into a relaxing chair and try a Chinese foot massage. With all that walking – it should be made mandatory.
Join a Mass Choreographed Dance
At around 7:30, you’d find locals indulging in some fun activities like mass choreographed dances or calligraphy. I really wanted to join one of these, but, I’m not sure if my two left feet would let me. I preferred to stay in the background and observe.
Call it a Night
Most local eateries/restaurants shut by 8 pm. On many occasions, we’d be scouting for places to eat and make it just in time before closing. Street stalls remain open for longer time. I forgot to mention skewered grilled mix in my earlier post. You can pick up your own mix of veggies or meat and get it grilled on a skewer.