True Grit

Shanghai, China

Jin Mao Building from an 86th story bird's-eye-view

Every morning I woke up in Shanghai, I could taste the city between my teeth.  Every night, clouds of dust and pulverized concrete would rise all the way to our room on the ninth floor of the Broadway Mansions Hotel, and by one in the afternoon, Ryan was rubbing his eyes and we were brushing the grit out of Ollie’s hair.  More so than any other city we visited in China, Shanghai was re-inventing, and often times, one-upping itself on every block.  The towering sentinels of Pudong’s new city (the Pearl TV Tower, the Jin Miao Building, the World Financial) would soon find themselves in the shadow of the 600 meter  Shanghai Tower, whose concrete  foundation was only just being poured.  And we were denied the quintessential Shanghai experience: a stroll along the Bund.  Across the river, the historic strip of early 20th century Art Deco buildings was inaccessible, as the riverfront promenade was under construction and blockaded by 20 foot walls. I kept thinking back to the half-finished and empty lots of foreclosed businesses and homes in the United States.  In San Clemente, contractors and construction workers complained of slow business, people’s reluctance to build and the general malaise of the economy.  Here in Shanghai, and in China all around, massive amounts of government dollars were earmarked for construction, and a new city was growing before our eyes.

Shanghai’s version of the” big dig” was fueled by its ambitions in front of the upcoming World Expo, taking place in October 2010.  The event was on the tip of every Shanghaier’s tongue, and several times we were met with quizzical looks when we explained that we were not planning to be present in the city at that time.  It was indeed an important moment in Chinese history.  Combined with the approach of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic (October 2009), the Expo only added to the Olympic-like fervor within the big cities.  

Yuyuan Bazaar

The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and Antarctic Expedition Museum: This creepy, hallucinogenic experience took us under the Huangpu River from the Bund to Pudong via a glowing, pulsating, chanting tunnel ride.  We then plodded through a very random exhibit where badly taxidermied animals and indistinguishable creatures pickled in formaldehyde were on display.   Next time, we will just take a taxi over the bridge.

Pit-stop at the Park Hyatt, Pudong.  The attendants were asking 150 quai to go up 494M (101st floor) in the towering World Financial building, so we opted instead for the 86th floor where we took in the free view and the obligatory 100 quai bottle of Perrier. Ollie capped the experience by plunging face first into their dessert cart, for which we were rewarded with a complimentary plate of tea cookies.

Yuyuan Old Town Baazar. Apart from the 23rd century pace that is most of Shanghai, there is an older part of the city that actually anchors it to the rest of China.  Here we encountered the hordes of Chinese tourists who were aghast that we would not be attending the Expo, but would still very much like their photo-op with Oliver. I waited patiently in line for Shanghai’s famous NanXiang soup dumplings, and nearly ripped some woman’s face off when she tried to butt in front of me.  I had less luck at the Food Bazaar, where the dishes on display looked a great deal better than they tasted.  I had a fleeting urge to sample chicken feet in brown sauce, which I was able to overcome. 

Hunting for Diapers in the French Concession.  First of all, Chinese kids seldom wear diapers.  Their mothers employ the ass-flap method of potty training, which basically enables their children to bend over and drop a load on the sidewalk when and wherever the mood strikes them.  Second of all, the Chinese kids who DO wear diapers all have tiny butts.  Ryan and I canvassed the entire French Concession district for lard-butt size, and finally lucked out at an underground grocery store that seemed to cater to foreigners and their big-bootied children.

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