then and now
then: 2002. there for work (meetings with pretty important people and checking out shanghai).
half of pudong was under construction including the grand hyatt shanghai. puxi was still the go-to place; if you cared to overlook the greyish air (dust? smog? fog?), the frequent traffic jams or the occasional flood whenever it rained. and the fact that the colour du jour was brown. everything was brown.
now: 2014. rendezvous with friends (one working in shanghai, one navigating the triple perils of extreme pollution, extreme cold winters and an extremely busy husband in shenyang).
pudong has grown. in 10 years, it has been populated by sophisticated buildings of all kinds – commercial towers, expensive apartments, huge shopping malls. i couldn’t keep my mouth closed. the only constant was the colour – brown. maybe it’s because the air quality has worsened.
and the shanghainese have become extremely internet-savvy. they get everything from taobao. they connect, flirt, share using wechat and qq. and the way they apply these apps are far more sophisticated than us (singaporeans). for example, they frequently bid for taxis online (highest bidder wins), and their taxis will pick them up where they are without need to state the address. totally bourgeoisie.
so, the first thing i did when i arrived was to get a sim card. 200rmb (1GB and 90 min free voice after some negotiations to upgrade data plan) at the airport. i heard cheaper ones could be had in town but i think it wasn’t worth the hassle.
but, some things die hard. like this one. we took a bus to the train station. cost us, 1 yuan each. and we got one of these tickets.
shanghai is famed for its dumplings, so this was the first thing we went hunting for when we arrived. there were lots of recommendations for nanxiang 南翔 at yuyuan (and an equal number of negative reviews) so we decided to check it out to satisfy ourselves. now, yuyuan 豫园 is really a villa complex built around a landscaped garden, constructed during the ming dynasty. such villas or gardens as they prefer to call them, were often meant to be holiday homes for the wealthy.
true to reviews, there was a super long queue outside nanxiang on the ground floor. but if you are willing to upgrade to the more expensive chambers on the upper floors, there may be seats. we didn’t want to wait so we went up and still had to queue for a while even though it was long past lunch hour. the service was grudging, almost unpleasant and a big turn-off but the truffle dumplings that we had were quite good, though not sterling and certainly didn’t deserve the ‘best’ accolade. so, ditch those reviews that said it’s the best dumpling place in shanghai. it is not. check out the list here for other options. a friend of a friend recommended fuchun. and din tai fung (yes, so we have din tai fung elsewhere too but shanghai is supposed to be dumpling heaven).
you have been warned.
the garden of happiness – that’s what yuyuan 豫园 means, was the retirement home for its original owner. unfortunately, the architecture of the buildings was probably the only lingering vestige of the vision that its name implied. the yuyuan now, has been supplanted by lots of shops (including many global brands), restaurants and the odd teahouse here and there. the ambience felt more like a purpose-built theme park rather than a conserved enclave. quite a shame, really.
but we got our happiness checking out some of the shops there. for example, we discovered that the taiwanese, xiaolinjianbing 小林煎饼 was really popular here. there was a super long queue for their signature, tongluoshao 铜锣烧 or dorayaki. we went to join the queue just to see if it was much different from the taiwanese version. the bell-shaped cakes tasted lovely indeed while pipping hot. (you can get the same sans the queues in taiwan though).
while we were nibbling on dorayaki, we saw this booth. we wondered what it was and paid 10yuan each to watch it. it was a waste of money but quite a hilarious experience. that guy sure knew how to do his marketing.
we came across an embroidery shop selling expensive but very exquisite hand-embroidered pieces by suzhou craftsman. suzhou is reknown for their embroidery prowess such as the double-sided embroidery. i managed to persuade the shop tenders to let me photograph 2 of their exhibits. one had to look very carefully to realise that these were not paintings but embroideries.
compared to yuyuan, the french concession was more interesting because it still oozed an old world charm. there were many chic cafes, clubs, eateries etc in the precinct. our favourite had to be sunflour which served really good italian fare and pastry. i would die for their lemon tart (no pics because we ate it up so fast).
going gaga over soap and essential oils – at a shop opposite sunflour.
it was dining city restaurant week in shanghai and a friend had specially made a reservation for dinner at yong foo elite 雍福会. yong foo elite is a shanghainese restaurant housed in a villa previous used by the british consulate. other than the decor (which some may find interesting, ostentatious, gaudy depending on preference) and the presentation of the food (served course by course, degustation style), the rest were a let-down following our raised expectations. the service was gruff, the food was average and the price was steep; the ambience in the garden in front of the villa was good though.
we did a day trip to zhujiajiao 朱家角 which was slightly more interesting than yuyuan. it is a village by a river, a 1.5 hour drive from shanghai.
zhujiajiao is no venice so if you don’t come with such expectations, it can be pretty enjoyable. it was the weekend so there were many local tourists. as with yuyuan, it was rather downtrodden, rickety and spoiled by commercialism. but it offered up better photo opportunities.
we saw a crowd in front of this guy so we went to check it out. he was selling some kind of flat bread that had preserved olive inside. truly delicious!
my favourite dinner had to be the pig belly chicken soup shabu shabu @ laowang 捞王. the milky white soup was delicious on its own and comforting (pork belly soup is a popular chinese new year dish in singapore). i’d say it was worth the hour+ wait for a table. here’s a very good blog about it. 捞王 is also another taiwanese transplant.
weekends are meant for languorous brunches. which we perfected at la creperie.
and then followed by cafe hopping.
we even found a singapore-style kopitiam (coffeshop) while shopping for boots.
i think the bund must be the most overrated place but it still dazzles at night. in fact, come only in the night. at least, the haze wouldn’t be so obvious.
we had pretty clear skies for 3-4 days. however, on my last day there, i woke up to this. this was, in fact how a normal day looked like. we were very very lucky.
shanghai was a perfect backdrop for our rendezvous – interesting but not overly so to distract. an excellent setting for a wonderful get-together. i’m missing the girls already.
ladies, thanks for the memories … and long johns, and beers, and free lunches and ….