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上海游記 Nov. 28 – Dec. 16, 2009 Day 3, Shanghai December 26, 2009

Posted by hslu in China, Restaurants, Shanghai.
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上海游記 Nov. 28 – Dec. 16, 2009

Day 3, Shanghai, Sunday, November 29, 2009

I was disappointed when I woke up the next day: the sky was cloudy and I suspected it was probably filled with smog. The Bund on the other side of Huangpu River appeared to be covered under a gray-colored shroud. I already felt colder than it actually was.

We dragged Xiaobao up and took him to the free breakfast buffet in a huge meeting room. Even thug I paid extra to have Xiaobao staying in our room which was designated for two guests, we had to pay ¥68 for xiaobao to eat with us; $10 in US at an exchange rate of about ¥6.75 to $1 US after service charges.

The golden-colored dinning room had very high ceiling; probably 20’. Its decoration was quite nice and the breakfast stations were widely spaced. There were:

  • Traditional Chinese breakfast such as 5 or 6 selections of 稀飯 “xi1 fan4” and 10 to 15 kinds of 小菜 “xi3 cai4” including one that looked like a worm; 小饅頭 “xiao3 man2 tou2 ”花卷 “hua1 juan3” and 蔥油餅 “cong1 you2 bing3;” freshly squeezed fruit juices;
  • American breakfast such as cereal, toast, milk, bacon, ham and sausage (didn’t like it) with an omelet station;
  • Fresh fruits and nuts;
  • Assorted cheese;
  • A noodle station, and
  • Hard boiled eggs in the shell.

The Chinese 早飯 “zao3 fan4” was my kind of breakfast: multiple choices of 稀飯 and more than 10 different choices of 小菜. 花卷 added a nice touch and made-to-order noodle soup was a good addition too. Their version of western omelet wasn’t that good compared to its American cousin. Two other items were my favorites: blanched bitter melon 苦瓜 “ku3 gua1” and brown sugar-coated dried 金桔 “jin1 ju2.” The bitter melon was bright green in color, crunchy on the inside, lightly seasoned and very refreshing with its slightly bitter taste. That’s something I will try to duplicate next time when I have guests over for dinner. The English name of 金桔 is kumquat. It shaped more or less like an olive but with rounder ends. It averaged about 1” x 2” in size. It tasted like very sour orange but the rind is slight sweet. In some bars, 金桔 has been added to martini instead of olive. I liked the candied 金桔 because it retained its unique taste without the sourness. I even slipped a few back to my hotel room and popped a couple of them in my mouth as a snack. I also liked 八寶稀飯 “ba1 bao3 xi1 fan4” with red beans, white beans, Chinese red dates or 紅棗 “hong2 zao3,” oatmeal, 桂圓 “gui4 yuan2”, and others. The slightly sweetened 稀飯matched perfectly with the saltiness of various 小菜 “xia3 cai4.” It was a good traditional Chinese breakfast.

The first place we took Xiaobao to was 城隍廟 “cheng2 huang2 miao4” because it is the most popular place for tourists. Since Bao and I had been here before, we knew what to do and where to eat.

On the way to 城隍廟, our taxi driver had a mouthful about the current state of the Chinese economy and general living conditions in Shanghai. I told him that the government has successfully 保八 “bao3 ba1” or maintaining a 8% yoy growth rate after the global financial crisis. He said that 8% growth rate was a figure for the entire country. Many sectors and areas have been suffering while a few have gained more than their shares of growth. Housing prices have going through the roof and many people could not afford to buy a house. The gap between the haves and have-nots are getting bigger by the day. Many people have lost their jobs and they changed to become a taxi driver. Many are making less because people are taking subways these days. All taxi drivers got were short distance hauling. They no longer took people to Pudong Airport after the completion of the subway. Many of them used GPS to navigate through traffic in Shanghai but they do not use GPS to take customers to where they want to go. They also rely on GPS to warn them of upcoming traffic cameras and tell them what the speed limit should be when they drive to a different street in the city.

I casually commented on the massive construction project by the city to prepare for 2010 World Expo and the resulting traffic jams in the area. Our driver complained about the construction as well but welcomed the upcoming event. The 6-month long World Expo will definitely generate considerable opportunity in the short term. After that, our driver commented that his business will be negatively affected by the completion of many subway lines.

His comment reminded me of the taxi driver who took us from Pudong Airport to our hotel. He was in his late 40’s and had waited five hours at the airport hoping for a fare to Puxi or somewhere further beyond. With us going to Pudong, he must be disappointed because, to them, ours was a relatively short ride from the airport. The fare was $148 but I gave him $200 because he helped us with luggage and the fare was very reasonable. He was also very nice and polite. When I asked him about the name of the song by the female singer on his radio; he said that he didn’t know and if we didn’t like it, he’ll turn the radio off. Xiaobao and I both said that we liked the voice of the singer and asked him if he knew who she was. He said that he didn’t know. He then opened the glove compartment and took out another CD and told us that the both CDs came in the same package. Judging from the label of the CDs, they were apparently made for taxi drivers or people in the transportation industry. It didn’t have names of the songs except the name of the signer: 西單女孩. I would for sure check her out after I went back to the U.S.

From our conversion I knew a little bit of the live of a typical taxi driver:

  • They work every other day. Someone else will drive the taxi the next day.
  • On the day they work, they usually start from 6 in the morning until well after midnight, sometimes to 2 or 3 in the morning. It is common that they work 16 to 18 hours on their working day.
  • For each day they work, they have to pay the taxi company ¥350 to ¥400 depending on the condition of the taxi.
  • Gas runs ¥250 to ¥300 a day. In other words, they have to make at least ¥600 a day just to break even.
  • After insurance and maintenance, they make about ¥150 to as much as ¥300 a day.
  • They are required to join the union at the company they worked for and they are expected to pay the union fee every month. However, the union does not represent the taxi drivers when it comes to bargaining with the management. They do not have the concept of collective bargaining of a union.
  • Many taxi drivers work even when they are sick because they can not afford not to.
  • Red light cameras are very common at major intersections. Each time they got caught by the camera, the fine could cost them ¥150 at a time.
  • It is commonly acceptable to drive no more than 20% above the speed limit in the city. If a driver gets caught driving 70 km/hr in a 40 km/hr zone, the fine can be as high as $300.

I also noticed that taxi drivers were much more polite than just a few years ago. They still drove very fast and rushed to be the first out of the pack of cars at every traffic light. Very often, a three lane street would have four cars driving side by side. Nonetheless, it was also apparent to me that honking has reduced and some taxi driver even stepped out of their front seat to help their customers with luggage. I guessed there has been some improvement despite the significant increase of private cars on the street.

The so-called 城隍廟 “cheng2 huang2 miao4” actually encompasses three tourist spots; all in the same general area: 商城 “yu2 yuan2 shang1 cheng1,” “yu1 yuan1,” (Yue Garden) and 城隍廟, the City God Temple.商城 is the shopping paradise with more than 100 boutique shops selling everything from gold and silver jewelries, diamonds, jade, Chinese medicine, artisan works, designer chopsticks and clothes. There are many Chinese restaurants, a Starbucks and food stands. Many of these buildings are 100 years old. It is probably the most popular tour spot in Shanghai with estimated 37 million tourists every year.

Well, 城隍廟 “cheng2 huang2 miao4” was as busy as ever when we got there. The scenery could only be described as 人山人海 “ren2 sang1 ren2 hai3” or literally “people mountain people sea.” The famous 南翔小籠包 “nan2 xiang2 xiao3 long2 bao1” still had a long line. Many people waited for half hour or longer just to get a chance to buy this famous Shanghainese dish from a small window. Most of them didn’t bother to find a place to sit down and enjoy the delicious 小籠包. They simply moved to the side, opened the Styrofoam box and started eating. If you wanted to sit down, there was another line for a table in the restaurant upstairs. The 大食堂 “da4 shi1 tang3’ has still filled with people. Everywhere we went, we saw mouth-watering food on display. This whole area was like the best 小吃天下 “xiao3 chi1 tian1 xia4” or best collection of food under the sky. It was idea for people like me who enjoying trying different kinds of food.

A sign advertising a specialty of Hong Kong called 撒尿牛肉湯 “sa3 niao4 niu2 rou4 tang1” also attracted our attention but I had absolutely no interest to try it.

While walking around the shopping center, I saw this beautiful painting on a column of a building depicting a 臉譜 “lian3 pu3” of a 平劇 “ping1 ju4,” or Chinese Opera, character. Unfortunately I didn’t know who the character was and what was the name of the 平劇.

Since we had a huge breakfast at the hotel, we decided to tour Yu Garden 豫园 “yu2 yuan2” and City God Temple 城隍廟first before lunch.

This was the third time I toured 豫园 “yu2 yuan2” and I still enjoyed it. Since Xiaobao came here when he was very little, he had no recollection of the place. We took time to walk him around and saw almost every part of the garden. However, Xiaobao considered this place artificial and fake because almost everything in the garden was man-made. I told him to let his imagination rise above the fake decoration and enjoy the scenery as much as he could.

Coming out of 豫园, Xiaobao was attracted to this jelly-like toy which you can throw against a flat surface. The flattened toy would slowly regain it original shape. The toy cost ¥5 and was kind of fun to watch it moved.

上海城隍廟 or Shanghai City God Temple is a Daoism temple popular with people who came here to pray. The smell of incense permeated through out the entire temple. In addition to the city god, there were statues of God of wealth, Guan Yin, and others.

We also bought some incenses and followed other to offer our prayers too. In the main building of the temple, there was a Daoism ceremony completed with video documentation. We didn’t know what was the chanting about but the ceremony lasted at least 20 minutes and by the time we left 城隍廟, the video tapping was still in progress.

We left the城隍廟 and walked directly to 南翔饅頭店 to try its famous 小籠包.

南翔饅頭店 “nan2 xiang2 man2 tou2 dian4” is the name of the restaurant which specialized in the famous 上海小籠包.The line stretched out to the bottom of the stairs but as you get closer to the restaurant entrance, we could sit down which made the wait a bit easier. While sitting there, I was told that minimum charge for sitting in the restaurant was ¥60 per person. If I was willing to pay ¥150 per person, I could get the VIP treatment and be seated immediately. Well, we waited for 25 minutes or so and got the non-VIP treatment. We ordered a couple of side dishes and two kinds of 小籠包 with some drinks to meet the ¥60/person requirement. The 小籠包 was very good and was filled with delicious soup.

After our late lunch, we decided to go back to the hotel. The sky was getting dark and it became much colder. We stood in line of about 15 to 20 people at a taxi stop waiting for a taxi. Many taxi drove by but none was available. We waited and waited. Five minutes passed. Then ten minutes passed. Several taxies came by but we were still three or four parties behind. A private car drove up. The drive asked people where they wanted to go and yelled out the price back to them. No one took his offer. He asked us and we told him where we liked to go. He offered ¥50. We didn’t like it. He then drove around and came back to us again. We later agreed on ¥40 which was about ¥10 more than what we paid when we came here this morning. Our driver told us that police department sometimes looked the other way regarding this type of illegal activity. Our driver told us that most people didn’t use them because they charged more than what taxi would charge. It seemed to me this guy was making good money hauling people around and he definitely knew where to go and what to ask. Why not, the money was tax free and he’d have enough time to go home for dinner after a trip here and another trip there. A couple of hundred RMB was more than enough to pay for insurance and gas.

After a 3-hour nap, we walked to a big shopping mall 5 minutes away called 正大廣場 “zheng4 da4 guang3 chang3.” At a kiosk in the basement we bought a SIM card for an unlocked Samsung cellphone I took with me from the U.S. SIM card cost anywhere from ¥118 to ¥200 depending on the number. Certain phone numbers such as the ones with many 8’s would fetch a higher price because they are preferred by many Chinese customers. We asked for the cheapest SIM card which included ¥50 calling credit. The whole process was much faster than I had originally thought. I guessed cellphones have become so much more popular and there apparently had a great demand of this type of service.

We have been to 正大廣場 last year and liked the mall very much because it had so much to offer. We also knew the largest shopping center in Shanghai had many restaurants to choose from. A restaurant called 真功夫 even used the famous Bruce lee as its logo. Oddly enough the restaurant specialized in steaming dishes which it claimed was the preferred cooking method to retain the nutrition and original taste of its ingredients.

For dinner, we chose 阿一天下 on the fifth floor. 阿一天下 originally started in Hong Kong 35 years ago. The restaurant is famous for its abalone and seafood at very reasonable prices. It has more than 20 franchisee stores all over Southeast Asia. I have heard of the name but didn’t have a chance to try its food. The 正大廣場 store opened about 9 months ago and I was lucky to find it.

We ordered:

  • Shark fin, fresh ginseng, soft bamboo shoot in chicken broth.
  • Sliced Abalone soup
  • Abalone in Golden Broth
  • Abalone and fish Casserole in mushroom sauce
  • House Abalone with Rice, and
  • Roast pork and Abalone with Rice.

All three soups were very tasty with good ingredients and delicious broth. The three rice dishes were ordinary, a couple of them had too much sauce and their presentations weren’t very appetizing to me. With that said, their abalones were definitely above average: tender yet slightly chewy on the inside with flavorful taste. Unfortunately both Xiaobao and Maria didn’t like them and we had to leave them behind because I couldn’t finish them all.

After the dinner, we walked to 滨江大道 “bing1 jiang1 da4 dao4” which was only 5 minutes away on foot. I used to have very fond memory of this stretch of the river bank on the other side of The Bund. Tonight, the air was cool and damp, the street was empty, the young performer was no where to see, the street lights were dim and all the buildings at The Bund across the Huangpu River was dark. Only the neon lights of the cafés and restaurants on 滨江大道 were still shinning as if they wanted to tell the passer-bys that they were still open for business. We chose Red Dot café and ordered lattes and hazelnut cappuccino. We sipped our drinks, counted barges and colorful tourist boats passing by in front of us and told Xiaobao what a beautiful light show it would be had lights were on the buildings at The Bund. We later found out that the government had asked the buildings to turn their lights off at 10 PM in order to save energy. Well, I for one was disappointed but understood government’s position.

The time was late. The air got even chillier outside. The warmth inside the café and the hot drinks temporarily kept us warm and comfortable. We talked about Xiaobao’s decision to move to Taiwan after quitting his 2-year job in San Francisco. We talked about his life in Taipei during the past 3 months and what he intended to do with his life. I hoped our conversation was useful but I sensed that he still has some doubt about what the next step would be. Well, we still have time because we’ll be with each other for the next 7 days.

It was about time to go back to hotel because the café was about to close for the day. It was dark outside and we’d to deal with the nippy weather again. At least the weather is good for a good night sleep even in a place that’s 8,000 miles away from our home near D. C.

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