Sunday, December 6, 2009

Adventures in Shanghai

The trip to Shanghai began with the process of purchasing bus passes. We'd been told that we could catch a shuttle to the Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai, which picked up passengers once an hour from our hotel lobby in Kunshan. I stopped by the desk early in the morning to determine the time of departure and duration of the bus ride, but I couldn't get an answer (either lost in translation or a lack of knowledge). After breakfast my travel-companion (DC) and I stopped back by the front desk and were able to secure one-way tickets for two.

We left for Shanghai at 10:40a.m. During the hour-plus ride we were able to watch a fascinating extended commercial for baroque flooring, which looped continuously. I guess it was effective because I am now filled with a desire to replace our flooring when I get home. The ride was otherwise uneventful. When we arrived at the airport we were able to catch a cab to the Bund Shiliupu Clothing Material Market. I'd brought my tourist map from my last visit to Shanghai, which helped tremendously. I was able to point on the map for the cab driver and he took us straight to our desired location.

We planned to meet a 3rd co-worker who had opted to spend the weekend in Shanghai. I'd been in communication with her throughout the morning and I alerted her that we'd soon be arriving at the Fabric Market, which was close to her hotel. She set out to join us. DC and I had just finished touring all 4 floors of the market when she called to let us know she was there. We agreed to wait by the escalators for her to join us. She called to let us know she was at the top of the escalators. Could there be two escalators? We gave her the shop number of the stall we were standing by. She soon called to tell us she was at that stall. No she wasn't.

We soon determined that she's not at the same fabric market. She gave us the street address for the market and we compared it to our location. Sure enough, she was not where we were. Doh!

We could have caught a cab to get to the other market, but I'm all about adventure. With our map as reference it didn't look too far to walk so we set out on foot. She told us she was at the intersection of Lujiabang Rd and Xizang Rd. When we got to that intersection we determined she was not at that intersection. We finally determined we needed to double-back (we turned right when we needed to turn left. I'm still not sure why she thought she was at Xizang road – she was actually at Zhongshan Rd). We made our way to the Shanghai South Bund Soft Spinning Material Market after walking about 3 miles. Literally. I just looked it up on Google maps.

By now it was well past lunch time so we decided to find something to eat before we dove into the fabric market. Since 1/3 of our party is vegetarian our dining options were limited. We spotted a coffee shop which looked acceptable and made our way across and down the street. I should mention that crossing the street in this part of Shanghai is a case of taking your life into your own hands: pedestrian-beware. We entered the building only to find ourselves in yet another fabric market. This place drips with fabric markets. Who knew? The coffee shop took up most of the 3rd floor of the building.

At lunch I was able to exercise my mandarin skills for the first time this trip. The wait-staff spoke very little English. I made use of my handy English/Mandarin dictionary as well as my existing grasp of the language. We successfully ordered drinks. I was able to let the waitress know we wanted our drinks immediately while we pondered the menu. I was eager for my mango slushy to curb my appetite. The menu had everything listed in Mandarin and English, but it was still quite an adventure to get our meals ordered. Everyone got what they ordered (I had duck) and the meals were delicious.

With our bellies full we went to the fabric market and found the stall of the seamstress who made the shirts I bought on my last trip. I had already decided I would treat myself to 5 shirts. I don't regret that I ordered 8 instead. It was very crowded and busy in the market. There are many Europeans who live in Shanghai and this is clearly a favored shop. It's fun to listen to all of the accents. I refrained from jumping into a conversation with a French woman. One of my companions majored in Japanese and she had the opportunity to bridge the communication gap between a Japanese customer and the Chinese seamstress. It is also worth noting that personal space is not a familiar concept to most of the locals. Pushing you gently with full-body contact is their way of saying "Excuse me, you're in my way."

The process of ordering shirts includes picking out styles, colors and making desired modifications (such as "¾ sleeves instead of long" or "full-length but flared"), then getting measured, then haggling over the price. The seamstress and I were both pleased by the end of the deal so I'm hoping that means we struck a fair bargain. For an extra $3 the shirts will be delivered to my hotel in Kunshan, thus saving me another round trip to Shanghai. As much as I might enjoy such an adventure I doubt I'll have time.

With our mission accomplished (we'd each made purchases) we split back up to return to our respective hotels. DC and I caught a cab back to the Hongqiao Airport. We made our way to the shuttle station and bought tickets back to Kunshan. Again, I was able to practice my Mandarin, both spoken and written. We'd just missed the 5:30 shuttle back to Kunshan so we had an hour to kill until the next bus. We hung out at the Airport McDonald's drinking "milk tea".

We got back to the bus station with 10 minutes to spare. I was able to recognize the characters for Kunshan ("昆山") on the front of the bus, and when I double-confirmed with the driver he tried to tell me the bus was full. I produced our pre-paid ticket and he let us on; we claimed the last 2 available seats on the bus.

Recognizing/Identifying the name of the city I'm staying in is the type of information I consider very important when traveling internationally. That, and how to ask for directions to the restroom ("WC zai nahr?"). Oh, and how to order beer and wine. Anything else?

1 comment: said...

Exciting! It makes me miss China a little bit.

Another important phrase, "Duo shao qian"

and then after their response,
"Tai gui le"