Wowed by Multicultural Shanghai

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Roll Out!

It’s D-Day and it’s finally time for CWB to get back out on the road again. Sure, living in China does technically make me an Aussie on the Road, but it just doesn’t feel right unless I’ve got my pack over my shoulders, a song in my heart, and a fistful of tickets and foreign currency on hand.

I woke on Friday morning nursing a tequila hangover and wishing I’d opted for more than four hours of sleep. Still, I battled through my sole class of the day and rushed to complete my packing, return old apartment keys, update my replacement on what pages she’d need to teach, and purchase phone credit before my 1pm train to Shanghai.

To say I cut it fine is an understatement. It was a 35 (90 degree) day in Nanjing and it was a very sweaty Aussie who slumped into his seat on the Shanghai bound express with no more than sixty seconds to spare. I’d barely settled into my seat and opened my Kindle when the train lurched into motion and embarked on its ninety minute journey to China’s largest city.

The ride was comfortable and it allowed me to soak in a bit more of China’s beauty. Sure, the built up urban sprawl isn’t exactly eye candy, but the quiet farmland between cities made for some quite beautiful scenery. And with Jaime Lannister, Arya Stark, and Jon Snow for company – I was soon rolling into Shanghai Railway Station.

34 degree heat greeted me as I arrived and I had to battle my way through a flock of scam-hungry taxi drivers who, upon seeing a backpack, immediately see a mark.

“100 RMB!” they informed me when I showed them my destination. At less than 10km away, I declined their offers and walked a few blocks to get away from Shanghai’s more criminal element.

Soon enough I was relaxing in an air conditioned cab and – 40RMB later – I sprawled myself out in a park and decided that if I was going to die in the heat – I’d do it with grass under my head and my pack blessedly absent from my back.

That’s how my couch-surfing host, Slavica, would find me.

Bucket List Item #230 – Couchsurf

Less than twelve hours into my first big trip of 2012 and I’d already checked off a new bucket list item. While I’ve hosted three couch-surfers already now, my visit to Shanghai would be my first time surfing on a stranger’s couch and I really did luck out. Serbian/French Slavica and Taiwanese/Brazilian Michelle were absolutely brilliant hosts.

After dropping my things off, Slavica quickly whisked me away to her local watering hole – Muya. Named for its owner, a buxom local woman who can usually be seen hanging around the bar – Muya boasts a pretty good happy hour of half price beers and cocktails. A few Kirin were all it took to wash away any awkwardness before Slavica and I would be joined by her room-mate.

Interested in cheap beer in a chill atmosphere? Muya is at 477 Dingxi Lu near Xinhua Lu. Half price happy hour (15RMB for a Kirin or Carlsberg) runs between 5 and 7pm.

Yunnan Cuisine and Boutique Beer

The three of us then made tracks for the utterly fantastic Southern Barbarian. The food alone, with a focus on exotic Yunnan cuisine, would have been worth the visit but it didn’t stop there. The restaurant boasts a mouth-watering three page menu of boutique beers including Rogue Brewery, the fruity treats from Lindemans, a variety of American and Australian beers, and a huge crop of Belgian and German offerings as well.

We were soon joined by Austrian Stefanie and a pair of Chinese backpackers and it was time to order. Everything from deep fried honey bees, lotus root, mashed potato, eggplant, noodle rich soups, and various vegetarian dishes soon adorned our table as we greedily tore into the fare on offer.

My nomination – the deep fried honey bees and grasshoppers – proved particularly popular at a table of adventurous travel types. Got to love that!

Fried honeybees and grasshoppers
A bountiful selection of fried insects courtesy of Yunnan province, China
Eating a bee
Brace for consumption!
Eating a grasshopper
Eating my second grasshopper. The first was at the Arizona State Fair.
Delicious lotus root
See? We ate food that didn’t crawl too!

I progressed from a Rogue Dead Guy to a North by Northwest Hefeweizen to a mild blueberry beer before the night was through. I hadn’t expected to like Yunnan cuisine as much as I did, but there was a lot to like about the spicy, South East Asian influenced food. I’d definitely go back to Southern Barbarian in a heart-beat.

There was some talk of night clubbing from the younger members of our party, but eye-lids were heavy and bellies were full. It was time for bed.

Jade Buddha Temple

Eager to soak in a little bit of culture while in Shanghai, I’d agreed to wake up at 7am on my final day in China to go exploring with the chirpy Austrian student, Stefanie. After a couch-surfing host prepared breakfast of toast, tea, and fresh fruit – it was off to the Temple of the Jade Buddha care of a bus and a few stops on the Metro line.

I’ve seldom willingly availed myself of Asian public transport, but found Shanghai’s network to be very easy to use. The buses are clean and air conditioned and the trains, while crowded, are quick and comfortable. Five RMB got me all the way there and then it was time for some culture.

Jade Buddha Temple (or Yufo Temple) wasn’t anything so remarkable. 30 RMB got us inside and the old adage of ‘if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all certainly held true. There were some pretty shots and no shortage of serenity, but there’s only so many representations of Buddha you can see before you feel like an old hand.

Birds bathing at the Jade Buddha Temple
Birds playing in the bird bath outside of the Jade Buddha Temple
Buddha statues at Jade Buddha Temple
Some of the many Buddhas on display at Jade Buddha Temple
Detail on a piece of Buddhist art
Loved this piece of art

The crowds on hand certainly didn’t help, but the trip was worth it for the moments of utter calm when standing before the eponymous Jade Buddha with incense heavy in the air and calming music drifting across the room. I only wish they’d let us take photos of the Jade Buddha.

Chinese people burn incense
Local families out burning incense in tribute
Hungry koi
These fish will haunt my dreams

With Stefanie due elsewhere by 11, it was time for us to part ways and for me to head back to my temporary home to collect me things. A delicious sandwich from City Shop, an hour spent exchanging currency at no extra cost with the Bank of China, and then it was into a cab and saying my farewells.

My journey was less than 24 hours old and I’d already managed to:

  • Drink three beers from around the world
  • Eat deep fried honey bees and grasshoppers
  • Make new friends from France, Brazil , and Austria
  • Be horrified by terrifying koi fish
  • Take in a little temple action

Not a bad start given my official itinerary wasn’t due to start for another 24 hours or so.

Your Shanghai Tips

I recently wrote a post comparing Beijing and Shanghai that saw Beijing as runaway winner, but between proximity and a positive first experience – I’m keen to visit Shanghai again after my US trip is done.

What are your Shanghai tips?

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