Friday, March 13, 2009

Day 11 - Yangshuo

I woke up this morning at about 5 am to a terrible storm - thunder, lightening, winds and torrential down pours. I prompty rolled over and went back to sleep hoping that the weather would change and be clear by the time I had to leave around 8 am. I had made arrangements to take a boat down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo. The weather hadn't improved much by the time I headed out, although the thunder and lightening had stopped. Despite the weather, the boat trip was great! The rain and winds seemed to have worked their magic and chased the heavy fog away.

The river winds through some beautiful karst mountains. The scenery was spectacular. Between rain showers I managed to take a few shots as the boat meandered down the river. Photos will describe the scenery better than I can, so here are a few:
We were served a hot lunch and a local beer on the boat before we reached Yangshuo. The lunch wasn't too bad and the beer was pretty good.
I was pretty well drenched by the time I reached Yangshuo but I threw my backpack on and headed off to the hostel - the Bamboo House Inn and Cafe. It's hiden down a little narrow lane off of West Street, a long pedestrian street full of tourist shops and restaurants. The beds were much softer than Guilin, the staff much friendlier and the hot water nice and hot and plentiful!

After settling into the hostel, I headed out with another hostel guest (Jas from Calgary) to explore the streets of Yangshuo. There are lots of little ponds and streams around town and some nice little parks. We tried to climb the little hill right in town to get a view of the surrounding countryside, but because of all the rain we'd had, the trail was closed. So, we wandered around and found a little restaurant for some dinner. We then headed off to a night light show called Impressions Liu Sanjie. It was amazing! Over 600 performers participate in the show and it's all done on the water, with people floating around on rafts. I wasn't clear what the story was about, something about a village girl going off to an arranged marriage in a far off town...after that I'm a bit fuzzy. But the lighting and effects were amazing. The show is actually performed on the Li River and the surrounding karst hills are illuminated at different parts of the show. I was absolutely freezing when we got back to the hostel, but the show was worth it!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Day 6 - Shanghai

Colette and I headed off to Pudong this morning to get the requisite photos of Shanghai from one of the tall towers in the city. There are two completing towers in Pudong built right next to each other: Jinmao (88 stories and 420 m tall) and World Financial Centre (101 stories and 492 m tall and known fondly by the expats here as the Bottle Opener). We decided to head up the Jinmao Tower. The view as quite good despite the ever present haze. The Oriental Pearl (to the right of the photo below) is a TV station I believe and has become a distint icon of the the Shanghai cityscape. On our way to visit the other side of the river, known as the Bund, I stopped to buy some street food (see photo below). Six small crabapples were skewered on a stick and the whole lot is covered by a sweet hard candy. It makes for an interesting contrast between sweet and sour. Colette and I wandered along the Bund with the crowds taking in the river and the old buildings and managed to shove our way to the railing so we could get a shot of us and the Oriental Pearl behind us. We managed to keep our spot for maybe 3 seconds before an old lady shoved us back into the drifting crowds. After a bit more wandering around the Bund area, it was time to take a break, so we popped into the Westen for a cocktail before we headed off to the Shanghai Literary Festival. Colette had booked tickets for us to attend a talk by an English author who writes about Shanghai and also a Chinese black and white silent film which had been subtitled. Both were quite good. The silent film was hilarious! Over dramatic and so much makeup!
After the film, I snapped a couple of shots of Pudong lit up for night from the Bund. Fo dinner, we popped into an Irish expat pub with some friends of Colette's for some steak and Guiness pie and fries. Yum.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Day 4 - Shanghai

We did a ton of wandering around today, despite a late start to the day. Around Christmas time, I had been on the hunt for a set of bamboo knitting needles and was going to buy some online and then realized they were coming from I decided to hold off and wait until I got here. I checked (my online source for everything knitting) to see what other traveling knitters had to say about finding knitting supplies in Shanghai and discovered that there are a number of shops on a street not far from the apartment, Ruijin Lu between Fuxing Zhonglu and Zhoajiabang Lu. We were in luck, finding 4 shops along the street, there may have been more but we didn't walk the entire length. I bought some knitting needles from one of the shops and some other knitting supplies from another shop.

We carried on through the neighbourhood and stopped at a little soup place for lunch.

After lunch we wandered around Tiakang Lu, an arty part of town full of narrow alleys and arty shops where I picked up some interesting artwork, photos and postcards.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Day 3 - Shanghai

Colette had an appointment in the morning, so I headed off on my own with a plan to see Nanjing pedestrian street again, this time during the day, and then head over to the Shanghai Museum. It was trying to rain, so I stopped at a small booth in the underground mall at People's Square metro station to buy a hat from a cute old Chinese lady. It was still early when I got to street level, so many of the watch/handbag sellers hadn't arrived yet, which was nice. I popped into Starbucks to grab a coffee and a requested Shanghai souvenir. Just like in Seoul, there are only a handful of Starbucks that have bothered to translate their signs into the local language, so I had to take a shot of their sign. But Starbucks are everywhere, almost as bad as Vancouver...well not quite. There is definitely a substantial western influence here with McDonalds, Papa John's, Pizza Hut, etc. well represented as well as retail shops like Esprit, Zara, H&M, you name it.
After reaching the end of the long Nanjing Lu pedestrian mall, I headed over the Fuzhou Lu which is a street known for it's paper and stationary shops...which I love! I had promised myself not to buy any stationary while I was here, since I still have so much from my time in Korea...but I couldn't's sooooo cheap!

I didn't make it to the Shanghai Museum as I had planned, I'll have to go another day. Colette's appointment ended early, and she called me to see where we could met and head off to do something else. We decided that it would be a good day to go to the tea market. Colette is a huge tea connoisseur and has been doing a tea of the month since she arrived here, so she definitely knows where to get the good stuff! The market is quite large with hundreds of sellers. The main part of the market is in a large two story building. The street level vendors sell tea and the second floor vendors sell tea pots, canisters, utensils...if you need it for making tea, they've got it. Many of the shops here also display beautiful Pu'er tea done up in their lovely wrappers (photo below). Colette has a great blog post on Pu'er. I'm on the hunt for some to buy and bring home to hang on my wall!

We stopped at a little shop where the girls made us several different kinds of tea. I had a request from a friend at home for some White Tea, so that is the first one we tried. It's lovely tea, very smooth and light. We then tried some Oolong Tea, which was really lovely and fragrant. I bought some of each. We then headed upstairs to check out the tea stuff. I bought several beautiful canisters, a tea scoop and a little clay pot.

Before leaving the market, we stopped into another shop to pick up some tea that Colette wanted to stock up on. I bought some more tea, this one known as Lizihong Cha (red tea). Delicious and fragrant!

We then headed off down the street to grab some lunch at a favourite little noodle shop. The soup was topped with pickled beans, peanuts and small bits of pork and broth was a bit spicy. It was delicious...Yum!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Day 2 - Shanghai

Because work was so busy before I left on my trip, I really didn't have much time to read about the city and plan what I wanted to see, so I've been following Colette's lead on what there is to see and do in this city. The two of us met one of Colette friends and headed off to the Shanghai fabric market. It's super awesome! The main building at the market has three floors, full of cloth of every colour and type imaginable. Wool, cashmere, cotton, silk, you name it. It would be easy to get carried away in a place like this. The people working at the market are apparently masters of making reproductions of completed garments as well as copying designs and making them to size. I brought several things with me to have copied and will pick them up next week.

After finishing up at the fabric market, we wandered around the city for a bit. I'm still getting my bearings, which I imagine will take a day or two. For dinner, Colette took me to a Sichuan restaurant just down from the apartment. It was delicious and spicy. The chicken and peanut dish was my favourite, followed closely by the green beans which had an interesting sesame coating on them. Yum!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Adventures in China

Day 1 - Shanghai arrival

I've finally arrived in Shanghai for my much anticipated holiday to visit my friend Colette and do some sightseeing around Shanghai and some southern areas of China. The landscape here reminds me so much of Korea. It is definitely still early spring here, everything is still very brown. I'm hoping that things will start to green up before I go.

Colette and Corey live in a part of Shanghai known as the French Concession. It has loads of winding streets and narrow lanes and the architecture in this part of the city really has a 1930s European feel. Some of the buildings are really stunning while others are in need of some substantial repairs. This photo, is the little street across from the apartment. It has cute little shops and restaurants on the street level and apartments above.
Many of the homes and buildings here are behind high fences and gates. While you walk down the street, you catch glimpses of life behind the wall, laundry strung up on the trees, people playing badminton... Some of the walls and gates have really great designs...I'll have to see about getting some more photos of the walls, gates and doors in this part of the city.

It was close to dinner time when we got to the apartment, so we headed out to get some dinner at a Japanese style restaurant who's specially is curry ramen. The restaurant was unfortunately out of curry so we had to order something else, but it was quite tasty. Following dinner, we headed off by foot around the city to keep me up late enough so I would adjust to the time difference. We took the metro to People's Square and meandered down Nanjing pedestrian street, admiring the lit up buildings and old architecture along the street. The street is a popular tourist destination, so has its fair share of people trying to sell handbags and watches, which I declined.