A Travellerspoint blog


Better City, Better Life!*

Shanghai, China

semi-overcast 70 °F
View Round the World on nhilde's travel map.

We're a few days late in getting this posted -- primarily because we've succumbed to total relaxation here in Bali. We just got back from hour-long massages (US$15 each) and are lounging in our beautifully-decorated hotel room overlooking a rice paddy field, listening to crickets and the running water of the canals. But more on that in the next post...

  • **

Although it was far from relaxing, Jake and I had a great time in Shanghai. The city is very modern and international - it reminded us of Hong Kong and Singapore more so than Beijing - and with the massive construction projects underway in preparation for the 2010 World Expo (which is to be held in Shanghai), even more amazing architecture and innovative city planning schemes are yet to come.

We got a great overview of the city and its continued development at the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, a museum we visited on our first day in the city. The museum had several impressive scale models of Shanghai, but the one shown below really blew us away.

The photo is looking down on the model from the floor above. The model's square footage was larger than than our apartment in San Francisco!

The museum also had some great photos of notable buildings and developments around the city. My favorite was Thames Town, a residential complex modeled after an English manor, complete with a huge grounds decorated with numerous life-size statues of notable Englishmen (Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Harry Potter...).

We didn't get a chance to visit Thames Town, but we did make it over to Yu Gardens, a picturesque Ming dynasty garden in the Old Town area of Shanghai:


The area surrounding the gardens was also fun to wander around, although it was almost as crowded as the Summer Palace (see our Beijing post)!


Apart from cultural attractions, we spent a considerable amount of time (window) shopping, including at the world's FIRST Barbie flagship store! Jake was kind enough to listen to me reminisce about my own Barbie collection, and even said we could consider allowing our future daughter have a Barbie birthday party like this one:


Although he said no to the idea of building a staircase like this one in our future home:

A stairwell of Barbies...what a sight!

We also made a quick stop at Taikang Road, a complex of little alleyways with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.


And we made several trips to XinTianDi, an upscale shopping complex that looks like it's straight out of Southern California. It even had a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. (Sorry, we didn't take any photos.)

The most impressive part of Shanghai is the skyline of Pudong, the business district of the city. We had a great view of it from our hotel room, and on our last day we ventured across the river for a closer look. Unfortunately, it started raining as soon as we arrived, but we managed to get a little bit of a tour in the taxi ride back.

View of two of the tallest buildings in Pudong, taken from our taxi.

View of Pudong at night, from our hotel room.

We ended our time in Shanghai with a quick visit with some of Jake's former co-workers (from Gap San Francisco) who are now living in Shanghai. Mike and Sandy have been ex-pats in Shanghai for a few years now, and it was great to hear their stories about living and working in China, especially since it's something we'd like to do someday. We also got a chance to visit the clothing store they just opened. It was amazing to hear that they had gone from concept to completion in about six weeks!

That's about it for Shanghai...stay tuned for Jake's post on our sublime time in Bali!

  • **
  • The title of this post was inspired by the motto for the 2010 World Expo, "Better city, better life". The World Expo is a big deal for Shanghai. There are posters everywhere, and even a few statues of the Expo's mascot:


This Gumby-like little guy is in the shape of the Chinese character for "people" (pronounced "ren" in Chinese).

Posted by nhilde 07:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

Lovely Lijiang

And other musings on China

rain 65 °F
View Round the World on nhilde's travel map.


Jake and I have been in China for about a week now, and we are still loving it - although we're getting a little tired of Chinese food! We've spent the past few days in Lijiang, a town located in the Yunnan province in the South West, near Tibet. The old town of Lijiang is incredibly charming, replete with canals, narrow cobbled lanes, traditional Chinese architecture and...costumed local people (the Naxi) singing and dancing all day long. Okay, so it's basically a cultural theme park, catering entirely to tourists (mostly Chinese, although we've spotted a few Westerners here and there), but it works. We've had a great time here and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in catching a glimpse of life in China away from the major cities (and impervious to kitschy souvenir shops and massive crowds of Chinese tourists).

The main attraction in Lijiang is the old city itself. When its not jam-packed with tour groups, it is a beautiful and peaceful town, and we had a great time wandering around and taking it all in. The nearby Black Dragon Pool park was also a delight, with scenic views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and some beautiful stone bridges arching over the lake.
Lijiang during the day

Me and Jake at Black Dragon Pool

Today, we ventured outside of the city and visited the mountain itself, taking the cable car up to Spruce Meadow. Our guide book had said that the meadow provides stunning views of the Jade Dragon glacier, but we couldn't see anything (either due to the clouds our mis-information in Lonely Planet, we're not sure!). The hike around the meadow was still very pretty, if a little bit overpriced.

After Spruce Meadow, we made a brief stop at the Jade Peak Monastery - which boasts the amazing camellia tree pictured below. The best part of the monastery was that it was completely empty, a first for us given that most sights are overflowing with Chinese tourists!

Overall, our time in Lijiang has been wonderful. For me, the highlights have been our beautiful hotel, the Zen Garden; walking around the city in the morning before the busloads of tour groups arrive; and our dinner the first night at the Sakura Cafe on Bar Street. We feasted on delicious Korean food amidst disco lights while listening to American rap music - think Eminem and Dr Dre - that got progressively louder as the night wore on (we think that Sakura Cafe and the restaurant across the canal were battling for who could be the loudest).
Chillin' out at the Sakura Cafe (this photo is for you, D!)

  • **

A few other random thoughts on China:

We are celebrities here!

Well, not really, but a surprisingly large number of Chinese people have asked to take pictures with us. We also get a lot of "Hellos" from passersby, who seem to be fascinated by the fact of seeing Westerners in the flesh. It's a little weird - certainly these people have seen Westerners before, right? - but also sort of funny. I particularly like how they tend to link arms with us or put their arms around our shoulders in the photos, as if we are old friends. You have to wonder how they explain these photos to their friends back home...

We know a celebrity!

Again, not really, but almost. Jake's friend and former co-worker at Gap, Jason, did some stock photography photos awhile back (which can be used by advertisers for whatever purpose). We've seen his photo used in ads in San Francisco, and always got a kick out of it. When we arrived in China, Jake joked that we should look out for photos of Jason on ads here...and low and behold, we found one in Lijiang of all places! What a small world, huh?
Jason's daughter Lilly was the flower girl in our wedding!

Wo men hui shuo Zhongwen!
(We can speak Chinese!)

We cannot believe how far we've gotten with our Chinese during our time here. We can pick out words on billboards and store signs, we can order food in restaurants, and we can almost understand people when they try to speak to us (as long as they speak slowly and use the vocabulary of a five-year old). We've been pulling out our Chinese language book to review almost every day, and its all coming together quite well. A lot of Chinese people laugh at us when we speak, but at least they understand us, right? :)

Posted by nhilde 05:59 Archived in China Comments (1)

Chengdu Diary

overcast 70 °F

I know its a bit soon after our last update and I'm stealing Nicole's post, but I wanted to share our impressions of Chengdu while it was still fresh in our minds (and while we still had a decent internet connection).
In a nutshell, we've been bowled over by this city of 4.5M. Its not so much the attractions (a bit more on that later), but more the buzz and energy. Walking through the city this Friday afternoon, stores and restaurants were teeming with people. Really a dynamic retail market with both international (there must be a dozen Nike stores in the city) and homegrown brands from low cost to high end - certainly no signs of an economic downturn here. We even came across a packed auto show next to our hotel, where Chinese models probably represented half of the cars on offer (interestingly, according to this week's Newsweek, 3-month Chinese auto sales just surpassed those in the US, some 10 years earlier than forecast). I'm left with the impression that any global brands currently dragging their heels on a China strategy are simply fooling themselves...
Chengdu Shopping
We're sure Mao would've shopped at Cartier if they'd only been in China while he was alive (he's in the right of the frame)

Now on to the activities. The highlight of our time here has, without a doubt, been the Giant Panda Breeding Base outside the city. We spent about two hours there this morning and got to see a whole bunch of the cuddly creatures. They mainly just sit around and eat because bamboo has little nutritional value (they have to eat some 40kg of stems each day just to get their needed caloric intake). Still, it was transfixing to watch them and definitely worth the trip. If we can figure out how to do it, we think we might even need to do a blog poll on Pandas vs. Koalas, but today I think our vote goes to the former. We have a video that we'll share soon, but in the meantime here's a little preview (video is now up below).

We've also taken time to enjoy the Sichuan food that Chengdu is famous for and some of the city's scenic sites. This afternoon we enjoyed a tea in the People's park in the city center and even paid a visit to a unique funhouse located in an abandoned bomb shelter underneath the park - believe us, they might not look like it but the animatronic figures were actually pretty scary.
We're not quite sure what effect they were going for, but I think it worked

Posted by jkirsch 03:51 Archived in China Comments (0)

Great City, Great Wall

Beijing, China

80 °F

We had a whirlwind few days in Beijing, hitting the ground running as soon as we arrived on Monday afternoon after a 17-hour "hop" from San Francisco (I guess we should be getting used to these by now). We enjoyed a walk through the historical center of the capital, circling the Forbidden City and exploring several hutongs (narrow streets and alleys through traditional courtyard residences). Along the way we stopped for a excellent snack of roubing - sort of a giant, flattened, pork-filled dumpling-extraordinaire (we'd spotted the Guo Wei restuarant, but opted for these instead).

On Tuesday, jetlag allowed us an early start and we spent most of the morning at the Temple of Heaven, a sprawling complex south of the Forbidden City where the emperors used to pray for good harvests. The site had been painstakingly restored in advance of the Olympics and was truly remarkable, most of all the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a massive structure supported only by 28 wooden pillars.

For the afternoon, we headed to the Forbidden City on the subway. The former imperial palace is truly massive - covering nearly 180 acres - which probably helps to absorb the massive crowds. Though the entire place is impressive (and would've certainly been a nice place to hole up as emperor), we most enjoyed the leafy gardens at the rear of the palace and the unique museum of imperial clocks (probably because these were furthest from the crowds), featuring timepieces from around the world from the 18th and 19th centuries.
This is just the gate to get to the actual entrance!

We ended the day on a high note at the Yonghe (Lama) Temple, one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in the world that features an 18m tall statue of Buddha carved from a single piece of wood (in case you had any doubt, the certificate from the Guinness folks is below).

Yesterday, we made the requisite trip out to the Great Wall at Mutianyu - a section that had inspired Bill Clinton to proclaim "The Great Wall here is very beautiful, very grand, more beautiful and grander than what I imagined" during his 1998 visit. I think we both felt this captured our feelings and we were inspired enough to make the steep climb up the western end of the section (that's Nicole carefully descending).
Too bad that Nicole left her sunglasses in California

On the way back into town we stopped by the Olympic Village - still buzzing with activity and visitors - before ending at the Summer Palace - an imperial getaway in the northwest of the city for those times when the royals felt too closed in by their city-center palace. This definitely ranked towards the top of our list in Beijing given the scenic setting. The only downside was the huge crowds in the central areas. You could almost sense that out of the 1.3 billion people in China, a not insignificant portion had decided to visit the Summer Palace. At least they were able to stick together with their groups thanks to an ingenious color-coded hat scheme (though they might want to consider using some colors other than red and white).
Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace
White Hats
Red Hats
White-Red Hats
More White Hats
More Red Hats

All-in-all, we had a fantastic time in Beijing and only wish we could've stayed longer (I'm not sure if travel writers and guides who recommend only 2-3 days in the city have actually been to Beijing). I last visited in 1998 (this was Nicole's first time) and the change from then is simply astonishing. The area we stayed in - XiCheng - looked more like Singapore than the Beijing of my memories. Furthermore, everything was new - from the airport to the roads (in better shape than any in the US or UK) to subway trains and lines. Maybe, this is partly a post-Olympic halo, but I don't think so.

Finally, even though Nicole will pick up on our first day in Chengdu in her next post, I thought I'd close by listing the contents of the "emergency kit" in our hotel here.

Johnson & Johnson Tampons
3 Durex Quality Condoms
King Refreshing Drink
Swashes Sanitary Wet Tissues
One-time use underpants (M&F)

By "emergency" I think they must mean some sort of hyperactive sexual escapade, but maybe I'm just reading into things.

For those of you who have read this far, you can also find full Beijing pictures (currently uploading) on MobileMe

Posted by jkirsch 06:57 Archived in China Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]