Saturday, May 10, 2008

An American in Shanghai

I was afforded the opportunity to travel to Shanghai on business and decided to go on the weekend so that I had one day to check out the sights.  I arrived late Saturday night and had a tour booked the following morning.

Woke up, looked out the window and . . . RAIN!  :(  Oh well, I had an umbrella with me and decided to make the most of it. Met my tour guide, Katherine, got in a car, and we were off!

The Americanization of Shanghai (yeah, that's a Starbucks in the background)

My first stop was Starbucks -- I was sooooo happy to see a Starbucks and practically ran to order my Caramel Macchiato (non-fat, one pump of vanilla). After a few rounds of "lost in translation" I think I got through to the barista. I was ready to sip the goodness of Starbucks, took a gulp, and . . . BLECCH! I don't know what it was, but that was the worst Caramel Macchiato I have ever had -- it must've been the espresso. I couldn't even finish it. The ironic thing was that they got the order right, but the coffee was just bad. So, I learned the hard way, early on, that Starbucks in mainland China is unlike any Starbucks anywhere else on the planet (well, I haven't tried them in Africa yet, but maybe Julie can pipe in when she returns from her vacation there).

From there, went to explore the Yuyuan (Yu) Garden, which dates back to the 1500s! Legend has it that a government officer built the garden for his parents so that they had a place to enjoy their old age (yes, mom, I'm working on doing something similar for you and the father). The gardens are beautiful and pretty cool -- the history is preserved and there's also a lot of restoration taking place.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the Garden

From the Garden, we explored some art galleries and then found a vegetarian restaurant for lunch (it is supposedly the best vegetarian restaurant in all of Shanghai). The menu had some stuff on there that I wasn't too sure about, but the food was good, even if I had no clue as to what I was eating.

They said these were mushrooms, but they looked more like fried worms to us

After lunch, we went to check out the Jade Buddha temple. It was pretty cool and there were a couple of Buddhas made from pure Jade -- very interesting. Also, lots of pictures of the Dalai Lama on the walls (the one of him and Bill Clinton was very prominent). We wound up going to the Buddha Tea Room and sampled lots of teas. They have tea for everything that you can think of, and I got some tea to energize me and also clean the toxins from my body (we'll see how that goes - ha ha!)

A lesson in tea

We visited a few other places, including the Bund (walkway along the river) and silk factory. Then it was time to get in a workout at the hotel gym and get some sleep. 

I got to work the next morning and met up with my new friend and colleague, Grace. Grace was an awesome hostess. Not only did she make time to take me to lunch, but we also squeezed in some sightseeing and shopping near our office.

Me and Grace -- you may be able to tell how tired we were (it was a very BUSY week at work)!

We also had some Chinese sushi, which is unlike any sushi I have ever had anywhere! I really couldn't find any food that was to my liking in Shanghai, so I didn't eat much -- which was good because I needed to lose a few pounds from what I have gained in Hong Kong. I'm just a little nervous about what I am going to eat in Beijing in the days leading up to the marathon!

Me in front of a cool Shanghai building

Learnings from Shanghai:
  • The cars and traffic lanes are just as they are in the States -- not like Hong Kong and the UK. Left side is the right side!
  • There are absolutely NO rules of the road. No one stays in their lane -- they just drive where they want, when they want.
  • Lots of bicycles and motorcycles and hybrids of both -- all sharing the road with cars, buses and taxis.
  • Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way at all. I almost got knocked over by a motorcycle on my first day (Lawrence from work told me to never make eye contact with the drivers -- cause once you do, they know you've seen  them and you have then lost any right of way that you may have had)!
  • Men like to spit in public.
  • A smile goes a long way, especially during those "lost in translation" moments.

Me in front of another cool Shanghai building

In all, I enjoyed my trip to Shanghai and have learned a lot more about Chinese culture. In addition, I was very happy to spend some time with Grace and get to know her better.

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