Day 1 in Old Shanghai: a first class bullet train ride to an era long gone

I booked myself a first class ticket on the bullet train from Hangzhou to Shanghai. Whatever expectations I had to travel in class and luxury were shattered within the first five minutes. There was some guy in the carriage watching a soap opera sans earphones… (Believe it or not this is a regular occurrence in this part of the world). AND the guy next to me was talking so loudly on the phone that you’d think the person on the other end was hearing-impaired. 

I will not be spending money on first class again. I’ll keep my hard earned yuan, thank you.

The Sacrilege

After arriving at Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, I committed the sacrilege of all sacrileges… I went to Burger King and ordered a meal. Yep. Well – I currently don’t have immediate access to international franchises on a daily basis, so when I see a little something I’m craving, I JUMP. 

I ordered the chicken burger meal, which came with chicken wings for some strange reason… and also the patty that came with the burger was actually spicy.

Oh dear… 

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And it doesn’t end there. To make matters worse, I even bought a lousy Starbucks Coffee today. It costed me 37 yuan (US$5.30). 

GUILTY AS CHARGED. 

The Hotel 

And then I got on the subway to go to my hotel. I bought a 3 day subway pass which costed me 45 yuan (US$6.50). And then I was on my way. I arrive at my hotel around an hour later. The room is cute and cosy. I didn’t splash out on anything too fancy cause I’m only here for a couple of nights and don’t intend on spending it in bed. After a quick 20 minute nap, I was on my way… yet again. 

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Old Shanghai 

I booked myself a DiDi and made my way to Old Shanghai: an old business street that has a plethora of both hidden and outdoor eateries, food stands, random paintings, tourist attractions, designer clothes shops and souvenir shops. The whole vibe there was just amazing. It was a preserved page out of China’s history book. The area was lively and exuberant without being crowded and annoying.

I must say, I was pretty impressed. 

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City God Temple 

After that, I went to the City God Temple. Historically, cities in China had a temple devoted to an immortal or god as the spirit or guard of the city. And Jinshan is Old Shanghai’s.

You have to pay 10 yuan (US$1.50) to get in – much to the surprise of my friend who said she’s never paid to go into a temple in China before. I can’t honesty say I learnt anything about Taoism from my visit there, but it was a beautiful temple nevertheless. I saw the God of War, marriage, literature, water, wind, air, so on and so forth.

It was hard for me to connect these Taoist religious practices and beliefs to modern China – but perhaps someday I’ll find the link.

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Yuyuan Garden 

Next up, it was Yuyuan Garden (Yu Garden?). After living in Japan for so many years, I get a bit cranky if I don’t get my weekly dose of nature to rejuvenate. Chinese gardens have a very different aesthetic to Japanese gardens, though. In Japan, I always got the sense that the Japanese work alongside nature and manicure it. In China, I feel like the Chinese impose a structure and aesthetic that wasn’t there before.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re both equally beautiful. 

In Japan, everything old is so well-maintained that you’d think it was made yesterday. The past and present continue on the same narrative. In China, everything old is ageing slowly and steadily. You can see the signs of decay – the paint that’s fading, the shiny bits that have lost their grandeur, and of course, the history that no longer exists in the present. 

Yuyuan Garden is a must for garden lovers. The weeping willow add that tinge of melancholy. The bamboo leaves that gently meander with the wind. In Japan, the beauty of nature was in the elegance of its simplicity. In China, it’s pure poetry. The reds, the greens, the yellows, the golds, the whole sensory experience of it all.

It’s just pure poetry. 

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Street Food and a Teahouse

After all that walking I was feeling kind of tired and peckish, so I headed off to get a snack. I ordered this flatbread with pickled vegetables that’s cooked in an oven that looks like a tandoor. I’ve seen these all over Zhejiang Province and I can’t remember what it’s called for the life of me… I did ask my friend today, but then I forgot the name shortly after…

Hmm… about that…

Well, whatever it’s called – it’s super delicious. Sour-ish, salt-ish, and slightly tangy. I’m a fan. It’s also always freshly made and hot so there you go.

Mmm… mmm… mmm…

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To finish the day, we went to a teahouse to unwind. It was one of those quaint little places that really does make you feel like you’ve been transported back into time. I’m not a big fan of black or green teas, so I settled on chrysanthemum tea. I’ve been drinking it since I was a kid and I love love love it. I just ordered a couple of tins of it from Baopals

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I’m old enough and wise enough to know that this is not the ‘real Shanghai’ (whatever that is) – but old Shanghai maintains that old world charm without being kitsch. We need to remember the past without re-living it. Anyways, tomorrow’ll be another day with another new adventure.

Till next time, goodnight.