To readers…this post isn’t as long as last one but I’ve used bold print again to highlight key words for those wanting to skim read/view without much detail:) Happy travelling!
5 NIGHTS IN SHANGHAI – APRIL 2014 (a previous post on Beijing on my blog too)
CANBERRA (our home town) to SYDNEY…
As usual, we stayed in Sydney overnight at the airport hotel (Rydges) to make the flight to China less exhausting (particularly for me as I find the long haul flights hard with my back issues); however, it was a daytime flight from Sydney to Shanghai (approx 10 hours) so not as tiring as night time flights we find.
DO YOU HATE LONG OVERNIGHT FLIGHTS AS MUCH AS ME?
A slight diversion from Shanghai…When I find myself dreading an overnight flight (coming up again soon), at times I’ve almost told Tony to travel on his own.
I don’t sleep much at all on overnight flights – Tony usually does! I just can’t completely relax…My pain psychologist and I think that my mild anxiety (once severe with a panic attack…felt like a heart attack) is related to an awful hospital (ICU) experience when I was 13 (first scoliosis surgery in 1969).
An overnight flight triggers memories of claustrophobia/pain and just the general weirdness of an aircraft cabin at night (certain similarities with an ICU ward). Prior to my recent surgeries (2017), discomfort (sometimes pain) of sitting (even when we upgraded to business class sometimes) triggered more anxiety too.
In short…I wish I’d consulted a Psychologist decades ago!…the one I see is brilliant (Randolph Sparks…lectures at ANU too) and I generally travel ok now. I just accept that I don’t sleep much and generally catch up on sleep during our Asia stopovers. Those dumplings etc (recipes at end) + exhaustion are a good recipe for sleep!
Really so important to seek ongoing help for any big issues in life isn’t it (even if initially it seems so costly), when you consider the long term emotional and financial cost of not doing so…relationship breakdowns etc. I found my GP so helpful in finding the right services etc.
BACK TO THIS TRIP…
RYDGES AIRPORT HOTEL – SYDNEY:
Best thing about this hotel is the location…minutes walk from International Terminal. We usually take the short flight from Canberra (about 40 min) the night before, but on this occasion we arrived by bus (Murray’s Coaches) from CBR CBD – SYD ( 3 hours – direct to airport...so quite convenient). The hotel often has special deals eg if you have a Cinebuzz membership (Great Union + was free!) and on this occasion included a full buffet breakfast when using this.
SYDNEY – SHANGHAI…Flight approximately 10 hours…we arrived in light rain (photo below) and cool temperatures (not cold)…25 April 2014; the time difference to home being only 2 hours made the stopover on trip to Europe (Rome) a good way to gradually adjust to new time zones. It was a quick process getting through Chinese immigration at the airport, and we organised a driver from the hotel to pick us up…it was an evening arrival.
Feeling tired (+ initially finding an ATM with English tricky…sorted money next day) so we just went to the Grand Central hotel restaurant for a light evening meal…a variety of Chinese dumplings 🥟 (recipes below soon from Sydney chef, Kylie Kwong).
The restaurant there was reasonably priced + food was lovely and reasonably priced; all very pleasant except for some loud/rude tourists (fortunately not Australians…although we’ve seen those too!) abusing the lovely staff near us…something about their bill being calculated in Chinese currency (“funny money” he called it!!) not US $s!…(perhaps this was their 1st trip out of their own bubble??)…so arrogant and racist. We were shocked that ignorant behaviour like that still existed in 2014, but maybe we were being naive by expecting better…especially when you consider what’s happening in some parts of the world where basic human decency is forsaken so readily. Enough of that…
SHANGHAI – CITY OF RICH AND POOR (+ MORE RECENT RISE OF THE MIDDLE)…to varying degrees of course – 2 photos below highlight the differences we saw on our many walks…
A Grand Art Deco hotel (musicians on top balcony)…photo above
This grand hotel, and many others, on the river front in Central Shanghai. Even though we dressed appropriately for a hotel visit (well sort of!), we didn’t stay long (just checked out the price of the High Tea near this lobby area…very high!); looked at the women’s fashions (both Chinese and Westerners there); listened to the classical music for a short while and then moved on…
We then spent most of the morning strolling along The Bund, the historic waterfront area in central Shanghai – it was formerly the Shanghai International settlement.It emerged in 1863 with a merger of British and American enclaves. The settlements were established after the defeat of the Qing army in the First Opium War (more summarised information from our visit to Shanghai History Museum below).
Above 2 photos show the contrast between our morning and afternoon walks through Shanghai; like many places in the world, the rich/poor divide continues to grow, as well as an increase of middle income earners in more recent times.
This was evident from so many local Chinese tourist buses (more on that below). In the local food markets we noticed varying moods (like most places too)…the following images reflect that somewhat + show how local business people also frequent this area around lunchtime…
With our hunger growing from the delicious aromas of the food in the last photo (this street food looked very appealing!), we walked onto the seafood markets…
Even though we were hungry by this stage, all the small restaurants along here only had Chinese menus (with no photos that could have help…perhaps different now 2019 and more Chinese speaking English?). Takeaway seemed the popular thing to do with the locals on their lunch break.
So we continued to look for a restaurant or similar where we could have a seat. In places we’re unfamiliar with, we only go to restaurants and cafes that have lots of people there (preferably locals, so turnover of food is good) and by that early time of the day (about noon), not many people were in the restaurants…
So we headed back to the street with more vegetarian style street food (my idea as I’m not a big carnivore) – sometimes safer in unfamiliar places (unless we get a valued recommendation eg. Hotel or friend’s) to go with very hot/well cooked vegetarian street food dishes we’ve found.
We eventually arrived in an area more popular with business people (mostly Chinese men) where there was an English menu too (if I recall or the person serving had a little English?). Here’s a photo – a put it together yourself concept…
Tony went for the satays and a vegetable side while I had the soup (photo above). A lot more unusual but my own choice of ingredients. This is a popular way of eating at lunchtime for Chinese business people. Once you select your own ingredients a person (usually an older woman) cooks it up – often in a steamer although some dishes eg. Vegetables are stir fried.
Photo above: Another day we went in search of “the best dumplings in the world”??…according to many international food guides, and the local guide (Darren…he was great!) who showed us around on the 3rd day of our visit. Shanghai Dumplings have a soupy filling – very different to other parts of China. Kylie Kwong’s dumpling recipe at the end later. 🥟
Our tour guide, Darren (who we found from Trip Advisor reviews) also showed us around many other significant/historic sites of Shanghai…
IF CHOOSING A DAY TOUR GUIDE...
When travelling independently (like we often are), and unfamiliar with a city (particularly when it’s predominantly non English speaking), we find that employing a guide &/or a driver is so helpful to take us to out of the way places. However, worth doing your reading/research first as an occasional guide has over loaded us with too much detail (I remember 1 young woman in Russia like that…history graduate with no Tourism/Education experience + she was very bossy!).
So we learnt our lesson, and now do more research first. We try to organise day tours before we leave home so we can be shown around by people who have good English, understand the history of sites (often Uni educated), knowledge of city/food etc. We also try to work out the places we can manage on our own using the city train/tram system…always good fun too!
On this occasion with Darren in Shanghai (and Susan in Beijing…a past post) we mostly used the train system to see the inner city sights. When there’s very little English around, we find it often useful to have a guide on the first day (to help work out the transport system + get local tips) and sometimes organise for them to show us places further afield on the 3rd or 4th day. We did that in Beijing with Susan.
PLACES WE EXPLORED WITHOUT THE GUIDE although Darren, after asking about our interests, recommended some of these places we could visit. We also looked up the websites for information on history of some places (some had Chinese/English information boards too); as well as various reviews (skim reading to find the more knowledgeable reviewers)…eg. We skip over the obvious “lovely place….”😉
One tip we were given by hotel staff…“you might be approached in the street by strangers offering to take you on a tour. Don’t go…you return with no penny!!” So glad we had organised Darren as a tour guide in advance. It also saved us a lot of time and frustration too as most signs were in Chinese in 2014…I hear that is changing with many having English as well now (’19)?
We varied our sightseeing – sometimes historic places and other times seeing how latest technologies have been used in various ways such as ones below…first 3 photos on the prominent tower, visible from many parts of Shanghai, with 360 degree views of the city (photos below)…
Taking in the aerial view early in our stay, helped us to better understand the geography of the city; something we often do when in unfamiliar cities – even finding the highest hill or lookout etc. Here are some more historic sites (photos below) we then visited the next day including walks up and down parts of the Huangpu river, mostly near The Bund again. It was fascinating to see lots and lots of tour buses with tourists from regional parts of China…some (Darren told us) were older people who may have only been visiting a big city like Shanghai for the first time.
That seemed to be the case when some stopped to stare at us (not many other non Chinese near where we saw them getting off the coaches). Darren said that perhaps “they’d only seen people like us on TV” and then more quietly “even that might not be the case” (we think he may have been referring to Govt control of what the Chinese can see on TV). The tour guide in Beijing was overtly pro-communist while Darren never said anything controversial at all – wise man I suppose!
Another day we took in the sights from a different angle on a 40 minute river cruise. There was English commentary as well so it was informative…
That afternoon we combined both historic and high tech at the Shanghai History Museum…quite a few interactive exhibits as can be seen from the next photos…
The Opium Wars was presented from a Chinese perspective of course…so different to the British/Australian perspective I encountered when studying history in Year 11 and 12 (5th/6th form in 1973) for my Higher School Certificate. There were many wax figures and realistic exhibits like the one below. I recall the information boards here stating that it was mostly British exploitation, greed and corruption that had caused the demise of many “good Chinese citizens”…sure there’s some truth to that, but what actually happened is a much more complex story.
Reminds me to read up about it…also inspired to do that after recently reading “The Shanghai Wife” (see my last post on Chinatown…Sydney…) if interested as I’ve noted quite a lot of detail about that book + a link.
Other walks through various parts of Shanghai including Buddhist temples:
As can be seen from the above photos the contrasts in Shanghai are immense; it was similar in Beijing, but perhaps with Shanghai having the tradition of international finance ventures (from when the Bund was established in 1893) the divide between rich and poor was even more noticeable. Of course, that’s probably changed now (2019) with China’s economic advancements…but the divide between low and high income groups still extreme.
The movie “Crazy Rich Asians” has just been released (I read the book around time we went to China) and while it was set in Singapore, sure it reflects what life is also like for some very wealthy Chinese…if their obvious wealth in parts of Australia eg. Sydney is anything to go by. Must read up some more about the politics, economics, demographics etc of China today…definitely before our next stop over in Hong Kong (maybe in 2020).
The use of technology here, there and everywhere is also evident. Here’s a photo of the light show in the incredible tunnel that goes under the Huangpu River…
A last photo showing the colour of Shanghai…so much red!…
The last morning we had breakfast again at the MOJO Cafe (we really enjoyed their breakfasts…a range of choices and not just Asian breakfasts) and we then headed off to the Shanghai railway station for the fast train to Beijing.
MAIN TIP – book train tickets on arrival in Shanghai (or Beijing if travelling in opposite direction).
In 2014, it wasn’t possible to book train tickets before we left Australia & advice from everyone (agents, forums, etc) was that there would be no problem buying the tickets at Shanghai Railway Station on the day of travel – that wasn’t the case!
By doing so we were forced to buy “the last 2 seats” (see photo below) at a very high price as they were First Class seats...although it was “only” a few extra hundred… so a better choice than being stranded in Shanghai with a hotel booking in Beijing!
Stressful times often turn into funny tales don’t they!…
The main stress came from not knowing where to queue at very busy Shanghai station (no English on signs at all) but I approached a young man in a suit (better chance of him having a bit of English I thought)…sure enough he was very helpful – I’ve used that strategy before!
We finally joined the correct queue. However, that wasn’t the end of the stress!…we were initially told “no seats left today!”…but shortly after “can offer top first class”!! We were left wondering if we had been tricked into buying the more expensive seats, but of course we weren’t in a position to argue. Funny now we reflect on it all but “amusement”/uncertainty/cost we wouldn’t want to inflict on our friends…or even strangers!
THE “TOP FIRST CLASS SEAT”???…
It was a luxury seat in a private cabin with flowers (on my side), slippers etc…”top first class” we were told. However, the train staff avoided us!…we presume that was because they spoke no English and our Chinese was little more than ‘good morning’ (would need to check that spelling/pronunciation on Net now). After a lot of waiting, I used sign language to request our meal which was ok food…nothing special!
We look back on the experience with amusement…for a while there we were worried about how we’d get to Beijing!…our last stop 4 nights in Beijing before flying onto Rome…see a previous post if interested…just search for Beijing .
It was our second visit to China (our first trip was in the early 80s…photos in a recent previous post) and our first time in Shanghai and Beijing. Other than the stress at Shanghai railway station related to buying the train tickets/rail journey to Beijing, everything else went extremely well. We had such a great time and learned so much + inspired us to know more…travel always seems to do that doesn’t it.
BEIJING – FIRST DAY “THE GREAT WALL” VISIT…WE HAD GREAT WEATHER (“a Monday when smog settles we were told”) as can be seen in above photo and other bonus was that by going with a private guide we had parts of the wall to ourselves…something I’ve heard is rare now even if you go alone??
In Beijing, we stayed in the traditional “Hutong” district in an historic, small hotel – Red Wall Garden Hotel. We loved it!
If you stay in this district (we recommend it), have a map to show the taxi driver as there are narrow lanes and it can be a bit tricky to find. It was a very attractive and interesting small hotel (see photo in past post) and while we were pleased with our choice, there were a few minor issues, which the management did later address in a very professional way.
Another advantage of this hotel is that it is close to the subway – it’s a modern rail system with English information too. Trains are a better way to get around as taxis can be unreliable. The hotel reception staff were very helpful with advice about using the trains/sightseeing/maps etc. Check what station exit to take once you get to your destination – we did that & our day of exploring on our own worked out very well. Lots of fun!
Highlights in Beijing were many, including of course the Great Wall. As you can see from the photo, the sun was shining and there are hardly any tourists. We hear that it can sometimes be crowded with tourists + smoggy. To avoid the smog issue we arranged our one day private tour (with Susan Liu Yun) including the trip to the Great Wall, on a Monday – we had heard that the pollution is often not as bad on a Monday…not sure if that’s always the case but it did work for us. We might have just been very lucky! We had a wonderful day!
The second day in Beijing (again with Susan) included all the main sites...I have done an older post about our stay in Beijing but it’s one of my early posts (before I decided add some extras eg. Recipes) so I’ll improve on that post soon.
IT WAS THEN ONTO ROME…A SECOND VISIT SO WE DIDN’T STAY AS LONG AS THE FIRST TIME IN 2005.
Trevi Fountain, Rome 🇮🇹 – in 2005 it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it was in 2014 (large crowds around it then so we didn’t bother with a photo)…
Have done many older posts on Italy and a more recent one. In the future, I’ll add more recipes to them.
Food wasn’t so much of a focus then, but it has become that way since retirement and we have more time to cook + share ideas with our adult kids/grandkids – mostly quick/simple dishes like this one last night…
NOW FOR THE RECIPES AND EVEN ONE DISH WE HAD JUST TONIGHT:
Sydney Chef’s recipe…Kylie Kwong…from her book “Recipes and Stories”
Mrs Jang’s home-style fried eggs…meal for 2
Kylie suggests serving with rice but we cut the carbs (we have enough at other times of day) and serve it with an Asian bean dish and/or a similar snow pea (mangetout) dish – both even easier than the omelette although tricky serving 3 dishes at once…unless you’re a chef yourself I suppose!
1.5 cups vegetable oil (I’ve made it with a lot less oil but Tony does likes it fried/crispy);
4 large eggs 🍳 ; 1 tablespoon oyster sauce; small pinch of ground white pepper; 2 green shallots (finely chopped); 1-2 red bird’s eye chillies (de-seeded/finely chopped) 🌶
Note on chilli...children generally have very sensitive mouths so we use the longer/milder red chillies when cooking this for them. If you love hot and spicy, leave some seeds in.
Heat oil in a hot wok until surface seems to shimmer slightly (watch carefully of course). Crack eggs into a small bowl, then pour into the hot oil.
After 2 min reduce heat to moderate, allowing the underside of eggs to become firm and crisp (yolks should be runny at this point).
Carefully slide a fish slice (spatula) under eggs and lift out of the wok, then pour off the oil. Return eggs to the wok and put back over heat for another 2 min to crisp further.
Gently remove eggs from wok and drain off any excess oil before easing onto a plate. Drizzle eggs with a little oyster sauce and garnish with pepper, shallots and chillies.
Another book I recently discovered…not as authentic as Kylie’s recipes but lots of quick/simple stir fries etc. in it…
Cookbook from Ulladulla Library I borrowed – 26/1/19…mostly Indonesian recipes but a few Chinese eg.
Chinese Five Spice Pork Fillet – Serves 6
2 tablespoon oil (peanut or canola…not olive); 2 small cloves garlic (crushed); 2 tbsp Chinese 5 spice powder; 3 tbsp soy sauce; 6 tbsp dry or medium sherry; 2 spring onions (scallions…shallots?)…(finely chopped); orange rind cut into thin strips; juice of 2 large oranges; Salt and black pepper; 750 g pork fillet; 15 g butter (chilled and cubed)
To garnish: fresh snipped chives (very easy to grow on a balcony garden or large pot)
In a small bowl, mix together oil, garlic, five spice powder, soy sauce, sherry and spring onions to make a marinade. Add half the orange rind and juice and season with Salt and pepper.
Put pork in a non-metallic bowl, pour the marinade over and cover, or place meat and marinade in a roasting bag, tie bag well and shake.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours, turning the meat or shaking the bag once or twice.
Preheat oven to 190 deg C.
Transfer pork fillet and marinade to a roasting tin, loosely cover with foil and cook for 30 min. Take off the foil, turn fillet and cook for another 15 min. Cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Alternatively, roast in the bag for 45 min, then leave to stand for 10 min, still in the bag, with the oven door ajar and the heat turned off.
Slice meat. Pour cooking juices into small saucepan, add rest of orange juice and heat gently. Whisk in butter and adjust seasoning. Serve the slices of meat with the sauce poured over. Garnish with chives and the remaining orange rind.
Note to self…More Chinese recipes to be added over coming weeks including those from Essential Asian Kitchen.
NOTE ON FINDING LOCAL TOUR GUIDES…we notice that Trip Advisor isn’t as helpful as it once was (they’re now connecting themselves with bigger companies/sales) so we’re looking elsewhere for local guides in India next month.
I’ve found one site https://www.showaround.com/ but really haven’t heard much about the professionalism of the guides they suggest (are guides registered etc?) and the reviews are limited (could be their mates?!). The hotels we’re staying at can offer “local/professional guides” but the hotels clearly get a HUGE cut…we want our money to go to the guides rather than an international company.
AN UPDATE/GOOD NEWS ON FINDING LOCAL GUIDES…
We’ve been reading through travel forums (eg Trip Advisor) on India over last few days and came across some helpful information from fellow travellers including websites. We’ve exchanged emails with an Indian woman who fosters local talent…including many women on her staff – that was appealing to us. Our guide sounds like she’ll be very helpful and knowledgeable.
Feeling excited about it all…except for the packing which is my least favourite part of travelling – actually the post travel blues would outrank packing as Tony finds that his least favourite too so….two gloomy people together is no fun! Good thing was that we listened to a podcast on this topic yesterday (on drive back from coast)…so amusing and interesting + tips on how to get over it quickly eg. Plan another trip, even if that’s just being a tourist in own town for just a day. Happy travels! More can be found on traveller.com.au.