For the second day in a row we found ourselves lying awake on beds that might as well have been made out of nails, desperately trying to eke out a few more minutes of sleep in the early morning hours, specifically 5:30 am. If I had been at home I would perhaps have gotten on my phone and wasted away 30 minutes checking social media or watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 on YouTube (although I wouldn’t categorize that as a waste of time), but I made the conscious decision to leave my phone at home. I took a friends phone that he specifically used for his trips to China and a GoPro camera to record and capture only the most important moments. All that to say, I had nothing to do with my time. So I stared at the ceiling (because it hurt to lay on either side) and listened to the fountain outside until I could no longer stand it and had to get up to use the restroom. Have you ever noticed that while falling asleep to the sound of rain is soothing, waking up to the sound of a fountain is anxiety inducing?
When the day finally did dawn, it was beautiful! We started off back at the train station where I had my first taste of baozi. Maybe not life changing, but it was a go to for breakfast. We headed back towards the city center for a day on the town. Shanghai is a sort of contradiction, old juxtapositioned with new and modern skyscrapers next to budhist temples in the middle of the city. Our first stop was Jing’an Temple. What you’ll notice first upon entrance is Paul Bunyan’s incense pot followed by a room for each mood of Buddha. Traditionally, the people will visit multiple temples and bow and pray to each statue in their moment of need, be it an upcoming test or a health concern. The more temples you go to and the more statues you pray to, the better your chances of having your prayers answered. The history of the temple is quite fascinating, but we did not linger.
After a brief stop for shopping, because who isn’t curious as to what the differences are at international chains, we headed towards Yuyuan Garden. We went in hopes of tasting the fabled soup dumplings and having some tea at the Huxin Pavilion. Travel tip: You may meet some locals who invite you to tea, do not accept. Generally they will order for you and leave you with the bill which can easily be in the hundreds of US dollars. We walked in to Huxin in the hopes of having a bracing cup of tea in an historic building with a fantastic view…what we got was a heart attack when we looked at the prices. So we moved on to the soup dumplings at Nanxiang Mantou Dian.
Yet again, our hopes were deferred when we saw the line that might as well have been a mile long. So we went to the Starbucks and bought some souvenir mugs. At last, it was time for lunch. We met up with our friends at Al’s Diner, because we desired some traditional American cuisine made in a Chinese style. Truly one of the highlight meals of our trip.
After lunch we headed for the Financial District of Shanghai in order to find The Oriental Pearl Towerand the Shanghai Tower. There can be a bit of a line because it is a tourist draw even for nationals, but as Americans we somehow got to the front of a different line, not sure if that was for PR purposes or what, but we didn’t complain. On a clear day you can see a beautiful 360 degree view of the city, but we did not have a clear day. As per Shanghai usual, there was a good amount of smog hanging over the city which obstructed our view from the 2nd tallest building in the world. From there we headed to the Bund along the Huangpu River. The best time to go to the Bund is at night when all the buildings are lit. We had a few hours to go before sunset, but thankfully it was dinner time. It was at this time that our band of friends disassembled. We headed to the mall and basically just people watched, which is one of the most enjoyable activities in any city. That, and the dumplings. Seriously, the dumplings are so good! I don’t remember what restaurant we went to, except that it was in the mall on the third floor in the corner and it was delicious. We walked out to the river after dinner and were serenaded by a live artist by an outdoor cafe. That man was working hard for the sparse applause they gave him.
Once the sun was set, we were told that the best way to see and enjoy the Bund at night was to take the ferry to the other side. It was a popular mode of transportation. We lined up at the gate as though the promise land were on the other side of the chain link fence. We were towards the front but soon we were joined by others who were either in search of a gorgeous view or a romantic river cruise. In the end, we were all to be disappointed. Finally, the ferry arrived at the dock. The arriving passengers disembarked and the waiting crowd girded their loins. The gate opened and it was the running of the bulls all over again! I don’t know if people even knew why or where they were running but they pushed and elbowed as though Nutella were on sale on the top deck. We snagged a spot on the port bow…just kidding, I don’t actually know where the port bow is, but we were on the stern and had a great view. Or rather it would have been a great view had the fog not already come in and shrouded most of the buildings. We could see maybe the first 25 floors of the Shanghai Tower, although the opposite side of the river was quite nice, and you could clearly see the British influence in the architecture.
Once our magical ferry was complete we headed decided to forgo the wonder that is line 16 and opted instead for a hired car. Which was a whole other experience. There is no Uber or Lyft in China, and you can’t order a car unless you have a card attached to a Chinese bank account, which we did not. Our friends did but because there was still a little bit of a language barrier so we got in touch with our other friends who had joined us for lunch and had them order us a car to a specific location. We then waited for 10 minutes in the cold, it wasn’t freezing, but I didn’t have a jacket so it might as well have been Antarctica. Travel tip: Always bring a jacket. If there’s a slight chance that the weather will be chilly, it will be. When the car did arrive and we were safely ensconced inside, I came to the realization that I was reaching the end of my day. I needed to recharge and not be around people. Hence I was not the best travelling companion for the 30 minute ride back to our abode. But it was nothing that a rough nights sleep on a hard bed couldn’t cure.