December 2, 2013
Another early-to-bed early-to-rise morning lead to me heading down to breakfast around 6:30 a.m. local time. I met Pawel in the restaurant as he was equally up and still adjusting to the change in times.
Breakfast in this hotel was very much the same as in Beijing, except we had a full omelet station available to us. Again, fresh fruit, a few proteins like bacon and sausage, a fried starch, but this time the noodle dish was more thai or vietnamese in style and flavor, albeit a tad bland which I'd late discover was common to this part of China.
I asked him how the dinner and acrobats show was the evening before. The response was lukewarm at best. Any doubts about my decision faded away. However, shortly after we arrived at our hotel last night, I decided to add the last day's optional tour to my trip. This meant I was losing a full day of on-my-own traveling in Shanghai, but the feedback from both our guide, Charlie, and the rest of the tour group was that Suzhou would be beautiful. It also meant that my one full day, today, of the city on my own would have to be jam-packed to get to all the amazing sights.
We compared travel notes for the day and we both had very similar itineraries. I asked to join him for the day, which he agreed, and we headed out. Fortunately, the location of our hotel afforded us the opportunity to walk to every destination.
Our first stop for the day was the People's Park, which was pretty much the only location open this early. After a brief walk (thank you again for my maps app on my iPhone), we entered on the northeast side of the park. The smog was still hanging in the air and the temperature was more moderate today.
The People's Park had been equated to NYC's Central Park, which while it might have lacked in size, it didn't lack the equivalent in people and activities. For a Monday morning, groups of locals were out exercising; most notably Tai Chi. Others were simply gathering to chat and catch-up, most likely about family, states of affair, and the whatnot we would smalltalk about here in the US. While I couldn't understand any of their conversations, their demeanor and attitude was of friendship and content with one another.
Many of those within the park were willing to have their pictures taken; something to which I'm still accustoming myself as I find it somewhat intrusive. The subjects smiled, waved, or gestured a peace sign toward our lenses if they noticed us and our cameras. One gentleman, who about every 20-30 seconds would let out a scream of some sorts, caught our attention. He smiled and with abundant graciousness, let us take his picture. We could hear him long after we met, throughout the rest of the park, belting either the word or grunt (it was hard to tell as we had no sense of the language) as we toured.
The park itself was beautiful. Because Shanghai is more southerly than Beijing, the late fall here was more like that of Georgia or northern Florida. Many trees were changing color or even still green. The colors popped more even through the haze of the smog. As with traditional Chinese gardens, there was a pond featuring a manmade structure and naturally shaped lake stones.
After the park, we headed toward the Yu Gardens and Bazaar. Along the way, we found a small park again bustling with morning activities. Several locals had setup a Badminton net and were volleying the birdie back and forth. Another gentleman was practicing a form of martial arts with a lance/spear of sorts. Both were engaging as we captured a few stills and video.
The Yu Gardens Bazaar was an amazing experience of shops, restaurants, and vendors. The structures, while they've been restored, are replicas of the original buildings and demonstrate how close each one was next to the other. Definitely a tourist stop for shopping, but also for the tea house located within, as well as access to the Yu Gardens. We opted to hit the Gardens first, then return for shopping and dumplings, which seemed to be the popular "regulars" dish of choice.
The Yu Gardens were beautiful. Again, the fall colors took charge, combined with the architecture and the reflective nature of the water/ponds. I had great fun photographing the different textures, tones, and lines within each part of the park.
Within the Gardens was a tea shop where we were offered a free sampling of hot tea (which was nice in the cold morning air) and a lesson in how to properly prepare hot Chinese tea. Our server told us the story of the three-toed dragon and demonstrated his abilities on the miniature located on the table in front. We sampled a fruit tea that was both complex and smooth. Afterward, I did a little shopping in the tea house and purchased a sampler pack and an all-in-one tea brewing cup. Just as we were about to leave, Pawel asked about obtaining one of the "baby dragons" that would change color when hot water was poured over it; a sign of luck and good fortune. He was able to negotiate very well, especially since we'd already made purchases, and we got a 20% discount on the little guys.
Shortly after we left the tea house, we ran into the tour group also walking the Gardens. Charlie gave us some basic info, including more information about the story of the dragon and showed us the wall of the Gardens that tells the story, complete with a dragon head and tail running along the wall. We departed the group to continue our shopping and to find lunch.I think we walked through every stall, so much so the same lady tried to sell Pawel a watch at least five times.
We found a dumpling stall which served us about 20 homemade pork filled dumplings for about US $4. With the garlic soy sauce, it was a great and satisfying meal.
Unfortunately, our adventures within the Gardens took longer than expected, albeit worth it. Thankfully, we were near the southern part of The Bund and decided to capture some daytime photos of the Pudong across the Huangpu River. The sun was hitting the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in such a way that the purplish windows of the glass reflected onto the river water.
After taking quite a few pictures, of both the attractions at The Bund and the skyline of Pudong, we decided to make a quick stop off at the hotel to drop our treasures from the day.
We then headed back out, this time over to the Pudong side of the river via The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. This electronic laser and lights show was right out of the 70s or 80s and while more expensive than the metro, it did allow for a quick jaunt from one side of the river to the other. Also, with nearly no other passengers, we had the cable car ride almost entirely to ourselves, allowing for some interesting photos and videos, esp. on the return trip.
The Pudong side of the river features many skyscrapers and unique high-rise structures. We ventured along a raised platform to catch pictures of the Shanghai World Financial Center, as well as a new building near completion that once finished will be the tallest building in Asia. The Financial Center is affectionately known as "the bottle opener" given the large opening at the top.
The sun was beginning to set as we headed back toward The Bund. With the sunset behind the historic Bund structures, we got some amazing photos as the Pudong side of the river is more marshland than boardwalk, unlike The Bund. I almost felt as if I was viewing a skyline in Florida along the west coast; perhaps near Sarasota or Clearwater.
After the short jaunt back through the Sightseeing Tunnel, we setup for some evening photography of the Pudong skyline. Each building illuminated as evening progressed, however, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower continued to allude me. We went back to the hotel, after I took us through some of the nightlife sights I'd seen along the Ningbo and Tianjin Roads.
I returned to my hotel room to drop off my gear and then made a quick trip out for provisions for the room. I wasn't too hungry, so I settled for a light snack in my room while viewing my photos from the day. Unfortunately, I discovered a speck of dust must have been on my camera's mirror. It disappeared and only impacted the photos taken at The Bund. Some minor photo editing magic would return my skies back to the originally seen glory.
Tomorrow would be a full day out of the city. Hopefully the Venice of the East would be worth missing some of the sights of Shanghai.
China, Pudong, Shanghai, The People's Park, Yu Gardens,