Thursday, 21 April 2011

April 10th to 13th ~ Shanghai, China

We were looking forward to Shanghai for a couple of reasons…first we were doing it on our own, no tours, so we could take our time, shop and be a little spontaneous. Second, we would be staying at the Sofitel and would have free wi-fi in our room so we could finally post what we did in Beijing on our blog.

Well we managed to get ourselves safely from the airport to the hotel and as soon as we got to our room we logged on to the internet…only to discover that China had foiled all our blogging plans (Anisa mentioned this a few posts ago). After we got over that technical hitch we decided to explore Nanjing Road which is the main shopping mall/street in Shanghai and the street that our hotel is on. It was very busy being the weekend and a little overwhelming with the sheer number of shops, multi level department stores and hawkers. Within 6 seconds of walking out of the hotel we were set upon by hawkers with colourful pamphlets showing their knockoff goods. “You wanna buy handbag, watch, dvd? What you wanna buy? Come with me, just look, not far.” We were like magnets drawing them all in. We just kept saying no and walking until they dropped off. It became so normal every time we stepped on to the street that we had to make a game of it. We would keep tally on each trip of how many hawkers would approach us and then try and pick the hawkers in advance and see if we were right. I think the most hawkers we had approach us in one trip up Nanjing Road was 33! It was a bit tiring sometimes and after awhile you get real good at ignoring them and just walking past them.

Lounging in Kieran and mine’s hotel room

The view from our hotel room

Nanjing Road by night

On Monday after countless unsuccessful attempts to purchase clothes (hard to find anything over a size 12!) or some toiletry items we decided to explore further afield and caught a taxi to Yu Gardens and Bazaar. We would catch a lot more taxis while in Shanghai and we loved them as they were plentiful and cheap. You could pretty much go anywhere in the city and pay just 12-15 yuan which is about $1.50-$2.30 AUD. We really enjoyed Yu Gardens and Bazaar…it is situated in an older part of town and the buildings are old style. Inside the main area are the actual gardens which have been there since the 1800’s. There are also bridges over a pond filled with golden fish and turtles and lots of shops and markets and eating areas. One of the best tea houses is also there on the top level and that is the balcony where we took the great shot of the city and the rooftops of Yu Garden. Yu Garden also had some of the good shopping where we found clothing shops that stocked western sizes…yay!! We also found a great chemist where we bought our toiletries and my face creams/products at a cheaper price.

Turtles sunbaking and giant goldfish swarming in the small lake within the Yu Gardens and Bazaar

The Shanghai skyline from the top level teahouse

Kieran’s panorama shot of the Shanghai skyline

Lunch at the Yu Gardens and Bazaar food court was a cafeteria style pick-and-choose adventure. There was no English so we just had to grab what looked good!

That night we went to ‘the Bund’ which is an area along the river and has a lot of the French style buildings. It was a great place to see the city buildings and boats lit up at night. We walked home along Nanjing Road looking for somewhere to eat and came across Pizza Hut…but not as we know it! There was no advertising of actual pizzas but there was fried rice, pasta, and steak. We decided to go in and try it out and discovered they did have pizzas in the nearly 20 page menu, along with snails and many other delicacies! The pizza was actually really good!

The view from the Bund

The Bund stretching along the riverside

Anisa and I with our Asian poses!

Kieran and I in Pizza Hut

Tuesday we went to The Shanghai Aquarium and it is the best aquarium we have ever been to. Everything was set out so well, clean and easy to access. A lot of the tanks were open so you could see from the top as well as from the clear glass sides. They have some amazing things like an escalator that goes under/through one of the tanks of fish, and a 150m long walk through tank with a travelator. We loved it! There were amazing fish and marine life. In the afternoon we did some more shopping.

A cute pufferfish

In the walkthrough tanks with some HUGE fish

Anisa’s favourite animals of the aquarium, the super cute seals! They were like cute, furry, sausages zipping back and forth across the tank, watching you!

A very vibrant jellyfish

More jellyfish

A huge tank or sharks and rays

In awe of all the fish!!

Anisa’s heaven… the aquarium giftshop! She bought a squishy seal pillow.

Just a quick side note to all the gals out there…I hate hanging out the washing like anyone else, but after seeing how the women in Beijing and Shanghai have to hang theirs out…I will not complain anymore! They are restricted in most cases to hang them onto thin wooden poles in their units and then extend the poles out their window onto wire or wooden frames and slot the poles into the frames. They also place coat hangers with clothes on them out their windows onto whatever is available. We saw bed sheets along with all variety of clothes being hung out the front of windows by industrious women!

This is a common sight all across Beijing and Shanghai!

Anyway, Wednesday was our last day in Shanghai and we had the tip that there were some good fake markets on the other side of the river so after packing our bags and leaving them at the hotel we went to the Science and Technology Museum. Instead of going inside we went underneath it next to the subway where there was a whole heap of shops and stalls. This was definitely our best and most fun shopping in Shanghai. We spent a few hours there and really got into the haggling/bargaining.  We were seasoned professionals by the end and knew what was a fair price to pay for all the goods (about one fifth of their original price). I (Lisa) was perhaps bargaining too hard and low for one girl’s liking and we kept going back and forth on price until I wouldn’t budge on my price of 100 yuan. In the end she yelled out, “You keep your 100 yuan!” and gave me a very angry look and then sat down and ignored me!! Another girl bargained really hard with me and followed me about 25 metres out of her shop to keep trying to get a better price from me. In the end she dragged me back to her shop (literally! She had me by the arm!) and we were both laughing and she said to me, “You so stubborn! You so hard.” I told her she was stubborn and she worked very hard for the sale. In the end I gave her 10 more yuan for my purchases and we both were happy!! We could barely fit in the taxi with all our shopping bags, but made it back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and make our way to the Cruise Ship!!

Me being dragged back to the shop to buy, buy, buy!!

After a quick check in at the ocean terminal, we were welcomed aboard the Ocean Princess where we immediately made our way to our stateroom. Having seen many Love Boat episodes…I always thought the cabins were pretty simple and plain but our room was lovely and we have our own balcony with chairs etc to sit and watch the ocean.

Our floating home away from home

This is sailaway…Goodbye Shanghai!! We are off on our big cruise adventure!!

Monday, 18 April 2011

April 6th to 10th ~ Beijing, China

Our journey to Beijing began with flying. Lots and lots of flying. 17 hours (with a 3 hour stop in Kuala Lumpur) to be exact. The long, mostly sleepless, flights resulted in tired bodies and sore backsides (note to self: Malaysia Airlines have hard seats - bring a pillow to sit on!), but we toughed through it in anticipation of reaching China!

The pretty impressive looking Kuala Lumpur airport.

The girls making use of the stop over to get in a quick nap (using the carry on luggage as makeshift foot rests).

Anisa is writing this post for Beijing but I feel that I, (Lisa) must add a small entry regarding flying, as my experience with this mode of transport was soooo horrific! I have mentioned before that I don't enjoy flying as it is boring and cramped and my sinus and ears don't fare well and that is just with my experiences of flying 2-3 hours. So I now officially hate, loathe and fully despise flying! I cannot sleep unless heavily drugged (KL to Beijing was drug induced sleep!), my feet and ankles swelled up to hideous proportions, my head, sinus and eyes felt like they were going to explode, and twice on landing I thought I was going to vomit copious amounts of grossness. I won't mention how I looked and the insipid colour of my face when I finally made it to Beijing. Please, please, please can I have Genie powers so I can blink myself from country to country?! But now back to Beijing...

Once we landed in Beijing we were greeted by Peter, our private tour guide, and Mr Cho, our driver. Peter assured us he was the "best tour guide in Beijing" (a title that we came to agree with!) and that Mr Cho was a "masterful driver". And a masterful driver he was, having to navigate the chaos that is the Beijing roads! In China it's pretty much a free for all when it comes to the roads. Seeing an indicator light is a rare sight, lane lines are a guide, rather than a rule and the sound of car horns fills the air, not to mention that pedestrians simply walk out on the roads whenever they feel like, weaving between cars.

Peter, the best tour guide in Beijing.

Mr Cho, our masterful driver.

After a quick but thrilling ride we reached our hotel, the beautiful Intercontinental. As we were so tired from all the flying, we spent the afternoon lounging in our rooms (Anisa had a separate room - which she enjoyed thoroughly) before ordering room service for dinner.

The view from Anisa's hotel room showing a very busy China, even late at night!

Lisa and Anisa going Asian with Hainanese Chicken as their first meal in China.

Kieran not as ready to dive into Asian cuisine, instead opting for a burger with fries.

The next morning, after a delicious buffet breakfast, we were picked up by Peter and Mr Cho to begin a day of sightseeing. Despite being Autumn, it was quite chilly (the exact opposite weather of when Anisa came to Beijing last year during a hot and humid Chinese Summer). We began the day with Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. As soon as we got out of the car, the hawkers (street sellers) descended on Kieran. Unfortunately, as the only "100% white guy" (an actual quote from a Chinese man we met on the street) of our family he could hardly walk 50m before having goods thrust in his face with the sellers promising "I give you good price!". Most of the time Anisa and Lisa could blend in with the crowd - Anisa even had quite a few people speak to her in Chinese.

Tianamen Square with the Forbidden City in the distance. Even though there was people everywhere, Peter told us this was an off day!

Inside the Forbidden City. It was huge and so ornate!

In front of a copper male lion statue inside the Forbidden City. It is paired with a female lion statue (which is out of frame). These statues are found all throughout Beijing and show that the male should have power (represented by the ball under it's foot) and the female should look after the family (represented by a lion cub under it's foot).

The love tree in the royal gardens of the Forbidden City.

After enjoying a lunch of authentic Beijing noodles in a local restaurant (and thanks to our local guide, Peter, he took us to the real local restaurants, not the westernised Chinese restaurants), we went to the Temple of Heaven. Lisa's footwear of choice (the classic Aussie thongs) were somewhat of an oddity in Beijing as the Chinese only wear open toed shoes inside their houses. It's "not healthy" remarked Peter when he noticed Lisa's uncovered feet. Her toes were also painted bright red so this explains the many looks, from her face, directly to her feet!

The Temple of Heaven

We then headed to the fake markets, where they sell everything from fake Prada to fake Converse at next to nothing prices. In these markets (as with most markets around China), no prices are set in stone; everything is up for bartering! Rule of thumb is whatever price the shopkeeper says, offer a fifth or sixth of the price. So that D&G bag they want for 1000 yuan, offer 150 yuan. It may sound crazy, but it works! As much as they beg and plead (we got a lot of "You take the food from my mouth!" and "Haha, no, that is your joke price! No more joking, give me your real price!"), you'll end up getting that bag for 180 yuan (and they'll be getting a decent profit too!). Luckily, Anisa was already a seasoned barterer from her last trip to Beijing so, after some hard tactics she left with 2 pairs of Converse shoes for 155 yuan ($11 each) and a pair of Ray Ban sunnies for 33 yuan ($5),

Before heading to our next destination, we took a brief pitstop at a local convenience store. There were a number of weird and wonderful products, our personal favourites being Cucumber Lay's Potato Chips and Seaweed Pringles.

We ended up leaving with 6 bottles of water, 4 cans of softdrink and a packet of biscuits all for a measly 22.80 yuan - only $3.45! Everything in China is so cheap!

We then headed over to the Beijing Red Theatre to see 'The Legend of Kungfu', the story of a little boy who, through the practice of Kungfu and Zen, becomes a master and reaches the sacred goal of enlightenment. The performance was a flurry of Kungfu expertise including the usual stunning kicks, jumps and gymnastics but also other kinds of amazing entertainment like metal plates being broken on performer's heads and one particular performer lying on nails while bricks and even other performers were piled on top of him.

One of the young Kungfu artists that starred in the show who greeted us as we entered the theatre.

After a busy day of sightseeing it was finally time for dinner where we enjoyed the world famous Beijing Peking Duck. The chef came out to our table where we watched him carve the duck with speed and skill. We were then taught the traditional way to eat Peking Duck using thin crepe pancakes, cucumber, spring onion and a special sauce. It was delicious!

The chef carving our duck with a massive cleaver.

The waitress showing us how to make the Peking Duck wrap.

Getting into the delicious duck!

The next day began with one of China's most famous attractions, The Great Wall of China! And for some reason Peter thought he should take us to one of the steepest parts of the Great Wall! A part of the Great Wall that wound up and along a mountain. A part of the Great Wall that was so steep that it was known as the 'hero climb'. The sign at the base of the Wall declared that you were not a true Chinese hero until you had climbed the Great Wall. As we got out of the car we stared up at the wall in almost horror at the huge feat ahead of us. "Peter!", Dad said, "Why did you take us to this part of the Wall? Why couldn't we have had the nice, flat Great Wall!" but Peter only shepherded us towards the entrance saying "Go! Go be hero!". And so we did. It was long and hard and Lisa thought her "gammy knee" was about to fall off, but we made it! There was even a little store at the top selling 'Hero certificates' for making it so far. But what was even more astonishing than the steep climb was seeing local Chinese seniors, some looking around 80 years old, and young Chinese women in 5 inch heels trekking up the Wall along with us!

At the base of the Wall with the sign declaring that we would not be true Chinese heroes until we climbed the Wall!

Taking a break from the climb.

So steep and still a ways to go!

Looking back on how far we've come.

After an exhausting morning, it was over to the Jade Factory for a tour and lunch. We saw intricate Jade pieces being carved and were shocked to discover that jade comes in a rainbow of colours (not just green!) including orange, red and black. We were then led into the showroom where you could buy everything from jade necklaces and earrings to jade statues and bowls.

The very bright and shiny jade showroom.

Lisa bought these jade bracelets (one dark green and the other red).

The next stop was the Summer Palace, a beautiful palace named the Summer Palace because that is where the Chinese royalty would stay during the hot Summer months. The entire palace is based around a half man-made lake. Half man-made, because the original lake was too small, so the ancient Chinese dug around the lake to make it larger and with the leftover land they made an island in the middle of the lake. After walking around the lake through 'the long corridor', we reached the Dragon Boats which took us across the lake to the man made island. As we walked across the large bridge that connected the island to the mainland, we were introduced to extreme kite flying, a pastime enjoyed by many Chinese. The clear skies over the lake was perfect kite flying terrain, and we watched many men fly their kites overhead. Some kites were so high, they were just a speck in the distance.

A part of the palace set into the mountainside.

'The long corridor', a seemingly endless corridor on the lakeside. Every square inch of it was painted with intricate drawings that told different stories.

The Dragon Boat, modelled on the original Dragon Boat that would take ancient Chinese royalty across the lake.

Extreme kite flying, Chinese style. This man's kite was up a whopping 1km in the sky, but there was room for more as his spool contained 1.8km of kite string.

Our final sightseeing stop of Beijing was the Olympic Village where we walked across the huge grounds to get our photos in front of the iconic Water Cube and Bird's Nest Stadium.

We had such a great time sightseeing in Beijing and our guide, Peter definitely enhanced our experiences and gave us a more authentic tour of the city. Some of our conversations with him are quite memorable. One that we love in particular was when he told us what the local Beijing boys say about trying to marry a local Beijing girl. "If you want to marry a plain looking Beijing girl you must have 3 A's…an Apartment, A car, and an Account! If you want to marry a beautiful Beijing girl you must have 5 C's… a Car, a Castle, a Credit Card, a Condo, and….Cancer so that you die early and leave her all the money!" We laughed so hard. He was very funny.

And that brings us to the end of our short, but busy time in Beijing! The next morning after the Great Wall we flew out to Shanghai to continue our adventure. But that's for another blog post. Stay tuned.

The Guys xx