On our last day in Asia we took it a little, ahem, easy. With Hazel’s advice from the night before, we made it finally to the French Concession, which not so surprisingly is the former home of French influence in Shanghai. Yong Kang Road has recently been taken over (re-taken over?) by westerners. It wants to remind you of Paris or London or perhaps New York, but really it’s China. It’s very cute. The man roasting unidentified food stuffs over on active fire in his push cart would be one signal it’s China, though. Another signal would be the Chinese woman leering out her second floor apartment just waiting until 10pm when all shops must be closed and everyone quiet, lest she dump water on you. Seriously, that last part was not made up.
Of course what 30th birthday trip with friends would be complete without a 30th birthday party? We had long thought about staying at the Park Hyatt because of its amazing amenities and views (it’s the world’s tallest hotel) but had eventually looked elsewhere for space and location concerns. So obviously we had to still go!
The Bund is Shanghai’s famous old row of mostly neoclassical buildings on the river. It’s where various western powers set up banks, newspapers, telegraph services, and the like in the early 20th century to have a commercial foothold in the east. This is also where some of China’s oldest modern companies were headquartered. Many of those buildings remain and are now banks, hotels (Waldorf Astoria), and/or fine dining restaurants (M on the Bund). If you’re picturing the old Shanghai it’s this. Directly across the river are the brand new high rises of Pudong. The old/new dichotomy is obviously striking.
Finally! This was certainly a touristy spot, but I was OK with that for two reasons:
This is a small garden complex near the Bund that is meant to exemplify an ideal eastern garden. It was not as well maintained as what we saw in Hangzhou, but it was a nice respite. We got a kick out of all the “rockery” signs. We stumbled into a tea house where we received essentially free tastings, instructions, and explanations. It was one of the few truly educational experiences of the entire trip (vs. wandering around a site with a few things in English and never a map or guide handed out). I ended up with some lychee black tea, one of the few mementos I’m bringing back. And no, that’s not a frog. It’s a baby dragon (as signified by the only three legs).
The rule is to pretend you’re interested in something, ask for the price, offer way lower and seem like their price is crazily high. Then walk away, whilst the seller runs after you slashing the asking price over and over. Interestingly, prices are locked at government owned stores, which are peppered around.