Guest Writer: Stephanie's Mom
Prelude – We just arrived back in Shanghai Sunday night after a whirlwind tour of 3 cities in China: Beijing, Xi'an and Hangzhou. Stephanie has been the most awesome guide and we have had a trip of a lifetime. I will now try to catch you up on what we have done so far but it will be over the next few days. We had jam-packed full fun days and now we hope to go much slower and easier, because we need to!
We had to wake up bright and early Monday morning (5:30AM) to catch a flight to Beijing, despite just getting off our 15 hour flight just yesterday (who thought of this crazy schedule anyway?). Stephanie had pre-ordered a taxi to come pick us up right at her apartment door to bring us to the Maglev train to the Shanghai airport for an 8AM flight. The taxi driver apparently took the long way from the school to the train station (the 'elevated' route) and Stephanie proceeded to 'yell' at the taxi driver, that due to the longer route, it cost too much. She negotiated the price down to a more reasonable price, and we had our first experience of Stephanie haggling with the locals.
Once we arrived at the airport, we found out our flight had been cancelled, and we had been rescheduled to a later flight (oops! Forgot to check the status before we went!). We were told two different things and eventually realized we had been re- booked on a 10AM flight at the other airport all the way across the city. We were provided a free bus ride and another 45 minutes later, after we passed the area Stephanie lived, we arrived at the other airport and caught our flight. Stephanie was already getting upset, stressing and sighing because she was disappointed that things were not going perfectly for us but Bethany and I were cool with it. We decided we would be looking at everything that happened as an experience and weren't going to let anything upset us.
We grabbed a breakfast in the airport and that was a mistake. Stephanie recommended a beef ribs and noodles dish that she enjoys elsewhere but it was very bland and very expensive! The three of us split 2 orders and had some drinks and it cost us TWICE as much as the wonderful, multi-course meal from the night before!! (230RMB versus 110. $1 = about 6.7RMB) So last's nights dinner cost us a little more than $5 each.
A couple of differences between Chinese and Americans: the employees at the restaurants and massage parlors, etc, all have name tags with numbers on them, not names. Also, wherever you eat, you never clean up after yourselves, NEVER. Even at the airport or fast-food places, they don't even have garbage pails available to use. You leave your table and an employee cleans up after you.
Our flight was packed and it was a very large plane (it has 2-4-2 seating in coach). The Chinese New Year is less than 2 weeks away so many people are traveling to their hometowns to celebrate with their families. Every flight we took was packed. As we were boarding the plane, I noticed how many employees they had: one to take your boarding pass from you, hands it to second person who scans the boarding pass and hands it back to you, take a few steps and another employee rips the end of the ticket off, take a few steps and another employee puts a check mark on the ticket. There were about 6 airline attendants greeting you as you boarded the plan and they seemed to have even more, once we were on the plane. The ceiling was so high above us, that the attendants would turn on and off the lights as they see you trying to read or trying to sleep. They walked up and down the aisle so often, it was almost instantaneous. It was a very nice flight. I also noticed that for most of the flight, they had a flight attendant posted at the two curtained entrances to the first class section, preventing entry. It was just less than a 2 hour flight.
We grabbed a bus and then a cab to our hostel (one cab refused to take us, Stephanie thinks it was because the fare would be too low). We decided to try hostels in order to 'do as the locals do' and to try to keep our costs down. Stephanie said they are very similar to hotels with very hard beds like anywhere in China and she enjoys the experience. We had a private room with three single beds and a private bathroom. The bathroom was clean, per se, but very old and disgusting. The caulking was all black and a little scary, but it really was okay, really! The room was clean and comfortable. The cost was only 260 RMB each for all three nights.
We came across our first Chinglish that was funny: a sign in the bathroom had a picture of someone slipping on the slippery floor and said 'Caution: Landslide'.
We were in walking distance to some hutongs (older style courtyard houses) and the Drum Tower and Bell Tower. These two towers worked in unison to keep the people informed of the time back in the time of the Emperors. The emperor was said to be the Keeper of Time. They had some special time keeping machines (using water or pebbles) and they would announce the beginning of the day, end of the day, etc by playing these enormous drums and ringing the enormous bell. We had to climb these incredibly steep and narrow steps to get up to the level that the drums and bell were located. We timed it just right and were able to catch a performance of some of the drumming and got a video of it. The drums are on their sides and the drummer stands in front of them and beats on the head of the drum that is almost as tall as they are. The bell was so big, that they would use a tree-sized striker.
Since we hadn't eaten since our bland, too expensive breakfast at the airport, we went for a popular dumpling restaurant that Bethany's dad had seen on a television show and wanted pictures from. They make the dumplings in a glassed in kitchen area and when they saw us watching them, the guy rolling the dough starting showing off a little. We had three orders of 12 each of boiled dumplings, 1 order of fried dumplings and some vegetables. The boiled dumplings were awesome with some flavored vinegar, the veggies were cabbage, rice noodles and a small amount of shredded pork had some sort of horseradish sauce (yum!), but I think the fried dumplings were the best with a little soy sauce.
This is where Bethany had success with her first squatty potty experience. She even took a picture of her first encounter with a squatty potty.
Since we were close to collapsing, we decided to fit in only one more thing for the day – the Night Market. We took a cab to the Shopping Street and walked past all the "Western" style stores in a huge mall and ended up where the street vendors sell all sorts of food and items. This is where we got to see all those weird food items you see on television shows about China and most were on a stick: starfish, seahorses, scorpions, big bugs (cockroaches?), larvae-looking things, centipedes and so much more. They also had chunks of raw meat, organs (hearts?), calamari, tuna and so much more on sticks that would be cooked to order. Another popular item was really large turkey legs with most of the meat gone but enough to carry and eat as you walk. I was tempted to try one of the really strange items, just because I could, but I was really afraid I would get sick and ruin part of my short vacation, so I chickened out.
We got some fruit on a stick, chunks of fruit dipped in a slightly sweetened corn syrupy type sauce that hardened when it was cool. We heard an opera-style singer on the side and checked her out for a few minutes. She was in full costume and makeup and was singing those very high squeaky notes and we moved onward fairly quickly.
We headed down an alley where all the small items vendors were located. There wasn't even breathing room in-between the displays, they are packed so tightly. Every few feet was a salesperson. We heard: Hey lady, Hello, Hey woman, Good/best/better quality, Cheapa for you, How much you want?, over and over and over again. Bethany showed interest in some scarves and was originally quoted 280RMB. Yeah, right! After starting with a counter offer of 30RMB and being almost physically accosted and prevented from leaving the small shop, with Stephanie encouraging Bethany not to give in so the salesgirl gave Stephanie all sorts of dirty looks, lots of laughing about how Bethany was handling her first high pressure sale, and eventually walking away, the salesgirl yelled 'OK! OK!' and the sale was made at 45RMB each. This was how Bethany learned to be forceful for all future bargaining (and she did get good at it!!).
Each of us bought a few items, saw loads of interesting stuff, shared a plate of banana fritters (with confectioners' sugar and a sugar sauce), we talked to a nice guy who wanted to know where we were from. Once he found out, he boldly asked if we could give him anything from America. I gave him a quarter, explained what it was and how much it was worth and he was pleased.
We stopped for some milk tea with tapioca balls that Stephanie likes to warm up, grabbed a few bottles of water (needed to brush our teeth) and took the subway back to the hostel. Stephanie used the computer in the lobby for a few minutes to finalize our travel plans for the next day and then we all conked out. We were glad to see the power was on (it wasn't when we first arrived to drop off our items), turned on the heat and went to bed.