Monday, June 8, 2009

May 27-June 3: Shanghai

Our last stop.  Five continents and almost exactly one year later, we've ended up in Shanghai (still sore from the great wall 'hike').  By this point we're more or less done sightseeing and Shanghai has a great place to transition back into normal life, with its metropolitan feel and a growing number of friends in town it almost feels like home.

While places like Western Sichuan might be considered the wild west, the true Chinese wild west is definitely Shanghai.  Ten years ago there were no tall buildings, now you can drive for half an hour from downtown to Pudong airport and be on an elevated highway the entire time surrounded by skyscrapers.  Everywhere you look there are dozens of cranes and major construction endeavors.  Shanghai feels like an adolescent child entering puberty; it's clearly changing quickly, but it doesn't quite know where it's going.

This insane pace of development has led to a flood of opportunities and a booming expat scene.  Everyone from photographers to DJs to consultants to bankers are arriving in droves.  The most popular job in town seems to be the business to business middleman, ie someone who speaks some Chinese and can find the right Chinese company to satisfy an international (read American) company's needs.  We got a good taste of the variety of the expat scene visiting our friends.  Vicky, a friend of mine from high school and of Allison's from a prior job, lives with her husband and daughter out in the posher suburbs of Pudong.  In an exclusively expat community, we went to an American burger joint for brunch and with the kids frolicking on the grass outside, it could have been Noe Valley.  We also spent some time with some college friends Mike and Dan who live in the French Consession. Dan's a DJ and while Mike has an engineering day job he is infamous in Shanghai as the legendary "Roller Mike", the guy who throws the best party in town, a quarterly dj'd disco party at a roller rink. We were fortunate enough to be able to attend, and can attest first-hand that you can't go wrong with costumes, an open bar and roller skates.

Walking around town one afternoon we stumbled across a long of line of people waiting with small bills in hand outside a hole-in-the-wall restaurant.  We soon discovered the glory of Yang's Fry Dumplings, quite possibly the best thing we've eaten all year.  Pan-fried dumplings, with a perfect crusty bottom and delicate top, filled with minced pork and an amazing hot soup.  The proper technique is to bite a little hole in the top and slurp up the soup, before going for the pork center proper.  We were only partially successful and had a couple scalding soup face squirts, but it didn't matter.  Incredibly good.  The fact that you can get a pile of dumplings larger than you can eat for less than a dollar was just a bonus.  We later discovered that there is actually somewhat of a cult following around these delicious morsels.

As we've made our way around the country we've been consistently resisting the urge to buy things as we'd have to lug everything around on our backs.  Well Shanghai being our last stop changed that.  We bought two suitcases and filled them with Chinese wares.  As everything in the world is more or less made in China these days, for every legitimate brand, there is a Chinese factory right next door making the Chinese knockoff that is identical in quality at a fraction of the price.  While we dabbled in technology and souvenirs, the real damage was done in custom tailored clothes.  The process couldn't be easier.  You show up at a mall exclusively filled with tailors, pick a style you like from a book of magazine clippings, pick some fabric, discuss details like cuffs and buttons, get measured and voila a few days later you have perfectly fitting clothes.  I'm glad I held out on getting that tux til this trip.

As has become standard on our trip we are taking a highly circuitous route home.  From Shanghai we fly 2.5 hours south to Hong Kong where we spend the night, before flying 3.5 hours directly north to Beijing, before heading back to San Francisco.  But we're excited nonetheless.  Excited to reintegrate, see our friends and families, and start up the next phase of our lives.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be posting some retrospective thoughts on the year, so stay tuned!

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