Shanghai has a lot of things that other big cities have: rush-hour traffic for kilometres at a stretch; blaring horns and flashing lights well past midnight; high-rise apartment buildings and skyscrapers that dominate the skyline. Shanghai also has a layer of haze that hangs like a gauzy curtain. Even on the sunny days, as I peered out our hotel window on the streets below, I felt like I was looking at Shanghai through a layer of grey film.
To get away from it all, D and I headed out to Zhouzhuang water town with D’s colleague Samuel. Although only 1 hour away, the pace of life and the air quality in the ancient city area are completely opposite to that of Shanghai. The grey haze and skyscrapers and honking horns were replaced by clear skies and chirping birds. We toured the ancient town, peering into shop windows and sampling caramelized sesame seed brittle along the way.
Zhouzhuang also features an attraction that I wasn’t expecting to find in an ancient Chinese town. The Strange House (or the Strange Loft, I can’t recall) features trompe l’oeil paintings and displays that you can interact with directly.
The entire day was a test to my sense of smell. There was the smell of pork and the smell of sesame seed brittle which had my taste buds perking up. Then there was the unidentifiable and unpleasant smell that had me holding my breath for about a block. I said to myself “remind me not walk down that street again!”
The highlight of our afternoon in Zhouzhuang was definitely the boat cruise. Talk about relaxation. It was total peace and quiet on the boat; I felt completely refreshed after the ride. And I was ready to eat! Lunch included the local delicacy, Wansan hock, which was a fatty, melt-in-your-mouth treat.
The days before and after our day trip to Zhouzhuang were filled with touring Shanghai. D’s work obligations meant he had a few meetings to attend. This left me free to wander the shikumen-style houses in the Xintiandi neighbourhood of Shanghai.
Together, D and I decided to head to the Bund where we played tourist and took turns taking each other’s photo. We also visited a non-touristy part of Shanghai near Nanjing Road Pedestrian Walkway before heading back to Nanjing Road for some window shopping.
I was able to practice the little Chinese I know: ni hao (hello) and xie xie (thanks). Not bilingual by any stretch of the imagination but I am polite.
Shanghai also offers lots of opportunity to dine well. We were lucky that our hotel was located within walking distance to several local restaurants. We tried three that came recommended by D’s colleagues and all were excellent. It had been a while since I’d had good Chinese food and I had my fill of noodles, dim sum and sticky rice. By our second last night though I admit was craving a good steak.
There is so much to see, to do and lots of good food to enjoy in Shanghai. Would I go back to Shanghai? Most definitely!