Sunday, May 3: After leaving the Pudong waterfront, I get on metro for one stop and switch to line 10, where I get off one stop later at Yu Yuan. I’m heading into the Old City, the traditional urban core of Shanghai, formerly known as the Chinese City. It was based on the original walled city of Shanghai, dating back to the 11th century. After the Opium War in 1842, foreign concessions (ceded territories within China, governed and occupied by foreign powers) were established to the north of the Old City, which remained under Chinese control. Only foreigners could settled in the concessions (except for the Chinese who already lived there), while newly arrived Chinese residents lived in packed and squalid conditions in the Old City, which was a kind of ghetto. Most of the Old City walls were dismantled in 1912 (Wikipedia: Old City of Shanghai and Lonely Planet China).
I have no idea where to go, but I follow the crowds to Fuyou Road, a small street running east-west along the northern edge of Yuyuan, where the Sunday market is in full swing. A frenetic atmosphere pervades this street as shopkeepers holler for attention and shoppers rifle through goods on tables and racks, leaving chaos in their wake.
In this little video, you can get a sense for the noise level on a busy Chinese street.
I poke into a few shops to check out the scarves and textiles of various sorts, but they all look cheaply made, so I continue on.
At a big corner on the pedestrian-only street heading toward the Old City, three young people approach me and ask if they can take their picture with me. We pose together and then I ask them if they’ll take a picture of me with my camera. Their English is very good and they tell me they’re students. They ask where I’m going and I tell them I’m looking for Yu Yuan Garden. They tell me this is Yu Yuan Garden. I don’t believe them, as this looks nothing like a garden. 🙂 Already I’m suspicious.
After conversing for a while in a laid-back way, they tell me they’d like to take me to a tea house they know of. Aha! The Shanghai Tea Scam, again! This is the second time in three days that young people have tried to pull the tea scam on me. I tell them no thanks and start walking away, and then they get quite aggressive: “Why? Where are you going? Why won’t you come with us?” I should have said, “Oh! The famous tea scam!” Instead, I hightail it into the crowds, where I follow the signs to the Classic Chinese Street.
I figure if this is Yuyuan Garden, it is nothing like any garden I’ve ever seen. I figure an actual “garden” will turn up if I just follow the crowds.
The center of the activity in the Old City is an area called Changhaung Miao, where I find, in the midst of a modern touristy bazaar, one of the most crowded tourist sites in the city: Huxin Ting Teahouse.
Huxin Ting (Heart of Lake Pavilion) is a two-story teahouse sitting on an island at the center of an ornamental pond, reached by a zigzag bridge. Many famous people have come here for an expensive cup of tea, including the Queen of England and Bill Clinton (Lonely Planet China).
A convoluted walkway leads to the tea house and across the pond. The walkway is packed and policemen are blowing whistles and prodding people along. The line moves at a snail’s pace with every Chinese person taking pictures along the walkway with the tea house as a backdrop.
When I emerge from the walkway on the other side of the pond, I see a line forming at a ticket booth. I almost walk past but then I ask some foreigners, “What are the tickets for?” They tell me it’s Yu Yuan (Jade Garden). Ah, finally, the elusive garden. I buy the ticket for 40 yuan (~$6.50). I find a number of halls that look similar to the one below, but I don’t linger long.
According to Lonely Planet China, Yu Yuan (Jade Garden) is “a classical Chinese garden featuring ponds, walkways, bridges and rockeries.”
The garden “was finished in 1577 by a government officer of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) named Pan Yunduan. Yu in Chinese means pleasing and satisfying, and this garden was specially built for Pan’s parents as a place for them to enjoy a tranquil and happy time in their old age,” according to China Travel Guide: Yuyuan Garden.
Due to fluctuating fortunes and historical events, the garden went through numerous changes. During the late Ming Dynasty, it became dilapidated with the decline of Pan’s family. In 1760, some rich merchants bought it and spent more than 20 years reconstructing the buildings. During the Opium War of the 19th century, it was severely damaged. Today’s garden is the result of a five-year restoration project which began in 1956. It was opened to the public in September, 1961 (China Travel Guide: Yuyuan Garden).
The garden is packed with people on this holiday weekend, but I love it anyway because it is so iconically Chinese.
One of my favorite features of the garden is the whitewashed undulating garden wall topped with a dragon made of tiles.
After leaving the garden, I head back into the Old City and make my way through the narrow alleys back to Fuyou Road.
Back on Fuyou Road, I stop to check out the scarves, where I pick up 3 for 10 yuan ($1.60). When I get back to my hotel later, I find two of them have flaws in them, bright white lines cutting through. Oh well, even one for $1.61 isn’t bad.
I get back on Line 10 of the metro and go two stops to Xintiandi, which consists of two blocks of renovated shikumen converted to a Western-style open air mall. Shikumen is a traditional Shanghainese architectural style combining Western and Chinese elements that first appeared in the 1860s. At the height of their popularity, there were 9000 shikumen-style buildings in Shanghai, comprising 60% of the total housing stock of the city (Wikipedia: Shikumen).
At this place, I almost feel like I’m back in the USA, as this kind of open air mall is so familiar. Both Chinese and Western people are wandering about at this mall, and I almost feel like I’m home. At this point, I think that I could almost live in Shanghai. Of course, that would be disregarding the numbers of people in the city. However, this small area is not as crowded as the Bund or Yu Yuan, as this is not such a tourist spot.
I stop for a lunch at a “healthy spot” called Sproutworks, where I order two sides: orzo and cauliflower (soaked in oil) for 25 yuan (~$4).
After walking through Xintiandi, I feel tired and want to return to my hotel. I don’t feel like tackling the metro again, so I take a taxi for 25 yuan (~$4). At this point I still have 51 yuan on my metro card which I will never be able to use.
Back in my neighborhood, I walk down the street and buy a peach yogurt drink and head to a massage place where I pay 119 yuan (~$19) for an hour-long aromatic foot massage. It feels great and makes me feel really sleepy.
I stop at a discount shoe store but I don’t find anything of interest. My silver sandals are really worn out and my tennis shoes are still wet from yesterday, so I was hoping to find a cheap alternative.
Back at the room, I relax until 5:00, at which time I go down to the hotel bar for a glass of wine. Tonight is salsa night at the hotel, so I enjoy watching the Chinese folks doing salsa on the dance floor.
I had seen some dumpling places on the street, so I go outside in search of dinner. I always love dumplings in China, so when I find a spot, I go inside. However, the only menu is on the wall in Chinese, which makes it impossible to translate with my WayGo app. I can’t even figure out how we’re supposed to order. As I’m totally ignored, I decide to try another place.
Finally, I find a place where I can sit down and read the menu with my WayGo app, and I order Chinese cabbage pork dumplings (6) and shrimp and greens pouches (6), all for 25 yuan. I mix some minced garlic and red-hot oil with the soy sauce and dip the dumplings into the sauce. They are delicious! I’m hooked now on Shanghai dumplings. 🙂
Back at the hotel, the salsa night is in full swing and I don’t really feel like hanging out in the crowded bar. I’m more of a quiet-bar-kinda-girl. I return to my hotel where I take a long hot bath and relax and read for the night. I have a super early flight back to Nanning tomorrow from Hongqiao Airport, which is luckily closer to my hotel than Pudong International Airport, from where I arrived on Thursday night.