Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Path Less Traveled

The view today is remarkable. When I woke up this morning, I noticed an unusual blue in the sky. There are many "sunny" days here in Shanghai, but due to the profound pollution, it is rare for these days to be accompanied by blue skies. On a day like today though, it is wonderful to look out onto the city to a view that doesn't seem to end. The enormity of this city sprawls before my eyes. All the modernity, hustle and bustle, construction, and endless buildings reaching toward the sky seem transformed into an urban mountain view......

Phil and I have just come off a week long holiday that the entire country took part in. This particular week off is known as the Labor Holiday. The way China handles vacation is a bit different. China has 3 main holidays. One is for the Chinese New Year, another for Labor Holiday in May, and another is in October. The week before the holiday begins, all people are expected to work 8 straight days. They work through the weekend and the following Monday. The vacation begins Tuesday and work resumes again the following Tuesday. Apparently, the initial holiday was only 3 days long and in an effort to boost tourism, someone decided to essentially trade days. So people work their typically free weekend and get those two extra days, thus turning the holiday into a week long vacation.

During these holidays, all major business shuts down, fireworks explode throughout the day, and masses of people (unlike anything I had seen before) descend on the major cities and tourist spots throughout China. So yeah for us, we happen to live in one of those major tourist destinations! When we told our language teacher we were planning on staying in Shanghai for the holiday, she looked at us with some concern, then told us we should just stay in for the first 3 days because the city would be swarming with people. Let me tell you, when a local tells you Shanghai will be swarming (when isn't it???), you take note.

So we decided we would stay in the first day and take the opportunity to finish unpacking those last few straggling boxes of non essential items. You know, the ones that can end up living side by side with us for years, until one day we realize we still haven't unpacked from 2 years ago. After our day in, we decided to brave the city in all of its Labor Holiday frenzy and see if it really was all that crowded.

Our first day out proved to be a relaxed one. We decided to go over to Puxi and check out one of the "western friendly" supermarkets in search of a rice cooker that actually had English on the buttons. Since we were going to be in that area, we also decided to track down an Indian grocer that was rumored to be nearby. After quite a bit of walking, we found both. Our journey had been a success. I have to tell you, it was a great joy to find this Indian grocer so I could replenish my seriously sad spice pantry. It is still in a sad state compared to what it was in the US, but now, I can at least make some of our favorite dishes.

The next day we decided to travel to Qibao, one of the "old cities" outside of the booming downtown. We headed out in the morning, made our way to the end of line 2 on the metro and took a taxi the rest of the way. When we arrived, we were met by a quaint looking arrangement of old architecture, and a sea of Chinese tourists. It was early enough in the day to know that we were in for some seriously crowded tourism. We decided to walk through Qibao, take a little boat ride down the river, take some pictures, and head out before any more people converged on this place. It was nice and quaint, but not worth the shoving and crowding taking place to stay any longer. We figured we live close enough, we can go back when the rest of China isn't there on holiday.

Another day we did one of our favorite things and went for lunch at an Indian restaurant. After surviving a frightening ride in a man powered taxi bike thing, we arrived at Bukhara. We almost jumped out of the contraption when he stopped. We payed for the seriously over priced (30 RMB ($3.75 USD)) ride and thanked God for sparing our lives. Okay, maybe I am being a little dramatic, but seriously, it was scary. You can check out some pictures of this in our photo album (click on the link to the right). So back to the Indian restaurant. This was number 7 for us and by far one of our favorites. By the time our Indian food loving friends come and visit us, we will know the good from the bad, as well as the best. And for those of you who know what I am talking about, this place had the best Naan in Shanghai. Yum.

Any other plans we had to visit more touristy places, were nixed once we realized the mass of people we would have to fight through. And that was okay. We really just spent time walking and exploring new areas and shops, we hung out with friends, ate a lot of good food, got some foot massages, and relaxed. I would say we took the holiday path less traveled. Thankfully, even in this seriously populated city, that is still possible.


Kari said...

So I think of you guys often and I look at your blog everyday - its a new favorite. I have been meaning to write for awhile. I will send an email to catch up soon. It looks like you are exploring the city and making it your home. Thanks for sharing your experiences - I can't wait to see more beautiful photography. I loved the image of the mom holding the child on her back on a city street.

Will said...

Ha! an extra-crowded city, that must have been a treat. You know Jen you're looking at this spice pantry situation all wrong. While your pantry may be lacking, ours by comparison is filled to the brim; and for that we are truly grateful for your contributions.