Wednesday, January 21, 2009

5 winter jackets for RM 235

When Jean was in Shanghai last month, we did not get to visit the clothes shops at Qipu Rd. properly due to the limited time and terrible crowds. Still, she needed a winter jacket, so I was tasked with buying her a jacket.


I was given a thorough briefing on the kind of details she wanted. The button types, the cutting, the length, the colour, the hood style, the simplicity, the amount of faux fur… The detailed scope made life much easier. I could glance at the stuff hanging on the walls and on display and gauge if the shop’s style held any potential, and if promising enough I would march in, quickly thumb through the black and grey jackets to inspect the potential for suitable jackets.

This being close to the end of the winter shopping period (it’s about mid winter now, and anyone who wants a winter jacket would already have one), and the jackets were selling for really good prices. 150 to 250 RMB was the typical price range.

After combing through the first and second floors, I came on a rather good looking jacket for a mere 135 RMB. Amazing! Then when the shop keeper found out I was only buying one, she said it’s 185 RMB. She had assumed I was a trader looking to buy by the hundreds. Fine, 180 (after haggling a little over 5 RMB).

On the way out, I saw something in a completely different style to what the style manual suggested. It looked good, and was only 80 RMB. After a brief consultation via text messages, I got that too.

The black one was 180 RMB; the green one, 80 RMB

May heard of my adventures (it seems I tell her everything) and wanted a jacket too. We went through the same ritual: She specified the button types, the cutting, the length, the colour, the hood style, the simplicity, the amount of faux fur…

On Monday, I rushed to Qipu Rd. after work. It was just about closing time, so I did not have the luxury of combing thorough 2 floors. Still, I managed to get a jacket that almost met the specifications, for 160 RMB.

160 RMB

This was going along rather well, until I saw a hawker on the pedestrian bridge selling jackets for 30 RMB each. Absurd! This I cannot resist. At 15 MYR each, it’s worth it even if they jackets were worn twice.

And so I got two more for a total of 50 RMB.

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Both for 25 RMB each

In total, 5 winter jackets for 470 RMB, equivalent to 235 MYR. Average of 47 MYR a jacket. Not bad at all.

Except that with 5 thick and long jackets, my suitcase has not much space left for my own stuff.

The things I do for you two!

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Shanghai, part I

There’s this little street called Qipu Road in Shanghai that has several complexes cramped with little shops all selling clothes, accessories, hair extensions, shoes and bags. The shops are generally tiny lots not more than 3 m by 3m, packed with wares all along the walls. On each floor, there would be easily 1000 stalls (lots of narrow aisles, each aisle having more than 30 stalls).

While not actually correct, ‘voracious’ seems to describe the economy well enough. The entire area was packed with shoppers, as visible in a closer up of the bridge and the building foyer.

There’s plenty of good deals inside, but at this time of the year, they are almost exclusively winter wear.

The Shanghai South railway station is probably the new face of China. The old face but prevalent face can be found at the Shanghai railway station – filthy, crowded, no waiting spaces (waiting rooms are only for trains arriving soon; people waiting for other connecting trains have to wait outside in the miserable cold).

On New Year’s Eve we went for xiao long bao at Ding Tai Feng, a highly recommended place. Not cheap – a basket of 10 pieces costs 52 RMB. However, they were heavenly. The skin was thin, and the soup within was a rich flavourful broth.

Another famous xiao long bao shop is Nanxiang, but this one relies on low price and massive volume for its profits. The queue at the take away window is approximately half an hour long, and the workers buzz through the motions remarkably quickly. Pay up at the first window, and get a receipt. Hand the receipt over at the second window, and watch the woman grab a basket of steamed dumplings, give the basket a strong whack on the side to loosen the dumplings, and then tumble the things into a paper box. Drizzle it with vinegar from a large jug, and there is your xiao long bao.

It was not quite worth the wait: the dumpling skin was tough and slightly chewy (to withstand the rough handling), and the filling were just short of being good.

It was cheap, at 11 RMB for 16 pieces, but with my unwell stomach and the unpleasant doughy texture, we finally dumped the last 5 pieces.

On New Year’s day, the public holiday unleashed endless crowds everywhere. The trains were crowded at stations near economic attractions like shopping districts or tourist spots. Despite continuous reminders to let passengers disembark before getting into the train, there is always a proportion of commuters too stupid to understand the rationale. Instead, they crowd the train doors and try to push their way in.

At our stop, someone tried to rush in against the flow disembarking passengers. Not intending to let him in easily, I forcibly marched ahead. He did not see my substantial camera bag I slung in front of me, and when that ploughed into his gut he let out a surprised “ouff.” That was satisfying :)

The Bund was similarly packed with people milling about snapping photos and crowded up 3-deep against the embankment. While the buildings located near The Bund are supposed to be well known for being historical, most people flock to The Bund to watch the Pudong city skyline.

Part II can be found here

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

180 degrees panoramic view of Shanghai

One of the buses that stop at my apartment goes all the way to the Nanpu Bridge (South Huangpu River Bridge), so I took a ride to that edifice for a closer look.

This is a bridge like no other I’ve seen. That is to say, I have not seen many magnificent bridges before. It commands your awe by virtue of its monstrosity and inelegance.

Shanghai is filled with elevated highways – when the roads became too crowded and there was no where to expand, urban designers expanded to the third dimension. Intersections of these elevated highways are always messy yet dramatic affairs: several layers of highways criss-crossing above a surface-level junction, with branches taking vehicles from one highway and diving down to another route.

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The Nanpu bridge’s ramps are a good example of this mess of noodles in the sky. With a bridge deck high above the river surface, a circular ramp was designed to bring vehicles onto the bridge.

The bridge deck is open to tourists at a reasonable price of 10 RMB. There is no need to climb 46 metres of stairs: the columns have lifts up to the deck level.

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The deck gives a representative but rather dull view of the Shanghai skyline. As it is located a distance from the main commercial buildings, most of the visible structures are not of the shiny glass and aluminium kind, but mostly concrete high rise residential blocks.

I took photographs at regular intervals as I rotated through 180 degrees, and quickly stitched them together using Photoshop. With no tripod and no exposure correction, the image is far from perfect but this will do for now.

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3478 wide by 500 pixels high, 240 kb

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Jean was over in Shanghai at the turn of the year, thus explaining my complete absence for the past 10 days.

Today’s discourse will be limited to one aspect of our adventures: trains

The journey from Shanghai city to the airport by taxi can take anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes. However, the airport train service uses magnetically levitated trains that whiz along at an awesome 430 km/h, reducing the travel time to a mere 7 minutes. And at 50 RMB per person, it is also far cheaper than the 150 - 200 RMB taxi fare.

The ride is exhilarating. An LED text display shows the current speed (most trains use this to indicate the next station), and the numbers steadily blink from zero up to 430 as the scenery whizzes by at increasingly fun speeds.

The elevated track is gently banked at curves, so that when the train whizzes into the curve, the view on one side will be mostly sky and clouds, while the other side will be dominated by a dizzying view of motor vehicles slowly puttering along on the highways.

Very soon, the speedometer begins to blink downward as the train approaches the station. The train must have been travelling at top speed for not more than 2 minutes; the rest of the time is spent gently accelerating from rest, and slowing down on approach into the station.

And the ride is over. Too fast.


Shanghai has two railway stations – the Shanghai Railway Station and Shanghai South Railway Station. For our trip to Suzhou, we went to Shanghai South to take a train Suzhou. Shanghai South is a new facility, clean, spacious and aesthetically pleasing – unlike most train stations in China.

We got a pair of tickets from Shanghai to Suzhou on a fast train, and had a long wait ahead of us. While in the toilet, I had a sudden horrible flash of insight. The ticket says Shanghai to Suzhou, not Shaghai South. It doesn’t really make sense for this railway station to sell tickets for departures from the other station, but strange things do happen in China…

A bit of asking around revealed that we make our way to the older station, located about 20 minutes away by subway. MCH.

The train stations are generally dingy places, with huge crowds, filthy toilets, smoky halls and not quite enough seats to go round (which is not surprising, seeing that each train can hold thousands of passengers). This was indeed the case in the Shanghai Station.

The train, however, was a completely different story. A bullet train with well a finished interior that is better trimmed than an airplane cabin and seats with more room than in a bus, it was entirely comfortable.

This being the fast train, it was really fast. At 200 km/h, the 75 km trip was done in 30 minutes.

Not bad.

Of course, that was the fast (and expensive) train. The slow trains can take up to 100 minutes, where the fares are much cheaper and the seats being hard benches.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The brownies were good

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A delicate crust, and a fudgy interior moist from the molten chocolate...

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