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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