My last day in Shanghai was very cool. After wrapping up the training class and having one last meal with a few colleagues, I headed off – mapless I might add – to the Yu Yuan Gardens. The is a large “Chinese” village (in quotes because a Chinese village should probably not authentically contain Starbucks, Sephora and H&M…) and a 16th century Ming garden (30 RMB entry fee). Well, the gardens themselves were a bit underwhelming. Perhaps, had I never seen the Forbidden City, I would have been more impressed but the area was too small and there was zero explanation of anything in the garden. Very hard to appreciate without a guide I suppose. I hope the larger gardens that are about 1h north of Shanghai are nicer.
In any case, I set off, mapless I might add, towards the west hoping to cross the large People’s Square and hit the museum. Hmm, well I was about 6 blocks (and in China a block is a VERY long ways away) south of where I should have been. I walked for about 45 minutes through lots of interesting neighborhoods varying from working-class Chinese to Gucci-Lanvin-Rolex storefronts. Eventually, I gave up and asked directions at a hotel. They kindly showed me that I was at least a 20 min walk from where I wanted to be and advised to take a taxi to avoid missing the museum before it closed. Well, I grabbed a taxi but still missed the museum. Note to self: museum closes at 17h even in summer so get there early! I decided to walk to the Line 2 Metro and just tuck my tail between my legs and call it a day when I was asked by a group of three Chinese girls to take their picture. They were really friendly and we got to speaking. It turned out that two of them spoke really good English and they invited me to enjoy a tea ceremony with them at a famous tea shop. I happily joined and loved the tea ceremony complete with lessons on tea history, Chinese lucky numbers (6, 8, 9, and 10) and Chinese characters for tea and other words. The tea itself was extraordinary – 3 tiny cups each of 6 different teas. One of them actually contained 4 flowers that slowly opened up into a beautiful arrangement in the hot water. And it tasted delicious. Definitely a highlight of the week!
After tea, I mentioned that I had about two hours before I needed to head off to the airport. They were headed for karaoke and asked me if I wanted to tag along. So, once again I joined them. Now, karaoke, KTV as it is called in China, has a reputation for being seedy (ie. with prostitutes) and expensive. Well, these ladies took me to a Chinese place (I was the only white guy in there) that was for the after-work karaoke for the Shanghai folks. It only cost 34 RMB per person and included a all-you-can-eat buffet and 3h of karaoke! Bery, bery, inexpensive! We had a ball. They sang Chinese songs while I stuck to classics like Mony, Mony, Heartbreak Hotel, New York, New York and Hit the Road Jack. The only one I chose that the girls knew was Beat It by the King of Pop. I don’t know how familiar you are with karaoke in Asia but the songs are always accompanied by a lame pseudo romantic video because they are usually too cheap to go purchase the rights to the original music video. Well, interestingly enough, Heartbreak Hotel was a video archive footage of the King singing and dancing and Beat It was the original video. Pretty cool. The one weird one was one of the Chinese songs that was apparently extracted from a romantic-propaganda film about, well, broken hearts between a male and female soldier. I found it strange to see a propaganda film in a karaoke place…by the way, did you know that kare in Japanese means fake and oke means orchestra so karaoke means fake orchestra. Funny, no?
I said goodbye to my new friends as one of them led me back to the metro. Panic set in as I realized that I only had 45 minutes to go grab my bags and get back on the metro to the Maglev station. What’s the Maglev you ask? The Magnetic Levitation train that goes a whopping 300 kmph from Pudong to the airport. The train station is in the middle of nowhere unfortunately but unbelievably enough I made it by exactly one minute.
My luck took a turn for the worse though at the airport. I got a middle seat next to an enormous smelly fat guy. Oh well, at least I lived to write about it. Once piece of advice for Pudong Airport – it is incredibly boring. No shopping to speak of. And the only electrical outlet I could find was all the way at the end of the seemingly endless terminal – out where the free wifi barely reached. But, there were four outlets so I got to juice up my iPad and iPhone before the long, grueling 11h flight.