After almost 2 weeks in Beijing I continued on to Shanghai for the holidays. I hadn’t traveled much outside of Beijing so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the train station. I went up to the ticket window and said “Shanghai?” and 15 minutes later I was speeding along at 180 mph (one of the fastest trains in the world), and 6 hours later we arrived.
Beware the tea ceremony
The next day I explored Shanghai and found myself on the main shopping drag with familiar stores like Forever 21, The Gap, Apple, etc. Just a few minutes into my walk I met two Chinese people asking for a picture so I took a selfie with them. They explained they were students visiting the city from a nearby province and studying English. We chatted for a minute and they said they were going to a tea ceremony today, would I like to come along?
I refused and gave them a dirty look. I was warned by my good friend who was unlucky enough to fall for the tea ceremony scam when she visited a few years ago. These were not students looking to practice their English and make a new friend. If I had accepted we would have gone to a tea ceremony and at the end we would have each paid $25-75 USD (or more) for the ceremony. Later the “students” would get a cut of the profits and would continue to rope in more tourists. I was invited to tea twice more that day and soon learned to ignore the scammers when they approached.
I was staying in the Bund across the river from the fancy Pudong district with a new skyscraper every week. I checked out the French Concession, a formerly French area of town that is now the main hangout for foreigners, and had some delicious dinners surrounded by expats. There are about a quarter of a million living in Shanghai alone so I didn’t get as many stares on the street.
In those areas the bars and restaurants were so international that they could have been anywhere in the world, except the menu is in Chinese too. Many of the expats I met told me about many expats insulating themselves from China, never leaving certain neighborhoods. Foreigners have only been allowed in China since the 1970s so it’s a relatively new community, many people come for a year or two, maybe five, then leave. They don’t need to learn Chinese and many don’t care to, though the ones I met could haggle over prices and describe to taxi drivers where to turn.
Nearby my hostel were many restaurants and I found a place with tasty dumplings so I made that my lunch a few days in a row. My stomach wasn’t feeling well so I checked with my friend from the hostel that the dumplings just had vegetables. I told her I don’t eat meat, I can’t eat meat. That’s when I found out I had been eating prok and vegetable dumplings for three days in a row. That was a shock to my system, though it did explain the constant upset stomach. I made a mental note to avoid dumplings unless I knew their content for sure. Saying that I was vegetarian did not quite send the right message. After a few pork-free days my stomach settled.
Since my vegetarianism is a dietary preference and not a religious or dietary restriction I wasn’t freaked out but I wasn’t pleased either. I have had a harder time in China than anywhere else convincing people that not only do I not eat meat, I can’t eat meat. I am effectively allergic, I grew up vegetarian eating fish, dairy and eggs, and if I eat anything else I get ill. Luckily a few days later an American friend gave me a piece of paper that says “I am allergic to meat, please do not put any in my food”. That came in handy many times over the next few weeks.
On the weekends in People’s Park in Shanghai there is a Marriage Market, a gathering of aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents and other concerned family members who bring descriptions of their grown kids and try to set up matches. Some of the listings include a picture, others just the name, date of birth and their job. It only started in 2003, around the time of online dating I think, so parents can help their kids find the right match. In China “saving face” is a major concern and dictates many parts of everyday life. It is important to marry a suitable spouse to save face, and to go to a good school or have a good job to keep face for yourself and your family. My Chinese friends said that they would be very angry if their family ever went to the market, but I suspect that many of the bachelors and bachelorettes did not know they were being set up.
For the New Year I had a great time swing dancing the night away, safely away from the stampede on the Bund. I only found out about it the next morning after waking up the next morning to a series of text messages asking if I was safe. I was in another part of town, practicing my swing outs and triplesteps.
Before leaving Shanghai I visited the fabric market with my American host, who was having a few pieces of clothing made. He speaks some Chinese, certainly enough to explain what he wanted and to haggle the prices down. It was tempting to get a dress made but I resisted, I still have a long way to travel!
Back to Blogging
Unfortunately my attempts to regularly blog have been hindered by some writing I have been doing on the side. I found a writing job through a website and now I am being paid to write travel guides on Thailand (completed) and Vietnam (just completed). For those of you who follow my travels closely you know I have never been to either of those countries. I am sorry to say that yes, many travel guides these days are written by people who have never been to the place they are writing about. But I did lots of research and will be revising them once I visit so they are accurate and up-to-date. Once they have been published I will let you know where you can buy them though I don’t get commission on sales.
Stay tuned for more adventures!