14.11.16 Shanghai to Hangzhou

The scaffolding outside our hostel is being dismantled by a bloke with a pair of wire cutters. Lengths of wire and piles of bamboo litter the street. 

The rain of yesterday and the increase in temperature means it’s really humid this morning. Weather you definitely don’t want to carry a heavy rucksack through, onto a subway, in a city of 24 million people, at rush hour. The crush thins as we head out of the centre and my sweat dries. 

We visit an ATM …. also known as a CRM in China.

Today we’re on a Z class train. It’s the cheap ticket, cattle class, hurley burly, lived in train. The last few we have taken have been sleek G class bullet trains which are more expensive. Today’s fellow passengers look far more interesting than G class punters. Fashions are more garish, suitcases are more broken in and voices are coarser. A man carries a plastic box full of chicken eggs on a wooden pole, ladies in sequined knitwear scream and cackle at each other, a young lad stares unemotionally at his son who keeps thumping him. Our train number disappears and is replaced by red characters. I look around but no one seems bothered. The time to board comes and goes but no one seems bothered. Al goes up to the board and Google translates it. ‘Train delayed. Time unknown’. It turns out to be only 30 minutes. We sit with a young woman who speaks excellent English and an older lady who speaks English too. We chat for some time and are asked – where are we from? Where are we going? What are we going to do in Hangzhou? How old are we? What is my job? Is she your wife? We answer and smile. 

We arrive at Hangzhou which is the final stop and as doors only open at one end and we are at the other, we have to walk the entire length and witness all of the carnage. The carriage is a bombsite with litter everywhere. Tin cans, plastic bottles, newspapers, food cartons, sunflower seed shells and despite no smoking, cigarette ends. Every section of seating has litter discarded in it. As I step off, the inevitable cleaning lady is getting on. I wish her luck.

Hangzhou was the capital of the Southern Song dynasty after 1126 and Marco Polo visited here describing it as a beautiful city. It’s a major tourist site for the Chinese and our hostel is just off the bustling, redeveloped, tourist area. We are becoming used to the redevelopment of history in China and less resistant to its charms. The area is lovely to stroll around, with upturned pagoda roofs and winding narrow alleyways to explore. There are many tourists and many tourist shops. Tea, snacks, sweets, notebooks, tea sets, calligraphy sets, flutes, hats, selfie sticks, plastic kids toys. An emporium of unnecessary trinkets which are essential on holiday. We find snack street where 40 metres of tiny food stalls are maned by women. Duck leg, garlic aubergine, rice and meat dumplings and fried rice are devoured whilst checking out what else could be eaten. Al is asked to hold a baby and photoed.  4-2 to her. 

We walk down to the west lake which is the main draw card.  We cross through a lovely park beforehand, which seems very atmospheric with the humid, low cloud. As with Nanjing, you can’t see the other side of the lake and we’re both shocked by the air quality. 

Tired from Shanghai we sit on a bench until uncomfortable from the multitude of insects flying around us and we head back. We cross a coach park where boisterous day trippers wait for their ride home. The atmosphere has an edge like the british seaside can have. Young men in cheap fashion swagger their egos along the main drag with toothpicks or cigarettes casually hanging from their mouths with Hollywood machismo. They stare at us with cold eyes. 

I try the tv in the room and find an historical fairytale chinese kung fu soap opera love story teen fiction show. I’m hooked and make up my own plot. It goes on and on and on , the plot thickens but goes nowhere. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it finishes and I’m watching a girl review a Sichuan restaurant. Time for bed.

13.11.2016 Shaghai

We didn’t get a night of good sleep. We whatsapp’d, read and did some wizardry to make VPN work. At midnight, our German neighbours woke us up with a sing-a-long to ‘Simply the Best’ just as they were getting ready to go out. They politely turned it down and apologised.

At 5 am one of the Tina Turner fans woke us up with extremely loud bedroom fun times! His partner was clearly ‘in the moment’. It lasted about an hour. The wifi was down so we couldn’t even tell our friends about it on the internet.

At 8.30 am the orchestra started tuning up in the building next door. I can’t say we have had a great sleep in Shanghai.

After yesterday’s sunshine, grey drizzle was unwelcome. We spotted a small, grubby looking stall about a metre wide, fronted by a huge smile with a lady attached. Breakfast consisted of a shallow fried white bread bun (like a muffin/foccacia) split and filled with fried peppers and egg. Sweet, salty and spicy. It would have been perfect hangover fodder but we were just tired. We will be trying to recreate it when we have a kitchen/hangover.

Back to finish the Shanghai museum and we saw coins, Native crafts, jade, furniture, seals, calligraphy and paintings. I’d like to say it was all Chinese to me but they had informative English explanations. The coins from the silk road had Persian empire and Chenggis Khan pieces which felt like a real slice of history.

Back to build your own dish for lunch where we emptied the veg fridge and frozen rubber protein section. It was healthy, cheap and tasty.

As we were very tired now, we went back for a siesta and thankfully the orchestra next door had finished. Unfortunately they had been replaced by a practicing Chinese Opera.

We collapsed into the hostel bar’s sofas and drank tea from tiny cups, blogged and worked out tomorrow’s logistics. As cities here are huge (Shanghai 24 million people, Hangzhou 6 million) they have more than one train station so you need to check where you’re going to avoid last minute dashes across a city. We also normally figure out how to get to the hostel on public transport as we have no Chinese SIM card.

Tea was spicy noodles and beef curry.

  Tomorrow we head to Hangzhou and leave Shanghai behind. We have slowly fallen for its charms after being initially disappointed but that had more to do with our high expectations than this vibrant, fast paced, tall  consumer capital. I especially loved The French Concession area which is a fascinating place to wander about. 

12.11.2016 Shanghai 

Sun streamed through the window so we were happy despite a slight dull ache in the head from the dreadful wine from last night! 

Breakfast was bananas from our local banana seller (he knows we want san (3) bananas each morning now) and went to a fast food place in People’s Square metro for rice balls filled with stuff. This was a recommendation for Shanghai street food which we couldn’t find on a street so resorted to a stall in a mall. We chose 2 randomly and only Google translated them afterwards. Oh dear, we had not chosen the bacon filled one, we had chosen the meat powder one and the (gristle) sausage one. They weren’t fab, but Guy was hungry so finished them both off. 

We were sat next to a mango and icecream stall so I ordered mango and ice cream for my breakfast. Delicious.

As Guy was still starving (claiming last night’s crisps for tea was not enough) we went straight to Yangs Dumplings, joined the queue (it was 11.20) and got a plate each of these delicious soup filled pockets of goodness. We were positioned at the front of the restaurant and a 70 yr old woman shared our small table and ate her dumplings with much more delicacy and much less mess than us 2 blundering westerners. There was still a queue when we left so we couldn’t have put too many people off!

Walking down the street we saw a couple of Chinese guys fall out of a restaurant in a slight tussle. We hadnt seen drunk Chinese so far, so to see them at 11.45am was quite a surprise. 

Fuelled for the day we went to get some rays of sunshine from the nearby park. We got distracted by Starbucks and only went in for coffee and WiFi. They had coffee but no WiFi. They did have shoe shine men and beggers. 

We wandered out into the park to be met by a wall of Chinese people. It was a hot Saturday so we thought nothing of it. However we soon noticed that there seemed to be older Chinese people sat at the side of the walkway, with umbrellas and A4 paper with writing on it, which seemed to included a few dates or measurements, that we could make out, with the odd photo of a young person. Loads of older people were walking looking at them. We realised that this is where kids are put out there to be married off (there is probably a better term for this on Google but guess what. ….we can’t access it). Again, this was a fascinating sight to see, there were literally hundreds of people/ umbrellas in the park. Some ‘adverts’ were on wine boxes, which is what I think my parent’s whould put my advert on, if there was ever a need. We even saw a couple of blokes have a bit of a barney about an advert, all seemed to be a bit for show, but still quite emotional. 

UPDATE we have recently found out more on this via the woks of life blog

All the seats in the park were in the shade and once we had found one in the sun the clouds had set in. Oh, well, we sat in the warmth and took in the scenery for an hour or so. 

We made our way back to the hostel and realised that beer is cheaper than tea, so had 4 beers (24 yuan) instead of pot of tea (35 yuan), we are on a budget so if this is what we need to do to stick to it then, so be it.

Dinner was at a Hunnan restaurant, in a shopping mall. We ordered it all via ipads and ended up with a lovely green bean, onion,garlic and chilli dish, a single pork rib with spicy garlic rub and stinky tofu for Guy. Even Rick Stein didn’t like this, it stank and tasted like sewers and smelly feet, I tried a little and it was minging. He finished the dish and had an aura of stinky tofu for the rest of the night, but the rest of the food was delicious and filled with garlic so we must have both smelt divine. 

  You need gloves to eat some food here,  apparently. We needed to get more biros so went into MiniSo, a pink plastic heaven of shopping , outside the speakers were blearing ‘shopping makes you happy’ well, how can you disagree with that? OK, shopping is a necessary evil would be my interpretation but everyone is different.  The shop was rammed with youth and westerners buying cheap pink plastic. Every 2 mins or so there would be an announcement of some sort, and all the staff would chant something, all together, like robots. It was really weird. We got our pens and left before we became brain washed.

We had had some cheese tarts a couple of nights ago, and needed to check that they were as good as we remembered. So we purchased 2 more,  and they were as good as before, crispy sweet pastry and creamy cheesy inside. 

We headed back to the hostel for a good nights sleep………..

11.11.16 Shanghai 

So, second time of trying to get Mr Wu’s amazing scallion pancakes. Alarm set for 7.30, we were showered and sprinting out the door by 8am. All the information online was to get there early so pre 9am we decided was early. However, as Guy put it ‘in a country of early birds 8a.m. is not early’ as we ploughed through loads of Chinese on their way to work. Undeterred we powered on and got to Mr Wu by 8.45am. As we turned the corner the queue looked the same size as yesterday, I was surprised, expecting it to be much longer. We knew the drill, so went straight to the door to the, still slumbering, assistant who amazingly waved me away like an unwanted fly again. I tried again to explain I wanted pancakes but was again swatted away. We were stunned! Sold out at 8.45am! Did Mr Wu do half days now??? Obviously a brush with Mr Stein had lowered his work ethic. 

We decided we didn’t want any of the unhealthy, scallion pancakes anyway and stalked off to a willing purveyor of fried dumplings and chowed them down instead, it was quite a filling breakfast and not quite as good as Yangs Dumplings (our favourite dumpling chain) but at least they sold us some food. 

As the forecast was for sunshine all day we had planned to visit Yuguan gardens which are surrounded by markets and bazaar, very Shanghainese! A 4km walk down a street and we ended up there. 

As an aside my fitbit clocked 10,000 steps by 10.02 am! A new Personal Best! 

The bazaar was full of Chinese and western tourists with hawkers touting watches and bags, expensive tea and more handicrafts than you could ever lay your eyes on. 

Not in the market for filling our rucksacks with tat we made our way to the Yuguan Gardens along with everyone else. They were stunning. Guy took loads of photos. I watched the tour groups and their enthusiastic guides and enjoyed seeing a beautiful garden albeit with no peace and quiet. It was quite Japanese in a Chinese way, not sure who invented this style of garden first, however as we have no WiFi we will no doubt forget to Google it when we do. 

Guy had agreed to try Sichuan food again, so we had a place in mind over the river on the 10th floor of a shopping plaza called Super Brand Mall (!). You would think that finding a restaurant on 10th floor of a building would be simple? Not here, most of the mall was only 6 floors so we spent ages meandering through the place til we spotted a sign to 7-10 floor and were on it. 

South Beauty restaurant is positioned with amazing views of The Bund, but we weren’t expecting a seat with a view as it was 1pm so prime lunchtime and we were lowly backpackers. We were welcomed enthusiastically and walked through to the prime seat in the restaurant. Stunned we sat down and tried to be casual about our luck! 

Views were ace (albeit hazy) .

We were on a massive table with a lazy Susan (I so want one of these when I get home, although doubt it will last more than 2 or 3 of our dinner parties without being wrecked!!!!). We slowly chose our menu choices (slowly as the menus were long, we only had one copy and couldn’t share it as the table was so big). 

We had chicken and peanuts in flower pepper sauce, aubergine in soy sauce, spinach noodles with seafood and a hot and sour soup. It was all delicious, all edible – heat wise, and no nails were found in the dishes.


We then promendaded down the water front to check out the views. It was sunny and everyone seemed to be enjoying the weather in Starbucks or Haagen Daz alfresco dining areas. 

It was a Friday afternoon so we did as we would do in England with an afternoon off and headed towards a brewery.  Using The Book we headed to Shanghai brewery (in a slightly roundabout way as Guy seemed to loose his spidy sense/ Maps.me and get us quite lost) only to turn up to another we are closed sign please walk 2 km to find us! As it was a brewery the sign was in English so easier to decipher. 

So more wandering ensured due to Guy’s own GPS being disabled and we finally got to the brewery. Happy Hour! All beers 25rmb (£3) so we decided to finish off birthday week with a couple of light ales (actually stouts) and watch the monied expats (be quite rude to the staff.)

We decided to have another on the way home, a recommendation from The Book, Dean’s Brewery. Guess what? It had closed down, was no more at least not where it should have been according to The Book. We have now come to the conclusion that Shanghai is like London, everything changes regularly so relying on a 2 yr old old guide book and no WiFi is getting is nowhere. Still there were other bars on the street one showing English football (arsenal vs spurs) and happy hours beer and wine. We indulged and had by far our worse beer and wine of the trip so far, the wine tasted like watered down plum liquor. Serves me right for having a wine craving in a country that is the 5th biggest buyer of wine (they clearly buy the stuff but don’t drink it…… and I don’t blame them!!)

We walked home through French Concession area watching the locals dancing in the lit up parks. 

10.11.2012 Shanghai – The Day We Realised It Is Difficult Trying To Be Rick Stein

Righto, we had excitedly watched Rick Stein in Shanghai earlier in the year and had researched where he had gone with the intention of following in his tracks and having scallion pancakes from Mr Wu, chairman Mao pork from Anthony and hairy crabs from a street near by our hostel. How difficult can it be to find a few good places to eat in Shanghai, the mecca of street food in China?

Started off trying to find Mr Wu and his scallion pancakes, we got to the address (after a lot of searching and looking up and down streets and alley ways) only to find a sign which, when google translated, said he had moved about a mile away. 

Undeterred we ploughed on, building up an appetite, and found his smart new shop. We were expecting massive queues so were surprised that there was just a small throng of people around the stall. We stood and waited for a bit, looking in on the hunchbacked King of scallion (spring onions to us) pancakes, as he made the dough, added pork fat, kneaded the dough, added scallions, kneaded the dough, added more pork fat, kneaded the dough, added some pork, kneaded the dough, added more pork fat and then cooked them on the large tray dripping with fat, then they were exposed to the roaring fire underneath to finish them off. 

This is not fast food. 

This is not health food either, not that that bothered us, we were starving.  

This was not to be tasted by us either, as it was 11.15 and the lass taking orders (by writing a number on your hand) was fast asleep next to Mr Wu, when I woke her she indicated that no more orders were being taken, thank you, with a wonderfully dismissive hand gesture. 

An enterprising Chinese youth offered to sell us his pancakes for 100 yuan, we politely declined. Guy did get a photo though.

Okay. We decided to get up earlier tomorrow and not let this deter us from our day of Rick Stein-ness. 

Still hungry we followed The Book (Lonely Planet) and tried a Xiao Long Biao restaurant that came highly recommended as cheap and delicate. It was cheap but definitively not delicate. The staff in the restaurant were just as I was expecting everyone to be in China, curt and rude (in my western eyes). We ate the doughy, tasteless, soupless dumplings and were grateful had spent so little on them. 

So, subway journey to another part of town to look for Chairman Mao pork, and we realise Chinese roads are not labelled or numbered as we would expect. I am sure there is a system however we couldn’t fathom it out. We spent ages walking around the area to conclude that the place had moved and we might as well eat in the restaurant on the former sight of Anthony’s amazing Chairman Maos pork restaurant. Without an English menu we ordered a slow cooked meat looking dish, a meat burger looking dish with rice, and noodles with shrimps and egg. There was no slow cooked meat dish available so we were refunded for that. The meat burger looking dish was cold sliced beef with sweet, sticky hoisin sauce over the top, no rice. The noodles were greasy fried noodles which were tasteless until you added a number of teaspoons of chilli to it, this was accompanied by a glutinous, tasteless, tepid tofu soup which the waitress seeing me try Guy’s decided we needed another bowl of it. We didn’t. Guy ate/ drank both of them. 

It was so disappointing there are no photos. 

We went back into town to check out a street that was good for hairy crabs, another Rick recommendation.  The street seemed to be being renovated and where the restaurant Rick went to was blocked off by a massive pile of rubble and concrete. 

Thoroughly unsatisfied at trying to follow books and tv chefs for recommendations we went back to the hostel to attempt to get WiFi. 

No WiFi (really, what were we expecting!!!) but we did have chrysanthamum tea in teeny weeny cups and did some blogging.

We then relied on our own senses and experience for tea and went to Old Shanghai Dish restaurant mainly because they had steamed chicken feet on the menu. Why not??? 

Unfortunately we hadn’t put any thought into how to eat this delicacy and when presented to us we just stared at them. Guy tried picking them up with his trusty chopsticks. I giggled. I used my western fingers, and sucked on the chicken feet, it was all bone with a slight bit of fat covering it. Baffled, I finished one foot and decided Guy could finish the rest. He didn’t. 

The rest of the meal was a success, glutinous mushroom soup, rice with duck leg in brown sauce, both served in claypot so it kept steaming hot, lemon chonder (some Chinese white fish) fingers (or goujons if you are posh) and some bok choi with brown oyster mushroom sauce on top. Yum! Oh and a beer to celebrate a successful meal. 

On a high, we walked on down to the waterfront and Guy took loads and loads of photos of the Shanghai skyline using his tripod. If anyone wants to see more please let him know!

Obviously there was a bride and groom to be having photos taken as well, and yes , they do seem excruciatingly young to me too! 

9.11.2016 Shanghai 

New hostel and new routines. 

Our neighbour decided to clear all, and I mean all, of his orifices at 6.30am.

Back to sleep. 

Next wake up call was simultaneously a kindergarten whose playground backs onto the hostel and an orchestra who tune up at 8.30 in the morning starting playing at 9am. There is no double glazing in China, God knows they could do with it. 

Birthday over we were back on the tourist trail and off to the Museum of Shanghai, this time it was free and you could just walk in, after going through the obligatory security checks, obviously! It is a fascinating museum, loads of English information, we learnt lots about ceramics,  Buddha stones and bronze pots and how to make them. I now want a potter’s wheel for my next birthday present. 

We found a place for lunch that you could just build your own dish. There were 2 fridges, one with all types of veg, one with various parts of animals and balls made up of various parts of animals. Luckily the food hygiene was of sufficient level to require 2 bowls, one for veg and one for meat. The tongs were not so defined. We naturally used our tongs for veg THEN meat, no other person I saw did the same. Still, all the food is taken away, cooked in a hot tasty broth and given back to you with a bowl of rice. We had a lot of green with our soup. All the Chinese people I was watching do this afterwards had more meat than veg, and a lot of it!!! It cost us less than a fiver and was more than our five a day (a rarity), and no,we have no idea what that pink luncheon meat was, but it was tasty. 

Next up was another part of Shanghai to visit, the French Concession area, Xintiandi, which we knew was going to be slightly commercialised, but even we were stunned at how plastic and fake it all was. Everything had been rebuilt in the old colonial style, with top end shops, restaurants, and boutiques inserted into them. It was not backpacker territory, it was posh tourists territory and we saw plenty of them (with their nice white linen and freshly ironed chinos). We walked back into Shanghai with its chaotic traffic, piles of rubbish, cables everywhere and felt much better. 

More walking followed and we got to another French Concession area, Tianzifang, which was less high end tourism and more normal tourist tat for sale, in hundreds of shops down narrow little alley ways, with more bars and restaurants, with happy hours (still at ridiculous prices). 

We stopped for a cup of tea and caught up with the unfortunate news of the elections in America and whatsapp’d friends who were similarly disappointed.  Maybe democracy doesn’t work and China is right??? One for a pub discussion I think! 

We wandered back into the throng of tourists. A French group of middle aged tourists seemed not content with walking around and seeing the place but had to do a treasure hunt through the area as well. They were dashing around like excited kids, pushing and shoving everyone out the way to get a red crepe paper prize. Sometimes I feel as if I am from a different planet. 

Guy was tempted with a tofu and mango desert, the tofu was hot, which made it slightly too rice pudding like for me, he loved it.

 Guy decided we should go to a Cantonese for tea. It was just like home. We had no 15 and no 22 and an over priced beer. No 15 was sweet n sour pork and was sweet and gloopy. No 22 was egg fu yung and was eggy and ricey. Guy did enjoy it. The setting was ace though in an old restaurant (not restored) with even the light switches being the ‘old black sticky out the wall ones’!

We then made our way home, via our local supermarket for some Great Wall wine and snacks. It was cheap, Chinese wine. We have had worse in the U.K. 

08.11.2016 Nanjing to Shanghai (oh, and also my birthday!!!)

Got a free Americano from the hostel as a birthday present! I was stunned they had noticed and it was a really nice touch. So 44 yuan saved we made our way to the station to get the train to Shanghai

The train station was like most, very new, shiny and spacious. I went on the prowl for food, ignored KFC and went to the Chinese chain next door, and got an over microwaved savoury bun. Train stations are the same the world over, full of cheap, overpriced food. 

We boarded the train and I tucked into my birthday breakfast of croissant and mini cakes. 

It was only a 2 hr journey so we sat back and relaxed, bracing ourselves for Shanghai, and it’s 24million people and 24 hr nightlife. 

It was certainly much busier when we landed, lots of jostling and pushing, but we are getting used to it now, so we sharpen our elbows and plough through. It does seem strange to see lots of westerners around again, most of whom seem to work here as they have clean, shiny clothes and no smiles. The opposite of us! It feels like London in that there are lots of rich people around and no one looks happy. 

Still we are happy to get straight to our hostel, unpack, change into birthday clothes (anything clean) and start exploring the city. 

First off, food. Around the corner from our hostel was food street, and I had my eye of some hairy crab dumplings, there was no English menu on the outside but we went in and smiled, an English menu appeared and we ordered 2 sets of dumplings, crab and pork. We waited, for ages, they arrived and we then had to he patient and wait for them to cool before popping them into our mouths and wait for the explosion of crab and juices to hit our tongues. Yum. 

We walk down the main road to The Bund, which is just like any other shopping street. I take the fact that I was offered hashish as meaning I am still a hip, young thing (Guy murmured something about aging old hippy….).

We finally made it to the view that everyone knows of Shanghai, the buildings on the waterfront, and even though it was dull and grey the view was still stunning. A lot like Hong Kong, but bigger.

We walked down the river admiring the stunning architecture. We went into the Fairmount Hotel and gawped at the beautiful art deco fittings. 

Some more walking later and we were on the 40th floor bar of the Marriott drinking red wine admiring the view and toasting my 44th birthday. Did I mention I love birthdays?

Birthday meal was sichuanese food, however we slightly buggered up on the ordering and ordered a 3 chilli rated eel dish, along with a chicken and peanut dish (one chilli rating) rice and broccoli (for Guy). The eel was hot, too hot, and when Guy found a nail in it we hoped they would not bring another portion back, we were wrong. We got another plateful of hot, hot eel. We both sweated profusely, downed a large measure of Chinese wine (tasted like sherry) and got on with picking out the eel and leaving the chill. Below are before and after photos!!!!!

We went home to be near to a loo.