Thursday, June 27, 2013

Old City Wall

Thoughts of Shanghai often conjure up images of skyscrapers and rapidly changing modern landscapes. And while this is true, there are still pockets of Shanghai which reflect its storied past.

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The Old City refers to the once ancient walled city area of Shanghai. During the era of foreign concessions, the Old City remained exclusively Chinese, and foreigners seldom ventured here.

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The wall surrounding the Old City was constructed during the Ming Dynasty in 1553 to defend Shanghai against Japanese pirates. Following the course of today's Renmin Lu and Zhonghua Lu, the wall was 9 miles (14.5 km) long and 27 feet (8.1 m) high.

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The majority of the wall was dismantled in 1912. All that remains today is 50 meter section of wall at the intersection of Dajing Lu and Renmin Lu. I'd recommend handing over the 5 rmb (about .81 US cents) and walking on this small restored section of Shanghai's history. The view of surrounding buildings reminds you how far this city has come. 

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Backstreet's Back...in Shanghai!

So the Backstreet Boys came to Shanghai. And the 10 year old inside me squealed with delight at the memory of the poster I had carefully ripped out of an issue of Teen Beat and pasted to my bedroom ceiling.

My friend rounded up a few girls who had once dreamed of being Mrs. Carter and we embarked on a night full of nostalgia, with a little dancing and singing thrown in. Okay, maybe there was a lot of singing and dancing. Mostly from me.

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For some reason, everyone at concerts in China inexplicably wear Minnie Mouse ears and wave neon glow sticks.

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Truthfully, the concert was a lot of fun. The boys (men?) were full of energy and can still sing and dance pretty well. Plus, it was amusing to the watch the crowd of men and women go nuts with each song. A girl a few seats down from me began to full out sob when the Backstreet Boys came out. For a glimpse of the chaos, check out the video below.

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I may not be Backstreet's biggest fan of all time (I can't actually tell you all of their names), however, I still had a great time singing along to songs that defined my middle school years. And then I bought a t-shirt. So maybe my fan status has been upgraded slightly. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Shanghai Eats: Wei Xiang Zhai

Fine dining this is not. But if you want the absolute best bowl of májiàng miàn (sesame paste noodles) you've ever had in your life, look no further than the tiny hole in the wall restaurant Wei Xiang Zhai. Located in a rather grimy spot on Yandang Lu, this noodle shop has a reputation as one of the best lunch spots in town.

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While the menu is all in Chinese, I doubt you are coming here for anything other than the sesame paste noodles. Friends tell me the xiǎo niú tāng (beef curry soup) is also a hit, though my aversion to meat has kept me from trying it.

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To order, simple tell the cashier at the front of the shop you want májiàng miàn or point to a bowl situated in front of one of the many other customers. You'll pay for your noodles (9 rmb on my last visit) and receive your receipt.

Then it's time to stake out a table. As this place is usually packed, seats are generally at a premium. Look for patrons on the verge of leaving and hover over their table. Once they have left, slide onto your seat and grab one of the clothespins on your table. Each of the clothespins will be labeled with the number of your table. Simply clip your receipt to it and hand it to one of the waitresses as they hurry past.

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Within minutes you'll be rewarded with a creamy bowl of sesame paste noodles, topped off with a splash of chili oil and chives.

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While Wei Xiang Zhai certainly isn't going to be winning a style (or cleanliness) award anytime soon, you can't help but enjoy this tiny shop. Just don't enjoy it too much, as someone else will be hovering over your coveted seat soon.

Address: 14 Yandang Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu
 雁荡路14号 (近淮海中路)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Yangshuo: Yulong River Rafting

Our final morning in Yangshuo, we awoke to dark, threatening skies. Determined not to let the weather curtail our fun, we boarded bamboo rafts and drifted along the Yulong River. While the scenery was similar to our trip on the Yi River, this time, the humming motor of the boat was replaced by the languid stokes of an oarsman.

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Unfortunately, it began to rain shortly after we left the safely of the shore.

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At first, our rafts continued down the river. But as the rain increased in intensity, even our oarsmen had to seek refuge under the umbrellas.

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We floated silently, listening to the sound of the rain slapping against the water around us. Under the protection of our umbrella, we relaxed and enjoyed the calm, and beautiful scenes surrounding us. After a short while, we were granted a reprieve from the rain and our oarsman returned to his position at the helm of the boat.

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A peaceful ride down the Yulong was the perfect finale to a relaxing few days spent in Yangshuo.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Yangshuo: Impression Sanjie Liu

After a day of rafting and biking, we decided to spend a relaxing evening at one of the world's largest outdoor water theaters. Located on the Li River, the amphitheater is situated only a short distance from downtown and uses the towering karst mountains as the backdrop.

The show, Impression Sanjie Liu, is a light show set to the music from a movie of the same name and produced by Yimou Zang, the director of the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony. There are apparently seven chapters to the show though I can't honestly say I was able to pick them out. 

The show focuses on the lives of the people living around the Li river displaying their culture, music and dress. A staggering 600 actors perform in this show, most of whom are local fisherman.

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Like many of the shows I have seen in China, it was cheesy and silly at times, but overall enjoyable. My guests did not speak any Chinese and were still able to understand the general themes of the show. While certainly an activity you could skip in Yangshuo, it was a fun way to spend the evening, surrounded by beautiful mountains. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Shanghai Shoe Shopping

I have massive feet, even by US standards. So shoe shopping in China, where small feet were once so coveted that women had their feet bound, is no easy task for me.

Enter Feiyue.

Feiyue, pronounced fey (like Tina!) yu-eh, is a shoe company founded in Shanghai in 1959. Shortly after, it became the choice shoe for shaolin monks and kung fu masters. The simple canvas shoes are known for being durable and feature a light padded sole.

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I scored a pair two weeks ago at Culture Matters on Dongping Lu for 60 rmb (or $9.80 USD). I probably would have bought them just because they happened to be my size. Thankfully, I also actually liked them. They are the perfect shoe for the massive amount of walking and biking I do around this fine city.

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And apparently Orlando Bloom owns a pair. Not that I recommend doing everything Orlando Bloom does. His facial hair is usually rather questionable. But you should be safe following his shoe choice.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Yangshuo: Biking in Rural China

After a lazy morning spent floating down the Yi river, we decided to stretch our legs with a little mountain biking through rural China. Our guide Jack (who I would highly recommend) led us on a 10 mile ride through the countryside surrounding Yangshuo.

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We sped past rice fields, freshly plowed by water buffalo and barefoot farmers, as well as karst mountains and beautiful views.

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After exploring the area, we headed back to Yangshuo where we rewarded ourselves with a feast of Guilin noodles and local beer fish before witnessing the evening light show (more on that to come!).
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