After our two days in Hangzhou, we decided to be tourists for the last weekend of National Holiday and go and stay on the Bund, Shanghai’s most famous piece of real estate. There are various ‘Bunds’ in Asia (named, some think, after the levees raised along the Tigris – it used to mean ‘Bond’ – by a family who moved their business to Shanghai in the 19th century). The building heights are limited, unlike in Liujiazui over on the sister shore of the Huangpu River, so the area manages to retain some intimacy, and given that most of the buildings are from well before the 20th Century, a sense of history too.
So, we arrived at the hotel to be greeted by the kind of view that we’d seen on the website, and just presumed was photoshopped in for the site. We’d asked for a riverview room, but I’m not sure either of us were quite prepared for this:
That’s Liujiazui, the financial centre and tourist picture haven of Shanghai. More immediately eye catching than the Bund (helped by having the tallest building in Asia, a giant bottle opener, and that funny looking thing with the balls on it as part of its view) it has become famous as the focal point of Shanghai’s tourist industry, and during the day presents quite an impressive vista. Daylight, however, is not where Liujiazui gets its fame. More on that later.
Our first port of call was Xintiandi, a small district in the city with no cars, and lots of food. Given our experience of both cars and food in Shanghai so far, this sounded like the perfect equation to us, so off we went for a wander. It’s a beautifully hidden gem, with a boutique feel; lots of small cafes and restaurants and shops a plenty. The architecture around the place is 19th century, and beautiful. Apparently (I’ve since read) it’s not only the most expensive place to live in China, but with apartments costing more than some in Tokyo, New York, London et al…it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the world. I can see why; it’s a little slice of peace and quiet (despite the heavy foot traffic) in the middle of a pretty hectic metropolis. Sadly, the redevelopment in Xintiandi also has a darker history, one which viscerally highlights the recent attempts to make Shanghai a tourist hub.
Following that, we returned to the hotel to nap for a couple of hours (life of luxury and all that) before heading out for dinner. Having tested the wonders of Lost Heaven in the French Concession, we were eager to give the one on the Bund a try, and it didn’t disappoint. The food is remarkably good Yunnan dining, at very reasonable prices in very reasonable quantities. If there was something specific to recommend, I’d recommend it but each of the dishes we ordered were equally lovely so if you find yourself there, just eat some stuff and be prepared to enjoy it. Be prepared for some other stuff though, not least the problem that when the food arrives, you might not be able to see it. Lost Heaven have gone for mood lighting – and the mood they have chosen is ‘it’s 1940s London and the sirens have just sounded’. Seriously, it’s a good job the menu is good because the lighting is so dark you really can’t be sure what you’re ordering. Also, once you do order it, don’t necessarily count on being able to do any ‘fusion’ smart-arsery. The food doesn’t all come at once, for some reason. We had 3 different dishes, masquerading as 3 different courses. In fact, last time we’d gone, we had a 5 course meal but only because there were 5 of us and we’d all ordered something different. This is odd, but not a deal-breaker.
There aren’t really deal-breakers at Lost Heaven, although there is a secret wallet
breaker…the water. We ordered two bottles of water for the table, and they cost more than everything else combined. It turned out that the water was the most expensive thing on the menu. Honestly. This is the price you pay for not drinking Chinese tap water full of metal I suppose. Remember that Bond film that everyone said was crap because the villain wanted to own water? Yeah – in China that prospect would have struck fear and terror into the innocent hearts of the people. Still, it put the cost of the hotel room into perspective; initially we’d thought we were paying more because of the river view we’d requested…but soon enough we realised the room was basically free, but we had 4 bottles of water in the minibar.
We came out and walked back to the hotel along the most beautiful mile of riverside I’ve ever seen. Along the way we saw the Waidan Observatory. Now, this was built in 1907 so I suppose they weren’t to know, but building an observatory with The Bund on one side of you and Liujiazui on the other is an interesting proposition, especially if you’re hoping to, you know, observe something.
The light pollution in Shanghai isn’t great in any place, but here, it’s really at its worst. There are lights everywhere, meaning the furthest you can see ‘up’ is about 15 feet. Our colleague had to explain to a class the other day what stars were – seriously. Light pollution here is incredible. I have seen two stars since we moved here. (I don’t know their names, sorry.) Still, the observatory is very beautiful so who cares. If you want to observe something celestial, go up the Shanghai tower and you’ll be about 630 feet closer to the sky, which is a start I suppose.
Seeing the Liujiazui skyline during the day is impressive, but at 6pm every night, it takes on a whole new life. It was quite the view to enjoy as we drifted off.
In fact, we liked it so much that we spent the entirety of the next day just looking at it. In the most relaxing hotel room we’ve ever seen (and we’ve seen a few) we spent a wonderful day actually getting some rest and recuperation. We eschewed the decadence of getting a massage in the room (it would have been slightly more expensive than a pint of water at Lost Heaven) and decided to get one locally instead on our way back to the flat, but other than that it was a blissful day of lazy nothingness, all illustrated by that view from our room.
Upon checking out (in floods of tears at the onrush of reality sinking in and biting us with fangs the size of that Shanghai tower) we headed back to Jinqiao and went for a massage. Getting a massage in Jinqiao is a risky operation. As soon as I’d read on Wikipedia that what made Jinqiao famous was its serious prostitution problem which still exists ‘under cover in [Jinqiao’s] numerous massage centres’, I was understandably nervous. Still, we’d received credible intel that this particular one was above board, and above waist. It’s still something of an interesting experience; a very small Chinese woman with thumbs made from diamond-plated titanium and biceps like a steam piston mistook my back for an unironed shirt out of which she had been ordered to get the creases…without being given an iron. She attacked the task with energy due the moment, indeed with all her might. And all her might was considerable, let me tell you. Once she had dislocated and relocated each screaming vertebra in my spine and gently re-aligned my shoulders with all the careful grace of a JCB digging a swimming pool, she proceeded to flip me over and dig her elbow into my skull to relieve any excess stress I might be carrying up there. Now, while this sounds violent and potentially dangerous, and indeed it was, it did the trick. Despite the fact that the CD playing in the background only had two songs on a loop for the entire hour (each track weighing in at a maximum of four minutes) and that at one point during work on my lower back she may have touched more than my chakra, I found the whole experience thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable. Then at the end, she hit me on the head with something and walked out. Job done.
Now it’s back to school, so these blogs may dry up a bit, but there are some shorter ones coming to fill you in on various bits and pieces. Please leave a comment or say hello at the bottom here; it’s always nice to hear from people!