Yesterday afternoon we landed safely in Shanghai! Our guide, Grace (who's awesome by the way), met us at the gate. She had a sign with our names on it and everything! We were pumped.
After Grace helped us get a local sim card (for instagramming, moslty) we jumped into the car and headed straight to the hotel. We had the rest of the day "off" so on the way she gave us the lay of the land a bit: Don't take the red cabs, only drink bottled water, and she told us where to go to check out the local shopping center and restaurants.
The hotel is pretty neat. We're staying at the Regal Shanghai East Asia Hotel which is actually part of Shanghai Stadium -- our room overlooks the field, which is pretty awesome. Thankfully not too much to report here, it's a standard hotel room -- success!
After checkin at the hotel, Lucia and I took a quick nap before heading off to do a little browsing at the local mall. I have to say it was a typical mall. No big surprises there, except that we were the only white people and for some reason that's extremely interesting for the locals (more on that later). We did end up getting a really delicious creme-filled pastry that satisfied our sweet tooth, but other than that it was just an interesting walk around.
After "shopping" we headed off to dinner. We picked the place that had the most people and walked in. Nobody spoke english, but luckily there were photos of the food, so we just pointed and smiled. The language barrier proved to be pretty challenging, the waitress thought that even though we didn't have any idea what she was saying, if she pointed to the Chinese characters on the menu then surely we'd understand...we didn't -- but we got through it eventually. We had kung pao chicken (meh), green beans with fried ginger and garlic (SO GOOD), and lamb chops (also ridiculously good). When it came time to pay, there was another awkward exchange and we headed back to the hotel room where we promptly passed out -- but not before watching a bit of a local soccer game outside our window (what they lacked in attendance, they surely made up for in spirit).
Today was our first day with the tour guide. At 9am sharp, after a breakfast at the hotel (which is pretty good as it turns out), we hopped into the little tour van and took a 2.5 hour drive to a 1400 (i think) year old canal town named Wuzhen (imagine Bruges but older and Chinese). There we walked through the narrow streets of the town, and explored the museums that are mixed in with residences still being lived in today.
The first museum we stumbled into was just for beds! These weren't just normal beds though, these were ornately carved beds from the ming and qing dynasties. They're pretty much nothing like the beds we have today. They're enclosed with three separate sections: one for shoes etc, one for a toilet, and one for actual sleeping -- whaaaaat? Oh -- and they don't have matresses. Cause who needs comfort?
After that we went to another rmuseum which gave a brief explanation of the native attire and how some of it is died and made. Then we quickly went through a rice wine distillery (the wine tasted like a mix between sake, whisky, and dirt haha), and then to a Tao temple.
The temple was pretty cool. There were people there actively praying, which I felt bad about. But I very quickly found out that it wasn't a big deal because as our guide was explaining the prayers to us, a couple of sketchy guys asked her if they could take a picture with Lucia (possibly a little less respectful than just existing near other people praying)! She politely declined.
This is a good time to pause and explain a little bit more about our experience here from a broader sense. We are the ONLY white people here. I think we've seen like 3 others "out in the wild." We get a lot of stares, and in places like Wuzhen, our tour guide let us know that people would be taking pictures of us, and will be asking to take pictures with us -- we weren't disappointed! By my count I saw about 10 different people (mostly teenagers) taking our pictures. Some were discrete (e.g. pretending to take a picture of their friend -- but were clearly taking pictures of us), some were just blatantly taking photos of us. Weird, but I hope they all came out, cause Lucia and I are VERY photogenic. Definitely one for their photo albums.
Anyway, after the temple we headed to lunch where we had some local dishes: Pork wrapped and cooked in some sort of tree leaves, chicken (with bone bits throughout), and a beef and onion dish. We weren't fans of the chicken, but the other food was soooooooo good.
With full bellies, we hopped on a canal boat and cruised around a bit. It was relaxing, and with the heat, humidity, weeping willow trees, and cicadas buzzing away, it reminded me a bit of summers in the pool at my grandma's house. We got a few really good pictures of the canal houses too. Just a really picturesque place.
Once we got back on land, it was time to take the ride back to the city. Lucia and I split our time on the road instagramming and napping. Not a bad gig.
Next up was dinner and we had the chance to try some more delicious local dishes (none of which we remember the name). We got to try: a fried chicken dish (spicy and amazing), some slow cooked pork chunks, tofu (I hate tofu, but this was actually pretty good), and some rice noodles with shrimp! If that sounds like a lot of food -- you're right. Lunch was huge. Dinner was huge. Any hopes of going home skinnier than we left have been smashed.
All in all a successful day!