Monday, May 15, 2017

Shanghai Surprise

May 15, 2017
Shanghai, China

Visiting friends John and Monique in Shanghai
A few years ago, we found out our friends from Michigan, John, a friend of mine (Scott's) from high school, and his wife Monique, were relocating themselves and their two kids to China for a year for John's job. One year turned into two and two years turned into three - lucky for us, since it gave us a window of opportunity to visit them while we're practically next door (a mere six-hour flight away).  

In online conversations, Caroline had threatened a Brooks visit years ago, and now we were making good on that threat.We had vaguely talked about working in this visit while planning the rest of our Southeast Asia itinerary, but never solidified anything, such as obtaining visas while still in New York. Through a series of WeChat sessions with John and Monique, however, we learned that we could visit Shanghai visa-free, for up to 144 hours, as long as we were in transit from one region to a different region. The wheels started turning, and suddenly we found ourselves booking a flight to Shanghai, with an onward ticket to nearby Osaka, Japan, adding two more countries to our trip.

John and Monique had generously offered to host us in their Shanghai apartment, where we would be displacing their daughter Sophie so we could sleep in her room (thanks Sophie!).  Our flight from Chiang Mai wouldn't be arriving until quite late so we booked ourselves into the Grand Central Hotel Shanghai for our first night in China. We arrived at the hotel at around 11:30pm, after breezing through immigration with the help of three friendly Chinese immigration officers, all figuring out this new 144-hour policy together. The cab driver wasn’t so helpful, bamboozling us out of 300 yuan for a ride that should been 70. We felt (a little) better about that incident after discovering we'd been upgraded to a massive suite at the hotel. A room so big that Caroline ended up texting me to try to figure out where I was, thinking I was no longer on the premises.

View through the rain-streaked window from the Grand Central Hotel
The following morning, after a brief stroll in the light rain down the nearby pedestrian street, Monique appeared at the hotel with their family driver to pick us up. Not having eaten yet, she took us a short drive away to have some fantastic dumplings as a great introduction to Shanghai. So good. Even if the soup filled dumplings burned our mouths due to our extreme impatience to devour them.

Mmm... Dumplings!
From there, a quick text to "our" driver, Leon, and it was off to see pandas at the zoo. The pandas were active and as cute as pandas are supposed to be, but the most interesting part was how empty of visitors the zoo was, due to the morning rain.

Active pandas entertaining the few visitors heading to the zoo in the rain
After the zoo, we took a subway ride to Ming-Dynasty-era Yu Garden, where we met up with John, who was coming from Wuhu (woo hoo! tee-hee) a couple of hours away by train, as he goes there occasionally for work.  Together, we explored the garden and the surrounding historic buildings, while simultaneously attempting to catch up on the 12+ years since we'd last seen John and Monique.

Waiting for John to meet us outside of Yu Gardens

Yu Gardens

Yu Gardens

Yu Gardens

Yu Gardens
Then it was a quick stop back at our friends’ huge and luxurious-seeming (especially to these vagabonds /Manhattanites) apartment, where we got to say hi to the kids, Simon and Sophie, and their tiny new pup Barry Allen, and freshen up before heading back out for the evening.

Scott hanging with his new pal Barry Allen
Leon drove us to the Bund, where we took in Shanghai's fantastic, modern skyline and watched the lights switch on at 7pm sharp.

Antics before heading over to the Bund

What, we're not the only ones who want to see the lights switch on?

Pre-7pm - the Pearl and "Bottle Opener" not yet switched on
and... the lights are on! Get that boat out of our shot!
Everyone's got their photos, the crowds disperse
Our fabulous hosts had booked us a table right across the street at Hakkassan, where we had a table waiting for us with an amazing skyline view. The food and cocktails were top notch, and the beautiful, modern, Asian setting was uber cool - quite a change from the more rustic eating we'd become accustomed to over the past couple of months.

Jeez guys... couldn't get us a better view?
The beautiful, young female servers were dressed in tastefully snug-fitting, black cocktail dresses and graciously served us duck salad, pork ribs, marinated beef, asparagus and lotus root...all prepared and presented beautifully. Dinner was followed by a change of venue and more cocktails with a view, at a rooftop bar a few minutes walk away. Restaurant- and bar-hopping continued to be the theme for our three days in Shanghai.

One more perspective of the Shanghai skyline. Bund-worthy.
The next morning, we set off for Tian Zi Fang, a maze of historic houses more recently turned into shops and restaurants.

Following John through Tian Zi Fang. Where did the girls go?
Tian Zi Fang
We had a nice time strolling the narrow pedestrian streets, but quickly found ourselves seated for Bloody Mary's and lunch (theme!).

Walked for nearly 10 minutes - time to sit for drinks and food!

Unfortunately, Caroline's back had started bothering her, an old and recurring injury. It has been years since it acted up, but apparently decided this was the time. So the agenda was quickly changed, as Monique - hostess supreme - got on the phone with a doctor's office that was both open on Saturday, and had chiropractic services. The ladies left John and me at a restaurant/beer pub at the Kerry Center, a shopping mall/convention center near their apartment, and set off for Caroline's appointment together. We had a couple more rounds before the ladies returned, followed by a couple more, along with some plates of pub food later (pizza, wings, burger and fries). After a long day of eating and drinking, along with Caroline's back pain, we called it an early night, going to hang out back at the apartment.

Disclaimer - not all John's beers. Scott gets to order IPAs - a change from the light pilsners of Southeast Asia he's been drinking
Selfie with drinks - how novel!
Caroline's pain was a bit better the next morning, our last day in Shanghai, but we thought we should plan a low key day without too much car time. After Monique prepared a “tiny bit of breakfast” for us all (muffins, asparagus frittata, hash browns, sausages - and all on mother's Day!) we ended up at a small but cool museum of propaganda art, located in the basement of an apartment building in the leafy Former French Concession neighborhood.

Tree-lined street in Former French Concession
We spent close to an hour there, and made close to a hundred jokes about being sent to "10 years hard labor" for a variety of minor infractions. The gift shop was as cool as the museum itself. We would recommend this outing to anyone looking for something to do in Shanghai.

Tomfoolery in Former French Concession - did not result in any time served
After an hour-long outing, we were obviously(!) ready for food and cocktails, so made our way to Sichuan Citizen, also in the Former French Concession. We enjoyed a tasty round of super basil-y cocktails and shared plenty more food (where I got the lion's share of the sharing), and decided we should go get some more cocktails. Our hosts summoned our trusty driver Leon to take us to the docklands area where there are several new bars and restaurants.

Selfie with cocktails!
Mmm - that fish!
After our post-lunch drinks, we decided we should probably go grab a drink before heading out for drinks and food at Lost Heaven, where our evening reservations were. Theme!

On the hunt for more cocktails after lunch & drinks
Found them (more cocktails, that is), at the Docklands
Photo shoot at the Docklands
We ended up at a restaurant called the Blue Frog, right across the street from their apartment complex. After a bit of persuading, John and Monique got the kids (and Barry Allen) to come meet us, with promises of happy hour mocktails.  Monique, Caroline and I enjoyed our happy hour drinks while John went on missions, first to buy a jar of pickles to add to the ladies' bloody Mary's, then to the apartment to grab jackets as the evening started getting pretty chilly.

It was really great to have this time together with the whole family, and feeling like we were just starting to get to know the kids. They're really sweet, and seem like lots of fun. All four of them, really.

Later, "our" trusty driver Leon dropped us at Lost Heaven for our reservation before getting the rest of the night off. More delicious cocktails and food, this time Yunan style, with a decidedly Burmese feel.

After dinner, we thought it would be a good idea to find a fifth place for a Sunday cocktail, so went up to the rooftop bar above Lost Heaven. My scotch-based "Bobby Burns" with giant ice sphere was terrific. We enjoyed having one more chance to talk about all of the common friends and acquaintances ​we seem to have - including my cousin Geoff, who John apparently worked with for years but never thought to ask if he knew or was possibly related to anyone named Scott with the same last name.

One last cocktail with a view, on the rooftop of Lost Heaven
We even had fun on the cab ride home, marveling at Monique's ability to carry on a conversation in Mandarin with the driver, and marveling at the fact that John knew how to say intersection ("Joe taco!"), amongst the three or so other words in his Chinese vocabulary. All five of us seemed to be laughing hysterically, shouting out “Joe taco!” at every intersection. 

It was a really wonderful visit! We got to see a big Chinese city, got to sample plenty of food and drink, and had a really great time catching up with really a couple of fun-loving and just plain fun(!), long-time friends. Thanks again to John, Monique, Simon, and Sophie for being outstanding hosts, flexible tour guides, and great friends.  We’re already looking forward to our next reunion, wherever it may be!  

1 comment:

  1. Looks like fun. Shanghai is amazing. Glad you found some cocktails!