Monday, January 7, 2013

Shanghai & Hangzhou, China

I loved sleeping in a bed again! It was nice also  not having to sleep on a plane. The beds at the Waldorf were very comfy! I love the room too and didn't want to leave. We have a lot to accomplish today so we reluctantly went down to breakfast at 7:30 am.

Brasserie of Waldorf Astoria
The selection of items was very impressive. They had western and Asian dishes. I was mostly interested in the Asian ones.

My Plate
Second Plate
There was another lady besides myself who was taking photos of all the food. I think she was Chinese.

Steamed Buns and dumplings

Western and Chinese options
Many kinds of yogurt

Breakfast Area
Today we are scheduled for a 2 hour tour with Shanghai Sideways of the French Concession area. As we will be spending so much time outside, we are very lucky today as the weather is much warmer than usual for early December. It will be 58 F as a high during the day.

We went back up to the room for about 20 minutes. I used the wonderful Toto toilet again. I am going to miss that! I love the washlet component. We brought our bags down to the concierge. They are storing our bags overnight and we will pick them up tomorrow evening. I then checked out. Because we are using the points for our stay the only charge was for our train tickets to Hangzhou which the hotel purchased for us in advance.

After breakfast we walked down the Bund to our rendezvous point at the Peninsula hotel. As we are heading to opposite end of the Bund the walk will take about 25 minutes.

We stopped along the way a few times to take some photos. We passed Three On The Bund which has some fancy restaurants.

Three On The Bund

Bangkok Bank

I think this was #12 but I am not positive
When we got to the Fairmont Peace Hotel we decided to take a quick look inside. This hotel is now under the Fairmont chain but has existed for over 80 years. It is an Art Deco gem and has been wonderfully restored.

Peace Hotel
Interior Peace Hotel
Hotel Lobby
Beautiful Art Deco window
Our detour was now going to make us a little late. We were running about 7 minutes behind schedule. When we arrived at the Peninsula hotel we walked around the side entrance but did not see our tour guide. The doorman was very helpful and went out to the street to find him.

Shanghai Sideways

We will be touring Shanghai this morning on motorcycles sidecars. They are Changjiang 750C models which were used by the PLA (People's Liberation Army) and the Russians in the 1950's. They have of course been refurbished. I have been assured that the sidecars are very safe. My mother and I are not thrill seekers and at first she had some trepidation about getting in but overcame her anxiety. The advantage of the sidecar is that you can see much more than from a car and it is easier than walking too. I emailed the owner Thomas and explained what I hoped to see. He seemed to be very accommodating.

Guides Maxim, Gary and our motorbikes

We could have shared a bike but I was wary of the backseat (did not want to fall off!) and felt safer in the sidecar. I was very happy with my decision. It was also easier to use my camera. It would have been much less expensive the share one bike. The total coast for the two bikes was 2400 RMB. Sounds expensive but I think it will be worth it.

I pulled out the iPad before our departure and went over some places I would like to see. Some of them they didn't know, like Marble Hall, the former home of Elly Kadoorie. He made a fortune in real estate and utilities and is the founding family behind the Peninsula Hotel chain. Marble Hall is now a school for gifted students. Architecturally it is supposed to be quite interesting but we didn't stop there even though it was requested.

Our drivers today are Maxim from Belgium and Gary who is from Shanghai. We departed the curb feeling more akin to Driving Miss Daisy than Easy Rider.

We passed along a bridge and then finally to drove down some quite streets.

Shopping Center popular with locals

Crossing over a bridge

Family Outing

Lady walking her dog
After a lot of driving we did stop at the Moller Villa which is now a hotel.  Moller Villa is a 43 room fairytale castle. It was built in 1936 for Swedish shipping tycoon, Eric Moller. The  hotel comprises the original structure plus new additions.

Moller Villa
Now a hotel
It took a long time to get there and I sort of regretted requesting this stop since it took up so much time. In fact it would have been better for us to have met the drivers in the French Concession than to have to spend time driving across town.

Our next stop was yet another hotel that was the former stomping ground of one of Shanghai's most notorious mobsters, "Big Ears Du".  In the 1920's he rose to prominence as an opium king pin and neighborhood gangster. He was known to wear shrunken monkey heads that were sown into his jackets. He hung out at his Mansion with his wives and various concubines.

"Big Ears Du"
Mansion Hotel former home of Big Ears Du

Well preserved interior

Nice decor

Big Ears Du in the back row in Black to the left
We then continued on our way to our next stop.

French Concession

Our destination is the French Concession neighborhood of Shanghai. This area is known today for its 1920's mansions, french influenced architecture and chic restaurants. As a result of the 1840-1842 Sino - British Opium War, Shanghai was forcefully opened up as an international port. British, French and American enclaves were created in various sections of the city. The French Concession retains it French influence and is bordered by Fuxing Road West and Shaanxi Road South.

At Xinle Lu we entered from the end of Shaanxi Lu. These shops are geared to younger people. I had asked to stop at Julu Lu to look at a store called Spin at #758. However, I don't know if we ever passed that road or if it was even nearby.

Stores in French Concession
Shopping Centers
One of the Huaihai Shopping Center Malls
I had also asked to stop at Donping Road where there are 3 large French villas. No. 7, 9 & 11. These were built by the Soong family. The one at the corner of Henghsang Road is #11 and belonged to Tu Soong who was the Kuomingtang Finance Minister. It was built in 1920 and is now a bar and a restaurant. We didn't stop at their either. I was starting to feel completely vanquished and wondered if a taxi would have been a better choice than the motorbikes. At least I could see what I was interested in.

Maxim decided he wanted to show us the Russian Orthodox Church. I was happy as at least we got to see something of historical significance.

Russian Orthodox Church
Interior of the church
The church has been nicely restored and is used as an art gallery.

Gallery Display
Egg Exhibit
We noticed we were getting a lot of stares as we rode around town. We were told that is due to the motorbikes. Important government people used to ride in them and the locals are wondering who we are. We were also told that if a bike breaks down that many of the older Shanghaiese know how to fix them.

Getting stared at. Perhaps he doesn't want his photo taken?
My final request was to stop and see the former residence of Premier Zhou Enlai. It is located at No. 73 Sinan Road. I was told we would drive by it and they would point it out. Perhaps we would not have enough time tour the house? They did point it out as promised.

Home of Zhou Enlai, Former Chinese Premier
We passed a few more tree lined streets and some restored buildings.

French Concession buildings

An Interesting Store

Checking on Mother with Maxim
Maxim and Gary next said we would stop at "Jack's Place". I was not sure what they were talking about. We pulled into a side street and Maxim escorted us to a building that is now an art gallery.

Kohan Gallery
Apparently this building was the location of the Japanese Army during their occupation of Shanghai. "Jack" is a friend of the Shanghai Sideways owner, Thomas. We were told many of the tours stop here. Maxim told us there is a Chinese couple who have occupied an apartment in the building for the last 40 years. While the exterior of the building was interesting to see I still wish we could have toured the home of Zhou Enlai instead.


At noon Maxim and Gary dropped us in Xintiandi which is a 2 block shopping area of refurbished shikumen lane houses. Xintiandi means "New Heaven and Earth". It is sort of ironic that this vibrant shopping destination is the site of the first National Congress of the Communist Party. It took place in Shanghai on July 23, 1921. Mao Zeodong and his compatriots met at this location. It is open from 9 -4 and is located at 76 Xingye road. I asked my mother if she wanted to visit but she declined so we just walked around looking at the boutiques and restaurants.


Shops in Xintiandi
Some have compared Xintiandi to London's Covent Garden or Boston's Faneuil Hall. At Xintiandi South Block at Xingye Lu there is an orientation map in the central courtyard.

Lots of restaurants

Xintiandi Shopping
Din Tai Fung is located in the South Block and this where we decided to have lunch. This is a Taiwanese chain and they are internationally known for their soup dumplings. The restaurant was not crowded but we still had to wait. We ordered the dumplings and some side dishes.

At Din Tai Fung waiting for our table

Spring Roll

Pork Cutlet and Rice


Directions on how to eat the dumplings

Excited they had cider

Cover for one of our bags

Preparation area for the dumplings
After lunch we walked to the North Block to see the Open House - Shikumen Museum. It shows what these old homes were like. There were also some interesting stores including Anabel Lee,  Oshadai at the North Block at 181 Taikang Rd, and a Shanghai Tang at #15.

We decided to checkout the Xintiandi Style Mall. It seemed surprisingly empty.

Xintiandi Shopping Mall

Xintiandi Style

A very nice but very empty mall
The mall had the advantage of having the metro located in the basement. My mother had wanted to take a taxi to the train station but I convinced her the metro was very easy...and it was! Metro Line 10 goes directly from Xintiandi to the the Hongqiao Railway Station. We first had to purchase our ticket though.

Metro Ticket machine

The machine was very easy to use and was accessible in English. I think it was only 4 RMB for both of us to take the Metro.

Metro Map
Line 10 is lavender which is one of my favorite colors. The subway was so clean! The Shanghai metro is the longest in the world having surpassed the one in Paris. There are 11 lines which run from 6 am to midnight. Everything is signposted in English and Chinese.

Glass doors protect you from the oncoming trains
Diagram where the train is headed

On the subway

Hongqiao Railway Station

In about 8 minutes we arrived at the Hongqiao Railway station to catch our train to Hangzhou. The Hongqiao station is the newest and busiest in Shanghai. They also have train service from Shanghai to Beijing which takes just 4h 48m to travel 819 miles! That is the same distance from New York to Chicago. Amazing!

The Waldorf Astoria purchased our train tickets for our round trip to Hangzhou.

Our Train Tickets
The train is scheduled to depart at 5:00 pm and will arrive in Hangzhou at 18:01. We have first class tickets which cost 124 RMB plus a service fee of 50 RMB one way. The travel time is only 61 minutes for the 110 mile trip.

Hongqiao Railway Station
Train schedules
When the lights switch from yellow to green you can go down to the train
All info at the station was written is both Chinese and English. The announcements are also multi-lingual. We checked the board for our train to see if the track number was posted. When it turns green that means we can go down the escalator to the train. You can only go down a few minutes before the train is due to depart. That makes it quite chaotic as people are also getting off the train as you try to enter.

The light switched to green and our hearts were kind of racing as we headed down. Lots of people pushing and cramming their way through the doors. However once down stairs it was easy to board the train. We located our car which was in the front. I am very happy we were able to leave our carryons at the hotel. We found our first class seats in car 1. I had been pre-warned by an expat living in Shanghai that the Chinese will take a seat on the train if they have a standing ticket. You need to kick them out. Thankfully our seats were unoccupied.

High Speed Train
We were happy to rest again for the hour long ride. It was soon dark and we couldn't see any of the countryside. The first class seats provided a foot rest but otherwise they didn't seem so special. The only other person in our first class compartment was a gentleman from Mexico who recently relocated to Shanghai with his wife just a few days ago. He works for Yum! Brands and resides in Hangzhou. It was interesting chatting with him.

We arrived at the Hangzhou railway station exactly on time. There are two railway stations in Hangzhou. The downtown Hangzhou railway is the most convenient for visit the West Lake. The other station is called Hangzhou South and is about 40 minutes away.

I pre-arranged with our hotel to have a car waiting there to pick us up. We saw the gentleman holding the sign with our name. He showed us to the Audi A6 and they drove us the 20 minutes to the hotel. I don't know why there was another escort accompanying the driver. We could have tried to get a taxi on our own but I have read that getting a taxi from the railway station is no easy feat. The car service is a little expensive at 320 RMB + 15% gratuity but worth it since we are on a tight schedule.

Hangzhou, China

While many people's top sights to see in China may be the Great Wall, Xian terracotta warriors or the pandas in Chengdu, I have always been focused on visiting Hangzhou. One of my college professors talked glowingly about the beauty of the West Lake.

Marco Polo is said to have described it as "In heaven there is paradise, On earth, Suzhou and Hangzhou".

Hangzhou is known for its charming lake and as a spiritual retreat. Many famous poets and painters lived here during the Song Dynasty during the 12th and 13th centuries. Hangzhou is now a city of eight million people and is very popular with tourists. The high speed train from Shanghai now makes many runs everyday and it is easy to transit between to the two cities. Prior to October 2010 it took 3 hours to drive here by car.

We arrived at the Four Seasons West Lake at 6:20 pm. The hotel is beautiful and situated right on the lake front. There are also some captivating gardens.

Four Seasons West Lake (supplied by the hotel)
After check in we were shown to our room which is a Deluxe Double Twin. I thought it was supposed to have a terrace but we only had a window. It was still pretty spectacular even in winter. We put on some sweaters and bundled up for the Impression West Lake show. We had a hard time deciding if we should do the 350 RMB tickets which are outside or the 450 RMB tickets which are on the bottom level of a boat on the lake. The seats on the boat have a roof overhead but is supposed to be open on the sides. I read there are also some obstructions. The outdoor seats have a better view. The current temperature is 50 degrees but it will drop to 40 F overnight. Rain was also in the forecast when I requested the tickets so we have the more expensive ones in the boat. The tickets can only be purchased up to one week in advance.

Our Tickets
Impression West Lake

This show started in 2007 and was created by the famous movie director Zhang Yimou, who also presented the 2008 Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony. Impression West Lake is an interpretation of the White Snake legend. It incorporates the local cultural and unique charm of Hangzhou. The music is by Kitaro Matsuri. Total audience capacity is 1800 people. One of the fascinating aspects of the show is that the actors look like they are walking on water.

The show features the story of star crossed lovers who are separated but then reunited after death. There are 5 acts over the one hour show. Act 1: Encounter - Two white cranes transform into a man and woman and fall in love at first sight. A silk umbrella symbolizes their pledge of love. Act II: In Love - Fish chase each other to display happiness and true love. Act III: Parting - this is the pivotal moment in the show where the love of the two cranes face adversity from great powers. The female crane dies and provides a dramatic farewell to her betrode. Act IV: Memories - the male crane returns to the place where they first met. The beautiful scenes are the same yet his love, the female crane is gone. Many beautiful ladies pass by but none can replace her. The rain of that day. the boat where they stayed and the promise of their love are now just memories. Act VI: Impression - As in a dream the crane couple meets again. They disappear on the horizon. The memory of their love leaves a mysterious and magical impression on us.

When we arrived at the show and found our seats in the boat we were not happy. The boat had glass widows which we could not tell if they would open. Although it was cold sitting outside the view was much better. We asked to change our seats and they let us sit in one of the back rows in the outside venue.

Some of the cheaper seats

The boat where our original seats are located
Our new seats outside

It  must be challenging for the performers who have to act and sing though the cold. The show has a two month break over January and February when it is the coldest in Hangzhou.

The show started on time and the music, lights and costumes were amazing.

Start of the Impression West Lake Show

A Chinese pavilion appears
Part of Act 1
Very colorful
Act 2

The splashing is supposed to symbolize adversity

A gate is raised
Love the changing colors
Feathers which is theme in the story
They look like they are standing on the water
Almost the end
A happy Ending
The hour seemed to fly by. The entire show was mesmerizing! My mother was almost in tears and said it was the most beautiful thing she has ever seen! We were very happy to have the seats outside despite the cold. Just glad it was not raining.  The temperature dropped but I have been colder sitting at Fenway Park in August watching a Red Sox game.

After the show we walked back to the hotel and went to our room to deposit our jackets, scarves and mittens. Tonight we will have dinner at the Four Seasons restaurant Jia Sha. The food is Sichuan, Shanghai Chinese with some other influences. It was hard to decide on what to order as everything sounded delicious. They were out of the Beggar's chicken so we settled on the barbecued pork and the Peking duck.

I also had a pot of the famous Longjing Green Tea which is cultivated and produced in Hangzhou. The size, shape and texture of the leaf determines the taste of the tea.

The tea was very good but our dinner was disappointing. The pork was ok but I actually felt sorry for the duck.

BBQ Pork

Peking Duck

Server performing surgery on our duck

Pancakes with skin

Shriveled duck
We have had Peking duck many times. However, the preparation was a little different this time. The skin was sliced and put into pancakes as usual. However we were asked if we wanted the duck meat to be cooked. We were a little puzzled as we thought it was already cooked. We agreed but the duck meat came back all shriveled up. It also did not taste very good. Dinner was sort of a disaster.

We walked around the hotel checking out the other public rooms on the way back to our room. The hallways reminded us more of a hospital than a fancy hotel.

Long Hallway at Four Seasons

Our room
Desk area

We watched a little TV and I made notes for the blog. The wifi worked very well in the room.

Tomorrow we will tour Hangzhou and in the late afternoon take the train back to Shanghai and then later to Pudong Airport for our flight to Singapore.

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