Saturday, April 26, 2014

China 2014 Day 5: Cherry Blossoms, French Concession, Party!

China 2014 Day 5: Cherry Blossoms, French Concession, Party!

As is seeming to be the trend, we got up early again today! But not quite as crazy early (no 4:30am this time), so we're starting to adjust to the time difference. We hit the pool/spa again, had some ginger tea, had a muffin, swam, did the steam room again... all so epic. We also crushed a good amount of the glorious (2nd!) fruit plate we scored in the room.

Mmm... fruit bowl
Main room at the hotel
Cabinet for coffee and tea
Gas Masks in the room for extreme pollution -- thankfully we didn't need to use them!
Crazy vase
We went to the hotel Concierge and asked for some advice about the Cherry Blossom Festival we'd read about in a local Shanghai newspaper. "Oh, it's quite far!" she said, "You will need a full day!" We figured we could just do our usual thing and haul it over there, enjoy it, and then zoom off to some other cool stuff to see without much worry.

Gucun Park is pretty much entirely "off the reservation" as it were, none of the major maps (even Lonely Planet) seem to have this section on it, so it will presumably be a VERY local experience. Let's just do it! We were already more than comfortable with the idea of taking the Metro everywhere so we asked the concierge to write "Can I please buy a 3 day metropass" in Mandarin so we could hand that to the agent at the Metro station. That worked like a charm, and was only 45Y, about $8!! What a steal! And so off we went. I called it "Goo-Koon Park", but the real pronunciation is of course absolutely nothing at all close to how I said it... more like "Yu-Chi-Oon" I think.

We got up there no probs in about 45 min and got off the subway to start the day off right with some tasty street food. We got a Banana Pancake from this place that was doing green onion ones... weren't sure what we were gonna get but sounded good to us. It was great.

Banana street pancake for breakfast
In Gucun Park for the Cherry Blossom Festival!
We then went into the park... WOW! It was beautiful and there were a lot of Chinese tourists, but, to our surprise, it was not wall-to-wall with people as everyone had warned us about. I guess going on a weekday really makes a huge difference. Our timing so far on this trip has been just incredible.

Tourists wearing Cherry Blossom hats :)
Not sure what they are getting at here, am *I* the bicycle?
Walking in the gardens
And... amazing
This is an incredibly popular spot for "local tourism" (i.e. visitors from other parts of China). We saw only one other foreigner there, and she came up to ask us a question. Turns out she was South African! She was asking about "Plum Blossoms" -- not sure if that's the same as Cherry Blossoms or not, but we pointed her in the general direction of the awesomeness.

Wistfilly planning our afternoon
We walked in the fields, checked out a cool bridge and some nice purple flowers, and went to a funny area they called the "Romantic Zone". It had a funny huge wedding ring sculpture as well as some nice heart sculptures.

Hilarious ring sculpture
My Love
After chillin and checking out the Cherry Blossoms for a bit longer, we took the subway back down the line a ways, but first got an awesome Lime Bubble Tea for only 10Y! So good! The girl at the store asked us a question in Mandarin and we had no idea, and some girl in line translated for us, and said "Hot or cold". I, in my usual way, touched her arm to give her a heartfelt "thank you" for her help... and she went a bit stiff and was a bit surprised! Whoops! I'm not supposed to do that, I think Lonely Planet mentioned that culturally you should not to give hugs to people you don't know and that sort of thing... I presume general contact like this is probably not the usual thing. Whoops. :)

We got off the Metro at Dapuqiou, the old French Concession area. First, some tasty snacks in the mall surrounding the subway station... we got a "Matcha Ring" donut as well as a Strawberry Filled one, plus some Hi-Chews and cool Passionfruit mints at a 7-11. There were some cool alleyways here and some touristy food places, "Come in, please! Don't worry, we have Pizza, French Fry!" -- obviously they don't know what kind of travelers we are :) I liked the alleyway vibe and there were some nice and fun craft stores to check out here. The shops were nice and there didn't seem to be any major crazy pressure from the shopkeepers here... I was expecting a crazy market vibe, but it was quite chill and a nice stroll.

Crazy donuts at the mall
Frank, this one's for you
Wandering the alleyways in the French Concession
Guard cat
Ok, not really a guard cat... he's just super sweet
We then wandered down Madang Rd and saw some cool shops with old homes on top. That was pretty neat. We walked for a little while and everything kindof looked similar until suddenly the vibe changes into brand-new, fancy apartments. One was not-so-subtly called "Richgate". There were also Facebook and Twitter sites posted on an advertisement of the big, fancy mall we walked by... which was very surprising, as Facebook and Twitter are both blocked in China. How strange. That was puzzling. (Later I looked into it, and apparently some areas that are foreigner-heavy are getting "Free Trade Zone" status, meaning there are some areas on unrestricted - or perhaps, less restricted - internet access. As far as we heard, the Chinese government doesn't want to bother policing foreign tourists or foreign businesspeople from using Facebook and that sort of thing, it's a waste of their time to do that). There was even a Crystal Jade Dim Sum place there, the place we loved in Singapore a few years back!

Homes above the shops in the French Concession
Cool sculpture as we get closer to Xintiandi
Fancier apartments here
Ummm.... ballllerrr
There was a nice walkway alley area with some Starbucks and other American establishments, but we found a nice local-ish coffee place to sit down and take a break from all the walking and exciting stuff. The Lambo we saw was awesome. I was surprised to see this much wealth in Shanghai as compared with the norm (and as compared with the standard wages), but I guess there are business owners now in Shanghai that do well for themselves. We enjoyed our little French cafe place but skipped the western choices of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Haagen Daaz, etc.) The cafe was nice quality and we were psyched about the "Rockmellon" Juice... amazing! Turned out it was "just" Cantelope and not some random crazy fruit, but still awesome anyway. This was very pricey compared to our previously-purchased Veggie Baozi (only 2Y... about 32 cents!), the potato wedges, mango sticky rice and juice were all 45Y (about $7) each. Not totally insane by San Francisco standards, but way more than other things we've seen around here. It was interesting to note the difference between this area and all the other places we'd seen so far. Anyhow, it was super nice stuff and was great to sit down and take a break.

Nice one of Springs with "Rockmellon" juice... nothing exotic, just Cantelope. But still super good
Our non-Chinese food of the afternoon
Our Chinese food of the afternoon :)
And... McDonald's has Mochi McFlurries.
After taking a nice rest and getting the feeling in our legs and feet back, we headed back to the hotel. My stomach was a bit annoyed (prob from the tasty-but-super-greasy Banana pancake in the morning) so it was nice to just take a sleep and chill after a long day out.

After a good nap, we started to prep for the opening night reception! We got some fancy clothes on and headed up to the roof of the Fairmont Peace Hotel... WHOA!!!!!!!!!!! There was a REALLY incredible view of The Bund at night and I just *loved* the lit-up buildings and bright nightlife view. It was SO cool. It was also a really clear night... about as clear as you might ever expect to see Shanghai, and so that was really amazing. We had some tasty cocktails up there as well as some light hors d'oeuvres. We chatted and met lots of cool, interesting, talented peeps.

Opening Night Reception
On the rooftop of the Peace Hotel!
Amazing view of the city
After an awesome opening reception, we went inside to dinner. There was tons of cool stuff to do and see and to take part in. There were standing tables only, which encouraged you to mingle and meet people, which was all super interesting. There was the option to get a suit tailored, and all of these cool handcrafted items that could be made for you right then and there. There was a calligraphy master painting your name in Chinese on a fan, ripped paper profile art, a "Year of the Pig" ornament made out of small flowers, a paper cutting with your Chinese year animal as well... such an incredible atmosphere. It was awesome and I made lots of new friends.

The food and other demonstrations were amazing, too. We had lamb, a duck roll, Shanghai noodles, broccoli, steak roast, dumplings... awesome. Also chatted with a lot of Michal's colleagues as we ate. There was a welcoming from the President of Fairmont as well as VPs, followed by a super epic Kung Fu show and drums. Sweet.

Posing with some super serious dudes
Tasty food
Drumming show
Sugar-"Year of the Horse"
After dinner, I hit up the dessert table with some of my newfound friends. OMG it was glorious and super classy. There was an amazing Banana-Chocolate Pudding Cup, little chocolate tarts, Chantilly creme and berries, a little muffin, etc. Really nice stuff and definitely a night to remember!

We got back up to the room after an awesome dinner and there was a gift waiting for us!!! This trip is crazy awesome, I can't believe how much cool stuff there is going on already and also how amazingly epic they are treating us. It is so special to be here. Springs got an amazing silk scarf which rocked, and I got WICKED silk slippers. They are soooo epic and I love them. What an awesome day!!

And... after another action-packed day... Sleep!

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