The last two stops on my trip — Shanghai and Hong Kong — were the best ones.
When I got to Shanghai, I fell in love with it, and was kicking myself for leaving so little time at the end of the trip for it. Early on in my stay there, I thought: “I have to come back to Shanghai.”
The city is full of energy. You get a really palpable hustle and bustle feel from it. It’s a growing urban metropolis that reminds me of a mixture of Toronto and New York. The city itself has anything and everything that we have here in western culture, so it has a modern feel. The colors and designs in the city reminded me of Times Square. They’re eye-popping. They even have a bull in their financial district just like in New York.
It’s like they took a lot of the characteristics from different major cities around the world, and put them all in one location.
They do have taller buildings than most metropolitan cities — in fact, they have two of the tallest buildings in the world, standing side by side. It’s really beautiful. You’re talking about buildings that are 180 stories up. You just hurt your head looking at it. On a cloudy day you can’t even see the tops of the buildings.
They also still have some of the great architecture from the days when they were the one of the leading trade capitals in world. But my tour guide told me they’re slowly relocating people so that the government can go into these old neighborhoods, tear everything down, and put up new, extravagant storefronts, malls and condos. So the history is slowly disappearing. It’s sad. I was lucky enough to see some neighborhoods that probably won’t be there anymore in a year or two.
One thing I noticed is that their construction and engineering is way they do things there. When the Chinese do something, they do it well. They’re very smart, intellectual people. But they’re limited in the things they have access to. (They still aren’t able to get on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.) They have buildings that are large and massive, and architecturally on the cutting edge of the future. Yet they’re still so simple and held back in other ways in their lives. It’s an interesting contrast when you actually sit down and talk to them.
I had a chance to meet an American football fan — originally from Philadelphia, but relocated there due to business — and he told me he just fell in love with Shanghai. I ended up talking with him about football, and what was going on at the time in the playoffs. He taught me a little bit about Shanghai and his experience there. So it was a fair tradeoff.
He ended up giving me a tour of the city. He took me by the Urban Planning Center and the Shanghai Museum. I was able to see the amount of growth that has taken place in Shanghai, and where they’re planning to take the city in the future. It was really cool to sit down with someone from America, and learn about the city.
I also did a lot of exploring on my own. I wanted to take in the city — there was so much to see, and I was only there a couple days, so I wasn’t going to get to see everything. Sometimes, tour guides get so focused on the highlights of a place they don’t show you some of the normal parts of being there. I wanted to see what Shanghai was like every day for the common man.
It was pretty close to the Chinese New Year when I was there, so a lot of people had started to leave town. The New Year over there is a little different than the way we celebrate here in America. For their New Year, they take a break to see their families and visit the countryside, so it’s a little quieter. So I’d definitely like to go back, and see more when it’s not the New Year.
Still, the people that I met there were really nice. I didn’t feel any tension or malice from anyone. I really enjoyed it. Up to that point, it was my favorite stop on the trip.
ISLANDS OF INTRIGUE
After Shanghai was Hong Kong — another place I didn’t leave enough time for.
I was only there for two days, but I was impressed by it. I learned a lot of different things about that I wasn’t aware of before. Hong Kong is made up of more than 200 islands. At one point, the government actually divided two islands to build some more. They used the land and the dirt they dug up from those islands to fill in other areas, and then created bridges. We need to start thinking planning of urbanization and things like that in the United States. It is mind-blowing that you can actually divide an island to make it accommodate your population and the growth of it.
I also learned that Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China. When Hong Kong was freed from British rule in 1997, they wanted to do their own thing. So it has its own government, legislation, police force, currency and so forth. At the same time, it is still part of China. When you’re in China, you have the yen as the currency. In Hong Kong, they have their own Hong Kong currency. They’re not completely there yet in terms of independence, but it was cool to learn how far they’e come.
Because Hong Kong was under British rule for so long, everybody spoke English, and it is really westernized. The people are also a little bit more progressive than other parts of Asia.
There were people I met there who moved to Hong Kong from all over the world, especially from Europe. I met quite a few people from France ,and some from South Africa as well. They all had relocated and lived in Hong Kong. It had a feel of like a London or Toronto because there was such a mixture of culture there.
In that way, it was kind of like being in any other major city. Fun.
While I was there, I stayed at one of the best hotels that I’ve ever stayed in, the Upper House. The hotel itself was very like sleek and modern, but simple. Everything in your room, from the lights to the shades to the television, was run by an iPad, which was cool. (And the food and drink in the room was complimentary, which is always a plus.)
I did get to do a little exploring while I was there, and noticed all of the buildings, architecturally speaking, are cramped. It was like The Sims.
They had this one building — I don’t know the name of it — but it was a really, really tall skyscraper, and every night around 7 p.m., they ran a light show across it with different images. One was a silhouette of a person running. Another one was flowers blooming. Another was of a horse galloping. (It’s the year of the horse there). It was really cool.
For their mass transportation, you hop on a trolley, and for two bucks, you can ride it for as long and as far as you want. That was really cool. (Anybody who follows me should know that I’m a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain. The guy who took me on my tour hosted Anthony when he was there, so that was cool, too.)
I started getting back into food when I got to Shanghai, and had some great dim sum in Hong Kong. I was also ready to tackle some new things. I ate at a restaurant there called Ding Tai Fung, one of the more popular places in Hong Kong. When I walked in, they were concerned that they might not have anything I’d like. The food was amazing. They had a dumpling that you had to eat really carefully. If you just bit into it, you would burn the roof of your mouth. So there was an art to eating it. First, you had to poke a hole in it with your chopstick. Next, you’d drink the soup or the broth inside. Then — finally — you could eat the meat and the rest of the food inside.
They had forks and knives, but I can handle a chopstick, so I wasn’t going to back down from the challenge. (Chopsticks only get frustrating when you get to the rice.) They also had this beer there called Yanjing that was pretty good.
On one of the last nights of my trip, I went to this place called the Felix. It was on top of the Peninsula hotel, and had a great view of the city. The ambiance and atmosphere were fun. They also had some of the best food that I had during the trip. I had braised beef, and it was really tender and good.
The next night, I went to an area called Soho where they have a lot of little bar (like the Soho neighborhood in New York). There were a lot of hole-in-the-wall places patronized by neighborhood people that all knew each other, and work and live among one another. That was a great place to hang out, and a nice way to finish the trip.
TO ALL THOSE I MET…
As a whole, my trip was a great time. As I expected, I loved the region, and it’s an area I will continue to visit throughout my life. There’s always more to see. That’s why I love to travel.
Anybody that I met in my travels while I was there: thank you for the hospitality. You left a lasting impression on me, and made me want to visit again. Hopefully, I’ll see you again down the line.