One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, Wok!

SHANGHAI: They say people born in the Chinese year of the horse are thought to be active, extrovert, sexy and full of life – all adjectives that could easily apply to Shanghai.

The twisting 121-story Shanghai Tower has become the world’s second tallest building. But the pre-war European style architecture of the Bund, the skyscrapers in Pudong on the other side of Huangpu River, and every kind of Chinese regional cuisine found on Shanghais streets, there is enough to appreciate.

The food. Shanghai is a cauldron of sizzling local cooking and food is one of the reasons we all want to visit this city. Eating here is all about the excitement of the chase and some moments are more wonderful than others. Expect dumpling, saucy hotspots and smoke-laced barbecues – it’s wok from breakfast to the last bite early next morning. In Shanghai, it´s wok around the clock.

Like shoes, one size doesn’t fit all.  There are, sizes, styles, colors, just ask any woman. Most men don’t have the same problems or obsession. Decisions go from stilettos, ballerinas, and runners to loafers, high boots, ankle boots. So what’s the relationship with traveling? With destinations, the choices are often as confusing. Some like it hot, others cold, some want a secluded island or opt for a throbbing city.  And then think about realistic need, acceptable hotel rates to fit into your budget, airfare and so many other factors that also make arrangements as difficult as choosing that perfect shoe.

One destination you shouldn’t dismiss is a visit to Shanghai since there’s something, actually everything, to please in this huge city. From my last visit, it was easy to see that time did not stand still.  There is still a working class, and now a visible emerging middle class and an indescribable, wealthy segment, which seems so ironic thinking about original Communist ethos.

Wonderful surprises. If you’re a ‘foodie’ then you’ll have achingly wonderful surprises as each province has its own signature food and often the always-recognizable small dumplings (dim sum, to we Westerners) that are still hand made.  Shanghai pleases every palate since they feel competitive with the world’s top chefs.

Start with Shanghai’s old town where the great Yu Garden is located and was once a traditional upper class, private estate of the affluent Pan family in the Ming Dynasty.  Now, an eyesore here among many others, are two Starbucks, almost next to each other and not a seat to be found since coffee shops have taken over tea houses.  Hearing the phrase over and over again “meet me at Starbucks”, was sad even with the wonderful backdrop of the Yu Gardens.

Go early. A tip if you intend seeing the Yu Gardens, is to get there as early as possible since the crowds grow hour by hour.  And don’t be concerned about the serious elbowing, which seems to be an active, but non-aggressive, non-competitive sport.

Now, a government property, one iconic site on this 5-acre land, is a 5-ton rock that truly is nature’s incredible sculpture.  Also, there are houses with rooms filled with great traditional furniture and original art, interesting shaped entrances and cobble stone floors which I was told, when barefoot, had the immediate affect of a foot massage.

Yu Gardens. I’m always eager in Yu Gardens, to see if the undulating dragon wall and the two bronze dragons with the growling teeth. They are still there.
Within walking distance is the Bund, a delightful promenade where you are beside the water and a great venue to see the majestic historic buildings from the French and English concessions juxtaposed to the traditional buildings. And that is just touching the surface of this throbbing, mysterious metropolis.

If you’re willing to wait in the snake-like line to see the popular Oriental Pearl TV Tower, that’s ok.  But there is an alternative. Only a stone’s throw away our guide suggested to go to the nearby 88 storey, Shanghai Tower, where you can look down at the queue for the Pearl TV Tower and also within this complex, see down to the bottom, the lobby of the Hyatt hotel. And if you still have the energy, do take the night cruise on the Huangpu River, which runs through the city.

The dating system. Early risers should head to Peoples’ Square and see a large group devoted to tai chi. However, in the afternoon, there’s a completely different scenario. Dozens of open umbrellas, rain or sun, are held by the mothers who have put all the important information of their siblings – sons and daughter, their names, careers, ages and some even write their earning capacity. Forget dating sites.  This is the rage here.  The Chinese seem to always create new twists and apparently, this dating system works.

All one needs in Shanghai is time, energy and for shoppers, money.  Shanghai is an expensive, fantastic city but oh so worth discovering.

Click large photos Shanghai

More travel stories: Indulgedtraveler

Pictures by Terje Madsen

Make it Happen!

Touch Down: We arrived at Shanghai Pudong International Airport via the non stop flight from Toronto on China Eastern Airlines and it was unanimous among our group that we spend a day in this most world class city with its conspicuous wealth and constantly changing skyline.

Stay: Shanghai has more than 50 five stars luxury hotels. Waldorf Astoria combines the history and culture of the celebrated Shanghai Bund with a taste for 21st century sophistication.

Eat: If you are Chinese, you will seek out one queue and stand in it, because a queue means freshness – and freshness is crucial. I have heard at some popular Shanghainese bistros you can start queuing for lunch and realize it’s dinner by the time your table is free. Lost Heaven, 38 Gaoyou Road, lostheaven.com.cn. Mains from 9 euro. Hunan Xiangcun Fengwei, 168 Wulumuqi Zhong Road, +862164370952 Feng Yu, 2 Ruijin Road. Mains from 4-5 euro. Un Tour, untourshanghai.com, does tasting tours in Shanghai.

Play: Wine has become the drink of choice and the Chinese wine lovers buy over 2 billion bottles, especially French varieties, each year.

Mini Guide: Be polite, but don’t bow. You are not in Japan. Don’t drink alcohol without first proposing a toast. Don’t lay chopsticks on your plate or place them upright in the bowl.Chinese canteen food cheap and quite healthy, but after some days the unidentifiable meat start making you long for anything else. And don’t drink the entire mysterious hot beverage on offer “for digestion”.

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