August 2011


After sleeping in a non-mattressed dorm room, this place was the Hilton to me. It wasn’t quite the best hostel ever, but it’s up there. The main drawback to the Shanghai City Central is that it is NOT in the center of the city. It’s located quite north of Shanghai. However, if you have an affinity for local noodle shops and taking the metro everywhere, then this is the place for you. I had planned on only staying a couple of nights and then moving closer into the city, but the metro was so convenient that I ended up staying here for my entire trip. There was quite a mix of people at the hostel. In addition to the usual backpackers, there were families, people working temporarily in the city, and guests staying here for several weeks.  

Because of its non0central location, the hostel knows that it has to compensate in other ways. Therefore amenities are abundant. A free breakfast buffet (soup, dumplings, toast w/jam and cereal) from 7:30 – 9:30 is included. A fancier breakfast is available for a little extra. Food and drinks are available for purchase during breakfast hours and again from 7pm until 2:30 at night. The place has a pretty good vibe at night with a pool table, televisions, music, and low strobe lights completing the ambiance. A variety of drinks are available. I had a couple Tequila Sunrises for 20 yuan each.

Other amenities include computers which are available for a 10 yuan per 15 minute interval. Free and reliable WiFi is available downstairs. The hostel also has laundry facilities. You can do your own laundry (10 yuan for use of the washing machine, about 5 yuan for the dryer – which will take about three hours) or drop it off at the front desk for a fee of 15 yuan per kilo of laundry. A pretty good library and a ping-pong table on the front deck round out the lobby.

Room options are plentiful. A family suite goes for 460 yuan. You can also rent a double, single, or dorm style room for 250, 150, and 70, respectively. A female only dorm can be requested for no additional charge. Consistently clean bathrooms and showers are shared at the end of each hallway. When checking in, be prepared to put down a 100 yuan deposit for your room key. This hotel is also one of the few places in Shanghai with an elevator and a ramp to get into the hotel. Because of the step down to the dining room and the lip on the showers, I’m not going to go on record saying this hostel is completely accessible, but a few guests here had mobility issues, so I’m guessing it’s one of the better options in Shanghai for the disabled.  

The directions on the hostel’s website suck, so here you go:

From the train station or the airport take metro line 3 or 4 to Caoyang Road. Once disembarking your subway, exit Caoyang Station at exit #6, near the McDonalds (don’t follow the crowd to metro line 11). Turn right out of the metro station, heading east on Kaizuan road (not like there will be a sign). You will be walking under the metro tracks. If you hit Caoyang road, you’re going the wrong direction – turn around. After about a five minute walk, you’ll hit Wuning road (the first cross street you come to). Cross the street and turn right (heading south on Wunin road). You’ll pass about three storefronts before seeing this façade:

Turn left into the neighborhood and you’ll see the hostel on your right in about 100m. The address is 300 Wuning Road.

This run had better be worth it, I’m thinking as I wind further and further south into Montana, putting even more hours between me and my friend’s house in Great Falls. Part of me wanted to bag the whole thing and just head up north. Small town races have the potential to be a little boring, especially if it’s not YOUR small town.

This was not the case with the Night Owl Run. It’s a good thing I’d kept the car trained towards Livingston.

The only problem with the Night Owl Run is that it’s in Livingston, the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. This means that hotel rooms (especially in the summer) are booked or too expensive.

The great thing about the Night Owl Run is that it’s in Livingston – a town with a gorgeous backdrop, a cute downtown area, and friendly people willing to give you beer.

Yup, beer. Usually I’m not a huge beer-after-running fan, but I’d just consumed a post-race hamburger (free), and a hot dot (free), so a beer (free) seemed appropriate. Plus race participants get to keep the nice pint glass.

The race was not so long and hard that I really needed to consume the equivalent of two dinners afterwards. I was just so impressed with the spread I felt the need to partake in all that was offered. Usually races are in the morning and finish line corrals include oranges and bagels. A barbeque is a definite perk to nighttime races.

So is the temperature and scenery. The four and a half mile race stated at seven o’clock in the evening, right as the sun was setting, casting dramatic shadows on the golden foothills and dramatic peaks beyond them. I’d warily looked at the foothills before the race had started, worried that we’d be running up them. Flashbacks of a very slow half marathon in Inner Mongolia plagued me for the first mile. But luckily the course just had a few minor rolling hills. Even though it was a little windy and I had to remind myself to stop staring at the snow capped Rockies and focus on the race, I kept up my 8:30 minute mile pace. It’s a pace I hope to maintain next month in the Disney World ½ Marathon as well. “Hope” being the operative word in that last sentence.  

Another race perk was the costume contest, gifting a price of $50 to the runner who ran in the best owl costume. The winner was Ted Madden, with his homemade getup. His daughters (aged nine and eleven) had hosted a sleepover the night before the race, and creating an owl costume for their dad had been the evening’s project. I forgot to ask him if he was going to give the prize money to his girls or if he was going to use it for future race entries.  

If you want to do the Night Owl Run next year, check out their website at http://nightowlrun.com. The race has been an annual event, already scheduled for August 24th in next year’s 2012. This year’s registration fee was $25 if you registered in advance (which could be done online) or $30 if you registered the day of race.

As a former XC runner, I love that some of the proceeds go towards a scholarship for a Park High Cross Country team member. As a teacher (and, you know, a human being), I love that additional funds are donated to local afterschool and backpack programs. Besides supporting kids in Livingston, this race has a great setting, great food, great beer, and great ambiance. The Night Owl Run is one small town race that’s definitely worth traveling out of your way for.

The 1933 building: Packing Meat No Longer

Who knew meat processing plants used to be so cool looking? This old abattoir (a new word for me too) in Northern Shanghai has been preserved from its carnivorous days and now functions as housing for boutique shops. Little has been done to alter the building, which is a good thing. A purse store hangs its merchandise along the brick walls. Extra stock is kept behind a tiny door that I image pig’s feet must have been stored. A jewelry store is holed up in a cylindrical space in the center of the building, spiral staircases surrounding it. A few cafes and restaurants have sprung up in the bigger areas.

But there is still retail space to be had. It’ll be interesting to hear what comes of the 1933 building, which had the misfortune of turning into a retail outlet just as the recession hit. Not helping is the fact that it’s in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Shanghai. I liked this becuase it was mostly empty and I got to wander freely through its slightly creepy low-ceilinged rooms, but I was trying to ignore the feeling of impending doom for the building. There’s nothing the Shanghainese like better than bulldozers and shiny new high-rises.

To check out the 1933 building for yourself, take metro line 10 to Hailun Road. Head south for about 1/3 of a mile. It is on the corner of Shajing and Zhoujiazui (10 Shajing). Come right before sunset and climb to the top of the building for views of Shanghai. The surrounding area is also pretty fun. Wuzhou road (east of, or behind the 1933 building) features rows of live-in stores selling produce, live chickens, meat and fish. The fish are also live. In the picture below that man’s arm is retrieving a little guy who tried to hop to freedom down the gutter. He didn’t make it.

Moller House: A Mini Winchester Mansion

You know the story of Sarah Winchester? Eccentric widow and heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, Sarah believed that she needed to move out west and commission a house to be built continuously. If construction was stopped, something really bad would happen. The result is the Winchester Mansion in San Jose, CA.

Swede Eric Moller of Shanghai apparently had a similar vision. His house is much smaller than the Winchester place, but features similar turrets and general craziness. The Moller house is now a hotel and popular wedding destination among the Shanghai elite. If you follow the walkway along the western gardens, there are tables enclosed in individual glass pagodas for evening dining.

To get to the Moller house, take metro line 1 to South Shaanxi Road. Head north. It’ll be on your left in about ½ a mile. It’s at 30 Sough Shaanxi Road. If you get to the Yan’an overpass you’ve gone too far. If you feel the need to watch old people exercise (including the high stepped backwards walk), take a detour through Xiangyang Park. It’s just west of the metro station.

Shanghai’s most famous walkway should only be done at night. I learned this the hard way, traipsing along the Huangpu River in the middle of the day, getting sunburned and wondering how I’d found the only stretch of real estate in China that doesn’t sell ice cream bars. On the other hand, if you ever want to escape Chinese mid-day crowds, the Bund is a good place to be.

At night things come alive. I returned after sunset and happily dodged kids flinging light-up slingshots, friends taking peace-sign-flashing photos, and couples strolling hand in hand. (Side note: A lot of Chinese guys carry their girlfriend’s purses. I don’t see this catching on in America.)

To get to the Bund, I would suggest heading there via Nanjing Road. Get to this road on metro line 10 or 2 and exit at East Nanjing Road (or if you want a longer walk, get off at the People’s Square station instead – metro lines 2, 8, or 1) and head east. Nanjing Road has long been the fashion mecca of China. This pedestrian only thoroughfare is the only place in China where you don’t stand the risk of being run over by a motorcycle. By day, Nanjing road is just the place to move from one store to another. In the evening you can see impromptu dance performances, donate money to living statues, or join in on a sing along fest.

At the corner of Nanjing and Zhongshan roads is the famous Peace Hotel, which has housed many a famous celebrity and revolutionary rabble rouser. Back in the day (pre-1956) it was named the Cathay Hotel.

If you cross Zhongshan road and take the staircase, you’ll be on the Bund. The lit-up scene before you features the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. After taking the obligatory photos, head north. The Bund comes to an end where the Huangpu rives curves left into Suzhou Creek. Huangpu Park is squished between the Bund and Zhongshan Road, and provides a pleasant place during the day to walk among lilies and pagodas while counting the number of Chinese men engaged in what appears to be the national pastime – sleeping. The benches are packed with families at night.

Back up on the Bund is the tri-towered Monument to the People’s Heroes. There’s also museum here about the history of the Bund which I did not frequent. I probably should have though, because admission is free. Anyways, from the park you can take a short walk across the Waibaidu Bridge to check out the Broadway Mansions and expensive hotels on the other side of Suzhou Creek.

While it wasn’t my favorite water-side walkway, or my favorite thing to do in Shanghai, strolling the Bund is something you just have to do while in the city. At night when the neon skyscrapers are pulsating and the well dressed crowds are flowing around you, it’s easy to understand why Shanghai is Asia’s Manhattan, the Paris of the East, and the city that just might help China take over the world

So this has not exactly been a foodie vacation. When stuck at school I’ve been dining on cafeteria cuisine:

When I start to panic about not having a job, I dine at places like this:

And because I love noodle shops that display pictures on their walls (thus making ordering a non-verbal task), I often go to this place:

However, my dining experience went decidedly upscale one night. I met my friend Sue after she finished her workday an we went to Pichon I can be a tad of a picky eater, especially in China (my travel downfall), but at PichonI loved everything that was put on the table. After our three hour dinner I was full and satisfied for the first time in weeks. Our appetizers were slices of beef and duck meat. For main dishes we shared a crab/sticky rice/scallions/garlic dish. It was good, but I suck at eating crab. I first tried using my chopsticks. That didn’t work. Then I tried one hand and one chopstick. Still a no go. Two hands was the only combination that ensured the food actually got to my mouth. The wait staff must had been watching me and cringing because they brought over silverware. I waved them off and soldiered on sans fork.

In addition to the crab, Sue and I each also got a dish of Dong Po beef. Dong Po was a famous poet who apparently made his beef in a tasty fashion that this restaurant emulates. Sue reports that she gets it every time she comes here. I would too. It was fatty and juicy and other things that vegetarians hate. And delicious, of course.

The restaurant is about a five minute walk from the Bund. Take Nanjing road west from the Bund (as east would have you swimming in the Huangpo  river) and turn left on Sichuan road. After about a five minute walk, Pichon will be on your left. If you hit Fuzhou Road, you’ve gone too far. Back up about five steps. The menu is in both Chinese and English, which would be handy if you don’t have Sue with you. Prices are moderate. The DongPo beef was about 50 RMB (about $8) but the crab dish was three times as much.

My Chinese friend pointed at the sky. “They have heaven,” she said, “but we have Hangzhou and Suzhou.” I politely nodded. I wouldn’t exactly call Hangzhou heaven on Earth, as I don’t associate heaven with sweltering heat, but it’s a nice enough place. The most divine settings can be found around the city’s main attraction: West Lake.

The city of Hangzhou is built up on the Western shore of the 10 mile (circumference) lake, although there is a lot to do no matter where around or in the lake you happen to be. I would suggest the following itinerary for a day at West Lake. 

Begin at the Lakeshore Promenade, between the city and the lake shore. Don’t spend too much time here yet, as it gets better at nighttime. All around the promenade are booths ready to sell you tickets for boat tours. The Hangzhou West Lake Pleasure Boat Company charges 45 yuan (about $7) for a tour around the lake. These boats are like hop-on-hop-off city tour buses, and I highly recommend hopping on. Once you buy your initial ticket you can catch boats to many places around the lake.

The boat will first take you to Three Pools Mirroring the Moon. A stroll around this tiny touristy island features numerous pagodas, walkways, and scenic viewpoints. The main attractions here are the three water pagodas near the island acting like Chinese buoys. There were put there in 1621 to mark where no plants should be grown. On full moon nights, candles are places inside the pagodas, creating the effect of multiple moons shimmering on the lake.

After taking in your fill of Three Pools Mirroring the Moon island, catch a boat to the Mid Lake Pavilion and then on to the Pier at Sun Yat-Sen Park. Warning: bird whistles are for sale and Chinese parents, for some reason, indulge their children in these portable noise makers. To escape the fake bird calls, I climbed every set of stairs I could find. I’d soon climbed over the top and down the other side of the park. This worked out great, as it was then a short walk to the Bai causeway, otherwise known as Lingering Snow on the Broken Bridge. The bridge was neither broken nor snowy, so I’m guess the name has to do with some event in the past. The non-snowy, non-broken causeway takes you back to the western shore of the lake.

Here, on Beishan road, catch bus K7 heading west towards the Linyin Temple and the Peak Flying from Afar (don’t ya love these cheesy Chinese names?). If you aren’t one for walking, you could skip the Bai causeway and just catch the same bus from Yat-Sen Park instead. The K7 bus (“K” means air-conditioned. Very important!) follows a tree lined road up past the Shangri-La hotel to the temple. Admission to the scenic areas surrounding the temple is 45 yuan, with another 30 yuan to actually get inside the temple. I peaked through the gates at the temple and skipped buying the extra ticket. The area around the temple is really the main attraction. Over 340 stone statues are carved in the limestone cliffs and caves around the temple, with a river flowing through the whole area. The most famous carving is that of Laughing Buddha, clutching his satchel. I spent just under two hours exploring the area before catching the bus back down to the lakeshore.

It was a little after six when I got back to West Lake and the Lakeshore Promenade and noticed lines of chairs being set up. Not sure what to expect, I took a seat facing the lake and pulled out a book. (There’s a book store in town on the corner of Qingchun and Yan’an roads. English language books are on the third floor.) The seats around me quickly filled up, especially when a Chinese police officer kicked the people off the roped-off decks in front of us. At seven a water show began, with choreographed fountains dancing to music. If you’ve ever seen Bellagio’s fountains in Las Vegas – it was the same thing. They even played Sarah Brighman and Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye.”  It was a little longer then the Bellagio show though, with four or five songs. The fountains go off every half hour from seven until nine (ten thirty on Saturday and Sunday), and it was fun to watch them both up close and from a distance as I walked around the lake. If you want a seat up close, I’d recommend claiming it a good half hour before the show starts.

After the show is an excellent time to explore the busiest side of the lake, which is along Hubin road. Once the sun goes down, wooden pavilions fill with Chinese line dancing, portable karaoke machines come up, and neon lights fill the air. If I was with someone else, I would have settled down at a bar or restaurant along the lake, but since I was on my own I settled for eating ice cream bars while meandering along the shores. It wasn’t heavenly, but it was a good day nonetheless. 

The Chinese government blocks a lot of online social networks. So I wasn’t ignoring your comments – it’s Communism. This Facebook-blocking government celebrated its 90th anniversary on July 1st, and commemorative crimson fever was high. Thousands of workers across China prepared for the celebrations by scraping gum off of Forbidden City walkways.

 

I was approached by many excited Chinese who wanted to know if I was in town for the celebration. (No. My flight to Inner Mongolia coincided with the big day). Mainstream Chinese people are seemingly pro-Communism, pro-Mao, and pro-anything else China related. I don’t want to get into too much social commentary, but I’ll just mention that Animal Farm is one of my very favorite books.

 My first introduction to red anniversary pride was China Daily, the English newspaper, and its full page timeline of the CPC. I especially enjoy the happy smiling faces of the peasants completing their long march. There is no mention of how the government pulled peasants from their farms to work in factories, creating shoddy steel goods and a famine that starved millions.

 

This glorification of peasants was again apparent on Tiananmen Square which is bookended by Chairman Mao on one end and two patriotic slide shows (patri-vision?) on the other. Glamour shots of terraced rice field and harmonious field hands fill the mega screen as music meant to inspire nostalgia fills the surrounding space. Chinese tourists stood by and filmed the entire spectacle on their cell phones.  

 

Along with the glorification of Communism, there is the inevitable trashing of the Japanese. I’ve been to Nanjing, seen evidence of the massacre, but WOW – this country really knows how to hold a grudge. On out hike up the Great Wall the only time our sweet tour guide stopped the whole group was to point to a blown-out wall, say it was from a Japanese bomb, and suggest that we take pictures of it. As for World War II, here in China it’s known as the War of Aggression by the Japanese. Again from China Daily:

 

I’m happy to be in China, I really am – especially on this return trip. I don’t know if it’s my perception or the result of the Beijing Olympics/Shanghai Expo/general globalization, but the country seems much less chaotic to me. But I agree with Colin Firth’s comment when he was asked about the British monarchy: “I really like voting. It’s one of my favorite things.”

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