Photowalks in Shanghai

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This gallery contains 38 photos.

(Tsveti) Hi everyone! This time we have collected some of our best photos taken while out and about in Shanghai. First are some photos from Xintiandi – the French concession district in Shanghai. These are quite old, but we didn’t get around sharing them until now. More recent photos are the next from the Shanghai botanical garden and then a few photos taken on Thomas’ birthday :) as well as some night shots. Continue reading

Teppanyaki on Paul’s Birthday

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This gallery contains 31 photos.

(Thomas) Until now, I knew Teppanyaki only from Berlin. It is really tasty, comes with good entertainment and is usually a little expensive, but from time to time one should do it. So far, in Shanghai we’ve had no chance to try Teppanyaki – until yesterday! Paul had a birthday – Happy Birthday Paul!!! – so we used the chance and went together into a Teppanyaki restaurant near Henshan Lu. Continue reading

Cooking Chinese, Part 1

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This gallery contains 5 photos.

Tsveti) Here is the long promised article about Chinese cuisine and how we are uncovering its secrets :) I’ll tell you about our favourite Chinese restaurant in Berlin, about how we started to cook Chinese in Shanghai and about our favourite dishes. I’ll give some tips on the way, but since we consider ourselves absolute beginners, I’d advise you to visit the great blog of our cooking book for more details and tricks (the link is somewhere below)…
Continue reading

A short trip to Hong Kong

Tram

A two floor Hong Kong Tram

(Thomas) After our first few days in Shanghai we found out that we had to leave the country again, to renew our visa. Since flying back to Germany was not an option, we took the chance and visited Hong Kong, to get new visa there.

We heard a lot about the new chinese railways and trains and so we decided, to take the train from Shanghai to Hong Kong. We booked our tickets three or four days ahead of the trip and were lucky. We got some of the last tickets because there was some chinese holiday on the weekend and so there was not much choice. We got the upper two “Hard sleeper” beds in a 6-bed cabin. There were also so called “Deluxe Soft sleeper” in two-bed cabins, but we were too late for that.

When we arrived at the train station, our small adventure started with a surprise: The starting terminal was changed and so, 20 minutes before departure, we had to leave the train hall to find the new departure location and do all the passport checks. Together with a few other running Chinese, we made it in time and when we entered the train, we were positively surprised: The hard sleepers were not as hard as they sounded. All in all, the sleeper wagon felt better than the ones of the Deutsche Bahn. I was also lucky, that we got the upper beds in our cabin which usually are considered the worst choice: Since behind the upper beds was some small space to store luggage, I could use this extra space and so even the chinese bed was big enough for me ;-)

After a tour of 19 hours, we finally arrived in Hong Kong and there at the train station we could clear up our visa problems immediately (and this on a Sunday!!). So, if you ever need a chinese visa, just go to Hong Kong first and you’ll get your visa in no time in most of the cases. After we cleared up the visa questions, we wanted to book our tickets for the trip to Shanghai but the tickets were sold out. We were surprised because we thought that chinese train tickets were only sold a week or 10 days before departure, but it turned out that for long distance trains they sell the tickets even earlier. So, we had to buy plane tickets online to go back to Shanghai :)

Afterwards, we took a taxi to our hotel and this was, when we noticed the first difference between Shanghai and Hong Kong: All the cars were using the left lane, which was one of the things left over from the British times of Hong Kong. Also, most of the people spoke English very well, which is not the case in Shanghai. The third big difference was the construction of the whole city. Shanghai, on the one hand, is surrounded by flat land and has as much space as nessecary. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is surrounded by mountains and the sea. So space is very rare and expensive there and almost all buildings are skyscrapers. In fact Hong Kong is the city with the most skyscrapers in the world!

Egg Tart

Egg Tart, source Wikipedia

The next day we started to explore Hong Kong, mainly by foot and tram. Tsveti enjoyed the hundreds of shopping malls (even more than in Shanghai), and shopping is cheaper, because of the low taxes there. We also visited Shek O Beach, one of the smallest and most quiet beaches on Hong Kong Island, and we made a very important discovery: The Hong Kong Egg Tart, which came originally from the Portuguese in Macau. Yummee!!!

One of our most interesting tours was visiting the Peak, which is the highest mountain on the Hong Kong Island. From there, one has a wonderful view over Hong Kong and so it is recommended to go there at night to see the lights of the city. We took the famous old peak tram to go up and on top of the mountain there is a 360 degree tourist platform, of course bundled with shops, restaurants, and all the things, the typical tourist is looking for. After we had enough from the wonderful view (it was a little foggy, but still great), we wanted to take the peak tram down again, but then we saw all the other tourists waiting in a long line for the tram. After a few moments, we decided to make our way down by foot. There was a small walking way down, which was not so easy to find in the dark. Together with a couple from Hong Kong, who didn’t know the way either and by consulting the map a few times, we finally made the descend and after about one hour we arrived at the peak tram station again.

Alltogether, we had a great time in Hong Kong, but I still prefer to live in Shanghai. Hong Kong was a little too narrow and high for my taste, and the asian feeling is not as strong as in Shanghai because of the British influence. Still, if you think about visiting Hong Kong, do it, there is no other place like this.

Shanghai – a City of Schumachers

(Tsveti) As described in my first article, the streets of Shanghai are a traffic jungle, where cars are the hunters and pedestrians try to escape them and still reach their destination. Walking on the streets is not really a relaxing activity like in many European cities, including Sofia. Maybe that’s why Shanghai is full of shopping malls :-)

However, in this post I want to talk about the predators of Shanghai-the car drivers. Driving in a taxi can easily become an adventure here and practically turn your stomach upside down for an evening. It seems to me that the only speed limit that exists here is the limit of your car, or the limit imposed by the traffic on the street you are driving on. At some point, I really wondered if one needs a driver’s license to be able to drive on the streets of Shanghai. It’s like everyone is racing, overtaking can happen left, right, and in the future probably also in the air. There are no real rules; the drivers seem to understand each other perfectly with just horns and lights. Speeding up and breaking suddenly is just a common procedure. This works, but the comfort of the experience for the passenger is no better than for a poor pedestrian.

You get the feeling, Formula one is really at home here; it should have been invented in this city. Maybe that’s why Schumacher is breaking records in the trainings right now, inspired by this ancient racing city’s atmosphere. Once, we had a small competition with a minivan on the highway which was trying to tease our taxi driver. The minivan was constantly changing lanes before us while the taxi driver was trying to overtake it :-)

However, my worst experience was on a one hour drive with a mini bus to a conference dinner. In our first Shanghai week we were a part of a German delegation of the TU Berlin which included many professors and young researchers presenting in the 10th German-Chinese workshop between the Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Technische Universität Berlin.

On the way to the conference dinner we drove from the outer part of Shanghai-Minhang Campus-to the centre in the peak hour. There was a lot of traffic, a lot of street lights and the driver did his best to speed up our journey so we arrived probably 3 minutes earlier than we would have otherwise. You can probably imagine my enjoyment at the speeding up at full power and at once breaking down to a full stop every one or two minutes. The guy even overtook a truck just before the highway entrance! “Left didn’t work, so I go right, no problem” –  what a splendid manoeuvre! Unfortunately, the truck got another entrance gate and was in the end faster than us. In the end, after an hour and with God’s blessing, we finally arrived at the restaurant while I was still waiting for my stomach, which has left me somewhere on the way. I hoped it would join me before dinner was over, but it didn’t work that well.

The dinner was really high class, the dishes were all five star quality, and the service was flawless. I wasn’t able to eat much, I only tried a little of almost every dish, and it was really genius. Chinese cuisine is absolutely an art form and a science in one, it is so good and multifaceted that I don’t know if I can find words to accurately describe it. I am fascinated with Chinese cuisine and will soon write a separate article or maybe a few articles about it because there is so much to say and talk about. But for now, I will only say, that I don’t know of any other cuisine that has such sophisticated and unique tastes, that blends different spices so well and unexpected together that you sometimes wonder if their dishes really come from our planet Earth. China is my tongue’s heaven and I hope I can bring some of it back home to Germany after the six months are over.

Thanks for reading and I wish Schumacher good luck in the race in Shanghai :-) .

Following Impressions

A look at the Xuhui campus

A look at the Xuhui campus

(Tsveti) After waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning on my second day in China, at 8 I was very hungry and quite impatient to have breakfast. In China all meals are warm – including breakfast. You get noodles, rice, cooked roots, and different kinds of snacks like dim sums, spring rolls and even fried eggs (try to eat this with chop sticks). The food in our hotel was OK but not too good – especially when it comes to coffee. Coffee is not a typical drink in China and the good coffee is usually imported and expensive. The coffee we had tasted like a burned powder drink :-) . But I never expected it otherwise-to get the best food and drinks abroad, you’d better eat and drink like the locals do. There is plenty of western food in Shanghai, but it’s either bad or expensive. From time to time I will need it, but most of the time I’ll stick to Chinese food, because it is so incredibly delicious. I think I’ll write a separate post on food especially when I make my first attempts in Chinese cooking.

Back to my impressions. The first week was full of exciting events but in this post I’d like to talk about the city of Shanghai and how I perceived it in the beginning. My very first impression of Shanghai was on the highway between the Pudong airport and centre of the city.

A typical Shanghai living compound

A typical Shanghai living compound

Pudong Airport is actually outside the city. So, on the way to Shanghai, we drove through an area that was labelled as “rural” in China.  The houses had “only” 5 or 6 floors and looked quite similar. The beginning of the city was marked by big 20 floors houses and driving through Shanghai, one rarely sees a house with less than 30 floors, most houses have 25-30 floors or more and I am not talking about the famous Shanghai “skyline district” Pudong. All around you see groups of 5-6 or more of the same 35 floor-house, typical Shanghai living compounds. In the centre around Xuhui they are big and beautiful surrounded with small gardens, protected by a big wall and a few guardsmen outside. The more away you get from the centre, the worse the houses get and the more visible their gardens. One or two metro stations away you can freely walk in the compounds, the guards are only there to keep beggars and suspicious people away. We as Europeans are supposedly non-suspicious. In one of these compounds, one metro station away from Xuhui we found our future apartment, but more about it in a future post.

We stayed in the Faculty Club hotel, which is situated in the central Campus of the Jiao Tong University. This campus is very nice with a huge park around and between the university’s buildings (see picture above). The buildings are quite old and beautiful, reminders of the colonial time in Shanghai – in full contrast to almost all the rest of the city.

What I like doing in a new place is to go out through the shopping streets and centres. Not necessarily to shop but to look: What are people buying there, how do they relax between the shops, what is popular, are there any cool new snacks to try out?  What surprised me was that it was really full of shopping malls, shops, shopping streets, markets and everything around shopping. There is practically no end to the shops. Literally every popular brand has a shop in Shanghai. But, who is buying there? Could the average Shanghai citizen afford to buy clothes from the average western brands like Esprit or Zara? Could they maybe afford H&M? And what about the luxurious brands like Gucci, Versace, YSL, etc.? Who is buying those products?

This bugged me for some time, so I’ve been thinking about it. In a land like China the gap between the poor and the rich is enormous, but the population is 1.3 billion. So if one per cent is rich, this gives a total of 10 million rich people. Quite many who could afford Versace.  So, it is all about the absolute numbers. Relatively, a small per cent of the population is rich enough to buy brands, but absolutely, it is still a very big number of people, which makes is profitable for any brand to have a shop in China. So, with China’s current growth trend, for the average citizen to be able to buy products from average (European and Asian) brands is probably only a matter of time.