How To Win Big In Happy Valley

Like I said before , I first learned about Hong Kong through the stellar James Clavell novel Noble House. Many key scenes took place over big dollar betting at the Happy Valley Racecourse. Alas, I was left without a private VIP room (and millions to bet with) but I had a damn good time at Happy Valley.

I could see the racetrack from my hotel window so my cousin and I rambled over after dinner one night. Lucky for us it was Oktoberfest! ( In November but I’m not complaining!)

How to Win

Step 1.

Buy large pitchers of beer. Consume said beer. ( Alcohol is a key factor in the enjoyment of the races.)

Step 2.

When you’re starting to feel pretty fine pour an indiscriminate amount of brew into a cup. Chug that beer to the best of your ability. The number of seconds it takes = your lucky horse number.

Step 3.

Bet.
I bet the minimum of 20HKD on win .

The winning ticket.

Step 4.

Profit and bask in the glory!

I discovered this foolproof technique on my first ever attempt at betting on anything.
I placed the bet and did the worst possible thing you can do on the first time you ever bet. Win.
Winning the very first time , who could just walk away?

AFter waiting in line in between hardcore gamblers wearing sunglasses at night , clenching their horse-betting newspaper with vice-like grips , we fought our way through the crowds thick with the young , beautiful , and business-suited.

Straining to see , up on our very tiptoes, the gates open and the horses are off! I can’t see anything! Dang , being on ground level at a circular track leaves at least 50% of the race to the video screens!

My beloved horse #2 (2 second chug!) was quickly behind. Nooooo! We felt dejected , let-down , cheated. Until #2 had a surge of power in the last quarter and overtook the pack to win by a body length! All those previous negative energies disappeared and we were left ecstatic , amazed by what just happened , and slighty drunk.

Waiting in line to cash in the ticket, I was saying there is no way we can win anything big ( totally not understanding the system that lets you know exactly what you win) . My 20HKD turned into 146 HKD , that’s $2.58 USD to $18.83 for those who don’t have the conversions memorized. 7 to 1 payoff on win!

AFter winning, we committed a grave error. We switched to the mathematical principles of addition , multiplication , and parity ( that’s odd or evens . Don’t feel bad , I had to look the word up.) We foolishly dismissed our winning strategy as luck or chance. It’s not. Trust the beer. Fear the math.

By the end of it we were down to our initial cash levels minus the beer but plus a Gangnam Style dance competition, so I’d say we left ahead.

Unfortunately the place in Shanghai named Happy Valley is a mere amusement park. The original horse racing track was at People’s Square prior to 1949. Communists don’t like betting or fun so they tore it down. I really wish they hadn’t. It would great to be able to go once or twice a month. Instead I’ll have to wait till the next time I’m in Hong Kong.

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Happy Halloween!

Dongping Forest Park

The last four weekends I’ve visited the four forest parks in Shanghai : SheShan , GongQing , BinJiang , and now DongPing Forest Park. I fell in love twice and ate some BBQ in this latest journey. What better way to enjoy the tail-end of summer? Already the nights have turned chilly , and the humidity has been dispelled with crispness. Mmmm , almost hoodie weather!

DongPing forest park is the hardest to get to , the furthest away from the city center , the most expensive (by far) , but I like it the best. It just about captures the real forest vibe I’ve been searching for , the skies are blue , the air is fresh , plus the bus ride to get there is long but has some pretty cool parts to it.

The forest park is located in the center of Chongming Island. It’s easy to forget just how long the island is. From the Eastern part with the connecting bridge to the middle port town of Nanmen is about an hour. Add this time in with the metro ride to the bus , and the following connecting bus ride from the port town to the park and travel time from my house is hitting about 3 hours. Yikes. I can make it to other cities in China via bullet train in much less time. Working in the park’s favor is that for a minimal fee you can pitch a tent and sleep overnight , there is a huge central fire pit available for the highely overpriced fee of 500rmb but with enough people throwing down it would be okay.

The gamut of entertainment from the electrical boat rentals , to the water ball rolling , grass skiing , and paintball are all available here. I didn’t do any of these , and instead choose to barbecue , and take in the nature. The nature part is awesome! So not Shanghai. Tall pine trees that stretch on and on , and after 5 o’clock there was a not a soul around. 20 minutes walking around in trees without seeing a person is pretty much the antithesis of my China experience. More please!

Earlier I mentioned falling in love.

First is Stubbs

I coaxed her out of the woods to discover a missing tail! Looked like it had been somewhat recently lost and healed. I tried to give her food but she just wanted a scratch.

The next time was with Wild Goldfish

It took her a bit to get her to come out from her bamboo grove but after I started petting her she wouldn’t let me leave. AFter walking away , her cries brought me back 3 times before I could bring myself to leave.

In between meeting these two kitties , the wild BBQ cats entertained me. Immediately after people are finished and leave the grill , the cats move in. A group of 5 moved in and made off with every scrap of food possible. I spied a cat waiting in the bushes for me to finish , and I made the move to give her some food. She ran off , and I discovered she had already been devouring an uneaten fish on a skewer.

Yea , I ignored the ziplines , paintball , and rollercoasters to play with a bunch of cats.

This park is seriously great. I will be back , and next time I’m bringing a tent and “roughing” like this group.

The three-hour trip is do-able for a day trip but I would recommend staying overnight. If tents aren’t your style there are plenty of hotels in the port towns , and country-style farm stays everywhere else.

To get to the park :

1. Take the metro to line 6 JuFeng Lu

2. Just outside the metro is a bus station , hop on the NanMen 南门 bus (18 rmb each way).

3. A 9 kilometer underwater tunnel , and a nearly as long bridge ride later , plus an hour on the island travel and you will arrive by the NanMen travel bus station. Walk a bit forward from where the bus stops and you will see the 远客站 or bus station。

4. Hop on the NanDong Xian 南东线 and tell the conductor you are going to 森林公园 senlingongyuan。 Ta da you made it!

For return trips the last bus back from the park leaves at 7 , there are plenty of illegal taxi guys to negotiate a price with if you miss the bus , but expect to pay a premium , and the last bus back to Shanghai from NanMen leaves at 9.

Now that I’ve made it to all the forest parks of Shanghai , what next?

I’ve been scouting google maps and have located plenty of forest parks in nearby cities ! This will last until the winter settles in. Then it’s mad DVD time.

The True BinJiang Forest Park Experience

I finally made it back to BinJiang Forest Park. The first time I went was with 130 or so kindergarten kids. A fun time but not exactly optimal for seeing the park and finding a peaceful little patch of woods for myself.

Like the rest of Shanghai’s forest parks, it’s a long ways away from the city center. This journey requires a trip out to the northern most stop of Line 6. I’ve never had any occasion to use Line 6 until now. Somewhere along the journey the subway emerges from the underground and we are rewarded with amazing views of crappy buildings , smoke stacks , shipping containers , and a brand new shiny customs and tax building. Awesome! It all makes sense really , as we are headed to the GangCheng ( Harbor City) metro station.

The park is situated at the confluence of the Yangtze and Huangpu River. It’s on the opposite side of the Huangpu as the previous Paotaiwan Park post

On the car ride from the metro stop ( there is a bus but we weren’t quite sure where the stop was and got a good deal from an illegal taxi) the driver pointed out previous fortifications and cannon mount points to defend against attacking Japanese. Driving through the area it seemed a bit suspect there was a park nearby. BinJiang is a vast green oasis tucked inbetween shipping and industry. It’s a windy road to the park , passing big rigs , rundown restaurants, laughable laundromats, and shady accommodations. If I hadn’t have been there before , I might have gotten a little nervous the driver was taking us for a ride.

This park is a little more nature orientated than Gongqing Forest Park but still features an outdoor laser tag arena , BBQ zone , and has the standard kids rollercoaster with accompanying pirate ship ride currently under construction.

The park is split into different regions including “Ecological Forest Zone” , “Wetlands Area” “Coastal Viewing ” ,”a 7 acre Azalea Garden” , “Eastern Park Zone , and “BBQ”!. Heading out on foot will take a while to totally wander across the park , and may take more than a day’s trip to totally explore all the side paths . I really love the Ecological Forest Zone with the wooden boardwalks that meander into the Wetlands Area. It’s the most peaceful and secluded I’ve ever been to in Shanghai. Definitely more foresty than the other parks. I’ve yet to make it to the Chongming Island Dongping Forest Park , and that may be the final contender for king of Shanghai parks.

We started with a spicy squid and duck breakfast in a lovely flowered area. (Anyone sensing a pattern with my weekend breakfasts yet?).

After, we wandered through the Wetlands and Ecological Forest zone.

Shanghai?

We learned about the science that goes on in the parks to created such a blissed out experience.

And visited the not-so-pretty coastline view.

At this point the clouds were rolling in and we saught shelter in a pavilion in the woods.

The heavens rained down and we zoned out in this pavilion for an hour without seeing a single soul . We were all wasted on those previously mentioned free ions. Wheeeee!

After the rains stopped , it was time to grab some food and rent a tandem bicycle.

We explored the rest of the park , and while veering off on some stone paths that we probably shouldn’t have been riding on , we lost traction on the slippy stones and had an awesome crash.

Then the saw this monster crawling through the grass!

After the bike time was up ( don’t be a minute late or its a 50% charge on the next hour) (Whatever happened to Socialism?) we decided it was time to head back to the city. We will definitely be back. Hopefully we can drag a bunch of friends and chip in together to rent one of the popular BBQ pits. Hooo rah!

The best part is that this is the 120 hectacre stage 1 of the park. Stage 3 is expected to have 300 acres. YESSSSS! Who knows when it will be done but I’ll most likely still be here!

GongQing Forest Park

I’ve been getting city fever lately. Now matter how nice it is to stroll through the leafy former French Concession , looking at all the nice things I can’t afford to buy , dreaming of the $7USD cups of coffee I would like to have , I’ve been itching to get out. Last weekend featured a long metro ride out to SongJiang District and the awesome SheShan (“Mount She”)

This week featured a loonnng metro ride (19 stops from my house) to the northern reaches of Shanghai. GongQing Forest Park is a sprawling “forest” located in the hinterlands of Yangpu District , a bus/taxi ride onwards from the terminal station Shiguang Rd on metro line 8. Admission is a mere 15 rmb , although additional activities are extra.

We woke up early Sunday morning with the whole day ahead of us , and an intense craving for coffee. Nothing can change my love for coffee. Breakfast foods , on the other hand , are a whole another story. Maybe I’ve been in Asia too long but I skipped the bowl of cereal and went straight to the spiced lotus root and duck neck. Yes, duck neck. It is awesome.

We procured seats using advanced metro riding methodology long studied in the dog eat dog world of Shanghai rush hour, and 19 long stops later we were there!

Picture a forest park in your mind. What do you see? Trees , certainly , flowers , yes , a lake , of course! Rollercoasters , go-karts, paintball? No. The Chinese , however, do. The forest park as envisioned by them is an all-included entertainment center. I took full advantage of this.

A three-hour tour . A three-hour tour. Uh guys, I can’t see the shore anymore!

Cap’n Booze welcomes you aboard!

The park (you know the nature part!) is really great and even though there is a rollercoaster somewhere in the confines of the vast park it’s easy to forget you are in Shanghai. Thick pine groves with no people and only a dirt track , verdant woody areas with wildflowers. Reverberating blasts from the horns of cargo haulers on the adjacent Huangpu River (ok , ok , still in Shanghai :))

The entertainment in the park includes go-karts , bumper cars, a merry go-round , a log ride , rollercoaster with complete upside down loop , paintball , archery ,horse riding, a kids zone , paddle and electric boat rental for cruising the lake , a zipline over the lake ,various food and drink stands, DIY BBQ pits, two-seater bike rentals, and a few other assorted carnival rides. I was hugely let down by the sign proclaiming mini-golf when there was no mini-golf to be had. Seriously , there is no putt-putt option in the entirety of Shanghai , and most likely in the entire country. This is a travesty.

With the exception of the lack of mini-golf , this is a ROOMAOMAO certified awesome, excellent city escape. Go there while the weather lasts , before the definition of fun becomes hot tea , blankets, and meters tall stacks of DVDs. Viva la summer! (or verano if you please)

Even though it’s only Monday my thoughts are already wandering off to next weekend. Where to go? Tongchuan Fish Market? Nanxiang for some of the best Shanghai XiaoLongBao? Hmmm , choices , choices.

Shanghai’s “Mountain” – SheShan

I have been itching to travel somewhere , to get out of Shanghai for a weekend , but the double whammy of trying to making sure I have enough RMB to have fun in Vietnam and stupid weekend errands have kept me within a couple of blocks radius of my house for the blessed 2 day break. (no further West than Shanghai Brewery , no further East than XinTianDi , no further South than Zhaojiabang Rd , and no further North than HuaiHaiZhong Rd. )

The combination of frugalness and convenience led to SheShan (佘山) or She’s (not the same as English – shhuuuuhh-) Mountain. Frugalness liking the free entrance and convenience liking the appropriately named SheShan Metro Stop. Mountain is more of a misnomer really , as it stands a towering 90 (18% of Shanghai’s current tallest building -Shanghai World Financial Center-) meters over the surrounding alluvial plains. I thought it was the highest natural elevation in Shanghai until a Google search gave that to the 130 meter tall peak of the uninhabited island Dajinshan.

We visited the Eastern and Western parts of the SheShan Forest Park area. There is more to do in the surrounding environs with several high-class hotel resorts , a golf course, and the adjacent Happy Valley Amusement Park. With those things all costing the big bucks , we stuck to the park.

Waiting in a huge line for a death trap? Ehhhhhhh.

I had visited the Eastern part of the park with the Flying Dutchman , Pan, waaay back in the distant mists of 2 years ago , but it was time to head back.

The Eastern part of the park is one of the closest places to nature as you can get in Shanghai. It is a peaceful , easy, stroll through bamboo thickets to get to the peak. There are several good places for grabbing a peak at the outlying countryside. There is even Fragrant Buddha Spring brought to you by Pepsi-Cola©!

Nothing says Zen like crappy speakers blasting “relaxing” music and an ice-cold can of PEPSI©!
Wanna be a big-bellied Buddha? Two words. Sugar calories!

All jokes aside, the Eastern part of the park is really nice.

On to the West!

It starts out bizarrely enough , with a free ticket given to you at the booth which you then have to scan through the turnstiles to enter. This is where the previous post came from.

Another strange thing about this part of the park is the Roman Catholic Basilica chilling on the very peak alongside a Jesuit Astronomy Observatory. Apparently this church was one of the most important in Asia in the early 1900s with pilgrims from all across Asia visiting. The church was heavily damaged during the Cultural Revolution but has since been restored , and is now an active Church. Visitation is free.

The Observatory, on the other hand , costs a measly 12 rmb (little under $2USD) for admission. The museum is totally not worth it but the view from the top of the Observatory is. I was incredibly surprised to spot the Shanghai World Financial Center along with the JinMao Tower (current 2 tallest buildings in Shanghai) from the top! These buildings are approximately 35 kilometers away!

All-in-all it’s a great trip if you live in Shanghai and need to break the monotony of concrete with some bamboo. It’s definitely not a come to Shanghai just to see it attraction but if you spend enough time here you should see it.

Being out the burbs of Shanghai there aren’t too many foreigners and that leads to some funny things.

Funny things kids said

1. (In Chinese) Whoooaa! I see a foreigner!
2. (In English after he pretended to shotgun blast his dad off a ledge) Headshot!
3. (No Language) A shocked lingering quadruple take stare.

Back to Work

Yup just like that it’s over. Back to work , clock in clock out , grind time once again. I know I already went on a little rant before but I’m seeing all these TGIF whoa awesome plans for the weekend on slavebook (aka facebook) as I’m sitting in my office during lunch break. Waaahh! Saturday , Sunday , and then Monday thru Friday of work. Waking up on Monday I will already worked for two days so going with the normal progression of time it should already be Wednesday by that time. So then the next day should be Thursday and almost the weekend but in reality it will be the other dreaded T – Tuesday! Nooo!

But enough complaining , having 7 days off in a row (even though they really only give you three days off because 2 are already because of a weekend and then you use the next weekend to cover 7-2-2=3) is really nice. Before, I forgot to mention I went to a Dj Shadow concert on the first Friday at the Mercedes-Benz arena in Pudong. Awesome venue with a great sound system even though it’s a little far away from things and late shows equals no metro home so either a long bike ride or super expensive taxi back home. Unless you live in Pudong and then wow aren’t you just super cool?

After the video game spree I spent the next days riding around the city checking out some bars and restaurants. If you have the chance I say check out

Barbarossa – Moroccan style lounge in People’s Park is pretty cool (pricey)

Shanghai Brewery- Excellent home brews and food on Hongmei Rd

Also found one of those pirate book vendors with loads of good books each for 20rmb but  we bargained down a little bit since we bought 14 books. They look really good too some it is quite hard to tell they are pirated. The back price above the bar code is still even listed in US dollars haha. Ah I love Pirates. China has really good ones too!

Thursday night was spent at a fireworks show in Century Park. Entry to the park for the show was 70rmb but due to vast crowds we waited (along with what seemed like thousands of other people) on an outlying street by the park and watched the show for free. Seriously didn’t matter we didn’t make it inside we had a perfect view from the outside! There were also three other firework nights and each lasted over an hour. Just like the 4th of July except that we are celebrating the anniversary of the Communist Party! I have certainly been missing the 4th of July celebrations the last few years so next year go check out these fireworks if you feel a bit homesick!

The last day was spent at the Shanghai Zoo which actually is quite nice. I had heard it was a bit depressing with squalid cramped conditions for the animals but for the most partwas nice. The zoo is set in a very nice green leafy space with plenty of room for people on wide grassy spaces.You can take Metro Line 10 to the stop named (wait for it! Guess!) Shanghai Zoo.  Initially the plan was to head to Chongming Island but due to late waking up , time restraints , and going to the wrong bus station the plan was scrapped for another weekend.

I also managed to not get very much blog writing down during the downtime but will crank out the remaining summer places very soon. Weird how having a schedule ,other work, and being busy motivates me to write more, draw more, etc. Why can’t I just get it done in the huge expanse of empty space provided to me?