Nanxiang Old Town

Live in Shanghai and looking for something new you haven’t done before? Looking for classic Chinese culture but don’t want to leave the city? Head up to Nanxiang. Nanxiang is one of the four great ancient towns of Shanghai and a place that’s been totally off my radar for the past 2 years here. You can conveniently sample the staples of Chinese culture all within a few blocks. Nanxiang has a classical Ming Dynasty Garden , one of the largest temples in Shanghai , a newly built ancient town , and just happens to be the home of the famous Shanghai “Little Dragon” dumpling (小笼包). Foodies rejoice!

Nanxiang is located in the northwestern Jiading suburb and has its own metro stop. A 15 minute walk or a quick bus/taxi ride will get you into the heart of things.

First we stopped into Guyi Garden (古猗园)which was first constructed some 500 odd years ago in the Ming Dynasty. This was the most impressive garden in Shanghai for me , it easily beats the famous central town Yu Gardens. It was a very nice way to relax and enjoy the beautiful fall weather we’ve been having. Not many foreigners make it out this way so anyone stopping in will definitely give the locals something to gossip about. During our time the Othsmansus trees were in full bloom and the entire park was pervaded with a sweet smell. I couldn’t help but breathing in deeply and making satisfied noises. So much better than the usual city smell! While this is a very nice garden , those looking for the best of the best should take the quick train ride to Suzhou ( a city renowned for its gardens) . Those of us not looking to leave the city can take the trip here.

The park even has a few black swans and an interesting human man tourist person trying to squawk and gain the birds’ attention. This man may be seasonal but keep an eye out. He is freakin’ hilarious.

After enjoying the serene , verdant environment , it was time to search out the ancient town. It’s a quick walk away, and upon arrival the ancient town was under going construction. The town has been a seat of civilization for the past 1500 years but it was time to make things spiffy. China has enough history to be able to construct new ancient towns. My girlfriend and I often have a laugh at this , ” China , building ancient water towns in modern times”. Techically this is a water town with its running canals but as a water town it can’t hold a match up to any of the others I’ve been too around Shanghai. Don’t come here for the canals (go to Zhujiajiao for that) but do come for the XiaoLong Dumplings. There are a good two streets devoted to the dumplings (Guyiyuanlu) as well as numerous within the small “ancient town” center. We stopped in a store to grab some homemade peanut sesame brittle and when we asked the owner where the best dumplings were at, he kindly recommended next door. (Hmmm, go figure. Kickbacks).

We devoured two bamboo steaming baskets worth of shrimp and crab roe dumplings while sipping our cups of tea.

YESSS.

After this it was too late to visit the temple and the other garden in the area but one of these lazy weekends I’ll definitely make the trip again. I’ve been enough temples throughout China so they don’t have that first time in Asia awe to them anymore. It will be interesting to come back once construction is finished to see how things turned out.

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.

Zebra Music Festival at JinShan Beach

This past weekend the 4th annual Zebra Music Festival made its way once again to Shanghai’s very own JinShan Beach. Shanghai , beach?? , what??
It’s a good 30 miles or so Southeast from the city center but Shanghai actually has a beach and it’s actually not half bad. It can’t touch any of the beautiful white sand , blue water tropical Southeast Asian beaches I’ve been too but it can hold its own against Lake Erie. Or maybe even better considering as how Lake Erie beaches can get shut down due to unhealthy bacteria counts while JinShan city beach is separated from the ocean water and filtered. I swallowed some water and experienced no ill-health effects afterwards. Woo hoo!

JinShan beach has sand imported from Xiamen, China and the workers due a good job of keeping the sand and water trash free. It can get pretty crowded but there is enough room for everyone. Pretty much everything beach-wise can be rented ; umbrellas , inflatable rafts and tubes ,to jet-skiis and motorboats (wisely segregated from the swimming crowd unlike some places in Thailand and Cambodia). There are plenty of seafood grilling stands out on the piers and some pretty awesome seashell wind chimes as well. I will definitely go back to beach to chill again sometime soonish.

Due to unfortunate chores , lack of cash , and travel plans , I was forced to journey alone but I made some new Chinese friends there and got to practice my language skills. So that was pretty cool. *Glares at friends*

Now on the music festival. I didn’t get to catch as much of the music as I had wanted but the prospect of either spending 300rmb for a taxi-ride or being stuck out in JinShan district for the night kept me from staying too late (and sorry guys but I really wasn’t that big a fan of the Swedish band playing, and my view sucked). I think the last bus left at something like 9:30 but good thing I left a little earlier because it was a pain in the rats to find the bus stop back home. I think they should have started the music earlier than 5 and given us more time to see the show without worrying about getting back. Next year should be easier to go if this supposed high-speed metro line opens to JinShan district. It was supposed to have opened in December of 2011 , never did , and now no news at about it. Oh well.

Now onto the photos!
P.S. the two girls in bikinis were doing a photo shoot with a bunch of photographers so I feel justified (and not creepy) in taking a shot too!
P.S.S. Dude the tickets were sold out of a shady looking white van! Awesome!

BinJiang Forest Park

Yesterday I had a nice little field trip with my students way out in BinJiang Forest Park. The park is just north of the Outer Ring Highway in northern Pudong near where the Yangzte River meets the ocean and next to where the Huangpu River is formed out of the Yangzte. After the highway the bus navigated a windy narrow road through some chemical processing plants , and a clustering of cheap restaurants located in  dilapidated buildings supporting the workers.

When you finally make it past the grimy surroundings , the vibrant green juxtaposition of the park is especially refreshing.

I’ve always been intrigued by BinJiang Forest park ever since the moment I lay eyes upon that vast green oasis on google maps. I’ve made it out to some of Shanghai’s other “forest” parks and was interested to see this one.

At times I can really miss the wild parks and forests of Ohio. As teenagers and in University every weekend during nice weather (and hell even during snowstorms) it would be off to a park. Ohio has an abundance of huge wilderness areas with dirt trails , no other people , a real commune with nature. In Shanghai the city parks are often crowded, rather small , not a real park  but a facsimile of the forest created in an enclosed urban space in between the skyscrapers and busy roads.  I’m always looking to find a place in China that can match the parks of my memories.

I will say that BinJiang park is a very nice park indeed. I fear it is impossible to find the types of parks I knew in Ohio , in Shanghai but BinJiang did a great job of making me feel nostalgic for home. Several different ecological zones are recreated in the park including a kinda marshy boardwalk , some small lakes , and a plains area. The park also has a “cough cough” view of the dirty zone where the Yangzte meets the ocean.

There were more places to stroll but I was a bit limited by having to stick by twenty 4 year olds. We had fun running around playing doing crazy stuff but I would definitely like to revisit this park another time without the entourage and see everything.

If you are feeling adventurous and have some spare time to make it all the way out there ( northernmost stop of line 6 is the closest and then from there you will have to figure out the bus route) I recommend this place. If you need a break from the city and are looking for a different spot then Century Park Binjiang is the place!

(Sorry no pictures for ya. My wordpress storage limit has just about been reached  , I gotta do something about that.)

Crazy Bike Rides

Well it was a pretty nice May 1st holiday out in Shanghai. Maybe the best part being the three-day work week. I love a Wednesday/Should be Monday kinda deal.

The skies threatened rain the whole time but we only got a tiny bit the final night of break.

I put in an appearance at a student of mine’s birthday party , played with a bunch of kids , caught up with some gardening , did some drawing , and busted out a crazy 80km~ bike ride through the hinterlands of Shanghai.

I set out about noon on the Monday off , armed with a bag , an atlas, and some cash , with only one goal in mind , a man on a mission. I would reach the end of metro line 5! Minhang Development Zone! Wooo hooo!

Now keep in mind , there isn’t much out there really. It’s a good 40 km from the city center and is in a part of Shanghai where factories and farms intermingle. I had been to that metro stop one time before but never by bicycle. I wanted to see the path there.  To ride the metro there it would have been 3 different lines ( 9 to 1 to 5) an equivalent of 20 stops , one way!

Setting out I stopped at the Family Mart on West JianGuo Rd to grab breakfast . Those rice rolls wrapped in seaweed with a yummy filling inside are soo good.

West JianGuo Rd is a great leafy former French Concession street. One way  traffic for the most of the way , big trees, and lots of cool shops. A few minutes into the ride a biker in front of me has spit and I pass directly through the spray. This is one of those “Love China” moments. At the intersection with Hengshan Rd West JianGuo Rd turns into Guangyuan Rd. A guy pulling out through this intersection almost hits a police car and then has the nerve to blast his horn at the cops. Whoa.

I pass the Russian embassy on Guangyuan Rd and turn south onto Tianping Rd. The massive Zhaojiabang Rd looms up ahead. Goodbye low housing and trees , hello real Shanghai. Super tall skyscrapers zoom up and shoppers hurry onwards to the Xujiahui shopping area.

Hmm this was a rather bad intersection to choose. I have to hop off my bike and walk a bit west on the sidewalk to connect with TianYaoQiao Rd. This is a typical busy Shanghai street with cars, buses, taxis , and motorbikes all zooming around. Sometimes I wonder how I have survived so long. I continue down this street past Xietu Rd and Lingling Rd. Suddenly Shanghai Stadium appears. A massive white structure surrounded by high-rise apartment blocks everywhere.

Next up is South Zhongshan Rd and the elevated inner ring road which stands above it. This marks the southern border of the inner city. Things get more and more gritty after this point.

Continuing down TianYaoQiao I pass the Longhua Marty’s Cemetery and the huge glass pyramidal monument that rises out of the greenery. I turn left on LongShui Rd (Dragon Water Road hahaha!) and follow that as it becomes LongCao Rd and then CaoBao Rd. I could have continued south along LongWu Rd and passed the train station but a bike ride a few days ago had already taken me past that. It was time for new things.

Buildings are getting decidedly more shabby and I haven’t seen a foreigner in a while. I stop for some steamed dumplings and get juicy oil on my pants , and handlebars.

Reaching Guilin Rd I turn south , there is a nice park I’ve heard about here but it appears to have a ticket booth at the entrance. Paying for a ticket is a no-no right now. Following Guilin Rd south , I eventually pass under the HuMin Elevated Rd and then Guilin Rd becomes LaoHuMin Rd (or Old HuMin street). I stay on this road for a long , long , time. I pass a few Universities and the last foreigners I will see for a good 4 ,5 hours. After passing the Middle Ring Road LaoHuMin goes past a very unattractive part of town. Recycling centers and the smell of trash burning abounds. The road has gotten pretty bumpy as well. Passing a narrow bridge over the Dianpu tributary I see some nice factories (hah!). Soon after the Outer Ring Highway is passed and a bit further on LaoHuMin deadends into South HongMei Rd. Now if you are familiar with Shanghai you may recognize HongMei Rd as the pedestrian walking street with a bunch of restaurants , bars, and lots of foreigners. You would be correct but this is wayyy to the south of that. Nothing of interest here at all.

Looking at the map places us at east of Xinzhuang. The end of Line 1 and the start of Line 5! Only 8 more metro stops to go! 8 stops with lengthened distances between the stations cuz we out in the boonies now woo hoo!

Ugh South Hongmei Rd is an annoying street. Tons of recycling centers , bad-smelling , and full of big trucks pulling into the factories and blocking the bike lanes. I am also starting to attract more attention. What the hell is this foreigner doing out here on a bicycle?!? A few calls of “Hello!!” occasionally drift over. Weirdly enough a bit past the recycling centers are some exclusive gated communities with big homes. What person with money wants to live all the way out here?

Hmm , ok I’m nearing the southern limits of my map. Soon I will have to rely on my own navigating skills. Knowing this, I decided it’s time to head west and meet up with metro line 5. Line 5 is an elevated line and none of it  goes underground. If I can meet up with it , I can use the tall structure as my guide.

I turn off of South HongMei onto YinDu road and go. There are some shopping complexes here including a B&Q. Nearing what according to the map should be a crossing of High Speed Highway #4 , I think I’m in trouble. There is no bridge here. Only an entrance ramp to the car exclusive highway. There is no way I’m going anywhere near Chinese drivers doing 100km/h on a bicycle and the fact that it’s illegal to take a bike on that highway.

Thoughts of doom and gloom fill my head. What if I can’t cross at all? Is the mission failed?? I resolve to bike a bit further south (will be off the map now) and look for a crossing. I backtrack on YinDu Rd to South Lianhua and like always , go further south.

I tried again on JinDu Rd. Whoa , a surprise swank brand new set of high rises complete with a massive fountain in front. Looks like no one lives here yet though. Ahead , yes! , success! I can cross the highway here.

After two more streets I run into HuMin Highway again (and it has lost its overhead high-speed elevated road. It has gained an elevated subway line though! I found Line 5! Ok now for a boring part. I head south and south and south and south and south for a long time. Little clusters of homes occasionally break through the monotonous ride. Many more people talk about me and say “Hello!”

Eventually at the Metro Station Dongchuan Lu the road starts rising and bike traffic is prohibited. What’s this? Bridge Ahead?? This is where the Huangpu river has abandoned its Southern direction and started heading West. I didn’t realize that the Huangpu would be here at all! Quite a different view of the river from its Bund/Pearl Tower scene. This might have turned out badly but fortunately the metro line also veers east and I don’t have to cross the Huangpu. I merely turned east on Dongchuan and again followed the overhead metro bridge. Dongchuan has some pretty decent looking high-rise apartments but it still pretty sleepy. Eventually the high rises peter out and small factory gates line the road. It’s not dirty here though and there is an abundance of trees. I see a Johnson & Johnson factory out here. Near the JinPing Lu metro station I stop at a convenient to get some more water bottles , a hunk of bread, and a beer. It’s time for a break , my body is definitely feeling the journey.

Ok back on the road . I come to the awesome ShuiSheng Park ( I visited it the other time I was out here ) and I know the journey is soon halfway over (ahhhhh!!! I have to go back now!!). The metro line ends and I continue a little ways to see what is there. Eventually the last huge factory complex ends and all I can see is fields and farmers. Only a few bikers and scooters go by. Whoa. This is still Shanghai???

Mission accomplished but now it’s time to head back. I took a totally different path that took to me to the water town of QiBao . The rest wasn’t too interesting except for that at one point in time I saw something moving on the foot rest of a guy’s motorbike. At first I was thinking “Aww cute , that guy has a dog with him. But no , it’s Shanghai. It was a monkey climbing the guys leg and then doing a flip down to the foot rest. Go figure.

 

Picture Captions should read “End of the Line” and ” Shanghai?”