The Shanghai Collective: Convention

As odd as it sounds, today was actually my first real city tour.

I was forewarned by my auntie that based on what I wanted to see, there was almost no way I could accomplish my goals within my trip – I was skeptical but as soon as I touched down, I realized she really knew what she was saying. It’s a first – not being able to see all I came to see, and in that manner, it’s a pity. Some of you might argue that if I really didn’t have time, I shouldn’t have gone to Hangzhou. Personally, I don’t have any regrets – I think when one goes for a holiday, especially to a huge city, one should always make an attempt to visit the hinterland, or at least go somewhere outside the city. It’s hard to put down in words what I got from taking a day trip but if I’ve anything to say, it’s that it has been an enlightening and relaxing getaway.

Having being too used to my ‘get-up-for-work’ schedule, I woke up, showered and headed downtown to Yuyuan Gardens. Located in the Old City, Yuyuan Gardens is one of the few unspoilt Chinese gardens left from ancient time – that is if you’re willing to pay more than SGD 15 to see it. I would, but at 10.30am, it was bustling with people and I just didn’t think it was money well spent. Like their Japanese counterparts, Chinese gardens is a spiritual journey of oneself – it should be enriching, enlightening, peaceful and tranquil. You might have noticed that I’m not here to tell you where to visit, give travel advice or anything like that – I think discovering, exploring and going on unknown adventures is one of the greatest wonders of traveling. However, I did visit the periphery of Yuyuan Gardens which was basically a tourist trap. Although it had a very Disneyland-esque feel to it like Singapore’s Chinatown, there was something mystical about the place that kept it a tad more real. As a tourist and a lover of xiao long baos, I had to try the original, where it all originated at – Nanxiang restaurant at Yuyuan Gardens. The chain has begun opening outlets in Singapore but this was a must-do. Instead of queueing up to buy the 12 or so pieces for 14 Yuan, I chose to enjoy them in air-conditioned comfort, albeit at a higher price and less dumplings. My conclusion? Nothing really gets any better than the BreadTalk Group-managed Din Tai Fung – it’s true in Shanghai, it’s true in Singapore too.

After taking enough pictures, and seeing all there was to see, I began to make my way to the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum. However, the weather was so hot that I had to rest by McDonald’s. I didn’t want to take any risks over here – neighboring Taipei, Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo were all experiencing their worst heat waves, people have died, the numbers for Korea are just shocking. So, I stopped by McDonald’s and ordered two drinks – McDonald’s has a dessert/drink promotion in Shanghai – order one drink or dessert and you get your second for half price! From the advertisements in the Shanghai Metro, I gather it’s an attempt to make the fast food chain attractive for friends in pairs and couples. I’m not too sure what’s the exact name in English but my drink was Italian Soda with flavored syrup and diced mixed fruits with a half a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Pure heaven, I tell you. I wished Singapore’s McDonald’s sold this range of drinks.

I didn’t actually visit Shanghai’s Science & Technology Museum – I just took pictures of it. Nah, there was an imitations market underground on either side of the Shanghai Metro – I heard it was possible to find cheap fake-real stuff there so I checked it out. I managed to spot some convincing looking TOMS and Ray-Bans but I wasn’t too keen. The idea of a writer for a fashion magazine wearing fake stuff is just… well, downright embarrassing. So I headed to Pudong and Nanjing East Road in Puxi to check out the malls. Maybe I’m picky, maybe I’m looking for things similar to what the Men’s Folio stylist wears (I think his style is generally, quite cool although I hate his rounded shades…) or more likely, with the same decor and interior, things from Mango/Zara, H&M and China’s mass market brands Me & City and C&A looked too ordinary. I mean, I didn’t find ANYTHING worth buying from H&M. It’s THAT bad!! There was one place where the clothes spoke to me – it’s this store at the Shanghai IFC called I.T. but with their pieces costing 1000 Yuan on average, I couldn’t afford. I could, swiping my VISA but, erm, nahhh, I just couldn’t do it.

So the global brands were failing me – never mind, I’ll go to the indie areas, and that’s where I went. I took the Metro to South Shaanxi Road station, but I couldn’t find the street in which the indie shopping areas lie. I walked around for a massive TWO hours and STILL, I couldn’t find it, which was a pity because there were a list of shops, all up and coming or new Chinese designers, that I wanted to visit. Instead, all I could find was the indie area for ladies’ wear, which was thoroughly disappointing. With agonizing blisters in my feet, I had to call off the search. It was only later when I returned to the hostel that I realized I had gotten my directions completely wrong – instead of walking south and then west, I should have walked west, then north, then east (Shanghai’s streets are mostly in a north-south, east-west grid layout).

Tired, thirsty and quite honestly, angry, I went back to the hostel and found myself making forced conversation with my new roomies, which included two Dutch guys and one British guy, all except one of the Dutch guy who was traveling with his brother but was put up in another room. As I cooled down, both physically and mentally, the conversation turned from being “forced” to a rather interesting discussion, and soon, we were on our way for dinner. It wasn’t too hard to tell that one of the Dutch guy, Edwin was gay – incredibly toned and fitting clothes, nobody needed a “gaydar” for that. Later in the evening, when I admitted to him this fact, he told me ditto – it was pretty easy to tell that I was a faggot. (LOL!!) The Englishman, Andrew was a little on the plump side, but at just 20 years old, is quite possibly, one of the youngest single travelers I’ve met.

Visiting Eddy’s Bar with Edwin this evening was probably the highlight of my trip. Throughout my trip, it was difficult to be truly alone – strangers would often come up and strike up a conversation… I guess this happens all around the world except in Singapore, where we’ve been pretty obedient, taking care not to talk to strangers. Even while with Edwin, a Shanghainese guy struck up a conversation with me, and I was introduced to the Caucasian Singapore PR, Jerome beside him, and another Shanghainese guy sitting beside him… As I made my way to the toilet, people do say hi and do talk… I mean, it’s not just this evening… In fact, there are too many incidents like this to list.

It’s the human connection which makes trips like this worth it.

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