Saturday, November 24, 2007

Market Correction

Saturday, November 24: We headed for over to old town this morning to check out the markets and the Yu Gardens. From the moment we left the hotel, it was obvious that it was a weekend, as the streets were much more crowded than they had been our previous two mornings in Shanghai. As we approached old town, we came upon a run-down section of town where modern buildings gave way to garbage-strewn vacant lots and squalid apartment buildings. On the streets of this ghost slum, a crowded market that covered every square foot of street frontage in this several square block area was doing a brisk business in everything from live poultry and fowl to 1990s era personal electronics. None of the vendors were set up in stalls, they simply spread there wares out across blankets on the street. This market catered to locals, obviously, so we were spared from the fake designer watch and handbag sales pitches that await western tourists on nearly every street corner as
we strolled through this impromptu flea market. The market slowly blended into a food market located in the residential area abuting the vacant lots, which led into the antiques market.

The antiques market definitely caters to tourists. While there may be some bona fide antiques for sale, most of the stores sell replicas of Chinese art, clothing, and ceramics. Prices generally aren't marked, so haggling is the name of the game. I wound up only making a single purchase. I picked up a travel wallet for 45 Yuan (about 6 USD). It was at one of the stores that actually had prices marked on their items and it was in the discount bin, so I didn't wind up bargaining for it. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to make a deal, but I decided to put off the rest of my purchases until Beijing since I didn't find anything at the market that really caught my eye.

After making our purchases, we toured the Yu Gardens. The gardens were very similar to the gardens we toured in Suzhou yesterday. Like the garden in Suzhou, they hail from the Ming dynasty. It wasn't quite as nice, but it was still a relatively serene oasis in the heart of Shanghai.

We planned on sampling Shanghai's famous steamed buns and dumplings for lunch. As it turned out, this was a very popular lunch plan, and the line at the restaurant in the market was out the door and down the stairs. Fortunately, Chinese resturants are at least as efficient over here as they are back in the US, so we only had to wait for about half and hour to get a table and food started coming shortly thereafter. After throughly stuffing ourselves on delicious steamed dumplings, we walked back over to the Bund to take in the northern part of the road, which we had neglected on our first visit to the area on Thursday. We spotted the Goodyear Blimp flying up and down the river, which seemed odd to say the least. We stayed out until sunset to watch the buildings on the Bund and the skyscrapers across the river in Pudong light up the night sky. The light show in Pudong is somewhat disappointing, as a number of prominent buildings did not turn on their
lights until it was already completely dark. The iconic TV tower never got it lights fully going before we left shortly after 6 pm. We walked back to our hotel along East Nanjing Road, which turns into a pedestrian walkway lined with neon lights, stores, and masses of people that seems to run for mile until it ends at People's Park.

I think the reason it took me a while to warm up to Shanghai is I didn't really see the human face of it until today. I saw the architecture and the museums and the skyscapers, but it wasn't until today that I went into the market and saw people who weren't rushing to and from work. Shanghai is obviously much different than Hong Kong. It's a huge, sprawling city and I really only saw a small chunk of it. I was surprised by the relative lack of construction activity going on, at least in the areas that I saw. I was surprised to see vacant storefronts and vacant lots within spitting distance of shiny new skyscrapers. Not that the tourist areas of Shanghai are full of empty buildings or bereft of construction activity, but from the way China is portrayed in western media, I sometimes get the picture that the entire country is a construction site that stretches as far as the eye can see. We head up to Beijing tomorrow morning, so this may be my last blog
entry from China as I doubt that our hotel room in Beijing will have a computer.

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