Saturday, April 22nd
We 3 took the red-eye flight landing 6.35am in Shanghai. Jul and Jac, having come from a long work day, dropped off to sleep on the 5hr plus flight. I, however, was quite determined to watch Memoirs of a Geisha, having missed it at the cinemas (hurray for Krisworld!).
Arriving at 6.35am, and undeterred by lack of sleep we headed out immediately after washing up at the hotel for our primary purpose - shopping. We stayed at the New Harbour Hotel (Xin Huang Pu Jiu Dian Gong Yu) which is pretty near Renmin Guang Chang (People's Square) and the central shopping area, Huai Hai Lu. I was quite happy with the place - it was a 2 bedroom service apartment which we got for like S$160 a night. Split 3-ways this was a really decent price to pay for such large space.
Shanghai is terribly polluted. Even along the highway from the airport into the city, you see a distinct haze settled over the city. I felt my eyes, nose and throat get irritated.
Making a pitstop at the HuaiHai Lu Starbucks, we sat down to brunch and also to work out the day's itinerary. It's comforting to be in Starbucks - the young baristas enthusiastically speak English to you (I imagine they like the practice) and there are lots of lao wais (ang mohs).
Jac, who had the most experience with shopping in Shanghai having made a previous trip there, had duly researched the Shanghai shopping scene. She was armed with newspaper cutouts, maps and magazine tear-outs of clothing designs that she wanted tailored. Jul had downloaded practically the entire cheongsam collection from the Shanghai-Tang website - again reference for possible cheongsam tailoring. Me, being in charge of the flight and hotel booking, had printouts of flight schedules and hotel maps, etc. and some eating/shopping places recommended by friends.
We started our shopping journey along ShanXiNanLu, just round the corner from Starbucks...which is full of small shops, particularly shoe shops. The last time I was in Shanghai, I stayed at a service apartment along this same road but I didn't do any shopping at all. Jac & Jul were looking out for cheap BCBG dresses or other similar labels. There was a really cute Anna Sui dress there - floral print with 2 tiers of gathered skirt - both the girls liked it...but they only had J1's size. So J1 bought the dress. (I refer to her as J1 because I have been asked not to reveal her name - you'll understand why if you read on) The amazing thing about Shanghai's shops I realised, is that based on the shop display, I wouldn't even think of going in...but surprisingly, you do find gems like Marc Jacobs, BCBG and Chloe stuff in them! Whether they are real or not is anyone's guess...but nonetheless, you do get decent designs.
We stopped for a late lunch at one of the numerous HK style cha chan tang.
On MaoMing Lu - I managed to pick up a apple shaped pincushion from a local designer's store for $4. Actually I don't think it was meant to be a pincushion, but who cares.
This is a typical shopping scene; this particular store was undergoing renovation at the time (see the emptied shelves in the background) but the ever enterprising pair still managed to rummage through a pile of clothes for some hidden treasures!
We discovered that ChangLeLu had a good variety of small boutiques as we were passing by in a cab, so we asked him to stop and we walked backwards to explore. The funny thing is that J2 spotted a shop, about 15 mins to closing time that had the same Anna Sui floral dress! And this time in her size! So she bought it...and guess what - she got it for $60, much to J1's chagrin! Understandably sore, J1 had to console herself witht he fact that her dress's fabric seemed to be finer than J2's.....
OK, a word of advice - NEVER go to Shanghai's U.B.C Cafe (Shan Dao Ka Fei). All 3 of us cannot emphasize this more. We had a crappy experience there - exhorbitant by Shanghai standards and really SHITTY food you won't believe it. I never thought I would say this..most bad food I've had is bad, but not inedible. This one was inedible. 3 bowls of soup and 1 seafood platter cost us $60. My borsht was somewhat yucky but still edible. The seafood chowder the other two ordered was sweetened cream. And the seafood - it was 1 person's portion - a prawn and 2 almost sliver like pieces of fish. Besides being badly cooked, the fish & prawn was so overly frozen/unfresh that they tasted like plastic. The prawn was mushy. Yes - mushy...who ever heard of seafood being mushy??!! Eeks.
Look at that gloop all over the fish & prawn...
So DON'T ever go there. We only ended up there because we were dead tired and looked for the nearest place that was still open and serving food. BIG mistake...like I said, for the price we paid (which was essentially for 1 person) we could have eaten like Kings (ok Queens) in Shanghai. Worse, it turned out to be the all time most expensive meal of the trip.
All in all, we decided that the theme of the day was: Kena CON.
Sunday, April 23rd
The lack of sleep took its toll - we woke up near noon. We'd fallen into a routine already as we reconvened at our favourite Starbucks coffee house to discuss the plan for the day. Decided that we should do DongJiaDu fabric market today because the tailors take a couple of days to deliver the goods. Jac & Jul wanted to make tweed jackets and Jul, a silk jacket top to go with jeans. I was geared up to shop for fabric! The cab we caught cost us RMB23 - which is alot given that the usual journey rarely goes slightly more than RMB10. Worse, we discover that he's dropped us at the opposite side of the long road where the market is - so we felt fleeced. Well the good thing is that we got a glimpse of the 'local' life as you could call it - the streets were slightly grimier than what we were used to seeing and there were small eateries, repair shops, shops selling provisions and the like lining both sides of the street.
We finally found the fabric place after asking several local folk for directions - apparently the fabric market had moved, and was at a new place called JiuLuBang Lu...which was at the end of the street we were on. All the fabric shops are now housed in a 3 storey building.
This is the shop where Jul tailored her silk (actually it's not silk lah) jacket. She used the pink material that she's holding up. BTW I said I asked for candid shots before I took these 2 pictures. Do these look like candid shots to you?!
The other stop was a shop offering custom made Chanel lookalike tweed jackets for $70 a piece. Between them, they made 4 jackets - I'm not going to elaborate on who made what, except to say that the split was 3 - 1!
Meanwhile, I went around scouting the fabric. The place had quite a few tourists so I figured I wasn't going to be getting local prices. But the prices were not bad but the main thing was the variety available. What I saw were mostly silks and satins which I guess China is famous for. The cottons were not that nice...definitely not quality cotton like what you'd get from Europe for men's shirting. I managed to get 2 different printed silk fabrics and found a shop selling really nice chiffon fabric. There was so much I couldn't decide! I finally got a peachy print which I thought would make a nice butterfly sleeve top. The lady owner was pretty nice too, so it was a pleasant transaction.
We actually spent 3 1/2 hours in that place!! And we had to be back on Tuesday to collect the finished garments...so more fabric shopping then!
We finished off the day by dining at XinTianDi New Jishi restaurant (popular with lots of tourists). XinTianDi was a welcome respite from the Shanghai streets. It was clean, more HK style, loads of upscale bars & restaurants. We saw a Hong Kong actress at the restaurant - I had no idea who she was, I was only notified by the 2 others who were obviously more in the know about such things. I highly recommend the braised pork at New Jishi - that dish is to die for!
That was followed by a much needed foot reflex session at Green Massage Spa opposite XinTiandi - $18 only for 1 whole hour! We ended the evening with a round of Chinese dessert at one of the cafes at XinTianDi.
Oh there's this funny show we discovered on late night TV - When I first saw it, I thought the entire scene felt vaguely familiar...a guy, a girl...in a room full of people & computers..somehow even the way the scenes jiggled or panned gave me a sense of dejavu...and then I saw the screen split into 4...and the numbers blinked with the signature beep..beep 00:37:14. Man! China being the land of fakes, has even managed to fake US TV series 24! We were pretty much hooked to the show for the next few evenings....
Monday, April 24th
We returned to ShanXiNanLu, the same street we had gone to on our first day because we realised that we had missed out on the upper stretch of shops.
The highlight of the day was SUPER PDA couple we spotted at the ShanXiNanLu Starbucks when we stopped for a tea break - here's a surreptious shot of them. They were local, no less! I guess we expected Shanghainese to be more conservative. My back was facing them so no fun for me. Jac & Jul were SO not discreet in their gawking. They suddenly went incredibly silent - trying to give me a running commentary of what was going on behind me by whispering and mouthing words to me. I was reduced to trying to lip read and failed miserably.
The PDA included loud, smacking smoocheroos, and chin stroking (i could not see this of course, this is what I found out later) Had to resort to going to the toilet to try to catch a glimpse of the couple - they didn't seem very young - in fact the guy had grey hair. And apparently the woman was trying to "teach" him PDA - telling him to "try to look more natural"!!
There they are! Behind us....
Whoa - a bit of culture shock for you there. Apparently this blatant show of PDA didn't just attract our attention. The Starbucks Xiao Di ("small brother") also seemed quite fascinated...2 of them shuffled to the service counter near the couple's table and pretended to be working, but were actually also gawking openly!!!
For dinner, Jac & Jul went for dinner at XinTianDi again and then for the 2 hour complete massage treatment. I met my ex-colleague Alex and my friend Gladys (who had recently relocated to Shanghai with her hubby) for dinner. Alex being the Shanghai expert, having stayed there for around 10 years, played host and brought us to a Yunnan meal complete with cultural show.
There were large black pebbles in the dish..strange...
This was the most expensive dish on the table that Alex insisted that we finish. It's wild flowers fried with egg and sesame seeds....wouldn't imagine it but it was pretty tasty!
Cultural Performance at Dai Jia Chun
And me being the guest had to go on stage to dance and be entertainment fodder for the rest of my group - that's me on the left in the dark blue sweater and jeans.
After dinner, I met the 2 at the massage parlour and we went for a round of drinks at the Shanghai bookroom along ShanXiNanLu. This was a quaint bookshop cum cafe filled with Victorian looking furniture. Jul wanted to buy some but it turned out that the books were for display only, so I guess it's really a cafe pretending to be a bookshop!
Tuesday, April 25th
I requested an alternative to the usual Starbucks start to the day - we were in China after all. So we decided to try the famous cha chan tang, BiFengTang
Jul, always wary of China standards of hygiene, wiping down the plates and cutlery.
We ordered a huge amount of food - all dim sum. Some of it, like the cheong fun, was inedible. Ever tasted cardboard stiff cheong fun??
The first shopping stop of the day was Foxtown along LingLing Lu. This was recommended by the Straits Times as THE factory outlet to go to for Zara and Next, etc. It was quite a let down - there were some OK brands, but NO Zara (the main draw, really) and it wasn't all that cheap. The entire complex was rather empty and just plain old depressing, to me.
It was back to DongJiaDu Fabric market to collect the finished clothes and buy more fabric. The tweed jackets turned out really well - I have to say that the tailor was pretty good, fit was pretty decent. Jul's silk jacket was also good - she had paired the pink with a dark brown silk - the colour combination worked well.
As for the fabric shopping - it ended on a rather poor note for me. I bought 2 other fabrics..and just before closing time, saw 2 nice printed silks at a stall on the 1st floor. I liked them, but didn't think it was worth paying what the owner was asking for. So I gave him my price and prepared to walk away if he couldn't come down on his price. He did but couldn't meet mine, so we left. But as we were waiting for a cab, I had 2nd thoughts. Although it was a little more than what I felt it was worth, it was pretty decent and the main thought I had was that it was hard to find nice prints in Singapore, so what the heck. Decided to go back to get it. I should not have gone - when I went back...the owner declared that it was now a different price (higher than the last price he quoted me). Not only did he raise the price, he said that the 2nd fabric, which he initially claimed was of poorer quality than the 1st, was actually more expensive and then quoted me a much higher price. I was so pissed off I walked away again....wishing I hadn't gone back and subjecting myself to these unscrupulous people! Oh well, lesson learnt.
We ended off with a final massage at the same spa - we all went for the 2 hr massage again.
Dinner at Bellagio Cafe
Wednesday, April 26th
More last minute shopping in the morning - we wandered along the small streets off HuaiHaiLu.
Just before going back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and leave for the airport, we took a rest stop at rbt, the bubble tea place along HuaiHai.
And off, back home! After all that Starbucks and greasy Shanghai food, the first thing that I went in search was my most favouritest Tai Wah bak chor mee at Hong Lim complex...the Best!