Sunday, February 17, 2013

A WALK in the PARK

As last week was a holiday week here in Shanghai, New Year or Spring Holiday as it is called, it seemed a good time for my husband and I to see some of the places in the city we had yet to explore. Usually we only have weekends to do things together, and somehow we never seem to get around to doing the stuff we intend to do.

Century Park is not too far from us. As our driver was also on holiday we took the subway and three stops later we were at the park. The subway here is excellent. Clean, safe and very cheap. 20p for a single journey. Announcements are in English and all ticket machines have the option of English language. Which is just as well or we would be in trouble.


The first tree to bloom in Spring here is the plum tree, and I had read that there were 7,000 plum trees in various stages of blooming in the park. So a visit was a must. I have to say we did attempt a visit in the summer but the heat and humidity cut it short.

As we arrived at the gate there was the usual haul of people peddling their wares. Balloon sellers, kite sellers, people selling all kinds of Chinese paraphenalia and of course the street food sellers. I have yet to eat food sold from a BBQ perched on the back of a bike, although the smell is tempting, the origin of the meat and the time it has been lying around has prevented me from doing so. However the lady selling toffee covered strawberries and mandarin segments dew me in. Strawberries covered in toffee on a kebab stick, mmm! They were delicious.



So here we were at last in a huge open park in the middle of Shanghai. It has a large lake in the middle, and it was busy with families walking, groups of people taking photographs, and kids enjoying a day out in the sun.



It was really nice walking around and looking at all the trees, all at various stages of blooming, I think if we had waited a week there would have been a better display. As we wandered down to the lake there was a sharp reminder that spring is still a bit away. There was a biting cold wind coming from the water. We quickly found a cafe where we could warm up with a cup of coffee. I was extremely confused by a certain item on the menu, and I'm sure you will be too. Let me know if you have an idea as to what it might be lol.


Thankfully warmer we left the lake and headed back into the park and as usual we can't believe how lucky we are to have these opportunities open to us. We appeared to be the only Westerners around that day but still felt perfectly at ease and comfortable wandering around.


We stumbled upon a walled garden with beautifully cultivated trees. Not small enough to be bonsai, but in shape and form they reminded me of them. They were amazing. Each one more beautiful than the next. Obviously a lot of care and attention goes into keeping this part of the park. I loved it so much I decide that is the type of garden I want, with a few additions of course.





So a nice walk in the park and another to do thing in Shanghai done. It's amazing that in a city of 24,000,000 people we are 10 minutes away from large open spaces where you feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of city living. Plan to go again before the summer heat arrives and we have to stay within a few minutes walk of A/C.

So once again Shanghai meets our expectations. The people we came across were friendly, happy at our attempts at their language, and of course not a bit of rubbish lying around anywhere, partly because of the armies of people cleaning up, but also because of people respecting what they have. A lesson to be learned I think.








Tuesday, February 12, 2013

CHINESE NEW YEAR

The build up to the Chinese New Year started several weeks ago. Shops started to get busier, items started to be sold in larger packets. The 1kg flour was now in 5kg packs and rice was being sold in bags I wouldn't even been able to lift. Countdown had begun.


Then there were the items which appeared that I had never seen before, and didn't really know what I would do with them. Pig faces, yes faces! all sorts of dried duck, dried fish, sausages and unknowns. It was so much fun going round the supermarket. It was noisy, lively and full of mysterious produce. A foodie heaven.

Why does this remind me of the story "Three Little Pigs"?



There are so many traditions to be followed, all of them new to us. It seemed we had to buy gifts for all my husbands managers, and give a "hong bao" red envelope, with a 13th month salary in it to my "ayi" maid, and to my driver. This was to be given with the greeting "Gong xi fa cai" which means I wish a wealthy year for you. Everyone seemed happy with the offerings and we didn't seem to break any traditions.


Felt a bit like Christmas with all the gift bags. Everything has to be red, you should also wear red underwear. What luck that will bring I'm not sure but I hedged my bets and now wait with baited breath, lol.

On Friday afternoon businesses started closing up as they would now travel to visit family. Traditionally everyone goes home for this holiday. For many people this will be their only trip home in a year. For many it will be a time to be reunited with their children who are often left with grandparents to allow them to work in a city.  It was reported that some 300,000,000 people were on the move. Can't even imagine it. However Shanghai felt so quiet, so deserted. It was a strange feeling.


Here I am in Marks and Spencer coffee shop on New Years eve. Felt very lonely.

On New Years eve, as soon as darkness fell, around 6-00pm, the fireworks began. Slowly at first but by midnight all hell was let loose. I have never seen, or heard, fireworks like it. As we stood on our balcony they were going off all around, and mostly below us. They continued throughout the night. At 8-00am I was awoken by loud bangs as they started off again. The reason behind them is to ward off evil spirits. I think they are well and truly warded off. As I write this there are still fireworks going off and apparently Thursday night will be the biggest night of all as it is a special day on the lunar calendar. Can't wait to see them. Then hopefully calm will return. 


So happy to have been able to enjoy a real Chinese New Year. The traditions are fascinating, foods on offer amazing and the whole thing a wonderful experience. I feel very fortunate to have been able to be part of the celebration. I will never forget it.

However I look forward to normality returning. To people returning to the city and to my life going back to what is my normal Shanghai life.

I'll finish by saying
Xin nian kuaile, gong xi fa cai.
So basically Happy New Year, a wealthy year for you.