Thursday, November 1, 2012

China Adventure: Arriving in Shanghai

As you probably guessed from the post about the China Visa adventure, Brian and I were recently in China for a short vacation. We took advantage of a 3 day Muslim holiday (Eid Al Adha) and booked tickets. We flew (FIRST CLASS!!) to Shanghai, then took the high speed train to Beijing and flew back to Abu Dhabi at 6:30am to resume work at 8:00am!! It was a bit of a whirlwind, but we had a fabulous time.

Our first stop was Shanghai. We left at 10:30pm from Abu Dhabi and with the time difference, arrived in Shanghai around 11:00am the next day. It was about an 8 hour flight and we comfortably slept through most of it in our first class bed. :) We stayed at one of the Marriott hotels (a Courtyard) so everyone spoke English, which was a blessing.  CHINA TIP: The taxi drivers don't speak any English so you have to have your destination written in Chinese characters that you can hand to them to get to where you want to go. The Marriott had a sheet you could print from their website for this purpose.

The first thing we noticed is that a Courtyard in Shanghai is a lot swankier than a Courtyard in Wisconsin! This place was easily 4 star if not 5! Really nice. We unpacked and then moved down to the lobby for a coffee and a look at the map. We had a full day tour booked for the following day, but the rest of our afternoon was free ... for shopping!

I had read about the markets in Shanghai where you can buy fakes like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc. so that's what I had my mind on. Luckily, Brian was also interested and it was a good walk to the market, so he was up for it.

We arrived and needed some dinner - it was a bit early, but due to the time difference we were starving. We walked around and then quickly through the market to find a place, but only saw a Burger King. We walked a bit further and saw what's called a Hot Pot restaurant and went in wanting an authentic Chinese experience.

And we got it! Hot Pot is like fondue. You choose a type of broth and it's served in a pot over a flame. Then you order your vegetables and meats and use your chopsticks to cook the food over the boiling broth. This much we had figured out based on the very few photos in the menu and the stuff on our table. What we couldn't figure out was what items to order since the menu was only in Chinese and there weren't many photos to go on. No one in the restaurant spoke English so through a series of hand gestures, pointing at the limited photos, the waitresses' cell phone translation app and a little luck we ended up with a plate of different kinds of mushrooms, a plate of beef and a plate of whiter meat we think was pork. We also had two different broths - one super spicy tomato based and one mild beef stock based. The food was amazing - sooooo good, I couldn't believe it. I really thought we were going to have to stop by the Burger King after all, but it was delicious.

After dinner we decided to brave the market. I was looking for another fake purse and wallet and wasn't sure which brand so decided just to browse a bit and see what would catch my eye. What a hoot - this place is packed with stalls and just like the Dubai Karama market, they have unassuming normal leather goods in the front and a stash of the fake name brand stuff hidden behind doors, walls, little closets. Such a clandestine adventure! I had sales people pulling me through hidden doorways, down hallways I could barely fit through or just squeezed into a small cubby hole packed with purses and wallets.

I had a blast and bargained HARD. I had read up on the tactics so here's another CHINA TIP: decide for yourself what you want to pay before you start bargaining. If the price you offer is too low, the merchant will shake his head and let you go - won't even try to engage with you. Then just move on to the next stall and raise your price a little until they engage. For the Chanel copy I bought, she stated the price as 3000, "but for you lady, 2500". I said 200. She told me that was too low and offered 2000, so I knew 200 was an option. Had it been too low, she would have opened the door and let me out. We went back and forth for about 10 minutes and I never budged from 200. And I got the purse for 200! What a rush. Had I not done my research, I know I would have paid around 1000 and thought I had gotten a really good deal.

After our shopping adventure, we walked back to the Courtyard, had a nice glass of wine in the Executive lounge and then went off to bed. So far, I was loving Shanghai!

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