I can’t believe I leave Shanghai in less than 24 hours for our long awaited China Road Trip – it’s going to be massively exciting to be on that wide open road tomorrow!
The enormity of what we’re doing has really hit me in the last two weeks as I run frantically from hardware store to camping goods store, trying to find tricky bits of equipment like head torches and solar-powered camping lamps, then run back home to preserve some lemons. Because everyone knows a camping trip isn’t complete without two jars of preserved lemons.
There have been a few very dark moments too where we thought the whole great big thing was going to fall over in a heap. After spending months just finding a campervan we could rent, contract negotiations on the van rental were completed only five days ago, mostly because we couldn’t find a van that had most things working in it for a price that Mr Chen, the campervan rental guy, found attractive.
In an added twist it turns out the campervan we took for our test-drive weekend was completely and utterly illegal for us to drive, but thank god Mr Chen failed to mention it until we got back. I didn’t want to spend my first night in jail before I’d even started the adventure.
The proper, real, and apparently legal campervan arrived yesterday morning, and then we discovered the ‘seatbelts’ Mr Chen had installed were in fact not ‘genuine seatbelts’ – so back it went for some more basic safety features to be installed, and was returned to us fully seatbelted last night. We have a van! We have a plan (of sorts – I’ve only had time to plan our first stop, and after that it gets a bit vague…)! Whatever, we’re going on the road!
I will miss my beloved Shanghai though, so I’ve made a list to remind myself of all the great things about the city that I won’t be seeing in the rest of China.
From next week – depending on the reliability of our high-tech on-the-road portable wifi – I’ll be posting on Mondays and Thursdays about our travels.
Please join us!
Fourteen Things I’ll Miss About Shanghai
1. The Quirky Citizens
Nowhere else in China is eccentricity so openly embraced as in Shanghai.
Want to wear navy blue trouser socks with your flipflops, accesorized with nothing but a pair of underpants? Go right ahead. Wear pyjamas at all hours for strolling and doing a bit of shopping? Of course you can.
And should you want to wear a rolled up plastic bag on your head – for reasons known only to yourself – no one will even glance at you.
Lovable eccentrics, I will miss you.
How will I go a whole six months without my weekly fix of Shanghai’s world famous soup dumplings, xiaolongbao?
Sure, the other parts of China will have their own undeniably unique and delicious dumplings and I’ll eat a bucketload of them on my travels, but I’ll always hanker after a steamer full of these plump little xiaolongbao.
In a city so recently devoid of good coffee, Wagas sprung up like an oasis with its flat whites, long blacks and a great selection of cakes, pastas and salads.
Soon afterwards, they had a whole chain of coffee shops on their hands and the latest news is their long-awaited arrival on the Beijing coffee scene.
Wagas’ own bakery finally went solo and Baker and Spice on Anfu Lu was born, my favourite coffee haunt in Shanghai – you can hang out at the long communal table, balance on those crazy three-legged stools, drink proper coffee, and eat a piece of great cake.
5. Cycling Along Nanchang Lu
6. My Favourite Shanghai Blogs
Wait a second….I won’t have to miss these – I can still read them on the road thanks to the incredible 3G network coverage in just about every inch of China. But here they are anyway, my top three.
The private made public- that’s how I see the street life of Shanghai, intimate daily moments lived out in the open – a woman washing her hair from a bowl of water, a child being scolded, an intense game of mahjong, the prize pool in stacks of notes on the corner of the table.
In every corner of every lane city, life stories are being lived on the street.
8. The Birds of Fuxing Park
There the cages are hung side by side amongst the trees, and the birds sing their beautiful songs together while the old men gossip.
Part of me hates the sight of birds trapped in cages, but part of me loves the centuries-old tradition.
Last week a Shanghai taxi driver spent the thirty minute ride telling me how proud he was of his son, studying computer engineering at university. He hoped I might have a friend in Australia who would make a suitable match for him.
He and his wife work turn about at 24 hour shifts in their taxi, seeing each other at 6am each day for breakfast and handover. He told me taxi-driving licence was only previously possible if you were born in Shanghai, meaning all taxi drivers have an intimate knowledge of the city.
Now, a lack of drivers has meant there are some non-Shanghainese drivers on the roads, in his eyes a deplorable degradation of the profession.
10. Cong You Bing, from the Famous Cong You Bing Guy
In a tiny little lane off Nanchang Lu just near Maoming Lu, is a tiny little kitchen annexe with a plastic roof and a barndoor-style door opening out on to the lane. The kitchen walls are black with years of accumulated grease and dust, just visible from the light of a single bare bulb, but from this unprepossessing room comes the best cong you bing in Shanghai, made by an old man who starts work at 2am every day to be ready to cook by dawn.
In the long queue I’ve met people from Hong Kong, people from other cities in China, and locals alike who’ve all heard about how good the salty, buttery scallion pancakes are, all waiting at least an hour to taste one, united in their foodie obsession.
And Four Things I Won’t…
1. Skies the colour of dirty dishwater
Shanghai, I’m sending you the bill for my future lung cancer treatment.
2. Traffic Jams Long Enough to Read War and Peace
Shanghai specializes in heavy traffic, the way Beijing specializes in bureaucracy. And while the view from the Second Ring Road is undoubtedly lovely especially on a heavy smog day like the one above, I can think of ten better things I’d rather do with the three hours I just spent laboriously translating all the ads on the back of the bus in front.