A Shanghai Welcome

This blog entry about the events of Monday, April 26, 2010 was originally posted on April 28, 2010.

DAY 7: “Can I take your picture?” I asked the soon-to-be familiar face waiting for me outside the arrivals gate at Pudong International Airport.  “I never had anyone hold out a sign with my name at the airport before.”  (Later I learned that she had hand-painted the “Erik Trinidad” with a calligraphy brush, along with the Chinese characters for “Welcome to Shanghai” underneath.)

Okay,” she obliged awkwardly.

Her name was Juju, and she would be one of my two hosts during my second trip to China — this time based in Shanghai, northern China’s glamourous, dynamic showcase city of international modernity.  An important world port city since the 19th century, Shanghai has had a long history of prosperity and commerce from its former days as one of the busiest ports in Asia — whose security was defended over the years by the British, French, Chinese, Japanese and Americans — to today, where it stands as a glitzy, ultramodern metropolis of skyscraping glass and metal.  It is quintessentially an international city of world cuisine, business, and culture, which doesn’t forget to nod its head to its Chinese ancestry — that is, whenever it gets a chance to breathe from its fast-paced lifestyle. 

Shanghai’s international status has earned it the honor of hosting the 2010 World Expo, which would start within the duration of my stay — not that that was the impetus for my visit.  However, it was the new hi-speed Maglev train (short for magnetic levitation) which was constructed for the Expo, that zipped Juju and me from the airport to the city at over 300 km/hr in no time.  The businessman on my left got a kick out of the speedometer as well, and he took a photo too.  We shared a laugh.

On my left was Juju, Chinese girlfriend to my American ex-pat friend Scott — the latest in the group of Global Trip Blogreaders turned hosts (including Liz in Tokyo and Vivian in Kuala Lumpur).  Scott, originally from Wisconsin, had been reading and commenting on The Global Trip blog since it began in 2003, and had approached me for travel advice and inspiration for years, particularly for his trip to South America a few years back.  He has since been a part of my extended travel circle, even having traveled in Panama with my friends Elaine (Nicaragua) and Terence (Rio, Munich).  (Elaine still affectionately refers to him as “Panama Scott.”)

“Scott is very alone,” Juju told me, using the English vocabulary she knew.  “It’s just us now.”  Life as an ex-pat has its ups and downs, even in an international albeit transient city like Shanghai.  Due to personnel restructuring and other business factors, Scott’s circle of ex-pat guy friends (some with Chinese girlfriends) had left Shanghai, leaving him to be with Juju and his job, working in the office of a factory of automotive materials and insulators.  Not that that was a bad thing — especially in the American automotive business climate these days — for good things are spawned from within boundaries.  Plus, I felt that my visit would bring a welcome new face to shake up their regular routine, if only for a short while.

“We love having company!” Juju told me as the countryside zipped by at 187 miles per hour

We were greeted by Haibao, the funny-looking, almost-Gumby mascot for the Shanghai World Expo littered all over the city, and hopped in a taxi from there.  My first impressions of Shanghai that it was unlike my former image of a crowded China.  Like Taipei, it was “like China but with better urban planning,” which made perfect sense; most of what modern Shanghai is today was only built since the early 1990s — The Simpsons was already on television before the Shanghai skyline was even built. 

Oh, the things you can build when you’re not busy doing the Bartman.

Roads were wide, traffic wasn’t crazy (at least by New York standards), and people walked their dogs at a leisurely pace.  And once we arrived on the 16th floor of Scott and Juju’s hi-rise apartment in the lively downtown Pudong district, I saw another dog scurrying at a leisurely pace: their 3-month-old pup named Qiuqiu (translates to “ball”), who took a fondness to me immediately.

Juju extended her Chinese hospitality — shoes off, slippers on — and showed me around their spacious three-bedroom apartment with a view.  We chat over coffee until the man of the house opened the door from a day at work.

“There’s the legend,” he greeted me. 

I hadn’t seen Scott in person since his visit to New York during a BootsnAll travelers’ meet-up in 2005.  Since then, he’d jumped on the opporunity to transfer from Michigan to Shanghai “for a year,” only to extend his stay indefinitely.

“I remember when you were asking me if you should move to Shanghai or not,” I told him.  “And now, here I am.”

“Shanghai Scott” went from business attire into casual attire, followed by a couple of poses: a photo with Juju, and the obligatory group photo.  Soon we were in a taxi to get to the trendy Luwan district on the other side of town, for dinner.  Scott played tour guide on the way, pointing out that while 7-Elevens are ubiquitous in Bangkok, Tokyo, and Taipei, “7-Eleven is everywhere there’s an American influence, which is why there aren’t any here.”

SICHUAN CITIZEN WAS A SWANKY 1930s RETRO JOINT, a place where Lao Che or Willie Scott of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom might have frequented.  (Both the mention or movie reference absent from the Lonely Planet guide.)  “How often do you come here?” I asked over my first beer.

“[A few months ago.  This is where you take visitors for their first dinner.]”

First impressions were spicy, with plenty of red chili peppers heating up each of the Sichuan-style dishes:  sliced jellyfish in vinegar, Sichuan chicken (which wasn’t as spicy as the one in Hong Kong), a stew of noodles with congealed chicken and duck blood, and spicy skewered prawns — all of which had pictures on the menu, so you could just point to them.  As spicy as it was, it didn’t stop me from stuffing my face.

“I want ice cream,” Juju suggested to cool off our mouths.  We went to the obvious place for a quick cone of soft serve.

“Bet you didn’t think you’d be coming in here,” Scott joked.  The cashier with the fashionable “I’m lovin’ Shanghai” shirt rang us up, next to a sign promoting McDonald’s new pork sandwich.

“You can get it with a side of fries or the corn,” Scott told me.  (I made a mental note, for possible use on my other blog.)

THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN “LOVIN’ SHANGHAI” since they decided to build it into one of their world-class showcase cities.  While there was already the Cantonese metropolis of Hong Kong in the south, it was mostly developed under British control and only handed back to China in 1997.  To prove to the world that China could develop a rival Mandarin city in the north all on its own, modern Shanghai was born.  And what a rival city it is.  I commented that Shanghai is like Taipei in that it’s “China but with better urban planning,” but it is far grander than Taiwan’s capital, or even its Cantonese sibling.

“We think Hong Kong is small,” Juju said.  “It’s just on an island.”

While walking the decorated tree-lined Huai Hai Lu, the Luwan district’s main retail drag (what foreigners know as “the French Concession”), it was me who was lovin’ Shanghai.  The city sure cleaned up to impress the world for the upcoming opening of the World Expo, and it worked for me.  Neon signs (like the picture above) set off a welcoming vibe of cool and contemporary — even the highway ramps were lit up like in Tron.  However, some Chinese things stayed the same, like the store Juju pointed out that was perpetually having a “going out of business sale” and the signs in “Engrish.”

“Is that Engrish for ‘toy’?” I asked, pointing out a “juvenile article store.”

“Ha, the Chinglish here has come a long way,” Scott said.

We ended the night in Xing Tian Di, a promenade of restaurants, lounges, and bars (much like Singapore’s Chijmes) — coincidentally where Scott and Juju had met.  A meeting place for Shanghaiese and ex-pats alike, we drank steins of beer at the local Munich-inspired Paulaner beer hall, as a Filipino cover band played a rendition of Puente/Santana’s “Oye Como Va” amongst other familiar tunes to the Western ear.  (No Lady Gaga here, although I heard “Pokerface” whenever Juju’s phone rang.) 

“I was laughing when I read about the Filipino cover band [in Manila],” Scott told me, smiling.  “That’s a thing here.  Everywhere you go, all the bars have a Filpino cover band.”

It was a school night so we packed things up relatively early, and head back to the apartment.  Scott reiterated what Juju had told me before, how nights out hadn’t been as crazy as when his ex-pat friends were around.  I was happy to be of some entertainment, but even happier for his invitation for me to stay with him and Juju, to see and explore the great city of Shanghai. 

I’m lovin’ it!


“How’s the crime here?” I asked my host.

“[Oh, there is none,]” Scott said.  “Of course, the punishment is death, so it’s quite a deterrent.”

Next entry: Dog Day Afternoon

Previous entry: Life In Taipei 101

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Comments for “A Shanghai Welcome”

  • More to come, from behind The Great Firewall…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  03:31 AM

  • I beat Mark! Just sayin…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  04:15 AM

  • I’m lovin’ it too…

    Definitely would want to visit this metro over any other in Asia right now…

    So is it true, Dr. Jones?  You found Nurhachi?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  04:27 AM

  • Steph - I was too busy changing a diaper…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  04:28 AM

  • Lovin’ the Tron reference!  Hadn’t thought about that one before.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  04:34 AM

  • What’s the weather like? On The Amazing Race they’re in Shanghai, not too far in the past, I don’t think, and they’re all in tons of layers. :D

    Looks like I need to go visit Shanghai! Do you notice anything different from behind the great firewall?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  07:43 AM

  • NOELLE:  Hot during a sunny day; chilly at night.  Take notice of my wardrobe in the next entry.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  12:32 PM

  • MARKYT:  That Nurhachi’s a real, small guy.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  12:32 PM

  • Here’s a shirt that you might enjoy… due to ONE reference in this blog. Meh. But yeah…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/29  at  07:07 PM

  • thank you for your informations , i like the website very much

    Posted by fashion handbags  on  07/28  at  12:12 PM

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chinese Leftovers And Other Asian Appetizers," which chronicled a trip to Shanghai and Huang Shan in China, as well as brief excursions to Manila, Taipei, and Seoul.

Next entry:
Dog Day Afternoon

Previous entry:
Life In Taipei 101


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