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Surviving Shanghai

Finally our moment of freedom has come. We have one more day in China and it’s a free day to explore Shanghai. Or so we thought. There’s mention of a morning factory visit and then optional city stuff followed by a farewell dinner and a boat cruise near The Bund, but we decide we will go our own way today.

I sleep in a little bit and leisurely head down to breakfast as the rest of the group is finishing up and headed to the bus. I grab a cup of coffee and pick up the local English paper. And just as I sit down with some dumplings, Katherine comes over to me and says, “We have to go on the factory visit this morning. And if we don’t, we have to pay $100 each.” At this point, I’m pissed. What kind of situation is this, where we’ll be fined if we don’t attend? I’ve visited more factories this week than someone on a business trip, and today is meant to be our free day. Katherine follows up with, “We’re free to go after the visit, but we have to go this morning.”

I look outside and the bus is waiting for us and a few others who had the same idea initially. I chug my coffee, grab my coat and head to the bus. I pass Michael on the way and say to him. “I know you’re in a tough situation, but this isn’t right.” I half jokingly tell him I feel like a hostage.

We make our way to the other side of Shanghai and as we turn into what will be the last factory visit of the tour, Michael says, “There’s something different about this business. This is the only factory that is not government run. It is private. They sell jade and jewelry.” Just what we all need more of!

We enter in and are taken to a fancy showroom where we’re seated around a big, dark wooden office table. A lady greets us and begins to ask us all about our trip – where we’ve been, what we’ve seen, what Chinese we have learned. She seems to be biding her time, and a well dressed overweight man walks into and out of the showroom a couple of times. I get the sense that something is off. I look to Jay and Ivy who are sitting next to me and say, “Are these guys Chinese mafia?” Ivy, who is Vietnamese starts nodding her head in agreement and says, “He is not Chinese, he is Vietnamese, and yes, I’m pretty sure he’s mafia.” As she goes on to explain the housing market crash and the relations between the Chinese and Vietnamese, I have visions in my head of what will happen if no one decides to buy anything. This really isn’t how I wanted to spend my last day in China.

Fortunately, I’m at the back of the room, nearest the exit, so Katherine and I walk out and wait by the bus. It’s at least another 30 minutes before the rest of the group finishes up. Michael asks us to sign a waiver, stating that we are choosing to leave the group tour and are responsible for ourselves for the rest of our time in Shanghai, as if we’ve never traveled before. And then, we truly are free.

Fuxing Road, Shanghai.

We begin our whirlwind tour of Shanghai, first jumping on the metro and heading over to Fuxing Park, where we watch a couple practicing their ballroom dancing moves (Yes, it’s a thing), while kids fly kites and a few practice Tai chi.

Shanghai is surprisingly orderly and modern compared to Beijing. I can see why people love this city. There’s a subtle energy here that isn’t overwhelming, but there’s definitely a buzz.

The master mixologist, Roger.

We decide to look for a spa to get a foot massage and then make our way over to The Bund, but Katherine recommends we stop at a little corner cafe for a drink. It’s still early, but after the morning we’ve had, we all oblige. We duck in to Sober Cafe, where we meet the friendly barman, Roger and spend the afternoon taste testing his award winning cocktails. Roger is originally from Japan, but he has been working in Shanghai for a couple of years now. He tells us of the speakeasy movement taking place right now and says he’ll message us later to see if we want to meet up.

A lot of the day has slipped away, but we head over to a local spa for one of our last opportunities for a massage. The boys opt for a one-hour traditional massage and Katherine and I take an hour of reflexology. I’m asleep 30 minutes in, but we all leave with a second wind and jump in a taxi to head over to The Bund.

Shanghai’s beautiful skyline.

Katherine, Warren, me and Ray.

The Bund is the former Shanghai International Settlement and is a collection of varying architectural styles, including Baroque Revival, Art Nouveau, Beaux- Arts and many more. Because of this, Shanghai boasts one of the most unique skylines in the world. We make it our mission to see it from a few different angles, heading up to Bar Rogue for one view and then over to the much more refined Hyatt hotel for a look down from the VUE bar.

The view from Bar Rouge.

It’s bitterly cold and Shanghai is due its first snowfall of the season tonight. As we sit huddled under heat lamps on the outside patio, the first flurries start to fall.

Katherine and I shoot each other a look that says, “I wonder if we’ll make it out of here tomorrow.” As much as we’re on the same page about being ready to head home, we both know we wouldn’t mind an extra day to explore independently.

Today was a reminder of how we travel – a free day to roam, explore, get lost, make friends, and discover the hidden gems on our own. It’s been a great trip overall, but to end with a day like today reminds me of how I like to travel. I’ve given the guided tour a try… and while there are many good things I can say about it, especially in China, I think there’s no better way than to go your own way.

Next post: Guided China, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly…