A Different View of Shanghai

Day 29, Grand Asia 2018

Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, Shanghai, China:

The chirping drowned out almost everything.

This was a side of Shanghai, with its skyscrapers and designer shops, that I hadn’t seen before. We had passed through a narrow door into a market behind the storefronts in the old Chinese area into a large indoor market. The aisles between the stalls were crowded with mostly men. Here and there were birds in hanging cages, bowls of small turtles and boxes of hamsters and rabbits.

But the busiest stalls were loud with the chirping of crickets. The sounds were coming from clay pots, boxes, vials and cardboard tubes. This was one of more than a dozen cricket markets in Shanghai. For more than 1,000 years the Chinese have engaged in cricket fighting, in which two crickets, agitated by disturbing their antennae with a bamboo stick, fight until one loses interest. And were he there, Capt. Renault (see “Casablanca”) would say, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”

Today’s tour was one of a new series on Holland America – co-sponsored by Food and Wine Magazine, another of the cruise line’s promotional partners. This was Amazing Shanghai Eats, “exploring the city’s less-trodden streets and several authentic Shanghai restaurants that have been featured in Food & Wine magazine.”

I would say it was more about the discrete areas of Shanghai than really about the food, but we did start out with Shanghai’s famous soup dumplings at Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, near an area of old neighborhoods in the shadow of new skyscrapers.

The tour was a little more expensive ($150) than some and limited to 10 or 12, but we only had eight. It was the perfect size for a tour as far as I am concerned. Much bigger and the tour slows, becomes disorganized and doesn’t allow you to hear the guide.

We visited the Old China section with the cricket market, narrow streets with second-hand shops and food booths. During the lunch hour it was teeming with people buying noodles, meatballs of all kinds including fish balls and other local foods.

We moved on to the French concession, the area set aside for French control more than a century ago, and had a light lunch of a rice wrap with pork and cucumber and a large mug of soybean milk. The restaurant was in a mall and near an area of old buildings, including one that housed the original meeting of the Communist Party Congress. The area now is filled with restaurants, bars and upscale shops. Things change.

In the shrinking Muslin area within the English settlement, we sampled lamb kabobs cooked right on the sidewalk and then walked to the “Fleet Street” of Shanghai, filled with bookstores and the original locations of the city’s newspapers. Our final stop was in The Press, a restaurant and bar housed in the original building of Shen Bao (formerly transliterated as Shun Pao), the old Shanghai News newspaper. The window sported a Thomas Jefferson quote supporting the media.

After putting more than 14,000 steps in the second day, I was ready to return to the ship. But first, I managed to purchase a mah jongg set at a booth at the pier. It’s easy to bargain when you only have a small amount of yuan left. The merchant can take it or not, and they took it.

We left Shanghai in reverse – backing down the river about a mile before it was wide enough to turn around. Joyce and I enjoyed the sail away from her balcony, a few doors down from mine. It was too bad that we left before the stunning colors lit up the buildings. But we milked the visit for every minute until we were in the industrial part of the river and the sky was dark.

The Lido had been transformed into a Chinese night market for dinner, featuring local fruits, noodle dishes and other interesting options. After taking photos, I went to the dining room, ready to just sit and be served. Tomorrow is a welcome sea day.