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Shanghai – Week 01

Part 1. The necessary introduction

Good evening ladies an gents,

This week’s open letter is the first of hopefully many to come. I’m planning to write just about everything I will experience in my first 6 months abroad to the east.

For those of you who don’t know, a few months ago we decided to give it a try and do architecture elsewhere than Romania, so due to some friends already being here we rapidly set our minds on Shanghai.

It was a leap of faith given the fact that we were heading into complete unknown, but then again … No pain, no gain; so we figured it must be well worth it.

Fast forward to February 29 and we were on the plane towards China. One of the best flights to date! We flew to Frankfurt, 1.5h to change flights and then 11h of TV shows and sleep. Lufthansa really outdone themselves with comfortable seats, clean bathrooms, individual screens, 3 good meals and plenty of liquids to keep us hydrated the whole time. And the best part: we flew at night, so by the time we got to Shanghai it was afternoon, the next day.

We were picked at the airport by a nice volunteer and we went straight to the (soon to be) rented apartment. Outside it was raining cats and dogs, the fog was thick and the wind was blowing from all directions. We managed to get to the apartment complex in under 10 minutes, but half wet and with water in my (now broken) photo backpack. (finally after 4 years and many destinations one of the zippers broke)

Floor 31/39, 2 bedrooms, 85sqm with a wonderful view. One downside tho; no radiators installed and my mustache was freezing before my eyes. It was literally colder inside, than outside. Steam was coming out of my mouth!

We signed all the papers, gave away most of our money on deposits and rent and then we turned on all the air-conditioners to full power. Needless to say, the one in our bedroom wasn’t working properly, so the first night was awful. (no food in the fridge, no bedsheets, no heat, no water … no NOTHING!)

The next day was better because with the few money we had left from the apartment lease, we plundered the K Mart and acquired the minimum necessities. (we still don’t have pillows, and we stuffed the pillow sheets with our sleeping bags) on the bright side, we could see the potential of the view through the morning fog. We were in for a cool panorama and we knew it.

The weekend went by pretty fast, mostly trying to avoid the bad weather and the cold conditions by drinking hot beverages and wearing all of our clothes at once. Irina and Paul came by and said that it is colder where they live so we suddenly felt better. The 5 of us ended up watching “My Week With Marilyn” and sleeping in the living room with the air-conditioner on full throttle. Slept like babies!

The weather improved over the following week and while I’m writing this letter, we’re being blessed with sunshine and a little bit of natural heat.

Part 2. The food…

Chinese food here is not what we eat back home. There are a ton of different ingredients and flavors.
The first night we had to grab something from a street vendor. We where so hungry that we actually thought is was good. Snake, squid, tofu, vegetables, rice bread, pork, lamb … Everything nietly arranged on skewers; What’s not to like? Then we tried fried noodles with various vegetables.

We did this because it’s dirt cheap. We can have noodles with veggies for 6¥ (about 1$). Beer starts from 1.9¥ (0.25$) and goes up to about 5¥ , in the supermarket. Of course, it’s more expensive in the restaurants and can easily go as high as 20-25¥.

Pizza Hut has menus with drinks and dessert for 120-150¥ (20-25$). So overall there’s food here for every budget. And it doesn’t mean that it tastes better if it costs more. I’m still learning how to decipher the menu but it can only get better from here on. Most of the times if someone offers noodles it will be in the form of a soup. Speaking about soups, the ones I’ve tried so far are the worst in the world. Tasteless boules of spiced up water.

One other problem I have with the food so far is that they don’t take the bones out. Imagine a whole chicken (bones and all) butchered into small bite-size pieces and thrown in the pot. That meal will be full of small bone pieces. Hardest thing to eat! Stay away from that!

On the bright side, pineapple chicken (when done right) is mouthwatering. Pineapple and orange sweet and sour chicken … To die for! Fried vegetables … Better than everything I had so far. Too bad it all comes with rice … Breakfast, lunch and dinner, by default.

Fruits are a bit on the expensive side for the average shanghainese but they seem fair to us. So far I haven’t ate one bad orange, or one bad mango … And these two are cheap. I also tried some fruits specific to this country that are really good (dragon’s eyes comes to mind).

The malls are expensive and people only go there on payday. 🙂

Part 3. Traffic rules

The first thing that hit me was that drivers don’t care about you … The pedestrian.

I don’t know if it’s a written rule or not but every time you’re on the pedestrian walk, you have to let the cars, motorcycles and bikes pass.
As a driver you can always make a right turn and don’t have to wait for a green light.
If you have less than 4 wheels you can bypass the traffic lights.
If you have a green-light to take a left turn, the pedestrians need to stop to let you through.

So mix everything together at any given time and you have a ticking time bomb.

I think this is their way of controlling the rising number of Chinese citizens. 😀

In the next letter:

Part 4. Job
Part 5. More about the food
Part 6. The fake-market

Until the next time, you can check the Picasa Album of the trip. It updates 3-4 times / week, and has more pictures than I would post here.

See you next Sunday!

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