New Year’s in Shanghai
In late 2011, two friends of mine here in Hong Kong, Vikki and Sharon, brought up the idea of bringing in the New Year in Shanghai. At the time, their parents had a house in the city, and I’d actually stayed there for a few days with other friends in 2010. It was definitely spacious enough to accommodate a large number of guests, and, with the final confirmed tally at fourteen people, we needed every inch. Vikki and Sharon had grown up all over China, including a brief stint in Shanghai, but they hold Singaporean passports and are culturally Hong Kong. Cecilia from my Malaysia trip in August also came along, as did Dawn, from my Taiwan trip in September. There were two Dereks, one of them Taiwanese-American, and who had trekked with me in Nepal the previous year, the other Chinese-Canadian, Sky, a Hong Konger who grew up in Ghana, Sam, a British-Hong Konger, Alex, a Chinese-Canadian, Clem, a Chinese-Brit, Cherry, another Chinese-Canadian, Karen, a Hong Konger, and Reagan, a Hong Konger who grew up in Macau – phew. With the exception of Karen and Reagan, I think the rest of us stayed at the house.
Jia Jia & Yang’s
For this trip, I was content to just tag along – I’d spent a few days in Shanghai the previous year so there wasn’t anything I really felt pressed to accomplish. The sisters’ parents had a gigantic van that somehow fit 12 of us, and we drove all over town in our ridiculous limo van. Our first stop was Huanghe Road, where one can find one of the greatest culinary one-two punches in the world – Jia Jia Tang Bao and Yang’s Dumpling. Jia Jia Tang Bao is a legendary xiaolongbao joint, one of those hole in the wall places that makes no fuss about what they do. At this point, its reputation has reached far beyond the city, and the country, and I think any trip to Shanghai deserves to have Jia Jia on the itinerary, even if it involves a long wait in line. Across the street is Yang’s Dumpling, a restaurant specializing in shengjianbaos, a larger, thicker-skinned dumpling filled with juicy pork. While delicious, there’s a certain skill involved in eating shengjianbaos, as a single miscalculated bite could result in a scalding spray of oil and juices all over one’s clothes. While not as celebrated as Jia Jia, it’s close proximity to the famous xiaolongbao joint makes it easy to grab a quick bite while waiting in line.
We spent an afternoon walking along the Bund, a gorgeous stretch of waterfront along the Huangpu River and the former site of the old International Settlement. Magnificent commercial buildings designed in a variety of architectural styles – Beaux Arts, Art Deco, Gothic Revival, etc. – testify to Shanghai’s former status as a major centre of international finance and trade in the early decades of the 20th Century. By the 1950s, however, most of the financial institutions had moved out of the buildings, and the swanky hotels and clubs were shut down and repurposed for government usage. It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that the Chinese government began to restore the Bund for the purposes of tourism, and financial institutions and hotels slowly began to operate again along Zhongshan Road. Nowadays, it’s one of Shanghai’s biggest tourist draws, and the wide promenade running along the river, giving a view of both Shanghai’s past on the Puxi side and its future on the Pudong side, is perpetually filled with swelling crowds of sightseers.
Happy New Year
On New Year’s Eve, we gathered in a bar after dinner to wait out the rest of 2011. As the last seconds of the year trickled into the bottom of the hourglass, we popped our champagne bottles amongst friends and strangers. Afterwards, part of the group headed out in search of a club to extend the night’s festivities, while the rest of us went home to start the new year in more sober company. The following evening, the sisters’ parents hosted a New Year’s dinner, and most of us stuck around the house all day, occasionally popping into the kitchen to lazily offer our assistance. At that time, most of us were living in Hong Kong alone, many of us half a world away from our parents, so it felt oddly comforting to feel like kids again. The sisters’ parents would eventually leave Shanghai, moving to Switzerland for a couple years, returning for another stint in Shanghai, and now, as I understand it, preparing to move to Hong Kong. As for our giant party, we reluctantly flew back to Hong Kong the following afternoon, squeezing in a quick stop at Jia Jia and Yang’s Dumpling, and I was definitely looking forward to whatever 2012 had in store for me.
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