Blog #18 - Rubber Ducky You're the One!

Last we left you, we were coming down from the walls of Xi'an and boarding another overnight train.  

In China, overnight trains are a fabulous way of getting around as they are super clean and super safe, and offer a smooth comfortable ride.  You can actually sleep!  Not as much in India and Thailand.

We boarded on time, found our bunk bed, and slept all the way to Shanghai.

We arrived 15 hours later, quite refreshed and excited to see if Shanghai would impress us.  Also we were hoping we would discover that it was less polluted than Beijing and Xi'an.  Instead of keeping you in suspense, nope, we were quite disappointed. 

It would seem that it should be a sunny day, on the weather front, but when you looked up, the sun was still behind a thick yellow smelly cloud of ozone and haze....urgh!  We were basically in an environmental full Nelson.  Entering into our second week in China we couldn’t get away from the pollution.  And we had gone from the most pristine place on earth, New Zealand, to the most polluted one.

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Ok enough complaining!  We rolled into town and made our way to our hotel by metro.  It was a four-star, but since we got it on sale and the standards of hotels are all over the place in China, well, sometimes a four star is great and sometimes it’s not.  After a shorter than average “we just got here adventure” we found the place.  From the outside it seemed OK.  Oh, and it had a coffee shop called “Kinloch’s” that specialized in “traditional Scottish coffee”, since “1869” (btw, a Scottish coffee was coffee with scotch, that’s it).

The hotel was otherwise a perfect nitty-gritty busy midrange hotel.  Moreover, because it was China the cigarette smoke was unbearable.  People were smoking in the lobby, in the coffee shop, in between floors, nowhere was safe (except maybe the gym) and the staff even puffed away while on duty.  Gross!  Hey what do you expect for $40 a night (we got it on sale).

Otherwise our plan for Shanghai was to meet some of Vince’s friends for dinner and drinks.  Marcela and Ricardo lived in Toronto for a few years, ago, and with their advice we made the best use of our time, walking every inch of glitzy Shanghai, taking in sights from the Orient Pearl Tower, to too-cool Xintandi.  We had a great dinner above the Bund, and caught up and swapped notes on life.

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On our own we also went to Fuxing Park where they play live music and dance while the sun is still up.  Only we’d find this interesting.  We also took a cool yet useless trip to the airport and back on the 430 km/h magnetic levitation train!  It was useless because we didn’t have a flight that day, but this thing flew, literally, it does not touch the track.  The sensation, once it got up to 430km/h (not a typo) on the straightaway, was that you were sitting on an airplane that was just about to take off.

Shanghai was pretty cool, all in all.  It’s a young, aggressive city.  We found some time to pop into some five star lobbies to see the rich peeps in their element.  There is a lot of money flowing into Shanghai, and many ultra-luxury brands, and ritzy restaurants too.  It felt more like Singapore than China, and it was hard to believe this city is in the same country as Beijing.

Special thank you to Marcela and Ricardo for hosting us for the weekend.  We had a great time and it was so nice to see friends in mainland China and to swap stories.

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We got our way out of town by taking an early-morning taxi to catch our ultra-early (cheap) flight, to, of course, Shenzhen!  Where?  Well, we looked at how best to get to Hong Kong from Shanghai, and found (and which Edwin confirmed on a Skype call with Vince, too) that you can fly super-cheap to Shenzhen and just take the subway to Hong Kong!  Crazy eh?

Well we did just that, and it was less than half the price of flying direct.  On top of that, after a bit of research, we found that both Shenzhen and Guanzhou (near Shenzhen) together make up the amusement park capital of China!  Score!

We landed at around noon with all our bags strapped to us and a few hours later we hurried by metro to one of the many amusement parks.  We chose a destination that was very interesting, and even though there were no thrill rides, we just had to see this.  It was called “Windows of the World” and basically, they have created an amusement park that highlights and recreates the wonders of the world in miniature, varying from 1:15 scale all the way to 1:4!

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So, if you’re denizen of Shenzhen, and have a sense of adventure but not Shanghai money, you can just visit this park and literally go around the world in an afternoon.  It was so weird, and around every corner was a surprise.  We were in awe.  Also, it was also a bit creepy to visit places we had just been, like the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat, but there they were, in miniature!

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We figured that the Chinese maybe don't get to travel that much so instead they bring the world to them, quite genius.  And this place was busy!

Once we were done circling the globe, our feet were barking, so we hopped on the metro and made our way to Hong Kong.  This wasn't the first time we had crossed a border on foot, but it was going to be the first time we would be doing so in a subway station. 

Well, we, and at least a thousand if not more people per hour were making the same crossing (Sunday night, shopping weekend?), so it was easy. 

After an hour on the train and a short cab ride later, we were at our friend’s apartment in Hong Kong.

You see, while Steph was at the detox resort in Thailand, she met Colleen who also was not eating for eight days.  Needless to say, she invited us to stay with her in Hong Kong, and after much insisting, we took her up on the offer.  It would be a fantastic way to see and do Hong Kong with our new friend as well as save a few bucks.  Hong Kong hotels are expensive yo!

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Her apartment was very nice and her company was great.  We felt so welcomed and impressed by Colleen's hospitality, we are hoping she will someday come and visit Toronto and stay with us.  Thanks Colleen!

And as luck and a little planning would have it, Steph’s good friend Shermie from New York was also in Hong Kong and so we took our hands off the wheel for a few days and followed her and her boyfriend Erik around HK and Kowloon for two and a half days.  It was great to have to think of where to go and what to do.  Our mission was simple, and fun: shop, eat and find the massive rubber ducky (to be honest we don’t know much about this big duck other than it has been spotted in London and Sydney, and so it has a little cult following).  We had never heard about it.  Tourist trap for the jet-set crowd?

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The shopping was cheap, and food was fabulous.  Of course, since we were now in Hong Kong there was no more language barrier, and Shermie speaks BOTH Mandarin and Cantonese, so, we were set.  We were taken to all the local establishments including Australian Dairy which was the weirdest, busiest breakfast restaurant.  Get this: it specialized in chicken and ham macaroni soup with a side of white over buttered toast and the best scrambled eggs you have ever had.  To us this was new, but it is “home cooking” for many HK natives. 

Obviously HK was not a diet zone as we took part in this and many other unusual food experiences.

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Perhaps the best food highlight was a restaurant called Yardbird.  The owner and chef is from Calgary, which right off the bat is cool, but the tapas-style, almost-nothing-but-chicken menu was the coolest.  You could order a skewer of gizzards, oysters, liver, or, if you were less adventurous, good ol’ breast or thigh.  This was not your hometown “Swiss Chalet” rotisserie.  (Hey, we’re not saying Swiss Chalet is bad, it’s just not a rocking HK hipster joint like Yardbird). 

We had so much fun catching up with Shermie and seeing her in her element.  Having a translating tour guide makes any place feel like home, fast.  Thanks Sherm-berger and Erik for letting us tag along on your annual vacation.  What a fun time and we hope to see you either in Toronto or New York in the fall, when we return.

Well that's it for us.  That concludes our China adventure and our stay in Asia and Asia-Pacific.  We are in the Abu Dhabi airport writing this on our way to Istanbul, from where we will start our two-month stint in Europe.  

First bucket list item to cross off....cruising!  We board our first ever cruise ship in Istanbul on May 17th.  Watch out shuffleboarders...hold on to your dentures...here comes the Luciani’s!  Yeeehaaaw!

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