We have been getting comments from several people, most consistently from Richard and Ophelia, and we want to say how much we appreciate them. I haven't figured out a quick way to answer them yet (or post them where they can be easily seen) but, if I did, I would say that, for me, the comments are the best part.
Winging it like this, we sometimes feel pretty isolated. Everytime we walk down the street, any street, every street; we are being hustled. For trinkets, for tours, by guides (or pseudo guide), for watches, for the the best Chinese restaurant, by "students" who want to learn English and will show us a good place to shop. Yesterday we got hustled by a couple of real pros. They were a young couple on vacation who asked us to take their picture (the problem is that this happens alot and is usually legit). They were here to see a Chinese Tea Festival which sounded like a good place to get some pics, so we went along. Two wasted hours and some very expensive, but delicious, tea later, we got out. It definitely put a damper on our first afternoon in Shanghai. So coming back to the room and seeing comments from a friend is a real spirit lifter.
Richard commented that China is like the 19th century industrialists/western expansion zealots but with 20th century technology and that is exactly what I keep thinking. Without the robber barons of the 1880's trying to make money off of hotels and railroads, we wouldn't have Yellowstone or Yosemite. A huge amount of damage was done by the exploitation of the west but much of the result was good. There is an audacity of taking on the future in China that is exciting and admirable. We look down on the railway station from our room (on the 22nd floor, the highest I have ever stayed in a hotel – and it is a Holiday Inn Express!) and see gleaming white electric high-speed trains. Why can't we do that in the good ol' US? We see new buildings everywhere with huge Bladerunner jumbotrons (gigatrons?) on the sides.
Hong Kong and Shanghai have great subways that go within a few blocks of every where. There is an adventurousness and boldness, an old-west no rules rashness that is very exciting.
In response to Richard's question: "What is about the food you've had elsewhere that separates it form true local cuisine?" there are several things.
- Many of the places where we have eaten have large menus that include items from various regions. This is especially true of the restaurants with English language menus, which are obviously geared toward tourists, but also the restaurant where we ate last night here in Shanghai had a section on it's menu for Cantonese barbecue, in addition to a number of Sushi items.
- It frequently seems like the English menu is not always the same as the local menu. In an extreme case of this, when we had dinner at the hotel in Zhangjiajie, they brought us an English menu that did not include any of the items we saw others eating around us. And when we tried to order off this menu, the only thing that they had was the bottle of wine, the one thing we expected them to tell us they didn't have. All the food dishes we ordered were not available. After the first two waitresses got tired of running back and forth to the kitchen, finally a boy from the kitchen staff came out and we would point to things and he would shake his head, until we finally found something he could make. This obviously was not their regular menu.
- When we don't have an English menu available, we have been getting by with a mixture someone with limited English helping out and pointing to items on the menus I brought with me from home. I didn't think to bring a menu from each region, so when all else fails, we eat Kung Pao Chicken and green vegetables with mushrooms. Everyone seems to be able to make that.
- This menu was very limited. He only had the local ingredients like smoked ham and cabbage, and the chicken he may have just killed out back for us, to work with. And we had someone to explain to us what these options were so we could work out a menu that really worked for us (which really means we avoided the "chicken stomach."