Weekly Blog #20 - Rediscovering Shanghai - rediscovering appreciation...
Let me tell you this: good weather is bliss. 35 degrees in May is a bit extreme though and it is something I personally have to get used to. Also, a temperature variation of 15-20 degrees from one day to the next is nothing for people with a weak circulatory system. Even without doing anything it's physically exhausting...
First world problems aside, the weather provided us with a great opportunity to re-discover Shanghai. We haven‘t been eating out in almost three months, we didn't go to any parks or other sites for obvious reasons, so the long weekend gave us a the opportunity to do so and I’d like to share a few spots we've visited.
1. Shanghai Botanical Gardens
We've been living close to nature and forests for the past six years and moving to Shanghai has definitely been a change regarding the regular intake of fresh air and the possibility to see green trees and colorful plants - although Shanghai is putting a lot of effort into making the streets as colorful as possible with seasonal flowers and by planting trees on the side of almost every road.
However, getting away from the skyscrapers and enjoying a piece of nature - even if it's artificial - is always on top of our list as soon as time and weather allow for it. And the Shanghai Botanical Gardens are a good option to do exactly that.
The Botanical Gardens cover over 200 acres (81 hectares) and are home to a variety of flora and fauna. Tickets are 15rmb unless you're interested in the Bonsai Garden in which case you'll have to pay extra. We spent the extra 7rmb to get into the Bonsai Garden and it was really worth it. Most of the visitors don‘t go there so it‘s been extremely quiet and blissful - also, I'm a big fan of Bonsai trees.
We were aware of the fact that it can get quite crowded, especially during special events such as the Shanghai International Flower Show showcasing gardens in styles from around the world (adding the typical extra Chinese/Shanghainese "touch"), but recently living through quieter times these crowds require some getting used to.
We've enjoyed our visit and will definitely go again, maybe not when it's over 35 degrees, but if you want to visit a well maintained park or garden with the opportunity to grab a blanket and sit on the grass, the Botanical Gardens are one of the top choices to do exactly that.
2. Mr. & Mrs. Bund
Since my wife and I met each other almost exactly 15 years ago I was looking for the perfect place for a night out to celebrate our anniversary. Mr. & Mrs. Bund by Paul Pairet was on the top of my list for quite some time and it seemed to be the perfect occasion to finally go there. Usually it‘s not easy to get a reservation, however, the current situation helped to get a table even without booking more than a week in advance.
Let me tell you this: it was really, really nice. As my family and some of my former colleagues know I am not an easy customer. But this time there was nothing to complain. The waiters were all extremely friendly and attentive, the quality of the food was outstanding, although the dishes were quite simple, and we didn't have to wait too long between courses so one basically couldn't wish for more.
And even though they told me immediately after making my reservation that tables at the windows were booked out, they also wrote that they will put us on the waiting list - and as it turned out, we got that nice corner table with direct view of the Bund. For me that's a sign of good service quality and customer orientation and I have definitely experienced a lot worse.
Even asking for delaying our desserts by a couple of minutes to enjoy the view from the terrace was no problem - remember: this is China and food is usually served as soon as the kitchen finished preparing it which is more often than not far from synchronized.
We had a 5 course tasting menu and spent around 90 EUR p.P. including drinks. Extremely fair knowing that other places charge the same or more for less quality. And let me tell you this: the cocktails were some of the best I've ever had!
One of my favorite places in Shanghai for an uncomplicated night out and probably one of the best pizzerias in Shanghai. This small restaurant at Julu 758 is run by Francesco, a funny guy from Naples who's making original Neapolitan Style Pizza in third generation. His grandfather made and sold pizza and pizza bread back in Italy as well as his father. I still haven't figure out why he left Naples for Shanghai but I'll make sure to ask him next time.
A pizza will set you back around 12 EUR and there is a buy 1 get 1 free happy hour for Viola beer (500ml). It's extremely good value for money.
I'm sharing these things knowing that a lot of you are currently under lock-down. My target is not to make this period even more unbearable by inconsiderately shmoozing about my weekend... What I want to pass on is the experience of returning to "normal" and enjoying the opportunity to go outside and have a nice dinner or going to the movies with loved ones after a longer phase of deprivation. Not being able to do that for a certain period of time made the experience just so much better.
To be fair, Shanghai hasn't really been impacted a lot by the virus from what I was able to observe. Most of the museums, galleries, restaurants and shops were only closed for a brief period of time between February and March depending on the district they are located. And depending on the compound you were living in you were free to roam as much as you wanted. However, we've been restraining ourselves from going out to avoid unnecessary risk for about 3 months and we've been in isolation for 14 days after returning from Helsinki.
Reflecting on this I have realized that in "normal" times we tend to forget how privileged we are, the opportunities we have, the level of service, entertainment and good food that we can enjoy whenever we want to. The reset that I was experiencing, the withdrawal of all the above mentioned, made me learn three lessons (with the third lesson being the most important one):
1. I don't need it as much as I thought - and it certainly doesn't define "freedom"although it's part of it.
2. I am enjoying it much more after a period of restraint - remember: "Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude."
3. Even without it - I can live a content and happy life.
I will try to keep these things in mind moving forward. I will also try to retain the skills I have (re-)learned throughout the lock-down and which I consider to be much more important following the third lesson since they not only made me a better home cook but hopefully a better husband and overall person...