The Sunday Sun September 6, 2004

 

Travel CHINA

An urban legend

Yuyuan Garden's Pearl
Market is a government mall that guarantees its goods

SHANGHAI IS full of the unexpected.
    It offers the world's fastest train to ride and opportunities to swim with sharks or beluga whales. Powerful modern Italian sculptures recently greeted visitors to its central People's Square and giant backlit reproductions of van Gogh paintings brighten up an underpass.  Its Science and Technology Museum looks better than the Ontario Science Centre.
    The Grand Hyatt hosts a singles' night called Aphrodisiac Affair. A restaurant in an old Russian Church has a nude woman in its stained glass window and at least one of its once clinical sex shops is looking almost pornographic.
   
       

 

 

 

 

By RUTH LOR MALLOY 
    
Special to the Sun

NEW SKYSCRAPERS and century-old buildings line the section of the waterfront known as the Bund, left The Westin Hotel wears the crown.  Above, work by Italian sculptor Robarama adds an international touch to People's Square

However, at the popular Xiangyang Market, where you can also buy golf clubs and hiking boots, my $25 jacket with North Face label was perfect. 
    Getting around to all these place is unexpectedly easy even if you can't speak Chinese. At the international airport, major hotels have representatives who can usually find you a room if you haven't already booked one. They can also point to an ATM or bank.
     Concierges are very helpful in international hotels like the Four Seasons, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carleton, Westin and St. Regis.  Good English is also spoken in the four-star Holiday Inns, Novotel, and Ramadas.  And they will write the name of your destination in Chinese for your driver.  A taxi to most downtown places costs less than our TTC.  Or take the subway for about 50 cents. Concierges will also provide free maps and tourist magazines that list addresses and descriptions (in English and Chinese) of hospitals, restaurants, bars and attractions.
    Signs are in alphabet and in some cases like People's Square, entirely in English.
    Many restaurants, even the cheaper ones, have menus in both languages. However, staff in cheaper hotels may speak little or no English.
    It is easy to take a group tour of major sights, but if you want to go at your own pace, hire a guide.Still, the city is not as wild as it used to be during its 1920's decadence.  It does have wonderful museums and temples, the world's highest ferris wheel and a couple of world class spas. The shopping is exciting and sometimes unpredictable. I bought three DVD's for $1 each but only one, Fahrenheit 9/11 works back home. 

 

    The fabulous Shanghai Museum has electronic guides in English.  All major attractions have descriptions and maps in English.  The Old God's Temple refers you to a Web site.

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    Your hotel or travel agency can provide a human guide.  If you don't want to pay for one, Shanghai has lots of English Corners, where people gather to practice English and are delighted to meet native English speakers.  Addresses are in the tourist magazines.
     I invited one of the fluent English speakers to accompany me in exchange for a chance to practice speaking in English.  She didn't know as much as a professional guide, but I made a lasting friend.

Ruth Lor Malloy is the author of China Guide 
www.china-travel-guide.com

GETTING THERE: Air Canada and United Airlines fly daily from Toronto to Shanghai.  Flights until the end of November start at about $1,325 including tax, depending upon departure.  Check the Flight Centre (416-760-9335) and Tian Bao Travel (416-977-7711)

PACKAGES: Jade Travel (416-599-2828) has a two night, four-star hotel package, twin sharing, for $400, which includes transfers, breakfast and one day tour with lunch.  Travel agencies like Beijing's CITS HO (teddy@cits.cn) Shanghai's Great West (coco.tang@great-west-west-travel.com) and Spring International Travel (sallyshaojun@hotmail.com) also provides transfers, tours and hotel bookings.