We touch down in Shanghai, China on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day, already having put down a few drinks that morning on the plane, and find Uncle Pete and Winston anxiously waiting at the baggage claim exit. As per usual, our big backpacks are within the last 10 bags to be taken off the plane (this never fails – we are always some of the last to get our bags no matter if we are in Los Angeles or Shanghai). We get into the car, are handed some Chinese beers, and are on our way to what would become a very entertaining week with the Rentschlers and the Hughes boys.
Upon arrival to the Rentschler’s house, we are met by a very enthusiastic Aunt Beth and Spencer and we are quickly shuffled off to go watch Grace’s soccer match. We arrive at the match against her arch-rivals and quickly determine that we are going to be Grace’s personal cheering squad. After taking note of how well Pete ‘encourages’ the referees, we decide that we need to step up our game. Soon we are turning heads and getting laughs – we are loving it. By the end of the game, there wasn’t a single person on or off the field who didn’t know which team we were rooting for, how we felt about the referees, which girls on the other team needed to have their birth certificates checked, and which girl was our favorite.
Shortly after Grace’s win we make our way to TaikongLu, a fantastic web of back allies filled with shops, bars, and art displays, for lunch and drinks. Over the next 6 hours, our “lunch and drinks” turns into “lunch, drinks, dessert, drinks, drinks and more drinks” – it is St. Patrick’s Day after all. By the end of the afternoon/evening everyone had thoroughly enjoyed themselves and we found ourselves at some of the best bars in Shanghai, overlooking the river on the Bund. We then decided that between the jetlag and aggressive afternoon, it would be best to go home before we all fell down the looming slippery slope towards bad decisions.
The next day we woke up early to Aunt Beth shuffling us towards the door for a day in the city. [Note – Beth is an extremely talented shopper and we, well, we are not] We first make our way to the fabric market to get some nice suits, jackets, and shirts tailor made for us for 15$ a pop. Soon enough each one of us are surrounded by little Chinese women and are having measuring tapes wrapped around every portion of our bodies. They are showing us fabrics, collar types, cuff links, and everything in between, with Beth guiding us along the entire time. Within an hour we are all fitted for ‘real life’ dress shirts, blazers and suits. Winston even decided that it was necessary to grab a blue blazer with an hot pink interior in addition to his sear-sucker suit, while Ryan snagged a gray overcoat that he could only describe as “totally boss.”
In the following days we followed Beth around Shanghai like little ducklings following the mother – she was our guide at every turn and made sure nobody strayed too far from the path. We went to the fake market to check out Red
Wings jerseys, watches and RayBan sunglasses, the pearl market to decide which women in our lives would look good in a new set of pearls, as well as some traditional Chinese temples. It was at one of these temples, Yu Gardens, that we had a really nice time because we were able to walk around this entire garden / lake / temple complex for hours and take in the serenity of the quiet place in the mist of the busy city. This is also where we had our first dumpling experience. Shanghai is known for its dumplings, so we had to try some and try we did. We had pork, shrimp, mushroom, and beef. They were so well done that once you bit into them, you tasted a burst of warm soupy liquid followed by the tender meat. They really were a treat and we were very happy boys following this feast.
The Yu Gardens is also where Jack made himself known to a large crowd of Chinese watching the taping of a Chinese version of “American Idol”. We stumbled upon the stage before the dumpling lunch and thought how wonderful it would be if something was actually going on when we came back – our wish was granted. Upon leaving lunch we found the area around the stage crowded with people and terrible singers trying their best on the stage – we were pretty excited. So we moved into the crowd and made our way towards the center. It was at that point when the ‘hosts’ went on stage and started conversing with the crowd, or at least that is what Jack thought. After about 3 minutes of the hosts working with the crowd, they said something real slow and pointed at the crowd. This is the point where Jack repeated what the hosts said at the top of his lungs. These are the steps to the embarrassment:
1 – Hosts say 3 words in Chinese very slowly and point to crowd.
2 – Jack screams 3 words back in booming voice while everyone else in crowd remains quiet.
3 – 60 Chinese people turn towards Jack and stare.
4 – Friends desert Jack because of rediculousness of event.
Another Shanghai experience that we wanted to have was getting a massage. We were approached by so many ladies on the street asking us if we wanted “very special massage” that we decided to ask Beth if she knew a place where we could get a good one without the worry of being groped. Obviously Beth had a recommendation and later we found ourselves in the serenity of traditional massages. This is where we once again learned the old addage of “not judging a book by its cover” and thought that the little Chinese massage women would be gentle with us. This was a mistake. Not 5 minutes into the traditional Chinese massage were her hands digging so far into our backs that we did all that we could to not scream out. We wanted to get the knots out after our weeks of hiking and woodsplitting, but this tiny woman was working us so hard that it was laughable. An hour later we had certainly gotten our money’s worth and hopefully our backs would feel better in the morning after the abuse.
While in China we also wanted to visit Beijing, so after a few days in Shanghai we boarded the new highspeed train and zoomed up to the capital city for a few days. If Shanghai is the new bustling business city filled with skyscrapers and lights, Beijing is the cultural center with history and smog at every turn. On our first full day we jumped in the hired car, met our guide, and made our way to the Great Wall. After an hour car ride and a 10 minute ski chair-lift ride, which was more than a bit sketchy, we found ourselves on top of one of the most impressive sights in the world. As far as you could see was this snaking wall, standing 20-30 feet above the ground with guardhouses every 500 feet. It was absolutely breathtaking.
Over the next 4 hours we meandered our way across the top of the wall, climbing thousands of stairs and taking almost as many pictures. We went from one end of the restored wall to the other, which included a section that climbed up the side of a mountain. This is where Mr. Winston had his true test, in his words “Exersise… its not for me”, but he stuck with us and made his way all the way to the top, which even had Ryan and Jack sweating. Once at the top we did one of the more impressive things of the Grand Adventure and pulled out some beers to ‘shotgun’ on the Great Wall. While standing on history and breathing the fresh mountain air, we gulped down our Chinese beers with experienced form and paid tribute to what we decided was ‘the ultimate ledge’, which was a reference to Jack’s fraternity and Michigan football Saturdays.
Upon our decent of the wall, we were quite happy to find a tobbaggan run that twisted and turned down the mountain. So the four of us, Ryan, Winston, Spencer, and Jack, jumped in the little sleds and took off – the signs and men screaming “Go SLOW” did not apply to us. We all were absolutely flying down this hill, doing our best to not flip the sled or fly out of the high turns. It was an absolutely thrilling experience and by the end we were yelling so the entire mountainside could hear us properly. We were laughing so hard that we almost cried.
That night we made our way to a recommended restaurant for another culunary experience – peeking duck. We orded and found ourselves in the middle of a wonderful presentation from the chef, teaching us how to eat the golden duck with the appropriate side dishes and condiments. Whether it was dipping the golden, crispy skin into corse salt or wrapping the succulent meat into a doughy wrap with veggies and sauce, we were very happy and full. That night we also were able to find ourselves in some clubs and had a ‘right proper’ time. This club, Vics, is also where Jack had another moment of “big adventures in a small world”.
As it may or may not be known, Jack and the rest of our friend group from Grosse Pointe are extremely big Detroit Red Wings fans, fanatical really. We all have been very passionate for a very long time and over that time we have all developed a passion for the players on the team. Of a life of true loyalty, there has only been one play that Jack hated on the Wings and that player was Andreas Lilja. He even made a certain facebook group years ago, that has since been deleted, alluding to the fact that Lilja’s house should be burned to the ground. Yea, Jack hated this guy. So in the club in Shanghai, Jack, Spencer, and Ryan find ourselves in the middle of a group of Swedes. After the guys make sure that we aren’t hitting on their girlfriends, they introduce themselves and are actually happy to find that we are from the States. We talk and soon being from Detroit and the Red Wings comes up in the conversation. This is the rest of the conversation:
Swede – “My half brother actually played for the Red Wings”
Jack – [Excited beyond control] “Wow, really? That is unreal. Who is your half brother?”
Swede – “Andreas Lilja”
Jack – [Palpable excitement has immediately turned to disgust] “Ok buddy, I know I just met you, so I am going to be completely honest here. I really hate your half brother. He is the black plague of hockey.”
Swede – [Completely stunned] “Are you kidding me? Did you really just say that to me? I’m going to hit you really hard.”
Jack – “Ok man. Sorry, I’m not sorry. [to Ryan] Hey Deano, this guy’s half brother is Andreas Lilja!”
Ryan – “Wow that sucks. Screw that guy.”
Needless to say, this individual did not enjoy our presence any longer and made his way away from our group. We loved it. Jack had finally gotten his hatred for the player directly to the source. He could finally put his hatred for Lilja to rest and move on.
The next morning we gathered ourselves and headed on down to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City for some more Chinese history. Besides the tank issues that every American already knows, Tiananmen Square is actually a major historical location for the Chinese. Thousands upon thousands of people swarm all over the square to get a glimps of Mao’s tomb or see the monument to the people. It was actually a pretty impressive sight – definitely comparable to the National Mall in Washington DC.
After fighting through the hords of people and taking time for people to take pictures with the blonde-haired-boy, aka Spencer, we made our way through the square and into the Forbidden City. We had all seen the photos before, but had no idea how large it was in reality. With massive chambers and rooms upon rooms, it really was daunting. Finally we had been pushed and pulled in the crowds long enough and we cabbed back to the train station for our ride back.
Over the remaining days in Shanghai we enjoyed great food, lots of drinks, and entertaining night clubs. We danced, laughed, and had a overall wonderful time with the Rentschlers. They were top-notch hosts and presented one of the largest cities in the world for us to have a great time. It was also incredible to have the Hughes boys with us, which added an interesting dynamic. It had only been us two for close to 60 days and having two other friends added into the mix gave us a needed reprieve from the same stories we have told each other over and over again.
Shanghai was fantastic – a needed break from the land of tents and hostels – but now we head into the mountains again for the next chapter of the Grand Adventure. We are off to Nepal for a month of hiking, volunteering, and trying to breath at 18,000ft. Wish us luck!
Current Location: Shanghai, China”]