September 30, 2010

NI HAO MA CHINA: The French Concession

The French Concession in the past was an area designated for French traders and businesses; today it’s the hippest and most colorful district in Shanghai. Located in the Luwan and Xuhui District, the French Concession offers European-styled buildings, caf├ęs and restaurants, art galleries and clothing shops, trendy bars and night clubs.

bilingual road signs

You won’t find the name French Concession on any Chinese map, instead look for Fuxing Lu, Shoaxing Lu, Taikang Lu, Huaihai Lu (Lu is Mandarin for Road) and Xintiandi.

There is only one way to enjoy the concession and that is by walking. Get off the cab and take a walking tour of Fuxing Lu and Shoaxing Lu and enjoy the sights of classical buildings and tree lined roads with dozens of art galleries and old bookshops.

East of Shoaxing Lu is TAIKANG LU
In the back alley of Taikang lies a hive of local activities, duck through the worn-out brick shops and historic hutongs and mix in with the local families residing in neighboring alleys.

After soaking up with the sights and smells of the street life in Taikang a change of scenery is in order. A more modern, hip and stylish surrounding was next on our list – Xintiandi.

Still a part of the French Concession, Xintiandi is a quadrant area with restored shikumen’s (stoned-gate houses) turned into hip restaurants, cafes, bars and designer shops. It is also home to the world famous xialongbao’s of Din Tai Fung Restuarant.

A few blocks from Xintiandi is the highly commercial road of Huaihai, a shoppingera’s heaven.

Huaihai has everything you need, from local clothing to international signature brands, authentic Chinese cuisine and food markets, bakeshops and tobacco stores and cyber markets for all your electronic needs.

International brands can be found along the stretch of Huaihai Road

With the eternal building boom in China, the old Shanghai is fast disappearing under concrete and steel but with the survival of the charming back alleys in the former French concession, be sure to have a lovely stroll in the area and soak in a bit of the old Shanghainese life.

TIP: wear a really comfy pair of shoes because you are going to do a lot of walking and an eco friendly reusable shopping bag for all the goodies you’re sure to pick up.

written by KIM

September 29, 2010

NI HAO MA CHINA: English is hazardous to your health

Shanghai is a big city and it’s a city of districts, huge districts. It’s quite easy to get lost and because of the absence of English channels on television, asking the locals for directions is next to impossible, zero English movies = zero English vocabulary. Yes, I kinda equate HBO to English proficiency.

So bring a map and let it do the talking for you. Instead of telling the driver to take you somewhere, get your map out and start pointing, but be sure your map has Chinese characters on it otherwise that map is quite as useless as your fancy English vocabulary.

Communication is quite difficult in Shanghai especially if you do not know basic sign language. So learn how to say toilet using only your hands.

Lesson learned from this trip, at least try to learn the local dialect for the basics.

TIP: try to research about their Metro Train System, they say it's the best and fastest way to get around Shanghai.

written by KIM

September 26, 2010

NI HAO MA CHINA: Anti-histamines and a Chinese Visa

Acquiring a Chinese Visa is much easier than applying for a driver’s license, no lines, no irate tellers and shouting while trying to communicate through a thick window, no interviews, no sweat! All you need is your passport and 2000 pesos (assuming you let your travel agent get the Visa for you) and 99% of the time you will be granted entry to the Peoples Republic of China.

That was 6 months ago.

Now, entry to the land of siomai is as painful as applying for a driver’s license, but don’t worry, the NO’s I mentioned above is still a NO. Aside from your passport and application fee, a long list of documents now falls behind it:

Copy of roundtrip tickets
Hotel reservations
Original NBI clearance valid for travel abroad
Original bank certificate with receipt or original passbook updated within the month you are applying
Employment certificate/company i.d.
SSS i.d. and contributions
Tin i.d. and latest ITR

The additional requirements weren’t that much of a hassle but nevertheless, it was stressful, especially when our agent informed us that the Chinese Consulate has become rather strict in granting visas making an example of her gynecologist client who was denied entry to China.

Stress took its toll on me and later manifested through an itchy skin rash that wouldn’t go away even if I drowned myself in bottles of benadryls and anti-histamines.

Applications usually take only four working days, but in our case, it took 2 long weeks. Talk about prolonging the agony right? The itching grew even worse and I was beginning to lose sleep, all this stress just because I wanted to taste the best siomai in the world. After a substantial amount of prayers to the siomai gods, we finally got our visa.

So did my rash finally go away? I’m afraid not, because even with the visa, there's still a problem.

My visa specifically says that I should enter China before September 9, but my plane is scheduled to arrive in China on September 8 at 1145 PM. The visa didn’t say ON or BEFORE September 9, so I only have a 15 minute window before I get to the immigration desk or get my ass deported back to the P.I. So you can only imagine the fidgety state I was in the whole 3 hour flight and the mad dash from the plane to the immigration.

But oh, how the siomai gods smiled on me, well, maybe not exactly a god, but the smiling face of the immigration officer felt like the most beatific I have seen and the sound of the stamp's contact on paper is the most melodious I've ever heard. PAK!

And I'm in!

TIP: Since the Chinese Consulate has offices only in Manila and Cebu, it's better to hire a travel agent to process your application, it usually only cost around 2000 or 2500php.

For more information about Chinese Visa Applications:

Or you can also call our agent Lily of Rosch Travel: 0922-8519196 or (82)225-1527 

written by KIM

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