Friday, July 23, 2010

Shanghai Circus & Night River Cruise

Short note: I joined Kai Cung and Kawaguchi for a karaoke-cum-birthday-party for Pei Jing last night. We had a great time singing away and shouting like crazy people for almost three hours haha! There were two Malaysians, one of them is a half-banana (that's me, just in case you wonder who lol!), a half Japanese-Thai, and a Taiwanese, and the only song all four of us were able to sing together at the same time was... 

Doraemon's theme song haha!

The day tour was supposedly over after our the dinner, but there were additional optional options for us to watch the Shanghai acrobatics or/and take the night cruise along the Huangpu River, to enjoy the magnificent view of Shanghai's skyline at night. The night was relatively still early, and we thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to join the rest in our group to watch the show and to take the river cruise as well. Besides, it would be a great way to chillax and entertained by the acrobatics show, after our packed day.

I guess the famous Shanghai acrobatics doesn't need any further introduction, as they are renowned all over the world. It integrates the essence of the acrobatics, magic, joy, and circus. In a nutshell,  it shows the highest acrobatics art of China. What's a better than to watch the show performed by the locals in the country where it originated itself, isn't it? The ninety-minute acrobatics show was at 白玉兰杂技剧场 (Bai Yu Lan Theater), or the White Magnolia Theater in downtown Shanghai.

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The entrance to the theater, which was mostly packed with foreign tourists when we arrived.

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The interior of the theater, which could accommodate more than 500 audiences at one time.

The show was performed by the Shanghai Acrobatic Group, which is consisted of Shanghai Magic Troupe and New Shanghai Circus Troupe. This team is dubbed as the most famous acrobatic group in Shanghai, and the first team from China, who performed acrobatics in Broadway Stage of USA. Besides USA, it has toured Japan, Singapore, Spain, and Australia, and so on to make excellent acrobatic performances that had won great reputation at home and abroad.

Photography and video-recording weren't allowed throughout the show, but when you see several Japanese, well-known for abiding to rules very strictly most of the time, taking out their cameras and record the show, it surely will make you feel like doing the same, isn't it? Worst come to worst, we'll just pretend to be innocent and keep our devices if the staffs approach us for recording the show. Photos below are just some parts of the show.

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Plate spinning, which was combined with some acrobatic skills. 

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This performance usually features performers holding several plates in each hand spinning on sticks.

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Walking on the heads of her teammates, while spinning the plates. One minor slip would be fatal to her and her teammates.

It is said that Chinese acrobatic was developed from labor and self-defense skills, and now is among the oldest form of performances with a history of thousands of years.

Most acrobats are trained from six or seven year-old child, as acrobatics require difficult risky skills based on long training. The performers often endure great deal of pains to make a progress in their performances.

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This is one of the most risky and dangerous stunt of the night. A stunt which combines great balance and strength.

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If you think this is amazing, you ain't seen nothing yet.

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He kept adding the number of wooden chairs, and left us wondering how far would he go.

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He stopped at three chairs, and we thought that was impressive enough already.

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He had other ideas, because three chairs to him, is very sap sap water only.

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From feeling impressed by his performances, we started to feel anxious, as the stunt got more and more dangerous.

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His two assistants then added two more chairs, to make it six in total. 

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During the finale, the chairs were arranged in one vertical line, and he supported his whole body on the chairs with just one hand!

Basically, there are nine characteristics about Chinese acrobatics:
  1. They pay attention to the training of legs and waist.
  2. They chase for stabilization in danger, and quiet in movement. It demands smart and correct skills. It shows the ability that  a person keeps balance under movement.
  3. Look for surprise in the normal things. From nothing to  something, it shows the creativity of a man. On the resplendent stage, the acrobat only needs a long gown and a thin cloth. But the long gown  can change to anything, such as flowers, birds, dumplings, and so on.
  4. Soft skills and hard skills supplement each other. The famous performance which can show the skill is "the Juggling with the  Feet".
  5. The super strength and neat tumbling combine perfectly. For example, a performer lies on the platform, and step on more than 10 people. The whole weight that he holds is up to 500 kilograms. It shows his super strength and skill.
  6. Use a lot of daily tools and labor tools. It is full of  atmosphere of daily life. Bowls, plates, ropes, umbrellas, such kind of  things appear in acrobatics.
  7. Combine the ancient industrial arts with body skills. The performance "Plate Spinning" combines Chinese traditional porcelain art with acrobatics.
  8. The Chinese acrobatics have huge adaptability. There are various ways and places to perform acrobatics. On the squares, theaters,  lanes, hotels, etc.
  9. Chinese acrobatics have strict succession tradition. Every skill is succeeded from generation to generation. (source)
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Juggling umbrellas and carpets with their feet.

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This is another one of the many performances that I loved the most. Using just a piece of long cloth, they performed flying acts without using any safety cables. The song choice (美丽的神话 mei li de shen hua) fits the romantic performance very well.

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Globe of Death, a stunt where as many as four performers ride motorcycles inside a mesh sphere simultaneously. One miss and there would be a big mishap. After watching this stunt, I felt my heartbeat increased three times faster than the normal rate.

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All the performers came out simultaneously at the end of the show to mark the end of the acrobatic show, to the loud applause from the audiences.

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I have to say it was a wonderful and magnificent performances by them.

From watching the marvels at the beauty of strength and skills of the acrobats, we headed to the final stop of the day - the night river cruise along Huangpu River, which is the largest river in Shanghai. This river basically divides Shanghai into two regions - the newly developed area - Pudong on the east, and the historic centre of the city - Puxi on the west.  However, some of the locals here mispronounced them as Pudding and Pussy.

The stretch is roughly about five kilometers; so the best way to enjoy the most of the city's night view is by taking a boat cruise, which last for almost an hour. Furthermore, walking along the river bank at night is not recommended as it is known as the spot for pickpockets to prey on the visitors there. Even if you hang your camera strap at your wrists, it is still unsafe as they would use scissors or even worse, knife to cut them off and steal your camera. That is exactly what our tour guide had experienced before.

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A dragon-shaped floating restaurant. I initially thought we would board that boat, but no, we didn't get to do so.

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Off we go, to start our journey along the Huangpu River.

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The most recognisable landmark must be the Oriental Pearl Tower on the left. Yes, the one that has two balls.

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Ohh, wait. There's actually another larger ball down there, on the left (pun unintended).

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July is not the best month to visit Shanghai, as it is during this time the humidity and rainfall is at their peak season. It was drizzling during the river cruise, but I am satisfied with the picture quality taken using just a compact digital camera.

Over the past couple of decades, Pudong has emerged as China's financial and commercial hub. The famous skyline, that includes the symbolic Oriental Pearl Tower, the Jin Mao Building, the Shanghai World Financial Center  and the under-construction Shanghai Tower, is reflective of Shanghai and China's rapid economic development.

On the other side is Puxi, which still remains as Shanghai's cultural, entertainment, residential and commercial centre. Cultural centers such as The Bund, the Shanghai Grand Theatre, and the Shanghai Museum are all located in Puxi.

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The Bund Financial Centre, the one in the centre with spot-light shining towards the sky.

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The Peace Hotel (green steeped building), formerly known as Sassoon House, one of the most famous buildings on the Bund on the left.

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Shanghai also has their own Twin Towers (on the left), but theirs are shorter and bended haha!

The Bund is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai, which houses 52 buildings of various architectural styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco. It makes Shanghai as one of the city that has the richest collections of Art Deco architectures in the world.

Combining the night view of the both sides of the river - futuristic high-rise buildings on the east that makes it look like Hong Kong's skyline, and historical buildings that gives them the European influence, it is as if one is visiting two countries simultaneously. The night view of this place is too breathtaking, that I have ran out of words to describe them.

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The wind was very strong, that's why I look like orang gila here haha!

Definitely a romantic place for dating couples. It is one of the best place to have your first date, or even when you make a wedding proposal to your loved one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yuyuan Garden & Xintiandi

Short talk: Last weekend, I attended a discussion session organised by the Chiba City International Association, which was also attended by several other foreigners living in Chiba City. At the end of the session, I overheard a conversation between a Chinese girl and the head of the association, a Japanese, who recently visited to China for several weeks. The Japanese mentioned about how he just had to bear with the roughness of the Chinese in the mainland during his time there. For example, they sound as if they are quarreling when they have a meeting.

The Chinese girl insisted that when they talk, they might sound very loud and rough, but they are actually kind-hearted. Sure or not? If that's the case, are cutting queues and crossing against the red-light (which is a very common thing in China) considered kind-hearted?


Our adventure in Shanghai later took us to Yuyuan Garden, a famous classical garden located in Anren Street in the centre of the Old City, next to the Chenghuangmiao area in Shanghai. Before we entered Yuyuan Garden, we wandered around the Chenghuangmiao area, which forms the core of the old city of Shanghai. Today, the "City God Temple" not only refers to the large temple complex, but also the traditional district of commerce in the city, surrounding the temple. There are over a hundred stores and shops in this area, and most of these store buildings are nearly a century old.

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The temple's surrounding area and vicinity is a large commercial district that hosts an array of shops, restaurants, tea houses, as well as annual temple fair events.


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Shops and restaurants, beautifully decorated with golden carvings, which looked more like a temple.


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Walking along the streets here will take you back to experience the atmosphere of an old city in the 18th century.

A complete restoration of the City God Temple took place between 2005 and 2006. In October 2006 the place of worship was reopened and reconsecrated by Taoist clergymen.

Walking along the streets in this area, with traditional red lanterns hanging from the veranda of some of the shop houses, and signboards written in Chinese characters on almost every shops, just to name a couple of examples, made me felt as if I am walking along the streets of an old city of Shanghai, just like how I always see in Chinese dramas.

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It was drizzling a little bit, but it didn't hinder the spirit of the tourists who flocked the area.


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Every corner has its unique way of decorative items, which makes this place worth a visit.


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The famous shop, which is well-known to produce the best xiao long bao in Shanghai that I mentioned in the last entry. 


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"3 munites"? Amigo, señor doesn't speak Español-lah!


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There is a lake in the middle of this area as well.

Credit should be given to the local authorities who gave their best in preserving these buildings to look like how it used to be during the olden days. We didn't spend much time around the shops as our destination was Yuyuan Garden, another landmark of the old city.

Yuyuan Garden, considered one of the most lavish and finest Chinese gardens in the region, was finished in 1577 by a government officer of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) named Pan Yunduan. It was first established as a private garden in 1559, who spent almost 20 years building a garden to please his father Pan En, a high-ranking official in the Ming Dynasty, during his father's old age.

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The concrete entrance to the garden.


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A signboard to indicate that this garden was declared a national monument in 1982.


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The one on the left is a female nian while the male nian is on the right. During the olden days, guys are generally considered the gender with the upper standard, hence the male nian is made to look upwards, which the female one looks downwards.


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Wanna make yourself look more beautiful? Then rub your hands on this stone. Works only for girls.

"Yu" in Chinese means pleasing and satisfying, and this garden was specially built for Pan's parents as a place for them to enjoy a tranquil and happy time in their old age.

Over the years, the garden fell into disrepair until about 1760 when bought by merchants, before suffering extensive damage during several wars that broke out in the 19th and 20th century. However, they were repaired by the Shanghai government from 1956–1961, opened to the public in September, 1961, and declared a national monument in 23 February, 1982.

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Hundreds of bright Japanese carps in the pond.


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A place where the people have their marriage meeting in the olden days.

The girl who comes to the man's place will be sitting on the small hut at the opposite, while the guy will be sitting across the pond. This method means both of them will not get the chance to get close to each other, before deciding whether or not to go ahead with their marriage. This method is said to be a popular method during those times. Guess what the reason behind it?

It's because both of them would be separated quite some distance away during the meeting. So, they wouldn't be able to see the flaws on their partner properly. The man wouldn't know exactly if the girl is beautiful or not, and so does the girl. Only on their first night when the guy will realise that his wife has a giant crater worst that the moon's surface on her face haha!

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Another form of sexism can be spotted. The two walkways were built in different width, the wider one on the right was meant for guys, while girls can only use the more narrow one on the left.

Since this kind of segregation is something in the past, the guys in our group were asked to take the lane to the left, while the ladies took the right lane. While walking along the walkway, it left me pondering, why should there be such segregation between the two genders by those people back then.

Yuyuan Garden occupies an area of two hectares. However, the small size is not a representative of the attractions of the garden. The pavilions, halls, rockeries, ponds and cloisters all have unique characteristics. There are six main scenic areas in the garden, aid out in Suzhou style: Sansui Hall (Three Corn Ears Hall), Wanhua Chamber (Ten Thousand-Flower Tower), Dianchun Hall (Heralding Spring Hall), Huijing Hall, Yuhua Hall (Jade Magnificence Hall), and the Inner Garden, which is delicately decorated with rockeries, ponds, pavilions, and towers.

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In front of Wanhua Chamber, there are two old trees. One is a maidenhair tree which is 21 meters tall.


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It is said that the tree was planted by the host of the garden 400 years ago.


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The picturesque scenery in the garden, which never fails to impress visitors.


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Some visitors decided to take some rest by the bridge overlooking the pond, while enjoying the breathtaking view of the garden.


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Garden areas are separated by "dragon walls" with undulating gray tiled ridges, each terminating in a dragon's head. If you take a closer look, the dragon has only three claws because during those days, unless you are the Emperor, building dragon statues in private homes are prohibited.

Located across from Yuhua Hall, it is one of the three famous rocks in the southern region of the Yangtze River. The other two are Duanyun Feng in Suzhou and Zhouyun Feng in Hangzhou. The rock is 3.3 meters in height and has 72 holes.

What is interesting about this rock is that if you burn a joss stick just below the rock, the smoke will magically float out from all of the holes. Similarly, when you pour water into the rock from top, the water will flow out from each hole creating a spectacular sight to see. Pan Yunduan was very fond of the Exquisite Jade Rock, and he built Yuhua Hall facing the rock so it was convenient to sit in the hall and admire it.

How true is this story, I also not sure-lah. Maybe it is just one of those fairy tales the Chinese made up to make this garden sound interesting haha!

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That rock in the middle is the famous rock.


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Touch this rock and you will have people adding you at Facebook non-stop.


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The furnishings of the buildings were made of top grade rosewood of the Ming Dynasty, appearing both natural and graceful.


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A group picture of us, with the dragon head in the background.

A visit to China will never be completed without seeing a panda, right? It is like going to Down Under without meeting a kangaroo.

Unfortunately, our itinerary was too pack, that we didn't have the chance to visit Shanghai Zoo. At the same time, we didn't wanna make our China trip incomplete. So, this is a prove to everyone that my first ever trip to China can be considered complete.

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See who's in the town!

Throughout the day visiting various destinations, every time we are done with a place and on our way to board the bus, we would be approached by a group of locals, who sells local goods. In other words, goods made in China, which are mostly souvenirs like keychains and caps in-conjunction of Expo 2010. They usually give us really good bargains for the stuff, and every time we rejected them, they will add an extra stuff and ask you again, with the same price.

However, we were already warned by our tour guide not to purchase any stuff from them. For example, the watches they sell will melt if kena rain. When we heard him saying that, we laughed at first. Not until we experienced the real thing on the next day, at the Expo 2010. I will tell you what happened to our umbrellas in future entries haha!

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One of the two clowns in our groups, who always do silly stuffs during our trip, being "attacked" again haha!

There is a couple of guys, a forth-year university student in Keio University, who was also in our group. These two guys I tell you, are the entertainers throughout our trip, which is why I refer them as the two-famous-clowns haha! It was their presence that made the trip so much exciting lol! One of the example already happened at the tea house.

I don't know why, but of so many people in our group, those local goods sellers will only approach those two clowns. Perhaps they possess the silly face that is easy for the dealers to makan them haha! There is one time, when they complained to us that after they paid for the goods, the dealer took a few stuff out from the plastic bag before handing it to them. The cheating method of the dealers is just too amazing, isn't it? Haha!

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Our next location was the Art Museum, but photography were prohibited inside the museum.


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We felt so honoured to visit the museum lol!

Not only that, they could still have the guts to say "Okay, arigatou, byebye, sayonara!!!" after doing business with the two clowns, before walking away lol! That happened before our visit to Yuyuan Garden, and after we came out from the garden, the same girl re-appeared and tried to sell new stuff to the two clowns. See how brave the goods sellers were!

The dealers just didn't give up as they tagged along the two clowns all the way, even after we walked pass two traffic lights, until we boarded the bus haha! Nevertheless, it was the source of entertainment for the rest of us lol!

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Restaurants come in abundance in Xintiandi area.


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It offers a completely different atmosphere than what we got earlier at Chenghuangmiao area.


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In Chenghuangmiao, we drink Chinese tea; here we have Starbucks Coffee.


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Xiao long bao is popular in Chenghuangmiao, but ang moh prefers Häagen-Dazs in Xintiandi.

Xintiandi was the next destination we were brought to. Xintiandi means "New Heaven and Earth", and is considered one of the first lifestyle centres in China. Mostly popular among the foreigners, this area is a car-free shopping, eating and entertainment district of Shanghai.

It is composed of an area of restored traditional shikumen ("stone gate") houses on narrow alleys, some adjoining houses which now serve as book stores, cafes and restaurants, and shopping malls. Most of the cafes and restaurants feature both indoor and outdoor seatings. Xintiandi has an active nightlife on weekdays as well as weekends, though romantic settings are more common than loud music and dance places.

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This is one of the rare place in Shanghai, where you will spot more foreigners that the locals.


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Renovated shikumen lane in Xintiandi.


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 Rows of tress planted along the streets give the place a green look.


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It feels relaxing to walk under these trees on a hot summer day.


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A more modern section of Xintiandi area, with shopping malls selling branded goods.


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The World Cup fever is everywhere, no matter where you go.


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There was an exhibition on Lamborghini cars on that day.


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A cute police patrol car we spotted along the road.

The area was developed by Shui On Land during the re-development of the surrounding area, when similar shikumen houses were demolished wholesale. The houses in Xintiandi were then restored, and now house an art gallery, cafes, and restaurants.

The marketing of Xintiandi is mainly targeted towards overseas visitors, especially visitors from Hong Kong, who seek to experience the romanticised atmosphere of old Shanghai. As a result, prices in this area are high, even by international standards. Eating or shopping in this area is seen as a status symbol by affluent local residents.

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We were taken to another restaurant to have our dinner.

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It was Sichuan cuisine again. I find that the food we had generally taste a little bit tasteless and I find that the ones we have in Malaysia is much nicer.

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Steamed buns, which have holes underneath to be filled with the fillings made of some vegetables.

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To be honest, this abalone is probably the only thing that taste special from the dinner.

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Kai Cung preparing to take a bite on his abalone.

During our dinner, the assistant of the tour guide distributed a folder, which contained the group shot we had in Yuyuan Park. After taking it from her, I put them into my bag, thinking that it was a souvenir for us, free-of-charge. We were later told that it is 100 RMB (RM 50) for each folder. So, I quickly took the folder out from my back and returned it to her haha!

Lucky thing I have our group shot in my camera as well, and I secretly told Kai Cung I should go to a photo shop, develop that picture and sell to the trip members at half the price she was selling haha! Kai Cung said I should just stop from doing that, or else she might get angry for stealing her business lol!

Our adventure for the day didn't stop after the dinner, because we still had two places to go. One of them is to view the magnificent night view of Shanghai along Huangpu River. That will come in the next entry. But before I end this entry, here is a scene at the entrance of the hotel, right after we had our dinner.

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Local goods sellers, ready to attack the tourists.

Upon spotting those goods sellers, the two clowns hopped onto our bus immediately to save themselves haha!