Monday, October 17, 2011

Finding Helen's

Our second day in Shanghai started with a dismal free breakfast offered by the hostel. We weren't sure what we were going to get out of a "free breakfast" in China, and the answer was: steak dumplings, some weird churro looking things, and soggy cornflakes with lukewarm milk. Oh, and still half-frozen bread.

I also saw a cockroach crawling on the table by the cornflakes.

Other than breakfast, though, the hostel was really clean and nice. It was a surprisingly good first experience in a hostel, despite the horror stories I've heard from other people about places that they've stayed around the world.

Needless to say, our breakfast left quite a bit to be desired. We remembered spotting a Starbucks in the neighborhood that we had been in the night before when we went out dancing with some of the people we met at the hostel. I still had the card to Brown Sugar, the nightclub we had been to first the night before. We gave it to our taxi driver, and tada! he pulled up right in front of the Starbucks. He must have known.

Starbucks, aka heaven on Earth.

The neighborhood the Starbucks was in. Rich Shanghai.

More of the Starbucks neighborhood. Beautiful.

While sitting outside on the patio at Starbucks and sipping our heavenly drinks (we're quite deprived of good coffee in the Shiz), we flipped through a travel Shanghai book that Emily had checked out from the hostel. We decided that we couldn't leave Shanghai without going to the French Concession. The Paris of the East, right?

Even though Shanghai is significantly more modern than Shijiazhuang, and quite a few people speak English, cab drivers still do not. We were faced with the problem of directing our cab driver to the French Concession - just an area of town, not exactly a real address. While standing awkwardly in the middle of Starbucks, a very nice middle-aged woman approached us and asked if we needed help. We explained our situation, and she very quickly wrote down an address for us in Chinese that we could show a cab driver. We thanked her profusely, as something like this would never happen in the Shiz. Not because people are unfriendly, but simply because Shijiazhuang is not really a modern city by any standards, and before our students generation, not many people took English classes.

Armed with an address that would hopefully put us in the heart of the French Concession, we took off in our cab. None of us really knew what to expect out of an area named the French Concession -- we had seen some buildings on the way that definitely looked Parisian, and could strike memories of the French influence in the city. Other than that, though, we didn't know if we would stumble upon architecture, shopping, food. I was secretly hoping for the old French courthouses that I had read about on my flight over.

The cab pulled up on a street, in front of a shopping mall. After a little bit of confusion, we paid him and just got out. We really weren't expecting (or wanting) to end up at a shopping mall. We looked around and realized that there were other little boutiques on the left side, and wandered toward them. We accidentally stumbled upon a little back alley that had a few shops. We wandered aimlessly down the alley, and then suddenly realized that we had actually discovered an entire shopping village. It was all sorts of pathways and alleyways with tons of cute little boutiques and restaurants. It went on forever and was so cute. It was difficult to get a picture of what it looked like, though, because it was packed. Jackpot.

We shopped around for a few hours, until we stumbled upon a cute little restaurant offering 2 glasses of free wine for lunch with the order of a fondue pot. Fondue?! We jumped at the chance to get some cheese back in our lives. But, really, the free wine was a significant deciding factor as well. We walked inside, and it was packed, even though it was past 1 in the afternoon. We were lead upstairs, and the restaurant really did look like a cute little cafe you could find in a smaller town in France.

The restaurant we ate at in the French Concession.
The meal was a little pricey, but we ordered a swiss fondue pot with bread and vegetables, some red wine, and a veggie pizza. It was absolutely delicious, especially given the lack of dairy in our everyday lives in the Shiz. We probably hadn't had cheese more than once or twice since leaving the US six weeks earlier. (And, as everyone knows, I have a severe cheese addiction.)

After shopping, we headed out with Danielle in tow to get ready to meet up with everyone later that night.

After a few taxi miscommunications, we ended up at Helen's to meet all of the other Drake kids that were in Shanghai. Now, Helen's. Helen's is a beautiful place. Helen's is a wonderful, western restaurant, aimed to please with all of the American classics, from breakfast to dinner. It also has alcohol and hookah. We were in for a good night. (Plus, it was the night before my birthday!)

I proceeded to order what was probably the most delicious burger and fries I have ever had in my life. It may or may not have just been because I hadn't had one in almost two months. I'll never know.

Emily K, Lauren, and I at Helen's.

These ladies had won a bottle of Smirnoff from the bar, and
upon hearing it was my birthday, offered to let me pour some
in my bucket. Yes, Helen's gives you drinks in buckets.

My new friends.

The birthday bucket. 
Emily C, Lauren, and I - aka the Sister Wives.

Getting some help with the birthday bucket.

This was written on the ceiling at Helen's.

Me and Lauren at Helen's.
Anyway, the night was wonderful, and we all ended up going over to Ike's apartment to hang out after Helen's. That night was when I decided that I would be perfectly content living in Shanghai at some point in my life.

The Paris of the East, indeed.

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