Yu Yuan


This post was originally published in 2008
It may contain stale & outdated information. Or it may have grown more awesome with age, like the author.

Today I was woken up by Yvonne telling me that we were going to the place from which one may buy balls. Not the type you’re probably thinking of, but the type that one may roll around in one’s hand. According to Yvonne only old men use them, but I’ve had a set for ages (Grandparents bought them for me from Singapore). I didn’t know why we had to get up so early to buy balls, but Yvonne allowed no argument. We took a bus, then another bus to our destination.

We got off the bus and walked into a rather bustling market area. The predominant colour was red, from hundreds of new year’s lanterns. It seems that most of the shops sold those lanterns. Walking into one of the stores was like descending into the forest of another world, a world in which instead of trees forests have desks, and roofs without insulation, and instead of vines hanging from the “trees”, there are hundreds of new year’s lanterns. That analogy should go down as one of the worst ever. Maybe I should have just said this: there were a lot of new year’s lanterns, everywhere. I thought that this was the place we were to spend the entire day, so I was slowly wandering about, feigning interest in the store’s wares. I later found that I was wasting my time when Yvonne pointed to a big gate that the majority of the crowds were heading towards, and told me that it was where we were going for the day. I was a little confused, as it looked a bit too “up market” to be selling balls, but I didn’t argue.

The place was called Yu Yuan, and is apparently the only site of cultural significance left in Shanghai. It was pretty much just shops in new looking old-style buildings. I thought this was quite amusing, seeing old style buildings with big KFC signs being prominently displayed on the side of them. One building was a Starbucks. We went in and bought a Caramel Latte, which was delicious. All of the staff at every Starbucks I’ve been to (two) have spoken workable English. One time I tried to order in Chinese, and it too far longer than loudly saying “Latte Medium” would have. Instead I repeated myself three times, then labored through an enquiry about how one says “latte” in Chinese. Turns out it is natie. I recognized the “na” character, æ‹¿, but not the tie, 铁. After I heard the staff member say it however, I recognized it as the second part of “subway”, 地铁. Silly me. This time Yvonne did the talking, which was much more efficient. I also got her to ask whether the iced coffees had more caffeine than hot ones, as I wanted a real kick. The iced ones are stronger, take note.

After buying wonderful coffee we crossed the oddly shaped bridge to the main attraction. Tickets were 30å…ƒ. It was worth it, I guess. Yuyuan was quite big, and very pretty. Its style was different to the buildings we saw in Beijing, but only slightly. The roofs were black, Beijing’s were brown. Also it wasn’t as cold. I took a lot of photos as well, go have a look.

One thing worth mentioning is the number of white people there. It was the only time I’ve seen Chinese people outnumbered. Most of the white people were Russian. I saw two Americans, a couple of Italians, and maybe ten Russians. It was interesting to hear the Chinese guides speaking Russian/Italian. The Russians scowled at me when I slurped my drink loudly, so I made sure to slurp even more loudly. Take that, Boris.

On second thought, maybe the Russian wasn’t scowling at all. Maybe that was his standard expression?

My favourite part of Yuyuan was the pond. If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, I doubt that will come as a surprise. The pond had a little waterfall, and some fish. In short, it was perfect.

Other cool things in Yuyuan were: Dragon themed walls (naughty, according to Yvonne. At that time only the Emperor was allowed to use Dragons), old trees, small trees, and creepy lions. One tree was over 400 years old. It was black, and did look its age. There were a lot of small trees around, all well pruned. The lions near the exit of Yuyuan were rather strange, quite creepy in fact. Actually, the whole place was quite strange, in a subtle way. All of the doorways in white walls were weird shapes, there were Dragons on the walls, buildings had little characters on top of them, and the place was filled with Russians. My spine tingles at the memory.

After looking at everything we realised we were quite hungry, so we left and crossed the oddly shaped bridge again to get some lunch.

While walking towards Yvonne’s chosen food source, we passed a small stall that sold, among other things, camera tripods. I’ve been keeping an eye out for a particular type of tripod, one with short but flexible legs. They had one such tripod, and after a small amount of haggling we bought it for 25å…ƒ, a price equal to one coffee from Starbucks.

Yvonne wanted special dumplings, which required queuing for about half an hour. When we finally got some we found that they weren’t that special, Yvonne’s mother’s are much better. We ate them anyway. Then we went to a restaurant that sold bigger dumplings with straws. One is supposed to drink the juice from the dumpling. These weren’t very nice either, though they were very cute. Each dumpling cost more than a coffee from Starbucks – 25å…ƒ. We left without finishing. Yvonne then bought some strange pudding that I didn’t taste. It was gooey.

Now was the time to look for suitable balls to purchase. We left the Yuyuan area, and re-entered the bright red shopping area. Hidden behind all of the stores was a very large, three storied warehouse filled with small stalls. The stalls sold various different things, from souvenirs to knitting essentials. We spent quite some time here, asking around for balls. We also bought some little things for people back home. One of the storekeepers told us that balls were available from a store just outside the warehouse, so we headed there when we became tired of the warehouse.

After some searching we managed to find the store the man was talking about. They did indeed sell balls, and I bought a pair of steel ones. They were 5å…ƒ each.

On our way to the bus stop we stopped at a cafe and had some more food. Yvonne ordered the Cuboidal Toast for me, and had some yellow buns and rice soup for herself. Cuboidal Toast was strange only because of its shape. Everything else about it was what one would expect from toast – butter, jam… oh, and a scoop of ice cream. Totally normal. When the waitress brought us our drinks, she got confused when we asked which was the coffee and which was the tea – she told us there isn’t any difference. There was, and I quickly identified them. I finished eating before Yvonne, and amused myself with my new tripod.

Our business in this part of town concluded, we took a bus to a more familiar area, one with Watson’s. Yvonne asked me if I wanted to “have some fun.” I said that I did, and was led into “Tom’s World,” which is an arcade. It was very colourful, and quite large. I played a manly game involving guns ‘n’ killing, while Yvonne played what I would call “kiddie slots.” We spent quite a bit at the arcade, but we also had fun. Whether the fun was proportional to the fee is not important.

When we had finished with the kiddie slots, we went outside and I played with the tripod. I took three photos, then the battery went flat. This was our cue to leave.

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