Fan of travelling yes, fan of travelling in the winter anywhere, a Big No. It is true, I am not a fan of the cold weather, it is somewhat outside of my comfort zone. This November I found myself hopping on a plane for what was a work related trip to China, the last stop of which was the largest city in China, Shanghai. My first visit to the city since 2010, when I had dropped by to visit the World Expo. That was at the peak of the summer season and boy it was definitely quite hot that summer with the Celsius scale hitting 40 in the peak of the afternoon.
My three days in Shanghai were followed by quick visits to Xiamen, Jinjiang and Wuxi, from the latter I hopped on a bullet express train to Shanghai Railway station. The journey by car which otherwise would have taken four hours and given Shanghai's reputation with respect to traffic jams, not the best of ideas. After an hour long journey by train I found myself at the Shanghai railway station. This was my first inter city journey by train in China, it went by far better than I expected, and not long after my arrival into the railway station, i was at my hotel, The Radisson Blu Shanghai New World on Nanjing Road.
The Nanjing Road area of Shanghai facing people's square on one side and the Puxi skyline along the Huangpau river on one side make it one of the liveliest districts not just in Shanghai but probably all of China. As per the locals, domestic visitors also flock to what they see as China's international city, with some of the best designer shopping and some of the best food the world has to offer.
After a few very busy work days, I had some time to myself to explore the area surrounding my hotel and if time permitted other parts of Shanghai. But given how cold the weather was, I was not too keen to wander that far off from my hotel, and stayed within the surrounding area, and considering I was blessed with an incredible scenic view of the Shanghai skyline from my hotel, it was hard to leave the warmth and comfort of the hotel room also.
Nanjing road is absolutely tourist central, tons and tons of shops, cafe's, restaurants and what not, with limitless people just walking past you every second. There are no surprises that quite a few known brand hotels are also located in the district, as well as there being a Starbucks cafe every few minutes walk. While out and about exploring, I did get the opportunity to explore some Halal dinning in the Huangpau area around Nanjing road. I managed to discover a Turkish Restaurant called Kervan, was not impressed, I have had way better Turkish food than that in China. I discovered a very decent Indian Restaurant that I even returned to for a second meal called Kebabs On the Grille, which did a very decent job with the Paneer and Chicken Tikka. Probably one of the better Paneer Tikka's I have had on my travels. But for me the icing on the cake was Tripadvisor.com's recommendation for the number one Halal Restaurant in Shanghai.
Shanghai's number one Halal Restaurant for Chinese food is this eatery called Yershari, located in a shopping mall on Nanjing Road. I do not remember the name of the shopping mall, but it is where the Apple store is located. Hard to miss the Apple store no matter where on the planet you might be. I arrived at the restaurant at 7 pm, and I was greeted with an hour long que, my thoughts, this better be worth the hype and those reader reviews on tripadvisor.com. Now this is where my visit to Shanghai got interesting and I returned home with a story I would happily share, maybe for years to come.
In the waiting area of the restaurant, I went and sat down on an empty chair besides a young Chinese man, who it seems could not speak a word of English, but could clearly identify that I am a foreign traveller to his country. He initiated a conversation with me using a translator app on his phone, at that point I was expecting just a courtesy Hi Hello, was not expecting an experience that awaited me.
He used the translator app on his phone to translate from Mandarin to English, and I began reciprocating using Google translate on my phone. I was using a VPN to access Google services in China, along with Facebook and Instagram. So this is where it began, while waiting for our respective tables, his number was 28 mine was 42, we began communicating with our phones with each other, I know it sounds rather weird and some what anti social but it worked in this case here, our linguistic limitations were no longer a barrier to communication. He would type something in Mandarin on his phone, hit translate, show me the English equivalent of what he was trying to say, and I would do the same via Google Translate, type in English, hit translate and show him my screen so he had an idea of what I was trying to say. We did this for about 45 mins or so before he got the call announcing that his table was ready, at this point he had discovered that I was Muslim, and so was he, so he invited me to have dinner with him, to which I happily accepted. Who wouldn't want some company over dinner in a far away land, as much as I love my personal space, it is always nice to have some company over dinner.
After having sat down for dinner, Abdullah was his name, I asked my new friend to surprise me with his choice for dinner from the menu, he insisted that I being a guest to his country pick what ever my heart desires from the menu, but reminded me that the Almighty hates wastage so I order carefully. Not knowing what the portions would be like at this place and what to expect, usually such fine dine looking places have smaller portions, so I did not exactly order conservatively. I ordered the chicken and potato stew, which is something u find in almost every Muslim Chinese Restaurant all across China. I ordered something that loosely translated into Garlic Beef Ribs, 2 Chinese Style Naans, Egg fried rice and Chinese beef buns. I was expecting smaller portions so that is a lot I know!
We continued our waiting area style of engagement and communication with one another for an additional hour and a half while waiting for our food, and then while having dinner itself. Due to our linguistic limitations, we could not verbally speak with one another, so we continued doing what we were doing earlier, type on our screens, hit translate and show to the other. The only words uttered were Alhumdulilah, Mashallah, Inshallah. I insisted to Abdullah that he let me pay, for the company and the experience that he has honoured with me is something I will remember for a very long time, but while I was insisting on taking care of the bill, he had already paid when our order was complete by Scanning his phone against a QR code on a device on the table, I did not even notice when he did that and that QR code payments were so common in China. He insisted I am his Muslim brother, and a traveller, this is the least he could do and he only asked that I remember him in my prayers and well wishes.
BTW THIS PLACE TOTALLY LIVES UPTO THE HYPE! THE FOOD WAS INCREDIBLE!
Before we said Good bye to one another, we added one another on WeChat, which is what everyone uses in China as a replacement for WhatsApp, and before we left the restaurant we were greeted with live entertainment, a cultural dance performance from Western China, from the regions that border Central Asia. I do not know at this point if my paths will cross with Abdullah ever again, but I hope we cross paths again one day in some part of this God's earth and we have another wonderful memory with which to remember each other by. My parting thoughts, language is not a barrier between two people, the real barrier lies in our hearts and minds, If we open our hearts and minds just a little bit, the world is a wonderful place, with wonderful people, and when two people meet, the possibilities are limitless.