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First stop: the “Nation’s Kitchen”.. then the slow boat to China

Osaka is known around the country as the “nation’s kitchen” (天下の台所 tenka no daidokoro). We learn why this is every time that we visit. Plentiful options of delicious and cheap eats are on offer all around Osaka. On this occasion, we visited our go-to spots in the Tenma district: a Shanghai style izakaya for nira-manju and xiaolongbao (thanks Aiko !), then to a hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant called Sushi Masa. (It was imperative that we eat sushi one last time before departing Japan.)

Much as we love Osaka, it was really just a stopover for us this time. We arrived by shinkansen as usual, but would depart the following day by ferry from the Osaka International Ferry Terminal. We stayed nearby at the Cosmo Square Hotel. We awoke on the morning of February 24 to find our ferry visible from the hotel, docked safely at the port, and our excitement took over -- but not necessarily for the 48 hours straight that we would be spending on the ship before arriving to Shanghai. Time to put on our sea legs.

The first half of the journey was actually a beautiful coast through the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海 setouchi), which separates Honshu, the main island of Japan, from Shikoku, the smallest and least populous of the 4 major islands of Japan. We passed cities and bridges along the way, including (in order from East to West) Kobe city, the Akashi Kaikyou bridge, Takamatsu city, Naoshima, and the Seto Bridge. By nightfall, we had reached the sea south of Hiroshima. Shortly after midnight, we sailed through the rockiest part of the entire journey, as we crossed the the Kanmon Straits (関門海峡 kanmonkaikyou) aka the Straits of Shimonoseki, separating Honshu from Kyushu, and leading out into the open East China Sea.

We awoke on the morning of February 25 with the coastline of Kyushu only barely visible from the port side of the ship, and soon to be a distant memory as the ship would suddenly be surrounded only by water for as far as one’s eye can see ! It was to be like this for the entire day, passing nothing but surface marker buoys, fishing trawlers, cargo ships, and the other odd boat here and there.

But the ride was very comfortable. We had plenty of time to read, relax, and get ready for our upcoming adventure. The ship’s restaurant offered both Japanese and Chinese cuisine, which turned out to be quite good. And plenty of Tsingtao beer.

Land was again visible as we sailed into the mouth of the Yangtze river. We quickly steered into the Huangpu river, and arrived 2 hours later around 10:00 on February 26 at the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal. Shanghai’s magnificent skyline in Pudong was visible from our docking area near the Bund.

We made our way through immigration and customs, then hopped in a taxi to our Airbnb in the Hongkou neighborhood. After a quick lunch at Cafe de Coral, we checked in to find a straight-on view of the famous skyline (including Google’s office in the Shanghai World Financial Center).

After a chance to unwind, we set out to buy our tickets for the following night’s sleeper train to Hong Kong. Shanghai Railway Station was as huge and chaotic as we expected, but we managed to get the correct tickets, albeit, with a degree of doubt ! We expected the tickets’ arrival station to be printed as “Hong Kong” (the city), “Hung Hom” (the train station name), or “Kowloon” (the area of the city). Instead, on the tickets was printed "Jiulong" alongside the the Chinese characters 九龍. What we did not know is that Jiulong is a romanized version of the standard Chinese pronunciation of those characters. "Kowloon" is the pronunciation in Cantonese, which is the local language in Hong Kong. “Jiulong” and “Kowloon” are simply different pronunciations of the same place. We managed to figure this out after a small panic, then continued on our tour of Shanghai to the former French Concession, a well appointed neighborhood a short subway ride away.

Craving real Shanghainese food, we stopped for dinner at Lanxin (兰心餐厅) located on Jinxian Rd. We knew this was the place to be when we were given a number, and told we’d have to wait 45 minutes for a table for 2 at 6:00pm. But we eventually sat, and managed to order several outstanding dishes, including braised pork and a whole fried pomfret fish.

We walked off dinner with a stroll by our friend Andy’s old apartment on Taiyuan Rd, picking up the next morning's breakfast from Boom Boom Bagels. Then we decided to close the night with a bowl of handmade beef noodle soup from Zhengyang Beef Noodles (正阳牛肉面).

The next day, we got an early jump to the train station. Off to Hong Kong !


Osaka February 23-24

Osaka-Shanghai ferry February 24-26

Shanghai February 26-27

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