Friday, March 11, 2016

Shanghai, China

After procuring a visa and spending 15 hours on a plane, I finally found myself in Shanghai, China! We landed in Shanghai, Pudong International Airport, around 2:00 in the afternoon and were greeted by two of my colleagues. Even though I insisted that I could make it to my hotel via the Maglev train, they refused to let me wander China alone. Hospitality is key and my Chinese colleagues felt it was their duty to welcome me to their country. I appreciated the airport pickup, the drive into Shanghai was a little more death-defying that I would have preferred!  If given the choice, try the Maglev train and avoid the taxi line.

When riding in the car from the airport, my colleagues gave us three suggestions of what to see while in Shanghai - 1. The Bund, 2. Jing'an Temple & 3. Nanjing Road. That's it. They kept repeating these three things over and over again. Shanghai isn't really a historical city because mostly everything old have been wiped out and built over. We did see all three of these things, but there was so much more to see and do.

I wasn't alone for this trip, the boyfriend joined me on this journey to China and we were looking forward to a few days of touring before I had to get to work. We rested in the hotel room for about an hour before heading out into the city, only to be greeted with cloudy skies that threatened rain all week long. We were visiting in late June, which is apparently the tail end of the rainy season. 

And yes, it did rain. Luckily we brought a few umbrellas and were prepared for the weather. One good thing about the rain? It cut down on the number of people wandering the streets.

We managed to tick off all three "must see" locations in one day. You can start at the Jing'an temple, walk east along Nanjing road and you will eventually find yourself at the Bund. This strip is fairly touristy and you will see lots of people with cameras. If you happen to be 5'9" and blonde, these cameras will occasionally be turned on you! My 6'3" boyfriend garnered a lot of attention on Nanjing road.

We loved the Jing'an temple, but be warned that it is not an ancient temple. There has been a temple on the site since 1216, but the pagoda was completed in 2010. The architecture is beautiful and many people come to the temple to burn incense and pray. My favorite was the ancient ladies who would light their incense, wave it around for two seconds and leave. They were all about getting in, taking care of business and getting out of the temple! I recommend spending some time throwing coins into the bronze vessel in the center of the courtyard.  

Due to the fact that I was in Shanghai for work, we stayed at a hotel in Pudong. Pudong is across the river from Shanghai and nearly everything in Pudong is less than twenty years old. It is the newer, Western side of Shanghai. You can find massive shopping malls and the tallest towers in the city in Pudong. The Oriental Pearl Radio Tower is not one of the three tallest buildings in Pudong, but it is certainly the coolest to take photos of!  The light show that the tower puts on each evening is really fun. Take it in from below or across the river.

For a taste of old Shanghai, you can head to Tian Zi Fang. A series of tiny alleys, packed with shops, restaurants and about a million people. Tian zi fang is a fun place to try the hippest food trends in Shanghai, including beverages in IV bags or baby bottles, blue slushy ice cream floats and macaron ice cream sandwiches.

Or you can get food at a real restaurant! They food is tasty and weird and nothing like American Chinese food. There was an overabundance of pork in everything we ate, with less emphasis on chicken and barely any beef. Fish and seafood was available, but we didn't order any because someone (the boyfriend...) doesn't like fish. If you are concerned about the food, just get the fried thing. Those were generally safe and all tasted the same. I'll be doing a post next about the food, so come back next week for a bore in depth look at Chinese food!

You can also head over to "Old Shanghai" and the Yu Gardens. This is an amazing pedestrian zone, but there is nothing "old" about this part of town. You'll find wholesale markets, toy stores, pearl markets, turkish ice cream vendors and two Starbucks. The wholesale market is a great place to get souvenirs for next to nothing. Personally I am terrible at bargaining. I generally get down to a price that I am willing to pay and just give up. I don't like to haggle over what amounts to twenty cents.

Yu Garden and Old Shanghai is another touristy location. Beware nice people looking to practice their English and take you out for tea. They are simply looking to take you for all your money.

One attraction that was not suggested by my colleagues was the Shanghai World Financial Center, aka The Bottle Opener. For 180 RMB ($30) you can go to the observation deck and enjoy a bird's eye view of the city. Be sure to choose a day when the tower is not shrouded in fog! If you can see the top from the ground, you are good to go. There is a glass floor to test your nerves and a bathroom with the best view of Shanghai!

You definitely want to visit The Bund at night. The buildings in Pudong all light up at night with an ever-changing array of color. Some of the buildings scroll advertisements, mostly for new cell phones. Also, if you happen to be non-Chinese, it is easier to blend in at night and enjoy your walk without being asked for a photo.

Shanghai World Financial Center is the tall blue building that is disappearing into the clouds!
If you are non-Chinese, you will likely not get out of China without having someone ask to take your photo. We were heading onward from Shanghai to Beijing via the high speed train. Our taxi dropped us off at the station and I was immediately stopped for a photo. This man picked up his little girl and put her down right  next to me.  He proceeded to take several photos of the two of us.  She looked very confused, I was used to it by then.

Have you been to Shanghai? What were your favorite things to see, do and eat? 

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