China has always been first on my travel wishlist, but getting there is not the easiest journey. It took us about 20 hours, and over a day to get back. Beyond that, you have to acquire a Chinese visa if you want to spend significant time in mainland China. Choosing where to go was also tricky. Like the United States, China’s geography is vast and varied, and different cities offer dramatically different experiences. Northern cities can be influenced by Mongolian and Russian cultures, Western cities touch up on the Middle East and southern cities situate you quite close to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
After a lot of back and forth, we decided to visit Shanghai. While Beijing has many historical sites and is close to the Great Wall, it’s incredibly cold in January. Considering we were visiting from Minnesota, we wanted a bit of a change of pace, weather-wise. We also decided to visit Hong Kong on our trip, after getting rave reviews of it from many friends. If we go back, we’ll probably do a Beijing / Nanjing trip.
I took Mandarin in college, but my classes didn’t prepare me for how rich and diverse language is in China. As always, a visit to another country is incredibly humbling, as no amount of college test-taking can prepare you for the fact that you’re still basically illiterate and cab drivers prefer Shanghainese over textbook Mandarin.
Shanghai is marked by the influence of German architecture. The Bund is its most famous site, which gives you a view of its legendary skyscrapers, including the Oriental Pearl tower and Jin Mao tower, which was designed to resemble a pagoda. At the Bund, you can experience the high life in China, and its restaurants and coffee shops give you the chance to spend a pretty penny.
From the night we landed, we noticed how clean and orderly the streets were. Dotted by carefully cultivated gardens, the city seemed peaceful, quiet and serene, smelling slightly of baked butter. Turning onto a side street, we followed our noses into a bar, where people roasted meat in a hot pot, brought their own booze and watched old war movies. I was instantly charmed.
We only spent 4 days in Shanghai, but we thoroughly enjoyed them all. While connecting to the internet was a pain in this censored country, we found everything else quite convenient. Their Uber-like cab service, Didi, was incredibly cheap and useful, with seamless English translation. I looked up what “Didi” means, and it means “Beep Beep.” It also makes me think of the Mandarin word for “little brother,” which is “didi” as well.
One of my favorite parts of Shanghai was the food. We enjoyed everything from steamed soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) to upscale Italian food to fluffy French toast. I’ll cover food in another post.
Here are a few of our photos from our visit.
The Shanghai Natural History museum was a fun day trip. We enjoyed watching parents and kids marvel at fake dinosaurs and we got to snap pictures of the museum’s architecture.
A window in the claustrophobic market in Tianzifang.
Shanghai’s mammoth skyscrapers, including the Jin Mao tower, the World Financial Center and the Shanghai Tower, the second-tallest building in the world.
A character peeking out from a doorway in Jing’an.
A dinosaur head visiting a family at the Shanghai Natural History museum.
Plants in an alley. Photo by Neil.
A McDonald’s sign above a dragon sculpture. In Mandarin, McDonald’s is “mai dang lao.”
Shanghai old city at Yu Gardens.
Decorative cabbage was a fixture all over Shanghai.
A teddy bear-themed corner in Tianzifang.
Snow falling in Yu Garden. We didn’t get too far away from Minnesota’s weather, unfortunately. Also, Canada Goose coats were everywhere.
A barista making pour-over coffee at the very hip Arabica coffee shop on the Bund.
An optical illusion at the M50 artist district.
A piece of art by island6 in M50.
The view from our hotel room at the J.W. Marriot in Tomorrow’s Square. Photo by Neil.
A shop cat taking a moment in Tianzifang.
To get from one side of the Bund to another (Puxi to Pudong), you can take an underground tunnel meant for children. It features a pretty trippy light show.