Shanghai Special

shanghai artWe heard such mixed reviews on Shanghai that we almost didn’t come here. “It’s just another big city” some people scoffed while others raved, “It’s one of the most exciting cities of the 21st-century,” …so with that we had to see for ourselves. With more than 4,000 skyscrapers and plans for over 1,000 more in the next decade, it’s definitely a metropolis on the move. It’s wild that Shanghai was once a sliced up city, owned in part by the British, Chinese, French, Americans and Japanese with each group running on its own rules and competing, not only in business, but in style. From Neoclassical architecture to futuristic towers, with the grimiest and chicest streets in between, Shanghai kept our mind and eyes wide open.

 

best hostels shanghaiOne thing that always helps a visit to a foreboding city is a great base. We checked into the very inviting MingTown guest house right off the Renmin Square and with their helpful staff and central subway-friendly location we felt ready to tackle the town. (As a side-note MingTown Hostels are around the country and always fantastic).

 

shanghai shopping streetPassing along Renmin Square and heading out to the river is the city’s busiest shopping street, Nanjing Lu. We strolled past the fancy stores and zigzagged down the side streets eating amazing Shanghai treats like pan-fried dumplings and this grilled pork egg cheese sandwich that was unfathomably good.

 

Bund at nightWe arrived at the iconic Bund and were totally dazzled. This strip of the river was the 19th-century British base camp and hub of imperial trade in Asia until Mao put a communist halt on it in 1949. Today the strip of neoclassical and art deco buildings are luxury stores and hotels making for an even an extra spectacular stroll.

 

pudong at nightAcross the river from the historic Bund sits Pudong, a district so futuristic it was used in a the sci-fi film Code 46, without any CGI. Looking up at the colonial buildings across from some of Asia’s edgiest skyscrapers is like being in limbo between entirely separate worlds.

 

shanghai ethnic minorities exhibitThe next morning we went to our neighboring Renmin Park (People’s Park) to see the Shanghai Museum. More a national arts gallery than a city museum, it has permanent exhibits on Chinese furniture, calligraphy, seals, jade, and this colorful ethnic minority costumes exhibit. Having come from the far reaches of Yunnan it was cool to recognize some of the outfits.

 

09-_MG_6909Shanghai is such a western mash-up but one true Chinese beauty is Yu Yuan garden. This 16th-century collection of pagodas, pools, bridges, and rockeries was stunning and surreal.

 

10-_MG_6871Doorways came in all shapes but rectangular–jagged rocks stood like sculptures and the serpentine walls were that of a dragon’s body (notice the scales). Exploring its never-ending passageways and pavilions, we lost ourselves here for nearly three hours.
Coming here actually inspired me to write a piece for Condé Nast Traveler on the doorways of China. Check it out!

 

shanghai friendsThat night our Shanghainese friends, Michael and Sophie, whom we met river rafting in Nepal (the world is getting smaller) took us out for an incredible meal at his uncle’s incredible restaurant, Victorian House, and then out to the hip bars around Xiantiandi. These are both places we would have never had found—or experienced properly—without a local. Thanks Michael and Sophie!

 

11-P1060830Our locals tour continued the next day when we met Michael for lunch (and a haircut where he acted as translator) and to see this amazing temple by his office. The location of the centuries-old structure wedged between skyscrapers is almost better than the building itself.

 

shanghai chinese propoganda museumWith my freshly trimmed hair swinging around my shoulders, we raced across the French Concession to make it to the Chinese Propaganda Poster Art Center. We got to the apartment-basement-turned gallery with a few minutes until closing and had to beg the surly attendant to let us in for the remaining minutes of the day. After our loop around the Mao pop-art, we weren’t quiet sure if this anti-democratic exhibit was a satirical or nostalgic for the good ole days.

 

best views in shanghaiShanghai is massive and in an attempt to understand its ever-growing magnitude, we had to get up high. The famous and very pricey Jinmao Obsersvation Tower in Pudong is the most popular lookout but we found the best the views without the fee. On the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel is the highest bar in the world, Cloud 9, and it serves buy-one-get-one happy hour, delicious bar nibbles, a chill ambiance and knockout views to the to Bund and beyond. So, despite the naysayers, we left Shanghai with a good (lycheetini) taste in our mouth.

 

21 thoughts on “Shanghai Special

  • March 31, 2013 at 2:55 am
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    I often wondered about that city… It is growing so fast and is a complex convolution of forces.
    Thanks for the insights… Sounds like you were pleased with the visit. I like the hair cut picture Hahahahaha

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  • March 31, 2013 at 3:10 am
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    Glad you enjoyed the city and I wish you could have met you both there. Our family will be travelling to Shanghai at the end of April for a few weeks to visit family. I would have pointed you to Jesse’s for the best Hongshao ro I’ve ever tasted. Glad you had a great time! We’ll have to checkout Victorian House when we get there.

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  • March 31, 2013 at 10:30 am
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    Hey guys
    Our wedding will be hold in Oct in shanghai haha
    and we are thinking about go to America for the honey moon.
    its great to see you guys still walking around.
    We had a great time in both Nepal and shanghai. Hope we will meet again in US next time.

    Michael

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  • March 31, 2013 at 4:17 pm
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    Awesome pics (as usual). Glad you found the bar at the Hyatt – great place for lycheetinis 🙂

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  • April 1, 2013 at 9:46 am
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    What is “More than Toilet?”

    Also, I’m a bit surprised that the world’s highest bar is in Shanghai. I would have thought it would be in Nepal. Did you find any Chinese beers you liked?

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    • April 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm
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      Good thought about the highest bar being in Nepal. However, in my time in Nepal, I never found and actual “bar” outside of Kathmandu, or Pokhara. Sure there are places to purchase beer and liquor along the trekking routes, but I’ve not run across anything you could call a “bar” up in the mountains. I’m assuming the highest bar they’re talking about is vertical feet above the ground below…. Which means the highest bar in Nepal is about three or four stories off the street.

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  • April 1, 2013 at 11:00 am
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    What a range–the pagoda and trees to the neon signs. What was More than Toilet, actually–one of the bars?

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  • April 1, 2013 at 2:59 pm
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    We were decidedly ambivalent about Shanghai, but then again, we pretty much felt that way about all of China! Shanghai was actually the last place in China we visited and it is the city where we decided to just cut our losses and move on to a new destination, so that probably colors my perspective on the place some too. We were just feeling major China-burnout and didn’t find anything there to turn it around… Also, we found the Bund really underwhelming and lackluster, but we had been in Hong Kong just a few weeks prior so that probably had something to do with it. I think there are few places on earth that can compete with the HK skyline!

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  • April 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm
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    It looks like you had a great time in Shanghai! I’m currently living in China and was just there last month. Loved it!

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  • April 15, 2013 at 12:29 pm
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    Thanks to you both for building this site! It’s a bit funny since you seem to be doing my trip in reverse. I started in Shanghai and went west to Nepal before heading down to SE Asia. I feel a bit envious when reading this post and checking out the pictures – I was so green and had no idea what I was doing when I got off the plane in Shanghai… I’ll have to go back and explore the city again! Keep up the good work! It was nice to see the picture of MingTown guest house, as that was the first place I stayed in China (the one next to the giant Mariott?) 🙂 Of course I’ll always remember it as Mosquito Town guest house.

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    • April 15, 2013 at 12:42 pm
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      And if you feel like seeing pictures of places you’ve already been…

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  • May 29, 2013 at 11:17 pm
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    as usual I loved all the pictures and stories Thanks for bringing it all back to life!! I have fallen behind as I know you are in Japan!!

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    • June 11, 2013 at 8:49 pm
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      so glad you liked them @carollaager:disqus we love reading your comments! yeah we are so behind on the blog….it’s hard when there is so much to see!

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  • December 9, 2013 at 3:19 am
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    Stunning photographs! I was just sitting beside a guy from China at an association of translators/interpretors dinner here in Toronto and he showed me some photos of Shanghai on his phone. But in his photos the architecture was almost completely obscurred by smog! Seems you got lucky air-quality wise on your visit. My friend also told me the Shanghai subway runs very well, amazing for a city of 15 million. Sounds as though Toronto could take a few tips from Shanghai on public transportation/subway operation!

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