If you are Going to Shanghai...

by - Monday, February 10, 2014

Alright, I am going to write this travel blog now because I am ready to get all Stanford stuff out of the way and over with. I want to leave it all behind when we leave California. When I first started at Stanford years ago, we traveled as colleagues to Shanghai for the Biennale. I don't have as many fond memories of this trip as I had of all of the others in my life (yes, this stands as the worst), partially because of the awkwardness of meeting people under such stressful conditions, but also because I ended up being sick the entire time. The food (much of which is cooked in nut oil) did not agree with me, and I actually lost a good bunch of weight in the week there.

Where to Stay

I have only stayed at the Shanghai Park Hotel, which was beautiful and fancy on the inside, but this was the view from our room. This is a vertical slum basically, where people made homes inside a construction site to survive. This, in some ways, perfectly illustrates the experience of this city. It is all sides at once, all the time, in your face.

Where to Eat

 Not here- You may want the temporary solace of American foo, but this is not your food. This isn't even South American or European McDonald's. Just accept you are in China, and you need to eat Chinese food.

 We tried these little chocolate waffle balls in an underground train station right near the park. It may have been one of the only things I actually enjoyed during the trip. I won't turn down chocolate or carbs.

I am sorry I have fewer specifics than I usually do, but it was so long ago. I highly recommend doing some sort of Mongolian Barbeque. I remember the food being beloved and the experience being really fun.

 Other than that, we ate a lot of dim sum. Sharing creates a real sense of community and fun, and going with people more well-aquainted with Chinese culture made the ordering stress-free. That might be my number one piece of advice for traveling to China- go with someone who knows what they are doing!

Be Sure to Try

 Going to a mall- Prepare to have your mind blown. These spaces are massive, intense, and sometimes candy-colored.Try something on Nanjing Road.

Where to Go

Go to the ancient gardens in Suzhou and Hangzhou- This was my favorite part of the whole trip to Shanghai. Chinese "small towns" are still massive, but these day trips from the city feature ancient gardens and temples that are beautiful breaks from the chaos around them. These areas have winding paths, beautiful water, and aesthetics I had never experienced in my life. Go GO Go GO Go.

 Take the Underwater Tunnel from Puxi (the old side) and Pudong (the new side) or vice versa. First of all, the trip through the tunnel is odd and beautiful and wonderful all on its own. It is also connected to a Sex Museum, which you know I always love. The various sides of Shanghai are so incredibly different. Puxi has the Old City, the parts transformed by Western Imperialism and banking (The Bund). Pudong has some of the tallest, most modern (and tallest) buildings in the world. The city spans too far to be seen in one trip, but if you don't cross the Huangpu River, no matter where you are staying, you are missing a big part of the city's character.

 The Shanghai Aquarium- You come for the fish, you stay to watch grown adults literally push their children so they can see the fish. I have never seen a place like this as full or as competively motivated to see fish.

The Yuyuan Temple- If you won't have time to get out of the city, I recommend going to the temple and gardens at the Yuyuan temple. This area often has beautiful seasonal decorations, but we were between holidays. Plus, they have a Dairy Queen (not a tourist trap at all!).
The Shanghai Museum- Great collections of primarily early modern (that starts 500 years ago!) Chinese bronzes, scrolls, and sculptures. Also, it is shaped like a giant bronze vessel, children play on the fountain outside, and the bathroom signs have peg legs.

What to Do

Go Buy Pearls- We went and bought pearls (I think I bought some for myself, my mothers, and maybe Elizabeth? I bought myself coral-y colored pearls, which I hardly ever wear, but they are still special to me. We bought them at Amylin's Pearls, which was a store in the middle of a weird mall which feels sketchy, but they serve clients like the Clintons and all sorts of other big names, so they are definitely legit. Despite this, they are still relatively reasonable prices as well. If you want more of the bargaining, browsing experience, the Hongqiao Pearl Market is also supposed to be pretty amazing.

 Just walk around- Shanghai is really just a different world, but you can really enjoy the strange moments where things you think of as Western pop up (hello, KFC's all over the place). Simple walks around the city highlight these overlaps and profound differences, some of which are hard to swallow. I found the walking to be totally safe, though they have different social norms about personal space, so you may feel overwhelmed by people getting up in your face. If you are of non-Asian descent, peope will take your picture at least once an hour. You just sort of learn to let it roll off.

Explore some art galleries and museums- Rich art cultures often follow where the money is, so it is no surprise that China has a growing and very interesting art scene. In fact, it has only gained steam in the 5 years since I have been there. Your first instinct when you travel to China might not be to explore their contemporary art scene, but if you miss it, you miss a lot.

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