Monday, July 18, 2016

Shanghai, China, Part 1: The Cosmopolitan Capital of China

Next, we're off to Shanghai!

By way of introduction to a prominent player in my Shanghai posts - my childhood BFF Catherine worked in Shanghai for a year back in the day: when I attended her wedding last September, I met Jade, one of her close friends/former co-worker who still lives in Shanghai today. Jade and I have kept in touch since then, and when I found out I was gonna be in Shanghai this time, I reached out to her. She ended up being such an integral part of our Shanghai experience - she's seriously the best tour guide, friend, hostess, translator, planner, etc. that you could ever ask for.

It's Jade, Parks, and me at the People's Park!

What It's All About:
Shanghai is known as the super cosmopolitan city in China - it's got the fancy high-rises, tons of shopping, and is generally known to be more westernized and hip.

Shanghai had high-rise buildings before high-rise buildings were even a thing

Shanghai was opened up to the world earlier than the rest of China, back in the 1840's.  As a port city that was governed by the British (under a treaty), it garnered influence and was shaped by its numerous governing bodies (British, French, and Americans).  In the 1920's and 30's, its heyday, Shanghai was one of the most happening places to be - it was even called "the Paris of the East." Nowadays, it's one of the most important cultural, economic, and social hubs in China.

Being in Shanghai just feels super different from the rest of China - there's sections of town that feel super-European, there's tons of ritzy shopping malls with huge brand names, and everything feels much trendier. But tucked away here and there, you can still find glimpses of very-traditional China. It's an amazing city, and I used it as a base to travel around the area for over 2 weeks.

Oh hello, giant fancy shopping mall that we walked into to use their uber-fancy bathrooms

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Despite our 5am delayed arrival into Shanghai (darn you and your ridiculous flight delays, China!), we still managed to haul ourselves out of bed at a decent hour (...does noon count as decent?) to go exploring.  

First stop was lunch, where we had Shanghai-style dumplings. I kind of love the way this woman is staring at the camera confusedly

Shanghai dumplings have a thick wrapper, are usually pan-fried, and have much different fillings than regular dumplings. One of these was definitely spicy crawfish-stuffed.

We walked down Nanjing Road, a super-famous pedestrian street crammed with shopping

We stopped by the People's Park, which had excellent propaganda statues like this one

A pretty lilypad garden in the park

Love Chinese parks. They think lilies bring good luck, so you will always see a shiz ton of these in every park/garden

A bunch of old men congregated at the park playing an incredibly loud and animated card game. They seriously loudly sht-talked each other the entire time. It was amazing.

And then we got tickets to a Shanghai acrobat show - and wandering around before the show, we encountered a little wine store, where you basically had to purchase an entire bottle of wine to be able to sit and drink. Given I don't like reds, Parks and I each got our own bottle. Aggressive. Luckily, Parks ended up taking his half-drunken bottle to the acrobat show, and no one batted an eye when he walked in with it.

We were not allowed to take photos of the acrobat show, but I maybe snuck in just one. It was AMAZING.
There were also amazing acts with motorcycles in cages, chair balancing, ribbon hanging, hat tossing, drum rolling, Chinese yo-yos, card tricks, etc. (yeahhh describing what they did isn't nearly as fun as actually watching)

  • After the (increds) circus, we headed on down to Yongkang Lu, a super-popular street filled with bars and expats and foreigners, to meet Jade for the first time since arriving in Shanghai!

While waiting, I found a baby kitten wandering the streets. Want.

And then we met Jade!! Who was the sweetest and brought me the prettiest flowers ever (which I may have accidentally used near the end of the night to unwittingly knock over everything in sight. EVERYthing).

We went to a couple bars

And then we had 1AM hotpot. Because, why not

  • We had an insane itinerary the next day that Jade had mapped out for us, based on what we had said we wanted to do.  First on the list was back to the People's Park - it was Saturday, and there is a "marriage market" that takes place there on weekends, where parents desperate to marry off their children sit in a market of sorts, in order to try and find their children a suitable match. Parents start showing up as early as 6AM to get the best places in the park with typewritten ads that outline their child's age, sex, job, salary (seriously), blood type, assets, etc.  And they will sit around all day, to try and market their children - either to other parents (if two parents find their children may make a good pair, they may trade their children's photos and further information), or directly with young people themselves.  They sit here all weekend. To fully understand it, parents in China are very involved (one might say meddling, even) in their children's lives - and it's a hugely popular thing to constantly be cruising for people to set up their unmarried children with. Especially once their children hit a certain age, around their mid-20s, the panic really sets in because this is seen as being "too old" to be single in China - the meddling increases tenfold. No one wants an unmarried child living at home with them. That is the ultimate failure.

Parents bring umbrellas to attach their flyers to - there are literally hundreds and hundreds of umbrellas that extend all over the park. Many parents station themselves behind their umbrellas, easily accessible for any potentials that may come along, while others will leave contact info. 

Some of the best spots parents vie for are right along the main entrance to the park - Jade says these parents are the ones that get up at the crack of dawn to secure their spots.

This lady has a daughter, born in 1984, 1.75 meters tall (sometimes they even list weight!) - the poster goes on to list her job and her salary (5000 yuan a month)

Rows of umbrellas

I could not stop looking at all the flyers. So much personal information! I've come to realize that there is no such thing as information that is too personal here in China

Most flyers don't have photos (you have to like the credentials first!), but these parents were bold enough to post their daughters' photos in their ads

  • From the People's Park (WILD), we cruised on down Nanjing Road to the Bund, a fancy area of town that sits along the waterfront and houses all the major financial institutions, hotel rooftop bars with amazing views, and a boardwalk.

So much fancy

View across the harbor of new-world fancy Shanghai. Only a couple decades ago, that iconic pink ball tower (the Pearl Tower) was the only high building on that side of the river.

Jade had so many fascinating anecdotes of the buildings on the other side, most of which have come up fairly recently. It's the new hotspot for companies to build their offices.

  • After The Bund, next on the itinerary was a visit to the Yu Gardens - a famous garden located near a temple.

Upon arrival to the gardens, we were reminded of why you don't ever sightsee in China on the weekends

The photo above, and this photo, are of the "Nine-view bridge" - the bridge has nine turns, which all provide a different view of the temple and gardens. All I saw were hoards of Chinese people, tbh, but it's ok because I actually remembered that I'd been here before on my 2001 China trip.
Is it sad to say that once we entered the part of the gardens where you actually have to pay, the crowds thinned considerably?  Chinese people are people after my own heart, honestly.

Some of the fancy rooms in the gardens

Surprisingly peaceful

These chairs are made from twisty trees

On the way out, Jade bought us admission to an old-timey movie. This was a form of entertainment back in the day, where a narrator tells a story and you pay to look through a lens to see drawings that they animate with optical tricks and such. I didn't understand a word the man was saying. Also, Parks and I are maybe sharing the bench with four other kids under the age of 8.

  • As it was a Saturday and was Parker's last night in China before he headed home, we prepped for a big night out.  Did I mention that it POURED all night?? Jade says that people compare Shanghai's weather to a woman's feelings - temperamental and extreme, but short and easily changed (is this sexist, part 2).  They say this because it'll rain huge, but only for 10 minutes, then it will suddenly stop. Well, this night was not supporting that comparison - it never stopped raining.

First, dinner at a trendy Yunnan restaurant that Jade chose

Then, we headed to The Bund, to the rooftop bar of the Hyatt - normally, there's an awesome terrace, but it was closed due to the rain. We had to settle for the hazy indoor view of the skyline/The Bund
Still an incredibly pretty view

I'm not gonna say that Parker looks right at home in the Hyatt, but....

  • Jade then insisted we go across the river to check out a series of raised outdoor walkways that wind between the buildings. If you've ever seen the movie "Her" (you know, when Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his computer), it was filmed here - with the outdoor walkways simulating a futuristic LA.

Hello from the fancy outdoor walkways! The rain slowed to a mist for a hot second, leading to these super magical misty photos

A misty Pearl Tower and its surrounding buildings

We are in futuristic LA!

A terrible pano

Looking up at all the fancy new buildings

We ended the night at The Shelter, an underground club Parker had heard about and wanted to go to - it's in an underground bunker, so it's pretty eerie, but also kind of a cool setting. I swear that Jade was there and that Jesse came and joined as well, but I have no photos because I possibly dipped out early. Because I'm decrepit.

  • Parker's last day in China - we took it easy and went to visit the 1933 Slaughterhouse. It's a former slaughterhouse (surprise!) that they've now repurposed into fancy shopping and retail.

Here is the building. It's actually quick pretty and art deco-looking for a slaughterhouse

Inside the slaughterhouse, a series of winding concrete pathways

  • Parker left for the airport afterwards as it was the end of his two-week China vacay, and I left my fancy life staying in pretty hotels. Moving to a hostel was the saddest moment ever.  Especially as I walked into the hostel room and was immediately accosted by a Chinese girl who wanted to know every pertinent, prying detail of my life and didn't hold back at letting me know hers. Seriously, all I did was walk into the room to drop off my bag, and I walked out 10 minutes later knowing that she recently had a skin disease and really wanted to know if it was true that American guys like Asian girls better and hey, do all Americans sleep around? (I told her yes and yes, of course. Just kidding.)

Went with Jade later that evening to a little jazz bar she loves - it was really, really lovely. I need to go to jazz bars more often.

  • As I mentioned above, Jesse had arrived in Shanghai!  He ended his teaching contract in Beijing and was headed back to Australia - so had an extra week or two free to travel around before going home.  Shanghai has recently opened its own Disneyland (June 16th), which Jess really wanted to check out - he's only been once in his entire life as a child (I wish I could say the same for myself.....in my defense, we used to have annual work conferences in Florida, what else was I supposed to do while I was there except go to Disney every year??).  So I was a good friend and accompanied him to Disney.

We are at Disney!!  Pooh is excited. I had to basically explain every episode of Winnie the Pooh to Jess before we got on the ride, because he apparently didn't have a childhood. 

I'm not sure if China is ready for Disney yet. See all the previous posts, where I mentioned that they don't seem to know how lines work. Seriously, even when you're standing in line - if you're not blocking the entire passageway, they'll attempt to weasel past you when the line starts moving.  It's not a rude thing, they just don't seem to know the foremost rule of lines.

Jesse had made me watch the Star Wars movie while we were in Africa - but I forgot all the finer points. I think I forgot if the First Order was good or bad, which Jess could not get over.

The princess castle in Shanghai Disney is apparently the largest one ever.  Because China has to do everything bigger and better, obvs.

You know what was bigger and better?? The evening fireworks show. It was seriously, seriously magical, and I may have shed a tear.

Bye, Disney!

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • As China has been on this crazy rapid growth trajectory, there is this overwhelming sense that new is better.  It's incredibly common to see old blocks of apartments or cities completely razed into piles of rubble, with new construction and new buildings constantly being built. There was a city that Parks and I drove by in Yangshuo that no kidding, looked like the entire city had been knocked down to be completely rebuilt.  It's kind of a shame.
  • Did you know, China's one-child policy changed about a year ago?  It's especially evident at Disney, but I've noticed (as a huge generalization) that families that only have one child heap all their hopes and dreams and effort and attention into their one child, and their child can do no wrong - even when it's screaming and running up and down the subway car like a maniac.
  • That personal bubble that exists in the US?  Nonexistent here. You will get used to people constantly poking their nose into your business - and it's not rude, it's because they're generally curious and want to know about you.  It's quite common to meet someone and ask their salary, or other such questions that we would see as invasive in the States. I walked into another hostel room in Shanghai, and one of the girls goes "why is your bag so large?".  Someone I didn't even know.  But she wasn't being rude, she was being curious. I've learned the difference. Kind of.
  • On that note, the number of times I've been told that I look "healthy" here.....maybe a million.  I've now learned that "healthy" means both "incredibly dark" and/or fat.  Because Chinese girls are TINY (Jade says most of them are on diets and it's quite common for girls to skip dinner altogether most days......all I ask is, where is my innate Chinese willpower on these fronts??), and they are obsessed with being white.  I'm sure I look like a complete heathen to them, because I'm a million times darker than they are, and they can spot instantly that I'm not one of them. And maybe also because I don't carry around an umbrella to shield the sun like they do.  I definitely get at least one comment on my skin color daily. Sorry, mom.


  1. awww yay! this post makes me so happy!! :D I'm so glad you guys were able to meet up!
    All your China posts make me miss living there...almost...


    1. Haha well most of it is thanks to YOU and the awesome people you know!

      I know, China has moments where you totally love it....and then inevitably, always, it somehow comes to bite you in the ass.

      I miss you so much! XO

  2. You didn't forget whether the first order was good or bad. You called the rebellion the "first force" and then when Kylo Ren (after taking a photo with him) said "Thanks for supporting the First Order", you said "you're welcome"!!!!


    1. So I am reading my "huge Star Wars mistakes" and still don't really understand what was so incorrect. It's polite to say "You're welcome" when someone thanks you, FYI.