If you want the quick version of this trip check out my Youtube video:
Shanghai: Four Countries, Three Weeks.
Back in 2008, I went to China with a school trip. It was mandatory to take a language for GCSE and I knew that they offered trips depending on the language you chose. Having already been to Korea, I had an interest in this part of the world. So, it made sense for me to take Chinese Mandarin. That was until I realised how darn difficult it was to learn. Whilst I passed my exams, my Chinese skills are next to nothing now. On the school trip I visited Beijing for a weekend and then stayed in a boarding school somewhere in Guangzhou. Whilst this was a great experience, I didn’t get to explore much outside of the grounds.
Shanghai was my second trip to China but it really felt like I was able to get a better feel for the place this time around. I expected the city to be ultra-modern knowing that Spike Jonze had chosen Shanghai as the location for his 2013 futuristic romance film, Her. It’s modern flare is part of the city’s character but it surprised me that for such an internationally well-known place, it wasn’t hard to stumble upon older gems. You can gaze upon great architectural landmarks like the Bund but also get lost in it’s shabby streets. Shanghai has a thumbs up from me. Here’s our itinerary.
1. Yuyuan Gardens
We only had the evening to explore. On our way to People’s Square, we got lost and stumbled upon Yuyuan. It was the best accidental opening to the trip. This is a shopping and dining area but set within traditional Chinese buildings. This night made us realise we were going to struggle with our lack of Mandarin. We chose a random dumpling place, went in and it was incredibly awkward that we were blatantly clueless. It reminded me of the first time I landed in Korea, trying to get by.
2. East Nanjing Road & The Bund
Of course, first night we ticked this off. East Nanjing Road reminded me of Time’s Square. The crowd was insane. There were police there trying to make a clear flow of direction for crowds and was manic. The Bund is just as cool and futuristic as it looks online. Welcome to the largest population in the world.
1. French Concession
Shanghai has seen quite it’s fair bit of change and it retains a distinct French influence from its time as a foreign concession. So, this area is really unusual because you can definitely see European architecture and food at play.
2. Jing’an Temple
We were too late to enter the temple so hung around the park nearby. Whilst sat on a bench being bitten to death, this lovely old man started talking to us. Sometimes the sheer amount of people in China can be a little overwhelming and irritating. To meet this guy really brightened up our day. He was fluent in English so people kept staring at him so intensely for being able to speak to us. When talking about how he learnt English he said: ‘A man is not old unless he stops learning.’ I thought that was a nice touch. He made our time in Jing’an more worthwhile.
3. Lost Heaven
Remember I was saying I went to China with school. Well, it just so happens my friend from that class now lives and teaches in Shanghai. Before I moved to Korea, he was teaching in Thailand and was a great help for teaching advice. We went for a meal at Lost Heaven which serves up Yunnan folk cuisine. It was yaaaamay.
1. Return to Jing’an
Because we’ve seen so many temples in Korea and Japan, we didn’t know whether it was worth paying to enter. But, we did anyway and actually this temple is beautiful. Set against the glass architecture surrounding this hub, it’s really, yet again a great example of how Asia has retained its tradition and modernity within the same space.
2. Propaganda Poster Museum
This was up there for me with the highlights of Shanghai. This museum is based in a housing estate. No joke. It’s in a basement of some apartments but it’s actually pretty well known as an attraction now. The small museum has a range of exclusive propaganda artwork spanning from the 1930’s onwards. It’s a really unique exhibition.
3. IFC Mall
This is just a shopping mall in the fancy area of the financial district. Whilst you might not be able to afford much, its a really great way to get a close up encounter of the Pearl Tower.
4. Shanghai Circus
There are no animals in this circus so I was happy to go and see it. Whilst I thought the venue felt a little worn out, the performers were incredible. I don’t want to give too much away. Just go see it.
1. Film Museum
This was more in my interests. I know very little about Chinese cinema and felt that the museum would be amazing for those who already know quite a bit. It focuses specifically on films but because of my lack of knowledge on this area, I felt I needed some background of how the context of the time affected the films which were produced.
2. Urban Planning Museum
This was for Dave. He likes architecture. I honestly thought it would be really dull but it had a good mix of artsy floors about architecture (which I liked) and then scientific, like geology and such. Good place if you want to understand the influence of European architecture in the city and the development of Shanghai’s modern landscape which has rapidly flourished in recent years.
3. Return to IFC Mall
We returned to IFC for Sichuan food at Southern Beauty. Sichuan province is well known for its spice. Let me tell you, we ordered a ridiculous amount of food. Everyone who went past our table gave us funny looks. Sichuan noodles, pork shoulder, dumplings, kung pao prawns and more. You know you’ve overindulged when you start to breathe heavy from the sheer amount of food. Great meal.
Day 5: Suzhou
Suzhou is only a short train ride away from Shanghai so we took a half-day trip. Remember your passport to get tickets. We tried the day before and were rejected without it. Hence, an impromptu museum day.
1. Humble Administrators Garden
Hailed as ‘thee’ garden to visit in Suzhou. We were a little disappointed but it was incredibly busy. In more serene circumstances the garden could have perhaps lived up to its hype. I did enjoy the bonsai tree bit because…bonsai trees are boss.
2. Pingjang Road
What a surprise this was. Absolute gem in Suzhou. The road is right by a river and feels very oldy-worldy. It actually reminded me a bit of the Philosophers Walk in Kyoto. Really quaint and feels as though you’re stepping back in time.
3. Return to Yuyuan
We got back to Shanghai after a really stressful bout with ticket collection. Long story. Yuyuan Gardens was the perfect way to finish Shanghai. During the day, Yuyuan is buzzing but on the night it is lit up and has an electric vibe.
And that was the end of Shanghai. Don’t miss tomorrow for my black and white photos from Shanghai.
Next in the ‘Postcards’ series will be from Hong Kong & Macau. 안녕 (Bye)