Shanghai – the largest city in the world

When Scott and I were planning our trip-of-a-lifetime, I told him that I absolutely needed to visit China. I blame it on NBC.

For two weeks during the Beijing Olympics I watched every video snippit that showcased China’s various landscapes and cultures and I was mesmerized. Scott had no desire to visit China and here I was asking for one entire month to be dedicated to what he considered a not so desirable destination. So I was in charge of researching and planning the perfect trip. Scott had flawlessly planned an amazing 2.5 months in SE Asia, so I was very nervous that this trip wasn’t going to live up to the standards in my head. I read articles about smog problems, bird flu and over-population and I just prayed that NBC was right about China.

Well, there are many blog posts to come on China and we will let you decide on China for yourself. Sorry we could not post them sooner! WordPress is completely blocked in China so we are VERY behind on our posts.

Our first destination was Shanghai! Our flight from Puerto Princessa stopped in Manila for about 7 hours so we decided to take advantage of the time and hop on a shuttle back to the Manila Marriott (the hotel we stayed at previously) to abuse their business center and get our taxes done. Yes people, even though we quit our jobs and are fluttering around the world we are still responsible!

Well, somewhat responsible. We then decided to blow our leftover pesos at the casino rather than exchanging it for new currency. Our plan was to lose it all but Scott ended up doubling his earnings in less than 5 minutes! That’s right, he won 6 whole dollars. We flashpackers are high rollers!

We returned back to the airport feeling victorious and got on our way to Shanghai.
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We arrived just a little past midnight and by the time we hopped in a cab, checked into our hotel, showered and got into bed, it was 3am. I don’t remember much that night except walking outside into a smog filled haze. Scott discovered that the day we arrived, the air pollution was 3.5 times worse than Los Angeles. Also, on any given day in LA, up to 1/3 of the air pollution comes from China. Astonishing.

With a population of over 23 Million, Shanghai is considered the largest city in the world. We started our first day in China by meeting up with an old friend of mine, Zahra Giga. She had been living in Shanghai for about 3 years now and we were lucky enough to catch her on her last few weeks in China before she moved on to her next adventure of business school in London. We caught up on life over delicious noodles and then made our way over to the Bund. The Bund is a lovely street along the Huangpu River lined with old colonial-era buildings.
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Zahra taught us a very interesting fact. Pu means “river” and there are two main sides to Shanghai that are divided by the river – Pudong and Puxi. Pudong means “east of the river” and Puxi means “west of the river.” The contrast is quite amazing to see in person. On the Puxi side, you saw China’s history of British imperialism through the Bund and on the Pudong side you saw the new China in the form of a strikingly beautiful skyline:
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Here is the skyline again but with our lovely cityguide!
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We wandered around the city for a bit, experiencing culture immersed in a modern city:
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A busy bus stop on a Saturday afternoon:
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It was a beautiful, sunny day and Zahra had to meet some of her friends for a birthday celebration. She invited us to come along and in agreeing to do, we felt like we left China for a while. See, Zahra’s friends are pretty much a bunch of ex-pats that hang out in ex-pat restaurants and bars. This time the celebration was at a Mexican joint called Cantina Agave, only the second restaurant in Asia to be given the prestigious ‘Award T’ by the Tequila award council. The ‘Award T’ stands for excellence in Tequila, an honor given to 180 establishments worldwide, only 24 of which are outside of Mexico.

Everyone was really nice and we could converse easily in English! We felt like we were back in California. After sharing some margaritas and jokes we learned that a very famous Irish Pub in Shanghai was closing down because the landlord decided that they wanted to turn the bar into an elementary school. No, I’m not kidding. For it’s last night, the pub was holding an amateur boxing night. Scott and I looked each other and just knew we had to check this event out for ourselves! The night was pretty ridiculous and here are some photos of the matches that I was able to take while sitting on Scott’s shoulders:
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The next day Scott woke up with the same cold that I had caught in the Phillipines. He spent the day sleeping and I spent the day ironing out all the details of our China trip. Planning your own trip to China is very hard. I understand now why people join tours when they visit China. Not only are most informational websites in Chinese, but so are forums and reviews. I eventually learned that Wikitravel is a great source for information on China. Before we showed up to any city, I had to be well prepared with information. The term “fish out of water” felt very real in China. For each activity I had to know which bus or train to take, how much things would cost, take pictures of the destination names and addresses in Chinese. In China you cannot look lost because you will immediately get hassled by taxi drivers or tour guides. And if someone approaches you that knows English, you cannot really ask them to help you because they are trying to make money off you and may give you wrong information in order to make a few extra bucks.

Another interesting challenge we faced in Shanghai and all over China is the lack of internet access. Public wifi is available in most areas, but only to those that have Chinese cell phones and can received internet passwords over SMS. Also, if our phones connected to a public network, we still couldn’t actually receive internet access for some crazy reason. This unfortunately led to a failed night with meeting up with Zahra the second day because we couldn’t contact her. We just wandered around the city for a bit before Scott had to return to bed again:
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We needed to sieze our last day in Shanghai! Scott was feeling much better and we decided to take a day trip to Suzhou, a lovely town known for it’s beautiful gardens. We hopped on a 30 minute bullet train and visited the lingering gardens, a UNESCO world heritage site. Here are some photos we took:
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Before returning to Shanghai, we visited a dumpling shop that was recommended on wikitravel. We walked in and there were about 8 tables in the entire place and EVERYONE stared us. The staff looked nervous because they didn’t know English and called for a man in the back. Luckily he knew enough english to understand Scott’s one sentence “just serve us what you think is best.” We ate the most delicious soup filled dumplings! Probably one of the most delicious dishes I have ever eaten. We also tried their wonton soup. Scott’s were pork wontons and mine were broccolli filled. Scott and I still fondly think of that meal to this day.
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Shanghai was a great city to transition us into China. We realized that our English was not going to get us very far in this country and we were able to learn what preparations would be needed to get by. We could never leave our hotel without a city map, hotel address in chinese, knowing the closest bus and train stops and most importantly, knowing what our plan would be for the entire day. We adjusted our entire China plan to only doing one important thing a day because something as simple as trying to find a toilet could sometimes waste 20 minutes in our day. It was going to be a big challenge, but we were certainly ready to take on the rest of China!20130520-120008.jpg

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One response to “Shanghai – the largest city in the world”

  1. Kamalakannan Sankaran says :

    Hi Scott,

    I owe you a big thanks!

    I have been visiting Shanghai, in the last couple of months, and one of the week ends when I didn’t want to venture out, I was browsing through the hotel’s library and wow, I found my favorite, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, signed by you!!! Probably that’ll keep me occupied for the next couple of weekends as I am ready to read it the umpteenth time.

    I wanted to attach the photo of your message and am wondering WordPress doesn’t give me that option!

    Anyway, thanks again, and keep traveling!!!

    Kamal

    PS: Possible that you donated it either in Shanghai, as I have assumed or may be in Vietnam, because the book has your signed message and a stamp saying it was either bought or sold in Randys Book Exchange, Cam Nam Island, Hoi An, Vietnam….

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