Oh, Shanghai. What a weird place.
We stayed at my cousin’s place in Shanghai, which is on the east side of the river in an area called Pudong. He wasn’t even in town, so we had it all to ourselves! Big, lovely apartment (with kitchen! and washing machine/dryer!) which made us feel really at home. And there was a great supermarket just down the street. The downside was that it was a little bit harder to get to the other side of town – we had to take a taxi to the metro station, then the metro. And to get back, obviously the reverse! We took a heck a lot of taxis. But they’re really cheap!
Our flight from Japan was extremely un-full – probably only about 50 people on a whole 777! It was a really pleasant flight. I really recommend Japan Airlines, the service is great! We landed on Chinese New Year’s day and were bit afraid of crowds travelling and such, but it was actually eerily quiet. I think everyone who was going to travel home for the holiday already did!
There was a lot of fun stuff going on in China for CNY – lots of decorations, lanterns and such, festivals, and fireworks! The only bad thing was that lots of places were closed or had odd hours over the holiday – I don’t think we had any trouble though. Oh, and there were lots of crowds at stuff because people were off work.
The first full day we walked along East Nanjing Road, which is a big shopping/tourist street, then the Bund on the river along to People’s Square. (The Bund is pretty gross. Very dirty, crowded, full of hawkers and not a great view either.) We found a vegetarian restaurant on the first try, which was a good find, but the food was only okay. It turned out that we had a little bit of an easier time finding veggie food in China than Japan because of the strong Buddhist tradition. Walked around a bit afterwards around Renmin Park, then we headed home to cook and do laundry! Hooray!
The next day we went to Yu Bazaar and walked around lots of little streets with junk shops and tourist wares lining the roads. Walking off in a different direction though towards the French Concession, the atmosphere quickly changes and you emerge in a reconstructed traditional area which has become super trendy shops and restaurants.
Anyway. The last day was rainy, so we went to the Urban Planning Museum and the Shanghai Museum. And did more laundry! We also made a return visit to an AWESOME vegetarian restaurant we found the day before, near West Nanjing Road metro station, called Vegetarian Life Style.
It was really good food. Lots of mock meat, but the mock meat was actually really tasty! We had a mock roast pork which was extremely tasty (and we have been talking about it ever since) – very similar to the real thing, sweet and crispy on the outside and eerily close on the inside. (I’m not opposed to mock meat, I’m not vegetarian because I don’t like meat! I don’t eat it often, but I do miss eating meat sometimes – this was a good compromise!)
They don’t use any MSG or much oil – which can be a big hazard in Chinese cooking – and emphasize local and organic ingredients. The picture menu is extensive and easy to order off of! The second time we had some green veg with mushrooms, sweet and sour “pork” and dumplings. Yum yum. Seriously, highly recommended.
Conclusions? Shanghai is a weird place. It’s trying to expand and grow and modernize, but it’s trying to do too much, too fast! The entire city is pretty much a construction zone. It’s a very grimy, polluted city as well. First impressions in the taxi from the airport weren’t very good – the buildings look really worn and gross. The pollution has a lot to do with it, finishes on the buildings break down fast and they don’t seem to have been appropriately chosen in the first place.
In the city, traditional housing (which hasn’t been kept in shape and was really slums) is being razed and replaced with trendy, expensive condos and office buildings which the inhabitants are shipped out of the area to cookie-cutter government built low income housing.
Overall we had an okay experience, Shanghai isn’t my favourite city but it does have some fun…staying in the apartment really elevated the experience since we had somewhere nice to call home! Food was good, the transportation was okay (so many taxis though, we used maps to show the drivers where we wanted to go) but a couple of days of the pollution was more than enough!
(P.S. If you’re interested, there’s lots more photos of all my travels at Flickr!)