Kyra: Ben’s friend, Hao, showed us the 13th 5 year plan video after I asked his other friend, Li, if China would ever relax internet policies. All four of our Chinese friends in the room giggled at the video, telling us that they never expected the Chinese government to allow for something like that.
Ben: One of the problems that has plagued China in the past few years is the level of pollution. Shanghai is bad, but not as poor as Beijing, where they recently issued multiple red alerts, cancelled hundreds of flights, and had a “white” smog Christmas. I couldn’t choose just one article, read the latest here.
How we got there
Kyra: We took the scenic route by plane from Istanbul to London to Shanghai overnight. Arriving in Shanghai, I was easily the most jet-lagged I had been since our first stop, Iceland, in August.
Ben: The flight to Shanghai was our longest of the trip. This would’ve been fine had we not taken a 4 hour flight to London just before, but that’s the itinerary AA gives you when you redeem AAdvantage miles for the flight.
Kyra: Upon arriving to the Shanghai airport, Li met us, after driving 1.5 hours by bus, to bring us to where we were staying.
Where we stayed
Kyra: The main reason we decided to visit Shanghai was because Ben had two friends from his e-scholars program at St. Johns living in Shanghai, Jingkun Li and Hao. As such, we decided to stay in a private room near Li just outside of the city center.
Ben: Kyra might say we stayed in accommodations rivaling camping, but I didn’t think the AirBnb was too bad. We had our own room in a small apartment near Fudan University on the Northern side of Shanghai. Our roommate was a quiet student, rarely saw, with limited amounts of English.
Kyra: After our first four nights, I craved the comfort of a clean and comfy bed with privacy after a few weeks of shared spaces. Luckily for me, Ben kindly obliged, we found a deal on a hotel, and spent our last two nights with turndown service.
Ben: Because we went so cheap on the first few nights, we were able to book a nearby hotel for the last two. This was closer to our friend Li’s apartment, more accessible to our favorite milk tea places, and much more comfortable than the previous night’s sleeps.
Food and Highlights
Kyra: The main attractions in Shanghai seem to be eating and shopping. We indulged in the food part quite a bit. All of the Chinese people we hung out with had lived abroad at some point and missed Chinese food desperately while away. Haley, Hao’s girlfriend, studied in London and told me that the British people she knew seemed to eat just to survive. The variety, quality, and price of Chinese food in Shanghai is really mind-blowing.
Kyra: We were told that “Welcome Dinners” for guests from faraway are a Chinese tradition. As was the case for us in Turkey, everyone we met was incredibly generous in sharing their food culture with us by treating us to or sharing their food.
Kyra: Li and his girlfriend Sissi took us to a restaurant near where we were staying. Sissi asked if we had any food allergies then took over ordering.
Ben: One of my favorite meals was at Paradise Dynasty. This was a restaurant chosen by Hao’s girlfriend, Haley. Hao was busy studying for the GMAT, but his girlfriend was nice enough to bring us out in the Bund and treat us to a fantastic meal.
- Chicken skewers
- Deep fried sticky rice
- Cheese balls
Kyra: For as long as I’ve known him, Ben has been completely infatuated with China. Before getting to Shanghai he raved about the milk tea. To highlight my apprehension about Ben’s taste I will share a story that our friend Tyler tells that I think perfectly sums up Ben’s palette: they went to a dive bar that happened to also sell food, sort of as an afterthought. Ben scanned the menu and proclaimed, “wow this club sandwich looks amazing.” Tyler says he looked at the description and it read, “bacon, lettuce, tomato, bread.” Nevertheless, the milk tea, especially with bubbles, was really tasty.
Ben: To add to Kyra’s thoughts on milk tea:
One of my favorite beverages from my first trip to China (besides Tsing Tao of course) was milk tea. This is usually tea mixed with powdered milk, giving it the look of a coffee with cream and sugar. The taste is, as one would expect, like a sweetened tea and is great for a rainy, smoggy day in Shanghai.
Dumplings and Buns
Kyra: There are a wide-variety of buns and dumplings in Shanghai (presumably in all of China but I can only speak for Shanghai). Some are steamed, some fried, some require you to cautiously bite the top off so as to avoid splattering the hot soup inside on your pants (something I did with frequency), and still others boiled.
Li’s Homemade Feast
Kyra: Li made us an unbelievable meal at his apartment all from scratch one evening.
Kyra: Shanghai had a lot of the same brands available in the U.S. but with different flavors. For example, on our last day Li wanted to get Domino’s, so we ordered a classic pizza which came with “Korean Sauce,” essentially sweet and sour, instead of marinara sauce.
Local View and Lessons Learned
Kyra: Curious about chopstick etiquette after using them for the week, we asked Sissi and Li for advice. Rules tend to vary a bit by region but generally 1) They should always be held in an aesthetically pleasing way, which means not too low and not to high – in other words, Goldilocks your chopsticks. 2) Food tends to be served family style to always go for the portion closest to you and DO NOT cherry pick 3) Never stick chopsticks in a bowl of food upright 4) In Bejing if you’re reaching across the table with chopsticks, always hold them horizontal.
Kyra: Apps are called “A-P-P-S” because it’s easier to pronounce in China
Ben: Hospitality (Continued)
Kyra: Women used to be required to cover their mouths when they laughed or ate. You may still see remnants of that when traveling through China.
Kyra: Sissi, who studied at Northwestern then Brown, laid out the purchasing differences between China and the U.S. While companies like Gap may produce a number of their clothes in China, clothes from stores like the Gap are sold at a premium in China. When I asked why, she said that even though they might be produced in China, the pattern patent is not, plus the clothes are good quality and thus more expensive. She also told me that while Americans favor clothes with muted patterns and colors, Chinese like brighter and more intense clothing so the clothes one might find at a Gap store in either country at the same time could differ dramatically.
Kyra: Swearing in Chinese is a much bigger deal than in the U.S. Li told me that many people in China will go their whole lives without ever swearing. Of course, the only phrase that Ben taught me which stuck was a string of expletives, which I have been banned from saying or writing.
- Ni hao – hello
- Mao – cat
- Wo ai ni – I love you
Kyra: Ben and I ordered our own cheap and tasty dumplings at a restaurant without English translation one day and were quite proud of ourselves. Still riding the high of being self-sufficient in a foreign country, I saw this little guy peeking over at us.
Ben: This kid in the Walmart at Wanda Plaza (a huge shopping center near our place). Note his shoes:
Kyra: We stopped at a Walmart in Shanghai. Remember the grocery store fixation I have? While wandering down the aisles I found the alcohol section in very close proximity to the condom section.
Kyra: Sissi told us about this fungus that take over the body of an insect and kills it called Cordyceps. Later, we found a few for sale with a very expensive price tag (about $1,250).
Ben: It was very fetch to be on your cellphone, regardless of what you’re doing (eating, walking, driving a scooter, driving a car, driving a truck, etc).
Kyra: Shanghai loves malls in all shapes and sizes. At the bigger retail malls, shops are arranged by type – all infant clothing stores reside next to eachother, sports stores are huddled, etc. Shanghai also has a number of wholesale malls with small stores and fulfillment centers packed together.
Two of my favorite finds from the wholesale mall we visited: