Bright Lights, Big City: Shanghai

After a long and very rocky 48 hour ferry trip from Kobe, Japan, we finally docked back in China, right across from the Oriental Pearl, a landmark that many Chinese and expats find incredibly tacky, but without a doubt, is one of the key images of the Shanghai Pudong skyline. Ellie and I agreed that we both kind of liked the tacky pink ball. Maybe, we were just happy to be off of a boat that felt as though it would tip over at any moment. Two typhoons brewing in the seas does not make for a pretty journey. Needless to say, we did A LOT of laying in our bunk beds and were pretty ready to be back in China, the land of the cheap and unusual instead of sterile and expensive Japan.

We did manage to make a few friends on the boat. While there wasn’t much in the way of food on offer, there was plenty of vending machine beer and Karaoke.

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Happy to finally arrive in Shanghai, despite the smog.

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We had contacted a couchsurfing couple named John and Emily and they responded back to us quickly, allowing us to stay in their crazy beautiful Shanghai apartment. There apartment was on a very high floor with big glass windows and incredible views over Shanghai. It was so clean and they were so nice, even giving us our own room and bathroom.

our room

our room

Emily was forever filling up a glass of home brewed ice tea for me and if you know me, you would understand how perfect that is. Both Emily and John are Americans who have been living in Shanghai for a couple years. John works for a company that does LED displays.

The view from John and Emily's Shanghai apartment.

The view from John and Emily's Shanghai apartment.

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Our time in Shanghai would not have been nearly so colorful, if it weren’t for them. Shanghai is a lovely city, but is massive and hard to touch. Yet with Emily and John by our side, it was much easier. They came out to a vegetarian restaurant with us (that had the most amazing BBQ vegetarian spare ribs that I have ever had) and then even treated us for drinks in their favorite bar overlooking Pudong and it’s fabulous skyline. Shanghai’s skyline may be the best thing about the whole city. It literally glitters and entices you, teasing you because you know there is so much happening. It seems to a be a city completely unlike Beijing.

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veggie BBQ spare ribs!

Shanghai's unbelievable skyline

Shanghai's unbelievable skyline

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The next day, they were kind enough to invite us to a BBQ at their friend’s apartment and we spent the whole afternoon, drinking wine and eating delicious food, particularly because one of their friends if the head chef at the Hyatt Shanghai. Later that night, Emily had some friends over and we play Mariokart and made french fries.

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Kelly made quite a connection with a cute little Ozzie toddler who’s family are expats living in Shanghai. They got had a lot of fun, and I think her mum was happy to have a break too.

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We did do a few cultural things while in Shanghai. We went to the Chinese propaganda museum which was hysterical to see the old posters that used to be commonplace in China. Most of the posters are about the imperialist Americans and we always have big red noses in the pictures. The museum is located in someone’s basement and for 5 yuan, it was completely worth it.

We tried to go to the Shanghai sex museum, but it was closed and in its place was an insect museum. Who knows whos idea that big switch was? I was pretty disappointed since this was the sight I was most excited about. Things are changing rapidly in Shanghai right now, due to the world expo and I imagine that, to get an accurate understanding of the city, Lonely Planet would have to create a new guidebook once a month. Restaurants close, important sights are repaired or moved, and the hum of the drill is background music. Even the world famous Bund was closed for “sidewalk work.”

The Orient Pearl Tower

The Orient Pearl Tower

Instead of  drown in my sorrow about the museum, we ended up spending a rainy day traipsing around Moganshan, which is the up-and-coming art district. A whole area full of mostly modern art galleries with some really impressive art. The galleries themselves are pretty interesting because some are decrepit attics in someone’s home and some are big museum style affairs. We had a couple of beers at the world music cafe, waiting for the rain to let up.

I was also excited because we got to go see THE CHINESE CIRCUS! Chinese acrobats are the most nimble and flexible people in the world, I think. I guess this is why many members of Cirque Du Soleil are Chinese. It was a pretty good show, although I had seen many of the same tricks in Cirque, but Ellie was super impressed with the motorcycles in the cage act. I had seen something similar but never to such an extent. At one point, there were about 8 motorcycles in a tiny metal cage, all circling each other and doing tricks. It was definitely the best part.

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NO photograpy permitted (this is the only one we could get, and it was before the show)

Shanghai is a very livable city for ex-pats who move from Western countries because it has many similar comforts to other big cities like London or Paris or New York. However, it does still retain it’s Chinese charm. Motorbikes try to run you over, a local grocer is killing a pigeon for supper before your eyes and more people fit into one subway car than I ever thought humanly possible. Maybe Shanghai subway rush hour is just a training ground for many future contortionists in the circus?

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