Sunday, October 7, 2007

Things to do in Shanghai

Some friends of mine came through China last week on a two week tour. I met up with them in Beijing for a few nights, but didn’t get a chance to spend a lot of time until they arrived in Shanghai last weekend. For other potential visitors to town, let me share a few bits of their itinerary to help you out.

Sights to see

Overall, I have to admit that Shanghai is a little short on high quality tourist locations. It doesn’t have the history of Xian or Nanjing, the culture of Beijing, or the beauty of Hangzhou. But here are a few suggestions.

The Maglev – If you fly in or out of Pudong airport, be sure to take the Maglev at least once. I doubt you will ever go so fast so close to the ground.

The Bund – A must-see destination, but don’t get your hopes up too much. It’s essentially just a photo opportunity. This is the riverbank where old Shanghai, represented by the 19th century buildings, faces new Shanghai’s 80 story skyscrapers. A writer once remarked that the Westerners in Shanghai like to take pictures of the old Shanghai and marvel at what it was. Chinese like to take pictures of new Shanghai and wonder at where it’s going. A bit of a stretch, but not altogether untrue; I have never seen any locals taking pictures of the old buildings.

Xin Tian Di – Good place to wander for an afternoon, especially if you are into real estate development. Should be a case study on how you can change people’s conception of retail and dining.

Grand Hyatt – Another example of how Shanghai’s best sights show off the modernity of the city. You can pay 50 RMB to visit the observation deck on the 89th floor, or go to the 88th floor and spend a minimum of 100 RMB on drinks and food. My suggestion is to go to the 88th floor and relax while enjoying the view.

Places to shop

Shanghai should be on every shoppers list of cities to go to. Forget about branded items, but everything else is cheaper.

Yu Yuan Bazaar – Souvenirs and jewelry make this a good place to get all your gifts for friends back home.

Fabric Market – Don’t leave town without getting a few shirts or a suit made. I have never heard of someone complaining about the overall value of a custom fit $10 shirt. Even if it’s not designer, the fit will be better than any off the rack shirt.

Tea shop – I went with my friends to a tea mall for the first time. Even if you don’t want to buy tea, go for the experience. The vendors will take the time to pour you a whole bunch of different teas for tasting.

Fake market – If you don’t want to go to Hong Kong to lay down $2k for a watch, spend $20 on a fake one instead. There’s one at 580 Nanjing road and another set at the Science Museum Metro stop in Pudong.

Places to eat

If you’re in China, you need to experience the range of food. Even if you’re not adventurous enough to want to try abalone, shark fin, or dog, you’ll find all sorts of delicious yet unique foods to suit your tastebuds.

New Jishi – Homestyle Shanghainese food at reasonable, but not really cheap prices. They have a location in XinTianDi that is perfect to contrast old Shanghai vs. new Shanghai.

Yu Xin Sichuan – Like New Jishi, this is a small chain (5-15 locations) that has succeeded thanks to its good food, clean environment and moderate prices. Get the Ants Climbing Trees noodles (no ants or trees involved in the dish) and anything “water cooked” which is not really simply water but really hot peppers, Sichuan peppercorns and meat boiled in a liquid that helps the flavors mingle.

Hot pot – I prefer Dollar Shop because it offers individual soup bowls to cook your food in. That way if people like the traditional spicy hot pot they can get it, but others don’t have to suffer. This meal takes a while to eat, so don’t go if you are in a rush, but I think Westerners like the experience of cooking their own food and also knowing exactly what they are eating.

Din Tai Feng – Yes, it’s originally from Taiwan, but no better place than Shanghai to experience what is regarded to be the best place for xiao long bao (soup dumplings) in the city.

Sheng Jian Bao – I personally like a place just south of the City Temple. It’s quite the opposite of Din Tai Feng. While they offer xiao long bao, the better choice is zheng jian bao. Similar filling, thicker fried wrapper. Prices have recently gone up to 2.5 RMB for an order of 4, but it’s still quite the deal. Eat on the street with greasy fingers, or eat upstairs for a slightly more civilized snack.

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