Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shanghai Surprise

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Shanghai was both my first and favorite city in China. Unfortunately I had a bad cold for much of my time there, and had to spend a few days lying in bed blowing my nose, but I still loved the city. Shanghai feels very cosmopolitan on par with any big city I’ve been to like New York or Paris, which is probably why it is often referred to as the “Paris of the Orient.” There is wonderful sightseeing, shopping and cuisine. Shanghai was also the sight of this year’s World Expo, which I did go to, but found to be a bit boring and completely overcrowded. The only pavilion’s I got into were America and Peru because there was no line for Peru and my passport enabled me to bypass the line for the American one. The day I went the line at the China Pavilion was 6+ hours, England’s was around 7 hours. Now that the expo has closed the China Pavilion is a permanent fixture in Shanghai and I have heard it is well worth a visit. I won’t bother posting pictures of the expo on here because I didn’t see much, but if you want to see them you can check them out on flickr here.

My first day in Shanghai I did the standard city tour, which included stops at the Jade Buddha Temple, the Yuyan Garden, the People’s Square, the Bund, the silk factory, the pearl factory, the jade museum, a tea ceremony and the French Concession District. It was raining pretty hard my entire time in Shanghai so I didn’t spend too much time exploring outdoors at the temples, gardens, or the People’s Square. I recommend going to the Yuyan Garden in the early morning to avoid long lines of people.
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While I loved my tour and had a great time talking with my tour guide, a few of the stops were very touristy and I began to feel like I was constantly being sold something- a feeling that lingered my entire time in China. The tea ceremony was wonderful, but then I was led downstairs and expected to purchase tea. The silk factory was interesting, but then I was led to a store upstairs to make a purchase. The same went for both the pearl factory and jade museum. I did not make purchases at each place, but when I didn’t it was very awkward and the guides at the museums seemed very upset like I had wasted their time.
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As I mentioned back while I was in Cape Town, I like to visit Jewish areas in cities with interesting Jewish history. I’ve never been a very religious person, but I find the cultural history of my people fascinating and enjoy learning about Jewish communities abroad. Shanghai had a very big Jewish community from the 1850’s to 1950’s because China was one of the only countries in the world that did not place harsh immigration caps on the Jews coming from Eastern Europe. The city also saved an estimated 30,000 Jews fleeing from the Nazi’s. Most of the cities Jews have moved out of the ghetto they once lived, but parts of the area have been protected and you can see the homes they lived in and a beautiful temple still in use today, which also has a little museum about the history of China’s Jewish population. To read more about China’s Jews check out here.
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My favorite area to walk around in Shanghai was definitely the French Concession District. The area was a foreign concession for almost 100 years from 1849 to 1946. The area feels very European and is full of fun bars, restaurants, shops, and entertainment. There is even a Coffee Bean and Coldstones in the Xintiandi area, which I loved walking around in and even got to see an American movie in the Cineplex there.
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Another fun place to walk is along the Bund. The Bund is an area along the Huangpu River that used to house foreign banks and trading houses so it resembles an old European street. There are many hotels, shops, and restaurants along the Bund making it a very nice place to walk. Across the river you can get a wonderful view of the famous skyline of the financial Pudong area. The Shanghai World Financial Center, which used to be the tallest building in the world, but was recently topped by a building in Dubai is located in the Pudong area and you can get a great view of it from the Bund. Alternatively you can go up the SWFC and get a great view of the Bund and the rest of the city. Unfortunately I was feeling too sick the day I had planned to do it, but I have heard it is very fun and would love to go back and do it. At night you can take a short boat ride along the river to see the lights of the Bund and of Pudong.
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My only grievance with the Bund is that it gets very crowded with tourists and can be a bit overwhelming. I was walking around there with my guide and while we were waiting for a light to change so we could cross the street I looked down at my phone to check my emails. When I had looked down only about 5 other people were standing next to us and maybe 10 or so were on the other side waiting to cross. When I looked up about 3 minutes later to cross at least 70 or 80 people surrounded us with the same amount on the other side of the street waiting to cross. I gasped and said “Oh my god, where did all these people come from?” My guide laughed and said simply “China.”

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