I’m not in Shanghai anymore! After just over three months, I packed my bags and am in Hong Kong for my last week abroad. I can’t believe this is it! It feels like it’s been no time at all. But it has been a whole semester, and I have been lucky enough to explore Shanghai over that time. Here are a few of the places I visited and tips I have to share that I’d recommend to anyone coming to Shanghai for the semester, or even just on vacation.
First, make sure you know that many people in Shanghai and southern China have an accent where the “sh” sound is reduced to just an “s.” Remembering this can remove a lot of confusion, especially when you try to pay 4 rmb (si kuai) for something that is actually 10 rmb (shi kuai).
Next, if you’re coming in the spring, know that it rains a lot. But also know that it rarely rains very hard or for very long. It’s generally just the damp dreary day that discourages you from wanting to go outside. Fight this feeling!
Have a map of the metro on your phone. It’s really an easy system to navigate, but this can help you if you’re in a rush and trying to figure out where to connect and transfer. Don’t be afraid to walk! The raised platforms over busy roads make this city very walkable.
Bring your student ID everywhere! So many museums and attractions are free or half price if you have one. This goes for all of China, not just Shanghai.
Have a go to dish for ordering that you know how to say in Chinese. If you are going to a new restaurant or one that doesn’t see a lot of tourists, there might not be an English menu. Sometimes I just ask for egg fried noodles, or garlic cucumbers, or some other simple dish without bothering trying to decipher a menu. At least you know what you’ll be getting!
Don’t be afraid to explore alone. Some of my favorite days have been when I woke up early and took off on my own. This lets you see everything on your own schedule. Your friends will still be there when you get home!
Top places to visit:
M50 is Shanghai’s art district. It’s a cute collection of small streets filled with galleries, street art, and artistically decorated cafes. Definitely check out my favorite gallery, Island 6, which is filled with cool digital and interactive art. The Undef/ine Café has a calm interior if you’re looking for somewhere to grab a coffee and relax, and maybe even do some homework. Bandu has the cheapest food in the area, and I went here for a classic lunch of noodles with tomato and eggs.
My favorite museum by far was the Shanghai Propaganda and Poster Museum. It’s a small two room museum in the basement of a residential building, but if you like history it’s a must visit. Each poster and work of art has an explanation in English, with a header for each section explaining the political climate of the time period. I ended up buying a few original posters while I was there because I was so excited about it.
One of the more interesting cultural phenomenons I’ve witnessed in China has been the People’s Park marriage market. Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon at People’s Park, which just happens to be ten minutes walking from my apartment, parents and grandparents of single men and women gather to exchange information and set up dates for their 25-40 year old children. They set up umbrellas with resumes and pictures taped to them, and will occasionally proposition even a foreigner inspecting their signs! I’ve been four times this semester, and was blown away each time by how crowded, lively, and serious this event is. The rest of the park is nice to stroll around in as well, and has two free museums on its premises, plus the Shanghai Urban Planning exhibition.
If you like temples and gardens, head to the Yuyuan area. Yu garden and temple are both very inexpensive to enter, and are full of traditional architecture and design. Yu gardens was one of the few places that I was able to remember from the first time I came to Shanghai 6 years ago, and is definitely worth a visit as a traditional garden. The surrounding area has shops and food and souvenirs on sale.
The Bund of course is an incredibly famous tourist attraction. I think the view is gorgeous by day or night, but I’d recommend finding a rooftop bar or restaurant to enjoy it in the evening or for dinner since the lights are really striking at night. The lights on the iconic colorful pearl tower and the other buildings are switched off around 11, so make sure to get there in time if you’re going out for the evening! Bar Rouge has a great view, and so does The Captain, a small restaurant on the roof of a hostel.
I’ve talked about this last place in a blog post before, but Qibao is also worth a visit if you don’t mind a longer subway trip. It gives you a miniature experience of what it’s like to visit a watertown, and it’s much more digestible for an afternoon than any of the others. The area has a clear map of where different cheap exhibits and museums are located, and has all the classic snacks, souvineers, and bridge views that you could find in a larger watertown.
I could list a dozen other places I’ve visited, including several other parks, neighborhoods, temples, museums, and shopping areas (definitely check out Nanjing Road Pedestrian Strip if you’re a shopper), but these were the experiences I enjoyed the most this semester on my weekends in Shanghai. Of course, there are a million more things I could have seen or done. Hopefully I’ll return in the future and continue learning about this city that has been my home for the past three months. I’ll miss you, Shanghai, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing my family and friends back home.