By: Sarah Stone
A couple years ago I had the chance to visit Shanghai, China. For a few weeks, I explored the glittery Pudong neighborhood, the beautiful French Concession, the bustling Yuyuan Gardens, and more.
I chose Shanghai because I’ve always wanted to visit a place that reminded me of Blade Runner, one of my favorite films. Shanghai was the first place that popped into mind, so I booked a ticket, got my visa (hooray for living in Washington, DC – I was able to get a same-day turnaround!), and flew all the way across the world. I got to my hotel at about 2:00pm, and contrary to all of the best advice about getting sunlight and eschewing a nap to avoid jetlag, I instantly fell asleep for about six hours. When I woke up, I walked to my 14th-floor window and saw shiny, neon buildings and light shows.
I was so, so, so happy to be there. I’d taken Chinese history and culture classes every semester of college, and had always dreamed of coming here. I didn’t get to take very good photos, but here are a few from that trip.
On one of my first days in Shanghai, I took the metro (VERY easy to navigate even if you don’t speak any Chinese) across from the Pudong area, which is the more modern neighborhood you tend to see in photos of Shanghai these days, and strolled down The Bund, a historic area that offers a stunning view of the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Bottle Opener, and other famous buildings. This view is incredible, but it’s really only one TINY part of Shanghai!
About half-a-mile from my hotel was Shanghai’s pedestrian bridge, which offers an easier route to get to famous landmarks and areas of commerce separated by the main highway. It’s also the access point to the Oriental Pearl Tower, which gives absolutely stunning views of the city if you’re able to go to the top.
One thing I found a little “uncanny valley”, if there is such a thing for nature and habitats, is the parks and greenery throughout Shanghai were devoid of birds, had cricket speakers in the trees, and were all extremely neatly trimmed. Trees were planted exact distances apart from one another. I was glad to see some green spaces, as unsettling as they felt for someone who grew up visiting National Parks and mangrove swamps.
Once you’re in the Old City – which is the main and largest part of Shanghai – it’s easy to get lost wandering the tiny, cramped side streets. It was a wonderful experience to explore and wander, and if you have a basic map of the city, it’s easy to find main streets and metro stations to help figure out where you need to go. The above photo is from a wide street, and the below one is a medium-sized street that was delightfully cramped.
If you’re the kind of person who needs a lot of personal space, maybe don’t go to Shanghai. Or at least psych yourself up for it – I’m definitely not a touchy-feely person and I like to have a personal bubble, but knowing that this bubble wasn’t a “thing” in China and getting used to the idea beforehand got me into the right head space to enjoy walking around, getting jostled, and mass-froggering across the street.
I did quite a lot of shopping at Yuyuan Gardens! I collect silk scarves, and was able to pick up about a dozen here. Inside, you’ll find a bustling, crowded market, but if you make your way outside, you’ll have a much more peaceful view of beautiful lilies and gorgeous historical buildings.