Shanghai, Our First Taste of China

We arrived in Shanghai a few days ago after a 21-hour train ride. 21 hours on a train actually sounds a lot worse than it is. For us, traveling by train seems less inconvenient than by plane. For starters you typically arrive 30 minutes before your train, not 1-2 hours. Then there are no security lines, checking of baggage and the stressful feeling people seem to get by just being in an airport. You just show up and hop on. For this trip we were in a 4 berth soft sleeper. That's 4 beds, with padding, hence the soft. We shared our berth with a nice Chinese woman, I'm assuming she was chinese because we were heading to Shanghai and she spoke Mandarin, I'm assuming it was Mandarin, because we couldn't really verbally communicate. That being said she, as well as everyone else we have met on our train travels, was very friendly and helpful. You'd be surprised how well you can communicate without words; just body language, hand signs and a few grunts.

So the seemingly long train ride went pretty fast. We spent a couple hours watching a movie on the laptop, a few hours reading and actually managed to get a decent night's sleep. Unfortunately, and part of why I'm typing this sitting on a plane and not another train, although the trains are nonsmoking, that really just seems to mean, well, absolutely nothing (and luckily it was also about the same price to fly). People smoked at the end of the train cars, without windows it doesn't really help, especially with the ventilation system circulating the smoke throughout the train. I can't imagine what it would have been like when they allowed smoking on airplanes. It's interesting, Abby and I have managed to overcome not taking hot showers, using toilets that are "a little scary" and wearing the same few outfits day after day, but I'm not sure we'll ever be ok with cigarette smoke. But again, as we seem to say when are in less than ideal situations on this trip, "hey, it could be a lot worse", so I'm not really complaining, just describing.

I digress, Shanghai was our first experience being in mainland China (Hong Kong seems more like NYC than anything we've seen in or around China) and it took some work. The metro system, thankfully, is quite extensive and is in both English and Chinese, it and a few restaurants are about the only places you will see things not solely in Chinese characters. That brings us to our first dinner. We were staying a little out of the main tourist areas so as we were staring at our menu, completely in Chinese with only a few pictures, we knew we were in for a treat. After some pointing, some head shaking from our waitress and the small circle of other waitstaff trying to help she managed to find a gentleman, who I think was just passing by, who spoke enough english to help us order. We dined on boiled fish that made our lips tingle. Something was lost in translation. Leaving the restaurant Abby and I couldn't help but to laugh at the situation, as well as realizing we'd have to be a little more prepared for future dining outings, luckily things have continued to improve.

The next morning we slept in (now that the highs are in the teens, 40* F, there isn't a need to get out early to beat the heat) and headed to the famous area along the Huangpu River called 'The Bund'. We spent a few hours walking along the river and taking in the sights of central Shanghai. One thing you can't help but notice is the sheer amount of people. It started in Hong Kong, but you seem to overlook it since it's such a small area. However in Shanghai everywhere you walk it's just a mass of people. Walking down the street is an experience and cramming all those people (including us) into a subway car is truly a sight. Abby and I realized that the country of China, roughly the same area as the US, has 1 billion more people than the US, it's unreal.

Abby and Me in Shanghai

Across the Huangpu

The following day we headed back into the central area and visited the Shanghai Museum, an amazing building in the middle of People's Square full of all types of art from calligraphy to furniture and covering much of China's history. After touring the museum we wondered through People's Square actually enjoying the winter-like weather. Walking around Shanghai Abby and I were a little surprised how modern it felt, we weren't expecting dirt roads with wooden buildings, but I'm not sure we thought we would be surrounded by stunning new architecture and a state-of-art metro system, even though we saw a man with a live chicken in the subway terminal (how's that for east meets west?).

For our last full day in Shanghai we decided to get in a much needed run. It had been a few too many days since our last so we decided to head to Shanghai's Century Park. It's a large beautiful park right in the heart of the city. I got plenty of stares and at least one camera phone photo as I rode the metro in my running shorts, with everyone else in their down jackets. The weather was actually great for a run and Abby and I really enjoyed running through the almost empty park. They charge 10 Yuan (about $1.50) to enter, so it's very well maintained and that as well as the chilly weather probably explains why it wasn't crowded. Either way, it was perfect for us.

Then thanks to our hostel writing out some menu items in chinese and some pointing we managed to have a successful dinner at a local dumpling and noodle place and got up the following morning bound for Beijing.


  1. I agree with Drea. That second to last one especially. It doesn't even look real!