March 24, 2017 – After running to try catching our train from Suzhou in the morning and then missing it, we finally got to Shanghai around 11am (aiya parent’s planning travel…) We only really had half a day in Shanghai and there was so much to see! Luckily our hotel the Renaissance by Marriott Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel, was in a prime tourist location,
Yu Yuan Old Town
We decided to start the day from the Yu Yuan Old Town. My mom says this was recently fully redone. It’s basically a remodeled, manicured old town. Just 2-3 years ago, there used to be really old houses in the area that they demolished. This is apparently very common in China. They demolish old homes in many of the big cities in China to build the city they want. People don’t really mind because the government usually gives them a house/apartment or two in exchange which eventually is worth a lot more. My dad says that’s partly how everyone’s so rich in China. Anyway, Old Town is a nicely designed area.
My mom stood in line for Nanxiang Xiao long bao by Yu Yuan Garden while I explored. It took maybe a little over 30 minutes to get our order. It wasn’t even that good. More like a greasy version of Shanghai Cafe’s (in NYC’a) XLB. The skin was very thick. The inside was oily.
We then stopped at another little shop that had more greasy food. We didn’t even finish it. I should’ve done my research instead of relying on my parents 😑. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of good stuff in this area.
Yu Garden 豫園 (Yu Yuan)
After that, we checked out the Yu Garden. Pan Yunduan started to build the garden in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty for his aging father. He began the project after failing one of the imperial exams, but then he was appointed governor of Sichuan and postponed construction of the garden to 1577. The garden was the largest and most prestigious of its era in Shanghai, but eventually its expense helped ruin the Pans.
There’s a famous jade rock there called the Yu Ling Long (Exquisite Jade Rock). This honeycomb slab was reportedly originally procured by the Huizong emperor of the Northern Song (reigned A.D. 1100-26) from the waters of Tai Hu (Lake Tai) – Frommer’s excerpt.
This was a little different from the Suzhou Humble Administrator’s Garden. It felt smaller but it a lot of beautiful wood and stone carvings throughout. There’s definitely a calm and serene feel to the garden. It’s a wonderful escape from the craziness of the by city of Shanghai.
Then we headed to The Bund where I did the Frommer’s walking tour. I LOVE these walking tours. It gives you just enough history and information that it makes whatever you’re looking at a whole lot more interesting. My mom who lives in China said she’d been to The Bund a bunch of times and having the walking tour was definitely a lot more interesting.
I loved visiting Shanghai with my mom. As we walked around Shanghai near The Bund外滩, my mom would point to certain areas and tell me where my grandparents (her parents) used to live and work before running from the Communist party to Taiwan during WWII. I could just imagine my grandma as a modern, working woman in the 1920-30s when Shanghai was a bustling city. She worked at the US Military Club and it’s apparently why she was always listening to American music. She and my grandfather were doing well for themselves in Shanghai. No one ever expected Japan to attack Shanghai. But after the Peace Hotel was was bombed in 1937, people began to realize they had to get out. My grandparents fled to Taiwan in 1939. The Bund was pretty much abandoned when the communists took over in 1949. Only in the late 1990s did they begin to restore the Bund’s architectural grandeur, to refurbish the colonial interiors, and to open them to a curious public (Thanks Frommer’s).
(I’m actually sitting in front of my grandma (dad’s mother) while writing this, so I thought I’d ask her about where she was from. She didn’t want to talk about it and she was pretty adamant about not answering my question (where were you born?). Sooo all I know from my mom right now is that my dad’s parents moved from 大陳島 Dachen Islang to Taipei in 1940.)
A little history of the Bund/Shanghai…
In the the 1700s, Britain was obsessed with Chinese tea and was importing a lot of it. Soon they realized China wasn’t importing anything from them so they had to figure out what the Chinese people wanted. So in 1757, they introduced China to Opium from India. China grew increasingly addicted and Britain became insanely profitable. China’s emperor was pissed. First he tried to limit trade and illegalize opium, but this didn’t work. The Emperor wrote to Queen Victoria to ask that they end this trade, but she didn’t respond. So China confiscated and destroyed all the opium from the British merchants. Obviously this wasn’t cool for the merchants. China kicked them out eventually and eventually Britain attacked. Thus the beginning of the First Opium War. Apparently the war was a pretty shameful loss for China but the Treaty of Nanking signed in 1842 was even more humiliating.
The treaty forced China to open four major ports, including Shanghai. (This is the same treaty that gave Hong Kong to the UK). After the Second Opium War in 1860, Shanghai was basically split between Britain and many other Western nations. Most of the beautiful Europeans buildings on the Bund we see today was built during 1910-1940 when the area was a major shipping, trading and financial district for the colonialists. So much of the architecture has European influence. It was very interesting seeing the architecture inside and outside of the buildings.
People’s Square…and Food Poisoning
After touring the area for almost two hours, we took a taxi to the People’s Square. I tried to get into the Shanghai Exhibition Museum but it literally closed just before we crossed the street. And then it started pouring rain. We took cover under a tree so I could explore Peoples Square a little and then I had started experiencing sudden stomach pains.
Our hotel was so close I didn’t want to take a taxi back so we took the subway. I thought I could wait it out but at the next stop, the subway doors opened DIRECTLY in front of a bathroom so I hopped out and decided it was a sign to just go. What are the chances! Toilets are so hard to find in Shanghai.
Needless to say, I had food poisoning. I think my stomach was still weak from the week long salmonella poisoning from Valentine’s Day. So for dinner, we though it best we eat at the hotel. The food was sooo boring. Expensive and not that good.
Shanghai Skyline and Nanjing Dong Lu 南京路
I had to see the famous Shanghai skyline from the bund so we taxied out there in the rain and enjoyed the amazing light views. During the day, it’s mostly just hazy. It’s hard not to notice the smog throughout China. My parents say they never see blue skies. My entire trip here was haze.
We wandered to Nanjing Dong Lu and saw the big shopping area. It reminded me of Hong Kong. My dad was starved since dinner was not filling, so we headed down the little alley with food. He decided to go to a little XLB shop and as he ate, I saw a little, white mouse with a. Crooked tail scurrying around!!!! I hate mice and rats! They scare the shit out of me. I was so traumatized I had to call it a night from there.
Pretty disappointing food adventure but it sure was fun imagining my grandparents living here in the city’s heyday before the war. I can’t believe my favorite part of Shanghai was the European area. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to give Shanghai another chance.