Shanghai, China (Part I)

Friday, May 8, 2020

It feels a tad strange writing about past travels in the middle of a global health crisis, particularly one that has semi-halted air travel, but I've been meaning to write about my trip to Shanghai and finally have the time now to do so. Perhaps I'm being optimistic, but I do think that the aviation industry will still take flight post-pandemic, slowly but surely. Although personally, I may reconsider any non-essential travels due to sustainability reasons. It's been heartening, to say the least, to see Mother Nature thrive in ways never seen before, simply because we cut down on our harmful ways, though unfortunately not by choice. 

With that out of the way, I flew to Shanghai the day after New Year's Day this year, before news of the Covid-19 virus in China emerged (at least, not on mainstream platforms). It's likely that there were strains of the coronavirus when I was there, though of course, I don't want to feed into any conspiracy theories. I'm just grateful that we managed to come home well and healthy at the end of this. For what it's worth, this was my first time in China, and I had a very enjoyable time. 

I met JX in Shanghai directly, as he flew in from Vancouver post-exchange to meet me for a short trip. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to sync our flight arrival times to the hour. So, with a hungry stomach and an unfamiliar airport, I turned to my favourite golden arches to provide some much-needed sustenance. To my horror, I was greeted by an all-Mandarin menu. Granted, I was well-equipped with twelve years of formal Chinese education (and higher Chinese at that!), but it was still shocking that a Macky D's at an international airport didn't feature other languages. 

Got myself a McSpicy with my stuttering Mandarin! The set meal I initially wanted was out-of-stock, which only sought to increase my panic and nervousness having to order something else on the fly.  

Thankfully, JX emerged from the arrival gates about three hours later and I could rely on his more-proficient communication skills over the next couple of days (only in China, at least - I daresay my command of English is better heh). Our time in Shanghai was essentially a routine of eat-eat-eat-sleep-repeat, but I'll just share about some of the notable places we went and the little things that I would like to remember when I look back on this post. 

Shanghai Disneyland 

Theme parks are undoubtedly my weakness, and I'll make it a point to visit Disneyland whenever I travel to a country that has one. The current theme park shutdowns due to Covid-19 is heartbreaking, and I hope Donald Duck and friends are safe during this period of time. 

So incredibly pleased I was handed the Donald Duck ticket stub when we entered!

Shanghai Disneyland was unmistakably magical, even with the characters all spewing Mandarin. It was so much bigger than Hong Kong Disneyland and featured so many more kingdoms and rides. Somehow, it was hauntingly quiet for a theme park of its size - not sure if it was the timing of our visit, or other factors. I even managed to take a photograph in front of the castle with no one in frame at all.

The greatest downside of Shanghai Disneyland? This very meal: 

This pizza was stale, powdery, with unidentified meat chunks. I daresay that the frozen pizzas from NTUC would top this by far, not to mention cost only a fraction of the price. 

At least it makes for a good (subjective...?) picture featuring that iconic mouse's head. 

Thankfully, the other food items around the park more than made up for this dismal meal. 

Corn dogs! These had a distinctly Chinese flavour, probably because it was coated with pork floss. It's not your typical American/ Korean corn dogs, and I'm glad we bought three to share between the two of us.  

Chocolate ice cream with a chocolate shell! Nothing can go wrong with ice cream, especially not one shaped like everyone's favourite mouse.

We also watched a Frozen-themed live performance, mainly to rest our fatigued legs. It was rather amusing seeing all the Western actors lip syncing to the Mandarin dialogue and songs, but I give my hats off to them for being able to do that. I was also impressed that the soundtrack from Frozen 2 was included in this show, considering it was only released about a month ago at that point of time - though of course, I'm sure they had pre-release access. JX slept through the entire performance, not sure if it's due to jet-lag or utter boredom. 

 Woody and Little Bo-Peep were slightly scary in real life, with their hard plastic heads and malleable bodies. But I love Toy Story - it's one of the movies that can make me completely bawl - so I jumped at the chance to meet them. 

And a beautiful frosty sight of Shanghai Disneyland to close the night. 

Yu Garden (豫园)

Yu Garden houses a temple, a street with stalls that sell little trinkets, and lots of good food finds. It's honestly a tourist spot more than anything, though there didn't seem to be a lot of tourists (actually, that's the case throughout the whole Shanghai when I was there), and I would still recommend paying this place a visit mostly because of the food. Think Bugis Street, but a lot less crowded and more cultural. 

We stumbled upon this gem of a place that sold freshly made pan-fried pork buns, also known as Sheng Jian Bao or 生煎包. I don't remember the name of the place, nor can I find it on Google (maybe I should be using Baidu instead), but it's beside the super popular Xiao Long Bao place (that I'll get to in a bit). I've always been skeptical over Sheng Jian Baos whenever I saw them being sold in Hong Kong so this was my first time having it. Turns out, I love them, even more than I do Xiao Long Baos. 

I initially thought the skin was a tad thick, but I adored the texture of it - chewy, doughy, accompanied by the amazing deep char on one side of the bun that gives it a very welcome crispy crunch.

And the inside - flavourful pork mince with just the right amount of juices that burst right in your mouth! 

A couple of random stores were selling this yogurt drink that's apparently very popular, but I'm not the biggest fan of yogurt and bought a normal cup of bubbletea afterwards to cleanse my palate. 

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant (南翔馒头店)

While this restaurant is located within the Yu Garden, its popularity warrants a separate section on its own. Lauded as one of the most authentic Chinese soup dumpling restaurants in China, tourists and locals alike flock there to have a taste of what the OG Xiao Long Bao tastes like. (Fun fact: XLBs originated in Shanghai! I never knew that prior to visiting, always just associated the dish to Din Tai Fung i.e. Taiwan.) 

Were these dumplings mind-blowingly good? Nope. But were they a lot of fun to eat? For sure! Also check out my twinning outfit with the dumpling baskets. 

To consume the king size Nanxiang crab roe steamed bun, we had to poke a hole with the provided straw to drink up some of the soup before digging into the dumpling as a whole.  

A total mess on my plate - the soup was pretty amazing though. 

Me attempting to slurp up the remnants of the king dumpling from my plate. "Can I have another?" says those pleading eyes. 

And the Xiao Long Baos. We all know it, we all love it. 

As a sidenote, we also fell into the tourist trap of getting a seat in the restaurant. Head to the takeaway kiosk at the side of the eatery instead, where everything on the menu is more than half priced compared to the restaurant. At least the view from the restaurant was pretty nice, and it was warm there - yes, this is me attempting to console myself. 

Shanghai Natural History Museum 

While this was a beautiful and well-curated museum, I was a tad disappointed because most of the fossils and displays were cast. It felt a lot more like walking in a Science Centre rather than a 'Night-in-the-Museum' environment. Knowing that the displays weren't real didn't provide the same awestruck energy that might come with knowing that I was admiring the fossils of an actual dinosaur that walked on this land some millions of years ago. Honestly, I love animals and nature, but not in this form and I'd much prefer visiting the zoo. 

That said, the architecture of the museum was stunning. If I ever came back again, though I doubt I ever will, it would be wise to view this museum as an art piece as opposed to one of natural history - everything is so artistically displayed. 

This was hilarious - I believe the rightmost lion has become a meme, I remember seeing a video featuring it and its derp face. 

Starbucks Reserve Roastery Shanghai 

As a previous gold card member at Starbucks (I could no longer upkeep that sort of lavish lifestyle anymore, especially once I realised I don't actually even like coffee), I had to pay the world's biggest Starbucks outlet a visit. It was everything I imagined it to be - a mammoth two-storey building that features the coffee house's signature warm wood panels and furniture, complete with three coffee bars and in-house roasting capabilities. It wasn't quite enough to induce me to purchase anything though, they were mostly just your typical Starbucks fare. 

Hello my famous twin-tailed mermaid, fancy seeing you so exposed. 

The bags of coffee beans reminded me of a Club Penguin game - Bean Counters! Not sure if anyone will get the reference, but shall just leave it here. 

Quite a charming sight to behold. 

Are we in a Starbucks or a speakeasy? 

And with that, the first half of my Shanghai trip seems like a slightly whitewashed experience, with Disneyland and Starbucks being some of the main highlights. While I don't necessarily consider that to be a bad thing, the next half of my China visit was a lot more "authentic" and "cultural", which I will get to in my next post. 

It was a real privilege being able to go on this trip just before my final semester in school started though, and I'm thankful for the break I had, more so especially in light of the current Covid-19 situation. So many people have had their travel plans thrown out of the window, and I can only hope everything gets better soon. 

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