Beijing: Week 9
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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Beijing: Week 9

The Bund at night...
Well, week 10 was not so much about Beijing as it was about Shanghai. I took a long weekend to explore my neighbor to the south, taking the train about 5 hours through some unremarkable landscapes, ultimately arriving at what would become one of my new favorite places.

For the record, Shanghai is amazing. Let's just start there.

Perhaps Beijing, in all of its cold, dirty, capital city drear, has lowered the bar for me, and my expectations for Shanghai were unfairly low. After three days, however, I was seduced. Maybe it was the post-colonial charm, the excitement of the skyline views from the Bund, or the food, or the cycling, or, more likely, all of it.

Food in Shanghai > Food in Beijing

First, there's the food. The soup dumplings alone, fried to perfection on the bottom, filled with pork swimming in delicious broth, were the best treat a guy could have. Learning how to  eat them, sipping the soup out before biting them, required a short learning curve, but I managed, with only small burns  to my tongue.

There was just so MUCH food. Street vendors were selling endless unidentifiable items that I wanted to try. I booked an Airbnb Experience one morning for a breakfast tour, and while there was nothing breakfast-y about the wontons and noodles we ate, it was still a lovely feast walk wandering Shanghai with a local.

A first impression of Shanghai...

Second, there are the bikes. Everywhere. I gained the confidence to cycle through Shanghai thanks to a rather well-planned tour with China Cycle Tours. I was hesitant to join a group tour because I am a tour guide and I know I'm overly critical, but the tour was fantastic. We rode along the streets, learning the traffic patterns and figuring out how to cross busy intersections, which are far more complicated than anything in London or Paris.

Cruising the French Concession...

Our guide then took us into one of the old French Concession houses, today inhabited by far too many Chinese families that cram into the small houses with great addresses. We met some locals, watched them cooking their communal kitchens, and learned a bit about Shanghai's history as a colonized city over a hundred years ago.

We continued the tour through a popular market, Tianzifang, an artsy sort of touristy market that sold all sorts of trinkets and gifts. We made a quick stop through the Old Town, a part of Shanghai that won't be around in a few years, to visit a "casino" where locals gather to play games for small amounts of money. It was sad to see so many condemned buildings and to think it would all be destroyed soon, locals relegated to the towers that would be built in its place.
A bike tour!

The bike tour inspired me to spend the rest of my time moving around on two wheels, and because I have a Chinese bank card and an AliPay account, I could take one of the share bikes easily. I zipped through the French Concession, around People's Square, and back to my hotel near the touristy Nangjing Road, a sort of Times Square in Shanghai.

Bits of European culture are everywhere...

Shanghai seemed like the perfect mix of Europe and China, though I'm sure the Chinese didn't feel that way when it was colonized. Today, however, it all seems to work, offering a more globalized version of what a Chinese city could be while still retaining so much of its Chinese identity. It felt like home, like Paris or London, but with a thick layer of traditional Chinese culture layered under and on top of it. Its appeal made coming back to Beijing that much harder, but there's comfort knowing that it's just a short train ride away...

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