Shanghai was the port of entry into my first ever China experience. A cosmopolitan city, with high rises, designer stores, luxury hotels, charming cafes, and street side restaurants, Shanghai is growing to become a rival for Hong Kong. Shanghai is also where I battled my greatest jet leg after taking a 14½ hour flight from Toronto. To my defense, it wasn’t just all jetlag but also an accumulation of sleepless nights leading up to my flight, a hangover from birthday celebrations two days before, and a broken finger in a sling from a break just that week. But with only 2 days in Shanghai, I was determined to barrel through finding moments to sleep if for just 5 minutes on the metro and in cabs.
By June, the city is already hot with a heaviness of humidity so dense that even in the cooler 75F/24C temperatures, one would still find a layer of sweat on their bodies. The infamous haze of the city also hangs low leaving skyline photos appearing as if one went too crazy with the Instagram fade filter.
Despite the jetlag, the haze, and the humidity, Shanghai was exhilarating. We began our day in the French Concession, a neighborhood that is named from the period it was a foreign concession for the French up until 1943 when the Vichy government signed it over to the Japanese. The neighborhood is chic and filled with cafes, bars and restaurants that are housed in art deco buildings.
Nearby is Huanghe Road where two must-try dumpling places are located. We made our first stop at Jia Jia Tang Bao (佳家汤包), a beloved hole-in-the-wall and ordered steamed pork dumplings. We grabbed two available seats on plastic chairs at a shared table that was cramped into the adjacent room. Our pork filled dumplings arrived in a bamboo steamer and were juicy, flavorful and absolutely delicious. As soon as we ate our last dumpling, we were hustled away by the restaurant worker to make room for the next customers. You do not come to linger over a leisure lunch. You eat and leave.
The Yuyuan Gardens are next on the list. Lonely Planet describes them as “shaded alcoves, glittering pools churning with fish, pavilions, pine sprouting wistfully from rockeries, and roving packs of Japanese tourists.” All of the above I was excited for, but first one must pass through the bazaar that surrounds the garden. The bazaar is lined with shops selling tacky trinkets, store owners hassling you as you walk by, and dense crowds of selfie-taking tourists where death by selfie stick actually becomes a possibility. Once you manage to duck, swerve, and dodge your way into the gardens, you are treated to an instant serenity. Though there may be crowds of other tourists seeking the same experience, the botanical gardens, and flowing waterfalls offer a zen moment from the chaos that exists outside.
Once our bellies are filled, we venture back to the Bund to see Pudong light up in bright colors. Take note that the lights go off at 10:30pm so get there with time to walk the waterfront and admire Pudong’s skyline from different angles.