Since my arrival in Wuxi, Rachel had planned a trip to Shanghai that consisted of six women from our community. As far as I know, all of them had been to Shanghai except for me (no the airport doesn’t count). The original plan was to stay in a hostel. I really had no idea what that was at first so I was fine with whatever. The hostel we wanted to stay in didn’t have enough space for all of us. Instead, Rachel booked us in a Holiday Inn Express, a familiar business I hadn’t heard about in a while.
Of course, there were many things that everyone in the group tried to tell me so I could properly prepare for this trip. You’re probably thinking “what could you possibly have to prepare for?” That exact thought was going through my head. I had already been in a China for a month now, what could I possibly need to know that I haven’t already experienced? I think that was close to the biggest understatement I could have made in my entire life.
Let me just start from the beginning.
To get to Shanghai we had to take a speed train. I know, cool right? They are everywhere in China, and I think these trains are the most common way to travel here. I still am confused as to why we don’t have them in the U.S. We took a taxi to the train station which is very similar to an airport in my mind. You have to check in, and go through security minus the “checked bag” part. Of course during this whole process I experienced the lack of lines again. You think I would be used to it by now, but I guess not. Little did I know at that time that it would only get worse.
While we were waiting for our train, the waiting area seemed to fill much faster than I ever thought it could. We walked to an upstairs area that was outdoors, and as we walked up a train flew right by us. It was a little scary, but more amazing than terrifying. On the ground next to the track were different numbers which was the train car you would enter. The train car your seats are in are on your ticket which is nice so you don’t have to walk through the entire train just to find it. Once you are in the cabin it looks similar to an airplane, but has more leg room and more storage space for your luggage. Once again, why don’t we have these in America? It only took about 28 minutes in 108 kilometers from Wuxi to Shanghai, which still amazes me. Once we arrived we were all so tired considering that day at school was field day.
Before I go on…let’s talk subways.
It was probably one the most stressful experiences ever (mainly because I had no idea what I was doing). There was a lot of transferring between lines, and Rachel once said to me before this trip, “it is very crowded. Just when you think more people can’t fit on the in a subway train, they just keep going in until the door closes.” I didn’t REALLY know what she was talking about until this one Chinese girl and I were using each other as a back rest for one another because we would be squished together anyway. So why not make the best of it, right? Eventually, I got the hang of it but I still think I would struggle navigating where I needed to go and how to get there. I am very thankful I had people with me who knew exactly what they were doing!
We immediately went to a restaurant called Wagas which was everything I hoped and dreamed of. Wagas had more of a fresh food selection and reminded me of a little café. I got a wrap that had refried chickpeas and other amazing things on it as well as coffee. I must say it is definitely worth a visit if you ever take a trip to Shanghai.
Once we left and started walking towards our hotel I noticed a lot of tents set up as shops that were selling many different things. This was really my first encounter of seeing these shops, although I found out not long after that there would be many more of these in Shanghai. The one that was most interesting to me was the candy art on a stick. They were making anything from 3D angel fish to faces of the people buying the candy. Another shop was selling hand bags and wallets that had really amazing art on them. Although I do have to admit it seemed a little overpriced, but still amazing to see!
We finally made it to the hotel. The only thing that was different here than in the U.S. is showing my passport to check in, and not drinking the tap water. That’s just for future reference in case any of you ever decide to travel to China. Other than that the rooms were very similar, and the service was nice. I have been told many times that Shanghai is one of the most westernized cities in China. It can be the place to go if you miss American food!
The next morning we started the day off right with Starbucks! After that we headed back to the subway. I feel like that day in the subway was much better because I started to get the hang of it. I think the worst part was transferring from different lines because you had to put your purse or bag through the scanner every time. I also had some issues with my card, where it wouldn’t scan to let me into another line. Luckily they have card person at every exit/entrance so they were able to fix it quickly. It was really just annoying.
After another subway adventure we arrived at People’s Square which is where an M&M store is! You might not think that’s big deal, but if you’ve never been to an M&M store you have no idea what’s in store for you. There is literally an entire wall of M&Ms in every color you can imagine. They even have different colors mixed for you if you decide you don’t want to mix them yourself, and not only do they have peanut M&Ms but they ALMOND ones too! I didn’t even know those existed until I set foot in that store. They also have all these cute souvenirs like t-shirts, underwear, clothes for kids and babies, mugs, pillows, and A LOT of M&M dispensers. M&M world was pretty great, but it was only a small part compared to everything else that would happen in the next 24 hours.
We walked from M&M world to this very popular shopping area that had very traditional Chinese buildings. I was so amazed at the architecture that I was barely paying any attention to what was actually in the stores. We came across this little souvenir shop that had a woman standing out ide the door selling embroidered placemat looking things. I honestly didn’t think they were that interesting until the lady pointed out to me what they all meant. A lot of them were based on places which is what really amazed me. Some of them were even based on the very area we were shopping in. I ended up buying two.
I went into a shop where I saw these cute little wood bracelets. Everywhere I turned there was a salesperson yelling something at me similar to, “hey pretty lady would you like to buy handmade…” Luckily I was with a group that knew what they were doing, and told me to basically ignore them unless I was actually interested in something. These bracelets were very intriguing to me for some reason so I decided to test my skills. The lady offered 70 yuan for one bracelet. I looked at Bethany for assurance, and she shook her head as if it were too expensive. So I responded to the saleslady by saying it was too expensive. She would then type in her calculator the price she told me, then said “but for you, a young student I will give you this price.” She took about 10 yuan off, and I still looked at her like she was crazy. THEN she said she would give me two bracelets for 120 yuan, and I was thinking lady, you are not making your case any better than it was in the first place. I told her I wanted 25 yuan for both bracelets (I actually would pay 35, but Bethany gave me a good tactic to start lower so you weren’t selling yourself out either way) and she said no. So Bethany said, “that’s fine we’ll look somewhere else because I know a place that sells them cheaper.” I looked at the saleslady and shrugged my shoulders and slowly, but surely walked away. As I was walking I heard her yelling prices at me, “Okay 75 for two, 50, 30, okay 25!” And just like that I got two bracelets for a lower price than I originally wanted. In that store I also found interesting statue figures that looked like ancient warriors. Some of you are probably thinking I’m a huge amateur for not knowing what they were, but they were actually based on the Terracotta Warriors. If you aren’t sure what those are, they are statues that were buried with an emperor from the Qin Shi Huang (pronounced Chin Sh Hwang) dynasty. Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China and he wanted the army of the Terracotta warriors buried with him because he believed they would protect him in his afterlife. There are about 8,000 original Terracotta Warriors found in his tomb that are life sized. I thought the story of them was very interesting, and thought it was worth it to go through another bargaining scene to get a set. I think eventually paid 100 yuan for a whole set with the horse included which is about $15 USD.
Little did I know that was just the beginning of my bargain shopping.
We then went to a building that was all bargain shopping with a lot of knock off stuff, but still so much fun! You get things that are basically the same as the name brand it just might have something weird with the label or the label is actually spelled wrong! Hilarious I know. Anyway, I had so much fun there. I was able to get most of my souvenirs from there for a very reasonable price. I also bought a backpack because I bought so much and didn’t want to carry it around everywhere. I think I ended up paying 100 yuan.
That day we walked A LOT. Actually a lot is an extreme understatement. We finally made it to our dinner place which was this little hole in the wall place called Cheese Co. They made some pretty great grilled cheese sandwiches that ranged from a Mac n’ Cheese grilled cheese to a Nacho grilled cheese (I got the nacho one and it was like heaven). We also found this cute little cinnamon roll shop which was next door and bought the last of their cinnamon rolls. Those were also the best thing that had ever happened to me, actually they came in a close second to the donuts at school. After that we finally made it back to our hotel and rested to start again the next day.
In the morning we started our day off again with Starbucks because what else would you do? We took the subway to an area near the bund. I think this part was the most exciting for me. I love shopping and buying souvenirs, but I have to say that sightseeing is definitely my forte. When we saw the bund, which if you don’t know is the famous skyline of Shanghai (the featured photo for this post), it was pretty amazing. The architecture is so modern and unlike anything I had ever seen before. Most of buildings were so shiny you could see reflections on them, and they were so big! I mean we were pretty far away and they still seemed big to me. I was told that seeing it at night is even more amazing than during the day, so maybe someday I should go back and do that.
We actually realized we had more time to spare so we decided to go to the Shanghai World Financial Center which has an observatory, or known as one of the buildings with a glass floor. SWFC is a part of the skyscrapers the make up the bund, and is a mixed used skyscraper which means it consists of hotels, offices, conference rooms, and the observation deck. It was named the 8th tallest building in the world in 2007 at 492 meters (1,614.2 feet). A couple more interesting facts about this building is that it has 91 elevators and is the second tallest “hotel” in the world. When we finally arrived at the building we paid and realized that there are actually three different levels of the observatory to choose from. The three floors for the observatory are the 94th, 97th, and 100th. We decided to do all of them, and it was definitely worth it. I even had my student ID with me and got a discount so that was a plus. We walked in and watched this not so great promotional video for Shanghai. Then went into this dark, shiny, tiled room that displayed meters on the ceiling on a digital clock. It seemed super fancy. Finally it was our turn to go in the elevator which had a pulsating light and different colors changing on screens in different shapes. We all agreed we felt like we were in the Willy-Wonka elevator machine thing that flies at the end of the movie. Weird, I know. So anyway, each floor had an amazing view of Shanghai. Of course, the higher we went the better it got. The top floor was my favorite because it wasn’t a scary glass floor like you would think. There were only certain areas of the floor that you could see through even though it was all technically glass so that made it a little better. To give you a frame of reference, the floor that we were standing on is on the top part of the pentagon so you can actually see beneath you. It was pretty amazing, and they even had little shops on each floor for souvenirs if you wanted something. Of course we made it back down safe and sound in the Willy-Wonka elevator and headed back to Wuxi that same day. I was sad that the trip went by so fast, but I know that I will go back someday even if it is just to visit!
This trip was life changing for me, not just because I learned to bargain shop, or got to see Shanghai beneath my feet, but also because along the way I built genuine relationships with pretty amazing people. If there is anything that makes studying abroad worthwhile it’s the relationships you build along the way. Any friendship that you make 3,000 miles away from your home country and within four weeks is a friendship worthwhile.
Oh, almost forgot…”Happy Donut Day” in Chinese is:
tian2 tian2 quan1 ri kwai4le4
The numbers after each word symbolize which tone is to be used with that word! If there is no number than that tone is neutral, meaning it has no specific tone.
Until next time!