A Glimpse of Shanghai

I’m not usually a fan of big cities. Don’t get me wrong- there are some fantastic cities I’ve been to that I’ve enjoyed and some I could even picture calling “home” for a while. But, when traveling, I find that it’s the smaller towns, villages, and off-the-beaten path spots that are usually the most interesting places to visit. These are the places where you’re really able to get a true glimpse into the culture, traditions, and most importantly, the food!

That being said, I absolutely love Shanghai. I had quite a few Chinese people turn their noses up at me when I told them I visited Shanghai. “But Shanghai not true China”, I had a village woman tell me during my 24 hour train ride from Shanghai to Guilin. And she’s probably right, but it’s still a wonderful city.

Parts of Shanghai are completely westernized- the building structure, the department stores, the fashion, the Starbucks on every corner, the skanky clothing. One of the days I spent wandering around Shanghai could have been any given day in San Francisco. I bought a new iPad at the overly crowded Apple store, I spent an hour in a five-story Forever 21 and even walked out with a brand new pair of shorts, I drank a delicious bubble tea, I jumped out of the way in the knick of time before getting run down by a screaming Chinese driver, and I had two different guys come up to me and ask if they could take a picture of me in all my caucasian glory. Really, just any given day in San Francisco.

However, although parts of Shanghai are very westernized, the entire city is cris-crossed by hutongs, which are little back alleys found in nearly every city in China that firmly hold on to their Chinese culture and traditions. People pedal their squeaky bikes, sell all kinds of homemade knick knacks, and barbecue street food on grills attached to their bicycles. Have I mentioned yet how much I love Asian street food? I loved wandering around the hutongs at night as they were swarming with locals grilling all different types of mystery meat and God knows what else on small make shift barbeques attached to their bicycles and rickshaws. I wasn’t ready to dive into the street food yet, but it was still fun to watch.

I met a lovely Swiss couple at the guesthouse I was staying at. Once it got dark, we wandered down to the Bund, which is the famous skyline of Shanghai that you can view from across the river. At night, the entire skyline lights up, as well as all the boats passing by in the river, allowing for a beautiful view. My brand new Swiss friends and I sat on the balcony of a gorgeous but really expensive restaurant called New Heights which overlooks the Bund. We spent a couple hours there, enjoying the view and downing US ball-park priced beers. I ordered a water, only to find out it was by far the most expensive water I had ever purchased at $15. Once I found out the price, it instantly became the most delicious water I had ever tasted. Worth every penny.

Shanghai is a booming, beautiful cosmopolitan city. If it weren’t for all the hutongs and back alleys, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much. But you can literally see and feel the growth and transformation of China while wandering around. It’s a fantastic blend of old and new, a harmonious struggle between traditional values and new ways of thinking… somewhere I would definitely return to.











  • It is interesting to hear your comments. Shanghai is such a new and old city and I have wondered how it would be to visit. I hope your retreat is great. It is wonderful to be travelling with Fran and Bob. X Ines

  • I really liked Shanghai, too — and Nanking! Both historic cities and not as insanely polluted as Beijing. Thanks for sharing your photos!

  • Emily-its’s Ke’ala-mac’s friend, I met you a few times in SD and when you girls stayed at my house before your trip to South America in LA when your flight got cancelled:( I actually live in Beijing and used to live in Shanghai for 4 years, are you still in China? If so, give me a call at 186-1045-5099-would be happy to show you around!

    • Hey! Great to hear from you. I would have contacted you if I’d have known you were there, but I’m in Nepal now and am headed to India in just a couple weeks. What are you doing in China?

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