My favorite evening used to fall on a Friday. I would finish work at 5pm, grab some food with friends and head to a quaint little jazz bar to see in the morning. Since moving to China the evening awarded my favor is Sunday. Work ends at 5:30pm, someone in the office usually makes a suggestion for food or drinks, but as we next start work at 4pm on the following Wednesday some of us find ourselves straight in a taxi and off to the airport. This “weekends” destination: Shanghai.
The bells ringing, our boxes are down and we are out the door positively beaming! Our flight time is tight so we take a taxi to the eerily quiet airport, find Starbucks and for the first time actually discuss what we want to do in Shanghai. The trip was booked on impulse, Emma said we needed a break, I agreed, Ctrip did the rest. But in a place like Shanghai where do you start?
We have three nights but only two days. Shanghai offers an endless array of museums, art galleries, cultural sights and night life. The restaurants are as diverse as the people and the architecture makes it easy to forget you are in China. We arrive late at night looking slightly disheveled from the rain, the two young men at the hostel desk smile and offer us a double room for the same price as our booked dorm. I’m already in love with Shanghai. We stayed at Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel booked via Hostel World. It was perfect. Friendly service, hot showers, all the usual facilities and centrally located. We unpack, buy a bottle of wine and sleep.
We decided we are here for less of a tourist trip and more to relax in a different city from the one we currently call home (Fuzhou). We sleep in, chat to other guests from all over and head out in search for the Bund. It’s raining with a crisp chill in the air and a grey mist, but oddly enough it feels perfect. It’s been eight months since I’ve wandered down a street with such familiar European architecture. The beautifully adorned grey structures and bare trees that line the street almost had me convinced I was in London. The only deterrence to that possibility was the array of shop owners flocking to the streets to lay out their plants to drink in the rain, something I doubt I’ll ever witness in London!
It is not long before we reach the Bund. The magnificent waterfront reveals its grandeur through the grey mist making a silhouette of some of its buildings. It’s as though you are gazing at a museum of international architecture. The following night we found ourselves exploring the west side of the Bund, lit up in neon we discovered the different architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque. As we wander along the Bund taking in our first symbol of Shanghai, a wave of nostalgia washes over me as I hear clock bells echo through the morning. A sound that was once so familiar to me having twice lived by a town clock now takes me by surprise. It is unusual what you miss about home when living in a country so different from your own.
We continue along the Bund following the signs for the City of God temple that lies within Anren Jie. Suddenly you are taken out of the modern western blend of Shanghai and into an old town of classical Chinese architecture. Unavoidably so you encounter every possible trinket and souvenir any tourist could desire, admittedly I found myself purchasing a mahjong set that I hope to learn once I find three others keen to do the same in order to play. As soon as you are able to maneuver through the crowds you discover the jewel of this area: Yuyuan Garden. A famous classical garden with a history of over 400 years. The attractive garden is home to many pavilions, halls and ponds and if it wasn’t for its popularity it would be an extremely tranquil place to sit in silence and wonder at the scenery.
After enjoying the garden and temple we head in contrast for Nanjing Road to take in Shanghai’s shopping. The streets are bustling with fashion seekers undeterred by the rain. We find ourselves a new outfit and head back to the hostel to freshen up and reacquaint ourselves with the bottle of wine. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about hostels is the shared common area. It’s like being in an over-sized living room and for lone travelers becomes a haven for meeting others. We quickly make friends and head out for a drink. As its a Monday evening I cannot say we experienced Shanghai’s night life exactly but the bars are alive with fellow travelers and some welcoming locals.
The following morning is a lazy one. The weather has improved and we head out in search of coffee and a western style breakfast for a change. We become distracted by more shopping and breakfast turns into an Italian lunch in a charming restaurant with a view over the city. We discuss museums with the tightest time frame imaginable and I mistakenly order a smoothie that takes a lifetime to arrive. Jumping on the subway we make it to the Natural History Museum, or to its grounds at least! Not realizing ticket sales end long before closing we make the most out of the visit and explore the surrounding grounds. Fortunately the disappointment is recovered by the various sculptures that are on exhibit and the blue sky that has broken through the grey. The modern architecture of the area is also quite pleasing to admire.
It’s here that we decide to subway hop. Picking a random destination and letting the train do the rest we find ourselves on the west side of the Bund in awe of the various buildings, sculptures and monuments. The Bund should be explored both during the day and at night to be truly appreciated. Making our way back to the east side of the river we find a art deco style building with a sign for the recommended Captains Youth Hostel, known for it’s warm welcome to back packers and roof top bar with an amazing view of the Bund. We eat, drink cocktails and discuss the trip. We are both eager to return for a longer stay to take full advantage of Shanghai’s cultural hub, arts scene and night life. Two days is a taste of what Shanghai has to offer and we reluctantly return to our hostel to prepare for the return to Fuzhou.
Although fascinated by the cutural blend of Shanghai I would say it is a city that I will probably only ever visit. It doesn’t feel enough like living in China for me and although Fuzhou is also a city, I can feel a pull towards China’s more rural areas to deepen my appreciation for this countries ancient history and way of life. Forever a restless soul, I will listen to the wind to guide me through this chapter of my life and see what the future holds.