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Shanghai surprised the author with its friendliness, its warmth, its beautiful combination of heritage and modernity, and yes, with its surprising choices for vegetarians.
This was a business trip for the husband but I insisted on tagging along since I’m very jobless! He agreed, and we took our 3 year old along, leaving the 1 year old at home with grandparents. This article is all about the expectations that I had when visiting China (coming from Singapore and being an Indian), the challenges we faced, the wonderful places we visit, and what I (a vegetarian) and my non-vegetarian baby eat, my tips; and what I did while my girl napped.
The first thing that I always judge about a country is its airport – since Singapore has the most beautiful airport, I expect the same from all developed countries. We landed in Shanghai at noon. Well the airport made us feel at “home”. No, not Singapore, but India. The layout of Shanghai airport is exactly the same as Delhi airport (and nothing close to Changi Airport).
Right at the airport we got to know that language is a big problem here; only 2 in about 10 people will speak and understand English and they too will hesitate. But I was surprised that the immigration had instructions in Hindi when I handed them my Indian passport.
Just step out of the airport and you’ll easily get a cab; don’t be fooled by touts, it’s always better to go by the meter (and it was cheaper than what we were offered). The way the taxi driver blew the horn, I imagined the city to be very noisy and mismanaged. When my girl had heard the horn for the first time, and she suddenly said “oh! What was that?” The taxi ride to the hotel was our first impression of Shanghai and how beautiful it was. Although we were still far from the city, it looked so clean and green, with smooth, comfortable roads. Shanghai welcomed us with dark clouds!
I was surprised to see that the driving here is right handed. Maple trees on the roadside, French looking house rooftops, a city trying to be so western but when it comes to communication this country is very close to its mother-tongue. The taxi driver couldn’t understand a word of what we said and he still kept on saying, Ok Ok! So we tried the translation app and wow! What a brilliant technology. It’s very important to be understood wherever you go, otherwise you feel like an alien and lost. A translator app is one thing you need to survive in China, next to money of course!
Survival Tip: Download the SayHi app before your flight to make sure you have it working when you land.
As we reached the Jing’an area, the Jing’an temple amazed us as it shone gold in the dim light of the cloudy sky. I couldn’t wait to explore this city with such beautiful walkways with flowers and maple trees everywhere. The traffic is well managed and not noisy at all! Honking will get you a ticket at your doorstep. But drivers still jump the traffic signals as and when they can so you have to be careful while crossing the roads.
My usual day used to be – Wake up, freshen up, have a cup of tea, stretch (as the super comfy mattress made my back sore), take bath, give bath, go for breakfast, EXPLORE, Lunch, baby nap, EXPLORE, Dinner, Sleep! On the very first day, my daughter woke up at 6.30 AM!
There’s no whatsapp, no Google, no Facebook, no instagram access in China. You can access all of them on your mobile data but I still decided to take a break from all social media except whatsapp while being here, and experience some digital detox; and look it’s working wonders as I’m doing something that I haven’t done in a long time: blogging.
While my baby girl naps, I get 2 hours to myself during which I love watching locals rushing everywhere on the road down, playing single player Chinese checkers (I’m addicted now) drinking 2-3 cups of tea (I’m addicted to this too now). We always tend to get addicted to one thing or the other. There are no Good Habits, my friends! Habits are just bad. Transition is the only good. Keep switching from one good habit to another, don’t let the good become a habit.
And lastly, if you have time, make time lapse and that too in a beautiful and fast paced city like Shanghai, the results are so satisfying! The sky is so clear and the clouds are pure like cotton candy, it seems like even the sky is in love with the sky scraping architecture.
My struggle while going out here is to keep my little one entertained all the time while I wander on the roads wearing a question mark on my forehead (I love it and she hates it). To avoid delays and long routes resulting in a cranky companion I make sure I plan our day and get my girl all excited for what we will be doing. I introduced her to new words like explorer and traveller. She loves being called an explorer (cuz Dora) but she found traveller sounding more like monster and denied being one. So now she gets all excited when I tell her we will go explore a new place together. And when we reach the destination, we sing the Dora song “we did it we did it!”
We have been exploring a lot nearby as this area is a shopping hub with all the luxury malls. If you’re into shopping this is the place to be! I’m mostly into sneaking into small streets and finding an unexpected hidden wonder, which I couldn’t find in the Jing’an area.
But the most unique mall I came across is Réel mall on Nanjing Road. Level 3 is all about DIY workshops. You can be what you wanted to be when you were a kid. But look at it this way, this city provides practical know-how to youngsters and adults on different skills that they can pursue. They have everything you want to learn to make from painting to wooden ware/toys, from candy workshop to leather bags workshop, from beads and silver jewelry to pottery. I must have spent an hour only on this floor with my mouth and eyes wide open.
I . was. awe-struck!
Shanghai has numerous parks, and you’ll find them blooming full of love with old folks dancing in the evenings. We visited the Jing’an park and found about 10 old couples dancing like no one was watching, completely into each other.
Apart from discovering the unknown places, you should still not miss the famous places in a country you visit. Who knows when you will be back there next! So I checked all the nearby tourist attractions to not miss out on the favorite ones – there are so many temples around the city you can visit them anytime from morning till 4-5pm. And most of them have entry tickets.
Closes at 5pm || Ticket per person : 50 Yuan
This is the kind of place you want to go, to see everything from oriental buildings with street shopping, cafes & restaurants like Starbucks, häagen dazs to local pancake and dumpling shops and food courts. If you’re looking to buy fake luxury bags and watches, and if bargaining is your forté, you can sharpen your skills here and bring the prices by upto even 70%! I fed my cheap thrill monster inside bargaining for a few things and marked my price too low because I didn’t want to buy in the first place (because these fakes looked really fake), and they did ‘almost’ bring it down to my offer!
The Bund – Shanghai Skyline
If you can view it in the evening is even better. The skyline is different from all other cities because of the pink TV Radio Tower which adds so much jazz to Shanghai’s traditional and French architecture.
Just around the viewing deck, is the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. There are self-driven trains that take you through the tunnel with wonderful lighting effects. This one was loved by my little one. She couldn’t wait to come back to this side of the tunnel again in the train.
||Ticket- 50 Yuan one way, 70 Yuan round trip
*Kids go free (not sure till what age)
Note: I’m a vegetarian, but I’m fine with all kinds of non-vegetarian broths, oils and sauces in my vegetarian food.
The first night of our Shanghai, we stepped out to explore the place plus food. I came here accepting the fact that vegetarian food won’t be easy to find. I also told myself, I’ll either lose weight or lose my vegetarianism! ,
We couldn’t find any vegetarian food anywhere. Finally, I saw a Thai restaurant and thought they’ll have something vegetarian for sure. But they didn’t! We decided to order any kind of curry with rice. So my 1st ‘vegetarian’ dinner looked like this
Fried seafood rice it was, and until then, I had never had this close an encounter with prawns. But surprisingly, the rice was better than the greens (as they tasted more of pork).
Next morning the breakfast was such a relief as I had more options to eat from (I thought I’d be eating only toasted bread and cereal). That’s my favorite part of any hotel stay – the breakfast buffet. It is my opportunity to get really close to the local food and I loved the mild flavours.
My new favorite after being here is sweet Pumpkin Pie (the round one in the pic).
For our first day’s lunch we ate a Mexican take-out in the comfort of our room. They have many kiosks around the area, so you can search on the maps and get your vegetarian rice bowl /burrito from MEX&CO
I also found an Indian Restaurant very close to where we stayed, with authentic Indian food – Lookout for Vedas Indian Cuisine on Changshu Road.
Isn’t it ironic that we eat Chinese cuisine while in India and Indian cuisine while in China? I still wanted to eat something more local and not Indian while in China so I searched on the maps for more vegetarian options and found a restaurant named Pure & Whole in Shanghai Centre and Réel mall. So, I decided to go to Réel mall which was nearby. And I found another vegetarian restaurant named BMS Organics (B2) that serves vegetarian food. We ordered Laksa, pumpkin rice bowl and pasta for the baby.
I found Pure and Whole at Shanghai Centre too, but as we reached they were closed even at 11am. Apart from this, when the first couple of days I rushed back to the room tired and couldn’t get to find food nearby because “cranky companion”, I made Maggi noodles in a glass. They tasted good and I missed my hostel days when we used to love living on such small pleasures. While I ate these noodles my baby ate Cerelac with packed boiled corn/ couscous soaked in hot water mixed with baby food pouch / instant oats. On other days we’d share my food.
I wish I were a non-vegetarian so I could try so much more food around the world. I still wanted to try more of local food, so in the evening we went to hunt more local vegetarian options. We saw a few street food shops but they didn’t understand what vegetarian meant, and even with a translator app it was hard to communicate since the aunties were old and not very tech friendly. So we ended our conversation with a big smile and thumbs up and thank you!
Then I found a food court in the basement of a mall. And they had what they call Yong Tau Fu in Singapore. If you’re not aware of Yong Tau Fu then these are the small shops that display veggies including green leaves, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, tofu together with meat options and variety of noodles. You pick a bowl or basket and fill in your choice of ingredients (as many you want – that increases the price of course). Then they’ll cook it and add in hot soup. Now in Singapore the soup is usually chicken or beef based, but here they had 5 options, one of which was tomato base.
Not a fanatical vegetarian, I was still relieved to find that 99% of my food here in Shanghai was vegetarian, and I’m glad to announce that I have neither lost my vegetarian-ism nor my weight (not happy about the latter). So if you’re a vegetarian, don’t fret, there’s always vegetarian options around the globe. Otherwise the best of all is to survive on only bread and Nutella!
My girl had been feeling really lonely after 4 days of stay here, missing her baby sister and friends. So I took her to a play area that I had seen before in the mall nearby. She was super happy and I gave her all evening to play there. She made a new friend. And it was like she had a storm of emotions inside her waiting to be let out to a friend. She was overjoyed!
This Classic Teddy theme restaurant is on level 6 of Jiuguang mall (department store). The whole floor is about kids stuff. Entry to the Play area is free as long as you order something to eat. Now the menu was so much in Chinese that I closed my eyes and put my finger on the fries!
The people of Shanghai are extremely friendly, they speak the language of smiles all the time. Everywhere we went, people admired my little girl and showered her withcomplimentss.
Shanghai people are happy to help you as long as you have the translator app. They are shy sometimes but never step back. There’s love in the air here. From young people getting married to old folks dancing, they are very open about their feelings.
The buildings mostly remind you of European architecture. The roads and side alleys are immensely beautiful with flowers and trees that you feel like you’re walking on a Hollywood movie set. You’ll come across many small and beautifully done shops mostly of flowers and plants, that may make you want to go in buy a bunch of flowers for your special one.
Shanghai has left a very different modern and beautiful impression on us. Not a cosmopolitan city, but it’s the best match of modern and vintage that I have seen so far.
Hope to see you again, Shanghai! ❤️
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Author - Kids are from Mercury (Available now @ Amazon)
~Anu Gogna is a copywriter, photographer and
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