4.01.2015

TRAVEL DIARY: SHANGHAI SURPRISE

Last September I braved mainland China for the first time. So many people have been raving to me how amazing Shanghai is for quite some time now. So, when I saw dirt cheap flights going to China I did not think twice and just impulsively booked flights even without a visa yet. Thankfully, the visa process was surprisingly painless. It was released after two working days from my visa application. Also, coincidentally, my boyfriend was in Beijing. Luckily, we were able to synchronize our schedules for a brief yet memorable 5-day rendezvous. Perfect timing indeed! I took the very convenient bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing. It was a bit pricey but absolutely worth every penny since it literally cut the traveling time in half.

Since my flight from Manila to Shanghai was quite late, I opted to hang-out at Pudong airport until the first metro runs to downtown Shanghai. It was a bit of a challenge to locate my Airbnb flat since most locals didn't speak much English at all. After shamelessly asking people for directions using my charades expertise, my persistence eventually paid off. The flat turned out to be convenient since it was literally a stone's throw away from the metro. My hospitable host eagerly shared the shortcut deets to me from the flat to the metro and marked all the necessary must-see places located within the vicinity. The route seemed shady at first because it was a backdoor alleyway. But I kind of liked it because it somehow exposed the typical Shanghai lifestyle. Shanghai is massive but is quite accessible via metro. I also walked a lot from place to place. Whenever I get lost I normally just searched for a nearby mall to access free public wifi.

Shanghai is undeniably one of today's fastest developing cities in the world. For the past two decades, its unprecedented growth has paved the way for the construction of luxury hotels, high-end shopping centers and skycraping buildings yet still preserving its historic and traditional past. In fact, Shanghai has one of the world's largest number of well-preserved Art Deco buildings as seen in the Bund. The Bund becomes even more spectacular at night. Most buildings are discreetly illuminated. Another must-see area is the affluent car-free Xintiandi, a former residential area turned into a high-end resto and shopping center frequented by expats and rich Shanghainese with ridiculously deep pockets. Strolling here at night transports you to the streets of Paris or London. This posh district is also considered to be the most expensive neighborhood to live in China with flats costing more than Tokyo, London and New York. Shanghai's Pudong District is home to a number of the world's tallest buildings. If you have acrophobia, then, skip this area. If you like sky high buildings and got balls like me, then, make sure to swing by Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial District, the second tallest building in the world.

A trip to any city won't be complete without a visit to the old town. Here, I sampled on a variety of typical Chinese delicacies such as the mouth-watering soupy dumpling called Xiaolongbao, flavored moon cakes in all shapes and sizes and, of course, the to-die-for pork buns. Using my excellent bargaining skills, I got a pretty decent deal on a handsome traditional cheongsam button-down and jacket.

Since I have a shitload of photos from this trip, I am dividing my photo diaries into three, namely Shanghai Surprise (General Overview of Shanghai), M50 and More (50 Moganshan Road) and Shop Til You Drop (Shanghai Shopping Guide). Stay tuned for the succeeding photo diaries.

Before I end this post, I would like to share a horrible experience I had when I was at the Xintiandi district in Shanghai. When I was trying to locate the flagship store of one of my favorite Chinese designers, a random young Chinese lady approached me. At first, she mumbled something in Mandarin. But eventually she realized that I did not understand her remark so she switched to English right away. "Do you need some help?", she politely asked. Then, she eagerly walked me towards the right direction of the shopping mall I was frantically searching that evening. When we got there, I offered to buy her a drink as a token of appreciation. Then, somehow we seemed to click effortlessly. Afterwards, she suggested a nearby watering hole. Being naive, I accompanied her. Little did I know that it was the start of a nightmare. When we got to the place, right away I felt there was something wrong. I tried to get myself out of the situation but she insisted that I stay. So I told her I just need to quickly go to the men's room. When she stood up and accompanied me to the toilet I knew immediately I was in trouble. Thank goodness my paranoia did not get the best of me. Thankfully, I was still able to compose myself and come up with a logical plan. Upon exiting the toilet, two big bouncers aggressively held my arms and pushed me towards a vacant room. They suspiciously interrogated me with all sorts of questions. Then, my supposedly "new" friend entered the room with another woman and the shady manager of the establishment. According to them, I have to settle the bill. Otherwise, they will not release me. It was obviously extortion. They took my bag but they couldn't find any money except for a few loose bills. After almost an hour of non-stop bullying, they finally realized they cannot get anything from me. So they eventually let me go. Fortunately, I was able to breeze my way out of hell even if I was in a state of shock. When I got back to my apartment, I called my boyfriend and ranted my shocking scamming experience. Indeed, it was a wake-up call for me. Who knew that something like this would ever happen to me since I have practically traveled all over the world. But thankfully nothing serious happened to me. Now, I keep my guard up all the time except when I am with my hubby and my loved ones.

In general, Shanghai is a pretty safe city except for that aforementioned isolated experience. It is an exciting city that I can definitely see myself visiting in the future. You should too. Just be extra careful to avoid possible drama.