Shanghai Walks: a trip back in time

There is something in Shanghai that is very exciting and alive – the idea of a city with two different souls, one from today and another from a long time ago, is amazing.

-Alessandro Michele

The city of Shanghai paints a somewhat unusual picture. It is difficult to describe the discrepancies you find here on so many levels. The have’s and the have-not’s; old art-deco buildings amongst new futuristic skyscrapers; glitz and opulence a neighborhood away from street food, entire families sharing a two-bedroom apartment with no heat and laundry hanging from windows. All this and more is what makes the city such a fascinating area to explore.

Last weekend we pulled out our trusty Shanghai Walks book and did a walk entitled, “Suzhou Creek & the Real Shanghai.” For about 2 1/2 hours we wandered up and down the streets behind The Bund learning about the British and American Settlements in Shanghai in the 1920’s, as well as the Jewish migration from Europe and Japanese take over in the late 1930’s. To walk the streets of so much history is fascinating.

Our walk began on The Bund. For those of you who do not know the area, Shanghai is essentially divided into two parts by the Huangpu River. On one side sits the new section, or the Financial District, also known as Pudong. The other side is the old section, called Puxi. A river separating the future from the past. You don’t get any more literal than that. So, our walk began on the historical side of the city. We walked out to the river to look across at the towering skyscrapers that make up the iconic Shanghai skyline. The Oriental Pearl Tower looks like something you would find on the moon with it’s three bubbled levels and smooth silver detail.IMG_7411

From there, we turned around and headed into Puxi. Our first history lesson was that in the 1920’s the British and Americans established settlements in neighboring areas of this side of the river. Just looking at the buildings along The Bund convey the strong British influence during the time. It seems more like you are walking up and down the Thames than the Huangpu River. Gorgeous neoclassical marble buildings with ornate detail all convey an old-world European charm.

Money and culture flooded into Shanghai during this time. Theater, religion, and recreation all became popular pastimes amongst the ex-pats and wealthy locals living in the area. It is fascinating to walk along the Art Deco buildings in this section of town and feel so far removed from Asia. These buildings hold many stories, and opulence remains with stores like Cartier, Patek Philippe, and Gucci lining the streets.

It seems the British and Americans lived in harmony with the Shanghainese until Japan invaded in the late 1930’s. At this time, Japan bombed the city then proceeded to invade, taking over the once peaceful area. The lower-class Shanghainese were forced to move a bit farther away from The Bund, establishing their own neighborhoods. Our next walking point took us through these communities. What a contrast to the wealth we saw a mere two streets closer to the water. Dirty streets, laundry hanging out to dry from every window, local street food vendors offering some great (and not so great) looking dining options. No Ferraris or Rolls-Royces roll through this area. Here, they are replaced by scooters carrying entire families, chickens, and who-knows-what. But even in this section of town, the culture is rich. Perhaps not rich in monetary terms, but in their deep culture. I’m sure just as we observed in the streets closer to The Bund, these roads have changed very little. I can imagine walking down this area in the 1930’s and experiencing many of the same sites, smells, and customs that we do today.

Turning back towards The Bund is a large area under construction. Out with the old, in with the new. The remnants of thoughtfully designed Art Deco apartments stand in a crumbled heap. If those walls could talk, I’m sure they would tell tales of the glory days when the future looked bright and money and opportunity endless. I understand the push forward to make new and refresh cities, but it saddens me when there is not a middle ground. Back in the day buildings were not necessarily made to last here. They were put up quickly and lived in hard. Many of them could not be restored even if building crews wanted to, so they must be torn down and built anew. I suppose you could look at it as an opportunity. New walls to hold new stories. But I love the past and grieve a bit when it is not preserved.


Our walk concluded back where we started, standing in front of the Peninsula Hotel on The Bund. We put our pinkies up and went in for a much deserved afternoon cocktail. I thought as we sipped our delicacies what a contrast it was to an hour earlier when we paid 25RMB for our lunch made by street vendors on the local streets.

Shanghai is deep and layered in its history. It was fascinating to walk the streets and imagine life here in the 1920’s-’30’s. Shanghai is also a contrast of past and future, of the wealthy and the poor. But through it all, despite our history or backgrounds, we still manage to come together and make the city special.

Our walk opened my eyes to many things I have passed time and time again but never took time to really “see”. If you have the chance, step into history. Don’t just read about it in a book. Walk the streets. Stand where you are and take it all in. Imagine a time of days gone by when life was different, yet somehow much the same as today. I am thankful we did, and I know you will be too.

Special thanks to Barbara Green, Tess Johnston, Ruth Lear, and Carolyn Robertson for walking the Streets of Shanghai and writing The Streets of Changing Fortune: SIX SHANGHAI WALKS so we could too!IMG_7522


A Trip to the Market

Perhaps one of the most fun aspects of living in Shanghai is the many types of markets available for shopping. Fabric, fake, pearl, photography, electronics, produce, you name it, there is a market for it. Our favorites are the fake market and the fabric market. Pretty much anything you could need or want can be found in one of these two markets. Except for Bath and Body Works soaps. Oh, how I miss those. But I suppose if they did sell them they would be fake so maybe not the best idea. Who knows what ingredients would actually be in them. Anyway…

Last weekend we took a trip to both the fake and fabric markets. These places do have actual names. I think one is AP Plaza and the other, South Bund Spinning and Fabric Market, but really, who has time to say all of that? We like to keep things simple. We have even simplified names for some of the locals we buy things from. The lamp lady, jacket guy, pancake lady, DVD guy, etc. Mostly because we couldn’t pronounce their names if we tried, but you get the point.

So, our first stop was the fake market, and I was on a mission to buy some Christmas presents. Now one does not walk into a local market and purchase an item at face value. No way! Part of any good Chinese market experience is the haggling.

Not only does Jackson have to negotiate with the vendor, but also with his wife. Which will be the tougher sell? Then there’s Hunter with no money. Sigh.

My ultimate goal is to walk away feeling like I got a good deal. Negotiations usually go something like this,

Me: “How much is this?”
Vendor: “It’s 460 RMB.”
Me: “No, way too much.”
Vendor: “Ok, I give you good friend price. 380 RMB.”
Me: laugh and shake my head, “no way. Still too much.”
Vendor: “Ok, ok, you give me price.”
Me: “150.”
Vendor: Look of utter shock, “You joking me. No way. How about 350?”
Me: “No. Forget it, I don’t want it anyway.” Turn and leave store
Vendor: Chases me down the aisle. “Ok, ok 200 RMB.”
Me: “No, 150.”
Vendor: “Fine, fine, you are killing me. Ok”. Followed by a substantial amount of muttering under the breath while putting my item in a bag.
Deal done.

I walk away knowing I paid what the item was worth and the vendor plays the anger card but knows he/she also sold it for what it’s worth and they will get a lot more from the next sucker who walks into their store. So back to my mission. I knew I wanted some travel wine cups (apparently all the rage this year) And I knew I wanted to pay 22 RMB for them. After walking away empty-handed from two stores, without even so much as a chase down, I was in luck in the third. After a tough negotiation down from 50 to 23 RMB. I figured this was close enough to the price I wanted to pay. When I told her I wanted 36 cups her eyes nearly popped out of her head. Subsequently, I got the, “you’re killing me,” and “I make no profit” line quite a few times so I know I got a good deal.

Now how am I going to carry all of these?


Christmas presents bought, we were onto the fabric market to get some things made. My husband, Brett, wanted a sportcoat made, so we went to a lady he has used many times before. Although she has his measurements on file, she looked at him and said, “we measure you again.” When she wrapped the measuring tape around his stomach, her eyes grew wide, and she said, “you got much bigger.” I snorted, then almost fell on the floor laughing. Poor guy.

The lady who noticed Brett’s “larger” stomach. And yes, Jack bought this hat at the Fake Market. Quite a find!

But hey, don’t ever get too much of a kick out of someone else’s misfortune or karma will get you back. Next, we went to my “shirt lady” so I could have a couple of, well, shirts made. Brett and the boys stood outside the store while I wheeled and dealed my way to a reasonable price. After we left, Brett showed me a picture he took while waiting. This was the sign on the store:CC2FE866-C3D4-4BD3-A36E-5EFB366119EB-11883-000004C6B690F516_tmp

At the end of the day, we all had a laugh and chalked it up to just another adventure in China. Every day there is something new to make you giggle. We certainly are lucky to call this place home.


The (not-so) definitive guide to Shanghai​


Shanghai has become our hometown. Walking along The Bund and looking across the river at the downtown skyline never gets old. If you are thinking about taking a trip to this urban metropolis, you won’t be disappointed. Someone told me Shanghai is the “China of the future”, and being a city of 25 million people means that life is constantly evolving. New restaurants, bars, and shops pop up almost overnight. There is always something new to see or do.

Styrofoam lady. A fascinating common sight. How do they get the styrofoam piled so high?!


This guide is meant to get you started. Check out some of the places online to make sure they are still open, their hours, and additional details. If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to me. I would be happy help and maybe even play the tourist with you!


Some Handy Tips                                                                                                                ELECTRICITY

Spring (Mar-May)
Autumn (Sep-Nov)
Yuan Renminbi (¥)

Getting around

  • taxi (most taxi drivers don’t speak English so make sure you have your directions printed out in Mandarin before leaving)
  • Metro
  • Ferry to cross the HuangPu River
  • Mo Bikes. Download the app and rental is a snap.
  • Your own two feet


  • Temporarily switch your current plan to an international plan.
  • Inquire whether your phone is eligible to be unlocked. If it is, you can bring an unlocked phone to China and purchase an inexpensive SIM card with a local phone number to use while visiting. Cost for a SIM card=about $30 and can be purchased at the airport.
  • Purchase an inexpensive phone, or bring an old phone with a SIM card and proceed with suggestion from #2. Smartphones are suggested (iPhone or Galaxy)
  • Regardless of which option you choose, download the WeChat app. This app is incredibly popular in China. You can text, voice, and video call anywhere in the world using only your data. Plus, it tends to be the most stable form of communication.

Internet usage in China can be sporadic. Wi-fi signals go in and out. Please bring your patience. The internet may be fast one day, and not work at all another. Also, some websites such as Facebook are banned in China. The only way to access them is through a VPN. If certain sites are very important for you to access while you are here, you may considering researching a VPN you can install on your device.

Thoughts and things

  • Shanghai is 12-13 hours ahead of the EST zone depending on Daylight Savings Time.  You will experience some major jet-lag no matter how hard you try to avoid it. The first three days are the most difficult, but it’s really a full week before you feel normal again. Something to think about when planning your trip’s length.

    Young or old, you just can’t escape jet-lag
  • You can exchange money at the airport or in town. Cash is still the most widely accepted form of payment, and the only form accepted in most markets. Many stores and restaurants accept MasterCard or Visa. Fewer accept American Express.
  • Always carry your passport in case you are questioned by the authorities.
  • Make a copy of your passport, Visa, immunizations, health issues, insurance card, and blood type. Medical care is very different here and you should always have your information in case of emergency. You may also want to check with your insurance provider regarding international coverage.
  • A visa is required for all U.S. citizens staying in Shanghai for more than 144 hours. Check with your local consulate about how to obtain your visa.
  • The Chinese culture believe it is ok to openly stare at something or someone they find interesting. They aren’t being rude, they are just curious. And if you are tall, have blonde or red hair, or dark skin they may ask to take their picture with you. Don’t worry, you aren’t a freak of nature. It’s just the way they are.

    Exercising like the locals in Fuxing Park. Notice the old dude in the back staring at our ridiculousness.
  • Some locals don’t feel the need to…ahem…find a bathroom if necesary. They will just go wherever they want. So if this happens, try not to stand there mouth gaping open in horror. Just look the other way and move on.
  • You will need a converter, and/or adapter for most of your electrical appliances. Most cellphones and computers are dual frequency and do not require conversion. You can purchase one on Amazon relatively cheap. 
  • Water is not safe to drink unless filtered. Brushing your teeth and showering are fine.
  • Some days have a high AQI, or air quality level. This means the air is heavily polluted. Wearing masks may be recommended. You can purchase masks before you leave (VOG masks are the best).

    It looks like we are in a sci-fi film
  • Pedestrians in China do not have the right of way-EVER. Use extreme caution any time you cross a street. Cars and scooters will come at you from all directions.
  • Many toiletries and medications are difficult or impossible to find here. Please bring all you may need.
  • Many toilets are still squatty potty type. Be prepared and always carry tissues or toilet paper.

    Just in case you are confused.
  • Hand sanitizer wipes are useful to carry with you.
  • Tipping is not common practice for meals and services.

Places to see and things to do


  • The Bund: Walk along the water to see the picturesque Shanghai skyline.
  • Lujiazui: See some of the world’s tallest buildings up close. Enjoy authentic xiaolongbao at Din Tai Fung. Get a bird’s-eye view inside one of the skyscrapers.

    Delicoius xiaolongbao
  • Fake Market (Science and Technology Building): Need a Michael Kors bag, fake watch, custom suit, or souvenirs? This is the perfect place to go, but be ready to bargain!
  • Fuxing Park: Enjoy a weekend morning outside strolling through the park and watching locals enjoying some downtime. Immerse yourself in the dancing, play a game of mahjong, or talk politics.
    Do you think I could find a hat like this in the fake market?


  • Carrefour: Visit a local grocery store, or wet market to see what the locals eat. Be prepared, many items in the meat department are still alive.
  • Yuyuan Garden & Bazaar: A beautiful traditional Chinese garden oasis nestled in the middle of town is sure to delight. After a tour of the garden, take time to shop for local handicrafts and keepsakes.IMG_1857
  • Foot Massage: A must after a long plane ride or a day of sightseeing.
  • Tianzifang: Get lost in the longtang style alleyways of charming shops and restaurants.
  • City lights at night: Enjoy a cocktail at a downtown rooftop bar. We love Flair for a view of The Bund, and Char Bar for a view of the skyline. Try to arrive just before sunset so you get both a daytime and nighttime view. 
  • Eat, Eat, Eat!!: The choices are endless.



  • Yang’s Fry Dumplings: For another taste of delicious local fare.
  • Shanghai Disney!!! Who wouldn’t want to go to Disney, am I right?

    Don’t tell Brett, but I think I have a new boyfriend.
  • Watertowns: The Chinese Venice. Watertowns have many sights, sounds and smells that make you feel like you have stepped back in time. Qi Bao is the closest to downtown.
  • ERA Circus: Spectacular Cirque-de-Sole style show. Performances nightly.            
  • Shop for custom pieces: fabric markets, lamp lady, Painter’s Street, etc.                      
  • Jing’an Temple: A large Buddhist temple tucked amongst a backdrop of tall buildings. This temple is still active and dates back to 1918.
  • Zotter’s Chocolate Factory. Pretty much like walking into Willy Wonka’s factory minus the Oompa Loompas. You will be sick by the time you leave, but it is totally worth the chocolate coma!  IMG_2504                                   
  • Local tours
    • walking tours
    • street food

      My favorite street food. Chinese pancakes. They are sooo good!
    • temples
    • double-decker bus city tour (a cool way to see the city and get your bearings)

      Want to ride in style? Take the Barbie Bus tour an be a Barbie for the day.
    • sidecar city tour
    • bike tours
    • migrant village
    • Huang Pu River Cruise
    • any tour can be arranged according to interest
  • Museums
    • History:
      • Shanghai History Museum
      • Shanghai Museum of Natural History
      • Post Museum (history of Chinese postal service)
      • Propaganda Poster Art Centre Museum: is cooler than it sounds with3,000 posters from the time of Mao and the Cultural Revolution.
    • Modern art:
      • Power Station of Art
      • China Art Palace
      • Minsheng Art Museum
      • Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art
      • M50
    • Art Deco
      • Rockbund Art Museum (contemporary Chinese)
    • Chinese art
      • Shanghai Gallery of Art
    • General
      • China Art Palace
    • Urban
      • Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. Incredible model layout of Shanghai.
    • Traditional crafts:
      • Shanghai Arts & Crafts Museum
      • Nankeen Fabric Museum. See how beautiful blue and white fabric is made and shop for some to bring home.
  • Markets:
    • Pudong or Hongqiao Flower Market: Flowers, paintings, home furnishings, pets and even floating babies!

      Sometimes you don’t even have to go to a market in order to find treasures.
    • Wet Market: See local food being sold outdoors.IMG_2456
    • Tea Market (schedule a tour)
    • Marriage Market: Walk along the sidewalks and observe people with adstrying to find marriage prospects for their children and grandchildren.
    • Antique warehouse: If you like to get dirty and hunt for treasures this one’s for you! Word of warning, not everything you see is an antique and prices tend to be high. But it is fun to see some of the crazy things for sale.
  • Shanghai Aquarium: Home of the world’s longest aquarium tunnel.
  • Shopping:
    • Super Brand Mall: 8+ floors housing any store you can imagine.
    • IFC Mall: see if you can afford anything here.
    • East Nanjing Road: A walking street with many stores.
    • Many high-end shopping areas in Puxi
  • Take in a show, musical performance, or concert

As you can see, there are endless things to do in Shanghai which is one of the reasons we love it so much. Come on over for a week or two and immerse yourself in “the China of the future”.

Shanghai guide