Trip duration: 5/11/16 to 5/27/2016
Route: Dallas => SHA => Dallas
Flying Method: Cash payment
I had the rare opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Shanghai on a work trip recently. From the U.S. going to China, it requires a visa which you have to apply through a nearby Chinese consulate (in my case it’s Houston). The visa application is pretty intense and it asks for a lot of information. You also have to send in your passport, a passport photo, as well as a business invitation letter from the local office. Thankfully everything worked out as hoped. I got my passport back in the nick of time and flew out 2 days after.
There were 4 of us working in Shanghai. We stayed in the Pudong area in Lujiazui near the office. The Huangpu river conveniently flows through the city center between Pudong and Puxi. Pudong literally means “east bank”, and Puxi is “west bank”. The Pudong area is famous for its skyscrapers and skyline; it’s also the financial district and trade zone (similar to the NY midtown area). When visitors go to Shanghai, one of the top places to visit is “the bund” where you can see Pudong from across the Huangpu River. We actually got a reversed view, it’s still a pretty view nonetheless.
During my first weekend there, the coworkers and I ventured out to the city and played tourist. Shanghai has a well developed subway and public transit system. Closest to us is the line 2 subway, which runs across Shanghai connecting the Hongqio Railway Station/Airport from the west to Pudong Int’l Airport to the east. We hopped on the subway from Lujiazui station and crossed the river to East Nanjing Road (it only costs 3 RMB which is less than 50 cents one way). We spent half a day walking around the area (East Nanjing Pedestrian Street, Shanghai Old Town, Yuyuan Garden, etc). Th Old Town area is pretty interesting as a lot of the buildings still retain the older Chinese architecture style. It’s also filled with gazillion visitors, solicitors, and your typical touristy shops. The solicitors can be aggressive and insistent for you to go to their shops if you look foreign. You can just ignore them or tell them no thanks, and they will go away eventually. One of the highlights of the day was when the guys did their pearl shopping while us 2 ladies watched from the sideline. I had to chuckle a little as usually it’s the other way around. Since my manager was on a mission to buy some pearl accessories for his family, we ended up at a wholesale market of pearl called “Pearl Village”. We ended up spending over an hour in one of the stores called Tong Xin Jewelry. I’m no expert in buying jewelries, let alone pearl. Even thought it wasn’t me buying, it still made me a bit nervous. But at least the store didn’t feel shady and the owner Jenny seemed genuine. After a bit of haggling, the guys walked away with pearl bracelets/necklaces/earrings in tow and a smaller wallet. =P
On Sunday we took things a little easy. One of my coworkers and I went to look for the French Concession in an overcast-turned-rainy early afternoon. We got off from the Jing’an Station and walked for a good 30 mins before stopping by a cute brunch place. Interestingly 2/3 of the patrons there were English speakers. This pocket of town is not overcrowded with tourists and seemed much more slow paced; it’s such a breath of fresh air from being in Lujiazui/Pudong. The French Concession was established in the mid 1800’s where the French settled in a section of Shanghai. You could still see the contrast in the colorful European styled buildings as compared to the nearby shorter, more traditional buildings.
Here are some pictures from Shanghai: Oriental Pearl Tower at night (top left), few shots of Old Town and Yuyuan Garden, night view of Old Town from Pudong (middle left), and view of the Huangpu River at night from my room (bottom left).
The following weekend I was in the city alone as everyone else all left to go home 🙁 (they were already in Shanghai for a week and a half before I got there). I was determine to not spend the weekend in the hotel room, so off exploring I went. The highlight of the weekend, and basically my entire stay in Shanghai, was the self-guided day trip to Hangzhou (it’s an hour train ride from Shanghai). Instead of spending $$ on a pricey guided tour (the old me would’ve done it), I did a couple hours of research on tripadvisor as well as chinahighlights.com on how to get there and things to do. After consulting with local friends and coworkers, I pre-purchased the high speed rail tickets from a ticket vendor near work, and spent my Sunday in Hangzhou.
There is so much history in this pretty capital city of Zhejiang province. Signs of civilization inhibited Hangzhou dating over 5 thousand years ago based on excavations. It’s also known as one of the most beautiful cities in China. One of the best known sceneries there is the West Lake, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was certainly on my list to see. From my research, I was drawn to the Lingyin Temple (also known as Temple of Souls Retreat) for its majestic stone carved buddhist statues. My day in Hangzhou was easily consumed by these 2 places.
Here are some pictures from my visit. The giant Apple store in the center was opened in 1/2015, it’s also the biggest Apple store in Asia currently. Just a little humor on how Apple / modern technology is taking on China in the middle of the 5,000 plus year-old historic city.
Here are some fun facts, good-to-knows, and random things I did during my stay in Shanghai:
- Similar to Japan, a lot of the restaurants and service providers in Shanghai only accept cash, locally issued credit cards, or the local payment system (similar to Google Pay / Apple Pay). The fancier sit-down restaurants do take foreign issued credit cards, but a lot of the yummy local restaurants don’t. 🙁 Again, the Charles Schwab debit card came in really handy when I needed cash (no ATM fees worldwide nor foreign exchange fees). ATMs can be easily located at the subway stations and the exchange rate is the same across the country (for once, thanks to the tightly controlled government policy).
- The subway system is very convenient and affordable. One way fare to nearby stations costs like 50 cents (3 RMB). The ticket kiosk has English option and it’s really easy to use. I used mostly Line 2 to go across the Huangpu river.
- Somebody please invent a wearable bubble. The amount of people I see on the street on my way to work, and on the weekend, is quite a sight. At the same time, you also get bumped into left and right (eyes roll). It doesn’t help that almost everyone is on their phone while they walk. You can’t really walk a straight line as you’re constantly dodging and weaving through the crowd with their heads down.
- There is a job called “professional pusher” who pushes commuters into the subway during rush hours. I was told that during rush hours, sometimes you may have to wait for 2~3 trains in order to get in. Yikes!!!! This wouldn’t work for me as I need lots of personal space (ie a bubble).
- The elevator at work literally stopped at almost every single floor before it got to mine. One time I was too busy pushing the “close” button that I forgot to get out and missed my floor. =P
- I was in need of a haircut / trim and decided to try the hair salon locally. I found a budget but highly rated salon called “Hair Consultant” from www.timeoutshanghai.com. Amazingly I found it on the 1st try (it’s close to the Shaaxi South Road station on Line 10, take exit 7, turn right and you’ll walk straight to it. It’s on the second floor). For 98 RMB ($15), I had a scalp massage, hair wash, shoulder massage, and a trim. The cost varies depending on the stylist, the more tenured ones cost more. Since I only needed a trim I picked a basic stylist. This place has an inviting vibe. It’s clean, modern, the hair stylists look pretty stylish. I’d def recommend it.
- At the airport, if you need to take a taxi, please follow the sign and go to the taxi line. There will be a lot of solicitors as soon as you get out of the terminal, ignore them (unless you want to pay over 3 times the normal fare).
- The premium seats on Boeing 787 dreamliner between Dallas and Shanghai are amazeballz. If possible, avoid the 4 seaters and get the seat by the window. Even though each seat has direct aisle access, the pod with 4 seats has really bad seat design. When your seat-mate (in front or behind, depending on where you’re sitting) moves in his/her seat, you can feel it too.
- People really just need to be nice to one another, especially when traveling. Just because you’re sitting in a premium seat, it doesn’t give you the right to cut in line, or yell at the flight attendants because the flight “may” be delayed due to air traffic, or throw a fit because there’s no wifi for you to call your wife. If you’re flying into another country, there is this thing called immigration and customs, it’s world wide and not only in the U.S. Make sure you build in time so you have sufficient cushion to clear customs, claim your baggage, get to your connecting gate, etc. It’s not the airline’s fault but your own if you missed your connecting flight when the flight was only 30 mins late from a 14 hour travel. (okay, vent’s over).
Didn’t mean to write a book, but here is a more detailed account on my day trip to Hangzhou for those who may be interested. It’s totally doable.
– Bought the high speed rail tickets the day before departure from an authorized ticket vendor, based on suggestions from coworkers and the locals. I was glad i did that as weekends tend to be really busy at the train station and it may be overwhelming for a first timer. The hotel concierge may be able to tell you if there’s a train vendor nearby. I stayed near the IFC and there is a vendor near the Oriental Pearl area (it’s a dumpling shop but they also sell train tickets). There is a blue sign on the store front (in Chinese) which indicates they are an authorized ticket vendor. Bring your passport or a local ID as it’s needed for them to issue tickets. The seats are assigned. The cheapest train class is sufficient and pretty comfortable. Ticket from Shanghai Hongqiao to Hangzhou East Station one way is 73RMB on the G train; the vendor charged 5RMB for processing fee for each way. In total, I paid 156RMB for roundtrip tickets. To get to the Shanghai Rail station from where I was (Lujiazui), I took the line 2 subway and it costs 5 RMB for about 40 mins ride. I took the 8am G train and got to Hangzhou at 9am.
– From Hangzhou East Station, I took a taxi to the Lingyin Temple. It was about a 30 mins ride w/o traffic for 53 RMB. Highly recommend the Lingyin Temple; you can literally spend all day there. There are entrance fees though. I spent about 3 hours there.
– After Lingyin Temple, my plan was to head to the West Lake. It got a bit tricky as I had a hard time getting a taxi. There were plenty of private drivers soliciting business but i didn’t really trust them. Finally I was able to get a taxi but he was only willing to take me to Longjing (one of the popular tea farm regions). It was maybe a 15 mins drive and he dropped me off in front of one of those tea shops (aka tourist trap). On the way there he was trying to persuade me to go to his village to sample some tea and maybe buy a few, I declined like it’s nobody’s business. When I got out of the cab and went into the tea shop, the waitress peeked her head out expecting more people. She was quite disappointed that it was only one person. I didn’t stay obviously. I only wanted to get to a larger street for easier access to transportation. The cab ride was 15RMB. Luckily another cab passed by and I jumped in and headed to West Lake.
– West Lake is humongous. I had no idea where to start, so I told the driver to take me to the closest entrance where I can get on a boat ride. It was maybe a 5~10 mins drive from Longying for 13 RMB. The boat ride is a must-do. The sightseeing boat costs 55RMB. It takes you to the main island in the middle of the lake. On the return ride you have the option to return to a different part of the lake.
– I spent about 3 hours at the West Lake and stopped by one of the popular restaurants which has an amazing view to the lake/mountain. It’s called something like “LoUaiLo” (Stairs outside of Stairs?). Had a taste of the DongPo pork (braised pork) and some yummy gelatin like appetizer. My train back to Shanghai departed at 6:30pm, so around 4 I started to look for taxis that would take me to the Hangzhou East Station. OMG, make sure you allow yourself time to get back to the train station. I could not get a taxi for the life of me. I think this was also the time when the taxi drivers were changing shifts, so no one was stopping. One taxi driver was nice enough to pick me up on his way out of the Wesk Lake and dropped me off at a nearby street with a bus stop. It was bus #7 and it had a stop at a train station (not the one I need to go to though). I was desperate so I just hopped on the bus. Luckily the bus driver was very nice and he told me where to get off to take the subway to the Hangzhou East Rail Station. After a few stops he told me to get off at the “DongFong” road, the subway station is just around the corner. It was way cheaper taking the bus and subway back (2 RMB for the bus fare and 4 RMB for the subway as compared to 50+ RMB for a taxi). This actually worked out better since I didn’t have to worry about traffic (it was picking up and the roads were getting busier).
– I could have planned a little better and figured out the train/bus situation in Hangzhou ahead of time…but i was still pretty happy that I was able to do this on my own w/o paying an arm and a leg for a guided tour. I’d have to say it would’ve been more difficult had I not understand Chinese. For the non-Chinese speaking visitors, if you don’t plan on taking the taxi, I’d recommend researching a little more on transportation so you wouldn’t be stranded like I “almost” did.