01 Oct 2014

Shanghai: Beneath the Bund by emiliu74

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What's the first thing you think of at 4am in the morning?

For me, I have no thoughts because I'm too busy dreaming about fluffy pomeranians and intense espionage missions. Who actually THINKS at 4am?!

However, on this particular morning, my first thought at 4am was, "That is the loudest alarm I've ever heard."

I normally wouldn't mind such a loud alarm if I had to wake up, but I didn't. I wasn't going to the beautiful city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province with my suite-mates for Fall Break.

Why was I not going? That's because my relatives are from Hangzhou, so I go there every summer. I was there just a month ago so I didn't feel the need to go. On top of that, going ANYWHERE during China's National Holiday (think of it as the equivalent of Independence Day in the States) is strongly advised against. There's a Chinese expression that represents tourism during National Holiday week: 人山人海 (rén shān rén hǎi), or in English, there's way too many people that it covers the mountain and sea. Yes, the mountain and sea is literally covered with people during this weekend. I opted to stay in and explore the nooks and crannies of Shanghai instead.

Either way, my friends had to catch an early train to Hangzhou which was why they woke up so early. Sadly, that also meant I had to unwillingly wake up since I am a light sleeper. I was interrupted from my slumber on multiple occasions. My roommate even woke me up to ask if she could take the mosquito-repellant.

It was around 6am when the calm finally came.

Finally, I had the entire suite to myself.

But before I celebrated, I caught up on some much desired sleep.

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After that harrowing morning, I awoke at 9:30am ready to start Day 1 of Fall Break!

I decided to hit up the newly-opened YUZ Museum in Xuhui District. I was inspired to visit when I saw an Instagram photo of the exhibit Untitled from Shanghai-based photographer Dennis (@dennis0906). As a photographer (hobby, not professional) myself, I thought the museum would present many interesting exhibits (a.k.a. photo ops).

Stella, a local Chinese student at NYU Shanghai and a fellow intern at Redscale Studios, accompanied me since she was one of the few who chose to stay in the city.

After about 40 minutes, Stella and I got off the subway at Yunjin Road (云锦路) and walked approximately 15 minutes. I thought the museum wasn't open because it was so empty inside. Mini-heart attack. Thankfully it didn't turn out that way; the ticket office and gallery were hidden beneath some stairs.

After paying, we entered the gallery. There weren't a lot of people. It was expected because all the tourists headed towards the more popular spots such as The Bund and East Nanjing Road. No one would put a newly-opened contemporary art museum on the top of their to-do list. Would you?

Indeed, the museum was impressive and contained a lot of cool exhibits that Dennis did not upload. The first exhibit to greet us was Buddha's hand made out of bronze. Tobacco Project by Xu Bing was really cool; the exhibit looked like a random rug at first, but upon closer inspection... Wait, the name gives it away... But you can still see for yourself down below.

My favorites were definitely Untitled and Mona Hatoum's Impenetrable. It's simplicity rendered many fun photo ops for me, and the white background provided a simple yet surreal feeling of symmetry. I don't think that made sense, but hopefully my pictures can express the inexpressible.

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Before break, my Chinese teacher gave my class a list of streets to check out. She told us to check these places out if we want to escape from the tourists and explore an historically richer part of Shanghai. I figured why not since I wasn't traveling.

After YUZ Museum, Stella and I took the subway to Laoxi Men (老西门). Stella mapped out a walking route based on the streets I gave her.

We started off at Middle Fuxing Road (复兴中路). Compared to city center, the strip of Fuxing I walked was definitely calmer. It even had trees that formed an arch at the center of the road which reminded me of Hangzhou! There were a lot of mom-and-pop boutiques and small restaurants. The food smelled good, but Stella and I were wary of the restaurants' cleanliness so we kept walking.

There were alleyways that gave off flavors of Old Shanghai: narrow walkways filled with parked bikes on the side and clothes dangling from above. I found it amusing how these people don't mind having their lingerie hanging out. I guess it's not a big deal since we don't know them, and it's so common for Chinese people to hang-dry their clothes that it doesn't bother them.

As we continued our walk, we ended up in Xintiandi (新天地), a place popular for shopping, clubbing, and eating. It was definitely a stark contrast from Middle Fuxing Road since this region is modern and represents Shanghai today. It was here where we started to see tourist groups and double-decker buses.

As for food, Stella found Bellagio, a restaurant that specializes in Hong Kong and Taiwanese-style cuisine. Satisfaction.

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After lunch, Stella and I walked through Xintiandi and arrived at another street that my Chinese teacher recommended: Jinxian Road (进贤路).

Like my teacher said, there weren't many people and there were a lot of cafes. We were already full from Bellagio, so we didn't get a chance to sample the restaurants there, but one restaurant caught my attention: Pier 33. They sell clam chowder! I'm not sure if they're the only place, but it's the only place I've found so far. Definitely keeping that on my watch list.

At the end of the street was a small bakery stand called Queen Sophie that sold Hong Kong-style pastries. I bought myself an egg tart that was larger than the size of my palm for 8RMB. Delicious, but extremely crusty. I made a mess of myself eating that goliath.