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.

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Before I start, I must inform you that I do not have any food porn. I'll try to capture more, but most of the time I just forget.

Either way, Stella and I made plans to check out M50, a creative zone with lots of interesting works of art. We originally wanted to go to the Dongping National Forest Park (东平国家森林公园) on Chongming Island (崇明岛), but Baidu and Google Maps told us it would take approximately 4 to 5 hours via public transport to get there. Oddly, another source said it would take only 2.5 hours, but we didn't want to risk it, so we planned for M50 instead.

We met up with friends Arthur and Andrew at the lobby of Grand Pujian. They had no plans for the day, so I invited them. We took the subway to West Nanjing Road (南京西路) to grab lunch.

West Nanjing Road is a street filled with stores (e.g. UNIQLO, H&M) and LOTS of food. Arthur wanted Ippudo, but after seeing the prices (58RMB for a bowl of ramen? Yikes!), we settled for a cheaper alternative in the form of RamenPlay.

I am not a picky eater, so anything that isn't bitter, sour, or gives me a stomachache is good.

After ramen, it was time to start Day 2 of Fall Break!

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After ramen, the Gang of Four (Chinese historical reference, haha) headed toward M50.

We took the subway from West Nanjing Road (南京西路) to Zhongshan Park (中山公园), and from there, we took Bus #13 to the West Tianmu Road - Hefeng Road bus stop (天目西路恒丰路). It took us awhile to find the bus stop...

From the West Tianmu Road - Hefeng Road stop, we walked an extra 20 minutes to reach the creative park.

The cool thing about M50 is that it has many galleries, and they are all free. Sadly, like many art galleries though, you cannot take photos.

I successfully captured a few though which you may see below.

One artist was working in his studio carving words about the Cultural Revolution (sensitive topic), but the words are only visible if you look at it from a certain angle. Another way of sidestepping Chinese censorship perhaps?

Another artist made dumplings out of porcelain with different designs. They were SO cute and I really wanted to buy one, but one dumpling about the size of the palm of my hand was 120RMB and I didn't bring a lot of cash with me.

Oh well, another time perhaps...

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Last year at around this time or a little later, New York City's center for street art expression was painted over by authorities. 5 Pointz, an artistic and cultural center, was gone.

For those in Shanghai who are nostalgic for the old 5 Pointz or just love street art, check out Moganshan Road (莫干山路). After you pass the M50 galleries, you will arrive at a street where the walls are decorated with street art and graffiti.

The left side of the wall tends to be a bit disorganized and can be classified as graffiti, whereas the right side of the wall holds amazing works of art.

Note that there will be a lot of giddy Chinese girls taking selfies and posing with the street art.

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Day 3 of Fall Break could be considered a dead/recovery day, depending on how you look at it. No Stella this time around; she said her farewells to me last night.

Instead, we get another friend whose name is two syllables and starts with a St-, Stacy!

Both of us were doing nothing, so we decided to grab food. I still needed to treat her for doing me a HUGE favor.

We went to IFC Mall, a high-end shopping center. We got off at the Lujiazui (陆家嘴) subway stop, and dear Lord, because it was Friday, the height of the Chinese expression 人山人海 (rén shān rén hǎi) hit an all-time high. The area was covered with people!

Before we even exited, Stacy and I noticed that Exit 1 was crowded with people lined up trying to buy tickets. Even the walkways outside were filled with people! There was no moving space for me during my escalator ride up.

When we finally reached IFC, we spent a good 30 minutes trying to find the Japanese restaurant that another friend of mine went before. Her bento box photo on Instagram looked so delicious, and I was really craving Japanese food, so I needed to fulfill that craving at THAT exact restaurant.

Up, down, left, right. Stacy and I got lost and consulted the directory a good number of times. We finally found the restaurant, Haiku by Hatsune, opposite of the entrance we came in from at the lower level. It's actually right by the Apple Store.

After our long search, we were ready for some Japanese food.

I ordered a bento box set with chicken, eggs, seaweed, and rice with salmon while Stacy ordered an Amy Roll which consisted of shrimp and salmon sashimi.

Craving definitely satisfied.

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Have you ever heard of the website Meetup? If not, it's a place where users join or create groups that suit their personal interests and hobbies. I'm part of the Shanghai Photography Meetup, and they had an event today at the ancient town of Qibao. I thought it'd be pretty cool if I could meet some expats and locals, so I signed up for the event!

I brought my friends Cynthia and Divina along; they're into photography as well.

Unfortunately, I could not find the group because the place was PACKED. Qibao was definitely 人山人海 (rén shān rén hǎi).

I wonder how the Meetup turned out because I sort of gave up taking quality photos of the Old Street.

On the bright side, the three of us sampled street food such as kebabs (羊肉串).

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On the outskirts of Qibao, away from the hustle and bustle of Old Street, is a Buddhist temple. Cyn, Divina, and I scoped the place out and even lit some incense!

The entrance fee was only 5RMB, VERY cheap. There was also a pagoda off to the side, but we didn't climb it.

Inside the temple was a huge stone lamp-like structure. People stuck coins into the ridges of the lamp for good luck and fortune. The three of us stuck our coins and even tried to see if we could throw the coins onto the top of the lamp and make it stay.

We didn't stay long in the temple because we arrived at around closing time. After snapping some photos, we left and returned home with our bellies full and our eyes enamored by the beauty that is Qibao.

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How do you end Fall Break?

By attending an electronic music festival of course!

STORM is an annual festival that features big-name artists such as Krewella, Afrojack, and Dash Berlin. It runs for 2 nights and, unlike most raves, it starts at 1pm and ends at 10pm with after-parties at Shanghai's biggest clubs. My friends and I only bought tickets for Sunday because we had class on Monday.

It was PACKED, as to be expected from a music festival, but I feel that the number of people at the festival was double and possibly even triple the amount of attendees at a concert in the States. I mean, it makes sense because it's China. Okay, maybe I am over-exaggerating, but it felt that way when I was wedged between sweaty armpits.

I have to admit, the festival was a bit underwhelming. I suffered a coughing fit due to all the smoke and sweat I inhaled (I know, I'm weak), and on top of that, many of the beats were repetitive. I have to admit, my favorite act was Krewella because they have the most dramatic beats, but sadly, they were playing at the beginning of the festival.

After standing and fighting our way through the massive crowd for a good 5 hours, we decided to call it a night and grab food.

An interesting note was that the Chinese locals who attended were wearing fancy cocktail dresses and high heels. Girl, how are you supposed to jump to the beat in those?

On that note, I didn't take photos, but my friend Janli did. All photos are from her.

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How do you satisfy hunger after an exhausting music festival?

That's right, you guessed it! Waffles!

After my friends and I got tired, we walked toward a nearby plaza and were happy to find that Maan Coffee, Waffle, and Toast, a place that specializes in coffee, you guessed it, coffee, waffle, and toast.

Pictured below was the beautiful cheese waffle I had.

On a side note, on our way to the Maas, we witnessed a Shanghai-nese man going crazy over a foreigner who "stole" the cab he ordered. Lots of profanity in Shanghai-nese and English ensued, ending with the taxi driver speeding off before the man could cause any physical harm.

All in all, it was a GREAT Fall Break. I am happy that I made the decision to stay in Shanghai, and STORM was a great way to end the long weekend.

Sadly, it made my cough from a previous cold worse... But that's a price worth paying for having fun, right?