Gritty Alleyways reveal the old Shanghai

For all its glitzy modern skyline, perhaps the real jewels of Shanghai can be found at street level, away from the hustle and bustle in the captivating back alleys. One of my favourite things to do in Shanghai is to explore the backstreets, either on foot or by bike. The narrow lanes behind the main streets are soaked with tradition and colour which offer a unique glimpse into local life.

In these narrow lanes, below masses of tangled electric wires, hanging laundry and meat hung out to dry, the slower paced life of the real people of Shanghai awaits to be discovered.

The small area around Yuyuan Garden area has the oldest type of alleyways you’ll find in Shanghai. As It feels like I have stepped back into time as I leave the touristy Yuyuan area and enter these old forgotten alleys.

A walk through these grungy streets is always filled with surprises, and most importantly unexpected encounters or finds. Though lacking many amenities, people still live here, going about their lives, brushing their teeth, hanging up laundry, chatting and chopping vegetables for dinner.

Unfortunately as the city grows exponentially, these lanes gradually get demolished, year after year, month after month. It saddens me that the unstoppable onset of modernism in Shanghai is unable to make room for the existence of alley life. Very soon, more and more high rise structures will invade the old city streets destroying a piece of what makes Shanghai so special.

Gritty Alleyways of Yuyuan
Washing, electrical wires, bicycles, motorbikes and even discarded matrasses fill the alleyways of Shanghai.

An invitation of a beautiful street is an invitation to walk within a dream!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

 

10 Things my first months of Living in China has Taught me

Moving halfway across the world to live and work abroad is always a big challenge, but also hands down my favourite way to explore this amazing world. I’m still new to Shanghai, China but reflecting on the experiences and lessons I’ve learned in this short period of time I know this has been a good move. I moved to China with the idea of living here for a year, but one month in I realised that I would definitely be living here for longer.

Here are the most important things I have learned so far while living and working in Shanghai, China.

1. WeChat is Everything

The mobile phone is king in China and you will be lost without a smartphone. I had my smartphone unlocked before I moved to China and downloaded WeChat the Chinese version of Whatsapp. But that’s just the beginning, because WeChat is your life. Chinese people actually don’t use regular text messages, they just use WeChat to text, send voice messages and even to send actual documents as attachments. I have also embraced WeChat pay which you can use to pay for almost anything, so I don’t need to carry cash with me here in Shanghai. Even the tiny hole-in-the-wall places has a QR code that you can scan to pay with WeChat. Other than WeChat you need a smart phone to order taxis, food delivery and train or plane tickets by using different apps on your phone. You also need your mobile phone to access the shared bikes here in Shanghai which makes life so much easier.

2. Free VPNs Will Not Cut It for Internet Usage

If you want to access sites and apps like Facebook, Google, Gmail, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Tinder, and more, you’ll need a VPN. It is a virtual private network which allows you to access sites that are blocked here in China. I am so glad that I was warned about this before moving to china. The going rate tends to be about $50-$100 USD per year for a functioning VPN. Trust me, the free ones might work for a week or so but in the long run you realize how lost you are without access to the big world wide web without a VPN.

3. In winter, AlWAYS go well wrapped up to restaurants and cafes

I wish someone had told me that, due to a government decree, there is no central heating in public buildings south of the Yangtze river. This policy was intended to bring about huge savings in energy costs. Just a few miles to the north of Shanghai, the public buildings are toasty warm throughout the winter. However, in Shanghai itself, we are expected to happily shiver through freezing winter temperatures whenever we leave our houses.

4. Invest in a proper face-mask as Surgical Masks Don’t Do Anything

When I moved to China I had no idea what the pollution level was. I have seen images of very polluted days in China, often accompanied by photos of people in surgical masks. I thought these might be rare occurrences but soon found out that this is quite common during the colder months. Forget the surgical masks, they are great for keeping yourself from getting sick on a crowded subway, but they will not work for the pollution at all. What you need is a 3M mask that will protect you from PM2.5. Don’t worry, you will be able to buy one here in China, and they even come in funky colours!

5. Buy an Air Purifier, your lungs will thank you

The media emphasizes wearing a mask outside, but let’s be honest, if it’s really polluted, you’re probably staying indoors. This is an option I have opted for a couple of times so far this winter. Unfortunately the pollution filters into our houses and I have woken up coughing more than once on heavily polluted days. I now know that it is very important to invest in a good air purifier for your apartment if you plan on living here for a while.

6. Fitted Sheets Are Not Popular

I never really thought twice about my sheets. While I like to sleep with soft and comfortable blankets, my bottom sheet never concerned me all that much. Well, over my lifetime I’ve become very accustomed to fitted sheets, and I was shocked to find that China does not share my love for fitted sheets. After searching a bit online I eventually found a place that sold them. But next time I am definitely bringing some from home!

7. Coffee Is Expensive

While many of the foreign restaurants are only expensive by comparison, imported foods and coffee are much more expensive than they are back home. Thanks to China’s tariffs, you can expect to pay up to two or three times the original price for items like coffee, cheese, peanut butter, and cereal.

Coffee is seen as a luxury in China, and many coffee shops price the drink accordingly. I was shocked to find that I could buy an entire meal for half the price of a tiny latte.

8. Bring Your Own Sunscreen

I was warned before moving to China that sunscreen isn’t very common here. Most people in China cover up to avoid the sun’s harmful rays so sunscreen tends to be sold in small bottles and is super pricey. In China you will also find the term “whitening” on your sunscreen along with most facial moisturisers. So I have brought my own, as personally I am very nervous about using a product that will end up bleaching my skin.

9. Don’t Flush Your Toilet Paper

While I knew about squat toilets, no one ever told me not to flush my toilet paper. Next to every toilet you’ll find a small basket for you to throw your used paper. Chinese pipes aren’t equipped to handle non-organic waste, so you may find your toilet clogged if you try flushing your paper one too many times. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

Many public restrooms also don’t have toilet paper or soap, so you’ll probably want to bring some hand sanitizer from home and pick up a mini pack of tissues when you arrive.

Living in Shanghai, China
Bike of Burden

10. “That’s so China” Is an expression you will also end up using

Being open-minded is so important, as cliché as it may sound take everything with a pinch of salt and remember that you are a guest in another country. What you may see as the cultural or social norm will most likely be different, once you learn and adapt to living as a ‘guest’ in another country you will enjoy the experience a lot more. A saying that has stuck with me and can only be fully understood by individuals who have experienced travelling or living in China is to “expect the unexpected” and “that’s so China”. As soon as you think you have seen it all, whether it’s something new or shocking, positive and/or negative something else will occur making you say “that’s so China”.

Living in Shanghai, China
Drying chickens with the laundry on a sidewalk next to a busy street…..only in China!

China is a complicated country with a long history, and living here has been positive and negative all in one. I have experienced and accepted some of the ‘negatives’ to living and working in this big city but still love the country as the positives out shine any of the negatives. I think the surprise of discovering new things every day has made my life here an adventure. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to arrive in China with an open mind. China is so large and complex, discovering new aspects of life and culture are just part of the fun!

Living in Shanghai, China
Happy Chinese New Year!!!

Don’t let your fears and apprehensions hold you back from the adventure of moving to China.

A Glimpse of Modern Shanghai

The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home — and the slow nuanced experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.”
― Rolf Potts, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Doors in Shanghai

If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living… Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

Joseph Campbell

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Empty streets of Shanghai

There is a certain unique and strange delight about walking down an empty street alone.

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Four reasons why it’s time you take a Road Trip in Germany

Nestled among nine other countries, Germany is an expansive paradise for travellers who love to be on the road. Its idyllic mountain scenery and lush countryside combined with deep pride in its automotive exports are a formula for some of the best driving conditions in the world. The diligence and care they take in the cars they produce are reflected in the pristine, perfectly maintained autobahn. Here are just four of many reasons why a road trip in Germany should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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  1. Go on a nostalgic journey through an enchanting Fairy Tale Route

The Fairy Tale Route is perfect for the young at heart, spanning from Hanau where the Brothers Grimm were born to Bremen. There are countless charming towns and villages along the way that still retain that picturesque medieval quality we associate with The Grimm Fairy Tales.

 

Some of the places you pass through actually featured in the stories – such as Hamelin, where the Pied Piper legend was born, Alsfeld, where Little Red Riding Hood’s house still stands, and Bad Wildungen, where Snow White lived.

 

  1. Lovers of wine can follow a route dedicated to the beloved grape

The ‘Deutsche Weinstraße’ is the oldest wine route in Germany, having been established in 1935. It starts in Schweigen-Rechtenbach, on the border of France, continues throughout the stunning Rhineland-Palatinate vineyards and ends in Bockenheim an der Weinstraße.

 

From March through to October many places along the German Wine Route host some of the largest outdoor wine festivals in the world. Everyone from amateur wine drinkers to expert sommeliers can soak in the heritage and majesty of the wine-growing region.

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  1. Enjoy a thrilling driving experience with access to roads that have no speed limits

While there are certain stretches of road that do impose limits, Germany is the only country in Europe that has no official speed limit on motorways. Drivers go at speeds of up to 150mph and sometimes more, with the government believing people do not need to be micromanaged. For the ultimate road-trip make sure you choose the right car and have a clear plan of your route. If you do decide to drive fast, be sure to have read the relevant highway information and adhere to all regulations.

 

  1. Spend a day in areas of astounding natural beauty like Lake Konigssee

The name means ‘Kings lake’ and at 190 meters, it is the deepest lake in Germany – surrounded by the steep cliffs of Mount Watzmann, all road trippers should wind down with a trip here. Fellow travellers recommend typing Hotel Bergheimat in Schonau am Konigssee into your navigation system. This brings you to the main road that leads into the Konigssee where there is a large area for designated parking that is close to the lakes and boats.

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As well as the ones already mentioned, there are a number of routes in Germany that are connected by a theme. The roads are signposted clearly and provide road-trippers with tried and tested circuits that suit their interests.

Doors found in Shanghai

If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door- or i’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.

Rabindranath Tagore

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Windows of Shanghai

I enjoy traveling and recording far-away places and people with my camera. But I also find it wonderfully rewarding to see what I can discover outside my own window. You only need to study the scene with the eyes of a photographer.

Alfred Eisenstaedt

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

A Photo Tour from the Backstreets of Shanghai

If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody.

Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
― Anthony Bourdain

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Shanghai a city that is constantly changhing and modernising

The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown..”
― Paul Theroux

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Postcards from Shanghai

The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
― Christopher McCandless

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

A Walk through the Old Shanghai

No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet.”
― Patrick Rothfuss

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Images of Life in Shanghai

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad / Roughing It

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Memories from Old Shanghai

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” 
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Postcards from Modern Shanghai

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” -Gustav Flaubert

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

 

5 Things to Know before you explore the Bund of Shanghai

the Bund of Shanghai
To learn more about the Bund I went on the Shanghai Free Walking tour!!

The Bund in Shanghai the ideal place to soak in the diverse atmosphere of the city. A visit to Shanghai would not be complete without a stroll along this beautiful waterfront.

1. The Bund translates to ‘Outer Beach’ and is the name of the 1.5 km stretch of waterfront area in central Shanghai. It is situated along the western bank of the Huangpu River, the main river that runs through Shanghai.

The Bund of Shanghai
One of the most famous sights usually portrayed of Shanghai

2. Yes, this riverfront boardwalk is touristy, but part of the fun of strolling down the Bund is checking out the people checking out other people. Local people often start their day by doing exercise at the Bund. Getting up early and joining them is a pleasant way to take in the real lifestyle of locals as this boardwalk gets extremely crowded in the afternoon or on public holidays. In the evening, it is a world for the lovers. Whenever night comes, the light-flooded buildings on the Bund, like Crystal Palace, amaze both local and overseas visitors.

The Bund of Shanghai
Early morning walk along the Bund before all the people invade.

3. For a century, the Bund has been one of the most recognizable symbols and the pride of Shanghai. The architecture along the Bund is a living museum of the colonial history of the 1800s on the one side contrasting with the hyper modern buildings on the opposite river bank.

4. Early Bund was a foreign trade center, here, there were foreign firms and prosperous trade. From the late 19th century, many foreign and Chinese banks were established in the Bund and it became Shanghai’s “Financial Street”, also known as “Oriental Wall Street”.

The Bund of Shanghai
After 11am the Bund gets quite crowded

5. Due to the historical nature of the architecture along the Bund, there are limitations on the architecture of the surrounding area, so as not to mar the view or the architectural beauty of these grandiose old buildings that have finally been restored to their former glory. The buildings are a mix of several designs, including Baroque, Gothic, Classicism, Romanesque, and Renaissance styles.

The Bund of Shanghai
Such a beautiful view!

Things to remember when visiting The Bund

  1. Bring your camera because the photo opportunities are endless.
  2. Visit during different times of day so that you can experience the peaceful mornings, inspiring afternoons and the wild nightlife.
  3. Be prepared for crowds if you’re visiting in the evening, especially parents with young children.
  4. Make sure to wake up early and walk The Bund. You’ll get to see the locals exercising and dancing by the waterfront.
  5. Pack your own snacks to avoid the high prices in the area.

Where is your favourite waterfront area to go for a stroll to soak in the local atmosphere?

This is What makes Longhua Temple in Shanghai Unique

Everyone knows that China is all about temples. There are Buddhist temples, Taoist temples and also Confucian temples. To the untrained eye, most of these look the same, but not all are created equal. I love exploring these different temples and learning all about them as they are a part of the unique Chinese culture.

Here is what makes this temple and pagoda so unique.

1. The temple complex is the biggest temple complex in Shanghai.

Longhua Temple & Longhua Pagoda is the oldest, largest and most majestic Buddhist building in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River Delta, and is also one of the best reserved temples in Shanghai.

Longhua Temple
This hall is surrounded with red lanterns and fresh flowers

2. It is the oldest Buddhist temple in Shanghai

Not only is the Longhua Temple the largest temple in Shanghai, but the pagoda is the only one in Shanghai that existed before modern times. It was first built in 242 AD, but because of the several destructions by the wars, most of the buildings in Longhua Temple were reconstructed although the style of Song Dynasty (960-1279) still remains.

Longhua Temple
The smell of insence drifts through the whole temple grounds

3. The 7-story pagoda is a Shanghai landmark.

The lovely Longhua Pagoda (977) is not open to visitors due to its age and fragility and can only be admired from a distance. It is a 7 story red brick and wood, structure and it looks like a delicate Song-era pagoda. You will see this pagoda featured on countless images depicting temples in China.

4. The pagoda used to be the tallest building in Shanghai until modern times

The seven-storied, 40.4 meters high Longhua Pagoda stands in front of the Longhua Temple. Each storey is smaller than the storey below, and all the levels are encircled by balconies and banisters. Bells on each corner of the octagonal eaves make cheerful and lively sounds as the wind passes by. Unfortunately modern buildings tower over this beautiful structure now.

Longhua Temple
One of the many beautiful statues found throughout the temple

5. The Room with 500 Golden Statues

Just outside of the main entrance of the third hall called the Daxiong Baodian where there is a big golden sitting Budda statue, there is a side hall where you can see 500 little gold statues arranged in rows. They shine and glitter in the light. From the austere courtyard with the smoke of fires and burning incense, the golden and bright statues are a striking contrast.

6. The Grand Hall of the Great Sage (Daxiong Baodian):

The halls in the temple were built strictly according to the traditional Buddhist symmetry that are neat and equitable in layout, magnificent and dignified in architecture. The most impressive hall is the Grand Hall of the Great Sage. In it, there is a big golden statue of Buddha along with several statues of arhats. The Longhua Temple complex is often crowded with devotees bringing incense to the Buddha images. Chanting music is played, and people bow and kneel in front of them.

What is your favourite temple in China?

Happy Year of the PIG from the Alleys of Yuyuan Garden.

As I explore the alleys of Yuyuan Garden I am constantly reminded that it is the Lunar New Year and that we have entered the year of the Pig! Chinese New Year 2019 started on Tuesday, February 5th and ends on January 24th, 2020.

You probably know there are 12 Chinese zodiac animals used to represent years, 2019 is the year of the Pig. Zodiac signs play an integral part in Chinese culture, and can be used to determine your fortune for the year, marriage compatibility, career fit, best times to have a baby, and so much more. Many large corporations in China still reference it before making important decisions!

But did you know that the zodiacs originally had something to do with the worship of animals?

One legend says that the Jade Emperor needed to choose 12 animals as palace guards. The Cat asked his neighbour Rat to help him sign up. Rat forgot, which is why they became mortal enemies.

At the palace, Ox was first in line, but Rat secretly climbed onto Ox’s back and jumped in front of him. Tiger and Dragon thought it was unfair, but they could only settle behind Ox. Rabbit found it unfair too. He wanted to race with Dragon and succeeded.

Alleys of Yuyuan Garden
The bazaar surrounds the beautiful Yuyuan Garden

This angered Dog, who bit Rabbit in a fit and was sent to the back as punishment. Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey and Rooster fought amongst themselves as well. Pig was late because he overslept.

Of course, this is only a story and there are quite a few different versions.

According to the Chinese astrology, 2019 is a great year to make money, and a good year to invest! 2019 is going to be full of joy, a year of friendship and love for all the zodiac signs; an auspicious year because the Pig attracts success in all the spheres of life.

Alleys of Yuyuan Garden
Browse the array of Old Shanghai treasures and pick up artworks and craft items.

But if you were born in the year of the PIG, 2019 is seen as a hurdle you have jump over as your zodiac year is bad luck. There are multiple explanations for this. The Chinese believe that children can easily be taken by demons. And your benming year (the year of your zodiac animal) is your rebirth year.

Your defence from evil spirits and bad fortune is the colour red. Just as you can decorate your home in red for protection and fortune, you can also wear red clothing. Many people will wear red underwear every day of the year. Others add on red shirts, pants, jewellery, insoles and more! Even in modern times, it’s still treated as a real concern.

Either way I do hope that 2019 is a very good year for you!!

Happy Year of the PIG!!

Windows of Shanghai

“If you want the people to understand you, invite them to your life and let them see the world from your window!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Doors of Shanghai

“I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.”
― Elizabeth Taylor

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday