The kid and I are back from China! It certainly was a very interesting and educational visit. Unlike my past trips, this one was more difficult to blog day-by-day due to the internet restrictions encountered there. One needs to remember that outside it’s economic boom, progressive building and manufacturing, it’s still a Communist country and therefore they limit access. For example, pretty much anything “Google” is blocked. Without a VPN, there was no Google searching, gmail or even Google maps functioning on my phone was very spotty at best. On a positive note, most of their phone booths are wireless hotspots so if you have an international plan in place, you can find many areas to jump online to look up where you are or where to go.
The trip started out on Air China. I was a little worried as they really received some bad reviews online. We didn’t seem to have any issues. We checked in early enough, the airplane was not uncomfortable and both our bags made it without issue.
Upon arrival we were met by a car service and brought to our hotel/apartment. The New Harbour Service Apartment is part hotel/part residence. I assume much like executive housing. It wasn’t in any trendy part of town but at no time did I feel unsafe, it was only 2 blocks from a metro stop and we could easily walk to just about anything. I thought about a hotel in a tourist area of Shanghai, however when I travel, I like a bit more space. I especially like having a kitchen so I can save some money on meals or just enjoy the ease of having breakfast at my own place. I reviewed this location at TripAdvisor.
Since relying on my phone for directions was spotty, we relied on a good old paper map. This I did not mind as the kid is a Boy Scout and it was a good lesson in map reading. For the next 3 days we logged roughly 8-10 miles a day walking around the city seeing the major sites, walking every park path we came across, tasting street food and just being in awe of the cosmopolitan nature of the city. When is 13-year-old taste buds couldn’t take any more noodles we taste tested the local McDonalds and even checked out a local Pizza Hut where pizza dishes were the minority on the menu.
On our last two nights we “Couchsurfed” with a Shanghai family. For many travelers, couch surfing is a way to save on lodging expense and also a chance to get to know the locals. For me, the last part was important because I wanted my son to see how a family similar to ours lives in Shanghai. I had a chance to meet our host before our trip when she was in the Bay Area. On the first evening she was at a class so I had the most interesting conversations with her husband about Chinese culture and rapid expansion of the Shanghai area in the last 25 years. Another fortunate outcome is that we got to see a part of Shanghai that I didn’t know existed.
Overall, it was a great trip. I am please that I was able to experience and share this part of the world with my son. It’s pretty amazing.
Tips when visiting Shanghai
-Language is a barrier. I went equip with phrases in Chinese such as “Driver, please take me to “Hotel Name.” It proved many times to be very useful.
-Consider using a service to obtain your visas. For me, transportation and a half day waiting in line wasn’t worth losing a half day of work.
– Due to our late arrival, I arranged for a driver a head of time. The taxi in Shanghai was like no line I had seen before! Once arrived, confirm, confirm, confirm! Even after we came out of customs, it took at least 30 minutes until our driver found us. I was able to pay ahead of time. Keep copies in the even you need to show your driver.
-Again, if traveling with kids considering bringing some food from home. I brought along cereal, snack bars and Mac & Cheese. We certainly ate the local food, but for a kid it could turn to be a bit much. We tried the pizza and it just wasn’t the same. Since we had a kitchen it was nice to be able to cooks something easy from home. Snacks came in handy for the plane ride too.
-Skip the under river tourist tunnel. It really is kinda silly…unless you really are trying to get to one side or the other.
-Have afternoon tea the the Fairmont Peace Hotel. It really is a treat in any part of the world and no one does it like the Fairmont.