For the first time, since the last time… (from movie: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist)

It’s been a long time since I last visited China, which was in 2003, and I just recently returned from a 2 week vacation in Shanghai.  This experience was so much more different from any of the other times I have visited China.  I had no parents who could hold my hand every step of the way & fluently translate everything for me, no comfort bubble of being surrounded by my fellow classmates from some stuffy summer school program, & I did not attend some cheap-ticket fast-paced tour group with matching t-shirts either.  I traveled all the way to Shanghai with only my companion by my side & a handy little guidebook to help me navigate through the main districts.

One valuable resource I was extremely fortunate to have while I was there was my very wonderful cousin and her husband.  My cousin and her husband resides in Shanghai, and I really enjoyed spending time with her while I was vacationing.  Also, I was very excited for her to meet my companion in person.  My cousin was a very valuable resource since she & her husband each own & drive their own cars in Shanghai, so they were able to take us to various local places we wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

I’ve visited Shanghai a couple of times before, but I was always traveling with my parents, & my mom can speak fluent Mandarin & partial Shanghainese.  So it was easy to get around and have my mom do all the talking and translating for us.  Plus, that also meant that we would have lots of family obligations since my mom still has relatives living in Shanghai (hence my cousin).  With all of those family events going on…I was always being shuffled & chauffeured around by my relatives & had no time to go out & see things for myself.  I’ve also been to Beijing as well, but that was for a student youth program, & it’s hard to explore on your own when the head teacher/instructor has each day’s itinerary mapped out for you.  All the students pile onto a tour bus & we get shuffled from one small town to the next for a small blip of sightseeing & Kodak moments.

Traveling with my companion, no matter where we go to, we like to keep things fresh & not really stick to a strict itinerary.  When we leave our hotel for the day there are only 2 essential items we must have at all times: 1. our cell phones (for emergencies) & 2. a guidebook of the city.  Our guidebook of choice, if it has a matching city, is written by superfuture (called superfuture guide).  This is our favorite guidebook publication because it breaks down each category (eating, shopping, entertainment) by the city’s districts.  Whenever my companion & I travel to Tokyo, we always print out a superfuture guide & bring it with us as if it were our travel bible.  My companion & I love to choose a random destination for the day & just walk around the district & explore with our own eyes.  We were very fortunate that both of us could speak a moderate amount of Mandarin (& my companion can read some Chinese characters), so we were able to get around by ourselves.

On this particular trip, my companion was going to Shanghai for business, & I was tagging along with him.  Every day after work, I’d either meet my companion at the hotel so he could drop off his briefcase, or take the subway & meet him somewhere, & we would spend hours roaming the streets just like the locals.  On his days off, we’d wake up super early & head out for some breakfast & a quick ride on the subway before we hit the mid-morning human traffic jam.  We would often spend our days hopping from one district to another, checking out local shops & small cafes, as well as visiting famous parks & landmarks.  We explored the large conglomerate shopping malls, to the small mom n’ pop shops, to the local bazaar selling those glaringly obvious knockoffs.  We went on an eating spree (every foodie’s dream)…from local cafes & mid-range restaurants, to fancy restaurants, to Hong Kong style snack shops, to fast food joints.  We ate it all…cheap to expensive….& we didn’t care what havoc this was wreaking on our waistlines & digestive tracts.

Overall, this trip was one of the most fun & eye-opening vacations I’ve ever experienced.  I am very grateful to my cousin for being “that someone we know in-town” & for being such a gracious hostess.  Here are some of the highlights of our Shanghai trip: