On the Philippine Star: Exploring Shanghai

Exploring Shanghai

For a very long time, China closed itself to the whole world. It is only in recent years that they finally decided to break loose and open their doors to other countries. Not surprisingly, they have done so in blazing fashion. Global news and businesses have centered around China for a good chunk of the 21st century because of their rapid development and rise in being a global superpower. In less than a decade, they have created cities that compete with the best in the world and I’ve heard that Shanghai is quickly moving up that list.

Luckily, I was able to take a short leisure trip to Shanghai just last week! Since I didn’t research too much before leaving, I didn’t have a visual idea of how it would look. Unlike other cities like Paris or New York, we all have an idea of how they would look because of the postcards, movies, pictures and the like that you can find everywhere! With Shanghai, I hadn’t really come across a lot of pictures of the place. All I knew was that around a decade ago, Shanghai was mostly grasslands but has since developed into a modern city. That however, is a huge understatement!

In my opinion, Shanghai had absolutely zero traces of its simple beginnings. The city was sprawling with gigantic and flashy skyscrapers that popped out as far as the eye could see! Their transportation and highway systems were so vast and advanced that it would make EDSA look like a side street. Their commercial areas were extravagant with each block having at least one shopping mall and high end brands having their own buildings. I was shocked and overwhelmed too see how many structures, brands and establishments were built in just over a decade. To give a better picture of the city, think of it as a fully developed Bonifacio Global City with a much bigger area and taller buildings!

Favorite building

A good amount of my first day was spent going around the city and just taking in the gorgeous infrastructure. It may sound boring on paper, but it really was amazing to see such massive and beautiful buildings side by side. The most memorable building however, is definitely the Shanghai World Financial Center which also houses the Park Hyatt Hotel on its upper floors. Apparently, this is the second highest hotel in the world and it is literally dizzying just to look at its peak from the street level. I had to crane my neck so far back that I should have just laid on the ground!

Aside from it’s exterior, the interior of Park Hyatt hotel was also an experience like no other! The atmosphere and design was unlike any other hotel I have ever seen. It seemed so advanced and cosmopolitan compared to the other hotels I have been to. I was also able to wine and dine in its penthouse bar which feels like an accomplishment. It’s not everyday that I get to eat in the second tallest hotel in the world! Also, the view from the top was surreal. I could literally look down at all the other skyscrapers in the area. All in all, the Park Hyatt was an experience for the ages. In my eyes, it could also be a symbol of how grand and developed China has become.

Favorite area

The French concession area that is full of laneways and old architecture was one of my favorite areas! It used to be an old residential community that was converted to accommodate bars, restaurants and boutique stores. The beauty of the area is the way they were able to retain the old-style architecture. It’s a mix of the old French design and modern China which really sets it apart from everything else in Shanghai. It actually contrasts itself from the ultra modern setting of the other areas and is probably why it is always packed with people. At night is when it shines the brightest though. All the establishments would light up and it felt as if I were in a movie as I navigated my way through the laneways.

Favorite Chinese Dish

In this trip, it was also my first time to try Shanghai’s signature Xiao long bao otherwise known as Shanghai soup dumplings! Given that I already liked dim sum to begin with, I immediately fell in love with this. I ate this several times a day or whenever I knew that it was on the menu. It’s also very fun to eat because there is a certain way that it is eaten. You have to nibble on the skin of the dumpling and sip out the soup first (just like Balut). After you sip out the soup, you can pop into your mouth along with a spoonful of authentic Yangzhou rice (the real name of Yangchow fried rice). I had heard that Xiao long bao is available in the Philippines but I haven’t found any restaurants serving it.

The Culture

Aside from the sights and sounds of Shanghai, their culture is also very striking and shocking. From my experience, 90% of the people did not know how to converse in English. This slight hiccup led to some very funny and frustrating conversations full of make-shift sign language. Heck, I would even say something in tagalog hoping they would get it— it obviously didn’t work! One thing I noticed however is that it was the younger population that actually knew how to speak English. It’s the more senior members that were left out. I assume this is a side effect of the rapid development of the country. The middle-aged segment were kind of left out of the loop it would and it was just the younger ones that were given a chance to study a different language.

Another thing that I noticed was how a lot of people walked around the city, but the cars didn’t really care much about them. It was difficult crossing the streets and it was normal to see people almost getting hit. I know that we, Filipinos, aren’t the most giving drivers when it comes to pedestrians but my experience in China made us look like very good drivers!

Although the language barrier and cultural discrepancies were difficult to overcome, I had a feeling of being “lost” in Shanghai. It was refreshing in the sense that it is a rare feeling given how small the world has become. I felt overwhelmed by my surroundings in Shanghai and felt quite helpless at times because of my situation but at the end of it all, I still found that unique feeling to be quite fun.

Would I live in Shanghai?

Overall, Shanghai was a great city and their potential for growth seems to be limitless. Unfortunately, I would miss the Filipino culture too much. The personality of the Chinese culture is far too different from what I am used to. Filipinos are very endearing and charming while the Chinese seemed more rigid and locked in. Either way, I’d love go back just to explore more of their interesting culture and country. Until then, it’s time to save up for the next adventure 😀

For any comments/suggestions or tips on where I can find some Shanghai dumplings, email me at: mikael.daez@yahoo.com
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