People riding their scooters on a pavement, cars not stopping at the red light, the road anarchy on another level.. Oh yes I was back in China! This time not for a week like last year but for 40 days. I found my previous experience pretty challenging as nothing is easy in China when you travel there, so no wonder that I had these moments of doubt and panic questioning my choice of the destination. Most people visit two or three cities, often bundle it up with Hong Kong to satisfy their curiosity about the Far East. Job done!
I wanted to explore properly and I felt like it was a suitable moment, with my long-term travel plans to dedicate the time and effort to look beyond the obvious and travel deeper into that fascinating country of paradoxes, contradictions and complexities.
Honestly this part of a trip concerned me the most so I spent a fair bit of time planning it, exchanging emails with friends who either live in China or travelled there recently in a similar way to the one I was opting for, just to ensure that my route makes sense, i.e. I can get from one place to another and not necessarily spend more than 24 hours on a train every other day.
Shanghai was my first stop and I was pretty excited to be there but I was not very lucky with the weather. During the month of October when I was in Japan and South Korea it has not rained once so in Shanghai I could check if my Gore-Tex shoes are indeed waterproof and if the museums and the arts scene are living up to all the hype about this city.
China Art Museum located in Pudong, in the former China Pavilion of Expo 2010 really impressed me. The collection was interesting and curated in the way offering maximum engagement and not only for Chinese but also English-speaking visitors of different ages. The building is quite unique too so do not miss it when wandering around this part of Shanghai.
The Bund is without any doubt a tourist magnet but this famous riverfront is totally worth a visit. Can you even claim that you have been to Shanghai if you have not seen it? The visual proof and legacy of grand times of the 1920s and 1930s when this major trading port was known as the Paris of the East, the New York of the West are clearly visible when walking down the Bund.
It exceeded my expectations how closely the architectural style resembled British and American design of that time. It was a completely new face of China that I was discovering in Shanghai, even more so when throwing extremely modern Pudong and the Oriental Pearl into the mix.
Despite the rain I did not omit the places like the Old Town, back in a day a core of the city, the City God Temple and Yu Garden. This Chinese garden with its pavilions, halls, rockeries and ponds dates back to the Ming Dynasty and is a true labyrinth. I only wish it was less crowded so I could enjoy some of its scenic spots rather than squeeze through the selfie sticks.
The Expo 2010 site, which is situated on both banks of the Huangpu River certainly kept me coming back for more art. Although it took me a while and I had to walk for miles I managed to find the Power Station of Art, Shanghai’s contemporary art museum, and enjoy not only the art pieces but also the views from the rooftop.
Thanks to my friend Shen Nan I visited two more incredibly intriguing art places, which might have been difficult to locate if it was not for her help.
The Red Town, a former steel factory, these days is the art and sculpture park with restaurants and galleries and also the hottest address in the city when it comes to creative space rental. For sure a gem and if you do not speak Mandarin a hidden one, unless you have a map with this place marked and ask ten locals for directions.
50 Moganshan Road, known as the M50 is a contemporary art district with edgy street art and plenty of galleries with thought-provoking works. I was really surprised how edgy some of the art was considering Chinese politics. Ending up at one of the events there was a bonus and made feel like I was back in London. Happy days! I would love to revisit and hopefully bring a better weather with me next time.
I stayed at the Rock and Wood Hostel and I would recommend it mainly due to its super convenient location. It is not too far away from the Bund and literally round the corner from two metro stations. A very spacious lounge area was enjoyable, the room and bathrooms were clean so thumbs up from me!