Shanghai: the most impulsive trip of a lifetime

For a little more info on how ridiculously impulsive this weekend was, please refer to this post: So Apparently I’m Crazy

Back from Xinjiang for twenty four hours, it was time to leave for a weekend in Shanghai. Barely unpacked and up at 6am for our flight, Margo and I hopped on the subway towards the city center. We were supposed to find a cheap bus to the airport near a McDonalds. How hard can it be right? We knew where the McDonalds was, so we headed in that direction and… no bus. We asked a few people on their way to work and none of them knew where the airport bus was. Really? Wouldn’t an airport bus be something that locals would know about?

*We eventually learned about a week later that there are TWO Mc Donalds’ in Xi’an. Whoops.

We would have just taken a cab, but there’s a little-known issue with taking cabs to the airport in Xi’an: the airport is in a different city with a different cab system. The two cab jurisdictions have been fighting for the past few years, and it has gotten to the point where a Xi’an cab driver can not drive out of the city and visa versa, therefore, if you want to take a cab to the airport a cab driver will drive you to the city limits and then hand you off to another cab driver, forcing you to pay the initial fee twice. Eventually after wandering around for what felt like an eternity, we called Joe, told him we couldn’t find the bus, and were going to attempt taking a cab. We found a cab in .2 seconds and he agreed to take us all the way to the airport as long as we paid the 10 kuai toll. Awesome! It looked as if our bad last-minute luck had turned around! -Even if it did take a good 5 minutes of strained conversation back and forth with the cab driver because we had never learned the word “toll” before (he solved it by pointing at a little sticker on the back window at a stop light).

We finally arrived at the airport with barely enough time to spare, speed-walked to our flight and hopped on the plane. It was about a two-hour flight to Shanghai, and before we knew it, we were there!

Stepping off the plane in Shanghai was like entering a whole new world! It was beautiful, green, lush and bright with no pollution. There were clean Western toilets with toilet paper and soap in the bathrooms! the airport was pristine and.. full of Westerners??! Since I had arrived in China, I had never seen so many white people in one place. Margo and I made our way though the airport and hopped on the speed train, which would take us into the city, where we would take the subway to the financial district, our new home for the next few days!

The street near our hostel. Hello Financial District!

The street near our hostel. Hello Financial District!

We exited the subway and it was HOT. Margo had brought her sun umbrella and after about five minutes I really wished I had brought mine too. Feeling disgusting and dirty, the two of us walked through this beautiful city in search of our hostel. We eventually found it, tucked away in a back alley filled with luscious trees and quaint apartments. I have to say we did a great job picking a hostel- $10 a night in the Financial District. We brought our things upstairs to the girl’s dorm, a small room with three bunk beds. It looked as if the room was full and the other girls had made themselves at home. The desk was covered in snacks, maps and souvenirs and there was a small rod acting as a drying rack, full of lacy bras and underwear hanging by clothes hangers (my roommate does it too.. with MY hangers).

Having literally zero plans for the weekend, we called Nate, who said we could meet up with him and his friends for dinner. With the whole afternoon to kill, Margo and I decided to wander the city. The two of us grabbed some bubble tea and explored, admiring some of the tallest buildings I have ever seen. Eventually we made it to the Pearl Tower, one of the most famous Shanghai landmarks. Dying of heat stroke, we made our way to a fancy cafe and had fun people watching over peach iced tea.


Eventually, it was time to meet up with Nate. We were to meet him and his friends for dinner at a fancy Western steak restaurant that was having a deal: free appetizer-sized steak sandwiches with a minimum amount spent on cocktails, which were also discounted. Sounds like a good deal to me!

I felt like I was back in the US, walking into the giant mall towards the swanky restaurant. The mall was more upscale than most shopping centers I’ve seen in downtown Seattle or Washington DC. As we entered into the restaurant I was shocked: every person in the whole restaurant was white. Men in suits and women in nice dresses were lounging at the bar or laughing over fillet minion at their plush booth tables. We had found Shanghai’s wealthy expat community.

The restaurant was packed, so we chose to split up at three tables scatted around the restaurant. Nate, along with his friend Ben chose to sit outside with Margo and I. We ordered a round of cocktails from English speaking waiters, who served us mini steak sandwiches off of hors d’oeuvres platters. The sandwiches were amazing, the cocktails were amazing and the view of the Pearl tower lit up at night was… amazing- although I have to say my appletini at Top Cloud on the 33rd floor in Seoul was definitely the best cocktail I’ve ever had in my life (Ignorant Americans and Apple Martinis).

Ben, modeling my cosmo

Ben, modeling my cosmo

The four of us laughed about how extremely different our summers had been! Margo and I had just gotten back from our 10 day Silk Road Trip to Gansu and Xinjiang. We raved about climbing sand dunes and riding camels in the Gobi Desert, wandering around bazars and animal markets in Yarkent and viewing the Caucasian mummies in Urumqi. We also told them how “Chinese” Xi’an was: babies peeing and pooping in the streets, men smoking shirtless in nice restaurants, playing frogger every day on Changan nan lu- a 6 lane road with a crosswalk but no light. The boys filled us  in on their 5 day trip to Beijing, where they had met up with Hannah and Alexis. They also told us about their weekends, spent bar hopping in the French Concession, meeting international people from all over the world.

Pearl Tower at night

Pearl Tower at night

After dinner we all met up to go to the French Concession, which Nate had been raving about over dinner. We had a great time drinking small, overpriced beers, laughing and getting to know one another. The Olymics were starting at 3am that morning so we stopped by a few pre-Olympic parties and got our own light up glasses! While finding a place to watch the Olympic opening ceremony at 3am was a giant failure, I had a great time hanging out with Nate’s friends for the night. It really is funny how different all of the students on each of the Alliance programs are! I will give the SUFE (Shanghai University of Finance and Economics) students credit though, I had a great time; Although, Margo and I did agree that we were glad we went to Xi’an, otherwise we’d be broke.

Happy Olympics!

Happy Olympics!

The next morning after sleeping in, Margo and I headed out for a day seeing the sights. We decided to go to Yu Yuan gardens, a place suggested by Ben the night before. We hopped on the metro and made our way to the other end of town, getting off in one of the major tourist centers of Shanghai. The neighborhood around Yu Yuan is beautiful, with intricately decorated wooden Chinese architecture. It was somewhat like an old town, but instead of little souvenir shops and family restaurants with street food stalls, the buildings were lined with expensive stores, Western restaurants and high-end souvenir shops.


Eventually we entered the garden, and spent hours wandering around the maze-like garden complex. We saw rock ponds with koi fish, beautiful architecture, hidden courtyards and mini-art museums. After a few hours we were exhausted and dehydrated, so we decided to head back and check out the bund- but not until after playing around in an Asian anime store.


When Margo and I got off the subway to see the bund it was dark and crowded. There were people everywhere! So many people were on the sidewalk that they spilled out into the road, taking up a whole lane of the street. I kept my purse close, feeling like a sheep as I was herded to the bund.

When most people think of Shanghai, they think of the view from the bund. From here you can see the Financial Center skyline: the pearl tower among many other famous buildings. Of course, Margo and I needed to get our picture taken at the most famous area of Shanghai, but there were so many people it was impossible to get a picture! We were eventually able to beg a few girls to let us squeeze in one at a time for a very, awkwardly close headshot. Good enough right? Even with all of the people the bund was beautiful. All of the buildings are light up with brightly colored lights, and the boats on the water sail past, playing music. Shanghai really is the Pearl of the Orient.


iPhones have the best quality photos in the dark don’t they?

After wandering around the bund, Margo and I decided to take a tram under and across the Suzhou river. This was no ordinary ride: it was a light show! We made our way under the bund to the ticket office and were shocked: it was even more crowded than the street! We decided to purchase our light show tickets with our tickets to the Jin Mao tower to save money (we would be visiting the Jin Mao tower the next morning) and got in one of the many lines. One thing that I will never understand about China is that the fear of being cut in line causes everyone to push and leave literally zero space between you and the person in front of you. I still have line anxiety from China, and this line might be at the top of the most stressful lines I have ever been in (that and trying to get a new ticket to Chongqing before we missed our train). It’s not that we were in much of a hurry, but I was so claustrophobic in line; People were angry- yelling that it was taking so long, and pushing to get up closer. I won’t lie: I came very close to elbowing someone in the face. Sometimes China makes me an angry person.


After about a half hour of torture, we got our tickets and RAN out of there. whew! So much better. We boarded our little tram and were able to snag seats in the front! The light show was corny but fun. We rode under the river in a tunnel playing sporadic techno music, with swirling lights of different colors, while the father next to us was attempting to scare his daughter making ghost noises. “You’re evil!” she shouted, and I felt proud of myself that I knew what she said.

We exited the tram near the Pearl Tower and decided to eat at a sushi place right around the corner. We had been trying to get in touch with Nate and see if we could grab dinner near the SUFE campus, but we couldn’t get ahold of him. It turns out he had lost his phone at one of the clubs we had visited the night before… whoops. Regardless, Margo and I enjoyed some of the best sushi we had ever eaten, and returned home for an early night.


The next morning Margo and I woke up bright and early, packed and headed out for a morning of sightseeing before we had to leave for the airport. We stopped at a restaurant down the street from our hostel and ordered an interesting lunch of a bready oyster-pizza and some sort of shrimp flan thing… like I said, interesting. Then we were on our way to the Jin Mao tower, the second tallest building in China.

The Jin Mao tower used to be the tallest building in China… until the Japanese built the Shanghai World Financial Center literally right next door, modeled after a Japanese instrument. I took to calling it the Cheese Grater building.


I see no difference.

I see no difference.

blahe blahe blahe blahe blahe blahe blahe blähe blahe blähe baee beroj rouge eoue 


Of course the Chinese could not have a Japanese building as the tallest building in China, so right next door the Chinese are building another building that will soon be the tallest in China.

Future tallest building in China

Future tallest building in China

Here's what it will look like

Here’s what it will look like

fdpwepgj epep0ipeoj ewpojwep epojjepwj epojwepj ewpojfwpe epfjwepjf ejpejpoewj eifwejpw eifejpwej ewpfjwpejfp ejfpwejf epofjw ewjfwp elhewiheepfjwp epfp 

Joe had recommended the Jin Mao tower because you can look down the inside all the way to almost the ground floor, but if I go back I’ll definitely check out the Shanghai World Financial center because you can walk up in the top part (the handle of the cheese grater) and the floor is glass! Already having bought our tickets, we hopped in the line for the elevator, and were given a card by an old woman for a free pearl! I wasn’t sure what kind of scam it was, but I wanted one. In the elevator and were greeted by Chinese elevator operators who informed us about the building in the most rehearsed and memorized English I have ever heard in my life! It sounded as if they had literally just memorized the sounds of the words, but had no idea what they were saying. Regardless, we understood most of it and exited into the indoor viewing room.


From the top of the Jin Mao tower we could see all of the Financial District and Bund.  It was beautiful! Margo and I tried to get photos of ourselves at the top, but it was so bright outside and so dim inside that it was impossible. Maybe I should invest in photoshop??



After enjoying all of the views, Margo and I set out to find our free pearls. After about twenty minutes of wandering around all of the dead ends we FINALLY found them. The catch? Of Course anyone in their right mind would want a setting for the pearl right? Right. But when we discovered that it was only $15 for a ring setting.. why not? We didn’t have any souvenirs from Shanghai and we were on vacation. Margo and I picked out our beautiful pearl rings and made our way down the elevator and to the airport.

Overall I had a great time in Shanghai, and I would love to go back. The most impulsive trip of my life was a major success. But with only two weeks left, a giant paper and a Chinese final, it was time for Margo and I to return home to Xi’an.



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

4 comments on “Shanghai: the most impulsive trip of a lifetime

    • Yeah it was definitely great to have something other than Sichuan or Xian’s Xiao Chi. We didn’t have much (good) international food in Xi’an so it was great to have something a little different.

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