24 Hours in Shanghai
This is Part 2 of my Christmas in Hong Kong series! If you’d like to start from the beginning, you can click here!
Ok, now on to the blog.
24 Hours in Shanghai
Christmas in Hong Kong: Part 2
4:30AM: I leave my apartment. I haven’t slept, and I’m worried if I take a nap I’ll miss my flight, so I decide to sleep at the airport instead.
I sleep 30 minutes on the train, and arrive at Gimpo Airport at 5:00AM. I’ve hardly ever been to Gimpo Airport because Incheon is South Korea’s larger airport, but it’s very pretty, quiet, and clean. There are Christmas decorations up, and there are already displays for the Olympics!
My flight is at 8:00AM, so I’m a little early. I sleep a bit in the airport check-in line until 6:00AM. After which I kiss my newly-decorated luggage goodbye and go through security.
The flight from Seoul to Shanghai is very short. Just two hours. But I make the most of it and sleep as much as I can.
After a quick flight I’m in Shanghai! I don’t know what it is about China but it’s always so exciting to me. I guess I love every country I visit. But China feels especially exciting. It’s kind of the OG. So much of what I see living in Korea originated in China. There’s so much history and power. And the fact that virtually no one speaks a bit of English adds another level of adventure and challenge compared to easier trips like Rome or Cebu where English is almost guaranteed.
First things first when I land in China – KFC BREAK. I’m not crazy!! I promise. KFC in China is LEGIT. Last time I was in Beijing I had KFC congee (savory rice porridge served with donuts 😍) for breakfast and it was so good! This time I wasn’t hungry but I WAS excited for Chinese KFC Christmas specials. I went with the blood orange cream pie. Are you serious! Blood orange? China’s KFC knows how to keep it boujee. But it was actually so delicious.
After my quick KFC snack break to sort out my money, maps, and snag some wifi, it was time to brave the subways. I knew after this there would be no heading back. This was when it really started to hit me that I was alone in a foreign country. But to my surprise, rather than feeling afraid or overwhelming loneliness, I realized I felt exactly the same alone in China as I would feel alone at home. Alone is alone. If you can enjoy a day at home alone you can enjoy a day abroad alone. And I love days at home alone. With this realization I began to feel confident, so I took the stairs down to the Shanghai subway.
The subway halls were lined with beautiful calligraphy and artwork. I was in a rush to get to my AirBnB but I was tempted to stay half an hour looking at all the beautiful pieces.
Before leaving the subway I HAD to check out a Chinese convenience store. Maybe it’s odd, but one of my favorite things to do in a foreign country is check out their convenience stores. Every country has such a fascinating blend of American, European, Japanese, and native snacks and products. It’s always fun exploring their collections.
In Korea it’s very hard to find Mentos, and maybe impossible to find Double Mint gum. But the Japanese gummies on the bottom of this picture are everywhere in Korea, and I think you can find Ricola as well. But right next to the Mentos and Ricola is White Rabbit candy! The most Chinese snack I know. I love White Rabbit candy but you definitely cannot find that in Korea. Such an interesting blend of cultures.
Okay, my foodie tendencies might have gotten me carried away talking about cheap snacks for a second there. Aaanyways. After leaving the subway I found myself in the middle of a quiet suburb.
What I immediately noticed was how different the streets were. Each street in Shanghai has a separate road for bikes. I don’t mean a separate lane, I mean like, a ROAD. A large, separate road just for bikes and motorcycles. AND they have their own bicycle traffic light(!) so they can cross safely with no cars. I was immediately impressed and jealous, since I commute to work by bike, myself. I also noticed how many people were on motorcycles. Literally people of every demographic were riding motorcycles on both the streets and sidewalks. Grandmas, young adults, men, women, and even children (with their parents).
I was following the Google Map I had printed but it was turning out to be difficult. Especially because half of the signs on my map were in English characters, and all the big signs on the street were in Chinese. I gave up and decided to stop in any cafe I could find to use the wi-fi and contact my AirBNB host.
The cafe I ended up in was quite possibly the TINIEST cafe I’ve ever been in. There was barely enough room for 2 stools near the window, but I was desperate, and they had wi-fi. I got my first Chinese milk tea, and an itty-bitty mini madeleine. The milk tea was just how I remembered it from China Town in Chicago, and made me instantly nostalgic. Coupled with the madeleine I was having a double-nostalgia whamy.
After the milk tea things started heading south. My AirBNB host had told me AS I WAS BOARDING THE PLANE that I wouldn’t be able to get into my room until 8PM. I only had 24 hours to explore Shanghai and I had all my luggage with me. But there was hope. She had said “unless I can get my roommate to let you in earlier.” All I had to do was contact her roommate and get some answers.
I was in China.
No Google, okay, I knew that. No Facebook, okay, I knew that, too. But AirBNB wasn’t working on my phone or iPad. Google Play Store wasn’t working on my Android phone. Direct downloads of WeChat didn’t work. NOTHING WORKED. I tried for hours, HOURS sitting in that tiny cafe to contact my host until I finally gave up and showed the cafe owner my Google Map printout. If I couldn’t contact anyone at least maybe I could bang on the door. The baristas were so kind and helpful. They used their translators and map apps and tried their best to explain to me the directions to my AirBNB. I thanked them, picked up my luggage, and ventured out to find the apartment.
As I was searching for my apartment something smelled so delicious it made me stop in my tracks. I have no idea what it was, but I immediately bought one. I can only explain it as an egg roll pancake. Flaky, crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside, with only a little egg roll filling inside, but not a roll. It was a big, flat, round pancake. It was so good I’m getting upset just thinking about it, since there definitely aren’t any in Korea. If you know what this is PLEEEASE let me know in the comments! I would love to look for it in Korea, or at least ask where to get it when I go back to China.
After an hour or two of searching main streets, side streets, and alleyways for the apartment, I finally found it and realized I hadn’t been given the room number. Admitting defeat, I went to a bakery across the street to use the wi-fi. As I was looking for anything to purchase, something I recognized caught my eye. I had seen the strangest thing on my trip to the Philippines, and here it was again. A “meat floss bun.”
In the Philippines I had been too afraid to try it, but here I was, stuck in a bakery in Shanghai, with nothing to do. It was destiny. I bought the meat floss bun.
The first bite was undeniably confusing. The meat floss almost tasted like… dehydrated tuna? Yet meat flavored, pork or chicken flavored. The bun was so~ soft and buttery. And inside, to my surprise, was a cream filling. But not really cream – mayo. MAYO! MAYO FILLING! Okay, all of this might sound disgusting to you. But here’s the crazy thing. Meat tuna+soft bun+mayo=What? A chicken salad sandwich!!! When it all got into your mouth that was the effect. A super buttery soft bun chicken salad sandwich. Yum!
At this point I was done. DONE. I had spent hours trying WeChat, AirBNB, Messenger, Naver, anything and everything I could think of. I had even asked the local police for help. I turned on roaming and… and… Made a phone call. My guilty confession. T_T
By this time it was 5:30PM. My host called me back after my second try calling and told me her roommate could let me in at 6:30PM. I just had an hour left to wait, so I updated my Instagram story and bought some water before walking back to the apartment and getting into my room.
The room was big and clean, but more than anything the view from my window was amazing. I had only seen the airport, subway, and tiny suburb of my AirBNB, so the colorful skyscrapers and bustling nightlife only a few miles off took my breath away.
All I had wanted to do once I got into my AirBNB was sleep or shower, but looking out at that view charged me up. I googled Shanghai and saw the most amazing photographs of a night cityscape I had ever seen, so I knew I couldn’t waste the chance to see it in real life. I gave myself 15 minutes to sleep, and packed my backpack for a nighttime adventure.
It’s time for a nighttime adventure in Shanghai, China! Are you up for the ride? Join me next week, in…