Shanghai

Before you have even visited a place you have thoughts and opinions about it. A quick Google search will easily let you find other people’s opinions too. I haven’t visited Beijing yet but I have already decided in my head I am not going to like it- too many people, too expensive, and pollution so bad that schools have been cancelled. In the spring I went to Portland in and before I even went I already decided I liked it- it was more to see if I wanted to live there. I watched enough Portlandia and did enough Google searching to firmly decided, “I like Portland.” Shanghai is a two hour train ride from Chuzhou so it was only a matter of time before I visited. I concluded I am city girl and Shanghai is a big city so I will like Shanghai.

The first time I visited Shanghai was in mid October. I left on a Friday evening after teaching my last class. A local I connected through Couchsurfing met me at the train station and the showed me some local eats. I got to try Yang’s Dumplings and a little noodle shop. Both were delicious and affordable. My host was “way out there” but I didn’t mind as I got to see another side of Shanghai. On Saturday I looked around a the sites, ate more Yang’s Dumplings (only eight yuan for four!), went shopping, and had dinner at a delicious Thai place with an online learning partner.

 

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Couchsurfing: having a whole bed and bedroom to myself!!

But there was just something I didn’t like there. There was simply too many people. It was overwhelming and it was difficult to enjoy myself. It probably didn’t help that I choose to go to “tourist areas” but even on the subway it was so crowded. I went to the famous “The Bund” and it didn’t impress me much. Perhaps it was because of all the people. (And I still prefer the NYC skyline.) The Oriental Pearl Tower was fun to look at as its so funky looking. I got some great vintage postcards that I plan on framing in the future and I saw a cool little puppet show too. I would come back to Shanghai someday. I decided it had good food and good shopping. Both of which I like.

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Nanjing Road
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I just love looking at this thing! Just look at it!

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Look at all the fish! Now look at all the people!

And the plan to come back to Shanghai never happened. I had no burning desire to go so I didn’t. All my shopping needs were satisfied in much closer Nanjing.  I also discovered Nanjing had Yang’s Dumplings so there was no need to go to Shanghai. But last week I got some inspiration. I two goals for my weekend in Shanghai: visit Thames Town and get an orange shirt for an online job. Thames Town was a pretty epic day adventure that filled up my whole Saturday. I thought about visiting some of the other European towns but as they were two hours from central Shanghai it would be my whole Sunday. It didn’t want to spend my whole weekend riding the metro.

This time I decided to stay at a hostel in a central location across from a subway exit. I realized getting to my host’s apartment cost as much as a night at a hostel and sometimes hostels are just easier than dealing with a host. After dropping off my backup I decided to go out and see what was around and grab some water. Well, I basically choose the perfect hostel by accident. Not even five feet from the hostel was the small noodle shop I was shown my first night in Shanghai. On Sunday I had a perfect morning with fresh pork dumplings and a vanilla latte from Starbucks. Granted at the Starbucks two different English tutoring session were happening and I realized I am really good at tuning out Chinese. English on the other hand is difficult so I just put on my headphones and listened to Adele.

That afternoon I found both an orange shirt and orange sweater at H&M. Before leaving I debated if I would give The Bund a second chance. It was a rainy days and I love rainy days. I find them perfect and magical. Plus, the rain was scaring away many of the tourists. I was a short walk from The Bund so I decided I might as well give it a go.

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American Apparel or American Colors?

While heading over I noticed another way to get to The Bund. It wasn’t “off the beaten path” but it was a road next to the main road with no tourists which filled me with delight. I am pretty sure it was an alleyway but a few other people were walking it so I was fine. While walking I listened to a live band playing at a hotel.

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I enjoyed The Bund so much more this time around. The rain made the lighting nice and there was a slight fog everywhere. It wasn’t too crowded. Somehow that fact that I choose a different way made it an enjoyable experience. Instead of crowds and western shops I saw a cute little tea shop, security guards, laundry, and construction workers. I liked the architecture too. I was happier with my small choice. I also saw other streets I wanted to explore. There was so much more behind those busy streets and expensive shops. I hope to visit Shanghai once more before I leave China. I am really glad I gave it a second chance. Perhaps the third time will be a charm.

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“Off the beaten path” more like just an alley but with no crowds so a very happy Emily

 

Thames Town

There is an area in Shanghai that is called Thames Town that is basically a fake English town. Now before you say, “The Chinese create knockoff towns too?” read more.

It was a typical Wednesday night. I went down a rabbit trail on Youtube which lead to learning about China’s ghosts towns and cities. Then I learned that Shanghai has towns that are based off of European cities. There are nine of them and Shanghai is only a two hour train ride from me- a perfect weekend trip. The one that stood out to me is Thames Town. Thames Town is part of the “One City, Nine Towns” initiative.

In the decentralization process of Shanghai the strategic plan of 2001 proposed 9 new town centers, of which 4 towns were to be developed from scratch. As a marketing strategy in distinguishing the new towns from each other and Shanghai’s existing city center (Shanghai C), they were to be themed as cities from different geographical regions.

Basically they wanted to get some people to move out of central Shanghai. But for many reasons people aren’t moving to these new towns. It’s too expensive. There are no jobs. There are no schools. China has many ghosts towns some and some are in “the middle of nowhere.” I’m talking about huge sky scrappers and no humans to be seen. I would love to visit one but getting there would be quite the challenge. I was able to go to Thames Town as it can be reached by public transportation. From my Googling searching I would just take Line 9 till the end. Well, that was wrong. I was too far out so I back tracked three stops. Once I got off I figured I could take the bus or an eighteen minute cab ride or walk for over fifty minutes. I decided to grab a cab. But that was even a challenge. I guess I could say I felt like I was in the “suburbs”. It reminded me of Chuzhou actually. Yes, I was technically in Shanghai but it wasn’t the Shanghai with the skyscrapers you think of. Part of NYC is that way too.

After what felt like an etnety but probably wasn’t really that long, I got a cab. While waiting to arrive I thought, “No wonder why no one is moving here! It’s so far out and not easy to get to!” I also wondered, “How the hell do I get back to central Shanghai?”

And there is was. After a two hour train ride and three hours adventure with the metro I was a sign that said “Thames Town” but the biggest sign of all was the guard wearing a red jacket. Yes, the police officials wear red jackets just like the Royal Guards. I had a cheesy grin on my face. I learned about this place a few days ago and now I was here. It was something I could never imagine. I mean, who could of thought some British town existed in China?

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Where am I? Am I still in China?

Thames Town was bigger than I thought it would be. And there were more people than I expected but I wasn’t sure if these people actually lived here. It was mostly families and people taking pictures just like me. At the entrance there was a Thames Town Kindergarten so I guess some people actually live in Thames Town.

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I walked around. It was definitely different than any other place I’ve been to in China. The architecture of the buildings was different and the streets were cobblestone. The biggest standout was the church.

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And everywhere I went were the brides. Brides. Brides. Brides. Brides everywhere taking their wedding photos. Thames Town has become the spot for wedding photos. I would turn a corner and a photo session would be happening. I have never seen so many brides in my life. The thoughts running in my head included, “WTF China?!” and “This may be one of my favorite moments in China.”

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Four happy couples taking their pictures in front of the church.
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Around the church were some cafes, bars, and a Baskin-Robbins. I was pretty excited about that as I have not been able to find Mint N Chip ice cream in China. Sadly the ice cream was bad.

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Glorious… but not. The ice cream went bad. It was at that “too icy” and “not yummy” state. Sadly I bought two scoops.

The “life” of the town were the people walking around like me taking pictures of this place and all the brides. Thames Town just felt off to me. I could tell some people lived here. I saw a BMW pull in to a gated community. And the sure sign of life in China is if you can see laundry drying. I could see if every now and then hanging out of the British style buildings. But most of the buildings were empty.

A bride and groom would be taking pictures near yellow flowers right next to two completely empty buildings. It just felt strange. It was almost like a theme park at but it was trying to hard to be genuine and real. I have never been to England so I can’t tell you what real England feels like but it really didn’t feel like I was in England. (Perhaps because I was the only white person in the whole place.) It felt like I was in China in a place that was trying to be British.

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Red telephone booth and bride.

The church was where all the people were and when I wandered “off the beaten path” it was pretty much nothing but empty buildings. There are also statues of British people all around. There is even one of Harry Potter. I tried to find it but after wandering for quite some time I couldn’t find it.

The church was pretty impressive as it stood alone by its self and was taller than expected for a fake British town. It is an actual church but it just looked off to me. There was a pretty orange tree on the side which looked simply beautiful but I kept asking myself, “Is this a real tree? Are these real birds chirping?”

Overall, I was glad I went to Thames Town. It was nothing like I have ever seen or experienced in my life. It kind of reminds me of going to Walmart in Chuzhou. I definitely feel like I am at Walmart but I definitely feel like I am in China too. With Thames Town I felt like I was still in China but I also felt like I was in some weird want to be British town that was trying really hard to British but still had signs in Chinese and Chinese people everywhere.

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There are more of these towns in Shanghai but since they are a two hour train ride from the center it’s quite a journey for a short weekend trip. I think next month I will try to visit the Dutch or Scandinavian town.

Till next time Thames Town.

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RED COATS

The Sixteenth Time is a Charm

I teach sixteen classes a week. The same exact lesson sixteen times in the span of five days. So by the end of the week I have figured out all the bumps and lumps. Most of the time that is. As theatre teacher now teaching English as a Second Language it sometimes feels like I really don’t know what I am doing. And sometimes I really don’t know what I am doing.

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Green Tea Flavor Lays Because China

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I like actual green tea. I had it in America and have a whole bag currently in my kitchen. Occasionally I like a Green Tea Latte from Starbucks. I enjoy green tea ice cream and have even tried Green Tea Ice Cream Oreos. They were tasty. Continue reading “Green Tea Flavor Lays Because China”