Shanghai is super hot in summer. It’s just so unbearably hot.
That was the consensus my friend Lu, who hails from southern Hangzhou, and her friend reached as they fished bits of oily tofu and lamb from our communal hotpot one night at dinner. Lu and friend shared the spicy section of our hotpot meal while my boyfriend, Derrick, and I stuck mainly to our milky, spice-less section on the other side. We both enjoyed spicy food but China spicy is a beast all its own.
Derrick and I exchanged looks. We were planning to hop on the high-speed rail to Shanghai that weekend. Yet we were skeptical. As life-long Iowans, we’d witnessed the Midwestern state unleash its fair share of exhaustingly muggy weather that leaves you feeling a bit melty every time you walk out the door. Lu had experienced that as well as a fellow University of Iowa student.
I conveyed as much to Lu, my chopsticks hovered over the hotpot before plunging in to the bubbling water to fish out a slice of coagulated duck blood. I plopped it on my plate and examined it before nabbing it with my chopsticks and taking a timid nibble.
Hangzhou is a few hours drive from Shanghai, surely the two friends were just exaggerating slightly, Derrick and I conferred after we had parted from our friends. At least we hoped they were. This was my first big trip out of Beijing since I’d arrived in China and I couldn’t wait to explore a new part of the country.
The high-speed rail to Shanghai was great and we chattered throughout the 5.5 hour trip about all the things we’d do that weekend in Shanghai. The Friday morning trip was smooth sailing and we watched as trees and towns blurred past us. We arrived in Shanghai that afternoon, quickly figured out the new subway system, and went on our way to the apartment we had rented for the weekend through AirBnb.
We found out our friends forgot to mention one thing: Humidity.
Emerging from the subway stop we were immediately dripping with sweat. We had anticipated a potential weekend of rain from previous weather forecasts, however we weren’t prepared for the humidity. Despite the mere four blocks from the apartment to the subway stop, I quickly felt my back soaking with sweat as it hugged my backpack. Sweat began to gather on my arms and forehead.
The first few minutes in Shanghai turned out to be how we’d spend most of our weekend: dripping with sweat or from rain. We managed to avoid being out in the rain Friday evening as we grabbed dinner and later drinks in the French Concession. Saturday was nice in the morning and we brunched and walked around the area by the apartment.
I had booked an apartment conveniently located in the West Nanjing Road area. It was oodles cheaper than any fancy pants hotel nearby and we could shop at the mix of affordable and high-end shopping (well, window shopped through the more luxurious stores). It was also located near a lot of places we wanted to visit.
Neither of us are prone to shopping but we stumbled into a UNIQLO (who sponsors famed tennis player Novak Djokovic) in an attempt to dry off for a moment from the wave of humidity . We’re both pretty simple-minded, no frills people when it comes to clothes and the clothing store is famed for its basic clothing lines and cheap prices. As Derrick pointed out to me, it’s the Ikea of clothing (minus the lingonberries and Swedish meatballs). We loved it.
That afternoon we attempted to see the Oriental Pearl TV Tower but only caught a glimpse and a few pictures before a downpour ushered us, and hundreds of other tourists, into a large mall. In retrospect we found ourself spending quite a lot of time in malls that weekend with the mix of rain and choking humidity.
Mall culture is interesting in China. Malls are clean and have a shiny, luxurious appearance. We walked around the eight plus floors for several hours. Stores are a lot smaller than ones found in typical American malls. Although I’ve looked into no data concerning the matter, Chinese malls do not seem to be suffering from the same struggle malls in America are now experiencing.
The most important part of our weekend was the food. More specifically, dumplings. We ate at several places known for their dumplings. Din Tai Fung, a place known throughout many tourists circles as one of the best places to get dumplings, and food in general. It’s actually a Taiwanese chain but every Shanghai traveler seems to dismiss this and insists at lease one visit. The dumplings were indeed delicious. They were light with a warm broth in the middle that made them quickly dissolve in your mouth.
Yang’s Dumplings was the other place. Yang’s is pan-fried and more of fast food fare than a sit-down place like DTF. We ate pork dumplings at Yang’s, which take some skill to eat. Yang’s also has broth in their dumplings, which are larger and can’t be eaten in one bite. Instead, we nibbled a hole in the dough and slurped out the delicious broth before eating the rest. It reminded us of eating a bite-sized chicken (pork, in our case) pot pie. Crispy outside with broth-soaked dough on the inside and meat. Mmm. We ate at Yang’s several times that weekend because of the rain and the close proximity to our apartment.
Despite a general setback brought on by the constant rain, we found ways to explore Shanghai. We sipped drinks at Captain’s Bar, a rooftop bar/hostel, and looked at the view of the Shanghai skyline. It was nice to take in the skyscrapers and big buildings I missed, and loved, about big cities. Beijing is sprawling but doesn’t have the height I had imagined it would.
The only truly unpleasant part of the trip was the final leg of our trip back in Beijing. We took the last five hour train of the day (the rest were 10-hour overnight trips) and got back around 11:35 p.m. Knowing the subway was closed by that time we went to catch a taxi, ready to take a shower and go to bed.
So did every single person in the railway station.
The taxi queue was an incredibly long line stuffed in an indoor parking ramp that had absolutely no airflow. Crowds of people, all as eager to get home as we were, shoved and pushed each other to get a spot in line. In China (and likely many other countries) you have to be careful when trying to get a taxi at major hubs like the airport or the railway station. Men will come up to you (especially if you’re a foreigner) and try to cajole you to take their “taxi services.” These people who approach you aren’t legit taxi drivers and can lure travel-weary, unknowing people into their car to charge them thousands of RMB more than a regular taxi. So you have little choice but to wait in the taxi queue to ensure a licensed cab.
Overall we waited an hour to get a taxi. It was definitely an uncomfortable experience coupling exhaustion and hot air with the lurid smell of urine and the smoke swirling in my face from the cigarettes of others waiting in line. Once we finally made it into a taxi I quickly rolled down the windows and gulped in the fresh night air as we drove out of the enclosed parking garage.
The weekend’s lessons:
Eat as many dumplings as you can in Shanghai.
Don’t take a late night train back to Beijing unless you have a ride home.
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