Last year, I had the opportunity to explore Shanghai by night, with food tour company, UnTour.
We spent more than three hours gorging ourselves with noodles, soups, a variety of meats, root vegetables, crayfish, scallops, fruit puddings, and anything we could find, served on a stick. The guides took us through the history of Chinese street food, and led us through a labyrinth of vendors.
When I moved to Shanghai, I lived across the hall from a very superstitious man. Red cardboard cutouts of horses decorated his doorway, red underwear hung from his balcony, and it seemed he had enough fireworks to launch a full-scale pyrotechnics show for even the tiniest occasion. But I had no idea what any of it meant. That is, until Chinese New Year rolled around.
The weeks leading to the holiday, I was gifted oranges and tangerines, offered a giant, glittering cardboard sheep for my door, and advised to deep-clean my apartment (as he peered over my shoulder, through the newly decorated doorframe). I was also advised to settle any debts, not to wash my hair, and not to cry. This was all important, he said, in order to receive good fortune in the year to come.
But even more important, in order to be lucky in love and in my finances (he seemed very invested in my dating life—or lack thereof), I needed to watch what I ate. And thankfully this did not mean scaling back on calories.
There’s something about the word Mandalay that made me want to go to the city before I knew anything about it. Man-da-lay. The sound of it, the way it rolls off the tongue. I pictured a lazy river town, blanketed in rolling fog, with men steering Burmese-style gondolas against the background of mossy-green mountains. A painting come to life. But like most places I romanticize, Mandalay was far from what I imagined.The city was sprawling, dusty and noisy. The humidity was thick and the air hot. Rain water pooled in the pot holes littering the roads.
When I first started planning my trip to Myanmar, I spent hours pouring over the Google Image search results. Pictures of mist-covered mountains dotted with ancient temples were first to pop up, followed by the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda in the country’s capital. I had seen these images before. Heck, they were the reason I was making the trip to Burma in the first place.
But as I continued to scroll down the pages, I began to see another part of the country–a lesser-known part. Pictures of aged fisherman standing on the ledge of wooden boats, women and children poking their heads through windows of stilt houses, and rolling green hills that seemed to touch the sky.
Deep-fried pork ribs crusted in cumin, pan-fried noodles smothered in thick soy sauce, steamed buns filled with fatty brisket, and Chinese crepes layered with cilantro and fried wontons. This, in a nutshell, is what I’ve been consuming since returning to Shanghai a few months ago.
Needless to say, I’ve been feeling a bit “fluffy,” as my mom and I like to say. (It sounds so much nicer than “fat” or “pudgy,” don’t you think?)
As a quick fix, and to put me back on the right track, I decided to do a juice cleanse. That’s right, a juice cleanse. As in, nothing but juice. For three days. Continue reading
It was 6am when the overnight bus reached the ancient city of Bagan. The passengers around me began to rustle–reaching for bags and shedding layers of warm clothing. I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window. Taxi drivers had already crowded the door, and the sky was growing pink.
It had been nine fitful hours of attempted sleep, but it didn’t matter. I had arrived to the place that topped my bucket list for the last five years—one of the world’s greatest archeological sites—16-square miles of pastoral land, decorated with more than 2,000 Buddhist monuments.
I jumped in the first cab I saw and headed to the hostel. And after a quick shower, I rented an electric bike and spent the next two days exploring.
I remember the first time I saw a picture of Bagan—a misty green landscape, dotted with pagodas and temples, as far as the eye could see. Hot air balloons floated in the distance, among the mountains. It was a place that looked as if it was conceived by someone’s imagination—as if it came from a beautiful dream. I had to go there.
Every year in China, the Mid-Autumn Festival allows me a week off of work at the beginning of October. It’s not much, but with flights connecting in Kunming, a trip to Myanmar is doable. You just have to plan.
I decided to spend 1 night in Yangon, 2 nights in Bagan, 3 nights in Inle Lake and 1 night in Mandalay. It was a lot to cram into 7 nights, but it was worth it.
Last weekend, new bike tour company Culture Shock invited me for a four-hour morning ride around Shanghai. Officially open for business later this week, the long-term French expats have been running special media tours in order to work out its kinks.
As of now, the company runs two tours: one in the morning (9am-12:30pm) and one in the afternoon (1pm-5:30pm). Both begin at the Eclair Cafe in the Xintiandi Andaz Hotel, where you receive a complimentary croissant or pain au chocolat and coffee/tea, and end at the same place. The tour gives a pretty good feel for the surrounding area ( approx. 10km), as well as some insight into Chinese culture. Here’s a look at my experience:
Having been an expat for quite sometime, whenever I visit the States, I’m always taken back by how easy things are. How convenient things are. And during my six weeks at home this summer, I became pretty spoiled.
Coming back to Shanghai has taken some time to get settled. It’s been a month and I’m just now getting on a proper schedule. I’m finally stocking my fridge and pantry. I’m realizing that eating street food for every meal isn’t the best idea.
Thankfully, after one too many dumpling dinners, ready-to-cook meal delivery service, Xinwei Cook, contacted me to see if I could review a couple of their dishes.
I’ve always considered myself a city girl. The sound of buzzing neon lights, the energy of people as they crowd the sidewalks, the ability to get a slice of pizza at 3am on a Tuesday. As someone who grew up in Small Town, U.S.A, the thrill of moving somewhere bigger–somewhere better–was not only a dream, but a necessity.
So here I am, in what seems to be the world’s largest city–Shanghai. Population 25 million. Complete with humming motorbikes, all-night street food, and subway cars resembling the inside of a sardine can.