Hey ya’ll!! I know it’s been a while. These last 2 weeks have gone by so fast! But I am back. Happy Thanksgiving to all and HAPPY DECEMBER!! This year has gone by too fast! But I’m not here for that, maybe another blog!! :) Today I want to give you the rundown on my recent trip to China, Shanghai to be exact. This trip for me was a first of many things (I’ll be sure to highlight firsts lol). I learned a lot while I was there! My FIRST words learned were hello (Nǐ hǎo), thank you (Xièxiè), and you’re welcome (Bié kèqì). Along the way we met some people who spoke decent English and I was grateful for that. They seemed to come around right when we needed them most. I was also able to meet up with a coworker who I met when I first moved to Atlanta in 2009. I was so happy to see her and excited for all of the adventures teaching abroad has brought her. Listening to her talk about some of the challenges made me realize how difficult it must be living in China. I was able to dangle my legs on the outside of one of their tallest buildings, Jin Mao Tower, and sit on a glass floor in the Oriental Pearl Tower. Getting around Shanghai wasn’t too bad. We learned the metro stops after the first day and did a good job getting around to everywhere we needed to go. Each trip was 3 yuan (Chinese money) which wasn’t bad at all. That’s about .45 in US dollars; 1 yuan equals about .15 usd). It was definitely an adventure and I can’t wait until my next international trip. With that being said, here are 4 things that really got my attention: Flight/meals on the plane, the people in Shanghai, getting around Shanghai, and the food in Shanghai.
Flights and Food: We flew Air Canada. This was my FIRST (<-- see what I did there lol) time flying Air Canada. We had 3 flights before landing in Shanghai. The first two flights were to Toronto and then Montreal (FIRST time in Canada). We went from not wearing jackets in Atlanta to needing a big jacket in Canada. It was snowing and extremely cold. We were only outside once (we had to ride a bus to the next terminal), so the cold wasn’t too bad. Ok back to Air Canada. The first flight to Toronto was on one of their smaller planes. There were two seats on the left and right. This was the FIRST time I had flown on a plane so small. I was a bit afraid to say the least but I couldn’t let my coworker know lol!! She would have picked at me I’m sure. The flight wasn’t bad at all. It was about 1.5 hours. We had a slight layover in Toronto and then we were on to the next flight to Montreal. I swear we were in the air for maybe 30 mins. This was one of the quickest flights ever. This one wasn’t bad at all either. Now on to the Holy Grail flight. The flight from Montreal to Shanghai was 13 hours and Shanghai was 13 hours ahead. This meant that when we got on the plane it was 12:30 pm eastern time on Saturday. When we landed in Shanghai, it was 4:30pm on Sunday. Talk about time zones. This plane was another FIRST for me. There were three seats on the left, three in the middle, and three on the right with 4 exits on both sides and 4 restrooms. We were given 3 meals on the flight. Of course, this was my FIRST time flying for this amount of time and the FIRST time getting full meals on a plane. Now I had read that the food on the flights wasn’t that good. So I was prepared to not like it. I brought a few snacks with me and decided to sleep most of the flight so I wouldn’t be hungry lol!! They rolled out pretzel packs as soon as we got up in the air. About 30 mins later, we got our first meal. We had a choice between sweet and sour pork or creamy chicken with veggies and potatoes. I played it safe and got the chicken. After adding salt and pepper, I was extremely surprised that it was pretty good. I ate it because after all, I probably wouldn’t like the next meal right?! Each meal came with bread and butter too so I was sure to eat that. Oh, and before I go further, the alcoholic drinks on the plane were free. My coworker got her orange juice and vodka, and I made some mimosas. And for those that don’t know me, I really don’t drink much these days. So I slept GOODT!! lol...Ok, so the second meal was a sandwich and cookies. It was basic, but again, I ate it. I was grateful that so far, two out of the three meals were decent enough. The last meal came about 1.5 hours before landing in Shanghai. This time we had a choice between an omelet for breakfast or congee. Of course I went for the omelet because I had never heard of congee. I asked the flight attendant exactly what it was and she stated that it was Chinese oatmeal. Now as I google it, I see that it is more of a rice porridge. Anyways, the omelet was good too! Three for three!!! The actual flight wasn’t bad either. I slept good and enough so that when we landed in Shanghai, I was on their time and could stay up until it was bedtime there. Oh while this wasn’t a topic I planned to discuss, getting through customs in China was ridiculously long! Maybe it was just the line we were in, but it took almost another hour just for that part. The flights home were about the same. We had 3 meals that consisted of beef and noodles or chicken and rice, a sandwich and cookies, and the last meal was scrambled eggs and sausage or congee again. This time I opted for the chicken and eggs again. No need for getting something I may not like. I don't eat beef so chicken was my only option anyway. Again, all three meal options I had was good. I may have opted for something else if we were out and I was paying, but it was decent for sure. We had a layover in Toronto. I had a learning moment while going through security though. I had my hair wrapped in a headwrap and as I was going through, I was told I was selected for a random check. This was fine with me because I know I’m not carrying anything. So security starts patting me down and it came to my hair. She stated that we could go in private, but she would need to check my hair. I looked at her quizzically because I’m wondering why she’s trying to take me in private! So I let her know that I can remove my headwrap and allow her to check my hair. It was nothing serious for me. It wasn’t until I was re-wrapping my head wrap that I realized they must have thought I was Muslim. Some of the security workers made comments about being surprised that I took my head wrap off. It all made sense to me then. Yes, that too was a FIRST!!!
People: Ok I knew in some countries they admire African American people, but this was something I was NOT prepared for. THE STARING! THE STARING! THE STARING! On the plane I wasn’t prepared. In the airport, I wasn’t prepared. Oooooo but when we got to the metro, BAM!! That’s when it started. And honestly, that wasn’t even that bad or maybe I didn’t pay as much attention. But between the next few days, I had more people staring at me than I did in high school if someone didn’t like me lol! The staring is def one for the books for me. And if they weren’t staring, they were grabbing us to take pictures with them. If not that, they’d just take pictures and record us as if we weren’t HUMAN!! At one point it was like we were in a circus show! There were so many phones pointed at us. Some people tried to do it secretly. But others, they just didn’t care! Lol...It’s funny now but by the end of the trip, I was COMPLETELY over it. While there, we only saw maybe 5 black and/or mixed people, so it made sense. I’m sure they don’t see many of us over there. During the time we were there, it was happening so frequently that I started to take pictures of them as they were taking pictures of us. Hey, that might have been petty, but I wanted to get in on the fun too! :) I eventually recorded this girl because she recorded us and another black guy on the metro. I was DONE at this point and glad we were headed back to the airport. I noticed most of the time it was the older generation staring. And when they did stare, they DID NOT look away when you noticed them. They would stare you DOWN for at least a minute or two before looking away. Those were the longest staring contests ever!!! Now, the younger generation really could care less about us. They were so into their phones. It was almost like they were being controlled by them. On the metro, every young person had their head down and were on their phone. Half of them barely looked up; it was as if they just knew where to get off and what direction to go once they were off the train. It was crazy to see. I thought we were bad. They’re on another level with it. Another thing I noticed was that a lot of them smoked. Like chain smoked. This guy that was supposed to be our driver, smoked so many cigarettes in the little time he was with us! I was like my goodness! I wondered if the people walking around with masks were covering up from all the smoke. Knowing that we were obviously tourists, they would almost make you buy something from their stores. And don't look for a taxi! They had taxis and other UBER-like drivers. The taxis were good because we could just show them where we were trying to go and we would pay no more than 30 yuan (about $4 usd) to get there. But the other drivers, chile! We paid one guy 140 yuan (about $20 usd--yea he got us lol) and paid another guy 50 yuan (about $7 usd). That wasn’t too bad, plus we were extremely tired and ready to get back to where we were staying. Now if you remember, the metro was only 3 yuan each way. So we definitely “got got” (taken advantage of lol) by the guy charging us 140 yuan, but that was our first night there. We vowed not to get got again! lol...Although we did get suckered into a tea tasting that cost us 298 yuan (about $43 usd) which I had no clue we had to pay for. We were so mad we wasted our money on a tea tasting that wasn't in our plans! But really, after that, we were strong-willed about not letting them get us again.
Transportation: Getting around was pretty easy honestly. We used google maps and an app called Mapsme to get around. Service wasn’t always that great but thanks to all of the metro stops around Shanghai, all we had to do was get to one and we could pretty much figure out our way. When we finally got through the airport and to the metro, we thought we were good until we figured out we had to switch trains 3 times before we got to our stop. Thanks to two guys who made sure we got off the train at the first stop. We got them to kind of show us the next stops to make and we got there pretty easy. Now when we got there, things weren’t that great. Our phones were barely working. We knew we were at the right stop, but didn’t know where to go from there. We tried calling the host of the Airbnb but she spoke little English so that didn’t help. After about 30 mins, my google maps pulled up and we walked a little over half a mile with all of ours bags and suitcases in the rain. :( It wasn’t raining too hard although it was raining enough for me to keep saying my glasses needed a windshield wiper lol! The metro was definitely our lifesaver though. Even through fighting to get on and off! Most times it was packed and we were all on each other. No one wanted to miss the train for sure and we all made it on each time, squished and all. Although there were many people on the metro train, even more of them rode bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles. They took up so much room on the sidewalks by parking and riding on them. They delivered many things on their bikes. I was impressed honestly. They had some good balance to carry so much while riding bikes with HUGE boxes on the back with tons of things in it. I guess that could be one reason they were thin. If we didn’t come out with anything else, we definitely know how to get around Shanghai!
Authentic Chinese Cuisine: If you know me, then you know I like to eat. This was something I was thoroughly looking forward to. I was soooo excited about the food thinking it would be upgraded American Chinese food. Boy was I wrong! Most of the menus were in Chinese so there’s that. And we were wanting some good sweet and sour chicken and general tso’s chicken and anything else you may see in an American Chinese restaurant, just upgraded! WRONG! There was only one place that had something similar to it and still it wasn’t what we expected. So we threw our expectations out the window and decided to take one day and try whatever we saw. One day we ate lunch at this restaurant near one of their malls. It was packed inside so we figured it had to be good. They were having a lunch deal where you get an entree, rice with something on top (meat), steamed cabbage, and something else I have yet to figure out. It was white and looked like pudding but tasted like eating grease. I for sure didn’t eat it. I got the steamed chicken and mushrooms and my coworker got sweet and sour pork (the only place that had sweet and sour anything that we could tell) with a side of chicken feet. I tried a toe of it (a FIRST for me) and just couldn’t even get over the texture so i just watched her eat it. I was like naw I’m good. The next day, we walked a few blocks from where we were staying and it was totally different from the areas we had already been in. Imagine going from Buckhead to Snow in the Bluff ok! This area was run down compared to the ritzy side of Shanghai and I appreciated it more. You can tell that they didn’t have much but were extremely satisfied with what they did have. So we walked their streets and tried their foods. The buildings looked like townhouses but the bottom of each one was a restaurant and in the mornings, they all stood at the opening with portable type cookers and made Chinese breakfast. We tried their jiānbĭng which was a Chinese crepe. This is one of their most popular street foods and the main ingredients of jiānbĭng are a batter of wheat and grain flour, eggs and sauces. Ours included scallions and lettuce which made for a different type of breakfast for me, but it wasn’t bad. I didn’t finish it though. Another FIRST for me. Looking around, most of the street food vendors were serving the same things. I guess people just have their favorites and go there. We next tried a stuffed bun. It was filled with meat and was soft, but it was pan-fried instead of steamed like most of their other buns and dumplings. This was different. I took a bite or two and was done. Not because it wasn’t good (it was ok), but because it was leaking yellow juices all over my shirt!!! Lol… But we weren’t done. We then walked a little further and tried this flatbread. It had spices on it and when I bit it, realized it tasted like pizza minus the meat. It was prob the best out of those 3 breakfast items. It wasn’t too bad for authentic Chinese breakfast. After that, we went back near one of the malls and tried this bakery we had seen they day before. Authentic Chinese doughnuts! I got a blueberry one that had blueberry jam inside and it was really good! We ate those as we walked to McDonald's for my coworker to try their Big Mac to see if there was a difference in the taste. I opted for a sprite and their pie. I thought I was getting a pineapple or mango (I had seen both on the menu) but what I got was not either! I saw that it said sweet taro on the wrapper but I was thinking maybe that’s what one of them meant in Chinese lol! So I bit it and it had a weird taste, plus it was purple. Again, I was like naw I’m good. When I got back home I googled it and realized taro is a starchy root crop, almost like a potato. Needless to say, I don’t want anything that doesn’t resemble fruit in my McDonald’s pie! For those that eat Big Macs, my coworker said it was good and tasted very similar to those in US. Before we left for the airport we were looking for another place to eat and settled for this pizza place we saw. I ordered their sampler of calamari, fried fish, and sweet potato fries. This was my best meal while there!! Lol...All in all, the food was decent. I think my expectations ruined me.
Overall, my trip to China was a great adventure. I was able to try their authentic foods, photograph their amazingly different culture, and test my “gangsta” with stepping out on the ledge of a building 88 floors in the sky. The buildings were beautiful, especially at night. I met some awesome people. I’ve never taken so many pictures with strangers. This trip pushed me beyond my comfort zone which is something pretty hard to do. With that being said, this trip has prepared me for my next big trip. I’m ready for the next adventures and wondering what’s next. If you have any questions about anything or want to know more, feel free to reach out to me! I’d love to have more detailed conversations!
Until next time, Peace and Love :)