Shanghai, China :
Shanghai, China – The Ultimate Guide with Kids
We had a great time in Shanghai. Check out this video from our trip:
Getting to Shanghai:
Shanghai can be accessed by train from Beijing, Lhasa and Hong Kong and by plane from the rest of the world. (Please don't fly Air China, you will see my many posts on why). But many major carriers fly into China.
Shanghai for the Art-Loving Parent
I was amazed to see how European Shanghai was in its offering of quaint neighborhoods with cafes, pedestrian streets and boutiques (see: XinTianDi and TaiKang Road). But the one neighborhood that is off the beaten track and completely stole my heart is Moganshan Lu, or the art gallery district, where contemporary Chinese artists exhibit their work. About a 25 minute cab from the city center and 30 RMB, it was the furthest we ventured from our hotel. Karam and I spent hours (well ok, he slept) on a quiet Monday afternoon strolling through 100's of galleries (literally), feasting on a mix of media, themes and influences in art. It really gives you a sense for the pulse of the country, outside of the usual propaganda.
The beauty of Moganshan Lu is that it is totally under the radar, set in former warehouses, giving it a totally arty and edgy feel. The only downside is that some galleries are on the second and third floors of buildings with no elevators but you can still see about 70% of the studios with a pram. When you are done with your viewing and purchasing, grab a coffee at one of the quaint little cafes in the main square. Aaah.. delightful!
Note: some galleries are closed on Mondays, so try to go another day of the week.
Best Kids Shopping
When most people think of shopping of China, two words come to mind: cheap and fake. This is true if that's what you are looking for. But Shanghai is different from Beijing in that the city has more upscale lifestyle options, in keeping with its reputation as the Paris of the East. So here you can find exclusive boutiques, as well as your everyday stuff, and you won't have to look very far for either!
XinTianDi: All cabbies and hotels will know this square in the french-concession area as it is peppered with expats, many international brands (Sisley, Stella Luna, Nine West) and upscale local stores (Annabelle Lee). Its wide pedestrian streets, outdoor seating, fountains and live music performances made it a great and convenient place for us to take Karam. The highlight was stumbling into exclusive kids' shoe store, Fiona's Prince. Gorgeous shoes will set you back RMB 500-700 (gulp!) but if you value shoes the way I do, and consider that they are only available in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, it suddenly becomes quite worth it. Very well-made leather shoes in imaginative colors and styles. Definitely worth a look (or two, or three, as I did!)
When you are done shopping, you can avail of the 100s of dining options or stop in for world-famous dumplings at Din Tai Fung, but make sure to put your name down 15-20 minutes in advance.
Bao Da Xiang Mall for Kids: Literally means "kids grow up with good luck", but to me, it's more like "kids grow up with good stuff". Six storeys (there are apparently two levels of amusement and karaoke which I did not see) of children's clothes, shoes, socks, toys, nursery goods, electronics, prams, you name it. You will find international brands like Disney, Osh Kosh, and Esprit intermixed with local names. While you can spend hours there (and we did), it is ironically the least baby-friendly mall I have ever seen! Had to get a man to help me up the main stairs as there was no ramp to enter the mall, and the one small elevator in an unmarked corner led out to another flight of stairs which two old ladies were kind enough to help me down!! Paradise for kids, though! On Nanjing Road, in downtown Shanghai.
TaiKang Road: Although this one won't be on your usual tourist route, it's one of Shanghai's treasures, I think. Small alleyways packed with bars, cafes and some exquisite clothes, homewares and art. Tons of little boutiques for kids, particularly great place to buy cashmere sweaters, scarves and hats. (no pics, sorry! was too enamored with it all to stop and be a tourist!)
China - General Travel Tips
1) Like most East Asian countries, language is still problematic in China, as not everybody speaks English. That being said, I think in China's quest to be a world superpower, the English levels are higher than say, Japan. This means that in hotels and shops, all the customer-facing staff will speak English and will be very willing to help out. Everyone in the cities seems to know how to read so it's no problem to get somewhere if you have it written down.
2) Taxis are easy to get and cheap. Again, not really a car seat kind of culture, but Shanghai is more organized than Beijing and therefore less of a strain on the heart if you are a parent traveling with your child. Your hotel will give you the "I am a moron, please return to ____________ if lost" card, of which I had several tucked into several pockets in my bag. You can also have your concierge write down where you want to go, as mentioned above.
3) Local convenience stores don't stock nappies but you can buy milk and juices from any of your corner shops. Due to the recent issues with Chinese milk, make sure not to buy powdered milk and to check the seals and expiration dates. A full range of baby supplies is widely available at Lotus Supermarkets, present in Shanghai and Beijing. These were fun because Karam spent half an hour entertaining himself looking at the fish and crab stations (he has yet to learn the difference between a zoo and a live station).
4) Karam lived on the local staple of fried rice for the duration of our four day trip. It's easy to get in any restaurant and delicious enough for the whole family to share. He also enjoyed dumplings although I preferred not to give him the seafood ones. There are also a host of fast food chains (McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut) as well as italian and pizza restaurants if Chinese food gets a bit much.
5) The Chinese LOVE kids. No, not like kids. LOVE kids. A friend suggested that it might be because of the "One child" rule that they are beginning to see a dearth of kids. Whatever it is, people were stopping us to take pictures of Karam (freaky if you are in the web world and aware of what can happen to ostensibly harmless digital photos) and everyone tried to engage and play with him. If you are a parent with even minor germophobia, beware, because the Chinese will send you bathing in your hand sanitizer. They will touch your baby's face and hands, kiss him/her, and generally violate all boundaries set out for even family members in most Western countries. After you get over the initial shock, however, it's kind of refreshing to watch that unbridled affection and enjoyment of something we may take for granted.
6) Finally, massages are very much part of Chinese culture and available at a fraction of the price compared with many other countries, late into the night. After putting K to bed, I put dad on babysitting duty and went for a two-hour massage at 11 pm to Dragonfly in Shanghai. I paid RMB 530 (under USD 100) and slept like a baby that night. Makes all the international travel totally worth it!
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