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Monday, February 22, 2016

Chinese New Year in {Shanghai}

Shanghai was such an adventure. We stopped here for two nights on our way to the Philippines and we do not regret it. Honestly, we did not love it but it was a great cultural learning experience and we got to see a new place - win! The key to successful traveling is to always have a positive attitude. 

China is communism and family. 
China smells and tastes like dumplings. 
China looks like oriental architecture.
China feels like celebration.

The best part about being in China when we were was CHINESE NEW YEAR. Year of the Monkey! We were there the weekend of Chinese New Year's Eve so celebration was in full swing; however, we learned that a lot of people leave the city to visit their family in the rural parts of the country so Shanghai felt eerily empty. 

We were not prepared for the 40 degrees and humid weather in Shanghai. It was freezing! It was so challenging to pack for two totally different climates. The jacket I am wearing in the picture above is the heaviest jacket I brought and I was wishing the whole time I had an actual coat. We chalked it up to another learning experience.

And yes, I was about 21 weeks pregnant here and honestly, traveling did not feel any different for me while pregnant. Second trimester is amazing for travel so I'm so glad we got this trip in before the baby comes. But we can't wait to bring him along on all of our adventures too :)

Aside from the fact that we do not speak any Mandarin Chinese whatsoever, so we were hardly able to communicate with anyone, we thought the people were very nice. We were surprised by how few people speak English in China. The communism in China is prevalent in everyday life and to us, we felt like we were constantly being watched. We had a hard time getting through immigration at the airport, even though we had all of the documentation they wanted to see readily available for our FREE 144-hour transit visa. I had spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, particularly from the time I lived in India but had never been to China. It feels so foreign. The language barrier is the biggest challenge. 

We want to go back to China to go to Beijing and the Great Wall but we feel satisfied for a while; we will check out some other amazing countries first.

While in Shanghai, we opted to stay close to Yu Garden and we are so glad we did. We stayed at the Narada Boutique Hotel and we loved it! It was so nice because it was a central spot in the city, just a block from the metro and two blocks from the Yu Garden Shopping Area. Our first morning there we went for a walk through Yu Garden and stopped for a breakfast of dumplings.

Make sure you read down to read all about our fun experience in Suzhou, exploring outside the city of Shanghai.


^This awesome storytelling display was part of Chinese New Year. It goes through the story of multiple dynasties and talks about their relation to the different animals and other myths. This little walkway is just in the center of the Yu Garden shopping area. 

Braden could have eaten dumplings the whole time we were there...obsessed. My happy little chef. We stopped for breakfast at a well-known dumpling spot in Yu Garden, Nanxiang Steamed Bun. We tried to go back another time and it was so packed, it wasn't worth the wait.


Another 3-4 blocks from Yu Garden is "The Bund" - this is the strip of sidewalk that runs up and down the Huangpu River. The skyline view from here is amazing!


And back towards Yu Garden for more Chinese New Year fun.

We stopped for some food at Pizza Hut (mostly because their menu is in English and we knew what we were getting) and ordered the Chinese New Year Pizza, topped with some yummy breaded shrimp and a strip of raw salmon. It was interesting but very good!

^We loved how many families and little kids we saw around Shanghai. The kids were all so cute! We were actually very surprised. It made me think back to my K-12 days learning about individualist vs. collectivist cultures. I admire their emphasis on family and community.


^These vendors were in a little park on our way to Yu Garden from the Yu Garden metro station. I always love seeing what the street vendors sell in different countries.

The view right outside of our hotel - more middle income, compact housing in the middle of the city. It felt very "China" to us. 

^The view from breakfast at our hotel.

^Celebration and signs everywhere across Shanghai, especially in the metro stations.

At the LDS Branch for church in Shanghai - such an interesting experience. We feel so blessed to live in a land with freedom of religion. This branch was only for expats. The LDS members in China cannot attend church with the Chinese Nationals. We take all of our freedoms for granted in America.

^I was so cold the day before and did not want to travel to church in just my dress so I decked out in socks, yoga pants under my dress, an extra sweater, and more. I looked like a joke but at least I was warm(er).

^Like I said, the cutest kids all over China. This little boy and his jacket, and knowing I was having a little boy of my own so soon, I just about died. SO adorable.

^Walking around People's Square in central Shanghai. We spent one evening wandering the city a little bit. We were trying to get back to the Bund at night but we got so turned around! I am usually so good with directions and never have had an issue but walked the exact wrong direction away from the Bund when we got off the metro. We tried to ask soooo many people for directions but noone could understand us. 

Even though we didn't make it back to the Bund at night, Nanjing Road was pretty cool as well.

Yu Garden

So I already mentioned Yu Garden Shopping area but there is actually a garden in the middle of the shopping area. I highly recommend it - so beautiful! And it is very inexpensive. I was most excited about seeing the old traditional gardens in China. I could go back here again and again, maybe even on a daily basis. It was pretty busy because of Chinese New Year but it was well worth it.

^21 week baby bump in the garden

^Again, so cute seeing all the little families. We were also surprised by the affection they showed in public.


Like I said, I was most excited about the gardens in China so we took a little excursion out of the city to Suzhou. Suzhou is known for its gardens and water canals and is only 30 minutes by fast train out of Shanghai. I wish I had known how difficult it would be to get around! And especially in Suzhou, so few signs are in English. It was easy to get to the train station and relatively easy to get our train tickets at the English speaking ticket counter (you cannot get them from the automated machines because you have to show your passport). Once we arrived in Suzhou, we expected to find some tourist buses but they were nowhere in site. So we decided to take a taxi...there was noone else in line for taxis and we only saw another small group of backpackers that were tourists, otherwise everyone was Chinese. When we jumped in the taxi, the driver could not understand any English so after a few minutes of frustration trying to explain where we wanted to go, he just started driving. Braden was a little worried but we decided to just see where we ended up. He dropped us off in a more "touristy" area of town by the Suzhou museum and the Humble Administrator's Garden. It was a great place to start so we started checking out the sites.

If I had a do-over, I would not have gone to Suzhou and would have just stayed in Shanghai, especially at this time of year when it was still so cold and the gardens have hardly bloomed (but still beautiful in winter). 

We loved the Suzhou museum and highly recommend. The architecture in and of itself was very cool.

The Humble Administrator's Garden is HUGE and so beautiful. We loved this place. It was so fun to see all the families walking around and playing outside with their kids.

^The signs were amazing...Braden and I got a good laugh. This one in particular "Caution Civilization." They make no sense.

^I especially loved the walkways

We were so hungry for lunch and had delayed it long enough (since we had no idea where to go) so we finally stopped in a few places and decided on somewhere that looked clean. Like everywhere else though, the menu was all in Chinese but had a few pictures - the picture menu was important so we could at least point and pick what to order. The below picture is what we ended up with for lunch. A lot of the food was a little sweeter than I would typically like but it was good. They were also huge - we were not expecting that much soup but it was tasty on such a cold day. We have no idea what kinds of meat we were eating. Part of the adventure, right? :) 

Our next stop was Lion Forest Garden. We loved this one! It was much smaller but equally beautiful and more artistic.

^We loved this view out into Suzhou from the train station. We were waiting in the McDonald's here for our train to leave.

And although cliche, of course I had to throw in a picture of the gorgeous sunrise as we flew into Shanghai. What is travel without a good view from the sky?

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