When you spend 40 hours a week working in a foreign country, you have to make every weekend count. As much as I’d love to spend every day of the week exploring everything China has to offer, because I’m at work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (not to mention the one-hour commute there and back each day) I have to save most of my sightseeing for the weekend. Every weekend I’ve spent here so far has been jam-packed, and my last weekend in Shanghai was no exception.
On Saturday morning, I began by visiting Tianzifang one last time. Tianzifang is an arts and crafts enclave that has developed from a renovated residential area in the French Concession area of Shanghai. It’s one of the most popular places in Shanghai to shop for Chinese goods, eat cheap street food, or simply stroll under the man-made canopies of vines and ivy. Despite all the businesses selling trendy foreign goods, the area does not have the look of having been overly beautified – electricity cables are still strung overhead, and air conditioning units are obvious on the outside of buildings. I milled around for an hour, and ended up spending a good amount of time sifting through photographs in a small photography studio that was tucked away in a corner, out-of-sight of the hordes of people trying to all squeeze through Tianzifang’s narrow alleys at once. After purchasing what may be one of my favorite photographs of all time, I set out to find food. I stumbled upon an open-air café called Kommune in the middle of a courtyard. Although the menu was a little pricey, the café’s clever wifi password (kommunest) convinced me to stay. I tried what can only be described as a mix of Vietnamese food and coleslaw, then hopped back on the metro.
On Saturday night, my two friends and I decided to have a girls night out since it was my last Saturday in Shanghai (they both get to stay an extra two weeks after I leave). We started the night at Kartel Wine Bar, a rooftop bar with a stunning view of Shanghai’s skyscrapers. Because we’re all hemorrhaging cash at this point in the trip, we ordered the cheapest things on the menu: wine and French fries. Dinner of champs, right? I have no words to describe how much I’ll miss nights like these when I leave in just six days.
Sunday morning, I decided to hit up my favorite Shanghai coffee shop one last time. Sumerian coffee, located near West Nanjing Road in the upscale Shaanxi neighborhood, was started by a Californian who moved to Shanghai to pursue his coffee ambitions. I ordered my usual avocado bagel and latte and spent an hour with my nose in my newest book (Goldfinch by Donna Tartt), before packing up and trekking to the next location. The weather here is becoming almost unbearably hot during the afternoon hours, so I decided to spend my Sunday afternoon wandering around the Shanghai Natural History Museum. After waiting in the queue for about thirty minutes (and subsequently sweating all of my makeup off in the heat of the sun), I walked into one of the most modern museum buildings I’ve ever seen. The museum throws you into an existential crisis the moment you walk into the first exhibition hall. The hall is lit by projections of the early universes and fast forwards through the big bang in minutes as you wander through the corridors. After the big bang comes the River of Life, which spirals past taxidermied reptiles, birds, monkeys, lions, whales, and even a model of a giant squid. Following this: the “live” mezzanine, which features and indoor beehive, a butterfly enclosure, and petting pools complete with fish, amphibians, stingrays, and starfish. The museum stretched on, detailing every major period in Earth’s history leading up to the present. One of my favorite exhibits was a board listing the current world population, deaths today, and births today. It’s fascinating and humbling to me, remembering that I am just one in over seven billion people on this earth.
My last stop of the day was going to take awhile to find, so I grabbed a bottle of water at the metro, bandaged my blistered feet (Birks aren’t the best choice of footwear when walking 10 miles a day), and headed towards Shanghai’s Old Town. With no cell service (and no Google Maps) it took me awhile to navigate the twisted streets of Old Town before finally stumbling upon my destination: Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant. This restaurant was supposed to have the best xiaolongbao (Shanghai’s famous soup dumplings) in the city, and I’d read about it in almost every guidebook I had. The building was divided into three floors: the first floor served only take-out, the second was a casual café, and the third was a nicer, sit-down restaurant. Because I was by myself, I opted for floor 2. After scrambling to order in Chinese (menus without any English always prove to be a challenge), I frantically searched for an open seat in the packed café. Fortunately, there was an open chair at a table of four, so I quietly sat down with three older Chinese women who seemed to be out on their Sunday afternoon dumpling date. The wait seemed to take forever to my empty stomach, but when my dumplings finally came I realized it was well worth it. Although I made a fool of myself trying to eat with my chopsticks (to eat xiaolongbao you have to drink the soup out of the dumpling first before eating the rest of it), I emerged after my meal with a happy stomach and only a few soup stains on my dress.
By the time I made it back to my hotel room, I was exhausted, sunburnt, and dripping with sweat, but feeling accomplished after my packed weekend. As I sit here on my bed typing this, it’s strange to think that a week from now I’ll be in my own bedroom again, 7,000 miles away from this place. Weekends like this remind me why I love living in a city, with endless possibilities of things to do and people to meet. Although flying home means going back to small-town life, it also means only six days until I get to eat a burger from The Burger Stand again. Little things, little things.