China | Nothing Beats the Shanghai Skyline

Shanghai had us by our first meal, which was a delectable 6-yuan bowl of noodles served to us in a garage, next to a car. We literally ate next to a car.

Upon arrival, my feet were a frightening kind of swollen – the kind of engorgement that causes alarmed looks from passersby. After a fiasco searching for a room, we found a clean and modern hostel where we could recover from the recent train action and promptly settled into comas. When we did venture out into the streets that night, it was only in search of sustenance, and on this, we scored: Shanghai boasts a true gem. Essentially, I am writing of a soup dive, but in reality, it is so much more. In some non-distinct neighborhood, nestled below sidewalk level, lies a glorified room with a few shoddy tables. Just outside, there is an open-air refrigerator and a few buckets filled with bundled (or kebabed) noodles, “meats,” veggies, and other treats. You pick up a little red basket and, after having stuffed it royally with everything you could ever want in a soup, hand it to the nice chef man, who proceeds to disappear into the kitchen. You chat and wait, but it is well worth it, for soon the man emerges with a miraculous concoction of the most delicious soup in a bowl large enough to feed an Italian family – and somehow, you nearly finish the thing. In the case of Josh and Brent, you do finish it, only to find yourself planning the next day’s soup creation before having left the place entirely.

Guide to enjoying Shanghai Soup:

Step 1: View the assortment.

Step 2: Pick your goodies and place them in basket.

Step 3: Hand your basket to the happy soup man.

Step 4: Enjoy the resulting bowl of delicious soup.

Thus began our several-day love affair with the city, which is a complex combination of elite commercialism and cozy, kind Chinese charm. There are neighborhoods ritzy enough to make you wiggle in your Patagonia and neighborhoods awkwardly crammed with run-down shops selling noodles. It is in this very combination that we found bliss – everyone had a sprinkling of niche. Inexplicably, I have become increasingly obsessed with architecture over the course of this Asian adventure, and Shanghai is certainly the place to be for such fixations. In Shanghai, they just don’t do boring buildings. From the Bund to the financial district, there are enough high-rises and modern edifices to make your head spin. In fact, the World Expo 2010 is being held right here, complete with new metro stops and dozens of unique world pavilions to admire. We designated an entire morning’s outing to the Shanghai Financial Center and its surrounding giants, including the Jin Mao building. There has clearly been intensive city planning, as the sweeping skyline is arranged around a spread of greenery and footpaths, which results in a striking view of the colossal high-rises in a 360° panorama. Of all the towers, the Shanghai Financial Center is our favorite; it is hands-down the foxiest, sleekest building I have ever seen. Back in 2007, the beauty stood as tallest in the world at 492 meters, and though Buri Khalifa (828 meters) has mercilessly slaughtered all competition, the SWFC still claims the tallest observation deck on the planet. Along with Jin Mao, the soaring complex is awaiting its third member, a twisting, glassy, futuristic giant – we have already vowed to return once it is completed.

Overall, this is one of the most ideal legs of our trip. Saying adieu to China is much harder than expected, but Shanghai may be the perfect the perfect place to pay tribute. In fact, our last night was spent simply gazing at the Shanghai skyline as the sun set and human technology took over illuminating the city in a spatter of electric colors…

Just for fun: See the skyline, before and after the extensive building.

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