Their time in the Middle Kingdom is, for many visitors, one of the great experiences of their lives. Its rich, ancient history, vibrant cities racing headlong into modernity, the impressively industrious nature of its people and the astounding bargains to be had everywhere make China one of the top holiday destinations in the world.
Shanghai : The Pearl of the Orient
Shanghai is one of the largest cities in China and is arguably China’s largest city by population. Widely regarded as the citadel of China’s modern economy, the city also serves as one of the most important cultural, commercial, financial, industrial, trading and communication centres in the world, earning it the moniker Pearl of the Orient. The name `Shanghai’ literally means `on sea’ in Chinese.
Situated on the banks of the Yangtze River Delta in the east of China, its ideal location makes Shanghai China’s main trading port, a vital spot where international trade continues to thrive. Besides being China’s main industrial and trading centre, it is also one of the most popular cities for tourism in the country. It is home to more than 300 tourist resources and is said to be the best area for shopping in all of China. Shanghai with its myriad of stimulating delights makes for an exciting destination; visitors to the city are sure to experience a dynamic cosmopolitan, with a personality and character that reflect its colourful past.
Winter lasts from November to February, with January being the coldest month, and is usually cold and wet, with strong winds. Summer lasts from July to September, with August being the hottest month, and is very hot and humid. The best time to visit Shanghai is in autumn, where the weather is mild and it is neither too hot nor too cold.
Places of Interest
There are many places of interest worth visiting in the city, from modern establishments, to more historical attractions, such as the 400-year-old Yu Yuan Gardens which was built at the time of the Ming Dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Jia Jin. Located in the southern part of the city, this significant national heritage site is divided into five parts with 30 scenic spots and is a remarkable representation of a southern C hinese-style garden. Highlights include the Jade Exquisite, one of the three infamous jade stones in China, and the Great Rockery, featuring perilous peaks, cliffs, winding caves and gorges, all built with over 2,000 tons of rocks.
Standing 468 metres high, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower is one of the highest towers in Asia, and one of the most recognisable futuristic-looking landmarks in Shanghai. Tourists may climb the tower for panoramic views of the city. On clear days, the upper levels of this tower which measures no less than 263 metres in height, offer spectacular views of the city.
The most popular form of entertainment in the city is held at the Shanghai Acrobatic Theatre, where skilled acrobats, magicians, animal trainers and other performers put up spectacular shows on almost every night of the week. Another place where one can experience a taste of Shanghai’s entertainment culture is the Shanghai Centre Theater, which hosts a number of performances and live shows such as operas, ballets, concerts, orchestras and plays. These theatres are both located on Nanjing Road.
Shanghai Museum’s 11 state-of-the-art galleries house China’s first international-standard exhibits of paintings, bronzes, sculptures, ceramics, calligraphy, jade, Ming and Qing dynasty furniture, ancient Chinese coins, seals, and other ornaments and artefacts. The bronze collection is reputedly the best in the world. This museum also boasts some 120,000 Chinese art pieces and archeological findings. The building itself is an architectural showpiece; the design keeping with the principles of Feng Shui with its perfectly symmetrical building.
Shanghai is well-known for being a centre for culinary culture, bringing together different kinds of famous dishes and culinary styles from all over China. There isn’t a set `Shanghainese Cuisine’, but the delicacies listed below are some of the most popular dishes in Shanghai that one shouldn’t miss when visiting the city.
Beggar’s Chicken is a legendary dish wrapped in lotus leaves, covered in clay and oven-baked to steamy, tasty perfection – in the olden times, it was baked in the ground.
Pi Dan or Preserved Duck Eggs – also known as 1000-year-old eggs – are another popular Shanghainese cuisine, flavoured with lime and ginger. Seafood in Shanghai is also very popular, being originally a fishing town in the past. Hairy Crab, a freshwater crab with dense patches of dark hair on its claws, is one of the most popular delicacies in Shanghai. The crab meat is believed by the Chinese to have a cooling (yin) effect on the body.
Xiao Long Bao or Little Dragon Buns are small steamer buns which can be found aplenty, sold at tiny stalls, around the city. The buns are usually steamed in containers made of bamboo, and resulting in super thin skins and juicy fillings. The dish has been popularised and consumed widely throughout China and is more commercially known as `Dim Sum’. Chou Dou Fu or Smelly Tofu is a popular local dish mainly found on Shanghai streets. The tofu is fermented with many ingredients before it is fried. Despite its pungent odour, most visitors would love it after the first taste and is also cheap and plentiful.
Jiya Xuetang or Chicken and Duck Blood Soup is another popular delicacy in Shanghai. As the name suggests, it is a soup containing solidified duck blood as its main ingredient. The solidified blood resembles dark red tofu and has very little taste. The broth used is very light clear chicken broth with some spring onion added in for flavour. This soup is said to be very healthy and good for you as the Chinese believe that eating certain parts of animals strengthens the corresponding part on one’s own body.
Shopping in Shanghai
Shanghai is hailed as the shopping paradise of China earning it the nickname, `Paris of the East’. Providing the very best in tourism has become an indispensable part of Shanghai’s international trade, so if you come to Shanghai, shopping is one activity that you shouldn’t miss.
Shopping areas in Shanghai are divided into four main streets and four main shopping `cities’. Nanjing Road is the biggest and most popular out of the four streets, and has clusters of a wide variety of shops from those that are centuries old, to specialty shops and modern malls. Huaihai Road, the second most famous shopping street after Nanjing Road, features top-end designer brands from all over the world.North Sichuan Road offers a good selection of merchandise at highly reasonable prices, whilst food, crafts and other touristy paraphernalia are abundant on Middle Tibet Road.
Yuyuan Shopping City is the venue for specialist Chinese goods ranging from small articles, local crafts, antiques and jade wares to gold and silver jewelry. The newly-established shopping and entertainment plaza, Xujiahui Shopping City consists of large stores where you can obtain both costly and middle-range-priced goods in abundance. New Shanghai Shopping City is on the grand scale and offers the best facilities and amenities, and is surrounded by a variety of modern retail outlets, whilst Jiali Sleepless City is a bustling commercial area right opposite the Shanghai Railway Station.
Social etiquette and local customs in Shanghai
It is common social practice to introduce the junior to the senior, or the familiar to the unfamiliar, in the Chinese society. Upon greeting Chinese people, it is advisable not to get too physical – avoid gestures such as backslapping, hugging or kissing, even if only on the cheek. When striking a conversation with a stranger, it is safe to start with topics such as weather, food, or hobbies.
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The Chinese also consider gifts as an important display of courtesy, especially on special occasions such as festivals, birthdays, weddings, or mere social visits. Acceptable and appropriate gifts include tea, cigarettes, candies, fruit, cakes and pastries. Wedding gifts and birthday gifts for the aged are always sent in pairs for the old saying goes that blessings come in pairs, besides, odd numbers are also believed to be symbols of misfortune. The number `four’ is also to be avoided because although it is an even number, it reads like `death’ in Chinese.
When giving fruits as gifts avoid giving pears as the name of the fruit in Chinese is a homophone, or is very similar to the Chinese word for ‘separation’. Also, a gift of clock or any time-related device is also taboo, as it signifies the giftee’s life slowly ticking away and thus reminding one of death. The colours black and white are also best avoided as they are connected to sorrow. Use careful judgment in deciding whether to give a gift to a Chinese person. If people are reluctant to accept a gift, do not pressure them to take it.
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Although the practice of tipping has increased with the rise of tourism in China, the rule of thumb is not to tip at all, as it can be embarrassing or even offensive to the Chinese. It might be a good idea, however, to bring small gifts as tokens of appreciation to those who may help you along the way. It is often customary to remove your shoes before entering a Chinese home. If you are not comfortable with using a pair of chopsticks, it is perfectly alright to request for a fork and a knife, or a spoon, instead.
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