Acting a Shanghai Tourist for a Day with ChinaClickGo
While my super-freeloading every-restaurant&tourgroup-is-giving-me-trials days are basically over (#byebyelifestylejournalism), I DID manage sometime last year to become a part of a "Power Users" group for an app here in Shanghai called BonApp. Think Yelp, if Yelp catered very specifically to expats.
As "Power Users" (would not be my first choice of name but ok), we get invited to trial new restaurants or menu launches in return for reviews - our invited status is fully transparent for each review and there's no pressure to be positive. The meet ups I've attended since my gung ho status chasing have mostly been very nice, but not something I felt like I could write on outside of the app.
Except for this most recent one!
Instead of going to a meal, we were invited on a day-long tourist-in-your-own-city experience, curated by the people at ChinaClickGo. It included an introduction to some local Shanghainese eats (cooperating with another tour group, LostPlate), a stroll around the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Museum and a trip up to the observatory deck of the Shanghai Tower.
And you know what? If I had a friend who'd never been to Shanghai before, and - say - I didn't have the time to take them around myself, I would totally book them with some of these!
Food with Lost Plates
The food part took us to two legit hidden gems around Huaihai Lu: a hole-in-the-wall local restaurant called Xing An, and a 24-hour scallion noodle shop called Ding Te Le. This was some would've appeared on No Reservations in future episodes (RIP) stuff, y'all.
Xing An's family style classics all had a bit of a twist, which our food guide Nick walked us through, explaining why they added quail eggs into the hongshao rou and how Shanghainese alfa-alfa normally doesn't come covered in minced beef sauce with an egg yolk to mix in for some extra silky mouthfeel. One standout that I had never tried anywhere else (and I've been here for years!) was winter melon sticks coated in deep-fried egg yolk. Damn, that was tasty.
We then went to Ding Te Le to share some congee and scallion noodles. The scallion noodles are special here because the proprietor boils them in chicken stock, which gives them a huge flavor kick without needing to pile on the scallion oil. The congee is stirred in a pot all day, so that it achieves that intense ChiuChow creamy richness. For people who are vegetarians, or are worried about pork, they also have peanut sauce noodles (though I feel like that specific dish could've been improved with a little more green - like cilantro or cucumber).
The Propaganda Poster Art Center
After the meal, we got on a chartered van and went to the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center.
Full disclosure, I've been here before. And in the ten years since, it hasn't actually changed much... maybe at all, really. It is and feels very, very much of another era - and not just because it features posters that stopped being made in the 1970s. It's a Kitsch Shop, specifically meant to invoke in foreigners a "Gee, wasn't Super Communist China wild?" feeling of the same flavor as say, tours to North Korea. In a city where Revolutionary Era art & history is not actually hidden, going to the basement of a residential complex to see it seems like we're playacting at transgressing totalitarianism.
But then again, I'm saying this as someone who confronts Chinese Communist history enough to podcast about it and stuff.
I don't know if there would be anywhere else where you can, with a sufficiently knowledgeable tour guide (and ours was!), get a just-detailed-enough primer on Maoist China in less than an hour through one room's worth of pictures.
Literally the next weekend, I found out a fellow Old Chinahand friend of mine had taken her China Newbie friends to the Propaganda Poster Art Museum and everyone had loved it, so possibly I'm just a snob.
They have a gift shop that is great for getting copies of those posters to give to your friends back home. A favorite is the one on Sino-Russo friendship that looks in modern day to be a celebration of a really hot interracial couple (left). Also, sure you could call it Propaganda, but this poster (right) is shockingly relevant today and might as well be something you'd find on the Occupy Democrats Facebook page.
The Shanghai Tower Observatory
And then it was on the bus to the final stop in our tour - something that I've been meaning to check out for a while, especially since my parents used to live in the building right next door, watching it get built: The Shanghai Tower!
Unfortunately, this probably wasn't the best day to do it. Thanks to Plum Rain Season, we were caught in the middle of an immensely cloudy day, something we probably could've mentally prepared ourselves for just by looking up.
But as long as you luck upon better weather, the tour itself is a great deal - booking tickets through ChinaClickGo gives you a 17% discount. And I'm sure that whenever you are able to look out the windows and see more than this:
...It'll be pretty breathtaking.
Three Shanghai Tours That I'd Book For Friends
ChinaClickGo has around 40-50 tour options around Shanghai (and also quite a few in other cities like Beijing, Chengdu and Xi'an). If China Newbie friends dropped in on me, here's three that I think I'd book for them.
- Guide & Private Car Half-Day Tour
($168 for one person, incrementally less the more people you book for)
This is the DIY option and so, probably the one I'd choose to do because I am a control freak who knows about Shanghai and would want to dictate an experience for friends that can be tailored to what I want them to know about this city, even when I'm not with them. Even if you're not me though (and you have my utmost pity), half a day of touring is a great, not too exhausting commitment that will leave your friends with still enough energy to meet you for drinks after.
- The Shanghai Gangster Tour
($199 per person, incrementally less the more people you book for)
Even people who aren't that interested in history love stuff about Gangsters. Shanghai in the 1920s was a hyper capitalist breeding ground for international murder & mayhem in really sexy suits. 100 years later, it's a fun juxtaposition to relive those days in a similarly hyper capitalist era, even if there is disappointingly less public triad fights.
- Hands-On Dumpling Tour
($85 per person)
Shanghainese cuisine is actually a little controversial - in fact, most Chinese people are pretty dismissive of it, arguing that it relies way too much on sugar and salt. But one thing I've never heard anyone complain about is dumplings. Expose your friends to all the types of bao in the city, and then you can go with them for second rounds of their favorite bao during the rest of the trip. One can never have enough bao.