I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Eve. I usually find the holiday to be over-hyped and underwhelming. My expectations were lowered by the fact that this year I am nowhere near my usual family and friends with whom I usually celebrate significant holidays. Despite (or maybe because of) my nonexistent expectations for NYE, I ended up having a fantastic time!
I had been waiting for an opportunity to take the bullet trains in China and when friends mentioned going to Shanghai, I jumped at the opportunity.
[The train travels the five-hour trip via a 1,318 kilometer rail (711 miles) from Beijing to Shanghai at about 304 km/hour (165 miles/hour). Pretty speedy!]
Once we arrived in Shanghai, the two friends I had traveled with, Christian and Nandini, joined me in walking around the French Concession which is a neighborhood filled with cafes, tree-lined alleys, and quaint tudor houses. Then we were off with more friends to [ignorantly try to] get a spot overlooking the Bund for NYE. Well, evidently every other person in Shanghai had this brilliant idea. Since we had waited till just minutes before the clock struck midnight, we raced out of our cab to find the roads leading to the Bund blocked off. I was disappointed by this, but became amused by watching the locals decked out in light-up animal ear headbands and other festive NYE garb. Suddenly a woman standing near me lit up in excitement and I followed her gaze to see fireworks exploding over the Pearl Tower. I can only describe this as one of the coolest moments ever.
After celebrating late into the night, we woke up the next day feeling a little less than fresh, but toured with enthusiasm just the same. We took the Huangpu River Cruise to take in more towering city views and wandered around the Old City Area to see the Yu Garden. Later we reunited with some friends who gave us insider knowledge of where to get Shanghai’s traditional xiǎo lóng bāo (basically a dumpling with soup inside of it–very sweet tasting and difficult to eat).
The following day we took advantage of our proximity to Suzhou with a day trip to the small city. Its claim to fame is the beautiful ancient gardens that have been preserved. We visited the Lingering Garden (one of the 4 most famous gardens in China built during the Ming Dynasty) and the Humble Administrator’s Garden. Although they were pretty, I couldn’t help thinking how much more scenic they would be during a warmer season.
Overall, my favorite thing about Shanghai would have to be the palm trees that lined the streets. It was comical to see lingering snow that had fallen a few days before on rooftops behind such tropical trees. But it was definitely a treat to see green leaves in the dead of winter!