Of Chopsticks, Chow Mein and Censorship

18th May 2019

The three things I didn't experience in China

More often than not, my idea of a holiday is to pick a place, read about it, make a comprehensive list of the places I would like to visit, plan everything beforehand and go have a gala time. This year, an unexpected vacation came my way in the form of a business trip to discover one of the most intriguing civilizations of the world, the Red Dragon of Asia - China.

From the Wall to the Warriors, snow-white mountain ranges to the vast landscapes of grasslands, China is packed with diverse, dumbfounding sights. The very vastness of this province makes it almost impossible to squeeze in a lot of destinations when you are on a short break. We settled on the metropolises of Shanghai and Beijing for our 4-day vacation, allocating two days for each of the cities. You could strike off a lot of attractions on your China bucket list by covering the places in and around Beijing and Shanghai. These two cities are undoubtedly the most visited cities in China, and there's a stark contrast in their charm and vibe.

While Shanghai is a contemporary, electrifying city sprouting at a nearly unparalleled rate, Beijing is the epitome of a city with the perfect blend of the ancient and the modern and home to the ancient relics, palaces, and temples of China's imperial past.

Day 1

A vibrant city known for commerce, shopping, enthralling skylines, and nightlife, every inch of Shanghai screams of the word "metropolitan" with skyscrapers, shopping malls, and rooftop bars scattered throughout. It has a very eventful yet awe-inspiring pulse that will have you daydreaming about it long after you leave.

Some of the touristy things to do in Shanghai include going to the Shanghai's landmark riverside promenade - The Bund, admiring the Pudong skyline from there, taking in the opulence of modern Shanghai in Xintiandi - a chic neighborhood of lanes lined with ritzy boutiques, nightclubs, and restaurants, shopping on Nanjing Rd, getting a sense of its history while strolling through old Shanghai and visiting the Jing' an Temple and Jade Buddha temple.

The 1.5km riverfront promenade known as the Bund across the Huangpu River gives some spectacular views of the picturesque skyline of Pudong. A boat cruise on the Huangpu River flowing into the distance as far as the eye could see, gives a panoramic view of some century-old buildings on one end and a futuristic neon skyline featuring Shanghai's crown jewels the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Jin Mao Tower, the World Financial Center and the Shanghai Tower on the other end.

The crown jewels of the Pudong Skyline

Photo of Shanghai, China by Suvarchala

Walk the nearby stretch to get lost in the alleyways of the French Concession and appreciate the impressive colonial-style architecture along Zhongshan road. Exit at the booming and bustling Nanjing Road, the 5 km long stretch to have your share of swanky malls, specialty stores, and restaurants. Be prepared to walk with lots of people and flanked by people in all directions. The sidewalks wouldn't be enough for everyone to walk and people spilling onto the roads is a common sight.

Day 2

In spite of being tagged as 'young' and modern, the city is an exquisite fusion of old and new. Right in the middle of all the hurly-burly of downtown Shanghai is the temple of peace and tranquility - Jing'An Temple, offering a glaring contrast to the glittering skyscrapers and glitzy malls. This enormous, shiny, gold-colored treasure trove has an 800-year-old history and houses the largest jade Buddha statue in the whole of Mainland China. To continue the journey of transcendence, head to the Jade Buddha temple to get a glance of the two glittering jade Buddhas - one being the sitting Buddha and the reclining Buddha in the next chamber.

Photo of Shanghai, China by Suvarchala

Hop on the World's Fastest Passenger Train, a 350 km/h high-speed train taking as little as 4 hours 18 minutes, to get a change of landscape from the ultra-modern allure of Shanghai to the majestic splendor of Beijing.

The capital city simply provides the best of both worlds: a glimpse into the glorious past and present of one of the most powerful countries on the planet with all the present-day indulgences and luxuries of an exciting metropolis.

A boundlessly charming and aesthetically appealing city, Beijing has a lot to offer in terms of culture, art, nature, entertainment, and nightlife, not forgetting the shopping and eating options. Whether it's the Great Wall undulating over the highlands into the distance, the Forbidden City which is the topographical center and the historical crux of the city or the magnificence of the Tiananmen Square, all these marvels are the quintessence of the country's rich cultural heritage.

Day 3

Explore the cultural heart of Beijing by starting at the Tiananmen Square, a large square surrounded by monumental buildings, whose sheer size cannot be estimated without actually standing in the middle of the square. Trace Beijing's regal past by whizzing through the enormous Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage site that comprises more than 800 palaces, temples, government buildings, and homes. To get a bird's eye view of this imperial abode and the whole of the Beijing beyond, walk up to the Jingshan Park and climb to the top of the hill - the highest point in Central Beijing.

A bird's eye view of Beijing from Jingshan Park

Photo of Beijing, China by Suvarchala

After revisiting China's imperial past, gear up to enter Wangfujing Street which is nothing less than heaven for shopaholics where everything from knick-knacks and souvenirs with traditional Chinese flavor to quality products from world famous brands is available. The street lightens up as the evening goes by as a lot of restaurants and street food places open up.

Day 4

Your visit to Beijing is not complete without making a trip to one of the world's greatest man-made marvels - the Great Wall of China. This breathtaking structure, which spans over thousands of kilometers needs little introduction. Some of the most accessible sections of the wall are located in Badaling, Mutianyu, Juyongguan, Jinshanling, and Simatai. They are all a couple of hours drive away from downtown Beijing. The well-restored section in Mutianyu is easily accessible, offers gorgeous views of the meandering wall, has more watchtowers than the other sections where visitors can climb up into to take in the far reaching views and is less crowded in comparison to Badaling. Words can't do justice to the exhilaration and adrenaline rush one experiences after conquering a tiny section of this legendary wall. The only way to truly appreciate this staggering piece of architecture is to stand on its walls and gaze in wonder as it takes you in its magnitude.

Words fail to describe the sheer size and grandeur of the Great Wall of China. This incredible feat of engineering meanders over mountains and trees as far as the eye can see and offers the most spectacular views.

Photo of Beijing, China by Suvarchala

After the hectic trek, how does the idea of unwinding with a cup of the world famous Chinese tea in a tea house where you would be spoilt with choice sound? Tea drinking is a way of life for the Chinese. The art of tea drinking is not only about drinking the delicious tea but appreciating the nitty-gritty of making the tea, smelling it, and embracing the values and culture associated with the tea ceremony. After a soothing session of tea drinking, it's time to pay a visit to the cuddly giant pandas in the Beijing Zoo. Known as the national treasure of the country, China is the only place in the world where these endearing and endangered creatures live outside captivity.

Getting around in China

China's well-organized, extensive and inexpensive subway system is the best way to go around these cities. It is the preferred mode to avoid the infamous traffic jams and rush hours in both the cities. The names of the approaching subway stations are announced in Mandarin and English.

Conquering the Great Firewall

The much talked about great firewall of China is real and any app or website you could think of like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Gmail, YouTube, Netflix, Google maps, all the other products of Google or any other social media site is blocked. The only way of accessing these websites or apps is by installing a VPN. Service providers like ExpressVPN come in handy to have an uninterrupted access to the different websites and apps of your choice regardless of the country you are in.

From globetrotters to history buffs, trekking enthusiasts to nature lovers, this country has something to offer for all. The glittering skyscrapers and soaring skylines, the mammoth architectural wonders and ancient palaces are all testimony to the rich heritage, imperial legacy and the vibrant culture of China.