The first line built in the Shanghai Metro was line 1 (red). It runs north to south and goes through the heart of Shanghai. If you’re a tourist, visiting key sites will require you to ride up and down this line.
My grandparents’ apartment is just minutes walking from the Tonghe (通河新村) stop. It’s a 40 min ride into the heart of the city, People’s Square (人民广场) and it’s about another 40 min to get to the end of the line, where you can do some indoor skiing and snowboarding (莘庄). Before you get there though, there’s 28 stations, 28!!! Where in the hell do you get off??
- Tonghe Road (通河新村)aka Home
Eat a bowl of mini wontons, with an egg of course, add a piece of 粢饭糕 aka a hash brown made of rice and deep fried. Don’t eat dumplings because this isn’t the proper place to do it just yet.
Wave bye to your grandpa and take off! It’s quiet(er) here and traffic is somewhere between having to dodge crazy delivery boy cyclists in NYC and well behaved city cars. Time to walk to the subway station to head to center city.
What can you do here? China has several large shopping outlets in major cities, carrying brands that vary from domestic, home grown small shops to Gucci and Hugo Boss. They also have arcades, food courts, movie theaters, and at least 3-4 stories for you to spend your time. The biggest one near my grandparents’ place is Wanda Plaza. What do I do in there? Win a giant caterpillar stuffed animal for my cousin by playing darts. 20 RMB for 10 darts, tried twice, not too shabby for $8.
- Circus World (上海马戏城)
It looks like a giant Ferrer Rocher. And I have no idea what’s inside, so why does this stop even matter? Well, if you want a show, yes, do visit the Circus World. What’s next door, the 绍兴饭店 (Shaoxin Restaurant) delivers meals from the Shaoxin area, known for their wine and stinky tofu. It’s also where my grandfather’s family is from. That’s a chain restaurant so feel free to completely ignore this stop and press onwards.
What’s really important here is, this is the first stop where commuters actually start getting off the train. For the past 9 stops, they’ve been squishing themselves in tighter than a can of sardines. It makes your NYC apt or college dorm room feel like a mansion, and no, you did not intend to get that close to that middle aged, balding man.
- Shanghai Railway Station (上海火车站)
Yay for more commuters getting off! Here, you can tranfer to lines 3 and 4, but it’s not an easy one. You end up walking like half a mile, and, in winter, in a tunnel with blistering heat, and having to re-swipe your card to re-enter the platform. You can also take the rail here to visit Hangzhou, Suzhou, and, well, leave the city. This isn’t the super fast, uber cool high speed train though. For that, you need line 2 to get you the hell out of there.
- People’s Square (人民广场)aka My Hood Yo
My old hood! If you like crowds, good for you. If you hate crowds, this is like the apocalypse. Transfer here for lines 2 and 8. Also, this station has a ton of small vendor stands where you can get anything from scarves to a bridesmaids dress. It also has 20+ exits, so if you’re bad with directions, get above ground then figure it out.
Nanjing Road Pedestrian Walk
No cars, except for the ones you had to pass by like a game of Frogger to get there. Or, if you’re savvy enough, you took exit s 17 and 18 and found the tunnel out to the Pedestrian Walkway that goes underneath traffic. (Hint, find Mickey D’s and exit there, but not before going to the second floor and buying yourself a piece of cake from Kai Si Ling Bakery (凯司令). Anything with cream is good, trust me. If you’re willing to wait, I’ll tell you the spot to hit up via Line 2, a full store with a sit down area to eat cakes.
In the walkway, you’ll have your KFC and McDonald’s and Starbucks if you miss the US. Or, go to the Shanghai Number 1 Food Mall. That’s one of the many stops where you can get dried fruit goods, beef jerky, alcohol, or, my fav: Yang’s pan fried dumplings (小杨生煎):
Succulent, juicy, and it might burn your tongue. But the pain is totally worth it after you bite into the crispy, pan fried bottom. Add a dash of vinegar and just enjoy. If you keep venturing down this road, you’ll reach the Bund. This is the street where, during the era of Open Door Policy, German, French, British, American and other western powers built the iconic buildings that fill Google’s search results for Shanghai today. Across the river is the modern skyline in Pudong.
Shanghai Opera House
Mamma Mia, Cats, the Nutcracker, etc have all been held there. My grandmother also took me there to watch a Chinese Opera, as she use to sing when she was younger. (One day I’ll write a fictional screenplay that’s inspired by true events where she was an Opera singer who fell in love with an army hero during the Korean War…I told her that and she laughed because she said my grandfather would never have fired a gun; he was a weather man in the army, sad).
The architecture of this building is also quite unique. A balanced blend of modern and traditional architecture, which, in a city that’s dominated, sometimes annoyingly, by new highrises popping up every year, sits comfortably in the park where I use to play.
To be honest, I haven’t been here in a long time. It has mini rides for small children, a Starbucks for big children, and is smack in the middle of perhaps the busiest 3-4 roads in the city. It’s like Central Park, except 5 times smaller and surrounded by elevated highways. Take in the smell of fresh grass mixed with smog and exhaust, soothing right?
Shanghai Culture & History Museum
Also situated in the block around the park, this museum gives you a small glimpse of what’s been dug up around the area. It has pottery, jade, and furniture that dates back to the Shang Dynasty in 1500 BC. If you truly want an immense collection of artifacts from Chinese History though, get out of the city and go visit Xi’an (西安), where the terra cotta soldiers are. The capital of China for multiple dynasties would obviously have the largest museum collection of Chinese artifacts.
You can go to the #1 food court, or you can hit the street behind the New World Mall late at night. Vendors bring out their own woks, set up their stalls and tables, and you just have to bring cash and your appetite. I use to walk with my grandpa back from the Bund area, where he worked, to their house on East Beijing Street, a mere 5-6 blocks. He’d pop pork shumai into my mouth and it’d be all gone by the time we’d reach home. Well, the shumai stand is no longer there, neither is our old two story house. But, street food? Hells yea. You’ll have skewers, noodles, fried stuff, and, if you want to eat in a sit in restaurant, you have that too.
- South Shaanxi Road (陕西南路)
If you wanna shop and get a flavor of older Shanghai, do it here. You’ll have access to Huaihai Road, 淮海路, where there’s shops, like a massive Nike store, snacks, small eats, and some remnants of older Shanghai architecture. You’re also within walking distance of 新天地, an area where old Shanghainese houses called Shikumen (石库门) are renovated to be high end shops. Hint: Do not buy chopsticks from these places, they’re there to take advantage of white people. You’re welcome.
What you can do there is drink (yay) either directly in the area or in one of the smaller offshoots around the area. If you’re looking for work, McKinsey is situated here. If you’re a sales guy, there’s Rolex, BMW, Lambo, and Spyker.
- Xujiahui (徐家汇)
I described this area as “That street intersection where there was a mall on each corner.” Visually, find the mall that looks like a dome, across from it and 8 lanes of traffic is another mall, then across from that, another mall, and, you get the picture. If you wanna shop, come here. If you wanna eat, come here, sure. It’s also the area where my cousins’ school had a satellite campus. Not too shabby.
You can also transfer to Lines 9, which I’ll explore this year as I go back and 11, where, if you travel north, you’ll hit the track for the Shanghai Gran Prix.
- Shanghai South Railway Station (上海南站)
It’s one of the many rail stations in Shanghai. Haven’t really been here, but I figured I should place it here, in case you’re living near the southern tip of Shanghai and need to get out.
- Xinzhuang (莘庄)
First question you’ll ask is, where the f*** am I? Second question is, people actually live out here? You’re in the south. And what can you do in the South of Shanghai? If you’re a crazy tennis fan like me, transfer to the 5 Line, ride all the way to the end, and then get a cab. Because you’ll reach the tennis stadium for the Shanghai Masters. And, just a tiny bit away from there is a movie town, where they have sets designed in the like of 1920s and 1930s Shanghai. Popular dramas are filmed here, so go and explore.
If you’re looking for fun, there’s an indoor skiing/snowboarding area here. You don’t even need to be properly dressed — they’ll have equipment for you to rent as well as proper gear. The slope isn’t that steep, but on a humid summer day, it’s nice to go and get some powder. Or, go visit the water park. Both are accessible via a shuttle bus from the subway station. The total time it takes to get to this stop from my grandparents’ place? Over an hour.
So whatever you’re doing here, it’d better be worth a 2+ hour or 3 hour commute back. Meaning, if I ever come here, I’d better be getting a photo with Mr. Federer.
Good job for sticking with me til the end. Now take that train back because you’re gonna get hungry from all this and you need dumplings.