The Underground Guide to Shanghai: Intro

I’m going to be packing (last minute) in December for my annual pilgrimage to China. I spent my formative years in Shanghai (ages 0 to 5), where I formed lasting opinions and tastes in life. Shanghai is where I developed my carnivorous diet, my love of dumplings, my love of ice cream and creamy cake, my distaste for vegetables (which was due to the social trauma of a preschool teacher not allowing me to have nap time because I didn’t finish my bok choy).


You got your soup dumplings, the pan fried dumplings, the sticky rice shumai, shrimp shumai, and your traditional “shaped like a gold nugget” dumpling. Noms. 4/5 are from the same meal ^_^

It’s where I refused to take naps, and even to this day, I gotta be really drunk to pass out midday for some Z’s. Speaking of drunk, my great uncle fed me beer for the first time when I was 2 or 3, just a tiny sip from a soup spoon. Shanghai is also where I learned the basics of poker cards, putting together jigsaw puzzles, and the concepts of mahjong, all provided useful skills in learning about counting and systems and my curiosity with numbers.


Never stop learning from dear old grandpa πŸ™‚

My early exposure to Mahjong via my grandfather taught me: 1) how to curse in Shanghainese (said my first curse word through the innocent game of copy cat) and 2) Gambling is good! Fantasy football anyone?

You ask me where my home is and it’s not New York, or PA, although Duke comes close. Home is Shanghai. I’m going home this winter, and, as a hobby, I had decided to ride along each of Shanghai’s 13-16 subway lines to learn more about my city. You lucky folks will then be treated to a not-so-Chinese, semi-foreign, psuedo-ex-pat, kinda toursity view of my home. Dope, I know πŸ™‚


My old hood!

I’ve traveled enough to know that I hate trafficΒ  and people. So great that Shanghai has lots of both! The most efficient way, if you can make it into the subway trains, is to take the subway throughout the city. It seems every year, a new expansion is added to the Shanghai Metro system, either a new line or extending an existing one. I mean, look, they’re running out of colors if they need 3 shades of purple, 4 if you think fuschia is purple-ish:


For anyone just visiting, if you think NYC’s subway is overwhelming, well, welcome to Shanghai where there’s no such concept of up or down. It’s really East of the Huangpu River or West. Basically saying, “Yo, you live in Queens/Brooklyn or Manhattan/Bronx?” And when you look at the signs in the subway station for directions, they don’t exactly tell you if the terminal station is north or south, or east or west. Fun right?

Before I start, English only speaking folks, have no fear! They announce all stops in both Mandarin and English in the trains. They also have English names for the stops at each station, which makes subways the most tourist friendly mode of transportation. Fares are charged according to distance, rather than a flat rate. It’s best to buy a transit card, which is the primary method of payment for buses, cabs, and subways throughout the city. The card requires an 20 RMB deposit, but you can get that back if you return the card to a station. How much money should you put on the card? I usually put about 500 RMB for 2-3 weeks, and end up with 180 left over. In USD, just have about $90 handy for traveling within the city.


This baby works on cabs and buses too! And they can scan right thriough your purse so you don’t need to rummage through your bag.

A few more words of caution folks:


My cousin wears her cute, fluffy penguin shaped backpack in the front.

  1. Keep an eye on your bags, and yes, if you must, be that dork that wears a backpack in front of you, it’ll be harder to pick pocket
  2. I hope you like clubs, there may be unintentional grinding on the subway rides
  3. Shanghainese people are inherently lazy: do not fear the mad rush because once they see the escalator, no one is going to take the stairs and you’ll have a clear pathway to the exit
  4. Cell phone reception is present at all times: means you’ll be able to text, watch videos, and opine on important matters like which dumpling place you should try as you’re in transit.


So where do we start? I’m planning to explore a few lines in depth, with my own view on what they are:

  1. Line 1 (Red): Homeward Bound, aka my hood
  2. Line 2, Part 1 (Lime Green): Transit Line, aka modern Shanghai
  3. Line 2, Part 2 (Lime Green): Transit Line, aka the orig hood
  4. Line 9 (Light Blue): Culture Line, aka a lil’ bit of everything
  5. Line 11 (Brown): Fun Line, aka food and fun, ’nuff said
  6. Everything Else: What else you should see, across the other 10+ lines

Now, there are 16 lines, but, again, remember I’m a sort of ex-pat, definitely American citizen, semi-foreign, well you get it. I reserve the right to pick the subway lines I like or have ridden the most, and you’re stuck with it πŸ™‚


What’s truly important is that these few subway lines give you an impression of Shanghai beyond the immediate Bund or Pudong skyline. It’s pretty, I know. And, we’ll be passing through it multiple times. What you won’t immediately get in your Google search for Shanghai is my grandparents’ home, or the breakfast stands across the street. Nor would you get to see the sheer number of people there.


Sub 40 degrees F? No problem, just gimme my ice cream!

Oh, one more thing. You’ll find that I won’t touch upon ice cream. There’s so many convenience stores in Shanghai, I’ve made it a game to just walk up to one and see what’s in their mini freezer. I am that crazy girl who will seek out ice cream during the winter. How old school am I? I love Bright (ε…‰ζ˜Ž) brand ice cream. The vanilla/milk ice cream bars and the salt water popsicles are my favorite. On record, I’ve eaten 6 popsicles and 2 cubes of the vanilla ice cream in one day during the summer, nomssss.


I’m spoiled, grandma packs her fridge with meat and ice cream when I visit πŸ˜€

Without further ado, welcome to my hood.


What our old house would’ve looked like, had it been renovated and not torn down.


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