The Second Tallest Building in the World, Shanghai

When we’re not traveling and exploring South East Asia, we’re exploring China and the city we live in, Shanghai. We have now been to the three tallest buildings in Shanghai – the only trifecta of mega-tall skyscrapers in the world! “Mega-tall” isn’t just my way of describing them, it’s the official term for skyscrapers taller than 600 meters.

Second only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Shanghai Tower towers over Shanghai and adds to the spectacular skyline. Although it isn’t the tallest building in the world, it does boast the world’s highest observatory deck. So even if you’ve been to Burj Khalifa’s spectacular observatory floor, you still haven’t stood as high as you could have while visiting the Shanghai Tower!

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Battle Shanghai’s Pollution: How to Stay Healthy

It can be easy to make light of air pollution, especially after living in China for a long time. Many locals never wear masks and some families will let their children play outside when you can barely see across the street. But even if you’re not sensitive to it, pollution does have serious impacts on your health.

Coughing and sneezing, which I do non-stop if pollution levels are high, are not the only side effects. Short-term effects of air pollution include acne, dry skin, fatigue, eye irritations, chest pain, headaches and even nausea. Long-term effects can be as serious as chronic lung problems and heart complications. Before you pack your bags and book a one-way flight to leave China, take these simple steps to protect yourself.

PM2.5 MASK

Most masks are ugly, make your face sweat, fog up your glasses, make you sound like Darth Vader, leave marks on your face when you take them off and worst of all, they interfere with selfies. There are few things less sexy than a pollution masks… except maybe chronic wheezing.

Many people, myself included, struggle to find a mask that fits properly. If your mask is too loose or the nose clip doesn’t stay closed, you’re probably still inhaling millions of pollutant particles with every breath you take.

Take the time to try different styles of masks and experiment with sizes. I guarantee that that there is a mask out there that’s perfect for your face. Invest your time and money, nothing is too expensive when it comes to health. For 300 RMB you can get a great mask with exchangeable filters that will last you years. Buying cheap single-use masks will end up costing a lot anyway, not to mention the unnecessary waste they create.

Fun fact: fashionable face masks do exist.
Less fashionable ones can be bought on Taobao:

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To be extra safe, keep your mask on in the metro. Many stops are partially outdoors or have terrible insulation. Wearing a mask on the metro will not only protect you from pollution but also viral infections. Have you noticed how right after the first Shanghai school gets shut down with chicken pox, the rest follow within the week? 25 million people riding the metro is a breeding ground for disease.

Fun fact: in Japan, many people wear masks only during their ride on the metro. It is rumored that a company in Beijing is working on a new super mask that won’t make your face sweat. It’s advertised as a sports mask because you can wear it to the gym and even run in it! But I’ll believe it when I see it.

AIR PURIFIER

I mentioned earlier that metro stops aren’t well insulated. Well, neither is my apartment. If you live in a place that doesn’t retain heat then it’s probably not insulated against pollutants either. An air purifier won’t come cheap, but it will keep the air in your home clean. Xiaomi seems to be the most popular brand and the purifiers they make are small, easily portable and come in stylish designs. Get one. Or five…

The newest Xiaomi air purifiers can supposedly purify your home in just 12 minutes by cleaning 406 square meters of air per hour and effectively covering up to 48 square meters. Although most wall heaters already have a flimsy filter in them to keep some of the nasty stuff out of your apartment (provided you actually clean/change them regularly), you should really have a purifier at home.

Other than PM 2.5, an air purifier will also get allergens, formaldehyde, animal fur, dust, pollen, smoke odors, benzene, 0.3 μm particles as well as other harmful chemicals out of the air. It can be a great device to have in any home, even if you don’t live in a polluted area.

When I said that you should consider getting five purifiers for your home, I wasn’t kidding. Our purifier is on all winter and gets moved to whichever room we are in. Ideally, we’d have one in each room and maybe two in our large 50 meter squared living room.

When you turn an air purifier on, it will automatically adjust its settings based on air quality. This past week, with the AQI over 250, it’s taken over an hour for ours to switch to a lower setting when it normally takes less than 15 minutes. At least the pollution in Shanghai doesn’t get nearly as bad as it does in Beijing, you can read about that here.

Just like with a mask, you need to regularly clean and/or change the filter for it to be effective. Like most things in China, air purifiers are smart and come with apps. If you sync your purifier to the app, it will automatically alert you when it’s time to replace your filter. The replacement process is easy, so there’s no excuse not to do it. Carbon filters lose effectiveness over time, even if you do your best to clean them. So it’s recommended that you buy a new one every six months.

GOOD INSULATION

I could complain about the bad insulation in my apartment all day and sometimes I do. But there are many simple ways to actually do something about it that don’t involve moving to a new place. Tape up or use the glass glue on cracks or just to reinforce the glass in your windows. There should not be a strong draft coming from your windows. Ever.

If you have two layered windows, stuff some foam in between the two layers around the frame. We used to do this in the “good old” days when I was little. It doesn’t look that great but it works wonders, trust me. It won’t just stop pollution from getting in, but it’ll help with heat retention and you’ll immediately notice the difference in your electricity bill.

Another solution is to get thick and heavy curtains. Just make sure to get a professional to come and install them. We have heavy curtains in the bedroom that are great insulators, but the flimsy hooks that keep it up are sagging and slowly destroying the wall. I’m just glad my husband’s the one who sleeps in their range of fall 😉

POLLUTION APP/WEBSITE

Finally, no matter how fancy your mask or air purifier is, they’re not effective if you don’t know when to use them. There are foggy days when pollution is at its lowest but people still wear masks because they don’t know better. There are also super sunny days that hide the pollution that is creeping in and killing you slowly – no exaggeration. Get an app on your phone that will show you the weather and pollution on your home screen. Or one that will alert you when pollution is high.

These apps can also show you the pollution forecast. So, check that too before you open all your windows and leave the house. One time I decided to air out my apartment because it was sunny and AQI was 80. I came home 6 hours later and choked in my 250 PM 2.5 apartment… It only takes a second to check the app and your lungs will thank you for it in the long run.

If you have any tips or stories to share related to pollution, don’t hesitate to post in the comments below!

Enjoy this video that shows you what an AQI of 250 really looks like!

Shanghai Event Review: Ship of Dreams – The Titanic Experience

The Ship of Dreams – The Titanic Experience is only a once in a lifetime adventure if you can resist going twice!

When you’re not part of the crowd following Jack and Rose as they fall in love, you can enjoy some champagne on deck, watch the Captain have a few too many drinks or just explore the ship’s 1912-themed interior. These are just a few of the exciting possibilities aboard the Shanghai-docked Titanic!

Starting November 1st, you can become a guest on board the Titanic for an interactive theater experience. Until November 25th, the Ship of Dreams will sail away every night at 19:00 and will immerse you in the early 1900s. From the actors’ authentic costumes to the decor onboard the vessel, you’ll barely notice Shanghai’s famous skyline passing by.

My first night on the Titanic started off with wine and (surprisingly) vegan spring rolls. Guests around me sampled the wide variety of desserts and beverages while I got my brearings. The dining hall featured live music, dancing and other performances as well as a themed cocktail list.

With everyone dressed in floor-length sparkling dresses and classy suits, actors casually blended in. It wasn’t immediately obvious who was part of the show and who wasn’t. Walking around, I soon noticed dodgy man in search for something, a woman looking out at the ocean sadly and a young man scribbling in his scruffy notebook. *hint hint*

It took a while to make a full loop around the boat and I was pleasantly surprised by the comfortable number of people on board. Most of the passengers were following the main actors, which is how I found my way to Rose. To get inside her room, I had to slip in behind a couple who bribed the guard at the door. In the dimly lit room, I got my first glimpse of Rose, Cal and the Heart of the Ocean.

As Rose left the room, I had to make the difficult decision – to follow her or one of the many other characters? Throughout the night I would alternate following Rose, Jack or someone else. Since the play has 30 different storylines, it’s not an easy choice to make. However, the solution is pretty simple: go more than once!

I won’t spoil the rest of the experience, but trust me when I say it was completely unforgettable. The passionate actors were enchanting and managed to perfectly balance audience interaction with staying in character, and at other times acting as if they were the only ones in the room.

The audience had full control over their level of involvement in the play, although the characters only responded when appropriate. Some guests took full advantage and went out of their way to engage with the actors while others preferred to watch silently, just enjoying the moment.

Although everyone on board knew how the story would end, we were all pulled in by the dramatic buildup to the finale. There was excitement, commotion, pushing, shoving and desperate life vest bribing. I’m not going to say any more, but please don’t worry, no fancy suits or swooshing dresses got wet in the finale.

All in all, the Titanic Experience was truly unique and extremely well excecuted. After enjoying first-class treatment the first time around, I’m excited to return as a crew member next week for a completely new perspective on the Ship of Dreams.

There are several types of tickets to choose from:

  • First Class (including a 7-course dinner): 5,000 RMB
  • Lucky Traveler (including free-flow drinks): 880 RMB
  • Special Crew Member: 680 RMB
  • American Dreamer: 180 RMB (Students only)

Since the first time I followed the main storyline and focused on Jack and Rose, I will spend my second night on the Titanic discovering one of the other storylines. As a crew member I will supposedly have access to places where other passengers can’t go which is too tempting to pass up!

Are you curious to see behind the scenes, meet the Unsinkable Molly Brown or just see what the Titanic hype is all about? Book your tickets today! Thank you DreamWeaver Productions and the DeTao School of Design for the unforgetable night that transformed the Huangpu river feel like the Atlantic ocean.

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Huaqiao Off the Beaten Path (PHOTOS)

What happens when already live off the beaten path? Find something even more unusual! (PHOTOS)

First of all, Huaqiao is an entire city that’s off the beaten path. It’s an economic development zone right outside the Shanghai boarder. It’s a city within a city and it’s more like a village with high-rise residential buildings anyway.

The central areas of Huaqiao are modern with plenty of fancy restaurants. The main street is busy with cars, e-bikes and people rushing about their business. Just parallel to the busy, lined-with-skyscrapers street, is a farming wonderland where people live physically harder but in a way more relaxed and rewarding lives!

I found this place by accident while searching for a long-cut on my way to Kang Chiao International School.

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Half of these streets don’t even exist on Google maps.

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The houses here are fascinating. Huge, colorful and with a strange hybrid architecture.

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Farming can be beautifully messy!

The first time I got lost here, I didn’t have my DSLR. So I came back on the weekend and this time, we traveled in style!

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It’s not even a motorcycle… it’s electric. But it still makes us look cool!

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We just loved this mysterious door that didn’t even close…

Back to the beautiful buildings…

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Did you know that the norm in China is living with your entire extended family? That’s why the houses are so big.

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It is generally really cold inside these houses during winter time since there is no central heating. This makes drying laundry really hard! That’s why a bit of sunshine is the best way to dry everything.

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This is a Buddhist style shrine!

It’s not all sunshine and roses 😦

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But the houses are SOOOOO interesting and beautiful!

After the crops are harvested, they are transported using these electric vehicles…

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Then the food ends up in markets like these.

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Don’t let the spiderwebs scare you away. There may be no health regulations but the locals shop here. Everything is home-grown, fresh and delicious. We’ve even bought meat at markets like this and we’ve never gotten sick!

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Thanks for reading (and picture looking). Feel free to leave comments below!

144 Visa-Free Hours in China

Visiting China has never been so stress-free! You can now come to most visit-worthy cities without a visa for 72 or 144 hours!

The same week that the Land of the Free imposed a xenophobic travel ban, my husband’s family came to visit us in China without visas! In the past, the process would have been long and expensive. But since the beginning of 2016, passport holders of 53 countries/regions can enter certain Chinese cities for either 72 or 144 hours on a special visa-free transit.

All you need is a departure ticket within the allotted time period and the address of your accommodation. You don’t need to worry about doing anything in advance. Just arrive at the airport, register your address of stay at the check in counter and make sure not to overstay your welcome.

Although we had read a lot about this new visa-free option we were still understandably nervous about it. Fortunately, everything went smoothly. Isaac’s family flew into Shanghai from Hong Kong and got into a ridiculously short immigration line dedicated for the 144-transit. Once again, they had to show their return flights, register their address of stay and finally smile for an obligatory photo. That was it!

Their departure from China would have been completely painless too if it wasn’t for the pair of fake handcuffs that they were taking home for us. But that’s a story for another time… Even though they flew in from Hong Kong on one airline and were leaving to the US on another, there were absolutely no issues. Did you know that most China-USA flights let each passenger check in two 23-kilo bags for free?

You can find out more about this visa-free transit, including the list of nations who are eligible, here. Please keep in mind that there are many specific rules about which airports you need to fly in/out of and you can’t freely travel to other cities by train, bus, etc. Otherwise it’s all pretty self-explanatory.

Cities with the 144 hour visa-free transit include Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong. Those offering a 72 hour visa-free transit pretty much include all visit-worthy Chinese cities: Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Harbin, Shenyang, Dalian, Xian, Guilin, Kunming, Wuhan, Xiamen, Tianjin, Nanjing, Qingdao, Changsha and Hangzhou.

Shanghai has already welcomed 39,000 visa-less foreigners since the beginning of 2016. Join them by booking your flights today!

39 RMB All-You-Can-Eat in the Heart of Shanghai

What if I told you that 39 RMB is all you need to spend on a huge meal and a few beers in the very heart of Shanghai?

Dumplings, chicken wings, tofu, lotus, watermelon and Tsingtao beer. It can’t get any more Chinese. Or Cheap! Nanging pedestrian street is not the first thing that comes to mind for affordable food. Aside from chicken feet on a stick or over-fried chicken wings sold on the street, food prices can be pretty steep in the area.

This magical yet potentially stomach upsetting meal is offered by Jinjiang Inn between 11:15 and 14:00 then again between 17:15 and 20:30. So if you’re on a budget and have a steel stomach – you can save a lot of money by eating here once or even twice a day.

It can be easy to miss the Inn. We actually stumbled in by accident on our way to Shanghai First Foodhall. The address is 680 Nanjing Road pedestrian street and the eating area is on the second floor. As long as you arrive before 13:30, you’ll be let in and there will be plenty of time to sufficiently stuff your face.

Vegetarians may want to avoid this place. When I said there was tofu, I didn’t mention the meat that’s stuffed inside it. It’s also served on top of the mystery-meat meatballs. Pediatricians are better off and can enjoy “fish gluten” which are some sort of fish balls. Despite being a sushi fiend, I did not enjoy these at all.

Non meat options include toast, sweet bread desserts, lotus, cooked cabbage, some other steamed veggies and of course, watermelon and kumquats. However, I assume that the selection of food varies by season. We came here in early February.

Finally, there’s drinks. Tea, surprisingly good coffee, several sodas, orange juice and of course, over-sized bottles of Tsingtao. After Snow, this is the second most popular beer in the entire world! Most Westerners will turn up their noses at the 2-3% beer.

Although Tsingtao only has a one-out-of-five star rating on RateBeer, a draft lager at the Qingdao brewery is a completely different story. The real thing is 4.6% alcohol and a much higher rating, so don’t be too quick to judge all Tsingtao beers!

Anyway, 39 RMB ($5.5) is definitely the best deal you will ever get on all you can eat and drink in China. Don’t expect a gourmet meal, you get what you pay for. I definitely recommend this place for a cheap meal or if you want to try a wide variety of Chinese food without breaking the bank. Thank you Jinjiang Inn for offering budget travelers an alternative to Western fast-food!

Vegan Heaven: Kale in Shanghai

Everyone knows that eating kale is good for you. But who knew it could decorate a city!

I moved to Shanghai from kale-less meat-loving Prague. That is my excuse for being in the dark about the super-food that has every hipster vegans panties in a bunch. Turns out that all of those strange cabbage-looking flowers all over the city are actually kale!

Shanghai is surprisingly green with an abundance of large parks, plants in every restaurant and trees or bushes along virtually every single sidewalk. Even highways are lined with flowerbeds so you at least have a nice view while you’re stuck in perpetual Chinese traffic.

Kale can be found all over the city. The French concession and even People’s Square show off potted kale that looks good enough to eat. You know, if it wasn’t for the pesticides, road-side fumes, cigarette butts, unavoidable Chinese spitting and an atrocious Air Quality Index that often goes over 200 (micro-grams of pollutants per cubic meter of air).

So as hard as it might be for vegans and vegetarians to have a hardy meal in China, I advise against nibbling on the kale… no matter how tempting it may be. Anyway, since kale was so last year, you might not even remember why kale is so awesome. You can read all about it here.

Kale photo from: https://pinterest.com/pin/89157267597896765/