Category: Shanghai

Shanghai Xiao Long Bao (small steamed buns with meat and soup inside, sometimes called soup dumplings) are one of my absolute favorite foods in Chinese cuisine. Some Chinese places in the US claim to have xiao long bao, but I’ve never been to a place in the US that gets it exactly right. Shanghai is the only place I’ve ever been where I can find perfect xiao long bao; of course, that means every time I’m in Shanghai, I head straight for places with xiao long bao. Established in 1900, the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant in Shanghai’s Yuyuan Gardens area is one of the most famous xiao long bao restaurants in the world, and hands down my favorite place to eat in Shanghai. Unfortunately, actually getting a seat at the Nanxiang Restaurant can take hours of standing in line…. it is sort of extremely popular.

Fortunately, it turns out the Nanxiang Restaurant has expanded! My dad and I recently found out about a new branch of the restaurant in another part of Puxi, so we decided to go try it out to see if it is as good as the original Yuyuan Gardens location.

31°13'54" N 121°27'17" E

Seriously, crab xiao long bao are absolutely incredible. This Nanxiang branch didn’t serve the xiao long bao on lettuce beds though, which was a bit disappointing. But they still tasted exactly like they should!

31°13'54" N 121°27'17" E

31°13'54" N 121°27'17" E

Usually at Nanxiang, I order just xiao long bao, in massive quantities. This time around though, my dad wanted to see what some of their other stuff was like.

Curry dumplings:

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31°13'54" N 121°27'17" E

Egg noodle soup:

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Curry crusted egg rolls:

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The most amazing thing we found was something best described as a gigantic xiao long bao. Seriously, this thing is amazing… it even comes with a “Caution: Hot” flag on a straw for the soup inside:

31°13'54" N 121°27'17" E

31°13'54" N 121°27'17" E

31°13'54" N 121°27'17" E

For dessert, I got this giant mango icecream float thing. Not mango flavored icecream, but rather, mango chunks and mango juice with vanilla icecream:

31°13'54" N 121°27'17" E

Next post: I have no idea. Maybe more food? Maybe the place I got my Totoro from?

Shanghai is split in to two halves by the Huangpu River, a fact reflected by the names for the two halves of Shanghai: Puxi and Pudong, which literally translate to East of the Huangpu and West of the Huangpu. One section of the east bank of the Huangpu is known as The Bund; about 150 years ago up until World War II, The Bund was the site of the Shanghai International Settlement, controlled by Britain, the United States, and France. As a result of the former colonial influence, the Bund waterfront today is made up entirely of European colonial style buildings. The Bund’s architecture provides an interesting contrast to the ultramodern skyscrapers on the opposite western bank of the Huangpu, an area known as Lujiazui.

For this trip back to China, I’m not actually using my normal trusty Nikon D60. Instead, I’m using my brother’s Nikon D5100. In a few months my brother will be heading to Shanghai as well, so he asked me to bring his D5100 for him ahead of time. Since the D60, Nikon has made a number of huge improvements in the low light performance of their sensors, seen most prominently in the D3′s ability to take perfectly lit, noise-free images in the dark. Of course, the D5100 also has heavily upgraded low-light capabilities compared to the D60.

What better place to test out that low-light performance than the Bund at night?

Here are a pair of panoramas taken from the Bund. The first one is a full 360 degree panorama of the Bund and Lujiazui across the Huangpu River, while the second one is just of Lujiazui.

31°14'26" N 121°29'10" E. Click for huge version.

31°14'26" N 121°29'11" E. Click for huge version.

Some of the component images that went into the above panoramas:

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At the northern end of the Bund proper is a giant concrete monument called the Monument of the People’s Heroes (what a typical Communist Party style name!). It looks kind of like a Forerunner structure from Halo (yes, I realize that reference paints me as a quite a dork). The monument is a pretty good place from which to get pictures of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower across the river.

Left: 31°14'32" N 121°29'11" E. Right: 31°14'37" N 121°29'13" E

Left: 31°14'40" N 121°29'12" E. Right: 31°14'46" N 121°29'10" E

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The Monument of the People’s Heroes sits next to the point where the Suzhou Creek flows into the Huangpu. At night there’s usually a small fleet of old dredging barges parked in the creek confluence; during the day, the barges are used to dredge deep shipping lanes in the middle of the Huangpu. The Waibaidu Bridge crosses the Suzhou Creek, and on the other side of the creek are more European style buildings, such as the modern day Russian Consulate.

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Left: 31°14'41" N 121°29'10" E. Right: 31°14'41" N 121°29'9" E

The Waibaidu Bridge is wired up with LEDs that cycle through a number of colors over the course of a few minutes. I managed to catch the bridge in mid-change from red to blue:

Left: 31°14'46" N 121°29'10" E. Right: 31°14'46" N 121°29'10" E

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When I visited China in grade school, very few families had cars. Today, however, China has the largest automobile industry in the world; even the Bund is packed with cars during the day. I especially like the following two shots, which I got by pivoting in place to track cars with my camera, hence the cool streaky background effect:

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Next post: food in Shanghai!

Nanjing Road East is the bustling shopping heart of Shanghai; running from People’s Square to the Bund waterfront, Nanjing Road East today is entirely pedestrianized and is home to some of the largest, oldest, most expensive stores in China. Think 5th Avenue in Manhattan meets Times Square meets the Champs-Élysées in Paris with a dash of Blade Runner.

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Left: 31°14'23" N 121°28'46" E. Right: 31°14'17" N 121°28'38" E

Left: 31°14'20" N 121°28'45" E. Right: 31°14'21" N 121°28'34" E

31°14'12" N 121°28'18" E (Note: this photo is from a previous visit to Shanghai in 2010)

Left: 31°14'12" N 121°28'18" E. Right: 31°14'14" N 121°28'21" E (Note: these two photos are from a previous visit to Shanghai in 2010)

Fifteen years ago, Nanjing Road East was home mostly to only Chinese establishments, but today the stores here are a mix of western and Chinese. Alongside Chinese department stores are everything from Pizza Hut to James Bond. High end wristwatch makers like Rolex and Omega are so popular that Omega has two separate stores on opposite ends of the street:

Left: 31°14'18" N 121°28'38" E. Right: 31°14'28" N 121°29'7" E

The biggest western brand here is, of course, Apple. The Nanjing Road Apple Store is one of the largest Apple Stores in the world, and is packed pretty much 24/7.

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Left: 31°14'23" N 121°28'46" E. Right: 31°14'37" N 121°29'13" E

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Nanjing Road is always under construction too, it seems, as old stores are ripped out and new ones put in. Almost always, the construction work is being done by the Shanghai Construction Group. Everywhere you look in Shanghai, you can see SCG logos stamped on construction sites; SCG more or less built the entirety of Shanghai. Most of the supertall skyscrapers in the skyline, the entire metro system, apartment complexes, bridges, government buildings, shopping malls, stadiums… you name it, SCG probably built it.

Left: 31°14'25" N 121°28'51" E. Right: 31°14'25" N 121°28'51" E

When rich folks visit Nanjing Road aren’t buying Apple products, they’re usually buying designer clothes, expensive cameras, or expensive watches.

Left: 31°14'24" N 121°28'50" E. Right: 31°14'28" N 121°29'5" E

Next post: photos from the Bund!

Eclipse Day

July 21st, 2009

Today Kevin, Justin, and I took a half day off from work so that we could go eclipse-watching in the morning. We had decided on the lake at Century Park near the international area as our eclipse-watching location.

Ryan and I woke up, however, to very bad news. The first thing I saw when I rolled out of bed was… gray thunderclouds as far as the eye could see. Not good.

We met with Kevin and Justin at Century Park, this big park near the international zone with a big lake. Perfect for eclipse viewing…. if there weren’t any clouds…


Problem: the sun was only visible for brief seconds through the cloud layer:

Even bigger problem: I didn’t have a tripod. Which meant I had to prop up my camera on a rock and try to aim it at the sun. We had found this rocky outcropping that jutted out into the lake, so we set up there.

Here’s Kevin and Justin chilling on the outcropping:

I found a rock that worked pretty well as a tripod (Ryan agreed, he set up his video camera on the same rock). I figured that using the viewfinder of my camera to aim the camera at the sun would be okay if I did so during a moment when the sun was behind the clouds. So that’s exactly what I did…. but the sun decided to come out right as I was in the middle of aiming. Needless to say, that hurt my eyes. Ouch.

But it was worth it! I got some pretty cool pictures:

And then the rain started… ten minutes before totality. Much scrambling to get laptops and cameras and other equipment under this rock cave thing ensued (Justin and I had laptops because we were going to work right after the eclipse). Here’s Ryan sitting under a rock:

Totality hit pretty suddenly. The plan was for me to shoot pictures and Kevin and Ryan to shoot video, but totality hit us a little earlier than expected. Scrambling occurred again to get the video camera into Kevin’s hands and the DSLR camera out from under the rocky cave:

Eclipse Day from Karl Li on Vimeo.

Unfortunately, the cloud cover and rain meant that we didn’t actually see totality… but we did experience the darkness of totality.

9:40 in the morning:

Justin in the rain during totality making his way out onto the outcropping:

I had to use flash because everything got so dark.

Justin and Kevin on the outcropping:

Later, when we were leaving Century Park, something amazingly hilarious happened…

Justin had bought a Finding Nemo volleyball thing earlier for 3 RMB. On our way out of the park, Justin was hitting the ball around and… it landed in a pond between two bridges. This video should give you an idea of the hilarity that ensued:

Ball Retrieval from Karl Li on Vimeo.

This went on for like, 10 minutes. Eventually Justin gave up and we left the ball behing.

Later, we also found this:

A “Caution: Wet Floor” sign in the middle of a rainstorm. The sign is kind of stating the obvious, isn’t it?

Overall, today made for one interesting day.

My friend Ryan Lin from high school arrived at my place tonight. He’s in Shanghai specifically for the eclipse tomorrow. Ryan is working on a new comic that’s going to launch soon, but more details on that in the future.

Ryan’s a cool guy. He brought us eclipse glasses.

Quick science lesson: looking at a solar eclipse with your naked eyeballs is really dangerous. Normally when we look at the sun, the brightness of the sun forces us to turn away almost immediately, minimizing the risk for permanent eye damage in the process. During an eclipse though, the sun does not appear as bright, which means when we can stare at the sun longer without averting our eyes. Which is really really bad for us. During a solar eclipse, the part of the sun that shoots our UV that fries our eyeballs is just as active as ever even though the sun’s overall brightness appears to drop. Because of this, viewing the sun during a solar eclipse must be done with special eclipse glasses with filter lenses to avoid permanent eye damage. The only exception to this rule is during totality.

So these glasses things are REALLY good at blocking out light, which makes sense since they need to block out everything but the faintest hint of light from the sun. When I first put them on, I couldn’t see anything. Squat. Zilch. Ryan said the only thing that he had managed to see through the goggles was the filament of a really really bright incandescent light bulb at his home, but we don’t have any of those lights in our apartment.

The glasses have all these warnings and instructions on the inside. Cool stuff.

Eventually I did manage to see something through the glasses… although not exactly in a good way. I figured “Hey, my Nikon D60 has a really powerful flash unit, so if anything in this apartment is going to be able to push light through these glasses, the flash unit is a good bet.” So I proceeded to fire off the flash unit about an inch away from the glasses’ filter lenses.

Bad idea. Very bad idea. I saw the flash through the filter lenses, but I had forgotten that the flash unit generates a lot of heat. Enough heat to melt through eclipse glasses filter lenses. Which is exactly what happened. Uh oh.

The glasses have a warning printed on them that says something to the effect of “Discard immediately if lenses are damaged of punctured.” That’s not an option here, because Ryan didn’t have any extra pairs. He didn’t count on my stupidity.

The solution: patch up the damaged lens with material that we know will block ALL light. This way I can at least use the one remaining good lens.

Eclipse day is tomorrow. Time to sleep.


July 18th, 2009

Okay, I promised a blog update (actually, updateS) today, but I stayed out way longer than I anticipated. I did get some really cool photos though… I’ll post some of the bigger panoramas I took for now.

All times are in Philadelphia time.

Here’s some stuff I wrote on the plane flight to China.

4:24 PM

So I am on an airplane to shanghai right now and I have a couple of observations:

1. On any flight from the United States to an East Asian country, all of the white people are in first and business class and all of the Asian people are in economy.

2. Little kids are cute until you put them on a 14 hour plane flight.

3. Finding the right boarding gate is mad easy: just listen for Chinese (or Korean or Japanese) and follow the direction the sound is coming from until you find a huge crowd of Asians. You are in the right place.

4. Watching white people trying to ask questions to Chinese flight attendents is mad funny.

5. Watching Chinese people try to talk to chinese flight attendants is even funnier.

5:34 PM

Airline peanuts suck. No surprises there.

Dinner looks like this:

8:42 PM

Boredom is setting in. I already spent an hour drawing a castle type thing in my sketchbook (maybe it will make its way into a future Omjii…) and I finished reading those stupid in flight magazines about the airline’s sponsers in New York City or whatever. The movie playing right now is boooorrrrriiiingggg… it’s some chick flick I already saw. My Macbook Pro’s battery can last for 8 hours, but the flight still has 10 hours left to go, so I still need to wait for 2 hours until I can use my laptop. That means all I can do for now is type and play games on this iPhone and listen to podcasts on my iPod. Or I could sleep…


10:34 PM

I made a little visit to business class (shhh…. Visiting another part of the plane is against the rules, but I imitated Jason and bam- shabamed my way there). Everybody in economy was sleeping, but everybody (and I mean EVERYBODY) was on a laptop in Business. Took me a moment to realize why: Business and First class have power outlets at every seat. Lesson: if at all possible, do not fly to Asia on a Boeing 747. 747s only have power outlets in the front of the plane. Instead, try to fly on a Boeing 777, which has power outlets throughout the entire plane.

Also: ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ is a terrible movie.

6 hours down, 8 more to go. T.T

11:23 PM

The kid sitting a few seats over from me is also going to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall! Even crazier: he’s in the Wharton school with me too! Even even crazier: he’s living in the same dorm as me! Oh- meh-gah! He’s from around Detroit, Michigan, so he probably knows very little about Philadelphia. Muahaha.

He has a buzz cut for the summer. LOL.

Random: when you type the name of a city on an iPhone, the phone automatically turns the text into a link  leading to that city in Google Maps. Way cool. Except too bad there’s no Internet connection on this plane to view Google Maps with. In flight wifi does not work over the Arctic Ocean, apparantly.

11:37 PM

DANGIT. My iPod ran out of batteries. Now I have to waste precious laptop battery power to recharge it.

12:09 AM

Romance movies are so cliche… I started watching one half way through and was still able to predict everything that happened next.

Some lady in the movie that was playing came on screen at one point holding the most lopsided cake ever. I mean, points fr effort and probably taste (it’s a chocolate cake), but seriously, complete fail on presentation. I could do a better job than her.

It’s midnight back home… I wonder how everybody’s day was. Sigh… I miss my friends already. T.T

12:55 AM

Haha, introducing the smallest, driest sandwich in the world…

Typical airline food. Oops, did I say food? I meant ‘food shaped generic edible items.’

Also, I don’t get why they gave us water in sealed plastic containers and then offered us water in cups a few minutes later. Seems like a waste of plastic to me… I guess one could argue that the sealed containers can be saved for later, but then again, couldn’t you just get a cup of water later if you really need water? O.o

1:37 AM

DUN DUN DUN… TURBULENCE. Vomit comet time…

Also: my biological clock is mad confused right now. It’s 1:30AM back home but I’m wide awake and the sun is streaming through the windows. LOL.

Also also: turns out with wifi turned off, the 17 inch MacBook Pro’s battery can last up to 10 hours!?!?!? AWWW NICE! :D

3:01 AM

The time at home is 3:00 AM. All of my friends are asleep at home but I’m still awake on this plane.

Wake up to an incredible Sunday, everybody. :)

3:49 AM

The captain just came on and made an announcement about turbulence again. Immediately after, a flight attendant translates the announcement into Chinese… and it was hilarious. Why? Because when the captain spoke in English, he said like, five words. When the flight attendant translated into Chinese, he went on for five sentences. LOL.

5:04 AM

Muahaha, I think my crazy plan to beat jetlag is working. The plan is simple: since much of East Asia is 12 hours off of time at home (plus or minus a few hours), night at home is day here and day at home is night here. People’s biological clocks get messed up because people tend to sleep according to their home schedules on the plane, which is fine and dandy until you land in Seoul or Tokyo or Shanghai and find that after a good night’s worth of sleep, you are now stepping out of the airport into… more night. Now your sleep cycle is still set to home tine but is exactly opposite to what it needs to be in Asia.

Getting around this problem is simple: screw up your sleep cycle on the plane so that when you step off of the plane in Asia at night, you’re ready to fall dead asleep. I’m doing this by… not sleeping on the plane. This way I’ll be mad tired when I land in Shanghai at night… perfectly ready to sleep.

Of course, if you land during the day, then just sleep a lot on the plane so you will be ready to go upon landing. “So seem-pel!”

I’m mad tired already. Gah.

Also, we just flew over Beijing. Looks like our path took us up from the USA over Canada, across the Arctic Ocean, into Siberia, over Russia and Mongolia, and finally into China from the north. How perplexing. I suppose that route is shorter than just crossing the Pacific.

5:27 AM

Oh boy, breakfast (or is it dinner again? Depends on whether you go by time at home or time in Shanghai, I suppose) time, which means it’s time for another round of MYSTERY AIRLINE FOOD GUESSING!

This is supposed to be fried rice. You be the judge.

5:45 AM

Apparantly Seoul is actually closer to Shanghai than Beijing is to Shanghai. So to all of you guys going to Korea this summer… VISIT ME! Haha, I shall show you the sights of Shanghai.

Also: you know how your ears pop when the plane you are on starts descending? Yeah, still surprises me every time even through I’ve done this a bajillion time.

My rear hurts from sitting for so long.

5:54 AM

The captain just announced that we’re landing through a thunderstorm. Oh snap. If you are reading this, it means I  survived. Lol.

Also, I’m completely aware of my use of the second person and blatant disregard for pronoun-antecedent agreement throughout this posting. This is a blog, not an AP English essay. Cut me some slack. :D

Hey look, there are thunderclouds outside the window. I would so take pictures, but I don’t have a window seat and my camera is packed away. The crappy camera on this iPhone is the only camera I have right now. Gr.

6:37 AM

We have landed in the midst of a thunderstorm. Daaannngggg. Oh, and we’re not allowed to leave the plane until quarantine officials give us the okay.

6:30 AM. Two weeks ago, a good many of us would be waking up and dragging ourselves over to North Penn High School. I can’t believe graduation was only a few days ago… being in Shanghai with Graduation still a clear memory feels really bizarre, surreal even. I miss everybody.

The sky outside is a dark inky gray and fog that just rolled in has made visibility outside almost nonexistent. Chinese quarantine officials are in the front of the plane giving us the medical okay to get off the plane. Welcome to Shanghai.

6:55 AM

Okay, so the quarintine officials were using these infrared gun things to get a rough reading of our temperatures and then following up with tongue thermometers for any people with slightly off readings. I had a slightly off reading, so they had me do a tongue thermometer thing. Turns our my reading was off because there is a lamp thing right over my seat. LOL.

The officials are in full biohaz suit things and look kind of like kids playing astronaut. Here’s some pictures.

Oops, the flight attendants just told us not to tale pictures of the quarantine officials. Too late now! Muahaha.

Kay, we should be cleared to go soon. I’ll write more later and look forward to talking with you guys via AIM or Facebook or iChat or something.