Chinese New Year at Yuyuan Garden

After Disney, Helene left me for Taiwan (insert crying emoji) and I hopped in a DiDi to explore the other side of Shanghai.

Hotel

I stayed at Zhotels on West Nanjing Road. The room was small and nicely set up for a quick single person trip and I don’t know if I was still exhausted from Disney, but the bed slept great. The only issue was the water STUNK. It smelled so bad I had to hold my breath and run out after washing up. What I ended up enjoying most, besides the bed, was the tv. I don’t have tv channels on my tv, so it was really great to have some Chinese background noise to practice my Mandarin. Also, the Chinese New Year Gala is interesting.

I dropped my bags and wandered around to check out my surroundings. It was so weird. Right next door to my hotel was a bar with great food (The Shed) and so many western eateries nearby. It is always a shock seeing foreigners walking around, I actually had to keep myself from stopping and staring at all of them like people in Kunshan do me. I found my way to a fruit shop and a corner store, a pretty normal part of my routine now, and found a real suspect flavor of Lays…

Lunch

After meeting up with the Aussie crew, we set off on a long evening of wandering around in search of New Year things. I will give you a hint- there isn’t much. First, we stopped for some Western food at Pie Society. We were overwhelmed both by the options on the menu and all the foreigners. It felt like a different country.

We settled for:

  1. Pancakes and bacon- The bacon was apparently good, but the pancakes undercooked.
  2. Fish and Chips- I was going to get pancakes, but changed my mind. My meal didn’t fare much better. The chips were AMAZING, but the fish batter super soggy. My juice was delicious.
  3. Meat pies- I don’t know how they eat that stuff, but Tristan didn’t speak once and Kelly almost cried it was so good.

Despite some of our meals, we definitely have a new place to eat when we come back. It worked out perfectly too because when we passed by the next day, they had closed for the new year. #winning

Nanjing

We began our official search at People’s Square expecting some spectacular decorations… and all we got were some character signs. Talk about anticlimactic.

Our next stop was Nanjing road. Despite the fact that 60% of Shanghai’s population was supposedly supposed to be out of the city, it was still pretty busy. We followed the crowds into some shops and saw a sign for a pop up exhibit. I love pop up exhibits. And this one didn’t disappoint.

Museum of Failure

The Museum of Failure is a pop-up exhibit running in Shanghai until March before it makes its way to Germany. The staff running the exhibit were nice and helped us figure out how to get a ticket and pay on our phones through limited English. They also gave us a book in English with all of the information for each item, so helpful! I let Kelly read it to me. #lazy

The museum had so many things that, when I saw them I would say, “That wasn’t a failure!” Until Kelly read the blub, and we would learn something new about the business or company that created it. It was such a great find. The set up is brilliant and displays are brilliant, and it has some great photo spots. Donald Trump even had his own shelf! Take that as you will. #shrug

I especially loved the quotes on all the walls and how some of the items made you feel nostalgic. I would find myself repeatedly thinking, “I REMEMBER THIS! THIS WAS HORRIBLE!” (Ez squirt colored ketchup). This museum was a mix of all things funny, ridiculous, informative, and inspiring. Check it out if you can!

*Also if you can find a second floor, go up and look down on the museum. You will see a cute surprise!

Yuyuan Garden

Now to our main event! This was the only thing I was certain of and actually had planned. Yuyuan Garden near the City God Temple is an ancient garden built in the Ming Dynasty apparently built by this government guy for his family. It is a must-see in Shanghai. Especially during Chinese New Year when it lights up with large festive lanterns. On our way in, the streets were lined with new year decoration shops. Finally! Some red and yellow!

We made our way into the garden as the sun was going down because they light the lanterns at 5:30 and we knew it would be crowded, but not as crowded as it would be on new year day and during lantern festival next a week. We were lucky enough to be in the right spot for the lights to turn on.

One thing I have realized living in China, it doesn’t matter how old you are, looking at lanterns, especially cute piggie lanterns, makes you feel as excited as a little kid. I saw this cute old lady pointing with her mouth wide open while she tugged at the young man holding her arm. Lanterns are magic.

My favorite lanterns were the Chinese Zodiac entry, the pig leading the dragon dance, and the pig super excited about the fireworks. Her expression had me laughing so hard. I’m that pig.

Despite all the people, the line flowed really well and there was less angry pushing here than at Disney. People would snap a picture and keep moving. They would give a person taking a picture enough space or go around them instead of getting in the way. If they were vacating a space, they would even give you a friendly, “lai lai lai,” and pull or shove you into the space they were in. Even the traffic patrol was friendly!

This was the least stressful crowd I have experienced yet. And if you know something about Chinese crowds, this is not an everyday occurrence. I can’t say the same for the lines we saw going inside the next two days.

The lantern festival was such a treat. It was a totally different atmosphere than the Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival. I think this one is my favorite so far based on the setup.

Published by brianalennet

Visual anthropologist and digital storyteller

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