Month: August 2017

Seoul: Walking Tours

Seoul: Walking Tours

On Tuesday we got back from 4 days in Seoul, my first trip out of China, or really out of Shanghai, since we moved here.

Usually, when visiting a new city I like to do a free walking tour on the first day. I feel like it gives you a good overview, often good recommendations and most of the times they are really fun because the guide is hoping for lots of tips. When I researched Seoul I found “Seoul City Walking Tours“: The city of Seoul’s culture and tourism board offers over 20 free walking tours, so free, they don’t even accept tips. So naturally I signed us up for 5 of them.

Night tour of Seoullo 7017

On our first day we did the night tour of Seoullo 7017, a pedestrian elevated walkway in the center of town. It used to be a traffic overpass built in 1970 and was just opened for pedestrians in 2017, hence the name Seoullo 7017. It was cool to see the city from a different angle and lit up at night, there was some live music on the walkway so I think it is worth a visit. Our guide told us some interesting facts but overall I don’t think you need a guide to check it out.


On Sunday morning went on a walk around Insadong, a quarter with lots of shops, galleries and food. The tour started at Tapgol park and then went through the streets of Insadong. We saw a church, lots of shops (many touristy, some with authentic local goods), visited a few galleries which had a teddy bear exhibit, caligraphy and embroidery, saw lotus flowers and a buddhist temple and finished the tour at the Bosingak Bell Ceremony. Bosingak is a big pavillion with a huge bell in it which is rung 12 times at noon every day. As a Korean you have to sign up online but if you are a tourist you can just go and help to ring the bell which was definitely something to remeber ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a fun tour with just the two of us and our nice guide. They send a tour guide for just one reservation and we were only between 2 and 6 people for each tour.


On Monday we visited Gyeongbok Palace, the main royal palace for the last dynasty before the Japanse occupation. When we got there we saw the Changing of the Guards Ceremony and then we explored the Palace’s many buildings and learned about the different symbols, colors and uses of them.

Seoul Fortress (Naksan Section)

Doing two tours in a day is pretty tiring, especially since the second tour that day involved us hiking up the East Mountain along the city wall. After walking around Shanghai, which is completely flat, Seoul seemed like it was covered in huge mountains. I was pretty exhausted when we reached the top, Thorben would probably just call it a leisurely stroll. Unfortunately it was a misty day but at least it didn’t rain like the forecast said. We still got some nice views of the city, though I’m sure it is gorgeous on a clear day.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Our last tour started out at Unhyeongung, another palace or living quarter of the royal family. We learned a lot about how traditional Korean houses are built and what meaning the different elements and shapes have. After that we walked (or again, hiked) around Bukchon Hanok Village, an area where there are still many old houses. In some streets there was a mix of new and traditional houses but the famous photo spots are of course where you only see the beautiful traditional ones.

The volunteers who do the tours seemed like they were mostly retired and just enjoy to represent their city. The guides were focused more on history and facts so there weren’t as many fun stories and anecdotes as in the other free walking tours I’ve done. Overall, I liked the tours a lot and would definitely recommend doing some ๐Ÿ™‚

Random Facts: Chinese Birthday traditions

Random Facts: Chinese Birthday traditions

Last week it was one of my colleague’s birthday, so I learned a bit about the differences of celebrating birthdays here.

Being born marks your first birthday, so my coworker will celebrate her 30th birthday next year, though she was born in 1989. That means someone born in China is one year older then someone born the same day in Germany ๐Ÿ™‚ For official purposes it is counted the same way we do. I also found out that this is different across China, for example my colleague and her finance, who is from the Hunan province, count differently.

Traditional food to eat on your birthday is noodles. Long noodles = long life.

Eating cake on your birthday is also popular here but (at least in Shanghai) people usually don’t bake it themselves but buy some. Sadly it’s also not expected that you bring cake for your colleagues. Maybe I will try to introduce that ๐Ÿ™‚

In China, you celebrate your birthday either the day of your birthday or sometime before your birthday but never afterwards. The same goes for presents: You can give them to someone before the day or on the day but if you miss it, it’s over. No belated birthday gifts allowed.

10 things I love about Shanghai

10 things I love about Shanghai

Shanghai and I – it wasn’t love at first sight.

In 2016, Thorben traveled to China 6 times and was offered a job in Shanghai. We kind of already made the decision to move here before I ever stepped a foot into China. In January this year, our company sent us on a 5 day look-and-see trip to check out the city, look at apartments, neighborhoods (and in my case for a job) and make the final decision to accept or reject the offer.

After the first 2 days in Shanghai I just wanted to go home. I couldn’t believe Thorben would want to move here. It was cold and wet, grey, the air quality was bad, the chicken in the restaurant still had its head and feet attached, plus lots of skin and bones and eating with chopsticks was a nightmare.

I think part of it was that many cities aren’t that great in the winter – blue skies and green leaves make a huge difference – and our hotel (which was very nice) was outside of the city center and not in the prettiest neighborhood. The next few days were much better. We walked along the Bund, Nanjing East Road, toured Jing’An and Xintiandi, ate some good food, looked at an international grocery store, some nice apartments … so after that I was still skeptical but also thought that we could maybe somehow manage.

Now, after living in in Shanghai for almost 3 months, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but I really like the city. According to what we learned in the intercultural seminar, I’m still in the Honeymoon Phase of the cultural adaption curve. Up next: Culture shock, recovery and adjustment ๐Ÿ™‚

Hopefully, it won’t be that bad and if it is, I can always read this list and remember all the great things about living in Shanghai!

1. The Food

If you’ve read a few of our previous posts you might have noticed that we LOVE food. And the foodย in Shanghai is great: No matter where it is from … local Shanghainese, other regions in China, Asian or Western. Not only is there great food, there is tons of it! Even if we ate at a different restaurant every day, I don’t think we could even go through half of the ones in our district. And no matter what I crave, I can most likely get it here. Usually the restaurant is in walking distance or just a few metro stations away.

2. Travel Possibilities

For me, one of the best things about living in Shanghai is the possibility to travel all around China and Asia-Pacific easily. Until the end of this year, we have 4 trips with a total of 6 destinations planned (Seoul, Beijing, Hongkong & Taipei, Cambodia & Singapore) and many more are on this list for next year. Hello, Australia!

3. Cheap services

Ever since the first time I got a manicure in Shanghai, I’ve gotten one about once a week. Thorben asked me when I’d become such a girl but what can I say? They are cheap (7 – 15 Euro), it’s fun and my nails always look pretty ๐Ÿ™‚

Not only manicures are cheap, you can also get awesome foot and back massages for a fraction of the price they charge at home. Thorben can get behind that one, in fact, he’s already gotten way more massages than I have.

4. Having an Ayi

An Ayi, which literally means aunt, is a maid/housekeeper and everyone in Shanghai seems to have one. She can do a number of things for you including cleaning, laundry, ironing, shopping, cooking, taking care of you children … A lot of families have full-time Ayis, some even have 2. We got an Ayi, recommended through our landlord, a few weeks after we moved in. She comes 2 times a week, once to clean and the other time to iron. The only chore we still do is laundry. It is the best.

5. The diversity

Shanghai is a city of contrast – old and new, traditional and modern, Chinese and Western. You can meet people from all over the world and from all over China. You can see a Lamborghini parked on the street and next to it a rusty bike. There are traditional lane houses, old temples and tall skyscrapers, small stands selling chicken feet and huge shopping malls, big compounds with more than 10 buildings next to a quiet parks – it really never gets boring and there is always something to discover.

6. Public transport

Though often very crowded, the metro system in Shanghai is great and it is cheap. I could write a whole blog post about the amazingness that is the Shanghai metro (maybe I will soon). There are 14 lines going all over the city and both airports as well as all major train stations are connected to it. Then there are tons of buses (I haven’t figured those out yet) and thousands of taxis. Our street seems to be a popular break spot for taxi drivers and so far, we have always managed to find one quickly. And, I have to admit, the bikes you can just pick up anywhere are super convenient as well.

7. Alipay

I’ve only gotten cash on my first day here and I still haven’t spent it all. I pay for everything with Alipay or WeChat Pay (apps connected to my Chinese bank account), it is so easy and convenient. I even pay for our electricity with Alipay, it just takes 5 seconds every month. It’s not just Alipay that is awesome, there are so many great apps making life easier in Shanghai, even someone as direction challenged as me can get around with them ๐Ÿ™‚

8. Delivery – especially Sherpa’s

You can get anything delivered here. Grocery, furniture, train tickets, you name it. Taobao is like Amazon, Zalando and Ebay combined and while it is in Chinese, there are also Apps that translate and buy it for you from there.

My very favorite delivery thing is Sherpa’s. Words can’t express how much I love this app. For a fee of 15 RMB (2 Euro), they bring you food from almost any restaurant within a 3 kilometer radius (and from all the restaurants further away for a slightly higher fee). I tried to count from how many restaurants I can order, I stopped after 100 and those were all within 2 kilometers. I just click on the things I want, pay with Alipay and within 45 minutes the door bell rings. It is magic.

9. Our neighborhood and surrounding areas

I love the area we live in. On our way home from the metro, we walk past a fancy boutique, tiny soup kitchens, a new nail salon, someone fixing their scooter on the street in their pajamas, a local wet market, a craft beer bar, laundry drying outside, people sitting outside cooking, … all within a few hundred meters. The streets are lined with trees and it is so much greener than I expected. Everything I could ever want is within walking distance. The French Concession, Jing’An and Xintiandi are all pretty to walk around in and I love the view of the Pudong skyline from the Bund.

10. Endless entertainment possibilities

There are tons of restaurants, clubs, bars, museums, movie theaters, spas, malls, gyms, parks, comedy clubs, concert halls, shows, events … There is Disneyland, a water park, golf courses, you can play Laser Tag, get locked inside an escape room, sing karaoke, go ice skating or bowling. I heard there is even an indoor ski arena. Whatever you want to to, you can probably do it in Shanghai.

That time we tried to eat lung

That time we tried to eat lung

On Sunday night, after a busy day of shopping at the fabric market and an evening of games, we ordered some Taiwanese food. Pearl picked a bunch of different food, including her favorite: lung. After Thorben ate it and liked it, Ellie and I decided to give it a try. This is how it happened:

Stage 1: I’ll eat it if you eat it

Stage 2: Here we go!

Stage 3: It’s okay, it’s fine, I can do it … oh my god, it’s lung! Abort mission!

Stage 4: (after spitting it out) Urgh, never again!

It’s not that the taste was particularly bad (it was fried and with some spring onion) but the consistency together with the knowledge that it was lung just didn’t work for me. So I don’t think I’ll order it again any time soon (or ever). Sorry, Pearl!

Update: I just checked with Pearl so I could put the exact name of the dish in this post. Turns out it actually wasn’t lung but fried pork intestines. So I guess I have yet to try lung. Maybe. (Probably not.) ๐Ÿ™‚

Random facts: Having kids in China

Random facts: Having kids in China

And another post for the “random facts” category: This one is about having kids in China. No, I’m not pregnant, but one of my co-workers is, and some other co-workers already have a child, so I get to hear a lot if interesting things I thought I’d share:

Getting pregnant

The one child policy doesn’t exist anymore. First, the rule was that you could have two kids if you were both an only-child, now everyone can have two kids. In Shanghai a lot of people still only want to have one, because housing and schools are very expensive.

If you are trying to get pregnant, the man should not drink any coke. I’m not sure why, maybe because it’s unhealthy, but it seems to be common knowledge.

Another thing that is common knowledge and every Chinese girl knows about, is that you are not supposed to drink or eat anything cold, while you are on your period. I’ve heard different things like it could make it take longer or more painful, so you just don’t do it. I thought this one was pretty funny, because I’ve never heard of it and also, isn’t ice cream always a good idea? ๐Ÿ™‚

From what I’ve heard there seems to be a lot of pressure on people to have a child as soon as they are married. If you have a baby after 24 it is already considered a “late childbirth”. Good thing I’m not Chinese: 27, unmarried and no kids, what a failure ;).

During pregnancy

In China, you are not allowed to find out the sex of your baby. If you are an expat living in Shanghai it is possible to ask but it is illegal for the doctor to tell you if you are Chinese.

When you are pregnant, you are not supposed to eat spicy food. One of my coworkers told the story that her son had a rash when he was little and her mom said that it was her fault for eating too spicy during pregnancy.

What you should do is hang up a picture of a really cute baby in a place where you look often. It is supposed to make you feel happy and the happy vibes will be good for your baby. This is the picture my colleague got as a gift. In size A3.

In general, to me it seems like people make a much bigger fuss around pregnancy here than at home. People seem very concerned and worried about your well-being all the time. For example, my coworker told me that when she got to a restaurant, she was immediately given a blanket to shield her from the air conditioning and a pillow, so she would be more comfortable. When she was pumping up a gymnastics ball (the big ones to sit on) in the office 2 people ran to her help and later on she got asked a few times if it was safe for her to sit on it.

After birth

Once you have the baby, you are supposed to rest and cannot do anything for 30 days. You are not allowed to cook, clean, take care of the baby, or even shower. Basically you have to stay in bed and recover for a full month. Usually, either your parents or in-laws will take care of you and your baby. If they are not around, you hire a full-time Ayi to do that.

Last week, a colleagueย from another department gave me a box of cookies with the words: “My son is 30 days old.” I was confused, so another colleague explained: 30 days after giving birth, you have a big celebration marking the 30-day-birthday of the baby. You announce the birth to everyone you know – coworkers, friends, family, neighbors … – by giving them a present, usually food. For this occasion you can buy the already wrapped gifts as it is a very mature industry.

On the right it says: “Celebration” and “Our family has a new son.” On the left: “Here comes the baby crying with a sweet smell. Luck will come to the family with good virtue. Celebrating for our new child. Please accept this humble present.” Thanks Pearl for translating!

Maternity leave starts 2 weeks before birth and then you have 16 weeks off after the birth. If you are having twins or have to have a c-section, you get an extra 2 weeks. Right now, it’s not possible to work part-time (at least in our company, I’m not sure about others), so after 4 months women come back to work full-time. The retirement age in China is 55 for women (60 for men), so often your mom or mother-in-law will take care of your baby during the day.

The Shanghai Supperclub

The Shanghai Supperclub

I read about the Shanghai Supperclub on another expat blog when I was doing research on life in Shanghai. They regularly have dinner parties and their slogan is “Stay hungry”. I’m always hungry and any opportunity to eat good food and meet new people who also love food sounds good to me. I signed up for the mailing list when we got here and so far we’ve been to 2 events.

The Social Table

The first one we went to was a “Social Table” event in June: According to the invitation it was the longest table they have ever had. It took place in a big tent outside of the Jing’An Kerry Center, so very convenient for us.

After a welcome cocktail we sat down and had a yummy 5 course dinner. They have a different chef every time and that time it was the chef of elEFANTE, a Spanish restaurant in Shanghai. It was quite an international crowd: Around us we had people from Mexico, France, China, Germany and Australia. The food was good and we had some interesting conversations.

A Supperclub dinner

The next invitation came in the beginning of August and it was for one of the traditional Supperclub dinners. Usually they have a dinner party every month and you can “apply” if you want to attend. Then they select 10 people and each person brings one guest so it’s 20 people in total. This time, if you were interested you had to reply to the question “If you were a cocktail, what would it be?” A guy we met there told us he has been to around 8 dinners in the past few years and he got invited every third to fourth time he signed up. So lucky us we got to go on our first try ๐Ÿ™‚

The location changes every time and remains a secret until 2 days before the event. The August dinner was at Warehouse Cafe at Anken Air. We had a fun evening and met some nice people from all over: China, Hongkong, the UK, the US, Italy, Germany (we are everywhere) … The menu is also kept secret until you sit down at the table and read the card. Our chef was Jair Gudino Chavez from Mexico. He will be the head chef for Lago, an Italian place, which will be part of the Bellagio hotel (opening in September). The sneak peak we got was delicious so we’ll have to go check it out.