Conquering High-Priced Shanghai, From Dumplings to Modern Art

Superlatives are everywhere in Shanghai. I forked over my 50 yuan (about $7.90) and boarded the maglev train departing from Pudong International Airport. My understanding was that this was a high-speed train, like the one I’d recently taken from Chengdu to Xian. I didn’t realize that, operating by a giant set of magnets that caused it to levitate over the track (hence the name, maglev), it was the fastest commercially operating train in the world. After leaving precisely on time, our speed began to build. And build. Soon, we were screaming through a blur of new housing developments and farmland at 268 miles per hour as we made our way from the Pacific coast to the heart of Shanghai. The ride, while not exactly smooth — you feel the speed — was exhilarating. I stepped off 19 miles and a few minutes later at Longyang Road, slightly dazed.

Despite this high-tech arrival system, Shanghai is, in a way, a late bloomer. Cities like Beijing and Xian have been political and commercial powerhouses for centuries. Heading into the 19th century, Shanghai was a modest trading port that exploded after being “opened” to the world by Western imperialism. What became known as the Paris of the East laid the groundwork for what Shanghai is today: an unparalleled economic powerhouse and megacity of 24 million people. Packed with luxury brands and overrun with shiny Bentleys and Audis, it’s also impossibly expensive — kryptonite for a penny-pincher like me. Luckily, I was able to spend a four-day weekend there denting, but not breaking, the bank.

You can start saving money by staying on the fringes of the city center, where rooms at the Peninsula can run $900 per night. I settled on the Jinjiang Metropolo Hotel Classiq Shanghai, just north of the Huangpu River in Hongkou, and paid 576 yuan per night, about $90, for a perfectly comfortable “Extreme Sassy” double room. (The hotel has since been rebranded as the Golden Tulip Bund New Asia. Things move fast in Shanghai.)

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