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Dear Reader,

Our guidebook forgot to mention that Shanghai was a mad house. A warning for us rookie visitors would have been nice.

It was my first time to Shanghai (in fact, my first time to Asia) and my husband and I were completely shell shocked. The guidebook said nothing about looking both ways before stepping out onto the sidewalk (sidewalks are fair game for motorcycles, bikes, and people carrying large bamboo sticks with buckets of cherries on each end).

Oh, and the hagglers. There was no escaping the tourist brand with my blonde hair and fair skin — and for that we paid dearly. We couldn’t walk two feet in most tourist areas without being accosted by somebody hawking a knock-off Rolex or fake Gucci and Prada bags.

Most streets are lined overhead with wet laundry, so while we tried to avoid collisions with bikes and hagglers we were also dodging drips from the sky and trying to figure out what the h*ll that smell was. (Some smells were good — octopus on the grill, for instance. And some smells were bad — urine and mildew among those I could identify. But really, you need not concern yourself for too long with a particular smell because it changes three or more times per city block.)

Now, the guidebook did say that Shanghai was “a city on the edge of tomorrow…” a city that’s “looking to offer the world a glimpse of the future” and that’s certainly true.

Never mind the women washing and hanging their underwear in the street or the guy who sets up his “bike shop” in front of the grocery store under an old, dirty sleeping bag propped up with two bamboo sticks.

Oh, and forget about the barber who has moved his barber chair into the street where he shaves shirtless men and, judging by the size of the mound of hair in the street, doesn’t sweep but instead waits for the rain to wash the fallen hair down through the gutters.

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Forget all that and let’s focus on the big space-like tower and skyscrapers that light up at night in Pudong — because that’s what the guidebook did. And it offers a valid view of the city. If you take the elevator to the restaurant at the top of Three on the Bund (the most expensive real estate in Shanghai) and you order a martini outside on the deck, you can enjoy Shanghai in all it’s 21st-century glory.

From there, the city looks incredibly advanced. More so than New York. It’s every photographer’s dream location — boats lit with neon signs and string lights cruising down the Huangpu River in front of the space-age Oriental Pearl Tower, flashing billboards on the skyscrapers next door. In fact, it’s quite possible that there’s actually more light in Shanghai at night than there is during the day.

But back to the Shanghai I found pre- and post- martini…

Don’t get me wrong, by day two we loved Shanghai. Of the four stops on our honeymoon, it was the only one where I felt like our four-day stay wasn’t nearly long enough, that we were just getting started.

Sure I’d like to go back to Tokyo and Dubai — but I “need” to go back to Shanghai. It’s a photographer’s dream and a writer’s adventure.

And it’s all changing so fast there. The city IS moving toward a more futuristic incarnation — with taller buildings and less hanging laundry. I fear if we don’t go back soon, we may never again see the Shanghai we grew to love.

If you ever get a chance to go — and I encourage you to do so — here’s a little beginner’s advice…

1) Your guidebook might tell you that taxi drivers don’t speak English and that you should carry with you your hotel’s address written in Chinese. But that’s not enough. Ask your hotel’s concierge to mark the location on a Chinese map and bring that with you, too.

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2) Ask your hotel to write these two things on separate pieces of paper before you go out to eat: “Can we have a few minutes to look over the menu?” and “Can you recommend some things for us to try?” With so many interesting foods to choose from (hmm, should I try the crab sperm or the snake’s blood) you’ll want time to digest the menu before you order. It’s also good to try new things. I pronounced the jellyfish awful but the turtle shell jello not bad.

3) Avoid chicken. Most chicken dishes, unless indicated otherwise, were served to us with bones — not whole bones, but chards of bone (as if they attacked the chicken with a meat clever and hacked at it until the whole bird, bones and all, was small enough to eat with chopsticks).

4) If it’s wrapped in dough and/or some kind of pastry, it’s probably good. And if it wiggles when you shake it, it’s probably not. Obviously, your taste may differ from mine. But this rule of thumb served me well — and could you, too — for those first few days when you can’t order chicken and you don’t recognize anything else on the tables next to you.

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5) When you want to slip back into the 21st century, head to New Heights (that’s the bar on top of Three on the Bund). The bar has a much better view than the restaurant (prices are reasonable at both). Also head to Xintiandi where you’ll find all sorts of trendy restaurants, some with outdoor seating. And when you’re ready to brave the “old Shanghai,” veer off onto any of the little side streets jutting from Nanjing Road. (Might not be safe in Chicago, but it’s perfectly fine in Shanghai!)

If you’re traveling with kids: The Chinese acrobat show by the Shanghai Acrobatics School & Troupe was amazing and worth every penny. And the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect market has just enough creepy crawly stuff to keep little ones entertained for hours.

My advice for travel writers: Just wander. All the main tourist attractions — the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Tourist Tunnel, the Bund, Yu Gardens — aren’t worth even their incredibly cheap taxi fare. There’s a much better market across from the Flower, Bird, and Insect Market with fewer tourists and therefore fewer hagglers. You’re more likely to find a local story there (and better prices). And do get out and enjoy the restaurants without English menus. Have your server write down in Chinese the name of what you’re eating and ask your hotel concierge to translate for you later.

My advice for photographers: Get off the beaten path and bring your camera down those side streets off Nanjing Road. If you decide to take a day-trip to one of the canal towns or water villages, hire your own driver and don’t go with an organized tour. The hour plus ride to Suzhou is just as much (if not more) photogenic than the villages themselves and you’ll want to be able to stop at your leisure. Also, keep your eyes out for our 2008 photo workshop schedule. There’s no doubt that Shanghai will be on our hit-list next year.

Have a good weekend and don’t forget to scroll down to today’s writing prompt for advice on writing about that Insect Market.

— Lori

Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

PRACTICAL WRITING PROMPT OF THE WEEK:

I thought a lot about my niece and nephew when we were traveling through Shanghai.

We went to a Chinese acrobat show one night, which included juggling acrobats, flying performers, and a motorcycle stunt show in a steel cage. The kids would have loved this.

Then, at the Flower, Bird, and Insect Market we found everything from song birds and crickets to live eels and snakes. I was a little creeped out, but I could imagine my young nephew spending all day there.

I collected a list of three to five things I thought my niece and nephew would love and figured I could easily write an article about them. But then it hit me: with the Bird Flu scare still in the news and all sorts of weird bugs in the market, would my brother, in fact, want to take his kids here?

I could imagine little Logan loving the motorcycle and acrobat show — but it lasted nearly two hours. Can a kid sit still that long? And what about the height of the seats? I’m sure a parent would look around for a seat from which her kid could see the full action. Me? I could see just fine, so I never thought to look for such a thing.

Bottom line: I don’t have kids. So I asked Jennifer Stevens, freelance travel writer (and mother of three children six-and-under), what she thought I could do. Should I just avoid writing about traveling with children altogether or would my research be complete if I simply asked my brother whether or not he would take his kids there.

This is what she told me:

“It’s not a typical American parent who loads her children on a plane and heads to Asia. So you can assume from the get-go that your audience is an adventuresome sort. Bird Flu, weird bugs… they could be a consideration, but they probably aren’t too much of a deterrent.

“I know that I probably fall into your target readership. And to give you a sense for the lengths I’m willing to go to for a good trip: I shoved spoonfuls of crushed-up anti-malarial pills (slightly dissolved in grape juice) down my two-year-old’s throat so we could spend two weeks in Honduras.

“I think wandering through an exotic market with my children sounds wonderful. To my mind, you’re right on track with your recommendations — and your hesitations about your own qualifications, too.

“But I don’t believe you have to have children to know what they’d like. If you’re interested in writing for an audience of parents, then — as you travel — keep an eye out for children. Are they enjoying what you suspect they’d enjoy?

“Stop and chat with a family of travelers if you see one. Ask what they’ve liked most and — just as importantly — what’s frustrated them. (By quoting a couple of people who would fall into your ‘target readership,’ you give your article a bit more credibility in an editor’s eye.)”

Thanks Jen. I’m turning that advice into today’s writing prompt: With or without kids, think of activities parents traveling with kids can do in your town.

Your article doesn’t have to be long — just a few sentences of introduction and a round-up of activities is fine.

When you’re done, send it to the Travel Post Monthly or your local paper: www.travelpostmonthly.com

***************************

READER FEEDBACK: A By-line that Leads to a Regular Photo Gig

Kim Hicks from Odenton, MD writes…

“I was so excited today when I opened the newspaper and one of my pictures was in there!! There was a small house fire in my neighborhood the other day. I followed the 3rd fire truck down the street (I was on my way out anyhow). Got some good pictures of the house and the fire fighters mulling around the house and checking things out.

“The fire wasn’t that big and was mostly out when the fire department arrived but I did get a few interesting shots. So I called the local paper the next morning and talked to the photo editor who told me to send what I had and that they paid $35 if they used my picture. So I did and they ran one of my pictures!!

“I was very excited to see my picture in the paper and I got my name printed under it too. YEEEE HAAAAA

“Later, I called the photo editor of the paper to inquire about payment and during our conversation he asked if I might be able to cover things from time to time in my area.

“My town is not real close to the office of the paper so they don’t get too many pictures of things like fires etc because of travel time. They also asked if I could cover things that they don’t have enough photographers for (like neighborhood parades on holidays etc ) that occur in my neighborhood. Of course I agreed to both. He took my name, number and email. Sounds like I may have a casual sort of working arrangement with the local newspaper.

“This is just the beginning!! I am so excited. Bigger and better adventures await…the local paper is just the beginning.

“Thanks so much for your help so far and all the future help too.”

The Travel Writer’s Life: http://www.thetravelwriterslife.com/member_success_stories/

The Photographer’s Life: http://www.thephotographerslife.com/success_stories/

Our Wall of Fame: http://www.thetravelwriterslife.com/wall_of_fame/

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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