Essential Shanghai
By Amber Kallor
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Artist and globetrotter Meagan Morrison finds the unexpected in the Far East.

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“We are more united than we are divided,” says artist Meagan Morrison of her journey to Shanghai, China. “The world used to feel so big and I always thought that our differences outnumbered the ways in which we are the same. This trip changed that.” While the jetsetter can be seen slurping noodles in Seoul or painting the sun setting over the Sonoran Desert via her vibrant Instagram account, this adventure hit home in a new way.

Whether perusing the local art supply district or picking up a new skill from a master paper-cutter, Morrison was able to “build a bridge through a shared love of a craft.” Not fluent in Mandarin, she discovered new ways to communicate: “Despite the language barrier, I felt very connected [to the city’s artists] through our mutual love for creating and working with our hands,” she explains.

Here, Morrison reveals six memorable ways to experience this spectacular city and make lasting connections.

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Tea is an art form in Shanghai. It is similar to wine tasting in that this ancient ritual calls for time and attention to every detail, from the way in which the water is poured to how the cup is held, explains Morrison. “What made this experience memorable was the process of slowing down,” she says. “Everything in America, specifically New York City where I live, is so rushed.”

If you’re hungry after tea time, head over to Ar Mei Dumplings for a sippable snack. “I ate dumplings morning, noon, and night—I couldn’t get enough,” laughs Morrison. “You can watch the women rolling the dough, putting filling inside, and drying the dumplings before serving them to you. It’s a full experience.” More daring foodies shouldn’t miss the boiled egg soaked in soy sauce.

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Need a break from the hustle and bustle of city life? This exquisite space that dates back to the Ming Dynasty makes an excellent escape. “It was a great place to sit down and sketch,” says Morrison, who was particularly impressed by the distinct Chinese architecture, sparkling koi ponds, and dramatic alleyways within the garden that add to the “overall feeling of grandeur.” Pack a sketchbook and Tombow markers (Morrison’s must-have) to capture the surroundings outside of your iPhone.

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The Chinese invented paper in 105 AD, so it only makes sense that they were the first to take this simple medium to intricate new levels. Originating in the sixth century, this ancient folk art takes time, patience, and years of practice to master, but Morrison says it’s worth trying while in Shanghai even if you aren’t particularly adept with scissors. Plus, you can snip your own one-of-a-kind souvenir in the process. “It’s kind of like making a paper snowflake,” she says of the designs that can commonly be found posted on windows and doors in China. “I caught on fast, so my teacher challenged me by moving quicker.”

Meagan Morrison

“The world used to feel so big and I always thought that our differences outnumbered the ways in which we are the same. This trip changed that.” 

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“My impression before I ever visited Shanghai was that it was a city of the future,” says Morrison. “In reality, there are parts of it that are very modern, but there is also so much history. These two contrasting worlds tell a very different story of the city’s evolution.” Head to experience the “Parisian-style architecture” and explore the labyrinth of little streets dotted with bars, cafes, galleries, and boutiques. “It feels like you’re walking through Europe,” she explains. Morrison picked up a box-shaped purse in lieu of “a trinket that will sit on a shelf,” but says that a lucky cat figurine always makes for a cheap thrill.

If you’re interested in avoiding throngs of tourists and after a more authentic experience, head to the art supply district where many of the stores specialize in Chinese calligraphy. You’ll find everything from supersized brushes to a plethora of paper and ink. “Going to an art supply store is something that I do at home almost weekly, if not bi-weekly, but to have this experience in Shanghai gave me another glimpse into local life,” explains Morrison.


There are many ways to view The Bund, a colorful waterfront area of Shanghai that is lit up by “electric pink, purple, and orange colors” by night, but Morrison says taking it all in by boat is especially spectacular. “It is one of the most incredible city views on Earth—the ferry gets you so close!” she notes. Take a river cruise to enjoy “Shanghai plugged in” and see the Oriental Pearl Tower from an entirely new perspective.

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“The best Instagrammable view of Shanghai is actually from the bathtub of the The Ritz-Carlton Suite at the Ritz-Carlton,” says Morrison. “You’re within arm’s reach of the Oriental Pearl Tower and you get a full shot of The Bund.” Should this unique bathing experience be out of your budget, you can still get the five-star experience at the Flair Rooftop Restaurant & Bar, which offers equally stunning views along with delectable tapas-style bites and drinks al fresco. See the sights from inside one of two restaurants on the property that feature floor-to-ceiling windows: Scena (where you can enjoy an Italian meal) and Jin Xuan (for Cantonese-style cuisine). Or, head to Aura Lounge & Jazz Bar for some live music and look out at the sparkling lights while sipping on over 30 varieties of rosé champagne. Ganbei!