Sip ‘n Paint Shanghai

Last week we finally wrapped up the fall-semester at Jiaotong University. To celebrate good results and success in the final exams, me and a couple of classmates went to do some sipping, painting and relaxing at Sip ‘n Paint on Shaanxi South Road.

I’ve been wanting to try Sip ‘n Paint for some time now as it’s become increasingly popular all over the world. The concept sounds so good: You spend a few hours at a nice art studio where you can let your artsy juices flowing and paint away either with or without the help of a teacher. And of course there’s wine. Not bad, right?

We booked a 3-hour Friday afternoon “freestyle” session, which means painting without a teacher. The space isn’t too big, probably good for about 20 people tops, but we happened to be the only ones there so we could spread out very comfortably. The studio is cozy and bright, and really fits the purpose. It’s at a great location right behind the IAPM mall on the top floor of a classic Shanghai lane house.

We could choose between painting with oil paint, watercolors, colored pencils and more. Oil paint seemed to be the most popular option, so that’s what we went for too. Painting was fun and challenging, but the hardest part by far was deciding what to paint. I hadn’t thought about it until the start of our session, and luckily there were loads of inspiration at the studio to help us get started. Books and prints were available for browsing, and works of others’ were hanging all over the walls. We spent around 30 minutes trying to come up with what to paint, which is precious time you’ll probably need for finishing your masterpiece in time. I’ll definitely be more prepared next time!

The whole experience was super fun and relaxing, almost like meditating (but with wine and friends), and I definitely want to go back. If you’re the least bit interested in painting, drawing, being creative with your hands or just want to try something new, I’d very much recommend Sip ‘n Paint. And if it turns out you’re not too into the painting, you can just focus on the sipping, haha.

A 3 hour Freestyle session costs 180 RMB including canvas, access to brushes, paint and everything else needed. A glass of wine is 40 RMB and a case for carrying home your painting is 30 RMB. Find more details here!

Sip n Paint Shanghai

Sip n Paint Shanghai

Sip n Paint Shanghai

Sip n Paint Shanghai

Sip n Paint Shanghai

Sip n Paint Shanghai

Sip n Paint Shanghai

Don’t forget to follow me @shanghaistablog on Instagram for more pics! x

Best of 2016

I know it’s already 2017, but before really kicking off the new year, I wanted to take a quick look back at the highlights of my past year. Here come the Best of my 2016:

Best moment
The day in early March when Robert signed his new contract and our move to Shanghai was confirmed. We had a special champagne bottle saved in case life-changing events like this would occur, and that night the cork was certainly popping. Shanghai had been our “if you could choose any city in the world to live in” -place ever since we moved away from Asia the last time in 2013. You can imagine how crazy happy we were when that was suddenly becoming reality. Consequently I also became a huge believer in law of attraction!

Shanghaista Expat Blog Shanghai

Best trip
It’s been an awesome year for me travel-wise. Very hard to choose the best one, but the cake goes to the perfect Golden Week beach vacation in Phu Quoc, Vietnam with Robert. Beaching, eating, reading, exploring, drinking drip-coffee and mojitos while enjoying each other’s company in gorgeous surroundings was definitely a highlight of my year.

shanghai expat blog

An honorable mention goes to my spontaneous trip to New York in May to visit my parents. I had an unexpected extra couple of weeks before the move to Shanghai, so I decided to head out to the US where my parents are currently living. Just spending casual quality time with them is such a rare treat these days, so this was definitely the best bonus. Home cooked meals, watching SNL with mom and dad, shopping with mom… Perfect.

Shanghaista Expat Blog Shanghai

Best decision
To study Mandarin full-time at Shanghai Jiaotong University. Becoming awesome at Chinese has been a goal of mine for some time now, and it feels crazy cool to be able to pursue it 100%. It’s been way more intense and time-consuming than I expected, but I’m making good progress, which in turn gives me lots of energy and motivation to keep going. Final exams for the fall semester are next week, and I just signed up to keep going for at least another semester in the spring. Yikes and yay!

IMG_6307

Best party
My goodbye-party with my girlfriends in Copenhagen before moving to Shanghai. Oh what a night, we went all in and had one of those girls nights you’ll remember forever (or kind of remember…). I miss my girls like crazy, but I feel that these are the kinds of friends that will always be close no matter how far apart you actually are. (The picture is not from the party, just from beautiful Copenhagen.)

Shanghaista Expat Blog Shanghai

Best purchase
Definitely my camera, Canon PowerShot G5X. It’s a small but powerful camera that I bring with me pretty much everywhere. I’ve gotten more and more into photography this year, and I definitely plan to keep at it in the years to come. Right now I’m considering making a GoPro the first big purchase of 2017, since so many holiday photo-ops are missed without a waterproof camera… What do you think, is it worth it?

Best food
This is a really tough one, but I have to go with the Salmon Benedict on Kabb’s weekend brunch menu in Shanghai. Kabb is not a very special restaurant in general, but I just find myself craving for this amazing dish of theirs quite often. The runner up would probably be Chicken Xiaolongbao at Din Tai Fung. Yum.

Best drink
Hands down the fresh Passionfruit Mojito at Peppercorn Beach Resort in Phu Quoc, Vietnam. A little sweet, a little sour, so refreshing. Not the best picture of it, but you can take my word for it (the one on the right). It was heavenly.

Shanghaista Expat Blog Shanghai

Best book
For some reason this was a really slow book year for me, but the best of the 5-6 books that I managed to read would be Stalker by Lars Kepler. Kepler’s books are always terrifying page-turners that I can only read when it’s light out, preferably in the summer time. Stalker didn’t disappoint.

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

Best dress
My maxi-dress from Marks & Spencer (on the left). This was the most comfortable summery evening dress, and one of my favorite outfits all year. I love the simple cut in a fabric and color that makes it stand out. I’ll definitely be taking it to the tailor market in spring to have it made in other colors.

Shanghaista Expat Blog Shanghai

Best workout
My hike up Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. A perfect one hour workout with a killer view. Besides that, 2016 was also the year when I discovered Zumba. I know, I’m about 10 years late, but OMG how awesome is Zumba!? The most fun workout ever!

Hiking Victoria Peak Hong Kong

Best song
Thanks to going to Zumba every other day, my absolute favorite song of the year is La Bicicleta by Shakira and Carlos Vives. La Bicicleta always equals dancing feet and a smiley face!

All in all my 2016 was a year of big changes, new beginnings, pursuing passions and traveling. The best of all was that I got to share it with the love of my life. And despite being far away from family and friends, I got to spend much more time with them than expected. Lots of feelings of gratitude here now when I think back on it all.

Can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring. Happy New Year to you all!

Shanghaista Expat Blog Shanghai

My Instagram #bestnine2016. Don’t forget to follow @shanghaistablog for more pics!

December in the French Concession

Wow, I’ve been terrible with the blog lately. No excuses, just haven’t managed to prioritize writing (although I’m totally blaming school!). I’ll try to get back to it very soon, but in the mean time I just wanted to post a few snaps from my awesome neighborhood, the Former French Concession. It’s crazy that these green, peaceful streets are right in the middle of such an enormous metropolis. I love this area with all it’s small shops, amazing restaurants and cozy vibe, and right now it’s so beautiful with the yellow leaves and autumn colors.

The pictures are from my daily bike route to Shanghai Jiao Tong University, mainly from Wukang Lu and Anfu Lu.

Shanghaista Expat Blog Shanghai

Shanghaista Expat Blog Shanghai

Shanghai Expat Blog Shanghaista

Shanghai Expat Blog Shanghaista

Shanghai Expat Blog Shanghaista

Shanghai Expat Blog Shanghaista

Make sure to follow me @shanghaistablog on Instagram for more pics!

Beauty talk

Let’s start this new week with something a little more light-hearted, shall we? I think we all need that after the miserable political events of the last few days… So coming up today – Shanghai beauty tips!

This city is packed with stores that sell beauty products from all over the world, and local salons offer every face/body/hair treatment that exists. But unfortunately China doesn’t always have the best reputation when it comes to quality, reliability and hygiene, so finding the good spots with a high enough standard is worth gold! Here are a few tried and tested favorites that I can gladly recommend to anyone in need of some beautifying.

Hair care at Franck Provost
We’ve all heard the horror stories about expats going to Chinese hair salons and coming out with either no hair, burnt hair or just the worst imaginable haircut (like Robert who accidentally got the Kim Jong-Un style a few years back). I’m very protective of my hair, but the other week I gathered all my courage and made an appointment to the Franck Provost salon on Anfu Lu after hearing so many good things from a handful of reliable (=blonde) sources. And boy am I glad I did! Turns out that they do blonde highlights much, much better than I ever had done when living in Copenhagen. No burnt hair, no yellow tones. Only beautiful, soft, ashy, bright blonde. I paid around 1300 RMB for highlights + cut, so about the same as I’m used to back home. Too bad I don’t have a good before and after shot (will do next time), but in the picture below you can get a sense of the result. The salon also has such a nice, modern vibe and the staff made me feel super welcome and relaxed. I even got the membership card since I’ll definitely be going back soon, that way I’ll save around 10-15% on their services. The salon also sells imported hair-care products from big brands like Kérastase, Davines and L’oréal.

Shanghaista Shanghai Expat Blog

Manicures at Helen Nail Spa
Pampering yourself with manicures and pedicures is so wonderfully easy and cheap in China. Nail salons are everywhere, but finding a nice, clean enough place can sometimes be tricky. Helen Nail Spa is my favorite so far. I’ve visited two of their three locations (819 Julu Lu and 120 Nanchang Lu) and both are clean, cozy and casual (if you want uber-fancy, this is not your place). The staff is always super friendly, and usually someone speaks a little English if your Chinese manicure-vocabulary is lacking. They seem to take good care of the equipment and pay attention to cleanliness and hygiene, which is very important to me when it comes to places like this. Helen’s offer services like manicures, pedicures, waxing, foot massages and more. The price for a manicure is around 100-150 RMB and a pedicure goes for a little less than that. By the way, Helen’s also sells OPI nail polish, and I just discovered that Sephora finally does too! Taobao and Tmall are of course filled with shops that sell OPI, but I don’t trust them to be the real stuff (especially with the suspiciously low prices)…

Helen Nail Spa Shanghai Expat Blog

Soothing sheet mask for amazing skin
Moving here to Shanghai definitely made my skin react. The pollution, humidity and lifestyle changes caused my face to freak out quite a bit, and adding any harsh products to that would have probably caused even more trouble. Luckily the beauty gods heard my prayers and guided me to try this amazing mask a few weeks back: Aloe Soothing sheet mask from Korean skin-care brand Jejuen. I absolutely love this product, it calms any ongoing irritation while providing skin with plenty of moisture, leaving my face looking super balanced and glowy. This is perfect for sensitive, combination skin like mine. So now once a week for 20 minutes I look like Freddy Krueger, scaring poor Robert and the neighbours, but it’s so worth it. Sephora is my #1 place to shop anything beauty-related, and that’s where I found these babies too. Get a pack of five for 200 RMB. Hooray for K-beauty!

Jejuen Aloe Soothing Sheet Mask

Bath products by eco&more
I’m totally hooked on the heavenly hand and body washes from Shanghai-Australian company eco&more. They smell and feel AMAZING, plus their line of products are made of safe, plant-based, hypoallergenic ingredients, which means less skin exposure to harsh or even toxic chemicals often found in personal care products. It’s obviously not the cheapest soap in the store – a hand or body wash will cost you between 60-110 RMB – but the bottles are pretty big, plus I don’t mind paying a bit extra for quality products that add some luxury to everyday life. I’ve seen eco&more products in convenience stores and supermarkets around popular expat areas (French Concession, Jing’an, Xintiandi), and also in the Fields online supermarket. You can also order products through their website here.

eco&more Hand Wash

Bronzer discovery
I just found a department store that not only sells a proper bronzer, but actually my all time favorite one from Bobbi Brown! Now, some of you might not get what a huge deal this is, but for years and years all you could get in China were whitening products. Whitening body lotions, face creams, masks, foundations, powders, you name it. The beauty ideal is all about being as white and pale as possible, and products giving any bronzed, sun-kissed glow to your face or body have been veeery hard to find. Maybe buying quality bronzer in Shanghai is old news by now, who knows as I’m still a newbie in town, but I just wanted to share in case someone else is on the lookout and don’t know where to start searching. Get Bobbi Brown’s Bronzing Powders in various shades at the Isetan department store on 1038 Nanjing Xi Lu.

Got any hot beauty-related tips for Shanghai? Please share in the comments!

Have a great week everyone, let’s hope this one will be better than the last. X

Vietnam Vibes

Last week China celebrated it’s annual 7-day National Holiday known as Golden Week. The country pretty much shuts down for a full week and the busy, crowded streets of China’s megacities become deserted and quiet. Most locals take the opportunity to travel to their hometowns to be with family, and most expats leave the country either to visit home or to travel around Asia-Pacific.

Robert and I spent our holiday at the calm beachy island of Phu Quoc, Vietnam (checking off Vietnam on my China Bucket List, wohoo!). We stayed at the northern tip of the island at Peppercorn Beach Resort, a small boutique resort that was absolutely perfect for us in every way. A beach villa right by the ocean, turquoise warm water, kayaks and snorkels to borrow anytime, the most friendly staff and delicious home-cooked Vietnamese food… Ahh just brilliant. I haven’t felt this relaxed after a holiday for ages!

There’s not much exciting stuff to report from our vacation as we spent our days lounging, reading, eating, drinking delicious Vietnamese drip-coffee, reading, swimming, reading some more, and so on. After four very hectic months with moving back to China and adapting to a new life here, I didn’t even realize how much I needed a real break. Sometimes you don’t notice it until you just stop for a moment. But thanks to Phu Quoc and Peppercorn Beach I’m back feeling invigorated and energezied, all ready for the fall!

Hope you guys had a great Golden Week! Where did you go?Please share any good SE-Asian destinations or travel tips in the comments below. :)

shanghai expat blog

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

shanghai expat blog

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

Vitamins in the kitchen! I don’t know how I’ll be able to live without this every morning.

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

Phu Quoc produces loads of high quality pepper, so there are pepper plantations all over the island. We stopped to check out what pepper actually looks like when growing on trees. 

Phu Quoc Vietnam

Phu Quoc Vietnam

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

shnaghaista shanghai expat blog

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

shanghaista shanghai expat blog

Don’t forget to follow me on social media!
Facebook: @shanghaista
Instagram: @shanghaistablog

My best apps for Shanghai

1. Pleco 
Pleco is probably the most famous and downloaded Chinese dictionary and learning tool there is. And for a good reason – it’s just awesome! This is also by far the app that I use most both in daily life running around Shanghai, and when studying Mandarin. The dictionary is obviously extremely useful (and free!), but if you’re studying Chinese I would highly recommend buying the Flash Card system that’s available as an in-app purchase. It allows you to create your own categories and study the flash cards in whichever way you want (character – pinyin, pinyin – English, English – character etc.). At least for me this is probably the most effective way of learning characters, as it’s something that requires endless repetition. It’s perfect to do at home, on the metro, while waiting for a friend, or just whenever you have a few minutes to spare. The Flash Cards also come with ready made categories based on HSK levels, which is brilliant for studying for a specific level.

This week I discovered a crazy cool feature in Pleco which I have completely missed before. I’m sure this is old news to everyone else, but just in case, here it is: If you add the keyboard for Simplified Chinese in your smartphone settings, make sure to pick the one for Handwriting as well. Now go to the dictionary in Pleco with the Handwriting keyboard active, and instead of typing in English or pinyin in the search field, you will be able to draw the character and Pleco gives you the definition. AMAZING! This is SO useful and fast when you encounter characters you don’t recognise, which happens all the time here (at restaurants, on websites, in the bank, etc etc…). Thanks Lisa in 阅读课 for revolutionising my Chinese learning yet again!

Best apps for Shanghai

2. Bon App
Number two on my list has to be Bon App. This is the best app for local restaurant search, ratings and reviews in Shanghai. You have plenty of options for searching and filtering, like by area, name and/or cuisine. You can even filter by happy hour and ladies night, yay! Bon App also has the Near Me feature, which makes it super easy to spot a good place in your proximity. Registration is not needed for searching and browsing venues and reading reviews, but those who want to contribute with likes/dislikes and comments do have to create a simple profile. Bon App is a bilingual platform, so it works both in English and Chinese.

The best apps for Shanghai

3. WeChat
I don’t see how one survives in Shanghai (or anywhere in China) these days without WeChat. Messaging and calling is done mainly through WeChat. People don’t exchange phone numbers or e-mail addresses anymore (and forget about Facebook for sure), it’s all on WeChat. WeChat is also the most important customer facing platform for most businesses. Many companies invest in sites within WeChat instead of producing separate apps, as it’s very easy to integrate to the user-friendly platform that everyone here prefers using anyway. But as I’ve mentioned before, if you’re not fluent in Chinese, utilizing WeChat to it’s max is difficult. I mainly use WeChat for communicating with friends, to pay bills, and to stay updated with my favorite local businesses and communities.

Btw, check out Baopals’ WeChat page for shopping on TaoBao and Tmall in English! It’s a brilliant site, Baopals can access the entire inventory on TaoBao and Tmall with their English interface, so finally we foreigners can shop away even with limited Chinese skills. I just tried it last week to order a water dispenser – worked like a charm. Woop woop!

The best apps for Shanghai

4. Dianping
Dianping is probably the most extensive directory of businesses in Shanghai. It’s great for finding stuff like dry cleaners, banks or tailors that probably won’t be marked in Google or Apple Maps. Just search with a name or keyword in the app’s search field and get dozens of choices with ratings sorted by proximity. There’s one little issue worth mentioning though – it’s all in Chinese. But don’t let this scare you even if your Mandarin isn’t so hot. You can still search with well-known names and brands (like ‘Sephora’ as in the picture below) and just by testing it out and clicking around you can gather plenty of info without actually reading one single character (like clicking on the address which takes you to an interactive map). And when you’re feeling like experimenting more (aka. when you’re desperate), start out with using Pleco for translating, then copy-paste the characters into Dianping (like I did to find my shoe repair guy). Check out the places close to you with the best ratings and enjoy that awesome feeling of cultural-barrier-breaking accomplishment when you finally find what you’re looking for.

The best apps for Shanghai

5. Youku and iQiYi
I’m still mourning the fact that I now have very limited access to streaming HBO, Netflix and YouTube, but luckily Youku and iQiYi offer some comfort. These two Chinese apps have quite a good selection of international movies and TV series, and streaming is smooth as silk as they are hosted by local servers. The interface is fully in Chinese (most movies’ and TV series’ titles included), but try it out and click around and you’ll eventually find the section for international entertainment. Start by looking for 电视剧 (TV shows) or 电影 (Movies) in the top menu, and follow by looking for 美国 / 美剧(USA) or 英国 / 英剧 (GB).

The best apps for Shanghai

Other apps worth mentioning are definitely Smart Shanghai and Explore Shanghai Metro Map. SmartShanghai has a great directory, plus articles and tips on what to do and where to go every week. Explore Shanghai Metro Map is an app for figuring out the metro system, which you’ll need it sooner or later, trust me. And of course there are the real lifesavers, the VPN apps. Express VPN and Astrill are the top paid ones, and then we have Betternet that works as a pretty good free back-up.

There’s also an app on my list that I recently downloaded but haven’t had a chance to try yet: BottlesXO. BottlesXO offer quality imported wines for reasonable prices – and here comes the best part – with home delivery within an hour. How brilliant is that! And of course whites and roses come properly chilled. So no need to panic when you’re having a party but running out of wine, just get BottlesXO to the rescue! Perfect.

Got any good tips on apps for Shanghai? Please share in the comments! :)

Apartment hunting in Shanghai

Robert and I have finally moved and settled in to our new apartment, woohoo! It feels pretty damn good to hang out in our own home after 3 months of hotel living. But believe me, the road getting here was not easy. Turns out that apartment hunting in Shanghai is a pretty huge pain in the butt. Here’s my take on the whole process:

Lowering expectations
Robert and I lived in Beijing a few years ago, and we absolutely loved our home back there. We had the best location, new building, bright modern apartment, 30th floor and the most spectacular view. It was just perfect. So when we came to Shanghai, the part of China that’s much more modern and international with higher standards, we obviously had even higher expectations. With a decent housing budget in our back pocket we assumed that apartment hunting would be like cherry picking, mainly made difficult by having to choose the best out of endless amazing options. Well, that wasn’t quite the case.

We were hoping to find a nice, modern, bright 2-3 bedroom apartment with a great, central location, but we quickly learned that this was a difficult equation even for a generous budget. If we wanted the location, we would have to compromise significantly in size and quality. And yes, we wanted the location, that was definitely a priority.

The Former French Concession around Huaihai Lu/IAPM Mall was at the top of our list, but we we’re also considering the Xintiandi area. Both are very popular and sought after both by expats and locals, which means prices are crazy and you don’t get too much for your money. But what surprised me most was how run down many of the apartment buildings were, both inside and out. We were mainly looking at newer, 5-20 year old high-rises and compounds (not lane-houses), but even they looked old and tired. If we wanted sparkly and new, it would have to be in another area. We decided to be open and flexible on the degree of fanciness and prioritise finding a place in the part of the city that we wanted to be in. Good move, because in the end we eventually found something not at all too shabby!

Getting priorities straight
Unless you have a gigantic housing budget, be prepared to compromise on your requirements. Robert and I went in to this having the longest list of wishes (rooftop pool included), but got a harsh push back to earth as soon as we were presented with our actual options. We had to completely reset our thinking and start over with prioritising as clearly as possible what we absolutely didn’t want to live without, and what we could be flexible on. Our top requirements ended up being location, functionality and a fresh, modern feel to the apartment. We also moved here with all of our stuff, so a big enough non-furnished flat with some extra storage space was pretty important. Most expats move in to fully furnished apartments, but as Robert and I don’t have a defined home to return to after the assignment, bringing everything with us, including furniture, was the best option.

The agent
I’m sure it’s possible to find an apartment and make a lease contract all by oneself here in Shanghai, but I think most of us expats are definitely better off with an agent. Negotiating terms with the language barriers and cultural differences, ugh. And even finding properties to visit in the first place… Better leave it to the pros. But finding a good foreigner-friendly agent can also be difficult as expats and locals often have very different standards and taste. The safest bet is usually asking for recommendations in the expat community, preferably by someone with a similar budget and situation as you.

Keep cool but act fast
Trust that the universe has your back and you’ll eventually find the right home for you. That’s so easy to say now that I’m sitting here in my awesome new living room writing this, but I can tell you there were quite a few desperate moments before we got here. If we hadn’t found this place, we probably would have ended up with the runner up apartment that featured a very shady hot-tub in the middle of the master bedroom, and an insanely colourful living room floor that put a knot in my stomach. If home-search in Shanghai is in your near future, be prepared that the process will take time and you might not find exactly what you’re looking for. Be patient and keep an open mind. And when you see something that has the right vibe, act fast because demand is huge! If you are in Shanghai (or wherever) as an expat for a limited time, embrace the fact that you can try something fun and different (like a hot-tub in the bedroom). This is only temporary and if you end up hating it, at least you’ll know what you DON’T want for your next home. It’s all about silver linings. :)

So what kind of apartment did we find, where have we moved in to? We ended up getting super lucky and finding a beautiful 3 bedroom flat in an excellent location on Changle Lu in the heart of the Former French Concession. The building is a bit run down and doesn’t look too impressive from the outside, but the apartment itself has just undergone renovation and everything inside is brand spanking new. Even our storage problem is solved as we pretty much turned one of the bedrooms into a huge closet. Yay!

I’ll post more pictures once the place is more decorated, but for now I’ll leave you with these snaps from the apartment viewing and moving day.

Shanghai expat blog

Shanghai expat blog

Shanghai expat blog

Shanghai expat blog

Shanghai expat blog

Don’t forget to follow me on social media :)
Facebook: @shanghaista
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A visit to the DMZ in South Korea

Hello dear friends, I’m back from radio silence! It’s been a bit hectic for the last couple of weeks, especially since we’re in the middle of finally moving in to our new apartment, yay! We also went on a quick two and a half day trip to Seoul last week. Robert had to go for business and luckily I was able to tag along, and we even had a full day together for some touristy stuff. This was my second time in Seoul so I didn’t plan too many activities for myself. I was really looking forward to just walk around and feel the vibe of the city, and hang out with my lovely Korean girlfriends who I met during my summer Chinese course at Jiao Tong University.

But as mentioned, Robert and I had a day to do something interesting and different. We were discussing and researching quite a bit whether or not it would be worth to visit the Demilitarised Zone, or the DMZ, which is the neutral area between the South and North Korean borders. It’s pretty crazy how close North Korea is to Seoul. You really don’t think about it (at least as a visitor) when spending time in a super modern and international city like Seoul. But there it is, only an hour away by car.

Some TripAdvisor reviews claimed that the DMZ is a huge disappointment and visiting is a waste of time, others were extremely positive describing the place as an absolute must-see. We kept going back and forth, but when we thought about the fact that we would actually be able to look in to North Korea, this extreme, controversial country that is so mysterious and closed, we just knew we had to book the tour. And I’m so glad we did.

The negative reviews were right in the sense that there really wasn’t that much to see, but the super bizarre atmosphere of the place definitely made up for it. The tour took us to three areas in the DMZ: a secret tunnel that the North Koreans built to invade South Korea, a modern train station that has a track to Pyeongyang but is currently not in use, and an observatory from where you can look over the DMZ and in to North Korea. Out of the three, the observatory was by far the most exciting. You could only see fields, mountains and the so called propaganda village (an attempt by North Koreans to convince outsiders of how nice and prosperous their country is), but it was easy to spot small details immediately giving away that something just isn’t right on the other side. For example, there are barely any trees left on the North Korean side, yet the DMZ and the South Korean side is filled with them. Why? Most trees have been cut down for heating and light due to the lack of electricity.

In addition to the unique, almost freaky vibe, our tour was made very good by our tour guide, Hana. She covered a lot of super interesting Korean history and gave us great insight on how everyday life is when North Korea is your neighbour. Very fascinating stuff.

All in all I’m extremely happy that we went on the tour and I would absolutely recommend it to others. But I can also understand that someone who isn’t very interested in the topic might find the place boring and disappointing. We booked with Seoul City Tour, which came recommended on TripAdvisor. They definitely get a 5 star recommendation from me too.

Photography workshop with Thierry and Amey

Do you have an awesome camera but not sure how to get the most out of it? Well, I do. I’ve been getting more and more interested in photography in the past year, but using more complex camera settings is still pretty foreign to me. So when I heard about a photography workshop taught by Thierry Coulon, a well-known Shanghai street photographer, I just had to sign up. And I’m super glad I did – the workshop was exactly what I was looking for. The focus was to:

  • Learn how to use manual settings on your camera.
  • Understand the basics of what actually makes an image appealing.
  • Introduction to image editing with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

A few months ago I bought a new camera which I absolutely love, a Canon PowerShot G5X. It’s a great versatile camera that fits my needs perfectly, but I mostly end up using it in Automatic-mode. That means that the camera automatically adjusts it’s settings each time I snap a picture. Nothing wrong with that, especially with a good camera, but I would still like to understand more and be able to experiment, and also have manual control in situations where the camera makes the wrong call on automatic settings. This workshop was such a good start to just exactly that.

This weekend me and 3 other eager future photography-superstars attended the workshop run by Thierry Coulon and Amey Khan – two really great guys with plenty of experience in the field. I learned a lot, almost too much, kind of wishing that the workshop would be split into two or three separate days in order to have enough time to cover and process all the information, plus practice all the new cool tricks and techniques. Luckily Thierry and Amey mentioned that they might set up follow-up workshops soon, so fingers crossed for that!

In the workshop we covered the basics of a camera’s manual settings and options. I now start to have an understanding of things like ISO and aperture, which previously were familiar words but I had no idea what they actually meant. So pretty technical stuff, but very interesting and crucial to understand if you want to develop as a photographer. We also touched on composition, i.e. what actually makes an image appealing to the human eye. This was such an interesting topic, and definitely something that I hope to learn a lot more of.

And then there was Lightroom. Ohh the magical Lightroom. Lightroom is a digital photography software that’s great for editing images. We didn’t have time to go too much into it, but enough to get the basics and the fact that this is an application where I could (and probably will) easily spend hours and hours exploring and experimenting. Just check out the picture below. My original image on the left is partially under-exposed with light, making the little girl and her mom appear too dark. But with the magic of Lightroom I was able to balance the light, making the little girl brighter without further brightening up the background on the left. And I was able to do this without exaggerating effects that might make the image look unnatural. Very cool!

Shanghai expat photography class workshop

Are you like me and have an interest in photography but not much experience? Do you want to learn about stuff like exposure and manual control but don’t know where to start? Did you try YouTube but got overwhelmed by the enormous amount of tutorials? Do you simply want to capture better images? If yes, then I definitely recommend attending a photography workshop wherever you are in the world. At least for me this was such an inspiration and a great learning experience. All I want to do now is run around with my camera and snap away!

If you are in Shanghai, you can’t go wrong with Thierry’s and Amey’s workshops. Let’s hope that they’ll be doing new ones soon!

Shanghai Expat Blog Photography class workshop

Shanghai Expat Blog Photography Workshop Class

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @shanghaistablog for more pictures!

The perfect weekend

Wow, what a weekend! Blue skies and beautiful summer in Shanghai. Plus it was my birthday, wohoo! Robert scored points big time and organized a bunch of b-day surprises for me, which rounded up to be one of the best weekends in town so far. In need of tips for a good night out? Keep on reading or contact Robert directly :) 

Drinks at Flair Rooftop Bar
Rooftops on warm summer nights are one of my favorite things ever. Robert kicked off Saturday night in style by taking me up to Flair, Ritz-Carlton’s swanky rooftop bar on the 58th floor in downtown Pudong. We had an amazing table and watched the sunset with a breathtaking view of the Pearl Tower, the river and Puxi. Things got even better when Hello Kitty and a bunch of our friends showed up to celebrate with us. It was perfect!

flair rooftop shanghai expat blog

flair rooftop ritz carlton shanghai expat blog

flair rooftop ritz carlton shanghai expat blog

Dinner at Tepito
I looove Mexican food. If I had to choose only one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would be a tough battle between Japanese and Mexican. (And I’m talking real Mexican, not Tex-Mex. Big difference!) Anyway, after some lovely drinks over in Pudong, the whole crew headed back over the river to Tepito in the Former French Concession, a new Mexican restaurant in the corner of Fumin Lu and Changle Lu. We had ceviche, tacos and margaritas, all of which were super tasty and fresh (the ceviche was amazing!). I didn’t manage to take too many pictures from our dinner (my attention was purely on eating), but I did get a snap of the leftovers of my birthday cake. Looks like a blob-monster, but it was delicious!

tepito shanghai expat blog

Saturday night continued around the corner at the popular club Le Baron. We keep ending up at Le Baron on most nights out, even if we swear every time that this will be the last. It was too much fun like always, which led to a lovely, yet slightly slow Sunday.

shanghai expat blog

Spa deluxe at Flare
There are spas, and then there is Flare. Oh what a place. Robert treated me to a Sunday evening of pampering at the 41st floor super-spa of the Pudong Four Seasons. It’s the same spa that James Bond hangs out at in Skyfall, so obviously it’s gotta be good! We had massage treatments in one of the beautiful spa suites, and went on to get even more relaxed at the gorgeous infinity pool and the saunas. The view and facilities are just spectacular. This place should have totally been on my bucket-list, it’s that good!

four seasons shanghai expat blog

four seasons shanghai expat blog

four seasons spa shanghai expat blog

four seasons spa shanghai expat blog

Thank you friends for an awesome birthday weekend. And an even bigger thank you to Robert, you made it magical. What an amazing husband you are. <3

Have a good week guys, and remember to follow Shanghaista on social media!
Facebook: @shanghaista
Instagram: @shanghaistablog