More than 500 Buckeyes live and work in China’s largest city, home to one of three Ohio State Global Gateways. Here are some of their hometown finds, from secret cocktail lounges to soup dumplings.
From a distance — say the 7,000-some miles to Columbus — Shanghai might seem a complicated city to navigate, a challenge to unearth the local knowledge, much like Shaun Gu ’16 describes the quest to get a drink at Speak Low, one of his favorite hidden bars. “The first floor is a shop of bartender tools,” he says. “Then you have to discover the secret door to go upstairs and find the bar. Be sure to reach the third floor, solve the puzzle and order the cocktail in the pineapple.”
Once you’re here in this city, where Ohio State established a Global Gateway in 2010, the reward is sweet. And if you arrive as a Buckeye, you speak a common language. You’re soon a regular. You’re among a community of more than 500 alumni, including more than 100 expats, who call the biggest city in China home. And like them, you can call up a good dozen fellow grads to watch the game together on a Sunday morning.
“I took a history of China course at Ohio State and was always interested in learning about the country,” says Michael Lee ’06, who grew up near Akron. “But I never considered living here because I thought the culture gap would be too large. After my first trip to China in 2013, I realized it’s very easy to live in Shanghai as a foreigner. Every day is an adventure, but all the Western items I love are easily accessible.” Among these he counts good coffee, peanut butter and friends in the “newly formed and full-of-enthusiasm” Shanghai alumni club.
“There’s a distinct common thread of experiences that we all share, regardless of when we graduated,” Lee says. “It’s a wonderful way to keep a community strong.”
Phoebe You ’09 M joins club members every month or so to meet up with fellow Buckeyes and appreciates “the diversity of places and events they pick,” from museum visits to holiday dinners to trips to destinations she has always wanted to visit, such as exotic Xinjiang in the northwest.
“Trying the local food together with Ohio State friends is a fun first experience of the culture,” she says. And even in a faraway land, she adds, “Having a large alumni group makes me feel at home. When we watch the game together, it feels like being back on campus.”
When Yongzhe Zong ’14, who was born and raised in Shanghai, would return from the States every summer during college, “the city surprised me every time,” he says. “Technology evolves at an extremely fast rate here. I no longer bring my wallet anywhere, but still manage to take the buses and the metro, go dining and shopping, thanks to mobile payment everywhere in Shanghai.” One constant in all the advances has been the alumni club, which he joined “immediately” when he moved back to Shanghai for good late last year. “We have extraordinary alumni services here, thanks to the Ohio State China Gateway office and our local alumni club.” He was soon given the official-not-official title of “game-watch coordinator” during football season. “The party atmosphere was wonderful,” he says. “We even had some Buckeyes who traveled from Ohio to join us!”
Such spirit abounds — and the Columbus cheering section thrives — in this center for cultural and financial leaders, a landscape ripe for exploration. “This is an energetic city full of newness and excitement every day,” says Hilary You ’15 SMBUS. “It’s a great place to find great food and meet great new people.”
Energy is Michael Lee’s business (he co-founded a renewable energy company), and he seconds that assessment of the city. “I often take bullet trains that travel 200 mph for less than what a ride costs between the Ohio State campus and downtown Columbus. Businesses are remodeled in 24 hours, skyscrapers are built in a few months,” he says. “In Shanghai, I feel like I live in the future!”
To make that future perfect for Buckeyes who plan to visit the city — with its hidden cocktail lounges and maze of alleyways (Lee recommends getting lost in these “longtangs”) — local alumni present some of their favorite spots in Shanghai.
Let Ohio State alumni living in Shanghai give you some priceless tips for eating, drinking and soaking up culture in China’s largest city.
People can’t have a conversation about Shanghai without having a conversation about its food, starting with xiaolongbao, the local celebrity soup dumplings, a “must try,” according to Phoebe You, who also is a fan of spicy Yunnan cuisine and recommends it at Lost Heaven, a restaurant with a nice rooftop bar and stunning views on the Bund waterfront area. If you ask Yvonne Yang ’14, the place for world-famous soup dumplings with crab is a small restaurant on Huanghe Road called Jiajia TangBao. “It’s even difficult for us locals to eat there during lunch hour since there is always a long line,” she says. Yongzhe Zong recommends Yuan Yuan and Jardin De Jade, with locations around the city, for “authentic Shanghai cuisine.” For the traditional rice bun stuffed with crab legs, pork or vegetables, Hilary You goes to Nanxiang Rice; for less traditional Shanghainese cravings (“hand-crafted beer and deep-fried chicken wings on the patio while listening to live music”), she suggests Xintiandi. Michael Lee is wild about the street food (“If there’s a line, it is probably quite delicious”) and the full range of Chinese offerings: “noodles in the north to the rice dishes of the south, lamb from the northwest, hot pot and tropical dishes of the southwest.”
“Shanghai is the most amazing and fantastic city in China,” says Shaun Gu, “especially for the young,” who favor his secret kind of cocktail bar. In addition to the elusive Speak Low, Gu says it’s well worth finding your way to the large whiskey collection from Scotland, Japan and the States at the tiny Oji, owned and operated by Japanese cocktail master Naoji Oji. (It’s best to reserve your spot a week ahead, he says.) And Shrine, the Bunker by FLASK is another “cool place you may want to pay a visit.”
The Yudeyao Art Museum, says Hilary You, “coordinates with young and fashionable artists to present contemporary exhibitions.” The most recent one she saw was by pop artist KAWS. For a unique perspective on the city, Phoebe Yu suggests the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center, with its collection of posters from 1949 to 1979. (“It provides a very interesting angle to learn about the history and compare with the modern Shanghai you will see.”)