Shanghai's Pudong Skyline at night, including the pink Oriental Pearl Tower

EY Travel Tips: Shanghai

1.  Get off Nanjing Lu.

One of the main drags through downtown Shanghai is Nanjing Lu. It’s a crowded pedestrian-only area packed with international stores and locals hawking their wares (and potentially trying to scam you—see #3). It can be overwhelming, to say the least, but is also a good way to get from the People’s Park to the Bund. Once you’ve had your fill, duck off to a side street and discover the real Shanghai. Yes, it’s grittier and dirtier (as an aside, avoid wearing sandals or open-toed shoes while traveling in China, as your feet well get absolutely filthy) but you can get a feel for what it’s really like to live in Shanghai. Plus, the street food is to die for. As long as it’s cooked nice and hot in front of you, you shouldn’t have any problems eating the pan-fresh fried rice or steamed buns (called baozi. They’re delicious.) you’ll find on every corner. Unless you know Chinese, be prepared to point as it’s most likely no one will speak English. On that note, picking up a phrasebook with a good dictionary as an appendix before your trip will definitely be worth it, especially if you’re a picky or particular eater.

The delicious jien bing

2.  Get up early.

Shanghai is a city that stays up late but gets up early. Morning is another great time to pick up some delicious street food, especially my absolute favorite, the savory large pancakes called jien bing, which the vendor will roll up for you like a burrito. Be sure you don’t miss the early morning markets where you can find locals buying their fruit, vegetables and meat for the day. There will be at least one market in every neighborhood. One quick tip: If you want to pick up some fruit, make sure you can peel it or bring along a peeler to get rid of the skin. Chinese people abide by this rule too, so don’t worry about offending anyone—you’ll horrify them much more if you just bite into that apple, instead of peeling its skin off first.

3. Beware of scam artists.

It often goes like this: You, an excited foreigner in China, stop to snap a few photos along the Bund. Two young, friendly Chinese women come up to you and in pitch-perfect English, ask if they can take a picture with you. Flattered, you say okay. You strike up a conversation. They’re from an inland city, also visiting Shanghai and wow, you’re an American! They love America! And you love China? That’s great! Would you like to go to see a traditional Chinese tea ceremony as we talk about our cultures? Sounds interesting, you say, and away you all go. Then, twenty minutes later, after you’ve tried a few teas, you’re presented with a bill for hundreds upon hundreds of yuan. And that’s when it sets in: You’ve just been scammed. Unfortunately, this happens again and again in any major tourist area of Shanghai and Beijing, and goes virtually unchecked by the government, at least at this time. This means as a visitor, you have to be on your guard, which can make for some unfortunately suspicious interactions with locals. Don’t agree to go anywhere with anyone, no matter how charming they are or how great their English is. If you meet a local you get along with, I’d suggest you pick the place to eat or drink the first time.

Having said all that and as an aside: Shanghai’s violent crime rate is extremely low, especially given the Chinese government’s strict gun restriction laws. Still, it never hurts to use caution, particularly if you’re clearly a foreigner, traveling on your own, as you’ll stick out more in some parts of the city.

4. Be prepared for everything you’ve read on the city to be out-of-date.

Shanghai is constantly changing, and not just in small ways. Restaurants you’ll find reviewed online the year before may be gone. The subway line will suddenly have a half a dozen more stops. Or that museum you were looking forward to from your 2-year old guidebook will have long since closed. It’s part of the feel of the city, but it can get frustrating. One way to combat it is to check on Shanghai’s WikiTravel page before you go out of your way for anything but a major site, as users tend to keep the website up-to-date. Or, when you finally make it to the address of the bike rental shop and it’s now a chocolatier (to use a real-life example), shrug and head on in for a sample; it’s all part of China’s charm.

5. To get to and from the Pudong Airport, take the elevated train.

Called the Maglev, it’ll get you from the airport into the city in fewer than 12 minutes, and is a fun introduction to China’s growing fast train system. It’s a little steep, but worth the money. Yes, the subway’s Line 2 goes all the way out to Pudong these days and rings in at only 2 yuan per ride, but it’s at least a 90-minute journey, which no jet-lagged traveler wants to stomach. Cabs from Pudong into the city can cost over 200 yuan and will take even longer than the Maglev, even if you don’t hit traffic. If you’re concerned about finding your hotel once you’ve made it into the city, grab a cab at the end of line. Just make sure you have the name of your hotel written down in Chinese characters to give to the cab driver (also see #6).

6. Be sure to grab a business card from your hotel.

Any hotel, even smaller ones, should have a business card with their name and address on it both in English and Chinese. Make sure you have a couple of those handy to give to cab drivers. Since virtually no cabbies know English, also have your hotel write down any major locations you want to see that day on a cheat sheet. Otherwise, try out Shanghai’s excellent subway system, but be aware that it shuts down around midnight each night.

7. Check out the Shanghai History Museum.

Located in the base of the famous Oriental Pearl Tower, the Shanghai History Museum is a ton of fun. It’s full of dioramas and mannequins that explain Shanghai’s history from ancient times to now. Plus, the captions provide an interesting, albeit sometimes grammatically clunky, perspective about the Chinese views on western imperialism. Check hours as they may vary, especially on holidays, and lines can get long on weekends. I’d recommend shooting for evenings, as the crowds will thin out after about 6 pm. Plus then you can see the pink Pearl Tower lit up from below as you exit the museum that evening.

Shanghai's Pudong Skyline at night, including the pink Oriental Pearl Tower

8. Set aside at least a few days for brief overnight trips.

Suzhou's Garden of the Master of Nets

Hangzhou, with its gorgeous West Lake, and Suzhou, with its multiple UNESCO World Heritage Site traditional gardens, are not to be missed. Both are accessible by fast train from Shanghai’s main train station. While they’re easy to get to and not too far from Shanghai, I’d still recommend spending at least one night in each city to be able to get yourself oriented. Both cities suffer from a lack of foreign-accessible transportation (the bus systems are tricky at best to figure out if you don’t read Chinese characters, unlike Shanghai’s subway system). Also, during rush hour, cab drivers, who don’t work for tips in China, will avoid foreigners for an easier native speaker fare, so getting around either city can be a challenge. Still, once you’re sitting in one of the ancient pavilions in Suzhou’s Garden of the Master of Nets or enjoying a cup of longjing tea, the local specialty, at a West Lake teahouse in Hangzhou, you’ll be happy you made the trek.




Typical Countryside Residence

EY Travel Tips: MONGOLIA

Why visit Mongolia?

Well there’re just about a million reasons. For starters the world’s second largest landlocked country (Nearby Kazakhstan ranks first) houses geographic diversity that rivals pretty much anywhere. There’s the snow capped mountains and Kazakh eagle hunters to the west; the vast Gobi Desert and great Central Asian Steppe in the south; reindeer herders in the Siberian forests of the north and the grasslands populated by native gazelle or Oryx to the east. Writing this, I’m wondering why I’m not there right now.

A successful population of the critically endangered Wild Asian or Przewalski’s Horse resides in Mongolia, as does 2-million year old Lake Khovsgul, which itself holds half-a-percent of the world’s potable water. Famed naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews—sometimes credited as the proto-Indiana Jones—discovered dino eggs in the Gobi and Genghis Khan launched an empire that linked Beijing to Baghdad to Babenberg, Austria. With the end of Soviet communism and institution of a capitalist democracy, Mongolia experienced incredible socio-economic change over two decades, but step a mile outside the capital, Ulaanbaatar, and enter a world where the felt tents and herders carry traditions held by the Mongols for millennia.

Now that you’re convinced, here are five tips for your trip.

1.       Dress Warm. Nuh-uh. Warmer

Mark Twain famously said the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Frankly, Mark Twain is a liar and moreover he’s never even been to Mongolia. The average temperature in Ulaanbaatar is freezing, meaning when you ask what’s the temperature, at any time of year, it’s quite probably freezing. Ulaanbaatar’s the coldest capital in the world. That means Reykjavík, that city in a land which, from my understanding, is literally made of ice, is warmer. When visiting Mongolia in winter, prepare like you would for a polar expedition: long underwear, solid winter jacket, winter gloves and liners and probably some sort of heat trapping mask. Summer days are warm, but like San Francisco, it can get nippy, especially at night, so bring clothes for hot and cold.

2.       Sunscreen

In addition to being one of the planet’s colder nations, Mongolia paradoxically ranks as one of the sunniest spots in the world. It’s generally accepted that the country gets over 250 cloudless days per year without a cloud in the sky, more sun than Yuma, Arizona. So for those afternoons out on the wide-open steppe when it’s just you, the Great Blue Sky, and the really hot, bright sun, UV protection makes the awe-inspiringness of nature less blistery and painful. You can buy some in UB, but selection may be limited, so consider bringing some from home.

3.       Make room for mutton.

There’s a good chance you will be offered a lot of mutton in Mongolia. “What’s on the menu?” you ask. Well, there’s mutton. Mutton with flour. Mutton with onions. Mutton with a side of mutton. There can be more—Ulaanbaatar has everything from Korean to vegetarian restaurants to fried chicken joints—but outside of the city your options are generally limited, so you may want to accustom the palate to boiled sheep meat. Unusual dairy products like dry curdled sheep milk to fermented horse milk is everywhere, so bring lactase tablets if you have difficulty digesting milk and want to sample the traditional food. Fun fact: Mongolian BBQ is as Mongolian as McDonalds is Scottish. The closest thing to barbecue in Mongolia is Boodog: goat or marmot cooked by placing hot rocks in its stomach. Less fun fact: marmot meat can carry bubonic plague. I recommend the goat.

4.       Be kind to the Khan.

Mongolians have a deserved reputation for hospitality and generosity and while pick pocketing does occur in the capital, it’s generally a pretty safe place. Mongolia is a peaceful democracy that’s managed to maintain good relations with both North Korea and the United States, but the heart of the nation is still ruled with an iron fist by Genghis Khan. In the wrong company, a bad word about national hero Genghis Khan is considered a fighting word. Yes, by some estimates he killed 10 percent of the world’s population in his day, but he was also brilliantly innovative and remarkably tolerant of the freedom of his subjects given the time period. Mongolians view him as a Goergebraham Roosevelt, the embodiment of everything great about the nation, a one-man Mount Rushmore. After being barred from revering their national hero under Soviet rule, the adoration has returned in force. His name appears on everything, from the airport to hair salons, so the temptation to bring him up is everywhere. If you’re at a bar, keep it positive.

5.       A little Mongolian goes a long way.

Sain Bainuu (hello) and Bayarlaa (thank you) are good to know. Mongolians are very responsive, and sometimes amused, when foreigners speak to them in Mongolian. When you’ve been in town for a bit Zuun, Chigiree, Baruun Tiish, the words for left, straight and right turn respectively, can be very handy for getting around. Street names aren’t commonly used in the country, so directions are often given in a series of turns. For transportation, licensed taxis are rare (although word is this may be improving)  and while nearly every car in the capital is willing to serve as an unofficial cab, they may not know where you’re asking them to go.  Provided you know where you’re going, you can help them.


A world traveler hailing originally from the hills of California, William Kennedy currently resides in London, England.  His time spent living in Mongolia left many lasting impressions. 

“Did you know?

That the number of livestock in Mongolia is 20 times more than the country population? Number of livestock is 42 million and the population number is 2.9 million people.

That Ulaanbaatar is a True Nomad? The city changed its locations 29 times before settling in its present day location.”

For more tidbits visit the Official Tourism Website of Mongolia



Running in China

This story was a submission to’s first ever “Best Running Story in a Foreign Country Writing Contest” – April 2011. Our story’s author, EY Contributor, Martin Mudry, an avid traveler and runner, is currently filming a documentary in Kenya called “Where Dreams Don’t Fade.” You can follow his latest project on a special facebook page devoted to the movie.  Or check back here for more stories to come!

Carl had just arrived in China. Wade, Megan and I picked him up at the airport in Kunming, the city he’d be spending the next 4 months in for his study abroad. While Wade, Megan and I had been traveling around China together for a few weeks, Carl should have been tired, jet lagged, and ready for bed. So what did we do? Immediately upon returning to the hostel we made him take a shot of one of the strongest and foulest drinks known to man called Baijiu. At $.50 for the equivalent of 5 shots, it also must be one of the cheapest drinks available anywhere.

The rest of the first night was pretty tame. We walked around a bit past some empty stores, through the big square where our hostel was located and then went to bed. The next morning we all went out to breakfast together before bidding Wade and Megan goodbye, as they flew back up north to the city where they are both teaching.

Once they left, Carl had quite a bit on his plate. He had just arrived at altitude, (Kunming’s altitude is 1,800 meters ~6,500ft); he was with someone who has a dairy allergy but doesn’t speak any Chinese; he was adjusting to a 13 hour time difference from where he had just come; oh yeah, and this was his first time traveling outside of the United States, EVER!

So as a good friend, what did I do to ease the transition? Take it easy for a few days? No! Carl and I immediately headed out to the city outskirts and hiked into the nearby mountains where I had previously seen a few hotels. We hiked up to an even higher elevation at which point the real fun began- watching Carl barter for a room with people in Chinese. The problem was, aside from Carl not having practiced Chinese for a few months, he also had to speak to people who barely knew Mandarin- the only dialect he had been taught.

We checked out one place, which seemed nice, but the price was a bit high, so we decided to check out another knowing we could always come back and try to drive the price down more.

At the second place, the guy showed us rooms but opened each door by sliding open the room window first and then unlocking the door from the inside with his hand. But the price seemed right after a little negotiation, so we made the decision to stay and asked for the room key.

What? The guy didn’t seem to understand. “The key to the room” Carl said again in Chinese. He seemed very confused and reluctant, but took a key off a key chain that appeared to hold only the master keys. We went back to the room, where I took a closer look at the window- thinking: “Great, no lock, so the key is useless per his little trick to get in.”

As I debated whether we should leave our stuff in the room while we went for a run, I realized that there was a key to the bathroom and if we locked our stuff in there, chances were he wouldn’t be able to get past that second door.

So with our passports and cash secured behind one door with virtually no lock and behind another door as flimsy as balsa wood, we went out for a quick walk and then a run.

As we were leaving with our backpacks to explore the area, we ran into the guy who had given us the room and key. He asked us for the keys. Carl tried to tell him that we had it, but he kept asking for it. I, of course, didn’t know what he was saying, although it was pretty clear that he was motioning for the keys. Finally Carl told him for the 4th time that we were just going for a walk; that we would be coming back; and that we were taking the key but would give it back before we checked out.

On the run we went through small villages, down single track trails and came upon some kids. They appeared utterly terrified and I’m sure the youngest thought the foreigners were going to kill her and leave her dead in the forest. We tried to tell them it was OK and the older ones actually start to laugh, but one of the youngest continued to run in terror.

We ducked by some houses and got back out onto a main road. A few more times we took trails that came to dead ends. One looked nice but quickly ended at a small temple in the hillside. Another led us down a path toward a village but soon we were surrounded by huge German shepherds, which while chained, were barking furiously, giving us the clear message about which way to go (back the way we came). We wandered through more fields, before finally coming to a trail that led down a steep path and crossed a beautiful hill of tall grass.

It reminded me a lot of the hills on the coasts of Northern California, with little halftrack trails. Carl was out running in front when all of a sudden he slipped. The image flashed before me of Carl tripping and tumbling a hundred feet down the steep slope. Luckily he caught himself.

Feeling like my mother, I warned him: “Be careful Carl.” “I know” he said. A few minutes later, he tripped again, and then again. I felt at a loss, and could picture having to call his parents to tell them how he slid down a hill in rural china. Again, with a little luck, we found a way up and over and finally were on the path heading back to the hotel.

We planned to go out to eat, but after a shower Carl was exhausted and just wanted to call it an early night. I didn’t blame him. When Wade Megan and I first arrived at altitude, we took it really easy. With Carl, I’d had him hiking, running, and translating from day one and maybe the jet lag was finally catching up with him. I read for a bit then lay down as well and we both dozed off until 9:30 pm or so.

We were both awake and talking when we heard a car pull in and the doors slam. Then, all of a sudden, loud piano music. It sounded so real – could there be a piano somewhere??

Carl and I were like what the ??, until the background music started and people started singing karaoke in Chinese for the next few hours. The music randomly went from loud to unbearable at no discernable intervals.

The absurdity of the situation – high up above Kunming, on the border of mountains and farmland – people were blasting music and singing as if their sole goal was to break glass.

Hours later the music stopped. Then we heard footsteps coming downstairs to where our room was. Then there was someone at the door trying to get in. We tried to say hello, but then the window slid open. I quickly got up to turn on the light as Carl yelled “What do you want?? We’re in here” in Chinese. As I turned on the light, whoever was there left quickly and that was the last we heard of them.

The next morning, we got up early and caught the sunrise on the hill. It was completely quiet and we were the only people. It was a complete 180 from the day I had discovered the place with Wade and Megan.  That day it was New Years and there were hundreds of Chinese people in high heels, suits, and dress shoes, miraculously scrambling over the rocks and shouting to each other across the valleys. This time we were alone and the light was perfect.

We hiked around a little more before returning to our room to gather our stuff to leave. Our friend who was so worried about our keys and maybe was the one trying to come into our room the night prior was no where to be found.  We left the keys with his wife and headed out.

We had 20 miles to hike and many more memories to be had before the day was up.  It may have only been Carl’s first few days in China, but it was important that he learn the rules to successful travel- do it while you can, push yourself, and don’t forget to go for a run.




Joe Schubert in China

Kunming locals love to wryly say that the “mountains are high and the emperor is far away”, explaining the often devious and alternative history of their city.  Sure, some say our world is now flat, and that China is flat and better connected, meaning Kunming now submits (usually) to Beijing’s watch.  But, regardless of how flat Thomas Friedman thinks China is, the mountains and elevation have done a great job of keeping China’s pollution away from this six million person city in China’s Southwest.

Not facing the pollution that inhibits most running in Chinese cities, I spent 5 months running outside (and a mile high!) in Kunming.  The traffic, however, posed a problem that even the mountains couldn’t keep away.  I started my afternoon run how I did many in Kunming- slipping into the Moped lane.  True to congestion in China, the sidewalks are impossible to run on (and nearly so just to walk on).  Weaving around and with the slew of mopeds, I received the usual funny stares and laughs.

Then the run picked up.  A flashy black and neon green moped sped up next to me, and a young driver, cigarette dangling out of his mouth, gave me a wink.  I assumed my usual weaving.  He began weaving.  I picked up the pace, he picked it up more.  I dipped off onto a side street.  He slipped onto the side street. For twenty minutes we “raced” through Kunming’s busiest streets and quietest back alleys.  As our race ended, he asked me a few questions in Chinese/English (where are you from, etc.), gave me a cigarette, and continued on his drive.

And there I stood.  Realizing I was lost in Kunming and wearing only a pair of short shorts, and a singlet, I gazed down at my cigarette- my race medal? I stashed it behind my ear and decided to keep the run alive and slowly tried to find my way… and then I saw it.  A track.  … and a fence.  Deciding a fence shouldn’t keep me from such a unique treasure in China, I hopped onto the other side.  Ahhhh.  The relief and meditative peace of mind treasured by track runners soon took me over.  Twilight approached and I completed my first four, five, six laps.

And then, indiscernible Chinese yelling filled the air and I saw flashlights and a car on the other side of the fence.  No cherries and berries but I made out what seemed to be the figure of a Chinese police officer.  And so I ran.  Down the track.  Faster.  Over the fence.  And just kept running.  “Woah woah woah, I just ran from the police, the CHINESE police, the CHINESE AUTHORITARIAN  police, what if they catch me? I have no identification. They don’t still have re-education camps?  Right?” So I ran faster, and faster, dodging through alleys and side streets as much as possible.

Eventually my pace settled down.  I began to take note of my situation and pondered whether it was actually the police (or was it a security guard, or some old man who wanted to say hi?).  Regardless, I was really lost.  And it was dark.  And I just had short shorts, a singlet and that cigarette, somehow still tucked away behind my ear and hair.  And then it clicked.  “TAXI!!”  In nervous Chinese, I explained I had only one cigarette as fare and I was a lost foreigner and hey, my shorts don’t even reach my middle thighs.  For whatever reason, maybe out of amusement, the taxi driver agreed. Soon I was back in my old, decrepit Chinese dorm room, showering, eating fried veggie-noodles, and soaking in the best tempo workout of my life.

~ Joe~

Joe enjoys a hard earned meal after an incredible workout

SHOES WORN DURING THIS KUNMING RUN:  ASIC GEL 1160’s.    Runner\’s World on Asic Gel 1160\’s

SHOE OF CHOICE FOR WINNING CONTEST:  VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS MEN’S KSO TREK:  Think you might like to try them?  Then you need to find the perfect size…

Megan with Latte

The Perfect Temperature or: Cravings in a Foreign Land

When living in another country, there’s something about food that starts to get to me. I’ve always been one of those unfortunate people who gets cravings for certain foods, like appetite itches that have to be scratched. Once they are, I’m satiated and can move on to the next thing.  I’m ashamed to admit that on more than one occasion I’ve gone to get a burrito or a Dairy Queen Blizzard, ignoring a refrigerator full of post-holiday leftovers and spending Christmas money I should have saved, because I had to have it. I’ve ordered the same thing at restaurants over and over again just to make sure I don’t “waste a time” going there by trying something new—and risk not satisfying my hankering for fettuccine alfredo, say, or black bean soup. I make for an overall boring dining companion, I imagine, but I am a slave to my cravings, and it’s something I’ve attempted to come to terms with as I’ve grown up.

So, when I moved to China last fall to start a teaching contract at a college in Changzhou, a city outside Shanghai, I was excited to try all sorts of new foods, but also a bit wary. Not only am I a craving-driven eater, I’m also a fairly picky eater, especially when it comes to textures. Things can be too dry, too grainy, too crumbly, too gooey, too whatever, and I’m done—the dish is wrecked. I haven’t met too many people who seem to care about the texture of food as much as I do, so it’s with some reservation that I admit this next part. The food in China, when I first arrived here, was so overwhelmingly wet, so mushy and oozy, compared to what I was used to back in the U.S., that I found it very difficult finding things to eat. I longed for something more “edible,” under my own terms, like a taco or a piece of pizza or a fresh salad.

The cravings multiplied as the weeks went by. My initial pull for Mexican food and pizza was paired with an overpowering need for cereal—any cereal!— and cake—any cake!—divided by an incessant desire for brownies, chocolate bars, chocolate malts, chocolate chocolate chocolate…none of it readily available in Changzhou. I was doomed. I found that food began to consume (pun intended) nearly all my thoughts. I started looking at cooking  websites  online and felt my mouth watering over various dishes that I didn’t have the ingredients to recreate.

Nor the kitchen, for that matter. It’s worth noting that there are no ovens in China, something I wasn’t aware of when I moved here (had I known…well…). The Chinese simply don’t cook with ovens and, as far as I know, never have. All of their food is fried or steamed. In fact, Mandarin Chinese has at least five different words for “to fry” that differentiate between things like the amount of oil you use in the wok and whether or not you’re frying things in sauce. A few gas burners and maybe a microwave is all anyone seems to have in their kitchens here. Oh, and a rice cooker. Always a rice cooker. But never an oven. And therefore no chance for me to satisfy my craving for anything with yeast and sugar in my own apartment.

I knew I had to find other things to eat, beyond fried rice, steamed vegetables and too many containers of yogurt, or suffer the consequences of a crazed food craver. Enter Café 85°C.

Café 85°C is fondly known as “the Starbucks of Taiwan” but I have never seen baked goods like these at any Starbucks I’ve ever wandered into. The place is so named for their self-proclaimed “perfect temperature to serve coffee” (85° Celsius is 185° Fahrenheit, for those Americans in the group who don’t feel like Googling the conversion). The place is one-third coffee shop, and two-thirds bakery. Oh, the bakery.

There are actually many bakeries in China: like cupcake shops in New York, they’re something of a fad here. Low-grade sweetshops peddling Little Debbie-like wares can be found in various places around Changzhou. These bakeries all have cute English names like “Happiness” and “Christine” and “Bread Talk.” The only problem is their baked goods generally taste like greasy Twinkies, hardly worth the calories. Their bread is even worse, dry and ashy, like sawdust was baked into the loaf.  I had all but given up hope on having a delicious baked good here in the Middle Kingdom when my boyfriend and I made our first trip to Shanghai.

We had a week off for China’s National Day in early October, and we’d decided to take the high-speed train from Changzhou into Shanghai, a hair over an hour down the tracks, to explore the city for a few days.

Our first afternoon there, after we’d wandered through the People’s Park in downtown Shanghai for a few hours, we decided we needed an afternoon pick-me-up. I flipped open my guidebook and found a branch of 85°C on the map, only a few blocks from us. I read the description and a few choice words: “inexpensive but high-quality coffee” and, more importantly, “pastries,” caught my eye. Sold! We walked there immediately.

Let’s just start by saying ambiance probably isn’t the place’s strong suit—this isn’t the sort of café to while away an afternoon contemplating Hemingway. While each branch of the café is very clean and brightly lit, with white walls and lightwood throughout, it’s hard to see anything but people and pastries. The place is always packed and noisy, with people hip checking each other out of the way for the latest freshly baked roll.  And these rolls are worth a bit of physical contact. They’re puffy clouds of floury confection bigger than both of your fists, with names like “Mocha Bread” and “French Dark Chocolate Roll.” They’re put out onto shelves in the bakery right from the oven by workers in red-and-white paper hats and vanish into bags before they can fully cool.

In another area are the drinks. There are a number of options, teas, coffee and the like, but you really only need to know one: the Sea Salt Latte. It’s a fairly simple equation: a sweet, creamy latte sprinkled with salt on top. Think a sea salt caramel, but drinkable. Reader, I’m in love, and his name is Sea Salt Latte. They’re unreal.

Near the drinks, and not to be ignored, is a large display case with higher end sweets like tiramisu and cheesecake and something called a dark chocolate cherry bomb. I tend to ogle that gorgeous display case without purchasing anything, as delicious at they look, probably because I’m usually a third of the way through my roll by that point, as I stand in line waiting for my coffee to come up at the window.

But going back to Shanghai and that first trip to 85°C. The details, like which rolls we picked and what exactly we drank, have started to fade a bit. Who can say why the mind decides to remember certain things and not others when one gets that first glimpse of beauty and purity in a world of chaos? I do know we fought our way through the crowds to the rolls and pastries in their cases, pulled two out with a pair of tongs, and eventually made it up to the cash register to pay. I know by the time we found a free table in the crowded cafe, I was feeling pretty fried, and so when I bit into that first pastry, perhaps I didn’t fully realize how much my life had changed. But changed it had.

Suddenly, bread was back in the equation. And sugar. Real, honest-to-goodness sugary treats. Were. Back. My luck was on the rise!

Now, eating at that café (there’s a tiny branch in Changzhou) is like creating cravings I never knew I had. Each time I swing open the door and dive into the crowd, elbowing my way toward my favorite rolls, I feel better. This has been a hard year, living so far from home, and while biting into a mocha roll and sipping a sea salt latte doesn’t make me feel closer to my home in the states, it makes it feel like this place, where I don’t speak the language and don’t know more than a handful of people, could, just maybe, be one version of home for me.

To say I live solely on Café 85°C’s rolls and coffee here in China would be something of an exaggeration. I am now the proud eater of all sorts of Chinese food, and have found many dishes that satisfy both my hunger and my appetite, which (as you may be able to tell by now) can be a tricky combination at times.  But do I go back there more often than I probably should? From this sugar addict to you, dear reader, I’ll admit in my most jittery and buzzed voice, that yes, yes, I do.



Reaching New Heights writer Martin is off on an adventure in China!  He’s traveling around the country on foot and via trains, boats, and buses to find the best views.  Here he’s seen climbing his way to the top of Green Lotus Peak overlooking Yangshuo!   So this is what it’s like on top of the world!

For more fun pictures of Martin’s adventures check out’s facebook page

Or check back here – we’ll be sure to update again soon.