So since this is supposed to be my holiday extravaganza week I thought I'd do Monday Links a little differently. Instead of bookish/funny/kitsch links, I'm going to link to a bunch of must-see places around China that aren't super bolded in your Lonely Planet and some sneaky hints for would-be travellers.
*If you find yourself in Shanghai make sure you visit the Propaganda Poster Art Centre. It's really hard to find since it's a basement in an apartment-style building, but once you find it (keep trying, it took me three walk bys!!) you'll be glad you did. For 20RMB (approx $3 AUD) you gain entry into a wonderful little gallery space which is floor to ceiling authentic posters from the Shanghai Ladies (1920s) to the Cultural Revolution (1960s) to modern art which samples the iconic Chinese propaganda style. After you finish you can head next door to the gift shop to buy postcards of the most outrageous, creative and downright bizarre posters or purchase a piece of propaganda art history for yourself.
*For about the price of a basic Australian hotel, you can stay in some of the nicest hotels in Shanghai. But if you'd rather save your money for the markets or food stalls, just take a trip up to the restaurants and bars in many of these hotels. The best one to visit? The Radisson. Situated right in the heart of Shanghai, it has an amazing view which can be photographed from the rotating restaurant or viewed from the bar (where the cocktails are pretty reasonably priced too!).
*Tianzifang is a wonderful restaurant and shopping maze of streets in Shanghai. Here you can find some of the more unique and kitsch gifts for friends, unbelievably coffee shops, and the wonderfully unbelievable 'More than Toilet', a bathroom themed restaurant that simply must be visited, no excuses!
*Hotels and hostels are not in short supply in Hong Kong or Mainland China, but it can be nerve-racking picking one considering how many scams/dodgy deals exist (HK especially). So here are the two hostels I stayed in on my trip. In Hong Kong I spent my time at the Hop Inn (cheap in $AUD but mid-range in $HKD) which was centrally located in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. We were directly above the bustling shopping streets, and walking distance from the ferries, museums and subway stations. Each room is individually designed by an artist and clean, comfortable and spacious. In Beijing I stayed at the Heyuan International Youth Hostel and it was relatively well located. There wasn't too much in walking distance, but it was right by a metro station, and 5-10 minutes by train to all the big city attractions. It was very cheap ($13AUD for a night in a female dorm) and had a bar, restaurant and hang-out area attached. The best bit though is the traditional courtyard part, so pretty (check out my Beijing photos later this week).
*Nanluogu Xiang is a fantastic little hutong (narrow street) in Beijing chock full of food stalls, clothes stores and souvenir shops. It's a must visit, and would best be appreciated while visiting the other nearby hutong around the Drum tower. There are a few of the streets right on the canal, and at night the bars/restaurants have gorgeous little rooftop areas you can sit and have a quick drink or meal while looking on over the lights, people and water.
*Scams. Unfortunately these are in high supply all over China. Some of these I encountered myself, while others I was simply told about by my sister and her housemates.
-If you're in People's Square, the Pedestrian Street or YuYuen Gardens in Shanghai or around Tiananmen Square or The Forbidden City in Beijing be wary of young people who claim to be students/learning English/tourists to the area themselves. They might just start up a convo asking where you're from, or by asking you to take photos of them, but their informative conversation (actually a gold mine, don't fob them off because they'll give a few good ideas of nearby must-sees) soon veers into a suggestion to either grab a coffee/drink or to visit a tea ceremony/art exhibit together. Basically their endgame is to get you to visit the store they're hired from so you can pay exorbitant prices for art or tea ceremonies. The tea ceremonies are quite lovely, so if you do find yourself dragged alone try and haggle them down to 10RMB tea (which might still be too expensive to be honest) or just leave.
-The Great Wall brings out a huge amount of scams, and it isn't as simple as booking a tour to avoid them. Many "tours" (even the ones sold through hostels and hotels) take you to the wall, to lunch and the Ming tombs...but they detour through shopping centres or temples where they make it seem like buying is the only option. These tours will often be very expensive and the time on the wall and at the tombs will be very short in contrast with how long you spend shopping. If you book a tour just be sure to ask the booker exactly where you will be taken and what is included as part of the tour.
-If you decide to forgo the tour and find your own way their be wary of men dressed in the bus uniforms coming on and leading you off the bus and into their (very expensive) mini-van. I don't know if this is common in all areas or just Mutianyu. It will cost about 100RMB each way, so if you have a group then it works out pretty cheap, especially considering the driver will wait for you at the top of the wall and drop you straight off at the bus station, but beware nonetheless.
-Haggling, just a quick note. If you're a Westerner you can almost be sure you'll always pay too much, but don't be scared to haggle. Start at half the asking price, and be firm and don't let them push the sale through if you aren't sure you want it. If they don't go cheap enough and you walk away and they don't call out after you, then you went too low. Also, a good yardstick on whether to haggle is that if there are prices in the store, haggling probably isn't encouraged, but if there are no signs, go for gold!