Exploring Shanghai: One Brewery at a Time

Exploring Shanghai: One Brewery at a Time

“Time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived.”

– Captain Juan-Luc Picard, Star Trek: Generations

During the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Shanghai, China teaching US History for the Massachusetts Educational Institute. I immediately considered this a once in a lifetime experience and eagerly accepted. As someone who had never been to that part of the world or even considered the possibility of ever setting foot in Asia, this seemed a daunting journey. My anxiety grew higher because I would be traveling without my wife, who was still working in Boston and did not know anyone else who had signed up to teach.

Travel is fantastic, but being with someone makes it stand out, at least for me. Now I am not criticizing those that travel alone, actually the opposite. I am envious of the lone traveler. Their spirit, confidence, and resolve must be admired and applauded. But I had never traveled by myself like this, and the length of my stay in China would be 38 days. That’s a long time to be away from my wife, our dog Mr. Tuttles, and journeying to a place whose language I do not speak and whose culture I did not want to offend.

Even so, the excitement of this type of travel was enough for me to leap. In the months before my departure, I prepared, planned out excursions, researched places to eat, sites to see, and how to get around the city of Shanghai. I am not the first person to do this, so it was not hard to get information, but that did not remove my anxiety about leaving home for a month and doing all this alone. Luckily, when the time came to go, I boarded my flight in Boston. After an emotional goodbye with my wife, the excitement of what was to come took over. I was on my way to China.

The month that I spent in Shanghai was incredible. I met new people, made new friends, saw sites all over Shanghai and Beijing, and the history, culture, and food. One of my favorite places to eat was Noodlista, which was very close to where I stayed and worked. After a long day, I just wanted a nice meal with a friendly atmosphere, and Noodlista never disappointed.

It did not take long to learn that I was incredibly capable of being in this foreign land, alone, and away from the person I love most. I could adapt and learn to live in the moment. As Ferris Bueller once famously said, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I recognized that this was a rare opportunity to see the world, and I was not going to miss it. Yes, even after traveling to so many places and, at one point, moving to Hawaii without ever having been there, to follow my dream of attaining a Ph.D., I still doubted myself. It was alone in a hotel in China, after having suffered a panic attack and spending several hours on the phone with my wife, that I learned to let go. To let go of the hang-ups and the fears and live.

So, I allowed myself to cherish this time. I saw and did as much as I could when I was not teaching my three classes. The Jing’an & Longhua Temple and gorgeous Yu Garden; the skyscrapers in Pudong like Shanghai Tower and the Oriental Pearl; the water city of Zhujiajiao, the Bund, and French Concession District; the Shanghai Museum, the People’s Park, and the memorials; the food, the beer, and the entertainment. There was my trip to Beijing on the bullet train and my tour of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall of China. Lastly, there was surprising my wife at the airport as she traveled to see me and spend a week. Together we cherished the moment.

From this point forward, I want to discuss the entertainment and those I worked alongside in China and joined me on my adventures. You see, I was lucky. As soon as I landed in Shanghai and met the other professors in the program, I knew I was in for an experience. In the program were individuals I would travel the sites with, go out to eat with, and yes even, organize a brewery tour with around Shanghai or the one night filled with karaoke. What an incredible group. As I said, we did so much together that I rarely felt that I was alone. We were in the same hotel, so we had breakfast together every morning, usually having a traditional Chinese breakfast of sticky buns, porridge, and dumplings. We worked closely every day, so we discussed our lives and our ambitions. We made plans for trips, dinners, and the needed nights out in the big city of Shanghai.

One of the unique and random entertainments were the breweries of Shanghai. I organized, on two occasions, beer tours to the local breweries closest to where we stayed. There was Liquid Landry, Shanghai Brewery, DAGA Brewpub, Hitachino Mansion Brewery, and Boxing Cat Brewery. As someone who enjoys a craft beer, I visited all these places and have a memory from each visit.

My first visit to Boxing Cat Brewery was by myself. Being alone, the host sat me at the same table as another solo brewery drinker, a doctor from Australia. Together we shared stories, laughed, and toasted to our travels. The beer was surprisingly good. I say surprisingly, not with ill feelings. I have visited over seventy breweries, including some of the best in New England, such as Trillium and Alchemist. So, I can be a beer snob. At Boxing Cat Brewery, I tried both an IPA and a wheat beer. They had a fantastic flavor and finish. The wheat beet was smooth and perfect for summer. The IPA did not have an overt hoppy flavor, which would have disappointed my brother-in-law Kyle and friend Chris, but I was pleased. My initial visit to Boxing Cat Brewery proved I was not going to be disappointed by the craft beer options in Shanghai. I continued going to Boxing Cat Brewery during my stay and each time was better than the last.

DAGA Brewpub was probably my favorite brewery in Shanghai. While Boxing Cat Brewery was a little more famous, DAGA had a large selection of IPA’s and wheat beers, their brew, and others from Shanghai and around China. DAGA also had great food options, three floors of space, multiple tap areas, and a roof deck to relax, drink, and eat the night away.

Located next to each other were Liquid Landry Brewing and Shanghai Brewery. Both of these breweries were great with a diverse selection of craft beers from cider to IPA and wheat & ale to stout. Shanghai Brewery was more of a restaurant atmosphere with a brewery. Still, Liquid Laundry was designed with a “wicked” fun environment with a much smaller craft beer menu than both DAGA and Shanghai but had both beers made in house and those from Boxing Cat Brewery. What they lacked in variety they made up for in the quality. I went to Liquid Laundry with my wife on one visit, who ordered a craft cocktail (she loved it), and in my second visit brought a few other professors from the teaching program who enjoyed a solid craft beer.

As you can see over the month that I was in Shanghai, I visited several breweries. Sometimes I visited DAGA or Boxing Cat Brewery alone to enjoy one beer or waited for my wife to visit, and we went together and tried some new and unique drinks. But, often, one or more of the other professors in the teaching program joined me. Matt, Mirari, Claire, or others, those who had an enjoyment for craft beer or cocktails, would join me on these beer quests. But it was during one of our last nights in China that we decided to do our “go big or go home” beer tour.

I had found out that some people in our group enjoyed craft beer when, on one night, a large portion of our group went out for dinner and drinks to celebrate my birthday.

Soon after, the first of two brewery tours took place. This first one, which proved fun and eventful, we descended upon Liquid Laundry and Boxing Cat Brewery. It was our second beer tour that was and still is legendary.

It was a small group of us who set out to Boxing Cat Brewery for the start of our night. There we ate wings, drank beer, laughed, and talked about how the month had gone and our plans for when we returned home. Then to DAGA, as I said before…my favorite! There we sat upstairs overlooking the tree-lined streets of Shanghai’s French Concession District and told stories, and finished one beer after the other. It was in this location, on this night, that we established a unique friendship. Even if we did not speak often, or live thousands of miles away from each other, this night was unforgettable. It would be remiss if I did not mention that we had two other breweries to go to, ones we had been to on a previous beer tour, but we didn’t leave DAGA. We stayed and enjoyed the moment. I should also admit, we did try to go to a wine bar after DAGA since it was next door, but ended up eating mixed nuts, were horrified by the prices of the wine, so we left and walked back to our residence. The subway had already stopped running, and we were a couple of miles away, so we walked while laughing and wishing we had a bike so we could all climb onto to make the journey go faster. A random and hilarious end of the night.

I think about that night as the perfect end of my trip to Shanghai. What started with excitement wrapped with anxiety had morphed into my intent to experience life and ended with four professors from American universities drinking craft beer in Shanghai, building a memory of how far we had come. We had all seen so many historical sights during the month and more museums and monuments than we could count. We had all traveled alone at times and other times in groups, but in our final days in Shanghai, we wanted to enjoy the environment around us together.

In all my travels, I find unique locations to visit. This exploration usually brings me to a local brewery. In Shanghai, I was delighted by the fact that I could be a professor in the morning hours, later in the day be a tourist, and in the evening indulge my need to visit a brewery. Until next time Shanghai, hold my beer!

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