1. M50

One of the only places in town where politically provocative – if not outright subversive – art thrives, M50 is an enclave of galleries and open studios, bookstores and cafes. Converted warehouses host the work of hundreds of upcoming and established sculptors, painters, and mixed media artists. Some spaces are functioning workshops, where you can catch a glimpse of the creative process in action. Our favorite stop was Island 6, a multi-story space run by a collective of interactive media manipulators who pull off some astounding visuals with video projection and neon. Just outside the district gates, visitors can enjoy an uninterrupted strip of the city’s largest collection of graffiti. 

2. Jing’an Sculpture Park

Centrally located and free to enter, Jing’an is a refuge in the city. The sculptures are playful, well dispersed, and utilize the surrounding landscape to dramatic effect. Like any sculpture park worth its weight in plaster, the pieces have an immediate visual appeal, while also evoking deeper contemplation of the artists’ choices of medium, shape, color, texture and composition. The most impressive sculptures currently on display are a pack of perspective-bending horses that look like they stepped out of an 8-bit Atari, and a doom-laden Gothic tower cast in rusty iron. 

3. Propaganda Art Museum

Housed in the basement of an unsuspecting apartment complex, this small museum contains the only government-approved collection of Communist Era propaganda posters in the country. Moving chronologically, you can trace the evolution of the Party’s ideological line from the revolutionary period through the post-Mao era in colorful, iconic imagery and slogans. There’s a gift shop in the back with prints of select propaganda images, but they aren’t a great value since the posters are color copied and not screened.

4. Rockbund

This well regarded contemporary gallery is tucked away on a backstreet in the Bund. When we visited, Ugo Rondinone’s “Breathe Walk Die” was winding down a four-month run. Straddling conceptual and performative art, the exhibit entails actors in full clown regalia dispersed across three floors, their bodies sprawled in various states of slumber – typically staged, though some were actually asleep. While visitors are prohibited from engaging with the performers, simply approaching a napping clown has a strange voyeuristic appeal. On the top floor, art contributed by visitors to the gallery is on display, while a small roof deck offers views of the surrounding neighborhood. 

5. Red Town

Comparable to M50’s layout of galleries interspersed with public art, Red Town bills itself as an “international art community”. Among its complex of buildings, the largest hall houses an extensive collection of modern and pop-art sculptures, with a more modest outcropping of sculptures on the lawn. Also on the grounds is the Minsheng Museum, which at the time of our visit was exhibiting CYJO’s “Mixed Blood”, a photo collection documenting families of mixed ethnic or national identity residing in New York or China, respectively.   

 

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Shanghai's TOP 5 Art Attractions, by Joel  

 

TOP 10 Travel Hacks, by Amy  

 

We have a lot of respect for creative life hacks, which totally revolutionized our tic tac dispensing skills, and lately we've been discovering our own travel-specific hacks. Whether we're trying to keep down costs, pack as light as possible, eat vegan on the go, or accumulate necessary supplies, Joel and I have developed strategic solutions to solve daily travel struggles. So give these a try on your next adventure, and please share with us your own!  

1. Laundry Hack

Washing clothes in hostels and hotels means scrubbing them with soap in the sink and then draping them all over the room. Sometimes we luck out, like with our love motel in Busan, South Korea, where the bathtub was big enough for Joel to get dirty while cleaning our clothes. Dive in and take charge; your underwear will thank you. 

2. Outlet Hack

After purchasing cheap international adaptors on Amazon, Joel and I were excited to put them to use. But then we discovered that South Korean outlets are recessed into the wall, so our adaptors would connect and then promptly fall out. Disappointed but undaunted, we propped a chair against the adaptor to keep it in place. Any available furniture will do! Just make sure the indicator light stays on and you're good to go.  

3. Toiletries Hack

Before we left home, we used our CVS coupons and discounts to purchase travel-size toiletries, but of course these items run out eventually. So we've been keeping our eyes peeled for complimentary products, like razors, toothbrushes, and the plentiful mini toothpastes pictured. Sure, it's wasteful, but they come in handy on an overnight trip where a full-size tube means extra weight on the hiking trail. They're also the most adorable toothpastes you will ever find. 

4. Water Bottle Hack

Despite being another obvious environmental hazard, bottled water is a must in China and elsewhere. Our method is a bit more environmentally friendly, while also saving cash and lightening our load. First we save smaller bottles, which are often free on flights. When they've run dry, we buy a larger bottle. Next we redistribute the water amongst the bottles so that Joel can haul the larger one while I can carry the smaller one. Sometimes we also luck out and get to refill with the hostel's free purified water. Just be sure to discard the baby bottles after no more than a week to avoid the harmful effects of plastic degradation.

5. Tea Hack

Aside from water, we've also been consuming vast amounts of tea (we are in Asia, after all). But a cup of tea here can be outrageously expensive. In Japan, we stocked up on hotel freebie powdered tea packets and boiled them using the room's kettle. When those ran out, we purchased loose tea and our very own glass thermos, which is "an old Chinese style of tea brewing made modern." Now we can caffeinate just like the locals! 

6. Snack Hack

Being vegan and vegetarian can pose a challenge in many parts of Asia, especially on an all-day excursion (Great Wall, Great Buddah, Great you-name-it). We've gotten into a routine of fetching inexpensive supplies at the supermarket and making our own PB&J sandwiches to bring with us for the day. Joel has since perfected the craft by sourcing pre-wrapped mini-French breads, which are more common than sliced bread. They can be (sort-of) rewrapped for freshness and fit nicely into our cheap-o tupperware. Every few days we'll stock up on snacks, particularly before hikes and long rides. Some of our favorite snacks, which also double as breakfast items, include bananas, nuts, rice bars, crackers, and also veggie noodles for train rides. 

7. Book Hack

The first step in making travel plans often involves buying a travel guide. But the first step in our Book Hack is borrowing travel guides and then mailing them back home when you've moved on from said country, because the less weight on your back, the better. The China guide book is a monster! Joel had been lugging that thing around on our daily adventures until he decided to take a plastic knife to the binding and slice out only what we needed for the day. A pair of scissors works even better, and carrying 6 pages clipped together sure beats 1000! 

8. Mattress Hack

This bed in our Pingyao hostel may look luxurious, but don't be fooled...it was hard as a rock! These beds are a vestige of China's ancient kang bed-stoves, and a thin mattress laid atop stone doesn't do much to ease our weary bones. To get a decent night's sleep, we folded the mattress in half over itself (with considerable effort) for more cushioning. But when the mattress isn't large enough to fold, like in Xi'an, we'll sleep "burrito-style" by folding the comforter under and around us for an exra layer of padding. This trick works even better on sleeper trains! 

9. ID Hack

If you are a student or still look the part like we do, don't forget to pack your student ID card. Several attractions in China offer student discounts even to foreigners, so if you have a still-valid ID (like Joel's) or one that never had an expiration date (like mine) then try putting that thing to good use. Often the ticket salesperson won't look very carefully or will neglect to ask for your passport for cross-reference.  Student discounts can save you up to 50%, and on big ticket attractions it's most certainly worth a shot!

10. Pack Hack

This travel hack has been in Joel's arsenal for some time, and I trusted in his travel wisdom: first you find the perfect pack, then you buy some packing cubes...or better yet, re-purpose sleeping bag or other thin but durable drawstring bags. You'll be amazed at the amount of stuff you can fit into your bag once you've first compressed them. Packing cubes or sleeves are also helpful for keeping things organized and making sure you don't leave anything behind. Right now, I've got 2 pairs of pants and 5 shorts inside a single cube! Amazing, isn't it? 

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TOP 5 Affordable Vegan Restaurants: Tokyo

by Amy

 

 

Our table at Asahi; photo by Amy.

Truth be told, I wasn't expecting to find so much vegan food in octopus-loving Japan. While it's a shame we haven't discovered any vegetarian sushi restaurants, there's no shortage of alternative options, and seeking them out has proven to be both a challenge and a blessing. With growling stomaches, we've gotten lost cross-referencing HappyCow, GoogleMaps, and the ever-calibrating iPhone compass, sometimes circling the same block a dozen times. Much to our chagrin, finally finding the right restaurant didn't mean it was open. More than once we had to resort to eating the Veggie Delite at Subway, and one time even Subway was closed, leaving us with no choice but Lotteria french fries. On the other hand, seeking out these disparate eateries has forced us to enter neighborhoods we never would have thought to visit. While wandering down darkened side-streets in search of a hot meal, Joel and I stumbled upon open markets, graffiti, musicians, break-dancers, tiny temples, and a plethora of other unexpected treasures, which only enriched our vegan experience.

Such variety at Komaki Syokudo; photo by Joel.

At this tiny, peaceful, and unassuming restaurant off the beaten path (or rather, off the electric paths of Shibuya or Shinjuku), we ate like vegan kings in traditional Japanese style. The chef/owner immediately presented an English menu chockfull of scrumptious options for us to consider. I slurped up my handmade soba noodles in warm broth, while Joel dug into his array of hearty seitan, vegetables, and tofu. Setagaya might not be the most happening neighborhood in Tokyo, but it's well worth a trip for this authentic dining experience. Bonus points for the owner's precise arrangement of plates, the beautiful wooden tables, and the Rastafarian cartoons in the bathroom. 

 

Lo and behold, this gem of a vegan lunch spot is tucked away in an upscale food  market (called Chabara). Upon approaching the counter, which displays daily vegetable and fake meat options, the supermarket setting completely dissolves. We loved the variety of picking (or chopsticking!) from so many little plates, and the miso soup was absolute heaven. This Japanese fare is the real deal.

After winding through Tokyo's hectic shopping mecca of Harajuku, we were delighted to slip off our shoes on a back patio and walk into the white carpeted Salon de Nanadecor: a tea room, cafe, and store. Truly dedicated to a natural lifestyle, every sale item was organic and every menu item fresh. Even just the bread for our sandwiches -- made with nautral yeast, and without milk or eggs -- was divine. This tasty lunch set the tone for an energetic day. 

The staff is friendly and food delicious at this macrobiotic cafe and health food store. Similar to Komaki Syokudo, the menu features traditional Japanese cuisine with careful attention to portion size, nutrition, and inner balance. And once again, the miso soup blew us away! 

At first, popping into this vegan spot was purely a matter of convenience, since it's located inside bustling Tokyo Station, from which we caught the bullet train to Kyoto. Too bad we didn't know about it sooner! It was hard (if not impossible) to find vegan ramen in Tokyo until we discovered T's. With one eye on the train times, the staff was incredibly quick and efficient, and our broth was piping hot. Two huge bowls of flavorful ramen and side dishes to boot left us happily stuffed for a day of travel. 

A bit pricy, but nonetheless delicious and creative, with a comforting Williamsburg vibe. Plus, they gave us complimentary tofu tiramisu for dessert!  

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First meal in Tokyo; photo by Amy.

TOP 10 Essential Travel Items

by Amy & Joel

 

1.

ExOfficio Give-N-Go Underwear

Quick-drying, moisture-wicking, odor-resistant, lightweight and breathable, these undies are worth every penny. Incredibly durable, especially when hand-washed, we've tried ours out on hot summer days, and were amazed at how cool and clean these boxer briefs (his) and bikini briefs (hers) kept our unmentionables.

 

But worthy of a mention is the crotch pocket on the mens sport brief that provides support while actually giving your junk room to breathe, unlike every other such brief Joel has ever tried on, then attempted and failed to return.

2.

NOW Probiotics

Getting your digestive system in shape is critical for foregn travel, especially if yours is as sensitive as ours can be. This particular probiotic boasts 10 strains of microbe, with 25 billion organisms in every capsule.  And you thought city living was cramped. They're also vegan and gluten-free.

3.

Eagle Creek Travel Towel

Never leave home without your towel. This one is super absorbent and quick drying, and it fits easily in a day-pack. Whether you're hiking, relaxing at the beach, or just strolling through a village, you never know when you're going to need to wipe some mud, rain, or worse off your limbs!

4.

Dr. Bronner's Liquid Soap

Dr. Bronner's will scrub your soul straight out of your skin. A few drops makes bubbles for days. The shower-ready wisdom on the label is every bit as disjointed and nonsensical as your common drunkard's rant, but probably smells way better. 

5.

Rapuzel Vegetable Bouillon

Overnight trains in China and elsewhere offer a boiling water tap in every car to cook your Ramen. Ditching the enclosed flavor packet and popping in one of these concentrated vegetable bullion cubes may prove to be a lifesaver on long trips where fresh fruit and veggies aren't on the menu.

6.

Warby Parker Glasses

For the visually-challenged traveler, leaving home with only one pair of glasses is a recipe for disaster. If stolen, broken or lost while ziplining between mountaintops or body surfing the break, it could be days or even weeks until you can replace them, making for a disorienting exerience indeed! But don't dispair, just bring a backup pair!

 

Warby Parker outfits the bespectacled on a budget, with the total package of frame, lenses and coatings running $125-$150 a pair. They have a store in NYC's Soho, but you can also order multiple frames online and have them shipped to your home or office (but not Asian hostel), pick the ones that fit and return the rest.

7.

Ben's Bug Spray

When it comes to mosquitos and the diseases they can carry, we don't take chances. So yeah, we're going nuclear with the most concentrated, high potency bug juice on the market, in a convenient 1.25 ounce travel size that should last months. Use sparingly, and apply outdoors to avoid tasting it with every breath for the next few hours.  

8.

Eagle Creek Undercover Money Belt

The safest, most discreet way to carry your cash, credit cards, and passport is to wear it on your person. It might be a tad inconvenient -- and slightly embarrasing -- to be constantly lifting up your shirt to access your valuables, but resist the urge to unbuckle and shove it in your bag.  It's only secure if you use it like a belt!

9.

Merrell Sneakers

One of the purest joys in life is walking barefoot, and these Merrells might be the next best thing. They're comfy, relatively stylish, and can be worn without socks. Amy takes her Bare Access Arc 2s on every outdoor excursion. Highly recommended!

 

10.

Rainproof Jacket

They might not look particularly cool, but a hooded waterproof outer layer beats the hell out of holding an umbrella for hours on end, and still getting soaked when it's really coming down. Amy loves her LL Bean Discovery Rain Jacket, and Joel can live with his breathable and windproof XS (but still way too big) Tresspass Quickpak TP75. Both come in black, because what other color suits a thunderstorm, really?

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