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[Deadbeat Dad]: Places I Take My Toddler
Parks, aquariums, sidewalks, and a bar where the waitress will take care of your kid while you enjoy a beer.
By Nov 3, 2015
Deadbeat Dad is SmartShanghai's regular parenting column, written by Sal Haque, a.k.a. DJ Skinny Brown of Popasuda. He became a father in 2014, and lives in Shanghai with his wife Rain and their kid Nesta.

Illustration by Francine Yulo

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The concept of this article is flawed. There is no good place to bring a toddler, because going anywhere with a toddler sucks. They don’t sit, they don’t stay, they fuck with everything in sight, they whine, and they hurt themselves. It almost makes you wanna trade in your kid for a dog, which would be way easier to handle. Plus, a dog doesn't require a baby bag, a stroller, or diapers. Dog or Baby? We’ll leave that article for another day.

If taking our kids out sucks so much, why do we do it?

Much like dogs, toddlers have boundless energy that they need to expend. For that, wide open spaces are key. We also want our kids to see shit, so they can develop their sense of awe. If you're an expat, you probably want your kid to enjoy grass, much like we did when we were children. And if you were smart enough to have just one kid, you probably want your child to learn social skills and interact with others. So we pack our baby bags (perhaps after arguing about what to bring), and set off for a day out with the kid.

Here’s my list of spots to bring your toddler that might not totally suck.

1. Jing'an Sculpture Park


128 Shimen Er Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu



This is one of the few places downtown that actually allows you to go on the grass. For the longest time, my kid straight-up feared grass. It was this mystical, carpet-like substance that, once stepped on, caused a monstrous, chain-smoking, thermos-wielding creature in an oversized navy blue outfit to appear out of the shadows, yell, and blow his whistle.

Due to this [rational] fear of Bao'an, it took my kid about 30 minutes to gain the courage to run onto the grass at the sculpture park. Now he loves it. On any given weekend, the back corner of the park (facing Beijing lu) is filled with tons of kids jumping rope, hanging out in tents, and just running around. I even saw some kids playing marbles. Classic. Plus, it’s pretty contained, so you can sit on the grass and just let your kid cruise around without losing sight of him.

There’s lots of other families hanging out, who are usually more than happy to share toys, give your kid a piece of raisin bread, and push the kids to play together. It’s also a wicked spot to take your kid for a cruise in the stroller and check out the sculptures, or hit the guqing school in the back for a welcome dose of classical Chinese music. You soak in a bit of culture, your kid develops some social skills, tires himself out, and passes out by like 7.30pm, leaving you free to smash DVDs. Jing’an Sculpture Park: always a win.


2. Shanghai Natural History Museum


510 Beijing Xi Lu, near Chengdu Bei Lu



The new Natural History Museum is right in the sculpture park. It has life-size, moving dinosaurs that make dinosaur noises. That’s enough right there! My 20 month-old stood under the brontosaurus for like 10 minutes, in utter awe. Just staring and pointing. It’s also a great spot to practice animal names, and the third floor has a display of everything from taxidermied sea turtles to Chimpanzees, and a model blue whale. Your toddler can be like, "monkey"… "fish"…."dog", and you can be like, "good job buddy, you're smart".

Honestly, it wasn’t even that crowded on a Sunday. The only downside is that a few spots only have stairs (no ramps), so you might have to carry your stroller a bit. Also, I recommend you avoid the butterfly enclosure, unless you wanna give your kid an early lesson in life and death. The underpaid Ayis went Pauly Shore on that bio dome fucking up all kinds of homeostasis. The result is a lot of dead butterflies. But other than that, 30 kuai well spent.


3. Suzhou River Mengqing Garden


66 Yichang Lu, Near Jiangning Lu



This one is right at the north end of Jiangning Lu, across the street from the QSW. It’s another rare gem where they let you chill on the grass. The layout is cool, with plenty of little forested nooks and crannies, and lots of space for your kid to run around and tire himself out. They have a kids area with a little playground and sandbox, plus a bouncy castle and cool little cars your kid can roll around in. It’s got that old–school adventure vibe, with paths running along the ponds and through the trees. It’s also broken up into self–contained areas, so you can chill while your kid runs around, and you don’t have to worry about losing him.

If you’re lucky you might even run into some hippies playing drums, and toddlers usually enjoy that shit. Trust me, this park is a winner!


4. The Shed


698 Shanxi Bei Lu, near Kangding Lu



I’m not referring to an actual shed. That would be creepy. I'm talking about the Aussie-run pub / sports bar on Shaanxi Bei Lu called The Shed that has beer, food, sports, and a wicked '90s playlist (killing it with Stone Temple Pilots). I realize this is an unlikely contender, but a few things make The Shed surprisingly kid-friendly.

The place is quiet, there’s a little contained space for the kid to run around (if no one’s playing darts), the pool table provides a surprising chance to teach your kid colors and numbers, you can get Strongbow on tap, and they understand the art of layering when it comes to nachos. But what really makes The Shed good for you and your toddler is Sunny. Sunny is mother, father, Ayi, and waitress all wrapped in one. She has given my kid a stuffed Panda, a rubber duck, and almost always gives him a ball to play with. On so many occasions, I’ve been able to enjoy a full beer at The Shed while she whisks away my baby and parents the shit out of him. I can’t promise your kid will receive the same treatment, but if you’re lucky, you might be able to sit back for five minutes while Sunny relieves you of the burden of parenting -- just long enough to enjoy a little bit of your meal.

When you have a kid, that’s all you can really ask for. Bless you, Sunny.


5. Dogtown


409 Shaanxi Bei Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu



Also on Shannxi Bei Lu is Dogtown. You could probably even do a Shed / Dogtown day out, cause there’s nothing that helps a man really grow into a father like day-drinking.

Dogtown's cool because it's outside, so if your kid is being a dick you can just walk him down the street and avoid ruining everyone else’s day. The place usually has a lively vibe on weekends, and there will probably be a couple of other strollers on site, so you can grab a beer and talk parenting with some other dads. There’s usually a couple of actual dogs there as well. My kid really enjoys petting those dogs, seeing all the people, listening to some hip hop, and running around the wide sidewalks. Dogtown’s got that modern / cool dad vibe. You can point out the De La Soul tracks to your kid so the people next to you realize what a cool father you are. Very contemporary.


6. Love Park


523 Yan’an Dong Lu, near Xizang Nan Lu



I don’t know the actual name for Love Park, but it’s right across from the Shanghai Concert Hall. It’s also one of the dopest skate spots in the city, and a rad way to introduce your kid to skateboarding. My kid always enjoys watching people skate the ledges and jump the three-stair set. I usually bring a deck and pull him around on it. People are generally friendly, there’s nice bathrooms in the mall across the street (ideal for diaper changes), and there’s a massive park directly behind the skate area.

That said, Love Park has fallen low on my list since the Bao’an kicked my kid off the grass. That’s a dick move.

But the park behind Love Park is big enough that your toddler can run around a bit, and the flat ground spot by the concert hall itself is big enough that your kid can go for a cruise. Plus, it’s just a cool way to spend an afternoon.


7. Shanghai Ocean Aquarium


158 Yincheng Bei Lu, near Lujiazui Huan Lu



First, the downside. It’s in Pudong. Lujiazui is the worst possible place for a toddler. It’s crazy busy, especially on weekends. If you look away for just a second, your kid will get engulfed by the madness and you’ll never see him again. If you live in Puxi, it’s not scooterable. Getting a taxi there is nearly impossible, and the Lujiazui subway stop is rammed full of commuters. Not a fun area to carry around a heavy-ass kid or maneuver a stroller.

But the aquarium itself is a wondrous place full of magical creatures and giant salamanders. It’s dimly lit, giving it this cool sense of mystery, kind of like a giant submarine. For your kid, there’s fish. By 20 months, he probably knows that word, and will be stoked to apply it to almost every situation here, for like two hours straight. The tunnel is a great way to instill a sense of awe in your child. Plus, no matter what dickishness your kid gets up to, there will always be another 50 kids in there out-dicking him by banging on the glass constantly. Parents seem to go there in groups and just unleash their children with a kind of "strength in numbers" attitude. It’s like watching a zombie virus under a microscope attack white blood cells. They work so fast. Even the Bao’ans don’t dare step in. They know they’ll get stabbed.

If you do end up crossing the river, never attempt to go to the Aquarium on a weekend. It will be stressful. I recommend going on like a Tuesday at 11am.

Right, so that’s my list of places that make taking your kid out suck a little less. There's a few more, but perhaps we’ll get to those another day. If you know of others, drop 'em in the comments.

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8 comments.

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  • 2 years ago madscientist

    I am not a parent, but I love reading your articles. I just giggle myself silly- because you know what? Kids can be dicks, and we don't say that enough. Thank you for the afternoon laughs.

  • 2 years ago jtf87

    I'm sorry but myself and most people I've come across are not impressed when we see people bringing their kids to the bar. Its just irresponsible behavior and its really not an appropriate place to bring your kid. Unless they have a special area for kids (not a darts area) then the kids have no place in such establishments. Really bad parenting in my opinion. Don't be selfish, get yourself a babysitter or live in ayi, they aren't expensive for god sake!

  • 2 years ago moses

    The best time to do anything in Shanghai is during a weekday, especially if it involves kids.

    Top of the list would have to be the Shanghai Aquarium, although it is a bit pricey, your kid will really enjoy it.

    If you are out in Pudong, Century Park on a weekday is unbelievably quiet, a lot of open space for kids to run around. Also the Kerry Parkside Center is kid friendly, they always have a lot of activities and performances for children on Saturdays and Sunday's.

    God bless skinny brown

  • 2 years ago kuangyr1900

    whaaat….for the second comment. Sound like a rich ass parent. I don’t know about you. For me, getting a babysitter or ayi is hell expensive. Plus I would rather partnering my kids by myself. Wherever you take your kidS just watch them well and I m pretty sure they will be ok even the darts area. plus who s that stupid to take kids to the darts area. Laughing.

  • 2 years ago sal_hawk

    @jtf97

    Damn, why parents gotta be so judgey!


    It’s like that the moment we become a parent, we establish this intrinsic need to judge other parents. We leer at them all like “I can’t believe their doing that”, from out parenting high horse (I will write an article about that later). But I actually get that, I do it too (in fact I wrote an entire article lamenting what I believe to be "parenting dick moves"). But as a parent I feel like we should learn to keep that judgment in perspective.

    You seem to have issue with me brining my toddler to the bar. To the point that you would deem it “Bad Parenting” Fair enough.

    I would much rather bring my kid to the bar, spend time with him, communicate with him, and guide/monitor the way he interacts with the world around him than leave him home with an Aiyi. Even if I could afford a live-in Aiyi (which I can’t), I’d still bring my kid to the bar, because I enjoy it, he enjoys it, my wife enjoys it, and my friends and family enjoy it. And I won’t defend myself beyond stating, that my son is a very well adjusted child, and I’m quit confident in my ability to watch him in bar. It’s really not that difficult.

    But you seem to have made your position on Babies in Bars very clear.

    So I wonder if there’s any leeway you might consider.

    If you’re good friend opened a bar (with a darts area) would that be ok to bring your kid?

    What if you’ve been going to that bar for years, and have formed a comprehensive understudying of its dynamics, would that be ok for a toddler?

    What if you traveling in Japan, and a bunch of cool Japanese surfer dudes were chilling in the bar with their kids, Would that be alright?

    Or is it a matter of Bar (with no designated kid area) + Kid = Bad

    Parenting seems like a dynamic, ever-changing discipline, drawing on everything from our environment, our own childhood, and the research and examples we choose to indulge in. In that respect, perhaps I have no issue with bars, because some of the best parents I know also take their kids to the pub, and their kids have grown up to be exceedingly intelligent. I’m not saying there’s a positive correlation, but I doubt there’s a negative one either. I doubt by bringing my kid to the bar, he’ll have less chance of becoming a doctor.

    As a deejay, much of my life exists within clubs and bars. I’ve formed deep relationships with the people who run them, and the people who frequent them, they are among some of my dearest friends. As such they are also a part of my sons life.

    In terms of selfishness, I still think it’s way more selfish to leave your kid home with an Aiyi. I would much rather parent my child straight up, then let some one else do it. But I don’t want to stab you with that one, cause some parents just straight up don’t have the time. Fair. But if I can, I’m bringing my kid out.

    If darts are your concern, I would’t worry, I didn’t get too many results when I googled, “kid injured by dart”. Some scary stuff about nerf guns though. In general you’d have to be the shittiest dart player in the world to hit a toddler, it be the equivalent of throwing a dart directly at the floor. But yo, accidents do happen. In fact you may as well avoid cars, roads, baseball games, other kids, and pretty much anything else that can result in moving objects, they can all cause accidents.

    And as a parent yourself, I feel like you should be careful when throwing around the “bad parenting” card, cause it demands a response. It's like calling a Hip Hop artist a wack MC, it’s gonna cause strife.

    We can go back-and-fourth all day in a parenting-duel, comparing who has the most organic formula, and how quickly are kids figured out number all in hopes of proving to each other who the better parent is (or for that matter who the shittier parent is), but at the end of the day, all parent love their kids and do what they feel is right.

    So if you can’t deal with your kid in a bar, fine. That’s on you. But don’t judge other parents for it.


  • 2 years ago moses

    People generally have a bad impression of bars because they associate them with loud music, alcohol and smoking. Not the greatest environment for a kid.

    However, I think this perception is a little outdated, there are many bars nowadays where you can knock back a beer and the kids can have a fun time, for example blue frog bar and grill. The place is packed with kids - as well as drinkers and smokers. Just sit in the non smoking section.

    Having an ayi come and babysit is not expensive. personally, I would never leave my kid with a stranger.

    Jah.

  • 2 years ago jtf87

    I don't know why you guys think I am a parent, lets make it clear, I'm not lumbered with the job of being a parent. That said yeh I respect your long reply to my post, however I'm going to stick with the concept, KID+BAR=IRRESPONSABLE. First off there are people under the influence of alcohol so anything could happen, fights, bad language or just general behavior that is misjudged and shouldn't be around children. Second there's the darts which are dangerous I don't care what you say about that, the smoke is also harmful to their lungs and its just not what most people want when they go to a bar. I myself and most people I know go to a bar to escape from kids, we go there because its a social concept that this is an adult space where we can relax and not have to deal with any bullshit. Meanwhile kids running around, making noise and just generally ruining the atmosphere. We don't need that, take your kid to a family restaurant, have a few beers there. Or leave the kid at home with the wife or a babysitter. I may not be a parent but I am a teacher, I spend a lot of time with kids and I think I know them well and yeh, kids don't belong in a bar, the only people who think they do are parents like yourself.

  • 1 year ago question Unverified User

    Couldn't you go to Pudong through the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel? It's interesting for the toddler and not so crowded. But 2 ways is 70 Yuan I think

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