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"Travel Muse" Cynthia Corona

Editor's Preface:Cynthia Corona is a graphic designer who has lived in Shanghai for the past six years. What started as a hobby to keep her friends and family updated about her life in China has turned her Instagram account into a sensation with more than a quarter of a million followers. Her first viral video, a playful one featuring her husband, showcased them dashing through various iconic locations in Yunnan. The lightness and joy in her videos are clearly not just post-production magic; they're also a part of who she is—a delight.Check out her Instagram; it's a great account to discover hidden places in China, and to share with friends what makes China special. ~ Jacob Flowers

Cynthia, tell us a little about yourself:

I'm originally from Mexico, I was born and studied there. And then later I studied in Spain actually for a few years. Since then I've been living in different places in Europe, but before coming to China, I was living in the UK with my husband.

I've been living in Shanghai almost six years. I came here with my husband, when he moved here for work. The move for me was easy, because I work in graphic design with clients all over the world, so it wasn't a difficult transition because I can work anywhere.

I remember the first week when I moved to China, I had ideas about what to expect, but it was so different because we arrived during Chinese New Year.

It was one of those weeks where everything was empty, everything was closed. I think the first impression was "what's happening here..?" ::laughs:: It was very surprising at first, because everything I thought about Shanghai, that it would be a busy, bustling place, with lots of people... of course all of this was challenging these ideas that first week, that a city like Shanghai could actually be... quiet. But that lasted a week, and then the "busy China" I imagined emerged. I also remember being very curious about everything, always surprised about the little things.

In the beginning of my time in Shanghai, I felt like a little kid in a playground, seeing everything new, and it was all exploration and learning. It's also energizing, that so much happens in the streets of Shanghai. In a way, it's almost like a connection to my home, back in Mexico, for example all of the street food and street vendors in Shanghai, so many things can be done street side!

You have a pretty popular Instagram account with more than a quarter million followers that features a lot of content about China. Tell us about this!

I have always enjoyed making videos and taking photos. My husband does too, and he is usually the one who helps me with filming my reels, but sometimes I do it myself too when he's working. But he's really good with photography and videography, especially for when I want to do movements myself. One of the first videos I had done that went "viral" I think you can say, was one of me and my husband running across these different scenes on our trip to Yunan. It was such a magical trip together exploring these places that are almost like from a post card.

Check out Cynthia's Instagram post HERE

It was back in 2020 when I really started doing most of my travel content because I couldn't go back home due to the pandemic. So I was like, "Okay, I'm not going stop from traveling. So, I'm gonna discover this country", and that's when I started exploring the most.

The places I always recommend... there's just something special about the landscape, is in Guanxi province, like Yangshuo, Guilin, and places close to the Vietnam border. I find this landscape very different to everything else I've seen.

Also, another place I really loved are the mountains at Zhangjiajie, the place where they took inspirtation to make the movie Avatar. These mountains look so different to anything else I've seen, mysty and mysterious.

Check out Cynthia's Instagram post HERE

Also, there are some lovely water towns in China. I did a video recently that has a lottt of views on Instagram, I think 4 million views, that featured one of these water towns called Furong Ancient Town. When I went there, I didn't know what to expect honestly. But if you see the video, it's kind of like that in real life, a bit surreal, the place is so beautiful its hard to describe, it's almost like something generated by AI. Or you could even say it was like something from a movie set, the town having lots of lights that turn on at night, and these beautiful natural waterfalls that the town is built on. It's a hidden gem in China, maybe not a place that's so ready for foreign tourists, but yea, if you want to go someplace and immerse yourself into a Chinese environment, it's a very good place to go.

What are some of your favorite places in Shanghai?

There is this small Japanese place that I go to often here on Yongkang lu called Sheng Sushi, its super convenient, the owners know me, its almost like my living room practically, and they let me bring my dog with me, which for me, I mean, is kind of super difficult to find places that allow pets, and my dog is kind of like my daughter, so we love that this restaurant is very pet friendly and the food is good. Oh, and there's this little café that I go to every morning for coffee with my dog. It's in this little square that the local neighborhood committee commissioned. There was an abandoned building there, which they tore down, to make a small park and café area, and where I get my coffee is Pocket Pocket Café. It's a nice place, where all of the locals neighbors gather. There is also this little Xiao Long Bao place near People's Square that I love going to called Jia Le Tang Bao, they have these amazin soup dumplings, and I think we've been going to that place since we arrived 6 years ago. One thing I love about Shanghai is how international it is, and being from Mexico, I can say I found a few places that I like with Mexican food, Chihuahua is a very nice place, there is another one called El paisa which is this small taco stand that is as close to Mexican street tacos that you can find in Shanghai. It's right inside the building that has Bonica and La Barra, on the second floor, and they are open late.

You just released your own travel guide, tell us about it!

Ah, yes, I have made a travel guide! It is for people who love photography, the many tourists coming to the city, and also for those who have lived here a long time in Shanghai. They maybe want to see the city in new ways, discover places not so known for taking photos. Shanghai is very big, and many places, people write about them a lot. But I have lived here for 6 years and I found out there are so many hidden places, not so famous. When I was making things for my Instagram, I found I have many cool places in Shanghai that not many people know, or they always ask me, "Where is this place? Where is that place?" So, I put together more than 50 of my most liked spots in the city and made them into a Travel Guide. It has 100 pages and it tells people where to find these spots and has photos, so they see Shanghai in different ways. I just made a website where people can buy this book. For each place, there is information about it, and I give advice about the best times for taking photos, when the light is good.(

One of the other videos you did that went viral with over a million views was "Why Shanghai". Tell us a little bit about what makes Shanghai special to you.

Check out Cynthia's Instagram post HERE

I think Shanghai is... I would just recently describe it as a vibrant city. And that you can have two worlds, like the modern side, and the local-historical side. But there are many places where it still feels like many many years ago like in its historic neighborhoods, but then they are places that you think "oh my God I'm in the future". So, Shanghai for me has this unique energy because of how these two worlds co-exist.

Also, I love how convenient the city is for a foreigner while at the same time you can still experience local life like the culture. The metros and buses are always on time, which... might not seem worth mentioning, but moving around here is easier than it might be for your country, or at least for mine.

And there are always interesting local things about Shanghai that make it special. I think about those tricycles that move around the city you know, collecting the recycle paper or plastic and I'm always so impressed when they load so much stuff and they still exist. In many ways Shanghai is become a part of me, and even though I have lived in many countries over the last 10 years, I can say that for sure Shanghai is now one of my homes.

Check out Cynthia's Instagram post HERE


[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

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