Shanghai

17.09.12 – 21.09.12

“假作真时真亦假,无为有处有还无。” – 《红楼梦》

When someone asks me about Shanghai, that is the first line that pops up in my head. I saw so many people on the streets and on the subway carrying branded bags and wearing branded clothes in Shanghai so much so that I wonder whether those branded goods were genuine. I stayed in Beijing for a month a couple of years back and I don’t remember seeing that many brands on people there. It’s an interesting culture, I remember seeing this old lady carrying a LV bag as she collected empty aluminum cans on the street. Things like these also make me question what’s the point of having these fake/ real branded goods. Especially in a city whereby the line between the fake and the genuine is blurred.

I actually travelled to Shanghai with my parents because my dad had a work assignment there. It was quite a nice experience to fly directly from hongkong and meet them there for a little reunion.:) Shanghai is a big Chinese city with very wide roads (imagine crossing 10 lanes of Chinese traffic!) with an interesting slice of Chinese history – because of the First Opium War and the subsequent Treaty of Nanjing, Shanghai was one of the five Chinese cities that was forced to be opened up to the Western powers (British, French, German, American). These foreign powers actually carved for themselves foreign “concessions” which means that they were not subjected to Chinese laws and the last foreign concession (French) ended in 1946. These foreign powers established the Shanghai International Settlement and that made Shanghai a very busy East-meets-West center of commerce at that time. Because of its history, Shanghai has many buildings, mostly the banks, with the 20th century European architecture and this certainly makes Shanghai a unique Chinese city.

1. The bund

The bund, located on Puxi, is famous for the many 20th century European-styled buildings. We actually visited the Shanghai bund twice during our short stay because it was unique and very pretty. The bund was also a fairly long stretch so after taking a short walk away from the tourist bottleneck, we could actually sit around and enjoy the view. I wish I knew more about the different architecture styles and could comment on them. My favourite building is the magnificent Customs House.

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The interesting thing about Shanghai is that the old financial district (the bund) is separated from the current financial district in Pudong by a river. From the bund, we could see the fancy skyscrapers, which reminded me of the skyline in hongkong, over in Pudong. It took me a while to get used to this interesting contrast.

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I remember that on the way from the metro station to the bund, we encountered many people who were handing out leaflets about some tour packages to people rather forcefully. So upon taking the leaflets, many people just simply threw them on the floor and there were also people sweeping in that same vicinity. Job creation, way to go.

2. Shanghai temples

We went to visit the Jing’an temple and the Jade Buddha temple. I do not quite like how they commercialize places of worship – not only were we made to pay to enter the temples, we needed to pay additional admission fees to visit certain sections of the temples. Having been to Beijing, I found the temples pretty ordinary. But the locations of the temples were pretty interesting, the Jing’an temple was located right next to a mega shopping mall while the Jade Buddha temple was in a residential district (similar to Wong Tai Sin’s temple in hongkong).

When we were there, it was almost the Mid-Autumn Festival so people were actually queuing up to buy mooncakes in the temples. I didn’t expect to see this at all, I always thought that people buy mooncakes from the pastry shops such as Wing Wah in hongkong.

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3. Yuyuan Garden

Not only is the Yuyuan Garden a quiet and pretty Chinese garden which has a big pond with many koi fish, it is also conveniently located next to the Yuyuan Tourist Mart – the place to buy souvenirs and eat xiaolongbaos in Shanghai. There is a famous xiaolongbao shop called Nanxiang Steamed Buns Restaurant and they operate in a rather unique way – when you get there, you have to tell the waiter how much you are willing to pay per person and that would determine which queue and which room you go to. Being tourists, we paid the maximum, I think it was 80 yuan per person, and we were quickly led to a room and served the famous xiaolongbaos.  After dinner, we also did some haggling and bought some souvenirs for the people back home.

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4. Nanjing Pedestrian Street

That is the famous shopping district in Shanghai. It seems to be the wider version of the Sai Yeung Choi South Street in Mongkok to me because there are too many things happening in the same area. There was a man playing his zither in the middle of the road, many old people dancing, people tossing colourful objects into the sky and people shopping.

5. Xintiandi

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We went to Xintiandi, an area of traditional shikumen (stone gate) houses in narrow alleys, for dinner one night to celebrate my mum’s birthday (I was not the only one in the family who got to spend the birthday overseas). There were many cafes, restaurants and bars in that area that offer both indoor and outdoor setting and this is pretty rare in China, probably because it is not in the Chinese culture to eat outside the restaurant. But, as you can imagine,  xintiandi was a rather popular area for expats to hang out. We picked a fairly quiet restaurant with a cosy, romantic ambience and had a very relaxing dinner that night.

6. Shanghai Museum

Having been to the National Museum of China in Beijing, I wasn’t expecting too much from the Shanghai Museum. I imagined the experience to be fairly similar – the exhibits to be impressive and the people there to be unfriendly. I did not have a very good experience in Beijing, I remember having to deposit my bag and camera at a counter before entering the museum and when I was in the museum, I remember being carefully watched by the security guards. The moment I stared at an exhibit for more than 5 seconds, a security guard would get near to me and watch what I was up to. The Shanghai Museum experience turns out to be very different – we could walk in and out of the museum easily and it was free. The security guards did not care too much about what the visitors were doing unless people were making too much noise. There were tourists who took photos of almost every exhibit, there were art students who were doing pottery with the clay and the water right next to the exhibit, there were also people who were drawing the exhibits as well. Overall, it was a very nice and relaxing experience, not to mention that they have a ceramics collection with a very wide range of colours, many that I have never seen before.

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7. Bubble tea!

My favourite experience in Shanghai was actually having the bubble tea from the small bubble tea shop next to our hotel everyday. The bubble tea was very delicious but what makes this very memorable is that the lady selling the bubble tea was very kind. Every time I bought bubble tea from her, we would have a conversation and she would give me an extra cup of bubble tea or add something extra (nato de coco etc) in the tea. In a fast-paced, to each his own society like Shanghai, it is very nice to meet kind people who care more about the human touch than about making money.:)

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