Shanghai: Getting Down to Street Level

Dusty figurines reminiscent of the Mao-era in the Dongtai Road flea market.

Dusty figurines reminiscent of the Mao-era in the Dongtai Road flea market.

I forgot to mention we finally had rain last night.  But our bartender at the hotel had given his word it would not rain during the day – and fortunately his forecast was right-on.  It stayed cloudy, but warmed up a bit and it was a great day for continuing our sightseeing in Shanghai.

Earlier in the trip, I talked about the smells of Beijing, but there is also a fairly pervasive, consistent smell throughout China.  I’ve been trying to decide how to describe it . . . . it is definitely related to the preparation and cooking of food.  After some discussion with our intrepid Tour Director Annie, I agree it is herbal with an underlying scent of ginseng.  So even though they speak a different kind of Chinese here in Shanghai, they share this commonality with the rest of the country.  FYI, Mandarin is the official language, and spoken in the north, but here in Shanghai the distinctive Shanghainese is used, and even other Chinese can’t understand it.  However, it’s all Greek to us and remains totally incomprehensible.   I’m afraid to even whisper what we have learned to say, for fear of misspeaking the tonal inflections and telling someone to urinate instead of hello.

We visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Center, which was much more interesting than I thought it would be.  They have a complete scale model of the entire city, and a wonderful movie-in-the round giving you an aerial view of the city.

Afterwards, we spent time in the well-organized Shanghai Museum, the definitive repository for examples of ceramics, sculpture, furniture, calligraphy, money, art and more.  I particularly enjoyed the Jade collection, and seeing how the ceramics evolved through the centuries.

For lunch we visited Xintiandi, an area of high end shops and bistros on the edge of the French Concession.  This area utilized some of the former shikumen houses (Shanghai’s answer to the hutongs of Beijing).  We wanted to head out for some walking, so we shared a quick sandwich at Element Fresh, and then hit the pavement.

Walking all around the French Concession, we enjoyed the sights, just being out with local crowds and the nice day.  Walking in places we visit is always a favorite – you feel so much more connected to the spirit of a community.  The French Concession is very green, and the streets are lined with mature Sycamore trees.   Along the way, we saw the Shanghai Medical School, a huge hospital complex, former mansions, and beautiful new housing developments. The property of the Intercontinental Hotel looked particularly inviting.  We passed the former residences of Zhou Enlai, lovely Fuxing Park, and the Taikang Road arts & crafts district.  This area of tiny alleys crammed with small shops and restaurants encompasses a former candy factory and several lanes of old shikumen houses.  The shops were full of cheap, low-quality trinkets, but the ambiance was fun.

A city transit driver kindly held back his big bus so I could finish getting my picture of some art deco-style balconies.  If you look hard, you will see a few Art Deco elements here and there.

We then missed our street and stopped at an information kiosk to check our location.  The sweet lady who worked there did not speak English – so the next thing we know, she is running around the nearby plaza to find someone who spoke English.  She was successful very quickly; we readjusted our position and set off again.

We left the French Concession and headed back towards Old Town and the Dajing Road Market. This market bills itself as having “antiques”, but we knew it would be full of dusty, flea-market worthy “stuff”, including lots of items paying homage to Mao.  It did not disappoint.   There is a nearby street, Liuhekou Road, known for a market with birds, flowers and crickets.  This was a bust, but we found out the government doesn’t want any birds for sale due to the current bird flu. What few flowers they had probably sold out early and cricket season is not until October. They have cricket fights here which might seem odd – but then we race wooly worms in Banner Elk, North Carolina.

It was time to grab a cab and head back to Pudong.  Dinner tonight was at Jean Georges, the Shanghai hit restaurant of the TV star-chef by the same name, on the Puxi side at 3 on the Bund, across the river from Pudong.  For those who know my husband, you will know this very French dinner was not the high point of his trip; but he did like his dessert.

BTW, at the Pudong Shangri-La, the River Tower rooms have the best view of the Bund and the Huangpu River; it’s great during the day and simply spectacular at night.  Best rooms for the view are (02), 01, 28, 27 and (26); lines 2 and 26 may not be on every floor due to location of Bund view suites.

Tip of the day: a trip is not complete without mingling with the locals; walking does the trick. 

One Comment on “Shanghai: Getting Down to Street Level

  1. Karen, just so you know, I’m really enjoying your daily installments! I’m reliving our trip there several years ago. It’s a fascinating place!!! Enjoy, xox Kate

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