First Stop

My first stop, when I left Sydney three years ago with bright eyes and romantic notions of the European life I was winging my way towards (and wearing an excellent poncho I have since mislaid in my capacious German cellar) was Shanghai. I had arranged, with a peculiar slipper-wearing landlord whose English name, I dimly recall, was Frank, to stay in an apartment (room) on some insanely high level of a hotel.

I remember getting off the plane and feeling extremely in control. I’m not entirely sure why. I was 25 and moving myself to a non-English speaking country, with nothing but a bag, a wing, and a prayer, but I think we can call that feeling of being extremely in control ‘The Benefits of Having No Idea.’ Or it was the poncho. Or I actually was in perfect control of my one bag and expanded that feeling to just general control of life, who knows.

I had done as someone had wisely instructed, and had the name of my accommodation written on a piece of paper because, while excellent at many things – making tea, reading – my Mandarin is sub par. As the cab whisked me away from Shanghai’s airport and the city loomed, as only a massive city of millions can loom, a few bubbles popped in my stomach. It was happening, I was unterwegs.

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I wrote this, after my first day there;

It’s big. Driving into the city from the airport (a pleasantly inexpensive $35 trip) the sheer breadth of Shanghai, outlined by bright, blinking lights, made itself known. Within the rings of fluorescence stood pockets of tall, dark apartments, squares of light silhouetting rows of clothes, airing in the windows. The roads are wide, the cars ostensibly unhindered by speed limits. It’s a suitably exhilarating introduction to the city.

It’s hot. Too hot to eat, too hot to drink, too hot to sweat. It’s a heavy, thick heat – over 50% humidity – that doesn’t let up, well into the soupy nights. Clothes are entirely unsuitable for this sort of weather, something the men remedy by pulling their tee shirts up over their stomachs. Slippery limbed, I had to return to my room today to recover my composure and stick my head in a fridge, before I bucked womanly modesty and pulled my own dress up over my stomach.

It’s busy. Of course. There are a lot of people (Shanghai has a population of around 18 million) but the city ably copes with large roads and wide footpaths. Bar the wondrous little alleys, full of indiscernible treasures, everything is on a big scale; to my mind, Shanghai seems to lack that overwhelming, jostled feeling of other, big Asian cities.

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And so I strolled the Bund and dripped in sweat. I thought I’d have a car accident in a cab that drove like it had no driver. I got semi-mobbed on the Bund because I’m a big white person and then spent half an hour posing for photographs with grandparents, babies and school groups. I partook in a very lengthy misunderstanding with a cab driver when I tried to pronounce my accommodation and wound up on the other side of the city. I turned the tables and asked a family if I could photograph their insanely cute child. And I found Tianzifang, which is where we’re going today (because it’s Friday).

Enjoy.

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Too delicate to walk, Shanghai, China, July 2010
Too delicate to walk

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The baby I mentioned.
The baby I mentioned.

For more Shanghai, click here.

Tianzifang

On Taikang Road, in Shanghai’s Taikang Lu area, just a few metres beyond an American style diner that blares Robbie Williams from its street speakers, is a relatively nondescript alley with people milling about its entrance. Turn right and head down the cobbled, slate path. You are entering Tianzifang, Shanghai’s little art ‘district’ – a maze of inexplicable layout, crammed with exquisite boutiques, exotic jewellers and shoemakers and Oriental-meets-Western restaurants and cafes.

This is a truly marvellous little trove of artistic and culinary treasures. Photography studios sit alongside tiny galleries. Tee-shirt art, delicate handmade shoes, jewellery and eclectic boutiques showcase Shanghai’s emerging fashion scene. Cafes, bars and restaurants fuse French, Chinese, American and Italian cuisine and aesthetics. And in amongst it all, locals and tourists trip down the tiny laneways, lost in a maze, itself surrounded by the taller buildings of Taikang Lu with the customary strings of clothes drying on the balconies giving the smoggy sky dashes of unexpected colour.

The Bund

One of Shanghai’s biggest tourist destinations – and for good reason – The Bund can be found in the Huangpu District in central Shanghai. A mile long promenade that runs along the Huangpu River, The Bund also comprises historical buildings behind the river, that once housed banks and trading centres from the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Belgium and the USA. Strolling along, one looks directly across to the Pudong district, the financial hub of Shanghai. According to a Dutch engineer I crossed paths with, whilst sauntering along the river, the bank of the Huangpu River was recently raised by 5 metres – quite a magical engineering feat.

Set back off the walkway, is the original English concession. There is a height restriction on buildings, a God send in a city that is so built up, I’m currently writing this in a level 25 apartment. The Bund consequently retains its old school elegance and historical charm, in absolute spades. Strolling down the little, tree lined streets, there are moments on feels they’re on a film set or in early 1900s Shanghai and it’s then you start to get just a slight feel for Shanghai’s colourful developmental path.

Now, Gucci and Armani occupy the original European buildings of the English concession. The paths are spotless and if you turn down any of the little streets off the main stretch, there are Western influenced cafes and restaurants alongside Chinese fast-food joints and fruit stalls.

A little slice of Europe in China.

First Impressions; Shanghai

It’s big. Driving into the city from the airport (a pleasantly inexpensive $35 trip) the sheer breadth of Shanghai, outlined by bright, blinking lights, made itself known. Within the rings of fluorescence stood pockets of tall, dark apartments, squares of light silhouetting rows of clothes, airing in the windows. The roads are wide, the cars ostensibly unhindered by speed limits. It’s a suitably exhilarating introduction to the city.

It’s hot. Too hot to eat, too hot to drink, too hot to sweat. It’s a heavy, thick heat – over 50% humidity – that doesn’t let up, well into the soupy nights. Clothes are entirely unsuitable for this sort of weather, something the men remedy by pulling their tee shirts up over their stomachs. Slippery limbed, I had to return to my room today to recover my composure and stick my head in a fridge, before I bucked womanly modesty and pulled my own dress up over my stomach.

It’s busy. Of course. There are a lot of people (Shanghai has a population of around 18 million) but the city ably copes with large roads and wide footpaths. Bar the wondrous little alleys, full of indiscernible treasures, everything is on a big scale; to my mind, Shanghai seems to lack that overwhelming, jostled feeling of other, big Asian cities.

It’s cheap. Food – once you’ve spent a good half an hour staring at the more curiously packaged foods in the convenience stores – drinks and cabs make daily budgeting quite easy. I haven’t yet hit the shops, so shall keep you posted on non-necessity bargains. But from where I’m sitting, my little fridge stocked with 90c iced teas, I’m quietly pleased Shanghai won’t drain my financial reserves before I hit the, slightly less pleasantly cheap, London.

I do have to mention the unorthodox traffic conventions – ie: there are none – and press upon anyone visiting Shanghai, to not assume, just because the green man is flashing, that you can walk. Busses barrel through crossings with one, long blast of their horn (actually, that is a convention) and cars just drive at you as if you’re not there. Motorbikes, scooters, bicycles, cars and busses all share the roads, with pedestrians at the bottom of the pecking order; it’s your job to dodge them – something I’ve noticed locals are impressively skilled at. I have never before heeded ‘Look both ways’ quite so strictly.