“Toto. I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore?”
Our next destination has had a powerful hand in shaping Chinese history. The scene of the founding if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) a frontline theatre of the Opium Wars and the operations of Chiang Kai-Sek. Up until recently it was the hotbed for the leading faction that led the Chinese Government.
All that said, Shanghai is not China. Head to the trendy district of the French Concession and you would think you were in Madrid, with tree-lined avenues filled with coffee shops and fancy eateries. It’s only when you hear the spitting and closely inspect the faces of the population that you are aware that it’s China. (Thanks Danielle for that anecdote!).
The western influence was welcomed especially on the dinning scene. 2 weeks in China and we were craving comfort food. Homemade soup, a bacon sandwich and humous and carrots had never tasted so good. Who would have thought a pizza or chicken breast would become a luxury.
Due to foreign influence that dates back to the 18th century, Shanghai has grown on a different track to the rest of China. Flamboyant Italians and a French jockeyed with British Gentlemen and Yankees to build their own style of city.
In the 20th Century it was considered one of the most fashionable cities in the world.Marketing even at this early stage had the vision of the stylish Shanghai women wearing makeup and the latest fashions, smoking cigarettes whilst surrounded by foreign influence. This makes Shanghai a fantastic people watching place. The Bund is like the London catwalk on fashion week.
Nothing sums up these influences of colonial Shanghai more than the Bund. This was the Wall Street of the city full of commerce and banks. This riverside stretch of the city has some stunning architecture and is the ultimate in people watching, especially at night when people flock in their thousands to take in the wonderfully lit Pudong Area across the river. The vista also includes the Jīnmào Tower. The cities 2nd largest building sports a ‘No Climbing’ sign at it’s foot- presumably put in place after Alain ‘Spider-man’ Robert’s climb in 2007.
South of here are the Yùyuán Gardens. Shaded alcoves, glittering pools groaning with packs of carp fish, rockeries with pine trees and pagodas. It’s like the scene inside one of those garish glow globes. Sudden movements invite the roving gangs of Japanese Tourists to take your photo, they snap anything that moves! Two girls were desperate for a photo with Karen, sun glasses on and 3 poses later they were on their way.
Heading to Xintiandi we visited the museum dedicated to the founding of the CCP and the site if it’s first Congress. This is nestled in between Gucci and Bulgari shops and fancy cafés and provides an ironic contrast.
This whole area is an example of a modern twist on a historical area with a lot of the original shíkùmen houses (tenements) and lòngtáng (alleyways) restored to their former glory.
One of these has been converted into a museum showing traditional family life and living arrangements
Nearby Tiazefang is a lot like London’s Brick Lane / Shoreditch area with a maze of shops,bars, art studios and boutiques. Whilst it was very hip and cool it also contains one of the most outrageous restaurants ever…
It is only when you get to the suburbs in the West that you feel like you have stepped back once more into real China.