Everyone’s gone. The ship has departed. We’ve stayed on.
Having flown the 84 hours it takes to get to SE Asia (only a slight exaggeration), we thought we’d stick around a bit longer and see some China on our own. Since we were already in Shanghai, that seemed like an obvious place to start.
We checked into The Langham Hotel (highly recommended by us) and found ourselves in the middle of Shanghai’s swankiest shopping district – the Xiantandi. Because we’ve been living under a rock for the last 50 years, we expected to find Chinese people dressed in the typical gray four-pocketed worker’s jacket with little black slippers on their feet. (It was considered unpatriotic to dress fashionably during the cultural revolution.) Today, I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. We found Shanghai to be one of the most fashion-forward cities we’ve ever visited. Step aside, Paris! Make way, New York! Don’t make us laugh, Los Angeles! Shanghai rules!
Since we’d visited a temple, the old market, the ancient garden, the tallest building, etc. etc. the day before, we felt it was our duty to explore the current fashion scene in order to report the truth back to you. (It also helps that Roger and I love to shop.) As frivolous as shopping seems, it WAS necessary because we’d made a last-minute decision to visit Beijing, where the temps hovered at 30F. We’d packed for Thailand and Vietnam where it was 98F. I needed a coat.
I quickly found the PERFECT Chinese coat (you’ll see it in my next posting), which freed us up to explore the surrounding streets – and marvel at how much this area (and this city) didn’t resemble ANY China that we’d ever imagined. (Stereotypical China is surely out there somewhere – we just didn’t see it on this trip).
The Xiantandi is comprised of ‘longtangs’ (old alleys) of ‘Shikumen’ (Stone Gate) houses from the mid 19th century. Most have been repurposed as romantically atmospheric restaurants or startlingly sleek clothing shops. The ‘longtangs’ are lined with trees and outdoor cafes; the occasional fountain provides a burbling gathering place. We wandered for hours. Here’s a peek at what we saw:
In an interesting juxtaposition, among all this seeming ‘capitalist’ excess, the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, housed in one of the Shikumens, drew a steady stream of male visitors.
Nearby, we found a well-populated park with signage espousing socialist values
and a VERY reassuring medical center:
Do you remember the ‘dockless bike’ problem I mentioned in an earlier post? This sidewalk was passable – unlike many others.
At night, the Xiantandi puts on a light show. It doesn’t quite rival Las Vegas or Times Square (because all the firepower is concentrated downtown along the water, I’m guessing), but it’s still dazzling to walk amidst.
A parting Shanghai image: in Japanese, ifuku means “awe”. I’m hoping this was a Japanese restaurant…
Next: My FINAL post (from this trip, I mean. Don’t get your hopes up!): Beijing!