If you want to see Shanghai quickly, just visit the Shanghai Planning Exhibition. They have a truly amazing recreation of urban Shanghai in miniature with thousands upon thousands of model buildings. Even the expo was rendered in tiny scale.
Shanghai is a relatively young city for China. Much of the Shanghai we see today only dates from the 1830’s onwards, when the city became a treaty port and there was an influx of Europeans. The next major architectural upheaval was, in a sense, when it returned to a treaty port, but on Chinese terms, the city becoming a free trade zone with the science fiction architecture of Pudong rising out of the paddy fields.
The photos of old Shanghai at the exhibition make for fascinating viewing, but it’s best to have read some of the city’s history before visiting. Some of the other levels are less compulsive viewing, more advertisements than windows into the future for the city.
Straight after leaving the exhibition we descended underground into a tacky recreation of an old Shanghai street. It felt very much like being back in Japan, with all the youth oriented stores in the arcade setting.
We were after some more reminders of Shanghai and Chinese history, making our way south and back to the edges of the Old Town and the Dongtai Street Antiques Market. The market consists of a series of small stalls selling recreated antique and communist era items like brass teapots, scrolls, abacuses, little red Mao books, and porcelain communist worker statues. I even saw some little Chinese Tintin books.
For all the choices we could decide on none and left empty handed. Alex was hungry. I had taken him to the hotel buffet breakfast and he had pigged out on watermelon and other fruits, noodles and hash browns. There were no such choices in this area. We found a street with some tiny and grotty looking Chinese food stalls, none with any English indication of what they served. Eventually we just sat down at one serving fried dumplings and noodles, going for the former because we could just point to them on the big pan. Alex ate them.
Another block and we were in Xintiandi, an expensive and very fashionable part of town. Here we expats and metrosexual Chinese dining in chic cafes and restaurants at the opposite end of the spectrum to what we had just eaten.
We browsed through the Shanghai Museum Shop branch, then walked through the Shikumen House Museum, a recreation of the blended Chinese and Western style of house that was popular with Chinese merchants.
B and I were still hungry, but the nearby restaurants were expensive and foreign and not tempting. We changed Alex’s nappy in a nearby cinema and shopping complex where we were accosted by a party of action figure characters who asked if they could take their photo with us.
Yes, I have got that the right way round.
That was enough of Xintiandi, we thought, so we caught the nearby metro back to East Nanjing Road station and followed the huge crowd down to the Bund. It was crowded with tourists taking photos. I found it stifling and after a few photos had to get away.
The Chinese women are so amusing to watch when being photographed. They do vain glamour poses. I must try to take some photos of them at it.
We were all a bit tired and I was sore. So we sat on some steps facing away from the river and just admired the art deco architecture of the Bund, old banks, hotels and merchant offices overlooking the river embankment.
Some of the others around us found Alex fascinating, one man wanting to share his photo of Alex leaning against my back with us.
It was not far back to the hotel from the Bund, but we got delayed by some clothes shopping for Alex. By this time my feet and Alex’s stomach had had enough (my shoulders were much happier after some adjustments to the backpack) and I was very glad to be back in our room. Outside was so nice, however!
Despite this being Shanghai, we both wanted to eat Peking Duck. A colleague, recently returned from Shanghai, had shown me a photo of a Quanjude branch in the city. In 2007 we had eaten the best Peking Duck meal there in Beijing, so we decided to check out their Shanghai version.
It was in Xintiandi!
Rather than use the metro again we decided to hire a taxi. It cost us an Australian dollar more than the metro.
This Quanjude branch lacked the cartoon duck statue at the entrance and we were initially unsure if it was the right place. After showing the restaurant reception the Lonely Planet Chinese they confirmed we were correct.
The reception girls wear an elaborate historic costume that includes small platform clogs that they shuffle around in. The duck meat was sliced in front of us, with the carcass taken away for other uses. I didn’t find the place as welcoming as the Beijing branch, but the food was still good enough.
On the taxi ride in we had seen all sorts of wonderful European and local shops outside, including H&M and Sephora. We had to do a spot of shopping before returning to the hotel. It was dark when we emerged from the restaurant, but the street was lit up with lots of red lanterns hanging from bright green trees. It was an amazing effect.
There were a few kids shops around. We were so tempted to purchase a Combi stroller from one of the baby department stores, but when we tried Alex in it we realised that it lacked shoulder straps and, apart from the safety concerns, it wouldn’t hold him in anyway!
We saw this man sitting at a bus stop in his colourful pyjamas, smoking.
A bit of shopping for B, then we tried to catch a taxi back to the hotel with a very, very tired toddler on my shoulder. I had ditched the backpack for the night. We waited quite a while outside of a freaky Barbie Spa, glowing pink. Eventually the taxi took us back through the blue glowing streets and back to the hotel, where a confused young boy has forgotten his sleep routines thanks to his naughty parents.