The Many Faces of Shanghai

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to cab it around Shanghai and see some of it’s beauty and cultural diversity. I started by visiting “The Bund”, the Shanghai Waterfront where on each side is a different architectural landscape. You can go to the waterfront, much like Penn’s Landing, only much bigger and surrounded my different architecture, and watch the sparkling waters and the many freight barges that strome in and out of the port. On one side are the new buildings, the highrises that host multinational companies and on the other side is the European architecture built before 1949. The interesting thing about the many highrises and buildings in asia is that they are not afraid to change their skyline, build new buildings – of course Shanghai like Beijing is expanisve so they have the room…but unlike New York or Philadlephia who’s skyline rarely changes, chances are the next time you are in Shanghai, you will have a different Vista to visit.

Next I headed to Yu Yuan Gardens. The Gardens were built during the Ming Dynasty in the 18th Century and has the 4 classic elements of a traditional Chinese Garden – water, plants, architecture and “rockeries”. The Chinese were fascinated by these odd rock formations similar to the ones you may have seen in my Beijing Forbidden City pictures. It was beautiful and given that the day was gorgeous and the temperature on the warmer side, the slight breeze off the water and wandering through the over 40 different vista points was relaxing and what I think of when I think of old China. Outside the Yuyuan gardens of course is the bazaar. I didn’t shop much this time around – I bought a silk fan that is a very pretty green/blue with a black handpainting of leaves. I might try to go back to the bazaar this morning before I leave.

Next I went to the “French Concession” or a place called Xintiandi (Zee-Tee-ahn-dee). If I lived in Shanghai this would be my spot as it is for the many other expats that live here. Xitiandi means “Heaven and Earth”. Restored “Shikumen” houses now house delightful cafes and restaurants and there is a mix of people that hang there from all over the world. I went to a restaurant with one of my colleagues that apparently is the best in Shanghai – not expensive – our entire meal cost $28 total and we had the most amazing dumplings, spinich with garlic and ginger, a yummy noodle dish with peanut sauce. Delicious. The place is called Din Tai Fung and by all accounts the food was some of the best I’ve had in China. Earlier in the week I also ate at another restaurant where my Chinese colleagues ordered a variety of vegetarian dishes. In Shanghai the food is richer in taste than it is in Beijing – it’s saltier, sweeter and oilier than Beijing but this place that I went to flavored everything just right. I like the simplicity of Chinese vegetable dishes done right – you can extract every flavor that you are eating – for example eggplant – in america we do all sorts of things to eggplant – we mash it, we roast it we encrust it with cheese and breadcrumbs and we fry it…here in China I had it in a way that was exquisite! It was cut into strips, soaked in a mixture of tea and sesame oil and it tasted sooo goood. Anyway, Xintiandi was not built for the locals – it’s for the locals with money and for the expats but definitely a place to dedicate an afternoon to should you have free time in Shanghai.

Next my travels led me to Taikang Road a small neighborhood with little alley ways to get lost in. Small boutiques, some with junk, some with cute local artifacts. I didn’t buy anything there but it was fun to make my way through the maze and stop into little boutiques the size of a closet. It cracked me up because the women try to sell you things you can get for much cheaper for high prices. This woman was trying to sell me a reproduction of something I could get on for much less. She says “this artist very famous in china, even reproduction go for 100’s of us dollars”. You have to give these shopkeepers credit though – they work for evey sale – especially when you have tourist written on your forehead!

Today, my last morning in Shanghai I am thinking that i might hit Dongtai Rd – I have not been or maybe hit the YuYuan one more time to stroll around the bazaar.

While my opinion of Shanghai is still that it is no Beijing in terms of traditional nuance but I would say it like this. If I were only visiting China and wanted to experience Chinese history and tradition, I would head to Beijing. If I were to live in China as an expat, it would hands down be the multifaceted, the multi cultural…Shanghai.

One last note on Shanghai and it is a comment that I will make about China and Hong Kong together – they seem like a happy people. Love is abundant – old couples dance in the morning on city sidewalks and young couples hold hands and are affectionate and …happy. the one child policy has had social repercussions and yet also bred a generation that has to find that sibiling relationship through other avenues – friends. Even in the office I noticed they work together, fight together like family.

On my way home yesterday my Chinese speaking colleaue had written my “Take me back to hotel at this address ” in Mandarin incorreclty. She got the address wrong and the taxi driver and I had a hard time communicating. We went in circles and he was clearly frustrated. So then instead of saying “Portman” I said “POR-TAH-MANNNN” and he goes OHHHHH “POR-TAH-MANNNNN” and he shook his head. He shook his head for a bit longer and then when stopped at a red light he pointed at my bag and motioned for the slip of paper with the incorrect address on it. He took out a pen, made an arrow and wrote some characters in Mandarin. He pointed and says “NOW POR-TAH-MANNNN”. I smiled – I felt taken care of. And so after days of cringing repeatedly saying my name “NEEEE-TAHHHHH” I relished in the fact that despite being disinterested in the city in the beginning of the week, and being resistant to speaking any mandarin – I even abandoned my ni hau – that I ended my day with an English word spoken in a Chinese way and it brought me “home”.


About the author

Nita is a writer, marketing professional and passionate healthy living advocate. She has a number of fiction and non-fiction works in process and in the mean time shares her blog posts at and runs a health forum at

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