Shanghai’s biggest surprise was its swarming electric vehicles. They were everywhere, in traffic and on sidewalks. Universally outlaw, they ignore one-way street designations, traffic signals, and bike paths. There are flatbed trikes moving merchandise, pastel scooters operated by chic young men and women, and family wheels with one or two extra passengers astraddle in front of and behind the driver. There are electric rickshaws and even electric unicycles. Pedestrians and police dodge them like wasps in the wind.
I loved the serenity of the Confucian Temple. I also loved their thrift shop which sells donated Chinese cultural artifacts at negotiable prices. It is a museum where, if you will, you may purchase something on display. Thank God I’m traveling by bike! The Jade Buddha Temple isn’t quite so serene, but offers another wonderful look at ancient China. Both are active places of worship, but welcome respectful visitors.
Today’s China may be found at the East Nanjing Pedestrian Road – designer shops sell up-market clothing and name-brand watches. This just across the street from Peoples Square, a park celebrating the nearly forgotten victory of the proletariat. Who wants baggy khakis, combat boots, and flat hats when you can buy Gucci, Armani, and Rolex just up the street?
At the other end of East Nanjing Road is The Bund, Colonial Shanghai’s financial center. Here you can stroll down an elevated boardwalk and look across the Huangpu River to Pudong, Shanghai’s Tomorrow-Land. It’s a brand new financial and business district featuring illuminated skyscrapers, broad thoroughfares, and robber barons on the make. The best way to see Pudong is by tour boat at night when it shines its brightest – A time when Pudong’s predators are dining in restaurants along the riverfront and in star-bright islands in the night sky.
The Disney organization is constructing a theme park in Pudong to attract even more tourists. I wonder what Chinaland will look like; whether it will bear any resemblance to the real China just outside its sanitized gates.
The places I loved best were the street markets and open bazaars filled with handcrafted trinkets and exotic foods such as deep fried octopus and scorpions on a stick. All prices are very negotiable, that’s part of the entertainment.
If you want an unforgettable souvenir, stop by Shanghai Tattoo on Maoming Nan Lu where Dylan, an Irish ex-pat, and his partner Ting provide traditional and modern body art for the adventuresome visitor. At his nearby barbershop, Dylan offers a complementary glass of whisky with every trim. Call for an appointment at 1-358-594-4558 or just drop by to enjoy the craic.
Western Food: In Hangpu District, Munchies serves beef, chicken, and shrimp tacos with Dos Equis beer. They even offer a breakfast burrito made with bacon, scrambled eggs, and re-fried beans. Sprouts, in nearby Xintiandi, offers familiar foods, including vegan and vegetarian dishes, in a clean, cafeteria-style restaurant. There’s a hotel terrace cafe in Xintiandi which offers hamburgers & chips and Murphy’s porter on draft which, like Popeye’s spinach, is tonic for the homesick West Corkman. For a step into the colonial past, have steak, whiskey, and Cuban cigars at The Roosevelt House in the former French Concession. They do, thank God, accept Visa and Mastercharge. (FYI, Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR’s mother, inherited her father’s fortune from the opium trade. The Roosevelts have deep roots in Shanghai.)
Transportation: Shanghai is served by a fleet of liveried taxis which are inexpensive, clean, and metered. Don’t be tempted by the gypsies which exist to exploit tourists. Be sure you have your destination written in Chinese. Alternatively, the Metro system is clean, easy to learn, and bi-lingual. It’s less expensive than the cabs, often faster, and can be mastered in a day.
I’d like to return to Shanghai and get to know her better, but I’d soon find my way home to West Cork, where the women are clever, the men are handsome, and people still sometimes wear the flat hats and khakis of the revolution.