Shanghai: melting pot of old and new, east and west, departure point for the silk sea trading route.
With all of the main silk destinations visited, Shanghai was the conclusion to our trip and to catch our flight home. Obviously we'd given ourselves some time to have a look round and we were interested in it as it does form part of the eastern silk route, as a major port, both historically and as part of the new Belt and Road Initiative. Shanghai is huge, which you already know, but a look at the Metro map will help your mind to adjust to the scale of Chinese cities. We came across it only in Chinese to get our first tickets on the Metro and went in search of a machine that also had English in order to understand our route across the city. Daunting at first, but after a few journeys it soon became familiar and accessible.
We stayed in an Airbnb situated in the French concession, a leafy and low rise area that has for the most part escaped huge redevelopment. In 1849 Shanghai ceded an area for French settlement to the french consul and still retains a lot of charm created by the colonial buildings and streets lined with imported plane trees. The first thing we noticed is that Shanghai has embraced coffee culture and for the first time in a long while we were able to get a decent brew. Afterwards we headed to Tianzifang, a labyrinth of alleyways between interesting traditional buildings redeveloped with boutique shops and cafes. It was packed and unlike in other areas on our trip, we encountered a lot of western tourists. We spent a while window shopping, getting lost in a twee world of pink, toys and trinkets.
Walking around the tree lined streets in a colonial district we passed hotels with people enjoying cream teas outside! Nearby was the residence of Sun Yatsen the first president of the Chinese Republic and buildings in early 20th century Art Deco and French Renaissance style. Silk and chi-paos were very evident in in boutique shops, we also unusually came across some graffiti and a common event on our trip, a man who wanted to take our picture. We headed to Xintiandi, essentially a shopping mall based around two blocks of Shikumen (stone gatehouses) with outside dining and high end shopping, where we sampled the local Pale Ale, before heading back to the French concession to enjoy a meal in a small local restaurant. Chinese menus are certainly something to behold, especially when the dishes have been translated in to English. 'Hand Bag Food' or 'Hot hair and hot blood' anyone?
On our last day we travelled to a new district near the river to the Powerstation of Art to see the David Shrigley exhibition 'Lose Your Mind'. There were the obvious comparisons with Tate Modern, with its size, previous function, architecture and that fact that it offered a great view over the Huangpu River, plus it also had a wide selection of national and international artists' work on display. There wasn't the historical content though that we'd seen in the other museums.
We thought we'd be proper tourists and headed to East Nangjing Lu, or the Oxford Street of Shanghai, in search of the old Shanghai Silk Commercial Building which we discovered is now occupied by Zara. This led us to The Bund, with views over the river and the sky scrapers of Pudong reflecting back the setting sun, which was a rather magical moment. We stayed until the buildings started to come alive with their neon and LED light shows, before continuing our search for silk in the Silk Market of old town. Fangbang Road was a highlight here with its hustle and bustle, traditional arts, crafts, tat stores and street food.
In all our time was limited but provided a good punctuation point for the trip before we headed home the following day.