Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Shanghai - 5 Things

In 2011 I visited Shanghai for a book I was writing -- a Street Style book.  I knew nothing about street style and nothing about Shanghai.  It was my first trip to China and I had no idea what to expect.

First thing to know is that Shanghai has such a wonderful history that I thoroughly recommend travellers read some of the great books about Shanghai.  Some of my favourites

Unfortunately we cannot visit the Shanghai of yesteryear but today's Shanghai is interesting but nowhere near as exciting.  (Why is it I never seem to be visiting a place when it's at its cultural peak?).

Five Things I  Liked 

1) My Hotel I stayed in the wonderful Langham Hotel which is about twenty steps from the People's Square train station...or it would have been if I had taken the right exit.  I wish hotels will tell you which exit to take.  In fact, I passed the hotel several times as the photo on the website was NOTHING like the hotel from ground level.  I cannot even believe it looks like that on the top levels.  Reminder to contact hotel and ask.  Anyway the hotel is a glorious 1930s Art Deco hotel.  I believe now the hotel is no longer part of the Langham chain - so be warned there might be changes.  But for the time I was there it was fantastic.  The picture below is taken from the hotel website.  I'll see if I can hunt out a larger one from my camera.

2) Energetic Buzz.  The place is of course filled with people - over 23 million people live in Shanghai.  But I love that kind of energy.  The roads are filled with lots of interesting characters - and no they're not all on bikes. Walking along the Bund at night is great.  Beware of the shops there - wow are they expensive.

3) Fashion Scene - of course I was there to do a fashion shoot so I thought the clothing was extraordinary.  A very cosmopolitan city - most of the people we shot were not actually from Shanghai - they were visiting from Korea, Japan and Hong Kong.  Most of the women wore at least one branded item - Louis Vuitton, Prada etc - Asian women take their luxury brands very seriously. 

4) Shopping - No surprises that there is plenty of cheap stuff in Shanghai.  I  must admit to scouring the markets looking at the knock-off merchandise.  But the quality is pretty poor - even the material hidden behind the facades.  Yep if you show an interest, some will open the fake back door and let you browse what's behind the scenes.  I did manage to buy some great shoes and a scarves.  Also I got a couple of pairs of prescription glasses made up - again the quality of the frames wasn't good - one pair didn't last longer than a couple of months but at about AUD30 a pair I didn't mind.  However my prescription sunnies are still holding up two years on! And I get loads of complements about them. Hint: get frames that are STURDY.  Also avoid the lookalike brand names - they are NOT real brands so don't pay the extra. Sephora - my favourite American cosmetic store - was there but it had none of the brands that I expected.  I wasn't game to buy the Asian brands as I was unsure if they would suit my skin. 

So here are some of the shopping places
  • Maison Mode, located at No.1312, Huaihai Road - all the big names are here.
  • Nanjing Road (including East Nanjing Road and West Nanjing Road), one of the four streets, enjoys the reputation of No.1 Commercial Street in China. Has a great selection of everyday shops including western ones such as Marks and Spencers etc
  • Xin Tian Di - a fantastic area - French Concession and lots of pretty streets and even better shops. 
  • Dongtai Road - antiques.
  • Cheaper clothes and knock off stuff -
    580 Nanjing West Road Fenxiang market - walking distance from People's Square
    Xinyang market and A&P Plaza at Science and Tech Museum - which is a 20 minute ride from People's Square.
Typical Shop - Photo taken from this webpage which tells all about the markets

Be warned -- these "markets" have hundreds of shops.  Bargain as much as you can. Be prepared to walk away.  Also I bought strands of pearls at about AUD10 per strand they were great Xmas gifts. Just rub against your teeth to see if they are "authentic".

For more information look at this webpage as it includes directions and great descriptions.  There is a shopping tour - but at AUD200 it's a little out of my league.

5) Prices - Transportation is cheap especially taxis but when you're visiting the markets etc I would take the underground which is easy and cheap.  Overall I it wasn't as cheap as I imagined - or hoped for TBH. Western cosmetics as they are roughly the same price--darn I had hoped to be able to stock up.

5 Things I Didn't Like

1) Cultural void - Shanghai didn't have the wow cultural icons one usually gets in say Paris or Rome or London.  The museums are okay--but then I think Australia has some of the most innovative museums I have visited.  Must visit the Shanghai Museum.  This is a place for absorbing the culture at the street level.  The buildings in the French Concession were fantastic and I could have spent days just wondering the streets. Try visiting Fuxing Park.  The best map for art galleries is avail in major hotel lobbies http://www.shanghai-detour.org/.  

2) Food - okay I'll admit I'm a bit of a coward..  I was there on my own and after a day's shooting I didn't feel like trooping through the streets seeking some out of the way place for 'authentic' food.  The hotel was in a very western part so most of the places were pretty much western.  And I often ate at the hotel - which was good but uninspired.  TBH I had better luck in Taiwan - look for my blog on that.  When I went to the shopping markets, I ate there because the food seemed more authentic.

Still - the bakeries are marvellous - it must be the French influence.  So often at night I would duck across the road to the shopping mall and buy some of the baked goodies.  Yum.

3) Pollution - the city is pretty hazy some days.  It meant that photography across The Bund wasn't always great in the daylight hours.  It didn't effect me personally but I thought I should warn the really susceptible people. 

Looking Across the Bund to the Business District

4) Heat - I was there mid-September and the heat was debilitating.  Remember I was working in the streets so I probably copped the worst of it.  The steam rises from the sidewalks. We often ducked into air-conditioned places such as Starbucks (arrgghh I hate Starbucks but the air-con was always frosty) to grab a cold drink - prices there were pretty much the same as we have.  

5) Language barrier - now while I can cope in most cities, when I'm on my own I turn into a complete coward.  It's not that I didn't feel safe - it's more that I fear making a fool of myself ordering a meal only to find that it is liver or something - I did that in Tokyo a couple of times.  It also meant that as I couldn't read the maps or street signs so well, I often wandered around for hours to find I was only steps away from my destination. 

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