Shanghai, Day 08
It’s 7am, Sunday the 20th of June. I’ve just started my day by walking out onto Zhujiabang Lu – one of the major roads here in the Magnolia city. Given if this was any ordinary weekend at home, I wouldn’t even have been out of bed until mid-day. Today, is my final day in Shanghai. I remember coming into the city for the very first time the Sunday before, just right about this time in the morning as well. Like that morning, the sky today is gloomy and threatens to spoil the day with its pissy summer drizzle. Then, I thought it was just an unfortunate welcome to the Paris of the Orient and spent the first half of my Sunday catching up on my sleep.
Today, its different. I now know that blue skies are rare in smog-filled Shanghai and as long as the it doesn’t starts to pour, it is considered a good day. After spending a week here, I can say that I’m fairly orientated with the city and her weather. I’ve also gotten used to the fact that the city’s well known glittery skyscrapers are just a facade. Behind every neck-breaking building is another depleting tight lane with rows of have-seen-better day homes. I’ve also gotten used to being alone. I’ve learn that the city can be a very contrasting place. Also, In a city of 18 million inhabitant, being a non-Chinese-speaking Chinese can be a very lonely experience. I’ve also surrendered to the fact that the city is so much more humid than it is back home. Besides having to get a little used to, I find the city quite a pleasant surprise. But sadly, despite finally warming up to the city, I am heading home in a few hours time.
As this is my first trip to China, I came with a checklist of things I would like to experience, and Shanghai has not disappoint so far. I’ve managed well considering I’ve only had a few days to myself – thanks to the world wide web, a TimeOut guidebook, multiple iPhone apps and detailed tips from a friend of a friend. The only thing left to strike off that list was a walk in the park. I hear that the locals do it very differently here. Although it is known as the Magnolia city, Shanghai is an unremitting urban jungle and public parks are a rarity. Hence, these small squares are popular gathering spaces for all ages – making them great for people watching.
My park du jour was Fuxing Park, located in the heart of the French Concession. Started about a century ago, this French-styled gardens broad promenades has remained virtually unchanged. As I arrived, tai chi enthusiasts were just leaving the park, leaving the center fountain area behind to the gentle waltzing veterans, the cha-cha pensioners, a few badminton enthusiasts and a singing ‘glee’ club. There’s even a group dedicated to maracas! It was amazing being in the centre of all these creativity. No offense, but who would have guessed that the senior citizens of Shanghai had this much energy in them! And right at the back of the park’s well manicured rose garden is the quieter park of the park with its gazebos taken up by gentle poets and strategic chess players. If I had the time, I could have set here all day just watching them play a few games. But for now, I’ll sit here until I’m done composing this entry on my iPhone.
The park wasn’t the only magical part of this morning. En route to the park I walked the tree-lined streets of the old French Concession one last time. The little people of Shanghai was just starting their day. Many walk out from their shared housing into the main street, in their pyjamas no less! A girl was brushing her teeth on the curb while another family sets a make shift table for breakfast right outside their Mom & Pop shop. On the next street corner was a lady washing her long silken black hair too. It’s bizarre yet fascinating to take in.
Suddenly, the air around that street corner was perfumed with a heavenly scent of bread. The curious foodie in me led the way and I found myself in front of a Yóutiáo (Chinese Doughnuts) store with a long line waiting to get their breakfast. Apart from Chinese doughnuts, this family-runned store also makes a delicious and pillowy Spring Onion Flat Bread in a deep round coal oven. The texture and preparation reminds me of an Indian na’an, but the taste was undeniably Chinese. The bread was fragrant by the savory aroma of the spring onions, and sweetness from the sesame seeds. At only RMB0.30 (RM0.15/USD0.045), this has got to be the most delicious cheap eat I’ve encountered in Shanghai. I was glad my final day started with a beautiful breakfast.
Watching these families go about their morning, I suddenly missed my family and friends back home too. Thankfully, I’ve already packed and ready to head home.
Note: Most of these photos were intentionally shot in high contrast in an ode to the contrasting nature of Shanghai. Also, many thanks to the Queen for loaning her wide angle lens to me. Without it, neither of these beautiful pictures would have been possible.
Spring Onion Flat Bread and Yu Tiao
#259, Jinan Lu, Near Fuxing Zhong Lu,