Today was my last full day in China, and what a beautiful day. Perfectly clear, a bit of breeze, and maybe 80ish outside. Made for strolling, which is exactly what I did, through the beautiful French Concession area of Shanghai.
If the Bund is where the British were, the Concession is where the French rebuilt Paris in Asia. The area is eerily reminiscent of France. With great shade trees lining wide streets, gated villas, and stately French architecture everywhere. I mainly felt like I was back in southern France, in Aix. Same exact feel, and nearly identical type of weather. A stroll in this area is truly a must do, and makes for some excellent people watching. Everyone just going about their business, all the while with bicycles slowly going by.
The French Concession really is all about walking and observing, and is supremely beautiful, almost too beautiful. What I mean by this is that you honestly lose touch with where you are, and, like at the Bund, can suddenly swear you are in Europe. It is a replication. Designer shops everywhere, eateries everywhere, high end and more high end. Not that this isn’t nice, for a while. But one thing I have really noticed in Shanghai is that most people, the normal, everyday Chinese, do not really live like this.
A great case in point in that nothing is ever busy is the posh parts of town. I honestly think a lot of businesses never see a customer the entire day. A true image I will take back with me is the empty, ritzy stores with some poor person sitting, bored out of their mind all day. I can back this up even more because I have gone in these stores, and it’s like the person awakes from the dead, and is so happy there’s a person in the store. It’s not that they want you to buy something per see. I honestly think they are just so grateful to have something to do.
So, Shanghai is supremely beautiful. A wealthy, posh place full of every imaginable comfort. Geared towards luxury and pleasure. But, for the traveler, quite frankly a pretty boring place. I need some more rough-edges, some nasty smells, some challenges. It’s just too nice here, and that leaves me unaware of the underbelly that makes for the best travel. I find that you really only come to appreciate places when you see the grit and grime and nastiness… these are the things, oddly, that are the most beautiful. The side-streets, the dirty alleys, the people living honestly. The smells and chaos and weirdness and beauty. Things that are too nice are hiding something, and that’s a shame for the traveler (though not perhaps for the tourist).
But, all in all, I can’t complain, though it might sound like I am. Shanghai is a wonderful city, and I have loved being here. It is the future of China, and I would definitely come back. We just can’t lose sight of the ancient, the old, the nasty, the unclean, in that relentless march forward. For me at least, that would be a great, great shame…