Farewell China

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.

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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.

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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).

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This was awesome. An older woman writing on the sidewalk with water!

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…

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Around Shanghai

Shanghai is a great place to end this trip because it really rounds out my view of China. Beijing is the massive, ancient capital, Xi’an is the cradle of all Chinese civilization, and Shanghai is the modern metropolis, the New York of China. I’ve seen the ancient, and now I see the present, and all of the extreme modernity of the country.

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And so far, Shanghai is an accessible, easy to navigate place. In fact, it is really the only city that I have been able to completely walk, without at all relying on taxis. This is nice, and I think the best way to get around. What I am also enjoying about Shanghai is that it really feels like you are in Europe, or at least London and England.

I say this because Shanghai was once a true colonial city, and the British basically rebuilt England along the stretch of the Huangpu River that cuts right through Shanghai. If you were jut suddenly dropped here, I think you could easily believe that you were in London, not Asia. The buildings look English, the streets are cobble-stone, and inside the buildings you’d even feel like you were in a London hotel. A true nice change of pace from all of the ancient architecture I’ve been exposed to for these last 2 weeks.

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But, Shanghai is also one of those “one off” cities, meaning that you can pretty much see what there is to see in a day or so. There isn’t any huge, massive sight, except perhaps walking up the Bund, or the promenade by the river, seeing the colonial architecture, and going into the excellent Shanghai Museum, which is one of the easiest, most accessible museums I have ever been in. Besides that, Shanghai is more of a sight in-itself, just seeing the modernity and consumerism, and endless shopping that goes on. Sitting and watching the city for a couple of hours is maybe the best way to take it in.

Overall, it is a nice ending, a big, comfortable city, fun to just walk, and so far keeping up with the excellent food I have had this entire time. Tomorrow is my last full day, and I am off to see the French part of town.

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