Sunday 27 June 2010

Shanghai Shabby-Bling

Well, here’s an important Hint to any Blogging Travellers out there: you can’t do it from China. Maybe there are ways around used by canny Chinese bloggers, but from Wednesday until today Hints to Lady Travellers had, to all intents and purposes, vanished into the ether. I’m glad to see it was only a temporary disappearance.

But if I couldn’t update the blog, I could take in as much as I could of Shanghai’s sights and sounds.

The defining sound of Shanghai is the car horn. Incessant, persistent, day and night. The air is warm, damp and smoky; the smog is thick over the city.

There are a lot of bicycles. I saw one lady riding her bike, steering with one hand and holding a pink umbrella aloft with the other. Otherwise, ponchos that cover you and your bike seem to be de rigeur during the rainy season.

There are people everywere: 21 million in the city proper, 80 million in the surrounding areas. I don’t know where you would go if you wanted some quiet time.

There are cultural differences aplenty: I ordered a croissant, it was served with a fork. I went into Starbucks and The First Nowell was playing. (I actually visited Starbucks every day while I was there. That’s four times more than I’ve visited Starbucks in the last year but the jet lag hit me hard and it was the easiest place to get my caffeine fix.) My favourite food emporium was the bread shop near where I was staying which stocked sweet and savoury rolls and buns with exotic names: ‘Reconcilitation Between Cross Straits’ (round, doughy, nuts on top) and ‘Pearis Hilton’ (long, squidgy, pears inside) were the best.

There are hints of Shanghai’s brush with Europe visible in the old buildings along the Bund and in the former French concession, and a few hints of its older history,

but mostly it’s a mixture of older concrete towers and newer concrete towers. And bling. Designer shops – Chanel, Dior, Calvin Klein – all over the place.

Chinese taste seems to run to shiny and glittery. It’s quite a contrast with the shabby apartment blocks and down at heel corner shops,

the crazy, crazy traffic and the bizarrely translated signs.

In honour of Shanghai’s unique style, I coined a name for it. You’ve heard of shabby-chic, now there’s shabby-bling. Sequins and down-at-heel slippers. I wouldn’t want to live in Shanghai, but it is an … invigorating experience, I think is the best way of describing it. It grabs you and shakes you and makes your head swim. Interesting times indeed.

I leave you with a picture of Shanghai at night:

(Well, actually the model of Shanghai in the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre.)

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