Fashionable Shanghai: Tom Kirkham – China, February 2018



At the Bund in Shanghai with other volunteer teachers from our group (fourth from the right is me)

At the Bund in Shanghai with other volunteer teachers from our group (fourth from the right is me)


Gazing out at the skyscrapers of the Bund you feel you are no longer in China. On the one hand, this is indeed a very modern city. There are skyscrapers everywhere whose scale will leave you speechless. These, of course, are there thanks to China’s very fast growth in recent years. However, some buildings still date back to colonial times and are evidence of Shanghai’s history. These European-style buildings – low, and with stone covering their surface instead of glass – still seem a little out of place. Further away from the Bund, in other areas of Shanghai, the contrast between local and foreign culture is equally striking. The city is intersected everywhere by motorways, and most locals live in apartment blocks at least twenty storeys high, but in the French quarter, amongst China’s many super-rich, it is a different story. Here it is still small French-style houses which are the most popular. These houses all have their own small garden, which is something that I had never before seen in a Chinese city. The influence of French culture is also visible on the streets: here there are few of the usual restaurants serving noodles and stir-fries, but instead many cafes. Many of these are small, but this is after all Shanghai, the booming city which has huge everything, and cafes are no exception. On a roundabout on West Nanjing Road is the largest Starbucks in the world. The round building looks like something else: inside all the walls are covered with patterned copper boards. Visitors can watch the staff, many of whom are foreigners, use wacky machines to make the coffee. Remember – ordinary Shanghainese don’t tend to drink coffee in the morning, but instead drink a bowl of eight-treasures porridge or soy milk. A bowl of that stuff will cost you at most 5 yuan, but if you want a trendy foreign coffee you will probably pay as much as thirty. In my eyes, these examples sum up Shanghai: this place became early on a hugely prosperous and very open city and has remained so ever since. No wonder this piece of writing is all about French houses and western brands.

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