Sunday, November 24, 2013
Movin' on up
You know a city has reached a certain level of prosperity when it can afford to convert a formerly crowded tenement housing area into a chic shopping zone full of the kinds of boutiques, cafes and arts-and-crafts shops that can only thrive when the populace has income to dispose of on such kinds of things. The residents of Shànghăi 上海, in particular, seem to have plenty of cash to throw around these days as there are several such commercialized enclaves within the city limits. On this rainy, chilly Sunday afternoon we visited one of them, an area within the French Concession 上海法租界 known as Tiánzĭfāng 田子坊.
But not before first having a lunch of northwestern Chinese 西北 cuisine at a restaurant located in the underground shopping center around Dăpŭqiáo Metro station 打浦桥站. Though the interior was intended to conjure up Silk Road images of old Xī'ān 西安, the overall effect was more like that of an eatery you would find on the restaurant floor of any large Japanese department store.
In Tianzifang proper, Amber was so fascinated with the candy-making process at a shop called Candy Lab that she was actually willing to part with some of her allowance money and purchased some strawberry-flavored rock candy.
The narrow alleyways of Tianzifang make up an area of traditional Shanghai brick townhouses called shíkùmén 石库门. Instead of being razed in the name of progress, which has been the fate of most of the city's shikumen, the buildings in this district were renovated in the name of tourism. Even on a day when the weather was less-than-cheerful, the alleys were packed with visitors, with a seemingly disproportionately high number of Westerners and Japanese.
Many of the shops sold the kinds of non-essential curios that wouldn't be out of place in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, or any suburban American shopping mall for that matter ("essential oils", anybody?), but a few of the converted old buildings housed galleries dedicated to local craftspeople of note (at least according to the information boards), like the potter's shop pictured above or the gallery displaying the works of an painter who survived the excesses of Maoism by repairing shoes for 17 years before being allowed to paint again.
I had high hopes for this propaganda poster shop, but the reproductions were cheaply produced and overpriced, and there were too many items of the 很可爱-variety.
The girls, unsurprisingly, found the whole browsing-and-shopping experience to be very gratifying.
I was surprised at the number of non-Chinese dining establishments in Tianzifang. Among the various restaurants offering Indian and Thai cuisine, as well as Western-style brunches, was this branch of Taiwan's infamous Modern Toilet chain. Any more contributions such as this to world cuisine, and the renegade province deserves to be "re-united with the mainland" by force.
One satisfied little girl after polishing off her first egg tart. Dad still prefers the jam-filled variety from the isles of Albion, something he hasn't had in quite some time.
Back in our neighborhood, and a more palatable Taiwanese dish for dinner, the humble but satisfying jīròufàn 鸡肉饭.