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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Civic boosterism, Shanghai style

I have to say that things have been going pretty well recently (cue the sound of knocking on wood). Though I'm still slow compared to the veteran officers, and I persist in asking them a lot of annoying questions (which they're graceful enough to answer politely), I'm starting to get used to doing visa interviews, even if my Chinese interviewing continue to be sorely lacking. I'm enjoying the work so far, and every day is different enough that I don't see it becoming a routine, at least not yet. The heat wave is even showing signs of abating, though this means that temperatures are only likely to be around 35°C (95°F), instead of the 40°C-plus (104°F) weather we've been having the past couple of weeks. But the best news of all is that my wife and daughter have returned to Shanghai 上海 after having spent the past three weeks visiting family and friends in Taiwan, and I couldn't be more happier to see them again.

Today was the first time in more than a month that the three of us went out exploring in Shanghai. Our destination was the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall 城市规划展示馆, conveniently accessed from the People's Square Metro station  人民广场站. The first order of business, however, was to find a place to have lunch and fast, as after just a few minutes of wandering around outside, the three of us were drenched in sweat from the humidity. Pamela soon spied a cheap noodle restaurant (which was air-conditioned, thank god), and I quickly wolfed down a bowl of something:

Suitably fortified, we ventured back outside (and underground)...

The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall as seen on the opposite side of Xizang Zhong Road 西藏中路.

Amber poses in the "Old Shanghai" street located in the basement under the exhibition hall. Full of the kinds of food stands and shops that didn't exist in Shanghai in the 1930's, the only reason to linger there was to take advantage of the air conditioning.

The lobby of the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall

The purpose of the exhibition hall is to impress upon the citizenry of Shanghai their leaders' grandiose plans to turn the city into a modern metropolis. But before being wowed by the future on the upper stories, the second floor had an impressive collection of photographs of the city as it once was.

The centerpiece of the exhibition hall was on the third floor - a huge model of what Shanghai is going (supposed) to look like by the year 2020, with day (top) and night (bottom) views. China may be pursuing capitalism for all intents and purposes, but its socialist characteristics were still apparent in this grand vision of the future. It'll be a city filled with utilitarian apartment blocks, devoid of anything old or traditional other than what will be preserved in designated, tourist-friendly zones. Diplomacy prevents me from commenting further.

Adjacent to the tennis court-sized floor plan was a small room giving a 360° virtual helicopter ride of this brave new world. I had to admit it was fun.

The rest of the exhibition hall was filled with uninteresting displays consisting of the usual propaganda of how the Chinese Communist Party has improved the lives of the people of Shanghai since Liberation, and will continue doing so into the foreseeable future. The top floor, at least, had good views of the Shanghai Museum 上海博物馆 (which I visited a couple of weeks ago) on one side, and of Renmin Park 人民公园 (which we'll visit at some point in the future) on the other. The entry price wasn't too bad (30 RMB/$4.90 for adults, 15 RMB/$2.45 for kids), especially considering we were able to escape the stifling heat and humidity for a couple of hours.

We could've continued exploring the area along Renmin Dadao 人民大道, but She Who Must Be Obeyed decreed that today merited a visit to Shanghai's main branch of IKEA, and so we went. It was that quintessential weekend Chinese shopping experience - meaning that only a fool who would do so on a Saturday, Sunday or a national holiday. Even my wife couldn't take the crowds, eventually conceding that she would be better off returning on a weekday, when she could take her time checking out the merchandise in an atmosphere of (relative) calm.

We rode the Metro back to our local station, but before returning home, we walked over to an area called Laowaijie 老外街 to search for a place to have dinner. Laowai means "foreigner", while jie refers to a "street" - Laowaijie is a pedestrian-only stretch of road filled with Western-style restaurants and bars, and is thus popular with the local expatriate population (of which there are many in our area). The food street's presence is denoted with one of those brown-colored tourism signs, which gives you an idea of how the Chinese view this place. We ended up eating at one of the few Chinese restaurants on Laowaijie, a place called Amy's Restaurant. It was here that I enjoyed one aspect of life in Shanghai that is much better than what I found in Taiwan - the availability of locally produced craft beer. The city has quite a number of brewpubs and microbreweries, and I enjoyed a couple of cans of the Made-in-Shanghai suds pictured above.

The "Shanghai Sichuan 四川" food at Amy's wasn't bad, either, including this dish of duck meant to be rolled in a tortilla-like flatbread . The bill came to 226 RMB ($37), including three beers - a little expensive by local standards, but cheaper than what you might pay at similar places back in the U.S. 

Amber poses on Laowaijie outside Amy's after dinner. I can't begin to tell you how happy I am that my little girl is back here with me, so I'll leave it at that now and bid you all 晚安.


  1. Jim, i had a good laugh when i read "老外街" but then again, we have Chinatowns in the USA, so i guess it's just fair play. lol enjoyed reading this photo essay, and i'm glad the family is all back together. take care.

    1. Thanks! Amber will start school this week, and the rest of our stuff should arrive sometime next month, so it won't be too long before we get settled in here.

  2. The big question is does the Shanghai IKEA have the $4.99 Swedish meatball special? :)

    1. There was a restaurant on the premises, but it was just as swamped as the rest of the store.