Shang­hai city im­pres­sions

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

For the next three months, I shall be ex­plor­ing China’s bright­est city sky­line and ev­ery­thing that lies be­low. Two weeks in­tomy stay, I amal­ready amazed and amused by the dif­fer­ences I see be­tween China’s po­lit­i­cal hub and its commercial heart.

Bei­jing is all about pol­i­tics, poli­cies and polic­ing. Shang­hai is all about busi­ness.

While na­tive Bei­jingers con­stantly com­plain about their city be­ing over­taken by mi­grant work­ers at ev­ery level, lo­cal Shang­hainese are more at ease hold­ing their own against in­va­sion from other parts of China, and in­deed, the world.

Shang­hai is a proud town, as­sured of its po­si­tion in China, and aware of its im­age as a ma­jor global cos­mopoli­tan city.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to an expatri­ate col­league in our news­room, it is the only in­ter­na­tional city on the Chi­nese main­land giv­ingHong Kong a good run for its ren­minbi.

It has its own lan­guage, cul­ture and cui­sine, and is fiercely proud of lo­cal tra­di­tions in ev­ery facet of life, in­clud­ing cer­tain idio­syn­cra­sies.

I re­mem­ber not so long ago, res­i­dents would calmly walk out to mar­ket or the mall in their pa­ja­mas. They were nice, no doubt, as be­fit­ting the nor­mally well­groomed Shang­hainese, but pa­ja­mas? It was a good barom­e­ter of lo­cal con­fi­dence, if not style.

A cou­ple of decades on, it is all about style, es­pe­cially well man­i­fested in the young mod­ern Shang­hai fam­ily.

Last weekend, tak­ing lunch at the for­mer French con­ces­sion on a bright sunny spring day, we were treated to a mi­cro­cosm of life in the city.

There were rays of light shin­ing on the wooden deck for al fresco din­ing and a sud­den breeze sent a shower of cherry blos­som petals over the din­ers. The side­walks were clean, with no sticky spots of ex­pec­to­rant or doggy poo. No dust, no smog.

The restau­rant servedMediter­ranean food, and we had ex­pected a largely expatri­ate clien­tele. We were wrong.

There were a cou­ple of blon­des and brunettes, but they were the restau­rant man­ager, the som­me­lier and the chef. Other­wise it was small ta­bles of three or four, all lo­cal.

The par­ents were nicely turned out, but it was the kids who at­tracted our at­ten­tion and not be­cause they were chubby and loud and scream­ing to be no­ticed.

They were as well dressed as their par­ents, and most of all, they were sit­ting down qui­etly and en­joy­ing their meal of mezzo plat­ters and pasta. For dessert, they were dig­ging into mango souf­fles.

My col­league’s next com­ment took me by sur­prise.

“For the first time since I ar­rived in China, this is mak­ing me home­sick,” Tony says. He is an Ital­ian from Syd­ney who is en­joy­ing his or­ganic buf­falo moz­zarella and cherry tomato salad. “This is food that I would be eat­ing at home.”

In Bei­jing, Tony ex­plains, the Western restaurants at San­l­i­tun seem to be more an es­cape for ex­pa­tri­ates. The restau­rant we were in, he says, is just like the eater­ies back home where lo­cal fam­i­lies eat out to­gether dur­ing week­ends.

I have to agree. There is a cer­tain calm and re­lax­ation in the restau­rant.

There was an­other in­ci­dent this week that ce­ment­edmy good im­pres­sions.

The Blue Car Cafe across the road from our of­fice is run by a cou­ple of freshly scrubbed staffers. I had left my wal­let on the counter while pay­ing formy Amer­i­cano and did not dis­cover the loss un­til sev­eral hours later when I tried to pay for lunch.

Des­per­ately think­ing up num­bers to call to re­port the loss of credit and bank cards, I re­traced my steps. The young man­agers at the cafe had keptmy wal­let.

The next day, my bank man­ager called and said they had called to try to find out who the wal­let be­longed to. It is ges­tures like this that makes a stranger wel­come.

And you know what? I did not see any red ban­ners out­side the cafe with huge char­ac­ters that said: “Learn from Lei Feng’s good ex­am­ple”. They didn’t need it. Con­tact the writer at paulined@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

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