Shanghai city impressions
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.