Shànghǎi: few cities in the world evoke so much history, excess, glamour, mystique and exotic promise in name alone.
Shànghǎi is home to the world’s second-tallest tower and a host of other neck-craning colossi. But it’s not all sky-scraping razzmatazz. Beyond the crisply cool veneer of the modern city typified by Pǔdōng, you can lift the lid to a treasure chest of architectural styles. The city’s period of greatest cosmopolitan excess – the 1920s and 1930s – left the city with pristine examples of art deco buildings, most of which survived the 20th-century vicissitudes assailing Shànghǎi. And there’s more: from Jesuit cathedrals, Jewish synagogues and Buddhist temples to home-grown lòngtáng (laneway) and shíkùmén (stone gate) housing, Shànghǎi’s architectural heritage is like none other.
Thirty years ago Shànghǎi’s dour restaurant scene was all tin trays and scowling waiting staff, with international food confined to the dining rooms of ‘exclusive’ hotels. Today the mouth-watering restaurant scene is varied, exciting and up to the minute – and Shànghǎi has its own Michelin dining guide in 2017, proving just how far the city has come. Food is the hub of Chinese social life. It’s over a meal that people catch up with friends, celebrate and clinch business deals, and spend hard-earned cash. Some of your best memories of the city could be culinary, so do as the Shanghainese do and make a meal of it.
Entertainment & the Arts
Běijīng often hogs the limelight as China’s cultural nexus but, for what is essentially a town of wheelers and dealers, Shànghǎi is surprisingly creative. Many art galleries are exciting, offering a window onto contemporary Chinese concerns, while nightlife options have exploded. Acrobatics shows are always a favourite and you might grab the chance to catch some Chinese opera. Shànghǎi’s music and club scene is vibrant: from unpretentious jazz and indie venues to all-night hip-hop and electro dance parties, the city swings with the best of them.
Bearing in mind that Chinese shoppers constitute up to 47% of the global luxury-goods market, shopping is rarely done in half-measures in Shànghǎi. Retail therapy is one way of spending new money and the Shanghainese aren’t called 小资 (xiǎozī – ‘little capitalists’) by the rest of China for nothing, especially at the luxury end of things. But it’s not all Prada, Gucci and Burberry. There are pop-up boutiques, bustling markets, cool vintage shops and young designer outlets. Beyond clothing you’re also spoiled for choice, whether you’re in the market for antiques, ceramics, art, Tibetan jewellery…whatever is on your shopping list.
China. The name alone makes you want to get packing. It’s going places, so jump aboard, go along for the ride and see where it’s headed.
China is vast. Off-the-scale massive. A riveting jumble of wildly differing dialects and climatic and topographical extremes, it’s like several different countries rolled into one. Take your pick from the tossed-salad ethnic mix of the southwest, the yak-butter-illuminated temples of Xiàhé, a journey along the dusty Silk Road, spending the night at Everest Base Camp or getting into your glad rags for a night on the Shànghǎi tiles. You’re spoilt for choice: whether you’re an urban traveller, hiker, cyclist, explorer, backpacker, irrepressible museum-goer or faddish foodie, China’s diversity is second to none.
Few countries do the Big Outdoors like the Middle Kingdom. China’s landscapes span the range from alpha to omega: take your pick from the sublime sapphire lakes of Tibet or the impassive deserts of Inner Mongolia, island-hop in Hong Kong or bike between fairy-tale karst pinnacles around Yángshuò; swoon before the rice terraces of the south, take a selfie among the gorgeous yellow rapeseed of Wùyuán or hike the Great Wall as it meanders across mountain peaks; get lost in green forests of bamboo or, when your energy fails you, flake out on a distant beach and listen to the thud of falling coconuts.
The Chinese live to eat and with 1.4 billion food-loving people to feed, coupled with vast geographic and cultural variations in a huge land, expect your tastebuds to be tantalised, tested and treated. Wolf down Peking duck in Běijīng, melt over a Chóngqìng hotpot or grab a seasoned ròujiāmó (shredded pork in a bun) before climbing Huá Shān. Gobble down a steaming bowl of Lánzhōu noodles in a Silk Road street market, raise the temperature with some searing Húnán fare or flag down the dim sum trolley down south. Follow your nose in China and you won’t want to stop travelling.
Its modern face is dazzling, but China is no one-trick pony. The world’s oldest continuous civilisation isn’t all smoked glass and brushed aluminium and while you won’t be tripping over artefacts – three decades of round-the-clock development and rash town planning have taken their toll – rich seams of antiquity await. Serve it all up according to taste: collapsing sections of the Great Wall, temple-topped mountains, villages that time forgot, languorous water towns, sublime Buddhist grottoes and ancient desert forts. Pack a well-made pair of travelling shoes and remember the words of Laotzu: ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.