Saturday, April 05, 2008

City of Contrasts

Today, I spent the afternoon exploring the Luwan District, better known among us Anglophiles as the French Concession district of Shanghai. My guidebook describes it as "Shanghai - sunny side up, at its coolest, hippest and most elegant. That proved to be true as long as I kept to the walking tour map on pg 84. As always, I took some little detours (i.e. shortcuts) because I wasn't interested in doing the full 7 kms, and found some interesting contrasts.

The "Paris of the East" is a well-deserved title for this part of town. These villas along Sinan Road, complete with immaculate gardens, would fit right into any Parisian suburb. I enjoyed the stroll through the elegant, tree-lined streets complete with cafes and chic boutiques. Even Fuxing Park was like scene from "Springtime in Paris" although you'll have to imagine away the huge statue of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels! After visiting Sun Yat Sen's mansion, I took one of my detours and stumbled upon the other face of Shanghai.

This little side street is also within the French Concession, only 2 streets east of the elegant villas but what a world of difference. It was gritty, smelly and alive with people selling flowers, fruits,vegetables stalls, fish & meat. There was even a tub filled with fat green frogs! It was located right next to the fish stall so I suppose it ended up on someone's dinner table tonight...gulp..

I find it fascinating that these two worlds are just a stone's throw away from each other. People from opposite ends of the economic scale were living side-by-side. It's an environment that would lead to the build-up of disparagement, resentment and despair that finally spilled over into years of political turmoil.

But the Chinese are pragmatic and always on the lookout for opportunities. Just take this scene from Huaihai Park for example: "Where 3 or 4 Chinese men gather, you are guaranteed to find a mini casino!" :-)

No comments: