Tag Archives: neighborhood

Relearning Shanghai

9 Mar

I’m back.

Three weeks after my last post, I’m taking the plunge again to attempt to capture the joy and confusion and life that is living in China.  Thanks for staying tuned.

Looking at my stats during the time I was away – I have a remarkably loyal core readership – or by this point I’ve posted so much content that the search engines will guarantee a certain readership level even without posting anything new.  I’m not sure how to take it.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately – the entire month of February I was in my own bed for less than a week.  The posts at the beginning of the month were strategically scheduled to make you unaware of my whereabouts.  When I got back to China, my VPN was down, making scaling the Great Firewall impossible  – and I had all of those other “life” things I needed to take care of – food, clean clothes, making the apartment feel like mine again.

And Shanghai continues to change.  In my absence there felt like so many new elements layered on top of life – when in the day-to-day I may not notice, but coming back (especially after the US) they are front and center.

My walk to yoga is now past buildings that have been flattened (but were whole before Chinese New Year).  There is a new foreign supermarket in Times Square (two years after the old one closed) – that has a baking section with muffin cups and unbleached flour.  After reading a website, my husband has clued me in that within a ten minute walk are three of Shanghai’s most famous street food stands – not counting the one we discovered last year – Da Chang Mian.

The way to order a taxi has changed with a competition between two of the most powerful Chinese internet tycoons who are giving rides away for free, making hailing a cab much more challenging.  And my work schedule has shifted very nocturnally with lots and lots of conference calls after 9pm.  Re-entering Shanghai life has taken me a little time.

This past Friday, I met a vendor for lunch at a restaurant I have visited many times before – Din Tai Fung.  I’ve been to their flagship store in Taipei 101 and eaten at multiple locations across Shanghai.  This time, when I sat down, the waitress gave me this card.

This side has directions in Chinese, English and Korean - the reverse French and Japanese.  Eating soup dumplings can be tricky!

This side has directions in Chinese, English and Korean – the reverse French and Japanese. Eating soup dumplings can be tricky!

It details how to eat Xiao Long Bao (steamed soup dumplings) which is the dish the restaurant is the most famous for.  The two sides of the cards have multiple languages making sure whomever visits is clear.  It would have been very handy 7 years ago, but the effect now was it made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I had been in Shanghai a little too long.

My contact arrived and we ordered lunch and enjoyed the views of the Bund and I normalized, heading off to my next meeting and my massage that evening and a great dinner that my husband had prepared.  But I couldn’t get it out of my head – every single time I leave and come back I have to relearn this city.  Yes, my understanding grows deeper, but with that, I notice more changes.  I am no longer superficially connected to this place – it is in my psyche, my pace of living, my taste buds and internal soundtrack.


Come visit.  I promise – it won’t be boring!


My neighborhood via phone

12 Mar

Last weekend we had unseasonably warm weather on Saturday. The temperatures pushed into the 80s (above 30 degrees C) and as I walked back from yoga I started snapping photos of the walk. People were in the streets, enjoying the warmth, but still not quite believing it would be this warm in March. Laundry was everywhere drying in the sun – winter coats, thick quilts and all manner of clothing which we joking say is the “national flag of China” because it is more prevalent than the Chinese flag.

The fountain in Xintiandi park by my yoga studio

The fountain in Xintiandi park by my yoga studio

Spring coming - the green leaves are sprouting (hope that our cold snap immediately after this doesn't cause too much damage)

Spring coming – the green leaves are sprouting (hope that our cold snap immediately after this doesn’t cause too much damage)

Hanging laundry with high rises in the background

Hanging laundry with high rises in the background

This storefront really caught my attention - the bright colors caught my eye first and then the contents started spilling out.  There are balls and basins, hula hoops and chamber pots.  Truly a store with a little of everything!

This storefront really caught my attention – the bright colors caught my eye first and then the contents started spilling out. There are balls and basins, hula hoops and chamber pots. Truly a store with a little of everything!

A typical street - with apartments viewed right in the background

A typical street – with apartments viewed right in the background

The temple nearby - all of the little windows open on the second floor made me smile.

The temple nearby – all of the little windows open on the second floor made me smile.

The constant construction doesn't stop for the sunshine either.

The constant construction doesn’t stop for the sunshine either.

A final look of the beautiful Saturday out of my kitchen window.

A final look of the beautiful Saturday out of my kitchen window.

My neighborhood is a neighborhood of contrasts – high rise apartment buildings facing two story blocks without indoor plumbing and constant construction passed by expensive cars.  In my daily walk to work I see it all – as long as I stop to look.  Since I was looking for potential photos on this walk I especially noticed the wall of the temple where all of the second story windows were propped open to catch the breeze and warmth.  I don’t remember seeing that before.

Because of the construction and contrast my neighborhood is constantly changing.  If I am away for a week, I notice new things – which is part of why I feel documenting my neighborhood is so important.

This happens to link with the weekly photo challenge this week, with a focus of neighborhood.  They also challenged me to use only my phone for the photos.  My phone (which was a present last August) has been a constant source of new photos and inspiration for me is a great way to catch photos and be more inconspicuous than pulling out a big camera.  If you’d like to see how others define neighborhood, feel free to click the link and view other great shots!

What is your neighborhood?  Which shot of my neighborhood do you enjoy the most?  I have to admit, the shot of the store with everything from hula hoops to chamber pots definitely made me smile.


6 Nov


Washing greens (with the ducks observing)

I see livestock frequently on the streets of Shanghai.  Walking to work this summer there was a family who raised chickens on the sidewalk and I watched how the chicks got bigger and bigger and then slowly started to disappear until the cage was empty at the beginning of September.

I’ve seen live chickens on motorbikes, rabbits on the side of the road, live crabs and fish in tubs but I very rarely see live ducks.  That changed a couple of weekends ago.

The photos here are taken literally across the street from the entrance to my apartment complex.  There are a line of small restaurants (some of which I have eaten in, some not) that serve cheap meals to the neighborhood people.  The prep areas are in front of the restaurants instead of in the back, so you get a clear picture of where your greens (or main course) came from.  You can see that the sink is outside as well.

This is part of the reason why these traditional style houses are being destroyed.  Would you want to live somewhere with no hot water and an outdoor kitchen?  Cooking and living on the street is part of life for sure, but I imagine that slowly most of these places will disappear.  There are already many blocks that appear to be waiting for the chopping block as I have posted before.

For now though, they continue and I continue to observe the streets of Shanghai.

What do you think?

Also – as a follow-up.  Thank you to the three brave souls who guessed what my dish was at the Hunnan restaurant a week ago Sunday.  None of the guesses were close – it was a bubbling eggplant hotpot with bonito flakes on top!  Very tasty and would recommend it to others.

A Halloween smile

31 Oct

Last weekend as I was walking along a main street I looked over and happened to see a tourist bus.

They even have orange balloons!

Five years ago I can’t imagine seeing this type of “Halloween bus” on a main street.  Shanghai is really becoming more international.

Happy Halloween!

Exploring – Seoul’s downtown

14 Oct

Our last evening in Seoul we finally had some free time.  I linked up with two others and we decided that we did not want to go shopping which was the chosen past time of the majority of the group.  I’m tall in China, I’m tall in Korea – clothes don’t fit – so it wasn’t an option.

Instead we took a wonderful wander through the main shopping district, sampling street food, poking into galleries, hopping on the subway, watching live music performances, snapping photos and getting advice from extremely friendly tourism volunteers.  We looked for a place to serve a special kind of noodle and then capped it off by listening to a duo singing Coldplay songs on a street corner.

I am trying the new gallery feature with WordPress with the collage above.  If you’d like to see the photos more closely click on one and you’ll go to another page where you can see the photos larger and my captions of each shot.  Please let me know if you prefer this or my previous format.

It was a wonderful, relaxed afternoon/evening in a welcoming atmosphere.  I enjoyed Seoul a lot and would go back if given the opportunity.  It’s a direct flight and is closer than Beijing!

Have you had a wander through a neighborhood lately?  What do you enjoy when you explore a new place?

Urban Shanghai

4 Sep

A construction site near my yoga studio – the old being replaced by the new, framed by a blue sky

An “empty” storefront, that for the last three and a half years was a home and business.

As I have been getting used to my brand new phone, I have been taking pictures at random intervals, including a few that I snapped last weekend on the street.  Shortly after that I realized that the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge had a topic called “Urban.”  I’m a little late on that topic, but I thought these two photos fit very well.

Shanghai is a city of contradictions – the old and the new coexist painfully and with a relentless pace the old is losing ground.  I’ve now lived in the same area for 4 years and more and more old is disappearing, or has been abandoned.  The march of “progress” continues.

I don’t want to romanticize the historic houses.  They often have no hot water, no indoor plumbing, the kitchens are outside or under a small overhang.  If you didn’t have running water or a toilet and someone offered to relocate you, you may think carefully as well about leaving.  The question will be – what will replace them?

In my complex I speak to my next door neighbors, a Mr. Ge and his wife and his son, very rarely.  We nod politely in the elevator or when we happen to be outside at the same time.  That’s it.  Is that what will happen with all the people in the street, living together, playing cards and mah jong?  That’s what has happened in the US.

China still doesn’t seem to see the value of preserving – of restoring – of remembering the past.  Progress, move forward, forget the past – prosperity for all.

Come visit Shanghai before it’s too late.  I have a spare room.  Hope to see you soon.

Red room hospital photo montage – 上海红房子医院

26 Aug

At the beginning of this year I published a photo from my bedroom window where one day I happened to look down and the roof was missing from the administration building of the hospital across the street.   Over the next several months, I kept an eye on the hospital.  They gutted the entire building and then started putting it back together.  When I thought of it, I snapped a picture, thinking that it may be interesting to see the progress of the build.

Then I went on vacation in May and forgot about it.

The original photo – no roof!

Putting it back together – March 2012

I thought this was nearing the end because of the red roof, but I was wrong (April 1)

Then they covered the beautiful red roof with what looked like concrete (Apr 7)

Then they sealed the roof – it wasn’t red anymore (April 17)

And the finished building (August 2012) – with the red roof

The hospital building is now completely finished and has flags fluttering on the flag pole in front.  I can see people entering and exiting regularly which is more than I can say for the now over a year long construction on my office building.

Shanghai’s red room hospital (红房子医院) is a famous OB-GYN, maternity hospital in Shanghai.  It has several branches and the one right out my window is one of the more centrally located ones.  My friend who had the second baby also went to a branch for her delivery, though closer to her home, not the one across the street.  It is  traditional hospital setting for China, meaning that you have to wait in line and sometimes in the morning there will be a line of expectant mothers or their representatives stretching through the courtyard, waiting to get a number to see the doctor.

I like the counterpoint of the idea of hospitals as a place of birth and new beginnings as opposed to the end, with pain and suffering.  Having a bright new red roofed building also helps.

Have you watched some place change – be renovated or renewed recently?

Shanghai street sounds

21 Aug

My headphones broke last week.

Since I walk to work, I use my headphones pretty much every day.  I listen to music, I listen to podcasts and I use that 20 minutes or so each way to either prep for the day or wind down.  Until I didn’t have my headphones any more I didn’t realize that I was also using them as a barrier between me and the Shanghai streets, an invisible cloud that pillowed me each day.

Without them, I could hear every guttural throat clearing and spitting, each motorbike horn, the woman saying “Hello, Hello” in English in the park, the almost silent electric bikes that threaten to cut me off, the calls of vendors selling breakfast or dinner to taxi drivers, other people’s cell phones, the laughter over dinner tables, the TV sets turned up to the news broadcasts…

The first day that I didn’t have my headphones it felt raw, like nails on a chalkboard – each sound intruding into my former “private” space.  The second day, a little less so, the third day – more normal.  The walk to work seemed both longer and shorter (not helped by the intense heat that is still enveloping us here in Shanghai).  Noticing these smaller things was different than normal, but that intense – in your face – lifestyle of the street was too much.

I bought new headphones before the week was up.  Even after almost 5 years in China, I still need a buffer between me and the Shanghai street sounds – and this time it was a conscious decision.

Do you have any buffers that you will admit to?  Please share.

Summer has arrived

12 Jun

I left Shanghai mid-May where there were still cool nights, jackets and no need for air conditioning.  There was a lot of rain but everything was green in a hopeful spring way.  I came back mid-June to 90 degree weather, sweat and humidity as soon as you step out the door, my glasses fogging up and trying to balance between freezing with the air conditioning on and sticky without it.  Clothes no longer dry due to the fact that humidity approaches 90% and my summer wardrobe is still packed away in the back of my closet.  The jeans and jackets I’ve lived in for the last several months are now to be retired until the cool of October returns.

Wandering through the city signs of summer are everywhere.  The impromptu watermelon stands – a truck at an intersection filled with sweet melons and a woman working a scale that is likely older than I am.  Storefronts that were vacant a few days ago now piled high with musk melon and cantelope and watermelon plus other melons that I don’t know the English names for.  They can be so sweet that the flies follow you home, attacking the juice through the plastic bag.

Pajamas have returned to the streets (and supermarket) in full force.  Men and women clad in stripes and plaids – sometimes if it is especially hot the men forgo the top half.  A couple of years ago a good friend gave me a coffee table book by a Shanghai photographer of street life here with two chapters dedicated to pajamas on the street – it’s called Planet Shanghai by Justin Guariglia. The pajama frame of mind extends later and later into the morning until sometimes they are the only thing people wear.  I still don’t understand this – but it fits with a life lived in the street, with card games in the alleys and dinner al fresco for the world to see – and comment on.

It is now hot enough that you stop getting looked at funny if you ask for a cold drink at lunch.  Ice cream stands and coolers are at the ready for all types of flavors – from green pea to corn to berry and yogurt and tofu.  I will start making popsicles as soon as I make the trip to the store for the bottle of grape juice that I’ve bought the last several summers.

Last year was a relatively cool summer except for a two or three week period at the end of July.  I am nervous that if June is already this hot July and August will be unbearable.  Waiting for the elevator I struck up a conversation with a woman in her 60s or 70s.   “Pretty hot weather today, isn’t it?”  Her response, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”  She may have been speaking mandarin, but it certainly sounds familiar to me.

How do you celebrate summer?  What signs of summer do you look for?  Has summer arrived where you are?

Shopping behind the temple

13 May

A few weekends ago Li was traveling and I was on my own on a Sunday afternoon.  I had exercised in the morning with my trainer, gone to the grocery store and had been about as productive as possible during the day.  After debating with myself whether I would stay in and watch TV or get out of the house, I eventually went for a nice long walk.

It was a windy day, but not too cold and oddly clear weather for Shanghai’s spring.  My apartment is close to Wen Miao which is a small temple but quite historic.  I decided to head that way – I thought it was likely the temple had already closed for the day, but it’s a lively area with lots to see and eat.  As I wandered I snapped a few photographs to try to remember the day and the place.

Because there are two schools – elementary and a high school nearby there are lots of things that would appeal to kids. Many of the stores have stationery and school products and this time I also noticed an awful lot of Japanese stickers and Hello Kitty merchandise. The snacks are cheap and fast and you could see young couples and friends sharing food and browsing in the small stores. Even though I was by myself I felt very comfortable just observing.

I like the way that this temple is part of the community – a backdrop to daily life.  I’m glad I got out of the house.

Where do you go when you need to get out of the house?  What’s your favorite secret shopping spot?

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