A three hour train ride and we're once again surrounded by the frenetic pace of modern urban life: Shanghai is a central port city where East meets West. In the 1930s it was referred to as the "whore of Asia" because it openly catered to the light walleted Westerner fixed on self-indulgence. However, despite her troublesome past, Shanghai has become a bustling economic zone with a mind of her own.
I have to admit I didn't want to come here. In all my travels around China, I managed to avoid it... until now. I'd heard Shanghai described as "a dull American city," or worse, "a dirty souless city." Some went as far as to liken it to my beloved New York city (which I highly doubted). However, as soon as we arrived, my preconceived notions of Shanghai went right out the absurdly clean taxi's window.
Yes, there is the dirty downtown with skyscrapers and traffic. Yes, the pollution is horrible and its inhabitants thrive on materialism. But like New York (yes, I'm making the comparison) it also has several neighborhoods with charming architecture, community gardens, and sidewalk cafes.
People here seem to smile more than in other cities in China. They walk down the street, hand in hand, with perfectly coiffed dog in tow. Anyone I stopped on the street was more than happy to help with directions and my oddball status as a big-nosed white guy was gone.
Like any other large city, the food culture is one of eating out. Restaurants are everywhere and most offer food to-go. The big fast food chains are all here- McDonalds, KFC, Häagen-Dazs ,TGI Fridays, and Starbucks. But while those seem to be very popular, the day to day source of meals are the little take-out stalls that line the streets. Throughout the day, people line out front and wait for hot dishes to be served up.