Shanghai Surprises

Facade of buildings along The Bund, Shanghai
From its French Quarter to its highly skilled tailors, Shanghai has a few surprises in store for unsuspecting tourists, writes Peggy Loh

When you think of Shanghai, the soaring music score sung by Francis Yip from The Bund period drama often come to mind.  A walk along The Bund in Shanghai today may evoke the romance of the triad world of Shanghai in the 1920s but modern structures compete for attention adjacent to the towering colonial buildings.  Shanghai is a major tourist attraction but here are ten things you may not know about this charming city.

1.  Bi Feng Tang

If you are looking for good food, why not go to a restaurant that is popular with the locals? 

With outlets in most major malls in the city and suburbs, Bi Feng Tang is almost always packed with diners and often has queues waiting for tables. 

Their menu has pictures to help you order favourite items like siao loong pau dumplings, rice rolls that look like chee cheong fun, fried carrot cake, vegetables, drinks and local desserts.

2.  Duck’s Tongues

In Shanghai, they eat the most bizarre things from stinky tofu to duck’s tongues.  Even though it is repulsive, I took the challenge to taste one duck’s tongue and followed the connoisseur’s instruction to spit out its long cartilage. 

Duck’s tongues are such a popular snack that packets are also sold in the airport as souvenirs and gifts!

3.  No Spitting

Many people in Shanghai pay no heed to No Spitting advice

While you are walking along pavements, don’t be surprised to hear loud hawking followed imminently by the sound of spitting.  

Public spitting is an unhealthy habit throughout China so just get ready to be assaulted, not only by hideous bodily noises but also by badly aimed spit!

4.  Mobile Stalls

 It is a pleasant surprise to see these peddlers cycling in the city streets, weaving their way alongside cars and tour coaches. 

Mobile stalls that stock a wide range of household goods like cutlery and crockery and even carpet dusters made of rattan are doing a real service to busy homemakers by bringing the merchandise to their doorsteps. 

5.  Don’t Walk Yet

Pedestrians do not have right of way even when the little green man is lit up

When you see the little green man light up on the traffic lights in Shanghai, don’t walk yet.  That’s because vehicles still have the right of way.  Pedestrians here have to wait until all the vehicles have passed to quickly cross the road before the green man turns red again!

6.  Old Shanghai Tailors

Rows of shops in A P Plaza boast of skilled Shanghai tailors

Shanghai tailors have earned a reputation for their skills in cutting and sewing custom-fitted clothes and if you want a new wardrobe, shop for a suitable tailor early in your stay so that you can collect your clothes by the time you leave. 

Prices charged include fabric and tailoring fees but be sure you can effectively communicate your specific requirements to the Shanghainese tailor!

7.  Charming French Quarter

I spotted this charming letterbox in the French Quarter

The former French Concession is a premier residential and retail district in Shanghai that retains a distinct charm and character.  A walking tour along tree-lined, shady pavements is a great way to explore the architecture and interesting streets that are unique to this area.  Look out for quaint buildings, sculptures and this charming letterbox I spotted!

8.  Shanghai Public Library
Opened in 1996, the Shanghai Library is one of the ten largest libraries in the world in terms of floor space and book collections.  It is equipped with an advanced computerized automated system and even its book shelves are installed with energy-saving sensors. 

I was impressed to see how its facilities are properly utilized by young and old people, quietly reading at tables and seated on the steps.

9.  Toilet Timers?

Yu Yuan Garden is one of the Must-See destinations in Shanghai to shop for souvenirs in the bazaar and enjoy its traditional architecture and garden. 

But don’t miss a visit to the restroom to see the doors of each toilet in their Ladies restroom [I don’t know about the Men’s room!] are installed with digital timers that appear to ‘clock’ how long each toilet was occupied!  Why?  Your guess is as good as mine!

10.  Irritating Touts

While walking in the busy shopping district lined with department stores, stocked with international branded products, don’t be surprised if you are accosted by touts from all sides, waving product brochures and barking in your face, “Lady…come looka, looka!”  

They can be very persistent in persuading you to follow them to a private viewing of their products, so just politely decline and walk on.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 4 October 2012

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