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“The contrast of modern

and traditional is what

Shanghai is made of and

where its charm lies”

18

| BNE November/December 2016

ESCAPE

for the traditional part and among all the skyscrapers and office buildings

for the new. They can feel that this city is full of energy, creativity and

productivity. Plus there are the former concessions [French, American,

British communities] and all the Laszlo Hudec [a prolific Hungarian

architect in pre-war Shanghai] buildings. I think these are what Shanghai is

made of and where its charm lies.”

Tours are tailored to what visitors are interested in and can last from

one to four hours. Often there’s no set route and an emphasis on local

knowledge shows visitors a side of Shanghai they otherwise might not see.

Colourful history

The basement of an apartment building seems an incongruous location

for a museum but hiding beneath a complex just off Huashan Road the

Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre is one of the most unique in the

city. It is a private passion and a labour of love for owner Yang Pei Ming

who started collecting the posters more than 30 years ago, afraid they would

be lost to history forever if destroyed during the political changes over the

years. Since the 1990s he has amassed more than 6000, although only a

fraction of that amount is on display in the two-room centre.

Shanghai was once a centre of printing propaganda posters and they offer

a glimpse of life in modern China, from the calendar girls of the 1930s to

the Cold War posters of the 1950s and 1960s. Certainly from the 1950s

the content became a lot more political and the bulk of the collection dates

from the communist takeover in 1949. In the earlier years they started to

attack people labelled as enemies within China and then moved on to the

western powers. In one poster of the era a Chinese dragon boat races past

caricatures of the Americans and British in a floundering boat. Near the

museum entrance are three seemingly identical paintings of the founding of

the People’s Republic by artist Dong Xiwen. Dated 1953, 1956, and 1972

a closer look reveals a changing sea of faces behind Mao Zedong as those in

favour shifted with China’s tumultuous history.

Real food

Nanjing Road is one of the main shopping streets in Shanghai and

home to international brands ranging from cheap mass market H&M

to luxury Louis Vuitton. Wujiang Road, just behind Nanjing West

Road (Nanjing Xilu) subway station, used to be full of local food shops

but in the lead-up to the 2010 World Expo it received a thorough

makeover and while it is still an eating destination it’s been mostly

taken over by international chains.

However, hidden on the second floor of a shopping centre is one

of the last bastions of the old food street, Yang’s Dumpling. Most

guide books about Shanghai talk about

xiaolongbao

– small soup

dumplings – which are delicious but they are not really everyday food

in Shanghai.

Shengjianbao

are their rough cousin, bigger with a gruff

exterior yet a similar soupy heart designed to satiate the hunger pangs

of the workers. They are cooked on huge covered iron skillets then

water is added and they come out with crisp bases.

There’s an art to eating any kind of soup dumpling or else it’s easy

to scald either yourself or fellow diners as hot liquid spurts across the

room. The trick is to bite a small hole in the wrapper and suck the

juices out. As

shengjianbao

are quite large it’s also easier to use a spoon

to hold it rather than chopsticks for this stage. Then dip into vinegar

and devour.

Yang’s is a good introduction to where the locals eat. The cheap

prices are affordable to most and the taste attracts people from all

walks of life. There’s an English menu so ordering is easy and after

collecting my dumplings from the window I end up sharing a table

with a young woman who talks to me in English. She tells me that

she’s recently returned from abroad and this is one of the tastes from

home she misses. As she leaves my next dish arrives, thin cellophane

noodles with beef in a curry soup.

Shanghai is a large city and the traffic can be slow moving and so

although taxis are cheap it’s often easier to hop on the subway train.

With 14 lines operating most places in the city centre are easy to get

to and I’m on my way to Jiashan Road station where I meet Helen

Liu from Cook in Shanghai. I’m joining one of her classes along with

couples from Germany and Finland.

First Helen takes us to a nearby wet market where locals go to

buy their groceries to find the freshest ingredients – and it’s quite an

experience. We see things like duck blood, live fish and live toads

From top: The Xintiandi district is a fashionable art and entertainment

precinct; parents gather at ‘the marriage market’ in the People’s

Park to find a match for their adult children; posters at the Shanghai

Propaganda Poster Art Centre