Look at the laowei

shanghai_12It took about five seconds to get over the fact I am always going to look like a tourist here, so I’ve embraced it and on my first morning was walking around with daypack, Michelin Man warm jacket and big camera hanging off my neck. And gloves. And beanie. Hey, coming directly from Sydney’s summer this place is pretty cold in the morning, okay?

I’m really surprised how few other foreigners (laowei) I’ve seen about town. In my first hours of wandering early yesterday I spotted less than half a dozen, and nearly all of them were leaving the French Concession area on their way to work. More came out as the day progressed, mostly in the tourist zone of East Nanjing Road and The Bund, but even there most of the people on the street were Chinese. Perhaps it’s not foreign tourist season? Anyway it seems that as a laowei walking down the street I will draw stares, perhaps the odd faint smile, but most likely indifference. (I think back to my years in The Rocks, and it didn’t take long there for tourists to become invisible). People can be quite friendly though ā€“ more than once someone has come up to help me as I squint at my map trying to work out where I am.

Some snapshots:

  • Walking, walking, walking for hours through most of the central areas of Shanghai. The full length of Nanjing Road East and West, the French Concession, The Bund, the Old Town, People’s Park and the local area of Huangpu where I’m staying. Favourite area for local flavour: Huangpu. Most beautiful zone: French Concession. Most disappointing: East Nanjing Road.

  • Ordering steamed pork buns (xiaolongbao) from street stalls. More than I should. These large white buns with a nugget of sweet pork mince in the middle are widely available and a specialty of Shanghai. They’re very tasty, easy to order and cheap (usually Y1 or A$0.22c each).

  • Talking to four young people from Shandong province who are also holidaying in Shanghai. Their English was mostly excellent and they were keen to chat, so we did. They asked if it was true we eat kangaroo in Australia? They were a little sad when I confirmed the rumour. I also took the chance to drop the odd phrase of Mandarin into my banter. Natch.

  • Stumbling upon an exhibition of photographs of Shanghai old and new in a metro station concourse. Celebrating 30 years since the re-development of Shanghai began, it contains many beautiful images of what Shanghai was and what it has become. There is loads of amazing architecture in this city, perhaps not all of it works but most of the showpieces can’t fail to evoke strong opinions.

  • Discovering how late pubs start opening. Not that I was hanging out for a drink, but a beer or two and a random chat in the afternoon is great when on hols. But nothing opens before 5pm it seems, and I wasn’t alone in my surprise. An Australian guy was muttering darkly about opening hours as I came across a British-themed pub in the French Concession. Cursing loudly, he hopped on the back of his mate’s motorbike and they raced off in search of beer. Still on Sydney time and saving myself for the inevitable late night or three when I get to Qingdao, I kept wandering and didn’t return.

  • Having time to relax, and taking it šŸ˜›

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