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The Spirit of Shanghai

Artisanal Souvenirs
The Spirit of Shanghai
While Shanghai careers headlong into megacity modernity, old traditions still survive and give the city an alluring, exotic flavor. Enjoy centuries-old Chinese operas, join the locals practicing tai chi, or explore flower markets and water towns.
By Emily Chu, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Sari Gustafsson/age fotostock
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    Artisanal Souvenirs
    Artisanal Souvenirs
    Aside from high-end malls selling common brands, some of Shanghai's boutiques offer unusual and special gifts to take back home. Traditional textiles are sold at the Blue Nankeen Exhibition Hall.  For ceramics, Spin specializes in beautifully designed pieces. Tianzifang is a warren of small shops selling an eclectic assortment of items—leather items, notebooks, and household items. If you want to continue your new tea drinking habit after you get back home, stop at the multi-story Tianshan Tea City which has over 150 vendors selling tea leaves and tea-making tools.
    Photo by Sari Gustafsson/age fotostock
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    Community Life in Public Spaces
    Community Life in Public Spaces
    Visiting Shanghai’s parks is the best way to experience the strong sense of community in the city. Each morning, locals of all ages congregate at Fuxing Park to practice the traditional martial arts form of tai chi. (Another popular spot is on the Bund waterfront.) Swerve, bend, and turn along with the crowd as they perform this ancient art of stress relief and overall wellness. In the evening, the park comes alive with speakers blasting music for public ballroom and line dancing. It's a popular form of post-dinner exercise, so by all means, join in! Gullin Park was long the private enclave of a gangster, today its pavilions and grottoes are open to the public.
    Photo by Bruno Perousse/age fotostock
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    Get Out of Town
    Get Out of Town
    Shanghai has no shortage of sights to see and you are unlikely to run out of things to do during your visit. If you want to see some more of China, however, there are some easy day trips nearby. Hangzhou, 45 minutes by train from Shanghai, is home to beautiful West Lake, which has inspired countless Chinese poets and painters. The Lingyin Temple, one of the country's largest Buddhist temples, is also a must-see here, even if most of the building is are contemporary reconstructions of earlier ones from the Qing Dynasty. The city is also known for the prized Longjing green tea, cultivated in this part of the country. Even closer to Shanghai, Suzhou has the nickname the Venice of the East thanks to its network of canals, and is also famous for its gardens and silk production.
    Photo by Justin Ventura
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    Eat Your Way around China
    Eat Your Way around China
    A visit to Shanghai means discovering more than just one part of China—at least when it comes to food. Julie's menu comes from Southern Yunnan, where the cuisine shares more in common with Burma and Thailand than the rest of China. A must-order is the rubing—pan-fried goat’s-milk farmer cheese, simply seasoned with salt and pepper. Hunan is known for its fiery cuisine, making the name of Spicy Moment very fitting. The decor is industrial chic, but the menu includes classic Hunan favorites. If you find your eyes watering, order the cold tofu salad and rice cakes to give your tastebuds a respite.
    Photo courtesy of Xibo
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    Old Neighborhoods Repurposed
    Old Neighborhoods Repurposed
    Shanghai’s efforts to preserve its history amid the fast urban growth have centered on redeveloping neighborhoods into distinctive entertainment enclaves. Tianzifang on Taikang Road is a renovated residential area popular among artists. Visitors can mingle with locals in the district's cafés, galleries, studios, shops, and fresh market. Near Huaihai Road is Xintiandi, an area of reconstituted mid-19th-century shikumen, or “stone gate” houses. Its narrow alleys are filled with shops, restaurants, and a mall.
    Photo by Justin Ventura
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    Local Street Eats
    Local Street Eats
    Take a bite of Shanghai’s favorite street food. For breakfast, try jianbing (crepe, egg, and cracker filling) or sticky rice rolls with pork floss. Guotie (pot stickers) can be found on Fuxing Middle Road; these pork-filled dumplings with ginger, sesame oil, and shaoxing wine have a crisp base compared to their soup-cooked cousins. Equally satisfying are baozi, soft steamed buns stuffed with chicken, pork, or greens. Yang’s Fry Dumplings serves traditional Shanghai shangjian—hollow buns filled with hot soup and pork, and worth the line. Jia Jia Tang Bao is another humble but popular dumpling restaurant. At the Muslim Market, lamb kebabs are a specialty while cold mung noodles will appeal to vegetarians. Also, try malatang on Nanchang Road: Choose your vegetables, fish balls, tofu, noodles, and more, which are then cooked in a spicy or clear broth.
    Photo by Atlantide S.D.F./age fotostock
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    Historic Architecture along the Bund
    Historic Architecture along the Bund
    The Bund is Shanghai’s most beautiful visual reminder of the city’s dramatic past, with architectural styles such as Gothic, baroque, Romanesque, neo-classical, and Renaissance all represented. The Fairmont Peace Hotel, once the Sassoon House, was built for real estate magnate Victor Sassoon in the 1920s. It was later used as the headquarters for the Communist leaders, the Gang of Four, during the Cultural Revolution. You’ll hear chimes coming from the clock tower of No. 13, the Shanghai Customs House, which is considered to be one of the Bund’s icons. Nearby at Nos. 3 and 5 are the former Union Bank and Nissin Building; nowadays, they are home to some of city’s best-loved restaurants and bars.
    Photo by Fumio Okada/age fotostock
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