Wee Ling is the talented writer behind chopchopcurrypok, a beautiful blog about travel and visual culture in Asia. Not surprisingly, I am a huge fan of Wee Ling’s typography posts. This past April, when I was in Hong Kong, I grabbed lunch with Wee Ling. She is funny and energetic and we talked for hours about this and that.
In Wee Ling’s own words: “I was born in Singapore. While in university, I made up my mind to move to Beijing but ended up in Shanghai instead. I was a tax consultant who became a business/financial news editor. Now I live in Hong Kong and, by some surreal twist of fate, am back in tax consulting once more.
“I love writing and started to pursue writing a little more seriously after I landed a gig with Singapore’s main broadsheet as a freelance youth journalist because of my then blog. I am still looking to balance my creative interests and background in accounting/finance. Visual communication inspires me and I bring my camera everywhere.”
Now, over to Wee Ling…
One of the biggest things I miss about Shanghai was the cheap eats dinners that I organized once or twice a month with friends. Whenever it was my turn to organize dinner for 10 to 20 people, I found myself turning to Xinjiang Fengwei Restaurant almost every time without fail. It’s a neighborhood restaurant with carpets on the wall, no prior reservation necessary, and we usually have the place to ourselves, pretty much like the slightly kitschy dining room I never had. I have to say tasty Uighur food (laghman, lamb kebabs…) and beer are a match made in heaven.
Since I can’t speak of Shanghai without mentioning xiaolongbaos, Linlong Fang Specialty Xiaolongbao is where I go to get my soup dumpling fix. Forget all the other places recommended in guidebooks with their snaking queues of tourists. This no-nonsense neighborhood eatery, where one is sometimes obliged to share a table with pyjamas-clad locals and their pet dogs, does xiaolongbaos the way it should, soupy savory goodness in a delicate, thin wrapper.
I always send my visiting friends and family to shop for souvenirs at Spin. It’s almost like I receive a commission from them but I really don’t. It’s the store I turn to for age-appropriate gifts i.e. wedding presents, meet-the-family presents, birthday presents, you get the idea. Exquisite made-in-Jingdezhen Chinese ceramic tableware that wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary arts museum at wallet-friendly prices. Such a steal!
Bai Sher was a treasured find in a city without a proper flea market (Dongtai Lu does not count) on my first trip back to Shanghai after I had left. I was glad, of course, to emerge victorious with a reasonably-priced Mao-era framed mirror from the mess of vintage wares and dusty knick-knacks in a store well hidden in an unkempt house.
Never mind the name, Culture Matters is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it narrow cubbyhole of a shop that I head to for Chinese hipster Warrior and Feiyue sneakers sold at non-inflated prices. I prefer the original designs but if updated styles are your kind of thing, the shop has them too.
Since we are going down this path of retro chic, Neng Mao is another great store to check out if you want to stock up on fantastic 1980s Chinese fashion-inspired track suit tops, tees and bags to go with your newly-acquired sneakers.
The first time I was at C’s five years ago, my companions complained it stank of urine and we left barely 10 minutes into our arrival despite awesome indie DJs and cheap beers. Well, it still reeks of urine though I’ve been back countless times, every so often late into the night it’s only proper to call it dawn.
The Shelter is another venue I frequent for good underground electronic music ranging from drum ‘n’ bass to IDM, part of the attraction being its location—literally underground in an old bomb shelter.
For a dose of decent live music, Yuyintang, one of Shanghai’s oldest live music institutions, and moneyed new-kid-on-the-block MAO Livehouse are good bets for underground rock acts, both local and foreign. Not too hard to figure out why if you check out the audience, made up of equal parts foreigners like yourself and cool Chinese kids.
Rockbund Art Museum opened just as I was about to leave Shanghai and boy, was I glad it did. Situated at the northern end of the Bund, it’s worth a visit just to check out the building that houses the museum—a gorgeously-restored 1932 Art Deco structure that used to be the Royal Asiatic Society Building. And while you are there, don’t forget to grab a cuppa at its roof terrace cafe, complete with a bund view.
I find walking the best way to explore and enjoy Shanghai’s nongtangs, plane tree-lined streets, and daily life behind its skyscrapered metropolis facade. Taxis are inexpensive, readily available, and charge by the meter. Be sure you know the name of the cross-road nearest to your destination as that saves a lot of trouble for you and the driver. Buses are even cheaper (come with bus conductors!) and just as convenient, provided you are somewhat familiar with Shanghai localities and can read Chinese.
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Don’t forget to follow Wee Ling on Twitter.
(Additional credits: Photographs by Wee Ling.)