Cheng Huang Miao

Cheng Huang Miao

I took a walk through Shanghai this afternoon, exploring the city to see what’s changed since I was last here.  One thing that always strikes me is the contrast between old and new.   You’ve got the towering skyline of Lujiazui, high end shopping on Nanjing Lu and Huaihai Lu, ultra modern everything and in the middle of all of this you’ve also got the old.

I went to Chen Huang Miao, or Yu Yuan Gardens, the old part of the city which illustrates this contrast more so than any other area.  There are ancient buildings, in the old Chinese architectural style, with none other than Starbucks, Dairy Queen, KFC, McDonalds, and Cold Stone making these buildings their home.

While this isn’t as bad as my first trip to the Forbidden City (Former home to Chinese Emperors) where I encountered a Starbuck’s inside the gates, it is still strange to see.  This however, is the touristy part of Chen Huang Miao. If you get off the beaten track just slightly you’ll find alleyways that illustrate what life was like 100 years ago in this part of the city…and for these residents, still is today.

You’ll find tailors, TV repairmen, and butchers all next door to each other working the day away on the streets. You’ll find people playing mahjong and drinking Tsingtao beer on lawn furniture. If you’re able to speak the language they may just ask you to join in! Even if you don’t know how to play I wouldn’t pass this authentic experience up.

I’ve had some of my best times in China drinking beer and playing mahjong on the street with small groups of locals.  A few steps away you’ll also find some of the best food in the city on Sipailou Lu.  It’s absolutely fascinating to me to see this when just a few blocks away you have one of the most modern cities in the world.  All of this is just steps from Chen Huang Temple so if you’re there doing the Shanghai tourist thing, make sure to get out and explore the real “old Shanghai!”