Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Slice of France in Shanghai. The French Concession.

Strolling along one of the streets in the French Concession neighborhood.  We picked up a walking partner along the way. 😁

Under international law, a concession is a territory within a country that is administered by an entity other than the state which holds sovereignty over it. This is usually a colonizing power, or at least mandated by one, as in the case of colonial chartered companies.

Imperial China granted the concessions during the latter Qing Dynasty period (1644–1911) as a result of the series of Unequal Treaties. There were a varying number of concessions in each city.  The concessions were usually under the control of a single Western power or the Empire of Japan. However, in the Shanghai International Settlement, the United Kingdom and the United States merged their concessions, while the French retained their separate French Concession.

In these concessions, the citizens of each foreign power were given the right to freely inhabit, trade, do missionary reductions, and travel. They developed their own sub-cultures, isolated and distinct from the intrinsic Chinese culture, and colonial administrations attempted to give their concessions "homeland" qualities. Churches, public houses, and various other western commercial institutions sprang up in the concessions.

The Shanghai French Concession  was a foreign concession in Shanghai, China from 1849 until 1943 when the Vichy French government signed it over to the pro-Japanese puppet government in Nanjing. For much of the 20th century, the area covered by the former French Concession remained the premier residential and retail district of Shanghai, and was also one of the centers of Catholicism in China.

Chinese were originally forbidden from most of the concessions, but to improve commercial activity and services, by the 1860s most concessions permitted Chinese, but treated them like second-class citizens as they were not citizens of the foreign state administering the concession. They eventually became the majority of the residents inside the concessions. Non-Chinese in the concessions were generally subject to consular law, and some of these laws applied to the Chinese residents.  Several famous Chinese historic figures had their homes in the French Concession including Sun Yat-sen and his wife Soong Ching Ling.  Soong Ching Ling built her own residence here after her husband's death.  Zhou Enlai also called the French Concession his home neighborhood. a

Despite re-development over the last few decades, the area retains a distinct character, and is a popular tourist destination. The French Concession Streets are lined with trees is a bustling area, combined with a growing number of trendy boutiques and restaurants.

We made our way to the French Concession after our short walk along the Bund.  We made a quick pit stop back at the apartment before continuing to the metro station.

Bro posing outside the entrance to our apartment building.

On the way to the East Nanjing Road metro.

It's become a sort of de facto thing that I do all the up front trip planning and travel logistics but once we are on the road, so to speak, I leave it up to my partners to figure out the travel logistics so I basically left it up to Bro and SK to figure out how to use the Shanghai metro to get us around town.


Two heads work better than one but the system here is very intuitive and easy to use.  Instructions are available in English and so are all the signs.



Like the stations in Hong Kong, the ones in Shanghai are super clean and there's plenty of signage to direct you on which way to walk.


In hindsight, I really should've done more research on things to see and where to go in the French Concession because once we left the metro and were on the street, we really had little idea where to go and what to see except for the information that Bro had in his guidebook.  If I were to do this again, I think I would try to find a guided tour because I think we would've gotten more out of our time here had we had someone giving us some historic background.

In any case, the first thing that struck me about the area were all the trees.  I know that sounds weird but after having walked about the downtown area, it was nice to be in a place where trees dominate the view.


The other thing that struck me was just how different the architecture is here.  I don't know that I would describe it as European but then again, it's definitely not Chinese.  Perhaps, it's its own unique style.


Indeed, there are plenty of stylish boutiques, mainly selling women's wear, restaurants and cafes.  Missing are all the establishments that you would stereotype as being Chinese e.g., open air produce markets, street side food vendors, and shops selling dried goods and medicinal products.

It is early spring and the trees, which I think are sycamores, were not yet leafed out.  I could only imagine just how pretty this place would be when the trees are all green.


We followed the rough map in Bro's guidebook, occasionally stopping to look a noted building.  Here, important buildings are identified with a descriptive plaque.  Somewhere along the way, we also picked up a walking partner who was obviously someone's pet as he had a very cute sweater on. 


He was very street smart as he knew to stop at the crosswalk before crossing the street.  He kept stride with us for several blocks until he got distracted and missed crossing the intersection with us when the light turned green.


Bro's walking route had us going from residential streets to commercial streets.  The French Concession is a lot larger area than I had thought it would be.  I was beginning to tire - it's been a long day.



Signs in the French Concession are in three languages - Chinese, French, and English!


We ended up in Fuxing Park.  Formerly known as French Park, Fuxing Park is a popular park with gardens, open spaces, restaurants and clubs dotted throughout. The park is especially popular in the morning when locals come out to enjoy a bit of exercise and the start of hours of playing cards or mahjong.


It's a very pretty, well manicured green space.  So far, we've been to two city parks and both are lovely.  The more I see of Shanghai, the more I like it.  My impressions so far is that it's a very livable city.





Yeah....I can do that pose....in dreams 😁



It was time for a bit of a break; we had been walking for quite a bit.  It was also nearing time for dinner.  So, the plan was to eat somewhere in the French Concession so while we sat, we had to figure out our dinner game plan.  Without a second of hesitation, SK said she wanted to have hotpot.  Yes, we are in the "French" area but she wants Chinese food.  Okay.  Can't complain as I love hotpot too so that sounded like a great idea to me.  But where to go?  That's when Google is so helpful.  I did a quick search and found a place called Elixir Hotpot that was located nearby.  Bro was determined to try and figure out how to get to the place on foot but I objected because a) the sun had already dropped below the horizon meaning it would be dark soon and b) I was too tired to walk, especially if we ended up walking in circles to get there.  I was insisting on taking a taxi.  Bro wanted to walk.  Eventually, I won! Yay!  So we walked out to the main road and I showed the driver the address, which I had managed to find in Chinese. For barely $3 USD and a few minutes ride, we arrived.  So much better than walking!

I had no idea what to expect so when the taxi driver dropped us off outside a very upscale restaurant, even by Western standards, I was more than pleasantly surprised!  Before even stepping inside, I was sure we were going to enjoy our dining experience here.




SK and I are hotpot veterans; I think this was Bro's first experience.  I let them pick the ingredients.


Of course, you can't do hotpot without a condiment bowl and so I made mine.  I have to say, the condiment bar at this place was pretty paltry - maybe just about 6-8 different items.  Bro, the hotpot novice, opted to not go with any condiments despite our suggestion that he do it.


SK poured the tea to get things going.



We ordered a 50/50 soup mix so only half the pot was spicy.  Better to go that way in case the spicy is too spicy.  Based on its milky appearance, I think the non-spicy side was actually bone broth which is also very good for you, nutrition wise.  I had never had a pot of soup so filled with ingredients which I was guessing are all items that Chinese believe have medicinal qualities.  Afterall, this is *Elixir* hotpot.  I have to say, the spicy broth looked like it was going to be searingly hot but actually it was quite nice.  As I ate, I got a bit of both broths in my bowl  - it actually ended up being a spicy bone broth which was delicious.


In no time, the ingredients we ordered were delivered to the table.


SK and Bro ordered a very nice selection of meat, seafood, veggies, and tofu.

Beef, lamb and shrimp balls.

Everything was very stylishly and beautifully presented.

Veggies and seafood dumplings




When the broth got too low in volume, we could replenish ourselves with the pitcher of stock that had been placed on our table.  All in all, this was a very, very nice meal.  Bro and SK had ordered just enough ingredients as we did manage to eat everything....though barely which meant we were stuffed.  I left the restaurant a very happy diner and if I'm ever back in this part of Shanghai, I would most certainly coming back to this place.



After dinner, we decided to head back to the apartment.  We could've taken the metro but given how reasonably priced the taxi ride was to get to the restaurant, it wasn't hard convincing either Bro or SK to take a taxi back to our place.  I was being very lazy.  It took us a few minutes to actually hail down a cab but once inside, it wasn't a long ride back to the Bund.  The driver, who I also think was feeling a bit lazy, dropped us off about a half block away from our apartment.  Huh? Can't argue if you can't speak the language.  Oh well.  Bro paid him the fare and we walked the rest of the way.


It had been a long day and I was ready to just take a shower and relax but I also had to firm up our plans for tomorrow.  I have signed us up for an all day tour of Hangzhou and Xitang Water Village so I've been exchanging Wechat messages with the assistant of the tour company owner to make sure we know what time the guide will be at our apartment in the morning.  I went to Hangzhou on my 2009 visit to China and I have been to several water villages but neither Bro nor SK have been so I am looking forward to what I hope will be a fun and interesting day of sightseeing for all of us!

Goodnight from Shanghai!