Shanghai will always be dear to my heart. I came here on a whim in March 2002 with a vague plan to teach English for a year and learn a bit of Chinese with hopes of reconnecting with my Chinese heritage. Little did I know that on my first night out I would meet my future husband and spend the next two and half years eating up this exotically mad and delicious city.
We set up camp in the middle of the charming Former French Concession, lined with plane trees and beautiful colonial buildings. While Jonty spent his days forging sponsorship deals (Budweiser and China's (might soon be ex) favorite Kenny G was a smash hit!), I made the journey from Puxi to Pudong, underneath the Huangpu River, to the then-tallest building in China, the Jin Mao Tower, where several hundred upwardly mobile students of Wall Street Institute awaited.
It was an incredible time to be living in Shanghai - back then, you’d be hard-pressed to see any foreigners on the street outside of the regular tourist traps like Xiangyang Market (now home to the iApm mall, sister mall to IFC with lux brands and restaurants such as mortons steak house, da dong, ippudo, bang (wagas group), din tai feng, jishi (second branch), and others) and the Bund. The resident expats comprised an intriguing mix of entrepreneurs, Sinophiles who somehow spoke flawless Mandarin and even Shanghainese, English teachers like me, and so-called “China lifers”, who, at the time, seemed an alien breed of foreigners seemingly more at home here than anywhere else.
Scarce green space and heavy pollution meant not a lot of outdoor pursuits, but expat life was fun and easy, with everything costing next to nothing and a feeling that you could do anything you wanted. Shopping became a popular pasttime (and bargaining a competitive sport), from knock-off designer bags and clothing and pirated DVDs to outrageous custom-tailored outfits from fabric bought at the market and an apartment full of custom furniture; the rest of our disposable cash was blown on food and tripping around Southeast Asia. The high life was cheap, and even though the pollution and population could be overwhelming at times, you couldn't help but laugh at the many “China moments”, which we all remember many years later (just ask any expat and they'll have more than a couple hilarious stories to share).
But easily the most memorable moments in the city had something to do with eating - whether it was cramming into a teahouse with hungry locals to wolf down a basket of xiao long bao, or glitzing it up on the Bund at one of Jean George's (now many) delicious world-class restaurants while looking out over the futuristic Pudong skyline.
View of Pudong from Glamour Bar on the Bund
Din Tai Fung serves some of the best xiao long bao in town, Xintiandi