We began the day with breakfast at about 9:15, then headed out by foot for another day of exploration. Still overcast, hot and humid here, it feels like it could start raining at any time, but even when it does, briefly, it remains as hot as an oven. Our first stop is the tourist destination/shopping/entertainment district of Xintiandi, which was almost new when we first came here five years ago. Xintiandi has Shanghai’s best-restored “shikumen,” 1920’s traditional residential architecture, made of carved stone and brick.
“Shikumen”, meaning “stone gate” , is a special old form of residence in Shanghai. In the middle of the 19th century, the uprising of the “Taiping Heavenly Kingdom” forced a large number of residents from Shanghai and its neighbouring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces to take refuge in the city’s foreign concessions. To meet the needs of the rapidly increasing population, “Shikumen” houses were built in the foreign concessions on an unprecedented scale. A typical “Shikumen” house is built along narrow alleys (or “long-tangs”) and features a stone gate framing a black wooden front door that leads into a small enclosed courtyard. This unique architectural setting provided residents with a feeling of security in a turbulent era, and as most of them were developed by foreign companies, “Shikumen” houses had gradually become a symbol of East meeting West in Shanghai.
Now the area is littered with luxury names like Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Coach…and of course, Starbucks! After roaming through a few of the many buildings with shops, we grew tired of window shopping, especially in the heat, and set out to find the Museum of Contemporary Art, in the People’s Park area of the city. We seemed to have poor directions and couldn’t find it, settling instead for a quick peek inside the Shanghai Museum of Art. Then it was off to Jujube, our favorite vegetarian restaurant from the last time we were here. The food was still delicious this go-round, I’m happy to report.