There’s nothing like starting off an exciting day in Shanghai with one of its greatest street foods: jianbing. Even its creation is a pleasure to behold. The rice-flour dough is carefully spread around the circular burner, crepe-style, and starts to sizzle and bubble immediately. Next, a thick brown soy sauce is ladled on and spread around, pizza-sauce style. An egg is broken over the middle, and the spreading action repeated before chopped cilantro is generously sprinkled on top. The vendor, who works quickly and efficiently, suddenly freezes the whole operation, ladle hovering in the air over a pot of a dark red sauce. “La de?” she asks. Of course I want hot chile sauce! “Dui,” I respond in halting mandarin, “Hen dou!” Following my instructions, she dabs a liberal scoop of hot sauce and spreads it around. A few more ingredients are thrown into the mix, and the whole gets rolled up, burrito-style, folded in half, and placed in a thin plastic bag for transport. At a mere 3.5 yuan (about 50 cents), this is the breakfast of champions.
After the perfect hot breakfast, I head over to Fu Xing Park in Shanghai– the kind of place that makes even non-tai chi practitioners want to sway in perfect harmony with those who do. Around the perimeter of the grassy area, I notice an elderly man walking backwards, rhythmically pounding on his lower back with closed fists as he goes. “He’s stimulating his kidneys!” points out a friend with more China experience than me. But the vast majority of the throng is gathered in the middle of the park, near the area where from which strains of traditional Chinese erhu music can be heard. Close to 50 people are moving slowly, deliberately, and in sync with the group’s leader. A gentle arc with outstretched arm is followed by a long deliberate step. The movement is not only beautiful, but tranquil, and I notice a sense of calm descend on me as I watch the participants in their graceful dance.
Good food and physical fitness are stimulating, but what really sets Shanghai apart from so many other cities is all there is to see and witness. You don’t have to necessarily be an active participant in Shanghai has to offer, but you’ll certainly want to roam the local roads (big and small) via bus to take it all in. Although the bus is hardly the most glamorous method of transportation I can think of, it certainly is the most effective when it comes to seeing the sights and sounds of real Shanghai life.
After a full day roaming around town on the bus, eating, drinking, and getting my spiritual dance on with the locals, the best relaxation anyone could ever ask for is a trip to the Chuan Spa in the Langham Xintiandi. Chuan spa combines ancient Chinese healing with a world-class spa facility. The art of feng shui (or wind/water, so named because these elements should be studied for clues about the natural world and mimicked in artificial settings) is on proud display. After checking in at the Chuan Spa, the guest is led through a series of four keyhole-shaped doors. The keyholes serve as a threshold experience– upon passing through them, one is no longer in the regular world, with its dirt and noise and grime, and has instead passed to a supremely tranquil place. Your are greeted on the other side by soothing golden tones and sift lighting. A gently curved wooden staircase descends to the treatment area, and the feeling of having entered a secure, womb-like atmosphere is complete even before you meet your massage therapist. The massages at Chuan are so thorough you could easily sleep the night away inside the spa– but then you’d miss out on all the secret and exclusive bars the city has to offer.