Shanghai, China

SOLITUDE IN SHANGHAI: Find flickers of tranquility in China’s largest city

Left to Right: The Bund; East Nanjing Road. Photo by Janet Gyenes.

The low morning sun hides behind the buildings huddled up to East Nanjing Road in Shanghai’s Huangpu district. A few blocks from the Bund, thousands flock to this pedestrian stroll to shop at its 600 trendy boutiques, businesses and Qing Dynasty-era department stores. But for now, it’s still slumbering. The massive façade of an Apple store hasn’t yet transformed into a glass birdcage for a captive audience. Instead, it’s the backdrop for a cadre of women dancing in formation. Like delicate birds, they flap their arms, snapping open and shut broad yellow-and-red fans that seem like plumage extending from their fingertips. This scene is a not-so-rare respite from the cacophony of China’s largest city.

Once flooded with trade in tea, silk and opium,  more than 4,000 years of history has shaped this port  city on the East China Sea. So too has the Huangpu River (a tributary of the Yangtze), carving this metropolis of  24 million people into two distinctive areas on its east and west banks.

Pudong (its name translates to “east bank”) lives up to its Instagram persona, its skyline spiked with high-altitude skyscrapers such as the spaceship-like Oriental Pearl TV Tower (its third sphere is actually called Space Capsule) and the 101-storey Shanghai World Financial Center, a neo-futurist building that looks like a colossal bottle opener. Puxi, or “west bank,” is framed by the Bund, a one-kilometre-long riverside promenade lined with heritage buildings, including the 1929 art deco Fairmont Peace Hotel.

Left to Right: Roof lines of the Jade Temple juxtaposed with modern Shanghai; At the Jade Temple; Prayer beads. Photo by Janet Gyenes.

With its mega-tall towers and throngs, Shanghai often draws comparison to New York City. Or Paris, thanks to the trove of villas and wutong (plane) trees lining the streets in the former French Concession. But this not the US or Europe. Chinese culture and quiet can be found in Shanghai’s spiritual spots such as the Jade Buddha Temple in the Jing’An district. Here, peek inside the halls where worshippers kneeling on colourful cushions murmur prayers to gilded deities. Be sure to seek out the temple’s namesake 1.9-metre buddha; photography is prohibited, adding to the solitude.

Left to Right: Graffiti at M50; Shanghai Teahouse. Photo by Janet Gyenes.

To explore the modern, artful side of Shanghai, take a one-kilometre walk from the temple to the M50 creative park, tracing tea-stained Suzhou Creek. Formerly the Xinhe Cotton Mill, the revamped industrial space with graffitied walls is now a warren of ultra-cool artists’ studios, galleries and cafes. Chat with artisans as you snap up their fashionable handmade leather goods, jewellery and ceramics. After drinking in new Shanghai, head to Old Town, a cataclysm of cutting-edge and ancient where smoggy silhouettes of towers rise behind the winged eaves of wooden structures. Elbow past the crowds and climb the staircase to the Old Shanghai Teahouse, a 1930s throwback with the aura of an antiques shop. Settle in, sip tea (or beer) and devour juicy dumplings in this second-floor enclave while listening to the chirp of live music being performed. — Janet Gyenes

MORE: Check out meet-in-shanghai.net

PORTLAND, Oregon

PORTLAND, Oregon, has serious cool factor—and great food. Instead of sitting on its hipster laurels, this PNW city keeps pushing palates…eat it up!

Portland is still the new frontier. Here, amidst the tattooed, bearded, thick-framed-glasses-wearing crowd—it’s as if this Pacific Northwest city, tucked under Mt. Hood, is a homing beacon for hipsters—there’s the warm embrace of creative types with some robust entrepreneurial spirit. “Keep Portland weird,” states a legendary mural (and adopted city slogan of sorts). Another long-standing emblematic sign: the neon white stag. And this odd factor is just plain charming—with some rather tasty side dishes.
Because this oft-satirized hipster-haven is the happening food-and-drink hub of the PNW—think farm-to-fork, branch-to-bottle, leaf-to-cup. From ramen bowls at Noraneko (where you can also have a soju chuhai, the Japanese version of an after-work cocktail) to doughnuts (skip the line at Voodoo for a Dirty Wu at Pip’s), Portland puts on an unrivalled culinary show of which the following is just a small sample…

EAST BY WEST The Southeast Asian street-food cuisine of Pok Pok blew open a burgeoning Asian-fare scene in Portland (and now has recent Brooklyn and LA outposts beyond its PDX birthplace). There’s also Han Oak (named for traditional Korean “hanok” homes), Langbaan (a culinary speakeasy that means “back of the house” in Thai), Hat Yai (Langbaan’s counter-service off-shoot) and the first North American locations of Marukin and Afuri, Tokyo ramen houses with a cult following.

SAMPLE: Korean bibimbap (“mixed rice”) and steamed buns at Kim Jong Smokehouse, a collaboration between a few of Portland’s hottest chefs housed in the new Pine Street Market food hall.

DRINK ME Like the Alice in Wonderland directive, Portland encourages serious sipping. Besides the well-known coffee scene—this is the home of Stumptown Roasters, after all (also a moniker for the city itself)—there’s also a tea movement. This is where Tazo tea started, the founder of which went on to quietly create Smith Teamaker—the best in America, some say. There’s also, of course, kombucha (try Brew Dr.) and distilled tea spirits (at Thomas and Sons Distillery), made with varieties like pine-smoked Lapsang Souchong, that simply don’t fit neatly into any existing category—much like PDX itself. SAMPLE: The new fernet-style digestif by Thomas and Sons Distillery, redolent with local ingredients of Douglas Fir, Willamette Hops and birch bark.

POD CAST Portland was an early adopter of food trucks or carts. And with more than 600 citywide, from Viking Soul Food (lefse and gravlax) to newer kid-on-the-block Chicken and Guns (oak-fired Latin chicken), the options are limitless. Which is why this Portland particularity makes perfect sense: food-cart pods. Clustered in empty lots, the congregations of carts become al fresco dining and community spaces, PDX style. Cartlandia is a “super pod” of some 30 carts (featuring fare from 15 countries) and a full-on bar (with 18 beers and ciders on tap). Cartopia has outdoor movie screenings and is a late-night stop, while Tidbit, the newest pod, goes beyond the food and drink with pretty lights, picnic tables, a fire pit and Airstream boutique.

SAMPLE: A Smaaken waffle sandwich (made with local, organic, heirloom varietal wheat, of course)—try the bacon-forward Van Gogh or the veggie Popeye—at the Tidbit pod.

And, now, after all that feasting, “go by bike,” as they say in Portlandia. — Barb Sligl

For more on all the weird and wonderful things to do and sample in Portland, go to travelportland.com.