More Chinese than Hong Kong, not quite as Chinese as China. This is Shanghai in a nutshell. The 24 million strong metropolis marked chapter one of my cross country mission and I must confess I had pretty low expectations. As with many other Asian mega cities, it seemed to me that Shanghai would be not much more than a financially geared concrete giant with little real character, and this was true to some extent. Don't expect to find any sutra whispering monks, or quiet green spots to enjoy in peace and quiet. No, Shanghai true to its reputation runs to the never ending drum of teeming crowds, chaotic construction and questionable traffic. Fall off unexceptional Nanjing Road and onto a backstreet for just five minutes and what you'll discover is a mishmash of socio-economic backgrounds, tumbledown shacks held up by bamboo wobble side by side next to gravity defying skyscrapers, and down below rabbles of locals sit playing cards on the street in spite of the pressing summer heat.
It's the people that make this city.
After spending a couple of hours being unenthralled by the cities overcrowded and unremarkable sights, I got lost on the way back to my hostel, ending up in the neighbourhood pictured above, Xintiandi 新天地, located in the iconic French concession. This is Shanghais answer to hipster neighbourhoods around the globe, a warren of boutiques, cafes and art houses, integrated seamlessly into tastefully reconstructed Ming architecture. This was a refreshing sight to see in a land that often rushes ahead to the future with little regard for the past. But the intrigue didn't end there. Wander a little further and you are thrown headfirst into the grit and grime of Shanghais residential neighbourhoods, a scramble of tiny apartments, laundrettes and undecyferable restaurants. My only regret is not having the time to dig deeper beneath the surface.