Tianzifang: A Maze(d)
“WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THESE TIMES???”
I could hear myself screaming hysterically in my head, in its loudest and most alarming voice.
It was my last afternoon in Shanghai, and I was standing in the middle of Tianzifang, trying not to be panic. But tell me, how I can not be when I had one annoying voice in my head, only 3 hours to spare, dozens of people bumping at me (My bad. I was standing in their way), and countless stores to look at?
Ha! Now you understand. But she was right: where had I been all these times?
Sure, during my days in this metropolitan city, I did my best to earn my badge as a real tourist: I went to Shanghai World Expo, did a little (window) shopping at Nanjing Road, went on a night-cruise at The Bund to see the glorious and glitzy side that Shanghai has to offer, gorged a large amount of dimsum for brunch and had xiao long bao ( a type of steamed bun or baozi from Shanghai and Wuxi) to end the day…
I even got lost at the gigantic People Square’s Station (it’s a funny story to tell back home, but more on that later). But seriously, I went past French Concession everyday!! How could I not know anything about this place?
Before we parted goodbye and I continued my trip to Inner Mongolia, a friend of mine took me there for a last dinner in Paris of the East. At first, I was adamant and starting to get impatient (in my defense, i skipped my snack-time) because she had a hard time finding the ‘entrance’ (i don’t blame her though. women can’t read maps…). I have to warn you: even though you’re a guy, it’s not that easy to find Tianzifang, as it is largely hidden from the streets. But oh boy, once we found it and got in, I felt like Harry Potter when he first visited Diagon Alley: in awe!
Considering I didn’t have ample time to spend there, I quickly ignored that annoying voice and started to join the crowd with full of anticipations. It was an elbow-to-elbow battle to find my way through the small narrow near-claustrophobic alleyways.
There are plenty of tiny unique stores, interesting shops, art studios, trendy cafes, and enticing bars interspersed all over the complex; they’re all fighting for space with residential brick-house buildings. This is the place where you might have to dodge some old girl’s hanging laundry in order to get to the bar next door.
Tianzifang offers a labyrinth full of walking contradictions. Jewelries displayed side-by-side with toys. Old rusty bicycles in front of new sleek art shop. Wrinkly old man is playing mahjong quietly in the midst of chattering yuppies. Disarrayed electricity cables strung overhead the tidy shops. It is the residential feel that gives this place more appeal.
Tianzifang is also a maze of infinite choices. In here, restaurants are having narrow-space that you might have to sit outside, but wide in menu varieties. From French bistros, Thai food, good old American burger, to Japanese sushi… We even found an Indonesian restaurant.. but owned by a Malaysian -__-”
Needless to say, that night we didn’t have dinner at that ‘fake’ Indonesia restaurant haha..
And what about the shops? OH MY GOD, THE SHOPS!!! Utterly interesting and charming, i believe I nearly made a dozen impulse buys here and there. Besides the knick-knacks trinket stores, one place that caught my attention was the propaganda art shops; where they sell communist propaganda posters and arrays of Mao memorabilia.
As the darkness falls, we strolled leisurely in-between the cosy small lanes. This time, we managed to find our way out easily of the maze. Damn, just right when i fell in love with this place! Dear God, please enlighten me, why does the best of things only happens on the last night of something? Well, at least, if i have the chance to go to Shanghai again, i know now where’s the first place to go to (and not for 3 hours only!).
And at that time, i’m pretty sure that tiny little voice in my head will nod in approval.
(this post can also be seen on ulielielie.tumblr.com)
The Writer ..
Being a struggling writer for a living, Lylian struggles and juggles her everyday life between writing, translating, exploring places, and enjoying doing nothing. Since 2005, she has contributed her (scattered) pieces of mind to several titles; mainly writes about features, travel and general lifestyle.
Still in search for her own peace of mind, she refuses to stay put. When not out battling dragons, you can find her tucked neatly at the corner of your nearest coffee-shops: sipping a hot steamy latte and making a hot steamy sex with her laptop. She prefers being accompanied by a hot steamy boyfriend as well, but alas, no such luck so far.