Besides the skyscrapers (not so interesting for the local, but serving as a good opportunity for visitors to take photo as background), the most charming characters of the city of Shanghai is its streets.
The streets in the old French Concession was lined by Phoenix trees, and villas. The villas are typically larger than those in the Silicon Valley, and walled by bricks, and high raised fences above it. There are many buildings along the edge of the streets, and you walk besides the window of the kitchen or leaving room of the residents of the building – a very unique experience only in Shanghai.
In strong contrast with the crowded, and over populated downtown Shanghai, the area at the heart of the downtown is very quiet, and lack of pedestrian. You will enjoy the lonely walk in the cave formed by the Phoenix trees for half an hour to two hours (depending how carefully you design your route) without getting back to the noisy Shanghai.
At night, if you walk along the roads near the West Fuxing Road, especially the Wu Yuan Road 五原路, you will be scared – it is just like walking in a old town with big houses that is completely dark, and there is no street lights in the lanes. That is quite a surprise . In some of the gardens, I often see people feed hens, or grow vegetables in their own place. That is maybe the most luxurious thing we can think of in this world: the house and the land can easily worth several billion RMB. That is also the funny part of this city: the residents in these most expensive, and well designed villa are often among the poorest in the city. They don’t own the house (the government owns it), but they have the rights to live there, and transfer their rights of continuing living there to their children.
The best way to explorer there streets are by walking. The area is very walkable, and surrounded by many metro atations. If it is raining, even better! The sounds on the leaves of the trees are more pleasant than orchestra. At night? It is also good time to visit, since some of the bars started to turn their lights, and open to customers. Unlike the highly restrictive building code in California, the bars, and teh residential areas, and other business facilities are mixed. So you may need to walk for few minutes to find another one.
Comparing to the street of San Francisco, I enjoy walking in Shanghai better, just because of the same reason I love San Francisco – the diversity of the buildings along the streets. They are of so many different styles from different countries. You must have a pen and a sketch book in hand to capture the moments when you encounter a Spanish window, or a French courtyard.