Shanghai’s Tianzifang Art District.

sign for tianzifang, shanghai.

Most people who have been to Shanghai know of Xintiandi, which is an area of Shanghainese Shikumen homes renovated and transformed into a district of upscale restaurants and shopping. Tianzifang is “the other” district with more artists and studios, along with restaurants and cafes all hidden behind rows of housing on Taikang Lu (Street). Building are not renovated like Xintiandi has, so there is still that old Shanghainese charm that is now difficult to find amidst all of the mass teardowns and re-construction all over the city. This alone is worth a visit.

You can get there on Shanghai Metro line number 9 to Dapuqiao station.

walking inside tianzifang art district, shanghai.

restaurant inside tianzifang, shanghai.

handcraft shop inside tianzifang, shanghai.

window shopping in tianzifang, shanghai.

old world charm inside tianzifang, shanghai.

THETHING design store, Shanghai.

While visiting Shanghai recently, I stumbled upon this store called THETHING. There was something about this store that was different from the others around it carrying outlet-style clothing from American and other foreign brands — this one had clothing that was uniquely Chinese in character, and are all original designs by Chinese designers.

inside thething store, shanghai.

This t-shirt features the koi fish, which is a symbol of wealth and success in Chinese culture. Of course, the design itself has a more updated style. Price? 100 Renminbi (RMB), which is about $15.

the koi t-shirt by thething, shanghai.

You really have to understand Chinese to appreciate this next item, but I’ll do my best to explain it. This “i’m not cultured” tote is really a play on homonyms, in which the actual characters really should be read literally as “(I am ) lying on the plum flowers taking in the aroma of the flowers,” which is supposed to be poetic. Yet the same phonetics sound exactly like “i’m not cultured” (therefore stupid). $15.

the i\'m not cultured tote by thething, shanghai.

There are many nostalgic items as well, as with this particular t-shirt called “we all love 1, 2 and 3 stripes”. I am not exactly sure about the historical significance of this particular piece, but from what I know it was probably used to promote achievement among students. Again, this is about $15.

the nostalgic t-shirt by thething, shanghai.

In addition to clothing, there are also home furnishings and accessories. Here’s a notebook with a silhouette of a Chinese schoolgirl. The image is quite nostalgic as well. $7.

the student notebook by thething, shanghai.

The thing is, if you do want to buy any of these things, you will need to be at one of their stores in Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming or Chengdu. Online shopping delivery is only limited to China. So just in case any of you readers visit Shanghai, here is a map that will help you find the store.

location of thething store, shanghai.

Finding Old Shanghai.

old streets of shanghai.

While reading Mr. Howard W. French’s article in The New York Times this evening about his quest to capture the real Shanghai reminded me of my own efforts to do the same (but in a much smaller way). During my first visit to the city in 2002, I was so fascinated with all the skyscrapers going up on both sides of the Huangpu River. There was so much building around the clock that the cityscape would change once every few months. Many of the old neighborhoods were flattened to make way for more skyscrapers. Old Shanghai as we knew it was slowly vanishing.

About two years ago I began venturing into different neighborhoods looking for traces of the past, especially the architecture. I enjoyed walking the back alleys behind major streets such as Huaihai Road or Xizang Road, where you will find the true hustle and bustle of Shanghai city life. But there’s more. There are also the great mansions that were part of the British and French concessions that was also part of Shanghai’s history that deserve mention. These are spread around the Xuhui, Luwan, Jingan and Changning districts.

preparing to move out of the neighborhood, shanghai.

To find some of the objects that represent old Shanghai, try the Dongtai Road antiques market near South Xizang Road and Liuhekou Road. I make an effort to stop by each time I am in Shanghai and just browse literally everything, from old cameras to posters to Mao buttons. Much Shanghai’s own history is being told right here. This is also a place for great photos, and store owners have been more than happy to let me take them, and even tell me the history of some of the objects.

shanghai antiques market.

Please stay tuned as I continue my search for more of old Shanghai.

at the tailor shop, shanghai.