Tag Archives: French Concession

The Avocado Lady

30 Mar

In more than one post I have referred to the Avocado Lady. Far from being an elusive character, she is nothing short of a celebrity for the foreigners’ community of Shanghai who regularly go fill up their fridge and pantry at her very unassuming shop in the former French Concession. There you can find all sorts of Western food products as well as fabulous vegetables at really reasonable prices. I think she sometimes has more on offer than expat supermarkets. I never went there to shop and not found what I was looking for! Polenta, couscous, fresh basil, fresh mint, fresh rosemary, parmeggiano, parsnips, San Pelegrino, very good dried fruits, red and green lentils and other pulses, tehini, De Cecco pasta, etc.

The shop is held by two Chinese ladies, but the one with short hair is the one in charge. Just Google: Avocado Lady Shanghai and you’ll see what she looks like. She speaks English or at least knows the English name of all her products and so you can ask her for whatever you want and she’ll find it somewhere in her tiny shop. She’s very friendly and will never hesitate to round down what you owe her which, amongst other things, makes her a great trader. I was told three years or so ago, her shop was half its current size but due to her success and being able to win the loyalty of many foreigners, she’s expanded into the next unit.

She’s been dubbed the Avocado Lady because avocadoes used to be a very rare commodity in Shanghai and she was one of the first to sell them. Now you can find them in many places but the nickname stuck, which comes in handy because her shop, like most fruits and vegetable shops of the city, has no name.

So next time you’re despairing over the expat supermarkets’ prices and complaining about not finding this or that, head to the intersection of Wulumuqi Lu and Wukang Lu and walk southwards on Wulumuqi Lu on the right hand side of the street. Just watch for the many laowai holding blue plastic bags and you’ll spot the place!

The Avocado Lady's shop

The Avocado Lady’s shop

Shanghai Randoms #2

14 Jun

Our balcony

View from a friend’s house – very typical of Shanghai

Mailbox – in the former French Concession

Chinese don’t like number 4 because it sounds like the word “death”

Cats in hammocks

Chinese are mad about crickets and the sound they make!

Surviving Sichuan food

On motorbikes: like father, like son



Chair seller

Must buy two of these eventually


Butchery course

15 Feb

I had lunch with my friend C. the other day. The weather was exceptionally beautiful and for once not freezing for a sunny winter day. We then had a bit of time to wander around the French Concession. This area of Shanghai is probably one of the most sought after amongst foreigners to live in. It has retained a lot of its charm and it is very difficult I am told to build tall structures over there. Somehow, many of its original residents still live there and it can have quite a popular feel on many of its streets.

Walking out of the restaurant, we were greeted by the usual profusion of drying of laundry typical of sunny days in Shanghai. Except that in this very street – Jinxian Road, also hanging from the laundry racks, was an abundance of meat and all sorts of it: poultry, pork and fish at least. So much so that it felt like we could’ve had a butchery course on the spot. There were lots of homemade sausages but also gutted duck, goose and chicken, gutted gigantic fish, split pigs’ heads and other things I can’t put a name on. Have a look at the pictures below for colourful details.

Jinxian Lu

Poultry, fish tails and other stuff

Pigs' heads

I was surprised there weren’t many flies around or on the meat itself, even for the ones hanging just above the rubbish bins. I understand that drying meat is part of the local culture and a local necessity to preserve meat for as long as possible. And you don’t find meat drying only in popular streets or areas, you can also find it on the windows of the 15th floor of expensive apartment buildings. I have to say that I find it somehow admirable that in spite of living in one of the largest cities on the planet (16 millions inhabitants), Shanghainese are managing to carry-on and nurture the tradition of homemade foods instead of buying it industrially processed and overly packaged from an impersonal supermarket. Still, I can’t shake the high levels of urban pollution from my hygiene food standards. Instead of having, say, oak-smoked bacon, you’re actually having it kerosene-smoked… Not the best marketing angle or feeling really. But who knows? Maybe it does enhance its taste? Given that I have very limited control over what I eat here, I guess that’s what I have to keep saying to myself for as long as I live in China.

Characterising Shanghai

14 Dec

As a seven-week old resident of Shanghai, I have to say that I find the city very different from the way it is portrayed in Europe. There, Shanghai equals Pudong, which is the newly developed area on the eastern bank of the River Huangpu. It’s about 10 to 15 years old. The Chinese are mainly to blame. Pudong was (and still is I suppose) their way of saying this is what China is now; modern, economically vibrant and competing with the rest of the developed world.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the city is in fact much more diverse and complex that this simplistic message, especially in terms of its skyline and history. Granted there are plenty of tall buildings and their number keeps increasing, but there also are lots of low rises, mostly in the French Concession but elsewhere too. Likewise, Pudong, impressive though it is from the Bund, feels like a big international showcase. There’s a mega-giant mall, an aquarium, iconic architecture and many offices separated by giant avenues, but the core of the activities and what makes Shanghai one of the most exciting cities to live in or to visit still happens in Puxi (the western side of the Huangpu). This is where historic Shanghai developed and, again, as the Chinese do, we have to recognise that this history does not date back very far. Compared to Beijing, which is millennia old, Shanghai really started developing 150 to 200 years back, but it constitutes one of the key places where the history of 20th century China was shaped. The main protagonists, Mao notwithstanding (I visited his house two weeks ago), all lived in Shanghai at one point and many crucial decisions were made here. Similarly, the power struggle with Europeans also started here and then spread elsewhere.

So there you go, it’s full of paradoxes but it’s fascinating. The extremes constantly juxtapose one another and in a way are quite aggressive, to the eye and to the people. Tall buildings are adjacent to low rises; gated compounds sit next to popular neighbourhoods; historic buildings and residential areas face the internal ring roads; if you like walking as much as I do or just have no other choice, you are bound to cross those same ring roads very often; and with all the money spent on Pudong and other iconic landmarks, some people still can’t afford a bicycle and have to use their own body power to drag their overloaded karts. Yet I am surprised that the city is so safe; that street life, domestic and modest, has not been dampened by the brutalising development process and that Shanghainese, except for the impatient behaviour typical to all big city dwellers, are so stoical and rather friendly when spoken to. In other places, they would just be annoyed if not aggressive towards high-income earners and foreigners.

Two of the best known buildings of Pudong

View from one of the apartments I visited

View from another apartment - this felt especially indecent as this neighbourhood looked particularly insalubrious

This guy manoeuvred his kart from the rear

People playing cards - very common

My favourite street so far - the west side of Fengxian Road

Playing badminton on Fengxian Road

No. 88

28 Nov

or Bābā (literally eight eight in Mandarin) is a well-established club and one especially known amongst foreigners to be one of the places where young Shanghainese party. We went there ten days ago, on a Saturday, after pseudo artsy drinks with friends on the top of a building housing design firms, and got our first experience of Chinese clubbing.

Bābā is located in the French Concession and immediately appeared to be a popular place given the number of people around it on the street. After a five-minute queue at the cloakroom, we had to pass through a magnetic door as if we were at an airport. The security checked each girl’s bag but even though every single person beeped, they let everyone in. As if this didn’t already defeat the purpose of having security, inside was the most claustrophobic and visually and physically busy club one could ever imagine.

The overall theme was let’s say something like Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousands Leagues under the Sea”… The walls were filled with fake copper propellers, pistons, valves and other types of machinery. Most of the tables were laid out in elevated types of booths and the place was absolutely packed! I could only catch a glimpse of the furniture and chandeliers but enough to appreciate how kitsch they were. To add to the clutter, the people and the cigarettes (something I’m not used to anymore), extra smoke was continuously being added to the air. It took a little while to adjust to the atmosphere and until we found a good spot, near the DJ, there was a lot bumping and pushing going on. In Shanghai, people do not really physically give way, be it on the roads, on the pavements or in clubs…

The party was interesting in many respects. First, when music was playing, the DJ enjoyed changing songs about every 20 seconds. It was unusual to get more than one minute of a single track. Second, Chinese people do love drinking and in order to encourage one another, they like playing rock-paper-scissors (or roshambo, which I am told by Wikipedia is a Chinese game, dating back to the Han Dynasty, 220-206 BC) and the losers (or winners?) get to do “gambei”, i.e. bottoms up! Third and most exciting was by far the live performance. We had just missed a female performer as we arrived, but then we had the privilege to get up close and personal with the very androgynous male performer dressed with a mini-cape. The security, strategically posted within the club, prepared his appearance by forbidding anyone from standing on the tiny stages. I can’t remember the song he started with, but shortly after he suddenly disappeared only to reappear virtually immediately a meter away from us. Overall, his accent was quite good until he started singing Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” and making a lasting (laughing) impression with a relentless and persistent “zee edge, zee egde, zzeeeee eeeedge, zzzeeeeeee eeeeeeedge”! At that critical point, the smoke had become so thick and sulphurous that my eyes started crying as relentlessly as the singing, which was terribly embarrassing as I felt like a Beatles’ groupie in one of their first appearances in the 1960s…

The evening didn’t end that well. J. realised that his brand new Iphone 4S went missing from his front pocket. We did our best to find it in the mess around us or by the bar where we were earlier. A very compassionate Chinese guy lent us his own Iphone 4 to light up around us and look for it. To no avail… After about 20 minutes of desperate searching, we gave up and left thinking Bābā Iphone…

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