I’ll be hallucinating about Shanghai for a long time

As a novelist, it has been my privilege to be a flaneur in the Flaubertian sense, to stroll and stare and explore and note details of your city and its culture, its past and its present, and perhaps its future, too.
Some days I walk north, other days south, or east, or west – I try to pick a different direction each day but since there are seven days in a week and only four cardinal points of the compass, I end up walking in my own footsteps now and then. Okay, there are some other possibilities: north by northeast, south by southwest, zigzag along Suzhou Creek, or just walk in circles for fun.
I firmly believe the best way to know a city is to encounter it on foot, and as long as one isn’t killed by some maniac driver at a zebra crossing, Shanghai is wonderful for walking – big streets, small streets, branch roads and alleys.
This particular day I walked from Changning District where I’ve been staying near Zhongshan Park through Jing’an District and its monumental outdoor sculpture park. Then I found an alley where a charming lady ran a tiny tea shop and I bought a packet of fragrant tea for 9 yuan (US$1.45), and as I write this I sit on the Bund, watching the river, with a pi jiu (beer) in my hand, Pudong over there … Me over here.
Leaving a place one has grown to think of as a home and an inspiration is always hard. It’s a bit like chopping off one’s ear. More like waking up from a lovely dream during a bright night that lasted for two months. I suspect I’ll keep hallucinating about Shanghai for a long time.
I felt most at home in simple restaurants in back alleys, and, for the record, my favorite is one eatery I don’t even know the name of because it’s not written in English.
But one day I asked the stern girl at the cashbox, and I think she said it’s known as Kuan Tung Pao Tse Ah or something like this. It has no English menu either, but you’ll find it at 210 Changning Branch Road. Watch for the table laden with shellfish outside – best grilled mussels I’ve had in a long time and a steal at 15 yuan for half a dozen.
Then there are the bars. Although my experience is a bit limited, I think maybe the best bar in the world is one which I again don’t know the name of, let’s assume it’s James, but you’ll find it at 57 Dongzhu’anbang Road if you should need a 1.25l mug of beer.
The clubs, of course. I still dream myself back to Yuyintang live house, the grungy music venue in a quaint building behind the Yan’an Road Metro station, and a wonderful concert with singer-songwriter Zhong. It was like being dead and hearing an angel sing in heaven.
And I’ll never forget the shops – Shanghai is one big shopping mall and my repacked bags were heavier: silks from Silk King and old posters from the Propaganda Art Museum, badges from Dongtai Road Antique Market, books and baijiu (distilled alcoholic beverage).
Ah, the parks. Lu Xun Park was a favorite, especially with a museum dedicated to a novelist. I too want a park and a museum dedicated to me, like that one.
I’ve looked for arts and literature, and found much to gawk at in many museums. I’ve had thrilling encounters with contemporary writers. It was, indeed, a privilege to be a Swede in China when the Nobel Prize was awarded to Mo Yan.
But the streets top my list. I walked pretty much every street (my feet felt that way). And relished your excellent street food from steamed buns to stinky tofu.
For some reason I liked Julu Road most, maybe because the Shanghai Writers’ Association is located in a beautiful building on that charming street.
You who live in Shanghai are so lucky to have such a walkable city. Invite me back any time, and I’ll come – even if I have to walk all the way to China.
I’d be so lucky.