This weekend I noticed that my favourite local dumpling place, just around the corner, has closed down. There are plenty of other dumplings available nearby (I do live two blocks from Chinatown after all), but it’s not just the taste I will miss, but the staff I have come to know from being a ‘regular’ at my ‘local’. It was one of the first places I discovered which helped me articulate a real sense of neighbourhood in the midst of the city.
It was my enjoyment of travelling to various cities around the world that prompted me to move into the city in my hometown. I love city living – the vibe and the variety, the hustle and bustle, the joy of walking and watching. But mostly, I love the diversity of people and the sense of neighbourhood community that I’m discovering can be found in the city. So today I’m thinking it would be interesting to revisit one of the world’s most populous cities, Shanghai. With just over 24 million people, this city has around the same population as the nation of Australia in an area about twice the size of Adelaide.
What did I love about Shanghai?
The sheer size of the city is a sight to behold, best appreciated by visiting the scale model found at the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre.
Within this huge footprint is a huge diversity of neighbourhoods. From the Old Town artisans …
… to the Beaux Arts buildings lining the Bund …
… to the modern skyline of the financial district.
As well as one of the largest populations in the world,
the city boasts the world’s fastest passenger train, reaching 431 km/h,
Asia’s largest train station, at 1.3 million square kilometres,
and China’s first world-class museum,
celebrating the nation’s art and history.
It is also home to perhaps the most surreal tourist attraction I have ever visited in the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, which despite its name is a tunnel under the river with psychedelic lights, trippy music, and bizarrely poetic random phrases read throughout the journey.
And when it comes to dumplings, I’d stand by the claim of those I had in YuYuan to be up there with the best in the world.
What did I learn from Shanghai?
With all these ‘best’ and ‘biggest’ things to see and do, what I appreciated most about Shanghai was the interactions with people. Walking along the Bund is perfectly suited for ‘people watching’, but it was also while there that I met and interacted with people from six or seven different countries, with locals as well as visitors.
I don’t know whether it is the closer proximity of city dwelling, the fact that they are by nature less homogenous than other locations, or the fear of getting lost in the crowd, but I find that in the city there is often a greater willingness of people to at least smile, if not engage, and seek out some sense of community and connection.
As I seek to connect with my neighbourhood community in the city where I live, as I try to overcome the temptation to be anonymous and instead choose the simple, deliberate gestures of eye contact and a smile, perhaps leading to a friendly word or willingness to engage, I’m challenged by how I can play my own small part in making city life the best it can be not just for me, but for those around me.