I have to say I didn’t quite get it! The French Concession a place where the French have left their own inimitable mark, so it is said. Having flaneured around Paris, its boulevards, parcs, canals and gardens one imagines the same feelings will return, well one would be wrong. Paris is romantic, fashionable, arty, expensive, and classical, where the French Concession Shanghai is more like a visit to the dentist, he spots pearls among the decay! I could eulogize about “My Paris” but that’s not the purpose of this blog, in the real Paris I see, feel and enjoy; the non-tangible Paris and the tangible Paris never fail to please.
The French Concession, Shanghai is overrated and most ultimately disappointing. There were some highlights, the hand-dripped and very, very expensive coffee, the gentleman’s club with the antique laden garden, an excellent affordable lunch and a lovely little local market. It was leafy and shaded and relatively low on traffic and noise pollution but on the downside after my search for hidden gems had indicated quaint and stylish handicrafts and beautifully landscaped gardens what I found was either closed or inaccessible to the layman. We stopped for coffee as I was suffering from No. 2 distress on that I shall not dwell.
Our appetite for NO further disappointment was satiated by a visit to the Old Town, FOBY hadn’t been and I was happy to saunter round again. The skies were blue as we passed the multiplicity of jewellers and arrived at the old bazaar, FOBY was enticed but could not commit to purchasing jade for his mum, a wise decision methinks as they were desperate for his cash. We arrived at Yuan Yuan Garden which though busy was certainly not overcrowded. The ornate buildings adorned with intricate fantasy figures reflected in the fish ponds. We stopped at the government sponsored tea house enjoying a résumé of China’s finest by a pot frog which imitated an Iguana in its ability to change colour when doused in hot tea.
The Money Frog, also recognized by name the “Three Legged Toad”, is the celestial and mythical creäture, emerging every full moon to bring with it wealth and good fortune. It is one of the most prominent symbols of prosperity and monetary gain in Feng Shui, and can often be spotted beside cash registers, receptions and owners’ desks all across Asia.
In ancient Chinese folklore, the Money Frog was the wife of renowned man who attained the Elixir of Mortality from Hsi Wang Mu, the Goddess of the West. The frog, who at that time was still a maiden, was jealous and so stole the elixir from her husband. As retribution by the other gods, she was transformed into a three-legged frog and sentenced to live on the moon. Because of this, the Money Frog is always seen sitting on a bed of treasure, carrying two strings of coins and biting one in the mouth – her natural greed requires that she always be surrounded by riches. This is why she is such a strong symbol of prosperity used extensively to attract wealth and bring good luck.
There were more kids here today squatting skilfully on the periphery of the fish ponds. The less acrobatic foreigners once again risked a fishy shower as they teased them with plastic bottles and cameras. Yes, you know what happened next? Arriverderci Nikon, not mine some mindless latin type. The great phallus that is the Shanghai Tower (the second highest building on the planet) looked over us from across the Bund and the contrast between modern and ancient has never been more clear. We stopped to view the authentic and much more expensive jade at the government sponsored gift emporium before grabbing a franchised American ice-cream, extra flavour offered by the fog of tobacco that embraced us. After purchasing some art student designed T-shirts we headed back through the narrow lanes to our hotel.
The early evening was spent dodging the pimps and taking dinner at “Mothers” before facing rejection from a bar with (apparently) spectacular views over the Bund. We were told quite clearly by the scantily and tastelessly dressed hostess that sneakers were not allowed. The look of disdain she proffered was Cruellesque; in saying that before the surgery and caked on layers she could well have been quite attractive! Instead we found a lovely wine bar/bistro and settled for a couple of beers before retiring.