Xin Tian Di and the French Concession

Xin Tian Di (the New Heaven and Earth) is located at the periphery of the French Concession. In the olden days, Shanghai is divided into different districts as a result of the Westerners trying to carve out a part of the city for their own fellow compatriots. Thus, Shanghai has the British Concession, the American Concession (these two later became the International Settlement), and the French Concession.

When I arrived at Xin Tian Di, I saw immediately the restaurant that my friend had recommended, Xin Ji Shi. I thought of going in but decided to walk around and take pictures first. The area retained and renovated the beautiful old-brick shikumen-style buildings (stone gatehouses). The complex, opened in 2001, is buzzing at night with the young crowd converging for eats and drinks and a little shopping. Instead of neon-advertising lights, the area employs small flags to announce the names of the businesses.

It was fortunate that I decided to walk around first, because then I bumped into T8, a restaurant that had been widely praised by critics and included in the Conde Nast top 50 restaurants in the world. My friend had also mentioned this restaurant to me, although he himself had never been. I will write a review of this restaurant in my yet-to-be created site, but for now, let it be known that this restaurant with a cuisine of Mediterranean and Asian fusion is worth going. The “M on the Bund” may have a balcony with a nice view of the Huang Pu River, but the food pales in comparison to T8. Stephen Wright, the executive chef here, is very friendly and approachable. The open kitchen -a square area where he and his staff performed their daily and nightly culinary tasks, protrudes into the dining room. From here he can survey the entire ground floor.

After this very satisfying lunch, I went to take a very long stroll into the French Concession, a walk that lasted for about 4 hours. I just followed the recommended stroll by the guidebook but occasionally strayed and went into the alleys and back ways, which always provided great opportunities for viewing the old “shikumen” style architecture. Of the 111 pictures shot today, some were of adults sitting, reading, working, socializing, and children playing. Yes, 111 pictures today and about 147 yesterday: ah, the joy of digital camera. You can just take as many with no worries about the developing cost. Even if you make a mistake, you can just take another one and delete the undesired ones later.

There was not much of a landmark in today’s walk, except for the former house of Sun Yat Sen and Zhou En Lai on Sinan Lu; but the neighborhood alone was remarkable. I was surprised to find how clean Shanghai was: no trash lying around. (It was etched rather deep in my mind that most, if not all, Chinatowns in the western world and in Indonesia were always messy and littered with trash.) Just like the ones I found in the Bund area, the sidewalks and some of the buildings seemed very grimy, polluted, and could benefit from extreme scrubbing; but otherwise, the area was devoid of littered trash. Even when there was a construction (major and minor), the debris and trash were kept within its respective compound. Another friend did tell me that he had walked a little bit away from the city center, and that was where he found the run-down neighborhood with trash and puddles everywhere. There is a huge gap between wealth and poverty in the city.

Today I also came in contact with a lot of vehicular traffic; the fume proved too much at one point that I had to escape to a nearby garden, which happened to be the tranquil Ruijin Guesthouse, a sprawling compound with several buildings that are currently used for hotel rooms. I kept telling myself that I had to wash my face after I returned to my hotel. I must have looked like that grimy sidewalk by the end of the day; I need an extreme scrubbing as well, I suppose.

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