Gentrified Shanghai – Tianzifang



Taxi cabs are really cheap in Shanghai. Language is an issue if you don’t speak Chinese. So it’s best to ask your hotel to write your destinations/itinerary in Chinese characters. But I loved that the cabs were so cheap, we were able wander around without a real plan.

Every single person who knew we were going to Shanghai said that we should go to Xintiandi. And I agree, it’s not to be missed. It’s a very posh shopping, eating and entertainment district – which I didn’t really care much for because everything felt too international. At one point I felt like I was in Hazelton Lanes in Toronto. Xintiandi deserves it’s own post though (later), because it’s a great example of a gentrified redevelopment of what used to be traditional row houses/shikumen. It was beautiful and perfect. But on our first day, I was looking for charm and more local colour. So we went to Tianzifang.




Beautiful sycamore trees at Xintiandi. Why can’t we have tree lined streets?


My friend Lylah Juinio has been living in China as an expat for over 10 years. She was responsible for awakening my interest in Shanghai. On her list of recommendations was Tianzifang, knowing that I like artsy fartsy stuff. Here’s my impression of Tianzifang – the gateway entry and narrow streets reminded me of the Cashbahs in Morocco (from what I remembered when I was 16); the many hipster creative entrepreneurs had a very Williamsburg, Brooklyn vibe; the handcrafts looked like a fun 3D Etsy site; and the quaint small international restaurants at one point felt very Boracay D’Mall. It’s like Malugay’s The Collective if more hipster artists moved in. And I mean all that in a good way. It was a total contrast from the perfectly manicured Xintiandi. Though both redevelopments were planned by the government (nothing here is accidental, everything is perfectly planned), Tianzifang felt a bit more organic.


One of the many entrance gates into Tianzifang, along Taikang Road.


Taikang Road had buildings that looked like this.


Very interesting use of wire mesh/screen.


We wandered around Tianzifang’s narrow streets until night time.


Patrick went shopping in this quaint antique shop that specialized in eyewear.



Click “More…” to see my gazillion Tianzifang photos.


He bought vintage Chinese sunglasses – with crystal lenses! (Scary on the safety level).


Charming store called woof woof. Lily has a gazillion drawings on note paper like this.


The woof woof artist was doodling on site.


And these were hanging outside like poetry in the wind.


I’m not kidding.


There were many knick knacks and Chinese paraphernalia.


And souvenirs.


Other parts of Tianzifang that still looked raw. I loved it.


Sorry for the blurry photos. My hands were freezing!


This man carved my daughters’ names in soapstone.


So I got each of them their name stamp. But forgot to get myself one.


So many cute things. But Patrick has banned me from buying knick knacks.


It was so cold even inside the restaurant. Everytime the door opened a strong draft would blow in.


Well, I eventually took my coat off.


It was a quaint Thai restaurant. And it wan’t really that cheap.


There were pubs and bars along the narrow streets.


And little boutiques for hobbyists of all kinds. I loved entering the narrow and tall rowhouses/shikumen to see how they were built. There was shikumen house recreation in Xintiandi and it was lovely. Here in Tianzifang, they’re much smaller. And looked very authentic.


It was so cold, we stopped many times for warmth. This looked like a little old lady’s restaurant somewhere in rural Britain or Ontario. Except there were no old ladies. Just hipster kids and their iPads. There were lots of photos of cats.


And two hairy cats right by the heater in the front door. I’m not a cat person but these two were really adorable.


This was just our first day. I was charmed. More of Shanghai later. How am I doing so far?



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