Art Ancient and Modern
Locally known as M50, the Moganshan Lu development of 120 studios and galleries, in what were formerly textiles mills and warehouses, continues to grow. Some of the work you’ll find here is excellent (at Art Scene Warehouse, for instance), but standards can be variable.
More interesting is the burgeoning generation of philanthropically funded non-profit spaces. The Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as MoCA, a modernist crystal palace in the heart of People’s Park funded by the Samuel Kung Foundation, may have been the first such space when it opened in 2005, shortly to be followed by the Qing-dynasty warehouse turned flour mill turned Creek Art Center (rear of No. 423, Guang Fu Road, Shanghai) on Suzhou Creek. Another spot for treasure hunting is the new Minsheng Art Museum, named after the banking corporation that funds it and directed by Shanghai artist Zhou Tiehai, opposite the state-run Shanghai Sculpture Space, a former steel plant on the western edge of the French Concession.
For traditional Chinese art—bronze, ancient ceramics, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, jade, coin, Ming and Qing furniture and more—try the Shanghai Museum in the centre of People’s Square.
Shanghai abounds in markets, but none is more atmospheric than Dongtai Lu, a street of ramshackle two-storey houses with cantilevered upper floors and prettily carved balustrades, where the stalls sell bric-a-brac: old mah-jong sets; lacquered jewellery boxes; 1930s advertisements of sultry lovelies applying cold cream, smoking or enjoying Haig whisky; Mao watches; birdcages and porcelain. Not everything is as old as it pretends to be. But for atmosphere, it’s unbeatable: Stallholders still doze in easy chairs, men in silk pyjamas bicycle sedately by, so as not to upset the cargo of chicks or buckets of flowers balanced precariously on their pannier racks, and people still use yokes to carry their wares.
Garden of Earthly Delights
Also known as the Garden of Leisurely Repose, the Yu Gardens are a picture-book place of topsy-turvy galleried wooden buildings apparently lurching under the weight of tiles on their pagoda-style roofs with upturned corners. The names of its various sections are every bit as poetic: the Wall of Cloud Piercing Dragon, Spring Transforming Hall, Exquisite Jade, Moon Appreciating Pavilion and Grand Rockery. Built during the Ming dynasty, its Huxinting Tea House (No. 257 Yu Yuan Road. Tel: 86 (21) 63736950) claims to have been the inspiration for the building on willow-pattern china, and it is an excellent place to sample top-quality Chinese teas, along with cakes and sweetmeats. (On weekend evenings and Monday afternoons, there’s a formal tea ceremony.) It can become very crowded, so it’s best to go early or late in the day. The gardens’ adjoining bazaar carries a wide range of pearls and jade, though not as good as the Hongqiao Pearl Market.
Recharge at the Spa
Shanghai may be best known for its no-frills blind-man massage centres and places offering “massage of full-time feet bottom,” but treatments at Qin The Spa, the spa at Four Seasons, are no less authentic and a good deal less intimidating. (Though whatever anyone tells you, reflexology can hurt if you’re tense.) One of its signature treatments is White Tiger Autumn Rites, a two-and-a-half-hour process that begins with qi-balancing meditation and tai chi–inspired breathing exercises, followed by a Tui Na massage (deep muscle work to promote healing and rejuvenation). Next, you are cocooned in a white ren shen (ginseng) and rice wine herbal wrap, after which you’ll be thoroughly moisturised and walking on air.