The subways here are convenient in the sense that they get you from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time for 40 cents. Yes, 40 cents. HA New York – take THAT. However, they are a pain in the backside to physically use. For example, to get to the French Concession from my apartment, I have to move my feet for 20 minutes just to get to the subway entrance. (And for those of you who know my former NYC location where I had to walk about three seconds or two blocks to get to an entrance, this seems ridiculous). Then I must walk up about 87 (read: four) flights of stairs. You handicapped? Guess you ain’t using the subway folks. Take the stairs. Then you wait…in the hot, hot sun. For a train to arrive. Five minutes from now. Then you take said train to the transfer station. Another 20 minutes later of walking through an outdoor, YES OUTDOOR, transfer where you get a nice coating of sweat all over your body, you arrive at the platform for train two. This transfer has drained you. You are tired. You are questioning your decision to go to this cute little part of the French Concession. After just walking through a transfer that is worse than getting from the NQR to the ACE in Times Square in New York (NY readers, you know, that one is a major annoyance….now just imagine it with lots of flights of stairs), you want to sit down. The train arrives as do throngs of people out of nowhere. Finally, a few lurching stops later, you arrive at Dapuqiao, get off the train, and march on to your final destination. One hour and a whole bunch of sweaty, nasty, grimy walking and subwaying later, you have arrived.
With a bike, it’s all different.
I made my purchase a few days ago and I a filled with joy and happiness when I try to get places. The French Concession, a place that seemed so off-limits because it was such a hassle to get to and far too expensive to regularly visit by taking a cab back and forth each time, is now right at my fingertips. Hop on my bike and 20 minutes later, I am in the heart of it all. Pain au chocolate and lovely little cafes are in abundance in this area of Shanghai, and I am taking full advantage of this opportunity that has been presented to me.
Was I terrified to hop in a biking lane before I went on my first ride? Absolutely. However, just like standing on the edge of a highway as a pedestrian looking on, the traffic looks much worse from the sidelines than it does when you are in it. One of my students described Shanghai biking as “organized chaos” which is so true. But once you know the rules and get your “YOU BETTER NOT CUT ME OFF” and “EXCUSE ME WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING” looks down, you are ready to rock and roll.
So that’s what I’ve been doing. Two days ago, I explored the lovely Western edge of the French Concession and hit up a local bakery called Sunflour where they serve the best looking pastries I have ever seen.
And yesterday, I went and saw Fuxing Park and Sinan Mansions (an up and coming Tianzifang equivalent that seems to be quite undiscovered and abandoned so far but is still insanely nice!)
I can’t wait to see what unfolds throughout the rest of the year thanks to my bicycle, but I hope it’s one that is filled with pain au chocolate and afternoons of me trundling along down windy french streets looking like someone straight out of a BBC travel TV mini-series.