Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on April 2010

Photo by Mark Andrews

Shanghai Expo 2010 runs from May 1 to October 31, and the local government has been busy making good on its motto of “Better city, better life.” New infrastructure projects are being completed at breakneck speed for the May deadline, neighborhoods cleaned up, and even an ill-considered smoking ban imposed. But where can visitors get a more authentic Shanghai experience?


It isn’t the most conventional vantage point, but for a bird’s-eye view over the Expo site, a climb up Lupu Bridge can’t be beaten (open daily 8:30am-5pm; 80 yuan per person). Building buffs should note that this is the longest arch bridge in the world, and the first ever to use box-arch construction.


Forget xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings with pork or crab)—most locals don’t eat them every day. What many do eat for breakfast are the much larger shengjianbao. Cooked on heavy skillets, these fried dumplings come with crunchy undersides and are topped with sesame seeds (bite a hole to suck the scalding juice out first). The best place to try them is Yang’s Fry Dumpling, which has a number of branches around the city. The easiest to find is on the second floor of the shopping center outside exit 4 of Nanjing West Road subway station.


Most tourists head for Xintiandi, but Tianzifang (above) offers a far more authentic—and less brand-heavy—experience. Shopowners, artisans and restaurateurs mix with the original residents of the traditional shikumen houses and converted factories. Laundry is hung out to dry above shops selling quirky artwork and goods from across Asia, and the area also boasts a burgeoning cafe culture, with al fresco dining the norm.


Hidden away in the basement of a housing compound, the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center (open daily 10am-5pm; www.shanghaipropagandaart.com) doesn’t rank highly on most tour itineraries. A pity, really, as it offers a fascinating window into a bygone era. Locked away are the socialist dreams of the early years of the People’s Republic—but in today’s China, these posters can be yours as an unconventional souvenir.


A number of families in the Linfen area of Zhabei District are offering homestays for foreign visitors during the Expo. All are eager to show off their way of life, but don’t expect too much English to be spoken. Phone Mr. Jin (in English) on +0086 189-1897-0019 for bookings.