Shanghai: not entirely Chinese, not yet Western


Old temple and new sky-scrapper make for a common Shanghainese landscape

8 weeks ago I landed in a city I fell in love in 2011 when discovering the mesmerising contrasts between old and new, tradition and modern lifestyle, huge skyscrapers surrounding temples and a city that never stops amazing. “Why would you want to live in Shanghai?” my friends or colleagues would ask me, and my answer (which is the answer I give for most questions!) was “Why not?”. Why wouldn’t you want to experience the craziness of a city developing faster than any other, gathering individuals, companies and cuisine from all around the world and holding onto Eastern roots whilst borrowing more and more Western ways?

Undoubtedly, 24 millions inhabitants in one gigantic city calls for modernity and high technology; Shanghai’s very well organised (and extremely punctual) metro, state-of-the-art escalators and lifts as well as high speed trains are all more than necessary to move the crowds around efficiently – whether horizontally or vertically and fitting so many people on a limited surface would not have been possible without all the high-rise buildings offering accommodation and offices.


Your typical metro ride, most people staring at their screen, or sleeping…

Pretty much everyone here have their phone in hand whilst walking in the streets, standing in the metro or at restaurants, browsing the Internet, checking out the latest news, gossip, video etc.. on WeChat (the Chinese equivalent of Facebook and Whatsapp) or buying clothes on T-Mau or Tao Bao (China’s very own Ebay) and electronics on (apparently Amazon is literally only used for books here!).


Apple’s flagship store in the Pudong

The Western influence is palpable in so far as the streets are literally paved with McDonald’s, Starbucks, KFC and dozens upon dozens of enormous malls with hundreds of international stores such as Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Sephora, Marks & Spencer, Nike, Apple, etc… as well as luxury brands in the likes of Chanel, Gucci, Prada etc… but one has to wonder who actually spends thousands of RMBs (China’s currency, locally named “Kuai”) on the latter as anyone displaying these top-tier handbags, glasses or T-Shirts could easily be showing off their latest purchase from the famous Fakes Market.

Whilst most Chinese having moved to Shanghai for better opportunities and lifestyle agree that living in this superb city (as it is the case in hugely popular cities such as New York, London or Paris) isn’t cheap – especially as far as rent is concerned – it seems a lot of money gets flashed around in shopping malls, restaurants, bars and clubs. Western brands mentioned earlier cost the same here as in Europe or America so comparatively to the wages paid out in Asia versus Westerner countries, you’ve got to spend much more of your hard-earned money in Shanghai than you would in Paris to get a branded item. What surprises me the most about the Shanghainese money-flashing is the clubbing experience. Although entrance fees are usually under ¥100 (a tenner) or even free for Westerners, a lot of clubs (except the more “underground” venues) require that you book a table (which will usually come with a few bottles of Champagne) in order to be allowed in – for the astonishing price of ¥3,000 (around £310 or $480). Walking into these clubs is highly entertaining as all Chinese youngsters are sat at their table in the middle of the room, dressed to impress, drinking their Champagne or spirits with iced tea (yep, you read that right!) and staying amongst themselves whilst the Westerners will usually be grouped onto the dance floor, in more casual attires and downing drinks like it was water.


Shanghai illuminated at night (the Pudong side).

Before experiencing Chinese drinking for myself, I had heard two contradictory stereotypes which appeared to vary depending on whether the speaker came from America, Australia or Europe: one the one hand some people stated that Chinese are known to be heavy drinkers and on the other hand that they could not “handle their drink”. It has been noted that alcoholic beverages are not always very strong here and I have seen more Chinese people completely intoxicated than I have Westerners or even anyone back home (in France or even the UK) but that does not provide any indication on how much was ingurgitated before becoming totally inebriated. One memorable clubbing experience that goes towards confirming the second theory was seeing a Chinese man walk straight into a (rather posh) bar to be pulled onto the counter where he laid with his legs hanging in the air whilst being poured whatever spirit first came to the bartender’s hand. The Chinese man, believed to be averaging 30 years old (but then again, I have assumed one of my colleagues was in his early 40’s when he’d actually just celebrated his 60th so I could be totally wrong here…) got up and lifted his arms in a sign of victory to be cheered by his mates and then turn around to lean against the very same counter he’d completed his drinking challenge to throw up all the alcohol he had just swallowed. Nice!

Does the need to show off how come from the Western Civilisations or from the Chinese perception of life in Europe or America extracted from all the movies they watch and TV series such as Sex And The City, House of Cards, Suits or Gossip Girl?


Chinese lanterns, symbol of tradition

It seems the younger generations in Shanghai really aspire to become more Western, wishing their parents and grandparents felt the same way but the older generations are still hung onto traditions whereby a child has to have a good education, then after graduating oughts to find a decent job, a good boyfriend/girlfriend, marry (before 30), have a child (or children if they are allowed to have more than one – will be detailed in another post) and then look after their child’s life cycle and become grandparents themselves. Such is the traditional pattern that generates so much friction between the generations and puts pressure on today’s youth, but that is a topic to be continued in another post…

Pompeii Vs Herculaneum – grandeur of structure and stunning background Vs intimate setting and beautifully preserved artwork



Pompeii’s amphitheatre

This week we have visited Pompeii and Herculaneum, both places having been covered by the Vesuvius eruption in 79AD yet offer something different to visitors eager to discover a fascinating part of history. While the two sites are separated by approximately 15 minutes’ drive, whatever direction you look in whilst walking the paved streets of Pompeii you will see either the Vesuvius or other volcanic mounts of the Neapolitan bay as it is a tad higher in altitude, whereas Herculaneum is enclosed in the middle of the town and commune of Ercolano so you will be confronted with modern buildings just above the ancient seaside town.


Paved streets of Herculaneum in the middle of Ercolano’s modernity

Pompeii is quite a bit bigger so 3 hours to wonder around this beautiful site will not be too much, while the visit of Herculaneum could be completed in less time (still count a minimum of 2 hours for a thorough visit though) but in my (very) humble opinion, it obviously depends on your personal tastes and if you could easily become archeology’d out, but if time allows, I would definitely recommend discovering both sites as they complement one another.


Neptune and Aphrodite’s mosaic in Herculaneum

It goes without saying that Pompeii is the most famous location so attracts more tourists but you’d be missing out if you didn’t venture out to Herculaneum as well as the mosaics alone are worth the detour and for lack of better words, it just has a different, more intimate feel to it. Furthermore, Herculaneum is much better conserved so the art work on the walls display the colours, patterns and images of that time whether Pompeii is more about the structures themselves.


Pompeii’s large theatre

That said, if you love the flamboyance of the temples and grandeur of theatres and amphitheatres then Pompeii will take your breath away (again, to my mind, maybe not as much as Ephesus in Izmir Province, Turkey which has a stunning amphitheatre but still breathtaking).

So in a nutshell, both Pompeii and Herculaneum are attractive to the culture-thirsty individuals so deserve to be seen but again, each to their own, Pompeii might be on your Bucket List whether Herculaneum being less world-known may not have been on your radar but if you are lucky enough to be around the majestic Vesuvius for long enough then treat yourself to both sites.

And an added bonus for you fellow dog lovers: your favourite companions can join you on this historical walk (as did big Jasper)!

Not into luxury brands fashion? Visit Capri in winter!

P1000848Yesterday, we visited Capri and if you also are not bothered about premium fashion (Gucci, Moschino, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, etc…) then get your ticket to this stunning island in the off-peak months as the streets of the quaint little town will quite literally be empty. It does add some level of eeriness to see all these shops closed, with only a few items left in their windows, but if shopping isn’t the motive for your visit then you shan’t be disappointed as the sun shines all year around on the beautiful landscapes and views that this charming town has to offer.

P1000791The funicular, (which has been a mini milestone in conquering my fear of heights, yeehaaa!) will get you to Capri town in just 3 minutes and considering there aren’t many tourists at this time of the year, you will be able to wonder around at a leisurely pace and embrace the views, gardens and atmosphere of what looks like an adult version of Disneyland without being pushed and shoved by what must be thousands upon thousands of tourist during the summer season. Be prepared for your breath to be taken away the minute you step out of the funicular as the view on the way to the main square (Piazetta) stuns you immediately. If you make the trip in the run up to the festive season you’ll also be able to enjoy listening to Christmas songs while enjoying your Sfogliatella (traditional shell-shaped filled Italian pastry native to Campania) on the sunny – yet fresh – terrace of the bars and restaurants on the various squares (plazza).

That said, a definiteP1000846 negative aspect of off-peak travelling on Capri is that whilst shops are closed, many of the restaurants, bars and sights (such as Grotta Azzura and Villa Jovis) are also taking a break during the winter months so that is something to take into account. And unfortunately, the prices remain higher than mainland Italy (with a cup of tea at 4€ in Anticapri as opposed to 1.20€ in our dearest local Internet access at the Bar Centrale in Sant’ Agata) and a salmon salad cost 15€ so if you’re on a budget (as I usually am) you may want to plan accordingly.

 P1000924Nevertheless, Capri is beautiful, worth the visit and again, dog friendly – our hip height Jasper was allowed on both the hydrofoil (for 8€ return as opposed to 33€ for humans – ouch!) and the funicular (same price as us 2 legged mammals!) although had to wear a muzzle (museruola in Italian). But all welcomed him with a smile.

In a Nutshell, Capri is exactly as described in all guides: luxurious, posh, stunning and poetic but a definite dent in your holiday budget!

Surprise: Italy’s gluten free and dog friendly!

P1000569It’s only been 3 days since I’ve landed on the beautiful Amalfi Coast but what a surprise it was to discover that not a single restauranteur has had a look of horror on his or her face when I’ve asked for gluten free (and dairy free) options. It made me feel very silly for having believed stereotypes that the land of pizza, pasta and ice cream would not have much choice for specific foodies like me…

IMG_0966The first lunch we had in Sorento was in The Fauno Bar (, where the waiting staff was extremely friendly, spoke very good English yet were happy to help us learn Italian, and the menu had a Gluten Free section (which made me squeak with happiness!) with a variety of dishes from ravioli to pizza to Spaghetti alle vongole which is one of the specialities from the Neapolitan region so needless to say I was very pleased to not be deprived of tasting the local delicacies. And it was de-li-cious!

P1000740Another point worth mentioning is that although he’s stared at by pretty much every passer-by, Jasper (stunning Rhodesian Ridgeback) is allowed in restaurants, cafés and even on the tourist train going around the main sights in Sorento. This is a very welcome surprise as Jasper is a rather large dog (looks like a mini horse really!) and everyone seems to accept that we want to take him everywhere with us. If you fancy following Jasper’s travels, you may visit, with the latest info on travelling with a big (huge!) dog in Italy.

Mille grazie bella Italia!

A foodie’s free-from food in a foreign land

While not eating meat is a conscious choice I have made a year ago (watch a few documentaries on slaughterhouses and you could very well do the same), being gluten and dairy intolerant has not been my decision (far from it…), so having always been a foodie (on the verge of food-obsessed), restricting myself is not a pleasant task when you have a very sweet tooth (or a jaw of sweet teeth as I often – wrongly – say) although cooking everything from scratch can be pretty fun when time allows.

Spice poached pear and dark chocolate

Many (most) adults do not digest dairy and a few of today’s food experts call for a gluten free diet thus many individuals will have combined a dairy and gluten restriction and will understand that when you have a real love of food, sticking to your dietary requirements while at home already isn’t the easiest (even if you really do enjoy cooking), but doing so while abroad is a different kettle of fish.

When the organisation I have booked my volunteering experience abroad through sent me the details of my upcoming placement and accommodation in Shanghai, I read with great interest the “Food” section (do I think with my stomach? yes!) and it was nice to discover that volunteers can choose to cook at the flat we’ll be sharing with other volunteers or eat out from local restaurants (if I ever leave the 37th floor office on my lunch break…) but the last sentence somewhat bothered me. “If you are a vegetarian, be aware that you will find avoiding meat a lot more difficult than you would at home.” I appreciate this is a friendly notice so we know what to expect when arriving in this foreign land but was, for lack of better word, annoyed that there weren’t any statement “be aware that you will find guessing which animal is in your plate a lot more difficult than you would at home” yet there is always a risk to be served dog, snake or turtle (to name a few) – isn’t that cause for warning? Call me naive but I am pretty sure most countries’ economies rely partly on agriculture and if there is a category of foods that is readily available on most continents it is vegetables (and rice as far as China’s concerned!).

Nevertheless, the organisation’s statement makes a valid point in the sense that following specific dietary requirements in a country with an alimentation profoundly different to the one you are accustomed to does require some planning, flexibility and adaptation. When dining out, how do you verify a dish isn’t cooked in butter in a language that isn’t yours? Reading a foreign food label can prove to be quite a challenge (especially in Chinese..), how do you know if there is hidden gluten in the ingredients?

Intolerances, contrarily to allergies, are not life-threatening so the nuisance is of a different nature, however eating only the foods your body tolerates will require some creativity as intolerance education in the hospitality and food industries will undeniably vary from one country to another.


A Crêpe de Blé Noir with roasted almond and honey

One silly example, in my home land of Brittany, was crepes. A few months ago, I was told Crepes de Blé Noir (the savoury crepes as opposed to the sweet ones that are more commonly available on the international market) do not contain gluten or dairy, so I was literally over the moon and ever since have been eating these crepes by the dozen. Last week, we went to one of our local crêperies to be told at my 4th crepe (did I mention I was greedy?) that these Crepes de Blé Noir had in fact been made with milk instead of water and also contained butter… Great end to an evening! So, even if it was a meal in my home town, using my mother tongue and ordering my favourite food item, I was unable to avoid gluten and dairy – Asia sounds promising…

2015’s moto? Be prepared for flexibility!

Pictures below: pescetarian, gluten-free and dairy free dishes made and consumed while in France… Yum!

Extremely loveable, stubborn, with a passion for jumping on strangers (have no fear, it’s a dog!)

P1000350Our cheeky “little” 16 months old black Lab, Irois (pronounced “Ear-wouah”) aka Mr Waggytail, is a challenging yet adorable companion. His constant pushing his owners’ boundaries in the manner of a teenager wondering just how many times he can get away with smoking in the school toilets before getting caught by the head teacher is certainly trying, but Irois is still a puppy, and like most young dogs, he is a bundle of energy, always ready to run wild and has more love and affection to give than he knows what to do with.


Irois likes to express his need for attention through a constant very high pitched yet deep bark (music to the ear you say?), is obsessed with carrots and langoustines (definitely French!) and is utterly sociable – not just with his four-legged fellows, but will also try to cuddle (ie. jump) every single person who crosses his path. With this in mind, Irois’ twice daily walk consists of strategical planning of which beach will be the emptiest at this specific time of the day and the paths that should involve the least slaloming in between walkers so there aren’t any casualties…

P1000478Thankfully, these regular walks on beautiful beaches of South West Brittany have initiated the discovery of many breathtaking sunsets and a few tears-of-joy inducing sunrises so this is a thank you to Irois and Dog Kind for making me (and dog owners) gear up and get out regardless of the weather and how lazy we may be feeling!

After all, our family Hulk might be a stubborn dog who always choses to be disobedient when there is something/someone else catching his attention, flair, eye or belly but he is one very loveable dog.