Shanghai is a very beautiful city. It is only 200 years old, which is new, compared with a city like Beijing, which is 2,000 years old.
How would you compare Shanghai with Houston?
In Houston, people live outside of downtown and drive cars to get downtown. In Shanghai, people live downtown and ride their bikes to work and to school. You get in your 20 minutes of cardio workout.
Yao Ming thinks these Shanghai spots are a slam dunk
Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai, very expensive, 011-86-21-6256-8888, www.fourseasons.com/shanghai
Peace Hotel, moderate, 011-86-21-6321-6888, www.shanghaipeacehotel.com
The Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, moderate, 011-86-21-6279-8888,
Mei Ling Ge (Merrylin), Shanghainese, moderate, 011-86-21-6446-6666
East Nanjing Road pedestrian street
Xujiahui shopping district
Binjiang Da Dao (Riverside Promenade)
Yu Garden (Cheng Huang Miao)
When you're in Houston and get homesick for Shanghai, what do you think about?
It's not a specific thing. I miss the whole atmosphere of Shanghai. In Shanghai, in the morning time, the people getting up and brushing teeth, washing their face, and going out to buy the street food for breakfast. You can smell the fried shao-bing you-tiao (bread sticks and bun). People greeting each other and neighbors asking, "Have you eaten breakfast?" The whole atmosphere is what I think about.
When you go back to Shanghai each summer, how long do you stay?
Not too long, probably two to three weeks each time.
If you were to host friends or visitors for dinner, where would you take them for an upscale meal?
I like to go to a restaurant called Mei Ling Ge (Merrylin). It is very nice. The way they cook the Shanghainese food is quite authentic.
What do you like to eat?
Snake. Before SARS, the restaurant had a famous snake dish, but now it is very difficult to get.
Which Shanghainese dishes should visitors be sure to eat?
Street food. The breakfast street food is the best. There are four traditional breakfast foods, called si da jin gang: shao-bing you-tiao, doug jiang (soybean drink), da bing (large sesame bread), and ci fan (soupy rice).
Some visitors may be reluctant to try street food. It's a cultural difference. If you force somebody to try it, maybe it will not be a nice experience for them. But if you have the chance, you should definitely try the street food.
Which hotels would you recommend?
The Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai and the Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai are more traditional hotels that are nice, and they're close to my house. The Peace Hotel has a long history. It is one of the oldest hotels in Shanghai and is very famous. Every year, I take my friends and family there to its restaurant.
Which attractions do you love?
The Bund, for its international architecture. This is a place you must go. Because on the Puxi side of the Huangpu River, you can see the old buildings and you can feel how, in old Shanghai, all these businesses and international banks were coming to the city. On the Pudong side, you can see the new Shanghai, with all the new skyscrapers.
There's also the pedestrian area on the eastern section of Nanjing Road. This is the first shopping street in China. It's the most crowded and hustling bustling street you can see in Shanghai, especially the section that's close to the Bund.