We think these Shanghai spots are a slam dunk
Anting Villa Hotel, inexpensive to moderate, 011-86-21-6433-1188.
Mere blocks from Yao's childhood home, this boutique hotel is a great base for those planning to explore the French Concession area on foot. It has its shortcomings; the staff's English and the facilities are both limited. But it's a surprisingly quiet and inexpensive retreat, considering that it's only two blocks from the subway, Hengshan Road restaurant, and the bar district.
The Pudong Shangri-La, expensive to very expensive, 011-86-21-6882-8888, www.shangri-la.com.
The "Shang" is an ideal sanctuary, with unparalleled Bund views as well as the Riverside Promenade out its back door; oversized, thoughtfully designed rooms; the sybaritic Chi Spa; and restaurants that reinvent the hotel buffet (Yi Café) and hip drinks (Jade on 36 Bar).
Bao Luo, inexpensive, 011-86-21-5403-7239.
If street food scares you, go to Bao Luo. It's smoky and loud and packed with locals until two a.m. - but those are all reassuring signs that you've found the right spot for authentic Shanghai cuisine. Try the stewed pork knuckle and the sautéed eggplant served with pancakes.
Simply Thai, inexpensive, 011-86-21-6445-9551, www.simplylife-sh.com/simplythai.
Yao's old neighborhood in the French Concession is now packed with restaurants. Simply Thai is among the district's, and the city's, best. Get a table on the patio, sip a glass of chilled Australian Riesling, and feast away on yellow curry, savory beef masaman, and fried prawns in spicy sauce.
Jing An Park.
You’ll miss China, too, once you’ve witnessed the wonderful morning festivities at Jing An Park. Locals assemble daily — and early — for group tai chi, ballroom dancing, and calisthenics. Keep an eye out for the people walking backward; they’re trying to reverse the clock.
Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, 011-86-21-6372-2077.
You’ll gain an instant appreciation for Shanghai’s obsession with grand scale when you visit this vast (6,400 square feet) model of Shanghai as city planners envision it in 2020.
When I was small, I was living on Kangping Road, which is very close to Hengshan Road. It's near where the International Tennis Center is now, in the French Concession area. The difference between the two roads is that now Hengshan Road is very busy, but Kangping Road, on the contrary, is very quiet. When I was small, there were only two attractions on Hengshan Road: the Hengshan Cinema and, at the end of Hengshan Road, the Xujiahui shopping area. Xujiahui is also a place you should go.
It is quite intensive shopping there. You can find a lot of things. Sometimes you can find some cheap things. But my problem is that lots of people know how much I earn, so I am not able to bargain with them.
Visitors can get a much better understanding of Shanghai by walking its streets. Would you recommend any particular neighborhoods for a nice stroll?
Binjiang Da Dao (the Riverside Promenade in Pudong). You can see across the Huangpu River to the Bund. There's also Fuxing Park, which has lots of beautiful trees. And then, if you really want to take a walk, I would recommend Hengshan Road, especially in the evenings. There are phoenix trees, which are special trees, all along Hengshan Road. It will be a nice walk. There are a lot of outdoor bars. You can find a lot of buildings which are not Shanghainese or Chinese style.
Do you have a fondness for any specific building on Hengshan Road?
My mother used to work at a place called Shanghai Sports Science Research Institute. This place is at the intersection of Hengshan and Wuxing roads. This building, where my mom worked, is very attractive. When I was small, after school I always liked going to my mom's workplace to do my homework so I could spend lots of time in that building. It's still there.
What other fond childhood memories do you have?
When I was young, I used to go to the Children's Palace; it's in a small alley on Kangping Road. When I was in school, I would go there for play, for fun. It's not far from where my mom worked. I don't know if it's still there. I would watch movies. They had lots of hobby classes for people to learn music instruments, and you could also play video games.
Shanghai has changed a lot since your childhood. Where would you send visitors to see the new Shanghai?
For young people, I think they'd like to go to a place called Xintiandi, "New Heaven on Earth." The style of the buildings is Shikumen, the oldest traditional style of buildings in Shanghai. But inside the buildings, it's very fashionable, with restaurants, bars, and entertainment.
And to see the old Shanghai?
If you really want to see the local Shanghai style, go to Yu Garden, which locals also call Cheng Huang Miao. In Cheng Huang Miao, the original old buildings are Chinese-style. Lots of people go there. You can see these little shops and vendors. It gives the feeling of the market and people getting together.
Tell us about your role as a global ambassador for the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games. What message do you want to share about Shanghai and the Special Olympics?
It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador. I believe Shanghai is well prepared to successfully host this event. I heard that during the Special Olympics, some of the athletes will stay in common people's homes. It is very good, because it can increase mutual understanding from each side: The athletes can have a good understanding of the culture of Shanghai, and the people of Shanghai can have a better understanding of the spirit of the Special Olympics.