Shanghai city impressions

By Pauline D.Loh ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-04-11 07:09:39

There were rays of light shining on the wooden deck for al fresco dining and a sudden breeze sent a shower of cherry blossom petals over the diners. The sidewalks were clean, with no sticky spots of expectorant or doggy poo. No dust, no smog.

The restaurant served Mediterranean food, and we had expected a largely expatriate clientele. We were wrong.

There were a couple of blondes and brunettes, but they were the restaurant manager, the sommelier and the chef. Otherwise it was small tables of three or four, all local.

The parents were nicely turned out, but it was the kids who attracted our attention and not because they were chubby and loud and screaming to be noticed.

They were as well dressed as their parents, and most of all, they were sitting down quietly and enjoying their meal of mezzo platters and pasta. For dessert, they were digging into mango souffles.

My colleague's next comment took me by surprise.

"For the first time since I arrived in China, this is making me homesick," Tony says. He is an Italian from Sydney who is enjoying his organic buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomato salad. "This is food that I would be eating at home."

In Beijing, Tony explains, the Western restaurants at Sanlitun seem to be more an escape for expatriates. The restaurant we were in, he says, is just like the eateries back home where local families eat out together during weekends.

I have to agree. There is a certain calm and relaxation in the restaurant.

There was another incident this week that cemented my good impressions.

The Blue Car Cafe across the road from our office is run by a couple of freshly scrubbed staffers. I had left my wallet on the counter while paying for my Americano and did not discover the loss until several hours later when I tried to pay for lunch.

Desperately thinking up numbers to call to report the loss of credit and bank cards, I retraced my steps. The young managers at the cafe had kept my wallet.

The next day, my bank manager called and said they had called to try to find out who the wallet belonged to. It is gestures like this that makes a stranger welcome.

And you know what? I did not see any red banners outside the cafe with huge characters that said: "Learn from Lei Feng's good example". They didn't need it.

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