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My Favorite Street: Hengshan Lu, Shanghai, China

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Hengshan Lu
“Hengshan Lu is like New Orleans. There’s a lot of French culture in New Orleans, and Hengshan Lu has that French history, too,” Yao says. It’s in the former French Concession of Shanghai, which was established in 1849 and came to an end in 1943, and has a unique character in the city.
Xujiahui, at the end of Hengshan Lu, is one of Shanghai’s most bustling shopping areas.
Hengshan Park
“My strongest memories of Hengshan Lu are of the street’s plane trees,” Yao says. “They cover the street like a roof. They’re one of the main images of the city.” Grab a bench under the boughs in Hengshan Park, sit back and watch the locals as they practice tai chi and dancing. Or, shoot hoops in Hengshan Park. “In the summer, you feel so cool walking under those trees. In the fall, when the leaves were falling down, sometimes the school would send us out to clean up the street.”
Hengshan Picardie Hotel
“I ate my last dinner in Shanghai at the Hengshan Picardie Hotel before flying to the U.S. to join the NBA,” Yao recalls. The 76-year-old landmark is a great starting point for exploring the French Concession—and it’s near the Metro Station for forays into greater Shanghai. Hengshan Picardie Hotel is near the Hengshan Lu metro station, making it a convenient home base. 534 Hengshan Lu
Restaurant Martín
Three-star Michelin chef Martín Berasategui chose a 1921 villa inside Xujiahui Park as the home for Restaurant Martín, his first restaurant outside Spain. The menu features upscale Spanish fare, while the jazz club vibe harks back to the building’s early days as a recording studio. 838 Hengshan Lu
“Hengshan Road has one face in the day and another at night,” Yao says. “In the morning, it has a very peaceful feeling. At night, there are bars where a lot of foreign people go.” Expats favor Sasha’s, in the historic Soong villa, for brunch on the weekends and cocktails at its patio bar. 11 Dongping Lu
Dining on Hengshan Lu
For dining in the area, try authentic Shanghainese fare at Xi’s Garden (1 Dongping Lu), stellar Thai at Simply Thai (5C Dongping Lu), and grilled specialties at Vargas Grill (18 Dongping Lu).

Yao Ming has not forgotten his roots. Every summer, after the NBA season ends, the Houston Rockets star returns home for a visit. When his old team, the Shanghai Sharks, was on the verge of bankruptcy last summer, Yao purchased the team so it could live to play another day. And when officials of World Expo Shanghai 2010 asked Yao to serve as an ambassador, he gladly said yes. “It’s a great chance to show the rest of the world what we’ve done in the past 30 years,” he says. “I want to tell visitors, ‘Don’t stay in the hotel. Walk out and see more of the city.’ ” He suggests a stroll down Hengshan Lu, in Shanghai’s former French Concession, where Yao and his parents moved when he was 4. “It’s the first place I remember in my life,” he says. “That area gave me so many good times when I was little.” While the times have changed for Yao and Shanghai, many landmarks along this historic street remain the same.—Kristin Baird Rattini

—Photos courtesy of Ryan Pyle, Bill Baptist/NBAE, JTB Photo Communications, Inc., Alamy, Sofood

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