There is an area in Shanghai that is called Thames Town that is basically a fake English town. Now before you say, “The Chinese create knockoff towns too?” read more.
It was a typical Wednesday night. I went down a rabbit trail on Youtube which lead to learning about China’s ghosts towns and cities. Then I learned that Shanghai has towns that are based off of European cities. There are nine of them and Shanghai is only a two hour train ride from me- a perfect weekend trip. The one that stood out to me is Thames Town. Thames Town is part of the “One City, Nine Towns” initiative.
In the decentralization process of Shanghai the strategic plan of 2001 proposed 9 new town centers, of which 4 towns were to be developed from scratch. As a marketing strategy in distinguishing the new towns from each other and Shanghai’s existing city center (Shanghai C), they were to be themed as cities from different geographical regions.
Basically they wanted to get some people to move out of central Shanghai. But for many reasons people aren’t moving to these new towns. It’s too expensive. There are no jobs. There are no schools. China has many ghosts towns some and some are in “the middle of nowhere.” I’m talking about huge sky scrappers and no humans to be seen. I would love to visit one but getting there would be quite the challenge. I was able to go to Thames Town as it can be reached by public transportation. From my Googling searching I would just take Line 9 till the end. Well, that was wrong. I was too far out so I back tracked three stops. Once I got off I figured I could take the bus or an eighteen minute cab ride or walk for over fifty minutes. I decided to grab a cab. But that was even a challenge. I guess I could say I felt like I was in the “suburbs”. It reminded me of Chuzhou actually. Yes, I was technically in Shanghai but it wasn’t the Shanghai with the skyscrapers you think of. Part of NYC is that way too.
After what felt like an etnety but probably wasn’t really that long, I got a cab. While waiting to arrive I thought, “No wonder why no one is moving here! It’s so far out and not easy to get to!” I also wondered, “How the hell do I get back to central Shanghai?”
And there is was. After a two hour train ride and three hours adventure with the metro I was a sign that said “Thames Town” but the biggest sign of all was the guard wearing a red jacket. Yes, the police officials wear red jackets just like the Royal Guards. I had a cheesy grin on my face. I learned about this place a few days ago and now I was here. It was something I could never imagine. I mean, who could of thought some British town existed in China?
Thames Town was bigger than I thought it would be. And there were more people than I expected but I wasn’t sure if these people actually lived here. It was mostly families and people taking pictures just like me. At the entrance there was a Thames Town Kindergarten so I guess some people actually live in Thames Town.
I walked around. It was definitely different than any other place I’ve been to in China. The architecture of the buildings was different and the streets were cobblestone. The biggest standout was the church.
And everywhere I went were the brides. Brides. Brides. Brides. Brides everywhere taking their wedding photos. Thames Town has become the spot for wedding photos. I would turn a corner and a photo session would be happening. I have never seen so many brides in my life. The thoughts running in my head included, “WTF China?!” and “This may be one of my favorite moments in China.”
Around the church were some cafes, bars, and a Baskin-Robbins. I was pretty excited about that as I have not been able to find Mint N Chip ice cream in China. Sadly the ice cream was bad.
The “life” of the town were the people walking around like me taking pictures of this place and all the brides. Thames Town just felt off to me. I could tell some people lived here. I saw a BMW pull in to a gated community. And the sure sign of life in China is if you can see laundry drying. I could see if every now and then hanging out of the British style buildings. But most of the buildings were empty.
A bride and groom would be taking pictures near yellow flowers right next to two completely empty buildings. It just felt strange. It was almost like a theme park at but it was trying to hard to be genuine and real. I have never been to England so I can’t tell you what real England feels like but it really didn’t feel like I was in England. (Perhaps because I was the only white person in the whole place.) It felt like I was in China in a place that was trying to be British.
The church was where all the people were and when I wandered “off the beaten path” it was pretty much nothing but empty buildings. There are also statues of British people all around. There is even one of Harry Potter. I tried to find it but after wandering for quite some time I couldn’t find it.
The church was pretty impressive as it stood alone by its self and was taller than expected for a fake British town. It is an actual church but it just looked off to me. There was a pretty orange tree on the side which looked simply beautiful but I kept asking myself, “Is this a real tree? Are these real birds chirping?”
Overall, I was glad I went to Thames Town. It was nothing like I have ever seen or experienced in my life. It kind of reminds me of going to Walmart in Chuzhou. I definitely feel like I am at Walmart but I definitely feel like I am in China too. With Thames Town I felt like I was still in China but I also felt like I was in some weird want to be British town that was trying really hard to British but still had signs in Chinese and Chinese people everywhere.
There are more of these towns in Shanghai but since they are a two hour train ride from the center it’s quite a journey for a short weekend trip. I think next month I will try to visit the Dutch or Scandinavian town.
Till next time Thames Town.