Shanghai from my notebook

July 15th, 2009 § 1 comment

Wednesday, July 15
Shanghai is under construction…street after street, buildings are bound by bamboo scaffolding and tended by workers from the countryside in construction attire that looks like pajamas. Everywhere there are promotional signs for the World Expo happening here in 2010, which I assume to be the reason for all the work being done.

The Bund, an area along the Huangpu River is closed: our guidebook warns a visit to Shanghai is not complete without strolling along this promenade lined on one side with stately European buildings from the 1930s and on the other with modern skyscrapers that includes the orbed and disney-esque Oriental Pearl Tower. The river is a border between old and new Shanghai and I prefer the look and feel of the old. On the old side is the French Concession, a residential/retail/restaurant and bar district adorned with art deco architecture and home to restored shikumen, historic ‘stone-gate’ houses.

Pudong, Shanghai

Pudong, Shanghai

Yesterday we visited Shanghai’s first hotel, the Astor House Hotel, built by British traders and opened in 1846. It’s described in our guidebook (quite aptly I might add) as a cross between a British public school and a Victorian asylum. While an historic treasure, the place feels a little unloved and uappreciated…but having been to China before, I wasn’t surprised that a certain level of tact is missing in its preservation (no offense, China, but our idea of aesthetics and taste are very, very different). We had a drink in the parlor, and looked out the window onto the Russian consulate and wondered what sort of meetings might have taken place at the very same table back when Shanghai officially birthed the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) in 1921. Afterwards, we wandered around the halls of the hotel, which didn’t smell musty but did smell ‘old’, and I was glad we weren’t staying there even though I tend to prefer the historic sort of places than modern ones while traveling. The hotel felt a bit creepy, like the one in The Shining…perhaps it was the chandaliered ballroom or the dining room with curtained stage and the never-ending, winding, maze-like, hallway-ridden orientation of Victorian architecture. It ignores the idea of flow in favor of the chopping up and parceling off of space. It’s why finding a decent apartment in San Francisco is so tough for me–they are all hallway.

The Parlor, Astor House Hotel

The Parlor, Astor House Hotel

Dining Room, Astor House Hotel

Dining Room, Astor House Hotel

Since walking along the Bund was thwarted by construction, we decided to check out the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, an underground train that transports people from one side of the Huangpu River to the other. I’ve read it’s a tunnel of flashing neon lights with scenery that includes blow-up dolls, and a soundtrack of strange messages (about what, I don’t know). We have yet to take this trip (and indeed, it shall be a trip). I imagine it to be something akin to the boat ride in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and I didn’t want to experience it while suffering the effects of jet lag, a state of being where the world is weird enough as it is.

Entrance to the Bund Tourist Tunnel

Entrance to the Bund Tourist Tunnel

Thursday, July 16
Yesterday we found a little hole in the wall mentioned in a travel article I read way-back-when that sells soup dumplings. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of soup dumplings for months–they’re tiny, steamed, and come with a pocket of hot liquid inside that is first slurped out from a tiny nibble before devouring the rest of the dumpling. They’re a specialty of Shanghai and I have plans, even at the early hour I type this, to find more soup dumpling restaurants today. That was lunch…

Soup Dumplings at Jia Jia Bao

Soup Dumplings at Jia Jia Bao

Dinner was equally awesome. We went to a place called Little Heaven, and it was–they serve ethnic minority dishes from the Yunnan province as well as Burmese food. We went there with a newly met friend named John, a guy in town on business who happens to be from Oakland. We met him at a bar called the 1901 Club in an up-and-coming neighborhood simply referred to by our guidebook as Taikang Rd. We’d been at 1901 for too many hours and too many beers before we finally left for food.

Burmese Beef Curry

Burmese Beef Curry

Miao Tribe Hot and Spicy Clams

Miao Tribe Hot and Spicy Clams

Benjamin and I stopped at 1901 to rest after having walked for several straight hours in the mid-day heat and after having visited the birthplace of the CCP (free for all people, including us capitalist pigs!). Most of our day was spent in the French Concession, a leafy, tree-lined part of town that reminded me of Hanoi in some ways, but less grand and monolithic. The foreign “concessions” were the areas of town reserved for foreign traders and businessmen back in the day–inhabitors of the city (and country) that eventually fed energy to the development of the communist party as natives never like being the poorer, subjugated class to outsiders.

Site where the Chinese Communist Party officially started (1921)

Site where the Chinese Communist Party officially started (1921)

We got home around 11:30 p.m. and I went straight to bed, having been up since 4:30 a.m. (gotta love jet lag). Benjamin, not quite ready for sleep, spent an hour or so in the hotel bar and met some other eclipse chasers who are part of our cruise. He said they don’t seem like they get out much and fears most of the people on our boat (which we’re boarding tomorrow) will be male and geeky. I can’t wait.

§ One Response to Shanghai from my notebook

  • Gregg says:

    I’ve heard there’s now a Starbucks in the building where the Communist Party was founded. True?

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