A Travellerspoint blog

Soong Ching-Ling's House

A Short History Lesson

sunny 70 °F

One of the first books I read after my first year in China was called The Soong Dynasty, by Sterling Seagrave. It's the story of a wealthy and powerful Chinese family who became even more well-known in China and much of the world because of the marriages of the three Soong sisters. Unfortunately, it's been more than 10 years since I read the book so I can't remember more than the bare minimum of its content. I can, however, remember that I really liked the book, so I was interested to see the house where one of the daughters lived. If you like Chinese history and like to read, I highly recommend this book!

But back to the Soong family - the three women grew up in a prosperous family in Shanghai and each attended Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia (!). As adults, all of the women married very significant and powerful Chinese men. The oldest sister, Ai-Ling, married H.H. Kung, who at the time was the richest man in China and also the finance minister here. The youngest, May-Ling, married Chiang Kai-Shek, who would become the leader of the Kuomintang party which fled to Taiwan after losing the civil war. Ching-Ling was the middle sister and she married Sun Yat-Sen, who is known as the father of modern China. Interestingly enough, both the Communist and Kuomintang parties revere Sun Yat-Sen.

Mao Zedong even has a famous quote about the three sisters: 一个爱钱,一个爱权, 一个爱国 (yi ge ai qian, yi ge ai quan, yi ge ai guo). This means "one (sister) loved money, one loved power, one loved (her) country." You can guess which sister Soong Ching-Ling is.

Her house is on Middle Huai Hai Road and I had eaten lunch off of East Huai Hai Road last Monday. When I left my apartment that day, I didn't know if I would do anything touristy or not, so I left the DSLR at home. However, I always have my little Canon PhD (my mom calls it a PhD camera because all you have to do is "push here, dummy") on me, so I could still take pictures on a spur of the moment trip. I checked the map before leaving the restaurant and decided that a bus would be the best way to get there. In fact, I rode several buses last weekend - after all, you've got to get back up on the horse after you fall off (for those who don't understand the reference, it's because my iPhone was stolen on a bus the Monday before). I got off at the stop that should have been nearest her house and I wasn't wrong - it was directly across the street from her house! Tickets were cheap - just 20 kuai (which is just over $3), so I handed over two 10 kuai bills (all I had in the way of bills, incidentally) and went into the complex.

1IMG_3676.jpg A sculpture of Soong Ching-Ling greets visitors in front of the museum

Of course, once you go inside the buildings, pictures aren't allowed. I always prefer not to use a flash when taking pictures, so I know that taking photos that way shouldn't harm or fade the items you've pictured. That's why I sometimes wonder why places are so adamant about not letting you take pictures inside. I think the only reason is that they have books, postcards and pictures that they want you to buy from the gift shop. If you really want a picture of the room, you'll buy the book I suppose. It worked for me, anyway, the first time I visited Biltmore Estate in Asheville.

1IMG_3723.jpg The front entrance of the house

Therefore, the only pictures I have to show you are of the outside of the house. The house itself looks normal from the front and huge from the back. However, once you're inside the scale is actually very reasonable - just like a normal house. In Shanghai, though, it is considered quite large. There's a living room, dining room, kitchen and a couple of bathrooms on the first floor (perhaps just half baths - you can see a sink from the open doorway, but the velvet ropes bar your entry). On the second floor, there seemed to be just two bedrooms, one office and one bathroom. A part of the second floor was closed off as well; since it was the part above the kitchen, I suspect it was very small servants rooms. The house is perfectly preserved as it was when Soong Ching-Ling lived there. Translation: it's like your grandma's house, with all of the furniture that's been there since she moved in. It was too dated for my taste, but I did enjoy the layout and size of the rooms. I guess that's the good thing about only having a few rooms on each floor - the rooms are bigger than they would be if the house had less square footage.

1IMG_3683.jpg Nice shade from mature trees - a rare sight in downtown Shanghai. That's the museum wing you're looking at, not her house itself

1IMG_3686.jpg Soong Ching-Ling's name - in Chinese, the family name (Soong) comes first

1IMG_3694.jpg Soong Ching-Ling's two limos - the one on the left was a Russian-made limo and a gift from Russia. The one on the right is a "Red Flag" limo made in China

Besides the typical sofas, chairs and bedroom furniture in the house, Ching-Ling's typewriter and piano, etc. were there. When you go through the museum attached to the house, you can see several original letters that she typed out. So it seems reasonable to want to show the typewriter she herself used. What was strange, though, was where you see the typewriter - it was in the bathroom, which is between her bedroom and office. I asked the volunteer working there why the typewriter wasn't in the office and she told me she didn't know but also thought the bathroom was a strange place to put it. Too bad I can't show you pictures, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

I liked the house a lot (especially the backyard, which is probably bigger than the apartment building I live in!) and it reminded me of the Buena Vista area of Winston-Salem, NC. From the front, the house isn't pretentious, just stately. From the back, it looks like a great and very relaxing place to enjoy nature. Too bad no one can enjoy living there anymore.

1IMG_3706.jpg The luscious green grass of the backyard. Of course, it was off limits - you can look, but not touch

Posted by feiheli 22:15 Archived in China Comments (1)

Moganshan Lu

My First Visit to Shanghai's Art District and a Bad Day (by the way, that's two separate days - there's no connection between the two events)

sunny 61 °F

Sorry I haven't sent these pictures out earlier. I actually visited the art district in mid-March, but I've been having problems using travellerspoint on my home computer and don't usually have time to work on this blog at work, so that's why you're getting this blog a week and a half after I started it.

I decided that it was time to finally visit the art district - just like the 1933 building and the Jewish Refugee Museum, I've known about the art district for awhile, but never found (made) the time to visit. It's actually not too far from my apartment, (but farther than I wanted to walk) so I grabbed a taxi and headed there one Sunday afternoon. Not all of the galleries and shops were open on a Sunday afternoon, but since I wasn't planning on buying anything, that was fine by me. (The only art I wanted to buy was by an artist named Qiu Shengxian and after a search on the internet, it seems that his paintings sell for around $5000-$12,000!!! I won't be buying one of them anytime soon!) Most of the galleries that were open don't allow visitors to take any pictures inside, so I stayed outside with my camera for the most part. Again, I have to apologize for the pictures you're about to see - even though they're the best ones I took from that afternoon, they aren't as good as I'd like them to be. If you want to see some examples of the art and environment there, I suppose they'll do. But if you're looking for art itself here, you should probably look elsewhere.

IMG_2337.jpg A detailing on one of the buildings, looking back to the main road

IMG_2342.jpg Street signs and a very tall man - taller than Yao Ming!

IMG_2345.jpg Ah, scale! The average Chinese woman would be around the same height as the pottend plant on the right side of the picture

IMG_2349.jpg The side of one of the buildings - I wonder how long it took to paint it?

IMG_2354.jpg Looking up at the center of the street sign sculpture

IMG_2368.jpg A non, nondescript door (why can't we call it a "descript" door?)

IMG_2382.jpg Another locked door

IMG_2387.jpg I didn't see any "no pictures allowed" signs (in English or Chinese!) so I snapped this picture. It shows the work in one of the galleries. They looked like large photos that had been deliberately aged

IMG_2393.jpg Looks like the main strip here, but not many people out and about on a Sunday afternoon

IMG_2396.jpg Looking up at a design studio's sign

IMG_2405.jpg On to the long graffiti wall

IMG_2408.jpg An Asian superman

IMG_2416.jpg You tell me which is the work of art here - the graffiti or the Porsche?

IMG_2426.jpg Is this art or did someone take a break from hauling around all those chairs?

Now for the sad news. This past Monday, I experienced a part of "everyday life" in Shanghai that I've somehow managed to avoid in the last three and a half years of living here. While on the bus, my phone was stolen. No, let me be more specific - my new iPhone was stolen! And in the last couple of minutes of my ride, too! Now that I've had a few days to reflect on it (make that "stew over it"), I can see how I wasn't vigilant enough - normally, I'm very aware of things. Actually, I was very aware of things on Monday as well, I was just aware of the wrong things. Let me explain:

A friend and I both bought new cameras last year and we've made plans a few times to get together and practice taking pictures. Even though we've made plans more than once, we've never actually met up to take pictures due to scheduling conflicts or bad weather. So Monday arrived and it was BEAUTIFUL! We've had a very rainy February and March, but it seems like the rain's finally finished for now. We decided to meet in a very picturesque part of Shanghai, in the French Concession area near her apartment. I could have taken the taxi, but I rarely take them since they're more expensive, so I decided to take the bus instead. When I first got on the bus, it was a little crowded which meant I had to stand, but still had some breathing room around me. After the next stop, though, I was able to get a seat near the back door. I enjoyed it while I could since I was carrying all my camera equipment and had another bag hanging from my shoulders, so I pulled out my phone and proceeded to read my iBook. At the next stop (or perhaps the one after that, I'm not sure), a couple of older women got on the bus. I stood up to give them my seat and one of the women told me that I could stay seated. I assured her that I was okay since I was getting off at the next stop. In hindsight, that's one of the worst things you can say out loud when a pickpocket is standing next to you.

Since only one woman got to sit down, the other was standing next to me. As the bus had stopped at a light, she took the opportunity to use both hands to put a face mask on. Because I'm so "aware," I knew that as soon as the bus started moving again, she'd lose her balance and possibly fall, so I put my book/phone in the left pocket of my trench coat, held on to the bar with my left hand and kept my right hand free to grab her as soon as the bus started. Just as I'd predicted, the bus started up again and she stumbled a bit, but I was ready to help (if I was a man, I'd be the quintessential gentleman!) - I grabbed her arm with my right hand and she said "thank you, thank you, thank you." I smiled at her, happy to be the helpful foreigner. Within two more minutes, the bus stopped at my destination, so I quickly got off, ready to meet my friend and get some pictures. As soon as I was on the sidewalk and the bus doors had closed (only one or two other people got off with me, so it didn't need to stop for long), I reached in my pocket for the phone so I could send my friend a message and tell her I'd arrived... but there was no phone to send a message from!

I can't really describe the sense of panic I felt then - I said "damn" a couple of times, but nothing worse than that. I know I shouldn't have even said that. The bus was already moving away, but I didn't even run after it. You see, one of my pockets has a hole in it, so at that point I wasn't even sure if the phone had really been stolen, or if it had fallen from the pocket into the lining of my coat. I should have run after the bus, though, because I searched and searched my pockets and sure enough, there was no phone. Turns out the hole is in the right pocket but the phone had been in the left pocket. Then in addition to panic, I felt like crying, screaming and throwing up. I genuinely felt physically sick!

As I said, I've had a few days to dwell over my lost phone and by now, I think I have a pretty good idea of what happened. The woman who was standing on my left was probably 55 to 60 years old, and I'm 99% sure it was her (no, not one of the older women I was being so nice to - they were both over 70 because the transportation cards they swiped on the bus said "Lao Ren Ka," which literally means "old person card." You can't get one of those until you're 70). Anyway, the other woman heard me say I was getting off the bus soon and realized she had a chance to take my phone without being caught. She also noticed that I was basically distracted while providing a seat to one woman and helping to keep the other woman steady on her feet. Actually, I did look over at her at one point (I must have felt something on my left side, but to be honest, I don't even remember why I looked at her). I thought it was a bit odd that she had her right arm wrapped around her body while her left arm was holding on to one of the seats, but unfortunately didn't think too much about it. Now of course, I know that she was shielding the phone from my sight and putting it in the blue bag she had hanging from her left arm.

I have to admit, I assumed pickpockets would be young men or women - perhaps in their early 20s. And I always assumed they'd steal an iPhone because they want an iPhone. But I NEVER thought a middle-aged woman would be involved in something like that. Even worse, the two other women may have been accomplices. Since I was reading my book when they got on the bus, I don't know if they all got on at the same time, but I've heard that pickpockets often work in pairs or groups. At least one of them provides a distraction while the another one steals. Again, I find it hard to believe that little old ladies would be involved, but some of my local friends here say it doesn't really surprise them.

So that's the first part of my long, awful story. What's ironic (and makes a bad situation even worse) is that I've had to teach a class several times this week that's called "Talking About Awful Experiences." In that class, we look at the 3rd conditional structure and see how we can use it to talk about regrets. I've had no problems providing real-life examples for my students:

  • "If only I'd taken a taxi, my phone wouldn't have been stolen."
  • "If only I'd put the phone in my jeans pocket, the thief wouldn't have stolen it."

And on and on it goes...

Anyway, I say this is a part of "everyday life" because when I've told this story to my Chinese friends, almost all of them respond by telling me their own stories of the time(s) their phone was stolen. In fact, one of the girls who took the "Talking About Awful Experiences" class told me that she's had cell phones stolen SEVEN TIMES! She says that she now refuses to buy expensive phones. Since she's made that decision, her phone's been untouched.

I want to make the same decision, but once you've used an iPhone, it's hard to go back to anything else. When I told my mom about the phone being stolen, she said "just buy another one." I should point out that I didn't buy this one - a friend's husband upgraded from a 4 to 4S, so I told her I would buy his old phone. Long story (another one!) short, she wouldn't let me pay for it, so it was a free phone. But I had to tell my mom, "that's a $700-$800 phone!" and after a second of silence, she asked me "WHAT are you doing carrying around a $700-800 phone?!?" Good question. I don't know if I'll be doing THAT again!

Well, enough for now. I've had much better luck typing things up tonight so I probably shouldn't push my luck.

Posted by feiheli 11:15 Archived in China Comments (4)

Kitchen By the Garden

Cooking Class

semi-overcast 43 °F

When I was planning my trip to Vietnam, I noticed that there were a lot of cooking classes you could take. A friend and former colleague told me that she'd taken one of her visiting friends to a cooking class here in Shanghai a couple of years ago, so I decided that's what I'd do for my February touristy thing. I got to work checking a local online magazine and found a cooking school called "Kitchen by the Garden." It looked nice and I liked the look of their website, so I e-mailed them and set up a class for a Monday late in February.

Since it was Monday morning, I was the only student and had the undivided attention of my instructor, a young Chinese woman named Lin. She spoke GREAT English (much better than most of my students, by the way) and I had no difficulty understanding her. I had corresponded with her earlier about what we'd cook. I didn't request any dishes in particular, but I told her that I didn't like tofu. Fortunately, we didn't prepare that - instead, she chose dishes that were so easy to prepare and make, it made cooking seem positively easy!. And according to her, I was one of her favorite students because I was so organized (I was cleaning up as I prepared, that sort of thing) and she thought I cut well with the huge cleaver I was given. I think I did a pretty good job too, but I'm sure she was also hoping for a bit of repeat business. Maybe one day.

We made three dishes: sauteed broccoli with garlic dressing (蒜蓉西兰花,)sweet and sour sliced pork (茄汁肉片) and Chinese-style asparagus lettuce with homemade sauce (家常凉拌莴笋).

Before we started cooking, she asked me about my skills and the things I liked to make. I told her that I'm not a cook - have never really enjoyed it, in fact - but that I make some pretty great mashed potatoes (I have my old teammate and good friend, Sarah, to thank for that. She was appalled when she met me and found out that I could only make mashed potatoes from a box of Idaho Spuds). Well, according to Lin, that means I'm a good cook. She pointed out that in China, cooks/chefs are considered great when they made really good "simple" dishes. In the West, we tend to attribute that "great" title to people who can succeed in making complicated dishes. Who knew - I'm great! Thank you Sarah!

Anyway, here are some pictures from my day:

IMG_2294.jpg The teaching kitchen

IMG_2300.jpg Lin's demonstration area

IMG_2303.jpg Me at work with the cleaver - no instructors or students were harmed in the making of this picture

IMG_2307.jpg Chinese "salad," with my broccoli dish in the background

IMG_2316.jpg Me cooking the pork dish

IMG_2325.jpg Sweet & Sour Pork - voila!

IMG_2326.jpg My trusty cleaver and my creations - take my word for it, they were all DELICIOUS!!! I need to make them again on my own just to make sure I remember how and can do it by myself. They would be nice to make for when I have friends over

By the way, I need to apologize for the lateness of February's blog. It's already March 9th (Happy Birthday Mel!) and I'm just now finishing this up for you. And that's only because I've been sick the last couple of days, but trust me - you really don't want to know any details.

I've been busy with work (always) and also with the planning of my next vacation. Come the end of April, I'm planning a short, one-week trip to Cambodia. I told my mom about my plans a few weeks ago and just two days after telling her, I got a short e-mail from my dad. His first two sentences were actually questions. And I quote: "Cambodia??? Are you crazy????"

No, I'm not crazy. Well, maybe I am, but not because I want to visit Cambodia. To be honest, I'd been planning on going to either Thailand or Malaysia, but just couldn't get excited about them. They're both great beach locations, but I didn't want to go on my own and see a lot of lovey-dovey couples frolicking together in the sand and surf, so I've decided they would be better locations to visit with friends or that special someone (if he even exists). And I've had several friends and colleagues visit Cambodia in the last few years and they all spoke very highly of it. So that clinched it - I'm going to Cambodia!

Well, if I don't decide on a stopping point for this blog, I'll probably never finish. So this is the stopping point for now. I don't know yet what my March touristy thing is, so stay tuned...

Posted by feiheli 01:34 Archived in China Comments (5)

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