A Travellerspoint blog

Xintiandi

One of Shanghai's most fashionable shopping areas

sunny 86 °F

It's the 27th of August and if I didn't get out and about today, I wouldn't have anything to show you for my touristy thing this month. Since it's still summer (translation: hot) and I didn't want to go too far away from my apartment, I decided to go to Xintiandi (it sounds like "sheen tea-in d," hereafter referred to as XTD). I love the buildings and atmosphere at XTD, but I almost never go there. Although I'm trying to see the touristy places, I don't like looking like a tourist, so I tend to avoid the most popular tourist sites as a rule. And even though it was a Monday afternoon, I saw at least one tour group following their flag-bearer through XTD's plazas. I read online that nearly all international and domestic tours in Shanghai include sightseeing time in XTD.

The pictures I have from there are nothing special - the heat kind of sapped my energy so I didn't feel too much like walking around to look for the best sites and angles. Also, there was at least one retired local man trying to take my picture. He lowered his camera after I said "no" twice, but I didn't want to stick around very long in case he decided to try to get my picture again when my back was turned. I figured out long ago, one of the reasons I love taking pictures so much is that it gives me an excuse for not being IN the picture. Also, who knows what he plans to do with that picture after he gets it - show off a "fat foreigner" sighting to his friends? Put it on the Internet? Something else?

IMG_0375.jpg Wikipedia says that 3500 families were relocated from XTD. When places downtown are redeveloped, the people being dislodged get a choice: a lump sum of money that isn't enough to keep them in the area or a new apartment on the very fringes of the city, usually at least an hour's subway ride away.

IMG_0378.jpg If and when I have enough money to build my own place, I want to model it on a house like this one. Although I only want one floor instead of two, I just love the look of the different colored bricks and how closed the first floor looks while the second floor has large windows and a balcony over the entry door.

IMG_0383.jpg Another beautiful brick building.

IMG_0385.jpg This is the site of the "First National Congress of the Communist Party of China." Some people say that since Shanghai is relatively young compared to other cities in China, it has no history. Nothing could be further from the truth and in fact Shanghai has several claims. In addition to being the current financial and fashion centers of China, the former "Paris of the East" and "Pearl of the Orient," Shanghai is also the birthplace of the Communist Party.

IMG_0386.jpg A worker taking a break in a quiet side street of XTD.

IMG_0388.jpg This is just gorgeous, isn't it? I waited and waited for a shot without people, but that's a fruitless endeavor in Shanghai.

1IMG_0394.jpg This square appears to be the largest open area in XTD. Much of it is tiny little alleyways and offshoots, like you see in the first, fifth and sixth pictures.

When I left XTD, I had one more place to visit: an antique camera museum. I'd seen a short segment about it on the art and lifestyle show (City Beat) a few months ago but hadn't been yet. Since these two places aren't far apart on the map, I decided it wouldn't be worth it to take a taxi, so I started walking. However, it turns out it wasn't in the location I thought it was. When I checked the map, it showed the museum at an intersection less than 1 km away (0.7 km, to be exact). When I finally got there, though, it ended up being 1.4 km away at an intersection farther south. I had to stop and ask for directions twice (I'm not a man, after all) and finally got there, only to find that the museum is closed on Mondays! I was hot and sweaty and must have looked amazing at that point with my frizzy hair forming some kind of messy halo around my red face. There was nothing else to do except take a picture of the closed door and the sign with the hours and phone number, then cross the street to get a taxi home.

Taxis were few and far between this afternoon, so I waited 5-10 minutes for a ride. While waiting, I did something that I've always been tempted to do and happily, it worked out. Right when I got up to the zebra crossing to look for taxis, a middle-aged Chinese woman put a piece of gum or candy in her mouth, then let the wrapper flutter to the ground. I got her attention and pointed at the wrapper (I would have picked it up myself if I could trust my back) She gave me a look that asked "what do you want me to do about it?" so I continued pointing at the wrapper and said "you dropped it." I was impressed that she didn't ignore me and actually picked up her trash, so then I suggested she give it to me since a trash can was a mere 10 feet away. Instead, she took it to the trash can herself and disposed of it properly. A Chinese man walking by saw this exchange and gave me a wide grin to show his support.

I wish I could say that someone dropping their trash on the street or ground was an infrequent occurrence, but in fact the opposite is true. Last week I actually got hit in the shin when the toddler in front of me chucked his drink box to the ground. He had shaken it a few times to see how much drink was left and when he realized it was empty, he tossed it. Since it hit me, I inadvertently made a noise and his dad realized what he'd done, so they turned back to pick it up. Unfortunately, some parents wouldn't do the same. Whenever I've asked students and local friends why some people do things like this, the standard response is "people here don't have enough education" or sometimes "it's someone's job to clean the street, so the trash won't stay there." While that's true, I don't think that's a valid excuse. Long story short, I was glad that the woman did the right thing.

Well, it's time for me to get to bed, so I think that's it for today. I would have finished this earlier, but some days my internet is REALLY slow and won't let me upload any pictures. I went to a wedding this afternoon and night, so when I got home I turned the computer on to try again and was successful this time. Hope you enjoy!

Posted by feiheli 23:41 Archived in China Comments (0)

Laszlo Hudec

Architect of some of Shanghai's most enduring landmarks

sunny 90 °F

I wish I could put pins in the map to show exactly where I've been in the last couple of months, but let's just say that it's between the northeastern corner of the map and the southwestern corner.

I was riding the bus to church one Sunday in June and happened to notice a building along the route that had a large rectangle of letters placed as ventilation over the staircase. Since it wasn't very far from my apartment, I resolved to walk there the next day and get some pictures of the place. I also tried doing a search online of the words showing on the building to find out who the designer was. Initially, I had no luck finding the name of the architect, but later stumbled across it in a happy coincidence. Across the street from the "letters building" was a rundown house marked with a plaque stating that it was designed by architect Laszlo Hudec. It was clearly Art Deco in style (you may remember me telling you from a previous post: art deco? not my favorite style) and pretty much unlike anything else around it, so I took some pictures of that house as well. When I got home, I tried finding out everything I could about Laszlo Hudec.

I doubt that his name is familiar to most people, but Hudec was a very prolific architect in Shanghai during the first half of the 20th century. I won't go too deeply into his biography here, but I will give you a link to a website that I've been checking out, www.hudec.cn, if you want to know more than I'm about to tell you. And don't worry, the website is in English.

Hudec was born in Slovakia in 1893 when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. After graduating from college, he joined the Austro-Hungarian army during WWI. He was captured by the Russians and sent to a prison camp near the border with China. After a couple of years in Russia, he escaped and made his way to Shanghai. Hudec found work as a draftsman in an American architectural firm and was promoted a few times there before opening his own firm seven years later. He was in Shanghai until 1947, a total of 29 years in the city. Hudec and his family left in 1947 due to the political instability in China, planning to return when things improved, however they never did return. He died in Berkeley, California in 1958.

So that's his mini-biography. Now on to what I've been doing in July (and June, too) for my touristy thing. As I've already stated, Hudec was responsible for designing several of Shanghai's most famous buildings at the time. I don't know an exact number, but the website I've already referenced above gives details for about 28 of them. Unfortunately, not all of them have survived to the present time, but there are still plenty left to see. I'm including pictures of many of them, mostly of the ones closest to my apartment (since I live downtown, all but a few of the ones I'm posting here are within walking distance).

The first building I told you about, the Avenue Apartments, built in 1932 (information which should be fairly obvious if you look closely at the pictures).
1IMG_0138.jpg

1IMG_0218.jpg

2IMG_0224.jpg

The house of D.V. Woo. This house was completed in 1938 and has more than 20,000 ft2! Even though the plaque on the wall outside the house proudly declares it to be part of Shanghai's "Heritage Architecture," I think the house just looks sad. It must have been striking when it was new, (it was apparently the first house in Shanghai to have both an elevator and air-conditioning) but it sure has fallen on hard times.
1IMG_0238.jpg

IMG_0243.jpg

This house appears to have two names: "The Mansion" and "Terrace House." It must have been one of Hudec's first projects, since it was completed in 1920.
IMG_0013.jpg

2IMG_0022.jpg This outdoor table and chairs is in the center of the huge lawn in front of "The Mansion." It's enough green space to make all of the neighbors (including me) jealous!

IMG_0025.jpg

IMG_0039.jpg

IMG_0042.jpg

I remember seeing the Normandie my first time in China (1998) and really liking it. It has several retail shops on the first floor but all of the other floors have apartments. There are at least five apartments for rent there currently, ranging in price from $470 US to more than $3000 US per month! The low end of the range is actually a good price here in Shanghai (more than $100 US less than I pay for my apartment); the high end of this range is pretty cheap for those ex-pats whose companies pay for their housing. I knew a family here in 1998 whose company paid $20,000 US a month for a four bedroom house! I think it's better now, as foreigners can buy houses and apartments, but in 1998, foreign individuals definitely couldn't buy and perhaps foreign companies also had the same limitations (thus owners could get away with charging a modest US salary for just one month of rent). As you can see from the first picture in this set, the Normandie was constructed in 1924. Coincidentally, the Normadie is also just across the street from Song Qing Ling's house (see April's blog entry).
IMG_0114.jpg

IMG_0082.jpg

IMG_0096.jpg

IMG_0098.jpg

1IMG_0100.jpg

This is the Park Hotel, perhaps Hudec's most well-known structure. It was finished at the end of 1934 and was the tallest building in Shanghai until the 1980s. It was also the tallest building in Asia when it was built and held that record for a few decades. I've read several glowing comments about it on the internet, but to be honest, I've always thought it looked like a building that had barely survived a fire. The dark bricks certainly make it stand out among its lighter colored, more graceful neighbors.
1IMG_0181.jpg

The Grand Theater is just two buildings up the street from the Park Hotel. It was completed in 1933. Shanghai actually has a few really cool looking theaters (all probably from the same general time period), but apparently not designed by Hudec. Maybe I'll get around to some of them next month and post them for you all then.
IMG_0238.jpg

Here you can see just how close the Grand Theater and Park Hotel are.
1IMG_0242.jpg

This is the Moore Memorial Church, now known as the "Mu En Church" (沐恩堂). It fronts People's Square which was the horse racing track in the days when the foreign concessions ran Shanghai. It was really hard to get some good pictures of just the church: the gates were closed, so I couldn't get inside and as for the outside, it was basically impossible to crop out the trees in front and the tall buildings surrounding. That's my disclaimer if you don't like what you see.
IMG_0198.jpg

IMG_0211.jpg

IMG_0218.jpg

1IMG_0224.jpg

IMG_0232.jpg

It's starting to seem like every time I see a building or house and wonder, "who did this belong to?" or "who lived here?" or "who designed it?" there's some sort of connection to Hudec. Point in case: there's a large lawn with a house hidden by trees very close to the apartment of one of my friends. I had asked her a couple of years ago whose house it was and she said she didn't know. She also said that she didn't even know where the entrance to the place was and wondered how people could get inside. Well, when doing my research on Hudec's buildings, I found out the answers to my earlier questions about that house. It was originally designed and built by Hudec for himself and his family. He designed it in 1929 and construction was finished in 1931. I'm not sure how long his family lived there, since the website I mentioned earlier doesn't specify. But it does say that Hudec sold the house to Sun Ke (孙科), one of the sons of Sun Yat-Sen (Sun Yat-Sen is known as the "Father of Modern China" and was husband of Song Qing Ling, mentioned above. Some people say that compared to Beijing and some other ancient cities in China, Shanghai doesn't have any history but I'd say it's positively dripping with history!) As I said, the house is basically hidden from view now while everything is in bloom (I'll go back in winter and take another look), so the few pictures I have of the house here show just a glimpse of a corner here and there. But what I can see looks really pretty!
1IMG_0257.jpg

IMG_0263.jpg

IMG_0264.jpg

These last few Hudec buildings are of various styles and from various projects, but they're all on the same side of a street about a five minute walk from each other. This street is Xinhua Lu (新华路), which happens to be my favorite street in Shanghai. It was around 7:00 pm when I took these pictures, which seems a bit late but there was plenty of light still in the sky. However, one of the reasons I love Xinhua Lu is because the street itself is covered by a canopy of trees that basically runs the entire length of the road. Therefore, these pictures are pretty dark, so I apologize if you have problems seeing a lot of details here.
IMG_0265.jpg

IMG_0270.jpg

IMG_0279.jpg

IMG_0283.jpg

IMG_0293.jpg You can just see a tiny bit of blue sky if you look up through the trees

These last two pictures have nothing to do with Laszlo Hudec. When I lived in Tianjin eight years ago, there were a couple of girls, Bryanne and Sarah, from the same organization working in a city further south. We saw each other a couple of times in the year - once during our retreat in Beijing and then again during the semester break/Chinese New Year's. We travelled together for about a month during that time and got to see several different cities in China, but we haven't seen each other since early 2005. Amazingly, Bryanne and her husband were in China for a few weeks in July on vacation and had a long layover in Shanghai (6-7 hours), so I got the day off work and went to the airport to see them. Sometimes when you haven't seen a friend in a long time, there can be moments of awkwardness while you struggle to catch up and get that old closeness back. I'm happy to say there was none of that on this day - even though we've both experienced some changes in the last seven years, we had no trouble falling back into the rhythm we had that other year in China.
1IMG_0163.jpg

IMG_0165.jpg

Take note, those of you reading this who may be travelling through Shanghai in the near future. As long as you give me a month of notice, I can probably come to the airport to see you on a long layover!

Posted by feiheli 08:54 Archived in China Comments (1)

Frustration

Show me your mucus!

sunny 86 °F

It's days like today when I really miss driving.  Not that I think Shanghai would be an easy city to drive around, but when you have an old slipped disc injury flaring up, the last thing you want to have to do is walk around from place to place on a hot summer's day.

Shanghai experiences the same extremes of temperature as my hometown, but doesn't experience them at the same time.  When I've checked the weather online, I can see that summer comes to my hometown earlier than it does here; the same holds true for winter.  Even though it's already early July, summer has only just arrived here. And I've noticed in the past few years that when the weather starts heating up in Shanghai, tempers start flaring up as well.  For example, the other day I went to use the bathroom at work and noticed about 4 people shouting at each other one floor down in the mall (my school is on the 8th floor of a mall). Even while I was in the stall doing my business, I could still hear them shouting!

Well, today it was my turn. Despite having trouble standing up straight, much less walking, I needed to go to the police station closest to my apartment and get some paperwork before taking it to my company's home office and submitting it to them so that they can get started on renewing my visa.  I took my passport, copies of my passport picture and current visa, my rental contract and spare passport pictures in as small a pocketbook as I could get by with (pretty small - much smaller than the bag I normally carry), then ended up hailing a taxi to drive me the mere 1.1 kilometers that I couldn't manage to walk.

When I got to the police station, I didn't need to wait too long before someone came to the window to help me. I communicated what I needed and showed her all the paperwork I'd brought with me. She told me that I needed the original rental contract instead of a copy, so I told her I didn't have the original, I'd been in the same apartment for 4 years, I had a slipped disc and she should just do it now. Of course, she has her rules and regulations, but I was in pain and didn't want to have to come back again (plus, the deadline for this stuff for work was today), so I let my temper get the better of me, slapped my palm on the counter, shouted "slipped disc, slipped disc!" and "I'm in pain!" to no avail. All I succeeded in doing was looking stupid and losing face, especially since I'm going to have to go back there tomorrow and probably see the same people who may or may not be as angry with me as I was with them.  It's been at least 9 hours since then and I honestly don't know why I got so upset. Well, I do know - I was in a lot of pain at the time, but I realize that my reaction was way out of proportion to the situation. She was trying to follow the rules while doing her job and I'm the unreasonable foreigner.

Actually, another reason I acted so shamefully was the language barrier. I studied Chinese for about 8 months and things were finally starting to make sense to me right when my course ended. That was 4 years ago and I've been teaching English since then, so I've forgotten more Chinese than I currently remember. I can still write Chinese (pretty beautifully for a foreigner!) and I have standard pronunciation (which Chinese people compliment me on all the time) but my grammar is terrible and my vocabulary is very limited. Therefore, it doesn't take long for me to get frustrated trying to express myself - I run out of words long before I've successfully communicated my ideas. And when I get frustrated, I get snippy.  I guess the handwriting was on the wall today - I shouldn't be surprised the excursion was a failure.

By the way, I should explain the subheading to this blog. If you're a fan of "The Big Bang Theory" like I am, then you may recall the episode where Sheldon tries to learn Chinese. First of all, Chinese is not an easy language to learn, but it's made even harder because it's a tonal language. This means, if you say even one word or syllable incorrectly, you can change the entire meaning of what you're trying to say. Since "The Big Bang Theory" is a sitcom, Sheldon comically butchers the language in the final clip of the episode. Instead of saying "show me your citrus peels" as he's practiced, the subtitles show him saying "show me your mucus." I think I do the same thing. As I said, I already have a limited vocabulary but it becomes even smaller when I get mad or frustrated. That's why all I could say to the police officer who wouldn't help me was "slipped disc, slipped disc!" At least I hope that's what I was saying - Maybe one day this will be humorous to me.

Happily, the entire day was not a failure. When I left the police station, I very slowly walked (0.9 km) to a foreign grocery store near my apartment to see if there were any postings for a maid. There were 3 or 4 of them, but in my zeal to carry a light pocketbook, I hadn't included either paper or pen. I remembered that my phone had a camera, so I took pictures of the ads there and called one of them when I got home.

I told her that I'd hurt my back and couldn't really cook or clean right now (I don't have an excuse for the times I'm well, except that I'm too tired from work and also lazy) and wanted to know if she could work for me starting from this week. She said she could come over tomorrow, so then I mentioned that I also have cats, was it okay? She said she likes cats, so it's okay (I made sure to tell her since many Chinese aren't used to having pets. In fact, one of my students saw a picture of a kitten on her classmate's phone last week and shuddered, saying she couldn't stand this picture - I thought she'd seen a snake or something, based on her reaction!). She told me she'd come over tonight to meet me and see the place, so I did what any sane person would do before a prospective maid comes by - I started cleaning.  Not too much - I had warned her that the apartment was messy and really,  I could only do so much with my back today, but at the same time I couldn't let her see how I really live.

She came over shortly after 6 and didn't run away screaming, so that was good. She asked if I only wanted someone while I'm sick, but I told her I've been meaning to find someone for awhile, so I really want someone for the foreseeable future (by the way, this conversation was all in Chinese so I'm paraphrasing now - I have no idea how to say "foreseeable" in Chinese).

We agreed on a price per hour and a schedule - 3 mornings a week. We also established that tomorrow she'll clean only, but that she'll cook and clean on Wednesday and Friday. It's going to be a sizable chunk out of my monthly salary to pay her, but with the cooking she'll also be doing, I should be breaking about even since I'll pay less for my meals (fewer meals will be ordered in, which means no money paid for foreign food or for delivery).

I'm also meeting with my landlord tomorrow afternoon to get the original rental contract so cross your fingers things will go better at the police station - maybe everyone who witnessed my meltdown today will take a late lunch together tomorrow.

Posted by feiheli 10:41 Archived in China Comments (0)

(Entries 4 - 6 of 16) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 »