Friday, September 19, 2008

Shanghai Reign and Shine

This was my first view of Shanghai, as soon as I stepped out of the Renmin (People's) Square subway station.  I could immediately feel the energy and whir, despite the rain.  It was slick.
I was instantly in glee.  Finally, I had made it to the heart of Shanghai.  It was beating fast!

Just to the right was what appeared to be the Empress.  No Queen of Hearts here.  
She stands regal and imposing, her crown of grids, at once ornament and shield.  She's actually the Urban Planning museum, mapping out the vision and design of Shanghai's future.  All hail the Empress!  In her left pocket of neon glow is the entrance to the surrealization of 'Old Shanghai' circa 1930.  
I consider it a mini-simallacra, part pictorial history, part food court, part quaint shops, all tourist photo op, for both Chinese and foreigners alike.  It's got a Vegasian, yes, Vegesian blue sky with painted white clouds.  Across the street from the Empress--
The tall part, I didn't catch, but its left consort is Raffles City, a Singapore-owned, non smoking (what?!), mall, with the likes of Tissot and other fine western stores.  The top floors have lots of restaurants from Cantonese fancy to Korean BBQ to Benihana style sit-at-grill cooking and even a western restaurant called Swensen's.  It's got 7-storeys of boister and shine.

Away from Raffles City, we ducked out of the rain at this joint. I had a kung-pao chicken bowl for 18 yuan (you can call it yuan or renminbi, either way it was 7RMB to 1US$, until the recent global instabilities, and now it's 6.834 RMB to the dollar.)  It came with a few baby bok choy and a tall semi-sweet milk tea.  My cohorts said it was a bit expensive for what we got, but look at me, still in glee from just being in the Shang of hai.  Pinch me!
My guides for this maiden voyage:
Eric and the here mysterious Luna, who picked me up from Pudong Airport.  We won't mention that Eric was the one who didn't mention the visa situation to me, but at this point:  don't matter!  I'm in Shanghai, for real!  Eric is from Shanghai, from the outskirts near Songjiang actually, but he knows the city inside and out, from coming here since he was a singular tot.
By the time we finished eating, the rain had stopped and it was full dusk.  On our way to a fancy bookstore, we passed many a Starbucks:  but lo and behold, here is my preferred coffee chain, on the bottom floor:  Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.  I used to go to the one in Los Feliz on Hillhurst above Franklin all the time with my pal Moises.  I don't really drink coffee these days; it doesn't quite fit the tastes here.  But it's nice to see an old pick-me-up on the other side of the world.  And I know that I do have access to my preferred franchise cup of joe, in case that jonesing should arise.  

We couldn't take photos in the huge 5-storey bookstore.  It was well-lit, clean and, yup, shiny.  There was literally a sign right as you entered that said no cameras, no food and no cellphones, in that order.  It was so bright and yellow, I just wanted to sneak one photo, much to Eric and Lunas stern dissuading (both with their eyes, and both at the same time.)  They kind of non-chalantly directed my attention to the handful of security guards at the door, say 8 feet from the bright yellow sign.  OK.

I got two dictionaries:  a hefty, big-charactered one for home and a pocket-sized one to carry around.  These days, the dictionaries are all organized by pinyin, the romanized and phoeniticized spellings of Chinese words.  (Wait Romans and Phoenicians?)  It helps that I speak and can look up words by ear, but if I see a character and don't know how to pronounce, gotta ask.  Can't do it by myself.  

So we walked and walked eastward, towards the Huangpu river until we arrived at:
The Bund.  This is the centerpiece of Shanghai, right along the Huangpu River.  It has eye-popping European architecture, built when China was cut up like a melon by, well, the Europeans.  Excuse me, but Lonely Planet calls it the most 'iconic concession-era backdrop and a source of intense local pride' (with regret tinges that has bred inferiority) and 'standout spectacle.'   It's called the Bund from it's Anglo-Indian name (a band is an embankment in Hindi) built to discourage flooding (but not foreigners).  It's now known as Zhongsan Yilu, or 'first Sun Zhongsan Road, in honor of the father of Modern China (Sun Yat Sen for all you old colonials).  Thank you Lonely Planet, as written by new colonials.
Moving on to Nanjing Rd, we walked the promenade, so festive and lively, grand and wide, particularly on Moon Festival weekend, but on weekends anyway, so Luna tells me.  It's the equivalent to 5th Ave or the Champs (Elysee).  Everyone is out walking the well-paved streets, filled with bright stores.  Consumerism gives such as sense of pride, or of growth just being surrounded by so much stuff of so many varieties.  It makes a promenader feel strong.  And oh, the chance to be seen.  With that stuff.
Hard to capture the grandiose scope, so I'll just take a tourist photo.
And check out he variations of grid on the ground.  I'm so awed by the energy of Shanghai, I wanna photo its ground, and yes, hot pink shoes with the black bobby socks.  And how to make west appealing to east?  Veriticalize, for that familiar feel:
And pour into the cute icon that sells China's famous 'la mien' or literally pull noodle, cuz the noodle dough is pulled and pulled and then plunked in boiling water and cooked up fresh.
And of course the 'la mien' boy stands on the shoulders of old grandpa Sanders.
Is it just me or does he kinda look Chinese here?  
And finally, in the name of icons old and new, here is Haibao, the official welcomer of the Shanghai Expo that will happen in 2010.  Here he's in the subway, standing in a patch of fauna, holding a sign that says, yes, 'Shanghai welcomes you.'  Pretty grand subway, eh?  It has to be. There are lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of folks here.  And lots

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