Friday, October 3, 2008

Hongkou and Lu Xun, Part 2

Entering Lu Xun Park, Haibao is there to welcome you.  Dude is getting lot of practice, considering the Shanghai Expo of 2010 is still 500 some odd days away.  The kiddies love him. And the kiddies rule.
Lu Xun Park is a bustlin' with all kinds of activity.  It's so great to see so many families out promenading, but even more so, to watch the older set enjoy themselves with ballroom dancing on this side, and salsa dancing on the other (the music competes a bit, but we'll just consider it a mash up).  And then, a bit further away, with the music fainter, are the tai chi folk, slowly moving and turning, a nice counterpoint to the hoofers.

The Lu Xun museum is just over there, but gosh the park is so inviting.  I take a quick jaunt around.  Supposedly there's the city's largest English Corner gathered here on Sunday mornings...perhaps a good gathering of info from Shanghai locals, but it's Thursday and all's a sway.  Eat your heart out Echo Park Lake, and the likes of these lotus:
And of course, where there's scenery and greenery, alas the bridery and groomery.
A fascinating chess game in progress.
The kiddies playing in their bubbles on the lakes.
No photos are allowed in the Lu Xun museum--they insure this by keeping the wattage real low.  It's a very comprehensive museum, with English to accompany the Chinese commentary, although the big miss-out for me is not being able to read Chinese and all of the scribbles and scrawlings and notes and original texts of the Scribe himself.  It does take away a bit of my worship capacity, but this time, I can 'take it all in' as much as I like, and not have a security guard/tourteller breathing down my neck.  I can read at my leisure:

'Between the lines of his work are embodied his fervent love for the motherland and the people, and his courage to stand up against the dark and cruel forces.'

'Old Stories Retold introduces a new form of historical stories by ingeniously integrating the past with the present and hitting at present ills.'

In a Preface to an art exhibit, Lu Xun writes:  Naturally it is still young and immature. However, hope lies here just because it is young and immature.

His random thoughts essay allowed a free flow form.  He believed in 'borrowism' or a broad vision on Chinese and western cultures and cosmopolitan outlook through translation, compilation, publication, and made outstanding contributions to ideological and cultural progress and the modernization of China.

BTW, Qu Qiubai, the guy the security guard/guide fervently mentioned that slept in Liu Xun's house was part of the left wing cultural movement, an early leader of the Communist Party who contributed to Mao Zedong thought and became a martyr with his capture and execution by the Kuomingtang in 1935.  Whoa, I was in the room he slept in.

Lu Xun himself was on the Kuomingtang hit list.  The man who assassinated Yang Quan was also assigned to hit Lu Xun.  On the day of Yang Quan's funeral, Lu Xun attended without taking his house keys, sure that he was to be hit there.  The umbrella that he took on that rainy day is on display.

He was in the midst of his last translation--Gogol's Dead Souls.

He last wrote about his beloved teacher, Uchiyama Kanzo.  That was the page on the desk, next to the bed he passed away on.


The bookstore offered a new Echo Series of his short stories and poems, these being Chinese text on one page alongside the English translation on the opposite.  I bought many, under the guise of learning Chinese.  Consumption stands in for meaning, yes?

Speaking of which, I return to the corner table for my 7 RMB bowl of noodles (last checked, US$1 = 6.78 RMB).  I ask for the same veggie/minced pork noodle situation, with no MSG and not too much salt.  And chili.  Perfect again.  I gobble happily.  An Shanghainese man with his cool gruff swagger sits across from me.  I wipe and sip.  He orders the same 7RMB bowl of noodles, but with gizzards and tofu.  I take out my black Swiss Army knife, the one I got with my dear friend Rod, inscribed with Alice T.  It's got a nifty little toothpick in it, and I can just feel I got greens in my teeth.  No holds.  The man notices my knife.
Have you taken a knife out?
It's got a toothpick here.
I pick.
I pick.
It's covered.
I pick.
You aren't from around here.
From where?
U.S., but my mother is from Shanghai.  
Why did you come here?
I want to understand the Shanghainese.
He dismisses me.
Do you like the noodles here? I ask.
Food is food.  When you are hungry you eat.
Do you live in Hongkou?
He nods.
I live out in Songjiang.
Why do you live out there for?
I'm teaching English here for a year.
Why there?  You can make more money in the U.S.  Why'd you come here for?
I'm going first, I tell him.
I leave.

That's the thing.  There's no sentimentality here.  If you want to leave fast, no one takes it personally.  Even the lady of the corner table doesn't come to greet me when I come back.  It's no big deal.  It's just another day.

I'm wondering if the Chinese have a course in buttering up the Americans.  Americans are sentimental, they want to make connection whenever they can.  It makes them feel better, more secure.  It's an experience to take away with them.  Possibly meaningful.  Perhaps that is what is offered in Business English and Western Culture classes.  At the corner table, it's just another bowl of noodles.  Quick in, Quick out.  I guess fast food works that way universally.

I head south towards where the Jewish ghetto of Hongkou, once home to 30,000 jews as they fled Hitler.  (Shanghai was the only place in the world that did not require a visa for entry at that time).  Between my Lonely Planet guidebook and the official Shanghai tourist map none mention the detours and the change of streets when heavy construction sites obstruct.  It's dusty and loud, I'm wandering around looking for one sign and then somehow end up at the Russian Consulate on the Bund, and then try to head back.  Do I even want to go to the Ohel Moishe Temple?  

My sister Su is doing a project about this area, based on a novel of our godfather Paul Chow. It's where the Japanese and American Concessions stood ground when Shanghai was cut up like a melon by the foreign presence.  I can't bear to give up after an hour and a half of walking.  I continue to forge on, and whip out my guidebook and map at every corner.  The thing about Shanghai is that they are pretty good about having street signs on every corner with both Chinese AND pinyin on it and telling which way is N or S, or E or W.  I finally get my bearings and arrive at a well preserved building amidst more downtrodden residences.

I find out this is the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum, and there's half an hour left, and it's 50 RMB to get in (10 for students, I didn't bring my leftover Brown ID from 12 years ago).  I'll come back I tell the fellow in Chinese.  He says he's there til 6pm.  Is the place of worship Jewish, the place where the praying of Jews, is that around here?  This is it, he says, deciphering my Chinese.  I ask if I can see the museum in 90 minutes.  Sure he says.  Can I have a half price ticket?  O sorry, the tickets all go into the computer.  I'll come back.  Come back, he says.  But then somehow I can't leave.  Do I walk all the way back at this point?

I go in.  I'm told to put plastic covers over my shoes.  I enter the synagogue.
Su tells me that there are about 250 Jews still living in Shanghai, but the government does not let them use the synagogue, except for Hanukah and Passover.
All my memories of Bar and Bat' Mitvahs come back to me from that year in 8th grade...
This is the back of the renovated building.  It was constructe in 1927 by Russian immigrants and used by the less wealthy Jews of Shanghai.  It has a courtyard and the museum facility, which is basically a photo tour of the history of the Jews during World War II.  There is a very fancy six-screen 10-minute presentation, with a scrim and palimpsest effect, subtitles in Hebrew.  It basically tells of the plight of the Jews fleeing Nazi.  You wonder who the audience is since, anyone reading Hebrew probably knows this story and the presentation is in English.  No Chinese language in site.

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, the stateless refugees were all forced to live in the ghettos of Hongkou, and the ghoulish man in charge of them was named Ghoya, who called himself 'King of the Jews.'
The gentleman in the middle is a Shanghai Jew from that time (I didn't write down his name) returning recently to Ohel Moishe.  It is uncanny to me how Chinese he looks.

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