Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pumas through Shanghai: City Grid

I don't need to show you my Pumas.  You know what they look like.  The upside down Nike swish. Velcro fastener.  Broken in.  Comfortable.  All terrain.  Able to walk Shanghai: up, down, across and back.  I decided during my 4-day National Day stay, that I wouldn't take subways or taxis; I'd walk the city so I could get a sense of the main roads and figure out how they connected up. Not having exercised for a while, I was up for the cardio challenge as well.

Walking from northern Hongkou to the Ohel Moishe Synagogue, I took Siping Rd (Four Peace Rd.) a very wide street with lots of construction going on and not very many folks on the street.  I had wanted to see the Radisson and the Best Western hotels as they were main attractions on my tourist map for Siping Rd. (and maybe look at a western publication), but they were not finished yet (I think this map will be used all the way up to Shanghai Expo 2010).  The romance of Shanghai left on this particularly walk, as the grey and dusty construction cul de sacking did not lend detour info.  It took me an hour and a half to get to Ohel Moishe, and only 45 minutes to get back, once I figured out the streets.

Bright and early in  Hongkou, moving from the Nanxinyuan Hotel to the Anting Villa Hotel in the French Concession,  I decide to take its main north-south street,  N. Sichuan Rd, all the way down, across the Suzhou River, to E. Nanjing Road and then take it west all the way to People's Square.  There I'd catch the metro cuz I was lugging the bags and wanted to save a coupla hours. It was great to go walking in the morning.  The streets were not crowded.  The city was just waking to this gray day.  

Here is the Suzhou river, just parallel to the Huangpu River to the north (the Bund is between these two bodies of water.)
Here it is looking over towards Pudong (Century City-esque brand new section) with the Oriental Pearl TV tower providing the familiar Pudong mark.
The likes of the communist continuum in these red banners, declaring the celebration of National Day.
And then there's some serious street food going on.
I thought that these were scallion pancakes, but it's a thicker, doughier pancake that you can eat with a fried egg.
E. Nanjing Rd is in full splendor.  Chinese tour buses have packed the street that is at once NY 5th Ave and then the Champs-Elysee complete with French goddess face plastered atop the Samsung building.  The double flagging is on every light post and everything is not only red but good-mood pink, really pink and cute and grand at the same time.  The Chinese are psyched to be Chinese!  All these pix are in the October 1 National Day blog entry.  Yes, the grandeur of Nanjing Rd.

The first time down Nanjing Rd. was the first night I was in the city proper, with Luna and Eric; now I've connected it with my walk down Sichuan Rd. from Hongkou and it seems familiar, getting on the subway at People's Square.  Except the one Haibao, the official Shanghai Expo welcomer has multiplied quite fruitfully:
Many many welcomers.  Haibao (Sea Treasure) is not limited by the one-child policy!  If Beijing got the spotlight this year, then Shanghai is getting hers two years from now with this Expo 2010.  And interestingly, next year, the superspeedy Shanghai-Beijing express train will be completed, just in time to accommodate, to link the two big sites.  The new train will only take 5 hours (versus 13 hours now) and all in time for Communist China's big 60th birthday.

I drop off my bags at the Anting Villa, have my foreigner-priced Bai's vegetables, and then head back to Renmin Square.  I exit the station at some more familiar terrain--the Old Shanghai mini-simall-acra, but this time pause to checkout the goings on (the first time I was overwhelmed and just processing).  

This is an awesome food stand that is the answer to my budget dreams.  All of these different skewers of balls, tofu, tofu skin, meats, sausages, greens of all kind, noodles, rice cake, mushrooms...they are all 1 yuan.  You take a numbered basket.  You put your selections in the basket, and then it's put in one of the cooking nets and placed in the huge boiling pot of scrumptious broth.  It's like a big hot pot, so all the flavors of everyone's selection are contributing to the socialist broth.  After two minutes, your number is called, and you enjoy.  I got 3 skewers of veggies, a mushroom skewer and a tofu skewer and just enjoyed the soup without noodles this time.  Yup, 5 yuan.  Yum.
Right next to it, people are looking at the 5 yuan stuffed animals for their little ones.
From Renmin/People's Square, I walk south to Central Yan'an Rd. and walk west.  Central Yan'an Rd is the street I Vogged on from the Shanghai Exhibition Center where the Ex-Pat Expo was.  I hit Chongqing Rd. and go south.  

You'll always know Chongqing  Rd.(Chungking for you continued colonials) at night because all of its pedestrian and highway overpasses are lined in neon purple light.  I just keep following the purple light until I hit the main east-west road of the French Concession, Huaihai Rd, which has the distinction of text advertisements lit on arches straddling the street (Hitachi, Inspire the Next).  Huaihai was a battle that the Communist won, chasing out the KMT.

I continue the zig to the zag when I hit Ruijin No.2 Rd and go south, until Taikang, where the Artists Factory and its cool hip enclave are.  After a walk through and the discovery of an American Apparel-like boutique called INSH, or In Shanghai, I head west, back to the Anting Villa via Jianguo Rd (Build Nation Rd.) for a long ass time, longer than expected, but then as soon as I ask, the street after next is Anting Rd. (Peace Room Rd.).

I'm getting the grid.  I have a sense where stuff is, what the roads are like.

The last day of my stay in Shanghai proper, I decide that I will go to the Site of the First National  Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to cap off my National Day journey.  But not before I get my full cable's worth til noon at the Villa.  I have my two breakfasts, and continue to feast on the news (which is starting to repeat itself).  

Credit.  Credibility.  Trust.  Confidence.  LIBR (London Inter Bank Rate) is pronounced Lie Bore. Deeply depressed.  Markets clearing.  Rethink.  Let the market punish the guys who took huge risk. Making up as go along.  Rethink every minute.  Bad package.  Best we got.  Going down socialist path.  Stinker, but we better do it.  Watch for:  how much do we become a socialized economy.  US 30%.  Denmark 60%.  (Yeah but will US get social services).  Scandinavianizing.  No idea what's gonna happen.  HUGE CHANGE.

HK blog on Palin:
--I think she's too hard on abortion.  I hear she has an unwed daughter who is pregnant.  If she cannot take care of her daughter, how will she take care of America?

--Sexy American woman--I thought she was an official's secretary.

--She did better than expected, but it doesn't mean she's talented.

11:55 am the phone rings.  I'm just watching one last interview on English-speaking Russian TV with the current Women's World Chess Champion, who is also a model and actress.  In Chinese, they ask me if I will be leaving today.  In Chinese I answer, I'm just zipping up my bag now.  The hardest thing about acting, says the articulate Chess Champion who is trying to popularize chess with the younger generation, is not the acting itself but the waiting.  The hosts says that perhaps she is a good actress, then, since chess requires the skill of patience as well.

I leave my bags with the front desk, tell them I will pick them up by 6pm.  I'm know that I will take Huaihai Rd back to this western part of the French Concession, so I decide to go up Hengshan Rd. (where I first Vogged in that rainstorm into Azul) and travel east on another major street, Fuxing Rd.

Walking through the French Concession you do see all the expat bars with Heineken and Hoegarten and Johnny Walker signs (Keep Walking).  And you do see foreigners, though they are more the middle-aged set, lots of older white gentlemen.  They all have that similar look that shows a bit of strain--it is a harder time here, you do stand out, and if you don't speak the language, you do feel like you are but a genre being sold to.  

I have the privilege of being able to pass, but the hardcore Chinese know I'm not from here, and so can jack up the price of stuff, like fruit.  One fellow from the outskirts was selling apples on Siping Rd. as I headed back from Ohel Moishe.  I passed him once and he watched me.  I came back to buy an apple.  He said 1.90.  I gave him 2 yuan and said keep the change.  At that time, I was feeling benevolent, and even though I was paying 3x what I'd pay near school, I thought, this guy has to push his big cart through the streets, and he's just sitting there, waiting all day on a semi-empty street.  2 yuan is about 35 cents.  But then when I went to buy a grapes near the Nanxinyuan hotel, in that alley where the corner table was, the couple says 6 yuan for a tiny bunch.  6 yuan?  I shout.  And they show me the weight (vaguely), quote the price.  I only have 5 I say.  They take it.  

As a constant mathematician, the foreigner in me says, what it's under a buck.  But then suddenly, I'm all no, it's the principle. The first apple dude, I felt a kind of charity.  But then the couple, they kind of rub it in, you're not from here, and we will take the situation to our advantage.  It's their 'victorious' moment of getting a little more.  If I can pass and I feel it, I'm sure all the non-asians can feel it too.  After a while, you can only want to be made feel 'rich' for so long.  I know, I know, I'm haggling over dimes.  And so what is disposability these days?

It's a pleasant day walking on Fuxing Rd. towards the first site of the CCP Congress.  Where Mao came in as a member of the Hunan wing.  I'm completely wired on 3 cups of super-industrial strength coffee from my 2 breakfasts, from my insistence on holding my ground/table.   I come across some greenery.  Palm trees even.  Could this be Fuxing Park, I wonder.
It is.
Built in 1909 and designed by the French. Remnants of the French Concession.  I saunter in. Hey, I'm in no rush. A good chance to sit and take a break from the city air.

I find my spot.  Closer to my future.  It is a recurring motif.  This trio is particularly chatty.  As you can see, they have snacks hanging from the bench, and their Shanghainese is particularly lively and animated.  We are all sitting at benches surrounding a fountain.  There is a young girl all in pink, practicing her inline skating.  Lots of people stroll by.  I wonder what they're snacking on.
To the right of me, a more subdued trio.
We all sit happily, hanging out.  The old lady nearest me from the chatty group gets up to expectorate.  It's full on and visceral.  She gets it out, but there's still some.  She sits, still revving up the remnants.  She gets up again and it's sensurround.  Her other two friends are continuing to chat, paying no mind.  I look over to the subdued ladies and wonder if they hear it.  Now I'm not a glamorous noodle eater myself.  I understand the coarser joys of removing the fluids.  But seriously, hacking 9 loogies in a row got to be a bit much, and I leave the fountain.  Note to self:  the future is in your own hands.  

I tour the park some more, really nice it is--the landscape, the angle of seating in the landscape. But somehow, I'm always drawn to the red.  Here it's the lanterns as well as this cellular pattern.  I'm drawn to the cellular visual.  It is so prominent at this time.  Not just the cell as unit, as phone, but its homonym too.  And how color form comes in the form of Ricky's Party World.  Look at Ricky's cool club, and Ricky there with 2 babes. 
I walk on, towards the back of the park:  Forefathers!  
The old guys watching over it all.  Hello Karl.  Hello Vlad.
(At the CPC site I  will overhear a teenage girl refer to them as 'Big Beard' and 'Little Beard.')

Walking on, casually coolly:  I see the Old Fellow who truly rocks my world.

I encounter him accidentally.  I'm not sure what happened, but somehow, upon seeing him my heart opens.  I can't describe it.  I start following this Old Fellow, he with a quick step, despite his cane.  His movement is so rickety and swift at the same time.  His face is ageless, and unencumbered with joy.  His mouth is half-open with wonder.  His eyes are focussed and he is determined to his destination.  He is in a rush, to get where he is going.  But then he stops. Like a bird he takes many steps, and then stops.  I start after him, and then stop.  I must, I must see where he is going.  I must, I must see what he is up to.  I must, I must have a photograph of him.

In the course of my jockeying for position, I think that he is member of a family of three:  A man in a purple shirt, his wife and their son, around 5 years of age.  My Old Fellow is shuffling very quickly to keep up with this family.  But as I watch him and try to get near him, it turns out that the family doesn't really have anything to do with him.  They exchange a couple of words, but it seems that my Old Fellow has himself become kind of obsessed with their 5-year old son.  So as the man with the purple shirt and his family continue to enjoy the park, my Old Fellow is quickly chasing after them, getting near them and then just watching the young boy. I'm am also following them, but then  trying to seem as if I'm casually sauntering around. My camera is ready; I get near to all of them and watching my Old Fellow watch the young boy. This double obsession/stalking going on in Fuxing Park.  I feel like Kierkegaard trailing the every movement and moment of Regine Olsen.
Can you blame me?  At one point, they are all at a stand that is selling medicines.  The young boy is helped up to see in one window, and my Old Fellow is at another window.  At this point it seems that the family is helping him inquire about something, or has offered to pay for medication, or just doesn't mind that he's hanging around.  I stand behind a tree, constantly gazing upwards, as if I'm taking in the green of leaf slowly shifting to the yellow of autumn.  I have the feeling that people are watching me, wondering what I'm seeing in the tree, suspicious of my interest in botany.  Finally, the family heads away from the stand, and my Old Fellow follows...I get some quick footage of his walk, his stalk, and I go on my way.  I forever have him in my camera. My heartbeat is rapid. Maybe I should be applying for a TMZ paparazzi post.

On the way out of Fuxing Park, I'm so opened up by this encounter that the clipping of hedges has a symphonic rhythm.  Clip clip clip.  Clip clip clip.  I'm overwhelmed and sit and listen to the gardeners make their music.  As I exit the gate, the recycler man with cardboard discards twined to his bike, is ringing his bell to alert all that he is near.  Ring ring ring ring ring ring.

I make my way up to near Xintiandi (New Heaven Earth), yet another shiny mall with newly paved sidewalks that prides itself with alfresco dining.  It's an outdoor mall but also like the Beverly Center in LA, what with high end western boutiques like French Connection, Vivienne Tam, Benetton but also Lawry's Prime Rib (for about US$100 per) Hagaan Dasz AND Cold Stone Creamery.  Where Bev Hills is about US$800 per square feet, an apartment in Xintiandi is US$1000 per.  Way New Heaven Earth indeed.  I overhear some older foreign tourists say, 'Well this certainly is different from Beijing.'  I'm still not a shopper and my National Day attention is towards that site of the first Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, but a half block away.

It's an upstanding and well renovated building on a tree-lined street.  The site is the residence of one of the delegates. Lonely Planet says its 3 yuan; the lady asks how many tickets, I say one and she says it's free.   (?)  Upon entering and going through the security check, it is the same as when I entered the Lu Xun museum--my bag goes through X-ray, they say I have water, I am to drink one sip. (?)

There is a museum display, a brief history of all the foreign takeovers in China, stressing that the Communist Party is the only movement that has been successful in keeping China Chinese (so far). All 13 of the delegates are presented, including Mao and then two non-voting members:  a Dutch man who went by Maring, and a Russian, representing the Comintern named Nikolsky. 

There is a wax figure display of all the delegates sitting around the table, discussing, debating, with Mao standing in the middle.  From far away, I thought it was a woman who was pouring tea.
They vote to:
1) overthrow the state power of the bourgeoisie
2) declare that the dictatorship of the Proletariat will continue until the end of class struggles
3) end capitalist ownership
4) unite with the Comintern

After the exhibit, where no photos may be taken, the path leads to the actual meeting room with a small table and 13 stools and 13 teacups.  The janitor in a blue jumpsuit is wiping the table.  The meeting took place the last week of July, 1920.  They deliberated starting the 23rd, adjourned the 26 and 27th to redraft.  They reconvened on the 28th and 29th, when the French police came to the site to find out what was happening and disbanded the meeting.  On July 31, clandestinely aboard a pleasure boat, the delegates took the final vote and passed the Chinese Communist Party Programme.  

Here is the street where the site (right) of the first Chinese Communist Party Congress was held.
Alas, true communism requires unlimited resources.

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