Travel Diary: seeing Shanghai my way; with some Penelope panache

Seriously, no disrespect to Buddha.

But what’s the deal about seeing one cast out of a big jade?
That’s the must see Jade Temple, which I conveniently skipped.
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Now as I type this out, maybe, just maybe I should have gone there … maybe then, my Tibetan Permit may just come through. But I’ve given up on divine intervention by now … and yet, not take into the seriously comical Uncle Mao propaganda stuff {embarrassed, but I collect them}.
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And thanks but no thanks, I can do without the Yuyuan Gardens.
I mean, so what if the garden is 400 years old?
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Frankly, I don’t know how to break it to the persistent tourists and tour guides, but it ain’t 400 years old as it had suffered massively during the bombardment of the Opium War and yet another trashing during the French reprisals for attacks on the nearby French Concessions by Taiping rebels.
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Hence, what you get is not the original Ming Garden that took 18 years to be nurtured by one that took 18 minutes to be destroyed and 18 months to be restored. So, the only original structure in the entire kitschy place {if you include the Bazaar in} is the overpriced Huxingting Teahouse.
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For me, Chinese gardens are Chinese gardens, Ming period or otherwise.
And thus I refuse to walk mechanically in a queue of chattering and easily excitable Japanese, brash local rural Chinese, obnoxious French, loud Americans or impatient assortment of backpackers who should source a cosmic high via substances than zen gardens!
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What’s amusing about Shanghai’s Old Town Yuyuan Garden and Bazaar though, is the snake line for the shio long pau – arguably one of the two most famous in Shanghai – and a square dedicated to the western tourist with Dairy Queen, Haagen Daaz, Starbucks and Subway.
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Oh yes, I did whisked through the Bazaar whilst I was spending time in Longtang (alleyway) around the area with my first “anthropology subject” and those who shaped her life.
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Being a woman, issues such as contraception, one-child policy, gender equality and a whole host of other women issues, many of which revealed not only factual discourse but those seen through the eyes of 3 generations (her grandmother, mother and herself) were discussed alongside her fears and hope for her only child.
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Typical scene of longtang in Shanghai
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A favourite past time and pet… some cost a year’s supply of hand pull noodles!

.© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved 
Enjoying the rare treat of hand pull noodles (a dying trade) for only RMB 5! in one of the eateries in the longtang despite the lack of sanitation and amidst the slurping and snorting sounds emitted by other customers until I realised the warts on his hands!!!

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What “anthropology subject”? you asked.
I’m referring to my earlier blog HERE, where I went on a personal mini sojourn of finding Panda Huggers and Dragon Slayers amongst the normal working classes or commoners of Shanghai – the lao bai xing (‘Old Hundred Names’) by engaging the services of :
  • a personalised tour guide only to tell her that I had no interest in everything she suggested but would like to take the day accompanying her on her journey down memory lane from where she was born, bred, lived, shopped, schooled, played, dated …etc.
  • private Advance English tutor who thankfully was very opinionated and had 40% of Murakami’s flair of imagination.
  •  a struggling artist who was obsessed with Dante!
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Arguably, the most exciting and enjoyable day was with the artist; putting aside the fact that I had to keep company with someone who spots hipster styled bell bottoms, kitschy retro large white plastic frame glasses without any lens on them, a ring nose that must have been the possession of a cow when Pudong was still a farmland, unruly curly hair {definitely courtesy of some ammonia and hot curlers} tamed by a Maoist looking hat in bright red.
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His ability to weave in Dante quote at the slightest sight of an opening is truly remarkable. 
When he uttered the first two quotes in an art gallery, I had thought I stuck gold with this young chap that seems so profound and studious in his observations and appreciation.
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However, by the time lunch time came and he utteredThe path to paradise begins in hell” as we walked down a shanty alley, it all suddenly came to me. Dante! Dante Aligieri.
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Unable to contain myself, I burst out laughing, bending almost into half, clutching both my stomach and my back {which is still not amused with my tendency to forget and overstretch the spine} and shamelessly wiping tears off my eyes with the back of my hands.
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How foolish have I been!
.In response to his grimaced face and one of mock confusion, I offered: 
“Abandon hope, all ye who listens to you.” an obvious deviation of “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” I suppose my laugh and hand slapping the fella on his back helped eased the tension and he too took it in good humour and was not insulted by me mocking him.   
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And so in that way our relationship was sealed and we spent the remaining hours relaxed, poking fun at atrocious body of works and making up interpretations of our own that draws references from a broad range of fields as we make our way through Buildings 3 and 5 in Tianzi Fang at Taikang Lu (Tai Kang Road).
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Tianzi Fang – the Art Street – at a glance features a mix of old and refurbished brick houses with wet clothes, mops and plants clinging on to bamboo poles above my head, and the occasional group of cosmopolitan Shanghainese yuppies and fashionistas lazing around some cafes dotted around the area, intently drawing on their cigarette. 
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Closer observation reveals that this is not your typical hang out for tourists and expatriates developed by over zealous and opportunistic developers in their attempt to pass off their financially driven intentions as ‘noble’ act of refurbishing old buildings (“shikumen”) and Shanghai’s heritage; like Xintiandi. The lanes in Tai Kang Lu in fact provides hope to many artists and local designers, be it contemporary, kitschy, or traditional works of design, painting and photography.
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.© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved – Tai Kang Road
Amongst the many dwellings (both on the ground floor and above) are funky outlets featuring works by local artists, knick knacks and collectibles, as well as cafes. The bunny with his middle finger stuck out is arguably one of the most photographed subject along Tai Kang Road.

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Art aside, I was fortunate to view and appreciate a few great Chinese photographers, some with a very unique ‘eye’ of seeing their own part of the world.
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My top two recommendations would be: 
Deke Erh Art Centre which was opened by Deke Erh himself that holds his catalogue of published books on Shanghainese interior design and art decoration as well as Western architecture in Shanghai. It also houses pieces by local artists in Shanghai that is up for sale.
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Illegal from the waist shot of Deke Erh Art Centre {website: Han Yuan) at Tai Kang Road, Shanghai, CHINA
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Rui Yuan C Photography that features and sells the works of freelance photographer Rui Yuan – a member of the prestigious ‘Shanghai Photographers’ and a member of the Fujian Photographers members who take active interest in developing and encouraging youth in photography. 

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© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved 
Illegal from the waist shot of Chen Rui Yuan’s Gallery (Rui Yuan C Photography) at Tai Kang Road, Shanghai, CHINA
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The Advance English tutor walkabout started all wrong with a hopelessly boring and ridiculous trip to Duolan Road in search of dead literary geniuses, followed by visits to bookshops that I am sure had I been able to read the horizontal and vertical strokes would have brought the house down.
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© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved 
180 degrees panoramic view of Duolun Road, Shanghai, China 

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Shanghai’s Outdoor Bridal Studio? – Duolun Road, Shanghai, China 
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The problem with Duolun Road is it feels as if you have stepped onto a very cheap unrealistic 1900s movie set; very much like Xitiandi minus the expatriates sipping Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at sidewalk cafes and al fresco restaurants.
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Instead it is swamped with wide-eyed local tourists and every blessed Shanghai-nese wedding couple and their photographer barking instructions impatiently for the brides to mimic slutty Shanghai ladies of leisure poses while their husbands dutifully carries a ‘vintage’ suitcase.
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Other than the Hongde Temple (which is a Christian church) and the Moorish-looking Kong Residence (complete with Middle Eastern tiles and windows) at the end of the pedestrian street at the north end, Duolun Road has little to offer and can be best described as a life size wedding studio prop.
Personally, the attempt to provide colour movies by painting the reels of old Chinese films at the Old Film Cafe and the suspect ‘art’ hanging on the Shangai Duolun Museum of Modern Art makes Duolun Road all the more distasteful despite the fact that it was home to some Kuomintang generals – a point that would normally arose my curiosity.
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The tutor must have picked up my extremely subtle reaction at the mention of Kuomintang and CCP for much of the preceding hours were spent on hunting Uncle Mao down!
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From the real thing – CCP Office, Propaganda Museum to the streets … I hunted Uncle Mao in Shanghai, China 
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Had it not been my Uncle Mao craze, the girls day out trip would have come in second. Now, they both tie at the second spot.

the Bund?
yeah of course I saw the iconic Bund. It’s a 3 minute stroll from my hotel.
I’ll blog about it in another post.
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6 thoughts on “Travel Diary: seeing Shanghai my way; with some Penelope panache

  1. Ha ha… I know what you mean. I think they are kinder to solo women travelers & besides I took the Metro or 'bus #11' mostly. I gather you did the Top 10 sights then? The psychedelic tunnel?

  2. Yu Garden, after lunch, trying to get a taxi, elbowed by old women every time one comes, seeing families fighting to get into any that arrived. NEVER AGAIN

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