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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Conceding to the French


For once, the rain was welcomed. Not because Shànghăi 上海 is in the midst of a crippling drought (it isn't). No, the rain meant that the heavy mist we saw as we left our house around noon today wasn't smog as we first thought, but was actually the result of precipitation. Or maybe the rain clouds just showed up later and washed all the PM2.5 from the sky.

In any event, the rain failed to put a damper on our walk around the eastern part of the French Concession 法租界. The area may have been a source of humiliation to many Chinese both then and (thanks to post-June 4, 1989 "patriotic education" efforts) now, and was home to many of Shanghai's most notorious gangsters and prostitutes (not to mention revolutionaries and writers), but its legacy to the city can be seen today in the elegant homes and tree-lined streets that make the French Concession one of Shanghai's nicest neighborhoods. There are no "must-see" sightseeing spots, but any visitor to Shanghai should take some time to explore its streets and soak up some of the atmosphere.

We began by exiting from the South Shaanxi Road subway station 陕西南路站 and walking over to Ruìjīn Èr Lù 瑞金二路, where my wife quickly spotted a shop specializing in wicker ware. Following the end of her shopping spree, our daughter spent the remainder of the afternoon looking as if she was on her way to a picnic:



Further south along Ruijin Er Lu is the Ruìjīn Hotel 瑞金宾馆, formerly the estate of Benjamin Morris, whose family owned the North China Daily News and who used to raise greyhounds for the Shanghai Race Club. According to my Rough Guide to Shanghai guidebook, the houses were spared from the insanity of the Cultural Revolution due to their being occupied by high officials in the Chinese Communist Party. Those radical revolutionaries certainly had good taste, as a walk around the grounds of the hotel showed:




Pamela was less impressed, however, commenting that if the Morris family missed England so much, they should've returned to Albion rather than trying to recreate home in the middle of Shanghai. We exited the grounds onto Màomíng Nán Lù 茂名南路, where the boutiques and tailor shops grew in number the further north we walked. Along the way we passed the Cathay Theater, dating from 1932 and still showing movies today:


We entered the grounds of another of the French Concession's five-star hotels, the Ōkura Garden Hotel Shanghai 花园饭店上海, erected on the site of the old French Club. As we walked around, the Art Deco masterpiece (or monstrosity, depending on your point of view) that is part of the Jĭnjiāng Hotel complex loomed on the other side of the road:


Preparations were being made for an outdoor wedding as we walked around the garden. Today had probably been chosen after the couple had consulted a fortune teller for an "auspicious" date. Too bad he or she couldn't have predicted the weather (forecasting wasn't in the cards or the tea leaves?):


Amber strikes a pose in the lobby of the hotel:


The building housing the rooms towers over the old French club, which serves as the reception area (there's also a small Mitsukoshi 三越 on the ground floor). Outside, a few plum blossoms were showing off:


The three of us then crossed Maoming Road to the Jinjiang Hotel complex to get an up-close look at the Art Deco colossus, known as the Grosvenor Villa. Prior to World War II, this was the most fashionable (and therefore most expensive) residence in Shanghai:


Amber poses in front of another building in the complex, while the Okura Garden Hotel rises in the background:


Another Art Deco building on Maoming Nan Lu is the 1931 Lyceum Theater, the former home of the British Amateur Dramatic Club:


Taking a break of French toast and milk tea at a Hong Kong-style cafe on Shaanxi South Road, complimenting the lunch we had earlier at a Hong Kong-style restaurant across the street from the subway station. Our feet may have been in Shanghai, but our stomachs this afternoon were someplace else:


The Héngshān Moller Villa 衡山马勒别墅饭店 is yet another former residence that has been converted into an upscale hotel, with grounds open to members of the public to come in and have a look around. The house belonged to Eric Moller, a Swedish businessman, until it was taken over in 1949 by the Communist Youth League. The story goes that the residence was designed by Moller's 12 year-old daughter, which might explain its fairy-tale appearance. In any event, my daughter got a kick out of it:




On the way back to the subway station, we stopped off at Garden Books, one of Shanghai's best foreign-language bookshops and a great source for publications on China in general, and on Shanghai in particular. Pamela ended up purchasing four books for children on various topics related to China, including emperors both good and bad, Chinese food and filial piety. The last one produced a classic whinge from my daughter, who uttered a complaint that only a bi-cultural kid could make: "But I don't want to learn about filial piety!":


The beautiful Russian Orthodox Mission Church. Since the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, it's been used as a washing machine factory, a disco and a teahouse. It's now currently unused, which is a shame. I'd like to see it revert to its original function or become a museum. In any event, I'd just like to be able to go inside and have a look:


As I finish up writing this in the warmth and dryness of our home, it's time to relax with a Jaga Draft beer じゃがドラフト, one of several varieties of Abashiri Beer 網走ビール from Japan sitting in my fridge:









 






 

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