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Saturday, July 20, 2013


Two observations so far about life in Shanghai 上海:

1.) I'm lonely. Amber and Pamela are currently in Taiwan visiting the family there, and won't be back until the first week of August, shortly before my daughter starts her new school. I'm glad they're able to spend time with the folks on Formosa, but the house feels empty without them here. 

2.) I'm sweaty. We're in the midst of a heat wave, with the temperature today (according to the Shanghai Daily newspaper, which I've started a subscription to) reaching 35°C (95°F), though it felt much hotter this afternoon. And that's not to mention the humidity, which is seemingly as high as the temperature. Today was one of the sweatiest days ever for me, and that was without doing anything other than the simple act of walking around outdoors.

Despite the heat outside and our personal effects currently piled away in the living room and awaiting some kind of sorting and distribution throughout the house, I decided to check out more of Shanghai's Bund 外滩 area, the former International Settlement that is now the city's premier sightseeing spot and home to its finest (albeit Western-style) architecture. I actually began the day north of the Bund, getting out of the Tiantong Road Metro station 天潼路站 (and right into the heat) and making the short walk to the Main Post Office 国际邮局:

The building has been used as a post office ever since it was built in 1931. It's a striking structure, but that wasn't the reason for going there. On the second floor is the free-of-charge Post Museum 邮政博物馆. Actually, philately wasn't the reason, either - what drew me there was the prospect of getting a great view of the Bund from the rooftop garden. Alas, the roof area was under renovation and thus closed off, but the displays inside the museum were interesting. Best of all, it was air-conditioned.

A rare stamp issued (and then withdrawn) during the Cultural Revolution 文化大革命. On display in a special climate-controlled room were stamps put out between 1888 and 1978, with one glaring gap in the timeline - the 1960's.

The interior of the Post Museum. On the floor was an example of a mail train car, which had samples of letters being sent all over China...including Taiwan.

From the Post Museum, I crossed Suzhou Creek and entered the Bund (again; see last week). Following lunch in an air-conditioned Subway, I checked out the exterior of the former British Consulate (1873):

The old building is now some kind of private club and while the grounds are open to the public, white and black-shirted guards keep an eye on you as walk by the expensive luxury cars parked inside. The atmosphere was more than a little intimidating, while everything seemed a little, um, suspicious. The darker side of Shanghai appears to have taken over what the Brits left behind.

The former consul's residence (1884) was also well-guarded

Walking out of the consulate grounds, I came across a couple more examples of the bad old days (for the Chinese, of course):

The former Shanghai Rowing Club, built in 1905, used to have a swimming pool as well as docks for tying up the rowboats. Today it's a teahouse.

The former Union Church, dating from 1886

The street next to the church, Yuanmingyuan Road 圆明园路 was lined with both historic buildings and security guards. They didn't bother me while I was taking pictures (it is a public street, after all), but their presence was still a disturbing sign of the New China.

The China Baptist Publication Society building (1932) 

The Italian Renaissance-style Lyceum Building, finished in 1927

The Missions Building (1924)

The YWCA Building (1932)

The Yuanmingyuan Apartments, the date of which I forgot to note at the time, but thanks to Google, I now know is 1934.

Unfortunately, the 1933 Royal Asiatic Society Building was covered up in scaffolding. I couldn't find an entrance to check out the Rockbund Art Museum 外滩美术馆 housed inside, which I had wanted to visit today. Another time perhaps. 

There is a lot more to the Bund than what I've seen so far, but I decided to leave it for another day and walked over to Nanjing East Road 南京东路, stopping en route to practice my bad Mandarin with a couple from Shandong Province  山东省, who had asked me to take their picture. Instead of doing the sensible thing and heading home via the Metro, I made the stupid decision to see how far it was on foot from there to Nanjing West Road Station 南京西路站, the closest Metro stop to where I work. Dumb because I wasn't properly dressed for the weather (I was wearing a heavy pair of jeans as all my shorts and sandals are still waiting to be unpacked), and because it was damned hot and humid. This was the point where my shirt became drenched in sweat as I walked along the pedestrian walkway between Nanjing East Road 南京东路站 and People's Square 人民广场站 Metro stations.

I now know where single men can easily find female company. Walking along Nanjing Road, I was constantly being approached by people asking me if I wanted a "massage", with a couple of them also mentioning "girls". One, er, "recruiter" even tried to give me his card in case I changed my mind, though when I told him my wife wouldn't like that, he seemed to accept that as a reasonable excuse. Though I didn't get any massages or girls, I did discover the not-so-imaginatively named Foreign Language Bookstore 上海外文书店 (Communists were never known for their clever marketing strategies) a few blocks away on Fuzhou Road 福州路. Four floors of English-language titles (plus a Japanese section), including a ground-floor section devoted to books on China, mean I'll probably be back several times during the next couple of years.

The end (or beginning, depending on your perspective) of Nanjing Road's pedestrian-only zone, as seen from the entrance to the People's Square Metro station. From here, I continued to plod on, stopping to have a Tiger Beer at a bar called Windows Garage, a happy-hour bargain at only 15 RMB ($2.40). As wasn't the case with the Post Museum rooftop garden and the Rockbund Art Museum, this time my timing was good.

The interior of the Westgate Mall. The visa section where I now work is located in the same complex. The shopping center is full of high-end designer-brand outlets, but were empty despite the number of shoppers inside (most of them checking out Isetan 伊勢丹 Department Store, which anchors the mall). As a colleague explained it to me earlier, building owners make their money from apartments and condos, with store rents being surprisingly reasonable. As a result, foreign designers open up shops in these complexes knowing they aren't going to sell anything, looking at these outlets as a way of getting themselves noticed in China. Chinese consumers prefer to go overseas to buy their 名牌产品, the cost being cheaper than back home thanks to China's high tariffs. No wonder we're so eager to issue visas to Chinese tourists.

Next weekend I hope to do some more exploring. I also hope to be better prepared for the heat.

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