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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Welcome to Shanghai: The Bund

Taiwan: China under Japanese management.

A strange statement to begin my first blog entry regarding life in Shanghai 上海, but that was one of the first impressions that formed in my mind soon after we arrived on the afternoon of July 5, and made our way to our new home. I can't claim credit for the above observation as I'd read it online somewhere a long time ago and had dismissed it at the time as being somewhat ridiculous. Now, however, I'm starting to see it makes a certain amount of sense. Compared to what I've seen so far, Taiwan is far more organized, and the standards of service much higher (at least in terms of politeness), compared to this side of the Taiwan Strait. It'll be interesting to see how my perception of Formosa will have changed (and I'm sure it will have) the next time I visit there.

But that's there and we're here, and it's been over a week now. Things have been busy, of course, which is to be expected when settling into a new lifestyle, a new job and a new country. There's so much to learn about visa work, and at this point I can't imagine how I'm going to remember it all, but hopefully I'll get the hang of it once I'm on the visa line. For now, though, I'm still in training, taking it all in and trying to remember the Chinese I've somehow forgotten since passing my Mandarin test back in late June.

Amber and Pamela are also in the process of getting settled in, though next week the two of them will return to Taiwan for about three weeks to see the family there before coming back to Shanghai next month. Amber will start school here in early August, and hopefully she'll quickly make some new friends. For now, we're waiting for the bulk of our stuff to arrive from the U.S. so we can stop living out of our suitcases (though the girls will continue to do just that while they're in Taiwan).

Today (Saturday) was the first day for us to venture out of our neighborhood (or workplaces, in my case) and do some sightseeing in China's commercial capital. Our initial foray naturally had to be to the Bund 外摊, site of Shanghai's former International Settlement and home to a number of European buildings. Though the history of this area is one of humiliation for most Chinese, the buildings were surprisingly left alone during the Cultural Revolution and today the Bund is home to fancy restaurants and high-end stores. It's also a popular sightseeing spot for Chinese tourists, so the three of us certainly didn't lack for company while we wandered around the area.

When in Rome, do as the Shanghainese. In this case, it meant wandering along the waterfront next to the Huangpu River 黄埔江 up to Huangpu Park 黄埔公园, supposedly the site of the infamous "No dogs or Chinese" sign that every Chinese fervently believes existed (it didn't, though Chinese other than servants initially weren't allowed into the British-administered park). And, of course, Amber and I had to have our photo taken with the Pudong  浦东 area in the background.

Another view looking across the river to Pudong. The building on the far left is the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower. I'm sure we'll check it out at some point during our two-year stay here. The clouds in the sky are the result of an approaching typhoon, which is predicted to miss Shanghai, but will unfortunately probably result in some destruction in the region south of the city.

This Art Deco monstrosity is the Broadway Mansions 上海大厦, built in 1933, at which time it was the highest building in Asia. Located across Suzhou Creek via Waibaidu Bridge 外白渡桥, it was initially an apartment building but now operates as a hotel.

Hideous though it may be on the outside, the interior of the Broadway Mansions was actually not too bad, as we took an elevator to the top floor (the 18th) to admire the view of the Bund.

Back at ground level, we walked over to the nearby Astor House Hotel 浦江饭店 (built in 1846, enlarged in 1910). Back in it's early 20th-century heyday, this hotel saw such famous guests as Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein and even a young Zhou Enlai 周恩来. Here, Amber stands next to some mannequins modeling qipao 旗袍.

While admiring the lobby of the hotel, we took our first steps toward becoming Old China Hands by purchasing some items from one of the gift shops inside. We hadn't planned on doing so, but the shop was in the process of liquidating its stock before closing at the end of this month, and the prices were just too good to pass up.

Back in the Bund proper, I took this photo looking across Suzhou Creek. The white edifice is the Russian Consulate. Unlike the American Consulate, the Russians work out of a far more accessible building. Thanks to the worldwide popularity of American foreign policy, our diplomats tend to labor in far-more fortified compounds than the foreign legations of those of our friends (and other countries). Behind the Russian Consulate building is the Pujiang Hotel.

Amber poses for a picture inside the Peninsula Hotel, one of the newer (and swankier) buildings along the Bund. While the restaurant was busy with customers enjoying their afternoon tea, the ritzy shops filled with designer brands were largely empty. I've only been here just over a week, but I've already noticed that Shanghai's top-end stores, while numerous, seem to be largely devoid of customers. Apparently, it's much cheaper for Chinese to travel overseas and buy name-brand items, a fact the U.S. government is only all too happy to take advantage of, which is why I'm probably going to be approving the vast majority of the visa applicants I'll eventually be interviewing.

No. 27 on the Bund was once the base of Jardine Matheson, a trading house with a history in Shanghai going back to the Opium War.

No. 24 used to be the Yokohama Bank, but is now a branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. A careful look above the windows reveals the chrysanthemum symbol of the Japanese Imperial House. Considering the feelings of many Chinese toward their neighbor to the east, I'm surprised they haven't been removed from the exterior.

Next door at No. 23 is the Bank of China, built in 1937 in the Chicago school style of architecture but with a Chinese-style roof.

Amber stands opposite the Peace Hotel 和平饭店, which was once the Cathay Hotel. It's also known as Sassoon House, after Victor Sassoon, whose family was the major player in Shanghai's International Settlement in the early years of the 20th century. The interior is supposedly well-worth checking out, but it was getting late in the afternoon, so we decided to head back along Nanjing East Road 南京东路 to the subway station of the same name. The Bund continues on beyond the Peace Hotel, but we didn't want to see or do too much our first time out sightseeing in Shanghai.

Before heading home, we had dinner and took a walk along the pedestrian-only street in the area around the Metro station. Bee Cheng Hiang is a Singaporean foodstuffs company that has a number of retail outlets in Taiwan. Next to it (but almost impossible to see in the picture) is a shop selling Taiwanese snacks. Taiwanese street food and drinks appear to be popular in Shanghai, as we've seen several such places even in the area where we live. I've yet to find a milk tea that could match the taste of Balance, however.

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