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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Down on Duolun Street

Today is the last day of the three days off from work I've had as a result of the Chinese National Day holiday (I could be facing more time off thanks to the shutdown of the federal government, but I am going into work tomorrow as scheduled). For the first two days we didn't do much other than go over to a dinner party one evening organized by one of the Taiwanese wives that my spouse has gotten to know at the U.S. Consulate here. So today I was determined to get out and about in the city, and decided that the Duō​lún Road Cultural Street 多伦文化名人街 in Shàng​hǎi's 上海 Hóng​kǒu 虹口 area was as good a destination as any, so off we went. 

Getting to Duolun Culture Street was amusing, to me anyway. From the Dōng​bǎoxīng Road metro station 东宝兴路站, we had to pass through a neighborhood that was obviously a holdover from the days before Shanghai became the filthy rich metropolis that it is today - cramped houses the occupants of which were spilled out onto the narrow lane to conduct their businesses, while a steady stream of horn-blaring scooters passed back and forth (in the old days it would've been bell-ringing bicycles, I'm sure). The look on my wife's face was priceless as we passed by the communal toilet. And when I suggested having lunch at one of the numerous small eateries in the area, Pamela hesitated, no doubt concerned about the hygiene (or lack of), until she relented and agreed to sit down to noodles at a Fú​jiàn 福建 hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Though my wife was born and raised in Tái​wān 台灣 and speaks the dialect fluently, she's always considered herself to be "Chinese", an identity she derives from an idealized image she has of the country (prior to our being posted in China, she had only been to the mainland once, and that was with a tour group of fellow Taiwanese). Which is why I take a sadistic form of pleasure watching her reactions when the China of her fantasies comes face-to-face with the China that exists on the ground, especially the further away you get from central Shanghai. Stay tuned...

My initial impression of Duolun Culture Street was disappointing when we finally got there. The Old Film Café 老电影咖啡馆 was closed to the public due to a movie or TV shoot that was going on, and I couldn't even get a picture of the Charlie Chaplin statue out front. And all along the street, couples were having their wedding photos taken. While they were interesting to watch at first, especially the women in their qí​páo 旗袍 dresses and 1920's style hairdos, it quickly became tiring having to step around these people while walking on the street. At one point, the three of us were standing and discussing where to go next when a man came up and asked us to get out of the way because we were in the background of a shot. It's times like that I wish I weren't a diplomat.

Further disappointment ensued when I learned that the Máo Museum 毛泽东像章馆 wasn't open today.

Things began to brighten up, however. For one thing, the street itself was interesting to stroll down, lined with traditional Shanghai houses known as shíkùmén 石库门. Many of these now operate as antique and curio shops, making them fascinating places to pop your head into and look around. 

A short walk down one of the side streets led to the Museum to the League of Left-wing Writers  中国左翼作家联盟会址纪念馆. The league was a group of radical writers who formed in this house in 1930 and ended up being persecuted by the Kuomintang 國民黨 -led Republic of China 中華民國 government before being lionized, in turn, by the Chinese Communist Party 中共. The displays inside were naturally of a political nature, but my interest lay with the building itself, a beautiful relic that was erected in 1924.

In the small garden to the side of the building, my daughter posed in front of a statue of five writers who were brutally executed by the KMT, an event crudely depicted by a diorama inside the museum. 

Back on the main street, another beautiful building was the former residence of H.H. Kung 孔祥熙, a wealthy Chinese banker and KMT politician, who married one of the Soong sisters 宋家姐妹 . His home bears some Middle Eastern influences in its design.

Having reached the end northern end of Duolun Culture Street, we reversed course and headed back down. On the way, we went into this antique shop.

"We must liberate Taiwan!" An original propaganda poster was hanging on the wall, and I wanted it, badly! At an asking price of 15,000 RMB ($2450), I had to regretfully pass on it, however. I'll have to content myself with finding a reproduction somewhere in this city. I'd like to get this, and a KMT poster calling for the liberation of the mainland, and hang them up side-by-side in my home.

This poster of Communist icon Léi​ Fēng 雷锋 was another original with a much more reasonable asking price of 500 RMB ($82). Sitting here writing this, I'm now wishing I'd bought it.

What I did pick up, though, was a 1966 first edition of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the infamous "Little Red Book" and a bargain at only 170 RMB ($27.75), and paid for with money earned working for the imperialist paper tiger.

The 18.2 meter (60 feet) high Xīshí Bell Tower 

From the explanatory plaque: "Uchiyama Kanzō 内山完造...native of Okayama 岡山, Japan; owner of Nèishān Bookstore 内山书店; a foreign friend to the Chinese people; and a close friend of Mr. Lǔ​ Xùn's 鲁讯 residing in Hongkou from 1916 to 1947." Lu Xun was one of the earliest and best-known of China's modern writers, and his presence can seen and felt all over the Hongkou area.

We stopped to take a look inside the 1928 Hóngdé Temple 鸿德堂, which despite its name and appearance was actually a Christian church. Inside, visitors were sitting in pews, watching a video about Jesus.

Amber suggested we go inside the Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art  上海多伦现代美术馆, much to her father's pleasure. The building's architectural style, unfortunately, clashed with the rest of Duolun Culture Street, but there was a view of the surrounding area from the third floor, even if was through grimy, heavy plastic sheeting.

On the way back to the station, I stopped to have a chat with Lu Xun...

...while Pamela bought some ointment from a street vendor, and Amber posed next to a fruit stand, causing at least one local to do a double take.

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