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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Family Bunding

Winter is here, and along with the plunging temperatures, this means the air quality is worsening. Shànghăi 上海 has suffered from high pollution levels this past week, but fortunately this weekend the skies cleared up somewhat. 

Saturday was a pleasant day, not only for the weather, but because we had an opportunity to see Bruce, a colleague of mine from A100 class, who took advantage of a business trip to Shanghai from his post in Chéngdù 成都 to bring his wife Kerryn and daughter Erin (a playmate of my daughter from our time in Falls Church) along. We were thus able to invite them over to our neighborhood and to catch up on things over lunch at a nearby branch of Shanghai Brewery. We're looking forward to visiting Chengdu before Bruce and his family move on to their next post in Frankfurt.

Today (Sunday), the skies were even clearer, though the temperatures were noticeably colder. The three of us in the Kaminoge family took advantage of the atmospheric conditions to continue our exploration of Shanghai's most famous sightseeing spot, the site of the former International Settlement known as the Bund 外滩. Some of you may remember that the Bund was the first place we visited after arriving in this city in early July. At that time we checked out the northern part of the row of European-style buildings; today it was time to see what there was along the southern half of 中山东一路.

And what better place to start an exploration of the Bund than the Fairmont Peace Hotel 和平饭店, located at No. 20. Built between 1926 and 1929 by Victor Sassoon as the Cathay Hotel, it was considered the most prestigious hotel in Shanghai prior to the Communist takeover in 1949. Today, it's worth the time to pop in and have a look at the Art Deco lobby.

The hotel was noted for its jazz combo, which entertained patrons in the first-floor bar until the dour Communists put a stop to the Western decadence in the name of "socialist morality". Jazz has since resumed with some of the original hep cats still jamming along to "sultry female vocalist(s)".

The Peace Hotel has its own small museum called the Peace Gallery, containing memorabilia from the glory days and photos of prominent guests such as Charlie Chaplin and General George Marshall. Noel Coward wrote his play Private Lives while holed up at the then-Cathay with a serious case of the flu.

The view from a second-floor window of the Peace Hotel. It's no doubt even more spectacular from the bar on the ninth floor.

The South Building sits on the other side of Nánjīng East Road 南京东路 and is now called the Swatch Art Peace Hotel. It was completed in 1906.

The two wings of the Peace Hotel

No. 18 The Bund 外滩18号 is the former Chartered Bank of India and Australia. It now houses several high-end retailers such as Cartier, with my favorite was the shop selling Noritake ノリタケ porcelain.

Next door at No. 17, American International Assurance has returned to the property it was evicted from in 1949. In those pre-Communist days, AIA shared the building with the English-language North China Daily News. The newspaper's motto - "Journalism, Art, Science, Literature, Commerce, Truth, Printing" - is still engraved above the first-floor windows. 

Next up, at No. 13, was one of the Bund's more iconic buildings, the Customs House 上海海关, completed in 1927. The clock tower was modeled after Big Ben, and like its London inspiration, it chimes every fifteen minutes (during the Cultural Revolution 文化大革命, it played The East is Red twice a day).

No. 12 was built in 1921 as the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, and has the largest facade of all the buildings along the Bund. It's now owned by the Pŭdōng Development Bank.

My daughter with the two bronze lions that stand guard outside. Rubbing their noses supposedly brings good luck. These are modern-day replacements; the originals were taken away during the war by the Japanese, though one can now be seen in the local history museum.

The HSBC Building and the Customs House, side-by-side on the Bund

On the right is Five on the Bund 外滩5号 at No. 5 is the headquarters of a Chinese bank, but is more famous for its upscale restaurant M on the Bund. It's neighbor, Three on the Bund 外滩3号, houses some ritzy shops and swanky restaurants.

The last building of note that we checked out this afternoon was Number 2, which is now the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai, but was once home to the very exclusive Shanghai Club and its 108-foot-long mahogany Long Bar.

Across the road from the McBain Building, the last building on the Bund (or the first, judging by the address), is the 1907 former Meteorological Signal Tower 外滩信号台, built by the Jesuits as a meteorological relay station.

We considered the possibility of taking a cruise along the Huángpŭ River 黄浦江 as the docks for such trips were only a short walk from the signal tower, but it was getting late in the afternoon and the temperature was noticeably chillier by this point. The Bund isn't going anywhere and neither are we, however (for the next couple of years, anyway), so we have time to come back again...and again...and again...and....


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