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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Crowd control

Spring is on its way...

When you live in a city that has an official population of 23,710,000, you're going to have put up with crowds every now and then. Like this afternoon, for example, when the family and I took the Metro to People's Square 人民广场 for the purpose of visiting the Shànghăi Museum of Contemporary Art 上海当代艺术馆.

Getting through People's Park 人民公园 proved to be the first of several obstacle courses we would encounter today. In this case, it was the Shanghai marriage market - every weekend, parents and grandparents converge on the public space to list marriage advertisements extolling the attributes (height, education, income etc.) of their children and grandchildren in hopes of finding suitable partners.The only information missing from most of the posters was photographs of the potential cosmic soul mates.

The point of our going to MOCA Shanghai was to see the current exhibition there, A dream I dreamed, an exhibit of some of the works of the Japanese artist and writer Yayoi Kusama 草間弥生. I figured my daughter would enjoy the pop art aspects of Kusama's work, but upon arrival we were faced with a long line of people standing outside, waiting to get in. I had hoped that with this current retrospective coming to an end in two weeks' time after a 3½-month run, and with a major Monet show having just rolled into town, it would've been easy to get into MOCA. Guess I'd figured wrong.

Seeing as we didn't have tickets for the MOCA exhibition and being unable to locate any box offices, we decided not to wait around but to try our luck somewhere else. That somewhere else turned out to be the Pŭdōng 浦东 area, where a short taxi ride from People's Park had us soon lined up, waiting to get to the top of Shanghai's fascinatingly hideous icon, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower 东方明珠广播电视塔. Did I say "wait"? It took us roughly 90 minutes from the time we purchased our exorbitantly-priced tickets to when we finally reached the highest of the three observatories inside the 468 meter (1535 feet)-high tower. 

The "Space Capsule" sightseeing floor at 351 meters (1152 feet) was a classic tourist trap. The location of the afternoon sun prevented any decent photos of Shanghai's iconic Bund 外滩 waterfront from being taken, but the views were pretty impressive despite the haze, especially of the other buildings making up the Pudong skyline. In the photo above, you can see the Shanghai World Financial Center 上海环球金融中心, looking like a giant bottle opener; the Chrysler Building-resembling Jīnmào Tower  金茂大厦; and the soon-to-be-completed Shanghai Tower  上海大厦中心, which was recently scaled by a Russian and a Ukrainian, who naturally posted their bowel-cleansing video onto YouTube.

Far down below on the Huángpŭ River 黄浦江, two tugboats made quick work of getting a large passenger liner turned around and pointed in the direction of the ocean. 

Considering the cost and the long wait it took to get to the top, I was thinking it had been a mistake to have paid to have gone to the highest observatory (the Oriental Pearl TV Tower has a byzantine ticket-pricing system based on which of the three observation floors you choose to visit, along with incidentals like a revolving restaurant), but when we ventured down the to the sightseeing floor at 263 meters (863 feet), I felt a little exonerated. True, the Bund was easier to make out at this lower height...

...and the views in the other directions weren't bad, either...

...but as the look on Amber's face attests, there were a lot more people to deal with on the lower and cheaper level. Tired families sitting down in front of the windows meant it was difficult in places to get a good look at the world on the other side of the glass.

I was leery and my daughter was afraid, but my wife at least enjoyed the Transparent Observatory, looking down from 259 meters (850 feet) above the ground.

Our admission tickets also included entry to the excellent Shanghai History Museum  上海城市历史发展陈列馆, located at ground level. I had visited on Labor Day last year, but this was the first time for Amber and Pamela. Among the many things we learned was that Communists weren't capable of turning out anything but ugly passenger cars, as the 1950's-era Shanghai and Fénghuáng (Phoenix) 风凰 Sedans pictured above so painfully make clear.

An example of a palanquin used in traditional wedding ceremonies. The most interesting exhibits, of course, were those related to Shanghai's period as a treaty port controlled by foreign powers. The captions accompanying some of the displays referred to the sense of national humiliation and semi-colonization that China underwent following its defeat at the hands of the British during the first Opium War of 1840-1842, feelings that are constantly being reinforced through officially-approved popular media (along with rabid anti-Japanese sentiment, of course). Still, while I can understand how the Chinese might feel about this period in their history, it's hard to feel sympathy for a Han Chinese-dominated empire that was created over the centuries by subjugating and dominating their neighbors in ways similar to how the Western imperialist powers imposed themselves in places like Shanghai up until the end of the Second World War. 

Official narratives aside, the Shanghai History Museum does a very good job at presenting tableaux giving an idea of what life in the city was like in the time before the city's "liberation"...

...including opium dens and houses of prostitution. 

Back at ground level, the lights of the city were starting to come on as dusk fell. 

Dinner at Yoshinoya 吉野家, located on the 8th floor of the huge Superbrand Mall. My daughter shows off a box of chocolates we purchased on our way of out of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. We had been successful in running the gauntlet of souvenir shops as you make your way out of the tower after having visited the observatories, but our willpower had been seriously weakened by the time we reached the chocolate stand, the last shop encountered before returning to the outside world. Resistance proved to be futile.

The Oriental Pearl TV Tower - overpriced, crowded, touristy and just plain ridiculous to look at, but if you're going to be spending any time at all in Shanghai, it's hard to avoid its siren call. 

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