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Monday, June 2, 2014

Glassy-eyed in Tianzifang

It's Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 time again, making this Monday the third day of a long weekend. Rather than checking out any boat races, however, we paid a return visit to Tiánzĭfáng 田子坊, that neighborhood of traditional lòngtáng 弄堂 alleyways that has found new life as a trendy hotspot of boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Like the last time, today's weather wasn't particularly promising, but with the exception of a few sprinkles just after we arrived, the rain refrained from coming down. And just like our first visit, the weather didn't deter the crowds from showing up:

First things first, lunch needed to be taken care of. Somehow, despite the confusing warren of narrow alleyways, we managed to locate New York Burger, where I celebrated this important date on the Chinese cultural calendar by having a bacon cheeseburger washed down with a craft beer from California:

The food you should be eating for the Dragon Boat Festival is a kind of sticky rice dumpling known as zòngzi 粽子. Near New York Burger, a woman was assembling some and attracting a small crowd around her. It's an indication of just how much Chinese society has changed when young people could be heard marveling at how they had never seen how zongzi being prepared before. We did have southern Taiwanese-style 南部粽 zongzi at home for dinner this evening:

It was kind of hard at times to appreciate the charms of Tianzifang's alleyways:

A scene reminiscent of my kitchen:

My daughter has a favorite store in Tianzifang, Candy Lab, which has three branches there:

Tianzifang attracts more than its share of expat visitors, lured by the familiar foods and drinks on offer:

Not sure exactly what the dispute was about, but these two women were making a public demonstration of their disagreement with one of the shops:

I took this shot by holding the camera over my head, and taking a photo of the scene going on behind me. That's me under the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks 福岡ソフトバンクホークス baseball cap:

Some alleyways were a little less busy than others:

What keeps Tianzifang from being a classic tourist trap is that it's still a functioning neighborhood. The sight of laundry hanging above the overpriced boutiques and restaurants served as a reminder of this:

Out of Tianzifang and time for a break at a Taiwanese foodstuffs shop across the road:

A short stroll down the street is the Liúli China Museum 琉璃艺术博物馆, founded by a pair of artists from Taiwan named Loretta Yang and Chang Yi:

The museum is dedicated to the art of glass sculpture, or pâte de verre as it's called in French (and in many of the exhibit captions). There were some interesting historic examples on display, such as these Go 围棋 pieces made during the Táng/Sòng dynasties...:

...or these ancient belt buckles:

But the most striking exhibit had to be this 1.6 meter-high, 1000-armed statue of the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Guānyīn 观音. It took Yang 18 years to finish this masterpiece, which she based on a wall painting found in one of the Mògāo Caves 莫高窟, located along the fabled Silk Road. What the statue may have lacked in antiquity was more than compensated for by its craftsmanship and dedication:

Relaxing on the patio of the Liuli China Museum at the end of a pleasant holiday afternoon. There won't be any more three-day weekends until the Fourth of July, when the girls will be in Taiwan. I'm planning on celebrating American independence by learning about Japanese atrocities during the Second World War, but that will be the subject of a future post:

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