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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Zen and the art of bicycle riding in Shanghai

The girls are back in Taiwan and won't be back until late next month, which means I'm now a bachelor again...for the next three weeks, anyway. In theory, this could mean clubbing every night until the wee hours of dawn, followed by orgies back home with all the morally-loose sleazy young women I picked up over the course of the previous evening. In reality, I'll be sitting on the sofa in my underwear, watching TV and counting off the days on the calendar when my wife and daughter will be back and life can return to normal. 

One of the few silver linings in this cloud is that I now have time on the weekends to go for long bicycle rides. A little while ago, I purchased a Trek mountain bike as an early birthday present for myself, and I've been using it for short rides around the neighborhood. With family obligations now on hold for the time being, I can stretch my legs and begin exploring more of Shànghăi 上海. 

Granted, bike riding in a city of 24 million people is no idyllic ride in the countryside, let alone a grueling but satisfying conquest of mountain ranges. It's a constant battle with taxis, buses, motorbikes and pedestrians in a noisy environment of asphalt, concrete and pollution. On long stretches of the route I took this morning and afternoon (in particular, on Nánjīng 南京路 and Bějīng Roads 北京路), I was forced to use sidewalks as bicycles were prohibited from riding in the street due to the absence of dedicated motorbike lanes. Still, I made it to my destination and back in one piece, stopping en route at a cafe to lunch on spaghetti and Tsingtao Beer 青岛啤酒:

And what was my destination, you might be asking? The answer is one of Shanghai's best modern art showcases, the Rockbund Art Museum 上海外滩美术馆, located just a couple of blocks from the city's iconic Bund 外滩 area.  This private museum is housed in the former Royal Asiatic Society building, dating from 1933:

The current exhibition is titled "Advance through Retreat". According to the guide to the exhibit:

"Advance through retreat" is a stratagem elaborated in the Chinese military treatise "The Art of War"... (It) is a strategy relevant for artistic production in China today. Taking the image of the general in disguise of a hermit and his strategic retreat, this exhibition sets out to present artistic positions using traditional media and procedures, such as divination, the game, gambling and the vernacular, as well as traditional strategies - for instance, "advance through retreat" - in order to develop autonomous languages uttering such positions of resistance to the assimilating tendency and the power of structures generated and maintained by a lingua franca.

Perhaps this all makes more sense in Mandarin. In truth, it was difficult to see what the four floors of exhibits had in common with each other:

This truck was used in an outdoor installation in the German city of Stuttgart as a May Day realization of the Suprematist manifesto. Suprematism was hardly relevant in 1997 when the truck took part in a parade that day - it's even less so in 2014:

The most interesting exhibits were both video installations. In one, people would walk up to a man seated at a desk and hand him an object such as a parcel or a piece of fruit. The man would smash the item with a rock, then take out a notepad, stamp and a sign a piece of paper as if he were a bureaucrat (and I should know!), and then hand the document to the person. The other was a documentary on Pablo Wendel's disguising himself as one of the Terracotta Army soldiers and attempting to hide among the famous figurines. 

The exhibits were interesting, but it didn't take long to see everything. The best part about visiting the museum is that the 30 RMB ($4.80) admission ticket included a free cup of coffee, which could be taken on the 6th-floor patio. Despite the haze, there were good views to be had of the Bund and Pŭdōng 浦东...: well as of the surrounding neighborhood...: opportunities for selfies:

Back inside, the view of across the street from the museum:

The air quality today left much to be desired. On the other hand, this summer has been cooler than normal, with temperatures still only in the high 20's Celsius, quite a change from last year's record-breaking furnace-like conditions. And although we've had a lot of rain in recent weeks, today there were only a few drops in the early evening. And the smog did lend Pudong a certain mysterious aura:

Going home and having to use the sidewalk on Beijing Road. This picture gives you an idea of the narrow walkways and pedestrians with their eyes glued to their smartphones. For whatever reason, many Chinese, whether they're behind the wheel of a moving vehicle or using their feet and legs in order to get around, appear oblivious to what is going on around them. Note to self: install a bell on your bike:

The always scenic Yán'ān Road 延安路:

At most, I only covered  about 25 kilometers  (15.5 miles) today, and all the exhaust fumes and smog that I breathed in while riding (not to mention the stress of having to dodge people on the pavement and keep a watch out for turning cars and buses) probably negated whatever health benefits that are usually accrued from cycling. On the other hand, since I started riding, my surgically-repaired left knee has become a lot more flexible. And even though I was a sweaty mess by the time I rolled back into my compound (a quick dip in our still-cold swimming pool solved that), I still felt that I had actually done something useful with all that free time. So watch out, citizens of Shanghai: I'll be back to run you down on the sidewalks very soon!

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