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Thursday, July 23, 2015

End of days

A typical weekend scene in a typical Chinese park

Our time here in Shànghăi 上海 is just about up. The movers have already collected most of our items, boxing them up and carting them away, and today was the car's turn to go. Tomorrow will be my last day in the office, and on Sunday we'll bid 再见 to the city we've called home for the past two years. I have to congratulate myself on time well-spent here: not only have I visited everywhere that I wanted to go in China (Forbidden City, Great Wall, terracotta warriors, Huangshan, the Li River cruise), there's very little in Shanghai itself left to see, meaning there will be no last-minute rush to cross items off of the local bucket list. That isn't to say we haven't done any last-minute sightseeing. Take last weekend, for example. On Saturday, while my daughter was off at swimming class, I took the subway to the Hóngkŏu Football Stadium stop 虹口足球场站 on Line 3 in order to do a bit of shopping. One of the few things I do regret while in Shanghai was not going to see a local soccer match, so to make up for that I was determined to buy a jersey of one of the local teams, Shanghai Greenland Shenhua F.C. 上海绿地申花足球俱乐部, as a personal memento. Unfortunately, the biggest size the shirts came in was only XL, which roughly corresponds to an L when hung on a Western-sized body frame and isn't a comfortable fit for someone of my build, but not wanting to go back to the U.S. empty-handed, I purchased one anyway. If it turns out not to fit very well, I can always add it to Amber's pajama collection, which has been supplemented by my used soccer jerseys in recent years:

Afterward, I went for a stroll around Lŭ Xùn Park 鲁讯公园, named for one of modern China's most revered literary figures. The Hongkou area is dotted with sights dedicated to the writer, including a memorial hall and his former residence. When my family and I visited in February of last year, most of the park was closed for renovations. This time, Lu Xun Park was open for business again, so I went in for a look. As with most urban parks in China, you can forget about a quiet communion with nature or an escape from the pressures of city life. Lu Xun Park was teeming with humanity, every square inch of paved surface and most of the grassy areas (at least the parts not fenced off) taken up by people "enjoying a break from the congestion, noise and pollution" of urban living. This Chinese version of park life was set to a cacophonous soundtrack of karaoke, musical instruments, blaring radios, lively debates and the generally louder tones of speech employed by most Chinese when conversing with each other. My delicate sensibilities often find it impossible in these environments to relax, but the locals seem to think it's invigorating, so I focused on enjoying the orderly chaos as I made my way around the small lake. Perhaps in keeping with the Lu Xun theme, one corner of the park had statues of several famous Western authors, including Dickens, Shakespeare, Hugo and Gorky, though only the last would probably have been permitted during the dark days of the Cultural Revolution:

Taking boats out onto the water was a popular activity:

The western part of the park is overlooked by the hulking structure of the soccer stadium:

Lu Xun's Tomb  was in one of few pockets of solitude inside the park. His body was moved to the its current location in 1956, and a quotation from none other than Máo Zédōng 毛泽东 himself is etched into the wall behind the tomb:

On the way home, I stopped off at Garden Books in the French Concession, where I bought a copy of Lu Xun's novella The True Story of Ah Q  阿Q正传. Though I read Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦 as a college student, I've never had much interest in Chinese literature, classical or otherwise, but I am intrigued by Lu Xun - any writer whose works were suppressed by the Kuomintang 中國國民黨 for his or her leftist inclinations must be worth checking out:

On Sunday, the three of us went off on a day trip outside the city, partly because it was our last chance to do so, and partly because we needed to use up some of the gas in the tank before the car got shipped off to Europe. My wife chose as our destination the water town of Nánxún 南寻 in Zhèjiāng Province 浙江省. Shanghai has several such towns in its surrounding area - at 110 kilometers from our residence, it was the furthest away from our home that would still be possible to visit in a single day. What differentiates Nanxun from the others is that many of the silk merchants who made their fortunes there in the early years of the 20th century had their houses constructed in a mix of Chinese and Western styles:

Once past the perpetual traffic snarl on the roads near Hóngqiáo Airport 上海虹桥国际机场, it was smooth sailing on the relatively empty expressways, and we reached Nanxun just around lunchtime. After paying the entrance fee (which covered all admission charges to the various houses and museums contained within), we headed off in search of something to eat. The "local beer" was unsurprisingly weak (2.5%), making it the perfect alcoholic beverage for our designated driver (me):

Once our appetites had been sated, we set off exploring the town on foot while admiring the canal scenes:

The Little Lotus Villa 小连庄 was once the private garden of an official during the Qing dynasty:

In an example of getting something to take back with us before it's too light, the girls settled on some calligraphy brushes with our Chinese names engraved of them. In the cases of Amber and Pamela, those names are legal; in my case, a Mandarin moniker is more of a curio. I rarely used mine, preferring the locals to render my actual name with a Chinese accent. It sounds much better that way:

A family shrine:

Next door was the Jiāyè Library 嘉业堂藏书楼, which once housed 30,000 books and was one of the largest private libraries in this part of China:

Old folks sit a spell by one of the canals:

These water pipe-type whistles were a hit with the kiddies, including mine. The whining sound they produced got very old, very quickly:

A typical canal scene...:

...and a typical alley scene:

The building housing the silk museum was more interesting than the collection contained within:

The weather could've been much better, but the threatened rainfall never materialized, at least not while we were in Nanxun: 


Whichever member of the Liú clan responsible for the Liu Family Compound 刘氏梯号 clearly had a thing for things Western:

My daughter also seemed to like the property:

The best (and probably biggest) house in Nanxun was saved for last. The Zhāng Family Compound 张石铭旧宅 was another intriguing blend of East and West, with the Chinese-style rooms in the front of the compound, and the European wing in the rear:

A couple of the rooms housed a collection of money from around the world. Most fascinating were the bills from Zimbabwe, issued when the country was in the throes of one of the worst cases of hyperinflation in history. The purchasing power of a trillion dollar-bill was probably on the pathetic side:

Another room housed a record collection, with recordings from Taiwan, Hong Kong, the U.K. and the United States...: well as block rockin' beats from China:

On the walk back to the car at the end of the day, I was reminded by a sign of how my life will probably become a living hell for at least seven months beginning in September. First lesson: learn to love vodka. That liquid courage might come in useful during test time:

Three days to go...

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