The celestial animals of China never included the panda. But last month if you had walked through Xintiandi in Shanghai you would have thought that the panda was more important than the dragon. One looked at me very suspiciously as I walked into a mall. I felt like backing right out.
This grandpa clicking a selfie with his grand-daughter, wife, and daughter was a typical family in China. I never tire of people-watching in China. Families are so small that they no longer require the words for the complicated family relationships that are common all over Asia. Pandas know this; China is trying very hard to make pandas give up the one child policy.
A lonely panda is so sad. I stood next to one and took a photo. Of course this was an advertising campaign for a fashion event, but I don’t care. They are grumpy, uninterested in much except shoots and leaves. I still like seeing them on streets.
I’d given myself half a day in Shanghai, because it is such a lovely city to walk around in. I decided to have lunch somewhere in Xintiandi. As I walked out of the metro station I saw something which was not there four years ago when I came here to look at shikumen houses: a whole new lane opened to tourists (featured photo). It can’t be too easy to live in such a place, with thousands of tourists tripping in and out. When I take a photo in such a place I make a mental bow towards the family altar of the household which might be inconvenienced.
I noticed a fairly long queue of people standing quietly in front of door number 4. The door was firmly shut, but the reason was clear from the plaque next to it. This small building was where the Korean Government was in exile during the years when Korea was under Japanese occupation. For me it was a little bit of unknown history, but clearly not to the Korean tourists who were going to wait another half an hour for the museum to open.
Nine years after the Japanese invasion of Korea, a democratic constitution was adopted by the provisional government, then in exile in Shanghai, in April 1919 CE. It took as its main purpose the nurturing of an independence movement in occupied Korea. This government had to shift to Chongqing after the fall of Shanghai in 1937. Eventually three years after Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945 (exactly 74 years ago today), the provisional government dissolved itself. The first president of the Republic of Korea was Syngman Rhee, who was also the first president of the provisional government.
I would have liked to see the museum, but I did not have too much time to finish my lunch before getting back to the airport. I’ll probably come through Shanghai again, so I resolved to come back to see this museum in the future. Right now I had a photo of the neighbourhood and the stone lined door which is the literal meaning of shikumen. I took a last photo and left.
Beauty is big business in Shanghai. You can’t walk very far without running into a row of hair dressers or nail artists (example above). Interestingly they are all very full. The Family is itching to go into one of them. She regrets having done her hair just before leaving Mumbai, and doesn’t take very kindly to my reminder that her hair dresser in Mumbai is also Chinese.
Tourist guides tell you to visit Xintiandi in Shanghai. This Xintiandi is full of well-preserved and tastefully renovated Shikumen buildings repurposed into restaurants, coffee shops, up-market shops and bars. When you walk through this you see the beautiful people of Shanghai and foreigners. All very posh, but exactly like any other town center in Europe. Why travel to China if all you want to see is Europe?
The Lilongs on the other side of Xintiandi are more interesting for a tourist with a camera. During my visit I saw two places where crowds had gathered. I nosed in, and saw a very serious card game in progress (photo above). In case you think this drinking and gambling is a man’s thing, think again. The next game had two women!
Luck is serious business in China. I’m told that the colour red is important because it is lucky, and not because it is beautiful.
One day in Shanghai we took the Metro to Xintiandi, walked a little way along Madang Road, and then ducked into one of the gated Shikumen-style complexes. We walked through and into lovely roads full of life. This was one of the lilongs which we wanted to see. The area is bustling with life. We arrived a little before lunch time and found many restaurants open for business, vegetable vendors, hair dressers, people playing chinese chess, smokers lounging, a quartet of beer drinkers, housewives chatting, … The photo above is a little slice of this life.
Eventually when we decided to have lunch it was smack in the middle of lunch time for the office goers who had trickled in from the businesses and malls on the main streets. With our complete lack of Chinese, it was difficult to figure out what to do. We went into one of the eateries, and one man told us to choose our food. When we did, he asked us to pay! We protested, saying we hadn’t even sat down, but he was insistent. As a queue grew behind us, and communications were not established, we left.
A little way down the road, was another establishment. There someone explained to us that you stand in the queue and order and pay for your food, then look for a table to get empty. After you sit down, the waiter will get you your food. This place had people who were very helpful and some of them spoke a little English. We made our choices by pointing at others’ plates. The owner helped us to sit down. The neighbours helped us with catching the waiter. Everyone in the lane seemed to be eating some kind of a noodle soup. We grew to like this: you can get it with all kinds of meats, or even just mushrooms. One of the girls at our table was eating a dark egg: apparently a boiled egg soaked in tea and soya: a tea egg. I tried one, liked it and had it as a snack several times later.
One question was voiced by The Family. In India a place like this would be quite dirty. How do they keep it clean in China? No answers, yet.