Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 09 2006

Lennet had to work on Sunday, since workers have t…

Lennet had to work on Sunday, since workers have to make up lost time for the last National Day holiday, but Greg was free, so we took the metro northeast to the Lu Xun Park area, which I’d read is near an antiques market. On the way we stopped by a train ticket office so I could purchase my ticket to Beijing on Tuesday. It was a surprisingly simple affair, though I’m still not sure which station I have to go to to catch the train.

At the stadium metro station, we walked up the road to Sichuan West Road and followed it for a while before deciding the main street was too boring, and headed into the alleyways. A large stone gate announced the beginning of the antique street, which was crowded with tourists and many foreigners. I asked Greg about the state of foreigners in China, and he pretty much confirmed that the range of types is nearly identical to those in Taiwan, albeit on a larger scale.

Most of the shops were crammed with people, and in any case I’m not as interested in the antiques as the old houses that contain them. We walked through another old neighborhood, this one more or less intact, and onto a large road. There, I noticed a short, dark young man running after a young woman on a bike. He was plodding stealthily behind her, his hands grasping the strap of her handbag. It took me a couple of seconds to realize what was going on, and I pointed it out to Greg. Just then, the woman turned around, and the young man retreated, walking back towards us. Seeing our accusing WTF stare, he smiled widely, shook his head and waved his hand, saying “No, no!”

“Uh, yeah, yeah!” I replied. After seeing the guy reformatting the obviously stolen laptop yesterday, as well as hearing many warnings about pickpockets and thieves in China, Taipei seems like a public security dream.

We kept walking though neighborhoods, mostly older ones, all the windows and doors painted dark red. “Was there a sale?” I asked Greg, but he didn’t know. At least they chose a tasteful hue and not, say, puke green.

We found another row of old houses in the shadows of yet more luxury high-rises, and went in to investigate. “What are those foreigners doing here?” A large older woman asked her neighbor, who was sitting in the doorway. He just shrugged, and she came into the alley where we were taking pictures of the elaborate cornice work and asked in Chinese, “Are you looking for someone?”

“No, we’re just admiring the architecture,” I said. She beamed at me.

“It’s wonderful, isn’t it? These buildings go back over a hundred years, and can you believe it, they’re just going to tear them down!”

“Well, they’re very nice, I’m glad I got a chance to see them,” I said. I wonder why entrepreneurs don’t do more rennovation of these classic old buildings, providing relatively cheap housing for those who still can’t afford the encroaching luxury high-rises. Lack of foresign on the part of the government, most likely. At one point I thought: replace all the bicycles with scooters and this would be Taipei. But that’s misleading. I do think the bicycles are a good idea, and China should be doing all it can to encourage the habit rather than putting all it’s resources into making China a better place for cars, like some kind of 50’s American Dream fantasy.

We walked back towards the Bund, as I was hoping to get some shots of it at night later, passing the elegant Astor hotel and the Bayer building, both reminiscent of New York City, and across the Suzhou Creek. From there we proceeded to the north end of the Bund, where there’s a sharp pointed monument and, supposedly a Bund museum underneath. We were led down by a man who seemed a little obsequious, and found that the museum is closed for repairs. He didn’t tell us this, of course; we had to walk all the way around the large circular hallway under the monument looking at cheap Chinese paintings before we found this out. I though the space would be much better used as a replica of the interior of the Enterprise.

We walked back down the Bund and then back into the side streets. Greg showed me a particular roundabout intersection that is surrounded on three sides by arching 30’s style art-deco-style buildings. At least one is a hotel, and we interrupted a wedding photo shoot to get a look at the lobby. Someday I’d like to stay at that hotel, just to see what’s it’s like. I’d bring my fedora and listen to 20’s jazz on the grammaphone while soaking in the porcelain tub with the window open because air conditioning hasn’t been invented yet.

Greg knew of a hostel called Captain’s where the rooftop commanded a nice view of the river and the buildings across from it, so we went up to rest our tired feet and get a drink. Backpacks lined the sofas in the lobby, while Europeans lined the desk. The bar was at the top of the building, with steel tables and a great view of the skyline. Only a few people, all foreigners, were sitting there looking dispassionate and cool, except for a group of excited Spaniards in the corner. The clock tower on one of the Bund buildings chimed out the hour as dusk fell, and I stood on the railing to get shots of the view.

We were chatting over drinks when the whole place was blasted with white light, and I saw that at least two of the buildings across the river are covered with huge TV screens.

Lennet showed up after getting off work, and we chatted and drank some more before setting out up the Bund so I could get some pictures. I didn’t want the traditional shots of the place, as they’re readily available already, but the alleys between the Bund buildings looked facinating at night. Unfortunately, most of them were guarded, so Greg and Lennet would go in first, create a diversion, after which I’d walk in and take advantage of their distraction of the guard to take a few shots. It worked pretty well, I have to say.

We got to the top of the Bund without being arrested, and proceeded around to a park I suspect now was the infamous “No Chinese or Dogs” sign park. We didn’t go in, however, but found an old half-torn-down cathedral next door. It looked like it was once a brilliant building, but now was half rubble. Greg climbed over the wall, which consisted of dangerously loose bricks and half a window, but we were too chicken to follow, as police rode by on motorcycles and Lennet donated his beer can to a passing collector.

By now it was way past dinner time, and we were all hungry, so we walked up to the city hall area in search of a restaurant Greg remembered from years ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t there any more. “Typical Shanghai,” Greg remarked, though you could say the same of many cities, including Taipei. I bought a green apple-flavored Kirin to drink as we walked. It was delicious.

“You know why we’re down here and you’re on that bus?” Greg shouted at a passing busload of Western tourists, who gaped at him. “It’s because we SPEAK CHINESE and YOU DON’T! Whatever you do, STAY ON THE BUS!” Greg’s a fun drunk.

The city hall area is host to enormous old department stores, and everything is lit up. Photographers lined up to take pictures of the neon streets, but I didn’t join in. I didn’t bring my telephoto lens, for one thing, and it also just seemed like a hackneyed shot.

We continued west and came across another “Yonghe Da Wang” that was just about to close, so we ate there until they closed and then caught a taxi. Unfortunately, the cabbie didn’t know anything about Shanghai, so we caught another, driving past more luxury high-rises on our way back to Zhongshan Park.

posted by Poagao at 5:06 am  

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