Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 10 2006

Monday was another day full of roaming around Shan…

Monday was another day full of roaming around Shanghai. Greg and I took the metro to the Xuhui District, in search of the old foreign concessions area. Lunch was a Chinese-style shredded-beef hamburger from a stall underneath the station, which I took on the train to let it cool down. Just as the doors were closing, a group of men attempted to board the train, leaving one of their number behind laughing, waving and pointing towards the next stop on the platform.

The train was pretty nice, and I can see now that there is a variety of trains here, some just as nice and new as the ones in Taipei.

We walked up the tree-lined Huaihai Road until we saw large Western-style mansions set back from the road in complexes. Since the gates were open, we went in to take a look. Many were being rennovated, and nice cars sat out front. Shouting came suddenly from the scaffolding of one of the buildings as a senior construction worker climbed up and grabbed the paint roller of another worker, shouting at him that he was “painting it wrong.”

We walked on. Some of the buildings looked like they came out of the 1910’s and 20’s, while others were clearly of art-deco descent. Rarely did I see the “window cages” that are so ubiquitous and damningly ugly in Taipei. In fact, Shanghai’s asthetic sense is leaps and bounds ahead that of Taipei in most respects. That might just be something the current population inherited from the city’s history, a history Taipei never had apart from the Japanese influence, but it makes the city seem grounded in a way Taipei can’t quite match.

It was encouraging that so much rennovation was going on, with hardly any signs of old buildings being torn down in the area. Greg and I walked into one courtyard to examine an elaborate older residence and immediately heard murmurs of “What are those foreigners doing here?” fromm the people standing about. I singled out an old gentleman in the courtyard and asked him about the house. “It’s really nice, I like the design.”

“No it’s not. It’s terrible!” he replied.

“Who built it and when?”

“Guess!” He said fiercely. It was obvious he wasn’t enjoying our conversation, but I pressed on.

“I dunno, uh, English?”

“No! Of course not! How could you guess English?” There was an awkward pause.

“Well, uh…”

“It’s French, stupid! Look at the columns!”

He went on to tell me it was almost a hundred years old and that 22 families lived inside. I had a hard time understanding his accent and had to repeat my questions to make myself understood. He guessed my age pretty accurately but wouldn’t believe that I was from Taiwan until I showed him my Taiwan travel document.

We continued up the streets looking at the architecture, passing the old Italian consulate. “I bet there were some nice meals there,” I said. At one point we passed a tall grey stone building on a corner with interesting curves and huge windows. Despite the ornate exterior, underwear and bras hung out the windows. I wondered how many families lived inside.

It was getting dark and we were getting tired and thirsty, so we stopped into a Mister Donut and marvelled at the “Multi-flavored Mister Hot Dog,” which was apparently a chocolate-covered corn dog. As we ate, a man walked in and picked one up. “Look, someone’s actually going to eat one!” I said to Greg, but the man heard and paused before continuing his shopping.

Lennet was off work so we walked up Maoming Road, which is lined with art shops and cafes. My hands were sticky from the donuts so I washed them in a conveniently located arty pool in front of one of the galleries.

As we approached Nanjing Road, the street was lined with recently renovated old split-level houses, and when we went up to Lennet’s office, I saw that they stretched for blocks, with no apparent destruction going on. Lennet said that only the walls along the street had been renovated.

We went to a DVD store that just about anything you could want, all in cheap plastic wrappers, and I picked up a couple of Sergio Leone flicks including A Fistful of Dynamite.

Lennet knew of a Japanese restaurant nearby where he said he often ate. The staff of the kitchen shouted their welcome from the kitchen below as we climbed up rickety wooden stairs.

Inside, a group of Japanese chatted drunkenly in the corner. Halfway through our meal (which was delicious), a couple of them dragged a semi-conscious man to their table and spread him out on the bench. As we ate, I could hear his slurred protests as Greg and Lennet, who were facing that direction, winced. I turned around to see that the Japanese were poking their drunk friend with chopsticks and laughing.

Later in our meal, the drunk began making gurgling noises and coughing. His friends tried to pick him up, and failed. They ended up dragging him by the hands over the stairway, leaving a trail of vomit on the wood floor. They then dragged him down the stairs, the loud thumping of him hitting each step on the way causing us all to wince as the staff rushed to clean up the mess.

We called up John and arranged to meet him at a lounge restaurant called “Arch”. On the way we discussed our favorite rappers. I put in my vote for Ice Cube and Method Man as my picks, based, I admit, on their looks and attitude as much as their music. As the taxi drew near, I saw that the place was located in the very stone building on the corner that we had admired earlier in the day. John was sitting inside reading as we entered. The place was cool, very low-key, with a mix of Chinese and foreigners. We ordered wine. Behind us, in the corner, a Chinese woman had wrapped herself around a guy, exposing various parts of herself as she did so, and made comments in a whiny, cutsy fashion that grated on my ears. Whiny Woman in Love! Gah.

So ended our day. Greg went out after we got back to Zhongshan Park, getting lost and coming back in the wee hours. I got a call from Ah-bu in Taipei telling me he’s going to be in Shanghai tomorrow. Unfortunately, I’m taking the train tonight from Shanghai to Beijing. I have no idea where I’ll be staying or what I’ll be doing there.

I’ve enjoyed Shanghai quite a lot. It’s modern enough, feels more or less international, yet is still properly rooted in its interesting history, even though the large-scale destruction of certain neighborhoods is depressing. Besides talking to random strangers on the street, I haven’t gotten to know the people very well, though. That’s something I’ll have to work on more during my next trip here.

See you in Beijing.

posted by Poagao at 3:54 am  


  1. Wow, I think that’s about as positive a review as Shanghai can hope to expect.

    Next time you come you can meet my wife, a ???.

    Enjoy Beijing!

    Comment by John — October 11, 2006 @ 2:03 pm

  2. “He guessed my age pretty accurately but wouldn’t believe that I was from Taiwan until I showed him my Taiwan travel document.”

    Oh, yeah! It looks like Jim’s not the only guy with a card! I hope it serves you well in getting into a hostel in Beijing.

    BTW, did you meet John’s Ayi?

    Comment by Mark — October 12, 2006 @ 5:22 am

  3. Only briefly, I didn’t have the pleasure of eating there though.

    Comment by TC — October 12, 2006 @ 5:24 am

  4. Oh, that’s too bad. She can cook a mean bowl of fish… er chicken. Whatever it was, it was good.

    Comment by Mark — November 3, 2006 @ 3:06 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment