Shanghai Sunday

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We had known all along that we would join an architecture tour of the French Concession on Sunday morning, but it didn’t start until 10am so we got to spend a lazy few hours before hand eating the remainder of the melon Alison bought on Thursday, reading guide books, discussing possibilities for the afternoon, and enjoying the light gathering outside our windows.

The trip was organized by and a benefit for the Historic Shanghai association and would be led by our friend Patrick. There was such a crowd, however, that we split into two with Tina leading the second group (where we wound up). The first thing we looked at was a manhole cover with french words stamped into it — apparently a good bit of the original infrastructure still exists and is functional. The most distinctive architecture that remains from pre-1949 are some exceptional art deco houses and buildings, and Tina provided loads of stories about the architects that designed them, the families that paid for them and lived in them, and the current uses the People’s government has assigned to them.

lebronAfter the two hour tour, Eric split for a pre-arranged brunch with friends-of-friends, and Alison and I returned to the apartment to rest our feet for a bit. Then Alison left to join Eric for some art exploration, and I took off on some reconnaissance of my own. We agreed to meet on Nanxing Rd. (linking The Bund with the People’s Square), which has been transformed into a M E G A glitzy pedestrian mall at dusk. That was crazy: millions of blinking lights around hundreds of decorated store windows; loud audio “demonstrations” urging us to admire their products; thousands of people walking up and down the road along with many people aggressively wanting to hook you up with a good fake Rolex, or some fake Samsonite luggage, or something else fake of your choice. Instead of pulling up their sleeve to display ten watches, they all carried what amounted to a catalog of fake luxury items on a double-sided full color brochure. “You want a nice watch? Good price!” Whereupon they pointed to a watch among fifteen other items on the catalog page. Every sales person had the same catalog page — even the ones hanging out across town in front of the park near our apartment. I assume that they front for a store, and should we be interested, they would drag us back to the store whereupon they collect a commission, either when we arrive or when we buy something. I never did test my assumption.

Instead we walked along with everyone else, drifting through the commercial haze like tiny motes of dust in the path of a spotlight.

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