We decided to spend the waning hours of Friday afternoon wandering around the Bund and the Old City. Had a notion that it would be fun to try and get some shots of the Pudong skyline by day, kill some time and then return for the same shots once the lights were turned on. So we caught a cab and headed downtown. The doorman found my pronunciation of “Bund” as “Boond” mildly amusing, judging from his unrestrained laughter. I asked how to say it in Chinese and decided from now on it would be Wen Hai.
The traffic was miserable but we made reasonable time. We arrived, headed up the stairs and strolled along the promenade, the day being clear and a bit breezy. For the first time in my visits, the air was clear enough to get some decent shots. The Huangpu was busy with barges, tugs and river cruise boats. Pudong shimmered across the river.
Moving along, we crossed over to a park and into the Old City. This is by far my favorite part of town despite the tourists in the chintzy Yuyuan Gardens shopping district and the incessant offers of “watch? bag? t-shirt? sexy massage?” It’s just plain fun to wander up and down the streets and occasionally duck off into one of the alleys which serve as the center of life in this district. I direct my traveling companions down a pretty long and serpentine one this time, it went on for quite a bit, long enough that I was beginning to wonder if and where it was going to come out. Elderly women say on milk crate chatting and smiling at me as I passed. Once in a while you’d pass a door where someone was preparing dinner or a group was playing a game of dominoes. It’s just nice to immerse yourself momentarily in a different way of life.
Looking at my map, I discovered an interesting side trip, one which I had not seen before. The Shanghai Bird, Insect and Flower Market. Figuring this one was too good to pass up, we left the center part of the Old City and headed across a couple of blocks.
The building made itself known from a distance by its appearance – a rambling shambles of multi-level planes of corrugated steel and plastic. The flowers were out along the sidewalk and offered a pleasant panorama. Hunting for the way in, I found a narrow, crowded passage that went into the dark interior.
Here I found things I’ve never seen. Wild songbirds were loaded one to a box and packed ten to twenty cages high on table tops. The same birds I see singing in their cages in the parks in the morning. Parrots, Lovebirds and Budgies crammed twenty or more to a cage jostled for a chance to pull themselves up on the bars. Mynas, luckily alone in their little prisons sat nobly with their heads cocked high.
Moving into the place, the smell rose up to greet me. Not terribly unpleasant, but sort of sickly sweet and not something normal to my senses. Chickens ran wild on the floor. More and more caged birds finally giving way to tanks crammed with all manner of goldfish and carp lining all the walls. Some tables held antiquities for sale. Others tiny cages filled with large beetles and crickets. The occasional flower stall brightened the otherwise dark interior. Puppies and kittens lying languidly in small cages filled the remaining stalls. It was feast and a horror, simultaneously. Something I hated to see but would not have missed for the life of me.
It was now approaching dusk and our goal of night time photos held firm. So we decided to head over to Xintiandi for a beer and perhaps dinner, to wait out the rest of the sunlight and to serve as a central base for the next phase of the day.
Xintiandi is a small shopping district that was formerly a neighborhood of tenements called Shikumen. The area was rehabilitated by American architect Benjamin Wood about 5 years ago and it has evolved into a very upscale hangout for westerners and well to do Chinese. Wood was known previously for his design of Quincy Market in Boston.
You can read about it here: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/26/051226crsk_skyline
It’s a great place if you can get past the trendiness. Not particularly Shanghai, but very international. We decided to eat a Paulener, the Bavarian brewhouse on the premises.
There is nothing better than a couple slices of Schnitzel served on a bed of french fries to return one’s vigor. Follow that up with a chocolate terrine and you’re ready to cover another 15 miles on foot. As we were finishing our meals, the entertainment took the stage. Two Southeast Asian women in black began to belt out standards in their tiny voices accompanied by recorded music played by a Chinese DJ at the back of the stage. As I stood and pulled on my coat, I made eye contact with one of them and mouthed the concluding words to the verse of the song she was carrying. Could anything be more special than doing a duet on “As Time Goes By” with a Malay woman in a halter top singing in a German beerhall in coastal China?