Shanghai : Taking it easy with Me, Myself and Shanghai

Shanghai Travel Blog

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The fab AND FREE Shanghai Museum

Man, do my legs hurt today!  Strained thighs.  It’s gonna be agony climbing up and down stairs for the next couple of days that’s for sure.  Walking not as comfortable as it should be.  So maybe it’s a good thing that I’m I Shanghai.  Some days to kill.  Not too many activities. Not too many thrills.  Before I leave these shores.  The furthest East I have ever yet been.  To loop back all the way to Cyprus.  Happy to take it easy now.  To let it all, all near 9 months of it, start to sink in.  Happy, for a change, to be in a big city.  Shanghai, the erstwhile ‘Whore of the Orient’.   For whatever previous incarnations she has had, whatever forms of excess previously indulged and catered for she now revels in the no less morally dubious excesses of modernity and money ( and the rest too I guess?).

Sitting Biddha, Shanghai Museum
  It’s an ultra modern, ultra efficient, ultra-convenient place for Stevie to just click the big ‘Shut Down’ button in his brain and start to decompress with all mod cons and comforts close to hand.

Everything about Shanghai is about finance and the future.  The former the coals constantly being heaped into the insatiably-hungry, all consuming engine that feeds the pursuit of the latter.  If China’s economy is a red-eyed, muscular glistening-bodied medieval warhorse, snorting and grunting with its renewed vigour; its relentless efforts to charge down the rest of the world and the 21st Century then Shanghai is it’s glistening, point-sharpened jousting lance.  The vertiginous glistening steel and glass composition of the city’s skyline is a far, far cry from the many villages and ’ancient’ townships I started my time in China visiting.

  I've come a long way.  China's come a long way.  It's going places.  As am I too I guess.

But not today for me.  Not too far anyhows.  Whilst everything about this city denotes pace, progress and restlessness and crushing work ethics ( it is claimed that 40% of Shanghai’s residents suffer from some form of insomnia or other *) and 24 hour energy, Stevie is going to take his last few days in China reeeeal easy.  So I start nice and gentle with a nice long visit to the Shanghai Museum. 

“Hello, you are little!”.  “Why hello.  Yes I am.  Your English is very good, if a little cheeky”.  “Yes you are veeery little.”  “Why yes I am, but I am still bigger than you!”.

'Landscape in Snow' by Lu Hui - made me near enough cry when I first set eyes.
  “Where are you from?!”.  “England”.  “Oh England.  Howdoyoudo?”.  “Ha ha. Good accent.  I am fine, thank you for asking”.  “How old are you?”.  My my he is an inquisitive little chap.  “Sun shi.  Thirty”. THIRTY?!!  I am ten.  Jack is only nine” says my little interrogator placing a hand on his quiet cohort’s shoulder.  “So he’s the baby then”.  “Ha Ha!  Yes, you are the baby Jack! Do you speak Chinese?”.  “No, only a little”.
Carved red lacquer table and chairs, Shanghai Museum (detail)
  “Yes, you are little but do you speak any Chinese?!”.  Jeez.  “No, only a small amount.  Wo Jiao Steve”.  “What’s that?!” Andy (for so’s his name) asks pointing to the Lumix slung perpetually over my shoulder.  “A gun!”.  “A GUN?!!”.  “Yes, a gun for taking shooting with”.  “Oh, a camera?”.  “Yes”.  “Do you like to eat children?”. (?!?)  “Do I like to eat children?!  Why yes, especially cheeky Chinese ones!”.  “AAagh! NO NO.
Skyscrapers and photographer
  Do you like to eat CHICKEN?!”.
 
“Oh, chicken!  Why yes I do”.  “Well I like to eat chicken too.  Jack, he likes to eat KITCHENS! Ha Ha!  He’s the baby”.  Indeed Andy.  Is this queue over yet? **

Shanghai Museum is by far one of the finest museums I have been in since leaving Europe and is a turn up for the books in China in several ways.  Firstly it’s free to enter.  Yep, ya heard me right.  F, R, double E, “FREE!”.  Whoop-di-do!  Secondly it is pleasingly laid out, immaculately presented and labelled and very, very informative as to the details; physical, cultural, historical of the many, many fine items that you have the privilege to see there.

The Jin Mao [left] & World Trade Centre (or 'Bottle Opener') [right] towers in Pudong financial district
  Such a relief to the knowledge starved soul that can be a consequence of over reliance on China's cultural institutions for your mind fodder.

That said, I’m so tired right now, body and mind, that I’m near perpetually in full on Dunce mode.  In one ear or eye ball and out the other kinda thing.  I pass from beautiful ceramic piece to pot to plate to statue and on and on and so on going gooey-eyed at the craftsmanship and delicacy all the way.  But I have to confess that after 6 weeks in China I'm still unable to understand or distinguish or discourse in any context between ya Qinqs, Mings, Other Things, Ping Pongs, Tangs or Yin Yangs.  Sorry!  But it’s all fascinating all the same.  Superb, captivating collections of Chinese stone statuary, bronze work, furniture, jades, seals and such like.

The sky-rocket aesthetic of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower (135 - 150RMB/ $20- $22 to ascend)
  The highlight for me the collection of stunningly beautiful Chinese paintings and calligraphy in book leaves or mounted on large silk-scroll screens.  When the first of these hits my eyes ( ‘Landscape in Snow’ by Lu Hui) tears spring right up my tear ducts to flood the curvatures of my eyes.  Their impact is that profound on me.  And I miss the snow so much.

Leaving the museum I sit down to let my eyes adjust to the brightness.  It hurts to look up and try to focus on the high-streaking kites shaped like birds of prey or aeroplanes that grown men have let out from their gigantic spools to tickle the gentle cloud bellies that are puckering across the early evening sky.  A young girl overcomes her shyness to come sit by me and beg that I help her with a university questionnaire/ survey on tourism, hotels and China.

Huangpu Riverside promenade.
  I’m in that kind of disembodied lackadaisical mood whereby I’ll drift somnolently into just about any task or minor interaction without a care right now.  “Sure, why not”.  I get a little red badge with a yellow star possessed of a smiley face for my troubles.  A young, beaming couple ( “no we’re just close friends” cute gal!) soon accost me here in Renmin (Peoples) Square, apparently on holiday from Henan, apparently wanting to practice their English but it’s evident enough to me - especially after they too enthusiastically encourage me to “come join them” at the Shanghai acrobatics show ( “tickets are only blah blah blah, you can redeem them in up to yackity-smackity.
Golden Arches
..”
) that their show touts of some description.  My phoney-baloney radar’s pretty finely calibrated these days.  I see them again being apparently on holiday and apparently practising their English several more times in the coming days as I skirt across Renmin Square.  Sorry kids, I’m off to the The Bund. 

Well actually not The Bund - the famous strip of old colonial-era architecture banks and finance houses that crouch, nowadays overshadowed by their younger, more virile sky scraping brothers and sisters, along the bend of the Huangpu River - but by Metro to Lujiazui station on the opposite bank of the river and the Easterly Pudong district.  As you emerge from the underground here it’s as if you’ve come up into an intergalactic battle zone.  The massed metallic structures,  the neon signs, The Tripods and space shuttle forms and formations of the iconic (but of questionable architectural taste) Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the Jin Mao Tower and World Trade Financial Center (or ‘The Bottle Opener’ as I like to call it) amongst so many others.

Skyscrapers in the mud.
  The high-value spaces between them subject to fevered ongoing civil engineering and construction projects.  Cranes and scaffolding rigs reaching to try to touch the beautiful peach-pink, mauve and grey-blue sunset that is painting the surfaces of, and rupturing through the clouds above.

A stroll along the Riverside Promenade whilst a fabulous sunset fans down through the colour spectrum into the waters of the Huangu.  It’s turning towards night now.  The lights are turning on.  Shanghai’s becoming bright now.  Tour boats and floating restaurants irridescent with strange orchestrations of neon lights float along the river.  Accompanied by super-sized tankers who’s hulking great forms seem to glide gracefully enough under such soft light and colour as we are lucky to have tonight.

  The old stone buildings of The Bund now under-lit with golden arc lights.  A surreal barge parades up and down this stretch of the river with a mega-scale LCD advertising TV screen upon its deck.  I’m talking the size of two houses here!  People of all generations and couples at all stages of the game of love stroll along.  Stop.  Stare.  Lean against the barriers.  And I stand and stare at all of them.  And at the river.  And the buildings reflected in the shiny grey silt and mud flats of the river flanks.  And I am loving this.  Pudong.  And Shanghai.  And people.  And easy times.  But more of all that on the morrow.

* Report by the Insomnia Studies Institute of the Shanghai Chinese Medicine Hospital (2007) and also alluded to in 'Lonely Planet : Best of Shanghai'

** Aside from the memory and the humour, I include this little interaction with 10 year old Andy as a demonstration of how good the English speaking skills of the younger generations of Chinese are becoming.

Looking across to The Bund.
  A small attempt to counteract the all-pervading (and true enough, though unjustifiable and hypocritical) feeling of negativity that one will occasionally get from my blog and others like it when recounting experiences of 'the language barrier' in China.  The barrier is being broken down as we speak.  Particularly in the more metropolitan, businsess-centred and better moneyed and educated towns and cities on the East anyhow.  To cite Bill Bryson's excellent book on the English language 'Mother Tongue' :  'there are more people learning English in China than there are people in the United States' and that was published nearly 20 years ago, so think where that language thirsty nation stands today.  Below the age of 30(ish) it is enthusiastic and doing quite well I can tell you.
This little squirt of toothpaste is 'Haibo' the officialmascot of the Shanghai 2010 Expo for which the city is feverishly gearing up for. He is EVERYWHERE IN SHANGHAI RIGHT NOW!
  How much of the world's most spoken language (by head of native speaking populations), Mandarin, do you know?

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The fab AND FREE Shanghai Museum
The fab AND FREE Shanghai Museum
Sitting Biddha, Shanghai Museum
Sitting Biddha, Shanghai Museum
Landscape in Snow by Lu Hui - ma…
'Landscape in Snow' by Lu Hui - m…
Carved red lacquer table and chair…
Carved red lacquer table and chai…
Skyscrapers and photographer
Skyscrapers and photographer
The Jin Mao [left] & World Trade C…
The Jin Mao [left] & World Trade …
The sky-rocket aesthetic of the Or…
The sky-rocket aesthetic of the O…
Huangpu Riverside promenade.
Huangpu Riverside promenade.
Golden Arches
Golden Arches
Skyscrapers in the mud.
Skyscrapers in the mud.
Looking across to The Bund.
Looking across to The Bund.
This little squirt of toothpaste i…
This little squirt of toothpaste …
Shanghai Museum, oooold statue
Shanghai Museum, oooold statue
Thousand buddha carving, Shanghai …
Thousand buddha carving, Shanghai…
Chinese bronze cauldron (detail)
Chinese bronze cauldron (detail)
Bronze Moo
'Bronze Moo'
Chinese bronze cauldron (detail)
Chinese bronze cauldron (detail)
delicate white porcelain pot with …
delicate white porcelain pot with…
Stevie Art : bamboo shadow :)
Stevie Art : bamboo shadow :)
National Theatre and hotel skyline…
National Theatre and hotel skylin…
Entrance to the Shanghai Museum
Entrance to the Shanghai Museum
Pudong Abstract.  (the Jin Mao and…
Pudong Abstract. (the Jin Mao an…
Shanghai Pavement (abstract)
Shanghai Pavement (abstract)
Shanghai Skyscraper (abstract)
Shanghai Skyscraper (abstract)
Ceaseless Construction
Ceaseless Construction
Promenade sunset
Promenade sunset
Flood-lit Bund.
Flood-lit Bund.
Advertising screen on boat.
Advertising screen on boat.
Huangpu sunset.
Huangpu sunset.
Neon-lit building (abstract)
Neon-lit building (abstract)
getting ready for lift off! :)
getting ready for lift off! :)
Shanghai
photo by: Chokk