Travel to China: Shanghai Checkup(2012)
Stout souls may take nonstop flights from North America to Shanghai, then with no more than a security check transit to a domestic flight. Splendid sphincter control. Others will take a day to de-numb their glutes, which means hitting the gym or walking around the city to see what's new. That's the story here, from one day in January, 2012.
Not Mao's China; we start with the reburbished Shanghai Club.
Here, facing the Bund, is the building from the outside. Pelham Warren, the British consul at the time, opened the club in 1911. Today it's another fancy hotel, with a French restaurant called Pelham's. The cheek! The insolence!
A minute's walk away is the Gutzlaff Signal Tower, built in 1908 and more or less at the boundary between the British and French concessions. The tower announced noon and, more important, told ships along the river of impending typhoons.
The view across the Huangpu must now rank as one of the ten most famous skylines in the world. Which, presumably, is exactly what the Chinese intended. The three tallest are, from the left, the twin towers of the International Finance Center, the ziggaratty Jin Mao ("Golden Prosperity") Tower, and the hole-in-the-head World Financial Center. In front of them are the Shangri-la Hotel (including towers with the V-shaped roofline and the waterside building in front of it) and the Mirae Asset, Aurora, and Citigroup buildings. Don't they look like just like the petrified versions of Tony, Momo, and Benny--overcoats, fedoras and all?
The view downstream and along the Bund, which must have one of the widest sidewalks in the world. Familiar faces: the Custom House, with the clock, the green-pyramid of Sassoon's Cathay Hotel (later the Peace Hotel and more recently the Peace Fairmont), and at the far right the twin towers of the Hyatt hotel.
Half a mile downstream, the Garden Bridge crosses Suzhou Creek. (The garden is long gone.) The first three buildings on the left are the Broadway Mansions hotel, the lower and older Astor House hotel, and the Russian consulate, straight out of a colonial pattern book. The building on the right used to be the Shanghai Rowing Club, and it sure looks as if an old swimming pool has been filled in.
The British Consulate across the street. Openec in the 1970s, it had an on-again, off-again existence until it was finally closed during the Cultural Revolution. For decades after, it was left to moulder, but it's now part of the Peninsula Hotel property and has been tidied up.
So has the former Union Church, a Protestant church bordering the creek. The church was confiscated in the 1950s and made into offices. Later it was almost demolished before being converted to apartments. The spire is entirely new.
Across the creek is the old General Post Office, from 1924 but 2003 converted to a postal museum.
Looks like the messenger of the gods up there on the left, no? Better than air mail.
Nearby, the former Capital Theater, which also was an office building with Socony among its tenants.
The dome of the theater lobby.
Drifting south, away from the creek and a block back from the river: Yuanmingyuan Road, with sober office blocks.
Might be Liverpool, except for the Oriental Pearl Tower at the back and perhaps the excessive tidiness of the street.
What do you think this is?
We can step inside.
Here's the same building seen from the Bund. It's home of the Roosevelt China Investments Corporation. Go back a bit and it was the Foreign Trade Building; farther still, it housed Jardine Matheson, a company founded on the export of opium to China. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, Jardine in 1830 wrote that opium was "the safest and most gentlemanlike speculation I am aware of." Funny how money washes away every sin.
A few blocks to the south, the Metropole Hotel was another investment of David Sassoon, who already owned the Cathay Hotel. The Metropole has a twin, Hamilton House, which is at the far right.
You're not impressed by the China Mutual Life Assurance Building from 1910? Step inside.
The foyer floor.
Oh my goodness. This is the Westin Hotel, and just a few years ago the sign read Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Shanghai. Perhaps the dealer needed more floor space.
The Anglican Holy Trinity Cathedral, cathedral of the Diocese of North China, was built in the 1860s to a design by the eminent George Gilbert Scott. Confiscated after 1949, then abandoned, "the red church" was restored and reopened in 2011.
We'll head west along Nanjing Road.
The China United Apartments, built (as if you couldn't guess) by an insurance company and ubsequently onverted to the Pacific Hotel.
The Marvel Shanghai Hotel, formerly a YMCA.
Shanghai had several YMCA's, including one for Chinese, one for Japanese, one for the military, and this, for "foreigners." The building now houses the Shanghai Sports Administration.
The Grand Theater and, behind it, the forbiddingly gloomy Park Hotel. If you thought the Radisson hotel chain was Canadian, you're obviously wrong. It's extra-terrestrial. Can you hear the low organ notes when it's communicative?
A closer look at the Grand Theater, from about 1930 and still running. Great graphics.
A closer look at the Park Hotel and YMCA. The architect of the hotel, the Hungarian László Hudec, also did the Grand Theater.
The tower of the nearby racecourse clubhouse, 1933.
The clubhouse itself, reminiscent of the Piccadilly Hotel, London.
Paul French suggests that Burkill was the wife of Sidney Burkill, a businessman who operated a chemicals, dyes, and pharmaceuticals company. A. R. Burkill still exists in Hong Kong.
What's happening at Xintiandi, that alternative to highrise jails? We're just about there but can't resist this corner. It's the color. It makes credit cards twitch. If you don't grab them they'll float away like butterflies.
Deep conversion as Xintiandi repurposes worker's housing. (I get ten dollars every time I use that word.)
Not yet repurposed. Kaching!
Night falls over Pudong. What is it with colored lights?
Come morning, the skyline looks hungover.
The Bund at night. More colored lights.
Feel the need for something Chinese? Feeling steamrolled by the Western World? Let's run over to to the Yuyuan Gardens.
You think I tricked you? It was purely accidental; I only pointed the camera.
Inside the gardens, which are really packed, about as paved and rocky as a garden can be. Plenty of Japanese gardens in Kyoto occupy fewer square meters, but they feel much more spacious.
Careful you don't take a careless step.
Just outside, housing of two generations. Go through the gate?
China, much closer to the truth of daily life than anything suggested in the Yuyuan Garden.
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