Sunday, June 28, 2009

From the Roof of the Post Office

The International Post Office is the Volvo of Shanghai's colonial architecture: boxy but good. While it's actually a very large and well-known building, on the corner of Sichuan Lu and the Suzhou River, just about every single picture of it focuses on one particularly attractive corner, with a clock and some bronze statues:

Not so long ago I blogged about the street it's on, Sichuan Lu, and I've had a number of posts about the area. Suffice it to say that the post office is in an interesting area and on an interesting street, and while the Postal Museum may not in itself be a highlight to Shanghai, it's definitely worth making the Museum part of a larger wandering. I'd also like to give special credit to Delongguan Xiaolongbao. While this branch of the chain lacks much class, it's truly excellent xiaolongbao, and just a few minute's walk away. It's also interesting walking around all the older buildings and seeing the occasional river traffic, with the Post Office on the far right:

I won't go into much detail about the Museum itself. It's located one floor up and it's crazy extensive. I'm no stamp collector, but there were a couple interesting bits: a short take on the very early history of delivered messages, from thousands of years ago, and then a collection of Communist era stamps. They often looked like Chinese Propaganda Posters, only done in miniature. However a whole lot of the museum was given to old Postmasters or 1930s company tennis teams or what have you. Anyway it's all free and the boring bits are quite skippable. At the end strangely enough there's even an old railroad car and suspended propeller plane.

The best part is that after the museum, there's an elevator to the rooftop terrace. There's actually not much to the rooftop itself, except for some astroturf and a number of the worst Engrish signs in Shanghai, all collected in one place:

There's a beautiful sweeping view over both the Bund and Lujiazui. The pollution when I took this picture turned the distance into some kind of watercolor:

While it's also possible to turn and look over at Sichuan Lu and a more typical slice of Shanghai:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum

The Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum is another tourist-oriented place that I think is worth dropping by, even for those who live in this fair city. It's located on 79 Fenyang Lu & Taiyuan Lu, which is near-ish to the Changshu Lu subway station. It's in a pleasant area with a lot of musical instrument stores nearby. The building and grounds are themselves very pleasant - it's a large mansion originally built in 1905 for a French government official, and it sort of resembles a miniature White House:

Really it's a small complex of buildings, and I gather it acts as some government-sponsored master class for teachers and apprentices of traditional Chinese handicrafts. Most of the mansion is dedicated towards display rooms, where these arts are shown. It's mostly what one would expect, for example a number of examples of carved jade:

There's also carved wood, and to honest I found those examples much more impressive, some of them were unbelievably finely detailed. This wasn't the most impressive example, but it's always fun to see artwork featuring angry proletariat:

I think I've put off talking about one big negative to the whole place too long: it doubled as a well-done shopping center. A lot of the art had price tags attached, and there was a huge gift store downstairs. That said, it was easy to ignore the price tags, there was absolutely no pressure to buy anything, and really it seemed like a good if not-cheap place to buy those kind of handicrafts. It certainly didn't have the feel of one of the (too many) places where they take tour groups and try to hustle them into buying corny souvenirs.

Moving on, there were many other varieties of Chinese handicrafts, they didn't get as large displays but they were also interesting. One favorite was Gu embroidery, where the artist takes a transparent gauze and then "paints" a scene onto the gauze using extremely fine silk threads. This isn't the best photograph, but the best examples shined with a beautiful sheen to them:

Another examples is figurines made out of dough. Actually there was also an artist there working on these when I visited, it was fascinating seeing someone work with what's essentially playdough to make actual art:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Visiting Sichuan: Leshan & Jiajiang

I've long wanted to visit Sichuan, if for no other reason than because I have a number of friends from the area, and they kept talking it up! I ended up making a very quick trip out, and while I wasn't entirely impressed I'll start out on a high note by talking about some carved Buddhas.

OK that maybe sound horribly boring, especially if you happen to not be me, but the Leshan seated Buddha gets a special pass for being two hundred fifty feet high - the largest Buddha in the world, ever since the Taliban blew up the standing Buddhas carved out of a cliff-side, not so long ago. It really is an impressive sight, especially as one can walk right up to and alongside the Buddha, which also happens to show the sense of scale. Those people on the far side look tiny!

One doesn't just walk around up top, there's also a thin path down, right alongside the Buddha. When I went it was pleasant except for a heavy fog (which is on par for Sichuan), but I've heard it can get horrifically crowded, and there were even Disneyland-style barriers set up, so the lines would have to snake left and right. I could just skip right past them. Anyway it's interesting to go down the cliff, there's all sorts of different views. The Buddha faces a river, and it's also possible to get a view from a boat or a nearby sand bar.

Leshan is a couple hours away from Chengdu, and it's a no-horse town where I get the idea you just have a look at the Buddha and then go on somewhere else. Jiajiang is much the same, only worse. Jiajiang's one claim to fame, for a tourist anyway, is the Thousand Buddha cliffs. That said, all the Buddhas are pretty impressive. Therels really hundreds, or perhaps even a literal thousand Buddas tucked away:

The site was probably a lot more impressive forty or fifty years ago, before the Cultural Revolution came to town. About half the Buddhas had their head knocked of, and I wouldn't be surprised if their were other Buddhas that were destroyed altogether:

Additionally, these Buddhas were really all there were to the area. OK, I don't want to complain too much. If the site was located in Shanghai, it would be a must-visit. On the other hand, Jiajiang itself is out of the way, and then from Jiajiang Bus Station it was a weird local bus ride, where after driving a few blocks, everybody got out of the bus and walked a couple blocks over and changed buses. I'd recommend a taxi, on the other hand it's probably impossible to catch a taxi from the cliffs, so it's best to hire one - no idea how much that should cost. Additionally, although Jiajiang tries to play up the whole cliffs area as a sprawling tourist area, really the cliffs is it. I have nothing more to say so I'll end this with a picture of a flower my sister took:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon Boat Racing, like restaurants putting Soy Sauce on every table, is one of those things that I just assumed would be big in China until I actually arrived here. It figures into plenty Hong Kong movies, and in Oakland they had a pretty big annual competition near my apartment, here's a picture:

In Shanghai, people are aware of Dragon Boat festival, but it's not a big deal at all. It's much more popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Perhaps because of the history: Dragon Boat Racing is associated with the traditional Duanwu Festival, on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, and the holiday was suppressed for many years by the PRC, because of its feudal history I guess. It wasn't until 2007 that it became an official holiday again.

So even if it isn't all the big of a deal, it is a colorful sight to watch. The dragon racing I saw was on the Suzhou River, very near Zhongtan Station.

Actually while the grounds to the side were small, they were extremely crowded with onlookers. It was a bright sunny day, a lot of women were carrying umbrellas to beat off the sun:

Just the tiniest bit more on the holiday: it's a traditional holiday, that's now generally associated with Qu Yuan, a poet from 2300 years ago, although the holiday predates Qu Yuan. People also eat zongzi, a rice ball very strangely depicted to the right, and drink a special alcohol, all supposedly in remembrance of Qu Yuan. Even with my limited knowledge of Chinese poetry, I knew Qu Yuan through a Jack Kerouac poem I like: "O Chu Yuan! No!/No suicide! Wine please wine!"

In addition to international teams, there were teams from local school and universities. I'm not a dragon boat festival expert, but I found it was kind of disappointing that the dragon boats were all the same, and kind of ugly. I thought one of the parts of dragon boat festival was making the boat looking all distinctive and cool!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chinese Acrobatics Show

My sister visited Shanghai not so long ago, and it was a nice opportunity to play tour-guide. I ended up going to some places that I've long wanted to visit, but hadn't yet been able to rationalize a reason. I'll have a few relevant updates about these places, the first will be the Shanghai Acrobatics shows.

There's different acrobatic shows, but I went to the one on 57 Maoming Lu. It's a convenient location, very near the Huangpi Lu subway station, and right near Jinxian Lu, which has a number of restaurants that, while not upscale, vie for being the very best in Shanghai. It all takes place in a fancy old re-purposed movie theater, with a 1930s ambiance:

The show is one crazy stunt after the next crazy stunt. Some of the stunts involved people who were just amazingly flexible, to the point it was a little difficult to watch them. I couldn't stop thinking how much pain I would be in if I even tried those kind of moves:

And there were also freakish examples of balance. This lady later climbed up onto a see-saw and started swinging around, with these glasses still piled on:

Speaking of see-saws, there were the stunts where people get thrown into the air, flip around three times, and then land on someone's shoulders:

And finally, an insane balancing act of women doing handstands on chairs while balancing themselves on other women doing handstands on chairs. The safety lines took away from the sense of danger, but it would have been insane not to use them:

Much as with gymnastics, these acrobatics are impressive enough on television, but are mouth-dropping crazy to see up-close and in real life. I'll stress on the up-close. The Lanxin Theater isn't all that large, but you don't want to be in the balcony, and I'd say try to be in the first five rows or so, or don't bother going! There's a second ticket box office near the American Center on 1376 Nanjing Road, between Jing'an Station and Nanjing West Station. The actual show is daily from seven thirty until nine.

The cheap tickets are around a hundred kuai, and the good tickets are twice that. A bit much, but as far as it goes for things that only tourists do, it's cheaper and more fun than M on the Bund!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Holiday in Cambodia: More pictures of Angkor Wat

To go back a little bit, I earlier posted updates about Cambodia, a country which isn’t terribly expensive to get to and which has direct flights from Shanghai and which is totally amazing and which basically everyone should visit.

However, my visit to the Angkor Wat temple complex was touched by truly terrible weather. For all but a few hours, it was dark dark dark and grey. The pictures from my digital camera just weren’t up to snuff. I finally got the negatives from my film camera digitized, and I was happier with those pictures. So, I’ll take this opportunity to post a few more pictures from Siem Reap and the area around Angkor Wat.

I encourage everyone to hop into the nearest jet and fly right over!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Shanghai Botanical Garden

I recently went to the Shanghai Botanical Gardens with a local photography club. Although we went in terrible weather, I ended up finding it very, yes, picturesque. There were indeed a whole lot of flowers, and in general it was a nice park grounds.

I don't have a macro lens or extension tube that would allow real close-ups (although I've resolved to get one,) but I’ll quickly show a few photographs of the many flowers there:

The park is in the far south of the City, but it’s not terribly inconvenient: take the #3 line south, all the way down to Shilong Lu Station, which is one station before it comes to an end. From there, walk about five minutes south down Dongquan Lu, to the Park’s North Gate. It’s 15 kuai to get in. There’s also a more expensive ticket that grants entrance to special exhibits inside, but it makes more sense to just pay at the exhibit gate – the park is so large, I can’t imagine also going to all the special exhibits.

Although the grounds just go on and on, I thought the most impressive display of flowers was right at the north Entrance. There were also playgrounds for the kiddies, small bamboo forests, an atrium, Chinese-y pavilions that were popular with wedding photographers, and small ponds. The ponds were interesting, because people were out in force, fishing for crawfish!

Crawfish season is probably over by now, but it was crazy how it works. It was generally done as a two person job. The first person would hold chicken intestines from a rope on a stick into the water – and it was always chicken intestine, maybe that’s the cheapest meat, maybe it just stays on the line the best? The crawfish go after the meat, and a second person comes with a net and snags them. Although the fishing spots seemed over-crowded, some people were sporting huge bags of crawfish.

For those with an interest in hunting crawfish, my friend later told me, a better technique is just to use a flashlight at night, crawfish are attracted to the light. Fortunately for the crawfish, the park officially closes at 5:30, although the guards seem pretty relaxed about getting people out by then.

Back Like Disco

Blogger and Blogspot are still blocked in China - I guess Blogspot's long history of initiating riots is being held against it? Anyway I finally broke down and got myself a proxy, so expect to have updates coming soon, hopefully later today. I'll try to get back on a regular schedule.

I'm still contemplating getting a separate host for the blog, like hostgator. I hesitate, because I'm pretty much 100% happy with the blogspot software, and converting the blog over would be a huge time-waster, and ha ha I don't want to spend the money! But of course this is a China blog, and if it can't be accessed in China...

Finally, I'll probably roll out a separate blog about modern Chinese literature, in the next couple weeks.