the (once vibrant) jing’an villa

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Jing’an Villa is a historic lilong (or nongtang) neighborhood in Shanghai, accessed from West Nanjing Road and Weihai Road. And apparently I am truly a horrible, horrible architect because I had no idea this place existed, let alone off a street I walk down frequently. I mean seriously, I’ve passed the entry gate a zillion times and was never even curious as to what was behind it.  Apparently this place used to be a pretty bustling little artsy place, sort of what Xintiandi and Tianzifang started as, that ideal mixture of historic charm, hip shops, and cafés. And all that is no more. Apparently a lot of the shops were illegally constructed or being run illegally so the local government had everything torn down last year. And I never got to see it! Sad.

It’s still interesting as an example of historic architecture, but it’s sad that kind of ‘young’ life is no longer there. Yes, architecture is part of one’s cultural heritage and it should be protected and laws should be followed. But to what degree? Is keeping it pristine and off-limits the best way? Putting something in a museum is great to make sure it’s protected, but it also removes it from the present, from the people, from the living culture. It sticks it behind a pane of glass and says: Don’t touch. This belongs to the past, not to you. I think there are too many HPers (historic preservationists) who treat architecture like some fragile artifact. In general, architecture is part of a community. It’s not an art object, it’s a functional habitat/shelter/home and should be allowed to adapt and evolve with society (within reason of course). The best way to encourage appreciation for heritage is to integrate it into your life, not segregate it out of fear. The question is where to strike that balance … because as we all know from Xintiandi and Tianzifang, too much money and hype easily squeeze out all the culture.

night lights from the overpass

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Architecturally speaking, sites of government and worship are often placed on higher elevations (atop hills) because of our societal connotations of height with power and oversight. This picture looks south from the pedestrian overpass that crosses Yan’an Road, which is a major road that runs east-west through basically all of Shanghai. I love walking on it because, a) it’s the easiest way to cross into Xuhui, b) it offers a nice view, c) I love when cities consider pedestrian circulation, and d) it’s a weird power trip to walk over the cars below. Especially when the weather’s nice and the lights aren’t murked out by hazy skies.

Shanghai at night is quite peaceful, because unlike cities like New York, Shanghai closes pretty early with most restaurants closing around 9 and the subway done by 11ish. The main exceptions would be the Bund area and the former French Concession. For all intents and purposes, Yan’an Road can be considered the dividing line between the more business and residential Jing’an to the north and expat- and restaurant-heavy Xuhui to the south (part of Jing’an is south of Yan’an … but whatever). This follows the historical lines between the International Settlement of which Jing’an is a part and the French Concession, now part of Xuhui. I’m completely oversimplifying this, but let’s just say that I’ve crossed this overpass many times and often at night – either on my way to dinner or on my way back.

museum of china in america

The Museum of China in America (MOCA) is located in the Chinatown section of downtown Manhattan. Yay Chinatown! One of my favorite places in this city! It’s located at 215 Centre, which isn’t really the heart of Chinatown, because the heart of Chinatown is already occupied by grocery stores and restaurants.

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Inside, the main exhibit is kind of a homey feeling history gallery, which is separated into small rooms. The lighting is pretty dim and I guess they were going for the ‘experience’ setup as opposed to the ‘gallery’ setup. A lot of the content I was unfamiliar with since I only know my family’s particular history, so I found it quite educating. I especially enjoyed watching the oral history videos.

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Next to the main permanent exhibit was a temporary gallery space. The exhibit up right now (until February 24) is actually two linked exhibits, “Marvels and Monsters” and “Alt.Comics,” which are both about Asian-Americans and comics. I actually found it really interesting and I liked the exhibition design, which incorporated aspects of comic book design. This space was much more of a typical ‘gallery’ feel – nicely lit, white walls. My only quibble is with the installation of the exhibit because some of the wall text was peeling and overall it just lacked some finesse.

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It’s a pretty small museum but it’s a good one to visit if you have any interest at all in the Chinese-American experience. MOCA has free admission on Fridays, which is great because even though it was a nice visit, I don’t think I would’ve been willing to pay full admission price considering how small the place is. In April they’re going to have an exhibit about fashion which looks to be interesting. But definitely try and go while the comics exhibit is still up!

panorama of the city of new york

Today I was in Queens. Eh, not my favorite borough of New York, but it was a good change of scenery. It’s amazing how open and full of space Queens is … really does not feel like the New York I’m used to. I went to the Queens Museum of Art, where there’s this gigantic architectural model of the city of New York. It’s massive. And it’s pretty cool. It was constructed by Robert Moses for the New York World’s Fair held in 1964-1965 and is updated to 1992, but that’s still pretty old school. I wouldn’t call it particularly beautiful, but the sheer scale of it is just amazing.

Unfortunately the rest of the museum collection seemed pretty lacking. The museum itself wasn’t very easy to get to either since you have to trek through Corona Park, which on a normal day might not be so bad … but today it was kinda rainy and yucky. Overall it was an okay experience and great to see the panorama … but it’s not a trip I’m likely to repeat.

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back from boston

A few days ago I took a trip to Boston with roomie D and it was a doozy. Boston was fun, but it’s nice to be back in the city. Anyway, there were a whole host of tourist attractions that had to be seen, so we definitely did the Freedom Trail and saw all those places. One of the places I was most excited to see was the Old North Church, where two lanterns were hung to warn the patriots of the British troops’ arrival by sea (“One if by land, and two if by sea”). Ah yes, the American Revolution was always my favorite war to study in school. The picture is of a chandelier hanging in the church.

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