shanghai at night … and bathtubs

I’ve mentioned this before, but I really quite like Shanghai at night. It has a semi-deserted feel to it, but there’s still enough light and movement on the streets that it doesn’t feel calm-before-the-storm you’re-about-to-get-whacked threatening, it just turns into a subdued version of the normally way too stimulated Shanghai.

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Near-empty sidewalks! Near-empty streets! Oh my, is that near-nothingness I hear? It’s so much more quiet and peaceful, even the air seems fresher. Shanghai’s never completely quiet (wait until the Spring Festival for Shanghai to turn into a ghost town), but there’s definitely much less of everything at night, which is greatly appreciated in a city like Shanghai, which is known for being constantly more of everything.

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Oh, but there’s still a lot of crazy. Yep, you still encounter some crazy obstacles at night. Like a bathtub. Weird.

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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.

rain rain go away

This past month or so has been absolutely damp. It’s rained almost every day. Kinda depressing, but acid rain is better than choking air, right? Er … or is it a toss-up? When there’s bad air, everyone is basically forced inside and you start writing your will because you figure you’re going to die soon. When there’s rain, there are umbrellas hitting you in the face left and right and taxis are near impossible to find.

However, rainy days make for some pretty reflections with the wet pavement. Shanghai loves its bright rainbow lights, and while they generally come across as ostentatious and gaudy, they can make an otherwise gloomy day a bit more fun. Take for example the below rainbow-fied East Nanjing Road, one of the main shopping streets in Shanghai (at least historically). Kinda cheery, right?

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Rain rain go away, come again some other day. It’s got the “come again” part down, if only we could work on the “go away” part ….

streetside barbecue

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I completely agree that there is something sketchy about eating food on the side of the street. But it’s really hard to beat! There’s just something so alluring about eating freshly cooked stuff off of sticks while cars are whizzing by and you’re sitting on a bright blue plastic stool with your jacket and scarf on. It’s fun, cheap, and I have yet to get sick off of it (although I tend to go to the places that are a little more established … er, offer stools and use separate tables/grills rather than the ones that consist of only a little wheelie cart).

I went with a Shanghainese friend for a streetside barbecue dinner, and it was great. I’ve been before in other places around China, and it’s pretty much the same everywhere, always pretty cheap. You pick what you want (meat, vegetables, random things like mantou, et cetera), they cook it, you eat it. Simple as pie. When they cook the sticks they sometimes add a spice mixture, but I prefer my food non-spicy so I have them skip it. Places like this run the gamut in selection and cleanliness, so it’s always a good idea to stick to the ones that are larger and less mobile.

Oh, and you see the scallops and oysters in the photo? My friend had the scallops, which she apparently does often and lives to tell the tale. I might be brave enough to eat street food in China, where food safety is a widespread concern, but seafood streetside China? I’m definitely not that brave.

paley on park (ave)

One of the things I’ll miss about New York is the art. The art that’s EVERYWHERE. There are galleries and museums all over the place, and it’s easy enough to wander from one to the next. In Shanghai? Not so easy. And not as great.

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Park Avenue has this thing where they display sculptures spanning a number of blocks. Last summer I posted about a series of sculptures by Rafael Barrios along Park Avenue, so I felt like I had to post something about the new sculptures by Albert Paley that are now up there. There’s a lucky total of 13 of them metal things, all abstract and twisty and industrial. They kind of look like some projects I did in architecture undergrad out of bristol board. Anyhow, they’re supposed to be up until November.

They varied in color and complexity, and some were definitely more successful than others (the horizontal white one was definitely one of the better ones). Due to their placement you never see more than one sculpture at a time, which is necessary … because these kinds of sculptures stand alone.

New York doesn’t really need sculptures on Park Avenue, but I love the fact that they’re there. That people actually fund public artwork, especially in a city like New York, where it’s so dense and your tiny crumbling little apartment costs more than half your salary and the subway is a smelly, trash-strewn, rat-infested slice of hell … that there are places like Central Park and the NYPL and Grand Central and there are sculptures and mosaics and murals everywhere … that makes me smile and remember why New York is one of the best cities in the world.

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back in china. alive. somewhat.

Today is the first of September, and it’s been over a month since my last post. Wanna know why? Because I’ve left New York. Lots of moving and stuff. And I’m now in China. I’ve actually been in China for a few weeks now, but I was busy running a workshop up in Beijing for a week, and now I’m trying to get settled in Shanghai.

I’m still doing some work for the architecture firm I worked at over the summer, so that gives me some stuff to do … but I haven’t been able to find a full-time job yet, and this prolonged unemployment is making me very nervous! Also, I’ve resorted to posting by email once again because I’m trying to see how long I can hold out without a VPN service. Ah, Great Firewall of China, I bow to you once more! I have a whole backlog of posts from New York and Beijing to get through … so be prepared for an onslaught in the coming days.

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The above picture is from “Ghost Street” (簋街 / Gui Jie) in Beijing.

weird morning in new york

Thesis presentation went well – woot! Class paper finally done – woot! Final thesis turn in is … uh oh, back to campus then.

Yesterday morning I walked to campus, taking the same route I always do. Walk walk walk. As I was climbing a set of stairs in the park, a guy in a black suit walked by. Weird, but it barely registers. Walk walk walk. More guys in black suits. Huh? Eh, whatever. Walk walk walk. Woman in white puffy wedding dress. Walk walk walk. WAIT. WOAH NELLY, WHAT? Stop. Double take. Stare. Gaggle of women in sage green dresses walk by. They stare back. Oh, I get it now. Wedding pictures. They’re not actually crossing the park to get to Harlem, they’re just using the park and stairs as a backdrop. But still … woah.

I know it’s not that weird, since it’s a park and the weather is AMAZING and it’s wedding season, but it was still surprising, maybe because my walk to campus is usually done on autopilot. After I made it out of the park I was still thinking to myself: That was weird, right? And then I was confronted with a children’s carnival. Right there along my normal path. It was set up in the street with pony rides and face painting and inflatable bouncy castles and OH MY GOSH IS THAT A LLAMA!?!

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Yeah. Weird morning. And in the afternoon I saw another wedding party, but those bridesmaids were wearing blue.

snow again – for realz!

Today, New York City was snowing her little head off. Woo! It’s been all over the news; these are supposedly “blizzard conditions” … but not really – at least not in Manhattan so far. When I left for work this morning it was snowing (sideways), when I got to work it was sleeting (sideways), when I actually started working it was raining (sideways). My temporary desk faces the window, so I was watching stuff fall (sideways) from the sky all day. Kind of hard to concentrate! No one wanted to go out for lunch so we ordered some pizzas and ate together at the big conference table, which was nice. Then the rain suddenly turned into snow! It was snowing! And it kept snowing!

And then I left work. It was still snowing, but … ew. Dirty slushy slippery snow ain’t great to walk around in. It’s still snowing and it’s supposed to continue through the night, so I wonder what it’s going to look like when I wake up. Right now there’s only about an inch on the ground because all the sidewalks had been heavily salted since yesterday. As much as I hope there’s a lot of snow, tomorrow morning I need to head to campus and then trek over to Queens, so that might not be a very fun trip.

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quality time underground

For all that I complain about the subway, I like it and I don’t think I could do without it. It’s actually quite calming to sit down on the subway (if you’re lucky enough to get a seat) and just zone out and sway and get jerked around and get lulled by the rattling and screeching. When I first moved to New York from Shanghai I felt nauseous riding the subway because of its violent shifts and loud, constant noise. But now I find it oddly soothing and comforting.

But … today I spent WAY too much time underground. I also did a heck of a lot of walking across Manhattan. I crossed the park twice, walked around it once, took the 1 train (3 times), 2, N, B, 6, and S. Oh, and the N/Q/R stopped running after 10, so I had to make a detour. And due to a ‘police investigation’ (code for: suicide/death by train), the 2/3 was ‘delayed’ (code for: we have no idea when the next train is going to come) so I had to make another detour.

The picture below is from back when the weather was still nice and cheery in September. It’s MUCH warmer than it was last week, but definitely pretty dreary out there. There’s been this harsh frigid wind that almost knocked me down while I was crossing the street this morning and it’s definitely unpleasant to walk around in. But hey, it’s nice and warm underground.

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