Sunday, May 20, 2007

China Day 1: French Concession and the Bund (April 28)

On my first day in China, a Saturday, we wandered – we took a stroll around the French Concession, where Amanda lives, and then walked down to the Bund and Huang Pu River. I was amazed that there was almost no one on the street, until I learned that today everyone was working, because China celebrates May day holidays, and everyone has off from May 1-7. (All of the sudden on May 1 there were a LOT of people on the street. By a “LOT” I mean more people than I have ever seen before in one place, excepting perhaps the Moscow metro at rush hour.)

First we toured Zhou Enlai and Sun Yat-sen’s residences, and I got to have a Chinese 20th-century history refresher. Both residences were modest, although obviously nice places to live, and they had particularly nice gardens. Zhou Enlai lived in his residence only in the late 1940s, when communist party, from his estate, and the Koumintang (democratic government), from the building opposite, would spy on each other from across the street. Zhou Enlai was one of the most powerful figures in the Chinese government after the Cultural Revolution, until his plane mysteriously went down in 1976. Sun Yat-Sen’s place was bigger. Even though it is probably most accurate to call Sun Yat-sen a democrat rather than a communist, he is still considered the founder of modern China, and his former residence in Shanghai is certainly very well kept-up with a good museum. One of Sun Yat-sen’s sister-in-laws went to Wellesley College, and in general his wife’s family, and particularly the women, were perhaps the most influential family in 20th century China.

After the mansions Amanda and I walked down to the “Bund,” which is the name of the embankment along both sides of the Huang Pu River, which divides Shanghai in two. The east side of Shanghai is called Pu Dong (literally, “east of the Pu [River]”). Pu Dong has been a special economic zone since the late 1990s. As Amanda simplified for me, this basically means capitalism is allowed there. Pu Dong is home to a number of futuristic-looking buildings, and they are currently building the tallest building in the world there, but most people prefer to live on the west side of the river (Pu Xi), where Amanda lives.

Down by the river we also got a very rapid-fire “English” presentation about the history of the Bund. Although I had absolutely no idea what our tour guide was saying, she spoke her version of English very quickly and confidently. You just have to smile and nod.

We walked back from the Bund along some backstreets with plenty of cheap clothes for sale to a spa where we spent an hour and a half getting facials and a massage, all for about $10. It was awesome! I will have to judge all future massages in relation to the one I got at this spa – any massage I had before was definitely not massage! Granted, I was on my own with a Chinese woman who knew no English, but I think we were both amused. I am already ready to go back.

Pictures: 1. me and Amanda on the Bund, with view of Huang Pu River and Pu Dong in the background, 2. and 3. streets in the French concession, 4. Zhou Enlai’s residence, 5. Statue of Sun Yat-sen at his residence

No comments: