Tuesday, September 30, 2014

This shining night

As I celebrated my first four weeks here I learned some new kinds of words:

巴赫 bāhè

莫扎特 mòzhātè

罗西尼 luóxīní

费加罗 fèijiāluó

卡门 kāmén

威尔第 wēiěrdì

墨尔本 mòěrběn

If I told you the last means Melbourne and that this was at the new 上海交响乐团听 Shanghai Symphony Hall you might be able to figure out the rest.

Indeed, the Melbourne Bach Choir finished up a five-city China tour here tonight, and I was lucky enough to get a comp ticket: several of its member are also in my sister's choir, the Gisborne Singers! (One was also bearing esotic Australian fruit marmalades for me.) In perfect contemporary China fashion, the hall, which the singers told me was the best they'd ever sung in, is so new - opened just this month - that the address singers were given (and sent in turn to me) was for an older one, so the evening included a surreal search for the 澳大利亚的朋友 Australian friend I was supposed to be meeting at the 后台入口 stage door of the Shanghai Concert Hall, which was gearing up for an evening of classical Chinese music, and a frantic sprint through People's Square subway station, three stops on the #1 train and another mad dash to the new place, in time to be told that I couldn't get to the stage door without a pass... but in the end all was well, as I spotted some other choir members taking a peek at the foyer, the connection was made, and a delightful evening of operatic and choral pops enjoyed.

In my language textbook I was asked  

Did you come to study or to travel?

and answered, to the smiling bemusement of my tutor (but I dare say in classic Larrimorian fashion), by challenging the question:  

Travel can also be study, right?

Verily, I am learning about the world of Chinese all the time, and some of my most enjoyable lessons are texts I pick up in subway ads, on banners, on WeChat, or on concert programs!

Second from last in the first half of tonight's program was a setting of James Agee's "Sure on this shining night" by Samuel Barber, a special treat for this American abroad. (The recording of the complete Barber songs by Cheryl Studer, Thomas Hampson and the Emerson String Quartet has long been one of my favorite CD sets.) One wishes, of course, for such safety and tranquility in Hong Kong.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Domestic pleasures

A day of feeling at home in Shanghai, perfect for the eve of my four-week anniversary.

Met a Fulbright student for coffee and realized, as we compared notes, that I've actually already met a lot of people and learned a lot of stuff. We've both found ourselves left more to our ownd devices than expected and are learning how to make Fudan work for us. Learned some other useful things, too - like that there's a bar with American craft beers on tap on 大学路 University Avenue.

Had someone give the bike I've been using a tune-up and now it glides like a dream, no more clicking and wheezing. He oiled every part of it, including the brakes, which now work beautifully but still squeal something awful. As part of my growing bicycle savvy I think I understand that the squeal is not a bug but a feature. Easier and less annoying to use than the bell as a way of making sure people know you're there when it matters.

Went to the local covered market and actually bought some vegetables there! I've been getting things at the supermarket, where they are plastic-wrapped with prices written on them, but the woman who's helping me with my Chinese almost had an apoplectic fit when she heard that. Market is cheaper and fresher! And you can haggle, you must haggle! Well, to the market I went, though haggle I did not. Made rather a nice broccoli, mushroom and tofu thing for dinner.

And finally watched a quite gripping 2013 film on TV called "全民目击" - "Silent Witness" in English; channel 6 has English and Chinese subtitles sometimes. Although I understood little more than exclamations, I feel I'm getting somewhere, recognizing more words every day. I've started keeping a Chinese diary, proofing and tweaking my efforts with the imperfect aid of online translators, and I think this says that while I didn't understand the meaning, I heard Chinese language: 虽然我意思并不明白了,但是中文语言听到了!

Tomorrow: the cleaning lady (with whom I communicate in Chinese by text message), my Chinese language session (finishing the first volume of 顺利遍 Advanced Elementary), taking a glass (sic) with the French professor who's been my most helpful host, and then going to the Shanghai Concert Hall to a concert of the Melbourne Bach Choir - a member sings in another choir with my sister, and has not only a comp ticket for me but something special from Australia. All good!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gifts that differ

When I was in a Protestant church a fortnight ago I first saw a hymnal with melody marked in numbers. This seemed to me very economical and obviously less trouble to print than full notation (though it doesn’t seem to accommodate sharps and flats). But it seems this form of musical notation is standard here. On a lovely ramble through Lu Xun Park on Sunday morning I encountered not just the usual taijiquan, jazzercise and dancing groups but musical ensembles of various kinds, including two groups of people singing songs, a woman singing to accompaniment on traditional instruments and a ‘cello, and, most delightful of all, a harmonica ensemble. I snuck pictures of their music.
!It gets rather more complicated if you have a many-stringed zither!)
I was charmed that so much of this is written by hand, and quite moved to spot on a bench near the man directing above this clearly much-used song set, written on old calendar pages. What music it must have heard!
And here’s a hymn I know as found in the Three-Self Patriot Movement hymnal; you may know it too. At least I know the melody. (万福泉源歌 means Source of Good Fortune.) Traditionally called "Nettleton" it has new words by Dolores Dufner, OSB of which I've become quite fond.
Called "Sing a new church" its refrain goes Let us bring the gifts that differ / And, in splendid, varied ways, / Sing a new church into being, / One of faith and love and praise. You don't know it? So much the better: try to get the melody from the Chinese hymnal! It's the last two rows. Underlined are half-notes; "1" with a dot above is the top of the scale.

A lunar month

Slivery moon over Shanghai - even with a hint of my beloved earthshine!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Crossing the river

Decided the first day of a holiday week when many people leave town might be a time to go to 陆家嘴 Lujiazui, the heart of Shanghai's development in recent decades and home to the emblematic Oriental Pearl Tower. I walked along the Huangpu from the north, past some dancers shooting a scene.
I didn't actually go up the Pearl tower - too many people, and not quite nice enough weather. My destination was the Shanghai History Museum in its base, a warren of recreated scenes from Shanghai's past with over a thousand wax figures and many other kinds of models.

Everyone was taking pictures in these scenes, here a farmer's "fun.
A film showed how people would have kowtowed at the City God Temple.
The "Mixed Court" reminded of concession-era Shanghai's lack of autonomy.
The Great World entertainment palace still stands - might check it out tomorrow!
Somehow self-conscious photographic cutouts enliven a model of the Exchange.
The piece de resistance was an enormous and elaborate model of a giant ta house, complete with Shanghai-style Beijing Opera being performed on a stage and hundreds of unique figurines.

It's all quite charming, but strangely gappy. The narrative ends with models in vitrines of the architecturally eclectic villas and other buildings built during the "semi-colonial" periods...

Was there once a section on the Anti-Japanese War? Or the glorious Communist Revolution? Now you go right into a bazaar of souvenir shops. Like crossing the Huangpu you go directly from the glories of 1930s Shanghai to the era of Reform and Opening, with its splendid skyscrapers.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Finally had a chance to eat in one of the 食堂 student cafeterias today - wheels are turning to get me access, too. This, my host's best attempt at assembling meatless fare, confirmed what I'd heard from a distressed religious vegetarian from Taiwan: everything's cooked with meat...!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

City Paradise

The Jing'an Sculpture Park 静安雕塑公园 has just opened a big international show of works on the theme of "City Paradise" - themes of past exhibitions were "City Pride" (2010) and "City Fantasy" (2012). Curiously they explore questions of the city as a place where its inhabitants find their spiritual fulfillment, realizing their dreams and embracing a sense of happiness and belonging (a central feature of the current Chinese Dream) especially through works featuring animals. The star attraction of the show is "Urban Fox" by Alex Rinsler, but I was struck also by two poetic works by Chinese sculptur Yan Shilin 颜石林, "Until We Meet Again" and "The Boy and the Ocean."

These works don't exactly communicate a sense of the city as a home for all of its residents, offering them a sense of identity and cultural roots - Rinsler re- purposed an older work with the situation of migrant workers in China's big cities in mind, for instance, where Yan's seems the expression of an urban existence for which nature and being at home in the world are fairy tales. But the Jing'an Sculpture Park, new home of the Shanghai Museum of Natural History (opening soon!), is a very pleasant open space, which many people were enjoying when I was there. I imagine I wasn't the only one to notice swallows careening nearby as night fell.

This was my first visit to this part of Shanghai, West Nanjing Road, where all the luxury brands have enormous shops. Cosmpolitan confection Jing'an Temple itself was closed when I got there, but, as gaudy as the Cartier and Vuitton stores nearby, I wasn't sorry to miss it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Poster for my debut in China (not of course in Chinese)!
Now I just need to write the damn thing!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Tonight marks three whole weeks that I've been in China. Really?! What a pleasure to find this confirmation that I'm really here in the mailbox today! Even if it also took this letter three whole weeks to get here, it confirms that I've not after all slipped off the edge of the world.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Hard to believe it's been almost three weeks and I didn't even know there even was an English language newspaper here. I must be doing something right! But it's good timing in any case as the weather page I've been following doesn't do things like flashing storm alerts.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Like an oasis in a desert of rubble - I think this old part of the city was cleared already several years ago - sits Shanghai's oldest Catholic Church, St Francis Xavier. It's known here as 懂家度天主堂 or Dongjiadu lu Cathedral, named after the street whose only occupant it now is, and has masses in Chinese, Korean and English. I was there for a Chinese one, and understood about 1% of the words but much more of the context. The huge golden Orthodox-inspired altarpiece seems new but I was drawn to paintings that place salvation history in China, like this one below, its clearly symbolic color scheme new to me. Not only the little red-winged black-haired cherubs are Chinese, though 天主 God seems beyond ethnicity...

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Job hasn't gone away, by the way. Amazon's Author Central notes 5-10 copies selling each week (a friend of my father's ordered one, and thanked me by sending this Peanuts cartoon, which I'm embarrassed I didn't know about!). I have another podcast interview scheduled for next week and my first talk here will be on Job, too, to which I've given the rather dramatic name "Job, Liberator of God and Man." More anon!


Not sure if these women were discussing the man's open-air display of Buddhist objects or the content of the banners hanging in the alleyway off 陕西南路 South Shaanxi Road in the French Concession - or maybe just the tourist indiscreetly taking their picture! Back home in 江湾镇 Zhangwan Town I've painstakingly transcribed and dictionaried the characters on these banners (kind of a fun way to work on my Chinese!), along with those of the building to their right: apparently construction on the subway station elevator below has led to reverberating noise, cracking of walls and tilting of floors, all without consulation or compensation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scenes of the day

Rain made for mountains of umbrellas outside a classroom at Fudan.
Commuters at Zhenping Station changing between lines 3, 4 and 7.
A trio of not quite Raphaelesque angels overseeing the Shanghai String Quartet playing Beethoven at Shanghai Symphony Hall. When not filming with her cell phone, the middle one gaily conducted the quartet.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Faces of Longhua

After my Chinese lesson today (it was a most excellent suggestion that I find someone who speaks no English) I went down to 龙华 Longhua. It's home not only to an ancient temple with a famous 10th century pagoda and many halls full of Buddhas (though not the promised temple vegetarian noodle shop), but also, I discovered, to the Shanghai Martyrs' Cemetery and Museum, a key site of patriotic "red tourism." Where the temple wowed me with a Guanyin so versatile she's not just got a thousand arms but does it four times, the Cemetery and Museum impressed me with its historical earnest and its heroic art.