Sunday, March 29, 2015

Visible cities

One of the pleasures of having visitors is that you get to visit the place you live. I discovered many of New York's sights only because visitors told me about them - usually in the form of "what, you've never been to ....?!" Another pleasure, for a place you haven't lived so long, is discovering that you have somehow picked up enough street savvy to treat visitors to a credibly "local" visit in the place you live. This happened for me with a few visitors to Shanghai in the Fall, and a new season has just started. My sister and nephews arrive for a visit next week, so I've been busy learning about Shanghai for families!
Some friends from Japan have just arrived for a few days, too. Tomorrow we go together to Suzhou (about time, I hear you say), but yesterday and today was Shanghai. We met for dinner at the elegant Peace Hotel on the Bund, where they managed to find a deal, and I showed them how to avoid the crowds of East Nanjing Road and enjoy the European-like cityscape. We soon found a nice nono-touristy restaurant with big tables with glass lazy susans, tasty local food - including fried rice for their daughter. After, since they're both scholars, I took them to nearby Fuzhoulu and the book palace, where we found some facsimiles of historic maps of Shanghai (we both picked up the one from 1946, above). One of my friends, N, studies early 20th century Japanese literature and no small number of important figures have connections with Shanghai, so she recognized the names of streets, etc.
Today was explicitly in the footsteps of these Japanese literati. Turns out the the area just to my south - the northern edge of Shanghai in 1946 (above) had been the Japanese Concession, and a bookstore, called Uchiyama Shōten (内山書店, Chinese: neishanshudian) was an important gathering place for Chinese as well as Japanese intellectuals. With my current Shanghai map and a book my friends had brought from Japan, which superimposes past Japanese Shanghai (in red) on a contemporary map (the first image above) we were able to find it - a bank now stands where it was, but houses a small museum on its second floor. Uchiyama was a friend and supporter of the great Lu Xun, whose house nearby we visited, too, in an area of old lilongs like the ones described in Shanghai Homes. Somehow I managed to get us into a tiny soup dumpling place across the street, too, N enthusing that Japanese writers' diaries were full of references to them. Not perhaps surprisingly, the Western and Chinese sources of my Shanghai nostalgia have never dwelt on what was going on in the Japanese Concession...
Speaking of Lu Xun I took my friends first to the park now named after him, and was able to share my delighted experience of amateur choirs, dancers, Peking opera, harmonica ensembles, etc. in a park today in perfect Spring flower. N made friends with some water calligraphers, too, and their daughter was a pretext for us all to take some rides in the amusement park. A perfect combination of new discoveries - I've never been to this charming area south of Lu Xun Park, though I see it from my train - and somehow playing the local guide. Playing the part I even nipped into a shop and got my friends some 青团, the special green rice balls prepared for the upcoming Qingming Festival. More soon...!

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