February 8, 2008

The Old and the New

Whew, I'm out of clever headlines for these posts :-) Today, even though did nothing special yesterday except eat dinner at a friend's house, I was feeling really beat. Still though, I pushed myself to do another walking tour, my third in four days. The biggest reason was that the sun was shining and the temperature was a balmy 5 degrees C. These occasions have been rare in the past 2 - 3 weeks, so I figured I'd better tak advantage of the decent weather. Also I guessed it'd be a good day for picture taking :-) And I was right:



Looks positively tropical, don't it? I'm kind of amazed the skyscrapers in the background came out so clearly.

Today it was the Nanshi ("Southern City", but referred to as "Old Town") and Xintiandi, which translates to "New Heaven on Earth". A pretty bold claim if I say so myself. So it was kind of a mix of more traditional Chinese lifestyle, although Nanshi is pretty tourist-ified, and the bright new future of Xintiandi, this mixed-use development just a little bit west of Nanshi.

I had the cabbie drop me off at Fangbang Zhong Lu and Henan Nan Lu, which is about on the southwest border of what is considered the old town. Even though I had the walking tour handy, I kind of wandered around by myself for a bit. I'd been here with Andrea and James back in November, so the sights were familiar, but the crowds were even more intense this time around because of the New Year. Yuyuan (Yu Garden) is a popular tourist attraction on any given weekend, but in the days following New Year's it suddenly becomes even more important. So I avoided it, which was not hard given that I would have had to exert serious effort to even get near it. I will have to actually go there one of these days.

As I entered the main plaza I came across this fine character:



Pretty impressive if I say so myself. Rats all around! There were tons of other decorations hanging from the buildings and even floating in the lake:



I was hungry, so I stopped in a tiny dessert shop and had some ... shit, I don't even know what it was, but it was the only place there that wasn't jam-packed full of people. I ate my "meal" and took a picture of the neat sign behind the counter:



That's totally going to be the name of my band, or at least my next demo CD. Dessert Monster Invade the World. I'm actually impressed that they spelled "dessert" correctly :-)

After that I got on the walking tour, which just involved going south and heading back out onto Fangbang Zhong Lu again. That street is a marketplace and, again, it was insanely crowded. I kept having to dodge people trying to sell me watches and DVDs and whatnot, but I'm pretty used to that by now. It doesn't bother me at all.

I wandered through the alleyways and headed west along Dajing Lu. I saw a bunch of marketplaces, and one of them even had live frogs chilling on the street in a basket:



I suspect he's not long for this world. There was a bucket of guts right beside him :-)

I continued out along Dajing Lu, past the White Cloud Taoist Temple, and came out to Renmin Lu. Here I kind of freestyled for a bit and wandered north away from the tour. After a little more wandering and picture-taking, I decided to walk to Xintiandi since it was kind of close. Along the way there I passed a group of guys playing cards on Chongde Lu, and sat and watched them for a bit.

I wanted to take a picture of them, but, and this might sound odd, but I feel weird taking pictures of people. Because I feel like that would be treating them like some stop on a tour. And these are just, you know, people going about their lives in the city. I don't want to intrude or make them feel like they're under my magnifying glass or anything. So I kind of avoid taking pictures of people, except maybe in groups. But then I feel like my pictures are all of buildings and streets and things. Which are fine, but that's obviously not all there is to this city ;-) And it gets a bit boring.

Anyway, I ended up walking past Huaihai Park. On a whim I decided to go in. I'm pretty happy I did, beceause I encountered a bunch of people singing and dancing:






It was these two women and a guy. They had a mic and a small speaker and were singing in the middle of the park. A couple people had stopped to watch and clap along, which was kinda cool. I stopped to take some pictures and some video, and then I was like, shit, I kind of want to join in.

So I did. I started clapping along with them. They were smiling at me and continued singing while I clapped on the beat. The whole time I was thinking "I should totally sing something. Nobody knows me here, and even better, nobody will understand me. What can I sing?" The words "Bon Jovi" flashed through my brain but uh, I don't know any Bon Jovi. I just think it'd be fun to sing "Livin' on a Prayer" in a park in Shanghai. Too bad I don't know the words :-)

So I kept on clapping and in a little bit I ended up dancing, well, as much as I could to what was going on. It was pretty fun. Then the woman who was singing stopped, passed the mic off, and came over to dance. We danced around each other for a little bit, then we grabbed each others' hands and did some quasi-tango sort of thing, I dunno what exactly, but it was fun. I spun her around a couple times on one hand, you know, and she seemed to like that. Then they tried to hand me the mic, and because I couldn't think of anything on the spot like that, I declined. But I really should have sung something. Anything. Stupid Bon Jovi! :-)

Anyway, here's what we were dancing to:



My dance partner rewarded me with a very well-put "Thank you!" and I smiled and said you're welcome, bowed a little bit and excused myself because I was hungry. I went ten steps down Taicang Lu and ran into the Bellagio, which I recognized because Andrea took James and me there in November. So I sat down and had a nice little meal of pork fried rice and some dumplings. Mmmm, xiaolongbao.

I even managed to ask if they had watermelon (xigua) and order some even though it wasn't on the menu. Go-go Gadget Mandarin :-) It was funny because they have watermelon juice on the menu, but I didn't want juice. The waitress heard me say xigua, brought over the menu, and pointed to the watermelon juice. But I said Wo bu yao he ("I don't want drink") . Wo yao xigua chi. I'm sure that last one isn't a recognizable sentence, and neither is the former, really, but chi means "eat" so I figured if I threw that in there I'd get my point across. And it worked :-) I ended up with a lovely watermelon platter:



(Yes, I'm starting to take pictures of my meals.)

A lot of the places I've eaten serve watermelon as kind of a dessert thing. It's actually a really refreshing way to finish your meal. The cold watermelon is a nice counterpoint to the hot, oily, sweet, and fat-ridden main dishes. I can see this becoming a habit :-)

After that, I continued on to Xintiandi. The name might be fancy, but I think it's kind of boring. I guess it might be a good place to go with friends, but there doesn't seem to be much to there except shop, eat, and catch a movie. I wasn't really interested in either of the three, so I took a bunch of pictures and passed on through to a small park on the south side:



Then I turned around and saw this coming at me:



I wish I could like, give some background as to what was going on here, but I can't :-) It probably was just some New Year's celebration.

I tried to catch a cab home, but the cabbie pretended he didn't know where I was going. Hah! I tried to play dumb and was just like "Go to Shiji Dadao," but he just said "No go, No go." So I got out - obviously he didn't want to go out to Pudong. But I AM proud that I conducted that conversation entirely in Chinese. So yay me :-) Then I realized I was really near the Huangpi Nan Lu metro stop, so I just caught the train home.

Now I'm super-tired and ready to sleep, but there are still fireworks going on outside my window. It's not as bad as New Year's Eve or even last night, but I'm still gonna rock the earplugs.

Not sure what I'm gonna do this weekend. I'm pretty much toured out for a little while. I feel like I really made good use of this week off, having taken walking tours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and today. I'm sad the break's almost over, but I have stories, hundreds of pictures, and a lot of video to look back on. That makes me feel good. And, um, I still have five months left here and there's tons of more things to see and do in the city. I'm not complaining at all :-)

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