blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rainy day on the Bund

Frustrating view from the Bund on my last day in China
June 17th, Friday

The Langham Yangtze Boutique Hotel had given us a room with an art-deco headboard for our bed, a big screen TV in a picture frame attached to the wall and a bathtub deep and wide enough to drown in. Along the corridor were museum worthy 1930s artifacts (amber knitting needles, bead handbag, etc) from the 1930s, when Shanghai was to all intents and purposes British, and decadent with it.

Heavy rain started to fall during my breakfast at ground level and failed to ease off, but I wasn't going to find much difficulty in passing the time while Chris was speaking at the QNX show on the 9th floor. I went up to say hello to the people in charge. The set-up for the talks looked like a 1930s theatre, complete with stage, flouncy white tablecloths and red velvet furnishings. Chris had the use of a microphone; otherwise he'd have found it hard to project his voice in there.

Parts of Shanghai could almost be London!
Brandishing my umbrella, I set out to visit the Bund, the famous Shanghai waterfront only about a kilometre away. The neighbouring streets wouldn't have looked out of place in London. It was fascinating to see this old-style, neoclassical architecture, reminiscent of British banks or Canadian railway stations, closely juxtaposed with Shanghai's ultra modern, ultra tall skyscrapers. In the other direction our hotel was within a few steps of the Renmin Gongyuan (People's Park) which once upon a time was a racecourse, quite central, and not far off was a former Music Hall (a palatial theatre built in 1930) that had to be shifted 66 metres when they wanted to widen the road. No problem to the Chinese. Mei guanxi!

I reached the Zhongshan Lu on the Bund, promising myself I would find out where the name came from. The Wikipedia tells me:
The word comes from the Hindi-Urdu word "band," which has Persian origins and meant an embankment, levée or dam ... In Chinese port cities, the English term came to mean ... the embanked quay along the shore. In English, "Bund" is pronounced to rhyme with "fund."
In the Bund Financial Square I found a gigantic bull sculpted in bronze by Arturo Ugodi Modica, a copy of his Charging Bull on Wall Street. Shanghai, like New York, is a rich city. Facing the Huang Pu River are the Custom House (sic), the Bangkok Bank and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, all with Corinthian pillars. Later, on a side street, I also came across a red brick cathedral and cathedral school built in the 1920s. The anglicisation of Shanghai had in fact begun in the mid 19th century around the time of the Opium Wars: "the humiliation of old China" as one of the city's historic plaques uncompromisingly puts it. The British Empire Customs building eventually became the headquarters of the People's Peace Preservation Corps after the PLA (People's Liberation Army) had "wiped out the enemy" in a series of bloody battles. At the end of the promenade by the river's edge I found an concave monument and tower (24 metres tall) to The People's Heroes, commemorating "noble minded patriots [who] devoted their sweat, blood and lives here."

The river itself is magnificent, despite the rain (one thunderstorm following another all day) and the view of the skyscrapers on the far bank must be stunning when the cloud ceiling is not so low. All manner of boats, ships and barges were sailing back and forth that day. Cruise ships and warships were anchored in the city. We were close to the coast there.

Seeking shelter from the latest downpour, I decided to treat myself to a light lunch (the previous evening's meal having left me with rather delicate insides) at Victor's on the ground floor of the famous Peace Hotel; this is a typical Fairmont hotel of the Canadian Pacific kind, its art déco interior very reminiscent of the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa or the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec.

Chris meanwhile had met a kindred spirit at his meetings, a professor from Shenzhen University. I returned to the hotel after abandoning a walk through the People's Park (too tired!) and, as I set out again for a repeat tour of the Bund with Chris in my soaked walking shoes, was encouraged to hear him say, "I'm feeling really happy." Between showers we had a sit-down at a snack bar patio table, sauntered along the riverfront, and back up the Nanjing Lu (formally Nanking Road), one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world. It reminded me of Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

By the time I got back to the Langham the second time that day I thought my walking shoes would never dry out before Heathrow, until Chris had the bright idea of training the hair dryer on them. By supper time it was raining so hard that the city's taxis were taking twice as long as usual to arrive anywhere, so the QNX group changed their minds about meeting for supper at the Peace Hotel and to my relief we simply dined quietly (on eels, and so on) at our own hotel's T'ang Court. Click on the link to see our table, under the mural. As we waited for the others in the elegant vestibule below Chris and I watched a lady singing (very well!) at the grand piano, and after supper saw another musician sitting in front of the piano in a silk gown to play delicate Chinese music on the guzheng; it sounds like a harp.

Then we finalised the arrangements for our departure, bracing ourselves for the long journey to London.

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