Thursday, July 26, 2007

Of summer in Shanghai

Day 6

Last day in Shanghai, and the Sun Yat-Sen museum still remains unvisited. But at least this time, I know roughly where it is and how it looks like, so the probability of me getting lost is low. I quickly get out of bed, change and go downstairs. James is on duty today and I ask him to help me write out in Chinese the name of the Sun Yat-Sen museum and the exact address. He does, with much neater handwriting, and Mummy and I head on outside.

The Sun Yat-Sen museum is as crowded as the Soong Ching Ling museum---in museum speak, it means less crowded than the Shanghai Museum but more crowded than the CCP and Shikumen museums. We see Sun's medical kit, the English books he wrote---one about the French Revolution and another about strategies for the development of China---his letters (my his handwriting is VERY neat, and yes, because my handwriting is rather messy, I tend to go around admiring people with neat handwriting). And Sun Yat-Sen is one of them neat handwriters.

As I look at his photographs, a passage from the book "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" comes to mind: "he was a Goodnight Moon (Brown, 1947). Goodnight Moons had duvet eyes, shadowy eyelids, a smile like a hammock and a silvered, sleepy countenance that most people wore only during the few minutes prior to sleep, but which the Goodnight Moon sported all day and well into the evening. Goodnight Moons could be male or female and were universally adored."(Pessl, 67) Now Sun Yat-Sen has a sleepy countenance. In fact, though he was an active person, in all his photographs, he looks strangely sleepy. I figure he must be a Goodnight Moon as he fits the next requirement of a Goodnight Moon---that of being universally adored. So adored that Taiwan, mainland China and the overseas Chinese regard him as a hero, Father of the Chinese Revolution etc.

Sun at age 17 and age 52, respectively. A Goodnight Moon?

Mummy as usual finishes looking faster than I am, mainly because I make it a point to read and close read every single thing write up in museums. A peculiar habit of mine, but I like to study the way people write history, and lots of times, the way the captions are written tell as much as what is being written. You just need to read closely. That no mention is made here of Sun's first wife, is also telling. I finish viewing the exhibits in the museum, and head on out to look for my mum.

I find her talking to a security guard outside. My mum is the best networker I have ever come across. In fact, she should write her own version of "How to win friends and influence people". I have yet to meet a person that doesn't really like her. Ever Miss Popularity, she won (or was a runner up) in a beauty pageant in university. Everyone seems to take a liking to her, at least that is how I view it. I say hi to the security guard and he tells us that the building next to the museum (both are within the same compound) is Sun's actually house. So we go and have a look. Again, we have to put on the plastic protective coverings over our shoes as we venture into his house.

Or Soong Ching Ling's house to be exact. Turns out that this was her house (the couple stayed in here in Shanghai), which she gave to the Chinese government to use as a Sun Yat-Sen museum when Sun had died. In return, the Chinese government gave her another house, which, upon her death, has also been turned into a museum. Basically, the way the museum for famous people thingy goes is like this: Original house is preserved just the way it was the day that person died. Next to original house is the exhibition hall where all the historical documents are kept. Both are within the same compound which is called a "gu ju". I'm not sure what gu ju actually means, but I figure I'd just call it museum. In the CCP museum's case, the original meeting site is preserved, and next to it is the exhibition hall, and once again, both original site and exhibition hall are in the same compound. Mr Lu Xun's one differs from this format, which resulted in me getting a bit lost.

But back to the Sun Yat-Sen/Soong Ching Ling house. The house is fitted out like a colonial bungalow---teak flooring, white walls, European furniture. There is even a veranda, complete with wicker chairs and a coffee table, and a lawn at the back of the hosue. Pictures of afternoons sipping lemonade and playing croquette come to my mind. I remember the photograh in the museum that I saw---of the couple sitting in their wicker chairs, with lots of people around them---and wonder if that event took place on this very lawn. There seem to be a lot of books in the house. "Are all these Sun's actual books?" I ask a guard. "Shi jia de" (these are fake), she says.

I guess unlike the Soong Ching Ling house which she moved into after the Second Sino-Japanese War, and kinda never left it, this house might have been abandoned during the war as Soong Ching Ling left for Hongkong to flee the Japanese, so the authorities weren't really able to leave everything just the way it was. They did try their best though, with Soong Ching Ling having been involved in the arrangements of turning the former house into a memorial site(pictures of her actively planning and supervising the work are hung up on the walls).

In the end, we finish viewing the museum in good time and we head back to the hotel for lunch. I want to eat the mango pudding at Gui Hua Lo, while Mummy wants to eat at the Yi Cafe. In the end, thanks to the resourcefulness of the manageress Jennifer, we both get to have our cake and eat it. We dine at the Yi Cafe, but Jennifer brings the mango pudding from Gui Hua Lo up here for me to eat. Come to think of it, while this is the 3rd time I have ordered the mango pudding, it's the first time I've actually got to really savour it and finish it. The first time I was already full, so I didn't finish it. The 2nd time, again I already too full, so the waitress packed it back for us, but she poured the milk on top of it. And everyone knows I am allergic to milk (for the time being). This 3rd time though, I eat the mango pudding first, and so I really get to enjoy it and finish it.

And then I start on the roast beef, which is really good---juicy and tender. As is the sashimi, and sushi. I consider going to the Super Brand Mall for some last minute shopping, but there isn't much time, so I change and get ready for my flight back home.

Mummy finishes her meal and meets me and Dad at the lobby. The car and the driver have arrived to take us to the airport, and I say goodbye to Charlie and James. I ask the driver where the Buick comes from and he says China. I am surprised. I thought Buicks were from America. Maybe this particular one was made in China.

It has started to rain and just like I guess, our plane is delayed for an hour. I have a headache (I tell you it's airplane phobia). Mummy and I do some duty-free shopping---this time it's a Ferragamo ring for mummy---and wait. I think back on my trip to Shanghai. Of how I enjoyed myself, of the people I met, of the place in general. And I think about him.

It's time to board and the pilot warns us of turbulence. Oh dear. Next to me is a Japanese man who seems very neat and prim and proper. He has a book, written in Japanese, with him, wears a blazer and corduroy pants. He eschews the inflight food for cup noodles, which I find odd (yes, I have nothing better to do than to examine those around me). And he spends his time playing computer games. He looks really bored. Mummy watches the same comedy twice (or thrice if you count in the fact that she watched that aforementioned movie on the flight to Shanghai) , while I, too nervous to watch any drama or serious shows, also watch that comedy. But only once. And then I listen to music to soothe my nerves, changing channels whenever I hear the words "fall", "gravity", "sink" or "crash". As usual, we buy something on board. This time it is an Aigner watch. We really have nothing better to do.

We land safely. PRAISE JESUS. And I stagger out of the plane, just so happy to be alive. I'm pale, and tired but sooooooooooooo happy that I'm home. A little duty-free shopping is again in order. This time it's for liquor. And then a cab takes us back.

By the time we leave the airport, it's past midnight.

Back home, Granny is there to meet us. I am so so happy. I missed her a lot. So much so that I ask her sleep in my room. At 2am, my sister calls, and we chat a little.

And at 3am, I finally sleep.

I really had a great time (this coming from someone who admits to not liking travelling much) and I truly thank God for it. He took really good care of me, as usual, throughout the whole trip, and I came back, with my parents, all of us safe and sound, having had lots of fun.

Photographs from:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Of summer in Shanghai

Day 5

Mummy and me have breakfast at the Yi Cafe. They have an excellent buffet breakfast---once again, they outdo themselves with their mind-boggling array of food and juices. The watermelon juice tastes a bit queer so I leave it be. Otherwise, everything is great. Next to our table sits an Indian man, an Indian infant and a Chinese teen. The Chinese teen holds the baby's toy. My mum thinks the Indian man has adopted both. I think that the Chinese teen is a hired babysitter. But neither of us ask them about it.

Afterwards, Mum and Dad go out together, while I continue my museum route. Today is Lu Xun museum day, and I am keen on seeing his memorial site or "gu ju" as it is commonly called here. Charlie re-writes the address for me on a slip of paper (I can't find where I put the slip Penny gave me on which the helpful people at the Soong Ching Ling museum write down the precise address of Lu Xun's and Sun Yat-sen's memorial sites). His handwriting is rather messy. I wonder if the taxi driver would be able to read it, but I then again, I know of people with messier handwritings (namely me) that are still legible enough (if barely). I take a cab from the hotel entrance and off we go.

Just that I end up horribly lost. The taxi driver drops me off at the curb (of what happens to be the wrong place), telling me that cars are not allowed to go into the park but that Lu Xun's house is in the park. I go into the park and see lots of statues of famous Chinese authors of the early 20th century, but none of Mr Lu Xun. It would be awhile before I realise that Lu Xun's house is not in a park, and definitely not in this park, but rather, along some streets. What's more, unlike the Soong Ching Ling and CCP museums---where memorial site and exhibit hall are within the same compound---Lu Xun's exhibit hall is some distance away from his house (which is his memorial site). His exhibit hall is located in a park though, aptly named Lu Xun park.

I don't find any traces of Lu Xun here but I see...

The former residence of H.H Kung aka the husband of Soong Ai Ling.

My his house is large. Then again, he was supposedly the richest man in China during that era. What I find surprising is that the current Chinese government still preserves this as a heritage site, for H. H Kung had close links with Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang, serving as Chiang's finance minister and, at one time, premier. And we all know that Chiang gets no love in mainland China.

This memorial site doesn't seem to include a museum though. So I walk past it and into the park proper.

The park is called Hongkou Park and it is along Duolun Lu. This was an area where lots of famous Chinese writers of the New Cultural Movement stayed, and here, you have their statues lining the park, with little stone tablets outlining the writer's significance.

And on a side note, you have this:

For those who can't see the writing, it says "The Historical Documents Museum of the Fourth National people's Congress Of The Chinese Communist Party...Please Visit The Museum From Here". But I'm not really very interested in this museum, mainly because I am unclear about the significance of the Fourth National People's Congress. So I give this a museum a miss.

The sign points into a courtyard, which has a XiaoYa Culture Art Co. Ltd. I wonder if I should take a look, but I am short of time, and I dunno how to tell the real from the fakes here in China. So I too give that a miss.

Instead, I wander around the park, looking at the statues dedicated to the writers, and reading tablets marking their former residence.

Statues like this...

The accompanying tablet states that this statue is of Ye Shentao.

And this is a tablet marking a writer's former residence:

It says "The Former Residence of Zhaoshiyan".

So this is how his former residence looks like. I wonder if they have kept the building almost exactly as it was, or if it differs vastly from how it actually was when Mr Zhao lived in it.

Other illuminaries whose statues are in the park include:

Guo Moruo,

Shen Yimo

Uchiyama Kanzo, (I wonder why the slightly bowed it to showcase his Japanese ethnicity, or is there more than meets the eye)

Apparently this was his residence. (Or was it his book store?)

This is Ding Ling, author and also a member of the New Cultural Movement. I wonder why she is portrayed looking like a schoolgirl.

I also come across a church. According to the inscription, it is the Hong-De Tang Church. Completed in 1928, it is the only church in Shanghai with the architectural features of a temple. Are there still ongoing services here?

It's hot, I can't seem to find much about Lu Xun here, and I am expected back at Ye Shanghai at Xintiandi at 1.30pm. I stop by the Master Arts Gallery to ask for direction to the Lu Xun museum. The ladies there tell me I have to walk all the way back to the entrance of the park, but this contradicts the advice given to me by another lady. I do head back to the entrance of the park and stop by the East Zili Continuing Education School, hoping someone there would speak English. A young lady there tells me that the Lu Xun museum is not here at all, but at Lu Xun park. That's it. I decide to go to Xintiandi.

I arrive at Xintiandi 20 minutes late, and look around for Va Bene, remembering tht Va Bene is just next to Ye Shanghai. I wonder if my parents would still be there. They are and they've already ordered the food.

Ye Shanghai next to Va Bene.

The food comes quickly and is accompanied by a jovial manager John Tang. Curiously, while Ye Shanghai is known to be the restuarant in Shanghai to sample Shanghainese food, it is run by Hongkongers. Similarly, Canton, a place renowned for its Cantonese cuisine, is managed by Shanghainese. The promotional material of Ye Shanghai reads something like this: "born in Shanghai, moved to Hongkong and now back in Shanghai". Quite peculiar indeed.

John is a nice chatty sort of fellow. He tells us about Hongkong, Shanghai, and Beijing. When is a good time to visit, what is nice to do, whether living conditions are better in Hongkong, Shanghai or Beijing etc. I learn quite a lot from him, about how things are run in Shanghai and Hongkong. John tells us that it is quite safe here in Shanghai as the Shanghai police are not corrupt and very efficient. He tells us that Hongkong is considered the gateway to China, while Shanghai is nicely at the crossroads between Hongkong and Beijing---it is two hours from Shanghai to either destination.

The food here is nice, and so is the decor. It looks like a great place to come in the evening when the glamour quotient is presumably upped somewhat. But I'm in a bit of a hurry. The museums, as I have been earlier told, close at 5pm and I have yet to see both the Lu Xun and the Sun Yat-Sen museums. Feeling frustrated about how difficult it is to get find the Lu Xun memorial site and museum, I hire the hotel driver to fetch my parents and I to the exact place so I don't have to get lost again, especially as I am running short of time.

Ye Shanghai at Xintiandi. Mummy says the toilets are a little too dark for her liking, but I tell her that this is part of the restaurant's theme of 1920s-30s Shanghai glamour.

The driver comes and picks us up, but he too gets lost and has to call for directions on his mobile.

Finally we reach the elusive spot.

It is a townhouse, not very big, tucked between other town houses. A few people take photographs there, but other than this commerative plate, there isn't much about Lu Xun to see here, especially since his former residence is not open to the public. So it's back in the car and off to Lu Xun's museum which is situated in Lu Xun's park.

Lu Xun's park proves to be about a 10 minute drive away. Boy am I glad for the car cos it is 38 degrees outside!! The driver stops us at the main entrance of the park, and we walk in to get tickets. Mum and me go in for a look. And find that EVERYTHING to do with Lu Xun can be found here. Lu Xun's photographs, books, letters, former clothes, the medical instrument the doctor used on him, pictures of his friends, the people he worked with etc can all be found here. Well, it isn't called the Lu Xun Museum for nothing. I guess that I didn't know that the life of ONE author could provide that much exhibition material. Well you learn something new everyday I suppose.

Strangely there aren't lots of people in this museum. Only and father and son team, and my mum and myself. Overall, the Shanghai Museum proves to be the most popular, followed by the Soong Ching Ling and Sun Yat-Sen museums. The CCP memorial site, Lu Xun Museum and the Shikumen Museum are rather devoid of people. I ponder buying a set of Lu Xun books to read, but figure that it'll be better getting it back in Singapore. The museum closes and I head back to the car.

The driver is waiting at the entrance. He opens the door for me and goes to the cafe to call my parents, my mum having left earlier. Next stop is the Chanel boutique at Plaza 66---something I had put off for a few days.

Chanel here happens to be more expensive than it is back in Singapore. As mentioned in the previous post, while there is no direct goods tax on top of the sale price, there is an import tax which is already incorporated into the sale price. But no matter. Plaza 66 is a lovely mall. Developed by Hongkong's HangLung group, it only stocks luxury brands. According to the booklet the lady at the information counter passes us, there are also a few restaurants. Many of the luxury brands that have set up standalone boutiques here are not available in, or don't have standalone boutiques in Singapore. This is unsurprising given Singapore's relatively small consumer market. Why set up in Singapore when you can set up in Shanghai with lower operating costs and a much larger market base to tap in. I wonder a bit on how Singapore will cope with that, but then my attention quickly turns to the mall itself. The layout of the mall is good, the boutiques and lanes are spacious and it is very clean. Mummy likes it very much.

I ask the information lady if she could call the driver back for us. She nicely complies. He picks us up and off we go, back to the Pudong side. Like John, the driver tells quite a bit about Shanghai, when to come (in april-may or in october), why (because it is harvest time and there are lots of fresh seafood), tells us about the Japanese trying to break into the market (i understand they are having a difficult time), about buying houses in Shanghai (you have to live here for a year first before you are allowed to buy a house, if not, you can try to get around it by paying much more for the house), of how Shanghai has changed etc. He points out some people standing by the road yelling and clapping their hands. They work for a restaurant and the manager is trying to boost morale or something of that sort. The driver disagrees with such methods. "Those in the know understand but think they are noisy, those NOT in the know think they have lost their minds", he says (or something to that effect). I tell him I think this is a Japanese or Korean run restaurant as when I last visited Korea, I realised the people there are quite fond of shouting and demonstrating in the streets (then again when I visited it was during the Asian financial crisis of 1997 so there was much reason to protest). And as for the Japanese bit, well, I once saw a Japanese television program that showed Japanese employees doing something similar. But I didn't tell him that last bit.

We reach the hotel in good time and it's time for dinner. Mum and I change for dinner and go to Gui Hua Lo for some more of their delicious food. We order the Curry Prawn again (I really like it), stir fried mixed vegetables (Mummy likes it), goose meat (very tender and juicy), mango pudding, rice and Chrysanthemum tea. They do not serve xiaolongbao for dinner. The manageress Penny recognises Mummy, and our waitress today is Sophia, a very helpful young lady. I tell the manageress about how much I like their fried mantou and how much i like mantou in general. She tells us she can get the chef to prepare a steamed one for us. So we order that too. In the end, Mummy and I are too full, and we have to pack the steamed Mantou and the mango pudding. We bring these upstairs to our room and head out to Cloud 9 at the Grand Hyatt. We meet a Singaporean lady in the lift. She works at Shangri-la and she recognises us as being at the Grand Hyatt bakery the day before.

But before we go, we have a little walk along the promenade at the back of the Shangri-la, which is along the Huangpu river, directly opposite the Bund. A man sells pirated goods at the entrance while a few guards sit a few feet away. I wonder why they allow him to continue at such a prominent position. Perhaps he has paid them off. The weather is warm, but there is a bit of a breeze. The are couples embracing along the rails, while peddlers tout goods along the walkways. We walk around a bit more, then its back to the taxi stand and off to Cloud 9.

The promenade.

The view of the Bund from the promenade.

This time, the taxi queue has 2 people in front of us, however, not many taxis seem to be coming in, and it is hotter at the taxi stand. But praise Jesus, one comes soon enough to pick us up and off we go again.

The lights are dim, the seats are comfy and the view is just great! Only problem is that there is no available seats at the non-smoking area for us. I guess lots of people must have read a lot about this place, especially after the superb review given by Newsweek, in which cocktails at Cloud 9 were described as a must try experience. So we gaze at the view a bit more, but leave as there were no forthcoming seats.

Cloud 9 at the Grand Hyatt.

Before we go back, we stop by the Super Brand Mall to pick up some stuff. It's near closing time so we don't have much time to browse around. We go to Sephora and Watsons, and I see a huge NEXT store upstairs. Then we head back to the room.

Just before I am about to sleep, a call comes from the concierge, and a quick stream of mandarin words comes through the receiver. I don't understand a word.

"Is this Leon?" I ask, remembering that he was the concierge on duty.

Yes it is.

Turns out, though it is 11.35pm, there is a man wanting to deliver a parcel. Ah ha! Mummy's cushion covers have arrived. "Send him up Leon".

And then I sleep.

Photographs from:,, my own camera.

Of summer in Shanghai

Day 4

I woke up feeling ill. Had breakfast at Shangri-la's Yi Cafe, but had no appetite. Ordered a plate of scrambled eggs breakfast set, and some watermelon juice, but felt really queasy, so i merely picked at my food. In the end, I barely ate any of it and went back to my room to retire.

My room was being cleaned by a kind lady called Isabelle. She pottered around while I lay on the bed feeling green and rather weak. Suspecting the malaise might be due to the tap water I might have accidentally drunk while showering or brushing my teeth, I asked her if the tap water was safe to drink. She said that if it was a small amount then there shouldn't be any problem. "xiao jie", she advised, "as the weather has been unusually hot these few days, please be careful with what you eat or drink. Don't mix hot food with cold drinks."

I thank her for her for her advice and continue to lie on bed. I feel better later on, Praise Jesus, and go downstairs to see if the concierge can recommend me something interesting to do.

Penny is the concierge on duty and she proves very helpful. I ask her to list out for me the site of the First Meeting of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chanel boutique, Lu Xun's residence, Sun Yat Sen's museum and Soong Ching Ling's museum. With that written down, I hope into a taxi and off we go. First stop, the site of the First Meeting of the Chinese Communist Party (or Communist Party of China, as it is called here).

The taxi drops me off somewhere near the site. Not quite there. I wander around a bit, and not knowing how to read much Chinese, get a little lost. I recognise my surroundings as being around the Xintiandi area, but where exactly I'm supposed to be at, I have no idea. I approach the nearest guard, whip out the piece of paper on which Penny has written, in Mandarin, the names of my destinations, and ask for directions. The guard points and utters something I don't really understand. So I walk ahead, then ask another guard. This time, I'm pretty close and a signboard (in English, phew!) points the way. I buy a ticket and make my way into the memorial site/museum.

The exhibits begin with the Opium War. "Lin Zexu?" I ask the guard, remembering Lin Zexu's central role in the Opium War. "Mei you Lin Zexu", he mentions. He shows me how I should go about viewing the exhibits and I am thankful for his kind gesture. After viewing the exhibitions on the 2nd floor, it's time to head to the ground floor.

Downstairs lies an exhibit dedicated to Zhu De, or more accurately, as the guide Mr Song later tells me, Marshall Zhu De. I wander about and am followed by the security guard. He is then joined by a guide and they two make it their business to follow me around. Not that I mind much---they provide a helpful audio commentary to the exhibits, whose captions come without an English translation. The guide introduces himself to me as Mr Song and points out Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, Zhu De's wife, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Chiang Kai-shek etc to me. An interesting thing about exhibits in China is that the people are listed from left to right, unlike the right-to-left method used in most places. Perhaps this is due to Chinese script originally being read from left to right---i'm not entirely sure.

We are joined by two Caucasian ladies that I met upstairs. One of them asks me what the exhibition is about. I tell her I don't know how to read much Chinese but the guide informs me that this is an exhibit dedicated to Marshall Zhu De. I ask if she is from Australia. She says yes. I tell her I recognise the accent and tell her I'm from Singapore. I buy a book from the bookshop, and then I'm off to see the Sun Yat-Sen museum.

Only that the taxi driver doesn't know where it is, and Penny hasn't written the address down, just the name of the place. Oh dear. Then I'll see the Soong Ching Ling Museum instead. I was more keen on the Sun Yat-Sen museum as I have seen the Soong Ching Ling one before, but no matter, I don't mind revisiting it.

Soong Ching Ling's museum is comparatively crowded (when I was at the CCP memorial site/museum, there was only me and the two Caucasian ladies). The compound is large, with a building serving as her museum displaying her letters and other historical documents related to her, a garage housing her two limosines (one a gift from the Chinese government, another a gift from Stalin), and her house. I read her letters and speeches and am impressed at how bilingual she is in Mandarin and in English. Perhaps trilingual even if she was fluent in the Shanghainese dialect. Bilingual (or more accurately, trilingual) people impress me. I have struggled for years to master Chinese and even my Cantonese, while good, is nowhere on par with my level of English. And somehow, having to switch from English to Chinese seems to intimidate me, and while I have lots to say, I usually end up expressing myself in a mix of English and Chinese, with quite a bit of stuttering in between.

But back to Soong Ching Ling. So she is very bilingual. Her handwriting is large and cursive. But more intriguing was this speech she wrote upon being conferred the Stalin Peace Prize. Now Stalin Peace Prize, to me, is itself an oxymoron. She writes, and I paraphrase, that it is an honour to be associated with the name of Stalin, itself a name associated with peace.

Oh dear. I think of the purges. Of Billy telling us that Stalin killed 20 million of his own people. And i very wrong---Stalin and peace do not go hand in hand. Was she merely misguided? Had she no clue of what happened in the Soviet Union? Of gulags, persecution, terror and purges? By all accounts, Soong Ching Ling came across as being perceptive, compassionate, strong, noble and wise. How could this grave (imo) error have occurred? Perhaps she had no choice but to accept the Stalin Peace Prize. China and the Soviet Union were then allies in the spread of world communism and it would cause a great diplomatic rift (though there were already signs of trouble) between the two should she decline. Stalin's gift of a huge black Russian-made car to her was also proudly displayed in her garage, all nice and shiny. Maybe no one outside of the Soviet Union really knew about the purges, the way most Americans didn't know about Chiang Kai-shek's corruption. Maybe this was all a necessary part in the staging of a political show. As for now, these questions remain unanswered.

A guide kindly directs me to join the tour group in seeing Soong Ching Ling's house. There are scheduled times for tours, which is conducted in Chinese. I can understand most of what is being said, just can't really speak it. A young man---he looks like a college student---offers to take care of my belongings. I take my handbag but leave the plastic bag containing the newly bought book with him. He hands me a pair of plastic bags which serve as coverings for my shoes so that Soong Ching Ling's house does not get soiled by tourists' shoe prints. And then we proceed upstairs.

Soong Ching Ling's house is nicely decorated. It seems a bit bourgeoisie to me though, and has a style similar to many an English country house. All in all, very quaint and quite charming. The guide tells us that the carpets were a gift from Mao himself, and they are emblazoned with peach (or was it cherry) blossoms---Soong Ching Ling's favourite flowers. Everything here appears to be kept almost exactly as it was the day she died, which was in 1981. She was 88. Even the clock has been stopped to mark the exact time of her death.

I linger at the back of the tour group and spend most of my time reading the English captions on the various objects in the house. There are lots of pictures of Sun Yat-Sen around. The guide tells us that Mdm Soong missed her husband dearly and hence, had many of his pictures put up around the house. Near her bedroom is her maid's bedroom. This maid is described as having been a faithful servant of Mdm Soong, and to thank her for her loyalty, Mdm Soong is described as having showered her with gifts and creating a scrapbook filled with pictures of the two of them. It is all quite touching actually. At least to me, having been brought up by servants, and being one easily touched by stories of friendship. In a way, I have always harboured hopes for that special friendship that lasts forever. The one that sees you from childhood all the way till old age. That it has so far eluded me has been a little upsetting. But there's always hope for the future. Heh.

The tour ends and I had back to the museum proper. I scan through the letters she wrote later in life, when Chiang Kai-shek had established himeslf in Taiwan. I wonder how the Soong family managed to function what with one sister being a leader of mainland communist China, and the other being a leader in capitalist Taiwan, which claimed to be the legitimate China. Letters written appear to be terse and judging from the photographs on display, it seems that Soong Ching Ling mainly got along with one brother.

Time flies and I had promised my mum I'd meet her back at the hotel room at 3pm. It's times like this when I really wished I had checked beforehand if my handphone had autoroaming. I ask for directions to the Sun Yat-Sen museum and the Lu Xun musuem as Penny had earlier informed me of its proximity to the Soong Ching Ling museum. The guide, a guard and a tourist all three congregate around the guide's desk and helpfully write down the exact address for me on a piece of paper but warn me that there would not be enough time to visit both places. Museums here all close at 5pm. Thanking them for their help and with that in mind, I exit the compound hoping to catch a quick taxi ride to the Sun Yat-sen museum, browse around quickly, and make it back fashionably late. But it isn't quite so easy getting a cab. I ask a caucasian for help.

"Excuse me, do you speak English?"

He does, but from his accent, he seems Italian. I ask him if it is easy to get a taxi from here. He says no and recommends the subway. I rather take a cab. He waits a while with me before going his own way, warning me again that taxis rarely stop here. But I have help from God. A taxi does stop, and a very comfortable one at that, and it's back to the Pudong Shangri-la for me.

We get stuck in a jam, but at least the air-conditioning, unlike most taxis here, is working, and the seats are comfortable. I reach my room at 3.20pm. My parents are there and my dad has bought some bread, fruit and a speak-Chinese guide. Mum and me go shopping for a while at H&M at the Super Brand Mall---it's a rather nice place. Big and airy, with lots of changing rooms so you don't have to wait too long to try on stuff. We come back and, with Dad, seeing that it is too late to go to the Puxi area, head off for dinner at Canton, the Grand Hyatt's specialty restaurant.

Now in Singapore, romantic and Cantonese restuarant doesn't really go together. But here, class and elegance are the order of the day. The decor seems more suited to a French restaurant, and unlike many Chinese restaurants, this one does not come with loud incessant chatter from surrounding patrons. The chairs are plush, the floor fully carpeted and the lighting is a nice soft yellow. Seems like a nice place for a date. And I know i'm not the only one thinking that---two dating couples sit near (if it can be described as such as the tables are fairly spread out) us.

Canton at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai.

The atarax I took just before I left for dinner begins to kick in while we wait for the food, and I am feeling sleepy. To perk myself up, I order Chrysanthemum tea (no Camomile tea confusions here) and allow my tongue to get slightly burnt so that it might shock my system into alertness. It works temporarily but I begin to feel sleepy again. Manager Robin checks on us and his pleasant conversation does help distract me from my tired state.

I comment to my mum that Robin looks very similar to my friend Yingkit. You know, the guy you sometimes fetch who speaks very fluent cantonese? They even have the same mannerisms. Just that Robin doesn't speak much cantonese---he is Shanghainese, albeit the manager of an established Cantonese restaurant. We try to order in Cantonese cos at least mummy can speak that real fluently and I'm not too bad. But Robin speaks rather good English, so we, this time Dad included, all end up speaking in English anyway. He asks us if we stay at the Grand Hyatt. We tell him no, we stay at the Shangri-la. "Ah.. Stay at Shangri-la, eat at Grand Hyatt. Get to enjoy two of the best", Robin replies.

Turns out Robin has been to Singapore for a holiday. He has gone to Orchard Road (he mistakenly called it Orchard Street), Sentosa and even to neighbouring Johore Bahru. Furthermore, he'll be coming to Singapore for training at the Grand Hyatt. Robin has been the personal assistant to late Singaporee President Ong Teng Cheong ("tall, slim, thick specs?" Gosh, the more he talks, the more I am reminded of Yingkit), and if I am not mistaken, has served Lee Kuan Yew. This is his first time as a manager of a Chinese restaurant. Usually he is in charge of the Italian restaurant, or in other posts. Not that it is noticable anyway. Robin is extremely professional and works the floor like a veteran. He passes my parents his business card and gives us a box of chocolates. On the house, he tells us.

Perhaps I might meet him at Singapore's Grand Hyatt. I go there often anyway since I have their membership card. The box of chocolates looks exactly like the ones sold at Mezzanine at Singapore's Grand Hyatt. Down to the paper wrapping and square compartments. We appreciate his nice gesture, bid him farewell and leave for Cloud 9.

Turns out Cloud 9 is fully booked and we would either have to wait or come back another day. We decide on the latter and head downstairs to the bakery where I realise---to my horror---that I have left my handbag at the restaurant. (That is why atarax is only to be taken just before bedtime) I thank God that while there were a couple of times I realised that I was missing something, I always managed to find it later on. Upon arrival, the lady asks me if I left a white CK bag behind, I say yes. Everything is in tact and we head back to the Shangri-la.

At the lobby of the Jin Mao tower, we pass by hordes of tourists snapping away with their cameras, and two very tall and Manga-esque security guards decked out in Mao suits. Just outside, the Oriental Pearl TV tower lights up the sky looking one part disco ball, one part toy, one part science fiction building. The weather is warm but dry, and crossing the road is a little precarious as the drivers don't seem to stop for pedestrians crossing when the green man lights up. But praise Jesus, no traffic accidents occur and we're back all in one piece.

The Oriental Pearl TV tower lights up the Shanghai sky.

Photographs from:, and my own camera.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Of summer in Shanghai

Day 3 (Part II)

We arrive at Bund 18 where I plop myself down at the Sibilla Boutique Cafe, a charming Italian cafe, with another handsome manager. I'm starting to think the service industry in Shanghai deliberately employs the handsome guys. Once again I meet Exhibit A of the Shanghai manager---fair skin tone, tall and handsome, with good skin, no spectacles and a relatively good grasp of English. He recommends a few Italian pastries but i tell him i am allergic to milk. He doesn't understand what allergy means, and I am grateful for a little Mandarin prep that I did back in Singapore before I left. I duly spout out a sentence my ex-bf taught me regarding my milk allergy. "wo dui niu nai he niu you de chan ping you ming gan", i say in rather stilted Chinese. Or something of that sort.

Doesn't matter. Handsome manager understands. Ming Gan! He exclaims. Oh then you cannot eat all these! He looks a bit flustered. This sure is one expressive man. Perhaps he could consider a career in the movies? I ask him what the soup of the day is and if it contains milk. He rushes off to find out for me, and comes back beaming. The soup is milk free and the Italian bread that it is served with is also milk free he says. And happily ushers me to a seat.

Bund 18

Sibilla Boutique Cafe

The waiter on hand is called Orlando. He asks me where I am from. I say Singapore. I ask if he is from the Philippines. He says yes. I tell him i recognise the Filippino accent. I ask him why he chose to work in Shanghai which is so far away from the Philippines, and no one really speaks English here. He shrugs and doesn't answer.

Enter two men and with even closer links to Singapore. One of them loudly announces in English to his friend that the Patek Philippe watches here are much cheaper than in Singapore, and they don't have a goods tax slapped on them. Sadly, they don't carry the model he wants. All this in a Singaporean accent. Which is recognisable anywhere.

And then he announces (deliberate choice of verb on my part), again in English, that he has to use the toilet, and noisily walks off.

Well at least that will give me a bit of quiet. His companion isn't so loud and in fact, rather mousy in appeareance. The noisy one then comes back, and i take my leave.

I explore the various boutiques in Bund 18, mainly to check how the prices compare to that in Singapore. I walk into Cartier checking out charm bracelets---my current love---but nothing catches my fancy. Then i wander in and out of Ermenegildo Zegna, which has a huge store here, spanning 3 floors. Bottom for accessories, 2nd for ready to wear and sportswear, 3rd for bespoke suits. I meet more cute sales people in there. One is particularly helpful but no, nothing catches my fancy.

Then it's off to check out Younik, an upmarket multi-label boutique that only stocks Chinese designers such as Shanghai Trio, Jenny Jen etc. I used to think that most Asian designers mainly dabbled in overly avant-garde, deconstructionist type pieces that while showcasing creativity, is not very functional, but I manage to find some rather fashionable, yet wearable, pieces here. The sales people are snooty and so after some browsing, I exit the shop.


Next up is Allan Chiu, a huate couture outfitter from Hongkong that has set up shop in Shanghai. His ready to wear is pretty nice, with knee length gowns for the younger crowd like myself. But i'm not in a mood for trying clothes.

Beside Allan Chiu is the Ports 1961 store.

Now this is a label I am quite excited about having read about it in TIME magazine a few years back. I see a really cute teddy bear and I ask the sales lady how much it costs. She tells me the bear comes as part of a travel set that includes luggage, note book, bathrobe, and such. All in all, the travel set costs 8000 RMB. I am not interested in a whole travel get up (especially when i don't like travelling to begin with) and so i turn my attention to the other clothes. I flip through the catalog and mainly like what I see. Some pieces are a bit plain and on the whole, it is none too bad. While one of the sales ladies rustle up some dresses for me to view, I pick up a Shanghai society magazine and come across a fashion spread featuring a model all decked out in Chanel. The sales ladies helpfully answer my query as to where Chanel can be found in Shanghai (I want to see how much the 2.55 costs here) and write down precise directions in Chinese for me.

That is good service. And I'm off to the Chanel boutique.

Or so I thought.

I get distracted by the other shops on the bund and decide that Chanel can wait for another day. Instead, I pass by the colonial-era buildings now housing banks and other large firms, as well fashion flagship stores.

Like Shiatzy Chen.

"Is this 3 on the bund?" I ask the salesman upon entering. "No, it is number 9".

No matter. This store is AWESOME. I'm not exactly crazy about the clothes but the layout and the decor is far more tasteful than many a luxury boutique in Singapore. It spans two levels and is really huge. Shoes, handbags, accessories, women's wear, men's wear, furniture. It is all here, stately displayed among dark teak furniture and huge screens playing her fashion shows. I am the only one in the store and a helpful sales girl follows me around. The store exudes refinement and taste and is a nice respite from the noise and heat outside. I take a business card and make my way to 3 on the Bund.

Shiatzy Chen

Along the way, I make a stop at the Dolce and Gabbana flagship store. Then turn the corner and ta da, it's 3 on the Bund. Lots of cars stop by the front entrance, and I spy Giorgio Armani and Hugo Boss flagships. I look around the Hugo Boss store, take the elevator up to the Evian Spa (that uses Clarins products), pass by Barbers at Three, and then come down all ready to go back to the hotel. There weren't any taxis at the entrance so the lady at the frontdesk kindly offered me a seat.

Three on the Bund

But no taxi was keen on crossing over to the Pudong. It was peak hour and the tunnels were closed to taxis. The doorboys tried to convince them but they loudly refused, and I didnt' dare enter a taxi with an angry driver. The manager Sean came out and explained that during peak period, no taxi wants to cross over to the Pudong because there would be a huge traffic jam and they were not allowed in the tunnels. When does peak period end then? I asked. I was starting to get a headache and was keen on getting back asap. After 7, but to be safe, come back down at 7.30.

Faced with such a situation, I decided to have a drink up at New Heights and wait out the peak period.

I asked for Chrysanthemum tea, the waitress doesnt seem to understand. So i say "ju hua cha". She says Camomile tea. I say: Oh nono. Chrysanthemum, not Camomile. She says ju hua cha is Camomile tea. In the end, I order watermelon juice.

And I prepped myself for the hour long wait. I was so bored that I carefully studied the staff, amusing myself with the way one waiter lit up a series of tealights---he only manages to light up two, at most 3 before the flame consumes the matchstick. The watermelon juice isn't fantastic. The air conditioning doesn't seem to be working properly, and there is another man sitting all alone at another table. I flip open the Shanghai Chic book to see if there is anything interesting to read, but I am still restless. Lots of foreigners stream in, most western, some asian. The Western expatriate presence is so strong that, if I am not mistaken, two managers here are Western. A handful go out to the balcony to take in the view (it's not called New Heights for nothing) but the sky looks smoggy---health hazard, i think to myself. So i remain indoors.

But there is only so much of waiter watching that anyone can take. So I tell the waiter I am going outside.

The air doesn't smell too bad, and there is a slight breeze. But it is the view that is truly captivating. How much nicer it would have been if not for the smog. I take a few pictures and lean along the rails, watching Shanghai go by.

The view from New Heights.

I see my hotel from the balcony. So near yet so far.

A Caucasian man starts setting up a tripod stand and mounting his camera on it. He takes lots of pictures of the waterfront. Now chatting to people I don't know is highly uncharacteristic of me, but I decide to ask him, "Why don't you take a picture of the Chinese flag as it flies across the Bund? It would be quite iconic if you can catch it at the right time---red flag of communism flying high above the Bund, now synonomous with capitalism." (Furthermore, in the background stands a building quite reminiscent of the Empire State Building). He says that he was thinking of that as well, but the shutter speed of the camera prevents the fluidity of the flag movement from being captured nicely, so instead, he will record the movement of the flag on video.

The photojournalist's name is Alan and he comes from Memphis, Tennessee. He's on assignment around the world to find connections to Memphis. "Oh, Memphis." I reply. "Elvis right? And Grace( I forget to add -land) Mansions". Alan is surprised. "You're the first person here I met who knows Elvis you know."

Now it's my turn to be surprised. I thought everyone or almost everyone knew Elvis. But then again, China had shut it doors to the world from the early 1950s on, and it was only in 1978 that Deng Xiaoping "opened" China to the world. In the meantime, Elvis, whose career bloomed mainly from 1956 onwards, continuing on to the late 1960s, had died in 1977, before China has opened up. No wonder no one knew about Elvis here---the Elvis phenomenon had peaked and waned during the period China remained closed.

I asked about more about Memphis and Tennessee and Alan helpfully fills up the gaps in knowledge I have about the city. I learn that FedEx is from Memphis, and am reminded that Ray Charles is from Georgia (how could i forget! He wrote "Georgia on my mind"). I ask if Mark Twain is from Memphis. No, he isn't. But he writes lots about the Mississippi River that flows through Tennessee. I see a replica of a 19th century riverboat ploughing allowing the Huangpu. "Look! Riverboat... Memphis Connection!" I tell him. "Good you're thinking," Alan replies. Alan then asks how come I know about Memphis and Tennessee. "I'm a history major," I say, "we make it our business to know a bit about everything."

Alan's colleague Trevor then arrives. Alan nicely asks if I'd like to join them. But I'm tired, and it's nearly 7.30pm, and I really want to get back. So I politely decline and take a cab back to the Pudong. Still, meeting someone interesting was a great way to pass time.

The aforementioned flag that got the conversation going.

Diners at New Heights. I took this photo to show how the balcony of New Heights looks like, before I got to know Alan (he's the guy in white). So if you ever happen to see this photo Alan, please don't be offended, it was taken to showcase how New Heights looks like, and yes, I took it before I got to know you. And you can see my watermelon juice in the foreground.

The cabbie is nice, and if I understand correctly, his neighbour is a Singaporean and he has just fetched a Singapore lady who has been working in the property sector here in Shanghai. I tell him that a lot of Singaporeans find it hard to do business in China because they are easily swindled as they are too trusting. This trusting mentality came about because the Singaporean government is so efficient, Singaporeans simply trust the government to make everything alright for them. As a result, when they travel overseas, some bring this naivete along, and hence are easily cheated. He tells me that he finds Singaporeans are very "liang xing" that might present some difficulties in China's competitive environment. I am just grateful I have God to help me up wherever I go.

I change and get ready for dinner. James is the concierge on duty today and I ask him to recommend a restaurant. I wanted to go to Cloud 9 at the Jin Mao tower for dinner, but they don't serve meals, just snacks. James recommends I try Jade 36 here at the Shangri-la. I go there only to find it is fully booked. I come down and ask James to recommend another restaurant. It's nearly 9 and I haven't eaten. I'm hungry, I tell James. He passes me the list of restaurants available here. I have eaten at almost all of them, and I am not interested in Japanese food. Finally, I settle on the cantonese restaurant. I ask James to call to see if they are full---to save me the trouble of having to travel to an already fully booked venue.

I listen in to the conversation. No, they are not full, James says.

Alright then, I'll go.

Table for one, he tells them. Yi ge xiao pen you lai.

James puts down the phone.

I look at him and say, "I am not xiao pen you James. I am 21."

James just smiles.

Photographs from:,, my own camera.

Of summer in Shanghai

Day 3 (Part I)

I woke up real early today. About 7.30am and accompanied my mum to the Jin Mao tower. She had a meeting while I was venturing there to savour breakfast at the Grand Hyatt---supposedly an experience to remember as the Grand Hyatt Shanghai is the tallest hotel in the world, occupying the 53rd to 87th floors of the Jin Mao tower. I figured having breakfast so high in the sky had to be quite a treat.

The Pudong financial district.

Breakfast was pleasant enough. I didn't have much of an appetite but the view was spectucular. My glass of water wasn't completely clean---I could see things floating in it, ewww---so i had juices instead. I wanted to eat steamed mantou, but they didn't have any there. Instead, the chefs, a bespectacled chap who looked vaguely Thai Chinese and a kind matronly lady, whipped up for me some vegetable buns which I didn't have an appetite for. But it was such a nice gesture. I tried to eat as much as I could but I wasn't feeling quite well, so I nibbled on it and hoped they weren't offended.

Breakfast at the Grand Cafe.

Breakfast with a view.

A view of the Bund from the Grand Hyatt.

Showcasing the zoom prowess of my camera. Heh.

Still feeling queasy, I took a cab back to the Shangri-la, packed some bottled mineral water (I have issues with the water in China, somehow it doesnt agree with my stomach and i think it tastes funny), took my guide book and went to the Shanghai Museum. The cabby was the one mentioned in the previous post, who mistook me for a Japanese. Upon realising that I was a Singaporean, he said, Singaporeans used to look down on China's Chinese, but now that China was a rising power, Singaporeans are now respectful of China's Chinese.

To that I had no reply so I just kept quiet. (Or did i say "err...") But still, there was favour from God, as mentioned in the previous post.

The Shanghai Museum

Off at the Shanghai Museum where I spent about 4 hours checking out the exhibits. I rented an audio guide which I found particularly helpful. It is this telephone like device whereby you punch the exhibit number and listen to an audio commentary regarding the aforesaid exhibit. The only problem was that some of the exhibits were hard to find---i had just listened to commentary of exhibit number 223 and had a hard time finding exhibit 224. Finally, after enlisting the help of the security guard, I learnt that the exhibit had been removed. (I seem to recall him muttering re ben ren under his breath).

But I really enjoyed the Shanghai Museum. In Singapore, most museums don't have really old artefacts as Singapore is relatively young, history wise, so it was nice seeing really ancient sculpture, coins and yes, porcelain and such on display. And I have no idea why, but i found the museum very romantic. Like it's a nice place to hold hands and look at exhibits together. Then again, my notions on romance have always veered towards the unconventional. Apparently I'm not the only one. I saw a Caucasian man kissing his girlfriend in front of a Tang Dynasty exhibit, and there was another Caucasian man holding hands with his Asian girlfriend at the coin exhibit.

Maybe museums are just romantic. Period.

I espy a young man who, judging by his dressing, looks rather Singaporean. Branded flip flops (check), graphic tee shirt (check), cargo bermudas (check). I keep running into him and I realise that he goes about the exhibits the same way I do---carefully peering at each exhibit and reading each commentary---while most people just give cursory glances. He looks Japanese though and like me, he is all by himself. Maybe this is how I might come across if I were a guy.

But I digress.

The museum is cold and so i hurriedly go through the exhibits on the top floor such as the furniture exhibit, the calligraphy exhibit and the minorities exhibit. I learn about the Assyrians, Scythians and other people who traded on the Silk Road---they all have exotic sounding names, including one particulary group that escapes my mind but who believed that deformity was beautiful, and so on their coins, they made their king look as deformed as possible.

I like the Shanghai Museum gift shop too. As expected, it is much bigger than the hole-in-the wall branch at Xintiandi and is stocked with many books on China---novels, business and travel guides, including the risque Shanghai Baby, which i thought was banned in China. Well, apparently not. There are also lots of souveneirs. A pair of Japanese guys buy a set of bookmarks, while I ponder at this huge pot and wonder how it would look like in my living room.

The museum is cold and my legs are tired. I leave and flag down a taxi to take me to Bund 18.

Photographs from:, and my own camera