A Journey Down Shanghai’s Memory Lane

Out of the corner of my eye I caught a commotion, the clumsy shuffling of heavy white tassel, the outstretched hand of a tuxedoed man, and the frantic flashes from a camera crew less than ten feet away. I was momentarily disoriented. I wondered who would have been more peeved: the lady in white, who found an unwelcome third wheel in her wedding photography; or me, who had my reverie unceremoniously broken into.

I raised my eyes to the backdrop, and realised the root of the problem. I was standing at one of the most photographed landmarks of “Old Shanghai”.

It was an unseasonably warm day in Shanghai, lending itself to a balmy evening. The perfect evening for a stroll. I had a couple of hours to kill in between my earlier appointment and my next obligatory family dinner. Feeling rather nostalgic that the Shanghai emblazoned in my childhood memories has more or less been overtaken by a labyrinthine concrete jungle, I set out to seek the comforts of the Old Shanghai.

Wukang Road (武康路)

And thus I found myself at the foot of Wukang Mansion, the cover girl of French Renaissance architecture in Shanghai and one of the most photographed landmarks. Bookending the southern aspect of Wukang Road, at the intersection of Huaihai Road (淮海路), the building was completed during the city’s heydays in 1920s and represents the first veranda-style apartment in Shanghai. The building is formerly known as the Normandie Apartments, a nod to the World War I-era battleship Normandie, with its structure protruding like that of a seafaring vessel.

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The iconic Wukang Mansion (formerly Normandie Apartments), Wukang Road & Huaihai Road
For those of us reminiscing the times of old (or exploring the city for its true colours), Wukang Road is sure to be a sentimental favourite. I grew up in a district not too far from here. Twenty-odd years have passed and it is one part of the city where, thankfully, not much has changed.

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Wukang Road streetscape

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Wukang Road streetscape
A relatively narrow one-way road centrally located in Shanghai, it largely remains true to its former western influences (predominantly French and Spanish) and is a leisurely 30-minute stroll from one end to the other. Well-preserved architectural wonders and the many Chinese parasol trees that adorn the streetscape have long underpinned the road’s popularity as a major (free!) tourist destination and historical open-air museum.

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Wukang Road streetscape
Venturing a little further, adjacent roads such as Julu Road (巨鹿路) and Hengshan Road (衡山路) also pay homage to the city’s rich European influences. On this weekday evening, I was as much a tourist in my own hometown as the next traveller, watching throngs of men rushing home to their wives and dinners, and tiger parents toting their kids to their next extracurricular.

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Julu Road streetscape
As if the residential streets of Old Shanghai weren’t enough to satiate, the next day dawned with explorations of lively commercial districts bearing the same cultured ambience.

Shanghai Tianzifang (上海田子坊)

Tianzifang, tucked away off Taikang Road (泰康路), is a small but vibrant, artsy precinct. Originally constructed in the 1930s with Shikumen-style (石库门) residences (an architectural style unique to Shanghai), it has been significantly revamped in the late 1990s and is now buzzing with bars, cafes and a maze of stores selling everything from traditional handiworks to DIY teddy bears…

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Typical Tianzifang storefront

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Liuli China Museum (上海琉璃艺术博物馆), Tianzifang 
Shanghai Xintiandi (上海新天地)

A neighbourly 1.5km away (~1 mile) on Madang Road (马当路) lies the stylish Xintiandi pedestrian / heritage / shopping / entertainment mecca. Xintiandi boldly boasts the perfect marriage of the Old Shanghai with its aspirational, modernist persona. Within the traditional walls and tiles of Shikumen-housing revealed a completely new world of internationally acclaimed galleries, boutiques and restaurants and bars.

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Xintiandi streetscape

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Shikumen-style architecture, Xintiandi
It was the old charm that continued to draw me back to the city that reared me, and I was grateful for this journey down Shanghai’s memory lane. To remember what was, and to welcome what will be.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Insignificant

Ever since I embarked on the WordPress journey in earnest, I had vowed to maintain a blog that exudes positivity and grace. I catered to what the Internet desired, namely, servings of impeccably crafted words garnished with glossy, curated photography. SoMuchToTellYou was thus underpinned by this very premise, a premise which I am about to turn on its head with what I intend to share. I’m not a deceitful person by nature (can never put on an act to save myself), and yet it would be terribly deceitful of me to say that I am impervious to the darker recesses of a runaway mind.

The truth is, my mind is constantly struggling with the unbearable lightness of insignificance. After all, isn’t every step in life a desire to be felt just a little more?

Remember when our pliable minds of youth were fed with many untruths, chief amongst them being that the world is our oyster, and that we ought to dream big and live bigger? Well, I was forever an easy target for such propaganda.

Armed with such grandiose and quixotic instincts, I blindly charged forth in life feeling I could change the world. There would have been a time, long ago, when I wanted nothing more than to exert my influence, make my mark and repay the society that played its part in raising and nurturing me.

Needless to say that I have achieved very little of my once lofty ambitions. I can’t change the world. I can barely bring about change in myself…

At the end of the day, this is the real reason for blogging. It provides a ready outlet for my garbled streams of consciousness, and has made me feel – if only momentarily – expressive and significant again. Who would have thought that the very soul whom has apparently renounced all conventional forms of social currency should thus crave for attention, for validation, and for meaning?

So here I am, back to my inner sanctuary. Writing. Although who will read, I do not know.

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Dear Reader, I will be MIA for several weeks as I roam distant lands in search of Meaning. I shall miss you all!

Jolene